Posts Tagged ‘Celtic Otherworld’

Today’s card suggests a special journey, whether literally or figuratively. The story of Arthur’s journey also features one of my favorite mythological figures, Barinthus. (If you doubt that, click here and here.) What kind of journey do you see ahead? Do you need to break free from the grind?

Hope you all have a good day. Blessings!

Six of Swords – The Eachtra (Otherworld Journey)

Meaning: Movement; journey by water. A trip abroad. Easing restrictions. The first step toward an unknown destination. Passage away from danger. A brave attempt to improve one’s circumstances. Breaking free of a rut. Further effort will be needed, but progress has begun. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Anticipation.

Reversed Meaning: Solutions continue to allude one. Feeling despondent and powerless to affect the situation. The continued burden of stressful problems. Being caught in a vicious cycle of worry. Delays in travel. Having to deal with unsolicited advances and harassment.

The Story of the Eachtra: Arthur and his mortal raiders venture to Annwn

The Eachtra is the Irish term used to refer to an Otherworldly journey and adventure. The islands of the Otherworld (or Annwn) were generally thought to lie in the “twilight realm” to the west. Arthur and his crew travel to this enchanted land in the poem “The Spoils of Annwfn.” Under the circumstances, Arthur’s Eachtra was not necessarily a pleasant one. Despite their enticing names – the Fortunate Isles or the Isles of the Blest – not all the islands were paradisal. There were many strange and wonderful variations in their natures. Some were inhabited only by women, wise and skilled healers recalling the sisterhood of Avalon. Others were isles of laughter and homes to giants, spirits, and strange creatures. There was no limit to these immortal isles nor their fantastic characters. The inhabitants were known to produce the finest wines. Owing to this, Anwyn of Welsh tradition is sometimes referred to as “The Court of Intoxication.”

The sublime waters of Annwn were thought to be the haunt of the mythological Barinthus, who guided mortals beyond the veil. Due to his association with Otherworldy voyages and his vast knowledge of the waters and stars, he is also called the “Navigator.” Barinthus figures in the story of St. Brendan, inspiring the sixth century Irish saint to travel the seas in search of the Land of Promise. Barinthus the Navigtoar sometimes appears in the Arthurian saga as the figure who guides the barge carrying the wounded kind to the Isle of Avalon.

Legend: The Arthurian Tarot by Anna-Marie Ferguson

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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:


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.



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


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.


© 2011 PJ Graham

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