Welsh Folklore: The Spirit of the Van

Wales is a place of where every lake, mountain, hill or valley seems to have some ancient tradition, legend or folktale attached.  Presented here is The Spirit of the Van which is set in the Vans Pool which lies in the mountains of Carmarthenshire and is a variation of the legend of The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.

The Spirit of the Van

The story tells of a beautiful female spirit that appears on a lake called the Van Pool.  She appears in a golden boat in the first hours of New Year’s Day and is dressed all in white and around her waist she wears a golden girdle  Her hair is long and golden and in her hand is a golden oar which she uses to deftly maneuver the boat. Those who have seen her, although admiring her beauty, are struck by the melancholy demeanor and milk- white face of the lovely lady.

Living near to the lake was a young farmer who had heard about the beautiful, melancholy spirit of the lake and became intrigued by what was said about her.  The more he thought about her the more a fervent desire to see her for himself grew upon him.

When New Year’s Eve came he went to the lake and chose a secluded and well hidden spot by the water’s edge where he settled down to await the arrival of the spirit of the Van Pool in the hours after midnight.  The moon was full and mirrored in the calm waters of the lake and he awaited in eager anticipation for the midnight hour.  At the strike of midnight as the old year was passing and the new was being born there on the opposite bank materialized the spirit of the lake in a golden boat that floated gracefully over the water steered by the lady with a golden oar.

The Lady of the Golden Boat

And there on the pool under the moonlight the young farmer beheld his heart’s desire and he watched in awe as she glided around the pool, a vision of loveliness, like a goddess of old. Time passed all too soon and as the stars dimmed the first signs of dawn appeared and his vision of loveliness too began to gently fade.  As she was about to vanish completely, unable to quell his emotions, he called out to her begging her to stay and be his wife.  The Lady of the Golden Boat quickly glanced over her shoulder towards him as she vanished from his sight.

Sadly, the young farmer returned to his home but a change had come over him since those early hours of New Year’s Day when he had seen and called out to the lady in the golden boat. He stopped eating properly and he could not sleep properly and took to wandering around the Van Pool in the night hoping to get but a glimpse of the Lady in the Golden Boat.  In sadness and gloom he neglected his farm and soon everything in his life was going to rack and ruin.

An Offering

At last, he pulled himself together long enough to seek help and he went to see a wise woman who advised him to  make an offering of food to her.  Well, the young farmer was desperate and without having any better plan decided he would give it a try.  He could not bear to wait until the New Year so he thought he would try his luck on Midsummer’s Eve. When Midsummer’s Eve came he took a basket with a generous portion of the best cheese and the best loaf of bread he could afford along to Van Pool in the hope of enticing the Lady of the Golden Boat to marry him.

Although he waited by the poolside all night long she did not materialize.  Nevertheless, he thought that in the spot where he had previously seen her there was a faint shimmering of light and he fancied he heard the faint notes of the most beautiful music. These small signs gave him hope and night after night he would visit the pool carrying a basket of bread and cheese.  When midnight came he would gently drop his offering to the lady into the pool.  Still the lady did not appear but the young farmer continued making this offering to her right the way through the year until New Year’s Eve came around again.

The Lady Appears

Then, putting on his best clothes the young farmer took a basket of the finest cheese and the very best bread he could find along with him for his vigil on the banks of the Van Pool.  At the stroke of midnight he gently dropped his offering of  bread and cheese into the waters of the pool and then waited in quiet desperation as the full moon hid behind a cloud.  Then across the water from the other side he saw a faint shimmering and the Lady of the Golden Boat appeared  gliding sedately towards him.  The boat came alongside where he was standing and the lady stepped lightly on to the shore.

The young farmer was thrilled and by the light of the full moon went down on one knee and proposed marriage.  The Lady of the Golden Boat listened to him and then to his delighted accepted his marriage proposal but laid a strict condition on him.  That condition was that he should not strike her for a third time as if he did she would have to leave him forever. Naturally the young farmer not being a cruel or violent man could not imagine ever striking her so he eagerly agreed.

So the two were wed and she brought with her from the Other-world a dowry of a flock of fine sheep and a herd of cattle the like that had never been seen in Wales before. She also brought with her fine flocks of ducks and chickens and soon his farm prospered greatly and the two lived happily together and were very much in love.

The Christening

One day after they had been happily married for a few years one of their neighbors invited then to a christening.  To the surprise of all those present, halfway through the christening service the young farmer’s wife began crying.  The young farmer was embarrassed at his wife’s behavior and angry at her weeping at what should have been a happy event.  “What ever are you crying for?  This is a Christening and you are making yourself look foolish!”  he angrily said giving her a light pat on the shoulder.

“Alas, my eyes see a baby entering a world of sorrow, pain and sin.  I see nothing but misery and pain for the babe.  There is nothing to rejoice over,” replied his wife who still retained her fairy eyes, “and you have struck me for the first time!”

The anger passed and the young farmer regretted he had struck his wife.  Although it was only a light pat he really did feeling sorry and ashamed of himself because he really did love her dearly.  She let it be and things were soon good again between them because she really did love him as well.

The Funeral

Sadly, some time later they were invited to attend the funeral of the child whose christening they had attended.  Half way through the funeral service the farmer’s wife burst out laughing much to the shock of her husband and all those in attendance. Furiously he asked why she was laughing at such a sad occasion.  Telling her she was making a fool of herself he gave her a light pat to her shoulder and told her to stop weeping.

She answered saying,  “With my eyes I see the child and it is no longer suffering and has left the world of sin and sorrow.  The child is whole, healthy and happy for all time so tell me what is there to weep over?  You have struck me for a second time!”

The Wedding

They went home and the incident was forgotten and they were still very happy together and time passed by as it does. Then one day they received an invitation to attend the wedding of one of their neighbors daughters.   She was a bonny, pretty young girl but she was marrying an old, wizened man, who was rich but miserly.  So they attended the church and half way through the ceremony the farmer’s wife burst into tears.

“What is the matter with you,” her husband demanded, “Everyone is looking at you. Stop making a fool of yourself!” And he gave a gentle push to her shoulder.

“I weep because summer is now bound to winter. I weep because youth is sold for gold.  I weep because this wedding is a devil’s bargain and will bring the girl nothing but unhappiness!” she answered and then looked at him with her eyes full of love and sorrow and told him,  “Alas, now you must remember our bargain.  You have struck me a third time and there can be no other so with love and sadness, I say goodbye for we must part forever!”  

The Parting

With those words she simply turned her back and walked out of the church and back through their farm towards Van Pool.  As she walked she called out the names of  all the sheep, cattle, ducks, chickens and geese she had brought with her when she got married. They all stopped what they were doing and followed her towards the pool.   When she reached the water she did not stop at the edge but continued walking into the pool.  The last the farmer saw of his wife was her golden hair floating in the water before finally disappearing under the surface. Following on behind came all of the farm animals who followed her into the pool.

The farmer was heart broken and would go to the pool with bread and cheese each night making an offering in the hope of meeting his wife again but he never did and died a broken man.

© 13/09/2016 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright September 13th, 2016 zteve t evans

Welsh Legends: Hu Gadarn the Mighty

Hu the Mighty

Hu Gadarn was a legendary leader of the Cymry people who left their original homeland to settle on the island of Britain in antiquity.  According to some very ancient traditions the Cymry lived in another land they called the Summer Country of Deffrobani. The location of Deffrobani is uncertain with some accounts saying it was in the area of present day Istanbul, others point to the Middle East, while others claim Sri Lanka.  Nevertheless, the legends say that among the Cymry a wise and great leader appeared who they called Hu Gadarn, or Hu the Mighty.  This work will present some of his achievements and the significance to the Cymry race that he had on their settlement of Britain that are revealed in the legends and traditions.

Hu Gadarn the lawgiver

According to legend, Hu Gadarn was skilled in the arts and the sciences, such as they were, and he invented the plough.  He taught his people how to cultivate the land and how to grow crops.  So they grew their crops and he taught them how to build communities which gave them a home instead of roaming the land and relying on hunting the animals and picking the fruits and the nuts to live on.  They could now live together in their communities but sometimes they fell into arguing and fighting. To help them help each other he gave them laws.  The people followed his laws and there was less arguing and fighting and they began to work and live together as one people.

Although their crops grew and fed the people and their communities were successful other people envied them and attacked and stole from them.  Seeing this Hu Gadarn thought they needed a country of their own.  He talked to them and told them about the land that lie over the Mor Tawch, or the Hazy Sea and how it was under the protection of God. He told them of the animals that roamed wild and free upon those blessed shores.  There were wolves, bears, deer, wild oxen and multitudes of birds that swam on the lakes and rivers. Great eagles swept across majestic mountains, and verdant valleys and there were great fertile grassy plains and forests, but no humans lived there.  He asked them to follow him there and claim the island as their own.

Honey Island

The Cymry agreed and Hu Gadarn led them on a great journey across the land until they came to the shores of the Hazy Sea.  He showed them how to build and use coracles and they crossed the sea and landed on the shores of the island of Britain taking possession of it before any other humans had arrived.  They found it was just as Hu had described being only inhabited by animals such as wolves, bears and wild oxen and many other such beasts living in the forests, fertile valleys and plains.    The Cymry called their new home the Honey Island because of the abundance of honey they found they could harvest.

With Hu to lead them they built new communities governed by the laws he gave them and they built shrines and places of worship to give thanks to the gods for their good fortune.  Hu expanded his legal structure so everyone could get justice and he taught the people how to created songs to help them remember important information which was the system they used until the invention of writing. In this way important knowledge, history and traditions of the people were passed down from generation to generation and the Cymry became famous for their songs and poetry

Hu the Mighty and the Afanc

According to some Welsh traditions he was said to have been the first king of the island of Britain.  During this period there was a series of disastrous floods caused by a water-dwelling monster called the afanc.  These floods caused huge damage to people’s homes and crops. It was with the help of Hu the Mighty that the afanc was eventually transported to a lake on the slopes of Mount Snowdon using oxen to drag it there.  Once there it could do no harm and the flooding of homes and farmlands stopped.

Who was Hu Gadarn?

Hu Gadarn was first mentioned in the 18th century by Iolo Morganwg in Triads that are of questionable authenticity.  There was a “Huw” mentioned in the Book of Taliesin, but is thought not to be connected with Hu Gadarn.  Another character named Huw Gadarn is mentioned in the White Book of Rhydderch, as the emperor of Constantinople in stories that were adapted from a French tale.  He is also mentioned in the  Red Book of Hergest and several other works.  He also figures in Medieval French Romance in connection to Charlemagne and it maybe that these are derived from earlier Celtic stories.

There are some people who believe Hu Gadarn was none other that the great Israelite leader Joshua and the Cymry were from Tribe of Ephraim, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, though others dismiss this idea.  There are also claims he brought the Druidic tradition to Britain and Ireland but this is also disputed by many.

Maybe trying to pinpoint actual historical figures to legends misses what is really being said but please make up your own minds to meaning, or facts, but it does seem clear, that Hu Gadarn, fact or fiction, appears to have been a figure of some significance to the traditions of how Britain was settled and the origin of the Cymry.

© 17/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 17th 2016 zteve t evans