Ethnic Studies Book Report, no. 1
CELTIC MYTH AND LEGEND
By Charles Squire
This book is a re-printing of the original published back in 1905, and in the forward, Sirona Knight suggests skipping the first five chapters, due to their content, which is the historical interpretations of the early Roman and Christian historians whose purpose was to discredit the Celts, and start with Chapter Six. This I did, though I do intend to go back to those five chapters sometime in the future.
This fascinating book covers both the Gaelic (Irish) and Brythonic (British) mythological traditions showing both the similarities and differences between them. Much that I had read before became clear, and Squire's comprehensive overview illuminated what I had read in the ADF Dedicant Program papers. The Two Currents are represented in the Gods themselves, though in the Irish traditions the Gods of the underworld begin as the Fomor with the Tuatha De Danaan as the shining ones, only to change perhaps when the Gaels conquer Ireland and the Gods are forced to retreat into the sidhe. Thus they also become underworld Gods, though many of them continue their “bright” roles, particularly Lugh and Brigid, with the sea Gods such as Manannan mac Ler representing the darker forces.
In the Welsh tradition, however, the “dark” and “light” Gods are more clearly defined. Many of the stories are connected with the underworld – which in very early days was anywhere west of the Towy river in Carmarthenshire (modern Dyfed). While the stories have been changed by Christian writers down the years, with the Gods dwindling into mere Kings and heroes, the essential divinity of the Gods is apparent. Rhiannon and Pwyll, their son Pryderi, Mannawyddan (similar to the Irish Manannan mac Ler) and perhaps even Arianrod are all “dark” or underworld Gods. The early “bright” or sky Gods include Gwydion and his son by Arianrod, Llew Llaw Gyffes (a sun god similar to the Irish Lugh). It is interesting to note that Gwydion and Arianron also had another child, Dylan, who was a god of darkness and the sea.
Gwydion was also probably the forerunner of the god Arturis, or Arthur, whose memory probably was mixed in with the exploits of an actual king of the 5 th or 6 th century. Most of the stories people think of nowadays concerning Arthur are medieval and Victorian fantasies, with the true tales obscured.
One of the fascinating things that Squire does is to compare occasionally the Gods of the two traditions. While this is not done in any systematic way (how I would have loved to see some family trees!), much can be gleamed from the writings. Thus, Welsh D ^ n is Irish Danu, Welsh Llyr is Irish Ler, etc. A short table of some equivalences is below:
IRISH WELSH or BRITISH DESCRIPTION
Danu Dôn Mother or River Goddess
However, there are many Gods which do not seem to have equivalences between the Gaelic and Welsh traditions. Some of them, however, do have equivalences with those of Gaul (even Rome ). The Mabon is similar to the god Maponis from Gaul and even the Roman Apollo. But there are others that seem to exist in one tradition only. Such as Blodeuwedd and Gwydion (though he is also similar to the Norse Odin). Of course, all of the Gods have aspects in common with the Gods of other traditions, and many are almost interchangable.
But this book is primarily a wonderful book of stories – the stories of the Gods and heroes of both Ireland and Britain , and is a fascinating read. From the stories of the Invasions of Ireland to the heroic exploits of Cuchulain and Finn, to the trials of Rhiannon due to the theft of her son Pryderi and the efforts of Lleu to get a name, arms and a wife due to Arianrod's enmity, these stories make up the basis of our religion. The “moral” of the different stories are varied, but our nine pagan virtues stem from them: the Wisdom of Amergin in how he prevailed in Ireland; the courage of Cuchulain; the perseverance of Rhiannon until her son was found, and in Lleu to get his name, arms and wife; to name a few.
NOTE: I still haven't chosen my own Patrons and Matrons, but this book has helped me very much in understanding the forces and feelings I have been having with my meditations. While I also understand that mixing pantheons is not recommended, I suspect that my working group of Gods will come from both the Irish and Welsh pantheons, though I seem to be more partial to the Welsh one so far.