Petrification Myths: Malin Kundang of Sumatra, Indonesia

Petrifaction myths and legends appear in human cultures all around the world.  Very often they carry a warning or are the result of a punishment. In many cases they can be either inspired by a geological feature such as a rock formation or the name given to the feature is inspired by folklore.  Presented next is a retelling of a folktale from Sumatra, Indonesia that carries an important warning about how grown up children should respect their mother.

Malin Kundang

The story begins in a poor fishing village on the coast of Sumatra where a poor widow struggled to bring up her young son whom she had named Malin Kundang.  They existed on a meager living scraped from fishing.  Nevertheless the mother loved her son very much and worked hard to give him the best that she could.   Thanks to her hard work, love and dedication Malin grew into a healthy and clever boy who was always willing to help his mother to earn some money.  However, no matter how hard they worked they could not escape poverty.

One day Malin had an idea and went to his mother and. said,

“Mother, if I stay here I will never have a life.  I don’t want to spend all my life in poverty and I want to be a rich and successful man. What would you say if I told you I wanted to leave the village and sail away to find my fortune?”

Although his mother was devastated at the thought of her only son leaving her alone she swallowed her bitter tears and told him,

“My son, If that us your heart’s desire I cannot stop you.  Although it breaks my heart that you are leaving I will pray that you find happiness and your heart’s desire, but promise me that when you have found every thing that you dream of you will not forget me and come home again to your mother who will be waiting patiently for your return.”

Malin then told his mother he did indeed want to leave which broke her heart.  In the morning he went down to the harbor and found a ship that would take him on a one of the crew.  His mother came and bid him farewell and after embracing him for a long time said,

“Farewell my son, take good care.  I will pray for you, but I fear you will forget me!”

Then he told his mother,

“You take good care of yourself mother!  I promise I will keep in touch and will not forget you and return as soon as I can.”

Again his mother embraced him tightly not wanting to let go until finally he turned away and walked up the gangplank onto the ship.  She watched as the ship carrying her only son slid silently over the horizon into the rising sun and then returned to her home alone.

His Mother’s Vigil

Three months passed and although Malin’s mother prayed every night and every morning for her son she received not a single word or token from him.  The months turned to years and his mother still prayed day and night for her son’s safety and that he would find his heart’s desire.  Every morning and every evening she would go down to the harbor to see what new ships had come hoping that one would bring her son back to her and would stand in silent prayer looking out over the horizon..

Several years passed in this way and one morning as she stood looking out to sea she was surprised to see an unusually big ship sail out of the blue and dock in the harbor at the point where she held her lonely vigil.

Malin Returns

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By The original uploader was Geoethno at German Wikipedia (Original text: Amsterdam, Buffa) (Van de Velde: Gezigten uit Neerlands Indie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When the ship was tied securely to the dock she saw a handsome, young man in rich clothing disembark from the ship with a beautiful young woman on his arm.  Both were dressed in the finest clothes and exuded an aura of wealth.  Behind them followed many servants and bodyguards and everyone could see that this fine young couple were wealthy and important people.  Malin’s mother looked in surprise and although her eyes had grown weak and weary from crying for her son she recognized him despite this and saw through the finery the young man wore.  She knew this was her son and knew she could not be wrong.  Excitedly she ran up to to him and threw her arms around his neck crying,

“Malin, Malin, my beloved son you gave come back to me!”

Shock and disappointment overcame her as the young man coldly stared straight ahead and showed no response whatsoever.

“I have prayed day and night for you and missed you so much and now my prayers are answered and you have returned to me!”

Rejection

In truth, Malin felt embarrassment at the sight of this poor old woman dressed in rags.  He thought of his own wealth and fine clothes, he thought of all his servants and bodyguards and he thought of the beautiful young woman on his arm. Although he knew she was his mother he felt ashamed and embarrassed at her poverty and his own humble origins and did not want to let on about his past life to his companion.

Roughly, he thrust his mother away and glared coldly at her saying,

“You are not my mother!  My mother would never wear such poor and ragged clothes.  I don’t know you, go way!”

Shocked and distressed his mother stepped back, sobbing and said,

“Malin, I am your mother stop teasing me!  I have waited so long to see you again you must know me!”

But Malin stared coldly and dispassionately ahead with his face fixed and his eyes cold. Turning to one of his bodyguards he said,

Guard, take this ragged old beggar woman out of my sight!  Give her some money to be rid of her!”

And the guard grasped the old lady by her arm and dragged her roughly away, all the time she was crying out,

“Malin!  Oh Malin my long lost son! Why do you treat me so cruelly?”

Mail ignored his mother’s pleas and ordered the ship to make ready to sail.  He and his beautiful lady returned to the ship which set sail and sailed stately out of the harbor.

Poor Malin’s mother was left distraught and sobbing upon the harbor as the ship sailing upon a calm and quiet sea and disappeared over the horizon.  Anguish and hurt coursed through her body which turned to anger and she fell upon her knees and prayed,

“Dear God, if that young man was not my son bless him with a safe journey and a safe return home.  If he was Malin, my son, I curse him that as soon as he sets foot on land that he may turn to stone.”

So it was that beyond the horizon the ship ran into a storm that whipped the calm and quiet sea into a frenzy.  As thunder rolled and lightning flashed and the rain lashed down the ship was taken by the wild waves and was shipwrecked.  Malin struggled against the giant waves but eventually made it to a beach called Air Manis, near Padang, West Sumatra.

Turned to Stone

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The Malin Kundang Stone – By Crisco 1492 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The God, who sees and hears all looked down.  As Malin stepped upon the land he felt his entire body begin to stiffen and he fell forward on to his knees as of one begging for mercy and then fell forward again in supplication to the Divine.  In that position his entire body turned into stone and can be seen to this day on a beach at Pantai Air Manis, Padang, and is called the Malin Kundang Stone.  It is said to exist as testament to the punishment that will be meted out to those who choose to reject their own mother.

© 26/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 26th, 2017 zteve t evans

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The Legend of Multnomah Falls, Oregon

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By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (Multnomah Falls) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Multnomah Falls

The Multnomah Falls is a waterfall situated not far from Portland in Oregon.  It is a local beauty spot which many people visit to see  torrents of cool, crystal clear, water cascade over the edge of a cliff to fall over 611 feet in a spectacular cascade.  A legend is associated with its creation that tells a story of love, devotion, faith and sacrifice.

Chief Multnomah

Many, many, years ago there was a Native American chief called Multnomah who had a beautiful daughter that he loved more than anything. Having lost his sons in wars he loved and cherished her even more and wanted to be sure when the time came she would have the best possible husband. To meet this goal he spent a lot of time looking over the young men of his own and neighbouring villages for the best possible match.  At last he decided that the best husband for his daughter would be a young chief from the Clatsop people who were neighbours.  It proved to be very good match and the two quickly developed a deep rapport and fell in love with one another.

Celebrations

Multnomah was pleased and planned to hold a great celebration in honour of the couple. He would invite people from miles around to wish the couple good luck, celebrate the match and take part in all kinds of activities that he would host.  There would be singing and dancing, and the young men would compete against each other in contests of archery, wrestling, swimming, canoe racing and naturally there would be feasting. It would be a spectacular and happy event but it did not go as planned.

The Plague

A terrible sickness came and laid many people low.  The children and the old died first but soon even the young and strong were also succumbing to this terrible plague.  The chief grew very worried.  He called a great council of his elders and sent off for eldest and wisest medicine man in the tribe who lived as a hermit on the mountain. The old medicine man rarely left his mountain home but when a message arrived from Multnomah begging him to come down he knew an important time long prophesized had come. The old medicine man told Chief Multnomah and the council that what he had to say was very grave and troubling but there was no other way to put the situation to right.

The Prophecy

He told Multnomah and the council of a prophecy that had been told to him when he was in his youth by his father just before he died at a very great age.  His father told him that a time would come when he had lived to a great age when a plague would fall upon the people. There would be no survivors unless an innocent daughter of a chief of the people willingly sacrificed her life to the Great Spirit. This and only this, was the only thing way the people could be saved.  The old medicine man then begged leave of the council saying that now the prophecy was revealed it was time for him to die and he went back to the mountain.

When the people heard of the prophecy many of the young maidens of the tribe presented themselves to Chief Multnomah, including his own beloved daughter, offering up themselves as sacrifices. Multnomah was appalled.  He could not come to terms with any of the maidens losing their lives and he thought long and hard about what he should do.  At last he made a decision and he called a general meeting of the people and explained the situation to them.  He told them he would not ask any of the maidens to sacrifice their lives.  Instead, he told the people they must be brave and prepare themselves as their forefathers would have done to meet with the inevitable end.

More and more people died and then Multnomah’s daughter again went to her father to ask his permission to sacrifice her life to save the people. Again, he refused and sadly she reluctantly obeyed her him.  When the plague struck down the man she loved she knew what she had to do.  After nursing and caring for him with all her love and tenderness she slipped out of the village and took the path to the highest cliff.

The Sacrifice

With her heart beating fast she walked resolutely to the cliff edge and stood looking down at the ragged rocks far, far below.   Closing her eyes she called upon the Great Spirit to give her a sign as proof that her sacrifice would bring a halt to the plague.   Then she cast her eyes to the skies looking all around for some kind of sign.   She saw the sun and she saw the clouds and then she saw the full moon rise in broad daylight on the distant horizon.   Accepting this as the sign she stepped off the cliff.

The following day in the village those who had been sick rose from their beds feeling hale, healthy and very happy to have fully recovered and great celebrations began.  Then the people started to think and wondered how their sudden, surprise cure had come about.

Multnomah called all the maidens to him and they were all present with the exception of one, his daughter.   Immediately the young Clatsop chief ran up the path to the cliff.  Peering over the edge he was devastated to see her broken body lying twisted among the rocks below.

The Great Spirit

The people were sad and wept long and loudly,  In gratitude they climbed to the bottom of the cliff and honored her in the tradition of their people and then raised a cairn over her body.  Her grieving father called upon the Great Spirit for a sign that he had welcomed her into his care.   Immediately they heard the sound of running water and a pure stream of crystal water cascaded over the cliff and has flowed continuously ever since.

Some say they have seen the spirit of the maiden all in white walking the path to the cliff top.  There she would stand by the waterfall now called Multnomah Falls that was sent by the Great Spirit to show the people that she, who had sacrificed all for love, was in his care.

© 19/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 19th, 2017 zteve t evans

Lludd and Llevelys and the Three Plagues of Britain

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Cropped image of Two Dragons from History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth – Public Domain

King Lludd

King Lludd appears in the Mabinogion in the story of Lludd and Llevelys as King of Britain.  This is a tale that tells how with the help of Llevelys, his younger brother, he overcome the Three Plagues of Britain that had caused his people great anxiety and fear.  It is thought that Geoffrey of Monmouth in the History of the Kings of Britain refers to him as Lud and it may be the case that the Mabinogion tale owes much to Geoffrey.

After the death of his father Beli the Great, as his eldest son, Lludd became King of the Island of Britain.   Lludd was a great and generous king and a mighty warrior and leader of men.  He was generous in giving food and hospitality to any who sought it from him and cared for the welfare of his lords and subjects.  During the reign of Lludd the island of Britain prospered greatly.  Lludd rebuilt the city of London that Brutus the Trojan, the legendary first King of Britain was said to have founded.  He surrounded it with strong walls with many towers to defend its citizens and called upon his subjects to built fine houses within those walls and London became the finest and richest city on the island of Britain.

King Llevelys

According to the Mabinogion, Lludd had three brothers and the youngest named Llevelys was his favourite. He was extremely fond of Llevelys who grew up to be a very wise and discreet man whom he could always trust.   It so happened that when the King of France passed away and having no male heirs to the throne he had left his kingdom to his daughter.  Llevelys sought her hand in marriage and after a successful courtship  married her and became the ruler of France.   He was to prove to be a good and just ruler who governed with great wisdom for many years and had a long and happy life.

The Three Plagues of Britain

The island of Britain ruled by Lludd continued to prosper as did France ruled by Llevelys.  There came a time in Britain when the situation changed for the worse and the people grew fearful and troubled.  Three plagues had descended upon the island of Britain that caused the people great distress and anxiety.   The first of these plagues was a people called the Coranians, the second was an unearthly Shriek heard throughout the land and the third was the theft of Royal provisions.

The Coranians

The Coranians were said to be a race of dwarves who had the power to hear anything and everything the wind touched.  No word could be spoken anywhere without them instantly hearing it.  They could hear every word that was uttered upon the island of Britain and so could never be attacked unprepared.  In some texts they were said to have settled near the Humber and allies themselves with the enemies of Britain.

The Shriek

The second plague came every year on the eve of May Day when without fail the most unearthly and terrifying shriek was heard throughout the land.  It was such an awful and terrifying sound that it would pierce the hearts of the people causing such terror that grown men turned pale and maidens lost their reason and cause animals, trees and the very earth to become barren.

Theft of Provisions

The third plague was baffling and annoying.   However much of the King’s food and drink was prepared in the Royal courts from morning to nightfall the next morning it would be discovered to have vanished overnight without a trace.

Lludd Seeks Counsel

Of these three plagues Lludd had more hope of being cured of the first than the other two because he knew the cause of the first, whereas with the other two the cause was a mystery.  Lludd called together the princes, the nobles and his wise men of his realm to discuss and set out a course of action.  After much debating and arguing they had to admit they were all baffled not knowing the cause so not knowing a remedy.  In the end it was decided by all that Lludd should travel to the court of his youngest brother Llevelys to ask his advice and most  being the wisest person and most trustworthy they knew.  All further preparations for the voyage were done in silence in case the Coranians heard of the venture. So it was that in silence and secrecy a fleet of ships embarked from the island of Britain bound for France to seek out the counsel of Llevelys.

When tidings of the fleet reached Llevelys he was puzzled at the meaning of the ships not knowing his brother’s reason for them.  Llevelys then assembled his own fleet and sailed to meet him.    When Lludd saw his brother’s fleet he immediately ordered all ships save the one that bore him to hold back while he sailed to meet his brother.   On seeing this Llevelys immediately did the same and the two brothers met together and embraced in love,  friendship and joy at their reunion.

Defeating the Coranians

Brass tube of Llevelys

Levely flushes out the Demon – Public Domain

After Lludd had explained the cause of his visit Llevelys said that it was good that he had come and that he could help and advised they go below ship out of the wind lest the Coranians should get word of their meeting.   Llevelys ordered the making of a long brass tube that they could use to talk through to one another without fear of the Coranians hearing.  This was done but when they spoke to each other through the tube the only words the hearer could hear from the speaker were all words of anger and hostility.  Llevelys realised that the horn was possessed by a demon of some kind that was deliberately twisting their words into anger.  He washed it through with wine which because of the goodness of the wine the demon to flee.

When at last Llevelys and Lludd could talk freely and naturally to each other Llevelys told his brother that he would provide him with insects and teach him how to crush these in water to create a mixture that would rid him of the Coranians. He would also teach him how to breed them should the Coralians ever return.  He instructed Lludd that he would need to throw the specially prepared mixture over the Coranians and they would be destroyed but not harm any of the people of Britain that the mixture might fall upon.

The Two Dragons

Two Dragons

The Two Warring Dragons – Public Domain

Then Llevelys turned his attention to the second plague and said,

“The second plague is caused by a dragon within your realm that is fighting a foreign dragon in a life or death battle.  The dragon of your realm is making the fearful shriek and here is what you must do.

When you return home you must have the length and breadth of the island of Britain measured from this you must work out the exact center of the island.  There in the very heart of the island you must have a deep pit dug and place a cauldron filled with the best mead in the land to be placed in the bottom of the pit.  Then, cover the cauldron with a sheet of satin and there you, yourself must remain to watch for the warring beasts which will appear in the form of two terrible animals.  These will fight each other but eventually they will rise into the air and take the form of two dragons.  These will continue to fight furiously in the air until they grow tired and will transform into pigs and drop out of the air into the cauldron onto the satin covering and fall through sinking to the bottom of the cauldron and drink up the mead.  This will cause them to fall asleep and as soon as they are asleep wrap the around in the sheet and then place them in a stone kistvaen and transport them to the strongest place of your kingdom and bury them.  While they remain buried in that place no plague shall again trouble Britain.” (1)

Mighty Man of Magic

Mighty Man of Magic

Mighty Man of Magic Stealing the King;s Provisions – Public Domain

Llevelys then told his brother that the cause of the third plague was a mighty man of magic who was using his magical arts to send everyone to sleep while he stole the food from Lludd’s court.  To prevent this Llevelys advised that it would be necessary for Lludd himself to stay awake to guard the store and confront the thief.  He told him to ensure he stays awake he should keep a cauldron of cold water at his side to splash over his face should he begin to drowse.

Lludd Frees Britain of the Plagues

Thanking his brother Lludd returned to Britain where he summoned the whole of his people along with the Coranians to a great meeting.  He had previously crushed and prepared the insect mixture as his brother had taught him and when all were assembled he threw the concoction over the Coranians killing them but leaving the Britons unharmed.    In this way through the advice of Llevelys the Coranians were defeated and the plague ended.

After this Lludd had his servants measure the length and breadth of Britain to determine the center of the realm and decided this was at a place now known as Oxford.  In that place Lludd had a pit dug and placed a cauldron of mead at its base.  He then covered it with a sheet of satin as his brother had advised.  On the eve of May Day he set himself to watch what events should unfold.

That night he witnessed the appearance of the two warring beasts who immediately set about fighting each other just as his brother had foretold. He saw how they rose into the air and transformed into great fighting dragons.  He watched as they battled each other and eventually overcome with exhaustion fell from the air into the cauldron of mead which they then drank and fell into a deep slumber.   Seizing his chance Lludd wrapped them in the satin sheet and placed them into a stone container and transported them to Dinas Emrys, which was the strongest part of his kingdom at the time.   This action ended the fearful shrieking that had plagued and terrified the entire island of Britain.

After this, Lludd resolved to deal with the mighty man of magic who had been plundering his stores.  He ordered a great banquet to be prepared  and setting himself on watch with a vessel of cold water beside him he awaited the arrival of the thief.  In the dead hours after midnight he heard many wonderful songs and many curious things and found himself sinking into a dreamy slumber.   Rousing himself he splashed his face with old water from the cauldron. He found he needed to do this often battling to stay awake.

As he fought against the slumber he became aware of the appearance of a huge man clad in the armour of a warrior and armed with a sword.  The giant proceed to gather all the food and drink and place it in a huge hamper.  Lludd sat still and watched for a while in wonderment and was further amazed that the hamper never overflowed with all that was being placed inside.  At last he decided enough was enough and jumping up and cried, “Stop! stop! You have insulted me enough!  Stop now or face my sword!

Ludd and the Mghty Man of Magic

Lludd Fights the Mighty Man of Magic – Public Domain

With a mighty roar the giant threw down the hamper and rushed at Lludd with his drawing his sword.  Lludd rushed to meet him and they fell together in deadly combat.  Fire flew from their swords and after a hard fight fortune gave the victory to Lludd.  As he threw down his foe to the ground and had him at the mercy of his sword he asked,  “Should I spare thee for all the wrongs you have done me?”

“Spare me and all that I have taken shall be returned in equal amount and from this day on I will be your faithful servant,” replied the giant. Lludd quickly reflected upon this and accepted and the Mighty Man of Magic served him faithfully and fully as he had promised.

The Two Dragons Reappear

So it was that Lludd rid Britain of the three plagues and from that day on his realm bloomed and prospered in peace and security and so the story of Lludd and Llevelys ended.  However, part of the story was to reappear many centuries later in the time of King Vortigern when the two dragons resurfaced to hinder the construction of a fortress Vortigern was building. This event was to see the emergence of a young Merlin who prophesied the coming of Arthur who would unite Britain under his banner and become King of Britain and drive out the Anglo-Saxon invaders at least for a time.

© 12/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright zteve t evans July 12th, 2017

The Prophecy of Merlin: The Two Dragons

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Vortigern and Merlin and the Two Dragons – Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the Arthurian realm of legend and romance destiny and fate play essential parts in many of the legends and stories.  The practise of some writers from the Romances back to Geoffrey of Monmouth to link to earlier works and legends often gives a sense that the main characters and events are governed by some supernatural force that shapes destiny and fate. Events that happened many years and sometimes centuries earlier, become linked to important events in later legends and stories returning to the fore after lying dormant. One of these events involved two important players in the Arthurian world, both having played a part in shaping the destiny of Britain before Arthur was even born.  These two were Vortigern who usurped the throne of Britain and a young Myrddin Emrys, also known as Myrddin Ambrosius or Merlin.  Vortigern gained infamy and a reputation for treachery and weakness and Merlin became the sorcerer, counselor and soothsayer of the kings of Britain in his time.

Fate and destiny combine in strange ways and an event from the distant past resurfaced to cause King Vortigern a problem he could not have foreseen and the only person who could solve this was the then young and unknown Merlin.  The two were brought together on Dinas Emrys where Merlin was inspired to make one of his most famous prophecies on the fate of Britain.  Sometimes  called the Prophecy of the Two Dragons or  The Prophecy of Merlin, it reveals the coming of Arthur and the future of Britain, making  him the leading soothsayer and sorcerer of his time.

Vortigern’s Fortress

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, after the Treachery of the Long Knives, when the greater part of the nobility and leadership of the Britons had been brutally and treacherously murdered by Hengist and his Saxons, the wise men of King Vortigern, advised him to seek out a place where he might build a fortress as a place of safety to retreat to.

After searching what remained of his realm for a safe and suitable site he finally chose a rocky, wooded, hill about one mile from what is now called Beddgelert in Gwynedd, Wales, that rises to a height of about 250 feet above the valley of the River Glaslyn.  This hill was once called Dinas Ffaraon Dandde or fortress of Fiery Pharaoh, and later became known as Dinas Emrys which means fortress of Ambrosius.

Thinking he has found a good site Vortigern gave the command for the work on building the walls of the fortress to commence.   His builders worked hard building walls and towers in the daytime but no matter how far they progressed in a day, when they came back the next morning, they would find the previous day’s work in a heap on the ground.  Although the builders used all their skills and knowledge and worked as hard as they possibly could during the day, each morning they would return to find the previous day’s work once again in a pile on the ground. This went on for many days until Vortigern was obliged to seek help from his wise men. According to Nennius, a 9th century monk and writer, his wise men informed him that that he would have to seek out a young boy. “not conceived by a mortal man”. who would be sacrificed and his blood sprinkled in the mortar of the stonework in the hope of appeasing what ever dark power was hindering the construction of the fortress.

Myrddin Emrys

Vortigern sent his messengers out across the land seeking out such a boy.  After many days and much searching, one of the messengers returned with a boy named Myrddin Emrys or Merlin Ambrosius, who was the only boy they could find “not conceived by a mortal man”.

Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain, 1137) says that Merlin was believed to have been the the son of an incubus, or demon and his mother was mortal and was a nun.   With the incubus representing Satan and the nun representing Jesus Christ, or God, he had been born from two opposing powers.  As such he was said to have inherited the wisdom, knowledge and powers of both of these forces.  He was brought before Vortigern who told him the fate he intended to inflict upon him.  Geoffrey says,

“A meeting took place the next day for the purpose of putting him to death. Then the boy said to the king, “Why have your servants brought me hither?” “That you may be put to death,” replied the king, “and that the ground on which my citadel is to stand, may be sprinkled with your blood, without which I shall be unable to build it.”

However, according to Geoffrey, Merlin was not intimidated by Vortigern.  Instead, he spoke with power and authority, demanding to know where he had got this idea from. He then declared to Vortigern he would reveal the real reason why the construction of the fortress was unsuccessful.

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Merlin reads his prophecies to King Vortigern – By Unknown illustrator. Per Nigel Morgan Survey, probably London, 1250 or earlier. Style of Matthew Paris, but not him. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Prophecy of the Two Dragons

Geoffrey of Monmouth then gives the following account of Merlin’s interview with Vorigern and his wise men,

“Who,” said the boy, “instructed you to do this?” “My wise men,” answered the king. “Order them hither,” returned the boy; this being complied with, he thus questioned them: “By what means was it revealed to you that this citadel could not be built, unless the spot were previously sprinkled with my blood? Speak without disguise, and declare who discovered me to you;” then turning to the king, “I will soon,” said he, “unfold to you every thing; but I desire to question your wise men, and wish them to disclose to you what is hidden under this pavement:” they acknowledging their ignorance, “there is,” said he, “a pool; come and dig:” they did so, and found the pool. “Now,” continued he, “tell me what is in it;” but they were ashamed, and made no reply. “I,” said the boy, “can discover it to you: there are two vases in the pool;” they examined, and found it so: continuing his questions,” What is in the vases?” they were silent: “there is a tent in them,” said the boy; “separate them, and you shall find it so;” this being done by the king’s command, there was found in them a folded tent. The boy, going on with his questions, asked the wise men what was in it? But they not knowing what to reply, “There are,” said he, “two serpents, one white and the other red; unfold the tent;” they obeyed, and two sleeping serpents were discovered; “consider attentively,” said the boy, “what they are doing.” The serpents began to struggle with each other; and the white one, raising himself up, threw down the other into the middle of the tent, and sometimes drove him to the edge of it; and this was repeated thrice. At length the red one, apparently the weaker of the two, recovering his strength, expelled the white one from the tent; and the latter being pursued through the pool by the red one, disappeared. Then the boy, asking the wise men what was signified by this wonderful omen, and they expressing their ignorance, he said to the king,”

The wise men of Vortigern had no idea of what any these signs meant and could not hide their ignorance.  With growing confidence Merlin told them their meaning and then made a famous prophecy about the fate of Britain,

“I will now unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom: the two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the people who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea: at length, however, our people shall rise and drive away the Saxon race from beyond the sea, whence they originally came; but do you depart from this place, where you are not permitted to erect a citadel; I, to whom fate has allotted this mansion, shall remain here; whilst to you it is incumbent to seek other provinces, where you may build a fortress.”

Merlin then explained that the problems with the construction were actually caused by the two sleeping dragons waking up and fighting each other.  He explained the Red Dragon represented the defenders of Britain which although exhausted and appearing defeated would eventually rise up and repulse  the White Dragon of the invading Anglo-Saxons.   He told of the coming of Arthur who he referred to as the Boar of Cornwall which would be the emblem on his banner and prophesied that six kings descended from Arthur would rule before the Anglo-Saxons returned to rule over Britain.

Then Merlin told Vortigern that he was not destined to build his fortress on this site.  He told him that fate had given the ownership of the hill to himself and told Vortigern he must seek elsewhere for a suitable site.  Vortigern followed Merlin’s advice and eventually settled on Cair Guorthegirn whom some scholars think may be Craig Gwrtheyrn, Llandysul, Dyfed, but it is not proven and there are several other candidates. This was to be the place Vortigern met his death when it was burned down by Ambrosius and Uther, two brothers who attacked him out of revenge for killing another of their brothers who had been king.

For the defenders of Britain the prophecy of the two dragons was a momentous event, giving hope and inspiration for those who lived in those times to carry on the fight and was an important moment in the destiny of Britain and he went on to make further prophecies concerning the future of Britain beyond Arthur’s time. However, as with many other important events in the Arthurian world the seeds of this event were sown may centuries earlier before even the Romans ruled by a King of Britain named Lludd Llaw Eraint in the Mabinogion who in Geoffrey’s work is believed to be King Lud.

Lludd Llaw Eraint

The tale of Lludd and Llevelys from the Mabinogion reveals how these two dragons came to be placed in the pool on Dinas Emrys centuries earlier to be found later in Vorigern’s time and inspire the prophecy of Merlin.  In this tale Lludd and Llevelys are two brothers.  Lludd ruled Britain while Llevelys ruled Gaul.   There came a time when Britain was afflicted by three terrible plagues.  The first plague was that of the Coraniaid. The second was the plague of the two dragons.  The third was caused by a giant who would keep stealing the provisions from the royal stores.  It is the second plague that explains how the two dragons came to be entombed in the pool on Dinas Emrys.

The Plague of the Two Dragons

According to the tale they were placed there by Lludd acting on the advice of his brother, because they had caused Britain great fear and anxiety.   The story goes that every year on the eve of May Day a terrible shrieking scream was heard throughout the length and breadth of the realm which was caused by two dragons fighting each other.   One of the dragons was red and the other was white.   When the White Dragon fought the Red Dragon it caused it to make the fearful, shrieking cry.  It was this terrible scream that was heard throughout the country searing into the very hearts of the people causing great fear and anxiety among them.  The scream was so awful it caused strong men to wax pale and fall weak, women would lose their babies, and young men and maidens would become bereft of their senses. Furthermore, all creatures, plants and trees, waters and the earth itself became barren and infertile.  The plague was finally defeated when Lludd following the advice of his brother Llevelys set a trap for the dragons capturing and containing them.  He then buried them under the pool on Dinas Emrys which at the time was deemed to be the safest part of his kingdom.

His brother had advised Lludd that to capture the dragons he would need to dig a pit in the exact center of his kingdom.  After taking measurements from all corners of his realm Lludd determined that the center lay in a place now called Oxford.  He placed a cauldron of mead in the bottom of the pit and covered it with a sheet of satin.  To begin with the dragons took on the shape of terrifying animals and fell about fighting each other by the side of the pit. Then they transformed into huge winged beast and fought each other in the air.  Finally they exhausted themselves and transforming into pigs fell from the air landing on the covering of a satin sheet which gave way and they fell into the cauldron of mead.  Drinking the mead they fell into a stupor and fell asleep. Lludd then wrapped them up in the satin sheet and placed them in a stone coffin and took them to Dinas Emrys where they were placed under the pool on the hill.

Destiny and Fate

Centuries later Vortigern, seeking out a site to build a fortress, chose Dinas Emrys. There he encountered problems securing the foundations and sought to remedy this. According to his wise men he needed to sacrifice a boy “not conceived by a mortal man” and sprinkle his blood in the foundations.   Vortigern found such a being named Myrddin Emrys who made his famous prophecy and was to prove instrumental in ensuring the destiny of Britain unfolded.  This is how destiny and fate often come together to work in strange, unforeseen ways in the legends and romances of King Arthur.

© 05/07/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Information

Copyright July 5th, 2017 zteve t evans