quarta-feira, 28 de outubro de 2009

Similarities between the Brythonic and Norse Traditions

Although separated from the Odhinnic tradition by culture and language, there are enough overlapping areas of character, symbolism and expression between the Brythonic (British Celtic) and Norse/Germanic traditions to make the links in their respective symbologies worthy of investigation.

As the Druidic and Celtic teachings were communicated entirely by oral means and were not documented until the 10th-13th Centuries CE, there remains only a small amount of insight available into genuine practices and traditions, and what was written down has invariably been despoiled by the Christianised perspectives of their monastic chroniclers. Therefore, the techniques I choose to unearth the possibilities that lie within the Brythonic Tradition rely upon making personal interpretations of its mythological symbols, then cross-referencing these discoveries with the more complete Teutonic Tradition.

It is only after thoroughly exploring the shadowy landscape of the Shattered Realm that the Glorious Realm (Afallon) can be reached. In fitting with the Celtic origin of these analogies, at the heart of Afallon lies the Graal, the symbol of the Divine Self, which lays under the guard of the psychopomp 'Arawn' in Caer Bannuac (Carbonek/Corbennig). In Jungian terminology Arawn would figure as the manifestation of The Shadow that dominates the landscape of the Shattered Realm. Its role as the guardian obstacle of the Self reiterates the Shamanic tradition of Ordeal in the Initiatory process, whereby one faces death through ordeal and is reborn in triumph; an esoteric principle at the heart of many aspects of World Mythology. The Shadow bars access to the Unified Self through the unpleasant negativity it emanates. This negativity is then manifested into the form of obstacles created by the Ego that block the Initiate from Unity. Once these corruptions and imperfections are minimised, the Graal can be seized. The Shadow figure, despite its negative, obstructive nature is in fact the key to consciousness itself. The attainment of Unity is not a simple quest and without the Initiator constantly raising the bar through chaos and discordant discomfort, we would never develop enough Being to reach the Graal at all.

From this basic analysis it is clear that the Graal Quest is a central feature in my vision of a system of Brythonic Initiation. The Brythonic Tradition is one that consistently features the Graal as an archetype for the Divine Self, whether it be expressed in the forms of the Cauldrons of Bran the Blessed and Ceridwen (where the cauldron represents either power over death or the source of numinous inspiration), or as that of the ultimate bounty that was sought by Arthur and his knights in Taliesin’s 6th Century poem The Spoils of Annwn.

Arthur himself is a symbolic principle of man’s virile, warrior nature. He is an idealised warrior king and the same kind of leader of ‘divine heroes’ as we see in the character of Odhinn. The source of his name is related to the same symbolism found in the shamanic bear cults of Hyperborean Europe, with Arth being the Brythonic and Welsh translation of ‘Bear’. To the Britons, the constellation we call Ursa Major was known as ‘Arthur’s Wain’. This symbolism was also relayed in Sir Arthur Scott’s ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’.

Arthur's slow wain his course doth roll,
In utter darkness, round the pole.

A parallel of this can again be seen in the Germanic title of Woden’s Wagon for that same constellation. That Odhinn was also represented as a Bear in the form of Bjorn and his furious Ursine aspect was invoked by the shapeshifting Berserkrs also appears to be a pertinent similarity.

Like those around Odhinn, the mythological imageries surrounding Arthur can be regarded as symbolic keys for transformation. The Graal which Arthur and his Knights seek delivers the same prize that Odhinn took for himself in the drinking of Oethroerir; the poetic inspiration through which the divinity of the Self can be revealed. Although the Graal itself does not feature in direct physical form in the Sagas and Eddas, it is in Odhinn’s drinking of the Mead of Inspiration where the most obvious symbolic correspondence to the Graal lies. In Welsh Myth it is the Cauldron of the lunar deity Ceridwen with its magically brewed content of Awen (muse, inspiration, or genius) created by the fferyllt (magical metal workers akin to alchemists) that endow her boy servant Gwion[2] with poetic inspiration, the gift of prophecy and the ability to shape-shift. He is subsequently transformed through an ordeal of rebirth after being consumed by Ceridwen in the shape of a hen, as described in ‘The Hostile Confederacy’ from The Book of Taliesin.

A hen received me,
With ruddy claws,
and parting comb.
I rested nine nights
In her womb a child,
I have been matured,
I have been an offering before the Protector,
I have been dead, I have been alive...

After being reborn he is cast into the sea by Ceridwen, but emerges unscathed from that great symbol of the unconscious and is renamed Taliesin (Radiant Brow) by the one that finds him.

Awen was originally brewed as an antidote to the ugliness of Ceridwen’s deformed son Afagddu (Utter Darkness), but is instead consumed by the innocent Gwion by mistake after he licks three burning drops of the liquid from his finger that had been spat there as he stirred the Cauldron for his mistress. Ceridwen’s frustrated attempt to feed Afagddu from the Cauldron of Inspiration acts as a parallel to Odhinn’s stealing of the Mead of Inspiration from Suttung’s mountain cave Hnitbjorg [3]. Odhinn’s theft represents the stealing away of such mighty forces from somewhere where they will only be wasted and rot away in uselessness unless they are rescued by some higher principle. A mirror of Odhinn’s attainment of the forces of the Graal is encountered elsewhere in Brythonic legend through the deeds of Arthur and his men. In 'How Culhwch won Olwen' from Y Mabinogion, and also in 'The Spoils of Annwn', Arthur rescues the Cauldron of Inspiration from the Giant Diwrnach Gawr[4] after his knight Llenlleawg[5] defeats him in combat.

The channelling of the Cauldrons’ active content ‘Awen’ as a divine force of inspiration, prophecy and shape-shifting amongst communities of seers in medieval Wales has been legitimately evidenced. The 12th Century cleric Giraldus Cambrensis reported the following regarding the Awenyddion, who act as oracular vessels of ‘poetic inspiration’.

Among the Welsh there are certain individuals called Awenyddion who behave as if they are possessed... When you consult them about some problem, they immediately go into a trance and lose control of their senses... They do not answer the question put to them in a logical way. Words stream from their mouths, incoherently and apparently meaningless and lacking any sense at all, but all the same well expressed: and if you listen carefully to what they say you will receive the solution to your problem. When it is all over, they will recover from their trance, as if they were ordinary people waking from a heavy sleep, but you have to give them a good shake before they regain control of themselves... and when they do return to their senses they can remember nothing of what they have said in the interval... They seem to receive this gift of divination through visions which they see in their dreams. Some of them have the impression that honey or sugary milk is being smeared on their mouths; others say that a sheet of paper with words written on it is pressed against their lips.

There is clearly some form of link between the practices of the Awenyddion and those of the Seidhkona of Scandinavia. Both are remnants of an older Shamanic root in which the practitioner enters a trance that produces visions, ecstatic states and divinatory ability. Little else is known of the Awenyddion, but it seems likely from the small amount of evidence on offer that it has its origins in the Druidic Tradition. As related in the story of Gwion, Awen acts as a force of shape-shifting as well as prophecy and numinous inspiration and as the practice of shape-shifting was documented by observers of the Druids there is some foundation for Awen having a Druidic root. Anne Ross[6] describes how Druidic shape-shifting was practiced in the form of Corrguinecht, in which the Druids, during battle, would mimic the way that dominant geese stand as they continue to protect their flock, despite being asleep, by keeping one eye open whilst standing on one leg with one wing outstretched. This form of ‘shape-shifting’ served the purpose of magically protecting the tribe as they fought.

The frequency of shape-shifting as an expression of transformative processes plays a crucial role in both mythologies. As already discussed, there are occurrences of shifting into animal form surrounding the respective imbibing of the Mead of Inspiration in each tradition. Odhinn enters Hnitbjorg as a snake and departs with the mead as an eagle, whilst Gwion and Ceridwen take part in three transformations following the accidental ingestion of the sacred brew. To escape Ceridwen, Gwion transforms into a hare, a fish and a bird but Ceridwen pursues him as a greyhound, an otter and a hawk. Eventually, Gwion becomes a grain of wheat, but Ceridwen changes into a hen and consumes him, instigating his rebirth process after nine nights in her womb.

Both mythologies make frequent use of this common device when essential transformations are made in the fabric of their pantheons. Loki, for instance, being the active bringer of essential change through discord, changes into a mare, a falcon and a salmon as means of altering situations to either his own or, under duress, the Aesir’s favour. In the stories of The Mabinogion the amount of shape-shifting practiced is voluminous, but the most relevant example can be found in the transformation of Lleu Llaw Gyffes[7], who after being impaled on his own magical spear transforms into an eagle and perches in a state of putrefying death in the eaves of an oak tree. He is eventually sang down by Gwydion, who then changes him back into his original form with a touch of his wand. Although the symbolism of Lleu being impaled on his own spear before taking his place on the tree needs no further clarification, the alternative imagery employed, such as the eagle that soars then rots before returning to its original state, reiterates the Shamanic nature of Odhinn’s sacrifice of himself to himself.

In addition to the above conceptual ties between the traditions there is also the linguistic link in the origins of Odhinn’s name Wodh-an-az - ‘Master of Inspiration’[8] and the numinous function of the Graal and its magical content. In Germanic myth it is Odhinn in the guise of Freyja’s lost consort Odhr that seems most akin to the Welsh principle of Awen. That Freyja was also the goddess that taught the practice of Seidr adds further weight to this parallel. The frenzied qualities notable in the practices of the Awenyddion, the Seidhkona the Berserkrs are all aspects of invoking Odhinn, whose name also stands for ‘fury’.

Although there are many variations and equivalents of Odhinn’s character and actions in Celtic legends, what is missing from them is a single, personified principle of the concept of numinous poetic inspiration as is found in the Germanic Tradition. Although Cernunnos and Lugus[9] can be seen as close parallels to Odhinn, there is not the same clearly drawn unifying principle of consciousness as there is in the Teutonic Tradition. This is why it is important to focus on what parallels are apparent in the Brythonic Tradition and apply the universal elements of Odhinn and the Graal quest into a combined mythological interface. If we look further into the Graal Quest of Arthur and his Knights we can see some further resonance between the shared esoteric content of each mythology.

One of the most implemental artefacts in Arthur’s Graal Quest is the sword Caledfwlch. It’s name is derived from the words Caled meaning ‘difficult’ or ‘hard’ and Fwlch or Bwlch meaning ‘gap’ or ‘pass’. This sword, being forged in Afallon later known as Caliburn and Excalibur, is both the symbol and the means of obtaining the Graal. In myth, the ordeal of passing into Afallon, the location of the Graal Castle and realm of the eternal Self, was entered by crossing the ‘difficult pass’ of the Sword Bridge. The Sword Bridge is the span that links the conscious world to the realm of the Divine Self, taking the Graal Knight over the sea of unconsciousness, thus giving him mastery over it. In the world of modern movies the ‘hard gap’ to pass before reaching the grail is portrayed in different inspirational ways in the forms of the invisible bridge in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Bridge of Death in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Although Caledfwlch is in fact a different sword to that which Arthur pulls out of the Stone at the beginning of his tale, I would purport that they both represent the same principle. The sword being freed from its natural fastening place is a motif that can also be found in the Völsunga Saga, in which Sigmund releases the sword Gram from the tree in which Odhinn placed it. If the magical sword represents the active, dynamic connection between the Self and the Graal, it is interesting to note the manner in which such things are broken and renewed in each Tradition. Arthur’s original sword becomes broken after his near-fatal combat with King Pellinore, whilst Gram breaks when Sigmund faces Odhinn in combat during the battle with King Lygne over the maiden Hjordis. This breaking reveals how the numinous link is not yet a permanent state of Being in mortals and can be severed. In the case of Sigmund this severance proved fatal, but with Merlin’s aid Arthur survived.

Despite the danger of having one’s sword broken, the eventual result of this disaster is the ownership of a formidable renewed or improved sword. Arthur’s original sword is replaced by Caledfwlch, also named Dyrnwyn[10], which in differing versions is either obtained from the Lady of the Lake (an enigmatic Anima figure) or from Rhydderch the Generous. Regardless of the version quoted, the new sword is a direct gift from the realm of Annwn. Caledfwlch is clearly an improvement on the old broken sword, with its description in The Dream of Rhonabwy revealing it to be a formidable alchemical symbol, with it having “a design of two serpents on the golden hilt; [and] when the sword was unsheathed what was seen from the mouths of the two serpents was like two flames of fire, so dreadful that it was not easy for anyone to look upon”.

Gram however is reforged by Regin for Sigurd, Sigmund’s son and its renewed power is so great that it destroys the anvil on which it was repaired. This makes it a devastating weapon with which to slay the dragon Fafnir, which is the ultimate act of overcoming and bears testament to the power of the renewal that follows the symbolic ordeal of ‘breaking’.

Although Arthur expresses many of the esoteric Initatory aspects of the Brythonic Tradition, it is the character of Myrddin Emrys[11] that more closely resembles the physical and interactive qualities of Odhinn’s incarnation in the lands of men. He is a prophetic magician and shape-shifter who travels the land in the form of an old man, acting as tutor, protectorand spiritual guide to Arthur. Evola notes that Myrddin’s role is essentially that of the ‘personification of the transcendant side of Arthur’[12]. I concur with this, though I also recognise him to be an archetypal memory of the extinct druidic priesthood of the pre-christian Celtic tribes, which was also reflected in the contemporary continuation of the tradition of the Bards. He also resembles Jung’s ‘Wise Old Man’ archetype in the same way that Odhinn the Wanderer and Gandalf the Grey do.

Myrddin Emrys doesn’t figure in the Brythonic tradition at all until Geoffrey of Monmouth combined what was known of the Welsh and Breton tales of the legend of Arthur when he produced the first romanticised version of the legend in the 12th Century. It is likely that his portrayal of Merlin was inspired by the character Myrddin Wyllt[13], the mad prophet of the Caledonian Forest who features in Welsh poetry from the 6th Century onwards. Aside from his physical and archetypal form, Myrddin Emrys’ chief Odhinnic quality is his tie to the principle of Awen/Seidr, as is noted in his ability to prophesy, to change his shapeand his link to the Bardic tradition.

Although it is the case with the majority of Indo-European mythologies, there are many similarities in theme, imagery and content between the Brythonic and Germanic myths. Looking beyond the basic surfaces and natural symbolism of such traditions also reveals a similar expression of esoteric purpose. By looking at the Northern Traditions collectively we can fill many of the gaps that the natural decay of time and alien traditions may have erased. In the case of the Brythonic Tradition this decay has left less remains than other branches of the Northern Tradition, so it is especially important to employ such techniques if a greater esoteric understanding is to gained from working with its skeleton. Although the Goidelic tradition of Eire and Mannin will doubtlessly highlight further valuable material, I have thus far taken far more personal pleasure in looking for resonance in the legends of the Aesir and the cold north.

[1] It is important to note the importance of the Island as a symbol of the Self, being an isolated, autonomous feature in the ‘sea’ of unconsciousness. Afallon is the original Cymric root of the Anglicised Avalon, deriving from the Welsh Afal, meaning ‘Apple’ – an important symbol in many world myths, including those of the North, in which the Apples of Iduna are the key to the immortality of the Aesir. At the core of this realm of the Eternal Self lies the Graal, the symbolic manifestation of the Divine Self.

[2] ‘The Innocent’

[3] The name Hnitbjorg suggests a meaning to the effect of ‘resilient protection from conflict’. When considering the psychic processes involved in numinous inspiration, the underground mountain fortress of the Giant Suttung can be seen as representative of the Etin forces within the unconscious mind that attempt to protect the Ego from the conflicts that Initiation instigates within the psyche. In this tale it is Odhinn that bores through this fortress of the restrictive unconsciousness in the guise of a serpent, steals the Mead and escapes as an eagle – a symbol of the higher consciousness he has taken as his own.

[4] Diwrnach or Dyrnwch Gawr derives from the Welsh Dyrnu meaning ‘to thump’ or to beat something, whilst the Old Welsh Dyrnig translates to ‘Fierce’. Dyrnwch Gawr therefore describes a fierce and violent Giant.

[5] Possibly an earlier form of the French name Lancelot.

[6] Ross, Anne. Druids: Preachers of Immortality, p.22-24. Tempus. 1999.

[7] Bright one of the Sure Hand. This was a name given to Lleu by his mother Aranrhod, who was tricked into doing so by Gwydion after she had cursed her son to remain nameless. Gwydion brings the child to herald unaware that he is her son, names him Lleu Llaw Gyffes after witnessing him throw a stone at a bird with such accuracy that he could decide to maim it rather than kill it.

[8] Thorsson, Edred. Runelore, p.179. Weiser. 1987.

[9] Lugus is a possible linguistic root of the Welsh Lleu and his Irish counterpart Lugh. It may also be related to the name Loki.

[10] Again this derives from the words Dyrnu and Dyrnig thus represents brutal ferocity. The suffix wyn however makes this sword an object of bright light, which suitably matches its reported ability to burn with a blazing fire when in the hands of a Noble. The similarities between Caledfwlch/Dyrnwyn and the Irish Caladbolg (tr. hard cleft) are notable.

[11] Merlin Ambrosius

[12] Evola, Julius. The Mystery of the Grail, p.32.Inner Traditions. 1994.

[13] Wild Merlin

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