Thursday, September 29, 2016

Slight Revision of my Merlin/Myrddin chapter from THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON

Aerial View of Liddel Strength


Myrddin at Avalon

Who was Merlin – or, rather, what was Merlin?

This question has intrigued and vexed countless students of the Arthurian tradition for centuries. Was he someone who panicked and ran away from the Battle of Arfderydd? Who lost his sanity in the battle and lived like a wild beast in the woods? Had he really been a great bard of the chieftain Gwenddolau? If he were a madman, by what mechanism did his insane pronouncements become recognized as prophecies? Why was he also called Llallogan or Llallawg? Why was he dealt a triple sacrificial death akin to that meted out to the god Lugh (Gaulish Lugos, Welsh Lleu)?

These questions are important in and of themselves, of course. But for our purposes they take on a more profound significance. When we answer them in an objective way, can we say definitively that Merlin had belonged to a class of druidic priests? Or that he had performed some vital function for such a priesthood?

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, Merlin, the Welsh Myrddin, is associated with Amesbury’s Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain and with Mount Killaraus (= Killare next to the Hill of Uisneach, the centre of Ireland), while in Geoffrey’s Life of Merlin the great sage is placed atop a mountain in the Scottish Caledonian Wood.

Fragments of the Life of St. Kentigern tell of a madman/prophet named Lailoken, who is explicitly identified with Merlin, and who is found on a ‘rock’ at Mellodonor (modern Molindinar Burn) within sight of Glasgow and at Drumelzier (modern Dunmeller) in Scottish Borders. Lailoken is said to have been buried near Drumelzier.

Before Geoffrey introduced Merlin into the Arthurian saga by substituting him for Ambrosius of Dinas Emrys, a hill-fort in Gwynedd, Wales, and of Wallop, Hampshire (see below), the madman/prophet had divided his time between Carwinelow, the fort of his lord Gwenddolau, near Longtown in Liddesdale (known now as the Moat of Liddel), nearby Arthuret, the scene of the Battle of Arfderydd, in which his lord was slain and he went mad, the Lowland Caledonian Wood with its mountain and the court of King Rhydderch Hen/Hael. Rhydderch belongs at Dumbarton in Strathclyde, although Geoffrey makes him a Cumbrian king.

Myrddin’s Mountain

In Geoffrey the Caledonian mountain Merlin remains unnamed. This is unfortunate, in that by finding this mountain we might learn a great deal more about Merlin’s identity. And, incidentally, we would have a much firmer fix on the location of Arthur’s seventh battle, which occurred in the Caledonian Wood.

Merlin’s Caledonian Wood mountain is mentioned in one other source: the 13th century French verse romance by Guillaume Le Clerc entitled Fergus of Galloway. The Fergus romance is distinguished by the author’s knowledge of Scottish geography. To quote from Cedric E. Pickford in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages:

“His [Guillaume’s] Scottish geography is remarkably accurate… In the whole range of Arthurian romance there is no instance of a more detailed, more realistic geographical setting.”

The modern translator of Fergus, the late D.D.R. Owen, has made similar remarks on this romance. The notes and synopses in his translation also remind the reader that various elements of the Fergus mountain episode were adapted from Chretien’s Yvain and Perceval and the Continuations of the latter.

But it remains true that only Fergus actually names Merlin’s mountain and purports to give us directions on how to get there. The hero Fergus starts his journey to the mountain not as Nikolai Tolstoy (in his The Quest for Merlin) claims at the Moat of Liddel, where Merlin fought and fled in madness, but at Liddel Castle at Newcastleton in Liddesdale. Tolstoy uses 1) Guillaume’s directions and the placement of King Rhydderch at Dumbarton 2) Merlin’s affinity with the stag in Geoffrey’s Life of Merlin 3) the incorrect positioning of Merlin’s Galabes springs (see below) and 4) the great height of the hill to select Hart Fell at the head of Annandale as Merlin’s mountain.

There are marked problems with each of these guidelines used by Tolstoy. Firstly, the directions given are incredibly vague and hence can be used to chart a course from the Moat of Liddel to just about anywhere:

“[Fergus] comes riding along the edge of a mighty forest… Fergus comes onto a very wide plain between two hills. On he rode past hillocks and valleys until he saw a mountain appear that reached up to the clouds and supported the entire sky…”

Secondly, Fergus’ mountain is given two names, neither of which match that of Hart Fell: Noquetran (variants Nouquetran, Noquetrant) and ‘Black Mountain’. The latter is obviously a poetic designation only, the primary name being Noquetran.

And thirdly, there is no edifice of any kind atop or on the flanks of Hart Fell which could have been referred to as ‘Merlin’s Chapel’. As described in the Fergus romance, this edifice must be an ancient chambered cairn. Such monuments are often associated with Arthurian characters.

The hill-name Noquetran is obviously a Norman French attempt at a Gaelic hill-name, with the first component being cnoc, English knock, ‘hill’. As the French render English bank as banque and check as cheque, Cnoc/Knock became Noque-.

The secret to correctly interpreting the –tran component of Noquetran lies in a closer examination of Professor Owen’s notes on the Fergus romance. For lines 773-93 he writes:

“This adventure [of the Noquetran] is largely developed from elements in C.II [the Second Continuation of Chretien’s Perceval]. There Perceval fights and defeats a Black Knight in mysterious circumstances. Earlier, he had found a fine horn hanging by a sash from a castle door. On it he gave three great blasts, whereupon he was challenged by a knight, the horn’s owner, whose shield was emblazoned with a white lion. Perceval vanquished this Chevalier du Cor and sent him to surrender to Arthur. At his castle he learned of a high mountain, the Mont Dolorous, on whose summit was a marvellous pillar… fashioned long ago by Merlin.”

For lines 4460 ff, Owen writes:

“Mont Dolorous, which also appears in C.II (see note to II. 773-93 above), is here associated with Melrose and is probably to be identified with the nearby Eildon Hills…”

In the Fergus romance, the Noquetran episode comes first. The horn hangs from a white lion (cf. the lion on the knight’s shield in the Perceval Continuation) in the Noquetran chapel, where Merlin had spent many a year. In front of the chapel is a bronze giant, apparently a statue, whose arms are broken off by Fergus, causing the giant’s great bronze hammer to fall to the ground. Later in the romance, Fergus goes to the Dolorous Mountain or the Eildons and encounters there a club-wielding giant in the Castle of the Dark Rock (reminiscent of the ‘Black Mountain’ name applied to the Noquetran).

As it happens, the Eildons are noteworthy for having three major ancient monuments atop two of their three hills. On the Eildon North Hill is the largest hill fort in Scotland, the probable oppidum of the Selgovae tribe. Here also is a Roman signal station.

But on Eildon Mid Hill is a large Bronze Age cairn. This ancient burial mound is situated on the Southwest flank of Eildon Mid Hill about 30m below the summit, at a height of some 395m OD. It has been much robbed and now appears as a low, irregular mound of stones, about 15m in diameter, from which a few boulders protrude to indicate the possible former presence of a cist.

More remarkable was the presence below the cairn of a group of seven bronze socketed axes. These axes are now in the Royal Museum of Scotland.

This group of seven socketed axes was found in 1982 on the lower western slopes of Eildon Mid Hill, Ettrick and Lauderdale District, Borders Region. Although recovered from redeposited soil, the axes probably represent a hoard of the Ewart Park phase of the late Bronze Age. The find reinforces what appears to be a significant local concentration of contemporary metalwork around the Eildon Hills.

In view of their discovery in redeposited soil we cannot be absolutely certain how the axes were originally deposited. However, their number, their proximity and their similar condition all suggest that they came from a hoard, probably close to their eventual find-spot. Whether the seven axes recovered in August 1982 comprised the whole hoard remains uncertain. On the other hand, it is possible, though less likely, that more than one separate deposit was originally involved.

These bronze axes immediately remind us of the bronze hammer in the Fergus romance’s account of Merlin’s Chapel. This being so, I would see in the name ‘Noquetran’ or Noquetrant a Gaelic cnoc or Anglicized ‘knock’ plus one of the following:

G. dreann – grief, pain (cf. Irish drean, sorrow, pain, melancholy);


G. treana, treannadh – lamentation, wailing.

In other words, Noquetran is merely a Gaelic rendering of the Old French Mont Dolorous, the famous Dolorous Mountain of Arthurian romance!

The bronze hammer Fergus causes to be dropped near Merlin’s Chapel on the Noquetran is a folk memory of a bronze socketed axe being deposited on the slope below the Eildon Mid Hill cairn or, more probably, of such an axe being found on the site prior to Guillaume Le Clerc’s writing of the Fergus romance. Merlin’s Noquetran chapel is the Eildon Mid Hill Bronze Age cairn.

Melrose Mountain, Black Mountain and Castle of the Dark Rock are all designations for the Eildons. The hill-name Eildon is found in 1130 as Eldunum and in 1150 as Eldune. This could be (according to the Scottish place-name expert Watson) OE aelet + dunas, ‘fire hills’, or G. aill, ‘a rock, cliff’, plus OE dun, ‘a hill’. The Fergus romance’s ‘Castle of the Dark Rock’ (Li Chastiaus de la Roce Bise) may stand for the hill-fort on Eildon North Hill, with Eildon being perceived as composed of aill, rock, plus not dun, ‘hill’, but instead OE dun, a colour partaking of brown and black; ME dunne, donne, dark-coloured: Ir. Dunn, a dun colour: Wel. dwn, dun, swarthy, dusky: Gael. Donn, brown-coloured.

So why were the Eildons identified with the Dolorous Mountain/Noquetran? The answer may lie in part with Nikolai Tolstoy’s astute observation that the lion Fergus thinks should be roaming over the mountain-top, but which he finds inside the ‘chapel’ is an error or substitution for the god Lugos (Welsh Lleu, Irish Lugh). In Welsh, Lleu’s name could sometimes be spelled Llew, and the latter is the normal spelling for the Welsh word ‘lion’. Merlin’s associations with Lleu will be discussed below. For now, suffice it to say that the Dolorous Mountain got its name because the divine name Lugos or Lugh was at some point wrongly linked to Latin lugeo, ‘to mourn, to lament, bewail’. Such mistakes in language could easily have occurred when going from Celtic to Old French. It may even be that in preferring lugeo to Lugos, a pagan religious secret was being disguised and thus protected. [Note, however, that the Dolorous Mountain first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work, where it stands for Arthur’s Breguoin, mistakenly thought to represent Welsh bre, hill, plus gwyn, pain.]

The Dolorous Mountain is then, properly, ‘Lugos Mountain’. And the Lugos/Lugh/Lleu mountain in particular is Eildon Mid Hill, the highest of the Eildons, with its Bronze Age cairn. Such an identification of the Dolorous Mountain has implications for the Dolorous Garde of Lancelot, especially given that Lancelot himself is a late literary manifestation of the god Lugh, something first discussed long ago by the noted Arthurian scholar Roger Sherman Loomis.

We know of five Lugh forts in Britain, four known and one unlocated. Of the former there is Dinas Dinlle in Gwynedd, Loudoun in East Ayrshire, Luguvalium or Carlisle in Cumbria and Lleuddiniawn or ‘Lothian’, land of the Fort of Lugh. Din Eidyn, modern Edinburgh, the capital of Lothian, preserves the name of Lugh’s mother in Irish tradition, Eithne. Luguvalium has been interpreted as containing a personal name *Lugovalos, ‘Lugos-strong’, but I believe this name is instead a descriptive of the fort itself as being ‘Strong as Lugh’.

Then there is the Lugudunum or ‘Hill-fort of Lugh’ of the Ravenna Cosmography. This place, according to Rivet and Smith’s The Place-Names of Roman Britain, is situated somewhere roughly between Chester-le-Street and South Shields. The only good candidate would seem to be Penshaw Hill, which the Brigantes Nation Website calls “the only triple rampart Iron Age hill-fort known to exist in the north of England.” Penshaw Hill is associated with the famous Lambton Worm, a monster not unlike the two worms or dragons of Lleu’s hill-fort of Dinas Emrys in Gwynedd, Wales.

According to Joseph Rogerson (The Farmer’s Magazine, 1835), the Melrose Lammas Fair (Christian substitute for the pagan Lughnasadh) was the largest in the south of Scotland.  It was held on the northern slope of the Eildons and as many as 30,000-50,000 lambs were shown.  Lammas was associated with St. Peter “in Chains”, i.e. St. Peter when he was imprisoned by Herod.  His being freed by an angel, according to James B. Jordan (“The Resurrection of Peter and the Coming of the Kingdom”, Biblical Horizons 34), portrayed a type of resurrection for Peter, recapitulating the resurrection of Jesus.  As I’ve shown that the death of Lugh fell on Imbolc (February 1; see below) on the opposite side of the solar year from Lughnasadh, we can say with a fair degree of confidence that not only were the Eildons a famous Lugh mountain, but that the celebration of Lughnasadh here had commemorated the rebirth of the sun god. 

The Eildons are noted for the stories of ‘Canobie’ or Canonbie Dick and Thomas the Rhymer of Ercildoune.

Canonbie is close to both the Carwinley of Myrddin’s/Merlin’s lord Gwenddolau and Arthuret Knowes, the scene of the Battle of Arfderydd in which Myrddin was driven mad. The 13th century Thomas is credited with meeting an elf-woman under the Eildon Tree (whose location is now marked by a stone) and being taken under the Eildons to the land of Faery. He is also credited with a prophecy concerning Merlin’s grave at Drumelzier:

“When Tweed and Powsail meet at Merlin’s grave, Scotland and England that day ae king shall have.”

The story of Canonbie Dick presents Thomas as a wizard from past days, and I will quote it in full:

“A long time ago in the Borders Region there lived a Horse Cowper called Canobie Dick. He was both admired and feared for his bold courage and rash temper. One evening he was riding over Bowden Moor on the West side of the Eildon Hills. It was very late and the moon was already high in the night sky.

He had been to market but trade that day had been poor and he had with him a brace of horses, which he had not been able to sell. Suddenly, he saw ahead of him on the moonlit road, a stranger. The stranger was dressed in a fashion that had not been seen for many centuries. The stranger politely asked the price of the horses.

Now Canobie Dick liked to bargain, and was not worried by the strange man’s looks. Why, he would have sold his horses to the devil himself, and cheated him as well, given half a chance. They agreed a price which the stranger promptly paid.

The only puzzle was that the gold coins he used to pay were as ancient as his dress. They were in the shape of unicorns and bonnet pieces. However, Canobie Dick shrugged his shoulders. Gold was gold. He smiled to himself, thinking that he would get a better bargain for the coins than the stranger had got for the horses.

When the stranger asked if he could meet him again at the same place, Canobie Dick was happy to agree. But the stranger had one condition: that he should always come by night and always alone.

After several more meetings, Canobie Dick became curious to learn more about his secret buyer. He suggested that ‘dry bargains’ were unlucky bargains and that they should seal the business with a drink at the buyer’s home.

‘You may see my dwelling if you wish,’ said the stranger; ‘but if you lose courage at what you see there, you will regret it all your life.’

Canobie Dick was scornful of the warning, after all he was well known for his courage and the stranger seemed harmless enough. The stranger led the way along a narrow footpath, which led into the hills between the Southern and central peaks to a place called the Lucken Hare. Canobie Dick followed but was amazed to see an enormous entrance into the hillside. He knew the area well but had never seen before such an opening or heard any mention of it.

They dismounted and tethered their horses. His guide stopped and fixed his gaze on Canobie Dick. ‘You may still return,’ he said. Not wanting to be seen as a coward, Canobie Dick shook his head, squared his shoulders and followed the man along the passage into a great hall cut out of the rock.

As they walked, they passed many rows of stables. In every stall there was a coal black horse, and by every horse lay a knight in jet black armour, with a drawn sword in each hand. They were as still as stone, as if they had been carved from marble.

In the great hall were many burning torches. But their fiery light only made the hall more gloomy. There was a strange stillness in the air, like a hot day before a storm. At last they arrived at the far end of the Hall. On an antique oak table lay a sword, still sheathed, and a horn. The stranger revealed that he was Thomas of Ercildoun [Thomas the Rhymer] the famous prophet who had disappeared many centuries ago.

Turning to Canobie Dick he said, ‘It is foretold that: ‘He that sounds the horn and draws that sword, shall, if his heart fails him not, be king over all broad Britain. But all depends on courage, and whether the sword or horn is taken first. So speaks the tongue that cannot lie.’’

The stillness of the air felt heavy. Canobie Dick wanted to take the sword but he was struck by a supernatural terror, such as he had never felt before. What, he thought, would happen if he drew the sword; would such a daring act annoy the powers of the mountain?

Instead he took the horn and with trembling hands put it to his lips. He let out a feeble blast that echoed around the hall.

It produced a terrible answer. Thunder rolled and with a cry and a clash of armour the knights arose from their slumber and the horses snorted and tossed their manes. A dreadful army rose before him. Terrified, Canobie Dick snatched the sword and tried to free it from its scabbard. At this a voice boomed:

‘Woe to the Coward, that ever he was born,

Who did not draw the sword before he blew the horn.’

Then he heard the fury of a great whirlwind as he was lifted from his feet and blasted from the cavern. He tumbled down steep banks of stones until he hit the ground. Canobie Dick was found the next morning by local shepherds. He had just enough trembling breath to tell his fearful tale, before he died.”

A similar story is told of Alderley Edge in Cheshire, only in that version the wizard is Merlin and the sleeping knights are King Arthur and his men. My guess is that in the case of the Canonbie Dick story, Thomas the Rhymer has taken the place of Merlin. This is not a new supposition, but combined with my identification of Myrddin’s Noquetran with Eildon Mid Hill as the Dolorous Mountain, the argument is significantly strengthened. Fergus was written around 1200 CE, while Thomas is thought to have lived c. 1220-1298. At some point Thomas was substituted for Merlin at his chapel/cairn on Eildon Mid Hill.

If I am right and the Eildons are Merlin’s Mountain at the centre of the great Celyddon Wood, then we can allow for the Celyddon as being thought of as the ancient woodland which covered much of the area surrounding the Eildons. When we combine this with the fact that Merlin was obviously wandering in the wood in the vicinity of Drumelzier when he was captured by Meldred, it is fairly obvious that the Celyddon, which in this context means merely a great forest of the Scottish Lowlands, extended for a considerable distance.

Indeed, we know there were four great ancient forests surrounding the Eildon Hills: the Jedforest, whose Capon Tree oak is one of the oldest such trees in all of Britain; Teviotdale itself, which was covered by huge oaks and ash trees in the 12th century; the Ettrick Forest of Selkirkshire; and the Lauder Forest, an immense forested track encompassing Lauderdale that still existed up until the 17th century. Apples, or rather crab-apples, the very species of tree Merlin takes refuge under in the early Welsh poetry, were also present in this region. The St. Boswell’s Apple is thought to be 150 years old and is the largest of its kind in Scotland. Thomas the Rhymer, taken to Fairyland at the Eildons, is given an apple by the Queen of Fairy.

In my book ‘The Arthur of History’, I was able to precisely pinpoint the location of Arthur’s Coed Celyddon battle.  This was in the area of the Caddon Water, a place-name with early forms (spellings) that are all but identical to that of Celyddon.  The Caddon Water empties into the Tweed not far west of the Eildons.  In fact, it was likely this stream name that led to the relocation of Caledonia from its home in the Scottish Highland to the Lowland in Welsh tradition.

The Pre-Romance Mountain of Myrddin

While the Eildons would seem to be the location of Merlin’s Mountain according to the late “Fergus” romance, there is evidence of another Scottish Lowland mountain in the earlier Welsh poetry.  This particular mountain would have been the true, original mountain, the prototype of all those that succeeded it.

The reference to the location of this mountain is found in Gwasgargerd vyrdin yny bed, the “Separation-Song of Myrddin in the Grave” of the Red Book of Hergest.  There Myrddin says:

‘Gwasawg, your cry to Gwenddydd
was told to me by the wild men of the mountain
in Aber Caraf.’

From other references in the early poetry we know that Gwasawg was a ‘supporter’ of the Christian champion Rhydderch Hael, King of Strathclyde.  The name is a diminutive of Welsh gwas, ‘lad, servant’.

As it turns out, St. Kentigern as a boy (see Chapter 8 of Jocelyn's Vita) is called servuli, from servulus, a dim. of Latin servus, with a meaning 'sevant-lad, young slave'.

As Kentigern is brought into close connection with Myrddin as Lailoken in the saint's life, and Kentigern's royal patron was Rhydderch, I'm proposing that Gwasawg is a Welsh rendering of servuli and that the former is thus St. Kentigern himself.

Note that Myrddin is said to be chased by the hunting-dogs of Rhydderch, and Kentigern or *Cuno-tigernos means "Hound Lord."

While Aber Caraf has been rendered by at least one translator as Aber Craf (Peter Goodrich, The Romance of Merlin, 1990), a location in south-central Wales, we can be sure it is actually to be found in Lowland Scotland. 

We have seen how Merlin/Lailoken is present in both the region of Glasgow and at Drumelzier on the Tweed.  It has long been thought that his mountain must have been somewhere between these two places, and most likely at or not far from the sources of the Clyde and Tweed, a sort of symbolic ‘center’ of the southern ‘Caledonian Wood’. 

I would identify the mountain in Aber Caraf with Tinto Hill (2320 feet / 707 meters), which looms over ancient Abercarf, now called Wiston.  Abercarf, according to the Scottish Place-Name Society’s “Brittonic Language in the North”, is from aber, ‘confluence’, plus garw, ‘rough’, derived from the name of the Garf Water, a tributary of the upper Clyde.

However, when I asked Alan James, the author of BLITON, as to the possibility that Abercarf could instead contain carw, 'stag', he responded:

"Quite right. As to the merits of the two interpretations, I'm agnostic. The phonology of either wouldn't be difficult to explain. Garw and Gaelic garbh are of course pretty common in river-names, and I'm rather less eager than some place-name scholars to see animals, e.g. carw, in such names, but there certainly are parallels."

Just a few kilometers upstream on the Clyde from the Garf Water is Hartside and Hartside Burn.  Red Deer were once plentiful here. 

Given Myrddin's association with the stag in Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Life of Merlin" (see Chapter 5), and his placement historically at Arferderydd/Arthuret in Cumbria in what was the northwestern limit of the ancient Carvetti (Stag-people) territory, a mountain at the confluence of the Stag Water would make a lot of sense.

Tinto Hill is situated between Drumelzier to the east and Glasgow to the northwest.  It is also only a few miles north-northwest of the headwaters of the Clyde and Tweed.  Thus it just happens to stand exactly where we would expect the hill of Myrddin to be found. 

The hill’s name was discussed long ago by W. J. Watson in his GENERAL SURVEY OF AYRSHIRE AND STRATHCLYDE, History of the Celtic Placenames of Scotland, 1926 (reprinted 1993 by BIRLINN, Edinburgh, ISBN 1 874744 06 8):

“Tinto appears in 'Karyn de Tintou,' 'Kaerne de Tintou,' c. 1315 (RMS); in Macfarlane it is Tyntoche once, Tynto thrice; in Scots, Tintock, as also in the Retours ; it is for teinteach, 'place of fire'…”

Atop Tinto Hill is Tinto Cairn, of Bronze Age date and the largest summit cairn in all of Scotland.  Details on the hill and cairn can be found here:

Different reasons have been supplied for why this hill is called ‘place of fire’.  One suggests it gets its name from the fact that its exposed red Felsite rock can be given a fiery glow by the setting sun.  This geology is discussed here:

Another possible explanation is that the hill was used for beacon fires or even for Beltane fires:

“Long a beacon post and a place of Beltane fires, it took thence its name of Tinto, signifying the ‘hill of fire’.” [Groome, 1885, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland]

I would say these apparently conflicting ideas are not mutually exclusive.  Indeed, it may precisely have been the red-glowing color of the rocks in the light of the setting sun that drew people to this mountain as being particularly sacred, and they may then have used it for Beltane fires. 

It would surely be significant if Myrddin were thought to be communing with the ancestral ghosts at a huge Bronze Age cairn atop a mountain known as the Place of Fire.  This would intimately connect him with seasonal Beltane rites.

The Name Myrddin

According to Dr. Graham Isaac of The National University of Ireland, Galway, the name Myrddin may be from an earlier, not directly attested *Myr-ddyn, with the second element dyn ‘man, person’, and the first element Myr- which is found in the name of the Old Irish goddess-type figure Morrigan (who also prophesies), and in English night-mare, and also in several Slavic words. This original form would have been something like *moro-donyes, ‘man-demon, specter’ or “man of supernatural character” (see Isaac, G., 2001, 'Myrddin, proffwyd diwedd y byd: ystyriaethau newydd ar ddatblygiad ei chwedl', Llên Cymru, 24 :13-23).

Thus the basic meaning of the name Myrddin was ‘supernatural being, elf, goblin, phantom’ or the like. Another possible rendering would be something like ‘Elf-man’. His father’s name was Morfryn or Mor-bryn, literally ‘Elf-hill’.

I myself prefer Isaac’s derivation for Myrddin’s name, and I will have more on why I do below.

Myrddin may also reflect a Welsh attempt to render a Gaelic name meaning ‘mad-man’, itself either dependent on or at the root of the homo fatuus designation for Llallogan found in the Life of St. Kentigern. According to Dr. Simon Rodway of The University of Wales, if an Irish compound *merduine 'mad person' existed, it could be 'semi-translated' into Welsh as *Myrddyn, becoming Myrddin in the same way as that envisaged by Isaac. The Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language does not give any examples of *merduine, but it is not implausible as a compound in the light of mergall 'mad foreigner', mersca:l 'mad phantom', etc. Professor Ranko Matasovic can “imagine an OIr. compound *mer-duine 'crazy man' somehow calqued or partly borrowed into Welsh."

These etymologies have been put forward against the traditional one, i.e. that Myrddin in a very straight-forward rendering of Moridunum, the ‘Sea-fort’.  Geoffrey of Monmouth, in fact, claimed that Myrddin is to be derived from the city name of Carmarthen, ancient Caerfyrddin, Roman Moridunum, ‘Sea-fort’. In The History of the Kings of Britain, Myrddin is found as a boy at Carmarthen. The whole story is Geoffrey’s alteration of Nennius’ tale of the boy Ambrosius being found at Campus Elleti in Glamorgan.

The only father provided for Myrddin in the early poetry is one Morfryn.  The name rather transparently means ‘Sea-hill’ and is obviously a literally creation, as the –dunum of Moridunum originally had the sense of ‘hill fort’, as forts were typically built atop hills. 

Myrddin’s brothers were named Morgenau, Morial, Mordaf and Morien.  According to A.O.H. Jarmon, Morien is ‘Sea-born’, but the rest contain Mor-, mawr, ‘great’.  They may all, however, “reflect an early association, perhaps mythological, with the sea.”  John Koch, in “The Celtic Lands”(in MEDIEVAL ARTHURIAN LITERARTURE: A GUIDE TO RECENT SOURCES), says that

“References in the Cyfoesi to Myrddin’s father, Morfryn, and brothers, Morgenau, Morial, Mordaf and Morien, imply that, when the tradition was formed, the name [Myrddin] was still understood to contain the element mor < mori-, ‘sea’.”
A ‘Sea-man’ makes no sense, as there is nothing of the merman about Myrddin!  The sea does not figure in his story at all.  Some have sought to use ‘Sea-man’ as a way to link Myrddin with Mannanan mac Lir of Irish story.  But, again, there is nothing of Mannanan in Myrddin. 

Other attempted etymologies fail on either phonological or philological bases or both.
The Name Llallog/Llallogan

Myrddin in the early poems is called Llallog or Llallogan, a name also found in the Life of St. Kentigern as ‘Laloecen’. This is a reduplicated form of ail/eil, ‘other’, and so Llallogan is, literally, ‘The Other’. 

Llallog is present in feminine form in the name of Patrick’s sister’s daughter Lalloc, who was set over Ard Senlis in Ireland.  This place was on Magh-Nenda, where the famous fairy hill Sidh-Nenta was also to be found.  The modern name for Senlis is Fairymount. St. Lalloc of the Fairymount would then seem to represent ‘the Other’ who was the fairy queen or divine ancestral spirit of this particular sidh-dwelling. 

We also know of a 9th century Breton named Lalocan, mentioned in the Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Redon (125).
Welsh Ellyll, cognate with the Irish personal name Ailill, is also a reduplicated form of ail/eil, “other”.  Ellyll, according to the Geiriadur Prufysgol Cymru, is defined as ‘goblin, elf, fairy, sprit, genius (of a place), apparition, phantom, specter, wraith, ghost, shade, bogey.’ 

To quote from Professor Daniel Melia of the University of California, Berkeley (personal communication):

“I’m citing CELTICA3, 1956, which reads as follows:

‘The contracted form of Ailill gen. Ailella in all the manuscripts of the genealogies which I have read (Rawl. B 502; Laud 610 ; LL ; BB; Lec. ; H 2.7) is always Aill-, Aill-a.  These contractions are quite abnormal.

Ailill is without a doubt cognate [1] with Welsh ellyll "ghost, elf, etc." and this suggests that the older form of the name was Aillill which became Ailill with the same kind of dissimilation we find in cenand < cenn-fhind and menand < menn-fhind.

The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru agrees with this meaning. They see a connection with a reduplicated form of Proto-Celtic *allo- "other" as in the Gaulish tribal name "Allobroges" < *allo "other" + bro- "border" -> "country".  The Wurzburg glosses on the Pauline Epistles (Wb.) date from ~600-~750, so the form "Aillill" would presumably, by O'Brien's argument, have still been current, at least amongst literate intellectuals, in that period.”

Professor Ranko Matasovic of “The Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic” (again via private correspondence) says

“Welsh ellyll is indeed cognate with Mir. Ailill, but these names cannot be related to English elf, which is from Germanic *albiyo-.  It is certainly possible that these words contain the stem *al- (actually *h2el-, in a more modern notation), the plain pronominal stem that meant ‘other, different’ (Lat. alius, Gr. allos, etc.).  I would add that Alladhan, the name given to Llallogan in the Irish Suibhne Geilt story, would appear to be from Irish allaid, ‘wild’.  The most likely etymology for allaid is the same al- root, as an ‘Other’ is someone who lived beyond the civilized world and was hence barbarous or ‘wild’, a stranger or foreigner or an enemy, i.e. someone deemed dangerous because he did not belong to one’s native land. The evolution of meaning would be similar to the development from Latin silvaticus, ‘belonging to woods’ to French sauvage.”

Dr. Graham Isaac of The National University of Ireland, Galway, and Professor of Celtic Thomas Charles-Edwards of Jesus College, Oxford, both agree with this derivation for ellyll/Ailill.

I would add that Rachel Bromwich, in her note to Welsh Triad No. 63, says of the word ellyll in the context of three heroes:

“… the suggested implication of ellyll is that of men who became “outside” themselves.”

This is significant, given that one of these three heroes - Llyr Marini - is in late genealogies placed in the tribe of Meirchiaun.  I’ve shown that Meirchiaun ruled from the heartland of the Carvetii or Stag-People.  A variant of Triad 63 calls Llyr a ‘charv/charw ellyll’ or ‘stag-spectre’.

 In the Irish the use of a word for “phantom” is applied to the god Lugh.

The following selection is from “Baile in Scail”, ‘The Phantom’s Frenzy’:

“They saw the scál [phantom] himself in the house, before them on his throne. There was never in Tara a man of his size or his beauty, on account of the fairness of his form and the wondrousness of his appearance.

He answered them and said, "I am not a phantom nor a specter. I have come on account of my fame among you, since my death. And I am of the race of Adam: my name is Lugh son of Eithliu son of Tigernmas. This is why I have come: to relate to you the length of your reign, and of every reign which there will be in Tara."

And the girl who sat before then in the house was the Sovereignty of Ireland, and it was she who gave Conn his meal: the rib of an ox and the rib of a boar. The ox rib was twenty-four feet long and eight feet between its arch and the ground. When the girl began to distribute drinks she said, "To whom shall this cup be given?"; and the phantom answered her.
When she had named every ruler until the Day of Judgment, they went into the phantom's shadow, so that they saw neither the enclosure nor the house. The vat and the golden dipper and the cup were left with Conn. And hence are the stories "The Phantom's Dream" and "The Adventure and Journey of Conn".

From the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language on scal:


o,n. See  Ped. i 76 , O'Brien,  Ériu xi 89 f . supernatural or superhuman being, phantom, giant, hero. Later also man, human being (espec. in B. na f.; see also banscál, ferscál): ascath .i. scāl, unde ascata .i. lāechda. Nō scālda ar ūathmaire an laoich amhail scāth,  Corm. Y 21
`sgal' láoch (scál, v.l. ),  Met. Gl. 15 § 32 . `sgal' ┐ `arg' . . . | sen anmann na bhfer,  13 § 24 . sgal .i. fear,  O'Cl.  sgal .i. láoch, ib.  scal .i. fear,  Lec. Gl. M 101 . conaccatar a s.¤ fadeissin isin taig,  ZCP xiii 373.7  (Baile in Scáil). nimda s.¤-sa ┐ nimda aurdrach . . . is de hsīl Ādaim [dom],  11
. scal find (of a hero),  LL 311 b 15 , `ein leuch- tendes Phantom ',  Ält. Ir. Dicht. ii 23 § 1 . C. . . . in s.¤ sciathach,  LL 45 a 25  ( RC xxxvi 262 ). co faca in s.¤ . . . chuci,  LU 8534  ( FB 39 ). immácomarnaic dó ┐ don s.¤,  8547  ( FB 40 ). co n-acca ní: in s.¤ mór am' dóchumm `a mighty phantom ',  Aisl. MC 71.15 . dom mac neimnech . . . scal fri scalaibh sgelmhaine sgal sgolaidhe,  LL 385 c 33  ( Measgra M. Uí Chléirigh 206.43 ). gabais E. scot na scal | os chlaind N. co nefnar,  LL 3 b 24 . marb I. i Scelc na s.¤,  16 a 28 . cland in merscáil móir (i.e.  Míl),  ZCP xiii 364.2 . ? airddithir a scíath ri s.¤ | sithithir a lam ri lae,  LL 44 b 29 =  380 b 38 .
In B. na f.: do []racc (.i. do ben) a scáil (.i. a fir),  LU 437  ( ACC 1 Comm ). ēccusc an scāil (.i. fer),  ZCP v 484.1 .
In nn. loc.: a nGlinn in Scail,  Tromd. Guaire 403.428 . Medb Maige in Scáil,  TBC 3228 =  TBC² 2409 .
Compds. ¤baile, alternative title of the text Baile in Scáil ( ZCP xiii 372 ff . ): ro scríbad issin s.,  LL 132 a 48 . ¤er giant: co n-acca in scáilfer mór ina dochum,  LU 8515  ( FB 37 ). co n-acamar in s. mór . . . chucaind aníar `a great hero ',  Ériu iv 138.24 .

To continue from the same dictionary on the word ferscal (fer being “man”):

o,n. a male person, a man (opp. to banscál a woman): noléced f.¤ a bernai chatha do banscáil,  TTr.² 1692 . nach facaid do bhean ... gnuis irscail ... ┐ nach facaid do mac gnuis banscaili  IT iii 197
- 198 . ni rodech ... riam in ng[n]uis erscali  LB 66 a 34 . na findfad oentaid erscáil  PH 2012 . ni ronig a lama ... iter eraib nā earscalaib  ZCP xii 293.15 . eitir ferscail is banscail,  Fl. Earls 176.13 . anmanna a fferscal of their male children   Hugh Roe² 1.8 (f. 1 a ).

The Brittonic Language in the Old North Website discusses scal thusly:

*scǭl (m)
Early Celtic *scālo- > British * scālo- > Middle Welsh yscawl; O-Modern Irish scál, G sgail; ? cf Gothic skōhsl.

[Proto-Celtic *skax-slo- ‘demon, supernatural being’ OIr scal ‘phantom’, MW yscawl, ‘young hero, warrior’]

The primary sense was ‘a ghost, a supernatural being’, especially a powerful one, but in Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic literatures it is used of human heroes, and in Welsh it comes to mean ‘a young warrior’.

An Irish ‘ferscal’, then, comes very close to Myrddin/Llallogan in meaning.

The Celyddon Wood as the Land of Spirits

The ancient Classical writer Procopius (in his 6th century CE History Of The Wars, VIII, XX. 42-48) said:

“Now in this island of Britain the men of ancient times built a long wall, cutting off a large part of it; and the climate and the soil and everything else is not alike on the two sides of it. For to the south of the wall there is a salubrious air, changing with the seasons, being moderately warm in summer and cool in winter… But on the north side everything is the reverse of this, so that it is actually impossible for a man to survive there even a half-hour, but countless snakes and serpents and every other kind of wild creature occupy this area as their own. And, strangest of all, the inhabitants say that if a man crosses this wall and goes to the other side, he dies straightway… They say, then, that the souls of men who die are always conveyed to this place.”

From the Welsh poem The Dialogue of Myrddin and Taliesin (Black Book of Carmarthen), we learn that at Myrddin’s Battle of Arderydd:

“Seven score chieftains became gwyllon; In the Wood of Celyddon they died.”

Gwyllon or ‘Wild Ones’ is a word deriving from gwyllt, ‘wild’. The Welsh epithet for Myrddin is, of course, Gwyllt. Myrddin Gwyllt is Myrddin ‘the Wild’.

But as Nikolai Tolstoy pointed out, there is something odd about these two lines. The gwyllon or ‘Wild Ones’ are equated with the warriors who died in the battle! The word ‘died’ in the poem’s second line is Middle Welsh daruuan, i.e. darfuan. Modern Welsh has darfyddaf or darfod, which according to the authoritative Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru Welsh dictionary has the following meanings:

‘To come to an end, end, conclude, finish, complete, terminate, cease; expire, die, languish, weaken, fail, fade, decline, perish’

Darfod is an interesting word. It is from the prefix dar-, roughly ‘across’, and bod, ‘to be’, with the regular lenition of b>f. So literally ‘to be across’, possibly in the same sense in which we say of a dead person ‘he has crossed over’.

There is thus no ambiguity in the poetic passage we are considering. The warriors who became ‘Wild Ones’ did not go mad – they died. In this context, then, to become gwyllon means to become a roving spirit that has left its battle-slain body behind. To exist as a ‘Wild One’ is to exist in spirit-form after the death of the body.

The Christian medieval mind either could not accept this notion of wandering spirits or, just as likely, misunderstood it. The gwyllon were transformed into living madmen who leapt or flitted about the forest much as did their Irish counterpart, Suibhne Geilt, or the British madman Fer Caille/Alladhan, mentioned in the story of Suihbne.

In another Myrddin poem, Greetings (Black Book of Carmarthen), we are told by Myrddin himself:

“The hwimleian speaks to me strange tidings, And I prophesy a summer of strife.”

Hwimleian or ‘Grey Wanderer’ is yet another word for a spirit or spectre.

We might then naturally conclude that Myrddin’s madness was of the same kind, i.e. he had died at the Battle of Arderydd.  The triple sacrifice he suffers at Drumelzier at the hands of Meldred’s shepherds would then be a “tag on”, made necessary because his already having died was no longer acknowledged and because it was politic to give him a Christian burial. I will, in fact, later show that the Drumelzier tradition is a relocalized one and that Myrddin does not really belong there at all. However, the fact that his triple-death at Drumelzier is a sacred one, and one that mimics the death of the god Lleu in Welsh tradition, is significant.  The death is SACRIFICIAL in nature, and such triple deaths were meted out to HUMAN sacrifice victims (see Ross and Robins’ The Life and Death of a Druid Prince). Among the ancient Celts and Germans we have some testimony from Classical authors that war captives were the most commonly sacrificed humans.  It is not impossible that Myrddin was captured after the disastrous defeat at Arderydd and sacrificed by his enemy, although since that enemy seems to have been the Christian king Rhydderch, this is a difficult proposition to support. Perhaps a pagan ally of Rhydderch got his hands on Llallogan. Or Llallogan had fled to a neighboring tribal territory and was seized by an opportunistic chieftain.

In the Irish sources we are told of battle-panic and one of its unfortunate results.  For example, when the great hero Cuchulainn faces the opposing armies of Ireland,

“He saw from him the ardent sparkling of the bright golden weapons over the heads of the four great provinces of Eriu, before the fall of the cloud of evening. Great fury and indignation seized him on seeing them, at the number of his opponents and at the multitude of his enemies. He seized his two spears, and his shield and his sword, and uttered from his throat a warrior’s shout, so that sprites, and satyrs, and maniacs of the valley, and the demons of the air responded, terror-stricken by the shout which he had raised on high. And the Neman confused the army; and the four provinces of Eriu dashed themselves against the points of their own spears and weapons, so that one hundred warriors died of fear and trembling in the middle of the fort and encampment that night.”

This passage is from W.M. Hennessey’s “The Ancient Irish Goddess of War”.  Also from this source:

“Of the effects of this fear inspired by the Badb [or Nemhain] was geltacht or lunacy, which, according to the popular notion, affected the body no less than the mind, and, in fact, made its victims so that they flew through the air like birds.”

We learn more about the precise meaning of geltacht from the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language.  There we are told


Keywords: panic; terror; frenzy; insanity

In Thomas Kinsella’s translation of “The Tain”, we learn that

“The Nemain brought confusion on the armies and a hundred of their number [while asleep!] fell dead.”

“… that same night Net’s wives, Nemain and Badb, called out to the men of Ireland near the field of Gairech and Irgairech, and a hundred warriors died of fright.”

In THE SAINTLY MADMAN: A STUDY OF THE SCHOLARLY RECEPTION HISTORY OF BUILE SHUIBHNE by Alexandra Bergholm, Department of Comparative Religion, University of Helsinki (2009), we are given a wonderful description of what happened to the title character when he was faced with the horror of battle:

“When the Battle of Mag Rath begins, Suibhne is suddenly alarmed by the cries of the two hosts, and the incident is depicted as follows:

…he looked up, whereupon turbulence (?), and darkness, and fury, and
giddiness, and frenzy, and flight, unsteadiness, restlessness, and
unquiet filled him, likewise disgust with every place in which he used
to be and desire for every place which he had not reached. His fingers
were palsied, his feet trembled, his heart beat quick, his senses were
overcome, his sight was distorted, his weapons fell naked from his
hands, so that through Ronan’s curse he went, like any bird of the air,
in madness and imbecility.”

It should be noted here immediately that the word translated ‘fury’ is nemhain, the goddess’s name used as a common noun.

When we come to the two accounts of the Battle of Arderydd, we see that the “Life of St. Kentigern” preserves the more authentic tradition (although highly Christianized, of course), while that found in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Life of Merlin” is considerably diluted:

St. Kentigern’s Life –

“In the midst of that fray, the very sky began to gape open above my head, and I heard what seemed to be a great cracking sound, a voice in the sky saying to me, ‘Lailoken, Lailoken, since you alone are guilty of the blood of all your slain comrades, you alone shall suffer for their sins.  You shall be handed over to the minions of Satan, and until the day of your death your companions shall be the beasts of the forest.’  And, as I turned my eyes to the source of the voice, I saw a brilliance so dazzling that no man could bear it.  I also saw numerous battle formations of an army in the sky, much like the streaks of lightning.  In their hands the warriors held burning lances and shining javelins whgich they brandished at me with bloodthirsty FURY [emphasis mine].  Then, as I turned away, a wicked spirit seized me and consigned me to live among the wild beasts of the forest, as you are my witness.”

Life of Merlin –

“Then, when the air was full of these repeated loud complainings [of Merlin’s grief], a strange madness came upon him. He crept away and fled to the woods, unwilling that any should see his going.  Into the forest he went, glad to lie hidden beneath the ash trees.  He watched the wild creatures grazing on the pasture of the glades.  Sometimes he would follow them, sometimes pass them in his course.  He made use of the roots of plants and of grasses, of fruit from ttrees and of the blackberries of the thicket.  He became a Man of the Woods [‘silvester homo’, the Fer Caille title given to him in the story of Suibhne Geilt], as if dedicated to the woods.  So for a whole summer he stayed hidden in the woods, discovered by none, forgetful of himself and of his own, lurking like a wild thing.”

The author Hennessey, like the Christian medieval audience of the Merlin story, did not realize that madness could be a poetic metaphor for a spectral death-state.  It was not the demented body that fled like a bird through the forest after a battle, but the spirit of the warrior whose death was literally caused by the goddess Nemhain.

Nemhain’s involvement in such battles reinforces my earlier argument that Myrddin’s/Merlin’s Lady of the Lake, who goes by names such as Viviane, Ninniane, Nimiane, etc., and who is also found in Welsh sources as Nefyn, wife of Cynfarch, is indeed Nemhain.

So what to make of Myrddin’s madness?   

Part of the clue to solving the mystery may involve the “coincidental” pairings of Myrddin/Llallogan and St. Martin and/or St. Ninian sites.  We find early St. Martin churches in Liddesdale, where Myrddin fights and is defeated at Arfderydd  We find St. Ninian (of Whithorn or Candida Casa, with its supposed very early St. Martin’s Church) at Cathures (probably the Roman fort of Cadder) and the Molendinar Burn in Glasgow, where St. Kentigern later met Llallogan (Laloecen).  We find a Martin name atop Myrddin’s mountain of Tinto, and there was a Ninian church at Wiston itself (although this appears to have been established by the Templers). 

Some have tried to make a case for Myrddin BEING St. Martin, but in Welsh, Martinus would become *Merthin and it is impossible, linguistically speaking, for Myrddin to come from the Latin name. To quote Professor Ranko Matasovic on this fact:

“Phonologically, Martin (Lat. Martinus) cannot correspond to W. Myrddin. What you get from Lat. Martinus in Welsh is Marthin (cf. the place-name Llanfarthin in Shropshire). However, one cannot exclude the possibility that the similarity of the two names contributed to their confusion, say, that Sanctus Martinus became Myrddin.”

Arderydd/Armterid/Arfderydd and Arthuret, Cumbria

Arthuret has long been considered the best candidate for Arderydd, the battle from which Myrddin fled in madness (or in death).  However, Arthuret AS A PLACE-NAME cannot be Armterid/Arfderydd, an early form of the battle site name found in the Welsh sources. The two names are not reconcilable.

Andrew Breeze in his excellent paper on the subject ( identified Arf- with the Welsh word for weapon, and derydd or, rather, terydd, with “ardent, passionate, fierce”, for a river-name meaning “ardent weapon, burning weapon.”

Arthuret (referred to as Howes or Knowes) is a hill or ridge, though, not a river.  In fact, the hills are a geological feature known as an esker (a ridge of gravel left after glaciation) and were described in an early source as follows:

“The church and rectory at Arthuret are situated on a raised plateau on the west side of the river Esk which flows past them at a lower level, and to the south of the church and rectory garden there rise two small wooded hills known as the “Arthuret Knowes." These are separated from each other by the public road, and I think that at one time they formed one low hill or ridge about 500 yards long, but were divided into two when the highway was made. There can be no doubt that these hills occupied at one time a most important strategic position commanding the fords of the river Esk and the road over them from Cumberland into Scotland. The hill to the south of the church is the more important of the two, is about 150 yards long, is somewhat rounded in shape and has a flattened top which is enclosed by a low earthen rampart enclosing a space nearly square. Through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Hesketh Hodgson, who at my request made a survey of this earthwork, I am able to give a plan of it, and they have supplied me with some interesting notes which appear as an appendix to this paper. The hill to the south of the rectory garden is much longer, being upwards of four hundred yards in length; it is of varying height and has also in places a flattened top, but no traces of a rampart. There is nothing authentic known as to the origin of these hills. They do not appear to have attracted the attention of this Society at any previous meeting; they are not mentioned in our Transactions nor in any of the county histories, and they are not marked as tumuli in either the old or the recent maps of the Ordnance Survey. Professor Windle, however, in his recent work, On the Remains of the Prehistoric Age in England includes Arthuret in his list of Cumberland tumuli with the suggestion, in brackets, that these are probably eskers. The word "esker" or "eskar" is a geological term, and was originally used by Irish geologists. It is derived from the Irish word "Eiscir" signifying a ridge. The word has now come into general use among writers on glacial geology, and is applied to a ridge of water-worn materials running across valleys and plains, along hillsides, and even over watersheds, and forming a very marked feature in the topography of certain regions. They are very common in the centre of Ireland, they occur in Sweden where they are called " asar," in Scotland where they are called " kames," and in the New England states of North America. Professor Geikie says that no very satisfactory explanation of their mode of formation has yet been given, but they are believed to be in some way connected with the former glaciation of the regions where they occur. In these Transactions, Chancellor Ferguson gives an account of the exploration of a tumulus near Dalston Hall which turned out to be an esker. I have not been able to find any authority for including these hills at Arthuret in the list of Cumberland tumuli, and no attempt has been made to explore them systematically so as to ascertain their nature. From an examination of a sandpit on the northern slopes of the larger hill, and of a gravel pit at the western end of the other hill, I think there can be no doubt that these are eskers. There is a distinct stratification of earth, gravel, and sand in the latter, which could only be produced by an effort of nature. The plan given is prepared from a survey of the earthwork on Arthuret Hills, undertaken by request. It shows a small enclosure, which occupies nearly the whole of the top of a natural mound lying south of Arthuret Church. The ground falls away very sharply, on three sides, for 40 or 50 feet, but on the south-east the slope is more gradual towards the modern road, which is cut through a depression in the long ridge known as Arthuret Hills. This ridge appears to be the division between two ancient estuaries; and the mound on which the earthwork stands forms its north-western extremity. The plain lies more than 100 feet below, extending to the fells of West Cumberland on one side, and to those of Scotland on the other with the Solway in front, towards which the Esk, not a mile distant, winds its way. It flowed close beneath the hill in the eighteenth century. The earthwork is nearly square, though not very regular in form, and measures about 40 feet, more or less, each way. It is surrounded by a shallow ditch, two or three feet wide, which fades out on the south-western side. On the south-eastern side, and perhaps all along the ditch, there are signs of a very low rampart of earth, outside as well as inside the ditch. The inner rampart is continued all round the enclosure, but is quite small in size. It is difficult to judge of the meaning of various slight irregularities in the levels of the interior, owing to the small and insignificant scale of the work. Two trees, and the stumps of several which have been cut down, standing within the enclosure, and several others just outside it, add greatly to the difficulty : but a shallow depression, five or six feet wide, crosses the enclosure from north-east to south-west, and seems to divide it into two parts, of which the south-eastern is slightly the higher. We could find no certain trace of an entrance, nor was there any sign of stonework of any kind. The western corner is impinged upon by a gravel-pit, which has also caused a landslip all along the north-western face of the hill, that threatens to destroy the ditch on this side. We saw nothing whatever to give us any clue to the date of the enclosure.


The Liddel Water is an English name, but is quite a distance from Arthuret.  The Esk once flowed much closer to Arthuret, but Esk is from a very ancient British river-name *Isca, so it can’t be the Arfderydd.  Furthremore, although we might find a river named Derydd, there is no precedence for a formation such as Arf-derydd.  Instead, it is fairly certain that Armterid/Arfderydd represents a perversion of an earlier name, or even an intentional alteration to fit poetic purposes.

I would say we should allow Terydd/Derydd to stand as the British name of the Liddel Water, with Caer (G)wenddolau or Carwinley, the Fort of the White Dales, being the name of Liddel Strength.  But Arf-derydd must be decoupled from Arthuret.

Let us look at all the known forms for the place-name Arthuret from

  • Arthuret
  • Artureth 1171-5 (1333), 1368
  • Arturet c. 1182, 1349
  • Arturede 1203
  • Artured 1292
  • Arturett(e) 1307, 1332
  • Hartred 1276
  • Hartered 1276
  • Artreth 1528  
  • Artereth 1609
  • Arcturet 1209  
  • Arcturheth 1576
  • Arthureth 1276, 1279, 1400, 1528
  • Arthuret 1278, 1282, 1596
  • Arthurette 1278
  • Arthured 1279), 1300, 1552
  • Arthurede 1338, 1454
  • Arthurehede 1434
  • Arthurhed(e) 1517, 1521, 1771
  • Arthure heth t. Hy 8 
  • Arthurheath 1517
  • Arthreed 1596
  • Artheret 1278
  • Art(e)ret 1306
  • Artret 1368
  • Artreth 1332  
  • Artereth 1348  1441, 1517  
  • Artrede 1357  
  • Arthred 1399  
  • Artruthe 1576
  • del Crosse de Artureth 1339

As we are dealing with a hill at Arthuret, the initial component is almost certainly ardd, ‘hill, height’.  But what of the second element?

The clue, interestingly enough, is also found in the Welsh sources. In an early Myrddin poem we learn that two of the warriors present at Arderydd were Errith and Gwrrith (spelled Gurrith in the MS.). Errith is cognate with an Irish word, arracht, from ar + richt, meaning specter, ghost, apparition. Gwrrith is 'Man-specter/ghost/apparition'. This last matches the meaning of the name Myrddin according to Dr. Graham Isaac of The National University of Ireland, Galway - *Moro-donyos or "Specter-man".

While some scholars have claimed that Errith and Gwrrith belong to Dyfed (where Myrddin as Merlin was transferred in later medieval tradition), there is no good reason for thinking they were not considered to be present at the Battle of Arderydd.

Now, from

“The most recent change in the topography of the battlefield occurred in the 1950s when the western of two mounds known as Arthuret Knowes was bulldozed. It had been quarried for sand during the Second World War. The twin knowes were long-believed to be prehistoric burial mounds but the sand is now thought to have been deposited on the boulder clay beneath by a glacial icesheet.”

As we are talking about TWO MOUNDS, I would propose that one was called Ardd Gurrith/(G)urrith (the /G/ quie naturally being lost, as is typical in such Welsh compounds) and the other Ardd Errith. 

I would propose, therefore, that Arthuret is from *Ardd-(G)wrrith/(G)urrith (the /G-/ quite naturally being lost, as is typical in such Welsh compounds), for a meaning of the Hill of Gwrrith.  Although Gwrrith and Myrddin may mean the same thing, and Myrddin was also known by an attested second name – that of Llallogan – we cannot be sure Gwrrith = Myrddin in terms of an identification of actual personhood.  But it is tempting to see both Specter Man names as descriptors for Llallogan, making Arthuret the home and ruling center of Myrddin.

The Welsh Arderydd probably stands for Ardd Errith.

As suggested by Isaac, Myrddin’s father’s name Morfryn or Mor-bryn = ‘Spirit-hill’.  This would exactly match in meaning Ardd Errith. 

We could retain –derydd from a purely poetic Arf-derydd, ‘weapon-fierce’, for the British name of the Liddel Water at Carwinley/Fort of Gwenddolau.  Liddel is, of course, English, the Loud Dale, the river-name being from OE hlyde/hlud.

A confusion of these names could easily have occurred in the tradition.  Derydd was the river, and several miles south were the twin hills of Ardd Gurrith and Ardd Errith.

I dispensed with an earlier idea which was to see Arderydd as Ar- + Derydd, the Ar- being found commonly in Welsh place-names and meaning “by, alongside of, next to, near to” and the like.  We would then see the twin hills well to the south of the Derydd/Liddle Water as merely the Knowes that were in Arderydd.  Unfortunately, we still can’t reconcile the spelling of Ar Derydd with Arthuret, and w would be forced to dispense with the Gurrith and Errith names for the twin hills.  

The ‘Rotwyd’ (Rhodwydd) of Arderys (Arderydd)

The early Welsh poetry on Arfderydd mentions something called the ‘rotwyd’ or rhodwydd.  Scholars cannot say exactly what this was, but they have made a good guess.  According to Rachel Bromwich (see her text, translation and commentary on the Triads of the Island of Britain):

“… Rhodwydd can mean either a ford or an earthen dyke; the latter was frequently constructed on rising ground above a ford, and would be held instead of the ford itself.  This was often the place where the fiercest battles were fought.”

Sir Ifor Williams (in his notes to The Poems of Taliesin) adds:

“… these examples show that rhyd (ford) and rhodwydd occur together often, and Loth suggested that rhodwydd was synonymous with rhyd… Rhodwydd may be from rhawd [cognate with Irish rath, ‘ringfort, earthen fortification’; cf. beddrod, bed + rhawd] and gwydd, cf. gwydd-fa [height, eminence, promontory; seat, throne, mound, burial ground, grave, burial mound, etc., where gwydd = grave, burial mound, grave, burial mound, tumulus].”

As Arthuret in Cumbria is an esker/ridge that anciently was much closer the Esk, and there was once an ancient earthwork atop this ridge, we could assume the ‘rotwyd’ of Arderydd is a reference to this very earthwork which may have once stood guard over a ford on the river. 

However, the much more significant Liddel Strength at the confluence of the Esk and Liddel Water was in the parish of Arthuret, and as Gwenddolau or White Dales is Carwinley only a kilometer or so south of the site, we can be fairly certain the Rhodwydd of Arderydd was this place, not the small earthwork that once existed on Arthuret Hills.  Finally, the Kentigern Life puts the battle between Liddel and Carwinley, and this can only mean Liddel Strength.  So the rhodwydd was in Arthuret parish, but it was not Arthuret itself.

The Liddel Strength motte and baileys is described as follows in the Pastscape listing (

“Motte and double bailey, probably of late - 11th/12th century, situated on the edge of a sheer cliff 160' above the Liddel Water. The outer bailey is defended by an earthen rampart and a ditch 25' deep, and the inner by a rampart 35' high. Foundations exist to the north-west of the motte, probably of the mansion which later occupied the site. (2-4)

Liddel Strength, is an earthwork castle situated at NY 4018 7416, at the edge of a steep wooded escarpment of boulder clay. The whole site has been affected by the erosion of the river cliff, and is covered by rough pasture, scattered scrub and small trees. The remains are unusual. At face value they comprise an eroded motte, standing 6.6 m above an inner bailey to the east, with an outer bailey further to the E. However, it may be significant that there is no trace of a ditch between the motte and the inner `bailey' and the ditch around the S side of the combined motte and inner ward, connecting with the river cliff, describes a neat semi-circle as if enclosing a cohesive whole. This ditch is massive, up to 4.1 m deep externally and up to 8.2 m below the inner rampart of the inner ward. The impression is that it initially enclosed a ringwork, and that the motte was a later insertion on the W side of it. The outer bailey, less strong than the inner, is bounded by a bank, up to 1.4 m high internally, and outer ditch, up to 2.2 m deep externally. Contained within the inner ward are the turf covered remains of a tower (see NY 47 SW 6).

The castle is first mentioned in 1174 and was taken and destroyed in 1346 to be superceded by the tower; it seems likely that it was never rebuilt in stone (7a-7b).”

The situation of Liddel Strength – between the Liddel and the Esk – strongly suggests that Myrddin and his “lord” Gwenddolau were at the northern boundary of what had been, during the Roman period, Carvetti territory.  To the north of the Liddel lay the ancient tribal territory of the Selgovae. 

Early Welsh Tradition Versus Jocelyn’s Life of Kentigern: A Second Death for Myrddin and a Christian Burial

For years now, I’ve been unable to reconcile what I perceive to be two separate strands in the early Myrddin (= Merlin) tradition.  The first concerns the death of a warrior or chieftain (or god; see my discussion of Lugh below) named Llallogan in a battle at Arderydd/Arthuret and his wandering the woods as a disembodied spirit, his spectral state being misunderstood by a later age as a state of madness.  This version of the story is implicit in the early Welsh sources.  The second story is from the Life of St. Kentigern.  There Myrddin the madman wanders the woods until he eventually meets his triple-sacrificial death at the hands of Meldred’s shepherds at Drumelzier on the Tweed.

Drumelzier was known anciently as Dunmeller, the ‘oppidum Dunmeller’ of the Life of St. Kentigern.  The best modern philologists can do with the name, in its various early spellings, is din-, ‘fort’, plus –medal- plus –wir, plural of wur, cf. W. medalwyr, ‘reapers’, in the metaphorical sense of warriors.
The name Meldred appears to be an anachronism, as Meldredus is a known form of the much later historical Maldred, sometimes styled son of Crinan the Thane.  It used to be accepted that this Crinan was to be identified with Crinan the lay abbot of Dunkeld, the ‘Fort of the Caledonians.”  But much doubt has been cast upon this identification by recent scholars.  See, for example, the discussion of the problem in “Saints’ Cults in the Celtic World” (by Steve Boardman, John Reuben Davies and Eila Williamson, Boydell Press, 2013). 

According to Alex Woolf at the University of St. Andrews,

“All we really know about him [Maldred] comes from the text known as De obsessione Dunelmensis which simply says that a daughter of Earl Uhtred married a certain Maldred son if Crinan the thegn, a very rich man, by whom she gave birth to Cospatric.  That Cospatric was the Earl of Northumbria just after the Norman conquest. We know nothing about the location of Maldred or his father unless we assume the father is Crinan of Dunkeld.

There was a Gospatric who was Lord of Allerdale c. 1060, and a Dolphin (possibly brother of Gospatric) who controlled Carlisle c. 1090. The Earl of Northumbria c. 1070 was Gospatric son of  Maldred. The people who make Maldred Lord of Allerdale and Carlise presume the Gospatric(s) mentioned in relation to them was Gospatric son of Maldred (which is possible but not certain), and they are assuming he inherited his position. This latter seems less likely since De Obsessione tells us that Gospatric son of Maldred's claim to high status, and ultimately the earldom, was through his mother not his father. Dolphin being in Carlisle is mentioned only once in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and in no other source. Scottish charters of the early twelfth century are sometimes witnessed by some one described as 'Gospatric brother of Dolphin.

Gospatric son of Maldred was the Earl of Northumbria who fled to Scotland.  His descendants eventually became earls of Dunbar, but we don’t know if he is the same person as Gospatric of Allerdale.”

It is possible Meldred/Maldred was placed at Drumelzier because of the presence there of Thane’s Castle (now Tinnis Castle).  Alternately, Meldred may have been placed at Dunmeller merely as a sort of folk etymology, with the place-name being fancifully derived from the personal name. Alan James believes this to be a very real possibility.  I would also mention that Jocelyn, who wrote Kentigern’s Life, was based at Furness in Cumbria, so there may have been a political element to his choosing Maldred for the Lailoken story.

The etymology of the name Maldred is unknown.  Alex Woolf tentatively offers an English garbling of the Irish Mael Doraid.  Oliver Padel thinks the first element should be from British *Maglo-, ‘prince, lord, ruler.’  I once proposed Mael + drud for ‘Bold Prince’, although I noted that the Irish cognate to Welsh drud, druth, meant “fool”, and that this reminded us of Jocelyn calling Lailoken ‘homo fatuus’, “foolish man.”  But an even more interesting possibility would be to derive the name from Mael + derydd – the very same derydd we find in the Arfderydd battle name.  This would mean something like “Ardent/Fierce Prince.” It has been noted by other authorities that Jocelyn does not name the battle.

Attempts have been made to find Myrddin’s grave not at the Drumelzier in Tweeddale, but at the similarly named place near Dunipace in Stirlingshire.  The most elaborate argument for placing Myrddin’s death-place at the Drumelzier on the Carron has been produced by Adam Ardrey his his book FINDING MERLIN: THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LEGEND.  Mr. Ardrey’s Website may be found here: 

It is true that this second Drumelzier appears to be an ancient name.  To quote from Zoe Ellis, Archives Assistant with the Falkirk Community Trust (personal correspondence):

“Drumelzier, also known as Drumalzier, is an ancient name.  It appears on the first series Ordnance Survey map (published in 1865) as Drimallier, and was still called Drimallier on a 1951 OS map.       It also appears on Roy’s military survey map of Scotland done in the 1750s as Drumalzierst.

In the Archives we have a copy of a book called “The Place Names of Falkirk and East Stirlingshire” by John Reid.  This book notes that the earliest written references to Drumelzier (from 1608) refer to it as “Drummelzarislandis” or Drumelzier’s-lands, and the book therefore suggests that the lands may have had the same name as their owner.  It doesn’t speculate further on the derivation of the name itself.”

The reason for looking at this second Drumelzier is, primarily, because Myrddin’s grave as described in Tweeddale cannot now be found.  CANMORE nicely summarizes the problem of this missing grave:

"’Merlin's Grave’ (Site): According to legend which is at least as old as the 15th century, the wizard Merlin was buried 200 yds NNW of Drumelzier Church, on the level haugh close to the right bank of the River Tweed. No structural remains are now to be seen, or have ever been recorded, at the place in question, but it is possible that the tradition may have been originated from the discovery of a Bronze Age cist.

RCAHMS 1967, visited 1956.

There is nothing to be seen at this site which lies in a field. The tradition still survives.

Visited by OS(IA) 11 August 1972.”

The idea, then, is that one of the Hills of Dunipace was a barrow mound or had a grave incorporated into it, and that the Tweeddale Drumelzier is simply the wrong one. I’ve noted before that St. Ninian, whose establishment is close to Plean, is often brought into connection with Myrddin because of the former’s association with St. Martin.  Might there be something to the Dunipace connection?

No.  The legend that places Merlin’s grave on the river is simply wrong.  The earliest account of where he was buried is the Life of St. Kentigern, and there we are plainly told by Merlin himself that

“I want you to bury me in the eastern part of the city in the churchyard, where the faithful are interred, not far from the green chapel where the brook Pausayl [now the Drumelzier Burn] flows into the River Tweed…”

The ‘green chapel’ here, of course, is another matter and will be discussed in more detail below.  It could be a description of a barrow mound or cairn (cf. the Green Chapel in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”) which has been eroded away by the river over the past centuries.  But the important thing to note is that we are not told Merlin was buried in the green chapel.  He is said to have been buried in the churchyard.  

The present Drumelzier Kirk is not very old, but it probably stood upon the spot of an earlier, more ancient establishment. Whether we can identify the modern churchyard with the ancient one is not something that can ever be determined. 

But why Drumelzier at all?  If I am right and the sacrifice of Merlin at the hands of Meldred’s shepherds is merely a story invented to both Christianize him and provide him with a death-tale (the actual nature  of his madness being misunderstood), why was this location on the Tweed chosen?

I’m convinced the answers lies in a relocation.  In Liddesdale, at Newcastleton, the Tweeden Burn empties into the Liddel Water. 

Early forms of this stream-name include Tueeden (Blaeu/Pont map 1654), Tweden (1541, 1580), Tweden (1583), Tueden (1599), Twyden (1841).

According to Alan James, this stream-name appears to represent Tweed + a diminutive Brittonic –in suffix, and this

“… pushes the name back to the 12th century or earlier, possibly a lot earlier, and implies the stream was called Tweed or something similar before that.”

Given that Myrddin/Llallogan fought at Arthuret where the Liddel and the Esk meet, and Meldred/Maldred may have been the lord of Cumbria, I would identify as the proper death-place of our “madman” the Tweeden Burn.  This notion is made all the more attractive by the presence at Old Castleton, a bit further up the Liddel, of a very early St. Martin’s Church, quite possibly an establishment originating from Whithorn.  I have suggested elsewhere that Myrddin was either identified with St. Martin or replaced by the saint in several locations in Lowland Scotland.

If I’m right and the Tweeden Burn is the place where Myrddin underwent his triple sacrifice, then the churchyard he was buried in must be that of St. Martin’s at Old Castleton. Note that there is no St. Martin or St. Ninian connection to Drumelzier.

However, we have forgotten about the Powsail Burn at Drumelzier. This place-name is from *pol-, ‘pool’, plus the word for ‘willow.’  Not coincidentally, there is a Willow Pool at the confluence of the Liddel Water and the Esk.  This is also the location of the Liddel Strength fort, sometimes also referred to in the sources as the Moat of Liddel (not to be confused with the castle at Old Castleton in Liddesdale).

For years now I have accepted the most recent translation 'green chapel' for the edifice that supposedly stands near where Myrddin/Merlin is buried. However, knowing as I do all too well the freedom translators can take when rendering medieval Latin, I went to the source and checked it out myself.

The most recent version of the relevant passage drawn from the Vita Kentigern was done by a Zacharias P. Thundy and is found in Peter Goodrich's The Romance of Merlin. It reads:

“Lailoken said, There is something I very much desire; you can easily grant me that besides my freedom. I want you to bury me in the eastern part of the city in the churchyard, where the faithful are interred, not far from the green chapel where the brook Pausayl flows into the River Tweed, which, indeed, will take place in a few days after my triple death.”

The actual Latin text is as follows:

Respondit Lailoken. vnum valde dabile postulo. libertate non pretermissa. videlicet vt tradas corpus meum sepulture, ad partem huius oppidi orientalem. in loco funeri. fidelis defuncti competenciore, haut longe a cespite. vbi torrens Passales in flumen descendit Tuedense. Futurum est enim post paucos dies, trina nece me morit[urum].

What I wanted to know was simply this: where is the 'green chapel' in this Latin?

My understanding of cespite is that is means 'grassy ground, grass, earth, sod, turf, altar/rampart/mound of sod/turf/earth. It does not mean 'chapel'. It, in fact, must mean a mound of grassy earth, i.e. a barrow mound. So there is no poetic description here of a barrow mound, no 'green chapel' - the Latin is quite specific.

Cespite is from caespes, turf, sod, "used for altars, mounds (of tombs), for covering cottages, huts, etc."

In brief, a cespite as a grassy mound COULD mean a grave mound. But we also need to bear in mind that the word moat, which we now think of as a defensive ditch, often filled with water, is from French via Middle English and during the medieval period it meant MOUND. It was the mound made by scooping dirt out of the surrounding ditch and flinging it up into a gigantic pile, upon which the castle would then be built.

W.F. Skene, in the 1800s, spoke with the farmer at 'Upper Moat', now Highmoat farm. This is located immediately SW of Liddel Strength, itself often described with the word mote or motte. Willow Pool ( = the exact meaning of the Powsail in Tweeddale) is right here at Highmoat. The farmer told Skene there was a local tradition of Romans and Picts (!) being slain in a great battle and buried in the orchard of Highmoat farm.

The Tweeden is a major tributary of the Liddel, but it is the Liddel that joins the Willow Pool at the Liddel Strength fortress.

In other words, as I've surmised all along, Myrddin did not survive the Arderydd battle. His madness is a poetic way of describing a post-death spectral state. This state was either not approved of by Christians or misunderstood. In any case, they had to invent a death for him subsequent to the battle and his supposed madness, and then transferred him to what would become, several centuries hence, the church of Liddel or St. Martin at nearby Canonbie. Yet the mode of his death - the triple sacrifice - brands him as a sacred Lleu warrior.

Myrddin the 'specter-man', whose name is perhaps found as Gwrrith (same meaning) in the name Arthuret/Ardd-(G)wrrith, is buried at Highmoat farm in Cumbria. It is his spirit that frequents Cairn Avel, his magical Otherworld apple tree, or Tinto Hill with its enormous summit burial cairn. He is doubtless wandering still in the remaining wilds and wastes of the Scottish Lowlands.

The Story of the Stag: a Seasonal Myth?

Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his ‘Life of Merlin’, tells a very strange tale about Merlin and stags: 

Merlin reads the heavens to learn that his wife Guendoloena (a manufactured feminine form of the personified place-name Gwenddolau) is ready to take another husband in his absence.  He seems resigned to this fact, and indeed seems to approve of the match: “Yet I bear no grudge.”  He decides to go to her and give his permission for the marriage to take place, and to bring to her the present he promised her when he left.  He then sets off through the woods and clearings, gathering a herd of stags single file, as well as does and she-goats.  He seats himself on a stag and drives his lines of animals before him.  He arrives thus at the scene of the wedding and with his stags shouts from the gates for Guendoloena to come out and view her presents.  She is astonished that so many wild animals could be brought together and controlled by one man alone.  The bridegroom is standing at a high window, and makes the mistake of laughing at Merlin astride his stag-steed.  Merlin wrenches off the horns off the stag he is mounted upon, whirls them around and throws them at the bridegroom.  The bridegroom’s head is crushed in and he dies.  Then Merlin digs his heels into his mount and it races back towards the woods.

Now, if this story evolved from genuine tradition, the army of stags and does in all likelihood represents a host of Carvetii warriors, as the Carvetii was the ‘Stag/Deer tribe’.  According to Nicholas Higham and Barri Jones’ The Carvetii (1991), the original territory of the Carvetii of Cumbria probably extended north and west through the Solway Mosses.  This area includes Arthuret.  Merlin as leader of the Carvetii would make sense, given what we know about the other combatants at the Battle of Arderydd. 

The killing of Guendoloena’s husband with Myrddin’s stag horn has strong mythic overtones, however.  This is especially true as the red deer rut in Cumbria (when stags fight each other for possession of females) reaches its climax in October, and we can be fairly certain, then, that the new chieftain of Arderydd was slain on November 1 or Samhain, the end of the Celtic summer half-year and the beginning of the winter half-year.

After Myrddin kills his rival at Arderydd, he is caught while attempting to flee, bound and handed over to his sister, Ganieda (= Gwenddydd, cf. Goleuddydd; I will propose below that both of these are Welsh names that came to be associated with the Roman Diana Lucina the moon goddess). Geoffrey makes Ganieda the wife of Rhydderch of Cumbria (not Strathclyde, as was historically accurate).  Myrddin is more or less forced to spend some time in human society, but quickly chafes of this and demands to return to his woods.  His sister advises him to wait until the ‘white winter frosts’, soon to be upon the land, have abated.  But he rejects her petition and hurries off to the wild.  Ganieda builds him a house where he lives during the winter.  During the summer he roams the woods in his role as wild man.

Reading this strictly as seasonal myth, we have Myrddin as the sun god of the winter half-year, which for the Celts stretched from November 1 to May 1 (Beltaine).  The second husband of Guendoloena, killed on November 1, would be the god of the summer half-year, from May 1 to November 1.  The live god manifests himself as the one who is living with the goddess in her house.  The dead god is envisioned as roaming about in the wild as a specter.  Both gods are aspects of the same god, of course, so from story to story their roles might change. 

If I’m interpreting this right, a whole new dimension is added to the motif of Myrddin’s madness.  Yes, madness is a poetic metaphor for a spectral death-state.  However, this madness is not a permanent condition.  Seasonal rebirth means an end to the madness/spectral existence.  At that point in time, one’s ‘twin’ or solar double dies and becomes the ‘madman of the wood’.

It may be that this seasonal slaying and rebirth cycle, the becoming alternately mad and sane as mythopoeic language for states of  life and death, better explains how Myrddin could perish at the first Arderydd battle, then suddenly reappear later to kill his successor.  It would also help explain the triple sacrificial execution meted out to him by Meldred’s shepherds, something that happened AFTER his death at Arderydd.

Such an interpretation of Myrddin’s madness again brings him more into the realm of the divine than the human.  For instance, in Arthurian romance, Lancelot of the Lake, who is none other than the god Lugh Hard-hand, himself goes mad. 

As it happens, however, we can actually show with a fair degree of certainly that the god Lleu also took the form of a stag!  In the Mabinogion tale 'Math son of Mathonwy', Lleu's solar twin and rival for the favor of the goddess Blodewedd, Gronw, is depicted as hunting a stag.  Blodewedd first sees Gronw during this hunt.  The animal is slain at the river Cynfael.  Later in the story, Gronw slays Lleu.  Once the latter is resurrected from spectral eagle form by Gwydion, he slays Gronw on the shore of the same river.  In mythological language, then, the killing of the stag is a foreshadowing of the killing of Lleu and it is likely Lleu himself could appear in stag form.

In the next chapter, we will see that the Carvetii not only worshipped a stag god, but also Lleu. 

Gwenddydd, Sister of Myrddin

To be honest, this sister of Myrddin has given me fits.  Why?  Because we know so precious little about her outside of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fiction. 

According to Welsh specialists, her name means ‘White Day’ (gwen is the feminine of gwyn, 'white, light, shining, bright, fair'). Geoffrey implies she is the planet and goddess Venus, and that identification has been established in Welsh tradition.  But I’ve also pointed out that she bears a distinct resemblance to the goddess Goleuddydd, “Light or Brightness of Day”, who is married to Cilydd, son of Celyddon Wledig, an eponym for the Celyddon or Caledonian Wood of Myrddin.

I have in the past identified her with the Roman Diana Lucina, as well as with the late folklore figure Kate (= Hekate) nicNiven, ‘daughter of [the Irish goddess] Nemhain’.  As such she was plainly a lunar goddess, not Venus.

Both Gwenddydd and the later Arthurian romance Niviane (and variants), i.e. Nemhain, build underworld grave-houses, perhaps with surrounding stone circles for observation of the planets, for Myrddin.  Granted, that Gwenddydd did so would seem to rely on the untrustworthy testimony of Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Where is Gwenddydd’s house and its adjoining observatory, built for Merlin/Myrddin?

Well, Ryderch (Rodarch) is called by Geoffrey of Monmouth the king of Cumbria, not Strathclyde.  This may be a reflection of Carruthers and Carrutherstown in SE Dumfriesshire. The former is near the Caerlaverock or Lark’s Nest said to be the cause of the Arderydd battle.  Both are also near ancient settlements and hill-forts, as well as the various Mabon place-names found here.  Cair Riderc or Fort of Rhydderch is the origin of the family name lying at the root of these town names. At Carruthers is the Birrens Hill settlement, while between the two towns is the mighty Burnswark fort and Roman camp.

Gwenddydd is represented as the sister of Rodarch.  If the court of this particular relocated Rhydderch is not to be found in Strathclyde, but here near the border with Cumbria, can we figure out where Merlin’s house and observatory are located?

We are fortunate in possessing an early 14th century elegy by Gwilym Ddu that says Myrddin descended from the tribe of Meirchiaun.  This is Meirchiaun Gul  of the North, whom I’ve suggested (in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY) may belong to the area of Maughanby (earlier ‘Meirchiaun’s By’) in Cumbria, hard by the great Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle, and only a few miles from the Voreda Roman fort at Old Penrith.  This is in the heartland of the ancient Carvetii kingdom.

Meg is a common nickname for Margaret, and the person in question is said to be a 17th century witch, Meg of Meldon.  I have wondered whether ‘Meg’ could be a late substitution for a name similar to that of the ancient Irish goddess Macha, i.e. Imona the horse goddess (see Chapter 6).  Voreda can be compared with Welsh gorwydd, ‘horse’, and according to philologist Kenneth Jackson means ‘Horse stream’.

While Meirchiaun is a Welsh form of the Roman name Marcianus, it may well have been linked to the Welsh plural for horse, viz. meirch.  The son of Meirchiaun was Cynfarch of the Mote of Mark hill-fort in Dumfries.  The name Cynfarch means ‘chief horse’ (cf. Irish conn for Cyn-/*Cuno- in this context).

A possible association of Long Meg and Her Daughters with Myrddin is interesting, given the circle’s description (from English Heritage’s Pastscape Website):

 “A stone circle located north of Little Salkeld and east of the River Eden. One of the largest extant stone circles in England, the monument currently comprises 69 large stones, some standing and some fallen, arranged in a flattened oval circa 110 metres by 93 metres. There are two apparent entrances, one to the southwest and the other to the northwest. According to Barnatt, the stones were set in a low bank visible intermittently around the site's circumference except to the north. The enclosure's northern side is "flattened", ie straight rather than curved. Air photography has demonstrated the presence of a large cropmark enclosure (NY 53 NE 21) on this side of the stone circle, and it appears that the stones were here following the line of the enclosure ditch - at least 10 of the stone appear to have stood on the outer lip of the enclosure ditch (which must therefore be earlier than the stone circle). The stone circle's northwest entrance appears to face directly into the entrance of the enclosure. To the southwest of the stone circle, circa 22.5 metres from the southwestern entrance, is a single outlier, an upright red sandstone block some 3.65 metres high known as Long Meg. One face of this boulder is covered with rock art, comprising linear grooves, concentric arcs, spirals, cup marks and grooves. Not all appear finished, and there is some modern graffiti. When viewed from the centre of the circle, Long Meg marks the direction of the midwinter sunset. It has been suggested that two of the stones in the circle's northern arc also feature possible spiral designs. Dating is problematic. No excavations are known to have been undertaken at the site, and a broad later Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date would probably encompass both stone circle and rock art. The enclosure NY 53 NE 21 is equally undated, but probably belongs to the same broad time-span.

Like many stone circles, Long Meg and Her Daughters have had a slightly troubled history. A narrow road runs roughly north-south across the eastern half of the circle, and a short distance to the west of this is the line of a former wall. Traces of ridge and furrow are also evident within the circle. In 1599 Camden noted 77 stones, compared to the 69 currently known. William Stukeley subsequently recorded that several stones had been broken up shortly before he visited in 1725. Subsequent accounts also mention the removal and, occasionally, the replacement of stones. Camden also referred to two "heaps of stone" within the circle. These have been regarded as possible burial mounds, although a later edition of Camden's "Britannia" referred to them as field clearance. In the later 17th century, Aubrey referred to "giants bones, and body" being found within the circle, although there is no confirmation from other sources. Note that Stukeley also referred to a second, smaller circle to the southwest (NY 53 NE 12) of which no trace now remains. (13-19)”
This circle sounds suspiciously like the house of seventy doors and as many windows Myrddin asks his sister Ganieda (Gwenddydd; see below) to build for him in the Vita Merlini of Geoffrey of Monmouth.  We can visualize the doors as the stone uprights of the circle, and the opens spaces between those uprights as the windows.  Of course, as Merlin was intimately associated with Stonehenge, it may be that this house of 70 doors and windows is a reference to the latter monument.  Just as possible is Myrddin’s presence first at Long Meg and Her Daughters, with this stone circle being replaced in folk or literary tradition by the one on Salisbury Plain.     

Modern philologists as well as Romans (see Carin M.C. Green’s “Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricea”, Cambridge University Press, 2007) derive Diana’s name from the same root found in Latin dies, ‘day’, and Diana (like Juno and Hekate) was given the bynames of Lucina, ‘the light-bringing’ or ‘bringing to light’ (lucina being, ultimately, from L. lux) and Lucifera, ‘light-bringer’.  The Vulgate and Post-Vulgate either associate the Lady of the Lake with Diana, or literally identify the two goddesses.  This identification came about because the goddess was also Diana Nemorensis, whose shrine was in a wood on Lake Nemi.  Her Greek counterpart Artemis was called Limnaie/Limnaea, ‘Of the Lake’.

Cicero, De Natura Deorum 2. 27 (trans. Rackham) (Roman rhetorician C1st B.C.) :

“The name Apollo is Greek; they say that he is the Sun, and Diana [Artemis] they identify with the Moon . . . the name Luna is derived from lucere ‘to shine’; for it is the same word as Lucina, and therefore in our country Juno Lucina is invoked in childbirth, as is Diana in her manifestation as Lucifera (the light-bringer) among the Greeks. She is also called Diana Omnivaga (wide-wandering), not from her hunting, but because she is counted as one of the seven planets or ‘wanderers’ (vagary). She was called Diana because she made a sort of Day (Dia) in the night-time. She is invoked to assist at the birth of children, because the period of gestation is either occasionally seven, or more usually nine, lunar revolutions, and these are called menses (months), because they cover measured (mensa) spaces.”

Goleuddydd as wife of the son of Celyddon, who gives birth to Culhwch, the ‘Lean Pig’, may be an educated reference to the Greek Artemis (= Roman Diana), who sent the Calydonian Boar.  One of the primary sub-plots of “Culhwch and Olwen”, of course, is the hunt of the monstrous boar Twrch Trwyth.

It is also worth noting that when Goleuddydd became pregnant she went “gwyll”, i.e. gwyllt, usually defined as “mad”, but more accurately as “wild” (see Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru for gwyllt/gwyll, ‘wild, living in a natural or primitive state, uncivilized, savage; demented, raving, frantic, mad), and wandered in uninhabited places.  This is also a hallmark of Artemis/Diana the Huntress, who lived in the wilderness. Madness is typically associated with the moon.

Evidence for Diana in Britain during the Roman period can be found in the Roman Inscriptions of Britain (see Guy de la Bedoyere site at


Auchendavy: altar by M. Cocceius Firmus, centurion of II Augusta. RIB 2174 (with Apollo)

Bath: altar by Vettius B[e]nignus, lib(ertus). RIB 138

Caerleon: slab recording restoration of a temple of Diana by T. Flavius Postumius [V]arus, senator and (legionary) legate, probably mid-third century if this is the man who was praefectus urbi in Rome in 271 (see RIB). RIB 316

Corbridge: altar by N[...]. RIB 1126

Risingham: altar by Aelia Timo. RIB 1209

Diana Regina

Newstead: altar by G. Arrius Domitianus, centurion of XX Valeria Victrix. RIB 2122 (see this man again at Newstead under Jupiter Optimus Maximus and Silvanus)”

But if Gwenddydd was indentified with Diana Lucina, why is she located in the far North, in or adjacent to the great Caledonian Wood?  Obviously, because Nemorensis (see above) has as its root nemus, ‘(sacred) grove’, and so Diana was the goddess of the wood.  Coed Celyddon or the ‘Wood of Celyddon’ was thus a natural place to find the moon goddess.

This does NOT mean that we must allow for Gwenddydd being merely a story-teller’s creation.  There may certainly have been a purely Celtic moon goddess who was syncretized with the Roman Diana and who was later brought into connection withn Gwenddydd.

Scottish folk beliefs may help us further flesh out the Gwenddydd of the Myrddin tradition.  On the Isle of Lewis, tradition records that it is the cailleach who gives birth to the moon as it rises between her knees.

The phenomenon of the birth of the moon from the cailleach is described in more detail in Jules Cashford’s “The Moon: Myth and Image”, Basic Books, 2003:

“Because of the latitude of Callanish, the path of the moon at the maximum southern declination skims two ranges of hills, one of which (the south-east) has the appearance of a woman lying upon two pillows.  Present-day Gaelic-speaking people call her Cailleach na Mointeach, which means ‘Old Woman of the Moors’, and English-speaking people call her ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  The Moon appear from the Sleeping Beauty when it rises at the point of its maximum southern declination (appearing from her knees at one place and from her neck at another), and then, shortly after setting and disappearing from view, it rises again from a V-shaped valley in the south-western range of hills, as though reborn.”

The cailleach is associated with many mountains in Highland Scotland.  In fact, many are named FOR HER.

The moon itself is identified in Scottish lore with Nicnevin, ‘Daughter of Nemhain’. Sir Walter Scott, in his “Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1831)” describes Nicnevin as follows:

“…a gigantic and malignant female, the Hecate of this mythology, who rode on the storm and marshalled the rambling host of wanderers under her grim banner. This hag (in all respects the reverse of the Mab or Titania of the Celtic creed) was called Nicneven in that later system which blended the faith of the Celts and of the Goths on this subject. The great Scottish poet Dunbar has made a spirited description of this Hecate riding at the head of witches and good neighbours (fairies, namely), sorceresses and elves, indifferently, upon the ghostly eve of All-Hallow Mass. In Italy we hear of the hags arraying themselves under the orders of Diana (in her triple character of Hecate, doubtless) and Herodias, who were the joint leaders of their choir, But we return to the more simple fairy belief, as entertained by the Celts before they were conquered by the Saxons.”

In John Koch’s ‘Celtic Culture’, we are told:

“The Queen of the Fairies in Scotland, sometimes known as the queen of the witches, was Neven or NicNeven, a name Henderson and Cowan derive from Neamhain, OIr Nemain, a war goddess… variations on this name are found all over Scotland…”

Based of the character of the goddess and the implied meanings of her name when used as a common noun, the most likely derivation is as follows:

“OIr neim ‘poison’ (Goth niman ‘take’, etc).  n-stem, Mod. Ir. neimh ‘poison’.  Proto-Celtic *nemen from older *nemn, from PIE root *nem ‘to allot’.

From the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language:

Nemain Emain anemain ineamhain némainn

Keywords: war-goddess; battle-fury; warlike; frenzy; strife; murder; malice

However, both noted Celtic linguist Professor Ranko Matosovic and Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales prefer deriving Nemhain's name from OIr nem, gen nime 'heaven (Lat nemus, nemoris),  Old Irish nem 'holy, heaven' is cognate with Gaul. nemeton, Lat nemus, etc. (from PCelt. *nemo-).

If Nemhain's name can be related to both Diana Nemorensis and the Celtic Nemeton, then Nemhain and her lunar daughter may simply have been mother-daughter aspects of the moon.  Gwenddydd and the Lady of the Lake would be one and the same deity.

At least one aspect of the moon goddess - that of the daughter - may be present at what is perhaps the most ancient extant pagan shrine in all of Europe.  I'm referring to the famous Tigh na Cailliche or Taigh nam Bodach on Glen Lyon in Highland Scotland.

According to the Loch Lyon History Society Website:

“Tucked away in Gleann Cailliche, a hidden glen of boggy heath and mist, is the ancient shrine of Tigh nam Bodach. The shrine is made up of a modest stone structure that houses a family of bell shaped water stones from the river bed of the Lyon. The largest represents the Cailleach (old woman), accompanied by the Bodach (old man) AND THEIR DAUGHTER [OR MAIDEN], NIGHEAN. The Tigh nam Bodach is recognized as the oldest uninterrupted pagan ritual in Britain, some say in all of Europe. For centuries the family of stones have been taken out of their house every spring and facing down the Glen. At the beginning of November they are carefully shut back up inside their house, where they shelter through the winter. The ritual coincides with the two great Celtic fire festivals, Beltane and Samhain, and once echoed the annual migrations of the Highland cattle to and from the summer shielings. The shielings may be long abandoned, but the practice of tending to the stones is still observed to this day."

To this description may be added the following from CANMORE

“’Tigh na Cailliche’ (A L F Rivet, 1961) or ‘Taigh-nam- Bodach’ (A C Thomas and A Ross) is a simple pagan shrine. Shielings in the area were in use until after 1782 and the inhabitants regularly thatched it. Within there were twelve stones resembling human beings, perhaps associated with St Meuran and his eleven disciples (D Campbell 1888). The biennial rethatching of the shrine continued down to the present century and is paralleled by early traditions of ritual at a temple in France (A Ross 1967). ‘Taigh-nam-Bodach’ is a small stone-built structure, roughly rectangular and measuring 2.0m x 1.3m with walls 0.4m high, with an entrance to the east, and roughly roofed with stone slabs. Three of the ‘figures’ are at the entrance and three other possible figures are among the stones of the roof. These figures are pieces of sandstone weathered into a rough resemblance to human figures. There are no local traditions regarding their origin but Mr Bissett (gamekeeper) still puts the figures inside the hut in the winter and takes them out in the spring. This action has vague associations with good weather (Scots Mag 1979). Two possible shielings are visible to the east and north-east but they are too ruinous for certain identification. Visited by OS (EG) 12 July 1962 Not visited. Access was refused due to deer-shooting, but the staff in the Meggernie Estate Office state that the shrine is unchanged. Visited by OS (RD) 9 September 1969."

Anne Ross (Pagan Celtic Britain, p. 66) tells us:

“A simple small stone ‘shrine’ still in existence in Glenlyon, Perthshire, is illustrative of the difficulty of identifying such humble structures with ritual practice unless, as in the case of this building, popular traditions retain a memory of some earlier ritual.  The biennial thatching and unthatching of this shrine, which continued down to the present century may find parallels in such early traditions as the ritual annual roofing and unroofing of a temple by the women of an island community near the mouth of the Loire."

The best account of the House of the Cailleach and its ritual was sent to me by Gillean Ford of the Killin Heritage Society.  This is from “Highland Perthshire” by Duncan Fraser (1969):

“Taigh-nam-Bodach, Gleann Cailliche… There were customs and ceremonies associated with the month of May. The story of the Old Woman’s Glen follows on from customs such as the Beltane ceremony and the one where cattle were driven through two fires to chase the devil out of the beasts. These precautions, however, were not quite enough, if the migration later that month was up Glen Lyon to the fertile grasslands of famed Glen Cailliche, the Old Woman’s Glen, that branches west from Glen Meran. It is quite a small glen. From where the Old Woman’s Burn rises, fully two thousand feet up in the Old Woman’s Marsh between Ben Achaladair and Ben a’ Chuirn, on the boundary of Argyllshire, it is scarcely two and a half miles long. But there is magic in it. In the old days, when folk used the shieling each year, no one had any doubt why it got the name of the Old Woman. Others grew old and died, but she seemed blessed with remembered.  People showed something more than just an ordinary respect for her years. At the beginning of May, when the advance party arrived to repair the huts and get the shieling ready for the summer invasion, no one would have dreamt of doing anything else, until first they had thatched her little house, the Taigh-nam-Bodach. And when October arrived and time to leave the shieling for another year, the very last thing they did was to remove the thatch from her roof and carefully seal up every cranny with moss, so that when sweeping down the glen and the snow rose high over the little house, she would be snug and safe inside — with her husband and family. People were superstitious about the old lady. All through the summer months she sat outside her cottage, like a matriarch with her family around her, and everyone knew that as long as her house was thatched and she was at the door it would be a good summer for everyone at the Glen Cailliche shieling. But it would have been madness not to place the thatching of her cottage first in the list of priorities. When she was displeased, there was nothing but bad weather, bad crops, and disease among the cattle, all through the summer months. It was almost uncanny how it happened. So each spring and autumn the ritual continued, year after year. When the tenants of Meggernie ceased to use the Cailliche shieling, it was taken over by Chesthill – and a long journey it was – two dozen miles from Chesthill.  But still the old lady was there and still her house was thatched each spring and unthatched each autumn. Then the pattern of Highland farming began to change towards the end of the eighteenth century. Blackface sheep were brought from the Southern Uplands to take over the hills and the old happy days of the pastoral life gave way to a loneliness that the landlords found infinitely more rewarding. The cow-herds and the dairymaids could always find a job in the dusty Lowland cotton mills or across the sea in Canada. Thousands of cottages fell into ruins after the big sheep came and even the Cailliche’s house had to do without its annual thatching. But she was still there. She is there to this day with her family. They still live in the Taigh-nam-Bodach, though now it is stone roofed instead of thatched. Any summer’s day you can see it there, with the white stones that look from a distance like seagulls on top, and you can see the Cailliche herself at the door with her family. She has five children with her at present. Once every hundred years or so, she bears another. Though the baby of the family is still very small, folk are sure it is growing – that one day it will be as big as any of the others. And that is surprising, for they are all of stone, an extraordinarily heavy water-worn stone. They have a weird dumb-bell shape that is said to be found only in one small part of the Cailliche burn.  The old lady herself is the biggest of them all. She is about eighteen inches tall and in certain lights you could swear she takes on human features. One of the duties of the shepherd on that beat is to see that the family is still brought out in the late spring and put away again for the winter, and the house carefully sealed up. Odd things, they say, are still happening, when one is foolish enough to tamper with her or her family. There is no doubt that the Cailliche has been there a long time-so long that even four centuries ago, when first we hear of this glen, it already bore her circular forts or even further to the Bronze Age people."

Gillean Ford’s own personal letter to me on the subject of the Cailleach’s house is also worth presenting here, as she adds some keen insights into the nature of the shrine:

“Whilst the KHS [Killin Heritage Society] has long been regarded as “the protector” of the stones it is in a very unofficial capacity and stems from the time when the land owner had links with the Society. The land has changed ownership several times since then and whilst the Society has always tried to ensure that the tradition of taking the stones out in May and securing them once again in “their house” in October continues, we “protect” in a superficial form only. As do other interested parties in and around Glen Lyon. There has been some recent controversy in the area, due to the construction of a small hydro-electric scheme that is taking place close to the site of Taigh Nam Bodach. As to the age – who knows? None of us have been on this planet long enough to be able to answer that. It is recognised as the oldest pagan ritual in Britain, if not Europe. For centuries the family of stones have been taken out every Spring and then at the end of October/beginning of November put back in shelter for the Winter. This coincides with two great festivals of Beltane and Samhain and once echoed the annual migration of cattle to and from the Summer shielings when the Cailliche would look out over the cattle during these Summer grazings. Strange things are said to happen to anyone who dares to disturb the stones. A few years ago a lady historian from Edinburgh removed one to study and story has it that her life became so disturbed that she had to return the stone to its “home” in the glen within a very short time."

I would make a case for the ‘na (h-)Inginn/Nighean or ‘Daughter’ of the Cailleach and the Bodach of Glen Lyon as being of a lunar nature, and being the same deity, in fact, as the Hekate Nicnevin of folk belief. And Hekate, of course, is merely an aspect of Diana Lucina, i.e. Gwenddydd/Goleuddydd. We cannot go so far as to identify the cailleach with Nemhain. Everything about the cailleach suggests an earth goddess, and we have seen above that it is as an earth goddess that she gives birth to the moon.

If I am correct, then the Arthurian romance ‘entrapment” of Merlin within the “stone” takes on a new significance:  his spirit was imprisoned within the house of Gwenddydd’s mother, the British equivalent of the Scottish cailleach, atop Tinto Hill for the Winter Half-Year.  It was only with the return of Summer on May 1st that he would have been permitted – for a spell – to be free from his incarceration.  The Caillech's lunar daughter would have placed him back into the ‘house’ at the end of the succeeding Summer Half-Year.  This was simply because he was identified with the sun god – in this case, probably Lleu.

The Cailleach Beara has as a proper name that of Bui or Boi, one of the wives of Lug Lamfhota.  In “The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise-Woman Healer”, Gearoid O Crualaoich discusses this aspect of the Old Woman:

… and a role as sovereignty symbol in, for example, her representation in the medieval materials, under the name Bui, as the wife of Lugh, elsewhere himself the model representation of kingship… Bui was claimed as divine ancestress by the Corca Loigde (a leading tribe of the Erainn of West Munster), whose territory once included the whole of the Beara peninsula… We can note that Heinrich Wagner would accept the identification of the earliest name for Cailleach Bheara (viz. Boi/Bui) with a derivation from the Indo-European form *Buvya meaning ‘white cow-like-one’ – this being, Wagner claims, a characteristic appellation of Indo-European manifestations of the Magna Mater… the personal name Boi of the divine, territorial, sovereignty queen/spouse of the divine Lug, himself the model and epitome of the king-god of Celtic mythology.  Boi is understood to be etymologically related to the Indo-European word for cow (Mod. Ir. bo and Sc Gael. bo; gen. sing. ba) and to be evocative of the primordial cult of the cattle divinity (sacred bull; sacred cow).”

There is a nice discussion of the goddess Bui in Elizabeth FitzPatrick’s “Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland c. 1100-1600: A Cultural Landscape Study” (Boydell press, 2004):

“The Hag [Cailleach Bhearra] has been identified with the female character Bui – the eponym of Cnogba (Cnoc Bui; Knowth, Co. Meath).  In the Dindshenchas poem of Cnocba, Bui is espoused to Lugh.  This ‘marriage’ has been interpreted as a superlative example of the ‘mythic complex of sovereingty’, in which Bui herself appears to personify sovereignty.  Bui occurs not only as the eponym of Congba but is also directly linked with Oilean Boi Bhearra and Inis Bui and Bo Bhui off the Beare peninsula, and in the lordship of O Sulleabhain Bheara in west Cork.  Bui (Baoi) recurs as a ornamental epithet in medieval bardic poetry."

The cailleach’s connection with Lugh is important, as Myrddin/Merlin is intimately associated with this latter deity in Welsh. So, for the Gaelic identities of the Cailleach, Bodach and Inghean of the Tigh name Bodach in Gleann Calliche, we can make the following equivalencies:

Cailleach = Boi

Bodach = Lugh

Nighean = Hekate NicNevin (Diana Lucina/Gwenddydd/Goleuddydd/Nemhain)

Lugh, the pan-Celtic god who was worshipped at Lughnasadh atop mountains, was undoubtedly the presiding male deity of Tinto Hill. 

I will, then, stick to my identification of Gwenddydd as a moon goddess.

The Wild Man of the Wood in Highland Scotland

The “Buile Shuibhne” or “Frenzy of Suibhne”, which tells the story of the quintessential Irish madman, contains within it an episode that many have thought may be a reference to the British Myrddin (or Merlin).  This British madman is called Fer Caille, the ‘Man of the Wood’ (cf. Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'sylvester homo' for Merlin), or Alladhan (only once Ealadhan).  Scholars have debated whether Alladhan is an attempt to render Llallogan, the real name of Myrddin.  Some think this might be the case, while others opt for interpreting Alladhan as being derived from Gaelic allaid(h), ‘wild’, making for ‘the Wild One’.  The point is rather moot, as I’ve already demonstrated that the word at the root of Llallogan and allaid(h) is, in fact, the same word.  Llallogan (Llallog with a diminutive suffix) as ‘the Other’ and Alladhan as ‘the Wild One’ are, therefore, much more closely related etymologically than one might otherwise think.

The relevant section of the translated text of “Buile Shuibhne” is here, taken from

“Suibhne then left Carraig Alastair and went over the wide-mouthed, storm-swept sea until he reached the land of the Britons. He left the fortress of the king of the Britons on his right hand and came on a great wood. As he passed along the wood he heard lamenting and wailing, a great moan of anguish and feeble sighing. It was another madman who was wandering through the wood. Suibhne went up to him. ‘Who are you, my man?’ said Suibhne. ‘I am a madman,’ said he. ‘If you are a madman,’ said Suibhne, ‘come hither so that we may be friends, for I too am a madman.’ ‘I would,’ said the other, ‘were it not for fear of the king's house or household seizing me, and I do not know that you are not one of them.’ ‘I am not indeed,’ said Suibhne, ‘and since I am not, tell me your family name.’ ‘Fer Caille (Man of the Wood) is my name,’ said the madman; whereupon Suibhne uttered this stave and Fer Caille answered him as follows:


            O Fer Cailli, what has befallen thee?

            sad is thy voice;

            tell me what has marred thee

            in sense or form.

            Fer Caille:

            I would tell thee my story,

            likewise my deeds,

            were it not for fear of the proud host

            of the king's household.

            Ealadhan am I

            who used to go to many combats,

            I am known to all

            as the leading madman of the glens [variant:
            ‘swift madman…’].


            Suibhne son of Colman am I

            from the pleasant Bush;

            the easier for us is converse

            here, O man.

After that each confided in the other and they asked tidings of each other. Said Suibhne to the madman: ‘Give an account of yourself.’ ‘I am son of a landholder,’ said the madman of Britain, ‘and I am a native of this country in which we are, and Alladhan is my name.’ ‘Tell me,’ said Suibhne, ‘what caused your madness.’ ‘Not difficult to say. Once upon a time two kings were contending for the sovereignty of this country, viz., Eochaidh Aincheas, son of Guaire Mathra, and Cugua, son of Guaire. Of the people of Eochaidh am I,’ said he, ‘for he was the better of the two. There was then convened a great assembly to give battle to each other concerning the country. I put geasa on each one of my lord's people that none of them should come to the battle except they were clothed in silk, so that they might be conspicuous beyond all for pomp and pride. The hosts gave three shouts of malediction on me, which sent me wandering and fleeing as you see.’

In the same way he asked Suibhne what drove him to madness. ‘The words of Ronan,’ said Suibhne, ‘for he cursed me in front of the battle of Magh Rath, so that I rose on high out of the battle, and I have been wandering and fleeing ever since.’ ‘O Suibhne,’ said Alladhan, ‘let each of us keep good watch over the other since we have placed trust in each other; that is, he who shall soonest hear the cry of a heron from a blue-watered, green-watered lough or the clear note of a cormorant, or the flight of a woodcock from a branch, the whistle or sound of a plover on being woke from its sleep, or the sound of withered branches being broken, or shall see the shadow of a bird above the wood, let him who shall first hear warn and tell the other; let there be the distance of two trees between us; and if one of us should hear any of the before-mentioned things or anything resembling them, let us fly quickly away thereafter.’

They do so, and they were a whole year together. At the end of the year Alladhan said to Suibhne: ‘It is time that we part to-day, for the end of my life has come, and I must go to the place where it has been destined for me to die.’ ‘What death shall you die?’ said Suibhne. ‘Not difficult to say,’ said Ealladhan; ‘I go now to Eas Dubhthaigh, and a blast of wind will get under me and cast me into the waterfall so that I shall be drowned, and I shall be buried afterwards in a churchyard of a saint, and I shall obtain Heaven; and that is the end of my life. And, O Suibhne,’ said Alladhan, ‘tell me what your own fate will be.’ Suibhne then told him as the story relates below. At that they parted and the Briton set out for Eas Dubhthaigh, and when he reached the waterfall he was drowned in it.”

The first thing to be said about this account of Alladhan is that he belongs to the region of the ancient Caledonian Wood in Highland Scotland, NOT to the ‘Celyddon Wood’ the Welsh placed in Lowland Scotland.  We know this because the fort of the king of the Britons Suibhne left on his right hand is Dumbarton, the Dark Age Alclud or Dun Breatann.  Of the chieftains involved in the battle that sends Alladhan fleeing we can say nothing other than that the names are thoroughly Gaelic, not British and not Pictish.  Eochaidh is a common Irish name; there were several such in Scottish Dalriada.  Aincheas is Irish aincheas, found once as a personal name.  It meant ‘pain, difficulty, trouble, doubt, perplexity’, etc.  Cugua is a truncated form of Cucuach, found in the Annals of Ulster for the year 1166.  A Cucuagh spelling may well have lost its terminal.  Mathra is Irish mathra, maithre, ‘mother’s kin or tribe, maternal kins-folk’.  Guaire is another common Irish name.

While the date of “Buile Shuibhne” is roughly placed in the 13th-15th centuries, references to it have been found in 10th century.  I now know, having discovered the place of Alladhan’s death, that the story cannot have been composed prior to the life of the Scottish saint Dubthach or Duthac (c. 1000-1065).

The waterfall (eas) of Dubhthaigh and the associated saint’s churchyard points solidly to the magnificent Falls of Glomach in Kintail, not far to the northeast of Kilduich or Clachan Duich, the church and stone-cell of St. Duthac. Depending on what site one accesses, the Glomach falls are either the second or third highest in all of Britain.  More importantly, the falls can be reached by following a path, part of which follows alongside the river Elchaig, one of the 'coffin roads' used to take the dead to Clachan Duich for Christian burial.

Alladhan would not appear, then, to have anything to do with the Welsh Myrddin/Llallogan – other than the fact that both were specters or ‘madmen’.  Christians found it necessary to supply both with deaths and proper burials, either through a misunderstanding of the real meaning of ‘madness’ in these contexts or as a method of eliminating pagan aspects from the motif..

Some Other Mysterious Places Associated With   Merlin

There are some other Merlin sites whose locations are uncertain. Five of them are the Fountain of Barenton, another tomb of Merlin, the spring of Galabes, Merlin’s esplumoir and the Green Chapel of the Gawain poem.

The Fountain of Barenton is none other than the mineral springs of Berrington (Berinton) near Tenbury Wells in Herefordshire.

A previously unlocated grave of Merlin is said by the Prose Lancelot to be in the Perilous Forest of Darnantes atop a mountain. Darnantes or Dar-nantes is the River Dore, which flows through the Golden Valley in the Black Mountains of Wales. Dore is either from French D’ore, ‘golden’, or W. dwr, ‘water’, while –nantes is from W. nant,

‘stream, brook’. The Perilous Forest of the Dore River must be in this area, which is still forested to this day. Only a couple of miles west of the Dore is Mynydd Merddin, ‘Myrddin’s Mountain’, one of the traditional Welsh sites of Merlin’s tomb. However, as Mynydd Merddin is an outlier of the Black Mountains, this could well be a relocation of Merlin’s mountain at the Eildons in the North.

As for Merlin’s spring or springs of Galabes, Geoffrey of Monmouth places this site in the region of the Gewisse. In a note to his The Quest for Merlin (pp. 270-271), Tolstoy suggests that Geoffrey may have substituted the Gewisse for Nennius’ Guunessi. This would mean, of course, that Galabes would be found in Guunessi. Tolstoy is mistaken here. Merlin’s Galabes is plainly Nennius’ Guoloph, i.e.

Wallop, the site of a battle between Aurelius Ambrosius and Vitalinus. Now there is a Wallop stream in the Shropshire of Vortigern, but there is another in Hampshire, the Wallop Brook, site of the villages known as the Wallops. Hampshire is within the territory of the Gewissei.

The Cair Guorthirgin of Guunessi has been identified with a site at Nant Gwrtheyrn near the northwest coast of Llyn between Yr Eifl and Nefyn. Guunessi (Gwnnws, Gwynnys) is now a farm two miles south of Nant Gwrtheyrn.

Now to treat briefly of the famous ‘esplumoir’ or ‘esplumeor’ of Merlin, which the Didot Perceval places next to the Grail Castle of Bron and Perceval:

“…and I wish to make a lodging outside your palace and to dwell there… And all those who will see my lodging will name it the esplumoir of Merlin [‘si le clameront l’esplumoir Merlin’]. Then Merlin left them and made his esplumoir and entered within and never since then has he been seen in the world.”

Raoul de Houdenc’s Meraugis de Portlesguez identifies the esplumoir as a high rock upon which are twelve damsels forever prophesying. These ‘twelve damsels’ are in reality a stone circle. They are akin to various stone circles named for maidens or witches, e.g. Boleigh’s Merry Maidens, Bosscawen-Un’s Nine Maidens, Little Selkeld’s Long Meg and Her Daughters, Harthill Moor’s Grey Ladies, Stanton’s Nine Ladies.

The best guess to date as to the meaning of esplumoir is ‘moulting cage’, but this is usually considered unsatisfactory. The word is otherwise unknown in Old French.

The es- of esplumoir is a prefix such as that added to caliber to form Escalibur or Excalibur, the name of Arthur’s sword in later romance. As such, it can be dropped, leaving us with a word spelled ‘plumoir’ or ‘plumeor’. I would see in either of these an obvious Old French attempt at Old Breton ploe, ‘parish’, plus meur, ‘great’. There are four Ploemeur place-names in Brittany: Pleumeur-Bodou and Pleumeur-Gautier in Cotes d’Armor, Plomeur in Finistere and Ploemeur in Morbihan. Plomeur in Finistere is home to the Kerugou dolmen.

Suppose, however, that ‘great parish’ is not being used in this context as a genuine place-name, but as a description of a type of district? I believe this, is in fact, what the author of the Didot Perceval intends here. He was availing himself of two traditions. One, which is known to come from before the 12th century, is the designation of the island of Britain as ‘Clas Merdin’. Clas, according to the

Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, has the meanings ‘monastic community, monastica classis, cloister, people of the same country, band or community of fellow-countrymen’. The second strand of tradition comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth, who makes Amesbury the scene of a famous monastery, the so-called Cloister of Ambrius (or Emrys, the Welsh form of the Latin name Ambrosius). This monastery may be referred to in the Welsh Triads under its name Caer Caradoc, one of the three eternal choirs of the island of Britain. This again is due to Geoffrey, who refers to Salisbury near Stonehenge and Amesbury as Caer Caradoc.

Geoffrey, furthermore, places Stonehenge or the Giants’ Dance atop a hill next to the parish of Amesbury, supposedly the ‘Fort of Ambrosius’. For Geoffrey, and anyone reading him in the Middle Ages, Ambrosius was merely another name for Merlin himself.

The ‘Great Parish’ of Merlin, i.e. of Ambrosius, would be the parish of Amesbury with its stone circle. Again according to Geoffrey, Ambrosius brother of Uther was buried within the Giant’s Dance. Since Merlin bears the Ambrosius name as well, the Didot Perceval author placed Merlin’s Otherworld ‘lodging’ or tomb at Stonehenge.

But if the Esplumeor Merlin = the ‘great parish’ of Amesbury, the nearby Grail Castle obviously was not Corbenic or Castell Dinas Bran in North Wales (see Chapter 13 below), a tradition recorded in other Arthurian romances. Then what is the Grail Castle next to the Great Parish of Ambrosius?

The best guess would be Amesbury’s neighbouring hill-fort Vespasian’s Camp, only 1.2 miles east of Stonehenge.

The name of this camp is due to the Elizabethan antiquarian Camden. In reality, the fort pre-dates the Romans. However, I think it is not a coincidence that Geoffrey of Monmouth calls Salisbury Caer Caradoc after the British chieftain Caractacus who was defeated by the Roman Vespasian. We have no record of Salisbury ever being referred to as the fort of Caractacus; the ancient name of Old Sarum next to Salisbury was Sorviodunum.

Could not Geoffrey have mistaken Salisbury the town for Caer Caradoc, when in reality Caer Caradoc was the name of the hill-fort on Salisbury Plain? Camden might well have replaced the name of the defeated British chieftain with that of the Roman conqueror, Vespasian. If so, the ‘eternal choir’ of Caer Caradoc mentioned in the Welsh Triads is another name for the Cloister of Ambrosius at Amesbury. And as far as the author of the Didot Perceval was concerned, Vespasian’s Camp next to the Esplumeor Merlin or Great Parish of Amesbury was the Grail Castle.

Another Arthurian site has always intrigued me; that of the Green Chapel in the 14th century epic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. While it is not immediately apparent that the Green Chapel has anything to do with Merlin, we will see that it actually belongs to the great enchanter.

The poem leaves no doubt as to what the Green Chapel really is:

"... a hillock of sorts, A smooth-surfaced barrow on a slope beside a stream... All hollow it was within, only an old cavern..." (Lines 2171-82)

This chambered barrow is ‘hardly two miles’ from the castle of the Green Knight, who calls himself Bertilak of Hautdesert (High Desert). The directions to this castle are unknown; we are only told that Gawain is going north by way of the Gwynedd coast opposite Anglesey and the Wirral Peninsula. After this the description of his route becomes increasingly vague.

Bertilak represents the Bertholais of the Arthurian Vulgate. Indeed, the English translation of the Vulgate renders Bertholais as Bertilak. This Bertholais is associated with Gawain, but does not bear any of the characteristics later ascribed to Bertilak. In the Vulgate, Bertholais and the False Guinevere (whose champion the former was) are exiled to the hinterlands. The suggestion has been made that Bertilak's beautiful wife, the temptress of Gawain, is actually the False Guinevere. Because the poet put Morgan le Fay in Bertilak's house, it is also possible that the Green Knight's wife is an aspect of Morgen, i.e. the Morrigan.

Bertholais owes his name to the Britaelis of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History. Britaelis was Gorlois' servant whose form was assumed by none other than Merlin in the story of Ygerna's seduction by Uther. If Bertholais is Merlin, it is surely significant that the Life of St. Kentigern has Lailoken/Myrddin/Merlin buried ‘not far from the green chapel where the brook Pausayl flows into the River Tweed.’ In other words, the ‘Green Chapel’ is none other than the site of the Scottish Lowland Merlin’s supposed grave.

Myrddin and the Journey to Avalon

The very first account of Arthur’s conveyance to Avalon differs remarkably from that found in late sources such as the Morte D’Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory. It is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin that tells us how Arthur was brought by boat from Camlann to Avalon, with Merlin a passenger and Barinthus the steersman. As has been recognized for some time, this Barinthis is Geoffrey’s spelling for the famous Irish St. Brendan the Navigator, originally Breanainn, who set out from Ireland to find Tir Tairngire or the Land of Promise in the west.

The typical Celtic triad of Arthur, Merlin/Myrddin and Barinthus/Brendan is replaced in the romances by various numbers of ‘queens’, i.e. goddesses of Avalon, who ferry Arthur away to the Otherworld without any masculine assistance. Morgan (= the Morrigan) is often listed as one of these ‘queens’, as is the Lady of the Lake (= the Dea Latis Nemhain), of course.

Breanainn is a borrowing from the Welsh and is a name based on brenin, ‘king’. Brenin itself derives from the name of the goddess Brigantia, specifically from *brigantinos, a term which identified the king or ‘exalted one’ as consort of the tutelary goddess of the Brigantes tribe. As the Camlann that was Castlesteads and the Avalon that was Burgh-By-Sands are both in Carvetii territory, and the Carvetii were part of the Brigantian confederation, it is particularly appropriate that the pilot of the boat should bear this name.

Of course, we are talking about ancient religious symbolism here – not physical fact. It is well known that Myrddin (if a man and not a god) lived and died well after Arthur’s time. He could not, therefore, have been personally present in the funeral barge that took Arthur to Avalon. But as Myrddin was a divine spirit of a slain warrior-bard, he may be emblematic of the other slain champions who perished with Arthur at Camlann and who, presumably, also were taken to Avalon.

Myrddin and the Gods Mabon and Lleu

Up until this point I have resisted seeing Myrddin as a sort of dethroned pagan god, perhaps Maponus, the Welsh Mabon, and/or Lleu.  And I will continue to do so.  However, there is no doubt that elements derived from relics of Celtic religion did adhere to him. 

The early Welsh literature on Myrddin points to him being a man, possibly an important one, who dies in battle at Arfderydd.  His flight from the scene of carnage in spectral form was interpreted during the Christian Middle Ages not as a post-death state, but instead as a panic or guilt-induced madness.

Much of my resistance to accepting Myrddin as something more than this comes from the fact that all the “god qualities” assigned to him originate in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writings and Jocelyn of Furness’s hagiographical Life of St. Kentigern.  Both sources are late and of more than dubious authority.

Geoffrey identifies Myrddin, his “Merlin”, with the Welsh god Lleu, the ancient lord of Gwynedd or NW Wales.  The Life of Kentigern, either aware of this tradition or drawing from some unknown material, assigns a triple death to Myrddin not unlike that suffered by Lleu in the Welsh Mabinogion.  Many modern theorists have, therefore, tended to identify Myrddin with Lleu.  We should recall that the people of Drumelzier were the “Reapers”, and so we might wonder if the killing of Myrddin – if Lugh or a Lugh surrogate or avatar – coincided with the reaping of the first grain on Lughnasadh.

But if Myrddin did become identified with this god in folk tradition, what do we make of the Welsh tradition that has him fleeing from battle and wandering as a madman in the Scottish Lowland forest?

Well, as long ago as Nikolai Tolstoy’s book THE QUEST FOR MERLIN, it has been pointed out that the main enemy of Myrddin at Arfderydd was the Christian champion King Rhydderch of Strathclyde. 

Let us, for the sake of argument, allow for Myrddin being THE CHIEF GOD of the pagans, i.e. Maponus/Lleu.  The army who worships this pagan god is defeated by Christians, and their god thus overthrown.  He is exiled to the wild places, forced to live in the forest. There he voices prophecies that are described by his Christian adversaries as mad babblings. The “god” communes with the spirits of the slain on Tinto Hill at its huge Bronze Age tumulus because Tinto Hill was the central Lleu-mountain of the Scottish Lowlands. 

The triple sacrifice of Lleu would have been enacted every year.  Lleu’s annual death occurred originally at February 1 or Imbolc, if calculated around 1200 A.D.: the goat and bathtub of Lleu’s death scene represent, respectively, the goat of Capricorn and the water-bearer of Aquarius. In 3000 BCE, the sun was between these two signs on the Winter Solstice.

Taking all of the above into account, I must conclude that while it cannot be proven Myrddin was originally the sun god Maponus/Lleu, it is certainly possible that a deity has been overlayed upon a figure who started out, at any rate, as Myrddin/Llallogan.

Alternately, we could view Myrddin as an AVATAR of the god Lleu.  The avatar concept – that of a deity who assumes human form - is a difficult one for us in the West to grapple with.  In simple terms, Myrddin came to be seen as a sacred warrior, one dedicated to Lleu. When he died in battle, he became “one” with the god. Sacrifice victims symbolized the god to whom they were given.  Thus men sacrificed to Odin by hanging represented the god himself as he hung from the World Tree.  As a Lleu warrior or chieftain, Myrddin could be viewed as the sun god incarnate.

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