Thursday, 9 April 2009

Arthur, Guinevere, as gods in oral times

Reading about these gods and goddesses it made me think perhaps the characters in Arthurian tales were originally gods and goddesses and thus were fickle to mankinds needs. Just as the seasons and Arthur, so they rose and waned in strength. Guinevere as a triple goddess, Earth Mother, Fertility goddess, May Queen or even Crone, thus her role is to unite kingship with the land, though through her taking of a lover she breaks that bond and the kingdom collapsed. In other tellings we see Morgan plays this role, as half Faerie or fate she engineers her half brothers downfall, only to nurse him back to health until he is needed again. The Green Knight is nature to look after Camelot while Merlin had also engineered the Black Knight to protect Camelot while Arthur is away.

A Gaulish deity: The Bear God
This deity is known from Beaucroissant, Isère, France and is a god of magic, of the 'Great Wizard' type.A Gaulish deity, widely worshipped by the continental Celts whose name is known from an inscription found at Beaucroissant, Isère, France where he is invoked as Mercury Artaius. The assimilation of Artaius into the Cult of Mercury by Interpretatio Romana has led many to suggest that Artaius was originally a pastoral deity, possibly associated with ovine protection.
The similarities in name between Artaius and the insular 'Arthur' have led to postulations that they originated as one and the same deity; indeed Arthur probably originated as a god who became fused with a historical personage in later tellings. Others have associated Artaius with the mage-deity Gwydion postulating that Artaius may originally been a god of the Great Wizard type.
Artio, the alternative name of this deity is preserved in the place names Arto-briga, near modern-day Weltenburg in Germany and Arto-dunum (fortress of the Bear, modern Arthun) in the Loire.
Artaius' name can be derived from the reconstructed proto-Celtic elements *arto- (bear) along with the deicitic particle *ī and the Latinized masculine ending -us. Thus Artaius' name can be interpreted as 'The Bear God'. Artaius has a female counterpart, Artio. Artaius' name is also cognate with that of Arthur. Though whether Artaius was the mythological equivalent of the insular Arthur may never be known.

GUINEVERE, QUEEN (Welsh, Cornish) Also Gwenhwyfar, Gueneve, and Gwenivere. Her name means "white shadow", the sovereign power behind King Arthur's throne.
While the Camelot stories surrounding her, King Arthur, and his rival, are romantic in nature, these modern incarnations demean the status of the sovereign Goddess in their telling. She was the sovereign who gave Arthur his right to rule simply by being with him. When she left him he pursued her not for love, but because without her his kingdom would crumble for lack of leadership. The role of Goddess of sovereignty is more clearly seen in her legends than in many others. Her duty is to blend the king's energy with the energy of the land. It is in many myths that when the king forgets where his power comes from that the queen will seek other champions and lovers to remind him as she gladly did.
She is also a May Queen who is occasionally thought of as a female Gwyn Ap Nuad, and Otherworld king and God of the hunt.
Original Welsh legends list three different queens for Arthur all named Guinevere, making her a triplicity unto herself.

GOEWIN (Welsh) The Goddess of sovereignty who held the feet of Math while he reigned. She was only exempt from doing so when he went to war.
In old northern and western European cultures kings were often semi-divine beings having need to rest their feet in the lap of a queen by whose grace they ruled. When Goewin was kidnapped by Gilfaethwy, he also captures the means of stealing the throne. As when Guinevere is kidnapped by Melegrant, he also thinks he will get land and status through this. She is often equated with Queen Guinevere.
GOLEUDDYDD (Wales) [GO-loo-theeth] A Welsh princess who married a prince but remained barren. When she finally became pregnant, she went mad and refused to live indoors. She disappeared into the forest and when her time came to give birth she regained her sanity. She found herself in a swineherd's yard, where she bore a son, was aptly named Culhwch (pig). When she was about to die, she made her husband, Kliydd, promise that he would not remarry until a briar bush with at least two heads sprang from her grave. Such briars do not grow heads until their seventeenth year of maturity. In Celtic mysticism the number seventeen relate to the splitting of clans. Every seventeenth year th oldest women and strongest warriors were allowed to branch off from the clan if they wished.
She was also an aunt of King Arthur and this folktale is really about an ancient sow goddess of fertility
MORGAN LeFAY (Welsh) Welsh death-goddess; Morgan the Fate. Glamorgan in Wales is said to be her sacred territory. She can cast a destroying curse on any man. Gawaine of the Round Table bore Morgan's pentacle as a heraldic device on his blood-red shield. She was the daughter of LeFay, a glamorous Welsh sea Goddess. As the half-sister of King Arthur, she possibly was once a Goddess of Glastonbury Tor, a sacred pagan site intimately associated with the Arthurian myths. Archetypally, Glastonbury functions as a gateway to the Otherworld.
The root of her name, mor, means "sea", and she was a sea Goddess, the place one must cross to reach the isle of the Otherworld. In Brittany, sea sprites which lure sailors to their deaths are called Morgans after her.
Today she is thought of as the final incarnation of the Irish Valkyrie Morrigan, Morgan plays a critical but ambiguous role in the Arthurian cycle. Portrayed as a mortal female deeply learned in Magick and a close relative of Arthur's (maternal half-sister), she is always at odds with Arthur, and is responsible for any of a number of attempts to drag him down. Once he is mortally wounded though, and his cause a pyrrhic and ultimately futile victory, it is Morgan who appears at his side, nursing him and taking him off to the Isle of Avalon, to rest until his presence is needed once more. One gets the distinct impression that she somehow engineered the rise of Arthur to the status of Hero, in order to create an Eternal Champion of Britain. As a goddess of sovereignty, she backed the Green Knight to take over the kingdom of Camelot. Her Breton name is Morgause.

MARGAUSE (Welsh, British) Mother aspect of the Goddess. Also Morgause.

Although Morgause remains, even in many modern Arthurian texts, a relatively minor character compared with women like Guinevere and Morgan le Fay, her small role is a crucial one. According to Thomas Malory, she is one of the three daughters of Igrayne and the Duke of Cornwall, half-sister to Arthur, and later, the wife of King Lot of Orkney and the mother of Gawaine, Gaheris, Agravaine, Gareth, and Mordred. Depending on the text, the same character has the name Anna (Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regnum Brittaniae, Layamon's Brut) or Belisent (Alliterative Morte Arthure, Tennyson's Idylls of the King). Because of her minor role, she is frequently, as in John Boorman's film Excalibur, conflated with her more infamous sister, Morgan le Fay. While she is usually eclipsed by Morgan, Morgause is best-known for committing incest when she sleeps with Arthur and conceives Mordred. In medieval texts, specifically the French Vulgate cycle and the Prose Merlin, Arthur is attracted to a woman identified only as King Lot's wife and deceives her into thinking he is her husband. It is only afterward that Arthur realizes he has committed incest. Mordred is the product of this union. Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur depicts Morgause as a woman ignorant of her relation to King Arthur at the time of Mordred's conception, receptive of Lamorak's love towards her, and overwhelmed with motherly concern for her young son Gareth. Truly, the only strike against her in this text is the fact that she commits adultery. Arthur's part in this affair causes the lifelong enmity between the two kings: "And for because that kynge Arthure lay by hys wyff and gate on her sir Mordred, therefore kynge Lott helde ever agaynste Arthure" (I.77). What characterizes her more than anything else in the text is her concern for Gareth's welfare; coming to the court while Gareth is away on his quest to save Dame Lyonesse, Morgause scolds Arthur fiercely, saying, "ye made a kychyn knave of hym, the whyche is shame to you all. Alas! Where have ye done myn owne dere son that was my joy and blysse?" (I.339). Upon Gareth's return, Morgause faints in relief but is revived by her son and thereafter "made good chere" (I.358). What becomes clear on reading Le Morte d'Arthur and its medieval predecessors is that Morgause was not a villain until the modern period. It is this fact that makes her death in Malory so surprising; Sir Gaheris, who is trying to track down his enemy Sir Lamerak, finds him in bed with Morgause, "for ayther lovid other passynge sore," and in response, "suddaynly [Sir Gaheris] gate his modir by the heyre and strake of her hede" (II. 612). She is ultimately a kind of sacrifice in the ongoing feud between the sons of Pellinore and the sons of Lot. In Richard Hovey's play, The Marriage of Guenevere, for example, Morgause feigns friendship with Guenevere, only to discourage her confidence in the new marriage and encourage the young queen in her admiration of Launcelot.
In modern adaptations of the Arthurian legend based on Malory, the incest episode is largely engineered by Morgause herself, and she is Mordred's mother not only biologically but psychologically as well, using him as her tool to destroy his father. T. H. White's The Once and Future King and Boorman's Excalibur demonstrate this concept brilliantly as Morgause/Morgana takes on a sinister nature that she never has in earlier texts. She becomes a kind of nightmarish mother figure in White, looming over her children even after she is dead. Mary Stewart's The Wicked Day demonstrates Morgause's insatiable appetite for younger men, notably King Pellinore's son Lamorak. Upon discovering her in flagrante with the young knight, Gaheris slays his mother in a fit of rage, and later, with the assistance of his other brothers, hunts down Lamorak and kills him in a clearly unfair combat. The notable exception to the grand tradition of villanizing Morgause in modern novels is Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon. In this novel, the first depiction of Camelot from an almost completely feminine perspective, Morgause is a caring mother figure, a strong intellectual wife to King Lot, and, later, a sexually liberated widow. While her ruthlessness in achieving her own political ends is highlighted, it is certainly eclipsed by the callousness of Morgaine and Viviane. Bradley's Morgause only meets her demise in old age, defeated by the rejection of a potential younger lover.
VIVIENNE (Welsh, Cornish, Breton) Also Nimue, Niniane, or Chwibmian. She was the lover of Merlin who is sometimes associated with attributes of the Lady of the Lake, and some legends claim she is the Lake Lady's daughter.
In Breton legend, Vivienne is the woman who escorts Arthur to Avalon at his death. In this guise as a death Goddess she is often equated with Rhiannon.

URIEN (Welsh, Anglo-Celtic) Also Uryen. A minor sun God from southern England who was married to Modron, and was the father of Owain and Mabon. He was killed by Modron during one of her murderous rages. Archetypeally, Urien is a sacrificial deity associated with Samhain.
LADY OF THE LAKE (Welsh, Cornish, Breton) This is simply a compilation of all the multitudinous lake, river, and water spirits so prevalent in Celtic mythology. Nevertheless, common threads do appear; one of the best documented is that of relic-guardian, holder of the sacred sword Excalibur, who gives it to Arthur, and takes it back at the end of the stories. There seem to be two or perhaps three Named Ladies. Nimue is specifically named as a Lady of the Lake; she is the defeater, or perhaps simply replacer, of Merlin at Arthur's Court. Nineve seems to be the Keeper of Excalibur, and her name may be a variant on Nimue, but she is slain by Sir Balin, and her personality is at variance to Nimue's. There is also a French Lady of the Lake, Viviane. There are, in addition, other unnamed Ladies as well.
The Lady of the Lake is by some accounts a faery woman, by others a potent deity of life, death, and regeneration. The Bretons claim she was a Breton addition to the Arthurian myths and that she never appeared in the original Welsh versions of the story. Contrary to the widely popular "sword in the churchyard stone" legends, the Breton version tells us that Merlin and Arthur rode out to the center of the Dosmary Lake in Cornwall, and that it was there that Excalibur was presented to him, the sword embedded in floating stone. When he pulled it out, he reversed the act of the Great Rite, separating the female and male principles of creation which were not to be united again until Arthur's death.
The Lady of the Lake is also attributed with being the foster mother of Sir Lancelot, one of Arthur's knights, also a Breton addition to the myth.
She is described as sitting on a throne of reeds in the center of the lake's depths. Among her many magical credits is that of healer.