THE HERMIT

I am undertaking a sequence of explorations of The Tarot – not as a method of divinination but as symbolic representation.

‘THE HERMIT’ is HERE and further explorations will be published in the same place as they evolve.

Legends of Sunken Lands … and the Awenydd who Survives

Diasbad Mererid y ar gwineu kadir

A theme I have returned to many times is that of the connection between inundation legends and that of the bard, harper or minstrel who survives the flood, often the only one to do so. Is it a co-incidence that three places in Wales associated with the story of Taliesin are also the locations of inundation legends? The fish weir in which the re-born infant Gwion is found to become Taliesin is located, in one version of the story, in the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir which is also the location of the Cantre’r Gwaelod legend. In an alternaive version it is located in the Conwy estuary where a legendary flood destroyed the land of Tyno Helig. In that story a harper leaves the feast to go outside and so survives the flood that rushes into the feasting hall. Llyn Tegid, or Bala Lake, is located where Gwion stirred the Cauldron of Ceridwen before the series of metamorphoses by which he eventually became Taliesin. This lake is also said to have been created by an inundation from which the bard attending a feast escaped. A surviving harper also features in legends concerning floods which created lakes at Llynclys and Syfaddon.(1)

In other inundation legends a common theme is that lakes are created by over-flowing wells caused by their misuse or an offence given to the Guardian of the Well. There seems to be a complex of legendary, folkloric and mythical materials combining in varying configurations in these stories.(*) Details vary and there are significant examples of such stories in Ireland as well as in Wales. Lough Foyle is said to have its origin in an inundation from a spring under which treasures were kept. Bran, son of Febul, offended the maidens guarding the spring by stealing the treasures and the spring then drowned the valley to create the Lough. The River Boyne is said to have its origin in the Well of Knowledge which Boand visited, though she should not have done, and it chased her all the way to the sea.

It seems that there are layers of story, or of stories, which metamorphise and may become inter-leaved as they are re-told and re-imagined, just as sedimentary rocks can become ‘metamorphic’ and their layers interfused. I have touched on many of these issues in previous posts (2), but this time such reflections arise from attending a talk on the beach at Borth, where the Cantre’r Gwaelod legend is located, by Martin Bates and Erin Kavanagh of Lampeter University. Standing among the stumps of trees and the remains of the peat bed of a forest floor from between 4000 and 6000 years ago, still visible on the beach, we were able to examines samples of peat layers from different levels down to the underlying clay. Layers of story and ways they are continuing in our own time are also evoked in a video playing in the small museum on Borth Railway Station, which was the starting point for our walk and which also displays the 3000 year-old deer antlers which Martin Bates retrieved when they emerged from beneath the peat.

More about Erin Kavanagh’s project can be found on her website and in the video:

‘Layers in the Landscape’ from Erin Kavanagh on Vimeo.

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Although the best known version of the Cantre’r Gwaelod legend suggests the flood comes from the sea, the early version in a poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen (3) features a ‘fountain cup-bearer’ called Mererid whom the folklorist John Rhys thought was the ‘keeper of a fairy well’, so the possibilty of an overflowing well is also plausible. Is the bard, or harper, absent from this story because he is telling it, because he has been transposed to the story of Taliesin (itself a late prose tale but drawing upon material also found in the earlier Taliesin poems) or because here it is Mererid herself who rides off on a horse to escape the deluge ‘crying out’ her message as she goes?

Diasbad Mererid y ar gwineu kadir


(*) As used here these three terms might be defined as follows:
Legend: An imaginative story about events in the past which may, or may not, be verifiable in the historical record.
Folklore: Stories embedded in common memory concerned primarily with universal human experiences, often presenting typological themes which occur across cultures, but in a culture-specific context.
Myth: Stories which embody fundamental meanings and signifances : often about the gods, but also about origins and the nature of the world and of otherworld(s). Myth may be conveyed in legend and folklore, but not all of this material is mythic.

References:
1. See John Rhys Celtic Folkore p.415
2. e.g. HERE & HERE
3. I have attempted a translation of the poem with discussion HERE

Rosmerta

Re-blogged from DUNBRYTHON

Rosmerta, from a relief in Gloucester

You bring to us

The Cup of Plenty
For the Harvest

The Vat , the Dish
The Mixing Bowl

The Vessel from the Well Shaft
Drawing sweet water from the Earth

Bringing for us the Waters of Life
Bringing before us the Mirror Pool of Vision

So you are named
ROSMERTA

The Great Provider
The Far Seer

Whose Shining Cup annoints
Shaping the Ways of the World

Bestowing Plenty, the Wealth we hold
In common, Sovereignty claimed

But gained only with your Blessing:
Bless us who would hold the Earth for you

Bless us when we challenge those
Who seek to hold it without Love.



Notes and
Resonances

We need a modern version of Sovereignty and how we relate to a Goddess of Sovereignty in our times when power is held without such validation.

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Michael Enright traces the office of Cup-Bearer in early Germanic and Celtic societies back to Rosmerta with her Cup, Ladle and Bucket. See: Lady With a Mead Cup (Four Courts Press,1996). He also links the role of Cup-Bearer with that of Prophetess and in particular with the Seer Veleda, referred to by Tacitus in Germania. 

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John Carey  examines the role of  Sovereignty as a young woman  and Cup-Bearer  associated with Lug in the early Irish tale Baile in Scáil  in Ireland and the Grail (Celtic Studies Publications, 2007) and also identifies possible links with Rosmerta, as does Proinsias MacCana in Celtic Mythology (Hamlyn, 1968).

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In a discussion by Rachel Bromwich of the drowning of the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir at Cantre’r Gwaelod as described in a poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen, and the role of Mererid as ‘Maiden’ and ‘Fountain Cup-Bearer’ , the context of the office of ‘Machteith’ (‘Maiden’) in Welsh courts is identified.  See The Early Cultures of North-WestEurope ed.  C Fox & B Dickens ( Cambridge, 1950). Mererid, as represented in this poem, appears to be of a type with the well maidens whose violation causes flooding from the well and is a source of several legends in Ireland and Wales explaining the origins of lakes .

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There is an echo of this maiden role in the fourth of the four Mabinogi tales where Math fab Mathonwy has a ‘maiden foot-holder’ called Goewin who later becomes his wife after being raped by his nephew.  In a recent post I suggested that it might be useful to regard both Gwydion and Lleu in that tale as aspects of Lugus. Similarly we may regard Goewin and Aranrhod from the same tale as aspects of Rosmerta : the maiden function as expressed in later offices of Cup-Bearer and the fecundity function in Aranrhod‘s bearing of two children when she, herself, is asked to replace Goewin in this role. But there seem to be a reverse logic operating here. Lleu‘s sovereignty is not affirmed and rather than taking the Sovereignty Goddess for a wife, one is created for him out of flowers when Aranrhod refuses to recognise him. What is going on here?

First we should note that when gods appear in stories their relationships often get mixed up so that partners might appear as husband and wife, parent and child or other relation. Secondly that gods can give rise to a range of human figures when they appear in stories or later lore. Examining the appearances of the god Lugus in Irish stories Mark Williams comments in Ireland’s Immortals (Princeton, 2017) that there might have been “multiple Luguses” including the many heroes, ancestors and legendary kings who seem to be mortals ruling as his representative or alter ego. So Lleu can in this way be both subject to the Sovereignty Goddess as well as being (as Gwydion?) her associate. Is the refusal to recognise him here a continuing consequence of the rape of Goewin in the first part of the tale?

If violating her maiden role can be linked to an attempted subversion of Sovereignty by force, the shape-shifting of Lleu can be seen as a continuation of the shape-shifting imposed on Gwydion and Gilfaethwy as punishment for the rape. Lleu‘s battle with Gronw for the right to rule is the agency of his shift into the form of an eagle. But when he returns to kill Gronw it is Blodeuedd who is transformed into an owl.

John Carey, in an interesting article on this tale, regards it as a British Myth of Origins (Historyof Religions, Vol 31, 1991). He sees the virgin status of Goewin, and the fact that Math is unmarried, as indicating a timeless ‘Golden Age’ before mortality when the King simply put his feet in the lap of Sovereignty or stood on the Virgin Earth. With the coming of mortality – and therefore sex – the same female figure then becomes his wife. I’m not sure I go along with this as a myth of origins but I do agree that the transformation of Goewin’s maiden status is a crucial element in the thematic development of this story. The shift in her status from maiden to wife seems to me to be about a shift in the protocols for the right to rule. The one time when Math does not have to have his feet in Goewin’s lap is when he is defending his territory. When Lleu is absent from Blodeuedd his rule is challenged.  The banishment of Blodeuedd when Lleu‘s rule is restored could be seen as an appropriation of power from the Sovereignty Goddess whose role seems to be distributed across the three female figures in this story.

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In Gaul, and later in Britain, the Romans paired Rosmerta with their own Mercury rather than Lugus. This seems to have been a process of assimilation following appropriation. There are many ways that sovereignty can be claimed, exercised or subverted. Understanding this may allow us to develop our own sense of how it is exercised, refused or acknowleged in our own time.

-*-

In my own practice at my Water Shrine I acknowledge Mererid as Shrine Guardian and Holder of the Cup of Rosmerta.

IMG_0702


Exhibition

Baner

The Black Book of Carmarthen, The Book of Aneirin , The White Book of Rhydderch and other early texts now on display as part of this exhibition at The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth:

Arthur and Welsh Mythology

This link also provides access to the online texts of these manuscripts.

Lleu Llaw Gyffes … Is that Lugus?

{Re-blogged from Dun Brython}

Lucoubu arquien
Votive Stone to Lugus from Galicia

The character Lleu Llaw Gyffes in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi tales, has been associated with the Irish god Lugh and therefore the pan-Celtic god Lugus. Linguistically the name ‘Lleu’ cannot have developed from the Irish ‘Lug(h)’ and can only have developed from Brythonic ‘Lugus’, so if we can indeed associate Lleu with Lugus, this is a direct development from Brythonic and not due to influence from medieval Irish tales. This suggests that any mythos from earlier times also developed separately in the lore and derived literature in each language. Ideally to make the connection with Lugus we would wish to have other evidence as well as the Mabinogi story. One possible source of additional confirmation is the Gododdin. This early Welsh poem is a series of elegies for warriors of the Gododdin tribe, mostly centred around the attack on Catraeth in northern England where many of them were slain. But the whole poem is not a connected narrative of that battle and some elegies concern other conflicts, in particular the part of the poem which is considered the earliest and which preserves most vestiges of Old Welsh in the Middle Welsh into which it was copied. This is also the most difficult part to interpret and is not included in all modern editions, but these three lines occur in the translation by John Koch (1):

The rock of Lleu’s tribe,
the folk of Lleu’s mountain stronghold
at Gododdin’s frontier ….

Unlike the verses which deal with an attack to the south, these lines refer to a defence of the territory on its northern edge facing across the Firth of Forth towards the lands of the Picts. The identification of Lleu here is also supported in a discussion of these lines by T M Charles Edwards (2), but other translations of these lines treat ‘lleu’ as meaning something like ‘open ground’ so, as often with the interpretation of early Welsh poetry, there is a lack of absolute clarity. But if the Gododdin (the Brythonic tribe known by the Romans as the Votadini) did think of themselves as ‘Lleu’s tribe’, then this would supply some confirmation to the identification of Lleu with Lugus in the Mabinogi tale.

If so, what significance does the narrative of that tale have in terms of the mythos of the god Lugus, and is there anywhere else we might look for Lleu?

In Ireland there are many stories about Lugh spanning many centuries. In some of these stories he is a god, in others he is mortal. In different versions of The Tain he is either the father of Cuchulainn or his otherworld persona/protector, even taking on his appearance and fighting for him when he is injured. In one of the earlier stories about him he acts in conjunction with the sovereignty goddess of Ireland to confer authority on a king spirited away to an otherworld fortress. By contrast in Wales there a few references to Lleu and only one extended narrative in which he obviously features. Before looking at the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi tales it is worth noting one other narrative where he might appear. The tale of Lludd and Llefelys included in the ‘Mabinogion’ collection usually appears in translation with the second of those two names spelt, as here, with an ‘f’ to indicate the ‘u’ of the medieval manuscript i.e.: Lleuelys. But the letter ‘u’ can also indicate an ‘ei’ sound (as in Lleu and Lludd). So there is some reason to suggest that the first part of Lleuelys could be Lleu’s name. Both Patrick Ford (3) and John Koch (4) have suggested this on the basis of a comparison by George Dumézil(*) of the tale of Lludd and Lleuelys with the Irish tale of ‘The Second Battle of Mag Tuiredh’ where the equivalent characters are Nuadu and Lugh with the proposed derivation of both sets of names from Nodens and Lugus. In this analysis Brythonic Nodens becomes Welsh Nudd and then Lludd while Lugus becomes Lleu in the Mabinogi tales and Lleuelys in the tale of Lludd and Lleuelys where Lleuelys uses his great skill to ward off the three plagues that are oppressing the Island of Britain.

What of Lleu’s story in the Mabinogi? Here we have a more creatively shaped artefact. Can we extract the mythos of a god from the accidentals of a literary tale? His ‘steady hand’ with a spear, his skill with crafts , the circumstances of his birth and the ability to shape-shift after his ‘death’ all seem to stem from a divine nature. Like Pryderi (and Mabon) he is separated from his mother soon after birth and, also like Pryderi, he soon grows to the stature of a youth many years older than his age. But unlike Pryderi he is not re-united with his mother and has to shape an identity for himself without her help, or even the help of a surrogate mother. His uncle Gwydion aids him by both subterfuge and magical arts. In fact Gwydion might be regarded as much as his father as his uncle. Although his actual paternity is unstated one of the Old Welsh Genealogies mentions “Lou Hen map Guidgen” ( Old Lleu son of Gwydion**). Like the relationship between Cuchulainn and Lugh, the relationship between Lleu and Gwydion is both one of common family and one which spans the borders of the supernatural and the natural worlds.

Lleu has to ‘become’ himself with the aid of Gwydion with whom he shares the characteristics of a shape-shifter. Perhaps we can identify both Gwydion and Lleu as aspects of Lugus, differentiated in the medieval narrative but each an expression of the god in a different guise. In the first part of the tale, before Lleu is born, Gwydion is a powerful wizard who uses his magic negatively to trick Pryderi and help his brother to rape Goewin, but he himself is subject to the magic of Math who transforms the brothers into a series of animals who mate with each other and bear children as punishment for their transgression. Later Math and Gwydion seem to work as one to aid Lleu. Here their use of magic might seem more positive, but if we see Lleu and Gwydion as expressions of one identity, it could also been seen as reflexive magic worked to shape an identity as well as to conjure a wife out of flowers. This is the work of a trickster. Later, when Lleu has been pierced by Gronw’s spear, apparently fulfilling the complicated conditions for his death, he does not actually die but shape-shifts into an eagle, while the sovereignty of his lands passes for a time to Gronw. When Gwydion tracks him down and rescues him he chants a series of englyns which are regarded as older than the tale that contains them, or at least have retained older linguistic features from an earlier version. These are further spells of becoming, bringing Lleu back into the world. Lleu sitting as an eagle in the oak tree with his flesh falling from him is resonant with the sacrifice of Odinn ‘himself to himself’ if we see Gwydion and Lleu as a unified pair. We might, in comparing this tale with Lludd and Lleuelys, see Gwydion and Lleu as Nodens and Lugus. Or should we say, however they are differentiated elsewhere, the locus of each of them in Lugus in this tale is clear? LIeu returns to the human world, like Gwydion before him, after being cast out of it, only to throw the spear from his steady hand to kill Gronw and win back sovereignty of his lands. Here the mytheme of the Summer and the Winter kings seems to be shadowing the plot of the literary narrative. Consider that in the Irish story Lugh takes over from Nuadu in the fight against the Fomorian Balor, the mythological pattern and the story details equally served by the transfer of power in each case.

So there are a number of mythical elements woven into the tale. But it is also a story shaped by a human narrator who creates lives for his characters that engage the human listeners in events that also appear to be about human characters. If the gods are present in such a tale they are so as living presences rather than the formal functions of Dumézil’s analysis. Which is not to say that Dumézil is wrong, just that if the gods are alive for us they cannot be tied down to a schema but must live lives as varied and as arbitrary as our own. They will then appear not as idealised forms but as individuals with characteristics that may range from the honourable to the despicable. They may shape-shift between appearances and appear to us in a variety of guises and their relationships to each other slide from siblings to cousins to parents in different stories about them, though their mythos, which is their defining story, remain the same.

Lleu has a wife that was shaped for him out of flowers. What of her story? Is she a creation of literary narrative or part of the original mythos from which the tale was made? The females of this part of the Mabinogi are all marginal figures unlike those in the other three branches. Goewin is raped by an infatuated Gilfaethwy who can possess her no other way. She therefore loses her status as Math’s maiden foot holder, though she then becomes his wife. Aranrhod seems to chose her own way, apart from the affairs of Math, Gwydion and Lleu, disowning her son but also avoiding the offer of becoming Math’s foot-holder to replace Goewin. Blodeuedd, like Lleu, has no parents to shape her being and nurture her becoming but has to enter the world fully formed with her relationships pre-defined for her. She refuses this and eventually leaves the human world to become an owl. Somewhere among these female characters we may look for Rosmerta, the goddess often paired with Lugus in his identity as the Gaulish Mercury. Will we find her? Perhaps. That is a story I hope to be able to tell.

Notes and References
* For more on Dumézil’s discussion see  the Brython website.

**  Discussed by Ian Hughes in his edition of Math uab Mathonwy (Cardiff, 2000)

1. John Koch’s translation of The Gododdin is given in The Celtic Heroic Age ed Koch and Carey (Aberystwyth, 2003)
2. T M Charles Edwards. Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, (Oxford, 2013)
3. Patrick K Ford The Mabinogi and other Medieval Welsh Tales (UCP, 1977)
4. Celtic Culture an Historical Encyclopaedia ed J. Koch (ABC-Clio, 2006).

MAPONOS

 

{Re-blogged from DUN BRYTHON:}

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

(Book of Taliesin : 38)

Matrona Gaul goddess alt
Matrona with Child

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

In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen he is Mabon, released from the dungeon of Caer Loyw to join Arthur and his men to hunt Twrch Trwyth. He is simultaneously the Divine Youth, the ever-young, and one whom only the most ancient of the ancient creatures of the world can remember. In the Mabinogi tales he is Pryderi, taken from his mother Rhiannon as a baby and brought back by Teyrnon, then taken again as an adult and brought back by Manawydan. These stories enact on the plane of human narrative the mythology of Maponos moving between Time and Not-Time, between Light and Darkness, between Music and Silence, between Thisworld and Annwn.

Iron Age coin from Sussex showing a horse and a lyre

He is the Son of the Horse Goddess who plucks the strings the harp or the lyre as he twangs the string of his bow to bring inspiration or show the way for a seeker after the mysteries. As Mabon he takes the razor from between the ears of the boar Twrch Trwyth for the giant Ysbadadden to be shaved so Culhwch can wed Olwen. As Pryderi he hunts a shining white boar which leads him into an otherworld caer. Manawydan – ‘wise of counsel’ – does not follow but finds a way to bring him back. These then reflect the rites of departure and beckoning as we welcome him once more onto the path of discovery, of life, and all its mysteries which are his to reveal.

So he may walk the plains of Summer in our world, bringing it alive with each vibration of the strings of his harp, or he may be sought for through a seer, an awenydd or one who walks the paths between the worlds. An inscription in Gaulish found in a sacred spring at Chamelières calls upon him thus:

Maponos of the Deep, Great God
I come to you with this plea:
Bring the powers of the Otherworld
To inspire those who are before thee.

Chameliere
Lead tablet with Gaulish inscription to MAPONOS from Chamelières

He may come, once again, into the world to inspire us, to touch the strings of his harp riding the particles of silence behind him as they touch the waves of sound that rush through the world like the song of the Birds of Rhiannon over the waves of the sea and on every zephyr that touches the trees of the world. So we shape these words to call upon him:

Maponos : we sense your call
From the silence of the Deeps beyond our world

Maponos : Matrona remembers her child
Whom we bring to her with this wish for your coming

Maponos : You are the seed of Summer
Dwelling in darkness and springing into light

Maponos : we hear your harp-song
As the Sun rides high in the Midsummer sky.


The Gaulish text of the Chamelières Tablet is given in The Celtic Heroic Age ed. John Koch & John Carey (Aberysywyth, 2003) where a word by word interpretation is also given. The four-line verse above is based on that.
Other References:
Culhwch ac Olwen : Rachel Bromwich a Simon Evans (Cardiff, 1997)
Pedeir Keinc y Mabinogi : Ifor Williams (Cardiff, 1978)

The Harp of Maponos

Bum tant yn telyn
Lletrithawc naw blwydyn

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I was a string in a harp
Enchanted for nine years

 Taliesin : Kat Godeu

In that enchantment I became the awen of a note quivering into music, my string resonating with the others as we were plucked. So I learnt the interactions of sound, the waves we sent rippling through the air and I became one with the awen of sound. All of us, each string, all the notes we made singly and in combination, ringing out into the world from the inspired fingers of Maponos who played on the Harp of Time.

Time – the music of the world – striking the chords that measure the days of limited lives. And alongside this : Not-Time, where the nine years passed in an instant and in that condition, while I was with the God who played the Harp, I was in Time and in Not-Time and knew both the passing of the days, the quivering of the strings, and also the fleeting moment as the silence that gives way to sound stretches unheard into Eternity as each note is played.

So there was music. So there was silence. Between the two the God sat at the harp and I was enchanted for nine years, though no time had passed, no breath had passed my lips, as the God played on and on ….

Was I enchanted? Or was I the Enchantment? I was the note and I was the silence ; between the two the God sat, plucking each string, bringing Time out of Not-Time.

 

Gods and Goddesses of the Treveri

On a wall in the Museum in Trier is this relief of Epona

Epona

I have long known about it from books, and the fact that it was part of a shrine to Epona in the sacred precinct of the Roman town, where sites of worship are thought to have continued from pre-Roman Gaul. It would then have been in the territory of the Treveri, a tribe who inhabited an area around the Moselle valley west of the Rhine, overlapping current borders between Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg. I recently managed to find my way to the town to view the relief for myself. It is located in a room in the Museum dedicated to representations of Roman and Celtic deities. After spending some time with Epona, I turned my attention to some of the other gods depicted here.


Many were Roman and Mercury predominates in the particular way he does in Gaul. On one large stone column he is shown on one face together with a female figure who is much worn away but is identified as Rosmerta. On another face of the same column is the figure of Esus apparently using an axe to cut a (willow?) tree in the crown of which there are three birds (cranes or egrets?) and the head of a bull. Parts of this face of the column are also much worn away so the imagery is not clear, but it has been taken to be the same scene as on another monument in Paris where a bull with three cranes has the inscription ‘Tarvos-Trigaranus’ (‘Bull with Three Cranes’) and where Esus is also represented. These are tantalising survivals of the religious imagery of Gaul filtered through Roman representations but remaining mysterious as to their significance.

ESUS

Next to this column there is also a statue of Sirona, a goddess with a snake around her arm and pointing to what appear to be two eggs in her other hand, one of them broken open:

SIRONA

 

 

 


This compelled my attention for some time. As Rosmerta is often paired with a god the Romans equated with Mercury (Lugus?), so Sirona is similarly often paired with Apollo (Maponos?). I have often pondered the significance of this transference of male god names to fit Roman ‘equivalents’ while the female gods retain their native names. Sirona is represented alone here and has been identified as a goddess of fertility and of healing because of her iconography and the location of shrines by healing springs. That snake winding around her arm might have those associations but also draws attention to those same mysteries of significance which beckon from behind the veil of romanised representation and the views of modern interpreters.

The pagan shrines in the sacred precinct in Trier continued to be used for some time after the establishment of christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. They were largely destroyed after the suppression of paganism by the emperor Gratian late in the 4th century. But their survival until then suggests a continuing veneration of the native gods by the descendants of the Treveri, and the neighbouring Mediomatrici, in this part of Gaul.

Gwyn ap Nudd and The Mist

Below is a translation of the central part of Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poem ‘Y Niwl’ containing the ‘dyfalu’ or conceit around which the framing narrative tells of the poet’s wish to go into the woods for a love tryst, but of not being able to find his way because of the thickness of the mist.


To deceive us is its dark intent
Rising as a rough cloak over the earth
In troublesome high towers; one of the tribe
Of Gwyn*,  swathed by the wind
His two cheeks insidiously concealing the land
And the guiding signs with a blanket
Heavy and hideous like a darkness
Blinding the world to betray the bard.
It is as if some fine-spun fabric unravelled,
Threaded rope-like through the air,
A spider-web of fancy French stuff everywhere!
Up on the high point of the moorland
Gwyn* gathers the speckled smoke often seen
Rising like vapour from woodlands in May,
The breath of a bear in which barking dogs lurk,
Otherworld ointment from the witches of Annwn
Creepily anointing with a dew-like wetness:
A leaden coat worn by the cloud-capped land.


* ‘Gwyn’  is Gwyn ap Nudd who is often referred to in Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poetry, though incidentally rather than as a main subject, suggesting that he was too well-known to need explanation. Here he is associated with both wind and mist. In other poems the owl is said to be his particular bird and a bog pool is described as a place through which his otherworld spirits can find their way into our world. In the 14th century the Otherworld was regarded as a sinister place, but one which, though strange, was continually present just a side-step away from the paths we know.