Pig Blog #2 Looking for Lost Roots
Updated: Jun 9
Croeso pawb/Welcome all, thank you for being here and taking an interest in this adventure in storytelling. In this blog I will update you on the progress of the Mochyn Myrddin/Merlins Pig project and share with you some of what I have learned during this research phase.
Firstly, the latest news in brief:
· I am excited to announce that I will be performing Mochyn Myrddin at Beyond the Borders Storytelling Festival in Wales 7th – 9th July. www.beyondtheborders.com
· Streamlining and updates on my website have been completed. Big thanks to Satch Norton for his work and patience. Do have look at www.millyjackdaw.com.
· The marketing image for the show has been completed by Clive Hedger. See above!
· I have been given permission to use pieces of music by composer Craig Pruess. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLBBydczxys&t=48s
Transmissions from the past, transmissions from nature. Stepping in and out of the national library and the wild woods.
During February and March I spent a lot of time in the National Library of Wales. The immense North Reading Room has "the proportions of a Gothic Cathedral" and a genuinely quiet, verging on reverential atmosphere. Leaving the library through the large revolving door at the front of the building just as the sun is setting and the starling murmurations are in full effect is truly awe inspiring.
The library holds over 6.5 million books and periodicals. If only I had the power of psychometry or quantum connection which, it is said can lead to the absorption of information from a book by merely touching it! Perhaps I could become all-knowing just by sitting in the library in a particular state of mind? I must work on my super-powers. Perhaps Myrddin can help me with that?
Today I sit here rather grudgingly – it is the most beautiful spring morning and I just want to be outside. The air, the sky, the birds, the flowers exuding, the leaves unfurling. It is all so vibrant and fresh. The fragrance of the blackthorn and gorse intoxicating, sensual, divine. How must our ancestors have felt at times like this? Those who had lived through harsh winters eking out their food stores, constantly gathering and chopping firewood standing on freezing solstice mornings to witness the rising of the sun, knowing that although the days lengthened there was still biting, freezing, blasting, soaking weather to come? People whom, I imagine had an even richer sensory experience then we do today, their survival dependent on being able to read their surroundings and the signs from nature? Their environment was pure and richly diverse in every aspect. The crystal-clear water of cascading rivers and streams ran through wooded valleys bursting with plants, animals and birds of all kinds. Imagine the chorus, the colours, the fragrances, the vibrancy of air. Imagine the relief and rejoicing when the warmth and light returned and the bees started humming. How could they not worship nature as the great provider and see themselves as an integral part of creation?
I challenge you to go even one week without partaking of anything that comes from a shop or manmade system. Sources of pure water become the primary concern. Do you know where there is one in your locality? Have a look around you. What would you do if it were not provided for us? Here is the nub for me, and one of the reasons I am so interested in the old stories. They are what remain to us of a time when people were one with their environment, their lives intertwined with the cycles and processes of nature, understanding their place within it and the importance of honouring and working with the natural forces and forms. I don’t mean to idealise the past but this awareness of our symbiosis with the natural world is something we clearly need to reclaim.
Why so dark? An age of mystery. Long gone scribes and modern guardians of cultural treasure.
Why is Myrddin of such great interest? In pre-Christian times our societies were guided and ruled by druids, men and women who had studied and trained for many years and were highly knowledgeable and capable people. Within their traditions was a hierarchy and the highest level of attainment was the Great Druid, who was the Priest King of the land. I believe Myrddin held this position and that he continues to work behind the scenes to maintain the integrity of societies and the balance of culture and nature. I feel that there is a feminine counterpart to Myrddin, possibly represented by the Sow Goddess who is even more deeply hidden and obscure but equally worthwhile seeking out and connecting with.
We in the UK have largely lost the connection to our true history and to the cultural and spiritual heritage of pre-Roman Britain as well as the so-called dark ages. Perhaps the stories hold clues? If so, then a good place to start is in the written texts from which they were drawn. These and the works of others who have studied them. I am curious to assess how much of what has been written has a ring of truth to it bearing in mind that each writer may have their own biases and agendas.
The oldest stories that we have were written down in the 10th and 11th centuries but may well be evolutions of an earlier oral tradition. How intact these stories are now is a question for debate, one which has been going on for many years. Gwilym Morus Baird, a Welsh mythology scholar with whom I have been studying, has a great deal of insight into the underlying layers of meaning we may mine from the stories and a methodology for increasing the accuracy of our conclusions. By comparing myths from a variety of different cultures we can see similarities between certain themes, motif’s and episodes and this suggests the possibility of a common, more ancient source for the stories. There is also evidence to suggest that at least some of the characters and events may have a basis in historical reality. As a storyteller I am not obliged to present historically accurate accounts but I do find it of great interest and my purpose here is in enriching my performances with as much authentic detail as possible, to gain and share insights into the minds of those wise, natured souls and to perhaps even create the possibility of rebirthing the spirit of our ancestral selves.
Historia Brittonum is one of the earliest pieces of writing we have in the UK and the first literary port of call in any search for King Arthur and therefore also Myrddin. It is attributed to Nennius a 10th Century monk, however in truth the real author is unknown. The book describes the early settlement of Britain by Brutus after the Trojan War and goes on to document the Roman conquest, the list of emperors and the subsequent kings and disappointingly we find that Myrddin is not actually mentioned. We read here how in pre-Roman times, King Llud captured the troublesome red and white dragons and concealed them in the city of Pharaon (in Snowdonia). The book goes on to relate how after the withdrawal of Roman forces the usurper King Vortigern was forced to flee and attempted to build a fortress in the very same location. This is where Myrddin apparently makes his entrance into the story. However, Nennius names him Ambrosius and we cannot be sure if this is an earlier name for the one who was to become Myrddin (just as Gwion Bach came to be known as Taliesin after his initiation and rebirth) or if this is an entirely different person? There are records of a military leader called Ambrosius Aurelianus who seems to have lived in Vortigern’s time and is a strong contender for the role. The character, whoever he is gives an exceptionally long and detailed prophecy which, according to the translation and augmentation of Reverend W. Gun ‘had a great and decisive effect in sustaining the spirit of the Britons to oppose their enemies. He goes on to suggest that the author was ‘collecting materials destined to illustrate and adorn the pages of our national history and where allied to higher motives than curiosity or the passion for ancient lore.’ Thus, we can see how there was a distinct purpose to the writing of this history, and here we encounter our first challenge. History is written at least in part to influence the minds and beliefs of the people and to establish the legitimacy of ruling elites.
Interestingly, original documents of The Historia Britonum once belonged to ‘the extraordinary personage’ of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626–1689) After abdicating her throne, Christina was ‘received into the bosom of Rome’ and bequeathed her literary collection to the Vatican library. Gun tells us that ‘nothing was more common than for the transcribers of the ancient British manuscripts to affix their own names to the same work, with such additions or retrenchments as they thought proper, so as to make it pass for their own composition. Repeated transcripts were made between the period of compilation and the 10th Century, and errors, interpolations and substitutions insinuated themselves into the text.’
So, there may be a limit to how much credible information we can gain from historical documents though they are still well worth looking at with an open mind. For those who wish to go further, the use of multiple sources is advisable where possible. My sense is that there is truth contained in these documents which may be discerned with careful reading. In the Grail legend the key question is ‘Who does the Grail serve?’, and we might do well to consider this question in relation to the old texts as well.
The story of Myrddin, and his proposed birth in Carmarthen was taken up and popularised in 1169 in The History of the Kings of Briton by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a book which drew heavily from the Historia Britonum. This book spans the period from the aftermath of the Trojan War to around 689AD and contains the first Anglo-Norman account of the life of King Arthur. It covers the Roman invasion through to the collapse of their rule and the subsequent reign of Arthur and his triumphant defeat of the Saxons. The book enjoyed great public success, however there is a question mark over how much authentic history it contains and to what degree Geoffrey elaborated or even completely invented the episodes and characters within it. Geoffrey drew on several sources, conflating the Ambrosius character referred to in Historia Britonum with the prophet Myrddin and changing his name to Merlin due to linguistic preferences: Myrddin being too close to merde in French, the language of much of his audience at the time. Indeed, we might wonder how, if Merlin was the young prophet of this 5th Century story, we have so many tales of his deeds during the later 6th Century? It seems that Geoffrey was later to discover his error when he wrote Vita Merlina – The Life of Merlin in which he draws on other, more ancient texts.
The Black Book of Carmarthen and The Red Book of Hergest contain poems attributed to Myrddin himself. The Black Book of Carmarthen is thought to be drawn from material that dates back to the 9th century or even earlier and may have its roots in original poems penned in the 6th Century. The Myrddin poems form the core of this book.
Yr Affalenau – The Apple trees - in which Myrddin tells of his flight to Celyddon after the Battle of Arderydd and receives protection there within a magical apple tree.
Oianau – the Greetings- Myrddin speaks with a pig that he encounters in the forest.
Ymddiddion – the conversation between Myrddin and his sister Gwyndydd, who visits him in his forest sanctuary.
Two further poems can be found in The Red Book of Hergest.
Gwasgargedd Fyrddin yn y Bedd – the diffused song of Myrddin in the grave.
Yr Perian Faban – the Commanding Youth
In future blogs I will share more of what I have discovered in reading these and other texts and books. I will highlight some of the historical evidence for the existence of Myrddin and move on the discussions on contemporary research and its relevance to our quest.
Thank you for reading. Please do leave a comment and let me know if you found this interesting and what you would like to learn more about.
Historia Brittonum. Nennius
History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey of Monmouth
Black Book of Carmarthen. Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin