Archive for August, 2011

The Winchester Round Table (photo courtesy of David Spender via Flickr)

For those of you who missed it, The Telegraph in the UK reported last Friday that archeologists in Scotland might be close to discovering King Arthur’s legendary Round Table.

The King’s Knot, an earthen feature by Stirling Castle in Scotland, has long been subject to myths regarding its origin. Part of it was created in the 17th century, but the center mound is of unknown origin – and centuries of writers have linked it to King Arthur.

Archeologists from Glasgow University and two organizations endeavored to learn more about it by using “remote-sensing geophysics” this spring. They did determine that the center predates other parts of the earthwork.

Read more about their findings here: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8724183/King-Arthurs-round-table-may-have-been-found-by-archaeologists-in-Scotland.html

Of course, anyone who has read much about Arthur’s table already know this isn’t the first time someone has claimed to have discovered the table (which, it should be pointed out, the archeologists in Scotland are not saying – only that they seek to uncover the origin of the feature). There’s the Winchester Round Table, which was really built in the 13th century and painted as it is in the 16th century for King Henry VIII. Such tables were in vogue in the middle ages, often complete with knights taking on the roles of Arthur’s knights. (The original LARPers, who knew?)

Other places have tried to lay claim to Round Table fame, including towns in Cumberland, Monmouthshire, Anglesey, and more. Though this latest development might be one more sensationalized story about the Round Table, I look forward to what the archeologists find in September when they conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey.

Upcoming Otherworld Post
I promise I haven’t forgotten about discussing Tir Na Nog and Hy-Brasil – just running a bit behind.

Sources

The Telegraph – www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8724183/King-Arthurs-round-table-may-have-been-found-by-archaeologists-in-Scotland.html

Britannia – www.britannia.com/history/arthur/rtable.html

Hampshire County Council – www3.hants.gov.uk/greathall/roundtable.htm

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As promised, here’s a little information about two of Ireland’s Otherworlds. I have to say, however, that this research gets a bit confusing! I could easily spend many months reading and researching for a clearer picture of these mythical places, so we may see more about them in future posts.

To be honest, some of these may well be the same place. Similarities among their stories suggest that different people called the same place by different names. Also, some authors lump these different names under one name – treating it as a category. For example, in Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry edited by W.B. Yeats, the category of “T-Yeer-Na-N-Oge” (Tir na nOg) lists several different mythic places under it, including Hy-Brasil and The Phantom Isle.

In short, what follows is a generalization and is not conclusive as to whether each is a separate and unique place or whether they are all really the same wondrous locale.

Emhain Ablach

This mysterious Irish island’s name means “Emhain of the Apples” and is one of several associated with the Irish god of the sea and Otherworld, Manannan mac Lir. Etymologists don’t agree on what “Emhain” means (and a translation I found made little sense to me).

It is frequently associated with the Isle of Man, which uses a three-legged triskelion based on a Manx legend that said Manannan held off an invasion by turning into three connected legs and rolling down a hill to attack the invaders. However, Otherworld islands are generally to the west. And if Emhain Ablach is supposed to be an Irish Otherworld, it wouldn’t make sense for it to lie east of Ireland as the Isle of Man does (between Ireland and England).

Emhain Ablach is a paradise and was said to be where Manannan fostered the god Lugh. Generally, only very special people – at Manannan’s invitation – make it there. That invitation usually takes one of two forms: one of Manannan’s daughters takes a lover who can come to the isle or a golden or silver branch that emits lovely music is provided as a key.

One individual to receive that key was Bran, son of Febal. In The Voyage of Bran, we see him walking near his home when sweet music lulls him to sleep. When he awakes, a silver branch with white blossoms is beside him. A woman appears who sings about an island beyond the sea that has thousands of women, sweet music, and no sorrow, sickness, or death. The branch returns to her, and Bran sets out on a voyage to find this island. He meets Manannan who tells him how to reach the island. Bran and his men stayed there for what seemed like a year, but was actually many years.

When one of Bran’s men becomes homesick, they decide to leave. The women warn them that they will regret leaving, but they do so anyway. Upon arriving at Ireland, they are not recognized but the people say they have legends of the Bran’s voyage. After sharing his adventures with them, Bran leaves and is never seen again. Note: It is interesting that in this story, Emhain Ablach is also referred to as “the Land of Women,” which is another repeated description of these special lands and islands.

However, leaving the island often had disastrous effects with Earthly time catching up with those who had visited the island where time ran differently. Some returning men, when putting their foot down on Ireland, would turn to ashes.

Some believe that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon, as well as the Welsh Ynys Affallach, may be related to or derived from Emhain Ablach.

Mag Mell

Not to be confused with the Mag Mell in the game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (oh, how the games love to borrow from myth), this Mag Mell (sometimes written Magh Meall) is another Irish mythical realm. It should be said that it is so similar to Emhain Ablach (and Tir na nOg, for that matter) that they really could be one and the same.

Sometimes described as an island off the west coast of Ireland and sometimes as a kingdom at the bottom of the sea, Mag Mell is almost always considered a happy paradise. Indeed, most translations of “mag mell” say it means “plain of joy.”

Most sources do agree that Mag Mell is only accessible to the chosen few who have achieved glory or some other special recognition. In this case, Mag Mell seems much more like Norse Valhalla or Green Elysium than some other Otherworlds. It features happiness, food and drink, and everything pleasurable.

Two rulers are associated with Mag Mell: the aforementioned Manannan and the Fomorian King Tethra, who is also seen as a god of the sea and Otherworld.

Of course, one striking thing is the lack of pain or sickness of these islands – Avalon itself is known as a place of healing. And, of course, the connection to apples.

So what do you think of these Irish myths? Do you see them as significant connections to Avalon?

Until next time when we look at some more isles, bright blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Check out Part 1Part 3, and Part 4.

 

Sources:

Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, New York: Citadel Press, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

James MacKillop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford: 1998

Jones Celtic Library, http://www.maryjones.us/jce/emain.html and http://www.maryjones.us/jce/manannan.html

The Temple of Manannan, http://www.manannan.net/library/godofthecelts.html

Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emain_Ablach and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mag_Mell

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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As noted in yesterday’s post, possible inspirations for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon is a fairly extensive topic. While I had known of several mythic islands or lands with Otherworld or magical elements, a little research quickly revealed a lot of places in the Classical and Celtic world that fit the bill.

So to focus the coverage, I decided to start with Irish mythical places. Welsh, Classical, and any others will be covered later.

Despite a lifelong interest in Irish heritage and lore, many of these Irish Otherworld places were new to me. Of course, Tir na nOg and Mag Mell are familiar. In The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, lists a number of Irish Otherworlds — some well known and others obscure:

“In Irish manuscripts, the Otherworld beyond the Ocean bears many names. It’s Tir-na-nog, ‘The Land of Youth’; Tir-Innambeo, ‘The Land of the Living’; Tir Tairnigire, ‘The Land of Promise’; Tir N-aill, ‘The Other Land (or World)’; Mag Mar, ‘The Great Plain’; and also Mag Mell, ‘The Plain Agreeable (or Happy).’”  (pg 334)

A couple others include Emhain Abhlach and Hy-Brasil. But before we look at the myths of individual places, today let’s look at the Celtic Otherworld in general.

Evans-Wentz explains how, unlike Christians, the ancient Celts did not place their Otherworld in a non-terrestrial space. Instead, their Otherworld was on Earth and was said to appear in many different places, depending on the writer. The description of it would also change from author to author. Evans-Wentz points out that it was sometimes described as a place underground, like the fairy mounds that house the Tuatha De Danann (now known as the Faerie folk) after they were defeated and run off of Ireland proper. He goes on to describe the other Otherworld manifestation:

“More frequently, in the old Irish manuscripts, the Celtic Otherworld was located in the midst of the Western Ocean, as though it were the ‘double’ of the last Atlantis . . .” (Evans-Wentz, pg 333)

In Celtic Heritage, Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees also describe the subjectivity of the Irish Otherworld:

“To the questions: ‘Where is the Other World?’, ‘Is it one or many?’, the answers furnished by myth are contradictory. It is the ‘lower’ half of Ireland, the land under the earth or the sid-mounds. It is also ‘the land under wave’, an island, or a whole series of islands, beyond the sea. Yet it can manifest itself in other places. A mist falls upon us in an open plain, and lo, we are there witnessing its wonders.” (pg 343)

Some may wonder why I’m including Otherworld lands in addition to islands. As we have seen, the Celts had no problem thinking of the Otherworld as migratory, so I see no reason to ignore land-locked mythic places despite Geoffrey’s description of Avalon as an island.

Additionally, the physical place most often considered the best contender to be the location of Avalon is Glastonbury, England. Before the waters were redirected, this area was known to flood, creating an island effect. However, it was not a true island and most who describe its flooded state said it was not completely surrounded by water.

And finally, it is well known in literary and historical circles that Geoffrey mixed and mangled history and myth, so I don‘t think we have to take his every word as gospel.

So where to start? In the next post, we’ll look at Emhain Abhlach and Mag Mell. Both of these places have strong associations with the Irish god of the sea and of Otherworldly islands, Manannan mac Lir. I find this especially of interest because of the possible link between Manannan and Barinthus, the bargeman to Avalon that Geoffrey briefly describes in The Life of Merlin (a subject that will be covered more in the future, probably in October).

So what do you think of the possibility of mythic Otherworlds as the inspiration for Avalon? Do you think it makes Avalon more realistic — or less so?

Until next time, bright blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Check out Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

Sources

Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. New York, New York: Citadel Press, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn, and Brinely Rees, Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. www.maryjones.us/jce/emain/html

The Temple of Manannan. www.manannan.net/library/godofthecelts.html

© 2011 PJ Graham

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First, my apologies for running late on yesterday’s post. A little bit of a document woe has put me behind. I’m currently rewriting the post, so it will be tomorrow before it goes up.

Second, the topic of possible inspiration for Geoffrey’s Avalon turned out much more massive than I anticipated — so it will be split into several posts. The Irish myths alone were staggering in quantity. I found it fascinating — I hope everyone else finds it interesting as well.

Blessings,

Thistle

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Recently, a friend and I were discussing how amazing it is that there are so many people drawn to Avalon. Yet, through various encounters we’ve experienced, it became obvious to us that many of the people drawn to Avalon don’t actually know what it is. It is as though the very word Avalon embodies a mysterious and an innate spiritual meaning to those who hear it.

Obviously, a lot of people have figured this out. As mentioned before on this blog, there are a ton of places named Avalon. And Toyota has seen fit to name a car after it. And as one who loves lyrical quality in words, I can say Avalon fits that bill. And now, it would seem that just knowing that a spiritual tradition is named Avalon is enough to get folks to interested.

This is quite different from most people I know who joined the tradition years ago who either knew many of the Arthurian and Celtic myths and symbols coming into it – or at least were inspired after reading Mists of Avalon.

So, it seemed appropriate to uncover the origins of Avalon for those who are just beginning on this path.

The very first known mention of Avalon is in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain written in 1136. Yes, that would be more than 800 years ago.

This rather creative “history” spans 2,000 years – from Brutus founding Britain to the Saxons invading it. Of course, this span includes the time of Arthur and his father. Starting the well-known conception story for the future king, the text also features Arthur’s end after he receives a mortal wound at the Battle of Camblam (later called Camlann):

“Arthur himself, our renowned King, was mortally wounded and was carried off to the Isle of Avalon, so that his wounds might be attended to. He handed the crown of Britain over to his cousin Constantine, the son of Cador Duke of Cornwall: this in the year 542 after our Lord’s Incarnation.” (pg 261)

That’s it. Yup, that one brief mention is the beginning to the legend of Avalon.

However, Geoffrey later wrote The Life of Merlin where he goes into greater detail about the Isle:

“The island of apples which men call ‘The Fortunate Isle’ gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people live there a hundred years or more.”

Geoffrey also discusses those who dwell there and details the healing and shapeshifting abilities of Morgen:

“There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our country. She who is first of them is more skilled in the healing art, and excels her sisters in the beauty of her person. Morgen is her name, and she has learned what useful properties all the herbs contain, so that she can cure sick bodies. She also knows an art by which to change her shape, and to cleave the air on new wings like Daedalus; when she wishes she is at Brest, Chartres, or Pavia, and when she will she slips down from the air onto your shores. And men say that she has taught mathematics to her sisters, Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thitis; Thitis best known for her cither.”

And, finally, we see more detail about Arthur’s passage to the Isle:

“Thither after the battle of Camlan we took the wounded Arthur, guided by Barinthus to whom the waters and the stars of heaven were well known. With him steering the ship we arrived there with the prince, and Morgen received us with fitting honour, and in her chamber she placed the king on a golden bed and with her own hand she uncovered his honourable wound and gazed at it for a long time. At length she said that health could be restored to him if he stayed with her for a long time and made use of her healing art. Rejoicing, therefore, we entrusted the king to her and returning spread our sails to the favouring winds.”

It’s hard to believe, but these sparse words are what began the intrigue and spiritual nature that Avalon brings to the Arthurian cycle – and to us today. Over hundreds of years, writers have added to and changed the story until we reached that time when such insightful writers as Mists author Marion Zimmer Bradley (and others) could bring a fully realized concept of Avalon to the printed page.

So you may ask what was Geoffrey’s source for Avalon? To be honest, it’s a bit of a mystery. However, on Friday we will look at some other mythic islands that may have influenced Geoffrey’s writings.

Image is Mort D’Arthur by Irish painter Daniel Maclise

Sources

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain. Translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York, New York: Penguin Books USA Inc, 1966.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Life of Merlin. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/vm/vmeng.htm

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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OK, time to ‘fess up. I had anticipated discussing the origins of Avalon today, however, I didn’t quite get done all the research needed. (It’s been one of those weeks.) So, that will hold for next Tuesday. For today, I’ll just point out a few things about the blog and share some ideas for future posts.

First, you might note that I’ve added favorite links in three menus on the right: Blogroll, Podcasts, and Web Sites. There’s several more links I want to add in the next few weeks, many of which will be Arthurian and Celtic resources. Of the current links, I’d like to point out the Daughters of the Sacred Grail under Web Sites. This is the site for the Avalonian women’s group I am a member of, so I wanted to provide full disclosure on that.

Also, not all the links will necessarily be Avalonian or Arthurian – some are sites and blogs I really enjoy and would like to share with others. Of these, The Essential Herbal and The Wild Hunt are tops in my book.

There is also a Recommended Reading page (fourth tab over at the top of the page). Again, this is a work in progress, but I will admit to being really picky about what will be listed here. There are books that people rave about that I’ve found lacking – I won’t include books unless I have read them and found them to be of significant value to this path.

Finally, here is a list of topics I have percolating, some of which will require several posts to cover:

• Symbolism of the Apple

• Cauldron to Grail: The Evolution

• Land, Sea, and Sky versus the Four Elements

• Comparison of The Arthurian Tarot and Legend: The Arthurian Tarot decks

• Redeeming Morgan la Fey

• Ninefold Sisterhoods

• Mordred and Lancelot as Oak Kings

• Barinthus, Bargeman and Psychopomp

• Faery in Avalon

• The Silver Branch

• Brighid in Avalon

• Healing the Wasteland

• The journey of reading the entire Mists of Avalon series in chronological order

• Book reviews for Grave Goods (from the Mistress of the Art of Death mystery series), The Avalonians, and other books

• Various places speculated to be the location of Avalon (Glastonbury, Orkney Islands, Bardsey Island, Sicely, and others)

So what do you think? This isn’t a complete list, but is there anything missing that you would like to see discussed? Any links I should consider adding to the three menus?

Have a great weekend!

Thistle

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Last Tuesday, we covered the various definitions of the Avalonian tradition. But there was one thing I left out, mainly because it seemed to be a consistent factor in most Avalonian groups, even if not explicitly mentioned. Well, that and because it is a pretty sizable subject on its own.

But don’t worry, that one thing won’t remain a mystery. Hmmmm – or will it?

The Avalonian path of today includes theories and practices that identify it as one of the Mysteries, or as one of many lanes in the wide highway known as the Western Mystery Tradition (also called Western esotericism, Western mysticism, Western Hermetic Tradition, and many other names).

Teacher and author Mara Freeman says:

“The goal of the Mysteries is the conscious realization of the self as connected with all beings, visible and invisible, on the great Tree of Life, and ultimately with the Divine Source. From this realization comes the power to mediate spiritual energies into the physical world for healing, both personal and planetary.”

This far-reaching tradition has roots that stem from Hermes Trismegistus (a representative that combines the Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth), Greek philosophers, Jewish and Christian mystics, Freemasons, Gnostics, and others.

A standard definition for this tradition says it is a spectrum of esoteric knowledge and practices used to further personal gnosis. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED), gnosis means “special knowledge of spiritual mysteries,” and is derived from the same-spelled Greek word gnosis, which means “investigation or knowledge.” Further, the OED states that esoteric comes from the Greek word esoterikos, meaning “belonging to an inner circle,” and from esotero, or “more within.”

This is all rather fitting for a legendary island that can only be reached by those trained to lift the veil of mist that hides it from the mundane world.

It also supports my experience in the Avalonian tradition, which requires study, searching, practice, and intention to develop a spiritual path based on the myths of Avalon, Arthur, and the Celts as those, too, are heavy with hidden symbolism and meaning. No one can do this work for you. One can be mentored on this path, but this path should never have shepherds leading mindless sheep. We are each our own shepherd.

Going back to the practices of mystery traditions, they include (but are not limited to):

• Alchemy

• Astrology

• Divination (notably Tarot with its symbolism)

• Herbalism

• Meditation

• Trance work

• Ritual magic

It is interesting to consider that as we progress toward the Aquarian age, many of these practices are becoming common. Astrology has long been popular, and herbalism and meditation are hitting their stride as well. Does this mean that esoteric knowledge is becoming exoteric, or something belonging to the outer circle? Mundane?

Given that not everyone approaches these practices with spiritual intention, I doubt that is the case. But what do you think: Are a larger percentage of people engaging in the Mysteries now than in past centuries?

If yes, why do you think this is the case: widespread book publishing, the Internet, or for other reasons?

Until next time, bright blessings to you!

Thistle

Sources:

Online Etymology Dictionary: www.etymonline.com/index.php

Avalon Mystery School: www.avalonmysteryschool.net/Introduction.htm

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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