Welsh Legends: The Bride From the Red Lake

From #FolkloreThursday.com

By zteve t evans 27/04/2017

Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: The Bride from the Red Lake

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By Adolf Echtler (1843–1914) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Llyn Coch, or the Red Lake, is a Welsh lake situated on Mount Snowdon an area steeped in legend and folklore. One legend tells how a mortal man made a contract that allowed him to take a bride from the Otherworld that he had met at the Red Lake and fallen in love with.  However, it was essential he abide by the terms of that contract.  In Welsh tradition and folklore, there are a number of similar examples where a mortal man takes a bride from the Otherworld and they live happily together, sometimes having children, but there is often a sad ending. One example is found in the tale of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.  In many cases the man found his love living in a remote lake or pool of water and the two fell in love wishing never to part.  After making a promise to her father that must never be broken consent is given and they marry. However, there are those who say that it is risky to have relationships with those of the Otherworld. This point of view is indeed seen in many Welsh fairy or folk tales concerning humans who come into contact or even marry someone from the Otherworld.  Presented here is one such tale called The Bride of the Red Lake.

The Bride from the Red Lake

There was once a farmer who one day decided he would go fishing in the Red Lake. When he arrived he found the lake shrouded in mist.  Then a sudden gust of wind cleared a path through the mist across the lake and to the farmer’s surprise revealed a man perched upon a ladder busily at work thatching a haystack.  Stranger still, the ladder appeared to be standing on top of the surface of the water as did the haystack.   The farmer was astounded but the vision quickly faded and soon all that could be seen was a gentle rippling of the water where the haystack and the thatcher had been.

After this, the farmer often visited the lake hoping for another glimpse of this strange otherworld but saw nothing out of the ordinary and he thought no more of his extraordinary vision.   Then one autumn day he rode his horse up to the lake.  As it was a hot day he rode his horse into the water so that it could drink easily from the cool lake.   It was a lovely day and while the horse was drinking the farmer sat on its back and stared lazily at the ripples that moved gently across the surface of the Red Lake.

Then, what he saw next made him jump.   Under the surface of the water a little distance from him he saw the face of the loveliest maiden he had ever seen in his life looking at him through the gently rippling water.  He sat spellbound staring at her and she calmly gazed back at him.   As he stared, her head and shoulders slowly emerged from the water and she looked deep into his eyes.

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Synopsis

 

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Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a Middle English alliterative poem from the 14th century. It is a chivalric romance that uses the folkloric motifs of the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. The poem is from a single surviving manuscript known as Cotton Nero A.x which also hold three other narrative poems called; Pearl, Purity, and Patience. These three poems are of a Christian religious nature as is the Sir Gawain poem while many people see it as also containing pagan allusions. The author of the manuscript is unknown but generally referred to as either the Gawain Poet or the Pearl Poet. There are many different ways to interpret Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but what is provided here is a brief synopsis of the poem.

Brutus of Troy and the Founding of Britain

The poem begins by mentioning the mythical founding of Britain by Brutus of Troy in the Historical Prologue and tells how after the fall of Troy the descendants of the exiles founded new cities and countries.  According to the poem, Rome was founded by Romulus, Tuscany by Tiscius, Langoberde begins the settlement of the country later called Lombardy and Brutus became the founder of Britain.  This information is designed to give Camelot political significance and legitimacy and introduces King Arthur the noblest and greatest king and leader of the country.  This also gives him historical significance and legitimacy while also linking the poet’s own text with such classics as Virgil’s Aeneid, providing a literary link to those ancient times.

The Appearance of the Green Knight

The story begins in Camelot on the feast of New Year’s Day with the members of Arthur’s court giving and receiving presents from one another when Arthur requests to see or hear of a thrilling experience of exploit from someone before the feast commences. Apparently, in answer to this request there rides into the hall upon a massive green horse the huge figure of a knight.  He is not dressed for battle wearing and not wearing armor but his clothing and even his skin and hair are all green. In one hand he holds a most splendid battle axe while in the other he holds a branch of holly.

The Christmas Game

The Green Knight refused to enter into combat with anyone declaring there was no one present who could match him.  Instead he invited any who dared to take part in a special Christmas game. Explaining the rules he tells them that someone must strike him one blow with his axe but within one year and a day they must themselves take a blow from him. Whoever decides to play can keep the axe. On hearing these terms all the knights present at first refused to play but when it appeared that no one had the courage Arthur agreed. However, The youngest knight present, Sir Gawain, offered to step in and play the game for him which Arthur and the Green Knight accepted.

The Green Knight knelt and bows his head to receive a blow which is duly given by Sir Gawain severing the head from the body in one stroke. After the blow is delivered to the shock of all present the Green Knight is not killed but picking up his severed head mounts his horse. Holding the severed head to face Queen Guinevere the lips speak reminding Gawain and all those present that the two players in the game must meet again at the Green Chapel within the agreed space of time. The Green Knight then wheels his horse around and carrying his severed head aloft rides from the hall leaving the bemused Gawain, Arthur and his knights with little else to do other than admiring the battle axe left with Gawain. They made fun of the strange event, laughing while encouraging Guinevere to make light of the matter.  Life at Camelot soon returned to normal but time marched on.

Gawain’s Quest for the Green Chapel

With the approach of the allotted time and with only a few days left for the game to resume Gawain sets off to find the Green Chapel to keep his promise to the Green Knight. On his way, he has many adventures which he overcomes but is severely tested by the cold and bitter weather of winter. On Christmas morning he prays he might find somewhere to hear mass and finds a beautiful castle. The lord of the castle is a knight named Bertilak de Hautdesert who has a beautiful wife and both are highly honored to have Gawain as a guest in their castle. There is also a female guest present at the castle who although being old and ugly was treated with great respect and reverence by the lord and lady.

The Castle of Sir Bertilak de Hautdesert

Gawain explains to them about the game with the Green Knight telling them he is due to meet up with him on New Year’s Day and has only a few days left to find the Green Chapel.  Bertilak reveals that the Green Chapel is less than two miles away and suggests Gawain rests for the remaining time at his castle.  Gawain, after his long hard journey, is only too pleased to accept this proposition.

Bertilak tells Gawain he is going  hunting in the morning and that he should stay and rest himself in bed after his long and arduous journey.  He then proposed they make a pact with each other. Whatever he gains in the hunt he will bring home and give to Gawain. Whatever Gawain gains the next day by staying in the castle he will give to his host on his return. Gawain accepts the pact and goes to bed.

Gawain’s Pact with Bertilak

With Bertilak out hunting Gawain remains in bed in the castle and Lady Bertilak goes to his bedchamber and attempts to seduce him. Gawain though greatly tempted does not wish to betray Bertilak and at the same time does not wish to offend the lady.  Gently and politely he refuses her advances, but in doing so accepts a single kiss from her.  Bertilak has a successful day out hunting catching a deer which when he returns he fulfills his side of the bargain and gives it to Gawain. Gawain to fulfill his part gives Bertilak a kiss but does not reveal where he got it from pointing out that was not part of their pact.

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Sir Gawain and Lady Bertilak – By Anonymous (http://gawain.ucalgary.ca) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The next morning Bertilak again goes hunting leaving Gawain in his castle. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce him and although greatly tempted all he will accept is a kiss. Later that day Lady Bertilak tries again but  he will courteously only accept another kiss. When Bertilak returns he gives Gawain the head of a boar he has killed and receives from Gawain two kisses and again the source of these is not revealed.

On the third morning, Bertilak once again goes off hunting leaving Gawain in the castle with Lady Bertilak. She asks him for a small gift or keepsake to remember him by but he tells her he has no such thing worthy of her. Again Lady Bertilak tries to seduce Gawain while offering him a gold ring to remember her by. Gawain courteously refuses the gift but she begs him to accept the green and gold girdle of silk she wears telling him it is magical and wearing it will keep him safe from all physical harm.  Gawain is mindful that the next day he must face the Green Knight in the Green Chapel to complete their game which he does not expect to survive and accepts the gift.

This time when Bertilak returns from hunting he has caught a fox which he gives to Gawain as agreed.  In return, Gawain gives him the three kisses he had received again not revealing where he got them from but withheld Lady Bertilak’s gift of her girdle saying nothing about it at all.

The Green Knight at the Green Chapel

The next morning Gawain wraps the girdle twice around his body and sets off with a guide provided by Bertilak to take him to the Green Chapel to play the final part of the strange and grim game with the Green Knight. When they draw near the guide tells Gawain that if he should decide to give up the game and ride away he would tell no one. Gawain is determined to keep his promise to the Green Knight.  The guide tells him that he is too afraid to go further himself that shows Gawain the way who rides on alone. When he arrives at the Green Chapel he finds the Green Knight already there sharpening a massive battle-axe.

Gawain dismounts and kneels and bows his head to receive a blow from the Green Knight. As the Green Knight prepares to bring down the axe on his neck Gawain flinches slightly as he swings. This cause the Green Knight to stop and berate him for cowardice. This shames Gawain who then waits unflinchingly for the blow but the Green Knight swings again but holds it from the final blow telling Gawain he is testing his nerve. Gawain, now angry berates the Green Knight insisting he gets on with it. This time the Green Knight does bring the axe down on his neck but at the last instant withholds force, causing only minor wound to Gawain’s neck and with this, the game is over.

Gawain then arms himself preparing to fight but the Green Knight reveals himself to be none other than Bertilak de Hautdesert who had been magically transformed into the Green Knight. Bertilak then explains that the entire game was a trick caused by the old ugly woman who had been his other guest and that she was the sorceress, Morgan le Fay in an attempt to frighten Queen Guinevere to death and create a test for Arthur and his knights.

Return to Camelot

After this revelation, Gawain is ashamed and tells Bertilak about the gift of the girdle. Birtilak laughs and absolves Gawain of any guilt calling him the most blameless knight in all the land. The two part as friends and Gawain returns to Camelot where he tells Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of his adventure. Arthur and the knights also absolve him of the blame for not revealing the gift of the girdle and in an act of solidarity with him, all agree to wear a green sash to remind them to keep their integrity.

© 20/09/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 20th, 2017 zteve t evans

Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland

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Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of Elfland – By Katharine Cameron (1874–1965) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas was a real Scottish laird who lived in Scotland in the 13th century, though there is confusion over his name which was either Thomas Learmont or Thomas de Ercildoun.  Evidence of his existence is found in charters from 1294 and 1260-80 that mention him.   Although there is speculation that it was the prophetic verses that earned him his nickname it is thought more likely this came from a corruption of his surname. His father was named Thome or Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun.  Ercildoun was the name of the modern village of Earlston in Galashiels which is situated about 30 miles southeast of Edinburgh.       
 
In his time Thomas was a widely respected prophet and clairvoyant with many of his predictions coming true. He successfully predicted the death of King Alexander lll, the succession to the throne of Robert the Bruce, the defeat of Scotland in 1513 at Flodden and in 1603 the union of crowns  His talent for accurately foretelling the future is associated with his ability to create verse which was seen as the language of prophets. 
 
When ever he took up his harp to play or cleared his throat to sing all present; princes, nobles or peasants, would fall silent and stand in joy and awe at the sweet music he made.   All who heard were touched, for his voice and words stirred the emotions and his fingers that played upon the strings of the harp, stroked, strummed and soothed the people’s hearts.  He could move people to joy and then to sorrow and then back again and held all who heard him in the palm of his hand.  Although he was widely regarded as a gifted seer and comparable to Merlin and a talented singer and harpist he had not been born with these abilities and it was widely believed he been given them by the Queen of Elfland herself.  Presented next is a retelling of how Thomas met the Queen of Elfland and was given his remarkable talents.

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Welsh Folklore and Legend: The Drowned Town of Lake Bala

From #FolkloreThursday.com
By zteve t evans, March 9th, 2017

Drowned Towns and Sunken Cities: The Legend of Lake Bala, Wales

Lake Bala is also known as Llyn Tegid, and in Welsh folklore is known for its legend of having a sunken town beneath its surface.  It is situated in Gwynedd, Wales, and the modern day town of Bala lies on its eastern shore.  There are two different legends that give different accounts of how the flooding took place.  One concerns the spring of Ffynnon Gower or Gower’s Well, and the other involves the wickedness of a prince named Tegid Foel.  This article looks at the legend of Tegid Foel. 

The Legend of Tegid Foel

According to legend, Tegid Foel had a fine palace in the town now underneath Lake Bala and lived a life of opulence and excess.  He had a reputation for cruelty and greed, and oppressed his people.  The gods had sent several warnings and provided opportunities for him to change his ways, but still he unheedingly persisted in his greed and excesses.

When his first grandson was born, he decided he would celebrate the birth with a lavish feast.  He sent invitations to all the important princes in Wales and beyond, and invited all of his family to join him in the banquet at his palace in Bala.  Now, they say a man is known by the company he keeps, and there were many who would not attend the celebration because they refused to associate with this cruel and barbaric prince.  Sadly, like attracts like and the banquet was still attended by many powerful men of ill repute and behaviour.

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

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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

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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

“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

The Legend of Lady Emma and Sir Eglamore of Aira Force

waterfall_aira_force2c_national_trust_-_geograph-org-uk_-_2018

Pam Brophy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Aira Force is a waterfall situated in the Lake District in Cumbria, an area of England renowned for the beauty and splendor of its landscape of lakes, mountains, and forests. The lakes have been a popular holiday and walking destination for many people for centuries.  Many of the most famous poets of the Romantic movement such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey found inspiration and solace amid its magnificent landscape.   Wordsworth, in particular, found the inspiration to write some of his most memorable lines while walking amid the sweeping landscape of Lakeland and one such place was Aira Force.  The waters come from a stream called the Aira Beck which has its source on Stybarrow Dodd.  Its path takes it through a ravine and falls about sixty-six feet creating the waterfall called Aira Force which then flows toward Ullswater.   Lakeland is steeped in history and folklore and Aira Force has a rather sad legend attached to it which also appears in a poem written by Wordsworth called, The Somnambulist.

The Legend of Lady Emma and Sir Eglamore

The legend tells how there was once a bold and noble knight named Sir Eglamore who was betrothed to the beautiful Lady Emma.  Being a lady of considerable beauty she had many suitors but had chosen Sir Eglamore in preference to all of the others.   Sir Eglamore, although he loved Lady Emma deeply, was very much the knight errant and often traveled to far off lands to fighting all sorts of foreign foes and having many different adventures.

Although the couple was truly in love Sir Eglamore increasingly spent more and more time away from his lady.   Poor Lady Emma came to miss him greatly and her health and sleep became affected.  She began to walk in her sleep even being found wandering in dreams in the gardens at times.  In her sleep, she began to roam further afield visiting places that were special to her and her sweetheart, Sir Eglamore.

One night she rose in her sleep and roamed beyond the gardens and up to the place of one of their favorite haunts, the waterfall of Aira Force where she stood on the very edge of the ravine.  We can only guess that in her sleep she dreamed of the being in the arms of her absent lover.

By coincidence, it happened that Sir Eglamore returned that night and eager to see his beloved had sought for her all over the house.   Not finding her he had sought for her outside eventually making his way up to Aira Force.

There, he saw her standing on the very edge of the waterfall.  Calling joyful greetings to her he ran up the path to her.  She showed no sign that she had heard him and he became concerned and confused.  Thinking it was either the sound of the waterfall that prevented her hearing him, or he had found her ghost, he gently touched her shoulder.  She shuddered and suddenly awoke from sleep in shock and stumbled forward plunging over the edge and down into the icy arms of the fast moving torrent.  William Wordsworth catches the moment in his poem, The Somnambulist,

 
Soul-shattered was the Knight, nor knew
            If Emma’s Ghost it were,
          Or boding Shade, or if the Maid
            Her very self stood there.                            
          He touched; what followed who shall tell?
            The soft touch snapped the thread
          Of slumber–shrieking back she fell,
          And the Stream whirled her down the dell
            Along its foaming bed.
 

Shocked, Sir Eglamore raced to the bottom of the ravine and plunging through the icy water downstream where he eventually caught up with her and carried her from the water.  There by the water’s edge, she briefly opened her eyes and a thin smile spread upon her lips but as she did so she gasped her last breath and passed away in her lover’s arms.  From that moment on Sir Eglamore in his grief took to living in a cave above the waterfall and became a hermit and to prevent another tragedy he built a bridge across the stream.

William Wordsworth told the story in his poem but there is debate among scholars whether it was the legend that inspired the poem or the poem that gave birth to the legend.  Personally, I think it appropriate for the reader to make up their own minds.

© 30/05/2017 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 30th, 2017 zteve t evans