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The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 161

4. Co-extensive with this world.—An early example of this type is found in the Adventures of Cormac. A divine visitant appeared to Cormac and gave him in exchange for his wife, son, and daughter, his branch of golden apples, which when shaken produced sweetest music, dispelling sorrow. After a year Cormac set out to seek his family, and as he journeyed encountered a mist in which he discovered a strange house. Its master and mistress—Manannan and his consort—offered him shelter. The god brought in a pig, every quarter of which {367} was cooked in the telling of a true tale, the pig afterwards coming to life again. Cormac, in his tale, described how he had lost his family, whereupon Manannan made him sleep, and brought his wife and children in. Later he produced a cup which broke when a lie was told, but became whole again when a true word was spoken. The god said Cormac's wife had now a new husband, and the cup broke, but was restored when the goddess declared this to be a lie. Next morning all had disappeared, and Cormac and his family found themselves in his own palace, with cup and branch by their side.1242 Similarly, in The Champion's Ecstasy, a mysterious horseman appears out of a mist to Conn and leads him to a palace, where he reveals himself as the god Lug, and where there is a woman called "the Sovereignty of Erin." Beside the palace is a golden tree. In the story of Bran, Mag Mell is said to be all around the hero, though he knows it not—an analogous conception to what is found in these tales, and another instance is that of the mysterious house entered by Conchobar and Dechtire.1244 Mag Mell may thus have been regarded as a mysterious district of Erin. This magic mist enclosing a marvellous dwelling occurs in many other tales, and it was in a mist that the Tuatha Déa came to Ireland.

A certain correspondence to these Irish beliefs is found in Brythonic story, but here the Elysium conception has been influenced by Christian ideas. Elysium is called Annwfn, meaning "an abyss," "the state of the dead," "hell," and it is also conceived of as is elfydd, "beneath the earth."1245 But in the tales it bears no likeness to these meanings of the word, save in so far as it has been confused by their Christian redactors with hell. It is a region on the earth's surface or {368} an over-or under-sea world, in which some of the characteristics of the Irish Elysium are found—a cauldron, a well of drink sweeter than wine, and animals greatly desired by mortals, while it is of great beauty and its people are not subject to death or disease. Hence the name Annwfn has probably taken the place of some earlier pagan title of Elysium.

In the tale of Pwyll, the earliest reference to Annwfn occurs. It is ruled by Arawn, at war with Hafgan. Arawn obtains the help of Pwyll by exchanging kingdoms with him for a year, and Pwyll defeats Hafgan. It is a beautiful land, where merriment and feasting go on continuously, and its queen is of great loveliness. It has no subterranean character, and is conceived apparently as contiguous to Pwyll's kingdom. In other tales it is the land whence Gwydion and others obtain various animals. The later folk-conception of the demoniac dogs of Annwfn may be based on an old myth of dogs with which its king hunted. These are referred to in the story of Pwyll.1248

Annwfn is also the name of a land under waves or over sea, called also Caer Sidi, "the revolving castle," about which "are ocean's streams." It is "known to Manawyddan and Pryderi," just as the Irish Elysium was ruled by Manannan.1249 Another "Caer of Defence" is beneath the waves. Perhaps the two ideas were interchangeable. The people of this land are free from death and disease, and in it is "an abundant well, sweeter than white wine the drink in it." There also is a cauldron belonging to the lord of Annwfn, which was stolen by Arthur and his men. Such a cauldron is the property of people belonging to a water world in the Mabinogion.1251

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The description of the isle of Avallon (later identified with Glastonbury), whither Arthur was carried, completes the likeness to the Irish Elysium. No tempest, excess of heat or cold, nor noxious animal afflicts it; it is blessed with eternal spring and with fruit and flowers growing without labour; it is the land of eternal youth, unvisited by death or disease. It has a regia virgo lovelier than her lovely attendants; she cured Arthur of his wounds, hence she is the Morgen of other tales, and she and her maidens may be identified with the divine women of the Irish isle of women. Morgen is called a


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