John Rhys.

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) online

. (page 24 of 29)
Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Western Europe a motley train of dwarfs and brownies,
a whole world of wizardry and magic. The real race of
the little people forms the lowest stratum which we can
reach, to wit, at a level no higher, seemingly, than that
of the present-day natives of Central Australia. Thus
some of the birth stories of Cuchulainn and Etain seem
to have passed through their hands, and they bear a
striking resemblance to certain notions of the Lapps
(pp. 657-8). In fact, the nature of the habitations of our
little people, together with other points which might be
mentioned, would seem at first sight to betoken affinity
with the Lapps ; but I am warned by experts * that

Continental Picts ' : see Meyer and Stern's Zeitschrift, iii. 326-8, 331-2,
and note especially his reference to Herodian, iii. 14, 8. For Chortoni-
cum see Die althochdeutschen Glossen (edited by Steinmeyer and Sievers),
iii. 610 ; also my paper on ' The Celts and the other Aryans of the P and
Q Groups ' read before the Philological Society, February 20, 1891, p. n.

1 I am chiefly indebted to my friend Professor A. C. Haddon for refer-
ences to information as to the dwarf races of prehistoric times. I find also


there are serious craniological difficulties in the way
of any racial comparison with the Lapps, and that one
must look rather to the dwarf populations once widely
spread over our hemisphere, and still to be found here
and there in Europe, as, for example, in Sicily. To
come nearer our British Isles, the presence of such
dwarfs has been established with regard to Switzerland
in neolithic times l .

The other race may be called Picts, which is probably
the earliest of the names given it by the Celts ; and
their affinities appear to be Libyan, possibly Iberian. It
was a warlike stock, and stood higher altogether than
the mound inhabitants ; for it had a notion of paternity,
though, on account of its promiscuity, it had to reckon
descent by birth (pp. 654-6). To it probably belonged all
the great family groups figuring in the Mabinogion and
the corresponding class of literature in Irish : this would
include the Danann-Don group and the Lir-DLyr group,
together with the families represented by Pwytt and
Rhiannon, who were inseparable from the ILyr group
in Welsh, just as the Lir group was inseparable from the

that he, among others, has anticipated me in my theory as to the origins of
the fairies : witness the following extract from the syllabus of. a lecture
delivered by him at Cardiff in 1894 on Fairy Tales : ' What are the fairies ?
Legendary origin of the fairies. It is evident from fairy literature that
there is a mixture of the possible and the impossible, of fact and fancy. Part
of fairydom refers to (i) spirits that never were embodied : other fairies are
(,2) spirits of environment, nature or local spirits, and household or domestic
spirits; (3) spirits of the organic world, spirits of plants, and spirits of
animals ; (4) spirits of men or ghosts ; and (5) witches and wizards, or men
possessed with other spirits. All these and possibly other elements enter into
the fanciful aspect of fairyland, but there is a large residuum of real occur-
rences ; these point to a clash of races, and we may regard many of these
fairy sagas as stories told by men of the Iron Age of events which happened
to men of the Bronze Age in their conflicts with men of the Neolithic Age,
and possibly these, too, handed on traditions of the Palaeolithic Age.'

1 See the Berlin Zeitschrift fiir Ethnologie for 1894, vol. xxvi. pp. 189-
254, which are devoted to an elaborate paper by Dr. Jul. Kollmann, entitled
' Das Schweitzersbild bei Schaffhausen und Pygmaen in Europa.' It closes
with a long list of books and articles to be consulted on the subject.


Tuatha De Danann in Irish legend (pp. 548-9). The
Picts made slaves and drudges of the mound-haunting
race, but how far any amalgamation may have taken
place between them it is impossible to say. Even
without any amalgamation, however, the little people,
if employed as nurses to their Pictish lords' children,
could not help leaving their impress in time on the
language of the ruling nationality. But it may be that
the treatment of the Picts, by Scottish legend, as a kind
of fairies really points to amalgamation, though it is not
impossible that archaeology may be able to classify the
remains of the dwellings ascribed to the Pechts, that
is, to assign a certain class to the warlike Picts of his-
tory and another to the dwarf race of the sids. A certain
measure of amalgamation may also be the meaning of the
Irish tradition, that when the Milesian Irish came and
conquered, the defeated Tuatha De Danann gave up
their life above ground and retired inside the hills like
the fairies. This account of them may be as worthless
as the story of the extermination of the Picts of Scot-
land : both peoples doubtless lived on to amalgamate
in time with the conquering race ; but it may mean that
some of them retreated before the Celts, and concealed
themselves after the manner of the little people in
underground dwellings in the less accessible parts of
the country. In any case, it may well be that they
got their magic and druidism from the dwellers of the
sids. In the next place, it has been pointed out
(pp. 550-1) how the adjective hen, 'old, ancient,' is
applied in Welsh to several of the chief men of the Don
group, and by this one may probably understand that
they were old not merely to those who told the stories
about them in Welsh, but to those who put those
stories together in Goidelic ages earlier. The geo-
graphy of the Mabinogion gives the prehistoric remains


of Penmaen Mawr and Tre'r Ceiri to the Don group ;
but by its name, Tre'r Ceiri should be the ' Town of the
Keiri/ a word probably referring to the Picts (pp. 279-83) :
this, so far as it goes, makes the sons of Don belong by
race to the Picts. Lastly, it is the widely spread race
of the Picts, conquered by the Celts of the Celtican or
Goidelic branch and amalgamating with their conquerors
in the course of time, that has left its non-Aryan impress
on the syntax of the Celtic languages of the British

These, it is needless to say, are conjectures which
I cannot establish ; but possibly somebody else may.
For the present, however, they cannot fail to suggest
a moral, habitually ignored with a light heart by most
people including the writer of these words that men
in his plight, men engaged in studies which, owing to
a rapid accumulation of fresh facts or the blossoming of
new theories, are in a shifting condition, should abstain
from producing books or anything longer than a maga-
zine article now and then. Even such minor produc-
tions should be understood to be liable to be cast into
a great bonfire lit once a year, say on Halloween. This
should help to clear the air of mistaken hypotheses,
whether of folklore and myth or of history and language,
and also serve to mark Nos Galangaeaf as the com-
mencement of the ancient Celtic year. The business
of selecting the papers to be saved from the burning
might be delegated to an academy constituted, roughly
speaking, on the lines of Plato's aristocracy of intellect.
Such academy, once in the enjoyment of its existence,
would also find plenty of work in addition to the inquisi-
tional business which I have suggested : it should, for
example, be invested with summary jurisdiction over
fond parents who venture to show any unreasonable
anxiety to save their mental progeny from the annual


bonfire. The best of that class of writers should be
ordered by the academy to sing songs or indite original
verse. As for the rest, some of them might be told off
to gesticulate to the gallery, and some to administer the
consolations of platitude to stragglers tired of the march
of science. There is a mass of other useful work which
would naturally devolve on an academy of the kind here
suggested. I should be happy, if space permitted, to
go through the particulars one by one, but let a single
instance suffice : the academy might relieve us of the
painful necessity of having seriously to consider any
further the proposal that professors found professing
after sixty should be shot. This will serve to indicate
the kind of work which might advantageously be
entrusted to the august body which is here but roughly

There are some branches of learning in the happy posi-
tion of having no occasion for such a body academical.
Thus, if a man will have it that the earth is flat, as flat
in fact as some people do their utmost to make it, 'he
will most likely,' as the late Mr. Freeman in the Satur-
day Review once put it, ' make few converts, and will be
forgotten after at most a passing laugh from scientific
men.' If a man insists that the sum of two and two is
five, he will probably find his way to a lunatic asylum,
as the economy of society is, in a manner, self-acting.
So with regard to him who carries his craze into the
more material departments of such a science as chemistry :
he may be expected to blow out his own eyes, for the
almighty molecule executes its own vengeance. ' But,'
to quote again from Mr. Freeman, if that man's ' craze
had been historical or philological ' and above all if it
had to do with the science of man or of myth' he might
have put forth notions quite as absurd as the notion that
the earth is flat, and many people would not have been


in the least able to see that they were absurd. If any
scholar had tried to confute him we should have heard
of " controversies " and "differences of opinion." In
fact, the worst that happens to the false prophet who
shines in any such a science is, that he has usually only
too many enthusiastic followers. The machinery is, so
to say, not automatic, and hence it is that we want the
help of an academy. But even supposing such an
academy established, no one need feel alarmed lest
opportunities enough could no longer be found for
cultivating the example of those of the early Christians
who had the rare grace to suffer fools gladly.

Personally, however, I should be against doing any-
thing in a hurry; and, considering how little his fellows
dare expect from the man who is just waiting to be final
and perfect before he commit himself to type, the estab-
lishment of an academy invested with the summary
powers which have been briefly sketched might,
perhaps, after all, conveniently wait a while : my own
feeling is that almost any time, say in the latter half of
the twentieth century, would do better than this year
or the next. In the meantime one must be content to
entrust the fortunes of our studies to the combined
forces of science and common sense. Judging by what
they have achieved in recent years, there is no reason to
be uneasy with regard to the time to come, for it is as
true to-day as when it was first written, that the best of
the prophets of the Future is the Past.


P. 81. I learn that the plural of bodach glas was in Welsh bodachod
gletsion, a term which Elis o'r Nant remembers his mother applying to a
kind of fairies dressed in blue and fond of leading people astray. She used to
relate how a haymaking party once passed a summer's night at the cowhouse
(beudy) of Bryn Bygelyd" (also Bryn Mygelycf), and how they saw in the dead
of night a host of these dwarfs (corynnod) in blue dancing and capering about
the place. The beudy in question is not very far from Dolwydelan, on the
way to Capel Curig. A different picture of the bodach is given in Jenkins"
Bed Gelert, p. 82 ; and lastly one may contrast the Highland Bodach
Glas mentioned at p. 520 above, not to mention still another kind, namely
the one in Scott's Waverley.

P. 130. To Sarn yr Afanc add ILyn yr Afanc, near ILandmam (Beauties of
Wales, N. Wales, p. 841), and Bed" yr Afanc, ' the Afanc's Grave,' the name
of some sort of a tumulus, I am told, on a knoll near the Pembrokeshire
stream of the Nevern. Mr. J. Thomas, of Bancau Bryn Berian close by,
has communicated to me certain echoes of a story how an afanc was
caught in a pool near the bridge of Bryn Berian, and how it was taken up
to be interred in what is now regarded as its grave. A complete list of
the afanc place-names in the Principality might possibly prove instructive.
As to the word afanc, what seems to have happened is this : (i) from mean-
ing simply a dwarf it came to be associated with such water dwarfs as those
mentioned at p. 432 ; (2) the meaning being forgotten, the word was
applied to any water monster ; and (3) where afanc occurs in place-names
the Hu story has been introduced to explain it, whether it fitted or not. This
I should fancy to be the case with the Bryn Berian barrow, and it would be
satisfactory to know whether it contains the remains of an ordinary dwarf.
Peredur's lake afanc may have been a dwarf; but whether that was so or not,
it is remarkable that the weapon which the afanc handled was a ftechwaew or
flake-spear, that is, a missile tipped with stone.

P. 131. With the role of the girl in the afanc story compare that of
Tegau, wife of Caradog Freichfras, on whom a serpent fastens and can only
be allured away to seize on one of Tegau's breasts, of which she loses the
nipple when the beast is cut off. The defect being replaced with gold, she
is ever after known as Tegau Eur-fron, or ' Tegau of the golden Breast.'
That is a version inferred of a story which is discussed by M. Gaston Paris
in an article, on Caradoc et le Serpent, elicited by a paper published (in
the November number of Modern Language Notes for 1898) by Miss C. A.



Harper, of Bryn Mawr College, U.S. : see the Romania, xxviii. 214-31.
One of Miss Harper's parallels, mentioned by M. Paris at p. 220, comes
from Campbell : it is concerning a prince who receives from his stepmother
a magic shirt which converts itself into a serpent coiled round his neck, and
of which he is rid by the help of a woman acting in much the same way as
Tegau. We have an echo of this in the pedigrees in the Jesus College MS.
20 : see the Cymmrodor, viii. 88, where one reads of G6ga6n kenen menntd
a vu neidyr vl6ydyn am y von6gyl, ' Gwgon the whelp of Menrud (?) who
was a year with a snake round his neck ' his pedigree is also given. In
M. Paris' suggested reconstruction of the story (p. 228) from the different
versions, he represents the maiden who is to induce the serpent to leave
the man on whom it has fastened, as standing in a vessel filled with milk,
while the man stands in a vessel filled with vinegar. The heroine exposes
herself to the reptile, which relinquishes his present victim to seize on one
of the woman's breasts. Now the appropriateness of the milk is explained
by the belief that snakes are inordinately fond of milk, and that belief has,
I presume, a foundation in fact : at any rate I am reminded of its introduc-
tion into the plot of more than one English story, such as Stanley Weyman's
book From the Memoirs of a Minister of France (London, 1895), p. 445,
and A. Conan Doyle's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (London, 1893),
pp. 199-209. In Wales, however, it is to a woman's milk that one's interest
attaches : I submit two references which will explain what I mean. The
first of them is to Owen's Welsh Folk-Lore, p. 349, where he says that
' traditions of flying snakes were once common in all parts of Wales,' and
adds as follows : ' The traditional origin of these imaginary creatures was
that they were snakes, which by having drunk the milk of a woman, and by
having eaten of bread consecrated for the Holy Communion, became trans-
formed into winged serpents or dragons.' The other is to the Brython for
1861, p. 190, where one reads in Welsh to the following effect : ' If a snake
chances to have an opportunity to drink of a woman's milk it is certain to
become a gwiber. When a woman happens to be far from her child, and
her breasts are full and beginning to give her pain, she sometimes milks
them on the ground in order to ease them. To this the peasantry in parts
of Cardiganshire have a strong objection, lest a snake should come there and
drink the milk, and so become a gwiber.'' The word gwiber is used in the
Welsh Bible for a viper, but the editor of the Brython explains, that in our
folklore it means a huge kind of snake or dragon that has grown wings
and has its body cased in hard scales : for a noted instance in point
he refers the reader to the first number of the Brython, p. 3. It is believed
still all over Wales that snakes may, under favourable circumstances,
develop wings : in fact, an Anglesey man strongly wished, to my knowledge,
to offer to the recent Welsh Land Commission, as evidence of the wild and
neglected state of a certain farm, that the gorse had grown so high and the
snakes so thriven in it that he had actually seen one of the latter flying right
across a wide road which separated two such gorse forests as he described :
surprised and hurt to find that this was not accepted, he inferred that the
Commissioners knew next to nothing about their business.

Pp. 148, 170. With ' the spell of security' by catching hold of grass may
perhaps be compared a habit which boys in Cardiganshire have of suddenly


picking up a blade of grass when they want a truce or stoppage in a sort of
game of tig or touchwood. The grass gives the one who avails himself
of it immunity for a time from attack or pursuit, so as to allow him to begin
the game again just where it was left off.

P. 228. Bodennud would probably be more correctly written Bodermyd,
and analysed possibly into Bod - Bei-myd, involving the name which appears
in Irish as Diarmait and Dermot.

P. 230. Since this was printed I have been assured by Mr. Thomas
Prichard of ILwydiarth Esgob, in Anglesey, that the dolur byr is more
commonly called clwy 1 byr, and that it is the disease known in English as
' black quarter.'

Pp. 259, 268. I am assured on the part of several literary natives of
Glamorgan that they do not know ddr for daear, ' ground, earth.' Such nega-
tive evidence, though proving the literary form daear to prevail now, is not
to be opposed to the positive statement, sent by Mr. Hughes (p. 173) to me,
as to the persistence in his neighbourhood of ddr and. cldr (for daear, 'luke-
warm '), to which one may add, as unlikely to be challenged by anybody, the
case of ham for haearn, ' iron.' The intermediate forms have to be represented
as daer, claer, and haern, which explain exactly the gaem of the Book of
St. Chad, for which modern literary Welsh has gaeaf, 'winter': see the
preface to the Book ofJLan Dav, p. xlv.

P. 290. It ought to have been pointed out that the fairies, whose food
and drink it is death to share, represent the dead.

P. 291. For Conla read Conn/a or Condla : the later form is Colla. The
Condla in question is called Condla Ri'tad in the story, but the heading to it
has Ectra Condla Chaim, ' the Adventure of C. the Dear One.'

P. 294. I am now inclined to think that butch was produced out of the
northern pronunciation of witch by regarding its w as a mutation consonant
and replacing it, as in some other instances, by b as the radical.

P. 308. With the Manx use of rowan on May-day compare a passage
to the following effect concerning Wales I translate it from the faulty
Welsh in which it is quoted by one of the competitors for the folklore
prize ' at the Liverpool Eistedfod, 1900 : he gave no indication of its
provenance : Another bad papistic habit which prevails among some Welsh
people is that of placing some of the wood of the rowan tree (coed cerctin or
criafol} in their corn lands (tlafyrieii) and their fields on May-eve (Nos
Glatnau} with the idea that such a custom brings a blessing on their fields,
a proceeding which would better become atheists and pagans than Christians.

P. 325. In the comparison with the brownie the fairy nurse in the
Pennant Valley has been overlooked : see p. 109.

P. 331, line i. For I. 42-3 read ii. 42-3.

Pp. 377, 395. With the story of Ffynnon Gyvver and the other fairy
wells, also with the wells which have been more especially called sacred in
this volume, compare the following paragraph from Martin's Description of
the Western Islands of Scotland (London, 1703), pp. 229-30 : it is concerning


Gigay, now more commonly written Giglia, the name of an island near the
west coast of Kintyre : 'There is a well in the north end of this isle called
Toubir-more, i. e. a great well, because of its effects, for which it is famous
among the islanders ; who together with the inhabitants use it as a Catholicon
for diseases. It's covered with stone and clay, because the natives fancy
that the stream that flows from it might overflow the isle ; and it is always
opened by a Diroch, i. e. an inmate, else they think it would not exert its
vertues. They ascribe one very extraordinary effect to it, and 'tis this ; that
when any foreign boats are wind-bound here (which often happens) the
master of the boat ordinarily gives the native that lets the water run a piece
of money, and they say that immediately afterwards the wind changes
in favour of those that are thus detain'd by contrary winds. Every stranger
that goes to drink of the water of this well, is accustomed to leave on its
stone cover a piece of money, a needle, pin, or one of the prettiest varieated
stones they can find.' Last September I visited Gigha and saw a well there
which is supposed to be the one to which Martin refers. It is very
insignificant and known now by a name pronounced Tobar a veac, possibly
for an older Mo-Bheac : in Scotch Gaelic Beac, written Beathag, is equated
with the name Sophia. The only tradition now current about the well is
that emptying it used to prove the means of raising a wind or even of pro-
ducing great storms, and this appears to have been told Pennant : see his
Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, MDCCLXXII (Chester, 1774),
p. 226 : ' Visit the few wonders of the isle : the first is a little well of a most
miraculous quality, for in old times, if ever the chieftain lay here wind-
bound, he had nothing more to do than cause the well to be cleared, and
instantly a favorable gale arose. But miracles are now ceased.'

P. 378. A similar rhyme is current in the neighbourhood of Dolgeiley, as
Miss Lucy Griffith informs me, as follows :

Dolgeite dol a goflir,

Daear a'i ffzvnc, dw'r ' V He.

Dolgeftey, a dale to be lost ;

Earth will swallow it, and water take its place.

P. 394. With regard to wells killing women visiting them, I may mention
a story, told me the other day by Professor Mahaffy after a friend whose
name he gave, concerning the inhabitants of one of the small islands on the
coast of Mayo I understood him to say off the Mullet. It was this : all
the men and boys, having gone fishing, were prevented by rough weather
from returning as soon as they intended, and the women left alone suffered
greatly from want of water, as not one of them would venture to go to the
well. By-and-by, however, one of them gave birth to a boy, whereupon
another of them carried the baby to the well, and ventured to draw water.

*. 418. As to Clychau Aberdyfi I am now convinced that the chwech and
saith are entirely due to the published versions, the editors of which seem to
have agreed that they will have as much as possible for their money, so to
say. I find that Mrs. Rhys learnt in her childhood to end the words with
pump, and that she cannot now be brought to sing the melody in any other
way : I have similar testimony from a musical lady from the neighbourhood
of Wrexham ; and, doubtless, more evidence of the same sort could be got.
P. 443. For ILywelyn ab Gruffytf read Lywelyn ab lorwerth.


Pp- 45 - 1 - Some additional light on the doggerel dialogue will be found
thrown by the following story, which I find cited in Welsh by one of the
Liverpool Eistedfod competitors : There is in the parish of Yspytty Ifan,
in Carnarvonshire, a farm called Trwyn Swch, where eighty years ago
lived a man and his wife, who were both young, and had twins born to
them. Now the mother went one day to milk, leaving the twins alone in
the cradle the husband was not at home and who should enter the house
but one of the Tyhvyth Teg! He took the twins away and left two of his
own breed in the cradle in their stead. Thereupon the mother returned
home and saw what had come to pass ; she then in her excitement

Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 2) → online text (page 24 of 29)