Posts Tagged ‘Manannan’

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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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!


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



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, and

The Temple of Manannan,

Wikipedia, and


© 2011 PJ Graham

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