Posts Tagged ‘bargeman of Avalon’

In autumn, an Avalonian girl’s fancy lightly turns to  . . . Barinthus.

OK, I have a confession: I have a thing for Barinthus, a kind of mythical crush. The bargeman of Avalon, mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the Vita Merlini (The Life of Merlin), seems more interesting to me because he’s so mysterious and, well, quiet.

And let’s face it, Avalon isn’t known for being a stronghold of masculinity. I suspect part my interest in Barinthus is due to seeking a male-female balance on the Avalonian path.

OK, back at the ranch:

Many people have never heard of Barinthus. For those unsure of who I’m talking about, Barinthus is the man (some consider him of the fairie folk or a god) who guides the barge that carries King Arthur to Avalon in Geoffrey’s story. We’ve looked at this part of the Vita Merlini before, but let’s refresh our memories:

“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.”

Not much to go on, really. The folks at the Celtnet Nemeton web site suggest that Barinthus might be a Cymric (Welsh) god as his name could be based on the Cymric word baran, which means fury or wrath.

The site also puts forward the idea that perhaps the bargeman is based on St. Barrind, who inspired the legendary journey of St. Brendan to a Promised Land of Saints with his own similar journey. This land may well be a Christianized version of the Isle of the Blest of Celtic myths.

While these may or may not be true, others see a connection between Barinthus and the Irish sea god, Manannan mac Lir. As you might remember from an earlier post, Manannan was listed as a ruler of two different Irish Otherworlds: Emhain Ablach and Mag Mell. Manannan rides horses made of ocean waves – Barinthus rides a barge on the ocean waves. Manannan has cloak of mist and Barinthus is connected to an island hidden from the world by mist.


Charon and Psyche by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope in 1883 – Charon and Barinthus share some traits

Some people – myself included – view this “great Navigator” as a psychopomp, or a spirit that takes the souls of the dead to the Otherworld (another trait shared by the bargeman and Manannan). Like Charon, the ferryman of classical mythology, Barinthus takes the dead across the waters to the next realm. Considering that Avalon itself can be considered the Celtic Otherworld of Annwn, one could easily draw that conclusion – even based on this little bit of text.

Frankly, I’m not aware of too many other writers that include the bargeman in medieval or modern writings. However, author and teacher Mara Freeman includes the bargeman in The Avalon Meditations CD (available at:

Given that there is so little written about Barinthus and yet being fascinated by him, I have on occasion turned to self-guided imagery to free my mind to make connections about him. My impressions have been that he appears surly but is actually quite helpful when approached with sincerity and without pride.

Early on in these exercises, he did little more than dump me off on the shore and point to a distant spot on the Isle. But by continuing my focus on this spirit, he has guided me to several answers I needed to unblock and further my spiritual path. And I have discovered, much as you might expect of one connected with water, that he has much more passion and emotion than he first appears.

Is Barinthus totally new to you and, if so, what do you think of this spirit? So would you include him in the psychopomp category? Or have you found modern stories that include him? I’d be excited to see the bargeman return in newer stories!

Next time, we will look at ways to work with this lesser known figure.

Until then, bright blessings!


Addition: Don’t miss the following post on the Bargeman!


Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita

Celtnet Nemeton –

Illes, Judicka, Encyclopedia of Spirits.

Jones Celtic Library –

The Temple of Manannan –


© 2011 PJ Graham

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