The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part III)

Gwydion_Conquers_Pryderi

Gwydion Conquers Pryderi by E. Wallcousins

In the first and second part of my essay, The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part I)The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part II), I explored the notion of the otherworld and the way it is described in the titular work, focusing on themes like the relativity of space and time, the frequent marvelous incidents, various magical objects, the supernatural aspect of many of the characters etc.

In this third and last part, I’ll discuss the remaining recurrent motifs and concepts that appear in the tales, wrapping up with the way I’ve incorporated the idea of the otherworld in my own mythic fantasy novel as well as the characters, objects and episodes that run throughout these colourful and fanciful stories.

Shape-shifting and transformation, either from human to animal or from the aspect of one person to another, is a staple of the magico-religious belief system of the Celts, one that frequently shows up throughout the Celtic literature. One of the most celebrated cases with interesting and funny ramifications is the physical exchange between the otherwordly king, Arawn, and the prince of Dyved, Pwyll, where each man takes the semblance and form of the other. Something which causes worry to Arawn’s wife when the transformed Pwyll refuses to have intercourse with her for a year and a day. An element that bears some similarities with the deception of Uther Pendragon and the birth of Arthur, stripped of its darker undertones though.

Rhiannon and Pryderi vanish in a magical fashion when they enter the fort in Dyved. While not a transformation in the traditional sense of the word, this recalls to mind the motif of the fairy houses that disappear at dawn along with the comic episodes of people stuck to a magic basin.

People turning into mice is another common theme, one we read in the third branch where Llwyd has transformed his entire court, his pregnant wife included, into rodents with the purpose of attacking and carrying away Manawydan’s crops of wheat.

In another tale, we see the narrative device of the tripartite repetition when the brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are transformed into a pair of deer, then pigs and finally wolves, a punishment meted out by their uncle, king Math, for having raped his virgin foot-holder, Goewin. Genders are exchanged and the pair bears three offspring whom Math takes under his wing later.

A series of specific animals are strongly associated with the otherworld. The hunting of the stag is a significant topic in Celtic tradition and the appearance of said animal, as seen in the first branch, functions as an omen for the coming of a supernatural event. The Cŵn Annwn or Arawn’s dogs bear a special place in Celtic and especially Welsh tradition. ”Gleaming shining white” and red-eared, they are the hounds of King Arawn, protagonists of the Wild Hunt and heralds of tumultuous chaos and death.

In the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, the adar Rhiannon are mentioned, birds possessing the ability to ”wake the dead and lull the living to sleep”. In the second branch, they comfort the surviving warriors from the battle against the Irish, appearing at a distance from Harlech even though their song ”was as clear as if the birds were near”.

Boars are another species that indicate the presence of the otherworld or the approach of some event or character of supernatural nature. The enchanted boar, Twrch Trwyth, literally leads Arthur and his warband in a merry chase after him. The ”gleaming white boar” in branch three shows the way to Manawydan and Pryderi to the fort where the latter vanishes along with Rhiannon.

Pigs feature as a royal gift from king Arawn to Pryderi, symbolic of their friendship that creates a bond between the human world and the otherworld. In the fourth branch, the trickster Gwydion steals them and incites a war with many lives lost. Later, Gwydion himself is transformed into a pig through Math’s intervention as punishment and when Gwydion’s nephew/son is transformed into an eagle, it’s a sow that leads Gwydion to him.

Throughout the Mabinogion, specific colours appear to hold distinct significance, functioning as otherwordly portents. Red, white and gold/yellow are associated either with certain characters or objects and animals originating in the otherworld. Arawn’s hounds are depicted as ”gleaming shining white” with red ears. ”And as the whiteness of the dogs shone so did the redness of their ears.” The Wild Hunt, whose head later changes to the figure of Gwyn ap Nudd, includes similar beasts.

British scholar Rachel Bromwhich stresses that this pair of colours have, also, been employed by royalty and according to Welsh laws, the lord of Dinefwr and the king of Aberffraw should enjoy red and white cattle as compensation.

The animals bearing such colours on their physical aspect function as harbingers of a supernatural occurrence and can be traced throughout the collection, as shows the case of the ”gleaming white boar” in the third branch and the ”gleaming shining white”, red-eared hounds that foreshadow king Arawn’s arrival.

Yellow/gold is often associated with the physical traits of the characters, but not only. While present in Arawn’s court, Pwyll is clad in ”a golden garment of brocaded silk”; Arawn’s wife and queen is dressed in ”a golden garment of shining brocaded silk.” The vessels from which the court is drinking are made out of gold.

When Rhiannon first appears atop her horse at the mound, she’s wearing ”a shining golden garment of brocaded silk”, and upon Teyrnon noticing her baby son, ”all the hair on his head was yellow as gold”. In the second branch, Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid emerges from the lake with ”yellow-red hair’. In the native tale of Culwch ac Olwen, the titular heroine is vividly described with a head of hair ”more yellow than the flower of the broom.”

In the third branch, Pryderi and Rhiannon vanish in a magical blanket of mist upon laying their hands on a golden bowl in the fort. Finally, the trickster Gwydion lures Pryderi with baits in the form of golden collars, bridles, leashes and saddles with gold trimmings along with twelve golden shields.

Undoutedly, the otherworld brings forth a whimsical reality that takes central stage in the Celtic tradition, functioning both as a separate entity and as a mirror that reflects anxieties, worries, concerns, ideas, beliefs and customs of the mortal plane of the medieval era. It is a world teeming with magic and fantasy, where the natural and the supernatural intermingle in a blissful marriage, where the laws of nature are flouted  and the humans interact with the fairies and the dead carte blanche and vice versa.

Many of the otherwordly elements found in the tales of the Mabinogion do not belong exclusively to the Celtic tradition, but derive from the vast treasure chest of an international body of folkloric notions and beliefs. The narratives comprising the collection present an amalgamation of mythology, literature, oral tradition, history and socio-political ideals of the ancient and medieval era.

Originally sung by bards, the tales reflect the collective memory of ancient storytelling traditions, a fact that contributes to the crafting of the otherworld in the collection as a bizarre yet familiar place. A place where the uncanny reigns without restrictions, bringing together the fantastic and the mundane into a singular melange where the distinction between the two is rendered impossible.

In my own mythic fantasy novel, currently titled The Fruit of Passion, I deliberately followed as faithfully as possible this manner of depiction of the otherworld, desiring that the future readers be able to enjoy a tradition already known to them. However, I, also, took care to birth the otherwordly realm in a manner that would make it a separate entity from the one featured in the Mabinogion. For I saw no reason to simply copy and paste something that has already been explored and studied.

My own otherworld, which I’ve named ”the lost lands”, consists of a cluster of isles inhabited by the fairies, the dead and a host of otherwordly denizens who physically resemble humans but are of superior strength and possess magical abilities without exception. Though not immortal, their lifespan is longer than that of humans and they can fall prey to their own weaknesses and quirks. Considering them a vehicle to explore human complexity and behaviour, I made all my otherwordly characters as intricate as their mortal counterparts. Friendships, alliances and romances have bound mortal and otherwordly creatures together just like wars and enmities have torn them apart.

The otherwordly isles are separated from the human world by a veil or glamour which can be thinned or dissolved at liminal time frames like during the feast of Samhain (for which I’ve used the term Calan Gaeaf) and the feast of Beltaine (for which I’ve used the term Calan Haf). However, traffic can be generated between the two realms through other means as well when spells and enchantments are employed. Mounds, rivers, lakes, caves and forests are portals than can guarantee access to them.

Written down on no maps, their location cannot be traced and one can be led to them only through magic. Floating in their own time sequence, they remain ageless, and an hour there can signify mere moments or entire years in the human world. Some of them know the presence of sunset and sunrise while others are steeped in the blue hour or feel only the smile of the rising sun. Vast expanses of forest cover their ground where running waters always moisten them beneath the flowing light of spring or summer.

Nightingales, lapwings and starlings, serpents and stags and wolves, these are some of the animals that interact with the characters, either bringing them messages, leading them from one place to another or warning them of danger.

Swords and cauldrons and goblets, lockets and various vessels are infused with magic, helping the heroes in their various exploits.

As I mentioned above, alliances are a theme I’ve incorporated in my narrative. But these alliances are not given freely. Both mortal and otherwordly characters require a boon, some sort of exchange in order to strike a bargain. Which is usual the retrieval of a magical object or a political agreement a king/queen demands in order to deal with an issue that has arisen in the kingdom.

The theme of life and death and the divide between these two conditions is a recurrent one in my narrative. The realm of the dead, presided by king Arawn, can be reached by mortals but certain conditions must be met. The mortal seeking a loved one must never reveal what was spoken during the sojourn in Annwn. Just like the dead aren’t allowed to speak of the goings of Annwn should they roam the human world. Should this be violated, terrible consequences await those who break their oath.

No matter what, the realm of the otherworld is an exciting, dreamy and entertaining one that both fascinates and puzzles the modern readers in the most delightful ways, as much it fascinated and puzzled those during the medieval times. Scintillating, fanciful, bewitching and uncanny, it continues to lure us with its secrets, secrets that whisper to us about what lies in the depths of the human psyche, daring us to sunder the veil and peer into the eternal truth.

The Mabinogion: Otherwordly Realms (Part I)

Burne-Jones,_Edward_Owain-departs-from-landine

Owain Departs from Landine, by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (19th century)

The term Mabinogion refers to the earliest prose stories of the literature of Britain  compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. The  collection covers eleven prose stories of miscellaneous literary genres, offering a colourful panorama of drama, philosophy, romance, tragedy, fantasy and humour.

A fruit of Celtic culture, the tales are steeped in the Welsh mentality, customs, habits, spirituality and general worldview of this nation. All peoples throughout history have developed a concept of parallel dimensions, of worlds that cooexist within the terrain of reality where the mortals reside: the realm of the glorious heroes of the past,  the gods and the dead.

The Celts were no exception to this rule. The idea of the otherworld  featured prominently in the Celtic imagined reality, and the four branches of the Mabinogion overflow with a peculiar system of magical faith that seamlessly blends with the natural world, totally stripped of the cloak of the supernatural.

The Celtic otherworld cannot be understood or presented as a cohesive, uniform universe, but rather as a dreamlike, fluid entity comprising of various spheres where space and time diverge from mortal perception and abide by a host of different rules. It is a vague, nebulous place (often referred to as separated by a veil from the mortal world). The dwelling of powerful magical beings of incomparable beauty called fairies and the dead.

Access to it could be gained at certain liminal timeframes, like during the feast of Samhain and Beltaine, thus generating traffic between the mortal and the otherwordly folk and bringing forth a chaotic situation where boundaries collapsed and the living and the dead interacted with impunity.

Known by several names like Kaer Siddi, Mag Mell, Tir na nOg, and Annwfn, the Celtic otherwold could be adjoined to the real world or existing in a totally different plane below the earth or even across the ocean. One could enter it through magical portals, mounds, caves, mountains, forests and rivers.

The insular Celts, living on islands and surrounded by sea and engulfted by virginal territories of thick woodlands, often projected their own familiar reality onto the otherworld, their fancy conceiving it amidst forests or as a cluster of isles where no other season existed but spring or summer, with days full of  warmth and light, where old age and sickness were always absent, food and drink always abundant, music flowing over, falsehood never uttered and the otherwordly denizens possessing riveting beauty and charm.

Many of the tales within the Mabinogion often narrate incidents and marvels that take place close to or on hills and mounds. Such places the Celts imagined them as sources of liminality, a fact that may carry an association with Bronze Age tumuli. In Pwyll, Prince of Dyved, the titular character sits atop the mound of Gorsedd Arberth and witnesses ‘something wonderful’ – his otherworldly future bride.

In another episode, upon the same mound, a blanket of mist settles heavily on Dyved, leaving behind a desolate land. Later, on this mound, Manawydan forces the sorcerer Llwyd to release Rhiannon and Pryderi from their enchanted imprisonment.

In the second branch, the Irish king Matholwch is hunting on top of a mound when
he spies the giant Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid and his equally large wife
emerging from the lake with a cauldron on his back.

Water is another door to the otherworld, a fact proven in the second branch where Manawydan, Pryderi and the rest of the survivors spend eighty years on the island of Gwales.

The otherwold it is possible, too, to coexist literally on the fringes of the real world as shows the tale of Pwyll whom Arawn leads there from the kingdom of Dyved.

The Mabinogion employs certain symbols and phenomena to foreshadow the coming of a supernatural occurence. A blanket of mist frequently swirls upon the land out of the blue like in the tale of the black night and the fountain and in the story where Rhiannon and Pryderi vanish within the magical fort in Dyved.

Such a bizarre natural phenomenon is often accompanied by a loud noise usually in the form of a clap of thunder. However, different types of clamour are also employed. For instance, in the first branch Teyrnon  hears ‘a loud noise, and after the noise an enormous claw comes through the window’. In the third branch, Manawydan hears ‘the loudest noise in the world’ just as the mice appear. And in the fourth branch, as Arianhod steps over Math’s wand she births a son, who ‘gave a loud cry’, and as Lleu was turned into an eagle he ‘gave a horrible scream’.

The hunting of a stag is another device that heralds an otherwordly encounter or the appearance of some miraculous event. Pwyll is hunting when he meets Arawn, king of the dead. Blodeuedd and Gronw meet during a stag hunt and begin their illicit affair

Many of the otherwordly figures as well as the animals encountered in the tales are described as radiant, shiny and fair beyond comparison. Pwyll thought of Arawn’s court, ‘the most beautifully adorned buildings anyone had ever seen’, his war-band had ‘the fairest and best-equipped men that anyone had ever seen’, and the queen was ‘the most beautiful woman that anyone had ever seen’. He found the queen to be ‘the most noble woman and most gracious of disposition and discourse he had ever seen’, and the court had ‘the most food and drink and golden vessels and royal jewels.’

Teyrnon’s horse was described as ‘no stallion or mare was more handsome.’ And the three magical birds of Rhiannon made ‘all other birdsong sound harsh by comparison’. When Peyderi attempts to persuade Manawydan to wed his mother, he says  ‘you have never heard a woman converse better than Rhiannon. When she was in her prime no woman was more beautiful’. And Manawydan thiks ‘he had never seen a woman who was fairer or more beautiful than her’. Lleu is presented as  ‘the most handsome lad that anyone had ever seen’ and Blodeuwedd is ‘the fairest and most beautiful maiden that anyone had ever seen.’

One of the staples of the Otherwold is the relativity of space and time which  never ceases exciting the human imagination. Flowing both faster and slower, time seems to follow edicts of its own and space eludes being defined or pinned down on any specific map, creating something of a sui generis.

Rhiannon’s horse cannot be overtaken no matter how fast or slow one pursues it
and yet, at the same time it appears to be moving slowly.

The different course of time becomes abundantly clear when the survivors against the Irish spend eighty years at Gwales, yet they do not age and are not aware of such a long passage, whilst Bran’s severed head remains intact and able to converse freely and entertain his companions. Rhiannon’s three magical birds warble their notes, yet no matter how distand their song sounds, the survivors perceive it,  ‘as clear as if the birds were there with them.’

A year and a day appears to be a liminal timeframe in the Mabinogion as many important events are arranged within that slot. But other dates carry significance as well. May Eve was traditionally the cusp of the Celtic year, the time when each year Teyrnon’s mare births a foal. But also the time Arthur in the tale of Culwch and Olwen decides upon the battle between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr for the denouement of their love triangle with Creidyladd. Possibly a symbolic strife between the personification of the summer and winter god.

A Grave for Pryderi

From Peneverdant

In Aber Gwenoli
Lies the grave of Pryderi
The Stanzas of the Graves

He was buried in Maentwrog, above Y Felenrhyd, and his grave is there
The Fourth Branch

In autumn last year I visited Aber Gwenoli in Coed Felinrhyd, the village of Maentrwog, and the Coedydd Maentwrog. These locations are all part of Snowdonia’s Atlantic oak woodland or temperate rain forest and are associated with the death of Pryderi, ‘Care’ or ‘Worry’, the son of Pwyll and Rhiannon.

Dyffryn Maentwrog Med

Pryderi is the only character who appears in all four branches of The Mabinogion. This has led scholars to speculate he may be the central figure. If this is the case he is a hapless kind of ‘hero’. Although he enjoys success in battle, he is constantly in trouble, sometimes on account of forces beyond his control, at others because of his impetuousness and lack of discernment…

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Top 5 Ladies of Fiction and Myth

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Rhiannon riding in Arberth. From The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest, 1877

One of the joys of reading books is the discovery of characters who are so unique and intriguing that, even though they are the fruit of fancy and wild imagination from the part of their creators, they possess so much fire and life they literally leap from the pages as if actual beings of flesh and blood. For centuries, literature and storytelling has been mainly dominated by men, even though the tide has shifted nowadays. However, even when men had taken the stage, many of them managed to craft some very alluring female characters who are still worthy of much talk and admiration from readers for their stunning and highly complex personalities.

Here, I’ve singled out five female characters who have had a most profound impact on me and whose web of seduction still has a hold over my psyche.

5. Marian Halcombe

Marian Halcombe is a character from Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White. Set during the Victorian era where gender roles are distinct and firmly established, Marian is a breath of fresh air with her unconventional ideas regarding the position of women in society and her refusal to conform to a male-dominated world and bend under its will. With endless amount of agency, she sticks to her guns, treading upon the path she considers the right one, choosing to honour her own values instead of the ones the status quo adheres to.

Far from a weak, spineless and meek creature, she is guided by the love she harbours for her half-sister, Laura. Ever loyal and attentive to her, she protects and defends her at every turn against the malice and wicked intentions of her husband and isn’t afraid to stand up to him when she feels  her sister is threatened. Brave and courageous, she is a symbol of all these people who have the guts to be who they want to be in a society that demands uniformity and compliance.

4. Jane Eyre

The protagonist of the titular novel by Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre is one of the most celebrated female characters in the history of literature. And rightly so. A coming of age story, we get to see how Jane grows up and matures into a woman. Having suffered a lot in her childhood and greatly mistreated by her aunt and cousins, from a little girl Jane fervently wants to find people in her life with whom to share her love. Not the most physically appealing person, many of the people around her judge her solely based on that fact. However, Jane’s passion isn’t to be curbed. As she grows older, she’s shown to form a friendly attachment to Helen Burns and Miss Temple and then later to fall in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester.

But even though Jane hungers for love, she values freedom, dignity and self-respect far more. A devoted Christian who despises hypocrisy and plain cold religious sentiment without substance beneath, she refuses to allow Rochester to treat her as another one of his mistresses and rejects Reed’s bloodless and frigid proposal of marriage. Even though she loves Rochester, she doesn’t become a prey to this love. Instead, she chooses to remain true to her principles. Only when she has won her freedom and her financial independence does she come back to Rochester and accepts his proposal since now she stands on equal grounds with him.

Jane Eyre is an inspiring character because she shows that, no matter how challenging and heart-wrenching is to keep our integrity intact in a society steeped in hypocrisy and injustice, what truly matters is to lead the life our conscience dictates us to lead and not a faceless majority. Because before we live with others, first we need to live with ourselves.

3. Clarimonde

Once again, the titular character from Théophile Gautier‘s short story brings to life a woman full of beauty, eroticism and seduction. A vampiress, Clarimonde falls in love with a priest, Romuald, who reciprocates her feelings, and lures him into abandoning his duties with the promise of eternal love and happiness. While not the first female vampire to grace the literary pages, Clarimonde is undoubtedly a unique conception, far removed in personality and habits from her literary vampire sisters.

While she needs Romuald’s blood to survive, she only consumes a few drops, therefore she’s a far cry from those deadly, ruthless vampiresses who’re solely consumed by bloodlust and have to murder to survive. What’s more, Clarimonde is genuinely in love with Romuald and the time he spends in her company and in her arms is filled with passion, desire and warmth. Most vampires in fiction of 19th and early 20th century involved with mortals seek nothing more than to satisfy their violent cravings with the mortals fulfilling the role of blood vessels under the guise of romantic love. But not Clarimonde.

One of the themes that permeates Gautier’s story is that of love as a power far greater than death. When Romuald is called to give last rites to a great courtesan who has fallen ill, he recognizes her as Clarimonde. When he goes to her in the castle, instead of giving her last rites and allowing her to die, he bestows upon her a kiss. With the power of his love for her passing through his lips, Romuald kisses Clarimonde and brings her back to life.

But the same thing applies to Romuald, for Clarimonde through her passion and love restores him to life and takes him far away from the coldness and stiffness his duties require, thus awaking his desires which until then were dead. An oxymoron given the fact that vampires have long been associated with death and decay.

However, the desires and fantasies she awakens in Romuald are condemned by the Church. Eroticism itself, which is the foundation and source of all life, is condemned.

Father Sérapion takes Romuald to Clarimonde’s tomb. He reveals her body is miraculously preserved thanks to Romuald’s blood. Father Sérapion pours holy water on her corpse. She crumbles into dust, but returns to Romuald later during the night and admonishes him for his betrayal, vanishing once and for all. Of particular interest are Clarimonde’s last words to Romuald which reveal her to be an innocent victim rather than the fiend Father Sérapion portrayed her to be:

Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done? Wherefore have hearkened to that imbecile priest? Wert thou not happy? And what harm had I ever done thee that thou shouldst violate my poor tomb, and lay bare the miseries of my nothingness? All communication between our souls and our bodies is henceforth for ever broken. Adieu! Thou wilt yet regret me!

Of course, the tale concludes with these words from Romuald who admits that the love he shares with Clarimonde is a far greater power than anything on heaven and earth:

Alas! she spoke truly indeed. I have regretted her more than once, and I regret her still. My soul’s peace has been very dearly bought. The love of God was not too much to replace such a love as hers.

Now that is what I call a singular female creation.

2. Brunhilda

Brunhilda is a character from Ludwig Tieck’s Gothic tale Wake not the Dead. Badass, merciless, cold, stunning, lethal and yet utterly tragic. Once dead, her husband, Walter, decides to bring her back to life with the help of a sorcerer only to realize that the magic has gone horribly right. Thoughtless and impetuous, Walter ”pierces the deep abyss that separates earth from heaven”. Brunhilda returns to life but not as a mortal. She’s nothing but a corpse that requires blood to reanimate itself. A far cry from her warm and inviting kin, Clarimonde, Brunhilda exhibits a cold eroticism that scatters only death in its wake.

And yet, she’s not acting out of spite or malice or hatred for humanity. She didn’t choose to be a vampiress, condemned to this torment for all eternity. But now that is her nature and she must obey her thirst for living blood. Wake not the Dead is a tragedy and the reader cannot help but feel both terror and pity towards Brunhilda who’s trapped in this never-ending hell.

In fact, there’s a deep sense of justice and satisfaction when Brunhilda turns against Walter and calls him out on his actions, sharply reminding him that it’s him who is the true monster and not her.

When Walter returned home in the evening and laid him down to repose as usual by Brunhilda’s side, the magic power of her breath produced no effect upon him; and for the first time during many months did he close his eyes in a natural slumber. Yet hardly had he fallen asleep, ere a pungent smarting pain disturbed him from his dreams; and. opening his eyes, he discerned, by the gloomy rays of a lamp, that glimmered in the apartment what for some moments transfixed him quite aghast, for it was Brunhilda, drawing with her lips, the warm blood from his bosom. The wild cry of horror which at length escaped him, terrified Brunhilda, whose mouth was besmeared with the warm blood. “Monster!” exclaimed he, springing from the couch, “is it thus that you love me?”

“Aye, even as the dead love,” replied she, with a malignant coldness.

“Creature of blood!” continued Walter, “the delusion which has so long blinded me is at an end: thou are the fiend who hast destroyed my children–who hast murdered the offspring of my vessels.” Raising herself upwards and, at the same time, casting on him a glance that froze him to the spot with dread, she replied. “It is not I who have murdered them;–I was obliged to pamper myself with warm youthful blood, in order that I might satisfy thy furious desires–thou art the murderer!”–These dreadful words summoned, before Walter’s terrified conscience, the threatening shades of all those who had thus perished; while despair choked his voice.

“Why,” continued she, in a tone that increased his horror, “why dost thou make mouths at me like a puppet? Thou who hadst the courage to love the dead–to take into thy bed, one who had been sleeping in the grave, the bed-fellow of the worm–who hast clasped in thy lustful arms, the corruption of the tomb–dost thou, unhallowed as thou art, now raise this hideous cry for the sacrifice of a few lives?–They are but leaves swept from their branches by a storm.–Come, chase these idiot fancies, and taste the bliss thou hast so dearly purchased.” So saying, she extended her arms towards him; but this motion served only to increase his terror, and exclaiming: “Accursed Being,”–he rushed out of the apartment.

Brunhilda, despite her bloodlust and killing spree, is a profoundly sympathetic character, one who suffers unjustly due to having her agency violently stripped from her. A character whose dark charm is meant to haunt the reader the way it has haunted Walter.

1. Rhiannon

Rhiannon is a character from the first and third branch of the Mabinogion, a medieval Welsh collection of prose stories. An Otherwordly woman, she is beautiful,  strong-minded, intelligent, politically strategic, generous, very magically potent and of great physical strength. Well-spoken and a deadpan snarker, she chooses Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, as her consort, in preference to another man to whom she has already been betrothed by orchestrating an elaborate plan to fulfill her wish. The couple has a son, Pryderi, but the babe is abducted and Rhiannon is wrongly accused of infanticide. She’s unjustly punished, though her punishment is lifted when the child is found and returned to his parents. As a widow, she marries Manawydan of the British royal family, and has further adventures involving enchantments.

From the moment her character appeared in the Mabinogion I fell in love with her. She’s the embodiment of all the positive qualities in a woman: beauty, strength, will and agency. But the fact that she suffers for years unjustly helps make her even more appealing because she bears it all with great patience and a majestic grace that speak volumes about her fortitude and the magnitude of her personality.

So, who are some of your favourite female characters and why? Please, share your views.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signpost to Annwn: Inhabitants

From Peneverdant

mathew-schwartz-unsplash

This post begins to list the inhabitants of Annwn: deities, guardians, otherworldly animals who move between the worlds, and denizens regarded as monstrous. It’s notable that many of these Annuvian figures are opponents of Arthur and his warband who are hunted down and/or slaughtered.

Deities

The Head of Annwn

‘The cauldron of the Head of Annwn, what is its disposition
(with its) a dark trim, and pearls?’
– The Spoils of Annwn, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Arawn

‘He (Pwyll) could see a rider coming after the pack on a large dapple-grey horse, with a hunting horn round his neck, and wearing hunting clothes of a light grey material…

“Lord,” said Pwll, “good day to you. And which land do you come from?”

“From Annwfn,” he replied. “I am Arawn, king of Annwfn.’’

“Lord,” said Pwyll, “how shall I win your friendship?”

“This is how,” he replied. “A…

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