Tag Archives: King Arthur

Magic Pigs

I originally wrote this for the blog of the Grove of the Corieltauvi. If you would like to read more on what we have done you can view it here.

Meeting took place on Thursday 12/04/18. 3rd Waning Crescent

Attendees: Danceswithweasels (welcome back!), Greenfingers, Locksley, Teller and Vyvyan (Darth Vyv). Big thank you to Teller and Vyvyan, for allowing us to use their place for hosting and for supplying bacon cobs after my talk. Especially when Teller is veggie. For those not familiar with East Midlands speak, “Cobs” are the local term for rounded bread rolls. Some other places call these “baps”, “rolls”, “buns”, or as my family in Sheffield call them “Bread-Cakes”. To any of the readers outside of the UK….. you wouldn’t BELIEVE how many arguments this causes…..

Anyway, Locksley, shut up and get on with the post!

Title Photo Credit goes to Greenfingers for allowing me to use his photograph.

Introduction

In all honesty? I thought it would be a laugh. At the AGM, I was handing Green Fingers our actual Magic Pig (a little bag for which we use for the collection of subs for us to purchase anything The Grove needs). I realised then that I actually hadn’t taken a meeting in a long time and wanted to do a talk on something and Magic Pig seemed to be as good as any. That and it seems to be a creature associated with many gods and heroes within Celtic mythology. Why was this?

Our Porcine Friends

Starting at the beginning, I read out the description of Sow from the Druid Animal Oracle. To make it fair, I read out both upright and reversed meanings. So we see the Pig as being associated with abundance and plenty, nourishment and sustenance, renewal and creativity.

The Reverse of this gives us a warning against relying on our vanity and “Pig Ignorance” to take other people for their worth, not just, their looks. Danceswithweasels quite rightly corrected me this was Sow and not Pig. True, but I wanted to keep it as the positive aspect of the animal, for the time being. Especially when we have a lovely picture showing said sow pretty much smiling as her litter run around and eat Beech nuts.

My original deck just had a small box and a booklet with the brief descriptions. I now have a second identical deck with a larger box and a book that goes into more detail…. Even telling of the sow, Henwen being linked to Ceridwen. More on this later.

Pigs are evolved from the Boar, which still exist today, they are intelligent, omnivorous and can have litters of up to a dozen piglets. Like us, they can adapt to any environment, and affect the local environment. If there are too many wild pigs foraging, then the nutrition count in the local area drops. This has a detrimental effect on the plant lives and eco systems of said area. If the nutrient levels return, then pigs will increase in population. No wonder we started eating them!

Grave Offerings

Whilst Boar bones are a rarity at burial sites, it appears pig bones and even joints of roasted pork were buried with the chiefs and warrior elite.

Professor Ann Ross writes:

… as suggested by the evidence from graves, where the placing of joints of pork beside the elaborately equipped chieftains indicates that this was intended to be the food for the feast beyond the grave, is bourne out to a striking degree in the Irish Tales. Here pork is the proper food to be served at the feast and in the ritual of hospitality in the courts of kings, and in the dwellings of the gods.”

It would seem that if pork was the best meat for the ruling and warrior castes of Celtic society, then it was good enough for the gods and for giving to be eaten in the Otherworld when the person is reborn in that world. Bit chewy for a newborn…. a gift for the family on the Otherside perhaps?

From The Otherworld

According to Irish myth, Pigs were brought with the Tuatha Dé Danaan, both The Dagda and Brigid kept pigs and boars. Considering the Boar was around in Both Great Britain and Ireland at the time, it would be interesting to see when breeds of pigs were introduced. Even if the Tuatha Dé Danaan didn’t bring pigs with them, somebody did…..

In Welsh myth, It was Gwydion who told Math, Son of Mathonwy of these strange little creatures called “pigs” or “hobeu”. They were the property of Pryderi, son of Pwyll, who was given this gift of pigs by Arawn, the lord of Annwfn (a realm of the Otherworld). So in both Irish and Welsh myths, we see pigs as being the property of supernatural beings, therefore linked with the supernatural in themselves.

Indeed, pigs in Celtic mythology seem to have magical abilities of their own:

Henwen– (Ancient White One) a sow under the protection of the Powerful Swineherd (Pryderi?) goes into the sea. She then comes to land and is not only pregnant, but brings both wheat and a bee to Gwent. She then goes to Llonion in Pembroke where she brings grains of wheat and Barley.

Pursued by King Arthur, she is never obtained by the King or his men, but she gives birth to a wolf cub and an eagle and a kitten. Each of these is given to a Prince, bad luck befalls each person who raises them. There are two Triads describing this tale, one tells of Henwen, being protected by the Powerful Swineherd (and in typical classical Celtic fashion, is not very clear on this title as being one person or three!) and that King Arthur is unable to obtain even one of the pigs through force or guile. The other describes Arthur as being after Henwen in order to kill her for carrying the ‘Womb-Burden’. But nowhere does the tale link with Ceridwen, at all. Vyvyan pointed out that it was Robert Graves, who had linked Ceridwen with Henwen. Personally, I think her name has more of a connection to the moon than the pig. Especially when her name can translate as either “Crooked (bent) Woman”, “Crooked Fair/white” or even “Poem Blessed”.

Pig of Duis– In the ‘Sons of Tuirenn’, the Sons attack Cian, father of Lugh (who tries to escape in the shape of a pig) but they murder him. As a fine for this, Lugh, chief of the Tuatha Dé Danaan charges them with the task of finding the skin of the Pig of Duis described as:

The skin of the pig is that owned by Duis, King of Greece. In whatever stream that pig walked, the water turned into wine, and the wounded and the sick became well when they drank it.”

The skin is also said to be as thick as two oxen hides, perhaps this is also a reference to death and burial rites once associated with the graves of warriors and chiefs?

Cormac’s Glossary describes pigs (especially red ones) as included amongst the animals whose flesh (along with cats and dogs) could be used for a method of divination called the Himbas Forosnai. This practice involves the chewing of the meat of one of the animals, puts an incantation on it and offers it to the gods and leaves it on the threshold of the door. Calling spirits, the poet is supposed to gain knowledge to what they seek. If that doesn’t work he says incantations over his palms, calls his spirits to help him and puts the palms over his to fall into a trance in order to gain the visions he seeks. The idea was to gain glimpses of the future through dreams.

Regenerating Pigs

Other magical pigs include the ability to be regenerated whole the day after being slaughtered and eaten. The Dagda supposedly had pigs and fruits that when roasted never diminished.

Usually there were conditions:

Cormac and the Fairy Branch: Pig, When King Cormac MacArt foolishly traded his family for a magical stick, he goes in search of his family and finds himself in the Otherworld. Invited into a hall, before him stands a man with an axe, a log and a pig. The man cuts the pig into four pieces with the axe and places the log under a cauldron of water. The man explains he helped a farmer regain his cows and that the farmer had given the pig, the log and the axe as a reward. The man tells King Cormac, that if he cuts the pig with the axe, and speaks a truth over the log, then, it will cook the pig and he shall have both again the next day.

Pigs of Essach– were slaughtered every night and cooked, but as long as their bones were whole and not gnawed upon, they would be alive again the next day.

We’re Going On A Boar Hunt…

Boars were seen as more aggressive and warlike. Indeed their physicality is different from pigs they have tusks, spiky hair and are sleeker in their build. Pigs have more fat whereas boars are leaner.

Boars in Celtic myth were described as fearsome creatures with tall black/dusky/even purple bristles on their backs, some had up to nine tusks in their jaws. Often a trail of destruction followed them, killing 50 warriors and 50 hounds in their wake. All the more terrifying as if to paint why the creature had to be stopped. The boar hunt was seen as one of ultimate skill, in some cases it was the initiation rite for the new chief…. if the stories are anything to go by, boars fought back!

Certainly, the Hero’s Portion was the prime cut of pork served at the feast to be given to the best warrior. The chief would take the next best, cementing that pork was the food of the chief and warrior classes before anyone else could have some. It is fitting then that boar imagery featured regularly on Celtic coins, weapons, altars, armour and even cauldrons.

The Boar hunt can be epitomised in the story of Culhwch and Olwen: Culhwch is charged by the terrible giant Ysbaddaden Pencaw (with no intention of these being possible so Culhwch cannot marry his daughter, Olwen) with many tasks. One of these was to hunt the dread boar, Twrch Trwyth, in order to obtain the razor and shears behind the creatures ears. Twrch Trwyth was a badass! Culhwch had to leave Wales for Ireland with King Arthur and a lot of his men in order to find him. Twrch Trwyth was kept for a time by Brigid along with two oxen, even in this form he was still fierce and ill-tempered (and responsible for some kind of weird demonic noises). Culhwch, Arthur and the men chased him around Ireland, back to Britain and Wales and after a huge fight resulting in the death of Twrch Trwyth’s piglets and plenty of Arthur’s forces the boar runs off into the sea. Turns out that Twrch Trwyth was actually a Chief who was turned into a boar for his wickedness, the same with his sons, yet was regarded chief of the otherworld boars. This entertained Teller no end as he quipped “I’ll still be a king even when I’m a boar, fuck you!” or something to that effect.

Bizarrely enough Culhwch’s name may have been an indication as to what his destiny held…. Culhwch’s name translates as “Pig-Run”!

In the Welsh tales, Gwydion after telling Math he will return with the pigs, goes to Pryderi with a band of travelling bards. Approaching Pryderi, Gwydion asks him for the pigs only for to be refused the request as they cannot be given until they are double their number. Gwydion then convinces Pryderi to exchange the pigs for twelve magnificent black and white horses, twelve magnificent white-breasted hounds and twelve magnificent golden shields as an exchange. The problem being that Gwydion had conjured up this illusion, which will last only a day. Pryderi pursues but was by Gwydion in single combat…. only Gwydion had used his magic once again to deceive so he could deliver the coup-de-gras. In this tale, the boar hunt is twisted into an act of cunning and deceit rather than skill. Certainly, this is an act of dishonour, resulting in the death of part of the three-fold Powerful Swineherd.

Also, the hero Diarmaid was fatally linked to the Boar he kills…. only to kill himself in the process as their lives were bound. The boar was in fact Diarmaid’s illegitimate half-brother who was magically changed into a boar by Roc, the boy’s father. Roc had been having an affair with Diarmaid’s mother and was shocked to see the boy flee a pair of hounds by going through Diarmaid’s father’s legs. In a moment of harboured jealousy, Diarmaid’s father began to crush the boy. Roc, using a magic wand turned the boy into a young boar-piglet and uttered a curse that the boy would grow into a fearsome vengeful boar and that Diarmaid would hunt him…. only to be killed by one of the bristles on the boars back. Bit harsh, especially when Roc could have used the wand to have healed his son instead of transmogrifying him.

So, forget turning people into toads, kids! Turning people into boars is where it’s at and this leads very well into the next part….

Shape-Shifting

Changing into other creatures is something that happened a lot in the old myths, the tale of Ceridwen and Gwion Bach, for e.g. has plenty of shape-shifting in it. In the tale: ‘The Sons of Tuirenn’, Cian shape-shifted into a pig, in order to escape his attack.

As we have seen, pigs and boars were a favourite creature to turn people into as punishment. Which implies an execution of sorts: their fate was to be killed in the hunt.

Twrch Trwyth was originally a king, but he and his sons were turned into boars for some unmentioned misdeeds. Despite being kept by Brigid, Herself, he still became the chief of the otherworld boars.

Gwydion, as punishment for both murdering Pyderi and for the rape of the maiden Goewin, was cursed into the form of a stag; along with his brother and accomplice, Gilfaethwy, a hind and they procreated. After that they were turned into a sow and a boar, repeating the cycle of bestial reproduction, taking turns on being male and female.

Madness

Speaking of shapeshifters, the wizard, Merlin, went mad for a time, the only creature he would talk to and with was a small piglet, to this pig, he shared his prophecy:

Listen, little pig,

Don’t sleep yet!

Rumours reach me

Of perjured chieftains,

And tight fisted farmers.

Soon, over the sea,

Shall come men in armour,

Two-faced men,

On armoured horses,

With destroying spears.

When that happens,

War will come,

Fields will be ploughed

But never reaped….

Listen, little pig,

Oh pig of Truth!

The Sybil has told me

A wondrous tale.

I predict a summer full of fury,

Treachery between brothers.

A pledge of peace will be required

From Gwynedd,

Seven hundred ships from Gynt

Blown in by the North wind.

In Aber Dyn they will confer.

Supposedly, this madness was brought on by grief, making Merlin live for a time in the woodlands where he would speak only to the animals he came across.

Why madness? The female pig can attack piglets in times of great stress, sometimes even eating them. According to Wikipedia, 50% of piglet deaths are caused by the mothering sow either attacking them or unintentionally crushing them. During these times of stress, perhaps people saw them as being mad…. another trait comparable to Humans.

In Conclusion

Both the Pig and the boar were seen in great esteem by our Celtic ancestors. They were respected for their fierce natures and strength. They were prized for their meat and fertility of litters. Neither was seen as a filthy, stupid animal The fact wild pigs and boars can have a negative effect on the land if they become too populous probably gave rise to descriptions of the destruction they supposedly brought with them. Hereby making an occasional cull of the species not only a necessity, but one to be seen as a test of strength, skill and courage.

As for the associations of the Otherworld, especially when the Boar was already native to Britain and Ireland, perhaps there is some truth in pigs being brought over, even if the memory had faded as to who this new breed came with. I think Anne Ross puts it best with her comment:

The favourite food of pigs is the acorn, and their passion for the fruit of this most venerated tree, the oak, must have increased their supernatural associations in the popular mind.”

Especially when we consider the oak as not only being revered, but was thought to represent the god Bilé, whose name means ‘Tree’, the consort of Danu. It was Bilé who brought the souls of the dead to Her.

Sources:

Books:

DAVIES, SIONED, The Mabinogion, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008.

ELLIS, PETER BERRESFORD, The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends, Constable & Robinson Ltd, London, 2002 ed.

GOMM, PHILLIP & STEPHANIE, The Drud Animal Oracle Deck, Illustrated by Bill Worthington, Connections Book Publishing Ltd, London 2005 ed.

HAMILTON, CLAIRE, Tales of the Celtic Bards: Myth and Music, O Books, Ropley, 2003.

MATTHEWS, JOHN, The Little Book of Athurian Wisdom, Element Books Ltd, Dorset, 1997 ed.

MATTHEWS, JOHN & CAITLIN, Celtic Myth and Legend: A definitive source book of magic, vision and lore- compiled, edited and translated by the Matthews, BCA, 2004 ed

ROSS, ANNE, Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition, Cardinal, London, 1974 ed.

Internet Links:

https://www.behindthename.com/name/ceridwen

https://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/pigs/

https://www.timelessmyths.com/arthurian/merlin.html

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceridwen

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig

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Chasing the Mabon

Big thanks to Teller who asked me ‘So, when are you putting up the blog?’ And a huge thanks to Cthulhudruid who managed to find my original post after it had been accidentally deleted!

Maponus image from Gettyimages

Ah, yes. Autumn! The season of falling leaves, bounties of fruit and vegetation, bird migration and garden spiders coming out to capture unsuspecting prey (shudder). This season also sees the Equinox as the dramatic increase of the dark overtakes the long summer nights. The balance is struck and the wheel turns once again….

Within the usual modern Pagan circles, the Autumnal Equinox has been given a name…. Mabon. Whom or what does this name come from? What the hell is a Mabon anyway?

The short story is that in the 1970’s Aiden Kelly, Wiccan High Priest, came up with the name for the simple fact that he didn’t like that the Autumnal Equinox celebrations didn’t have a grander name. In his own words, please read this.

The long story…..

Mabon is a now shadowy figure, one who once had a cult all of his own stretching from Wales to Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Scotland. Mabon means ‘Son’ in Welsh and the most familiar version of this is the character of Mabon ap Modron (Son of Mother), from the tale ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen‘.

In the story, the hero Culhwch falls in love with the beautiful Olwen. Which is great, because she loves him too and it turns out that marrying her will lift the curse that was put on him by his jealous step-mother. Problem solved. However, her Dad is Yspaddaden Bencawr, chief giant and realm owning badass. He is so against the idea of the marriage, he sets Culhwch 40 impossible tasks which must be completed. No victory from the young upstart, then no nuptials. Amongst these tasks was one where Culhwch must obtain the comb and shears from behind the ears of the dreaded supernatural boar, Twrch Trwryth. But this could not be done unless he somehow obtained the mardiest dog in the world, Drudwyn. And even then Drudwyn had to be controlled by Mabon ap Modron, a huntsman who must ride the steed Gwyn Dunmane…. and the snag was: “Mabon ap Modron who had been stolen from his home when he was three nights old, and his whereabouts not known…..

Luckily for Culhwch, his uncle Arthur (yes, THAT Arthur) had given him some of his knights as companions who helped accomplish most of the impossible tasks like some adrenaline charged-Redbull fuelled group from Dungeons & Dragons…. but they could not find Mabon ap Modron.

Anywhere.

Like, nowhere.

It was only after Arthur discovering hint about asking the Oldest Animals in the World the heroes stood a chance. So Culhwch’s band sought out the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhendynfre, the Owl of Cam Cwlwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy and the Salmon of Llyn Lliw, to find Mabon’s location: the fortress of Caerloyw. Even then they have to break him out by force. Skipping to the end; Mabon and another hunter, some wild dude called Cynedyr Wyllt manage to corner Twrch Trwryth and grab the comb (Mabon) and shears (Cynedyr) before the Chief of Otherworldly Boars escapes and runs into the sea, prophesying he and Arthur shall fight at the end of the world…… well, a big rumble between them in the far future anyway.

In one version of the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘, Mabon is one of the advisors of Arthur, although this could be a confusion with another, Mabon ap Mellt (Son of Lightening) is described as a huntsman also….. This version hints at either this Mabon was as quick as lightening or was descended from some cthonic sky-god.

Interestingly, the character of Mabon was taken up by Roman occupiers in Britannia. Or perhaps, was taken up by Romanised Celts in the form of Maponus ‘Divine Youth’. Coins and inscriptions show Maponus with his dog (Drudwyn?). It appears that Maponus was equated with Apollo, the god of healing and poetry….. and linked with the bow and arrow, tools of the hunt?

What of Modron? Does the mother give any indication as to who Mabon is? She is of the ‘Washer at the ford’ variety of supernatural women, and is daughter to Afallach, one of the lords of Annwn (Welsh Otherworld), specifically, the ruler of Avalon. If true, then she was a magical being and therefore a woman of Sovereignty (The right to choose and the right to rule) and supposedly bore two sons to Urien Rheged, king of Rheged (supposedly a kingdom in Northern England and Southern Scotland). One of these sons, Owein, plays chess with Arthur in the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘…. see how these things always go in cycles?

Bizarrely enough, one of the stanzas of the Graves reads: “The grave in the upland of Nanllau; his story no one knows. Mabon the son of Modron the sincere.” So which is it? Is this the grave of Mabon who was in the quest for Olwen’s hand in marriage? Or was he always a mystery and none knew his details? If so, then why was he so popular? Could it be that Mabon ap Modron was in fact the figure of a mystery tradition? Like a Brythonic version Mythras?

The fact that there are remnants and inscriptions to Mabon/Maponus means there was some kind of reverence to him. What this originally was is sadly lost to time, but things have a very strange way of returning. In Modern Druidry, especially in OBOD, where the role of Mabon is given to the youngest member in the ceremony. When Aiden Kelly chose that name, did he do it because it fitted his aesthetic or was there a whisper from a long forgotten heroic huntsman? Also, how the hell did a babe taken away from his mother’s breast of only three nights old learn to become a hunter in the prison of a fort!? Perhaps….. and this is my interpretation…. perhaps Mabon in the story is meant as a metaphor for the adventurous spirit. He is the youthful part of us that dares to do the impossible once he has broken free of the dark prison of our minds. The Mabon hones it’s skills and when is broken free by bravery and need it can go forward and seize the fierce dog of anger to accomplish great things. For when the sun goes down at the Autumnal Equinox does the night get stronger. And as the nights draw in, it is the perfect time to develop our own skills and look inward until we need to release the adventurous spirit within.

Sources:

The Isles of the Many Gods, David Rankine & Sorita D’Este. Avalonia, London, 2007.

The Mabinogion, a new translation by Sioned Davies, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.

The Keys to Avalon, the True Location of Arthur’s Kingdom Revealed, Steve Blake & Scott Lloyd, Element Books Limited, Dorset, 2000.

Full Moon Shenanigans

 

image

Image by locksley2010, Midwinter Solstice 2012

Ah yes, the beauty of the full moon.  That silver beauty in the sky inspiring many and getting all the moths (bat-bait) into a tiz.

  This Saturday just gone (19th Oct) was the night I got together with my witchy friend, Lumi to pay respects to the moon spirit and make wishes.

  Technically speaking the moon was full on Friday night, so Saturday was really the first waning gibbous phase.  However, once the rain clouds had moved (rendering the public meeting cancelled) to reveal a starlit sky and a gorgeous moon (we’re talking degrees here, and unless you had a telescope to prove it wasn’t 100% full, then for all intents and purposes, Saturday’s moon was considered full), so me and Lumi decided to carry on the ritual at her place… it was actually on the way there the rain stopped and the sky revealed itself.

  The full moon is considered, in the Western Magical Tradition, to be linked with female energy as it rules earth’s tidal flow and the Human menstrual cycle.  It is also considered to be a magnifier of magic, psychic ability and a time of divination and reflection.  The Moon reflects the light of the Sun, after all, so I think a time of reflection is very apt.  In the OBOD Druid tradition, this reflective aspect is put to use.  In the Order, members are encouraged to focus on a meditation for peace in the world on the night of the full moon.  It seems this either only helps to encourage small acts of good and kindness or maybe there aren’t enough Druids doing this, I mean, take a look around, things are NOT peaceful! Any way, I digress.

  One of the really weird things that was happening during the rite was on the Telly in the background.  As Lumi was calling upon the spirit of the Moon, there was a rite of Artemis being played on an episode of the Beeb’s new fantasy series: ‘Atlantis’.  Very appropriate, indeed as Artemis is one of the goddesses of the moon.

  What I didn’t expect was while Lumi called upon Morgana (as in Morgana Le Fay), in my mind’s eye, I “saw” a lady in a white dress.  Her hair was long and dark (almost a chestnut brown), her aquiline eyes were also dark, her pointed chin at the base of her heart-shaped face.  She was very thin, frail you could say. In certain angles her face could be considered skeletal, but even that was because of her handsome and sharp features.  In this waking vision, she stood behind me and very gently put her hands on my shoulders and said “This one knows me.” She vanished after we asked for her blessing.

  Do I know Morgana Le Fay? Not quite.  I certainly have never called on her before, but I do consider the Lady of the Lake one of my goddesses.  I do know her from the Arthurian stories of course, depending on which one you come across, she is either a sister, nemesis or healer to Arthur himself.
  I also know her as a figure based upon Modron, mother of Mabon ap Modron, and daughter to Afallach, one of the chiefs of Annwn, the Cymraeg name to the Otherworld.  She is also based on Arthur’s sister, Anna*.
  So, do I make a habit of conjuring up the spirit of Morgana and have regular chats with her? Not at all.  As a mother, a lady of the lake, a sister, a supernatural being, that is how I know her.  Will she appear again? Will I get to work with her in the future, that I don’t know…

*The figure and character of ‘Morgan Le Fay’ in terms of her origins and role is explored in the book ‘The Keys to Avalon: The true location of Arthur’s kingdom revealed’ by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd, Element Books Ltd, Dorset, 2000, ISBN 1-86204-735-9.