The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 55

Here he appears as little more than an ideal magician, possibly an old god, like the Irish "god of Druidism," to whose legend had been attached a story of supernatural conception. Professor Rh[^y]s regards him as a Celtic Zeus or as the sun, because late legends tell of his disappearance in a glass house into the sea. The glass house is the expanse of light travelling with the sun (Merlin), while the Lady of the Lake who comes daily to solace Merlin in his enchanted prison is a dawn-goddess. Stonehenge was probably a temple of this Celtic Zeus "whose late legendary self we have in Merlin."439 Such late romantic episodes and an ætiological myth can hardly be regarded as affording safe basis for these views, and their mythological interpretation is more than doubtful. The sun is never prisoner of the dawn as Merlin is of Viviane. Merlin and his glass house disappear for ever, but the sun reappears every morning. Even the most poetic mythology must conform in some degree to actual phenomena, but this cannot be said of the systems of mythological interpretation. If Merlin belongs to the pagan period at all, he was probably an ideal magician or god of magicians, prominent, perhaps, in the Arthur saga as in the later romances, and credited with a mysterious origin and an equally mysterious ending, the latter described in many different ways.

The boastful Kei of the romances appears already in {123} Kulhwych, while in Geoffrey he is Arthur's seneschal.440 Nobler traits are his in later Welsh poetry; he is a mighty warrior, fighting even against a hundred, though his powers as a toper are also great. Here, too, his death is lamented. He may thus have been a god of war, and his battle-fury may be poetically described in a curious passage referring to him in Kulhwych: "His breath lasted nine days and nine nights under water. He could remain without sleep for the same period. No physician could heal a wound inflicted by his sword. When he pleased he could make himself as tall as the tallest tree in the wood. And when it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry above and below his hand to the distance of a handbreadth, so great was his natural heat. When it was coldest he was as glowing fuel to his companions." This almost exactly resembles Cúchulainn's aspect in his battle-fury. In a curious poem Gwenhyvar (Guinevere) extols his prowess as a warrior above that of Arthur, and in Kulhwych and elsewhere there is enmity between the two.443 This may point to Kei's having been a god of tribes hostile to those of whom Arthur was hero.

Mabon, one of Arthur's heroes in Kulhwych and the Dream of Rhonabwy, whose name, from mab (map), means "a youth," may be one with the god Maponos equated with Apollo in Britain and Gaul, perhaps as a god of healing springs.444 His mother's name, Modron, is a local form of Matrona, a river-goddess and probably one of the mother-goddesses as her name implies. In the Triads Mabon is one of the three eminent prisoners of Prydein. To obtain his help in hunting the magic boar his prison must be found, and this is done by {124} animals, in accordance with a Märchen formula, while the words spoken by them show the immense duration of his imprisonment—perhaps a hint of his immortality. But he was also said to have died and been buried at Nantlle,446 which, like Gloucester, the place of his prison, may have been a site of his widely extended cult.447

Taken as a whole the various gods and heroes of the Brythons, so far as they are known to us, just as they resemble the Irish divinities in having been later regarded as mortals, magicians, and fairies, so they resemble them in their functions, dimly as these are perceived. They are associated with Elysium, they are lords of fertility and growth, of the sea, of the arts of culture and of war. The prominent position of certain goddesses may point to what has already been discovered of them in Gaul and Ireland—their pre-eminence and independence. But, like the divinities of Gaul and Ireland, those of Wales were mainly local in character, and only in a few cases attained a wider popularity and cult.

Certain British gods mentioned on inscriptions may be identified with some of those just considered—Nodons with Nudd or Lludd, Belenos with Belinus or Beli, Maponos with Mabon, Taranos (in continental inscriptions only), with a Taran mentioned in Kulhwych. Others are referred to in classical {125} writings—Andrasta, a goddess of victory, to whom Boudicca prayed; Sul, a goddess of hot springs, equated with Minerva at Bath.450 Inscriptions also mention Epona, the horse-goddess; Brigantia, perhaps a form of Brigit; Belisama (the Mersey in Ptolemy), a goddess in Gaulish inscriptions. Others refer to the group goddesses, the Matres. Some gods are equated with Mars—Camulos, known also on the Continent and perhaps the same as Cumal, father of Fionn; Belatucadros, "comely in slaughter"; Cocidius, Corotiacus, Barrex, and Totatis (perhaps Lucan's Teutates). Others are equated with Apollo in his character as a god of healing—Anextiomarus, Grannos (at Musselburgh and in many continental inscriptions), Arvalus, Mogons, etc. Most of these and many others found on isolated inscriptions were probably local in character, though some, occurring also on the Continent, had attained a wider popularity. But some of the inscriptions referring to the latter may be due to Gaulish soldiers quartered in Britain.


Italics denote names found in Inscriptions.

Anextiomarus Anextiomarus
Anu Anna (?) Anoniredi, "chariot of Anu"
Badb Bodua
Beli, Belinus Belenos
Belisama Belisama
Brigit Brigantia Brigindu
Bron Bran Brennus (?)
Buanann Buanu
Cumal Camulos Camulos
Danu Dôn
Epona Epona
Goibniu Govannon
Grannos Grannos
Ler Llyr
Lug Llew or Lleu (?) Lugus, Lugores
Mabon, Maponos Maponos
Manannan Manawyddan
Matres Matres
Mider Medros (?)
Modron Matrona (?)
Nemon Nemetona
Nét Neton
Nuada Nodons, Nudd
Hael, Llûdd (?)
Ogma Ogmíos
Silvanus Silvanus
Taran Taranis
Totatis, Tutatis Teutates
Footnote 328:(return)

The text of the Mabinogion has been edited by Rh[^y]s and Evans, 1887, and it has been translated into English by Lady Guest, and more critically, into French, by Loth. Many of the Triads will be found in Loth's second volume. For the poetry see Skene, Four Ancient Books of Wales.

Footnote 329:(return)

These incidents are found mainly in the story of Branwen, e.g. those of the cauldron, a frequent accessory in Irish tales; the regeneration of the warriors, also found in the story of Mag-tured, though no cauldron is used; the red-hot house, occurring also in Mesca Ulad; the description of Bran paralleled by that of MacCecht.

Footnote 330:(return)

Anwyl, ZCP i. 277, ii. 124, iii. 122.

Footnote 331:(return)

Bp. of S. Davids, Vestiges of the Gael in Gwynned, 1851; Rh[^y]s, TSC 1894-1895, 21.

Footnote 332:(return)

Skene, i. 45; Meyer, TSC 1895-1896, 55.

Footnote 333:(return)

Cf. John, The Mabinogion, 1901, 19. Curoi appears as Kubert, and Conchobar as Knychur in Kulhwych (Loth, i. 202). A poem of Taliesin has for subject the death of Corroi, son of Dayry (Curoi mac Daire), Skene, i. 254.

Footnote 334:(return)

Loth, RC x. 356; John, op. cit. 19; Nutt, Arch. Rev. i. 331.

Footnote 335:(return)

The giant Ysppadden in Kulhwych resembles Balor, but has no evil eye.

Footnote 336:(return)

Anwyl, ZCP ii. 127-128, "The merging of the two legends [of Dôn and Taliesin] may have arisen through the fusion of Penllyn with Ardudwy and Arvon."

Footnote 337:(return)

Professor Rh[^y]s thinks that the Llyr family may be pre-Celtic, TSC 1894-1895, 29 f.;