From the tales contained in the Mabinogion—the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain, compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions—that of Culhwch and Olwen is one of the most fascinating, its complexity, symbolism and various metaphors revealing it to be much more than a common folktale, elevating it to a rich work of art. This post focuses on a particulat episode recounted in the story, analyzing its themes and exploring the truth behind the powerful myth as well as its relevance to our life in the present.
Culhwch and Olwen is one of the oldest and most fascinating repositories of ancient British mythology. It originates from two texts; a fragmented version in The White Book of Rhydderch (1325) and full version in The Red Book of Hergest (1400). The main narrative centres on Culhwch’s quest to win Olwen for which he enlists the help of Arthur and his retinue; a medley of historical and mythological characters.
Embedded within it we find fragments of other tales which may be of older origin and have stood alone. These include the hunt for the legendary boar Twrch Twryth and release of Mabon from imprisonment in Gloucester. Most significantly for me as someone who venerates Gwyn ap Nudd, we find the story of his rivalry with Gwythyr ap Greidol for the love of Creiddylad and their battle for her every May Day.
This story is central to understanding Gwyn’s mythology. Because…
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Many have been the tales throughout the centuries regarding food and drink found in otherwordly domains. Various myths have offered narrations about the dangers of consuming sweets, fruits and other edible stuff either in the Underworld or some other supernatural realm. This post explores in detail the consequences humans have faced for both having eaten and having refused fairy food.
Ida Rentoul Outhwaite
Fairy foodstuffs are mysterious. Eating or drinking within fairyland is widely accepted to be a way of ensuring that you cannot escape back to your home: you take fairy nature within yourself- and therefore you must abstain from meals whilst visiting. Sometimes, a wise friend might warn a person of the risks before they go- as was the case with a Ross-shire midwife called to a delivery in the knoll at Big Strath; sometimes the help comes from someone already there in Faerie. In the Hertfordshire fairy-tale of the Green Lady, a girl working as a servant for the green (fairy) woman is warned by fish in a well where she draws water not to eat the household’s food.
What is odd, though, is that the converse of this rule is that, if you encounter fairy food and drink in the human world, refusing to eat it…
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Fairies in mythology have always been associated with both magic and ambivalent behaviour towards humans. A significant part of their culture centres on music and the power of rhymes and songs. This blog post explores how fairies have used the magical property of their songs to both enthrall and save humans by cursing them or bestowing their blessings upon them.
A siren, J W Waterhouse
The special status of song in fairy culture is demonstrated extremely well in a story from Highland Scotland. Angus Mór of Tomnahurich was a shepherd. He heard music coming from a fairy knoll, accompanied by the voice of his wife-to-be singing. Approaching the knoll, he peeped in but couldn’t see her. A fairy woman happened to be passing by so he seized her with his iron-tipped crook and demanded to know what was happening. She told him that he would only be able to save his intended if, at the end of that week, he could tell the fairy queen’s secret on the Bridge of Easan Dubh (the Black Falls). Seven days later Angus…
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Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story The Child that Went with the Fairies narrates the tale of a poor widow and her four children living in a sublime Irish landscape. While the three youngest are outside playing and the sister and mother are busy doing their tasks, the youngest of all the siblings, Billy, is taken away by the ”Good People” as the fair folk are called in the story. Little Billy returns to his family from time to time until one day he vanishes altogether, never to reappear, and is considered dead.
On the surface, The Child that Went with the Fairies, resembles a typical, supernatural tale where a child is kidnapped by some otherwordly folks under mysterious circumstances and is forever torn apart from his loved ones. But Le Fanu is an astute writer who knows how to add layers upon layers of meaning, rendering his work…
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