Celticsprite’s Blog

Faerie Lore: Elf-shot by mermaids…
May 4, 2012, 3:14 pm
Filed under: Faerie Lore, King Arthur
 I am glad to share with you this fine article as previously published on the partner blog Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History & Folklore and written by Diane McIlmoyle. Re-posted under her kind permission. All rights reserved by the author.
It’s a good theory that faeries are most strongly associated with the ‘Celtic Fringe’ (Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Wales) because these areas were not overrun by later beliefs that came with the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. Cumbria also largely missed out on the Saxons, so our traditions have a lot in common with the classic Celtic areas. But a perusal of a map, never mind a tome of folklore, shows that Cumbria has at least as many elves as faeries.
Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom 
Dancing Elves (1866) by August Malmstrom
The word, ‘elf’ is derived from ‘alfar’, the Scandinavian word for diminutive supernatural types; they are, if you like, Viking faeries. There are several Elf Howes; the Elfa Hills; Elva Hill, Elva Plain and Elva stone circle; Elf Hall at Hallthwaites, Ellabarrow at Pennington, and lots more.
The elven ‘howes’ and ‘barrows’ are an interesting continuation of the pre-existing tradition of faery hills. In 1885, a vicar from Lanercost recorded the story of a Bewcastle man who was dragged off his horse and nearly pushed into a faery hill. The only thing that stopped this calamity was the page of the bible that he kept in his pocket specifically with this need in mind. Ellabarrow is home to ‘Lord Ella’ who sleeps under the hill with his golden sword, waiting to be awoken in a time of need. Of course, many parts of the country have a tale of kings and knights who live under the hill – I recall one about a sleeping King Arthur from Alderley Edge in Cheshire – that are clearly related to faery/elven hill stories.
A lot of the detail in elven/faery folklore supports the link with ancient peoples. Lord Ella’s ‘golden’ sword could have been folk memory of a bronze blade, mistranslated by time. Ancient beakers unearthed by farmers – probably from an ancient grave, whether they realised it or not – were said to be ‘faery cups’. And well into the 20th century, neolithic flint arrowheads were believed to be faery arrows, or ‘elf-shot’.
For hundreds of years, if cattle were taken ill, they were said to be ‘elf-struck’, which meant they had been shot with a faery arrow. There’s even a theory that our colloquial medical term, ‘stroke’ is derived from elf-stroke, too. The cure in Cumbria was to touch the beast (or, presumably, the human) with one of the faery arrows or to give it water in which the arrow had been washed.   The arrowheads were valuable commodities and carefully preserved for this purpose. In 1712, Bishop Nicholson remarked in his diary, that at ‘Bowness (on Solway)… we saw several Elf Arrows, too pretious (for the cure of Cattle Elf-shot) to be parted with’.
I was rather elf-struck myself recently to read Marjorie Rowling’s assertion that the elves got the elf-shot from the faeries, who, in turn, were given the arrows by mermaids. For one, this suggests that tradition does reflect a chronological succession from faeries to elves. But secondly, and more importantly – where did the mermaids come from?

 Whilst Cumbria’s coast has been far more important to its development than the casual observer might realise, we don’t often hear of mermaids. What we do have is a strong tradition of faeries – and it usually is faeries, rather than elves – at other watery places: springs, wells and tarns.

St. Cuthbert’s Well at Edenhall is said to be an entrance to faeryland; perhaps this was the home of the faeries who gave the Luck of Edenhall to the Musgraves. There are numerous similar stories recorded by Cumbria’s pre-eminent faery tracker, Mr Alan Cleaver.
© Diane McIlmoyle 09.12.11
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Arthur’s Stone: The last resting place of King Arthur?
May 1, 2012, 1:12 am
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, King Arthur, Standing Stones

Clas Merdin: Tales from the Enchanted Island, where he shares his interests in Early tales of Arthur the Warrior, Arthur in the Landscape, Anglo-Saxons, Dark Ages, Post-Roman Britain, and Glastonbury Legends. (All rights reserved by the author, and reposted under his kind permission – Copyright © Edward Watson, 2012 ).

Arthur’s Stone is one of the most notable of all Neolithic burial monuments in western Britain. Located at Grid Ref: SO319431, between the villages of Dorstone and Bredwardine, west Herefordshire, England. This dolmen is associated with the legend of the last resting place of King Arthur and set within a picturesque area of gently rolling countryside lying in the lee of the Black Mountains of Wales, with stunning views to the north-east over the Wye valley.
To find the tomb leave Dorstone by the B4348 heading towards Peterchurch. As the road crosses the river, turn off left at a sharp right-angled bend and head uphill past Dorstone Hill Wood. Some distance further up the western slope of the ridge turn into Arthur’s Stone Lane. Continue along the lane, here on your left, overlooking the natural depression of the River Dore known as the Golden Valley, is Arthur’s Stone.

 Legend’s claim the site is either the tomb of Arthur himself or a giant that he killed. One stone bears the marks of the giant’s elbows when he fell dying. On another slab marks are said to have been made by Arthur’s knees where he knelt in thanksgiving after the duel, alternatively they may e marks his fingers made as he played quoits; many cromlechs in Wales are named Arthur’s Quoit and it is tempting to think that the name may once have also been used for the mighty capstone at Dorstone. By implication Arthur must have been a giant, who according according to legend, were the first inhabitants of the Island of Britain, indicative of his great antiquity and rightful association with these ancient monuments.

We find another Arthur’s Stone, also known as Maen Ceti, or Coetan Arthur, in West Glamorgan, South Wales. One day, so the story goes, when Arthur was walking through South Wales near the site of modern Llanelli he became irritated by a pebble in his shoe. He removed it and threw it towards the sea. The pebble finally landed several miles to the south on a ridge of land in the Gower Peninsula just below the summit of Cefn Bryn. The pebble forms the capstone of another exposed burial chamber, a huge slab of granite measuring 14ft x 6ft, overlooking the estuary of the river Lougher.


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The “Green Man” – Believes and considerations about a seasonal deity
April 13, 2012, 6:55 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, King Arthur

Birds: Messengers of the Otherworld – Their Celtic Symbolism
March 13, 2012, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, King Arthur, Meditation and Healing

AsI commented on previous posts, animal worship was very common amongst theancient Celts.
Accordingto their inward meaning, which may of course undergo transformations, they regardedanimals as human souls or their embodiment, and also held totemistic andhunting cults.
This association of SpiritAnimals or “Totems” is based upon the ancient Celtic belief that alllife is related, the spirits of earth, water, air, and fire, the spirits of aplace, the trees, the flora and the animals that they lived with side by side.Many ancient stories tell how the Druids could “shapeshift” intoanimal form even present on legends like the one of Ceridwen and Taliesin.
Inthe practice of their tribal religion Celts have chosen to adopt a personalspirit animal helper, which has special meaning to them. Normally this beliefis accompanied by a totemic myth.
TheCeltic clans had banners on which were displayed the picture or symbol of theirclan animal, as with the banners of the Fianna. Individual devices were paintedon shields and sometimes tattooed on the body. This may well be the origin ofthe heraldic devices that became so popular in later times.
Wemay also consider certain shamanistic practice by druids for employing swanfeathers to make the ritual cloak of the Bards probably considering theswan as  “assistant spirit,” oreven“guardian spirit” , clear reference to the shamanic ability of flight.
This connection to the realm of spiritsand the gods, undoubtedly led their path in search for secrets and wisdom.
Nearlyall shamanic cultures believe in Animal Allies or helpers. These creatures havethe appearance and many of the characteristics and behaviour patterns ofordinary animals, birds, and fish, but they can communicate with the shaman.Sometimes these animals become protectors and guides for the shaman, both whileshe/he is journeying in the Otherworlds and in the physical realm.
Otherways to enter the other world are by charm, like the song from magical birds (Ford,71), or by spell, like the mist descending over land (Ford,77). Wells, springs, rivers, and earthen mounds are some of the magical placesthat border with or co-exist in the other world. In these places, magic is muchmore prevalent and sometimes even time passes differently there.
Specificanimals have specific associations depending on the characteristics of the typeof animal. Birds, fish, serpents, deer, cattle, swine, and so on all tend to beused as symbols.
Animalsin Celtic mythology are tied in with fertility and vitality, because they areliving, moving, and growing. They also provide vitality and continued life forthe tribes through their meat, skins, and bones. 
Celts have a particularconnection with Birds, amongst other species. Birds are usually used torepresent prophetic knowledge, bloodshed, and skill.
They play an enormous rolein Celtic mythology, figuring as divine emblems and as messengers of the gods.Chief among the sacred birds of the Celts were the raven, the swan, and thecrane, although numerous other birds including geese, ducks, and even owls wereheld sacred at various times. Many early images of Celtic deities depict themwith birds in the place of hands, emphasizing the importance of the birds asdivine servants.
In an omen, birds can be either the message or the messenger. Forexample, Morrígan came in the shape of a bird to warn the Brown Bull. Theinterpretation of their calls and movements can lead to knowledge of futureevents. Birds, especially ravens and crows, usually presage bloodshed andbattle, when they are associated with it, sticking with the theme of prophesy. 
Birds can also be used todemonstrate a warrior’s prowess by their method of capture. Lleu Llaw Gyffeswas so skilled he could hit birds with a stone without killing them outright.Cúchulainn demonstrated even more prowess capturing birds skillfully, but hisson, Connla was still more skilled. He could not only stun them with a stone,but also with only his voice.
Exceptionally magic orancient animals speak the language of humans and can pass on their wisdomthrough speech. By and large birds are associated with speech. Branwen took anordinary starling and taught it to understand enough speech to find herbrother. Gwyrhyr & Arthur’s messengers conversed with an eagle, an owl, astag, a blackbird, and a salmon to learn ancient knowledge from them. 
A specialunderstanding of the speech of animals can yield a great advantage. Some heroeshave gained knowledge of the speech of birds, enabling them to be warned ofdanger or told secrets by the birds. Davidson mentions a less mythical middle-Irish manuscript describing how todetermine the approach of visitors through interpretation of bird calls.
Animals appear as an omen bytheir appearance and activity through a symbolic message. The type of animal andtheir activity is the substance of the message. On the eve of his battle withSir Mordred, King Arthur dreamt of being devoured by serpents, dragons, andother water beasts. The serpents and dragons alone mean great troubles withinthe land. King Arthur was destroyed by this mass of troubles, because the nextday, he was defeated in a battle during the civil war with Sir Mordred (Baines, 497-498). 
Another example ofan omen is Deirdre’s dream of the three great birds. They arrived bearing honeyand left with blood, symbolizing treachery on the part of king Conchobar (Pilkington, 177). Movements of smalleranimals, such as birds and rabbits, have also been interpreted to divine thefuture (Davidson, 11, MacCulloch, 219, 247).
Celtic Bird Allies
·       Blackbird (Druid-dhubh, Lon Dubh):
Legend says that the birds of Rhiannon arethree blackbirds, which sit and sing in the World Tree of the Otherworlds.Their singing puts the listener in to a sleep or trance which enables her/himto go to the Otherworlds. It was said to impart mystic secrets. 
·       Crane (Corr):  
 At one time the cranewas a common animal in the British Isles. One late Celtic tradition, apparentlyoriginated after the arrival of Christianity, is that cranes are people who arepaying a penance for wrong-doing. The crane is associated with the Cailleachand Manannan mac Lir, who made his crane bag from its skin. The crane, with itscolors of black, white, and red, was a Moon bird, sacred to the Triple Goddess.Magic, shamanic travel, learning and keeping secrets, reaching deeper mysteriesand truths
·       Crow (Badb, Rocas):
This animal is to treatedwith care. Along with theraven, the crow is a symbol of conflict and death, an ill-omen associated withsuch Goddess as Macha, Badb, and the Morrigan. The Irish word for crow is badb,which is also the name of a Celtic war Goddess. Although the crow wasill-omened, it was also considered to be skillful, cunning, single-minded, anda bringer of knowledge. It is of value when trickery is needed. It also teachesyou to learn from the past, but not hold onto it.
·       Owl (Cailleach, Oidhche, Comachag):
These birds were most oftenassociated with the Crone aspect of the Goddess. The word “cailleach”in the Scottish-Gaelic means “owl”. The owl is often a guide to andthrough the Underworld, a creature of keen sight in darkness, and a silent andswift hunter. It can help unmask those who would deceive you or take advantage ofyou. 
·       Raven (Fitheach):
Take care when dealing with thisbird. An important totem animal of the Celts. In Ireland the raven wasassociated with the battlefields and such goddesses as the Morrigu or laterWelsh Morrigan, just as was the crow. The bird was connected with Bran theBlessed; in Welsh bran means “raven”. Although its reputation isdubious, it is an oracular bird. It often represents the upsets and crises oflife that are necessary for anything new to be created.
·       Seagull (Faoilleann):
Seagulls do not figure in Celticlegends. However, they are connected to sea deities, such as the god Manannanmac Lir and the goddess Don. Like other birds, they are messengers from theOtherworlds.
·       Swan (Eala):
A mystical bird who figures inseveral Celtic stories. Its feathers were often used in the ritual cloak of theBards. Swans are connected with music and song. Swans also help with theinterpretation of dream symbols, transitions, and spiritual evolution.
·       Wren (Dreathan-Donn, Dreòlan):
A sacred bird to the Druids, itsmusical notes were used for divination. As with many other birds, the wren wasconsidered a messenger from the deities.



"The Stones of the Sons of Arthur"
March 9, 2012, 1:17 pm
Filed under: King Arthur, Standing Stones

Clas Merdin: Tales from the Enchanted Island, where he shares his interests in Early tales of Arthur the Warrior, Arthur in the Landscape, Anglo-Saxons, Dark Ages, Post-Roman Britain, and Glastonbury Legends. (All rights reserved by the author, and reposted under his kind permission – Copyright © Edward Watson, 2012 ).

The Stones of the Sons of Arthur
According to local lore the site of the battle of Cwmcerwyn is marked by a series of ancient monuments. Legend recalls that Arthur sat and watched his men fighting the Twrch Trwyth from a  spot marked by a standing stone known as Eisteddfa Arthur (Arthur’s Seat), slightly north of Brynberian, on the northern side of the main ridge of the Preseli Hills.

The Stones of the Sons of Arthur are located on the lower flank of Foel Cwmcerwyn, the highest top in the Preselis at 1760ft (537m) and the source of the Afon Clydach. On the ridge above are said to be The Stones of the Knights, (Cerrig Marchogion – SN102322). [3]

The Stones of the Knights are difficult to locate, if they survive at all today, and I suspect the four ancient cairns, the highest at 5ft tall, seen prominently along the skyline of Foel Cwmcerwyn, were probably the original draw to the legend of Arthur’s battle with the Twrch Trwyth, as often they are called by the alternative name of The Stones of Arthur’s Knights, no doubt commemorating Arthur’s four champions, Gwarthegydd, Tarawg, Rheiddwn and Isgofan that the giant boar killed here. The western most cairn was excavated in the early nineteenth century, uncovering a typical Early Bronze Age cremation in an inverted urn. However, the other cairns appear to be empty.

The next site marking the continuing battle with Twrch Trwyth is marked by The Stones of the Sons of Arthur (Cerrig Meibion Arthur – SN118310), where two erect stones stand about 8m apart,  some140m south-east of Ty Newydd farm in Cwm Cerwyn, Mynachlog-ddu, on the southern side of the Preseli Hills. The stones are said to be a monument to Arthur’s sons killed here by the Twrch Trwyth which had swum over from Ireland.

The Stones of the Sons of Arthur are part of the Glynsaithmaen group of standing stones located in the moorland around Ty Newydd farm in the hollow beneath Foel Cwmcerwyn in the boggy ground near the headwaters of Afon Wern. The name ‘Glynsaithmaen’, (valley of the seven stones), suggests the group originally consisted of seven monoliths or seven arrangements of stones, only six are obvious today, although other large stones in and around the farm and track behind the The Stones of the Sons of Arthur possibly account for the seventh. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the name may refer to certain stones considered particularly potent for arrow sharpening.

Copyright Ordnance Survey
If the four cairns atop Foel  Cwmcerwyn commemorate Arthur’s four champions lost here in the battle with the Twrch Trwyth, the site of The Stones of the Sons of Arthur must mark the traditional spot where Gwydre son of Arthur, Garselit the Irishman, Glew son of Ysgawd, and Isgawyn son of Banon were all killed by the beast, although only one of these boar hunters is named as Arthur’s son.

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Notes & References:

3. Chris Barber & John Godfrey Williams, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge, 1989.