The Summer Solstice

June 21, 2019 is the summer solstice this year, celebrated at Stonehenge and across the globe, for the longest day of the year.  “Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.”  http://www.chiff.com/a/summer-solstice.htm Within Welsh mythology, there is very little discussion of the solstices or what holidays were celebrated within the celtic/druid year.  This is not the case of Stonehenge, which archaeologists and historians have studied extensively. “When one stands in the middle of Stonehenge and looks through the entrance of the avenue on the morning of the summer solstice, for example, the Sun will rise above the Heel Stone, which is set on the avenue. If one stands in the entrance and looks into Read more…

Ynys Mon (Anglesey) in the Dark and Middle Ages

Of all the places in north Wales/Gwynedd, the name for Ynys Mon was deliberately changed by the English/Norman invaders, but it belies the fact that Ynys Mon remains resolutely Welsh, with 7 out of 10 residents speaking Welsh.  Because of its location, the populace suffered greatly over the millenia from foreign invaders, culminating with the wars of 1277 and 1282, when it was conquered as a stepping stone to Eryri, the stronghold of the Welsh princes.  After this last war, Edward deliberately razed much that was Welsh to the ground, including Llanfaes Abbey, the gravesite of Princesses Joanna and Elinor and built Beaumaris over the top of it.  In the process, hundreds of Welsh were ‘resettled’ elsewhere and English people brought in. “Ethnic cleansing is not a new concept. When Edward I reached Llanfaes, he forced all the Welsh people to move Read more…

Was King Arthur real?

Whether or not King Arthur was a real person is an either/or query.  He either was or he wasn’t.  Many scholars, researchers, and Arthurophile’s have strong opinions on this topic, both for and against.  Because of the paucity of written records (most notably, Gildas fails to mention him), much of the academic work has come down on the side of ‘wasn’t’–or at least if Arthur was a real person, his name was not ‘Arthur’ and he possible wasn’t even a king.  In another blog (here), I list the original sources that posit the existence of King Arthur. Obviously, since I’ve written a novel about King Arthur, he’s very real to me! Wikipedia has a remarkably thorough analysis of the subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur For now, I’d like to point to two aspects of the ‘wasn’t’ camp that I find particularly interesting, as they have to do Read more…

Religious Noncomformity in Wales

“I returned to  Bristol. I have seen no part of England so pleasant for sixty or seventy miles together as those parts of Wales I have been in. And most of the inhabitants are indeed ripe for the gospel.” These are the words of John Wesley in 1739, preaching to the Welsh about the extent to which the Church of England had strayed, and how his view, Methodism, was a return to what had been good in the Church. http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/chap_page.jsp?t_id=J_Wesley&c_id=3 But Methodism was hardly the first non-conformist religious view to gain a foothold in Wales.  Unlike some other travel writers (e.g. Daniel Defoe, Gerald of Wales), Wesley spoke favorably of the Welsh–probably because they were more open to his teachings–but without the usual ramblings about them being poor, uncouth, and undisciplined. Wesley’s Methodism was only the latest in a long line Read more…

Marriage in the Medieval Era

“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”  –Welsh proverb Marriage as we know it now is a new institution.  While ‘love’ (at least among the upper classes) transformed the internal workings of marriage in the modern age, in Wales prior to the Midde Ages, marriage was a contract between two families, with no relationship to the Church or State at all.  Even once the Roman Church got involved, it still had nothing to do with the State. Probably the change had something to do with taxes. Regardless, what we know of marriage in medieval Wales comes primarily from the Laws of Hywel Dda (see the footnotes in Wikipedia for the English sources):  “The second part of the laws begins with ‘the laws of women’, for example the rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married Read more…

Welsh Faeries

The Welsh had a pantheon of gods and goddesses before the coming of the Romans.  With the defeat of the druids and the extermination of their sites on Anglesey, the druid religion in Wales went into decline–and perhaps that is the reason there are relatively few Welsh gods and goddesses compared to the Irish, whose religion flourished during the Dark Ages and also developed a unique form of Christianity alongside it. Within the belief system, faeries, or Tylwyth Teg, the modern designation, had a role, divisible into five classes:  the Ellyllon, or elves, the Coblynau, or mine fairies, the Bwbachod, or household fairies, the Gwragedd Annwn, or fairies of the lakes and streams; and the Gwyllion, or mountain fairies.  http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/wfl/wfl02.htm Ellyllon:  “The Ellyllon are the pigmy elves who haunt the groves and valleys, and correspond pretty closely with the English elves. Read more…

Medieval Monks

There were a lot of different orders of monks in the Middle Ages (still are, in fact), but the primary monasteries in England consisted of: Dominicans:  Dominicans are about preaching and doctrinal conformity.  They were (no surprise) the order behind the inquisition, with the intent to rule out any doctrine that didn’t abide strictly by received Catholic theology.  “Domingo de Guzman (around 1170-1221), a Spanish priest travelling with his bishop Diego of Osma, encountered by chance Cistercian monks who tried to bring the Cathars of Southern France back to the Catholic Church. He saw the deficiencies of their attempts and decided to do a better job, by walking and dressing humbly, listening to and talking with people, being aware of contemporary developments, and first of all preaching the Gospel. He gathered a band of priests around him. After the Fourth Read more…

The Pelagian Heresy

The Pelagian heresy is an important part of any discussion of religion in Wales during the era formerly known as the Dark Ages.  Pelagius was a British monk, born around 350 AD, who moved to Rome and was a contemporary of St. Augustine.  His crucial fault was that he believed that the notion of original sin–that all men were condemned because of the actions of Adam–was false.   Unfortunately, our primary source of his writings are not the writings themselves, but the reaction to them on the part of his opponents.  He was condemned as a heretic by Augustine, whose teachings became predominant in the church.  http://www.brojed.org/IE/pelagius.php; for a list of primary sources:  http://www.earlychurch.org.uk/pelagius.php The two differing paths are: Augustine:  1.  Death comes from sin, not man’s physical nature; 2. Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin and those who die without Read more…

Myth and Religion in the Dark Ages

While many fictional accounts of the Dark Ages describe conflict between pagan religions and Christianity, that seems to be a product of the medieval mind, rather than an accurate analysis of Dark Age religion.  For there to be conflict there must be a power relationship as well as organization, and for both the pagans and the Christians in Wales in 655 AD, there were neither. When the Romans conquered Wales in 43 AD, although Rome was not Christian at the time (Emperor Constantine didn’t  convert until 311 AD), the legions systematically wiped out the reigning religion of Wales at the time, which was druidism.  Why did they do this?  The Romans themselves were pagans, with a pantheon of gods and goddesses.  Why did they not simply incorporate the native gods into their own religion as they did in most other places, Read more…

Women in Celtic Society

It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options:  mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two.  Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate.  The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories. This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life.  Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may  not have had more autonomy, but their Read more…

The Anam Cara

The role of the anam cara or ‘soul friend’ in Celtic pre-Christian religion appears to have been that of a spiritual advisor.  I say ‘appears’ because I’m not sure that the position isn’t the product of a neo-pagan/new age spiritual tradition. This post is a product of a long discussion with a hospital chaplain (waiting for my husband’s colonoscopy–all is well).  We shared an interest in history and Celtic people, and he brought up the existence of the ‘anam cara’.  He stated that within the pre-Christian tradition among the Celts, the ‘anam cara’ was a spirituall leader or ‘soul friend’ who saw a person through birth (even perhaps, as a midwife), maturity, and death.  ‘Anam cara’ were true spiritual advisors. With the coming of Christianity, the Catholic church encountered significant resistance against conformity to Rome and one way to co-opt the Celtic Read more…