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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The legend of Taliesin and the Cauldron of Ceridwen

This is probably the most profound of old Welsh legends. There is a 6th century parchment containing one of Taliesin's poems , "Y Gododdin" at Jesus college Oxford. There is no doubt that a Poet by the name of Taliesin existed. His story is allegorical. A careful reading reveals the training that a Bard went through, here at the hands of a Welsh Goddess, before being transformed from Gwion Bach (Lttle Innocent) to Taliesin (Radiant Brow) Poetry is described as having a "Fire in the head"
The following is taken from the original Welsh with frequent reference to English translators to make sure I was getting it right.

Gwion Bach

In the early days of the reign of Arthur, there lived a man of noble birth called Tegid Foel. He lived with his wife Ceridwen on an island on the lake that is still named for him today, Llyn Tegid. They had two children, a daughter Creirwy, fairest maid in all the land and a son Morfran. As Creirwy was fair, he was foul. The ugliest man in the world, he was known as Afagddu (Utter Darkness) for only in the darkest part of night could he be looked upon. His mother despaired that he would ever find favor in the noble courts of men unless he had some merit to counter his ugliness.

So Ceridwen bore herself to the hidden city of glass and there consulted with the Fferyllt and from their wisdom and arts she returned home and at the edge of the lake she began to boil a cauldron of inspiration for her son. She found a young boy, Gwion Bach, to stir the cauldron and fetch the wood for the fire and an old blind man, Morda, to keep the fire kindled. She instructed them that they were to keep it boiling for a year and a day, during which time she, according to the phases of the moon and the alignment of the stars, gathered herbs to put in the cauldron at their appointed times.

One day, towards the end of the year, as Ceridwen was making incantations, three drops of the charmed liquor flew out and landed on the hand of Gwion Bach. Because of the great heat he instinctively put his hand to his mouth. In the instant that he did so he foresaw all that was to come and he knew that his greatest danger lay in the wrath of Ceridwen. Gwion fled.

When Ceridwen saw that her labor of the year was lost and that Gwion Bach now had the blessings of the potion, she chased after him to kill him. When Gwion saw Ceridwen chasing him he turned himself into a Hare. For the cauldron, among many other things, had given him the power of Fith Fath, the shape changer. Ceridwen changed herself into a Greyhound and was almost upon him when he leaped into a river and turned himself into a Salmon. Ceridwen turned herself into an Otter and was almost upon him again when he jumped out of the river and became a wren. Ceridwen followed as a Hawk and gave him no rest. Just as she was about to swoop down on him he saw a barn with a pile of wheat on the floor. He dived in and transformed himself into a grain of wheat and hid from her. Ceridwen turned herself into a red crested black hen and pecked at the wheat until she found Gwion and she ate him.

When she returned to human form Ceridwen discovered that she was pregnant and for nine months she bore Gwion in her womb. When she delivered him she found she was unable to kill him because of his great beauty. So she wrapped him in a leather bag and cast him into the sea. This was on the 29th day of April.


In those days, between Dyfi and Aberystwyth lay the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir. Gwyddno had an only son named Elphin. Elphin was the most unlucky of men. It grieved his father for it seemed that Elphin was born in an evil hour. Everything that Elphin attempted came to naught and good fortune was never with him.

That year Gwyddno allowed his son alone to draw from the weir. For the weir had never given less than one hundred pounds of fish at that time of year. In so doing Gwyddno hoped to turn around his son's bad fortune. The next day when Elphin went to look there was nothing in the weir. He was about to turn away when he saw a black bag caught in the nets. With the aid of the weir guards he drew the bag out and within was a child whose brow was shining with a radiant light. Then one of the weir guards exclaimed "Gweled y Daliesin" (Behold the radiant brow) Elphin replied "Then Taliesin (Radiant brow) he shall be named." Then Elphin carried the boy in his arms and carefully rode with him back to his house. All the way lamenting that he still had no good fortune and nothing to show but an abandoned child.

Then did Taliesin speak for the first time and foretold honor for Elphin and the first words he spoke were a poem called "Y Dyhuddiant" (The consolation)

"Fair Elphin, cease to lament let no one be dissatisfied with his own,
To despair will bring no advantage. No man sees what supports him;
The prayers of Cynllo will not be in vain God will not violate his promise
Never in Gwyddno's weir was there such good luck as this night
Fair Elphin, dry thy cheeks, being too sad will not avail
Although thou thinkest thou hast no gain, too much grief will bring thee no good.
Nor doubt the miracles of the Gods
Although I am little I am highly gifted
From seas and from mountains and from the depths of rivers
The Gods bring wealth to the fortunate man.
Elphin of lively qualities, thy resolution is unmanly.
Thou must not be ever sorrowful, better to trust in the Gods than to forbode ill.
Weak and small as I am, on the foaming beach of the ocean,
In the day of trouble I shall be of more service to thee than three hundred salmon.
Elphin of notable qualities be not displeased at thy misfortune
Although reclined thus, weak in my bag, there lies a virtue in my tongue.
While I continue thy protector thou hast not much to fear.
Remembering the names of the Gods, none shall be able to harm thee."

And from that time forth Elphin had good fortune and was of good cheer wherever he went.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Little Jest of Robin Hood

The earliest complete tale of Robin Hood comes from a 16th cebtury ballad called "A little jest of Robin Hood" I have taken the Rhyme made by Sue Bradbury and converted a small piece of the ballad into this tale. As well as being a humorous yarn it also reveals earlier tales of the Green man the God of the forest who gave shelter and aid to those in need. There may even be remnants of Goddess worship in this tale. But most of all, enjoy.

In the days when the forests of England spread across the land, it was said that a Squirrel could leave Scotland and pilgrimage to Canterbury and its feet need never touch the ground. In such a time there lived a proud outlaw named Robin Hood.
Robin had a custom, that before he would eat his dinner he must hear three masses; One for the Father, one for the Holy Spirit and one for Mary, our Lady and mother of our Lord. For her, he loved the most. She kept him from mortal sin and such was his regard for her that he would never harm a woman.
One day he stood in Barnsdale, leaning against a tree. With him were his companions, John Naelor, whom men called Little John, Will Scathlock and Much the Miller’s son. Little John’s stomach was rumbling, “We should eat,” He declared. “It would do us all good.”
“I’m not yet ready to dine,” replied Robin, with a grin. “Not until I’ve met with a bold Baron or at least a squire.”
“Very well,” replied John with a grin that matched Robin’s mirth. “So tell me, what to do? Where to go? What should I take or leave behind? Where do I rob?” his grin got broader as he asked “Where do I find my pleasures?”
Robin laughed. “These then are our laws and if we agree to bide them we shall do well. Do not harm a hard working Farmer, nor harm the Yeoman who wanders the greenwood. Neither harm you a good Knight or his squire. Bishops and Archbishops you may beat as you will. Be watchful for the Sheriff of Nottingham, do not let that wicked man take you.”
"We'll keep that reed ,” said Little John. “It can be our lesson but God send us a guest, my stomach says it is late.”
“I’ll stay here” said Robin. “You, Much and Will Scathlock go to Sayles and up to Watling Street. Wait there and whoever passes, bring him to me and we’ll all dine together.”
So the three went to Sayles but there was no one on the road until they looked down towards Barnsdale. They saw a knight approaching. He had such a sorrowful look on his face, with one foot on his stirrup and the other dangling. His hood hung over his eyes. A sadder, depressed fellow they had never seen.
Little John stepped out in front of the knight and bowing deeply said, “Welcome gentle knight and welcome to the greenwood. My master would have you dine with him this evening.”
“Who is your master?” asked the knight.
“Robin Hood.” answered John.
“A good Yeoman,” said the knight. I have heard a lot of good of him so though I thought to dine in Blythe or Doncaster, instead I will dine with Robin Hood.”
John and Will rode each side of the knight with Much leading the way. The three were thinking that this was cheery company indeed. For as they rode, tears were streaming down the knight’s face.
When they arrived at Robin’s lodge he was standing at the door. With a wide grin he doffed his cap and bowed courteously.
“Welcome sir knight. I have been three long hours without food and I would not eat without a guest at my table.”
The knight replied. “God save you Robin and all your company.”
Robin set a goodly table, shamelessly feasting on the King’s deer as well as Pheasant. Bread, fruit and wine were all in abundance.
“Should I come again to this country,” said the knight. “I’ll make as good a feast for you as you have made for me.”
“I thank you sir,” said Robin. “But before you go you must pay for the feast you have enjoyed. It is not proper that humble Yeomen such as we should pay for a knight.”
“For my shame I have nothing,” replied the knight.
“Before God tell me the truth,” said Robin.
“In God’s truth I have only ten shillings,” replied the knight.
Robin looked keenly into the knight’s sorrowful eyes. “If that is all you have I’ll not take a penny from you. Indeed, if you need more I will loan you.”
He turned to Little John. “Tell me what you see.”
Little John laid out the knight’s cloak and all his belongings. “The knight speaks true,” he said.
“Pour the best wine,” said Robin.
“I thought your clothes were thin. Now tell me a thing and then we’ll speak no more of it. Was your estate destroyed by debt or lechery? Have you misspent your life?”
“Nay, nay good Robin. My fathers were honorable knights for a thousand years. It often happens that a good man’s estate may suffer a cruel fate. Two years ago I could have spent four hundred pounds but now I have nothing except my children and my wife.”
“How have you lost all your wealth?” asked Robin.
“Through folly and kindness. I have a son, my heir, twenty winters has he seen and he loves to joust. He slew a Lancastrian knight and his squire. To save his honor and his life I sold all my goods. Also I had to pledge in bond my lands for a certain day, to a rich Abbot who lives nearby in St. Mary’s Abbey.”
“What do you owe?” Asked Robin.
“Four hundred pounds,” replied the knight.
“Where are your friends?” asked Robin
“Good Robin, in my wealth they boasted that they knew me but now I am shunned. They act as though they knew me not.”
Robin looked at his companions and saw that even Little John and Much who had seen sorrow had tears in their eyes at the knight’s tale.
“Have you some friend who would be your warrant for your loan?” asked Robin.
“I have no friend save Him who died at Calvary,” replied the knight.
“Do not jest with me,” said Robin. “I need not the warrant of God or Peter or Paul or John. I need a better warrant than this so find one.”
“In truth Robin, I have no other lest it be our Lady. She has never failed me.”
“Though I search all my life” said Robin “I could find no better warrant. Little John, go to my treasury and count out the money.”
“Is this well done, think you?” asked Much.
“What else can we do?” asked Little John “For a good man come to such poverty.”
“Master!” said Little John “His clothes are so thin and we have cloth of scarlet and green. Can we not give him a livery?”
“Three yards of every color. “ And giving John a sly wink Robin added, “And measure it well.”
Little John measured with his bow and somehow managed to add another three feet to each cloth. “You must be the Devil’s draper,” cried Much.
Will Scathlock laughed. “Giving the knight good measure costs Little John light.”
“Now, gentle master,” said John. “You must give the knight a horse.”
“Indeed,” said Robin “With a new saddle, for he is our Lady’s messenger.”
“And a good palfrey,” added Much.
“And a pair of boots fit for a gentle knight,” said Will.”
“What will you grant him John?” asked Robin.
“Fine gilt spurs and may he be lifted out of his woe,” replied John.
When all had been granted Robin spoke to the knight “When may I require you, sir?”
“Set a day,” replied the knight.
“Then, gentle knight, let it be one year from now. You will pay your debt under this tree.” A twinkle came to Robin’s eye then. “And as it is a shame for any knight to ride unaccompanied, I’ll lend you Little John to serve you.”
The knight and Little John rode away and when the knight looked on Barnsdale he blessed the noblest company he had ever met.
As they rode, the knight confided in Little John. “Tomorrow I must go to York and unto Saint Mary’s Abbey. For if I do not pay the Abbot of that place the full four hundred pounds, my land is lost for good.”
Now the Abbot did not expect payment for the loan and so had gathered the Chief Justice of England and the Sheriff of Nottingham as well as other notables to witness the forfeiture of the debt.
On the morrow, when the debt was due, all sat in the great hall awaiting the days occurrences when the knight came to the gate.
“Welcome sir knight!” said the Porter. “My Lord and many a fine gentleman are at their feast.” He swore under his breath, “God’s truth, these are the finest horses I ever did see.” He ordered the stable boys to have them fed and eased but the knight refused.
“Until I am assured they will stay outside.”
Entering the great hall he called out, “Sir Abbot, I have kept my day.”
The first words of the Abbot were, “Do you have the payment?”
“Not a penny piece,” replied the knight.
“Why come you?” asked the Abbot “If you cannot pay your debt.”

The knight went down humbly upon his knee before that company and said “Before God and you, I beg a longer stay.”
“Your time is up, ‟ said the Abbot “your land is forfeit.”
“Good Sir Justice” pleaded the knight “Defend me.”
“I will not,” replied the Justice. “I took the Abbot’s fee and gifts for this service.”
“Then good Sir Sheriff,” cried the knight “Be my friend.”
“Nay before God I will not,” replied the Sheriff.
“Good Sir Abbot” then said the knight. “Be my friend and in all courtesy hold my land in fee. I will serve you and gladly honor you until you have from me four hundred pounds.”
“By God” swore the Abbot “You will get no release from me.”
The knight looked all around that noble company and admonished them. “Ill fair it is to find a friend when a fair friend you need.”
The Abbot’s face went dark. He called the knight a “Villain” and “False” and ordered him from the hall.
Then the gentle knight said. “You lie in your hall. I was never a villain false.” Then rising to his feet he continued “It is not courteous that you make me kneel so long.” Then going to the table he took out his bag and shook out four hundred pounds.
“Take back your gold Sir Abbot, Had you shown me courtesy I would have repaid you more.” Then turning to the Sheriff and the company there to witness, he declared “I have kept my day and I will have my land again.”
He went from that place with a merry heart and cast off all his cares. He met his Lady at the gate to his land in Verysdale. “Welcome my Lord” said she “And is our land lost for good?”
“Be merry my good wife,” he replied. “And pray for Robin Hood. May his soul ever be in bliss. Were it not for him, beggars would we be. Through his kindness I have settled everything with the Abbot and will repay that good yeoman a year hence.”
The gentle knight dwelt happily and gathered the four hundred pounds with which to repay Robin. He hired a hundred men, armed and equipped with himself at the head, then rode out to Barnsdale. A merry sight indeed.
On their way the knight passed by a wrestling match upon a bridge. He stopped to see what was afoot. All the best yeomen were there fighting for a fine white bull. Many other prizes were also waiting for the claim of the best. Yet, there was one man whose worthiness was plain but he was far from friends and home. The knight feared this man would be slain and took pity on him and vowed, for love of Robin Hood, that he would come to no harm. He marched in with his men and stopped the play on that good yeoman and offered a drink to all that were there and so stayed while the games were on.
While Robin waited for his feast till mid-afternoon, a merry tale is told of how the knight released Little John for him to serve the Sheriff of Nottingham and how the Sheriff rued that bargain. That tale will be told in another place. Little John was back with Robin when the knight’s debt was due.
“Let us dine,” said Little John.
“Nay, we cannot,” said Robin. “Our Lady must be wroth with me for she has not sent me my pay.”
“Doubt not.” Said John “The knight is true and the sun has not yet set. I swear he will repay you.”
“Take your bow Little John and take Much and Will Scathlock too. Go again to Sayles and so to Watling Street and wait there for whatever guest you may bring. If he be rich or poor, I’ll give him all my best.”
So the three went again to Sayles and stood in the same spot as before but saw no one until, looking towards Barnsdale, hey saw a pair of monks on good palfreys riding their way.
“I’ll pledge my life” said Little John “That these two monks have Robin’s pay.”
Then John stepped out into the path and drawing his bow said “Monk, ride no further. Your life is in my hand. You have bad luck this day for my master is angry that you have kept him from his food.”
“Who is your master?” asked the Monk.
John answered. “Robin Hood.”
“I never heard much good of that thief,” replied the Monk.
“You will regret that lie,” said John. “For Robin now requires you to dine with him. Send the other fellow away. One Monk is enough to dine with.”
They brought the Monk to Robin’s lodge though he was loath to go. At the door of the lodge Robin threw back his hood and showed the Monk his face. The Monk was not so courteous and left his hood up.
“By God,” said Little John “He’s nothing but a churl. I care nothing for a man who knows no courtesy.”
“Blow your horn John,” said Robin. “And call our company to dine.”
Seven score men came through the greenwood then to dine with Robin and his guest. The Monk was given leave to wash and dry and then was served with food of the best.
“Eat well, Sir Monk and tell me, here do you make your vows? Where is your Abbey?”
“Saint Mary’s Abbey, where I am the high cellarer.”
“You are more than welcome then,” said Robin. “Give him the best of all our wines that he may drink to me. And yet I marvel. Through all this day I have not received my pay. Surely my Lady must be angered of me.”
“Fear not,” said Little John. “The Monk is from Her Abbey surely he has brought you your pay.”
“She was the Knight’s warrant, tis true” said Robin “Sir Monk, do you come with silver? Let me see it and I will help you whenever you have need.”
The Monk swore an oath. “I never heard of such a warranty,” he said.
“I swear to God it is so,” said Robin. “God is held to be a righteous man and so is his mother and you have told me with your own mouth that you serve her every day. So you must be her messenger with the money that is owed me. Therefore I do thank you for dining with me this day.”
“Sir!” cried the Monk. “Lord strike me but I have only twenty marks in my coffers.”
“If that is all you have Sir Monk then I’ll not take a penny and for love of our Lady, if you have need, I’ll lend you more but if you speak false then all your money is forfeit.”|Then Little John spread out the Monk’s cloak and counted out eight hundred pounds.
“We have a true servant of our Lady” said John “For here is double what you lent.”
“I vow to God,” said Robin. “Of all the women in the world our Lady is the most true. Now fill the Monk’s glass and bid him drink to our Lady’s health while you search through his coffers on yonder horse.”
“By God!” said the monk “That is less than kind. To bid me to dinner then to beat me and bind me.”
“It is our custom,” said Robin. “To leave little behind. Have one more drink at least.”
“Nay,” said the Monk. “I’m sorry I came so near you. It would have been cheaper far for me to have dined in Blyth or Doncaster than here.”
“Then greet well your Abbot from me,” said Robin. “And bid him send me such a Monk as you to dine with me every day.”
Soon after the Monk had left the Knight rode up to greet Robin and his company. The knight jumped down from his palfrey and dropped to one knee before Robin.
“God save you good Robin and your merry men.”
“Right welcome to you gentle knight,” said Robin.
“Do you have your land again?”
“Yes and for that I thank God and you. Forgive me the tardiness of my hour but on the way here I saw a wrestling match where they would steal the prize from the winner, so I tarried to aid him. Take it not amiss.”
“No by God,” said Robin “A knight who aids a yeoman shall always be my friend.”
“Here then,” said the knight. “Is the four hundred pounds you lent me and twenty marks to thank you for your courtesy.”
"Keep it all,” said Robin. “I have already been paid. Our Lady sent her cellarer and I am paid in full.”
Then Robin told the tale and he and the knight laughed long and merrily.
“Now sir knight,” said Robin. “Use the money well and by my truth, you will never need while I can do you good.”
This then, is how Robin Hood saved a good Knight and succored a man in need. Our Lady grants us that we too may do right.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Farmboy and Fatherhood

I thought I'd write something a bit different. This is an autobiographical tale about the birth of my child. Magical and dangerous.......For me that is;

I have been at the birth of two of my children. The first miracle is the miracle of birth; the second is that I’m still alive after the first time. Before I was allowed anywhere near the hospital for the birth of our second I had to swear a solemn oath, more sacred than the one I swore at our wedding, that I would behave.

I left school when I was 15 and went to work on farms. I travelled quite a bit, even as a teenager, around Wales and Scotland. I learned a lot about farming, mostly cattle and sheep, a little with horses and some with pigs. I was also around to help with the birthing, so seeing a woman have a baby was nothing to me; after all, I’d helped with the birthing of all kinds of animals so how different could it be. A word here to any young man who may be as na├»ve as I was, women can be very cranky when they are in labor. I’ve helped some fussy animals in my time, I nearly was kicked more than once by a mare and I nearly got my hand bit off by a bitch I was being helpful to but women have them all beat.

My wife and I both got married late in life. Due to circumstances I am sure were beyond my control I found myself in California, married and waiting the birth of our first child. A year and seven days after our wedding the moment arrived. We went off to the Kaiser Permanante hospital on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where I was told I could be in attendance for the birth. It had been many years since I had worked on the farm but I was sure my birthing skills had not deserted me.

For the city folk who may be reading this I should explain that four legged animals are born with their front hooves coming out first followed by the head between the shoulders. Sometimes the mother has trouble giving birth so it becomes necessary to tie some twine around the young ones hooves and gently ease it on out. So I told the doctor I would be proud and happy to help and if he would pass me the ball of twine I’d stand by, ready to give it the old Heave-Ho. This offer of assistance did not find favor with my wife who was threatening to make room on Earth for a new human by getting rid of an old one. Like I said, cranky.

Well, it seems that the poor dear was having a very difficult time of it and after about three hours of struggling the doctor decided she would have to have a cesarean. I wasn’t happy about that but I understood that what has to be done should be done. My mind went back to my farm days and how I would help the vet with this procedure. The mother would be injected with Novocain prior to the operation. A four legged animal cannot rise to its feet if its head is held to the ground. I would hold her down while the vet performed the cesarean. The doctor quickly informed me that it would not be necessary in this case, my wife only having two legs and the ability to understand that she is to lie still.

In the hospital room I was doing my best to comfort her. The poor thing was wired everywhere. There was a blood pressure monitor, a heart monitor, Demerol was being fed into her and an I V and I’m not sure what else while preparations were being made. I was standing over her, holding her hand and doing my best to be comforting when she muttered something. She was drugged up and I couldn’t hear it so I just said;
“It’s alright love, I’m here you don’t have to worry.” Then she muttered something again, I took a wild guess at what she was saying and I replied;

“I know and I love you too” She kept on muttering so I leaned down close and said “What is it you’re trying to say?” She said
“You’re standing on the I V”

It came time at last to go into the operating room and I was there like a trooper cheering her on. “You are doing great” I said cheerily. “So you’re a doctor now?” was the reply. Like I said, women are cranky around times like this.
There was a program on television around this time called “Chicago Hope” and in that the surgeons always played music in the operating theatre. I was looking forward to some Rock and Roll, though I was willing to accept heavy metal. I was surprised that there were no sounds. As I was mentioning this to the doctor my wife, in her drug induced state, was saying “I can’t believe he said that”

Finally our son was born, a fine healthy boy. My wife asked me if it was a boy and I replied, with admiration in my voice “Hell yeah! He’s born with a bigger one than my grandpa died with.”

He’s a fine healthy boy today; he’s taller than me, well educated and a good son. The other day he came home with his school report card. He had an “A” in everything but a “B” in English. I told him I was very proud of him. No Welsh boy should ever get more than a “B” in English.