[This is taken from W.Y. Evans Wentz's The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries.]
‘On the one hand we have the man Arthur, whose
position we have tried to define, and on the other a greater Arthur, a
more colossal figure, of which we have, so to speak, but a torso rescued from the wreck of the Celtic pantheon.’
- The Right Hon. Sir JOHN RHYS.
The god Arthur and the hero Arthur - Sevenfold evidence to show Arthur as an incarnate fairy king - Lancelot the foster-son of a fairy woman - Galahad the offspring of Lancelot and the fairy woman Elayne - Arthur as a fairy king in Kulhwch and Olwen - Gwynn ab Nudd - Arthur like Dagda, and like Osiris - Brythonic fairy-romances: their evolution and antiquity - Arthur in Nennius, Geoffrey, Wace, and in Layamon - Cambrensis’ Otherworld tale - Norman-French writers of twelfth and thirteenth centuries - Romans d’Aventure and Romans Bretons - Origins of the ‘Matter of Britain ‘ - Fairy-romance episodes in Welsh literature - Brythonic origins.
ARTHUR AND ARTHURIAN MYTHOLOGY
As we have just considered the Gaelic Divinities in their character as the Fairy-Folk of popular Gaelic tradition, so now we proceed to consider the Brythonic Divinities in the same way, beginning with the greatest of them all, Arthur. Even a superficial acquaintance with the Arthurian Legend shows how impossible it is to place upon it any one interpretation to the exclusion of other interpretations, for in one aspect Arthur is a Brythonic divinity and in another a sixth-century Brythonic chieftain. But the explanation of this double aspect seems easy enough when we regard the historical Arthur as a great hero, who, exactly as in so many parallel cases of national hero-worship, came - within a comparatively short time - to be enshrined in the imagination of the patriotic Brythons with all the attributes anciently belonging to a great Celtic god called Arthur. The hero and the god were first confused, and then identified, and hence arose that wonderful body of romance which we call Arthurian, and which has become the glory of English literature.
Arthur in the character of a culture hero, with god-like powers to instruct mortals in wisdom, and, also, as a being in some way related to the sun - as a sun-god perhaps - can well be considered the human-divine institutor of the mystic brotherhood known as the Round Table. We ought, probably, to consider Arthur, like Cuchulainn, as a god incarnate in a human body for the purpose of educating the race of men; and thus, while living as a man, related definitely and, apparently, consciously to the invisible gods or fairy-folk. Among the Aztecs and Peruvians in the New World, there was a widespread belief that great heroes who had once been men have now their celestial abode in the sun, and from time to time reincarnate to become teachers of their less developed brethren of our own race; and a belief of the same character existed among the Egyptians and other peoples of the Old World, including the Celts. It will be further shown, in our study of the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth, that anciently among the Gaels and Brythons such heroes as Cuchulainn and Arthur were also considered reincarnate sun-divinities. As a being related to the sun, as a sun-god, Arthur is like Osiris, the Great Being, who with his brotherhood of great heroes and god-companions enters daily the underworld or Hades to battle against the demons and forces of evil, even as the Tuatha De Danann battled against the Fomors. And the most important things in the traditions of the great Brythonic hero connect him directly with this strange world of subjectivity. First of all, his own father, Uthr Bendragon, as a king of Hades, so that Arthur himself, being his child, is a direct descendant of this Otherworid. Second, the Arthurian Legend traces the origin of the Round Table back to Arthur’s father, Hades being ‘the realm whence all culture was fabled to have been derived ‘. Third, the name of Arthur’s wife, Gwenhwyvar, resolves itself into White Phantom or White Apparition, in harmony with Arthur’s line of descent from the region of phantoms and apparitions and fairy-folk. Thus :- Gwenhwyvar or Gwenhwyfar equals Gwen or Gwenn, a Brythonic word meaning white, and hwyvar, a word not found in the Brythonic dialects, but undoubtedly cognate with the Irish word siabhradh, a fairy, equal to siabhra, siabrae, siabur, a fairy, or ghost, the Welsh and the Irish word going back to the form *seibayo. Hence the name of Arthur’s wife means the white ghost or white phantom, quite in keeping with the nature of the Tuatha De Danann and that of the fairy-folk of Wales or Tylwyth Teg - the ‘Fair Family’.
Fourth, as a link in the chain of evidence connecting Arthur with the invisible world where the Fairy-People live, his own sister is called Morgan le Fay in the romances, and is thus definitely one of the fairy women who, according to tradition, are inhabitants of the Celtic Otherworid sometimes known as Avalon. Fifth, in the Welsh Triads, Llacheu, the son of Arthur and Gwenhwyvar, is credited with clairvoyant vision, like the fairy-folk, so that he understands the secret nature of all solid and material things; and ‘the story of his death as given in the second part of the Welsh version of the Grail, makes him hardly human at all.’ Sixth, the name of Melwas, the abductor of Arthur’s wife, is shown by Sir John Rhys to mean a prince-youth or a princely youth, and the same authority considers it probable that, as such, Melwas or Maelwas was a being endowed with eternal youth, - even as Midir, the King of the Tuatha De Danann, who though a thousand years old appeared handsome and youthful. So it seems that the abduction of Gwenhwyfar was really a fairy abduction, such as we read about in the domestic troubles of the Irish fairy-folk, on a level with the abduction of Etain by her Otherworld husband Midir. And in keeping with this superhuman character of the abductor of the White Phantom or Fairy, Chretien de Troyes, in his metrical romance Le Conte de la Charrette, describes the realm of which Melwas was lord as a place whence no traveller returns. As further proof that the realm of Melwas was meant by Chretien to be the subjective world, where the god-like Tuatha De Danann, the Tylwyth Teg, and the shades of the dead equally exist, it is said that access to it was by two narrow bridges; ‘one called li Ponz Evages or the Water Bridge, because it was a narrow passage a foot and a half wide and as much in height, with water above and below it as well as on both sides’; the other or the Sword Bridge, because it consisted of the edge of a sword two lances in length. The first bridge, considered less perilous than the other, was chosen by Gauvain (Gwalchmei), when with Lancelot he was seeking to rescue Gwenhwyfar; but he failed to cross it. Lancelot with great trouble crossed the second. In many mythologies and in world-wide folk-tales there is a narrow bridge or bridges leading to the realm of the dead. Even Mohammed in the Koran declares it necessary to cross a bridge as thin as a hair, if one would enter Paradise. And in living folk-lore in Celtic countries, as we found among the Irish peasantry, the crossing of a bridge or stream of water when pursued by fairies or phantoms is a guarantee of protection. There is always the mystic water between the realm of the living and the realm of subjectivity. In ancient Egypt there was always the last voyage begun on the sacred Nile; and in all classical literature Pluto’s realm is entered by crossing a dark, deep river, - the river of forgetfulness between physical consciousness and spiritual consciousness. Burns has expressed this belief in its popular form in his Tam O’Shanter. And in our Arthurian parallel there is a clear enough relation between the beings inhabiting the invisible realm and the Brythonic heroes and gods. How striking, too, as Gaston Paris has pointed out, is the similarity between Melwas’ capturing Gwenhwyvar as she was in the woods a-maying, and the rape of Proserpine by Pluto, the god of Hades, while she was collecting flowers in the fields.
A curious matter in connexion with this episode of Gwenhwyvar’s abduction should claim our attention. Malory relates that when Queen Guenever advised her knights of the Table Round that on the morrow (May Day, when fairies have special powers) she would go on maying, she warned them all to be well-horsed and dressed in green. This was the colour that nearly all the fairy-folk of Britain and Ireland wear. It symbolizes, as many ancient mystical writings declare, eternal youth, and resurrection or re-birth, as in nature during the springtime, when all vegetation after its death-sleep of winter springs into new life. In the Myvyrian Archaiology, Arthur when he has reached the realm of Melwas speaks with Gwenhwyvar, he being on a black horse and she on a green one :- ‘ Green is my steed of the tint of the leaves.’ Arthur’s black horse - black perhaps signifying the dead to whose realm he has gone - being proof against all water, may have been, therefore, proof against the inhabitants of the world of shades and against fairies :-
Black is my steed and brave beneath me,
No water will make him fear,
And no man will make him swerve.
The fairy colour, in different works and among different authors differing both in time and country, continues to attach itself to the abduction episode. Thus, in the fourteenth century the poet D. ab Gwilym alludes to Melwas himself as having a cloak of green :- ‘ The sleep of Melwas beneath (or in) the green cloak.’ Sir John Rhys, who makes this translation, observes that another reading still of y glas glog resolves it into a green bower to which Melwas took Gwenhwyvar. In any case, the reference is significant, and goes far, in combination with the other references, to represent the White Phantom or Fairy and her lover Melwas as beings of a race like the Irish Sidhe or People of the Goddess Dana. And though by no means exhausting all examples tending to prove this point, we pass on to the seventh and most important of our links in the sequence of evidence, the carrying of Arthur to Avalon in a fairy ship by fairy women.
From the first, Arthur was under superhuman guidance and protection. Merlin the magician, born of a spirit or daemon, claimed Arthur before birth and became his teacher afterwards. From the mysterious Lady of the Lake, Arthur received his magic sword Excalibur, and to her returned it, through Sir Bedivere. During all his time on earth the’ lady of the lake that was always friendly to King Arthur’ watched over him; and once when she saw him in great danger, like the Irish Morrigu who presided over the career of Cuchulainn, she sought to save him, and with the help of Sir Tristram succeeded. The passing of Arthur to Avalon or Faerie seems to be a return to his own native realm of subjectivity. His own sister was with him in the ship, for she was of the invisible country too. And another of his companions on his voyage from the visible to the invisible was his life-guardian Nimue, the lady of the lake. Merlin could not be of the company, for he was already in Faerie with the Fay Vivian. Behold the passing of Arthur as Malory describes it :- ‘. . . thus was he led away in a ship wherein were three queens; that one was King Arthur’s sister, Queen Morgan le Fay; the other was the Queen of Northgalis; the third was the Queen of the Waste Lands. Also there was Nimue, the chief lady of the lake, that had wedded Pelleas the good knight; and this lady had done much for King Arthur, for she would never suffer Sir Pelleas to be in no place where he should be in danger of his life.’ Concerning the great Arthur’s return from Avalon we shall speak in the chapter dealing with Re-birth. And we pass now from Arthur and his Brotherhood of gods and fairy-folk to Lancelot and his son Galahad - the two chief knights in the Arthurian Romance.
According to one of the earliest accounts we have of Lancelot, the German poem by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, as analysed by Gaston Paris, he was the son of King Pant and Queen Clarine of Genewis. In consequence of the hatred of their subjects the royal pair were forced to flee when Lancelot was only a year old. During the flight, the king, mortally wounded, died; and just as the queen was about to be taken captive, a fairy rising in a cloud of mist carried away the infant Lancelot from where his parents had placed him under a tree. The fairy took him to her abode on an island in the midst of the sea, from whence she derived her title of Lady of the Lake, and he, as her adopted son, the name of Lancelot du Lac; and her island-world was called the Land of Maidens. Having lived in that world of Faerie so long, it was only natural that Lancelot should have grown up more like one of its fair-folk than like a mortal. No doubt it was on account of his half-supernatural nature that he fell in love with the White Phantom, Gwenhwyvar, the wife of the king who had power to enter Hades and return again to the land of the living. Who better than Lancelot could have rescued Arthur’s queen? No one else in the court was so well fitted for the task. And it was he who was able to cross one of the magic bridges into the realm of Melwas, the Otherworld, while Gauvain (in the English form, Gawayne) failed.
Malory’s narrative records how Lancelot, while suffering from the malady of madness caused by Gwenhwyvar’s jealous expulsion of Elayne his fairy-sweetheart, - quite a parallel case to that of Cuchulainn when his wife Emer expelled his fairy-mistress Fand, - fought against a wild boar and was terribly wounded, and how afterwards he was nursed by his own Elayne in Fairyland, and healed and restored to his right mind by the Sangreal. Then Sir Ector and Sir Perceval found him there in the Joyous Isle enjoying the companionship of Elayne, where he had been many years, and from that world of Faerie induced him to return to Arthur’s court. And, finally, comes the most important element of all to show how closely related Lancelot is with the fairy world and its people, and how inseparable from that invisible realm another of the fundamental elements in the life of Arthur is - the Quest of the Holy Grail, and the story of Galahad, who of all the knights was pure and good enough to behold the Sacred Vessel, and who was the offspring of the foster-son of the Lady of the Lake and the fairy woman Elayne.
In the strange old Welsh tale of Kulhwch and Olwen we find Arthur and his knights even more closely identified with the fairy realm than in Malory and the Norman-French writers; and this is important, because the ancient tale is, as scholars think, probably much freer from foreign influences and re-working than the better-known romances of Arthur, and therefore more in accord with genuine Celtic beliefs and folk-lore, as we shall quickly see. The court of King Arthur to which the youth Kulhwch goes seeking aid in his enterprise seems in some ways - though the parallel is not complete enough to be emphasized-to be a more artistic, because literary, picture of that fairy court which the Celtic peasant locates under mountains, in caverns, in hills, and in knolls, a court quite comparable to that of the Irish Sidhe-folk or Tuatha De Danann. Arthur is represented in the midst of a brilliant life where, as in the fairy palaces, there is much feasting; and Kulhwch being invited to the feasting says, ‘I came not here to consume meat and drink.’
And behold what sort of personages from that court Kulhwch has pledged to him, so that by their supernatural assistance he may obtain Olwen, herself perhaps a fairy held under fairy enchantment : the sons of Gwawrddur Kyrvach, whom Arthur had power to call from the confines of hell; Morvran the son of Tegid, who, because of his ugliness, was thought to be a demon; Sandde Bryd Angel, who was so beautiful that mortals thought him a ministering angel; Henbedestyr, with whom no one could keep pace ‘either on horseback, or on foot’, and who therefore seems to be a spirit of the air; Henwas Adeinawg, with whom ‘no four-footed beast could run the distance of an acre, much less go beyond it’; Sgilti Yscawndroed, who must have been another spirit or fairy, for ‘ when he intended to go on a message for his Lord (Arthur, who is like a Tuatha De Danann king), he never sought to find a path, but knowing whither he was to go, if his way lay through a wood he went along the tops of the trees’, and ‘during his whole life, a blade of reed-grass bent not beneath his feet, much less did one ever break, so lightly did he tread’; Gwallgoyc, who ‘when he came to a town, though there were three hundred houses in it, if he wanted anything, he would not let sleep come to the eyes of any whilst he remained there’; Osla Gyllellvawr, who bore a short broad dagger, and ‘ when Arthur and- his hosts came before a torrent, they would seek for a narrow place where they might pass the water, and would lay the sheathed dagger across the torrent, and it would form a bridge sufficient for the armies of the three Islands of Britain, and of the three islands adjacent, with their spoil.’ It seems very evident that this is the magic bridge, so often typified by a sword or dagger, which connects the world invisible with our own, and over which all shades and spirits pass freely to and fro. In this case we think Arthur is very clearly a ruler of the spirit realm, for, like the great Tuatha De Danann king Dagda, he can command its fairy-like inhabitants, and his army is an army of spirits or fairies. The unknown author of Kulhwch, like Spenser in modern times in his Faerie Queene, seems to have made the Island of Britain the realm of Faerie - the Celtic Otherworld - and Arthur its king. But let us take a look at more of the men pledged to Kulhwch from among Arthur’s followers: Clust the son of Clustveinad, who possessed clairaudient faculties of so extraordinary a kind that ‘though he were buried seven cubits beneath the earth, he would hear the ant fifty miles off rise from her nest in the morning’; and the wonderful Kai, who could live nine days and nine nights under water, for his breath lasted this long, and he could exist the same length of time without sleep. ‘A wound from Kai’s sword no physician could heal.’ And at will he was as tall as the highest tree in the forest. ‘And he had another peculiarity : so great was the heat of his nature, that, when it rained hardest, whatever he carried remained dry for a hand-breadth above and a handbreadth below his hand; and when his companions were coldest, it was to them as fuel with which to light their fire.’
Yet besides all these strange knights, Arthur commanded a being who is without any reasonable doubt a god or ruler of the subjective realm -‘ Gwynn ab Nudd, whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race. He will never be spared thence.’ Whatever each one of us may think of this wonderful assembly of warriors and heroes who recognized in Arthur their chief, they are certainly not beings of the ordinary type, - in fact they seem not of this world, but of that hidden land to which we all shall one day journey. But to avoid too much conjecture and to speak with a degree of scientific exactness as to how Arthur and these companions of his are to be considered, let us undertake a brief investigation into the mythological character and nature of the chief one of them next to the great hero - Gwynn ab Nudd. Professor J. Loth has said that ‘nothing shows better the evolution of mythological personages than the history of Gwynn’ ; and in Irish we have the equivalent form of Nudd in the name Nuada - famous for having had a hand of silver; and Nuada of the Silver Hand was a king of the Tuatha De Danann. The same authority thus describes Gwynn, the son of Nudd :- ‘ Gwynn, like his father Nudd, is an ancient god of the Britons and of the Gaels. Christian priests have made of him a demon. The people persisted in regarding him as a powerful and rich king, the sovereign of supernatural beings.’ And referring to Gwynn, Professor Loth in his early edition of Kulhwch says :- ‘ Our author has had an original idea: he has left him in hell, to which place Christianity had made him descend, but for a motive which does him the greatest honour: God has given him the strength of demons to control them and to prevent them from destroying the present race of men: he is indispensable down there.’ Lady Guest calls Gwynn the King of Faerie, the ruler of the Tylwyth Teg or’ Family of Beauty’, who are always joyful and well-disposed toward mortals; and also the ruler of the Elves (Welsh Ellyllon), a goblin race who take special delight in misleading travellers and in playing mischievous tricks on men. It is even said that Gwynn himself is given to indulging in the same mischievous amusements as his elvish subjects.
The evidence now set forth seems to suggest clearly and even definitely that Arthur in his true nature is - a god of the subjective world, a ruler of ghosts, demons, and demon rulers, and fairies; that the people of his court are more like the Irish Sidhe-folk than like mortals; and that as a great king he is comparable to Dagda the over-king of all the Tuatha De Danann. Arthur and Osiris, two culture heroes and sun-gods, as we suggested at first, are strikingly parallel. Osiris came from the Otherworld to this one, became the first Divine Ruler and Culture Hero of Egypt, and then returned to the Otherworld, where he is now a king. Arthur’s father was a ruler in the Otherworld, and Arthur evidently came from there to be the Supreme Champion of the Brythons, and then returned to that realm whence he took his origin, a realm which poets called Avalon. The passing of Arthur seems mystically to represent the sunset over the Western Ocean: Arthur disappears beneath the horizon into the Lower World which is also the Halls of Osiris, wherein Osiris journeys between sunset and sunrise, between death and re-birth. Merlin found the infant Arthur floating on the waves: the sun rising across the waters is this birth of Arthur, the birth of Osiris. In the chapter on Re-birth, evidence will be offered to show that as a culture hero Arthur is to be regarded as a sun-god incarnate in a human body to teach the Brythons arts and sciences and hidden things - even as Prometheus and Zeus are said to have come to earth to teach the Greeks; and that as a sixth-century warrior, Arthur, in accordance with the Celtic Doctrine of Re-birth, is an ancient Brythonic hero reincarnate.
THE LITERARY EVOLUTION AND THE ANTIQUITY OF THE BRYTHONIC FAIRY-ROMANCES
After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the ancient fairy-romances of the Brythons began to exercise their remarkable literary influence as we see it now in the evolution of the Arthurian Legend. And in this evolution of the Arthurian Legend we find the proof of the antiquity of the Brythonic Fairy-Faith, just as we find in the old Irish manuscripts the proof of the antiquity of the Gaelic Fairy-Faith.
Long before 1066, Gildas gives the first recorded germs of the Arthurian story in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, though they are hardly distinguishable as such. His failure to mention the name of Arthur, though treating of the whole period when Arthur is supposed to have lived, he himself being contemporary with the period, raises the very difficult question which we have already mentioned, Did the mighty Brythonic hero ever have an actual historical existence? Almost three hundred years later - a period sufficiently removed from Gildas to have made Arthur the supreme champion of the falling Brythons, granting that he did exist during the sixth century as a Brythonic chieftain - in the Historia Britonum, completed about the year 800, and -attributed to Nennius, Arthur, for the first time in a known manuscript, is mentioned as a character of British history. All that can be definitely said of the narrative of Nennius ‘is that it represents more or less inconsistent British traditions of uncertain age ‘, That it is not always historical, many scholars are agreed. Dr. R. H. Fletcher says, ‘There is always the possibility that Arthur never existed at all, and that even Nennius’s comparatively modest eulogy has no firmer foundation than the persistent stories of ancient Celtic myth or the patriotic figments of the ardent Celtic imagination. Sir John Rhys also propounds a similar view. Thus, for example, Nennius states that Arthur in one battle slew single handed more than nine hundred men; and, again, that the number of Arthur’s always-successful battles was twelve, as though Arthur were the sun or a sun-god, and his battles the twelve months of the solar year.
Between Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth there is an intermediate stage in the development of the Arthurian Legend, during which the character of Arthur tends to become more romantic; but for our purpose this period is of slight importance. Thereafter, by means of Geoffrey’s famous Hisioria Regum Britanniae, written about 1136, the Arthurian Legend gained popularity throughout Western Europe. In this work Arthur ceases to be purely historical, and appears as a great king enveloped in the mythical atmosphere of a Celtic hero, and with him Merlin and Lear are for the first time definitely enshrined in the literature of Britain. Arthur’s career is completely sketched in the Historia, from birth to his mysterious departure for the Isle of Avalon after the last fight with Modred, when fairy women take him to cure him of his wounds (Book XI, 1 - 2). Geoffrey, thus the father of the Arthurian Legend in English and European literature, was undoubtedly a Welshman who probably had natural opportunities of knowing the true character of Arthur from genuine Brythonic sources, though we know little about his life. His Historia, as the researches of scholars have shown, was the sum total in his time of all Arthurian history and myth, whether written or orally transmitted, which he could collect; just as Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur was a compendium of Arthurian material in the time of Edward IV.
There followed many imitations and translations of the Historia. The most important of these appeared in 1155, Le Roman de Brut or ‘The Story of Brutus’, by the Norman poet Wace. The Brut, though fundamentally a rimed version of the Historia, is much more than a mere translation : Wace has improved on it; and he gives a convincing impression that he had access to Celtic Arthurian stories not drawn upon by Geoffrey, for he gives new touches about Gawain, mentions the Britons’ expectation of Arthur’s return from Faerie, and the institution of the Round Table.
Somewhere about the year I200, Layamon, a simple-hearted Saxon priest, wrote another Brut, based upon the metrical one by Wace; and in the literature of England, Layamon’s work is the most valuable single production between the Conquest and Chaucer. The life of Layamon is very obscure, but it seems reasonably certain that for a long time he lived on the Welsh marches in North Worcester-shire, in the midst of living Brythonic traditions, which he used at first hand; and, as a result, we find in his Brut legends not recorded in Geoffrey, or Wace, or in any earlier or contemporary literature. For our purposes the most interesting of many interesting additions made by Layamon are the curious passages about the fairy elves at Arthur’s birth, and about the way in which Arthur was taken by them to their queen Argante in Avalon to be cured of his wounds :- ‘ The time came that was chosen, then was Arthur born. So soon as he came on earth elves took him; they enchanted the child into magic most strong; they gave him might to be the best of all knights; they gave him another thing, that he should be a rich king; they gave him the third, that he should live long; they gave to him the prince virtues most good, so that he was most generous of all men alive. This the elves gave him, and thus the child thrived.’
In the last fatal battle Modred is slain and Arthur is grievously wounded. As Arthur lies wounded, Constantine, Cador’s son, the earl of Cornwall, and a relative of Arthur, comes to him. Arthur greets him with these words :- ‘ “Constantine, thou art welcome; thou wert Cador’s son. I give thee here my kingdom . . . And I will fare to Avalun, to the fairest of all maidens, to Argante the queen, and elf most fair, and she shall make my wounds all sound; make me all whole with healing draughts. And afterwards I will come [again] to my kingdom, and dwell with the Britons with mickle joy.” Even with the words, there approached from the sea that was, a short boat, floating with the waves; and two women therein, wondrously formed; and they took Arthur anon, and bare him quickly, and laid him softly down, and forth gan depart. Then it was accomplished that Merlin whilom said, that mickle care (sorrow) should be of Arthur’s departure. The Britons believe that he is alive, and dwelleth in Avalun with the fairest of all elves; and the Britons even yet expect when Arthur shall return.’
During this same period, Giraldus Cambrensis (1147 - 1223) in his Itinerarium Cambriae (Book I, c. 8) collected a popular Otherworld tale. It is about a priest named Elidorus, who when a boy in Gower, the western district of Glamorganshire, had free passage between this world of ours and an underground country inhabited by a race of little people who spoke a language like Greek. This tends to prove that the Fairy-Faith was then flourishing among the people of Wales.
It was chiefly during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that the Arthurian Legend as a thing of literature began to take definite shape. The old romances of the Brythons were cultivated and revised, and written down by men and women of literary genius. Chretien de Troyes, who recorded a large number of legendary stories in verse, Marie de France, famous for her Lais, Thomas, the author of the chief version of the Tristan legend, Beroul, who recorded a less important version of this legend, and Robert de Boron, who did much to develop the legend of the Holy Grail, were among the greatest workers in the French Celtic Revival of this time.
Professor Brown has shown that ‘almost every incident in Chretien’s Iwain was suggested by an ancient Celtic tale, dealing with the familiar theme of a journey to win a fairy mistress in the Otherworid.’ The fay whom Iwain marries is called Laudine; and, like one of the fairies who live in sacred waters, she has her favourite fountain which the knight guards, as though he were the Black Knight in the old Welsh tale of The Lady of the Fountain. Both Gaston Paris and Alfred Nutt have also recognized the tale of Iwain as a fairy romance. Professor Loth observes that, ‘It is not impossible that Chretien had known, among fairy legends, Armorican legends, concerning the fairies of waters, whose role is identical with that of the Welsh Tylwyth Teg.’
In Lanval, one of the Lais by Marie de France, written during the twelfth century, probably while its author was living in England, we have direct proof that there was then flourishing in Brittany - well known to Marie de France, who was French by birth and training - a popular belief in fairy women who lived in the Otherworid, and who could take mortals on whom their love fell. It is probable that the older lay, to which Marie de France refers in the beginning of her Lanval, may have been the anonymous one of Graelent, sometimes improperly attributed to her. Zimmer and Foerster place the origin of Graelent in Brittany and the similarity of the heroes in the two poems seems to be due to a very ancient Brythonic Fairy-Faith. Dr. Schofield sees in Graelent an older form of the more polished Lanval; and remarks that the chief difference in the two lais is found in the way the hero meets the fairy women. In the case of Lanval, when he leaves the court, he goes to rest beside a river where two beautiful maidens come to him; Graelent is alone in the woods when he sees a hind whiter than snow, and following it comes to a place where fairy damsels are bathing in a fountain. There seems to be no doubt that in both poems the maidens and damsels are fairies quite like the Tuatha De Danann, with power to cast their spell over beautiful young men whom they wish to have for husbands. In Guingemor, another of the old Breton lays, ascribed by (Gaston Paris to Marie de France, we find again fairy-romance episodes similar to those in Lanval and Graelent. The Lais of Marie de France had many imitators in England. Chaucer, too, has made it clear that he knew a good deal about the old Breton lais and their subjects or ‘matter’, for in the Prologue to the Frankeleyn’s Tale he writes :-
Thise olde gentil Britons in hir dayes
Of diverse aventures maden layes,
Rymeyed in hir firste Briton tonge.
We may now briefly examine, in a general way, some of the most noteworthy of the more obscure, but for us important Old French fairy-romances of a kindred Brythonic or Arthurian character, called Romans d’Aventure and Romans Bretons, wherein fairies appear or are mentioned: i. e. Le Bel Inconnu, Blancadin, Brun de La Montaigne, Claris et Laris, Dolopathos, Escanor, Floriant et Florete, Partonopeus, La Vengeance Raguidel, Joufrois, and Amada et Ydoine. In these romances, fairies commonly appear as most beautiful supernormal women who love mortal heroes. They are seen chiefly at night, frequenting forests and fountains, and like all fairies disappear-at or before cock-crow. They are skilled in magic and astrology; like the Greek Fates, some of them spin and weave and have great influence over the lives of mankind. They are represented as relatively immortal, so long is their span of life compared to ours; but, ultimately, they seem to be subject to a change such as we call death. This indeed is never specifically mentioned, only implied by the statements that they enjoy childhood and then womanhood, being thus created and not eternal beings. Some are very prominent figures, like Morgain La Fee, Arthur’s sister. In most cases they are beneficent, and frequently act as guardian spirits for their special hero, just as the Lake Lady for Arthur and the Morrigu for Cuchulainn. So strong is the faith in these fees that a man meeting unusual success is often described as feed - that is endowed with fairy power or under fairy protection, as Perceval’s adversary, the Knight of the Dragon, states. In Joufrois, too, the power of the fairies, or else the special protection of God, is considered the cause of success in arms. In Brun de La Montaigne, Morgain La Fee is represented as the cousin of Arthur; and Butor, the father of Brun, mentions several localities in different lands, which, like the Forest of Broceliande in Brittany, the chief theatre of this romance, are fairy haunts; and he names them as being under the dominion of Arthur, who is described as a great fairy king.
Such fairy romances as the above (and they are but a few examples selected from among a vast number) often localized in Brittany, raise the perplexing and far-reaching problem concerning the origin of the ‘Matter of Britain’. The most reasonable position to take with respect to this problem would seem to be that Celtic traditions flourished wherever there were Gaels and Brythons, that there was much interchange of these traditions between one Celtic country and another - especially between Wales and Ireland and across the channel between Brittany and South England, including Cornwall and Wales, both before and after the Christian era. Further, the Arthurian fairy-romances, based upon such interchanged Celtic traditions, grew up with a Brythonic background, chiefly after the Norman Conquest, both in Armorica and in Britain, and became in the later Middle Ages one of the chief glories of English and of European literature.
In concluding this slight examination of Brythonic fairy-romances, we may very briefly suggest by means of a few selected examples what fairies are like in the Mabinogion stories and in the Four Ancient Books of Wales. Kulhwch and Olwen, the chief literary treasure-house of ancient magical and mystical Otherworid and fairy traditions of the Brythons, which we have already considered in relation to Arthur, ‘appears to be built upon Arthurian and other legends of native growth.’ Unmistakable Welsh parallels to the Irish fairy-belief appear in the Mabinogi of Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, where the two chief incidents are Pwyll’s journey to the Otherworld after he and Arawn its ruler have exchanged shapes and kingdoms for a year, and the marriage of Pwyll to a fairy damsel; in the Mabinogi of Manawyddan, which contains much magic and shape-shifting, and the description of a fairy castle belonging to Llwyd; and in the Mabinogi of Branwen, the Daughter of Llyr, where there is the episode of the seven-year feast at Harlech over the Head of Bran, during which the Birds of Rhiannon’s realm sing so sweetly that time passes abnormally fast. The subject-matter of the four true Mabinogion (composed before the eleventh century) is, as Sir John Rhys has pointed out, the fortunes of three clans of superhuman beings comparable to the Irish Tuatha De Danann:  the Children of Llyr,  the Children of Don,  and the Family of Pwyll. Herein, then, the ancient Gaelic and Brythonic Fairy-Faiths coincide, and show the unity of the Celtic race which evolved them.
In the Four Ancient Books of Wales, which are poetical compositions, whereas the Mabinogion tales are prose with extremely little verse, there are certain interesting passages to illustrate the ancient Fairy-Faith of the Brythons from some of its purest sources. The first selected example comes from the Black Book of Caermarthen. It is a poem, sometimes called the Avallenau, from among the poems relating to the Battle of Arderydd; and it represents Myrddin or Merlin, the famous magician of Arthur, quite at the mercy of sprites. The passage is an interesting one as showing that in the region where Merlin is supposed to be under the enchantment of the fairy woman Vivian he was regarded as no longer able to exercise his wonted control over spirits like fairies. As in ancient non-Celtic belief, where the loss of chastity in a magician, that is to say in one able to command certain orders of invisible beings, always leads to his falling under their lawless power, so was it with Merlin when overcome by Vivian. And this is Merlin’s lamentation :-
Ten years and forty, as the toy of lawless ones,
Have I been wandering in gloom among sprites.
After wealth in abundance and entertaining minstrels,
I have been [here so long that] it is useless for gloom and sprites to lead me astray.
In a dialogue between Myrddin and his sister Gwenddydd, contained in the Red Book of Hergest I, there is a curious reference to ghosts of the mountain who, just like fairies that live in the mountains, steal away men’s reason when they strike them, - in death which may appear natural, in sickness, or in accident. And after his death-after he has been taken by these ghosts of the mountain - Myrddin returns as a ghost and speaks from the grave a prophecy which ‘the ghost of the mountain in Aber Carav ‘ told him. Not only do these passages prove the Celtic belief in ghosts like fairies to have existed anciently in Wales; but they show also that the recorded Fairy-Faith of the Brythons, like that of the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland, directly attests and confirms our Psychological Theory. Like a record from the official proceedings of the Psychical Research Society itself, they form one of the strongest proofs that fairies, ghosts, and shades were confused, all alike, in the mind of the Welsh poet, mingling together in that realm where mortals see with a new vision, and exist with a body invisible to us.
Our study of the literary evolution of the Brythonic fairy-romances shows that as early as about the year 800 Arthurian traditions were known, though possibly Arthur himself never had historical existence. By about 1136, when Geoffrey’s famous Historia appeared, these traditions were already highly developed in Britain, and Arthur had become a great Brythonic hero enveloped in a halo of romance and myth, and, as an Otherworld being, was definitely related to Avalon and its fairy inhabitants. This new literary material of Celtic origin opened up to Europe by Geoffrey rapidly began to influence profoundly the form of continental as well as English poetry and prose, chiefly through the writers of the Norman-French period of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In itself it was in no wise essentially different from what we find as fairy romances in the old Irish manuscripts written during the same and earlier periods. Welsh literature, however it may be related to Irish, shows a common origin with it. The four true Mabinogion as stories are earlier than 1100; Kulhwch and Olwen in its present form most probably dates from the latter half of the twelfth century; the Four Ancient Books of Wales date from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries as manuscripts. In both ancient and modern times there was much interchange of material between Irish Gaels and Brythons; and Brittany as well as Britain and Ireland undoubtedly contributed to the evolution of the complex fairy romances which formed the germ of the Arthurian Legend.
When we stop to consider how long it may have taken the Brythonic Fairy-Faith, as well as that of the Gaels, to become so widespread and popular among the Celtic peoples that it could take such definite shape as it now shows in all the oldest manuscripts in different languages, we can easily wander backward into periods of enlightenment and civilization beyond the horizon of our little fragments of recorded history. Who can tell how many ages ago the Fairy-Faith began its first evolution, or who can say that there was ever a Celt who did not believe in, or know about fairies?
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