Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Mabinogion

The Mabinogion is a collection of Welsh stories, mostly mythology and folklore, including the earliest Arthurian myths.

the-mabinogion

The stories were originally found in two manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425), however some of the stories are thought to have been written as early as the 11th century.  Lady Charlotte Guest was the first to translate these stories to English in the mid-19th century.  Curiously, the name ‘The Mabinogion’ is thought to have arisen from a translation error of ‘Mabinogi’, meaning ‘tale of a hero’s boyhood’.

The Mabinogion is divided into three categories:

Four Branches of the Mabinogi (“Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi”)

  • Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed (Pwyll, Prince/Lord of Dyfed)
  • Branwen ferch Llŷr (Branwen, daughter of Llŷr)
  • Manawydan fab Llŷr (Manawydan, son of Llŷr)
  • Math fab Mathonwy (Math, son of Mathonwy)

Independent Tales from Welsh tradition and legend

  • Breuddwyd Macsen Wledig (The Dream of Macsen  Wledig)
  • Lludd a Llefelys  (Lludd and Llefelys)
  • Culhwch ac Olwen (Culhwch and Olwen)
  • Breuddwyd Rhonabwy ( The Dream of Rhonabwy)
  • Hanes Taliesin (The Tale of Taliesin)

Welsh Romances

  • Owain, neu Iarlles y Ffynnon (Owain, the Lady of the Fountain)
  • Peredur fab Efrog (Peredur, son of Efrawg)
  • Geraint ac Enid (Geraint and Enid)

The first four stories, the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, all containing a central character, Pryderi.  In the first story, Pwyll, Pryderi grows into a man.  In the second Pryderi is scarcely mentioned, however Branwen marries the King of Ireland.  In the third, Pryderi return home with Manawydan, brother of Branwen.  The fourth involves Math and Gwydion, who come into conflict with Pryderi.

In the Independent Tales, The Dream of Macsen Wledig involves an emperor marrying a maiden he saw in a dream.  Lludd and Llefelys tells the story of Britain suffering from three strange plagues.  The next two, Culhwch and Olwen  and The Dream of Rhonabwy, involve King Arthur and his companions.  A fifth story sometimes included is the Tale of Taliesin, however this story was not found in the earlier manuscripts and is thought to have been included at a later stage.

The Mabinogion - Peredur Son of Efrawg

The Welsh Romances, Owain, Peredur, and Geraint and Enid, are similar to the French Arthurian romances written by Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century.

The Mabinogion Alan Lee

The entire collection is set in a magical Welsh landscape with giants, magical creatures, beautiful women, and brave heroes.  They deal with the theme of fall and redemption, loyalty, marriage, love, fidelity, the wronged wife, and incest.

Given that the fantasy fiction genre was practically unknown before its publication, The Mabinogion has had a huge cultural influence.  It introduced literary figures such as King Arthur and Merlin, and has provided a basis for European and world literature that has been published since.

Wiki – Maginogion
Timeless Myths
BBC History

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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The Morrígan, Great Queen

Morrígu, Morríghan, Morrígna, Morgan, Badb, Macha, Nemain, Anand, Fea

The Morrígan is a Celtic goddess of war, death, battle, strife, sovereignty, rebirth, fate, prophecy and magic.   She is also known as The Great Queen, Phantom Queen, Specter Queen, or Supreme War Goddess.  The Morrígan is associated with the sometimes frightening aspects of female energy and is often seen as an omen of death.  She often took the shape of a raven or crow, however her other forms included an eel, wolf, cow and horse.

The Morrígan is commonly seen as a Triple Goddess.  In texts of the Celtic Mythological Cycle, they are seen as sisters, the daughters of Ernmas and granddaughters of Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  They include Badb (‘fury’, ‘crow’) and Macha (‘battle’, ‘raven’), with the third being either Nemain (‘frenzy/fury’), Anand (aka Morrígan), or Fea (‘hateful’).  It is uncertain as to whether the Morrígan represents one or each or these goddesses, or all of them collectively.  Interestingly, Ernmas’ first three daughters are thought to be Ériu, Banba, and Fódla, the patron goddesses of Ireland and wives of the last three Tuatha Dé Danann kings.

The Morrígan appears in both the Ulster and Mythological Cycles of Celtic mythology, where she is found to have relations with the Ulster war hero Cú Chulainn.  She is thought to have helped the Tuatha Dé Danann defeat the Firbolg at the First Battle of Mag Tuireadh and the Fomorians at the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh.  It is said that she mated with the Dagda before the battle with the Formorians in exchange for her battle plans, which led the Tuatha Dé Danann to victory.

Morrigan_JessicaGalbreth

Through her role as war goddess, she is often compared with the Germanic Valkyries.  Her role included being a symbol of imminent death or could influence the outcome of war.  In the form of a crow, she often appeared flying above the battle, inspiring either fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors.  Through her ability to predict the death of warriors, she is sometimes associated with the wailing banshee (bean sídhe) of folklore.

Some have attempted to link the Morrígan with the Morgan le Fay from Welsh mythology, however it is likely that the two names are not related linguistically.

Wiki – Morrigan
Pantheon – Morrigan
Celtic Deities – Morrigan
Thalia Took – Macha

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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Lugh, Master of Skills

Lug, Lugus/Lugos (Gaulish), Lugh Lámhfhada (Irish), Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Welsh), Lugaid/Lugaidh, Lonnansclech

Lugh (LOO) is a popular Celtic sun god known for his many skills.  Because of this, he was also called Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm), Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand), Samildánach (Skilled in All the Arts), Lonnbeimnech (fierce striker, sword-shouter) or Macnia (boy hero).

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Lugh is thought to be a form of the pan-Celtic/Gaulish god Lugus/Lugos.  The ancient Romans associated Lugh with the Roman god Mercury/Greek Hermes, as well as Apollo through his association with Lugus.  It is also possible that Lugh/Lugus was also a triple god, comprising the Gaulish gods Esus, Toutatis and Taranis.

Lugh was known as a sun god and a fierce warrior.  He is also known as a god of storms, particularly thunderstorms.  He was associated with the raven, crow, and lynx, and had a magic hound.  Lugh possessed several magical weapons, including an invincible Spear, one of the treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  It is said that the Spear never missed its target and was so bloodthirsty it would often try to fight without anyone wielding it.

File:Lugh spear Millar.jpg

Lugh’s father was Cian, son of Danu and Dian Cécht of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and his mother was Ethniu/Ethlinn, daughter of Balor of the Fomorians.  It was said that Lugh’s grandfather, Balor of the Evil Eye, learned that he would one day be murdered by a grandson.  He tried to confine his daughter Ethniu, however Cian released her and she bore him three sons.  Balor arranged for the children to be killed, however Lugh was saved.  Lugh was later given to Tailtiu, a Fir Bolg, who raised him as her foster son.

Lugh had many wives, including Buí and Nás, daughters of Ruadri, King of Britain, as well as Echtach, Englic, and Rosmerta.  Lugh’s most famous son was the Irish war hero Cú Chulainn, some say through the mortal maiden Deichtine/Dechtire.

Lugh_IngridGrayWolf

One story of Lugh explains how he travelled to the Hall of Tara to join the court of Nuada, High King of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  The guard at the door will not grant him access unless he had a skill that was of help to the King.  Lugh said he was a smith, wright, craftsman, swordsman, harpist, poet, historian, sorcerer, physician, and champion, however the guard tells him they already have experts with those skills.  Lugh then asks if any one man has all of those skills together, which the guard could not answer, and Lugh was allowed to enter the Hall.

It is during the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh against the Fomorians that King Nuada is killed in battle by Balor. Lugh then faces Balor, who opens his poisonous eye that kills all it looks upon.  Lugh however shoots a stone from a sling-shot that drives his eye out the back of his head, killing Balor.

Lugh later finds Bres, the half-Formorian former king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, beaten and scared.  Bres begs for his life, and Lugh agrees to spare him if he shares his secrets of the land, including when to plough, sow, and reap.  At the end of the war, Lugh becomes High King of Ireland and rules for many years.

Cermait, the son of Dagda, later seduces one of Lugh’s wives.  Lugh kills him in revenge, however Cermait had three sons MacCuill, MacCecht and MacGrené/ Gréine, who avenged their father’s death by killing Lugh at Uisnech in Loch Lugborta.

Lugh held a harvest fair in honour of his foster mother, Tailtiu, which fell around the time of the first harvest in the Northern Hemisphere, August 1.  The festival was named Lughnasadh (“Festival of Lugh”) and celebrated corn, grains, bread and other symbols of the harvest.  Lúnasa is also the Irish name for the month of August.  In Christian England, this festival was known as Lammas (after the Saxon phrase hlaf maesse or “loaf mass”) also celebrating the first harvest of the year.  Even today, many people in Ireland celebrate Lughnasadh and Lammas with dancing, song, and bonfires.

Wiki – Lugh, Lugus
PaganWiccan About.com – Lugh
Timeless Myths – Lugh

© The Celtic Journey (2013)

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