Saturday, February 28, 2009

Myths and legends of Wales

People who know me, understand that although I live in England, my heart is still in Wales where I was born, raised and lived most of my life. I love it dearly and miss the sea – and the mountains, where I competed in many long distance ‘endurance’ rides on my horse, Sal. I don’t think there is anywhere quite like Wales for inspiration. The land is full of legends and myths and ancient customs. The patron Saint of Wales is St David. Tomorrow is St David's Day and I will be wearing the traditonal daffodil to show my alliegance to my native land. I'll talk a little more about him on my own blog tomorrow, but today I thought I'd mention some of the myths and legends I came across when researching the background for my story in the 'Song Of The Muses' series from The Wild Rose Press. (I sent my Greek Muse to Wales - well she wanted a change of scenery!) :)

In one scene she runs into the 'Ellylldan' (Pronounced elch-chlith-dan.) These were evil sprites with glowing eyes and fire at their fingertips, reputed to lure unwary travellers to their doom by leading them into the bogs where they were lost for ever. Yes, Wales has her fair share of imps and demons - also lost civilisations. Not far from Aberystwyth, where I used to live, at low tide one can see the remains of a submerged forest. This is all that remains of Cantre'r Gwaelod, or Maes Gwyddno as it would have been known at the time 'Dancing With Fate' takes place. The legend is simlar to the 'Atlantis' story and tells how the little town was drowned when the appointed watchman attended a banquet given by the king, became intoxicated and left the water gates open. The town sank beneath the sea and it is said that if one stands on the beach on a quiet evening one can hear the church bells chiming beneath the waves.

Of course Wales has long been associated with the druids and Merlin (or Myrddin) who was ruputedly born in Caerfyrddin, a small mid Wales town which is named after him. (The English version is Carmarthen.) The symbol of Wales, on the Welsh flag, is the red dragon, and there is an interesting legend telling how this came about. King Vortigen was a British Monarch of post-roman Britain. After an incestuous affair with his daughter, he was obliged to flee to the county of Gwynedd where he was advised by his wizards to build a fortress, or 'dinas', now known as Dinas Emrys. He decided to strengthen his defences by building a tower, but each time the timber and quarried stones were carried to the site they disappeared over night.

His wizards recommended a human sacrifice of a 'fatherless child' and the child Merlin was brought. Before he could be put to death he announced that a lake lay the middle of the foundations. and beneath the lake two dragons fought, a red and a white one, representing the Britons and Saxons. He told the king it was pointless to try to build his tower on top of dragons, and he should leave and go somewhere safer. Vortigen realised there was something supernatural about the child and fled to the Lleyn Peninsular, after giving Dinas Emrys to Merlin. (Emrys is a form of Ambrose, derived from the Latin 'Ambrosius' pertaining to the gods, and is another name by which Melin was known). The red dragon later became the Welsh National emblem.

Then there is the legend of Devils's Bridge, also not very far from Aberstwyth, where I lived. It is actually three bridges one above the other, spanning a deep gorge with a spectacular waterfall and a deep pool known as 'The Devil's Punchbowl'. It is said the orginal bridge was built when an old lady lost her milk cow one day. The animal somehow managed to cross the river and she knew she could not wade across herself fearing she would be swept into the whirlpool. Suddenly Old Nick himself appeared and told her he would buld a bridge across the chasm if she gave him the soul of the first thing to cross it, knowing she would have to walk across to fetch her cow. She agreed, but was not as simple as she looked. Once the bridge appeared, she put her hand in her apron pocket and threw a crust of bread across the bridge. Immediately her little dog ran across to retrieve it. The devil, realising he was beaten, disappeared in an evil smelling cloud of smoke and was not seen in those parts again, leaving the old lady to fetch back her cow.

There are so many myths and legends of Wales, I could go on much longer. No wonder I love fantasy so much, growing up and living in wild and spectacular countryside, with such a wealth of stories to draw on, how could one fail to be inspired?


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19 comments:

Sarita Leone said...

What a wonderful post! I love hearing about myths and legends; it sounds like you're surrounded by them. What a fabulous inspiration!

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks so much Sarita, yes, Wales is steeped in legends and stories - and we have standing stones.

Mary Ricksen said...

The poor dog!
This is the kind of history I enjoy hearing about. Great post Lyn.

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks for commenting Mary. No it's OK, they Devil didn't want the dog, he was hoping to gain the old woman's soul, so the dog was fine.

(The dog who had a really bad deal was poor Gelert, the houd of Prince Llewelyn, but that's another story entirely)

Skhye said...

Thanks for sharing, Lyn. The red dragon myth is part of my latest submission to WRP... You know me. I probably twisted the heck out of that one too! :)

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks for visiting, Skhye. Well the great thing about myths is they just ask to be twisted - after all there are so many variations on most of them, and I know at least there different versions of this one! LOL

joviangeldeb said...

This was such an interesting post. This is the second time I've heard about Wales today. I went to see an exhibit of the Illuminating the Word, the Saint John's bible, at the Mobile Museum of art, and I believe parts of it were done in Wales, if I'm not mistaken.
Thanks for sharing Wale's legends.
Deb

Christina Phillips said...

Thanks for the fascinating post, Lyn. I love myths and legends, and love twisting them up for my own purposes too!!

Sharon Donovan said...

Lyn, I was truly fascinated with all these myths. Wales sounds a lot like Ireland. I especially liked the one about church bells beneath the waves. It's so hauntingly beautiful. You have a wonderful fountain of legends to draw from. Happy writing!
Sharon

Cindy K. Green said...

Just wonderful,Lyn. I love learning more about your homeland. I wish I could see it one day.

Hywela Lyn said...

Deb, Christina, Sharon and Rosie, thank you so much for your kind comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed hearing some of the legends of my beloved Wales, I love sharing them with anyone who'll listen!

Miss Mae said...

Wales certainly sounds beautiful, Lyn, and I wish I could visit it some day.

(You are definitely my Wales/English/Victorian authority, you know!)

The Stone of Destiny never passed thru there, did it? I can't recall hearing if it did.

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks MM - no, the stone of Destiny is more associated with Scotland and I don't think it ever passed through Wales. Wales is associated with other relics though, including the Holy Grail!

Judith Leger said...

Thanks for posting, Lyn. What a wealth of information. I know whose brain to pick if I decide to write a story set in Wales.

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks so much Judith - yes I'm aailable for consultation any time, I just love talking about my beloved Wales!

Lucy Naylor Kubash said...

Fascinating stories, and I loved reading them! A trip to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland is my dream trip. Thanks for sharing. Hope you'll post more.

Lucy Kubash

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks so much Lucy. So glad you enjoyed these tales. Hopefully I'll post some more here from time to time, and there's a post on my own Blog about St David's Day which was yesterday.

If you do manage a trip over here, I'm sure you'd enjoy it.

Scarlett Sanderson said...

Hywela, that was a wonderful post! Incidentally I was born on St. Davids Day but I do not know many of the myths and legends of Wales :)

Wales is such a beautiful country.

Hywela Lyn said...

Thanks so much Scarlett - I appreciate you dropping in leaving a comment - belated Happy Birthday for March 1st, St David's day. I'm so glad you enjoyed these few legends - Wales is really steeped in them - and yes it is beautiful!