Let's Read GURPS Celtic Myth

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Séadna

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There's something about the idea of packs of wild Corgi that tickles me pink
Man, so the first time I heard this I was completely disarmed. We often have cultural exchanges with Wales where we hear each other's folklore and language. I myself often going to Nant Gwrtheyrn on the North coast. My Welsh wasn't as good as it is now, so when this old storyteller said to me:
"The noble Fae mounted their armoured Corgis and..." I was dumbfounded going over the word "Corgïaid" in my head thinking "I didn't hear this right, he didn't say armoured Corgis did he?" half laughing but half too confused to laugh. And for this guy this was epic serious stuff, not something funny to laugh at.
 

AsenRG

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The Second Sight:

In Welsh myth there is a common motif of people who can naturally see the Fae, even when the Fae are invisible to other humans. Although this is mentioned once or twice in Irish myth, it's much more prevalent in Wales where certain families have the second sight in their blood or an individual is remembered as having an unusually powerful form of the second sight, being able to see even the Fae's hidden fortresses.
Interesting parallel incoming:thumbsup:!

In Bulgarian myth there's "saturdaymen"...well, poor translation, but I lack a better one. Basically, those are either the kids of a vampire (made the traditional way, i.e. NOT by bite, but Blade-style:tongue:), or kids born in Saturday...or presumably, both.
Sometimes, said ability is kept "in the blood", too:shade:.
IIRC, they're rumoured to be able to see and recognize mystic creatures even when they're taking measures to conceal themselves, or have turned invisible (which some can do).
 

AsenRG

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What's the original Bulgarian term?
"Sabotnitzi"* (съботници), with the "a" being pronounced like...you know, there's a wrong pronunciation in some variant of English for every word example I can think of, so just copy the Cyrillic text and set Google Translate to pronounce it:grin:!
The root is "sabota" ("saturday"), the rest shows it's a person related to/from the root. That's about as far as the linguistic analysis would get you.


*Important distinction: not "sabotyani", that's a religious movement which considers the Saturday to be the correct rest day for religious reasons...:shade:
 

Séadna

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Any interesting info on the Knights of the Red Branch?
I haven't forgotten this just to say. Just got the folklore transcripts there recently and should have something up tomorrow. I was double checking against English language sources and it took a while to find something not in English accounts.
 

Séadna

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Short version: English language sources basically contain everything about the Red Branch Knights story wise. There are a few technical or cultural details I give below. The reason for this is that the Red Branch stories didn't ever become part of popular folklore and so never amassed a large volume of untranslated folk material.

So just as a bit of set up the Red Branch Knights occur in the Ulster cycle. The Ulster cycle tells the stories of the warriors and kings of the ancient Ulaid kingdom and its struggles against the rival kingdom of Connacht. The Ulaid kingdom fell in prominence around the time of the arrival of Christianity, but the tales are set during its "Golden Age" in the 1st Century BC. To give a rough timeline to Irish myth this is about 300 years before the Sidhe retreated into their mounds in the mid 3rd century, and a millennium and a half after the time when the Tuatha Dé Dannan ruled Ireland in the 17th century BC.

For complicated reasons the epics of other regions declined in popularity and by the time it came to collect myths in books, only the Ulster Cycle remained of the regional epics.

Just as a brief note the Medieval kingdom of Ulaidh/Ulster which gave rise to the modern province of the same name is not the same kingdom as the Ulaid appearing in the Ulster cycle, the territories were quite different with only about half the territory in common. The latter Ulaidh kingdom actually co-opted the name in an attempt to copy the glories of the past and there's a ton of medieval manuscripts arguing about who are the true Ulaid

The Ulster Cycle was actually assembled from a bunch of unconnected myths starting around the 7th century, which were glued together using Greco-Roman and Biblical themes, as well as free inventions of monks and Bards while in strong contact with Welsh Bards who were doing the same with their own myths at the time. I'll give some examples of this.
  1. I've mentioned this before here but an example is that the Táin was originally unconnected with Cú Chulainn, as he was a local hero of an area to the South of the Ulaid kingdom. This still shows up in how he is said to have been fostered into Ulaid, not born there. Cú Chulainn probably originally meant "Chariot Hound", the "Culann" part being a word for chariot. However it was later rationalised as him being the "Hound" of a blacksmith called Culann.

  2. The Táin didn't have bulls at all originally they were borrowed from the Roman poem Thebaid.

  3. The story of the other Red Branch Knights being cursed with pregnancy was almost certainly invented as a way to give Cú Chulainn the spotlight in the Táin.

  4. The king Conchobar mac Nessa's wife Mugain Etanchaitrech, her name just means "Lady Fuzzy Pubes", a joke that wouldn't have worked in the older language of the original myths.

  5. The characters Fearghus Mac Róich, Fearghus Foga and Fearghus Mac Léide were actually all just different titles for one character but were later understood as three separate people.
We also know there was influence and back influence from emerging Arthurian literature in Britain. Fearghus Mac Léide carries Calacholg, a powerful magic sword. Using standard rules for converting Irish into Welsh this becomes Caledvwlch, the Welsh name for Excalibur. Interestingly Calacholg was originally "Calabholg = Hard Spear" and the Welsh word also originally meant "Hard Spear", so Excalibur was originally a spear. The Irish myths only change it to a sword after Arthur starts having it as a sword in British writings. Merlin is also a result of borrowing Suibhne Gealt from Irish stories. Irish translations of Arthur copy language from the Ulster cycle.
Conghal Cláiringhneach one of the Red Branch Knights actually returns Arthur's son to him as one of his quests. In some variants Arthur asks him for help against the Saxons.
The trials of Cú Chulainn during the feast held by the wizard Bricriu and Cú Chulainn's affair with the wife Bláthanid of the sorcer-warrior Cú Raoi are, via Welsh, heavy influences on Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight. Cú Raoi himself is the same character as Culhwch in the Early Welsh Arthurian story Culhwch ac Olwen. In fact in that story several of the Red Branch knights are directly names as knights of Arthur:
I invoke it [in the name of] your warriors."
[Thus] he invoked his boon [in the name of]...Cnychwr son of Nes and Cubert son of Daere and Ffercos map Poch and Lluber Beuthach and Corfill Berfach
Which are just Welsh versions of Conchobor Mac Nessa, Cú Raoi, Fergus, Lóegaire Búadach and Conall Cernach.
Cú Chulainn disrespectfully enters Conchobor Mac Nessa's hall in language almost identical to how Percival enters Arthur's court in a similarly disrespectful way on horse.
One could go on and on, but basically these Irish heroic tales and the early Welsh Arthurian stuff seemed to have formed together in one milieu as the Irish and Welsh bards communicated a lot in the 7th-8th centuries before a changing political climate on both islands led to less contact. In both cases around the 7th-8th centuries they were combining their older myths into composite epics modelled after Greco-Roman literature and drawing in Biblical themes.
 

Séadna

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One other thing, the Red Branch Knights were later not understood as one of the Sidhe, but as half-demons or even full demons. Which is why they are described as now being in Hell and not in a Sidhe Mound. Cú Chulainn's Riastradh was originally "Ríasturthae" sort of "Spectre transformation" with "Spectre" also meaning demon, so "Demon form" could be used.

In later myths St. Patrick resurrects Cú Chulainn from the dead and gets him to talk to the current High King Laoghaire to convert him to Christianity. Cú Chulainn has to replicate all his feats from the Ulster cycle to convince Laoghaire that Cú Chulainn has been truly bodily resurrected and is not just a ghost. Throughout Cú Chulainn speaks of his time in Hell, how him and the other Red Branch Knights are tortured there, how the devil himself would press him into red hot charcoal and is presented as a broken man.

In the end Laoghaire doesn't convert, so St. Patrick gets the Earth to swallow him and summons dogs from thin air to shit on his head. As a consolation though Cú Chulainn is permitted to go to heaven.

Funnily the power of resurrection is described as Patrick's own power, not something he gets from God. Later stories give him self-resurrection as well.
 

AsenRG

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In the end Laoghaire doesn't convert, so St. Patrick gets the Earth to swallow him and summons dogs from thin air to shit on his head. As a consolation though Cú Chulainn is permitted to go to heaven.

Funnily the power of resurrection is described as Patrick's own power, not something he gets from God. Later stories give him self-resurrection as well.
That st. Patrick was a real old-school preacher:shade:!
 

Séadna

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That st. Patrick was a real old-school preacher:shade:!
My favourite thing about the story is how committed Laoghaire is to disbelief.
"Sure you've resurrected this ancient hero with your saintly powers and he's given me a first hand account of Hell, but I don't know man still seems a bit far fetched"
 

Séadna

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The Galway Shoemaker's son and the Sidhe:

This is a story that appears in several variants across Ireland and Scotland, but I don't think has an English translation. There's plenty of differences in the versions. Sometimes trivial ones, such as Galway being replaced with a Scottish location, the shoemaker being a tailor and stuff like that. Some variants have a much more elaborate description of the fairy palace. It's also unusual for having a sexual element. This is a quick summary.

A shoemaker living outside Galway town has an indolent, drunkard for a son who is always out playing cards, going to dances and bars. Eventually his father has a falling out with him and in some versions an argument bordering on violent it ends with an exchange something like this:

Father: "Eventually you will tire of these vain pursuits. Something will happen and the guilt of not pleasing your father will come over you"
Son: "What exactly will happen to me?"
Father: "Keep galivanting at night and you will find out"
Son: "Will something hurt me, damage me?"
Father: "What about the Sidhe of the night? When you are out between 12:00 and 1:00, when the mortal world is asleep and the dead are in purgatory"
Son: "Pfft, they don't exist"
Father: "Believe me, they are. Remember that when you are out late, you won't always be lucky"
Son: "Father I want to prove to you that they don't exist. Where do the stories say I will certainly find them"
Father: "Go to that field at 12.30.." points outside up a hill/down a mountain/etc "...you'll find them"

Before I go on the hour between 12.00 and 1.00 was a special time in Gaelic myth. Ghosts are meant to be individuals in purgatory who are let out at night and early morning, but have to make a short return between 12.00 and 1.00. Similarly demons can wander the Earth at night, but must check in back in Hell at this hour. So anything seen at this hour is not a ghost or demon, but has to be a Sidhe. And since they have no interference from other supernatural entities at this hour, the Sidhe are the most active at this time.

So he prepares that evening and heads to the field, bringing with him picnic style food. This is the part that varies quite a bit since the food brought depends on the storyteller's area, but it's a tangent to the main story. Now often the field is really what in English one would call a plain at the base of a mountain. He finds a "Caul cave", i.e. a cave with spider web coverings or bushes over the entrance in which he can hide.

He waits and is ready to give up, imagining with glee proving his father and the stupid old stories wrong. Suddenly then he hears an explosive gust of wind that bends trees and in some versions takes the covering from his cave. This is followed by loud crashing footsteps. He then sees a group of 15-20 finely dressed men, clad in old clothing. Often to the storyteller "old" means a fantasy medieval noble, so imagine an Arthurian knight or similar. He hears them planning something, but can't make it out. Some minutes later there is another blast and a similar group of 15-20 arrive from the sky. These have different heraldry or patterns on their clothing to the first group.

The two groups then begin to have a free for all brawl or a hurling match or a football match. The first is more common in the Scottish versions.

Eventually one of the Sidhe is worn out and heads to the cave to have a rest. Sensing something the Sidhe heads into the cave.
At this point every storyteller, from Cork to Uist, says an identical stock phrase "I myself believe that he [the shoemaker's son] had his fill of fear there inside the caul cave". The particular way "Believe" is said is ungrammatical in modern Gaelic, indicating it's a phrase learnt off and preserved identically for hundreds of years.

The Sidhe spots the shoemaker's son. and teases him to come out, or in some case threatens him to come out. Eventually he calmly asks him to be a sub in the match, replacing the wounded Sidhe. Saying nothing will happen to him or no Sidhe tricks will be played "provided you do your best".

He walks out and takes off his shirt and vest to play topless. Some versions kind of dwell on describing his body and all versions emphasise that as a naturally living man full of life he is far more vigorous and powerful physically than the artificially/magically immortal Sidhe. This whole section has a erotic element no matter what details are included just from the way it is described (important for later).

With him on their side one of the teams defeats the other easily. After the end of the match the Sidhe teams shake hands amicably as with a boom the losing side suddenly take to the sky. Normally this sort of matches are how the Sidhe conduct "peaceful" warfare, so this was a battle in a sense with this territory now belonging to the winners.

The Sidhe who was wounded then comes over and says to the shoemaker's son "Follow me/us and do something to me and you will be safe". The 'something' is not described. The mortal man then follows them to the entry to a Lios or Stone circle or a normally invisible doorway in the rock and enters a massive courtyard toward a palace.

Entering the palace they arrive in a massive a room, well lit with huge candelabras, massive dining tables laid out with fine meats, sweet breads and wine. Everybody sits on the ornate chairs surrounding the table except there is no chair for the mortal man.

The Sidhe who was wounded then says the mortal man may sit on his lap. There is also no food for him. The Sidhe suggests that he eat from his plate and drink from his goblet. Sometimes with the Sidhe feeding him grapes etc since the story says "there is no knife or fork for him".

Eventually it is time to go to bed and the Sidhe man points out there is no bed for him and so they must sleep together. At this point vague euphemism take over such "after a while together they fell asleep", "after the tiring activity of the day and night they slept", etc.

The mortal man then wakes with the sunlight in his face, shining into the caul cave at ten in the morning.

He rushes home to his father telling him everything that happens. Confessing that yes there are Sidhe and that in everyway he was wrong.

The story ends with an exaggerated description of how loyal he was to his father, seeking no social life or entertainment except to improve his father's business now that he "had adventure and flightiness out of his system". Most versions have one of two major ending once the father dies. Either they say the son did nothing but improve the business until his dying day, never marrying or having children or they say once his father died his "debt was fulfilled" and "who knows/I don't know what happened to him after that".

I should say throughout the son is described as "aerach" which has the same double meaning as the English "gay".

A very well known story that I thought would be worth sharing. Obviously strong elements of a morality tale or similar concerning homosexuality and it has been analysed a good bit but hard to understand.
 

Séadna

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Back to the Welsh Tylwyth Teg.

Boats:
The Tylwyth Teg sail in boats of birch or rowan tree, often along mountain rivers and off the South coast of Wales. Those of the South coast sail to Wales from a set of invisible islands lying between Wales and Brittany in order to abduct people for Druidic practices, but can be held at bay if one is holding a blade of grass. Although the boats are usually invisible taking soil from the church at St. David's/Tyddewi and standing on a beach lets you see the boats approaching.

Soap:
The Tylwyth Teg have a soap that if you wash your face with it you are able to see both them and all their invisible constructions and towns. Alternatively it can be an oil put into the eyes with a dropper. Storytellers do give an explicit formula for this oil or soap but interestingly these formulae are identical to ones found in French and German occultic texts from the 15th and 16th century. The Cornish equivalent of the Tylwyth Teg, the Tus Vyghan, have a similar soap sourced from specifically German texts.

Language:

Unlike the Irish and Scottish Sidhe, who simply speak in high quality Gaelic, the Tylwyth Teg can speak both Welsh and their own language. What their own language is varies a bit, but it's commonly either Greek or something not explicitly identified but suggestive of Chinese. However Welsh academics of the 19th century who believed in the Tylwyth Teg conjectured that rational analysis showed it to be Gaelic!

Descendants:
There are many tales of a mortal man capturing a Tylwyth Teg woman, usually while she dances at a stone circle, with trickery or with a literal bridle and then making her a bride after promising some specific taboo won't be broken to either her or her father. Usually this is not to let iron ever touch her. In time they have children, but of course the husband will accidentally cause iron to tip off her at some point and she will suddenly vanish back to her father's kingdom. Often the children will visit her home kingdom as they grow up and when fully grown and settled down a Tylwyth Teg host will abduct their father so he can live with their mother forever.

Descendants of Tylwyth Teg always have the second sight and very pale skin. In many towns in Wales there were, and are, families believed to be of descent from the Tylwyth Teg. Even into the 20th century saying this to their faces could result in fights at fairs and in pubs.

Interestingly we do have some records showing that a family saying their son's wife had been a Tylwyth Teg was actually a way of covering up she was a foreigner who had left from becoming homesick.

Diet:
Where as the Irish Sidhe eat banquet style food only (i.e. wines, hog, sweet bread, etc) the Tylwyth Teg eat mostly grass and fish and drink milk. They love softly baked breads like Bara Brith (a tea bread) and in fact giving a woman of the Tylwyth Teg a soft bread is a way of proposing to her.

Names:
Tylwyth Teg personal names, when given, are often of Greek mythological origin. Either directly like Sibyl or in a pet form like Sibi.

Tricky Ways:

The Tylwyth Teg don't tend to play with words or use complex rhymes and tricks to fool people. They're pretty direct typically or no more tricky than a human. The Irish and Scottish Sidhe do in some stories but these are usually a "Gaelicisation" of an English folktale. In Celtic folklore that kind of wordplay is more the remit of demons. Although even then we know it was borrowed from French or other continental stories and only appears circa the 1750s.

Two Welsh pieces of music associated with the Tylwyth Teg:

 

Séadna

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A Spectral/demonic version of Cu Chulainn's "warp-spasm" form could be really visually interesting, in comparison to the weird mutant version I'm used to seeing
I meant to say this at the time but we have roughly (it's hard to give a unique count) seven versions of Cú Chulainn's story:

The earliest material from before the Táin was written
The version of the Táin in the Leabhar na hUidhre/Book of the Dun Cow
The version of the Táin in the Book of Leinster*
Other material on his life from Medieval sources
Three main strands in folklore.

Only in the Book of the Dun Cow version is the warp spasm the violent transformation usually depicted. In others his eyes glow, he gains muscle mass, an aggressive disposition (including hallucinations) and a "dark look", but that's about it. The main author of the Book of the Dun Cow, who used the pen name Maol Muire (Mary's Devotee) generally exaggerates the myths in terms violence, power and grittiness. So this is probably either his own take or part of a general attitude of more visceral writing common to writers in the Cluain Mhic Nóis monastery at the time.

Other examples are how many other versions of the tale have Cú Chulainn attacked or stab somebody with a sword with no further description, but the Book of the Dun Cow has him spill their guts onto the ground, spurts of blood and so forth. Queen Méibh gets angry when her army is losing in other versions, but in the Book of the Dun Cow she emits a massive toxic miasma of period blood. It also cuts character moments and internal reflection and soliloquies for simpler scenes where people just attack each other.
 

Séadna

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And now to come to the real powerhouses of the Celtic World. Saints. I'll start with Naomh Pádraig (St. Patrick), Colm Cille and Dewi Sant (St. David).

First up St. Patrick. A anonymous sculpture did this very accurate to myths and folklore sculpt of Patrick:

1__sized_l.jpg

As seen here he is commonly described as wearing a blue cloak or tunic adorned with furs, having a tied red beard and a hat from which his red hair emerges and one eye open wider than the other. The final trait is shared with Colm Cille.

In real life Patrick was almost certainly a Latin speaking Briton from a late Roman patrician family and one of several missionaries who attempted to convert the Irish along with Déaglan of Waterford, Palladius of Gaul and several others. Patrick's prominence is mostly a result of the areas he converted going on to be powerful kingdoms in later centuries, the Bards of which wrote national histories that feature him more prominently than Déaglan or Palladius (Patrick absorbed their stories as time went on).

In folklore Patrick has quite an array of powers. These include:

The ability to summon fire
Able to change the seasons
Command the ground to swallow his foes
Command the trees to crush his foes
Bringing the dead back to life. Including himself.
Emitting holy music that converts the listener to Christianity
Banishing demons
Can defeat archangels and demons in one to one physical combat
Has a bell that can repel the hordes of Hell
Is capable of forcing bad luck onto another being. In the most extreme case he does this to God.
Telekinesis and Telepathy
In one rare instance he can fly
Incredible sexual allure

His major feat is defeating the serpent god Crom Cruach by riding him into the ocean. The usual "Patrick banished snakes from Ireland" is a softened version of this. When I was a kid the version my grandparents knew was that he rode a "large dragon" into the sea.

This is a local graphic novel showing the telekinesis:

IMG_20181110_232513.jpg

It's never fully clear in folklore if Patrick actually dies or simply "leaves" until times when he is needed. In most stories he has friendly relations with the Fae and on their end they see him as a possible path to Christian salvation and so treat him with the utmost respect.
 
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