“With the opening of any Arthurian book begins a new adventure!”
~ Helen Borrello, Professor of Arthurian Literature (my college professor!)
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Why Arthurian legend?
Arthurian legend is an entire world in itself.
Little kids really do still play “pretend”, pretending to be a cool king who pulls a sword out of a stone. Or a badass wizard with amazing powers. Students study the literature in school. Historians delve into ancient manuscripts and Romano-British excavations to find any clue to a real Arthur. Fantasy authors pour out novels every year of a fascinating new retelling of the legend. New movies and fantasy TV series are booming now more than ever, with subtle ties to Arthuriana. Shakespeare even drew inspiration from a few of the tales. Hell, even “Sonic the Hedgehog” has a video game based on the Knights of the Round Table.
Arthurian legend is not dead. It is alive now more than ever. Perhaps it’s because we, as a society, need it now more than ever. We need stories of justice; of righting the wrongs of greedy kings and granting mercy even to those who don’t always deserve it, so that they may learn and live more wholesome lives. Stories of true, honest to goodness chivalry, where heroic knights treat women with an almost incomprehensible respect. Where women make the most of their situations and find their way to freedom, vocality and happiness in a world where such things were rare to come by. Stories of danger and adventure, of bravery and sacrifice, of love and wisdom and victory against all odds. Stories of magic.
Thus, I’ve decided to start an Arthurian blog!! *cough* *finally* I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, if only to get some topics off my chest that keep me awake at night. Everything from ancient texts, to more recent books, to movies, travel, to discussions about romance, revenge, portrayal and adaptation… The list goes on! So if you think you might be interested, I’d be honored if you’d be so kind as to give this page a follow! (I’d be eternally grateful. Having these sort of conversations with oneself only goes so far.)
I’m an actor, fantasy writer, studier of medieval British history and culture, and an overall Arthurian fanatic. So I hope to keep these posts interesting, and while I by no means call myself anywhere near an expert, I pledge to at least remain mildly entertaining. 🙂
For more, follow my Arthurian podcast, “Of Swords and Magic”, on SoundCloud or Podomatic, and follow me on Instagram @ofswordsandmagic.podcast for more updates! More posts to come soon! Until then, brush up your Arthuriana…there’s a lot of legend out there!
Happy Valentine’s Day! The day of love is here and there are plenty of ways to celebrate it with an Arthurian flare! And just to clarify: Valentine’s Day may be popular among lovers but I’ve always loved it simply because it’s a day about love, in general. V-Day can and should be celebrated by showing your love not just to your lover/partner/spouse but to your friends and family, and simply to yourself. ❤ And I can already think of quite a few ways to enjoy it while simultaneously getting our Arthurian fix! (The Legend’s characters went through some wild stuff for each other, okay? There’s no way you can escape love while enjoying the tales of King Arthur.) While I’ll be spending the day working, I plan to spend the entire week spreading love to my friends, co-workers, family and to myself, babyyyy. This means enjoying an Arthurian kick as part of self-care, and being my nerdy-ass self, I’ve already compiled a list of fun Arthurian-themed Valentine’s Day activities to indulge in this year. I think you guys might enjoy them, too! Have fun!
ARTHURIAN-THEMED VALENTINE’S DAY ACTIVITIES
Read Arthurian romances
The Arthurian legend exploded when the stories told around fires and in great halls were finally penned to paper. Why not read some of the juiciest, romantic, heart-wrenching and heart-warming classical literature out there? Cozy up with a warm blanket and chocolate-covered strawberries and a glass of rosé, and dive into your favorite Arthurian book. Here’s a quick little list of some of my top-favorite classical Arthurian romances.
The Knight of the Cart by Chrétien de Troyes. The first story we have on record that was penned to paper about Lancelot and his love for Guinevere. Adventurous, daring, bold, dramatic, heartbreaking and magical, all at the same time. Sword-bridges and heated battles, declarations of love that pierce the heart, steamy love-making (or as close as you can get in a 12th century Christian author’s manuscript), damsels in towers, daring rescues and romantic gestures in grand tournaments. You can’t want for much else. A classic. ❤
The Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes. To me, it’s a story about intensely passionate love. Sir Yvain’s obsession with the Lady Laudine, which somehow turns into an obsession with knighthood and tourneys…is countered by Gawain’s obsession with Yvain. Whether Gawain and Yvain’s relationship a super intense “friendship”, or something more, is up to the reader– but the latter is an idea that Chrétien doesn’t exactly seem to shy away from. And of course, it’s a great romance about loyalty. And adventure. Tournaments, witches, lions, dragons, demons, giants, secret castles holding hundreds of working women, a magical well that causes massive thunderstorms. You can’t go wrong picking this one up. (And for my fellow LGBT+ friends, this is about as close as you’re gonna get to bisexual representation in classical Arthurian literature, aside from Launcelot and Galaheut’s relationship. So if you’re looking for a classical romantic fix, this is it. 🙂 )
Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. One of the foundations of the Legend. An absolute classic centering around not just the Knights of the Round Table but the to-the-death level of love between Launcelot and Gwynevere, and Trystram and Isolde. A love that in both cases wreaks havoc on the very foundation of Camelot while simultaneously remaining the thunderous and monumental, earth-shattering love that still has us talking about it centuries later in English classes. Also present is the unbreakable love between men-at-arms. The unspeakable and impenetrable bond between Arthur’s knights that stands the test of time. Again, here we are still talking about it centuries later. There’s a reason for that. ❤
2. Watch Arthurian romance movies
There are many, though older some of them may be. They’re still great; they’re iconic and such a joy to watch. Here are a few Arthurian films that center around romance.
Camelot: ’60s musical about Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and their complicated relationships with each other. A classic. Great music from the golden age of musical theatre, great acting, and overall, a piece that hits the core of Arthurian legend in all aspects. The tragedy, the love, the beauty, the power, the hope. Hits all the notes. Literally. I might watch this when I get home from work tonight.
The First Knight: ’90s movie starring Richard Gere as Lancelot, focused on his relationship with Guinevere during a turbulent time in Camelot. Romantic, charming and popular amongst the Lance-fans.
Prince Valiant: One of the lesser known Arthurian films out there. The original was made in 1954, with a remake in 1997. Both are equally corny but with an interesting storyline. A Viking prince (apparently this story places Arthurian Britain in the 9th or 10th century) longs to become a knight of Arthur’s and gets wrapped up in a giant adventure. Gawain is a sort of mentor-figure to him and eventually, Valiant must not only must rescue him but gets romantically tangled up with the Princess Ilene. Romantic and intriguing. A good watch for something light-hearted.
A Knight’s Tale: Speaking of light-hearted, this one is extremely popular for a reason. Not entirely Arthurian through and through but it is a retelling of The Knight of the Cart‘s tournament scene. Inspired by Lancelot and Guinevere, this fun film recreates the idea of Guinevere expecting Lancelot to do her bidding in the one tournament that could boost his reputation as a knight forevermore. Also explores the concepts of chivalry, wooing women and love at first sight. With a slightly modern twist. Such a good one. ❤
3. Give loved ones flowers
Aside from reading books and watching movies, there are plenty of other small gestures you can do for your loved ones– like giving them flowers! In typical chivalric fashion, the giving of flowers is a classic and for the first-time lover, completely fool-proof. (Even Percival can do it without any repercussions.) It’s also just a sweet gesture for anyone that you love, be it friend or family member. Or yourself! I usually buy myself pink roses on V-Day. 🙂 (But I was lucky enough to be given some this year by a very special person. ❤ )
4. Give loved ones personalized items
Now we get medieval. This usually happened in the form of clothing items. Lovers in Arthur’s time would have given each other beautiful brooches or pendants that meant something specific to that person. If Lancelot’s coat of arms was three red stripes over a white shield, perhaps Guinevere would have given him a heart-shaped pendant with three red stripes to fasten to his shirt or cloak when not wearing armor. Perhaps Lance would have given Guin a gorgeous silver brooch with a golden rose on it. And maybe Arthur would have given her a gold one with a crown on it, to remind her of her worth, both as an individual and as High Queen. Etsy and Armstreet have plenty of pendants and brooches you can give a loved one this time of year. Check out Armstreet’s brooches and fibulas!
Signet rings were also used daily, to mark the stamp of ones house on the back of letters and to fasten scrolls. When you sealed a letter with wax, you sealed it with the stamp of your signet ring. If not the symbol of your house, status or coat of arms, it would have been a symbol dearly important to you, so that the receiver always knew who the letter was from before they opened it. (The medieval version of the return address.) Perhaps Gawain would have given Ragnelle a signet ring with the symbol of a sage leaf for wisdom, since she was one of the wisest and wittiest women in all of Camelot. And perhaps she would have given Gawain a ring with either a pentangle (for the Green Knight quest and his coat of arms) or a hawk (since his true name, “Gwalchmai” means “May-hawk” or “battle hawk”). You can find custom-made signet rings on Etsy! Make one for a fellow medieval-fan as a heartfelt Valentine’s gift.
5. Sew hair into clothing
Want to be a real Arthurianist this Valentine’s Day? Pull a Clíges and sew a small strand of your lover’s hair into your clothing. Poor young Clíges was so in love with the beautiful Fenice that he kept a strand of her hair and cried over it at night and, in the words of Chrétien de Troyes, “tossed and turned in his bed, and moaned and wept her name into the night, as he clutched the golden hair to his chest.” So. If you wanna go all out, sew a little of your lover’s hair into your shirt or favorite sweater and have them do the same. Extra spicy points if you sew a strand into any undergarments! (And hand-wash only from now on!!)
6. Give loved ones herbs of love
My personal favorite, as is the favorite of many a pagan and witch I know, the herb bouquet is quite the thing of charm. Nothing says romance like giving your loved one a handpicked bouquet of magical love herbs. Morgan, Merlin, Morgause, Nimue and every other Arthurian character of the Old Ways would have treasured their very own gifted sprig of rosemary or thyme. If you have an earthy, plant-loving friend or lover, take some inspiration from a few of the main love herbs below and customize them into a lovely little bouquet you know your loved one will enjoy. Picked wild or from a garden is preferred, of course; part of the romance of this gift is that it was handpicked from the earth, from Mother Nature, herself, and infused with loving energy as you thought about the person you’re giving it to while you picked it. But of course, if necessary, herbs from the supermarket will do. It’s the thought that counts. ❤
Rosemary: Thought to be a popular plant representative of love in Celtic lands. (Besides flowers, of course.) Represents loyalty and remembrance of loved ones.
Thyme: Another herb associated with love in Celtic lands. Thought to promote affection and deep love between friends. An herb for platonic love. Parsley was thought to do the same!
Basil: Thought by the Romans to be the main herb of love. Smoked over potions, burned (leaves only) or used dried in love spells.
Bay Leaf: Considered a love plant by the Romans and Celts. Smoked over a fire, boiled in bathwater or carried in ones pocket to attract love.
Fennel: Associated with fertility by the Romans, Greeks and Celts. Used in love spells to attract love and encourage flattery and ease in relationships.
Anise: Thought to be useful for arousal. Anise seeds were often baked into wedding cakes to promote a very enjoyable evening for the bride and groom (and for the guests!) I bake some in my seed cake at Imbolc each year in honor of the Earth’s fertility for the light half of the year.
Lavender: Used to promote romance, gentle love and devotion. Burned in a fire to attract a mate or dried to attract eternal love.
Oregano: Associated with love and fertility by the Greeks. Considered the goddess Aphrodite’s herb. It’s an aphrodisiac and has soothing properties (as well as antiviral and antibacterial properties) so it’s perfect for relaxation and ease in love. Great for self-love, too. (I make oregano tea multiple times a week and it immediately relaxes and softens any agitation I have. Makes a woman feel sensual and confident, if I do say so myself. 😉 Tastes so good, too. Add a few leaves to your tea and boom, you’re in a great mood for most of the day!)
Saffron: Another aphrodisiac. Used by the Egyptian goddess, Cleopatra, as a love spice. Also tastes amazing and acts as an arousal. (Use it in cooking or use it in tea and pair it with dark chocolate! Chocolate does the same, so adding saffron tea would make it a double whammy!)
There are several more plants/herbs I could mention, especially spices which I find even more romantic. (Cinnamon, cardamom, paprika, ginger; they’re all associated with love!) Find which ones call to you and add those to your herb gift you give your loved one. 🙂
7. Make rose tea
Last but not least, as a tea enthusiast, I have to insist on rose tea. The rose is the flower of love and a flower long associated with Guinevere and even Lancelot. What better way to end a perfect Valentine’s Day than with a delicious rose petal tea? (Guinevere would highly approve!) If you have some dried rose buds or petals, or even a store-bought rose tea, steep them for a good five minutes with some soothing chamomile in boiling water. Then strain, add a spoonful of honey and enjoy. And if you’re a black tea fan, like myself, rose goes great with Ceylon. You can even add a few petals to a decaf black tea if you’re taking a cup in the evening. And if you don’t have any rose tea at all, there are plenty of places to find some!
I highly suggest Fortnum and Mason’s Rose Pouchong tea available on Amazon. It’s on the pricier side but it’s some of the best rose tea you will ever have in your life. I swear it. However, times are hard and wallets are hurting, so you can also find a decently priced one in Downton Abbey’s English rose tea. It’s herbal and is blended with hibiscus and raspberry. You can even find Whittard of Chelsea’s rose blend on Amazon. It’s fairly cheap and said to be the same brand served at Harrods’ tea room in London! Also, I can’t miss out on a shameless plug moment and remind you that you can buy a sophisticated Arthurian rose tea from me at my Etsy shop! There’s an herbal one for Guinevere blended with rose, Egyptian chamomile and French lavender, and a black tea for Lancelot with rose, bergamot and lemongrass. (Think Beltane-inspired Earl Grey.)
I hope some of these ideas spark some creative energy! There are so many possibilities in the ways of nerding up your Valentine’s Day in a perfectly Arthurian way! And of course, Of Swords and Magic wishes you a most happy and joyous Valentine’s Day. Sending you all lots of love. ❤
(To listen to this post as a podcast episode, click here.)
Happy New Year and Happy February, friends! I hope you’re having a fantastic start to 2023!
Just a little mid-winter thought for February:
As some of you know, I love wintertime and tend to spend a lot of the winter season thinking about Gawain and the Green Knight. To me, the Green Knight was always more than just an antagonist-turned-protagonist for Gawain in that famous winter poem. He was a teacher, a warrior. A spirit. He forces Gawain out on a wild quest to test his mettle yet also teaches him the meaning of honor. He makes as if to kill Gawain, yet one year later, sends him home with a blessing. It always fascinated me. It also intrigued me that he was literally green and sends Gawain into the wilderness to learn his lesson– both signs that the Green Knight represents Nature and Celtic pagan themes. Yet he also teaches Gawain honor as a Christian knight, sending him out into the wild knowing he is a fairly new Christian and that he has no one but his horse and Mother Mary in his shield to protect him.
I think the Green Knight can be seen in both a Christian and a pagan light– and, in fact, shouldbe seen in both. As a pagan who also celebrates Christmas and other Christian holidays, I love thinking of him during the winter, especially around the New Year. He seems to embody both faiths in different ways. (And again, this is just my personal opinion. Everyone views him and the story differently! 🙂 )
As we know, the Green Knight disguises himself as a simple host, allowing Gawain to stay in his manor until New Year’s Day as he heals from his ruthless journey. The “exchange of winnings” game commences, and the host’s wife makes sexual advances toward Gawain during each of the three days he stays there. Of course, this is all a test created by the Green Knight, himself, and his wife (or so he calls her), aiming to see if Gawain will give in to sinful behavior on this holy quest. (And to see if a magical green silk belt rumored to keep its wearer safe from harm will tempt Gawain to cheat out of his quest.) Finally, Gawain sets out to meet the Green Knight in the Green Chapel, ready to bow his head before the Knight’s axe. But he wears the belt. And when the Green Knight asks him where he got it, Gawain lies about it. (A failed last chance given by the GK for Gawain to come clean about what it is and the fact that he got it during a rather scandalous moment with someone else’s wife.)
However, after two “misses” with the axe, the GK puts it down and reveals that he was the host, all along. Of course, Gawain is overcome with shame, admits everything and apologizes profusely. He’s so mortified that he feels unable to ever return home to Camelot. But the Green Knight says that this apology and admission of shame is enough. He explains that the entire quest was all a test to see if Gawain truly understood the meaning of honor– for only then, could he ever truly be a worthy knight. The GK sends Gawain home with a warm-hearted farewell and the green belt, as a symbol of his lesson learned. (Even though Gawain is guilt-ridden the entire journey home.) Luckily, Arthur and Guinevere are simply so pleased that he’s back alive, that they have everyone wear green belts in his honor.
To me, the Green Knight had two motives for this test. One was as he said, to test Gawain’s honor. The other, in my opinion, was to test Gawain’s bravery on the journey there and to measure his respect of things he doesn’t understand. The honor aspect seems to embody Christian morals while the bravery and respect-of-another-being aspects seem to embody pagan ideals.
On the Christian side, honor comes in with the “exchange of winnings” game and Gawain’s truthfulness (or lack thereof) about the gifts he received in the GK’s house. Of course, had he declined to take the green belt from the wife, he would have passed the test. Even if he hadn’t, had he simply come clean and been truthful to the GK, he still would have passed. In this way, to me, the GK appears as a Christian figure. His “game” with the axe, and Gawain’s end of the bargain, represent death and ascension to Heaven. The idea of coming clean could represent the confessing of ones sins, which Gawain didn’t do. He also was planning to cheat his way out of the game by wearing the belt, which can represent cheating ones way through life. A Christian knight would have been expected to live a life of purity– not to say that it should be lived without pleasure or desire, but that the knight’s intentions was expected to always be out of pure heart and noble cause. A life of lies and selfish gain (not to mention the whole sexual-intimacy-out-of-wedlock thing, which would have been hugely dishonorable at the time) would have been no life for a knight of King Arthur’s.
But once the GK reveals himself and explains his holiday “game” to Gawain, who is ashamed, the GK is merciful and kind, and gives him the belt to remind him of his lesson, inspiring him to do right always. This to me seems like the kind of lesson Christ would teach his followers; the kind that God might teach those who once had Him in their heart but lost themselves and made mistakes. He seems like He would send them off with a lesson learned and a reminder that He is always there to guide them. The Green Knight does the same here for Gawain.
On a more general note, the idea of faith seems really prevalent in this story. Gawain mentions many, many times throughout the whole first half that he’s not afraid of what awaits him simply because he knows God is with him on this journey. He has faith that God will save him from death’s icy blow and that things will work out in the end. (At least that’s how he feels at first.) And it’s true; he did survive and he did return home, and all the better for it. But his faith begins to dwindle as New Year’s Day grows closer, which leads him to make the mistake of turning to the green belt for safety and lying his way through a challenge of honor. This, I find to be very human and something probably all of us would have done. But to be the kind of worthy knight the Green Knight expected– and that even Arthur expected of his men–would have required more than that. It would have required the highest levels of courage and honor. So the whole moment of the GK explaining that if Gawain had steeled his heart, things would have been a lot easier, seems very much like a lesson in faith. Not just in oneself but in God.
On the pagan side of things, the entire idea of the Green Knight’s “game” can be argued to have derived from the lore of the Green Man. In modern pagan and Wiccan culture, the Green Man has been associated with Pan, the Greek god of mischief, and the Celtic figure of the Horned God, amongst others. In modern pagan practices, the Horned One has become more and more popular as a spirit able to be worked with and honored during springtime. But in ancient times, he was known by the Celtic peoples as Cernunnos; the wild fertility god of nature and abundance, celebrated playfully in the spring but feared in the winter. He was thought to come knocking on the hall door of great warriors on Yule Night or New Year’s Eve, inviting only the best warriors out on a dangerous, frigid-cold adventure to test their mettle. Whether we call him Cernunnos or the Green Man, he made it his mission to find the greatest men in the land and prepare them to be the best they could be; to be brave at all costs, stronger than the northern winds, smarter than the fae creatures lurking in the shadows of dark mountains and frozen lakes. And respectful of heart. All qualities typically expected of a pre-Christian Celtic warrior.
Similarly to the Green Knight, Cernunnos is also seen in various forms. He’s a teacher; a gentle caretaker of all forest creatures, teaching them the ways of the wood and of Nature, herself. He is also a god of the hunt. Since he knows the forests so well, he was often called upon by the Celtic peoples to aid them in hunts, especially during the winter when food was scarce. He was also said to be a wild creature, himself, and sometimes appeared not at all in the form of a human body but an animal’s. Most often, he is thought to appear as a stag (or a human man with a stag’s antlers), though he was often thought to have also taken the form of a serpent or other horned creature. (This is why I imagine A24’s The Green Knight film depicted the GK as an earthly creature, made entirely out of tree bark and greenery, with two edges of tree bark sort of crowning his head, like antlers.)
All of these variations of his character could have easily inspired the character of the Green Knight who was also, at once, a teacher, hunter and shape-shifter. Dark and terrifying in the beginning, when he first appears at Arthur’s court (a Cernunnos-figure calling the great warrior to a quest), he later takes on the guise of a rowdy but humble host. (A nod to Cernunnos’ shapeshifting gifts.) During this, he even spends his part of the exchange of winnings game going on a hunt each day (another nod to Cernunnos as a god of the hunt). Then, at the Green Chapel, he once again resumes his role as a terrifying god-like creature until Gawain learns his lesson. Then he falls into his final (and seemingly truest) form; the gentle teacher. (A parallel to Cernunnos as wisdom-keeper and Father of the Forests.) Then of course, there’s his last quality that’s perhaps the most popular one today; fertility. As well as he is known today as a god of the forest, he is also known as a god of Divine Masculine energy and fertility. How ironic that desire and fertility were the Green Knight’s main idea for catching Gawain off guard at the house and testing the trueness of his heart.
And then there’s the man vs. nature trope that is so very prevalent in this story. So prevalent, that Nature feels like a character in itself. For much of the story, Gawain sees no other humans. Only animals and giants and snowstorms and dangerous mountain passes. Perhaps the Green Knight wanted to see if Gawain would not only survive the journey to the Chapel but to see if he would work with Nature to get there. To see if he wouldn’t slay giants or dragons but work with them to find his way to the Chapel. And of course, there’s the idea of respect.
When I first read this in high school, my first thought was that the GK wanted to teach Gawain, who scorned the pagan faith and feared “unholy” creatures, that holding respect for all creatures was a quality expected of a true knight, even if Arthur never taught such a thing. The scene that brings this idea to mind the most is when Gawain finally appears at the Green Chapel and realizes it’s not a chapel at all, but a chasm. A mossy, green chasm in the side of a mountain that belongs not to man but to the Otherworld. Gawain’s first reaction is that this place “belongs to Satan”. He says, “For certain, this is a soulless spot, a ghostly cathedral overgrown with grass, the kind of kirk where that camouflaged man might deal in devilment and all things dark. My five senses inform me that Satan himself has tricked me into this tryst, intending to destroy me. This is a haunted house –may it go to hell. I never came across a church so cursed.” And then, the GK starts to sharpen his axe. And Gawain can see nothing, only dark mossy shadows, as he hears the grinding of the axe’s blade on stone. It scares the bejesus out of him (and it did the same to me when I first read it…but I don’t blame the GK for purposely scaring him just a little after those comments.)
Perhaps this was yet another failure of Gawain’s in the Green Knight’s opinion; the failure to recognize his chapel as a different sort of chapel and one that deserves the same amount of respect as a Christian one. Perhaps the green belt is also given to Gawain to take home in hopes of serving as a reminder that good and mercy and honor can also come from the Old Ways. (You would think Gawain would know that being from a pagan family. But he did have an evil witch for a mother and a poor excuse for a man for a father, and wacko brothers…so I guess I get it.) Perhaps this theory can even be supported by the fact that in many versions, Morgan le Fey reveals herself as the GK’s “wife”, and says that she, too, was using magic all along to disguise herself. What reason did she have to do such a thing unless she hoped for Gawain to find good in the Old Ways, too? As a witch/priestess and follower of pre-Christian faith, I’m sure she would have wanted to ensure that Arthur’s knights knew of the good that can come from pagan folk. Perhaps she knew all along that Gawain would be sent home with a blessing from the Green Knight.
ANYWAY, that was much longer of a rambling thought than I expected to write, but I just think all the multiple dimensions to this story are fascinating. I’m sure I missed some Christian parallels, or even some pagan ones, so if any come to mind for you, feel free to let me know in the comments! I’d love to know your thoughts.
All in all, there are several ways to look at this epic poem and I feel like each one is equally relevant and valid. It’s so much more complex than a simple adventure poem. Not to mention how beautiful and shimmering and visceral and dark the language can be. Simon Armitage’s translation is my favorite version, so if you ever end up reading it anytime soon, I highly recommend his verse! I think he captures not only the beauty and wretchedness of the story but the multifaceted views the story can take. I took away from his version that he allows you to view it from a Christian lens as well as a pagan. And that makes the story all the more rich, wild and inspirational. ❤
[To hear this post as a podcast episode, click here!]
Greetings, lords and ladies! And happy holidays! Apologies for the lack of posts lately– things have been super busy but I plan on making more time for these posts! I missed this blog dearly. ❤
Since last I wrote, things have finally opened again and are safe for travel! I know a bunch of my fellow Arthurianists are excited to explore more of the U.K. in the near future. What better thing for us Camelot nerds to dream of for the coming new year than Arthurian travel destinations, right? We covered some of England last time– and still have much more of her to cover– but we haven’t yet mentioned her next-door neighbor.
While England has the reputation of being a hub for tons of Arthurian spots, Wales is honestly the true goldmine. Most Arthurian fans know that Wales is argued by many to even be the birthplace of the legend. The first written accounts of King Arthur were by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia regum Brittanniea, or The History of the Kings of Britain. Not only did he write accounts of Arthur in Wales but he wrote most of his work in his hometown of Monmouth (south Wales.) And Geoffrey wrote about the land and legends that he knew. Some people believe his work to be connected to The Dream of Rhonabwy, another early Arthurian tale that dates back to the 12th century and whose author is unknown. Whether written/inspired by Geoffrey or not, this author told the Welsh tale of how Rhonabwy saw in a prophetic dream the red and white dragon in heated battle. In many newer tales, Merlin is the one who has this vision, telling King Uther of the red dragon’s victory over the white, representing Camelot’s victory over their enemy. Henceforth, the red dragon becomes the symbol of Camelot, accompanying the name, Pendragon (“head dragon”). This is thought by some to be the reason why the red dragon is the symbol on the Welsh flag today!
There are so many other Welsh ties to Arthurian legend. And their locations make excellent travel destinations! I had the honor of visiting south Wales with my dad a few years ago and it was easily one of the most magical experiences of my life. You can feel how old and mythical the land is. It’s in the air; in the quiet hush of the village at dusk, in the fields of summery bluebells. It’s in the dark stone of old pubs, the smell of strange flowers and the taste of fresh salmon. There’s something magical about traveling past endless fields of sheep and castle ruins. And there’s an inescapable presence of something legendary that hangs in the air, like a rainy mist.
Let’s take a look at a few locations in the south (we’ll cover the north next time), so that when next you go exploring, you can check off some of these beautiful sites!
Caerleon is mentioned several times in older texts, as a town where Arthur often held court. Some even say that Caerleon was Camelot and that this was where the Round Table was kept. If Arthur was an actual historical figure, this is a maaajor possibility because of the ruins of its Iron Age hill fort, and the Roman amphitheater that’s now part of the National Roman Legion Museum. As far as the Round Table goes, many claim that it wasn’t actually a “table”, at all. Rather, it was Caerleon’s Roman amphitheater, used for holding larger council meetings. It’s perfect when you think about it: lots of space for everyone at court, a speaking place in the round (where there is no head and everyone is equal), good acoustics for giving speeches, instructions and reports, good visuals, and it’s outside where Arthur might feel closer to God, or gods.
The fort and amphitheater even have Roman baths nearby (which might still be available for tours today!) If we’re thinking in the style of the Romans, the king’s royal bathhouse would be close by to his public place of business (AKA the Round Table/ampitheatre). So it makes perfect sense. Also, Arthur’s rule was not long after the Romans left Britain– and in many versions, he’s Romano-British, himself– so he would have made great use of Caerleon.
Hanbury Arms Inn
Also in Caerleon is what could very well be the remains of a “real” Camelot! Nestled in the heart of the town, right alongside the Hanbury Arms Inn, is what remains of a castle– a few feet of a Roman watchtower. Although it’s believed that the castle was added to by Normans in 1085 and attacked by the Welsh in 1217, the castle is still thought by some to be a Romano-British castle from before the 10th century. Geoffrey of Monmouth, himself, said Caerleon Castle was one of Arthur’s and even grew to rival Camelot! Nearby is also a site of one of Arthur’s twelve great battles. And the Hanbury Arms is also where Alfred, Lord Tennyson often came to write poetry and his Idylls of the King, which includes a good chunk of classic Arthurian literature. An Arthurian hotspot, for sure!
Those who visit Caerleon for its Arthurian roots tend to visit the Roman Legion Museum, including the amphitheater. But when I go one day, I’m taking a lunch break at the Hanbury Arms…it’s the closest thing Caerleon has to where Arthur may have lived!
Chepstow is a beautiful, quaint little village. But its castle is nothing short of gigantic. Chepstow Castle is thought to be the resting place for Arthur and his Round Table pals. Some tales say that it was one of his home castles. Others say that after the battle of Camlann, while Excalibur was thrown into the Lake of Avalon, Arthur and his knights were brought to Chepstow to be buried…but they’re not dead. Only sleeping. And one day, when the land’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. ❤
Until that day, it’s believed by some that he and his men rest beneath the castle, in the caverns below, just above the water of the River Wye. One staff member even claimed to have seen Arthur’s ghost once, along with the ghosts of his knights while he was on night parol. He fled the castle and never returned, warning people never to visit there after dark. I, personally, would be overjoyed and honored to witness King Arthur’s ghost!? But to each their own, I guess. (I also would like to add that I literally had a dream that Arthur’s ghost came to walk with me around Monmouthshire and told me that Monmouth Castle was the real Camelot. But he also said that the place where he held all the lavish parties– the place that best matches our idea of Camelot– is Chepstow Castle. So. Just throwing that out there.)
My dad and I loved our time there. It’s absolutely massive for a ruins and the energy there feels…large, if that makes sense. “Large” as in larger than life, full of vibrance. It still echoes of a giant court, large dinner parties, secrets never told that remain within the walls, stories and lives and vicious battles that whisper their truths in the chilly breeze blowing in the open corridors. While I felt very at peace there, I wouldn’t be surprised if some spirit still remains there of a great king and his knights, who did much for Wales and the land of Britain. Definitely a must if you’re visiting Monmouthshire.
Almost all the way to the southernmost part of Wales, Dinas Powys Castle lies at the eastern end of the Vale of Glamorgan. This ruins was a castle that had been conquered by many and was originally a home for the Norman de Somery family in the 1100s. But some believe that before then, it was originally a castle of King Arthur’s that was destroyed by invaders in the Dark Ages. (I feel like every castle in Wales claims theirs to be one of Arthur’s castles. On every Welsh castle’s website, it lists the history and then below it: “Birthplace of King Arthur!” or “Home of King Arthur!” But also, like…who’s to say it’s not true? Who’s to say each one of them wasn’t a place some historical Arthur-figure has been? He was the High King, it’s very possible he touched base at every one of these locations! Anyway, I digress.) Today, you can check out Dinas Powys for free, so long as you don’t mind the thorn bushes and overgrowth. 🙂
This one isn’t high on most people’s radar but I went with my dad and it did not disappoint. It’s thought by some to have a connection to Sir Percival and/or Merlin. Merlin has an association with the River Severn, which is right downhill (the river separating Wales from England). It’s also thought to have been The Waste Forest; the forest in which Percival was raised by his mother and kept sheltered from civilization. (Which is funny because only a twenty-minute walk away is Tintern, which in medieval times, was a busy village and home to a fully functioning and very popular Tintern Abbey.) Some modern Arthurian stories also place Percival’s forest here– including one of my favorite stories, the Pendragon’s Heir series by Suzannah Rowntree. In The Door to Camelot, Percival even hides out in Tintern Abbey after running away from home, before going to Camelot. In that case, Percy’s first introduction to civilization was through Tintern Abbey, which makes sense given his Christian heart and pure soul. (I guess you could make Tintern Abbey an Arthurian location, too!) But even after all his wild quests, a part of himself always stayed in the forest. In my Percival-based novel, I, too, placed his home here in the Wyndcliff Woods. It just made so much sense for him to look out across the River Severn at England; at Camelot’s towers just beyond the horizon, as he dreams of a life of knighthood.
Going there with my dad and actually stepping foot in the place was a truly magical experience. The forest feels as ancient as it does mystical. It was so quiet, filled only with the sounds of birdsong and cold, early-spring wind shivering through the pine trees. I felt like an intruder. We were so pleased to hike there. It’s so easy to imagine a young Percival there, climbing the forest’s steep paths, sitting in silence with the ancient stones and tree stumps, hunting for food…bombarding passing travelers with questions about the world. But who can blame him? If I had a cottage here, I’d probably have a hard time leaving, too.
Anyway, the Wyndcliff Woods is now officially an Outstanding Area of Natural Beauty and is a popular place for hikers. It has a beautiful viewpoint called the “Eagle’s Nest”, for hikers to stop and look out at the view of the two rivers below; the River Wye and the River Severn just beyond. As an Arthurianist who enjoys the Welsh tradition, I’ve decided to call this little area of south Wales “Percival’s Perch”. Because I’m that person. And yes, that’s me in the picture below, standing at the Eagle’s Nest, drunk on my happiness.
St. Govan’s Chapel
Last but not least, this little chapel is nestled in the rocks, near the cliffside caves of Pembrokeshire. It’s named after St. Govan the Hermit, who secluded himself in this chapel for shelter from pirates– and in some stories, from a long, merciless winter– saving his own life in doing so. But many believe the name “Govan” to be derived from “Gawain”. And after all, in some versions of Arthuriana, Gawain becomes a hermit after Camelot falls and lives out the rest of his life among the wilderness and the fae. So this little chapel could very well be Gawain’s. If we know one thing about Gawain, we know his association with chapels, especially during his Green Knight quest. We also know, of course, that the Green Chapel was a mossy cavern and not at all an actual chapel. But he certainly did spend a good deal of time in real chapels throughout his quest, taking respite from the cold and praying to the Virgin Mary, who lay painted faithfully in his shield. If this isn’t the chapel he called home later in life, it could certainly be one in which he sheltered himself from that harsh blizzard during his fateful quest.
I like to think he would have liked it there. It’s on the cliffside right by the water. And as someone raised in the Orkney Islands, he probably would have felt a little closer to home in a place where he could smell the saltwater on the crisp, sea wind and watch the sun glint on the waves. Today, you can visit there in person, so long as you don’t mind the steep climb!
These are just a few of the Welsh wonders that hold Arthurian myth and legend within their walls and branches. Here’s to Cymru and all the legend-filled treasures she holds within her beautiful land!
(Listen to this blog post as a podcast episode here.)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I want to preface this by saying I’m not at all much of a drinker– and am also one of those people who celebrates today for Irish heritage and not so much for the idea of getting drunk. That said. We all love to get at least a little lit for St. Patrick’s Day, right? 🙂
My friend, Maddy, a fellow Arthurian fan (follow her on Instagram at @maddytamms!) has a much broader knowledge of cocktails than I do. So the two of us got rather tipsy on champagne one night and had a BLAST coming up with some fun Arthurian character-themed drinks to enjoy on everyone’s favorite drinking day! Now these drinks aren’t necessarily Irish, nor are they medieval. If you really want to enjoy some drinks Arthurian-style, you might wanna stop by your nearest pub and enjoy some nice, cold ale. But if you’re looking for something a little more creative that you can make at home for friends, here are some fun recipe ideas!
King Arthur: Hot Toddy
Let’s start with our High King, yeah? He’s a man of the winter and would enjoy something that warms the body after a long battle, or even just a long day. Seeing as it’s still quite cold in many areas this March, brew yourself a hot toddy to warm up! It’s such a simple drink: all you need is whisky, hot water, lemon and honey. Just boil the water, add the whisky (you can get your Irish touch in, after all), and add lemon and honey to taste. But if you wanna change it up a bit, here’s a recipe with a more flavorful twist!
½ cup boiling water
2 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed
4 tablespoons bourbon
2 to 3 drops aromatic bitters
2 to 3 teaspoons honey
1 tsp whole cloves optional for garnish
1 slice lemon optional
1 cinnamon stick optional
1 star anise optional
Pour ½ cup of boiling water into a mug.
Add lemon juice, bourbon, bitters, and honey into the ½ cup of water. Stir until honey is dissolved.
Poke whole cloves into the peel of a thick slice of lemon. Drop lemon slice into the mug.
Add a cinnamon stick and/or star anise for garnish. Done and done!
Note from recipe: Glass mugs are a beautiful way to show off the beautiful amber color of this drink, but regular mugs work just as well (and add more of a rustic/medieval feel, especially if you’ve got any sort of Celtic-style mug.)
We might as well name this “The Guinevere”, right? It just sounds like her. While the essence of our High Queen could easily be found in a simple, elegant glass of champagne, I think this drink really highlights the strength and complexity in her. Grab a pretty coupe glass and let’s get to brewing!
For the pink peppercorn syrup:
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons pink peppercorns (you can buy them online or at your nearest Whole Foods)
For the cocktail:
24 ounces rosé wine (the recipe suggests Bridge Lane)
12 ounces chilled tonic, to taste (the recipe suggests Fever Tree)
Edible rose for garnish (you can use other edible flowers if you prefer; I just love the idea of a rose for Guinevere ❤ )
For the peppercorn syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine the cane sugar, water, and pink peppercorns. Bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat and then lower the heat to a slow simmer, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, steep for 20 minutes, discard solids, and let cool completely.
In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine the rosé, gin, white grape juice, cranberry liqueur, and pink peppercorn syrup. Stir until incorporated and chill in the refrigerator until you’re ready to enjoy. You can make this portion of the cocktail a day ahead and store it in the refrigerator; just give the mixture a good stir before serving.
For the cocktail:
When you’re ready to serve the cocktail, fill your pitcher or punch bowl with ice, and add the chilled cocktail mixture. Quickly top with the tonic water, taste for balance, and give the mixture a gentle stir. Prep individual cocktail glasses and place one edible rose in each.
Note from the recipe: Leopold Bros. New England Tart Cranberry liqueur might be tough to find, but like their Rocky Mountain Blackberry liqueur, it’s worth it if you can score some. You can substitute Chambord black raspberry liqueur, but the flavor profile of the cocktail will shift slightly sweeter.
Sir Lancelot: Kir Mead Cocktail
Our French knight, the brave and charming Sir Lancelot, would enjoy something reminiscent of home. The Kir, a traditional French cocktail of white wine and créme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur), sounds delish. But we can put a medieval spin on it and swap the white wine for mead! I think he’d enjoy sipping on this refined treat after a long day out in the jousting field.
Just pour the mead into a wine glass and add crème de cassis. Et viola! Enjoy a little piece of history and French culture.
Morgan le Fey: Black Widow Martini
Our favorite dark sorceress of the British Isles deserves a drink that encompasses her great power (and often dark magic.) This devilish martini does exactly that. A typical Black Widow is made with black rum and crème de cacao– but we found a recipe with blackcurrant liqueur that’s a little more creative and much more suitable for Morgan!
2 ounces vodka
3 ounces crème de cassis
1 ounce kahlua
1/2 teaspoon activated charcoal: A fine odorless and tasteless powder made from selected natural hardwood trees that have been exposed to very high temperatures in an airless environment. It’s pure carbon specially processed to make it highly absorbent of particles and gases in the body’s digestive system. Basically, it gives the cocktail the deep black color as well as helps you detoxify. You can buy your activated charcoal on Amazon.
1 ounce ginger beer: Just a splash gives the cocktail a tiny sparkle and extra sweet taste.
Blackberries or apple slices for garnish
Shake: Pour the vodka, cream de cassis, activated charcoal, and Kahlua into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 1 minute and strain into a martini glass.
Garnish: Splash the top of the cocktail with ginger beer and garnish with blackberries. (You can also garnish with apple to give Avalon vibes and add flavor!)
Sir Gawain: Absinthe or Emerald Isle Cocktail
That’s it. Just absinthe. Its eerie green hue makes for a perfect representation of the Green Knight, and Gawain would have probably craved something like this after his Green Knight quest. Said to give hallucinatory affects that can often be pleasurable, absinthe with a cube or two of brown sugar might be just what you need if you’re on a trying quest of your own this month. Maybe you’ll even see the Green Faerie!
Pour 3/4 of a full shot of absinthe in a sundae glass.
Put a brown sugar cube on a spoon with holes in it and rest it on the rim of the sundae glass.
Pour the remaining 1/4 of the shot of absinthe onto the brown sugar cube, light the brown sugar on fire (put the flame under the spoon).
Let the flame burn for a minute while the brown sugar drips into the glass and caramelizes. Stir the caramelized sugar into the glass.
Add the water to the glass, stir again, and serve.
Emerald Isle Cocktail
Now seeing as absinthe can be hard to find and it’s not for everybody, you might instead get really into the St. Patrick’s Day Irish spirit and try the Emerald Isle Cocktail, named after Ireland, herself. It’s just as green as absinthe, perfect for Gawain’s famous belt, and packs a hard punch. It’s a strong minty drink I find quite befitting for an Orkney warrior like Gawain.
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 teaspoon crème de menthe liqueur
2 dashes bitters
In a cocktail shaker, pour the gin, crème de menthe, and bitters. Fill with ice cubes.
Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve and enjoy.
Note from the recipe: Be careful not to add too much crème de menthe! It could overpower the gin and knock the whole drink off balance.
Lady of the Lake: Witch’s Brew Lemonade
Minus the straws and the fact that lemonade wasn’t around in the Iron Age, I could totally see Nimue sipping from this after a long day of spellwork. The dark blue represents the depths of the Lake from which she lifted Excalibur and gifted it to Arthur. The purple, I feel, represents her personality so well. And rosemary is an ancient Celtic symbol of wisdom and remembrance. Pretty befitting for our Lady of the Lake, I think. ❤
2 ounces Empress 1908 Gin
2 ounces sparkling lemonade
2 ounces Blue Curacao
1 rosemary sprig
Fill a tall glass with ice. Pour the Empress 1908 Gin and top with sparkling lemonade.
Very carefully and slowly pour the curacao into the glass, letting it settle on the bottom.
Garnish with a rosemary sprig. Enjoy!
Sir Percival: Sidecar
This boozy cocktail pretty much sums up Sir Percival in a drink. Its bursting citrus flavor from both the lemon juice and orange liqueur remind one of our Grail knight’s bright, summery personality. It’s so cheerful and light and sweet, with a hint of tartness. ❤ If you want to go one step further, you can also substitute blood orange juice instead of lemon juice, which will give it a deeper red hue (pictured up top) that’s reminiscent of Percival’s famous red armor. (And in many adaptations, including mine, his red hair. 🙂 )
2 ounces Cognac
3/4 ounces orange liqueur (Cointreau or Triple sec)
3/4 ounces lemon juice or blood orange juice
Rim the glass with sugar. It’ll help bring out the sweet tart flavor even more.
Shake in a cocktail shaker.Take the brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice and shake it together in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Strain into a glass and add ice cubes. Strain the drink into a cocktail glass. Serve with a lemon twist or orange twist. Some people like to squeeze the orange twist into the drink so the oils add a perfume.
Lady Blanchefleur: French 75 Royale
I’m a sucker for Blanchefleur and as she’s a lead protagonist in my stories, I figured I’d include a drink for her. ❤ This cocktail is so fitting for her; it’s sophisticated, classy, seemingly simple and yet beautifully complex, just as she is. While it’s made with gin, the dry sparkling wine adds elegance. And the lemon juice and orange bitters add a lovely flavor that pairs nicely with floral tones, which the lavender gives. (I also tend to associate Blanchefleur with lavender for some reason, so the lavender syrup and the drink’s overall color make me think of her immediately.)
2 cups Victoria Spirits Empress Gin
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup lavender syrup (see note)
1 1/2 teaspoon orange bitters
4 cups dry sparkling wine
Combine all ingredients in a large pitcher. Stir gently, then bottle, seal and refrigerate or stash in ice.
To serve: Pour into a chilled champagne flute or drink it straight from the bottle. Makes 8 cups or about 10 servings. It can be bottled into 6 ounce bottles and stored in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Note from the recipe: To make lavender syrup, bring 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 4 tablespoons of dried food-safe lavender and reduce to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out lavender. Bottle, seal, label and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
I hope you enjoy some of these delicious boozy treats! Have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! And to all my fellow Irish peeps– Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit. ❤
If you find anything you’ve read worthy of a tip, you can leave one with the button above! I’d greatly appreciate some help saving up for a flight to the UK, to explore Arthurian locations! 🙂 Or, y’know, a small chai latte at Starbucks would be nice. Thank you! ❤
Happy International Women’s Day! Arthurian Legend has a good deal of phenomenal women in it, does it not? I thought about this last night and compiled a list of fun activities to do in honor of Women’s Day (and all month!) inspired by some of the women of the Legend. ❤ Let’s get to celebrating!
Guinevere: Celebrate Women
As High Queen of Britain, Guinevere would have a vast and detailed knowledge of the queens that came before her. She would also make it her business to stay up to date on the struggles and successes of the women around her; in the castle, in town, in the markets of Camelot’s lesser known villages. So I think, if Guinevere were to celebrate Women’s Day, she would host a large gathering for the women of Camelot; for the noblewomen, perhaps for women of the kingdoms in alliance with Camelot, and probably provide something for all the working women of the kingdom.
Seeing as it’s already Women’s Day, it might be a bit late to put together an event for today (LOL, oops) but the whole month of March is International Women’s Month! So in honor of Guinevere, host your own women’s tea or dinner party this March! A few quick ideas:
Host a high tea: You can easily make little finger sandwiches (cucumber and cream cheese is all you need, unless you want to make some tuna or chicken), put out some cookies or biscuits (you can even buy them at the store if you don’t have the time to bake) and ready a pot of your favorite tea! Done and done. 🙂
Host a dinner party: It doesn’t have to be extravagant. (Of course, if you’re extra as hell, like me, go all the way, girl!) You can make your favorite dish– a meatloaf, pasta, a crockpot recipe, whatever floats your boat– set your table with some pretty napkins and maybe some fun-colored silverware (you can buy utensils at a Dollar Tree for $1.50 in any color imaginable), set up some candles and music for ambiance (Guinevere would approve), and invite some of your favorite women to dinner! You can also try inviting women you don’t necessarily know that well. A co-worker that you don’t exactly hang out with outside of work, a friend from church, etc. Getting acquainted with women outside of your “inner circle” can be refreshing and often educational. It expands our horizons a bit– and unites womankind just a little more, which is always important. ❤
Nimue: Take Action for Women
The Lady of the Lake, herself, is a symbol of action. She gifts Arthur Excalibur and bids him use it; to protect his people, to take up arms, to rise and fight. So for Women’s Day, I think she would want us to take action and play a more active role for women, even if in small ways.
Donate to women’s shelters: Find a shelter or resource center near you and ask what they may need.
Volunteer: See if any women-owned societies, any homeless shelters or resource centers are looking for volunteers. Nothing humbles one more than helping those in need. ❤
Promote other women: Promote women in your field, and those around you! Even promote women who make certain products you use. There’s a woman who makes amazing candles that I buy from often, and another who makes beautiful female-centered art, and I try to promote them as often as possible. Women should be lifting up other women. 🙂
Morgan: Empower Yourself
Morgan le Fey knows her worth, honey, and she won’t let you forget it. As a priestess of the Old Ways, she’s also very aware of the strong female energy around her, both earthly and spiritually. If you can, take today to resonate with that and empower yourself through spiritual centeredness. Do some things that make you happy, and that make you feel like the badass woman you are. 🙂
Workout/exercise: As we know, exercise is so important for our physical and mental health. If you’re actually good about working out, more power to ya. Pop your earphones in with a badass female artist playlist and make your body feel as strong and invincible as it is. 🙂 If you’re more like me and aren’t quite the gym-type, go for a run/walk outside in the fresh air. (Morgan would approve.) Enjoy Mother Nature and get yourself feeling healthy and motivated.
Meditate: Center yourself amidst any chaos happening in your life and carve out some time to meditate. It can be a guided one or something as simple as sitting outside in the grass. A lot of people think they’re not experienced in meditation, or aren’t good at it. But meditation can literally be as simple as lighting a candle in your room and just chilling for a minute. Put on some relaxing music, put on your comfy clothes and just vibe, baby. 🙂 Let your mind relax, let your muscles ease and your shoulders drop, and your jaw relax. That’s all you need. ❤ If you’re more experienced, take this time to center yourself and calm your spirit. Remind yourself that you are protected, you are safe, and that you are part of divine feminine energy, itself.
Honor the Sacred Feminine: This is more for pagans and people interested in deity work. Morgan would’ve been big on deity worship and honoring the Goddess. Fellow pagans and/or witches, take today to do a ritual for your favorite goddess. Light a candle for the female ancestors that have guided your path. Anoint your altar with some oil to honor the goddesses that have walked with you in your life. If you wanna go crazy, light a fire and dance around it like it’s Beltane, as you embrace the Sacred Feminine within. ❤ There are certainly plenty of Celtic goddesses who blend into Arthurian legend that you can call upon for various reasons; Brighid for healing and artistry, the Morrígan for ancestor guidance, Rhiannon for health and self-confidence, Blodeuwedd for love, Ceridwen for magickal arts and decision-making. Decorate your altar and give offerings to a divine feminine energy that has helped you move through the world. ❤
Elaine: Love Yourself
Elaine, or the Lady of Shalott, remains a symbol of love in the Legend (regarding her love for Lancelot, of course.) But we, as women, need to keep that same energy up for loving ourselves, as well as others. Take today (and all this month!) to take the time to pamper yourself. Carve some time out of your schedule to do the things your body and soul would love you for.
Take a bath: Not a shower. A bath. A lot of people don’t realize how important baths are! It’s so good for your body to actually sit in a tub of water and decompress for a minute. Drop some oil or bath gel in there to create an aromatic experience. Light a candle or two and let the warm water heal your muscles and calm your mind. ❤
Do a facial mask: Do your favorite face mask and enjoy a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) while the nutrients replenish your skin. If you don’t do face masks often, you can probably just buy one at a local grocery store in the beauty section. Target has some really nice ones, too, for a fairly cheap price!
Eat good food: Eat food that makes you feel good. If that means healthy eating, with good protein and vegetables and nutrients, do it. If that means pizza and a milkshake, do it. Treat yourself.
Do some spring cleaning: Clearing the area where you spend a lot of time makes our subconscious mind relax and feel refreshed. Even though it can be a pain to do, it’s so worth it in the long-run, when everything is tidy and spacious and clean. 🙂 Whether it’s your work space, your living room, your bedroom, your bathroom– clear your area of clutter and your subconscious brain will thank you for it!
Here’s a few more Arthurian women from my version of the Legend, that may hopefully give you some Women’s Day inspiration, too!
Lily: Educate Yourselfon Women
Blanchefleur (or Lily, as she’s nicknamed in my stories) was kept in her father’s manor most of her life, forbidden to leave for her safety. Even guests were very few. So her main form of access to the outside world was through books and stories. She would ask her father, and even the servants, to tell her stories of the world away from home. When she could get her hands on a book, whether romances or poetry or simple maps of Britain, she devoured them all. It was her way of educating herself about the world. If Lily could provide an activity for Women’s Day, I think she would advise us to educate ourselves about other women. Trail-blazers who have helped pave the way for women to have the rights we do today. Use today to learn about some of the amazing women who have helped shape our world!
Watch documentaries: There are so many documentaries out there about everything imaginable. Find some good ones on women who have helped make a difference!
Read books on women’s history: Just as there are tons of documentaries, there are so many cool books on brave, powerful women who have done such amazing things.
Watch female-centric movies/shows: There tons of cool movies and series now with badass female leads! From drama series, to the Sex and the City reboot, to Marvel films, to Disney movies, there are so many to choose from!
Read female-lead books: For all my fellow YA fantasy lovers out there, we’ve finally got a LOT of books out there about women, written by women! Just look at all the Arthurian books out right now! (I’m currently halfway through The Lost Queen by Signe Pike. It’s basically Merida (from Disney’s Brave) meets Arthurian legend. I’m pretty into it. I can’t wait to read all the others out there! The list keeps piling up!
Lunete, apprentice under Morgan in the mystic arts, learns a lesson I wish all girls would learn at a young age: that magic comes from within. There’s physical magic that a sorceress like Lunete, or Morgan, might be gifted with. But there is a magic within, that lives inside every woman, that we all eventually learn to tap into. It’s in manifestation, it’s in confidence, it’s in knowing our worth. It’s in setting boundaries, in releasing limitations, in loving ourselves first. Lunete discovers that sometimes, this sort of magic is a little harder to use. It feels lost sometimes, and we have to do a lot of self-healing to find it again. But when we do, we are unstoppable. Invincible. Untouchable. Powerful.
Lunete uses manifestation as part of this magic in her everyday life, and I think she would inspire other women to do the same during Women’s Day. These are just small forms of manifestation you can do as you go about your day. 🙂
When you wake up: Do some affirmations as you brush your hair, as you brush your teeth and look at yourself in the mirror. Today is going to be a great day. Even if it sounds silly saying it out loud (or even thinking it.) It works. 🙂
When you make food: This one is especially important. Everything has energy, including food, and as you prepare a meal, your energy becomes intertwined with the ingredients you’re using. Take advantage of it and manifest positivity. This food is going to nourish and fuel me, and help me accomplish what I need to today. Or, This food is going to heal my body and help me relax today. Manifest those affirmations as you prepare your meal. (I do it with tea every day.) Whether you’re cooking on the stove, or popping something into the microwave for a few seconds, it has the same effect.
When you go to work: Most people listen to music on their way to work. Play something that promotes positive energy. I’m going to have a successful, pleasant shift today. Manifest it to yourself as the music plays. Promise it to yourself. It works every single time. (For me, even if it’s not always pleasant, it usually always turns out to be successful. 🙂 And usually pleasant, too!)
When you go to sleep: Centering and calming yourself before you fall asleep is always so helpful. Whether it’s lighting a candle, dimming the lights, praying, reading, etc; finding a time for peace and quiet is so needed after a long day. When you’re getting in bed, manifest peaceful, replenishing energy: I’m going to have a peaceful nights’ sleep. Or even something as simple as, My mind is going to rest now. You’ll more than likely have peaceful dreams, or no dreams at all, and your subconscious will get some rest you didn’t even know it needed.
Gratitude: The most important thing of all. There can be no manifestation without gratitude. Part of manifesting is knowing that there is a roof over your head, food in your belly, and there are people somewhere that love you. You live the life you live now because of the women that have paved the way for you to do so. Remaining grateful in the back of your mind, always, is part of what helps the manifestation take flight. ❤
There are so many other affirmations and things to come that you can manifest into existence. But these are a few simple ones. Manifestation is for everyone, of course, but I feel women really can start to tap into their own “magic” through manifestation. It’s powerful. Like we are. ❤
Thanks for reading. I hope you can take some inspiration from some of these activities and use them to celebrate your divine feminine power. Have a wonderful International Women’s Day, and an even better Women’s Month!
Hello, friends! I know it’s been so very long since my last post– but I’m back and looking forward to being more active on here again!
As we end Black History Month, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts and some great names that deserve mentioning. 🙂
While the Arthurian Legend is rooted in Celtic history and lore, on an island that is assumed to have been inhabited by a predominantly white race, it’s safe to say that this iconic and beloved legend has felt tremendously inaccessible to people of color throughout the centuries (as has the entire fantasy genre, in general.) Not only have people of color rarely been represented over the centuries but monsters and “ugly people” in Arthurian legend have always shared a wondrous similarity to POC features. Evil witches and old hags have “large, wide noses” and a monster like the Moor (a man of color), in the words of Chrétien de Troyes, is “large, ugly and hideous in the extreme; with hair unkempt and his bare forehead more than two spans wide, his ears hairy and huge as an elephant, his eyebrows heavy and his face flat.” Sometimes I read these things in my favorite stories and as a woman of color, feel an anger like a burning coal in the bottom of my stomach, and a hurt like I’ve been betrayed by a friend. I love this world and these characters so much– and then I remember how my people have been portrayed in this world over and over again and I can’t help but feel ashamed for loving a genre that has been so cruel to people of non-European descent.
But as we’ve seen, over the last few decades, that’s thankfully begun to change. Especially in the Arthurian genre! This is thanks to several portrayals of POC Arthurian characters in film and TV (including BBC’s Merlin, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Netflix’s Cursed and A24’s The Green Knight) as well as main characters in Arthurian books that are specifically POC. It’s always been important to me that people of color, especially black folks, are represented beautifully in Arthurian legend when possible. (And before we start with the whole “black people in medieval Britain is historically inaccurate” thing, the Arthurian age is set in post-Roman Britain, right after the Romans brought people from Africa and the Middle East with them to England, Wales and France as slaves, soldiers and lovers.) This obviously doesn’t mean that every main character in every Arthurian tale must be POC, of course. Much of my own Arthurian cast that lives in my head are white. But I find it important to challenge what we’ve always known or seen, for the sake of inclusion– without going out of our way to include something we know nothing about, of course. There’s a fine line and I think many new artists telling Arthurian stories are finding that balance beautifully. I have several black friends that love Arthurian legend and that have always felt a sense of imposter syndrome while enjoying it…until now. ❤
Those warm winds of change are thanks to a lot of amazing artists, including these two powerful women, and the beautiful work they’ve contributed!
Tracy Deonn, author of Legendborn
Tracy Deonn is…am I really saying this?…the first black author of an Arthurian novel. I may be incorrect and I hope I am!! But to my knowledge, she is the only known black Arthurian novelist, thanks to her riveting book, Legendborn. Her main character is a black, sixteen-year-old girl named Bree who lives in the American south and discovers a secret historically white magic society that may have something to do with her mother’s death. And the Knights of the Round Table. I’ve yet to read this book but I’m BEYOND excited to start it soon. Here’s a quick review from Instagram book-lover @alexysreads:
“As a 30-year-old Black Woman and having spent most of my life North Carolina. I’ve NEVER…I mean NEVER felt so SEEN in a fantasy book as much as I have with #Legendborn. ❤ I felt utterly engulfed in this story. The world was vivid and felt real! It went deep and didn’t gloss over the everyday things many Black folks go through daily, especially in PWI (Predominantly White Institution) space. I loved Tracy’s mixture of Black History, Southern Blackness, ancestral magic, erasure, resilience, survival and grief. There were several parts I needed to sit with just to soak it all in. It’s the deep and every day for me, from talking about feeling cheated when it comes to knowing one’s family history, eating Bo-Berry biscuits and joy of wash day for our hair. I loved Bree and rooted for her during the entire story. Even at the age of 30, I felt connected with Bree on many levels, especially with grief. Also, I have no idea which team I’m on. I always go for the bad boy exterior but a complete teddy bear on the inside type. But oh man, I am leaning towards #TeamNick. TRACYY HONEY!!! You had me going to bed at 2am multiple nights and waking up exhausted for work. I blame you for my lack of sleep these few days!! Make sure to read LEGENDBORN by @tracydeonn.”
If that doesn’t rouse you enough to want to stop everything and read Ms. Deonn’s work right this second, I’m not sure what will. Don’t forget to check out the sequel, Bloodmarked, releasing soon!
Zetna Fuentes, director of Cursed
I’ve mentioned Netflix’s Cursed series before but it deserves another mention and so many more! Cursed centers around a young Nimue, or Lady of the Lake, who’s in the midst of a fight to protect her people. It’s a very refreshing new take on the Legend, with inclusion interwoven seamlessly throughout. The book series it’s based on was written by Thomas Wheeler and Frank Miller, who decided to make Nimue a woman of color. In the Netflix series, while Nimue may be caucasian, the actors who play Arthur, Morgana and several other supporting characters are POC– and Morgana even has a female relationship! Seeing black and black queer representation in the Legend had never been done before– and for that, we have Latina-American director Zetna Fuentes to thank.
Ms. Fuentes has done work on How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Shameless, This Is Us, and several other classic bingeable shows. But her new twists on the Arthurian legend– not just in diverse casting but in directing and fleshing out a riveting plot– make this show a new stepping stone for the rest of us. She’s raised the bar on multiple levels, which I think was very much needed for the areas of our Legend that are growing tired. She’s taken those areas and revived them; breathed fresh life into them in a way that makes the Legend truly accessible in multiple ways. She even made sure to include the actors’ natural hair (which we’ve never seen before in Arthuriana), like one of the warrior women’s long dreads and Morgana’s beautiful cornrows. She mentioned in an interview that she wanted to create a fantasy world that she– and everyone– would want to live in. When asked how she felt the show resonated with the modern age, she said:
“It’s funny, we began work on this show before the pandemic, before this racial reckoning…and yet we knew– when we were working on it, it was layered in there, subtly, or not so subtly when you’re watching it– it was this fear of other. Oppression of other. And I think Nimue [embodies this] as a character because she’s different; because she doesn’t understand what makes her different or how the world sees her. It really is a tale of people trying to destroy what they don’t know, what they don’t understand, and that is the world we live in. It resonated with me as a woman of color, thinking about moving through this world. And if you’re different in any way, people often want to stop it, or to destroy it, to oppress it. And I think this speaks to that. This speaks to our hero, who is going to move forward and do what’s right.”
Zetna Fuentes, Tracey Deonn and several other artists carrying on the Arthurian tradition are certainly raising the bar for all of us Round Table storytellers, and even just fantasy fans. It’s up to us to not only keep up, but to keep pushing the bar even further. To make space for all of us.
It’s what our High King fought for, after all. His Round Table was “round” because there was no head; everyone was equal. His knights came from all over Britain (even enemy lands) and from all over the Continent, and otherwise. Scotland, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Morocco. He kept both Christians and pagans in his court. Arthur was adamant about making his Camelot, his war band, his people, feel at home, no matter where they came from. Saxons were invading, northern kingdoms were waging war and nothing felt safe. So coming together at the heart of it all and being one at the Table, regardless of background, was imperative. And no matter which adaptation you prefer– the dark, action-packed dramas filled to the brim with political intrigue, or the lighter, romantic, kid-friendly comedies– I feel like Arthur’s roots and soul rest in what he stands for. His will to unite and stand together against darker tides. It’s literally the whole point of the Legend.
So as artists trying to carry on his tradition, I think it only right that we do the same, for this day and age. Let’s continue to unite under this umbrella of incredible stories that we all love, and continue the work to make space for all of us at the Table. It’s what Arthur would have wanted. ❤
Hope you’ve had a wonderful February. Sending blessings your way for a beautiful March!
It’s here! Many of you already know about the collection of loose leaf teas I’ve been selling on Etsy. For those who don’t: Of Swords and Magic officially has a tea collection! It’s available here but I figured I’d share a quick little bit about each of the blends on the blog. Each one is inspired by an Arthurian character, using a variety of black teas, herbs and spices, and prepared by myself in a fully sanitized and safe workspace. There are several blends to choose from…and a new one that may be a surprise at the end of this post!
Here are the blends!
King Arthur’s Tea
King Arthur, lead figure of a legend that dates back at least 1,500 years, needs a tea that recognizes the Legend’s durability. Something robust and a bit earthy, that takes you right back to Arthur’s Hall in the midst of a cold winter’s night. I like to think this blend does exactly that, with a blend of Ceylon and Assam teas, rubbed sage and whole cloves to transport you into a 5th century December. Earthy but sweet, this tea will arouse you enough for your day’s royal duties, while simultaneously resembling Arthur’s warmth and giving nature. Dress it the way you normally a black tea. (I use honey and cream.) Steep for 3-5 minutes, or to taste. 🙂
When I think of this blend, I always picture Merlin sitting peacefully in his chamber at night or in a forest cottage, sipping on a cup of tea in midnight shadows, listening to the earth breathe slowly and seeking wisdom from the moon. This blend tries to recreate that atmosphere. A blend of black bergamot tea, lavender and mint leaves– both herbs and flowers that he would have used in his practice– this sorcerer’s cup is soothing and cleansing for the soul. Brew it with some cream for a nighttime cup, or drink it iced for a refreshing afternoon drink. Steep for 3-5 minutes, or to taste.
Queen Guinevere’s Tea
We all know Guinevere is associated with roses and gardens. What better tea for her than a floral tea? Chamomile, rose buds, rose petals, and French lavender all blend together to make an herbal cup perfect for strolling through royal Camelot gardens. Drink it during the day for a calming afternoon, or at night to encourage good sleep and lovely dreams. Steep it for a good 5-7 minutes for its full strength. And add a drop of cream to its rosy-gold hue for a silky, dreamy cuppa. ❤
Sir Lancelot’s Tea
Sir Lancelot, the noble French knight, has a tea that embodies his famous politeness and irresistible charm. Black bergamot tea is blended with full rose petals and subtle lemongrass to create a calming, aromatic cup that will sweep you off your feet. Add some ice for a yummy, floral iced drink in the afternoons, or drink it hot in the morning for a smooth, satisfying wake-up. Steep for 3-5 minutes, or to taste.
Sir Gawain’s Tea
Another great morning tea, this one is both brisk and spicy-sweet. Representing the sturdy, Scottish knight, bold Scottish black tea is blended with spicy ginger and sweet cocoa nibs to give you a yummy wakeup– like a little nudge from Gringolet. 🙂 My personal favorite, I find this one delicious with a spoonful of honey and a dash of cream. A great cup for a nippy, winter’s day. Steep 4 minutes, or to taste.
Sir Percival’s Tea
Sir Percival may be a sharp-skilled knight– but part of him will always remain in his sweet, childhood forest. This Welsh knight has a flavorful tea that brings you back to simpler times. Sri Lankan black bergamot tea is blended with vanilla, cornflowers, whole cloves and lemon verbena to create a bright, summery cup perfect for a day of fun. Drink it warm and pair it with a yummy dessert, or drink it iced and take it with you on an adventure. 🙂 Steep for 4 minutes, or to taste.
Morgan le Fey’s Tea
Last but not least…ta-da! Morgan’s tea is now available! The great sorceress and priestess of Avalon deserves a tea that embodies a touch of her magic. An invigorating cup of bold Assam is blended with dried apple bits and peels, subtle wild blackberry leaves and a touch of cinnamon, to lure you beyond the bliss of Avalon’s veil. Perfect for a chilly autumn day, or while brewing your spells in the woods of Britain. I’ll be drinking some on Halloween night…I hope you will, too!
You can find all of these teas here. Take your pick and heat up your kettle! There’s more to come! ❤
So I finally finished Gillian Bradshaw’s Hawk of May this week. I have to sing its praises for a brief minute! This 5th century tale is steeped in British history and culture, with a simple yet riveting plot line and a delicious touch of magic. It seems like the Arthurian audience is divided in half when it comes to this book. They’ve either read it back in the ’90s (along with its sequels) and consider it a classic, or they’ve never heard of it. Obviously, I was one of the latter– but now that I’ve read it in full, I can definitely say it’s a journey any hardcore Arthurian (or British history) fan should take.
A Druid-Gone-Wild Gawain
Our protagonist, Gwalchmai (the Welsh/Brittonic equivalent of the name, “Gawain”), is painted in a way we don’t often get to see. In fact, he’s depicted sort of the way he is in the beginning of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Young, inexperienced, “feeblest of wit”, as he calls himself. He’s a bard, first; gentle-spirited, in tune with the earth, not nearly as skilled in combat as his older brother, Agravain, but breathtakingly skilled in the arts. This version of Gawain would have picked up a harp, first, before he’d ever pick up a sword. He’s also skilled in the arts of magic. This is thanks to his terrifying mother, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Morgawse. A boy desperate for his father’s approval, Gwalchmai tries with everything he has to become what he’s always dreamed; a mighty warrior. But when that attempt fails time and time again, he turns to witchcraft, taught by his mother in secret sessions. YES, friends, Gawain started out in the Darkness, using dark sorcery (mostly to make his sad, angsty teen self feel powerful.) But it’s when Morgawse crosses the line with her magic, forcing Gwalchmai to kill someone entirely innocent, that he renounces her ways and flees from home. Running for his life (literally, racing his horse at full speed), he leaves northern Scotland and enters the strange land of England. And there, after an encounter with Celtic sun god, Lugh (yes,you read that right), his life begins. Within the span of this quick-paced tale, Gwalchmai goes from trembling at the thought of conflict to going into full fledged wild-warrior mode in the heat of battle, defeating the Saxons with a charge to be written into songs for ages.
But. Renouncing the Darkness to serve King Arthur doesn’t go without its consequences. Both from Morgawse…and from Arthur.
A Cold Arthur
I never thought I’d read a YA fantasy book where Arthur is depicted as cold and harsh– but strangely, it doesn’t make him too unlikeable, either. (His reasoning is understandable once you reach the story’s end.) Arthur is one of the most powerful forces in this book, simply by being the badass, street-smart, honorable war leader that he is, associated entirely with the Light. So it only makes sense that when Gwalchmai, still drenched in his mother’s Dark energy, requests a place in Arthur’s service, Arthur verrrry strictly refuses. It’s the amount of times that Gwalchmai proves himself over and over again, and the amount of times Arthur harshly refuses, that paints our High King as a rather cruel and fearful Arthur. But this does, of course, keep the stakes super high. My heart sank every time Arthur so much as gave him a look of disapproval, knowing how longingly Gwalchmai secretly craves approval from an adult male figure. Not to mention, acquiring a place in Arthur’s “Family”, as he calls it, is a dream incomparable to any in the world. Nothing else would matter once attained. Because it’s Arthur. Hell, halfway through the book, I wanted to put on my chainmail, grab my sword and go find King Arthur, myself, and beg him to knight me, too.
The tale has such a simple plot line– but it keeps the reader extremely hooked throughout the entire tale.
A “Realistic” Arthurian Britain
Another great component of this book is its HUGE history lesson we’re taught within Bradshaw’s beautiful language. I learned more about 5th century Britain reading this book than I did researching it in the New York Public Library. Bradshaw covers the political climate; not just regarding the decline of the Roman Empire and the inevitable rise of the Saxons, but the reality of having one of the first High Kings of Britain, and what that would actually mean. Having a Pendragon, or “head dragon”/chieftain of all the island would have meant something new in regards to taxes, raids, warbands, marriages and religion. Especially when men are flocking from all over Europe to serve Arthur. Not that they come running because Arthur promised them gold or huge pieces of land– but simply because he’s Arthur. Any man would serve him for free, as is true in any Arthurian story. In reality, the idea of this would have terrified men of authority (like the Roman Catholic Church) and it made Arthur LOTS of enemies. All of this is depicted wonderfully throughout the book, through Gwalchmai’s quick-learning observations. It keeps the stakes high and made me feel like I was sucked right into that very turbulent Britain, in a heartbeat.
Along with politics comes culture. And Bradshaw tackles that like a professional football player. She brilliantly describes the differences between various peoples that inhabited Britain at the time; the Saxons versus the British, versus the Irish, and the cultural differences within them all. The thick fluidity of the Irish tongue, versus the short, choppiness of British. The fact that Orkney would have been called “The Orcades” and would have consisted of people who spoke Irish and worshipped Irish gods. The differences in weather and agriculture, depending on the area of Britain. Bradshaw even makes it a point to examine Gwalchmai’s first time seeing a road (a real road, built with stone by the Romans) and trees. Someone raised solely in the Orkney Islands would have only ever seen flatlands with dirt roads, sand and sea. (A small but significant detail no one thinks about!) Bradshaw yanks you into Gwalchmai’s world and keeps you just as deep throughout, lacing scrumptious little details into descriptions and dialogue.
A Touch of Magic
While all of this history and culture is woven into the story, however, it wouldn’t be a complete Arthurian tale without a little magic, would it? Gwalchmai’s sword, “Caledvwlch”, is a sword of Light, given to him by the great Lugh, in his Hall. (Literally. Lugh gives him a sword that lights up with fire when someone holds it. If the wrong person holds it, the flames grow wild and dangerous; if the right person holds it, it’s like a glowing beacon of hope.) Gwalchmai also grows enormously attached to his horse– not Gringolet but a wild, untamable, god-born horse, “Ceincaled”– whom he tames in a heartbeat, to peoples’ utter shock. It feels so strange to say that in this book that’s so history-based, the main character has a magic sword and a magic horse. But here we are. 🙂 It makes perfect sense in within the context of the story!
All in all, Hawk of May is brilliant prequel story for our beloved Sir Gawain, and I hope each of you get the chance to give it a read someday, if you haven’t already. ❤
Mabon is the celebration of the arrival of autumn, falling each year on the fall equinox. The name “Mabon” derives from the name of the Welsh god of light, Mabon ap Modron, son of the Earth Mother goddess, Modron (or Matrona). Modron is believed by some to have been a possible inspiration for the character of Morgan, and therefore, her son is thought to share a few similarities to Mordred. In Celtic mythology, the figure of Mabon is even said to have joined Arthur’s war band and fought alongside him on the battlefield.
Modron and Mabon were a powerful mother-son pair that were worshipped in the area of Britain around Hadrian’s Wall, most likely around harvest season, to give thanks for a successful crop year. That’s why today, in Wiccan and Celtic religious and spiritual practices, the fall equinox is called “Mabon”; it’s usually spent picking apples, decorating for fall, or baking delicious treats! It’s also time to start welcoming the darker half of the year, and the darker Arthurian entities that go with it. ❤
Around this time of year, I usually make an apple-carrot harvest loaf, and I thought I’d share the recipe with you! It’s delicious and super easy to make. Pair it with a glass of apple cider or a steaming cup of tea, and you’re good to go for the first breezes of autumn! Enjoy. 🙂
Apple-Carrot Harvest Loaf
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 apple, peeled and diced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg and cloves in large bowl.
Combine eggs, milk and oil in small bowl.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.
Fold in apple, carrots and raisins.
Pour batter into loaf pan (or Dutch oven!). Sprinkle the top with a pinch of cinnamon and sugar.
Hi, friends! So sorry for the huge gap in between posts. A lot’s been going on in my life but we’re finally getting back to a semi-normal schedule! Which means it’s time to get back to researching and writing more Arthurian legend! ❤
So, let’s talk mythology. It’s no secret that Arthurian legend stems from ancient Celtic roots. The legend, itself, is set in 6th century Britain, when the land was split up into several different kingdoms inhabited by the Celtic Britons. Some Celts were Christian, as we know Arthur to be. But many were pagan and believed in their respective gods and goddesses.
Christianity plays an enormous part in the legend; we know this. The values of the Knights of the Round Table were based entirely in Christian virtues. Without that (not to mention the Holy Grail, the Siege Perilous and other legendary Christian components), we wouldn’t have the iconic legend that we do today. But so many people tend to forget the legend’s roots.
The stories of King Arthur were an oral tradition (and much more pagan-based) looong before they were first penned to paper in the 12th century by Christians. These stories may have been different from the ones we know today…but they included characters we do know, like a mystical and all-powerful wizard. They included an undefeated warrior who knew a certain Green Knight. They included a beautiful flower queen who was the envy of all women. There were tales of a wild Welsh knight who had a tragic past with his mother, tales of a dark and powerful enchantress, and tales of a “head dragon”– or Pendragon – who was chosen by the Goddess, herself, to rule over all. These stories were told around campfires and hearths; in cottages and in great halls. The legend had already been a huge crowd favorite for centuries before it was written into books in monasteries. It’s because of this that I think remembering and acknowledging the legend’s pagan past is so important. And these first spinners of our tales had to have had something to inspire them.
Looking closer at the Arthurian characters, it’s easy to see major similarities between them and the gods and goddesses that the Celtic people believed in. While we don’t have a lot of info on how the Celts worshipped these deities (the way we do the Greeks, Romans or Scandinavians), we do know they revered these godly figures as idols. They were thought to be responsible for everything in nature, and were to be respected through daily interaction with the earth. So why wouldn’t the Celts’ stories feature characters that resembled these great gods?
1. These are connections that I, personally, have made. I’m not saying it’s absolute fact that the Celts based the Arthurian characters off of these figures; it’s just a theory that I’m excited to share. I’m also positive I’m not the only person with these ideas.
2. I’m nowhere near an expert on Celtic mythology. Just excited to share what I’ve discovered in my own self-education!
3. There is more than one race of Celtic mythological figures. This topic features a combination of both Gaelic deities from the Tuatha Dé Danann and Welsh deities, mostly mentioned in the Mabinogion.
Either way, they’re all Celtic mythological figures that seem to have a strong influence on the characters of our favorite legend! ❤ So grab a cup of tea and get comfy…we’ve got a handful of crazy, wonderful characters to explore!
Lugh ~ Gawain
Perhaps one of the most obvious is the connection between Lugh and Gawain. Lugh, Irish sun god of the Tuatha Dé Danann, is one of the greatest warriors of all time. And one of the most popular Celtic gods. (Lleu is his Welsh counterpart.) The warmth and strength of late summer sun is the work of Lugh, hence where the name of the Irish sun festival every August, Lughnasadh, comes from. He is (usually) kind to all and has a very “host”-like personality. His spirit is bright and warm as the sun, and from what I know, he has no problem being the center of attention.
Sounds a bit like someone we know. Gawain is first noted in Chrétien de Troyes’ romances as being the “The Knight of the Sun”. Several authors afterwards began giving him that same title. In some stories, Gawain is given a special gift. He is given the gift of the sun’s strength during the day. In other words, while the sun is out, he has an almost superhuman strength; he fights the way Lugh would in combat. And likewise, when the sun sets, his power is reduced. In fact, in Gillian Bradshaw’s Hawk of May, Gawain is given this gift by Lugh, himself! (Warning: Spoilers!!) Gawain falls asleep and has a “dream” that he feasted in Lugh’s Hall, where the mighty Lugh gave him this gift to help him in the fight against the darkness that’s ever at his heels. Our homeboy wakes up to find that years have passed while he was asleep, and he now has the sun’s strength and spirit coursing through his veins. This connection makes even more sense knowing that Gawain was raised in the Orkney Isles of Scotland, where the Tuatha Dé Danann would have been common household names. Lugh could easily have been a god that Gawain would have actually worshipped or paid homage to through rituals or offerings.
Other parallels include the fact that Lugh fights with a giant, mighty sword and Gawain fights with the magical sword, Galatine. Lugh is also thought to have flame-red hair and Gawain, in many versions, has the same.
There’s also a story where Lugh is stabbed with a spear, but instead of dying, he turns into a falcon. This bird imagery is represented in Gawain’s very name, seeing as his name in Welsh is Gwalchmei, meaning “May hawk”, or “spring falcon”. In more modern Gawain stories, which are growing more and more reverent to those early pagan roots, Gawain’s bird and sun imagery is more prominent. It seems modern authors are trying to convey more of a connection between Gawain and the Celtic sun god– as well as another god we’ll get into soon!
Mâth ~ Merlin
A slightly lesser known Celtic god is Mâth, or Math, pronounced the way you think. Math ap Mathonwy is from the Welsh tradition; a mysterious, extremely powerful sorcerer that lives in the wilderness of north Wales. He’s the lord of Gwynedd and unless away at war, he must rest his legs in the lap of a virgin woman at all times or he’ll die. Why that is, we don’t know. There’s likely more about this in the fourth book of the Mabinogi, which centers around Math and his tale. Math interacts with a lot of the other deities in the Welsh tradition, just as Merlin interacts with so many other major Arthurian characters. Math is tricked by family, he tricks other people that aren’t family…and his character can often be considered questionable.
While Merlin is certainly on the good side of things in our legend, he does have questionable characteristics. For someone with so much power and wisdom, he makes mistakes and makes other people sacrifice a lot for the sake of Camelot. Math makes others sacrifice a lot, too. For instance, when Math runs out of virgin women on whose lap he can rest his feet, he offers the virgin position to the goddess, Arianrhod, who is pregnant. Obviously not a virgin. He knows she’s pregnant, and that she won’t fulfill the needed requirements for his “condition” but commands that she try to take the position anyway. (TW: Miscarriage) And as soon as she agrees and steps over Math’s magic rod/staff that he keeps on the ground, to accept, her baby literally falls from out of her onto the floor. It’s described as “a lump of flesh” that she suddenly realizes is her dead baby on the ground.
While Merlin doesn’t kill babies, he has certainly taken things from women for the sake of Camelot. When Igraine gives birth to Arthur, he not only tells her it was never her husband, Gorlois, she conceived with…but also takes away baby Arthur on the night of his birth and basically says, “Sorry, you don’t get to raise him. It’s for the good of Camelot, though, so relax. He’ll be a great king one day and he’ll be good to you, so it’s fine.” And then she either dies, or dies shortly after Arthur becomes king. Or she goes mad and is sent to a convent to “repent for her sins” (for cheating on her husband with Uther, who was disguised as her husband, so HOW could she have known?? Don’t get me started on poor Igraine.) Anyway. Merlin does some shady stuff like that, too. In other versions, Merlin does similar things with Nimue and/or with Morgan. Merlin and Math both have a history of tricking women to get what they want– even if it’s not for personal gain, and it really is for the sake of Britain.
On a more positive note, we can also see the old Welsh sorcerer similarity between the two. Merlin is said to have grown up in the town of Carmarthen, in southwest Wales, while Math rules over Gwynedd, in north Wales. Both could be considered products of their environment, having both been raised in what was then a wild land, full of faeries, dragons and magic. This upbringing centered their gifts and both men grew to be extremely powerful sorcerers, with a wisdom of the world matched only by few.
In some cases, Merlin, himself, is considered one of the Welsh gods. His name in Welsh, Mryddin Emrys, is the name of a god of magic and the supernatural. He’s the same figure who is said to have moved mountains, to have carved out the shape of Mount Snowdon and created Snowdonia. He’s also the same figure to have moved Stonehenge from Scotland to England, placing the stones where they align perfectly with the sun on the winter and summer solstices.
It’s in the earlier texts that Britain’s greatest sorcerer is referred to as Myrddin or Math, and only later that his name was changed over time to Merlin. But very recently, modern authors are starting to use the old names in new stories. While Math ap Mathonwy may be cast aside more so than other Celtic gods, more Arthurian authors are beginning to honor the mysterious Celtic god of sorcery and magic.
Rhiannon ~ Igraine & Herzeloyde
Rhiannon is the Welsh goddess of horses and the moon. (Often associated with the Celtic goddess, Epona.) Her story is quite a tragic one, which correlates strongly with Igraine, mother of Arthur. Rhiannon has quite an extensive love story, which we don’t really need to get into. Long story, short: she marries a prince named Pwyll, whom she met when she rode on horseback every day in a gown of gold, past a stone he always sat on. Eventually, they fell in love and got married and lived happily ever after. Or so she thought. She had a child with Pwyll named Pryderi and that’s when things get rough.
On the night of his birth, baby Pryderi went missing. When Rhiannon woke up the next morning, her servants made up a terrible lie and “informed” her– and all the kingdom– that she ate her son. They even covered her in blood while she slept. So when she rose from her bed and caught herself in the looking glass, she almost believed it, herself.
But she knew that was preposterous and insisted to everyone that it was a lie. She insisted that the servants had framed her because someone else stole the baby on the servants’ watch, and they didn’t want to ‘fess up. But everyone believed the servants. Even her husband, Pwyll. So Pwyll punished Rhiannon for seven years by making her sit on a stone outside the kingdom gate, just as he used to when they met. And every day, when anyone entered the gate, she had to tell them the tale of what she “did” and offer to give them a ride into the castle on her back. Like a horse. For she was no longer fit to ride her precious horse, but to be one.
While Igraine was never humiliated on that level, the parallel is definitely there of having her only son taken from her on the night of his birth. And because of that, and the way he was conceived (without her knowing the truth until after), she was forced to repent her sins for the rest of her life, in a convent. And King Uther just let it happen. Not to mention, the gossip and whispers and stares she had to endure the rest of her time at Camelot until she was banished. Just like the kingdom’s gossip about Rhiannon. In some versions, Igraine is banished by her own daughter, Morgan, who blames her for cheating on her husband– Morgan’s father– Gorlois.
Luckily, Rhiannon at least gets a happy ending! Her son, Pryderi, grew up into his teens (in seven years! He grows abnormally fast because he’s the son of a goddess.) He was raised by a couple who rescued him from the arms of a monster as a baby. (A clue, perhaps?) As he got older unnaturally fast, they noticed how much he resembled their king, Pwyll, and how much he seemed to have an affinity with horses. Meanwhile, several other children and domestic animals went missing, and the whole kingdom turned to Pwyll for help. Suspicions start to arise that maybe Rhiannon didn’t eat her newborn son. Shortly after, the couple that raised Pryderi take him to the castle, asking if he’s the royals’ son. Of course, Rhiannon and Pwyll are overjoyed, and take young Pryderi back into their home to stay forevermore. The couple says that they rescued him from the arms of a monster, who must have stolen him from the castle. So Pwyll sends out a search party and, lo and behold, they find the monster and all the stolen babies and animals. The knights kill the monster and return all the lost children and animals to their rightful families. And Pryderi is home.
From what I know, Pwyll sort of apologizes to Rhiannon, and so do the servants of the castle. But they were never punished. So there’s that. Anyway, Pryderi, who had only ever known his commoner, forest-boy life, realizes he’s a half-god prince. And they all live happily together after that.
There could also be considered a correlation between Rhiannon and Lady Herzeloyde, Percival’s mother. When Pryderi finally returns, Rhi is understandably quite protective of him. There’s even a passage where everyone in the entire kingdom magically disappears and instead of trying to fix the problem, Rhi and Pryderi realize they like the time alone together. Pwyll agrees to forego searching for everyone for a bit, and for a good while, Rhi has her son (and Pwyll) all to herself. Eventually, Rhiannon is encouraged to bring everyone back, and so she does. But she treasured that time alone, when Pryderi belonged to no one but her, safe in her care. But mothers can’t protect their children forever. Percival’s mother learns that when her son finally decides to leave against her wishes; to escape the forest that she had secluded him in for fifteen years, safe from the world, and venture off to become a knight.
So (for those familiar with the stages of the triple goddess), Rhiannon could be considered a parallel of Igraine in the beginning of her tale, when she’s a maiden goddess, and a parallel of Herzeloyde towards the end of her tale, when she’s a mother goddess. Nowadays, she’s a deity associated with horses, the moon, rebirth and self-worth. She’s a reminder to know your worth and know your truth. You are a not a horse to be ridden around. ❤ How wonderful it would be if we could reach into the books and remind Igraine of that.
Pryderi ~ Percival
Because Rhiannon has a correlation with Percival’s mother, it only makes sense for her son to have a parallel with Percival. The two have very similar upbringings and personalities. While Pryderi did have both both parents (even the adoptive ones), both young men did grow up in isolation from the rest of the world. From what I know, the couple that saved Pryderi as a baby lived out in Welsh woods, away from Pwyll’s kingdom. So he grew up knowing nothing but simple cottage life. And likewise, Percival was raised in a forest in Wales by his mother, with only birds and trees for company.
Because of this, both figures are a little “slow” to the understanding of the outside world. But they’re also both quick learners. They both use a javelin, or spear, as their signature weapon, and use it well. Pryderi even becomes king, just as his father was, and in many stories Percival does the same. When he achieves the Holy Grail, he becomes king of Corbenic, or Munschalve, or whatever name you prefer for the Fisher King’s land.
The last and perhaps most obvious correlation is their names. I don’t know how the name “Percival” came about but Percival’s original name in Welsh is Peredur, meaning “hard spear”, which could easily be mistaken by ear for “Pryderi”. The actual meaning of pryderi, however, is literally “worry” or “anxiety”. It could be that he was named so in the tale because his loss would bring great worry to Rhiannon until she found him again. (How befitting it is that Percival’s running away to Camelot would cause his own mother so much worry that she literally dies of a broken heart! That’s a correlation that could be examined, in itself.)
Pryderi is now a half-god associated with music and healing– just as Percival is the Pure-Hearted knight, associated with light, healing and peace. (And as far as music goes, he does do a fair amount of singing in just about any tale of his.) There’s no doubt that the Welsh god with a sharp spear and gentle heart influenced the naïve but sweet, spear-wielding Sir Percival.
The Morrígan ~ Morgan/Morgause
This one’s pretty hard to beat. Even their names are almost identical. The Morrígan is one of the oldest known Irish gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann; the goddess of war, fate and death. She is associated with the ‘triple goddess’ figure and her name literally translates to “Phantom Queen”. The shadows of nightfall, the electricity before war, the calm before death is all the work of the Morrígan.
On the Arthurian side, we know Morgan as the dark enchantress. Originally, though, she was a healer and had no ill-will towards Arthur or anyone at all. If anyone wished for war, it was her sister, Morgause. Morgause had a dark, churning energy surrounding her and always longed for power. In Zimmer-Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which is based on earlier myths, Morgause was the one who not only cursed Guinevere with barrenness, but almost left baby Mordred out in the cold to die and stole everything from her sister, Morgan, that might have made her happy. She also wanted the Old Ways to remain in the ever-growing tidal wave of Christianity. So she– and Vivenne– did terrible things to see that through.
An aside: This said, Morgause could also have been inspired by the Celtic queen and sorceress, Medb. Sometimes pronounced “Maeve”, Medb was a dark warrior goddess, known as the villain of the Ulster Cycle. She was known to be cruel and demanding but very sensual, sexual and aware of her worth. In fact, her name translates to “she who intoxicates”. In the 1988 mini-series, Merlin, Medb is even the evil witch who teaches Merlin how to hone his craft and use his powers to his full potential! However, the Morrígan has more similarities to Morgause and even Morgan.
Over time, the figure of the dark enchantress switched over to Morgan, who became the iconic villain of the Legend we know today. It made the stories juicer, since Morgan was Arthur’s half-sister and wanted him dead so she could rule in his place. Eventually, she became associated with the Battle of Camlann, where Arthur and Mordred meet their death. And so, the connection between Morgan and the Morrígan strengthened. Even Morgause is associated with the arts of war. Whether the story stars Morgan or Morgause as the wife of the evil King Lot, she aids her husband in battle strategies and uses dark magic to bring death to her enemies. The Celts would have prayed to the Morrígan for victory in battle. And they would have expected to see her when death was near. Just as Camelot soldiers would have Morgan le Fey.
A physical parallel is their similar features. Morgan and Morgause usually have either black or red hair, and the Morrígan has the same. Both the Morrígan and Morgan are also known to be shape-shifters, able to change their physical appearance to anything they desire. And their iconology is very similar. The Morrígan is associated with the raven or the crow; a bird of prey that would soar over the battlefield, which are both also associated with wisdom. In many Arthurian stories, Morgan has the same imagery. In my upcoming novel, Percival, Morgaine (Morgan) has a flock of crows that follow her where she goes. They are her eyes beyond the valley where she dwells, and her most trusted companions– far more so than any humans. (Whether that’s taken as a nod to the Morrígan, or a nod to Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, is up to the reader!)
As Morgan grows more and more in touch with darkness over time, over the course of countless new stories, the Morrígan truly begins to live in her. It makes me wonder if Netflix’s fey-heavy Arthurian series, Cursed (which already made a connection between Morgan and the Cailleach) will make that connection any time soon!
Cernunnos ~ Gawain
Yes, Gawain can be associated with another of the Tuatha Dé Danann; one of older and darker Celtic deities, Cernunnos. This deity has many names– Herne the Hunter (as mentioned in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor), Pan (in the Greek pantheon), The Green Man, or the Horned One, for instance. He’s associated with the stag, or the deer, and is usually pictured as a young (often quite attractive) being with antlers on his head. I say he’s sometimes a “darker” deity because he often represents the more wild, less tame parts of nature. Over time, Christians took his antlers and turned his image into their image of Satan. Sculptures and drawings of Cernunnos were soon called satanic and any offerings to him were thought to have been forms of devil worship. What’s funny is that he’s the opposite of demonic and evil.
Cernunnos is the god of virility; he represents all that is the forest. He’s very much a teacher figure, or even a father-like figure, walking with and guiding the animals of the forest. In association with the forest, he also represents the forest floor, or the earth itself. As he is a god of fertility, he’s usually celebrated during the rites of the spring festival, Beltane. He’s also the image of healthy masculinity. I think we can connect each one of these dots with Gawain.
Gawain is the “teacher” figure, in that he aids many new knights in their quests and their journeys towards greater knighthood. He’s very in tune with the earth, having grown up in wild Scotland, in a household of the Old Ways. He’s also more commonly known as “the Maiden’s Knight”. I think we all know what that’s means. Let’s just say he’s not Lancelot, with googley eyes for only one woman. That’s NOT to say he doesn’t respect women with utmost grace, chivalry and kindness. But he does like to spread his “earthly roots” in the bedchamber, often with more than one maiden, if you catch my drift. He can definitely be considered the human parallel of a fertility god. And he’s also often the “ideal picture” of masculinity out of all the men in our legend, besides Lancelot.
But the biggest connection with this Celtic god is arguably tied to his other name of “The Green Man”, with leaves of ivy and mistletoe all around his face. Remind you of Christmas? You guessed it. The Green Knight is heavily based off Cernunnos. I could write a whole essay about it but so many collegiate thesis papers have already done so, so I’ll spare you more rambling. The Green Knight goes back to tales of The Green Man, who is not only tied with the spring but with the winter. On the winter solstice, it was thought that the Green Man would travel to great halls and seek worthy warriors to play his “game”. Contrary to popular belief (looking at you, those who read SparkNotes for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in high school English class), the Green Knight never intended to kill Gawain. He only wanted to test him. He knew that Gawain would grow to be a great and legendary knight one day, and he wanted to make sure Gawain would be worthy of that honor. So he taught him a lesson. The same way the Green Man would go from hall to hall, seeking out the best new warriors and testing their mettle.
Out of all the Celtic gods out there, I can definitely say Cernunnos is my favorite. I love his playfulness in the spring and his quiet wisdom in the winter. Perhaps that’s why Gawain is one of my favorite Arthurian characters…the two are practically one and the same!
Blodeuwedd ~ Guinevere
Blodeuwedd (pronounced “bluh-DIE-weth) is the Welsh goddess of flowers. Her story starts with Lleu (Lugh, or Llew. Since we’re talking about Welsh tradition, we’ll stick with Welsh spelling.) Lleu was cursed by his mother (unfairly, many might say) with the inability to ever marry a human woman. The sorcerer, Math, decided to help him out. He decided to create a woman out of flowers for Lleu to marry. Technically not a human wife, right? So Math took meadowsweet, broom and oak and blended them together with his magic to make Blodeuwedd, a beautiful flower bride. Her name, Blodeuwedd, even directly translates to “flower face”. Neither of these men thought that maybe Blodeuwedd would develop a mind of her own…she was made of flowers, right? Literally designed for a man’s lust as her only purpose. But long story short, while Lleu was out one day, Blodeuwedd met a hunter named Gronw. The two fell madly in love and realized they couldn’t live without each other. So they plotted a way to kill Lleu and live happily ever after. And they did kill him. But just when Blodeuwedd thought she’d finally be able to start living for herself, she was turned into an owl forevermore, as punishment for her unfaithfulness.
We can definitely see where this translates to Guinevere. Before even mentioning the unfaithfulness aspect, there is a big correlation between Guinevere and flowers. She is known in the Legend as the flower queen; she is seen as a “flower maiden” figure, very much connected to springtime, especially in May. Then, of course, there’s the love triangle. But while I used to have such a hard time feeling sympathy for Guinevere after cheating on Arthur (who only ever loved her as hard as he could), Blodeuwedd has opened my mind a lot more. Blodeuwedd is unfaithful not because she has any hatred for Lleu, or because she’s selfish– but because she was never given a choice to do anything that makes her happy. She was literally created to please Lleu, without ever being asked if she gave her consent. Gronw also makes her feel loved; he makes her feel seen and heard. She’s literally made of flowers and his love for her feels like sunlight, which flowers need to survive. In the Arthurian world, Lancelot gives Guin what Arthur simply cannot; a riveting, passionate love that’s electric and powerful and limitless. While Arthur loves her dearly, he will always put his people before all else. He might never have truly been able to be her “sunlight”.
Then there’s the death. While Guin and Lance would never plot to kill Arthur…they metaphorically did so with their affair, alone. Especially since Lance is one of Arthur’s closest friends.
As far as iconology goes, the owl imagery is strong with Blodeuwedd in many depictions of her. Since the owl represents wisdom, I feel like this corresponds with Guinevere, too, after the affair. The whole affair matured her, in a sense, and forced to see things from a new perspective. It seems fitting that her character would be so wisened after it all– just as Blodeuwedd is “wisened” by turning into an owl. However, she was only trying to do something for herself, for once, and this gives her a strong female agency, as she’s known for today. Guinevere is seen as the same sort of figure nowadays. Where she was once a damsel in distress (in all the old Christian stories written by men), she is now a fierce, strong ruler in all the new stories, especially written my female authors. I have no doubt that our Camelot Flower Queen was inspired by the Welsh flower goddess who did what it took to make herself happy.
Olwen ~ Blanchefleur
Those of you who are familiar with the tale of Culhwch and Olwen will probably be able to attest to this fairly well. Olwen is the beautiful woman that Culhwch faced many seemingly impossible tests for, to have her hand in marriage. She is a Welsh mythological figure, now a flower and sun goddess, that’s even seen in Arthurian tales. She is associated with the arts, creativity, the sun and– similarly to Blodeuwedd– flowers. It is said that Olwen was so beautiful, kind and pure-hearted, that wherever she walked, white flowers grew in her footsteps. The last part of her name, wen, even means “white”, or “pure”.
Lady Blanchefleur, Percival’s love interest, is known to represent the same things. Her name, Blanchefleur, is French for “white flower” or “white lily”. She’s an Arthurian figure symbolizing purity and sometimes the sun, especially when depicted as the “Grail Maiden.” In many versions, she’s the only maiden capable and pure enough to hold and guard the Holy Grail, until Percival (or Galahad, depending on the version) comes to take it out of her hands and save the land of Corbenic.
White flowers are definitely part of Blanchefleur’s iconology, thanks to her name, directly corresponding with Olwen’s. While the character of Blanchefleur is said to have been created by Chrétien de Troyes, she was undoubtedly inspired by the Welsh flower goddess, seeing as Chrétien took much of his inspiration for Arthurian stories from older Celtic tales. In my WIP, Percival, Blanchefleur is even given the nickname, “Lily”– partly due to her albino features, which Percival says remind him of a spring lily and because her name translates to it in French, but also partly as a nod to Olwen. How befitting it is, too, that the lily is a flower representing purity; one of Olwen’s main virtues! (It’s why lilies are the flowers of Easter.) Olwen is also associated with red and gold, and wears red in many of her depictions. In Percival, as a small nod to Olwen, I’ve included a banquet scene in which Blanchefleur wears a lavish, velvet red gown; a bold color for someone of her reserved personality to wear, especially for her first time at a party, but also a symbol of confidence. Just as the red dress is still known for with women today. Perhaps the Welsh goddess, Blodeuwedd, wore red for that reason, as well. ❤
Aengus ~ Lancelot
We can’t talk about romance without mentioning Lancelot. His Irish deity counterpart is the god of love and poetry, Aengus Óg. Son of the Dagda and the river goddess, Boann (who could definitely be a Nimue figure, especially since the Lady of the Lake is Lancelot’s mother in many versions), Aengus was known for loving a woman so passionately, it almost killed him.
First of all, Aengus was born within a single day instead of nine months. So in that regard, he represents youthfulness, just as Lancelot tends to. Secondly, Aengus falls in love with a girl he met in his dreams! Every night for a year, he dreams about her and they have this romance that grows into a full-fledged relationship over time, as he dreams about her more and more each night. And he tells no one, out of shame. He spends all day long thinking about her and waiting anxiously to fall back asleep, so he can see her again. And while he waits during the day, his head is circled by four little birds at all times. (Ever see that in cartoons? When a character hits their head, or is so love-struck that little birdies circle their head? It comes from this! Except that, in this case, Aengus’s birds were once literal kisses that he used his shapeshifting gifts to turn into birds.) Over time, Aengus becomes so sad without his dream girl there with him in real life that he literally grows sick. It gets so bad, to the point where he might not last past the spring, that Aengus finally admits his spritely love affair that takes place in his dreams to his parents. His mother, Boann, and the Dagda decide that something needs to be done.
There’s a huge search for this girl in the real world and it goes on forever. So, long story short: they eventually find the girl. But a curse has been laid upon her that has turned her into a swan. Only Aengus knows what she really looks like, as a human. But of course, no one will allow anything to happen between them. How can it? She’s literally a swan. But Aengus loves her so deeply, that eventually, he uses his shapeshifting abilities to transform himself into a swan permanently. When that happens, no one knows what to do…but Aengus and his dream girl do. They fall in love as swans and run away together into the night; the wind beneath each others’ wings. ❤
The obvious parallel is his love for her versus Lancelot’s love for Guinevere, yes, but also in the fact that it’s forbidden. Lancelot and Guinevere keep their love for each other a secret for as long as possible, just as Aengus keeps the dreams about his girl secret.
As the son of the Dagda, Aengus was blessed with quite the amount of charm and extremely handsome features. He was said to be able to woo any maiden at the drop of a hat, with little to no effort. Sounds exactly like someone we know! However, just like Lancelot, Aengus only ever had eyes for one woman, for whom he forgot all others.
Iconology-wise, Aengus is associated with birds (especially the ones that were once kisses) and weapons; two swords and two spears. Both of these are symbols his youthfulness. The kiss-birds represent his youthful love and creativity, while the swords and spears represent his great skill in combat. Lancelot is certainly an embodiment of both of these things. Most paintings of Lancelot depict him either in combat, with sword in hand, or surrounded by flowers and birds, rescuing Guinevere. Also, the fact that both Aengus and his lover turn into swans in the end are representative of Lance and Guin’s love, too. Swans are graceful, beautiful creatures, but are paddling their little feet hard and fast underneath the water, where no one can see it. Both Lance and Guin are also beautiful and graceful on the surface, but underneath, are secretly working so hard to keep their love a secret and to keep the fire of their love tamed and kindled.
There are many more stories involving Aengus but this one seemed to scream “Lancelot” more than all the others. While Lancelot is a Christian knight created by Chrétien de Troyes, I’ve no doubt that he based at least some of his attributes on those of the Irish love god. ❤
The Dagda ~ Arthur
And last but not least, we come to our King. The Dagda remains one of the more popular Irish gods of the Tuatha Dé Dunann. While the Dagda is usually depicted as a more robust, hearty man (think Hagrid from Harry Potter), he is sometimes portrayed as an older, slimmer man beside a fire, playing his harp. The Dagda is the Chief of the Tuatha Dé Dunann, and considered the “Good God”. He is full of good spirits, a kind heart from top to bottom, with a father-like personality, and a very skilled warrior. A military leader, just like Arthur, he is charming and has an enormous presence.
All of these qualities can be found in Arthur, especially considering his origins; a Romano-British military leader that grew his presence so widely and so fast that men from all over Britain and the Continent came to serve him. If Arthur really did exist (Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Romano-British war hero certainly did), such a thing would have been mind-blowing. There’s no doubt the Celts would have compared him to the “Good God”.
Despite his huge physical stature and military skills, the Dagda was also very passive and gentle in behavior, among friends and his people. He was very Druidic in nature; he played the harp and kept a “cauldron of plenty” at all times. We know Arthur has this quality. He may not have a harp but he is kind, gentle-natured, fatherly, humble and very respectful towards the Druidic peoples of his land.
Iconolgy-wise, there are three parallels between the great Irish god and our beloved High King, all deriving from Dagda’s three sacred treasures. One is the Dagda’s signature club; a weapon that was known by all in his race. Like Excalibur, right? Two is the Dagda’s cauldron. In it, he kept a blend of delicious food at all times, which never ran dry. Many believe the Celts to have used this as the inspiration for the Holy Grail, which also never ran dry. I, personally, also see the Cauldron as an inspiration for the Round Table. In the Dagda’s cauldron was a blend of food for all, which served the purpose of keeping everyone full and satisfied for all time. Arthur had that same hope for his Round Table; a group of men from a blend of different backgrounds, all united to serve the purpose of keeping the people of Camelot safe and satisfied. The third treasure is the Dagda’s harp, which was known to control men (as needed), as well as the seasons. He also used his harp to make people happy. One could make a parallel between the harp and Arthur’s crown, metaphorically speaking. He used his crown and status to influence and inspire men until he became High King of Britain; to create peace throughout Britain. ❤
Another (less pleasant) parallel is that his lover was the Morrígan, whom we compare to Morgan, Arthur’s sister. And, of course, Arthur and Morgan were unfortunately lovers, too, in many versions. (Even if Arthur wasn’t aware of it until after the fact.)
But overall, the Dagda was a great leader and chief of his race of gods. It’s not impossible to believe that the Celts took great inspiration from him in the creation and embellishing of the great King Arthur.
And that about sums it up! So hopefully, we can see from this (extensive, sorry! :P) discussion how likely it is that the Celts were inspired enough by their gods to humanize them into characters that walked the earth and lived human lives. Now when we look at our favorite characters from the Legend, we can see their even deeper origins.
If you know of any other deity connections, please feel free to talk about it in the comments below! I’d love to hear what other fellow Arthurianists think! I love that so many of you have already discussed some of these connections with me on Instagram. What fun conversations! Thankfully, while modern storytellers still honor Christianity in the Legend, we are also continuing to honor the early mythological roots that birthed such timeless characters. ❤
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