Myth, Legend and Folklore

Rivers
Rivers (with nymphs!) flowing across Cors Fochno, map by Wm Hole from Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612)

Many rivers and streams run into the drowned lands of Gwyddno Garanhir where Mererid’s~> cry can be heard in the sigh of the turning tides, the cries of the wading birds and the winds gusting over the waves. This is a mythic world in a place that I inhabit. To the north the wide estuary of the River Dyfi washes the salt marsh and the mire of Cors Fochno shadowed by mountains to the east. These lowland acres stretch out to meet the sea, crossed by a web of streams flowing into rivers such as the Clettwr which rushes from the high ground through a rocky cleft and down through a wooded gorge to level out across the bog and into the estuary. And Ceulan, which flows from the same high ground where the cauldron lake of Moel y Llyn, fed by a perpetual spring, drains into the capillaries, veins and arteries around Cae’r Arglwyddes, flooding into the rivers below. Ceulan meets Eleri, running down from even higher ground, and as the land begins to level out they run together through another wooded gorge towards Cors Fochno, once flowing directly into Cardigan Bay but now diverted into the estuary to drain the land between the bog and the sea(*see note). Was it here that Gwion Bach was found in the fish weir of Gwyddno Garanhir and re-born as Taliesin? And so, was the flood that drowned Gwyddno’s realm the same flood that flowed from Ceridwen’s cauldron and poisoned his horses?(Discussion on this and the lake of Moel y Llyn  HERE~> )

The geography of the tale of Gwion and Taliesin is diverse. In the most well-known account Ceridwen set Gwion to tend the fire under her cauldron above the waters of Llyn Tegid. But this is too far north of Maes Gwyddno for the watersheds to bring the flood from there, though Llyn Tegid is itself said to have been formed by an inundation. Other parts of the tale of Gwion and Taliesin take it even further north to the Conwy estuary on the northern coast of Wales, where yet another inundation legend is set. Gwyddno himself may have originated in the ‘Old North’, that is the borderlands between England and Scotland.

So these ‘legendary’ events have geographical fluidity! But what of their source myth? Here, at the crucial meeting place of legend and mythic narrative – and the liminal ground of folklore through which the stories are diffused – is where historical memory, geology, and cultural ancestry come together in inherited mythos, and so cultural identity. It tells us where we belong, and who our gods are. When Gwyddno Garanhir leaves his lands to dwell with the ancestors accompanied by Gwyn ap Nudd ~> it is a mythic event represented in legend as located in a specific place, though his land could be any of many where historical inundations took place or where geological events re-shaped landscapes and seascapes as the narratives of these events themselves become ‘folklore’ and are written down as ‘literature’. They are our events when they are located in familiar landscapes or narrated in culturally specific ways. But the mythos is universal and this universality is reflected in the apparent universality of international folklore motifs, though mythic universality runs deeper; this is why Annwn is the ‘Deep’ from which our shallow world is manifest.

But it is never ‘shallow’ to us. because it is given depth by legends and mythic narratives which enliven the lands we inhabit, just as the empty winter woods take on a depth when sunlight shimmers through trees in full leaf to shadowy hollows and glades. Already, then, when Taliesin is re-born in Gwyddno’s lands, they are places of legendary history where mythic events have occurred. So when Gwyddno’ son Elffin adopts Taliesin as his bard at the court of Maelgwn Gwynedd, characters from the historical record become the stuff of legend and the carriers of mythic narrative: here the bard re-born from the waters to sing of the Deep from which he came. Here too is Mabon, freed from the dungeon below the waters of the Severn, who himself shares a story with Pryderi, stolen from his mother, Rhiannon, soon after his birth. The stories are told with many variations and inter-leavings as myth becomes legend and lore: the Harp of Maponos ~> playing to inspire multiple narratives.

And Taliesin? His historical, legendary and folkloric dispersal weaves  a mythic identity as the archetypal bard. But when Gwyn ap Nudd invites him into The Deep~> he seems reluctant to leave the legendary territory of his shaping for the mythic realm he claimed to know. Such is the ambiguous fate of heroes and demi-gods of ancient story, living between worlds. It is so for us too, when The Deep reveals itself and its darkness illuminates our world.


*  The draining of Cors Fochno and re-alignment of the River Eleri in the 18th and 19th centuries was undertaken as part of the Enclosure Acts which enabled landowners to bring ‘unproductive’ common land into their ownership for agricultural production.

An historical survey of this process can be found HERE

4 Comments

  1. I wish I knew the Brythonic lore of my land as deeply but unfortunately little is known about our wasteland betwixt the Ribble and Mersey from those times…

    Love the map 🙂

    1. Greg Hill says:

      Drayton’s poem covers the whole coast of England and Wales, with accompanying maps. I have the set if you’d like a copy of the one covering the Ribble?

      1. Greg Hill says:

        …. as far as the location is concerned, I see no reason why a story could not be made out of the same elements for the inundation of Morcambe Bay …. and the Tyno Helig legend is not so far away …

      2. Yes please 🙂

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