"Lord, it is peculiar to the mound
that whosoever sits upon it cannot go thence
without either receiving wounds or blows,
or else without seeing a wonder." - Gorsedd Arberth, Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
Welcome to the Gorsedd.
In this area, Caer Australis seeks to present articles inspired by questions that arise from the Celtic literature and history.
Just as the Gorsedd Arberth was a place of inspiration for Pwyll when he spoke his words, the Gorsedd is a place reflect on research to inspire our understanding, drawing on literary sources where possible to illuminate, and complementing the Grove as the place of poetry and song.
Facing his moment of truth, Pwyll urged his horse to his utmost speed, yet he found that it availed nothing to follow Rhiannon. "O maiden," he called out, "for the sake of him whom thou best lovest, stay for me." "I will stay gladly," said she, "and it were better for thy horse hadst thou asked it long since." So she stopped, and she fixed her eyes upon him, and began to talk with him."
So now, enjoy and partake of these thoughts from atop the Hill!
The Arrival of the Tuatha de Danaan
It was on the first day of Beltaine, that the Tuatha de Danaan came, through the air and the high air to Ireland, from the North from their four cities, in which they had fought their battle for learning.
They brought from those four cities their four treasures: a Stone of Virtue from Falias, that was called the Lia Fail, the Stone of Destiny; and from Gorias they brought a Sword; and from Finias a Spear of Victory; and from Murias the fourth treasure, the Cauldron that no company ever went away from unsatisfied.
Nuada was king of the Tuatha de Danaan at that time. The Dagda was with them, and Manannan, son of Lir, and others chief among them were Ogma, brother to the king, that taught them writing, and Diancecht, that understood healing, and Neit, a god of battle, and Credenus the Craftsman, and Goibniu the Smith.
And among their women were the battle goddesses Badb, Macha and the Morrigu, the Crow of Battle; Eire and Podia and Banba, daughters of the Dagda, whose names were given to Ireland afterwards; Eadon, the nurse of poets; and Brigit, a woman of poetry, whom poets worshipped, and she was a woman of healing along with that, and a woman of smith's work;
But Dana, that was called the Mother of the Gods, was beyond them all.
The Firbolgs, the Men of the Bag, had come to Ireland before them from the South, and Eochaid, son of Erc, was king of the Firbolgs at that time, and messengers came to him at Teamhair, and told him there was a new race of people come into Ireland, but whether from the earth or the skies or on the wind was not known.
Adapted from: "Gods and Fighting Men. The story of the Tuatha de Danaan and of the Fianna of Ireland, arranged and put into English. Part I Book I: Fight with the Firbolgs" by Lady Gregory. The Coole Edition. 1904: at sacred-texts.com
When and how did the Celtic language and culture develop? The question of the spread of Indo-European languages, and the associated cultural values and institutions, is still a matter of on-going research. What makes a Celt?
In Celtic origins, a review of research and conflicting ideas looks to the deep past of Indo-European origins and the development of the Celtic language family. Another article, River and the Well looks at the importance of the rivers of Europe to the Celts as they emerged into history and their reverence of the River Goddess.
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The Wooing of Étaíne
He, Mider, was mounted on a broad brown steed, curvetting and prancing, with curly mane and curly tail. Around him a green mantle in folds, and a red-embroidered tunic, and in his mantle a golden brooch which reached to his shoulder on either side. A silvern shield with rim of gold slung over his back, and a silver strap to it and boss of gold thereon. In his hand a five pronged spear in bands of gold round about it from haft to socket. Bright yellow hair he had reaching to his forehead. A fillet of gold against his forehead so that his hair would not fall over his face.
She, Étaíne, and fifty daughters of chieftains along with her, who were in attendance on Étaíne always, were bathing in the estuary when they saw from the water the horseman entering the plain towards them. He halted a while on the bank gazing at the maiden, and all the maidens loved him. And he sang:
'Tis Étaíne here to-day
'Tis she that was sung of in the land;
'Tis she that strives to win the King;
'Tis she who is Bé Find, the fair maiden
O Bé Find wilt thou come with me
To the wondrous land wherein harmony is,
A wondrous land is the land I tell of;
Warm sweet streams flow through the land,
O woman, if thou come to my proud folk,
A crown of gold shall be upon thy head
Honey, wine, ale, fresh milk, and drink,
Thou shalt have with me there, O Bé Find.
Adapted from: "Tochmarc Etaine or The Wooing of Etain from the Yellow Book of Lecan, written by 1391 to by 1401. Translated by Osborn Bergin and Richard Irvine Best, Volume 12, Dublin, Hodges Figgis (1938), published in the original at Tochmarc Étaíne, at CELT: The Corpus of Electronic Texts
Winning the hand of the Fair Maiden is one of the great stories of Celtic literature, appearing in a multitude of forms and telling a singularly beautiful story, combining nature, gods and superlative love as ideals.
In The Fair Woman an exploration of this great story is made from Irish and Welsh literature. In Mabon ap Modronwe learn of the birth and fate of their child, and the Hero who has sustained Celtic civilisation throughout the ages. In Gwern in the Fire we find the child's role in the concept of the Cauldron of rebirth.
The Grove Celtic literature richly embraces the exhaltation of song-
In The Grove Caer Oz presents songs and poems
Of the Celts, from early times through to today
Come and enjoy these songs in The Grove
One day in the beginning of summer, Finn the son of Cumhal feasted the chief people of Erin at Allen of the broad hill-slopes. And when the feast was over, the Fena reminded him it was time to give chase throught the plains and the glens and the wilderness of Erin.
For this was the manner in which the Fena used to spend their time. They divided the year into two parts. During the first half, namely, from Bealtaine, celebrated the first of May, to Samhain celebrated the first of November, they hunted each day with their dogs.
And during the second half, namely from Samhain to Bealtaine, they lived in the mansions and the houses of public hospitality of Erin; so that there was not a chief or a great lord or a keeper of a house of hospitality in the whole country that had not nine of the Fena quartered on him during the winter half of the year.
Adapted from: The 16th Century Irish tale Tóraigheacht an Ghiolla Dheacair: The Pursuit of the Giolla Dacker and his Horse In: Old Celtic Romances PW Joyce (1907: republished 2000 and also published on-line). Wordsworth Editions Ltd in association with FLS Books, The Folklore Society, p. 173.
Cú Chulaind explains to Loeg
"For two divisions were formerly on the year, namely, summer from Beltaine (the first of May), and winter from Samuin to Beltaine."
In: Tochmarc Emer, (Kuno Meyer translation)). Editions of the Irish tale Kuno Meyer, The oldest version of Tochmarc Emire, Revue Celtique XI (1890) 434-457 (sgml file) at CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College, Cork
Contrary to a widely held view, the Celtic tradition is that Beltaine begins the year, at the start of Summer. Ninteenth century Celticists got it wrong when they concluded Samhain was the start of the year, and their evidence for their conclusion is doubtful at best
In Samhain is not the Celtic New Year, linked within the Fire Feasts section, a comprehensive review of the early antiquarian essays and publications, and the establishment of their idea is provided. The 1886 Hibbert Lectures given by Sir John Rhys are examined, where the concept of Samhain as the start of the Celtic year originated, and through works such as 'The Golden Bough' by James Frazer (1922 abridged version), and 'The Greatness and Decline of the Celts' by Henri Herbert (1934), we see the development and entrenchment of the idea.
The Giant's Dance
The sight of the place where the dead lay, made Aurelius the king, who was of a compassionate temper, shed tears, and at last enter upon thoughts, what kind of monument to erect upon it to perpetuate the memory of that piece of ground, which was honoured with the bodies of so many noble patriots.
'If you are desirous,' said Merlin, 'to honour the burying-place of these men with an ever-lasting monument, send for the Giant's Dance, which is in Killaraus, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand for ever.'
At these words of Merlin, Aurelius burst into laughter, and said, 'How is it possible to remove such vast stones from so distant a country, as if Britain was not furnished with stones fit for the work?' Merlin replied, 'They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coast of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design was to wash the stones, and put their sick and wounded into the water, which infallibly cured them.'
When the Britons heard this, they resolved to send for the stones. Arriving in Ireland, they went to the mountain Killaraus, and arrived at the structure of stones, the sight of which filled them both with joy and admiration. And Merlin, took down the stones with an incredible facility, and gave directions for carrying them to the ships, and this done, they with joy set sail again, to return to Britain.
When Aurelius had notice of it, he sent messengers to all parts of Britain, to summon the clergy and people together to celebrate with joy and honour the erection of the monument. Which Merlin accordingly did, and placed them in the same manner as they had been in the mountain Killaraus, and thereby gave a manifest proof of the prevalence of art above strength.
Are the megalithic monuments Celtic? Or have they been co-opted into Celtic heritage and tradition?
In The Giant's Dance, the megalithic monuments and their builders, and their relationship to Celtic civilisation is investigated. This is accompanied by a look at the expression of Celticism in Australia, in Australian Standing Stones