Stage 1 in the northward journey of British culture.
From Brittany to Wales
Contains details of the homeland in Brittany of many British pagan beliefs brought north by Bretons who travelled by sea to Milford Haven in Wales.
Barry Cunliffe in Facing the Ocean 2001, describing the northward trend of migration after the withdrawal of the ice of the last Ice Age, calls important harbours ‘nodes’, from which branches spring. One of these nodes is the Gulf of Morbihan where the northward flow of people and ideas from Brittany to Britain and Ireland began.
On the south side of the tip of the south-western peninsula of Wales is a similar harbour, larger in prehistoric times than the Gulf and now deep enough for oil tankers. This safe anchorage, projecting into the flow of northward traffic, would have been used by sailors before avoiding the group of small islands and submerged rocks called ‘The Bishops and Clerks’ off St David’s Head. Welsh seamen would also have known of Milford Haven as a base for a short crossing of 160km to Ireland. This is where Breton travellers landed with easy access up the East Cleddau river to the heart of Welsh paganism at Arberth.
The South of Brittany
This has already been illustrated in Chapter 2a and described in Chapter 3, which showed that there were passage graves there, some of a similar style as those in West Wales and Ireland. The Welsh, Scottish and Irish versions are later and more sophisticated than the Breton. It is likely that a form of belief spread from Brittany.
The only deities of Brittany so far encountered are the goddess of the breasts and necklace motif and the cow cult of St Cornely. The designation passage grave is misleading . They were used a bone stores for bones that had had the flesh removed on special platforms. The procedure is described as excarnation. No symbol of a god or goddess has been found in British or Irish passage graves but storing bones is regarded as signifying ancestor worship .
Another saint derived from a pagan deity in Brittany is St Anne. A ploughman turned up a statue in about 1624 at a place now called Keranna near Auray at the western end of the Gulf of Morbihan. He claimed it to be of Anne, supposedly the mother of Mary and hence Christ’s grandmother. She was accepted by the Church and quickly became the patron saint of Brittany. Gould and Fisher mention that St Anne has been substituted for a Goidelic deity of the same name (vol. I 162). A modern guess is that, as statues have been found at a Roman villa at Carnac nearby, what was dug up at Keranna was a Roman period statue, but a more intriguing speculation would be that she was of the same kind as the Venus of Quinipili and the statues menhirs of Guernsey. Either way, the Celtic deity replaced by Anne would have been equivalent to the Irish (i.e. Goidelic) Anu (or Danu), also remembered in the Paps of Anu, double hills on the border of Cork and Kerry, which could be a natural equivalent in the landscape of the icon of the statues menhirs.
Photo 7.1 The Paps of Danu Gerrard Lovett
Danu is the central figure of an Irish pantheon and equivalent to the Welsh goddess Dôn in the Mabinogi, where the adventures of the ‘Children’ of Dôn are restricted to the western peninsulas of Wales or Anglesey. Danu /Dôn and her Welsh children are deities of the façade. The resemblance between the ‘Paps of Danu’ and the Venuses of Table 2 might indicate Danu and hence the Welsh Dôn to be forms of the Sovereignty.
The Forest of Broceliande
This supposedly enchanted area to the north of Carnac and Locmariaquer is an extension of the area where memories and myths can be found. It may be today’s Forest of Paimpont and if so is well within the red area signifying Megalithic on Map 1. This place is important for memories of Britain because it makes a unique contribution to British prehistory. The stories about Broceliande are from late romances, later than Geoffrey of Monmouth, and give a new name, Merlin, to the god referred to as King Bors in the south of Brittany . Sources are the Huth Merlin, The Quest of the Holy Grail, The Prose Merlin of Robert de Boron and The Vulgate Merlin Continuation vol. II ed H.Oskar Sommer also le Livre d’Artus vol VII. In Britain and Wales, particularly at Stonehenge Bors is called Merlin or Ambrius, the mover of the bluestones in Geoffrey of Monmouth. He is absent in Ireland.
Photo 7.2 Merlin’s Spring Barenton Raphodon
Barenton in the Forest is supposed to be the site of the ‘Countess of the Fountain’ in the Mabinogi. In this story there is a reference to Merlin in the form of the Lord of Wild Animals as a black giant with one leg, one arm and one eye in the centre of his forehead (Gantz 196). This creature is said to have watered his animals at the spring (illustrated above) that gave the Countess of the Fountain her name. The story of the Countess is a clear example of men fighting to become the consort of the Sovereignty. It is also said that water from the spring, dashed on a stone beside it at the supposed site, would make rain fall. Belief in the spring’s capacity to make rain seems to have survived into the early 20th century.
In a romance Lunete is said to have set up the defence of Merlin’s spring for her lover Branduz, first cousin of Bran of the Isles (Sommer VII 125/6). The Countess herself is called Laudine, perhaps from Undine, a water spirit. Lunete, under the names Luned or Linet, provided divine assistance to the hero of the story by making him invisible when he was in a tight corner and by persuading the Countess to accept him as her husband. The name Luned signifies ‘moon’ so she is probably a goddess and is regarded as imported from the French version of this story but could have been from the uncensored original. The story of the Countess is identified by its contents as belonging to the latest phase of memories, after the building of the sarsen structures.
Barenton is also where the great hall made of leafy boughs, already mentioned under May 1st, was made.
Still in Broceliande, Embreis (as Merlin) offered to show Diana’s Lake to the Damsel of the Lake, called Niniane or in Malory, Nimue. In French romances ‘u’ and ‘v’ are interchangeable so Malory makes her Nimve, a nymph, a minor goddess who haunts mountains, rivers and trees.
Merlin took the Damsel to a deep lake in a valley and went along the shore until they came to a stone tomb with a standing stone beside it. Here he told her Diana’s story. Long before the time of Christ she used to hunt in the woods of France and Britain. She found a wood in Brittany that pleased her more than anywhere else, so she stayed and made a manor on the lake nearby, where she returned every evening after hunting. Faunus, the son of a king who held that land, became her lover. They lived happily together for two years but then a rival called Felix appeared. He persuaded her to leave Faunus. The stone tomb near the lake was normally full of healing water but when Faunus returned injured from hunting Diana removed the water and, under the pretext of treating his wounds, laid him down in the tomb, put the lid on and poured in molten lead. When Felix heard of this terrible murder he cut her head off and threw her body into the lake (Huth Merlin Paris and Ulrich II 145/9). The story says that as she had been so fond of the lake and because her body had been thrown into it the name ‘Diana’s Lake’ has been used ever since. When the Damsel of the Lake heard this story she was interested because she felt an affinity with the goddess of the chase on account of her own love of hunting. She asked Merlin to build her an underwater home in Diana’s lake. Later she kidnapped Launcelot as an infant and took him to this underwater home. At the same time, above the surface of the Lake, Launcelot’s mother Elaine lost her husband, the god Bran (as King Ban) in addition to her child. She buried her husband on the shore of the lake in Broceliande, where he died on top of a tall mound (Sommer III 13) and ceremonies were held regularly in his honour. Because of her double loss she adopted the title ‘Queen of Great Sorrows’. The ‘temple-tomb’ of Ban will have been one of the sepulchres on Newstead’s list (see below in this chapter), collectively identified as neolithic passage graves. A narrator may have used this stone tomb as the stone tomb in the unlikely molten lead story. The identification of the Lake of Comper as Diana’s Lake could be tested by looking for the remains of a passage grave on its shore.
In the first few sentences of the last paragraph the author of the Huth Merlin has provided a version of the story of Merlin and the Damsel of the Lake in which their names are replaced by those of the Roman deities Faunus and Diana. For Merlin to be Faunus matches his alternative form of Lord of Wild Animals and, according to Geoffrey in his other book The Life of Merlin, Merlin also herded stags, deer and she-goats. His hairy skin inherited from his father may be relevant in this context. In another romance the Damsel of the Lake behaves like Diana when at a later stage in the story she appears as a Huntress, dressed in a short green tunic and with bow and arrows and a pack of hounds at Arthur’s wedding to Guenever at Camelot. The Damsel of the Lake may be identified as a goddess in the German language Diu Crone (Jillings 188) and certainly behaves like one. Bran is linked to the strange scene at Broceliande by his relationship to Lunet’s lover and by owning half the forest that surrounded Diana’s Lake, which he gave to Dyonas, the godson of the Damsel of the Lake.
Diana’s link to a lake has already been mentioned both by Frazer in Italy and in her Breton name the Damsel of the Lake. To confirm the parallel in Brittany between Diana and the Damsel of the Lake, both women incarcerated their lovers while still alive in a stone tomb. Breton Diana trapped Merlin (as Faunus) under the lid of a stone tomb, and the Damsel of the Lake, after she had discovered Merlin’s secrets, trapped him under a great stone in the underground chamber built for two lovers, already mentioned in Table 2. The classical connection is extended by the presence of Dyonas in the story because Diana and Dionas are equivalent to Jana and Janus who are versions of Juno and Zeus (Darrah 1994 143).
The introduction of classical deities in place of pagan figures in a romance is unusual but why it happened is clear from the style of the individuals. In the thirteenth century a literate narrator had already noticed that a few famous figures of French Arthurian romance were deities.
The south of Brittany is noted for the first phase of the worship of the goddess of Sovereignty and the cattle cult of St Cornely. Broceliande seems to have been the stage for some later parts of Arthurian romance than Carnac and Locmariaquer.
There are many examples in the romances of traditions in which a female ‘spirit of place’ provides her husband or lover with land and titles. An example of this relevant to Vannes may have been preserved in the name Enide in the romance Erec and Enide (the French version of ‘Geraint and Enid’ in the Mabinogi). The name Enide appears to signify the tribe of the Veneti of Vannes (Markale 1983 293/40. This name crops up again in Gwent in South Wales and Gwynneth (and the Venedotians) in north Wales. (Markale, 1985 181 and Griscom 511).
Ossuaries in Brittany
Photo 7.3 Guimiliau Church north-west Brittany Tango7174 The row of pillars in the middle of the picture supporting a sloping roof is the Ossuary
Among the unusual aspects of Brittany is people’s attitude to the dead. There are still a few ossuaries in Breton churches, used until not much more than a century ago to hold the bones of the ancestors of the village’s parishioners. Bodies were buried first in normal graves and left until the soft parts had decayed, after which the dismembered skeletons were removed to the ossuary. The extent to which the bones of individuals were recognized is unknown, but from a record of the removal of bones from a full ossuary and their reburial in a pit in the churchyard they seem to have degenerated into ‘collective anonymity’ according to S.B.Gould, writing in 1901. This is reminiscent of the way defleshed bones were collected in passage graves except that then the bodies were exposed to scavengers instead of soil to remove the parts that could not be conveniently stored. Excarnation of bones by exposure to vultures has taken place up to the last quarter of the 20th century in Mumbai, where the flock of vultures hovering over the exposure site could be seen from far away but now vultures are being poisoned and Parsee mourners have to wait longer to collect the bones. Barry Cunliffe comments (2003) that a ceremony involving the reburial of bones from an ossuary at the end of the nineteenth century would have seemed less strange to the people of the neolithic than it does to us today. Naturally he went no further. It would be impossible to prove continuity over the intervening periods. But now there is an example of a pagan cult from the Neolithic still being worshipped in Brittany into literate times, the chance of survival of a memory of ancestor worship is greater than it previously was.
Surviving ossuaries are, like the illustration of Guimiliau, usually lean-to sheds with open fronts built on the side of a church but one of those at Roscoff still stands as a separate building with openings all round.
Movement to Wales
Bran (as King Ban) and Embreis (as King Bors)
These brothers, or probably gods, are said in romances to have ruled adjacent kingdoms between the rivers Arz and Loire. The Arz still flows eastward from La Reste north of Vannes towards Redon. Embreis (as King Bors) is named ‘of Gaunes’ or ‘Gannes’, the ‘G’ here could be the Norman replacement of ‘U’ or ‘V’, making the place referred to ‘Vannes.’ Today Vannes is the principal town in an area still covered with outstanding megalithic monuments as it would have been in the days before the northward trend carried Bran and Embreis to Wales and later Salisbury Plain. Bran seems to have been the senior partner since Embreis (as Merlin) will be shown to construct buildings for him but Embreis is the astronomer and mathematician, and responsible for moving stones megalithic stones and erecting stone structures. The two will be followed to Wales in this Chapter and to Salisbury Plain in Chapter 8.
A great deal has been told in traditional stories about Bran and Embreis. Both their mothers, like Isoud, were princesses of ‘Ireland’ (Sommer 1 293). ‘Ireland’ here is taken to mean ‘of the culture of Ireland’ or of enclaves of ‘Ireland’ in Wales or elsewhere in the façade.
Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail
Although there is no trace of the Grail in the local legends of Brittany or Ireland its introduction into Wales was said in a romance to have been in the form of a small bottle of blood taken there by Bran. Welsh Clerics or narrators anxious to promote Christianity seem to have assumed the blood to be Christ’s. As a result the pagan god Bran was called ‘blessed’ for bringing it to Wales. Christianization may have saved this story in Wales when it has been forgotten in Brittany. This event was given another stage of interpretation by the assumption that the bringer was not Bran but someone present at Christ’s crucifiction. As a result Joseph of Arimathea was chosen as the British patron saint, almost comparable in importance to one of the apostles who had already been chosen by other European countries. The pagan ritual of drinking blood from a vessel called the Grail was taken to be the shared cup of the Christian communion. As a result Joseph was easily accepted but no person familiar to Christ is likely to have visited Britain, bringing the phial of blood (and a second of sweat), and to have built the first church at Glastonbury in AD 63, as Joseph is supposed to have done. The misconception has been beneficial to the purpose of this book by allowing pagan material to avoid the censors. Jessie Weston, referring to the ‘Christianization’ of parts of the romances, said:
‘We cannot refrain from the conclusion that there was something in the legend that not merely made possible, but actually invited, such a transition’ (Weston 127).
Weston politely avoided saying that the ‘something’ was the pagan ritual drinking of blood from a vessel that had been mistaken for the communion cup.
A test when two individuals are recognized as being doublets is to see if they behave in the same way in other respects, as shown next.
The two versions of the voyage from Brittany to West Wales
1) In one the leader is Joseph, in the other Bran.
2) Both came from Brittany with named followers: Joseph and his people miraculously floated on a shirt, preceded by Grail bearers walking on the water (Sommer 1 211); Bran (as Ban) also came from Brittany.
3) Both established himself in Wales: Joseph at Galefort/Castle Kaleph, the site of the Grail Castle where the Grail was first established in Wales (Sommer 1 217, 226, 236), Bran (as Uther) established himself at the same place under the name Cardoel.
4) Both owned a Table in Wales: Joseph’s Grail Table at Cardoel is called a prototype for the Round Table made by Embreis (as Merlin) for Bran at Cardoel (Sommer II 54). Here the Round Table and the Grail Table are regarded as alternative names for the same object.
5) Both their tables had a Perilous Seat (Sommer II 54).
6) Both had supporters killed, by the Sarrasins of Stonehenge in one case and the ‘Saxons’ in the other.
This list shows Joseph and Bran as performing the same functions so they are names for the same person. The name Joseph is an import from the Bible and was irrelevant to Britain in the first century AD and even more so in British prehistory. If this conclusion leads to no problems it can be presumed that they are the same person.
The rest of this Chapter is about activities in Wales
The place of entry and base of newcomers in Wales
In lines 3) and 4) Gale fort is equivalent to Castle Kaleph because they are the same name with the syllables reversed an in line 3 the same place is called Cardoel. The name Kaleph or Galafes also appears as Galabes, who gave his name to a spring that is associated with Merlin.
Kalafes when converted to the Grail religion built this ‘castle’. He was a maimed king, wounded through the thighs by a lance thrust by a man with a fiery face. He died on the day his daughter married.
Joseph had a son called Josephe. They have attributes in common, for instance both were maimed (e.g. Sommer I 107), and narrators often failed to distinguish between them, . Here no distinction is made between them.
Joseph had a second son called Galahad who was born at Cardoel. He is not the well-known Galahad who was the son of Launcelot (West 1978 123) but perhaps his ancestor. This earlier Galahad (Sommer I 282) became king of a country, which was at that time called Hoselice or Cleocide. It was renamed Gales after its new king, Galahad. Wales is still Pays de Galles to the French. King Galahad’s tomb was a stone slab supported by four pillars (Sommer 1 283f; Prose Lancelot ed Hutchings 45A). This is a clear description of a dolmen, suggesting a neolithic date for the funerary fashion of the time of construction of the tomb. Many dolmens are shown on Map 3 to be clustered round Milford Haven in Dyfed and Anglesey. The former is the more likely point of entry of the migrants for king Galahad’s tomb, which would be near Arberth, already described as the site of the Gorsedd in Chapter 1a .
The burial of the Welsh god Bran
In Welsh legend there is a fine example of belief in supernatural power in the talking head of Bran, king of Britain. Bran, undeservedly called ‘the Blessed’ because of some spurious connection with Christianity. He was a giant who lived in tents and had never been in a house. This description of Bran in the Mabinogi has been said to suggest a god who has been misrepresented as a human being with remarkable characteristics (The portrayal of Bran in the story [of Branwen] forcibly suggests a euhemerized deity. (Bromwich in Loomis 1959 50). As far as tents are concerned, the standard explanation is that as he was a giant no house was big enough to hold him though as Bran is a deity another possibility is that this is archaism, a memory of a time when people and their deities lived in insubstantial structures.
The romances provide details about Bran missing in the Welsh tradition. According to Helen Newstead, who makes no mention of archaeology and whose interest seems to be entirely literary, writing in Bran the Blessed in Arthurian Romance:
- Bran is associated with abundance.
- He is wounded or languishing.
- He is connected with islands or water.
- He is a giant, or if represented as a human being, of more than human stature.
- He is connected with severed heads, corpses and drinking blood.
- His companions are untouched by age.
Bran is a complicated deity seen from a long distance. Thirteen variations of his name are listed in G.D.West’s ‘Index of Proper Names in French Arthurian Prose Romances’. Newstead’s description of his sepulchres that follows next identifies him as neolithic. Under alternative names he is one of the two most important gods in the book as a doublet of Arthur, the other being Embreis/Merlin.
Some of the items on Newstead’s list have been mentioned in Welsh traditions but with a different emphasis from those in romances. In Wales Bran’s severed head, when moved to London and buried, protected the country from foreign plague (Gantz 81), see also Vortimer in Chapter 8. Protective deposits of both people an goods are a common feature in prehistory.
Among the personages in romances that have variations on the name Bran is Brandelis. This name appears four times in G.D.West’s Index of Proper Names in Arthurian Prose Romances apparently representing four distinct persons and there are a couple more names with very similar forms of the same name. Perhaps, since individuals with names incorporating Bran are often linked with islands, this name probably comes from Bran des Isles.
Newstead’s list can now be considerably extended by many variations on Bran’s name. Oral tradition operating on a single personage seems to have transformed Bran in the course of innumerable repetitions into many apparently distinct individuals. After many repetitions a name or circumstance may appear as if it were a series of echoes, some of them so distorted as to bear little resemblance to the original or to each other. For Bran distortion leads to the 14 equivalent names shown in the small tables in Chapter 1b.
Having provided a portrait of Bran as a god, Newstead also wrote an article called ‘Bran’s Sepulchres’. She found that his grave in Arthurian romances was:
- A rich and splendid tomb where religious ceremonies were performed; (Loomis 1959 50)
- Pagans worshipped there;
- The tomb contained the weapon which had caused the death of the occupant;
- Holy relics were removed from the tomb.
Newstead must have known that Bran was the name of a Welsh deity but does not use Welsh sources to explain the circumstances of his burials. The characteristics of Bran’s tomb, where pagan ceremonies were held and relics removed, match those of neolithic passage graves. These, although they often contained human bones, were not permanent burials in the sense that vaults are today. The chambers are thought to have been reopened from time to time for bones to be added, or to be removed for ritual purposes and perhaps later replaced. Newstead’s description of Bran’s sepulchres is what dates his tombs in Table 1 to the Neolithic and he is still remembered as a god in surviving Welsh literature. The list of Bran’s characteristics in Table 1, including the stories of his severed head and those in Newstead give a detailed picture of one neolithic god. It is remarkable that the Breton poets could have crafted the Arthurian legends out of memories of this strange being and his family and associates.
Though Bran (except as Joseph) has few links with maimed kingship, Newstead’s reference to him being wounded or languishing identifies him as a maimed king. Even Bran’s doublet Arthur, in spite of his supposed heroic qualities, is also called ‘le roi fainéant’, the sluggish king and he allowed the untested youth Perceval to recover the cup that represented Guenever’s Sovereignty, when it was stolen by the Red Knight.
Bran’s sister Branwen has already been mentioned as said to be buried at Aber Alaw (the mouth of the river Alaw). There a barrow containing an urn marks her supposed grave. A more recent excavation found more urns of the Bronze Age. Since Branwen seems to have been a goddess the tomb is not likely to be hers, probably a local assumption from the belief that she died on Anglesey.
Mentions of Joseph outside Wales
St Joseph of Arimathea has been comprehensively localized by the Church at Glastonbury Tor, a conical hill on what was probably once an island. It has a spring at its base staining the rocks red with iron. The chapel on top of the Tor, dedicated to St Michael (illustrated in Chapter 4), certainly fits the description of a pagan site and Joseph/Bran has a link with islands in Table 1. Only the name Joseph is out of place. It should be Bran. The unusual ledges on the hill have not yet been dated.
At the Giant’s Hill (Sommer I 246/7) Joseph and Bron burnt the idols and the earth opened up to swallow an unauthorised sitter on the Perilous Seat. At two days journey from Stonehenge The Giant’s Hill sounds as if it could be Silbury Hill.
In the real world Joseph’s sanctity was still taken seriously as late as the fifteenth century. At the Council of Constance the English successfully claimed parity with the great nations of Christendom: Italy, France, Germany and Spain. According to Gibbon, in the application by the English to join this august group ‘every argument of truth or fable was introduced to exalt the dignity of their country, including…that they celebrate the mission of St. Joseph of Arimathea…, ‘Our countrymen prevailed in the council but the victories of Henry 5th added much weight to their arguments’ (note f to ch LXX).
Arberth today has incorporated an initial ‘N’ to its name. It is one of the places where paganism is remembered in most detail today. There Pwyll, ruler of Dyfed and the first person mentioned in the Mabinogi, had his headquarters and within walking distance of it was the throne mound called the Gorsedd, already briefly mentioned in List 2.
This magical throne mound is described as the scene of several incidents. The first of these is that Pwyll with his entourage set out for the mound, which had the property that when a man of royal blood sat on it he either received blows and wounds or saw a wonder (Gantz 52). When he sat there a woman dressed in gold brocade rode past on a large pale horse. Though she proceeded at a steady pace it proved impossible for him to catch up with her but when he stopped and called her she stopped too. They talked, she was called Rhiannon, and they later married (Gantz 54). After the birth of her first child, a son, she was blamed for his disappearance when he was stolen while she slept (Gantz 60). As a penalty she was forced to wait by the mounting block at the gate and to offer to carry guests and strangers to the court on her back (Gantz 61). The reappearance of the stolen child, Pryderi, in a different place, was mixed up with the birth of a foal (Gantz 62). These oddities may be explained by a report of Gerald the Welshman on a visit to Northern Ireland. Gerald was a well-educated and well-travelled Anglo-Norman aristocrat who was born in Manorbier Castle.
He reports that when a king was crowned at Tyrconnel, in the north-west of Ireland, he covered a mare as stallions do (in O’Meara Section 3 XXV 78). Evidently the mare was the totem of the tribe. Returning to Wales, Rhiannon means great queen. These shreds of information, passed on by narrators who did not understand them, can best be explained if Rhiannon was a horse goddess.
When Pryderi followed his father as ruler of Dyfed he too sat on the Gorsedd, with his wife Kigva, his mother Rhiannon and Manawydan, who has given his name to the third of the Four Branches. As they sat, there was thunder and a heavy mist fell. When that dispersed they looked round and could see none of the flocks, herds, people and houses that had previously been there (Gantz 86). The land had been struck by magical barrenness. No explanation of the difference from Pwyll’s visit to the Gorsedd is given.
Even more remarkable than Welsh memories of Arberth surviving is that aspects of it under its various names have also been vividly remembered in romances. For instance in a romance there is a version of Pryderi sitting on the Gorsedd at Arberth in which Peredur, Pryderi’s equivalent in romances, sat on the Perilous Seat at Cardoel with similar effects. This confirms that in romances Cardoel is a name for Arberth. Cardoel will be shown to be the scene of many more important events.
There may have been other sitting places in Wales, for instance Bran sat on the rock at Harddlech (modern Harlech), but Arberth is the only one remembered for its magical properties. There were also stones for Individuals to sit on or places stand on at coronations.
The importance in the prehistory of Wales of Galefort, also called the Grail castle, Cardoel or Arberth cannot be overestimated. This was the entry point for the Breton’s with their new culture (Sommer I 227-242). When Kalafes arrived at what was to be named after him Castle Kalef he burnt the idols before building Corbenic, yet another name for Galefort. Kalafes was a maimed king who died from a wound between the thighs from a lance wielded by a man all in fames. Corbenic was the residence of Pelles, whose daughter carried the Grail in the Grail Procession. Being a maimed king he set up Launcelot to father the child Galahad by his daughter to avoid the magical barrenness of his country. The wide range of names for a single place may seem baffling but it is a sign of transmission of the memory of a very important place in many oral channels.
Gal- place names are recognized as a marker for Celtic languages from Galatia in Asia Minor and Galicia in Spain to Gaul and Wales as Pays de Galles. Names beginning Gal- are particularly common in Arthurian prose romances for both individuals and places. G.D.West in his Index of Proper Names in Prose Romances records seven pages of them. There are probably more Gal- names for men in romances than with any other first syllable. Among them are well-known figures such as Gawain, called Walwen by William of Malmsbury, Gwalchmei in Wales and Galvain in romances, also Launcelot was first called Galahad and his son was the well known Sir Galahad. Another Gal- name, Galehodin has a great number of variants. The point of this digression is that Galefort is a Gal- name and the group of names in the Atlantic coast from Galicia to Gaul, Galefort and possibly Galway on the west coast of Ireland shows the presence of the common culture of the neolithic seaborne migrants. The tribes of the Atlantic facade were never called Celts . That is the name of a culture that covered all Europe north of the Mediterranean from Ireland to the Dardanelles from a century BC well into Christian times. It was only a few centuries ago the people of the facade picked up the name and used it for themselves. When St Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians, they may have been Celts of the European kind
Cardoel in Wales
Cardoel has already been identified as the place of entry for immigrants from Brittany. There are practical reasons in prehistory for its importance. Sailors from the south would have heard of Milford Haven, a harbour far larger than the Gulf of Morbihan in prehistory, as the most suitable place to make their landing after a passage from Lands End travelling further north. And when they ventured inland the East River Cleddau is the obvious route for them to take. On a rising tide it is navigable to Canaston Bridge, which is 4 or 5km from Arberth.
Joseph’s Grail Table at Cardoel is said to have been a prototype for the Round Table, made by Embreis (as Merlin) for Bran, but since Joseph and Bran are the same person the two tables are also probably the same. The Round Table is considered here to be a name for the Bluestone Circle at Stonehenge that was first set up in Wales, then moved to Salisbury Plain. The completion of the Welsh bluestone circle in Wales was marked by Bran’s decree that the important days of the Celtic calendar and the winter solstice should be celebrated there. The introduction of an annual calendar at Cardoel shows the flat format as opposed to passage graves was already being used as an observatory in Wales. There was an extraordinary breakthrough in geometry, mathematics and astronomy. Christmas being the winter solstice gave the priesthood responsible a visible demonstration of their supposed power to reverse the movement of the sun at the winter solstice. As suggested in the article on Stonehenge in Chapter 3, two 4 week notional months of 28 days make up 56 for the number of bluestones.
Returning now to romances, on one occasion Arthur held a great court at Cardoel in Wales at Christmas (Sommer V 260), another way of saying that the winter solstice alignment had arrived at Cardoel and with it an annual calendar.
Cardoel is named after Do, Don or Doon, an unfamiliar figure. As Caer is a stronghold, Do is the lord of the place. He sounds like a name-giving founder. His children were Girflet and Lore (alternatively Lorete). Other residents were Embreis (as Merlin), Bran (as Arthur) and Yder the son of Nut were also resident there. Nut here is possibly the Celtic god Nuada
It was at Cardoel that Uther fell in love with Ygerne (Sommer II 58). Guenever’s father Ogfran Gawr (Bran the Giant) was another resident at Cardoel. Ogfran, Ocuran and other forms of Bran have been listed in Chapter 1b. There he gave the Round Table to his daughter as her dowry. ‘Dowry’ is an apt description of the goddess of Sovereignty’s ability give rule over her domain to each temporary consort. As Guenever spent her youth at Cardoel any love affairs she had before meeting Arthur must have taken place there. There was a possible love triangle in Diu Crône between her, Gasozein and Arthur and she had been in love with Gosengos before she met Arthur (Sommer V11 36/37).
The Welsh Goddess Dôn is the divine mother of several deities, a small Welsh pantheon one of them called Gilfaethwy, a name with consonants equivalent to that of Do’s son Girflet. For Girflet to be a deity is interesting but to be son of both the male Do/Doon in a romance and the female Dôn in the Mabinogi raises the question of the relationship between those two. Do will turn out to be a more important personage than has previously been realized. He might be a missing consort for the most important goddess in the Welsh tradition or he may have been given the wrong gender in the French story.
Lore of Cardoel crops up again at Stonehenge where she was lady in waiting to Guenever. She was in attendance to her at a joust when Launcelot was brought to her (Sommer III 57/8). Lore was even said to be Arthur’s niece. As Florée, Lore is renamed Sarracinte, after another Sarracinte, Evelake’s wife who was Sovereignty of Stonehenge (as Sarras) (for Evelake see preamble to Table 2 of Chapter 6). Do’s daughter Lore has reached the highest position available in British prehistory. How did this happen? She is said to have been married to Celidoine. A possible answer is that as Celidoine was a renowned astronomer, he could be a doublet of Merlin, who is called Merlin Caledonius by Giraldus Cambrensis. Celidoine beside being married to the Sovereignty of Stonehenge is one of the few named people to be remembered as buried there in traditional stories.
It is appropriate that Girflet’s sister should turn out to be a deity as the Sovereignty. The four or five references to Lore at Stonehenge fit the idea of movement from Cardoel. Some of Lore/Florée’s relationships have been ignored, but this is an example of the worked flint in a rabbit scrape. The Sovereignty, an important contribution to Stonehenge, was a west coast deity, also present in Ireland and taken to Stonehenge from Wales.
There may be an alternative route to the conclusion that Do and Merlin are the same person. Do appears as master forester to Bran who owned the wood in Brittany where Merlin/Faunus and the Damsel of the Lake/Diana lived. Merlin, son of a wild man of the woods also appeared disguised as a forester and as lord of the Animals. Unlike most other figures in the romances, Merlin has the stature to be an appropriate alternative to Do and consort of Dôn.
A mention of paganism in the Welsh Mabinogi that has escaped censorship
Although the Mabinogi does not mention the Grail by name it contains in ‘Peredur’ an unmistakeable reference to the Grail procession. The well-known story in the French texts and in Malory usually refers to a young girl who carries the Grail in a procession, accompanied by a youth carrying a spear held vertically. The significance of what seems to be a ritual is disputed. What is needed to discover the meaning of this story is naturally the earliest version, which is likely to be the one in the Mabinogi. It is as follows:
Peredur was at the hall of his uncle, his mother’s brother, when he saw: ‘Two lads entering the hall and then leaving for a chamber; they carried a spear of incalculable size with three streams of blood running from the socket to the floor.’ After ‘a crying and lamentation that was not easy to bear’… ‘two girls entered bearing a large platter with a man’s head on it, covered in blood.’ This evoked more crying and lamentation (Gantz 226).
Thirty pages later the story is continued: a yellow haired lad, sitting at one end of a hall next to a lame hoary-haired man, got up and explained to Peredur what had happened. He said that he ‘came to Arthur’s court in the form of the black woman’ and said he was there: ‘When you threw away the gwyddbwyll board [a game played by moving pieces on a board but not chess], when you killed the black man from Ysbidinongyl, when you killed the stag and fought with the black man from the stone’. He continued:
‘I carried the bleeding head on the platter and the spear with the stream of blood dripping from the point. The head belonged to your first cousin, whom the Hags [or witches] of Gloucester killed, and they lamed your uncle as well’ (Gantz 254&256).
Transformation, even of a human into an animal, is present in other stories in the early Welsh traditions.
The ‘lame hoary haired man’ that the yellow haired lad was sitting next to sounds like Peredur’s uncle, owner of the hall in the first story. He can be recognized as a maimed king for the maimed kings of romances are often described as ‘lamed’. Apart from the lamed uncle, all this is absent in the French texts, including the lad himself.
This may be the only reference to a maimed king in the Welsh tradition. The lamed uncle being Peredur’s mother’s brother suggests that in a matriarchal society Peredur would have been his heir. The primitive character of the Welsh version seems to make it earlier than the French, which has been censored in Brittany to appeal to polished French speaking courts, a parallel to the way in which Welsh traditions have been censored but for a different reason. The version of the Grail procession in ‘Peredur’ is unusual for making women responsible for both ritual execution and mutilation though not quite unique as the example from an island off the Atlantic coast of France will show (see below).
Unfortunately there seem to be no other references to the yellow haired lad but he belongs to a mythological tradition. A clue to what is happening may be his yellow hair. In another story of the Mabinogi, ‘The Countess of the Fountain’, the hero of the story, Owein, was helped by a young female magician, Luned, who had curly yellow hair, a gold headband and was dressed in yellow brocade. Also a man and two youths at the castle on the way to the spring all had curly yellow hair and the youths had gold ornaments and wore tunics of yellow brocade; and Rhiannon, regarded as a goddess, was dressed in shining gold brocade when she approached Pwyll as he sat on the Gorsedd of Arberth (Gantz 201, 194 and 52). The man and two youths mark a stage in Owein’s journey and the glittering gold seems like an unnecessary embellishment, however Luned, Owein’s guardian spirit, has supernatural characteristics and Rhiannon too is a horse goddess. The yellow haired boy in ‘Peredur’ could be considered a supernatural being.
The Hags of Gloucester can be fitted into a wider context. There were nine of them, a useful reference point as other groups of nine women with supernatural attributes open up a new aspect of the Atlantic coast culture.
Nine women on islands
- Gloucester owes its name to the ‘cester’ that indicates a Roman fort (castrum), added to a Celtic ‘Glou’. In Roman times it was conveniently near a crossing of the Severn as two other rivers join just downstream and three smaller streams are easier to cross than one large one. When Gloucester was dominated by nine hags they probably occupied the eminence the Cathedral now stands on, with the flood plain of the Severn embracing it from the west. As it is almost surrounded by water today, and may have been so to a greater extent in prehistory, Gloucester can be considered an island.
- At the Ile de Sein off the Pointe du Raz in Northern Brittany, according to Pomponius Mela, writing in about 43 AD there was an oracular cult. Nine priestesses dedicated to virginity claimed to predict the future, to control the winds and the waves, to transform themselves into animal form and to heal. This island is reputed to be the last place in France to be converted to Christianity, in the eighteenth century.
- Avalon, the unidentified island where the dying Arthur was taken, was the home of Morgan le Fay, the head of nine sisters; she was able to change her shape and to fly through the air like Daedalus and was skilled in the art of healing.
- In the ancient Welsh ‘The Spoils of Annwfn’ (the Otherworld) nine maidens kindled a cauldron of inspiration on an offshore island.
- The end of the nine sisters is that on the edge of the forest near Tenby, on the southern shore of Dyfed and 15 km south of Arberth, a grey-haired woman frightened a companion of St Samson by throwing a boar-spear at him. She was a witch who, with her eight sisters and her mother, was all that remained of the original inhabitants of the land. The Saint cursed her, and she died. This happened in the first half of the 6th century AD. (Gould and Fisher IV 144f). It seems likely that some events attributed to saints may have been from some older tradition and been used to enhance the saint’s reputation.
Other references, either inland or unidentified, are:
- According to Robert Graves nine witches killed and ate an acolyte of St Samson at Dol in Brittany in the Middle Ages.
- On the ‘heights of Ystafynion’, Cai (Malory’s Sir Kay) killed nine witches (in ‘Pa gur’ Barber, 1976 71).
On an unnamed island off the mouth of the Loire priestesses performed the rite of Dionysus. They used to visit men on the mainland but no man dare set foot on the island. One of the priestesses was torn to pieces by her companions at an annual ritual as punishment for a trivial lapse in replacing the thatch on a roofed temple. They carried round the mangled body until their tempers cooled (Hamilton, 295). As no number is given in the story it does not belong in the list.
Much in this list is so unlikely that it could be relegated to imagination or the domain of the international folk tale but there are groups of nine priestesses at west coast cult sites, often islands, in three literatures – classical (Sein), medieval Latin (Avalon) and Welsh (Preiddeu Annwfn). It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that aspects of the nine witches motif, like great cruelty in the cases of the witches of Gloucester, Dol and the priestesses on the island in the Loire are ancient beliefs. However unreal witches are to us, they probably played a considerable part in British pagan thinking over many thousands of years.
The Sovereignty as a hag
When Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan (1981 219) was discussing the offer of a cup given to Peredur by the Empress she pointed out that the identification of the ‘Empress’ as the Sovereignty was confirmed by her appearance as the Ugly Maiden (Gantz 248/9) and the black maiden of the Castle of Marvels (Gantz 254/5) in the same story. Whether in Irish tradition or Welsh, the concept of a beautiful woman having an ugly form is unusual and when it occurs there is often no alternative explanation than that she was the Sovereignty. Even the Damsel of the Lake was turned by enchantment into an old woman in a romance on one occasion when she visited Arthur (Vinaver Malory 1929 52 n2). An extreme example of the ugly form occurs in a romance that appears to be a variant, or perhaps a precursor of, ‘The Isle of Gold’, to be described in more detail in Chapter 9. In this story the daughter and heiress of the King of Wales was transformed by the enchanters Mabon and Evrain (Bran) into the form of a serpent four fathoms long with a woman’s face. When the hero had killed one enchanter and disabled the other the serpent twined round his neck, kissed him on the lips and turned into a beautiful woman who presented him with her person and her possessions.
After many centuries the procedure had been watered down before it petered out in the time of St Patrick. The last reference to it is that Niall of the Nine Hostages, the ancestor of the High Kings at Tara, owed his position to an encounter with the Goddess of Sovereignty. The relevant part of his story is that he and his half-brothers set up camp at the end of a day’s hunting but needed water. A fearsome hag who guarded the only well refused it to the half-brothers but Niall gave her a kiss that transformed her into a beautiful woman. She then give him a cup of water from the well and promised him that he and his seed would rule over Ireland at Tara, and so it came about, though a suspicion that the prophesy came after his ascension to the throne cannot be avoided.
What has recently been revealed by genetics is that Niall and his male descendants had more than their fair share of women, to the extent that 25% of the men in north-west Ireland have Niall’s gene at the present day and so have some Irish emigrants and their children including the author of this book.
The intention of the Sovereignty’s consort was to encourage all men to follow his example. This seems to have happened at festivals, particularly on May 1st. In the romance Perceforest this has been described as multiple marriages (Bryant 2011 421, 549 and 657).
Women providing weapons and names
Nuns brought Galahad up, reminiscent of an odd custom that is mentioned elsewhere in Celtic legend, that a goddess should give a hero his name, his military training and his weapons. In ‘Math son of Mathonwy’ in the Mabinogi (Gantz 107-110) the custom is presented in a garbled form in a tale full of magic and deceit. Aranrhod swore that her bastard son should have no name unless she gave it herself and that he should have no weapons unless she armed him herself. She was tricked into providing both. Peredur, the Welsh hero corresponding to Perceval, spent three weeks with the witches of Gloucester being taught to ride his horse and handle his weapons. At the end of the course the chief of the witches (who were supernatural beings), gave him his choice of horse and arms (Gantz, p. 232). There is no trace of this custom in romances telling of the other successful Grail seeker, Perceval. The same procedure is remembered in Irish myth, with Cuchulain being educated by Scathach, the goddess of War (Lovecy 176).
Launcelot was also prepared for knighthood and named by a woman, the Damsel of the Lake, a goddess, who brought him up in her underwater abode with his cousins Bors and Lionel and presented him at court, dressed in red, to be knighted. For the two Grail achievers and the father of one of them to be brought up or trained by women, is a remarkable coincidence unless it reveals the survival of some half-forgotten tradition of a matriarchal society.
The Grail Bearer
King Pelles of Listenoise was a maimed king so unable to have an heir. He had a young daughter called Amite, Helizabel, or possibly Elaine, who was the bearer of the Grail in the Grail procession. Her father wished to avoid his country being destroyed by magical barrenness. This would be prevented if he had an heir who could sit on the Perilous Seat without incurring that disaster. Accordingly he had Launcelot drugged and put in his daughter’s bed where she conceived Galahad who, not being maimed, would be able to sit on the seat with impunity (Sommer V 112). As virginity was required for her office (Sommer II 159) the Grail bearer was replaced but afterwards kept her right arm, which had held the Grail, in a sling so that it should not be used for any inferior purpose. Later in life she became the main Damsel of the Cart, a vehicle that held 150 severed heads and was drawn by deer. She took the cart to an Arthurian court, accompanied by Perceval, arriving on a St John’s Day (Darrah 1994 300. Under a different name the Grail bearer resembles a goddess in the German language Diu Crone of Heinrich von Türlein (Jillings 113 & 118). For more detail of the Damsel of the Cart see Darrah 1994 pp 83 &146. There were of course no wheeled vehicles at the time this myth began but people who could move substantial stones would be able to pull a sledge to carry an idol or an individual.
Photo 7.4 The Stretweg Wagon Friedrich Drexel
This story has been preserved in bronze as a four wheeled platform of 600 BC at Strettweg and in a romance of the 1200s AD. The young woman carries a shallow bowl, conforming to the view that the Grail was a platter. There are antlers of deer that would have been facing outwards at both ends, matching the description in myth, drawn by deer. Those at the front end are on the head of a very short stag,
The cart in romances is also used to transport men. The main story of Launcelot and Guenever in the French of Chrétien de Troyes is called ‘The Knight of the Cart’ because at a critical moment in his attempt to release Guenever from an abductor he lost his horse and had to accept a lift in a cart. At the time of the story there was only one cart in a town and carts were regarded as shameful because they were only used to take criminals to their deaths. Perhaps this phrase is a memory of the treatment suffered by a deposed sacred king
The elements of the stories of ‘carts’ are jumbled but a possible original could be that worshippers of the Sovereignty who achieved high rank by becoming her lovers would when his manly vigour was exhausted be given the wound between the thighs with a flaming lance driven by a being all in flames. He would then be exposed to the taunts of the populace in a ‘cart’. Bors, who suffered this indignity, had his legs tied to the shafts of the cart and was eventually released beyond a bridge. A vehicle for a single person in prehistory trussed in this way could have been of a type used in primitive farming communities without access to wheels, merely two crossing poles tied together and bumping along on the ends of the poles. Even Launcelot must have suffered this indignity to be given the title ‘of the Cart’ but he was too valuable to narrators for the whole story to be told.