In his second letter to Joe Wilson, Roy Bowers states that, the ‘Prediu Annwn’ will ‘answer many questions if meditated upon’. We intend to do precisely that, and in so doing, we will begin to examine how this can feed into our personal paths, and the path of the clan. To do the subject justice we have found it necessary to examine more than one text, and three sources seem appropriate for this context; Robert Graves in the chapter ‘A Visit to Spiral Castle, The White Goddess (1948); The University of Rochester document, compiled by Sarah Higley; (1994) and King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld, by Caitlin and John Mathews.(2008). Unfortunately Graves is not a reliable source, and misses out the last two stanzas which contain a rather interesting condemnation of the monks, hence, as in all matters; we never rely just on Graves.
It is also worth considering that to our knowledge it has never been proved that Arthur was a real king; therefore we are not looking at an historical period, and this is not a scholarly review, but a quest to gain the underworld treasures, which we take to be spiritual insight and which can aid the seeker in overcoming fate. On the other hand, the places named in the work can be proved to exist or have existed as real geographical locations. This founding on terra firma can act as a grounding tool, a shared base knowledge used as an implement to aid the narrative along its didactic course.
We are not going to reproduce the text here, however if you would like to go on this journey with us, or use this as starting point for your own quest, we would suggest that you read the many texts available. The advantage of the Higley texts rests in its presentation of the original text alongside its translation. This text along with some very informative footnotes can be found here; http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/preiddeu-annwn. Please compare this text with Graves’ rendition, and another source for comparison. As previously mentioned, we have chosen the translation by Caitlin and John Matthews.
According to Higley, this work comprises of a collection of ‘awdlau’ which is a ‘(short poem or stanza of lines that rhyme), wherein each line comprises of a couplet: (two related units) and two caesuras (pauses). Several of these lines, however are triplets—three units wherein the first two rhyme, and two caesuras—that stand out metrically and dramatically. One such line and all the concluding lines that repeat (“except seven none rose up”) are triplets.’ Therefore if the poet suggests that these lines are of some importance, then we also may decide to give them special emphasis. (These include lines 10, 19, 28, 34, 42 and 48, other triplets can be found in lines 8, 13, 32 and 39) It is also worth considering how important the number three was to the bards, no coincidence we feel. It is a shame that Robert Graves, as a poet, doesn’t discuss this structure.
The meanings of Preiddui and Annwfyn?
Most writers on the Preiddui Annwfyn suggest that ‘preiddui’ means ‘spoils’ because although it can also be translated as ‘in front of’, ‘before,’ or ‘on account of’, ‘because of’, or ‘for the sake of’. Or even ‘cattle’. (Higley) However the accepted translation when the content of the poem is taken into account is ‘spoils’, or ‘plunder’.
Caitlin and John Matthews say that Annwfn, or ‘Annwfyn [modern Welsh Annwn]’ is a place that is ‘very deep’ an-dwyfen or ‘the not-world’, meaning, otherworld. A little later Matthews suggests that ‘It has much greater kinship with the Celtic realms of Faery, a land with its own inhabitants whose ‘morals and behaviour are based upon honour, reciprocal friendship and a strict adherence to the truth.’ It is also worth considering that some translators suggest that Annwfn points to an ‘inner realm,’ which provides much to ponder.
So we are looking at a poem that opens the way to find treasures that can be brought back from the otherworld. In the context of the Preiddeu Annwfyn this is land accessible only by water, an underworld familiar to ancient British peoples, who viewed the ancestral realms as being watery and below the ground, this is evident by the many votive deposits found in lakes and pools. And for us, this place may be accessed by journeying to our inner realms, a journey we can all go on in search of our own treasure.
Where do we start?
We start at the beginning; the place where any savvy poet would start who wanted his words to stand the test of time, and avoid destruction at the hand of some angry despot who has taken offence. So, logically, giving praise to whomever it may have concerned seems wise and a very good place to start. The ambiguity of these first lines of praise become particularly appealing; the politically correct praise of whomever the reader may be appears sagacious and worthy of that praise. We can read this as praise heaped upon the ‘Sovereign’ or ‘Lord’, or anyone; depending upon whom you are addressing, to the monks, God, and the King to the monarch and his warlords. The second line also displays this wisdom which again might be addressing the king, which could also refer to Jesus and Christianity’s religious domination. So we have a poem that can apply to any time, governed by any rulers, which seems a very good place to start, especially if one seeks the river of eternity.
After these necessary preliminaries are done and dusted we get straight into the tale. First we are introduced to a young man called Gweir/Gwair who appears to be in confinement inside Caer Sidi. It could be that, as in modern Welsh sidydd means Zodiac, so we may be looking at the Corona Borealis, Crown of the North, the Castle of Arianrhod. Graves suggests that Caer Sidi ‘means revolving castle in Welsh’ which does appear to tie in with the idea of a castle in the sky and the revolving constellations. However we will suggest that at this point, we have stepped into the underworld or otherworld, the realm of the mound, and the land of those that have gone before, so for the moment this castle is the castle of the otherworld. All will become clear if you read on.
Now we have the place, but who is Gweir?
We know from the poem that Gweir is an imprisoned youth. A youth separated from his mother, a common theme in the tales of old; we only have to move a line down and think of Pryderi’s uneasy start in life to see the parallels.
Who is he then? The footnotes of the Higley text points to the name, Gweir ap Geirioed as sited in the’ Triads of the Kings of Britain’ Triad 52; who is ‘one of three famous prisoners along with Llyr Lledyeith and Mabon uab Modron,’ if we take that suggestion of board we have a young man well known for suffering incarceration.
And then according to Matthews ‘Gweir ap Gweirioedd,’ translates as ‘Hay son of Grassiness.’ Which does make me think of a grassy mound, standing out from its surroundings, I can’t help but imagine the mound on which Glastonbury Tor stands, where in that very wet winter of 2013/14 Glastonbury Tor stood out amongst the wetlands of the Somerset (summersettlers) levels. Also, Higley quotes Loomis saying that: ‘ Loomis notes that Lundy, an island off the coast of Cornwall is known as ynys weir, "Gweir's Island," ‘a detail that reinforces the sense of his importance as a resident or prisoner of an island fortress’ (Loomis, "Spoils of Annwn," p. 150). So we could be looking to a place, as well as a young man, both signifying a solitary existence away from mainland distractions.
Even though this is all very interesting, I find this next point made by Matthews to be inspirational. It is possible that ‘Hay son of Grassiness’ is the hay bale on which the poet reclines whilst in the cell seeking inspiration. So perhaps rather than seeking the identity of a person or place here, it may be worth considering that Gweir is an isolation method or process used in the seeking of inspiration. Taliesin in his cell would then also be Gweir; ‘Hay son of Grassiness’.
So where are we now?
We are isolated from the world, in our cell in the castle; seeking the poet’s vision. From here we go on a journey which begins by recounting the adventures of Pwyll and Pryderi. Pwyll and Pryderi are shown as father and son in the Welsh tales, both of whom have dealings with the land of the mound, and at some time have ruled over the number 7. (According to The Mabinogion, Pryderi and before him Pwyll ruled seven cantels of Dyfed.)
Pwyll spent a year and a day in the underworld redeeming himself for offending Arawn King of Annwm. At the end of this time his task was to overcome Hafgan, a rival King of Annwm.
Another tale tells how he returns once again to the otherworld seeking the hand of Rhiannon. For a second time he had a task to accomplish, and again defeats the opposition. However this time there is no mention of Arawn and his court, but it is suggested by some commentators that Rhiannon was the wife of Arawn in the previous tale. (Caitlin Matthews, Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain, 1987)
Pwyll’s son Pryderi also disappeared, when as a babe he was taken from his mother Rhiannon whilst she slept. Later in life Pryderi disappears into the underworld once again. He is named as one of the many who set off with Bendigeidfrân, whom we know better as Bran the Blessed, and takes part in the expedition in answer to Branwen’s plea for help. This took the form of a sparrow sent over to Wales from Ireland; intended to draw attention to her plight and unhappiness in marriage. It is interesting that it appears that Pryderi is one of only seven men out of many to return alive. We see a theme in the number seven here.
Why are these two names pointed to by the poet? The next line makes this clear a ‘None before him was sent into it.’ So no one before Pwyll went into the otherworld. It could be that Gweir, Pwyll and Pryderi are as one: one voice as channelled by Taliesin calling from the depths of the otherworld.
‘Into the heavy blue chain that bound the faithful youth’; It is interesting to see here that in the Mathews translation he goes ‘into’ the ‘heavy blue chains’ which seems like a watery binding, hence my suggestion that this is a watery place, and not one skyward. This could represent the sea, and the blueness reflects the sea, or a body of water from which all but the mighty are held with no escape. As we have seen, the land of the dead was considered to be under water. I also accept that the blue may be a reference to the sky at night, when the stars are visible, however if we are looking a condition which one goes ‘into’, this indicates a certain movement that would align itself with a below, and not above.
In the next line we can feel the weight of sadness that the poet carries, as in his cell he tries to escape from the thoughts that weigh heavy on his being, the destruction of his treasure and the old ways trampled on by the new oppressors. Till the end of days Taliesin will sing this song, as we are his witnesses, he is so doing. ‘Because of the raid upon Annwfyn he sorely sang. Until the world’s ending our poet’s prayer shall sound:’
However we want to find these treasures also, so we need to continue.
We board Arthur’s ship: ‘Three ship-burdens of Prydwen entered within; Except seven, none rose up from Caer Sidi. Mention is made of Prydwen, which is Arthur’s ship; in the Tale of Culhwych and Olwen, where the ship sails in the quest of seeking the cauldron, the same cauldron which would never boil the meat for a coward which we will come across a little later. What the Prydwen is carrying, or what its burden is we are not told, we do know there are three loads, and seven survived. So it does appear that the burden is men, men doomed to die, all except seven in number. It is interesting to see the number seven again and the number three. So we have three very special numbers, 1 journey, with 7, in 3, and another number we shall discuss in the next stanza.
Back to the seven; who are these? As has been mentioned, the end of every stanza finishes with a note that ‘Except seven none rose up from...’ in the first stanza it is Caer Sidi, and then in the subsequent stanzas whichever of the castle names applies at that point. We can find a clue to a fitting seven in the before-mentioned tale of Bran the Blessed. It was seven who returned from Ireland, and survived a battle that included the use of a magic cauldron. Matthews names the seven who take the head of Bran back to Harlech, via Gwales, and then on to London and the White Hill. These seven are, Pryderi, Manawyddan, Glifiau ap Taran, Taliesin, Ynog, Gruddieu ap Muriel and Heilyn ap Gwyn Hen. Interesting to note among the seven we find Enoch, the man whom according to the bible did not ‘suffer death.’ In another tale, there are seven survivors of Arthur’s last battle, ‘the battle of Camlan’. It seems very clear that Arthur and Bran are portrayed as corresponding characters, as I indicated earlier, not as historical figures, but mythical analogies.
So at the end of the first stanza, we see we are on a journey led by the poet, which is split into parts. Here we find seven, who come out of three and four, who repeatedly pass through, and return from each of the castles, the first of which is the land of the mound or the otherworld.
To be continued…