Was the title of my slot for the Society of Ley Hunters conference, here in Attenborough, Notts, Friday 18th Sept, 2015.
The Grove of the Corieltauvi were asked if we would be willing to send a speaker to discuss any of the ancient stories of the original tribes who lived here (here being Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire). So me being the gobby type agreed. I misunderstood at first, I originally thought they wanted me to talk about solstice alignments throughout the landscape. I know bugger all about Ley Lines and solstice alignments (it’s all angles an ting innit bruv?) but thankfully it turned out they wanted me to talk about the above subject. Ah. Right. That’s ok then.
The Admin was especially keen for me to tell the story of Bran and Branwen. Sure, no problem!
…. Hang on!
What’s a Welsh tale about a giant got to do with the East Midlands? I’ll explain in a moment.
I arrived at Attenborough’s Nature reserve and paid my respects to the Lady of the Lake on the way (it appears as long as there is water, She will be there- another subject for another post!) and found my way into the very beginning of Bob Trubshaw’s talk about the Queens of the Valleys. An interesting talk on historic locations and I even learned what a staple was (it’s a wooden pole with intricate carvings used by the Anglo-Saxons before stone crosses became popular; pronounced “Stapple”). Trubshaw confessed he hadn’t even approached half of his subject by the end of his talk and had overestimated the amount of information he was going to use.
Next up was local historian, author and folklorist Frank Earp speaking about the landscape of Nottingham, especially the Hemlock Stone and the Cat Stone. The problem with the Cat Stone is its gone! It was there up until the 1940s but now is nowhere to be seen on the landscape. And it’s not as if you could just lift it up, the thing was about four ton! Earp also managed to fill in for Peter Liddle who sadly couldn’t make the day.
Then there was me telling the tale of Bran the Blessed, or to use his real name: Bendigeidfran. Of the thirteen ships that came from Ireland, his half-brother, Efnysien, cocking everything up on purpose. Of Branwen’s insult, the armies of Britain coming to Ireland to get her back. Of Gwern’s demise by Efnysien and how he destroys the Cauldron of Regeneration. Of Bendigeidfran’s wounding and the ‘Assembly of the Head’ ending with its burial White Hill in London.
So what has it got to do with the people of the Corieltauvi? In one word: Lir. The God of the sea.
The tale I used was from the Second Branch of the Mabinogi. The first few names we are introduced to: Bendigeidfran, Manawydan, Branwen are all children of Lir. Lir, or Leir lent his name to Leir-Cestre, now known as Leicester. Leicester was known in Roman times as Ratae Coritanorum
Local legend has it that Leir was buried in a vault under the River Soar. This was written by Geoffrey of Monmouth and is thought not to tell of the burial of a King Leir, but contain fragments of the deity, Leir. This is all written more elegently in this article by Leicester historian and folklorist Charles Bilson here. But if you want the short version, its this: Monmouth wrote of a King Leir, which inspired Shakespeare to write King Lear. There was no real King called Leir, but there was the deity called Leir who was cognate with the Irish Lir. Builders found a temple dedicated to Janus by the River Soar. The Soar was called the Legra back in the Domesday Book and earlier records go on to show the Legra was originally called… Leir! If this is all true then that means the Coritani/Corieltauvi had Leir as one of their gods.
So, telling the story of Bendigeidfran turned out to be a good call. I also went into detail about:
Beheading: And peoples of this land believed the soul resided in the head.
Branwen: The possibility of her being a goddess of generosity and communication (she taught a starling how to speak during her imprisonment, she also advised her brother on how to compensate Matholhwch for the insult suffered. And she also interpreted the ‘Extraordinary news’ seen by the Pig herders. If not a goddess then she certainly was a supernatural being, seeming she was the daughter of a god.
Cauldron of Regeneration:
Cauldron’s in old mythology usually have magical powers. The Daghda’s never runs out of food. Manannan Mac Lir’s (an Irish reference!) boils up food after four thruths have been told around it. The one in this tale brings the dead back to life but without the power of speech.
I would love to have gone in to more detail, Branwen and Sovereignty, for instance. Or the idea of the rectangular house being used as a trap, something that is often repeated in the Irish tales.
There aren’t any tales or legends of the Corieltauvi/Coritani people left behind. But I did go into some of the folklore of the region which may have had links, even if the original stories and meanings have been forgotten.
I told what I knew of Black Annis, a Cailleach type figure based in the Dane Hills of Leicester. Folk tales have her with a blue face, sharp claws and drank the blood of children. A belief that was so instilled into the local mentality that cottages were built with a low window so she couldn’t get hold of any new born babes. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I want to write a post on her, but I wonder if she was actually a local goddess that became demonised by the Church.
The last story I told was that of Yallery Brown and how young Tom found this impish creature underneath a ‘Tiddy Stone’ in Lincolnshire. It’s one of my favourite tales to tell and even though I admitted it is not a left over tale from the Corieltauvi folk, it is still a warning about interfering with things that should really be left alone. That being said, I did end it by saying to Frank Earp that if Nottingham’s Cat Stone was indeed moved and the warnings of moving such stones, large or small, are true; then whoever moved it must have suffered deep shit. Earp nodded in agreement.
The day ended with a fascinating talk by Peter Knight in showing the similarities of symbols in both Christianity and Paganism. And believe you me, there’s a lot.