Friday, 30 December 2016

The Route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch ac Olwen

The Route of the 'Oldest Animals' in Culhwch ac Olwen

Culhwch and Olwen contains a version of an 'International Popular Tale' known as 'The Oldest  Animals', the main gist of which is that a group of heroes, upon a quest, visit a succession of animals each one older than the last until they come to the oldest animal of all who helps the heroes fulfill their quest. In this case it is to fulfill one of the demands of Ysbaddaden PenCawr that Culhwch, the eponymous hero of the tale, must find the great huntsman 'Mabon son of Modron, who was taken from his mother at three nights old. It is not known where he is, nor which he is, - either alive or dead.'

This version that we have from the Red Book of Hergest is remarkable in that the places upon the route are still, by and large, traceable. Three are as certain as can be, they are Caerloyw - Gloucester, Cwm Cawlwyd - Llyn Cowlyd in Gwynedd and Gwernabwy - Bodernabwy on the Llyn peninsula. There are at least two possible sites for Cilgwri, and Rhedynfre may also be one of two sites, but in each case there are reasons to prefer the Wirral for Cilgwri and Farndon in Cheshire for Rhedynfre. Llyn Lliw has evaded many attempts at identification, however I feel confident that this must be the river lake known as Whirls End near Beachley in the Severn Estuary.

The places visited by Arthur's men in their search for the 'exalted' prisoner Mabon son of Modron. The route begins at Caerloyw, (after the freeing of Eidoel son of Aer from Gliwi's prison) and ends at Caerloyw with the freeing of Mabon son of Modron. A round trip indeed. 

Arthur appoints Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages, Eidoel and Cai and Bedwyr to go on the quest. They first travelled on as far as the Ousel or Blackbird of Cilgwri (Mwyalch Cilgwri, cil - 'nook, corner' gwri -personal name), There are two places today which are called Cilgwri; the Wirral = Welsh 'Cilgwri', (the name applies to the entire peninsula) and a farm between Bala and Corwen.

Cilgwri from Humprey Lhwyd's Cambriae Typus

The two Cilgwri sites. The Wirral Peninsula and Cilgwri Farm. 

It is not clear whether either of the Cilgwri sites was in the mind of the author, there may well have been other places called Cilgwri now lost to us. Perhaps the Blackbird's mention of a 'smith's anvil' was originally meant as a clue to the actual site, each of the other animals in turn mentions something of their habitat which a contemporary audience may have been expected to recognise. However, there seems to be a general preference for the Wirral amongst commentators. 

The Blackbird of Cilgwri has not heard of Mabon son of Modron but he thinks he knows someone who may have, "There is a race of Animals that God made before me. I will go there as your guide".1 he said, and so they came to where the Stag of Rhedynfre (carw redynvre) was. There are also two candidates for Rhedynfre, one is Dynfra Farm near Aberdaron at the western end of the Llyn peninsula; the other, suggested by Melville Richards, is the small town of Farndon in Cheshire. Rhedynfre means 'Fernhill' which was the likely Welsh name for Farndon = 'Fern-town'. It is close to the Wirral and for this geographical reason there seems to be a general scholarly preference for Cilgwri = Wirral and Rhedynfre = Farndon.

 From Cilgwri to Rhedynfre.

The Stag of Rhedynfre has heard nothing of Mabon son of Modron, "who was taken at three nights old from his mother" even though he has witnessed an "oak sapling...that grew into an oak with a hundred branches, and that oak fell...and today there is nothing of it but a red stump." 

The 'red stump' of Holt Castle is an 'artificially shaped boss' of red triassic sandstone (245 million years old). Up until the 14th century Farndon (Rhedynfre) included the chapelry of Holt and it was really a single town straddling the river Dee, but part of the town was in England and part in Wales for the Dee is the border around here. The castle was built by Edward I in 1282-3 but the site had long held strategic value, with its commanding position over the Dee crossing and there is evidence of occupation going back to the Bronze Age. I wonder if the author of Culhwch and Olwen was referring to this red stump when he wrote 'and today there is nothing of it but a red stump'. I think this is highly likely to be true, it's certainly possible that before this striking landscape feature was quarried, for the stone which went to make the castle, it's shape was very different. Did it once have the appearance of the stump of a giant oak tree? If this is true it suggests that the author of Culhwch had this precise location in mind as the home of the Stag of Rhedynfre, contrary to accepted scholarship that he had only a vague idea of the places he mentions in the tale.

But the Stag of Rhedynfre does know of  an animal that God made before him and so, with his help, Arthur's men 'proceeded to the place where was the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd'.3 It is as certain as it may be that Cwm Kawlwyt is the steep sided valley of Llyn Cowlyd, now a reservoir dammed at the north-eastern end. Though small, Llyn Cowlyd is the deepest lake in North Wales being presently 45 feet above it's natural level and so originally the lake was quite a bit smaller. It is probable that the slopes of the combe were deforested in the later medieval period. 

The text doesn't supply a specific site, so I'm guessing the Owl's home was on the warmer northern side of the lake, where the slopes are gentler than they are on the precipitous, rockier southern side, and where an ancient native Oak forest, of the type still found in Gwynedd, would have more readily taken hold. It seems likely that the author of Culhwch had in mind a Tawny Owl as Oak woodland is their preferred habitat. Also the Tawny Owl is most often associated with human speech as it is the male and female pair who call to one another whilst hunting: 'towhit' says the female, 'towhoo' answers the male.

Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages enquires of the cuan cwm kawlwyt as to the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron, to which the owl replies:
If I knew it, I would tell it. When I first came here, the great combe that you see was a wooded glen, and a race of men came to it and it was laid waste, and a second wood grew in it, and this is the third wood. As for me, the roots of my feathers are but nibs. From then until today I heard nothing of the man you ask about. I, however, will be a guide to messengers of Arthur, until you come to where there is the oldest animal in this world, and he travels the most - the Eagle of Gwernabwy.
Gwernabwy (gwern - 'alder') is an attested personal name and it is fairly certain that this relates to Bodernabwy = 'the abode of Gwernabwy' which is the name of a small farm near Aberdaron at the far end of the Llyn peninsula. This is really close to Dynfra Farm, one of the possible Rhedynfre sites, just over a mile and half away to the north.This proximity has prompted some literary critics, (and I agree with them), to reject Dynfra Farm as the author's intended site for Rhedynfre because of the narrative untidiness it causes.Why, if Dynfra Farm = Rhedynfre, would the Stag direct Arthur's men to the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, almost 40 miles away, when the Eagle of Gwernabwy lived next door?Admittedly, there may be some comedy value there, it wouldn't be out of tune with the rest of the tale of  Culhwch and Olwen, however...

Bodernabwy just north of Aberdaron.

Cilgwri-Rhedynfre-Cwm Cawlwyd-Gwernabwy

Thus far then, this stately progression of Arthur's men and the increasingly older animals, from the Wirral across North Wales to the tip of the Llyn peninsula, has a narrative logic that would not have been lost on a native contemporary audience, and for this reason this is my preferred route. However, the uncertainty of the siting of Cilgwri in the Wirral still bothers me a little and the reason for this will become clear shortly.

Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages asks the Eagle of Gwernabwy, (eryr gwern abwy) if he knows the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron, to which the Eagle replies:
'I came here a long time ago, and when I first came here I had a stone, and from its top I would peck at the stars each evening. Now it is but a hand's breadth in height'.
But throughout all this vast period of time he has not heard of the man they seek. He is, however, acquainted with the Salmon of Llyn Lliw. He relates that once:
'I went to seek my food as far as Llyn Lliw, and when I came there I struck my claws into a salmon...but he dragged me into the depths, So that it was with difficulty that I escaped from him...I launched an attack against him to seek to destroy him...he sent messengers to reconcile with me, to remove fifty tridents from his back. If he does not know something of what you seek. I do not know anyone who might know it'.

The Beachley Peninsula and Whirls End

The Eagle of Gwernabwy and Arthur's men visit the Salmon of Llyn Llyw at 'the place where he was', which must mean Llyn Llyw, and it is implied that the lake (Llyn) is to be found in the Severn itself, in the Salmon's assertion that 'With each flood tide I come up along the river as far as the bend at the wall of Caerloyw'. This makes best sense if we envisage the conversation between the Eagle and the Salmon as actually occurring in the Severn. Indeed, one doesn't have to look further than the banks of the river to find a 'lake', as the Severn itself contains many pools and lakes, for example: Salmon Pool, Count Lake, Plython Lake and Oldbury Lake are all within 4 miles up river from Aber Gwy, as are the suggestive Sturch Pill and Pighole Pill (in regard to the Twrch Trwyth), both nearby inlets on the west bank of Severn. The description of Llyn Lliwan in the Mirabilia is also clear that the 'whirlpool' is actually in the River Severn at the place where the incoming tide (the Severn Bore) meets the river in full spate. The obvious site for Llyn Lliw then is Whirls End.4

Regarding the 'Whirlpool' Whirl's End, an old sea dog friend of mine explained how ships and barges, heading for the busy port of Gloucester would ride up the Severn Estuary on the incoming tide and head for Whirl's End, where the rudder was applied full lock. The west bank is dominated by the Slime Road, a fast moving torrent, the east bank is treacherously rocky and the way ahead is impeded by the shallows created by the Oldbury Sandbank. So vessels would stop and turn full circle here, waiting for the rising tide to take them over the shallows, and this clinches it because 'Llyw' = Rudder, 'Llyn Lliw' = The Lake of the Rudder. One can imagine several vessels at a time turning in a tight circle in the middle of the estuary, waiting for the right moment when their hulls would be clear of the riverbed. Therefore it is easy to imagine how this must have appeared from the banks of the Severn and to see how a legend of a whirlpool came to be attached to this place. This is also the point on the estuary, because of the dramatic narrowing and the sudden encounter with the sandbanks, the famous 'funnelling' effect, where the Severn Bore suddenly gains height and becomes very noticeable. So again, it is easy to see how the legend of a giant salmon, (whose imagined movement through the water creates the wave) became attached to this place. It also suggests that 'surfing the bore' may not be such a recent pastime as you might think as Gwrhyr, Cai and Bedwyr all ride the wave.

Severn Bore at Hempsted. Several men riding the shoulders of the gigantic Salmon of Llyn Lliw...
© Copyright Brian Robert Marshall and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

It is not Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages who addresses the Salmon of Llyn Lliw but the Eagle of Gwernabwy himself, the oldest animal in this world, ('and he travels the most') The Salmon of Llyn Lliw is therefore The Wisest Animal in the World and he, it is, who knows the whereabouts of Mabon son of Modron. Says the Salmon:
As much as I know, I will tell. With each flood tide I come up along the river as far as the bend at the wall of Caerloyw, and there I found such misfortune as I have never found in my life. And so that you may believe it, let one of you come here on my two shoulders.
So Cai and Gwrhyr travelled on the two shoulders of the Salmon until they came to where the prisoner was and 'they could hear lamenting and groaning on the other side of the wall from them'. Gwrhyr said, 'What man is lamenting in this house of stone?' to which the answer is 'Mabon son of Modron is here in prison' and 'As much as may be got of me will be got by fighting.' So they returned to Arthur who summoned the warriors of Britain:
'and went to Caerloyw where Mabon was in prison. Cai and Bedwyr went on the two
shoulders of the fish. While Arthur's warriors were fighting at the fort, Cai broke through the wall and took the prisoner on his back...Arthur came home and Mabon with him, free.
'The bend at the wall of Caerloyw'.There has been a settlement on the high ground overlooking the River Severn at Hempsted since Roman times.

Hempsted Camp is, in all likelihood, the remains of a Roman camp built on an earlier Iron Age site. According to the Archaeological Handbook of the County of Gloucester by George Witts:
'It lies on the brow of the hill, a little to the north of the church, one mile south-west of Gloucester... the late Rev. Samuel Lysons was of opinion that it corresponded with the most perfect form of Roman camp. He says:— "Its form was oblong, 260 yards long by 113 wide, divided into two parts, the upper and lower; the vallum, fossa, and agger must have been of considerable height and depth. There were four gates; one of these led down to the Severn, and the road is still traceable."

The stages on the route in the quest for Mabon son of Modron mark out a circle with incredible precision. 

Cilgwri is the obvious odd man out, and I suggest that  either we may have lost the originally intended Cilgwri which would have been somewhere on the arc between Caerloyw and Rhedynfre, (with reference to the apparent logic of the circular route, but see below). Or, one or other of the existing Cilgwri's is the intended site, (both sites have their merits) and the author of Culhwch had an other, more subtle intention. 

All of the other sites along the route can be pretty much pinpointed (literally) and so it would seem to go against the grain that the author equated the entire Wirral Peninsula with the home of the Blackbird rather than some specific place.There are variations as to the whereabouts of the Blackbird in later Welsh Poetic and Triadic sources. In the triad, Tri Hynaif Byd, 'The Three Elders of the World', the Oldest Animals are the three birds, the blackbird, the owl and the eagle but the blackbird is now the Mwyalchen Gelli Gadarn, 'the Blackbird of the Mighty Grove' or, less romantically, 'of the Great Copse'. Elsewhere the blackbird is described as dwelling in a 'green copse' and also a 'deep copse' all hinting, perhaps, at a specific place as if it might be known to the audience. Indeed, these may all be 'epithets' for the Wirral, which was until the 14th century, entirely forested. There are paralells to a similar quest motif being undertaken by one of Arthur's knights and located specifically in the Wirral in the middle English poem 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'. The hero of the poem, Gawain, traverses the forested 'wilderness of the Wirral' (Cilgwri) enquiring, as he goes, as to the whereabouts of the mysterious 'Green Chapel', home of the Green Knight, just as Arthur's men traverse the 'deep copse' of Cilgwri to enquire of Mabon son of Modron.

I alluded earlier to the words of the blackbird spoken to Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages, ' When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil here, and I was a young bird. No work was done upon it except while my beak was on it each evening. Today there is not so much as a nut worn away'. There may well be some forgotten idiomatic allusion in this statement which may have specifically identified an actual site, (perhaps associated with a mythical smith) in Cilgwri/Wirral to a contemporary learned Welsh ear.

If this is true, it is worth mentioning that in this the first episode, where the Blackbird of Cilgwri guides Arthur's men to the Stag of Rhedynfre, the easiest route from the Wirral to Rhedynfre/Holt is to follow the River Dee, the border of North Wales, until they arrive at the fort of the 'red stump' at Rhedynfre/Holt. Compare this to the final episode, where the Salmon of Llyn Lliw guides Arthur's men to Mabon, they follow the River Severn, the border of South Wales until they arrive at the 'fort in the bend of the wall' at Caer Gloyw. The episodes are literally mirror images emphasising the borders of Wales and there can be little doubt that this was in the intention of the author of Culhwch and Olwen. Bromwich and Evans thought that, it was 'highly doubtful whether the redactor of Culhwch had any but an indistinct notion as to the location of the places with which the 'Oldest Animals' were associated' (Culhwch and Olwen, lxiii). I think this demonstrates that they were wrong about that. Either he had a map, (a bloody good one) or he was a map maker, (and a bloody good one).

  The place names 'Cilgwri' and 'Holt'  (both present on Humphrey Lhwyd's map) are connected by the  River Dee, the border of  North Wales.

The place names Llyn Lliw, (absent from Lhwyd's map) and Caer Loyw, (present) are connected by the River Severn, the border of South Wales.

The centre of the circle falls just to the west of Rhayader, the distances from here to each of the sites visited by Arthur's men, (not including Cilgwri) are as follows;

Rhedynfre...........60.96 miles
Cwm Cawlydd....60.93 miles
Gwernabwy.........60.97 miles
Llyn Lliw............60.78 miles
Caerloyw.............61.09 miles

Mid-Summer sunset towards Gwernabwy. The Dwelling Place of the Eagle.

It is well known that the eagle has always been a symbol for the Sun, and so I wasn't surprised to find that the line from the centre of the circle to Gwernabwy, the abode of the Eagle, is precisely aligned on mid-Summer sunset. This is the farthest North that the Sun appears to travel throughout the year; it might be a coincidence that the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd says of the Eagle of Gwernabwy that he is 'the oldest animal in this world, and he travels the most...' but in my opinion the author of Culhwch and Olwen was here dropping a hint and this really does look like a deliberate alignment. The view in the opposite direction to mid-Winter sunrise is not quite as convincing, still it is really close to the mid-way point between the lines from the centre to Llyn Lliw and to Caer Loyw. 

A recent correspondent Mr Steven Higgins commented, "What I especially like about your great circle is that the Eagle of Gwernabwy flies 180 degrees from Gwernabwy to Gloucester", reminding him of Lleu's travels of 'nine score attributes' in the guise of an eagle in Math. (but see my post 'The 'Death' of Lleu Llaw Gyffes'). He makes another interesting comment, could it be that our "storyteller, knew even longer sequences of the Oldest Animals. Could it be that the irregular spacing of the locations could be accounted for by the simple argument that originally there were several more 'Oldest Animals... the sequence of animals frequently reaches at least nine.'". if this was the case in Culhwch we should expect to find their locations in the southwest and the south of Wales where the circle arcs through first Dinas Cross, then the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire border on the coast near Amroth, then Worm's Head and the coast between Rhossili and Port Eynon on the Gower and on through the Vale of Glamorgan before finally reaching Llyn Lliw. It would be interesting to know if there are any Animal 'folktales' associated with these places. The large gap between Caer Loyw and Rhedynfre could be explained by the fact that this part of the circle is entirely in England, whilst the presence of Cardigan bay explains the gap to the west. Although, it should be mentioned that, in the 'Journey of the Swine' in the Fourth Branch, the final pigsty was  '...made for them in the cantref below.' I.e. in Cantref Gwaelod, the sunken land in Cardigan Bay.

The Route of the Oldest Animals compared to the Journey of the Swine reveals that two separate surveys, both undertaken with a high degree of precision, were carried out in Wales towards the end of the 11th century. If I were to make a guess I would say that the earlier of the two surveys was the Route of the Oldest Animals, as the Route of the Swine displays more sophistication; the two arcs of the swine route describe circles of precisely equal circumference, whilst the connecting part of this route exactly bisects the northern circle. The Oldest animal route however covers a much larger area with a diameter of around a 120 miles compared to around the 75 miles of the Pig route diameters. Curiously, as F. J. North pointed out 75 miles equals 60 of Humphrey Lhuyd's miles, as shown by the scale on his map. And 60 miles (the radius of the Oldest Animal Route) was thought, in the medieval period, to represent the length of a Ptolemaic latitudinal degree. There are other points of contact, all of which have probably come about purely by chance, for instance, the line from the centre of the Animal route to Rhedynfre grazes both the centre of the Pig route system and Mochdre (between Ceri and Arwistli). That they are separate surveys, however, is evidenced by their having different centres, the Pig route centre being roughly 4.8 miles to the north east of the centre of the Animal route, and the impression I get is of two distinct undertakings separated by time but emanating from the same school of thought.

The Blackbird of Cilgwri, The Stag of Rhedynfre, The Owl of Cwm Cawlydd, The Eagle of Gwernabwy, The Giant Toad of Ynys Dinas, The Dragon of Worm's Head, The White Boar of Llancarfan and The Salmon of Llyn Lliw. 

More to come...

1. All Translations are from; The Companion Tales to the Mabinogi. Trans. J K. Bollard. Photography Anthony Griffiths. Gomer Press. Llandysul. 2007. Unless otherwise stated.
2. Lady Guest makes more sense of this: "When I first came here, there was a smith's anvil in this place, and I was then a young bird; and from that time no work has been done upon it, save the pecking of my beak every evening, and now there is not so much as the size of a nut remaining thereof".
3. Lady Guest's translation.
4. I've whipped most of this paragraph from my post 'Cacamwri, Osla Bigknife and Llyn Lliwan'.
5. You can find Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of Culhwch and Olwen here: There are others. And in Middle Welsh from the Red Book of Hergest here:

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The 'Death' of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

The 'Death' of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

Following the third tynged of Aranrhod, that Llew shall not have a wife who is from this earth, Math and Gwydion took  'the flowers of the oak, and the flowers of the broom, and the flowers of the meadowsweet, and from those they conjured up the fairest and most beautiful maiden anyone had ever seen. And they baptized her in the way that they did at that time, and named her Blodeuedd'. She and Llew were married and lived at Mur Castell above the Cynfael Valley in Ardudwy. One day, whilst Llew was away visiting Math, the Lord of Penllyn, Gronw Pebyr, went by Mur Castell whilst chasing down a stag. He is spotted by Blodeuedd who sends an invitation of hospitality to him, which he accepts, but not before he catches the stag on the bank of the river Cynfael. The pair fall in love and sleep together for three nights. Then they hatch a plan to kill Llew Llaw Gyffes. Will Parker translates:

The next day, he got ready to go, and she did not hinder him.
'Aye,' he said 'remember what I said to you, and talk earnestly with him, and do that under the guise of affectionate nagging. And find out from him by what means death might be brought about.'
That night he came home. They passed the day in conversation, song and carousal. That night they went to sleep together. He spoke some words to her, [once] and a second time. But no [reply] did he get then.
'What's happened to you?' he asked 'are you well?
'I've been thinking,' she said 'something you wouldn't think about me, its just' she continued 'that I've been worried about your death, if you go before me.'
'Aye,' said he 'God repay your care. But unless God kills me, however, it is not easy to kill me.'
'Will you, for God's sake and mine, tell me by what means you might be killed? Since my memory is a better safeguard than yours.'
'I'll tell you gladly,' he said 'It is not easy,' he continued 'to kill me by a blow . It would be necessary to spend a year making the spear to strike me with - and without making any of it [at any other time] except when one was at mass on Sundays.'
'And is that certain?' she asked.
'It's certain, God knows,' he replied 'I cannot be killed inside a house, nor outside,' he continued 'I cannot be killed on horseback or on foot.'
'Aye,' said she '[so] in what way can you be killed?'
'I'll tell you,' he replied. 'By making a bath for me by the side of a river, making a curved, slatted roof over the tub, and thatching that well and without [leaving] any gaps. And bringing a buck (the word translated here is 'bwch' meaning billy goat or he-goat),' he continued 'and putting it next to the tub, and me putting one of my feet on the buck's back, and the other one on the side of the tub. Whoever would strike me [while I am] like that would bring about my death.'
'Aye,' said she 'I thank God for that. That can be easily avoided.'

So here is the 'death stance' of Lleu: He has one foot on the rim of the well and one foot on the back of the goat. He takes this position beside the river Cynfael. On the opposite bank are the goats brought by Blodeuedd. Above him is the well-thatched roof. Gruffydd surmised that in an earlier version of the tale a prophecy, geas or tynged, perhaps imposed by God, must have preceded this peculiar position which Llew must take in order that he may be slain. The very absurdity, obscurity and unguessable answer to the riddle, which Llew reveals to Blodeuedd, guarantees him immortality, unless, of course, he reveals the answer to someone like, well, Blodeuedd. But that's beside the point, the point is that this image meant to be unique, unknowable, unrepeatable. 

Now, here is a description of the constellation Perseus: He has one foot on the uppermost rim of the Zodiacal belt, the area immediately below this part of the Zodiac was anciently known as 'the waters of the well' due to the predominance of constellations with watery themes. His other foot (almost) rests on the back of the goat Capella in Auriga, he takes this position on the South bank of The Milky Way, on the opposite bank is the asterism known as The Kids usually depicted as two goat kids. Above him is the entire firmament, centred on Polaris.

As regards the 'well thatched roof', it is worth quoting W J Gruffydd's note to this in full: "The word used is cromglwyd, that is literally, a round hurdle,- like an open umbrella. The word is still used in Wales in the form of cronglwyd in the phrase, dan gronglwyd rhywun "under someone's roof," i.e., in his house. What is meant here is a round pointed thatched roof without sides, similar to those found in an African kraal". My idea that this 'roof' is meant to correspond to the dome of heaven, and that the pole which holds it up corresponds to the Axis Mundi is confirmed in an old Irish poem ascribed to the legendary tree dweller Suibhne Geillt:

My little hut in Tuaim Inbhir,
a mansion would not be more ingenious,
with its stars to my wish,
with its sun, with its moon.

It was Gobban that made it
-that the tale may be told you-
my darling, God of heaven'
was the thatcher that roofed it.

A house in which rain does not fall,
a place in which spears are not feared,
as open as if in a garden
and it without a wall round it.

In his book 'The Quest for Merlin', Nikolai Tolstoy noted Professor O'Rahilly's comment concerning ‘this thatched roof without sides...The house that Gobban built appears to be the firmament of heaven'. And there cannot be any doubt that this is the same thatched roof described in Math vab Mathonwy. It is, surely, significant that Gobban is cognate with Gofannon the Smith who delivers Dylan, Lleu's brother, the Unfortunate Blow. It is also worth mentioning that the line 'A house in which rain does not fall' finds strong echoes in the second englyn which Gwydion (shortly after his wanderings in search of Lleu in the Milky Way) sings to Lleu as he calls him down from the oak tree, an acknowledged symbol of the Axis Mundi: 

'An oak grows on a high plain,
Rain does not wet it, heat no longer melts it;
It sustained one who possesses nine-score attributes.
In its top is Lleu Llaw Gyffes' 

The description of the 'little hut' as 'a place in which spears are not feared' clinches it. The spear which the Strong Man Gronw Pebyr prepared took a year of Sundays in the making, and yet it still could not kill Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

There is another tradition which insists that Llew must be wrapped or caught in a 'fishing net' and I have read (somewhere) that this net is meant to be a circular casting or throw net,   


        This image of a radiated circle is a persistent image in Math The circular thatched roof and the circular casting net immediately remind one of Gwydion's golden shields made from mushrooms from the earlier swine swindling episode. They are all intended to invoke the celestial co-ordination grid. Recall also that St Lawrence, the Christian inheritor of the Lugus tradition also died on a grid.                                                                                                             

Here is the text of the attempted murder of Llew Llaw Gyffes as translated by Lady Guest from the Red Book of Hergest:

Lord,” said Blodeuwedd unto Llew, “I have been thinking how it is possible that what thou didst tell me formerly can be true; wilt thou show me in what manner thou couldst stand at once upon the edge of a cauldron and upon a buck, if I prepare the bath for thee?” “I will show thee,” said he.
Then she sent unto Gronw, and bade him be in ambush on the hill which is now called Bryn Kyvergyr, on the bank of the river Cynvael. She caused also to be collected all the goats that were in the Cantrev, and had them brought to the other side of the river, opposite Bryn Kyvergyr.
And the next day she spoke thus. “Lord,” said she, “I have caused the roof and the bath to be prepared, and lo! they are ready.” “Well,” said Llew, “we will go gladly to look at them.”
The day after they came and looked at the bath. “Wilt thou go into the bath, lord?” said she. “Willingly will I go in,” he answered. So into the bath he went, and he anointed himself. “Lord,” said she, “behold the animals which thou didst speak of as being called bucks.” “Well,” said he, “cause one of them to be caught and brought here.” And the buck was brought. Then Llew rose out of the bath, and put on his trowsers, and he placed one foot on the edge of the bath and the other on the buck’s back.
Thereupon Gronw rose up from the hill which is called Bryn Kyvergyr, and he rested on one knee, and flung the poisoned dart and struck him on the side, so that the shaft started out, but the head of the dart remained in. Then he flew up in the form of an eagle and gave a fearful scream. And thenceforth was he no more seen.

Gronw Pebyr translates as 'The Strong Man' which is an ancient title for the constellation Hercules whom, in his third labour chases down the Cerynian Hind. Apollodorus thus:  
Hercules set out on this adventure, and he hunted the deer for a whole year. At last, when the deer had become weary with the chase, she looked for a place to rest on a mountain called Artemisius, and then made her way to the river Ladon. Realizing that the deer was about to get away, Hercules shot her just as she was about to cross the stream.
The correspondences with Gronw's deer hunt are striking:
 She heard the blast of a horn, and in the wake of the horn-blast there was an exhausted stag passing by...For his part, [Gronw] went after the stag. At the River Cynfael, he caught up with the stag and killed it. 
Any decent popular amateur Astronomy application, enables one to watch The Strong Man or Hercules, 'rising on one knee', (recall that Claudius Ptolemy calls Hercules 'Engonasin' - 'The Kneeler') 'above the Hill of Cyfergyr', as The Hero or Perseus (Lleu) sets, (dies?) on the Northern horizon, while Aquila the Eagle, with the dart or arrow of the constellation Sagitta sticking out of his wing, rises in the East and then travels 180 degrees ('nine score hardships' or 'attributes' as Sioned Davies translates. Maybe 'degrees' would be better) across the sky to set in the West, with Perseus (Lleu), also having travelled nine score attributes, now in the topmost branches of the (world) tree, i.e. at Zenith .

He had one foot on the rim of a well. 

The paler blue stripe at the bottom of this chart represents the upper rim of the zodiacal belt, beneath which are the 'Waters of the Well'. Clearly, the thatched circular gazebo represents the northern celestial hemisphere and the 'Well' represents the southern celestial hemisphere. The largest star represented on the chart is Capella, The Goat.

He had one foot on the back of a goat. 

I mentioned in a previous post that Theony Condos noted of the she-goat Capella, known here as Amalthea the following “According to Hyginus, while Cronos was searching for Zeus, Amalthea placed the infant in a cradle which she hung from the branch of a tree, so that Zeus was not to be found either in the sky or on land or in the sea.” Zeus placed the figure of a goat among the stars, so that she would be remembered, this goat is marked by the bright star Capella '. Curious here, how one is forcefully reminded of the Llew Llaw Gyffes episodes in Math

Every single aspect of the 'unique' circumstances of the 'death' of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is contained in this image. It is simply imconcievable that this is a coincidence, Mabinogi scholars need to either challenge or accept these findings. There are more to come.

The Northern Hemisphere superimposed over the Cynfael valley below the Hill of Cyfergyr. The Milky Way has become the river Cynfael, in a rather precise way. The Hero Perseus /Lleu stands on the South bank with one foot on the rim of the well, one foot on the back of a goat, above him is a well-thatched dome or cronglwyd (with it's stars). The Strong Man Hercules/Gronw Pebyr rises on one knee (Engonasin) above the Hill of Cyfergyr. With Perseus in the setting position, Aquilla The Eagle, with the Arrow Sagitta sticking out of his wing, will rise in the East visible along the Cynfael Valley. When the Eagle travels nine score degrees, the Hero will be in the topmost branches of the World Tree.
I made this copy. You can see my other work at

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Stealing of the Swine (Illustrated)

The Stealing of the Swine (Illustrated)

Math the son of Mathonwy was lord over Gwynedd,

and Pryderi son of Pwyll was lord over twenty-one cantrefs in the south, namely the seven cantrefs of Dyfed, and the seven of Morgannwg, and the four of Ceredigion, and the three of Ystrad Tywi.

At that time Math son of Mathonwy could not live unless his feet were in the lap of a virgin, except when the turmoil of war prevented him. The maiden who was with him was Goewin daughter of Pebin from Dol Pebin in Arvon, and she was the fairest maiden of her generation known at the time. Math found peace at Caer Dathyl in Arfon. He was unable to circuit the land, but Gilfaethwy son of Don, and Gwydion son of Don, his nephews, sons of his sisters, together with the retinue would circuit the land on his behalf. The maiden was always with Math. But Gilfaethwy son of Don set his heart on the maiden, and loved her to the extent that he did not know what to do about it. and behold his colour and face and form were wasting away because of his love for her, so that it was not easy to recognise him. One day Gwydion, his brother looked at him closely.

'Lad, he said, 'what has happened to you?'
'Why,' said the other, “what is wrong with me?'
'I can see that you are losing your looks and colour, and what has happened to you?' said Gwydion.
'Lord brother,' said Gilfaethwy, 'there is no point my telling anyone what has happened.'
“Why is that, my friend?' he said.
'You know of Math son of Mathonwy's special attribute', said Gilfaethwy. 'Whatever whispering goes on between people- no matter how quiet-once the wind catches hold of it then Math will know about it.'
'That's true,' said Gwydion; 'say no more. I know your thoughts; you love Goewin.'
When Gilfaethwy realized that his brother knew what was on his mind, he heaved the heaviest sigh in the world.
“Friend , stop your sighing,' said Gwydion; ' you will not get anywhere like that. The only thing to do is for me to arrange that Gwynedd and Powys and Deheubarth, gather for war, so that you can get the maiden; and cheer up, because I will arrange it for you.'
'Lord,' said Gwydion, 'I hear that some kind of creatures that have never been in this island before have arrived in the South.'
'What are they called?' said Math.
'Hobeu, lord.'
'What sort of animals are they?'
'Small animals whose flesh is better than beef. They are small, their name varies. They are called moch now.
'Who owns them?'
'Pryderi son of Pwyll-they were sent him from Annwfn, by Arawn, king of Annwfn.' (And to this day that name survives in the term for a side of pork, half a hob.)
'Well,' said Math, 'how can we get them from him?'
'I will go with eleven men disguised as poets, lord, to ask for the swine.'
'He could refuse you,' said Math.
“My plan is not a bad one, lord,' he said. 'I will not return without the swine.' 'Very well,' said Math, 'Then go on your way'.

Gwydion and Gilvaethwy, together with ten men, travelled to Ceredigion, to the place now called Rhuddlan Teivi; Pryderi had a court there.

 They entered disguised as poets. They were made welcome. Gwydion was seated next to Pryderi that night.
'Well,' said Pryderi, 'we would like to have a story from some of the young men over there.'
'Our custom, Lord,' said Gwydion, 'is that on the first night we come to a great man, the chief poet performs. I would be happy to tell a story.'
Gwydion was the best story teller in the world. And that night he entertained the court with amusing anecdotes and stories, until he was admired by everyone in the court, and Pryderi enjoyed conversing with him.
When that was over, 'Lord,' said Gwydion, 'can anyone deliver my request to you better than I myself?'
'No indeed,' said Pryderi, 'yours is a very good tongue.'
'Then this is my request, lord: to ask you for the animals that were sent to you from Annwfn.'
'Well,' he replied, 'that would be the easiest thing in the world, were there not an agreement between me and my people concerning them; namely, that I should not part with them until they had bred twice their number in the land.'
'Lord,' said Gwydion, 'I can free you from those words. This is how: do not give me the pigs tonight, but do not refuse me either. Tomorrow I will show you something you can exchange for them.'

That night Gwydion and his companions went to their lodging to confer.
'My men,' said Gwydion, 'We will not get the swine by asking for them.'
'Well,' they said, 'What plan is there to get them?'
'I will make sure we get them .' said Gwydion. Then he drew on his skills, and began to demonstrate his magic, and he conjured up twelve stallions...

...and twelve hounds, each one black with a white breast, and twelve collars with twelve leashes on them, and anyone who saw them would think they were of gold; and twelve saddles on the horses , and where there should have been of iron there was gold, and the bridles were of the same workmanship.

Gwydion came to Pryderi with the steeds and the dogs.
'Good day to you, lord,' he said.
'May God prosper you,' said the Pryderi, 'and welcome.'
'Lord,' he said.
'Here is a way out from what you said last night concerning the swine, that you would not give them away or sell them. You can exchange them for something better. I will give you these twelve horses, fully equipped as they are with their saddles and bridles, and these twelve hounds that you see, with their collars and leashes, and the twelve golden shields you can see over there.' (He had conjured those up out of toadstools).

'Well,' he said, 'we will take advice.' They decided to give Gwydion the swine and take from him in return the horses and hounds and shields.

Then they took their leave, and set off with the swine.
'My brave men', said Gwydion, 'We must move quickly. The magic will only last until tomorrow'.

(First, they travelled through the district of Creuddyn.)

And that night they journeyed as far as the upper part of Ceredigiawn, to the place which, from that cause, is called Mochdrev still.

And the next day they took their course through Melenydd, and came that night to the town which is likewise for that reason called Mochdrev between Keri and Arwystli.

And thence they journeyed forward; and that night they came as far as that Commot in Powys, which also upon account thereof is called Mochnant, and there tarried they that night.

And they journeyed thence to the Cantrev of Rhos, and the place where they were that night is still called Mochdrev.

My men,” said Gwydion, “we must push forward to the fastnesses of Gwynedd with these animals, for there is a gathering of hosts in pursuit of us.” So they journeyed on to the highest town of Arllechwedd, and there they made a sty for the swine, and therefore was the name of Creuwyryon given to that town.

And after they had made the sty for the swine, they proceeded to Math the son of Mathonwy, at Caer Dathyl. And when they came there, the country was rising. “What news is there here?” asked Gwydion. “Pryderi is assembling one-and-twenty Cantrevs to pursue after you,” answered they. “It is marvellous that you should have journeyed so slowly.” “Where are the animals whereof you went in quest?” said Math. “They have had a sty made for them in the other Cantrev below,” said Gwydion.