Inundations

Inundations, not temporary floods but the permanent flowing of waters across the land; there are many stories of such flowings from springs or wells to make lakes, or rushing to meet the sea to re-shape the coastline. There are recurrent stories behind these legends, superficially of pride, arrogance, presumption, though this might mask a quest for knowledge and therefore power. Often the consequences are delayed and the flood comes after many generations (time for the otherworld deities is not our time). The legend of the drowning of Tyno Helig near the estuary of the River Conwy in North wales is typical of the theme where a wicked ruler is told that his descendants will be punished for his deeds and so he thinks he has nothing to worry about, but seven generations later his lands are flooded during a feast and only the harper escapes drowning. This latter detail of the harper is also a common element in the stories. John Rhŷs thought that the theme of delayed punishment for evil deeds was a later development in these stories which originally involved something happening at a sacred well which causes it to overflow. Consider for instance, the story of Boann who looks into Nechtan’s Well of Wisdom which should only be visited by Nechtan and his cup-bearers. The well overflows and chases her all the way to the sea, thereby forming the River Boyne. In the story of the drowning of Cantre’r Gwaelod, or the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir, Mererid is herself a cup-bearer and a well-maiden, though the oblique nature of the verses which record this (probably originally contained in a prose saga which supplied more detail) means that the context is unclear.

But no matter. For there is more to say. Both the setting for Tyno Helig and that for Cantre’r Gwaelod are also settings for different surviving versions of the story of Taliesin. Think now of that harper who survives (or is re-born from) the flood. The story of Taliesin begins at Llyn Tegid, the location of another inundation legend which explains the formation of the lake near the town of Bala. This is where Gwion stirred Ceridwen’s cauldron. The River Dee (Dyfrdwy) which runs through the lake, has its own mythos naming its waters as sacred (~>). Gwion looked into, and tasted, the waters of this cauldron and there was an inundation. He gained wisdom just as Finn gained wisdom either by tasting the salmon from the Well of Wisdom or, in another story, tasting drops of water from an otherworld well.

Rosmerta And Mercurius - a relief from Gloucester.
Rosmerta And Mercurius – a representation from Gloucester showing her bucket.

 

 

 

In Gaul a god that the Romans called Mercurius – though he may not have had a name before the Romans gave him one – was partnered with Rosmerta, whose name could simply mean ‘The Great Provider’. Rosmerta had a site of devotion at a sacred spring in Gaul and is also commemorated in Bath, the site of the sacred springs of Sulis in Britain. One of her emblems is a bucket (cauldron?) and she is represented with Fortuna on one relief where the bucket could symbolise re-birth. A spring, a cauldron, a brew of otherworld wisdom, welling into our world. A cup-bearer, a well-maiden ~/~ the keeper of the cauldron, a hag. Are these two sides of the same coin, the turning of Fortuna’s wheel? When there is a flow from otherworld streams out of the well or the cauldron, who can catch the essential drops on the tongue, taste the salmon or gather the hazel nuts that have fallen into the the waters of the well?

Think of that harper, the survivor of the flood. Think of Taliesin, re-born from the waters into a weir in which salmon are caught. Think of others whose quest for knowledge transforms them into divine or inspired figures.Then consider that Mercurius, Rosmerta’s partner, may have been known in the lands that overlapped Gaul as Woden, and how a god, taking a different name for a different people, might do things differently, and yet still discover sources of wisdom, of inspiration, and how the mead of poetry from the Cup or Cauldron of Inspiration might be dispensed to the poets, the awenyddion, the drui, from whom the waters of the Cauldron flow as rivers of song.

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Cantre’r Gwaelod : The story of MERERID from the Black Book of Carmarthen

 

Stand up Seithennin
Look out at the waves
Crashing over Gwyddno’s realm.

Woe to the maiden,
The aggrieved cup-bearer
Who bore in her cup the sea’s chagrin.

Woe upon her, the daughter
Of the well whose cup of plenty
Covers the contours with featureless water.

Mererid’s outcry from the fortress
Calling to the gods;
It is known: after arrogance is loss.

Mererid’s outcry from the fortress
Appealing to the gods;
It is known : pride has its redress.

Mererid’s outcry is a grief to me tonight
It brings only anguish;
It is known : presumption has its price.

Mererid’s outcry from the bay mare’s back
The gods bring retribution;
It is known : after plenty there is lack.

Mererid’s outcry calls me from my lodging
No bed for me tonight;
It is known : conceit has its ending.


Interpretation

The poem has been translated – and mistranslated – a number of times. The version above follows the original line by line and hopes to convey the sense of each stanza as written in the medieval Welsh. It is a ‘re-interpretation’ because I have made a few contextual shifts away from previous more or less literal translations. The most significant of these is that I have transferred it to a polytheistic context so where the original refers to God I have referred to the gods.

The assumption of most translators has been that the blame for the flood is being directed at Mererid. But the arrogance and presumption (‘traha’) which is said to have brought it about is assigned to Seithennin in a final verse which I have omitted here. This verse also occurs in the ‘Stanzas of the Graves’ and seems not to belong to this poem. But it refers to Seithennin as ‘the presumptious’ and it could just as well be said that the poems implies that he is to blame. Indeed, in the later version of the story he does become the agent of the flood by getting drunk and forgetting to close the sluice gates.

Here I have tried to shift the focus back on Mererid, not as a blameworthy perpetrator but as one whose office as cup bearer and keeper of the well has been violated. There are other legends about well-keepers being upset or offended resulting in the well flooding a large area. These are usually stories of lake origins. But Mererid is also a cup bearer, an office which carried some status but which might set the holder apart from other court officials. In my view of her she functions as a priestess and representative of the water world. So I have interpreted the word ‘emendiceid’ (accursed) referring to her in stanza 2 & 3 not so much as directed at her but as a reflection on her condition. This, admittedly, does involve a creative change of emphasis from the imperative mood (‘boed’) in these two lines.

The poet’s expression is concise especially in the lines where I have used the repeated phrase “It is known …’ . The poem has a single repeated word ‘gnaud’, literally ‘usual’ or ‘natural’ but also ‘what is’ or ‘known’. The latter seems to me to be a better construction in the translation.

Who speaks the poem? Rachel Bromwich considers the possibility that it is Mererid’s voice heard on the wind long after the event. The poem might, after all, be part of a lost prose saga. But I find it conceivable that it is Seithennin himself who speaks, possibly reflecting on his own part in bringing about the inundation. In the opening line, where he is addressed directly, the pronoun ‘you’ in the familiar form is attached to the verb ‘stand’ [up or out] and this happens again in the next line with ‘look’ where the deponent form of the verb could suggest a reflexive sense. The final verse’s reference to the speaker being driven from his lodging links to the opening and reinforces the possibility that it is he who speaks.

So with Mererid , well-maiden and cup-bearer, in a medieval poem attached to a legend of a drowned land on the coast near where I live. She had long been an evocative presence who seemed to have a significance I had not quite fathomed. But as I thought about the legend and discovered the lore associated with it, her identity began to take shape. Floods from springs or wells when their guardians are offended are the legendary origins of many lakes. These guardians are invariably female and it is sometimes stressed, as with the case of Mererid, that she is a maiden. Two words are used to convey this in the poem. In one line she is referred to as ‘morvin’ (simply maiden), but in another line as ‘machteith’ which is also a term indicating a court office. Rachel Bromwich comments that “both interpretations should be borne in mind”.

Many years ago doing quite different research I needed to look at references to protective deities of cities. Ancient cities and other settlements had magical as well as physical walls around them. Gateways through the walls could be physically sealed and locked but magical gateways needed magical seals or keys to open or shut them. The title ‘Pontifex Maximus’ (now inherited by the Pope) originally indicated one who was adept at bridging and sealing protective boundaries. The Vestal Virgins were an institution that was seen to protect Rome, the virginity of the vestals being an essential element in this. In earlier societies this function often inhered in a virgin deity. The virginity of Athene as protectress of Athens was stressed. Studies of the sources for Homer’s Iliad indicate that Troy was seen to be protected in this way and one of these relates that the prophetess Cassandra undid her girdle  as the horse was brought through the city walls in a symbolic breaching of their magical protection.

It seemed to me that the same protective function could apply to well maidens. Wells were often seen as gateways to the Otherworld and if these gateways were not properly protected the steady flow of blessed water might become a deluge, particularly if the guardian of the well ceases to become a virgin either by her own volition or by her violation. But Mererid is also a ‘cup-bearer’. Reading Enright’s elucidations (3) about the role of cup-bearers in Celtic and Germanic cultures and the proposed origins of their functions and identity in the goddess Rosmerta (the ‘great provider’); the ambiguous status of Wealtheow, Hrodgar’s queen and cup-bearer, in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf; the story of the virgin prophetess Veleda in Tacitus’ Germania; all began to bring the picture into focus.

Rosmerta’s emblems are the cup, ladle and bucket. Her cup an emblem of plenty, proffered at the feast; in Gaul she is associated in at least once place with a sacred spring. In her continuing identity in the persons of cup bearers her role becomes differentiated and therefore ambiguous, particularly in later contexts when the religious significance may have been lost but the magical status still remained resonant. A cup bearer might be a maiden and hold an office as such at court but equally there might be an implied sexual element involved in what she represents associated with fertility. Enright says as part of his discussion of these elements, “We may therefore reiterate an argument made constantly in this study – that prophecy, sexuality and the offering of liquor were all part of the same mental construct for Celts and, perhaps, somewhat later, for Germans.” Where her maiden status is associated with protection, the loss of it also implies loss of protection. But it might in other contexts be associated with fertility and so becoming sexually active brings plenty. Her survival into later legends, folklore and story may emphasise only one or the other of these functions exclusively and so appear to be only about a single event such as an inundation or a symbolic offering of plenty by a cup bearer, though often the portrayal of these events retains an aura of something deeper.

What of Mererid? She is a well maiden, whose function is to protect the well. She also bears the cup of plenty. So could her seduction or violation have removed the protection and so caused the flood? And could there be an underlying sense of fertility here too, the release of life-giving waters, but disguised in the story of a catastrophic inundation? Perhaps. It was with such as sense of these possibilities that I moved from undertaking a translation of the poem from The Black Book of Carmarthen, where I felt constrained to at least preserve the narrative and thematic integrity of the original (in spite of also attempting a re-interpretation of the context) to writing my own, freer version of the same poem in an act of imaginative re-casting. Here it is:

Cantre’r Gwaelod

(A free adaptation of the poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen)

 

Wake up Seithennin

Can’t you see what’s happening

The wild sea is rushing in.

 

The well’s cup-bearer,

That girl you had beside you –

You thought it nothing just to take her.

 

Now she’s gone, the well

She keeps is overflowing

And running to the sea’s swell.

 

Can you hear her call

Ringing out across the water?

Your fault has brought you to a fall.

 

Can you hear her berate

The fate that’s brought her

To this end – early or late

 

She sings her lament

Over Gwyddno’s flooded meadows

The cup of plenty now is spent.

 

She rides through the flow –

Mererid – on the bay mare’s back

Her song lulling the pull and tow

 

Of the plaintive waves:

A pearl plucked from its oyster;

Like your bed, empty of its treasure.

There is a single word in the original poem ‘cwyn’ that has been alternatively translated ‘complaint’ and ‘feast’. Did she complain about what had happened to her (as I imply in my translations) or might we suppose that the offering of her cup as a feast has other implications? A mythological reading might include both possibilities simultaneously. Is she here the victim of a violation or an active participant in releasing the flood? You would think as I have translated the poem twice with the same implication, that I was certain about this. But I’m not.

References:

Jackson Knight  Epic and Anthropology (London, 1967)

M J Enright Lady With a Mead Cup (Dublin, 1995)

The poem is No. 39 in The Black Book of Carmarthen.

The original text with a translation, discussion and notes by Rachel Bromwich appears in The Early Cultures of North-West Europe (Cambridge, 1950). The discussion compares the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod with the Breton legend of Ker-Is.

There is also a translation by Jenny Rowlands in Early Welsh Saga Poetry (Cambridge, 1990).

MAPONOS

Dun Brython

Gogyfarch Vabon o arall vro
-*-
Call upon Mabon from the Other Realm

(Book of Taliesin : 38)

Matrona Gaul goddess altMatrona with Child Divine Son of Divine Mother, taken at three nights old into the Otherworld but brought back out of the darkness into the light of this world. Playing the Harp of Time ~>  he brings the music of the world out of silence into the sights and sounds of Summer. His is the bright step into the eternal present of Now, the act of Being, the vitality of youth grown to manhood. He may come as a hunter decked in leaves with a sheaf of arrows to inspire a bard, as the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan relates (~>).

In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen he is Mabon, released from the dungeon of Caer Loyw to join Arthur and his men to hunt Twrch Trwyth. He is simultaneously…

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Bards who Sing … Bards who Praise

I have just posted this on the BRYTHON blog

Dun Brython

Beirdd copy copy

It is the bards of the world who judge men of valour’ – Gododdin

So says Aneirin in the oldest surviving text in the Welsh language. Aneirin was one of the bards mentioned in the 9th century Historia Brittonum (1) as having been active in the 6th century:

Talhaern Tat Aguen was then renowned in poetry, and Aneirin and Taliesin and Bluchbard and Cian who was called Gwenith Guaut, were all renowned at this time.

Of these, only Aneirin and Taliesin have surviving poems attributed to them and, in the case of Taliesin, poems continued to be written in his name by bards using him as the mouthpiece of the awen up until the end of the thirteenth century. The language of the Historia is Latin, but the epithets for Talhaearn and Cian are in early Welsh. Talhaearn is described as ‘the father of the Awen’, which…

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Mererid

Dyfi ynyslas
‘Maes Gwyddno’ : Dyfi Estuary at Yny Las

Mererid

Cup-bearer at the court
of Gwyddno Garanhir
she proffered the mead of prophecy,

Fore-telling the overwelling
of pride, predicting the flood
but not pre-empting the flow

From the poisoned cup of plenty
held by the plaintive stranger,
her presence inviolate.

But respect for her expected
honour waned and without it
she was unprotected.

So was the land. The waters
washed over the fetlocks of horses,
their grazing a gathering place

For dolphins, and she now diving
with them under the waves
that lap at the liminal marshland endlessly


Notes:

The office of cup bearer had its origins in an older custom and was therefore seen as both integral to the court but also an echo of something other, so its holder could be regarded as equally an insider and an outsider as an officer of the court.

Although the principal role of male cup-bearers was as poison tasters, female cup-bearers in Germanic and Celtic tribes were identified with provision and also with prophecy. The office may have had its origins in the goddess Rosmerta, the element ‘smert’  in her name means ‘provider’ , her emblems being the bucket, ladle, cup and the patera – symbols of life-giving food and drink.

The flooding of the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir are recorded in the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod. The older of the extant legends blames Mererid (‘Pearl’) – variously identified as a cup-bearer, a well maiden, the lover of one of Gwyddno’s men who had been killed in battle – as the responsible agent of the flood. The story is confused.

Mererid is portrayed as riding through the flood on a horse.

Gwyddno Garanhir’s horse was said to have been poisoned by the waters rushing down through his lands from the spilling of Ceridwen’s cauldron.

*

Cup bearers are discussed by M J Enright in Lady With a Mead Cup (Four Courts Press, 1995) 

Mererid’s story is contained in a poem in the Welsh medieval manuscript of
The Black Book of Carmarthen

Awen

Ni thau awen o’i thewi

Mae erioed i’w marw hi

(Gerallt Lloyd Owen)

*

Awen is not silent in its silence

Forever is its finality


These two lines from a master of cynghanedd express with profound simplicity the nature of Awen. My translation of them cannot achieve the woven interlocking of sound and sense which is contained in the Welsh. But I hope it captures something of the  concentrated power of the original.

Sacred Waters

IMG_0437

Mererid’s Well – her spring of waters
Remembered here to recall her story
Bearing the cup of the land’s memory.
 

Here too a stone from another spring:
Coventina’s Well, long lost and forgotten
Called back from the deep pool of oblivion.
 

Now two more stones for Belisama
From where the Ribble ripples over her bed,
To add to this altar to sacred waters.

IMG_0428

Notes:

  1. Mererid’s story is remembered HERE
  2. My visit to Coventina’s Well is described HERE
  3. The stones for Belisama were collected by Lorna Smithers and shared with myself and Lee Davies as part of a meeting to discuss the BRYTHON project. A BRYTHON  blog will ensue at Calan Mai.

 

 

 

 

Speaking to the Ancestors

Fitzpatrick-Tuan
Tuan  watching “a great fleet rolling as in a giant’s hand”                              (illustration :  J. Fitzpatrick)

 

 

Part of the lore of Ireland tells the story of Tuan who was visited by Saint Finian, hearing that he did not observe sundays or saints days, and wishing to know if the stories about him as a magician were true. Here is part of their conversation:

“Mine is a long pedigree,” Tuan murmured.

Finnian received that information with respect and interest.

“I also,” he said, “have an honourable record.”

His host continued: “I am indeed Tuan, the son of Starn, the son of Sera, who was brother to Partholon.”

“But,” said Finnian in bewilderment, “there is an error here, for you have recited two different genealogies.”

“Different genealogies, indeed,” replied Tuan thoughtfully, “but they are my genealogies.”

“I do not understand this,” Finnian declared roundly.

“I am now known as Tuan mac Cairill,” the other replied, “but in the days of old I was known as Tuan mac Starn, mac Sera.”

“The brother of Partholon,” the saint gasped.

“That is my pedigree,” Tuan said.

“But,” Finnian objected in bewilderment, “Partholon came to Ireland not long after the Flood.”

“I came with him,” said Tuan mildly.

The saint pushed his chair back hastily, and sat staring at his host, and as he stared the blood grew chill in his veins, and his hair crept along his scalp and stood on end.

(from Irish Fairy Tales by James Stephens)

How many generations are the ancestors? Do they include the lost tribes, the ones we displaced too long ago to remember? But the land remembers, and some remnant of them may live among us still, quietly marking the passing ages of the world, nurturing the wisdom they cannot pass on to those who cannot own it. As for those who have faded from view, but whose spirits still inhabit the deep recesses of the landscape, the marginal places we have not built upon or shaped for our own purposes,  do they remain among the living presences of the land or fade gradually but inexorably to the Land of the Dead? Even then,  they may leave behind a trace or echo of what they were, so that we might sense them still, if only as an absence, and so a necessary presence, in the world we inhabit.

Some speak of ghosts, some of other world(s) within, beside or beyond our own, of places that are portals, or in which a presence may be felt that is not accounted for in the species lists of natural history and so does not exist in earth, water, fire or air, but which nonetheless has a being with us (t)here.

If we visit such beings, as Finian did, then how should we speak with them, or inhabit their present? If Tuan were to tell us, as he told Finian, of his incarnations as different creatures on land, in air and in water, and the comings and goings of many different peoples over many aeons of time, would we hear the words, as Finian did, with a shiver and a sense of creeping dread? Can we hold such knowledge within us?

The story of Tuan tells: “No-one knows if he died then, or if he still keeps his fort in Ulster, watching all things …”

But if no-one knows , his voice speaks to us still out of the eddies of time, slipping the knots which tie us to the Ship of Time, sailing to the Land of the Dead.

The Guiding Heron

Heron-IMG_8821-ShL-Cilgerran-copy

[Odysseus and Diomedes on a night-spying expedition to the Trojan camp]

“Athena winged a heron close to their path

and veering right. Neither man could see it,

scanning the dark night they only heard its cry”

(Iliad , Book 10)

So the voice of the goddess comes in the night
unearthly as if far away, but close;
echoing through the unfathomable dark, but whispered

as if a lover told a secret close to your ear
and you reply just as softly yet speaking clearly:
‘O goddess I answer your call’

into the darkness of the night, no light,
even starlight (fitful behind cloud) and not
moonlight  for it is moondark, so dark

the voice, the heron’s call in the night:
a creak, a croak, a fraink, not sweet
like a songbird but a guiding sign to be wary

a waymark on the path, showing the track
to be taken, the line to follow through the gloom,
impenetrable blackness unimaginable in towns, villages

even where some distant gleam lightens the hue
of darkness, but out here in the ancient dark
her piercing cry is the only glint to guide you

coldly calling from empty space, but welcome
as the sigh of a mother to a feeding child, nurturing
sharp-eared attention, opening your night eyes.

 

The Otherworld and the Netherworld

c097

Consider the stories from Greece about Hades and Persephone, which operate at the purely mythic level and Orpheus and Eurydice which enacts the same mythic pattern but sets it as a story about humans rather than gods. In the first Hades snatches Persephone away to his dark realm and her mother Demeter eventually manages to rescue her but only on the basis that she spends half the year in Hades and half in the world we know. This is a story about the gods and the turning of the seasons. Now consider the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. As with many Greek stories about interactions between the worlds, the human characters concerned have some divine ancestry but live as humans in our world. Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies so her husband Orpheus, a musician with divine gifts, one might say inspired by the Awen and so godlike in his nature, goes to the Land of the Dead and plays his music charming Hades into releasing her, though the condition that he must not look back until they are both in the open air introduces a tragic dimension that  is often a feature of the Greek stories. This feature often translates to an ironically comic view of human frailty as in the Roman Ovid’s  re-telling of the tale.

So what we have here is a basic myth of a goddess being snatched away by a god into his realm and her return being allowed for part of the year and a parallel story of a woman being taken into this realm and her release negotiated, though not successfully achieved. The story is different but the mythic pattern is the same. In Ireland this pattern occurs in the story of Midhir and Etain. There are two versions of this story which echo the differences between the two Greek stories. In one they are both inhabitants of Tir na Nog (i.e. both gods) but in another version Etain is human and is carried off by Midhir, a king of the Tuatha de Danaan, after he tricks her husband and wins her in a game of chess. The cultural context here is very different and firmly embedded in the mythical history of Ireland. But, again, the mythic pattern is the same.

Celtic otherworlds may be in caves or under hills, beneath lakes or seas, or on far-away islands. The variety of location and context reveals a multi-layered inheritance in how these worlds are perceived and how they tend to fuse, in later literature, in a more generalised experience of Faery or, more trivially, Fairyland. In both these latter cases most often this is an inaccessible place that may be glimpsed but rarely visited though its inhabitants may well also inhabit our world.  In an article about the Welsh name for the Otherworld, Bernard Mees and Nick Nicholas remark that ” the Welsh name Annwfn … suggests an etymological notion of an otherworld” [see bleow*]. Suggested Brythonic origins of the name are *an-dubnos (‘not-world’ or ‘not-deep'[deep-notness?]) or *ande-dubnos (‘underworld’ or ‘under-deep’). Also discussed is a Gaulish word antumnos, used in calling upon Dis or Prosperpine and therefore suggesting a nether world of darkness rather than a paradisal parallel realm.

The probable Greek origin of antumnos also suggests a dark, underworld location. The authors of the article find it unlikely that the supposed Brythonic term *an-dubnos was used without knowledge of its associations with the Greek Underworld. This may imply that its later associations with the ‘Hell’ of Christian tradition is not entirely a later overlay. Rather, as Mees and Nicholas suggest “… the entrance of the term to early Brythonic might even be plausibly connected with the development of the dual nature of the Insular Otherworld and Graeco-Roman influence: paradisaical and ageless on the one hand, sinister and Stygian on the other.”

In this view, it seems that the Brythonic Celts wanted it both ways, not wishing to abandon the idea of a blissful parallel dimension to their own world but also paradoxically seeing it as a dark Underworld where the souls of the dead reside. If the fabric of these alternatives appear to have little in common with each other this may be because, for us, ancestors and other-beings seem to require differently imagined locations. But do they?

 

In Britain the story exists in various folklore and literary versions including the Shetland ballad ‘King Orfeo’ and the Breton lay ‘Sir Orfeo’. Both conceive of the place into which Orfeo’s wife Heroudis is snatched as a domain of Faery. The confusion between this and the Land of the Dead is expressed ambiguously in these tales. ‘King Orfeo’ has the lines “The King of Faery with his dart/Has pierced your lady through the heart” possibly suggesting death but also, potentially, enchantment.  ‘Sir Orfeo’ portrays the land that Orfeo enters as one where the folk who had been captured were “thoughte dede and nere nought” (seemed dead but were not) but a few lines further on “some dede and some awedde” (some dead and some mad).   I wrote my own concise distillation of these British versions some time ago HERE. Lorna Smithers also discusses ‘Sir Orfeo’ and the nature of the Otherworld in her own inspired exploration linking with some different contextual matter HERE where the overlay between Annwn and the Land of the Dead is also discussed. The mythic pattern of capture and release from the Otherworld may also be seen in the story of Rhiannon in the Third Branch of the Mabinogi tales where it is Manawydan who rescues her. Again the cultural context changes but the pattern remains. The medieval Welsh poem of ‘The Girl in Ogyrfen’s Hall’, discussed recently on this blog,  I think gains much of its power from its concentration on just one aspect of this mythic pattern. The gods live in an Otherworld which is parallel to and connected to our world. The seasons come and go as the gods move between the worlds, life leaving the land and returning in due season. So that land is also the Land of the Dead, where the ancestors dwell, just as they also dwell in the landscape that we know, their embedded actions in shaping and naming the landscape and the memories of their lives, their spirits, their being here with us which is also there in the Otherworld where the cauldron of re-birth gives them new identity.

So the mythic world of the gods is also our world, the legendary world of those semi-divine or heroic figures who have visited that world also inhabit our own world, and so it is there for us too if we would see it. Or it is ‘other’ if we choose it to be so.

  • [*]Bernard Mees and Nick Nicholas in  Studia Celtica XLVI (2012) pp.23->
  • See also  Gwilym Morus Baird’s discussion of ‘Dwfn’ in relation to Annwn HERE