Posts Tagged ‘Annwn’

Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last posted here. Sorry the break, but I have to say early autumn is always a hectic time of year for me.

But now that yard work, festivals, and other outdoor events are winding down, it’s time to get back at it. So, here’s is the long-awaited conclusion of the Avalon and the Celtic Otherworld series:

Annwn

Well, we’ve finally arrived at the Welsh version of the Otherworld. I say “finally” because many Avalonians would have started here and not gone much farther.

It is generally known that Wales is the area of Great Britain where the traditional Celtic views and customs held on the longest without much intervention from the Romans and other invading cultures. As such, the theory is that their myths and customs would be the truest to the ancient Celts compared to other cultures of the Isles. (I have my own thoughts on this, but this is not the post to get into it.)

Annwn can also be spelled Annwfn, though people often – incorrectly – add a y after the w or f. The Welsh language can be difficult for people to remember, so you may have seen even more spellings.

This Otherworld seems to fit best with our concept of Avalon. It is not a place just for gods and heroes, but for all. In Encyclopedia of Spirits, author Judicka Illes refers to it as “a realm of death, a dwelling place and way station for those who have completed their earthly incarnation, but it is not the Otherword.”

She goes on to mention that it is typically seen as a pleasant place ruled by a king named Arawn. Arawn is the leading figure of Wild Hunt, when he rides out to collect the souls of the departed at the start of winter.

Accompanying Arawn on this night is his special dogs, often thought of as fairy dogs, the Hounds of Annwn. They sport bright white coats with red ears, which solidifies the fairy connection. The hounds have three tasks: foretell or announce a death, retrieve or escort souls to Annwn, and to reveal corpses. Some researchers believe these fairy dogs may have been later reinterpreted by Christians as Hell Hounds.

This Otherworld is associated with hills and islands, which could be a possible connection to the ancient burial mounds of the Celts. At some point, Arawn becomes linked specifically with the Tor in Glastonbury, England, from where he rides out from it at Samhain.

The Glastonbury Tor – Did the Wild Hunt start here?

In the tenth century poem “The Spoils of Annwn” (Preiddeu Annwfn), Arthur travels to Annwn on a quest for a cauldron. In this poem, various placenames are used in regard to Annwn: Mound Fortress, Four-Peaked Fortress, and Glass Fortress – though it’s not clear that the author intended these to be the same places in Annwn. However, “Mound Fortress” could easily describe the Tor, a large hill featuring a winding labyrinth path to the top.

Some people believe that the modern day Glastonbury, England, was Annwn (and by extension, Avalon). Jhenah Telyndru, whose focus is heavily on the Welsh aspect of the Avalonian tradition, builds a case for Glastonbury as Avalon/Annwn. Introducing the poem The Spoils of Annwn, she says in her book Avalon Within:

“It is an evocative and symbolic piece detailing the voyage of Arthur into the Otherworld. The strong association of Avalon with Annwn is reinforced by several elements of this poem. It is not difficult to see the Tor, with its labyrinthine terracing, as the revolving fortress Taliesin describes.”

Another entry point for Annwn is Lundy Island.

In later years, Arawn seems to have morphed into another character: Gwyn ap Nudd, who also was known for leading the Wild Hunt. Both names appear in medieval stories.

Honestly, I could write pages more about Annwn based on the information that is out there. But this post covers the basics without muddying the waters too much.

In Conclusion

OK, we have now reviewed many mythic Otherworlds of the Celts, but does that help us determine if they were the inspiration of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Avalon? (See early posts in this series.)

Honestly, some of the material we’ve looked at might have been available to Geoffrey when he was writing The History of the Kings of Britain or The Life of Merlin, but much of it was written later. Of course, there is a strong oral tradition among the Celts, but determining what stories the bards would have told in the times and places that might have directly or indirectly affected Geoffrey is definitely beyond my current research ability!

Also, the concept of Avalon was further developed by later writers who could have been influenced by these and other stories.

While our investigation might be inconclusive, I hope everyone enjoyed learning more about the Celtic perspective of the Otherworld.

Blessings!

Thistle

Addition: Check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Sources:

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

Illes, Judicka, Encyclopedia of Spirits.

Telyndru, Jhenah, Avalon Within. MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2011.

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/a/annwn.html

http://www.maryjones.us/jce/annwfn.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annwn

 

© 2011 PJ Graham

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