Cup-bearer at the court
of Gwyddno Garanhir
she proffered the mead of prophecy,
Fore-telling the overwelling
of pride, predicting the flood
but not pre-empting the flow
From the poisoned cup of plenty
held by the plaintive stranger,
her presence inviolate.
But respect for her expected
honour waned and without it
she was unprotected.
So was the land. The waters
washed over the fetlocks of horses,
their grazing a gathering place
For dolphins, and she now diving
with them under the waves
that lap at the liminal marshland endlessly
The office of cup bearer had its origins in an older custom and was therefore seen as both integral to the court but also an echo of something other, so its holder could be regarded as equally an insider and an outsider as an officer of the court.
Although the principal role of male cup-bearers was as poison tasters, female cup-bearers in Germanic and Celtic tribes were identified with provision and also with prophecy. The office may have had its origins in the goddess Rosmerta, the element ‘smert’ in her name means ‘provider’ , her emblems being the bucket, ladle, cup and the patera – symbols of life-giving food and drink.
The flooding of the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir are recorded in the legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod. The older of the extant legends blames Mererid (‘Pearl’) – variously identified as a cup-bearer, a well maiden, the lover of one of Gwyddno’s men who had been killed in battle – as the responsible agent of the flood. The story is confused.
Mererid is portrayed as riding through the flood on a horse.
Gwyddno Garanhir’s horse was said to have been poisoned by the waters rushing down through his lands from the spilling of Ceridwen’s cauldron.
Cup bearers are discussed by M J Enright in Lady With a Mead Cup (Four Courts Press, 1995)
Mererid’s story is contained in a poem in the Welsh medieval manuscript of
The Black Book of Carmarthen
5 thoughts on “Mererid”
Very interesting observations about the position, significance and associations of cup-bearers.
Digesting the Enright book I see 🙂
I did some reading since our meet up where I mentioned these inundation myths all stem from a memory of sea level rise at the end of the Ice-Age. It seems the universality of these stories seem to corroborate that.
Which makes this all the more fascinating; that events from 10,000 years ago have survived as stories and legends all this time. I wonder if the horses of Gwyddno being poisoned by the Cauldron of Cerridwen splitting might be related to this inundation too? His horses get mentioned when the land is flooded I think. A different ‘explanation’ behind the memory of the flood?
Which then begs the question about Cerridwen, either she is a later import to the legend, or has become diminished to a crone at a lakeside. maybe of one of the primordial giants with a cauldron big enough to drown a cantref?
Anyway…this is all brilliantly interesting 🙂
Yes, I had thought the ‘cup bearer’ designation for Mererid in The Black Book of Carmarthen was significant but only reading Enright did the full significance of this fully click into place.
Ceridwen remains enigmatic and seems to fulfil a number of roles but she is the keeper of a cauldron and enables the rebirth of Gwion as Taliesin, both of which identify her, at least typologically, as divine,. As for the context of Maes Gwyddno, Gwilym Roberts has discussed this here :
and in related posts on his blog.
I wonder if there is a connection between Mereid and the pearl trimmed cauldron?
Thanks for sharing this evocative re-telling of Mererid’s mythos. I like the way she sees the future and remains inviolate. I was very much struck by the water coming up to the horse’s fetlocks and the lines about their grazing becoming a gathering place for dolphins. A most uncanny transformation – I was almost seeing horse-dolphins! Intriguing to hear that Mererid rides through the flood on a horse..
I hadn’t thought about comparisons between Mererid and Rosmerta through ‘mert’ before. Very interesting.
Yes, the line about the cauldron of the Head of Annwn: ‘a dark trim, and pearls’ is translated from ‘gwrym am y oror a mererit’. It feels like there could certainly be a connection…
Interestingly in relation to Ceridwen being giant-like and having a drowning cauldron I’ve just been reading about the Cailleach and the Corryvreckan, a whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland which is viewed as her cauldron. There seems to be intriguing similarities.
I recently found from Finnchuill ‘coire’ means cauldron in Gaelic and also ‘whirlpool’. Finnchuill has written a really interesting article on Nuadha/Nectan/Nodens here which also mentions cup bearers https://finnchuillsmast.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/catching-wisdom-nuadhu-nechtan-nodens/
This is interesting in relation to cauldron as ‘crochan’ which is quite close to ‘croth’ (womb) – why Ceridwen is connected with the cauldron and rebirth of Taliesin? I remember reading that in Kristoffer Hughes’ ‘From the Cauldron Born.’