St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

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St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 02 Mar 2015, 00:06

I thought some of you may be interested in a recent blog post I put together for St. Davids day:

The 1st of March is as good a day as any to consider Dewi Sant, ‘Y Dyfrwr’, known beyond Wales as St. David, ‘The Waterman’. Apparently born around the turn of the 6th century, as a historical figure he is possibly older than Taliesin by a generation or two, and is arguably the better known. But in the mythological sphere at least, both St. David and Taliesin appear to share a similar parentage. It may be surprising initially to count St. David in the mythological category, yet all that we know of him has been passed onto us through the medium of legend and lore. Even his official biographer, Rhygyfarch, reported his life as legend in stylised, myth-laden prose. Interestingly enough, this 11th century priest of St. David’s Cathedral was such a good storyteller that notable Celtic scholars have proposed him as the possible author of The Four Branches of the Mabinogi.

Rhygyfarch’s Buchedd Dewi identifies the saint as belonging to that particular fraternity of magical infants occasionally born to the Welsh imagination, Taliesin being the other obvious example. According to Rhygyfarch, before Dewi Sant was born, his father was told by an angel to collect three things while out hunting in an area close to the river Tywi, those being a stag, a salmon and a swarm of bees (Lives of the Cambro British Saints, 403). This is comparable to the transformations of Gwion Bach through hare, salmon and bird, this time in the domain of that other great Welsh river, the Dyfi. In both accounts, the similarity of the animal triads suggests that the evoking of earth, water and air is a precursor to the incarnation of a spiritually potent soul.

We can go deeper again with this association between Dewi and Taliesin, as Dewi’s father in Rhygyfarch’s account was none other than Sandde, a king of Ceredigion, the northern part of which is connected with the legendary Taliesin. Sandde is mentioned in both Culhwch ac Olwen and in The Twenty Four Knights of Arthur’s Court (Appendix IV of Bromwich’s Trioedd). In both texts he is named as Sandde Bryd Angel (‘angel-face’) and in both texts twinned with Morfran son of Tegid, as in the following quote from Culhwch ac Olwen:

. . . and Morfran son of Tegid, (no man planted his weapon in him at Camlan because of his ugliness. Everyone thought he was a devil helping. He had hair on him like a stag). And Sandde Angel Face, (no man planted his spear in him at Camlan because of his beauty. Everyone thought he was an angel helping).

This Morfran, as well as being Sandde’s twin, is of course Morfran son of Ceridwen, mother of Taliesin. In this respect Taliesin would be a half brother to Morfran who is the mythological twin of Sandde, Dewi’s father. Such are the deeply knotted roots of the Welsh mythological pantheon.

Both preceded by animals with an elemental significance, both born in liminal places where the land meets the sea, Dewi and Taliesin are born to mothers who also may share similar circumstances. According to Rhygyfarch’s account of Dewi Sant’s conception, after finding the triad of symbolic animals during his hunt in the Tywi region, Sandde came across a nun called Non and through blind lust raped her, the result of which was David. Although in the medieval rendering of Taliesin’s tale its the female that hunts the male, its Gwion Bach who seeds Ceridwen’s womb, suggesting his role as Taliesin’s symbolic father. Gwion Bach could in some respects be considered Morfran’s twin, the latter being cheated of the three drops of wisdom when Gwion Bach took his place before the cauldron of inspiration.

Both Non and Ceridwen are made pregnant by two males, both of which are symbolic twins of the same Morfran son of Tegid. Anne Ross has already noted that Morfran son of Tegid, horned like a devil and covered in stag hair, is an echo of the earlier horned god (Pagan Celtic Britain, 190), a British equivalent of Cernunnos. Another example of this twinning is found in the first branch of the Mabinogi, when Pwyll becomes Arawn’s twin before entering Annwfn, Arawn being another variant of the old hunter who’s other guise is Gwyn ap Nudd.

The similarities between the birth of Dewi Sant and Taliesin reveal the signs by which the Welsh may have traditionally identified their spiritual leaders, at least in symbolic or mythological terms. Its a well attested fact that the early Christian church adopted many symbols and motifs from the earlier non-Christian beliefs of Western Europe, and it would not be unreasonable to assume that the native mythology concerning the incarnation of a spiritual leader continued as the dominant tradition into the early Christian period. Perhaps in Dewi’s time such a native mythological context would have seemed a natural one to adopt, simply part of the cultural furniture that was at hand. It is fitting for the birth of Dewi Sant, chief of all British saints, to be accompanied by the same magic as that of Taliesin, chief of all bards.
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby illion » 02 Mar 2015, 05:12

Thank you for sharing this with us, it is very interesting :)

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Heddwen » 02 Mar 2015, 09:41

Hi Welsh Mythology, with regards to your last paragraph, I was wondering about Non. I'd love to know more about her. Does she have a connection to Llanon, just south of Aberystwyth? and, if Saint David is accredited with bringing christianity to Wales, then what religion was she? ... a pagan priestess perhaps?

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 02 Mar 2015, 13:19

Well, this being March 2nd, St Non's day, its a good day to commemorate her.

The distinction between Pagan and Christian at this time is fuzzy, as the blog suggests, so it may not be accurate to distinguish too severely between the two in this period. The centralised church still hadn't consolidated its power, so different regions may still have been in the process of working through a native Pagan / Christian hybrid. Of course, the later whitewash by church authorities makes it difficult for this to be any more than a theory, although the similarities between Taliesin and St. David suggest to me that there may well have been such a hybrid. It adheres to the common sense of social life. Central dictates can often become diluted in communal practice.

St. David bringing Christianity to the Welsh is a figurative statement. There was already a strong Christian community in Wales. St. David was a pupil of St Paulinus, himself a pupil of the renowned St Illtud, both Welsh clergy. Non could well have been a nun. There were plenty of Christian communities in her region.

Non was a daughter of Cynyr Ceinfarfog, a 5th century chieftain of Dyfed who’s lands were in the south-west of the kingdom. Her mother Anna is probably commemorated in St Ann’s Head not far to the west of Milford Haven. Through her mother, Non was a grand-daughter of Gwerthefyr the Blessed, named in the Welsh triads as a talismanic protector of Britain alongside Brân of the Mabinogi. Its not surprising that she is as mythologically profound as her son, the patron saint of Wales. Her mother, Anna or Ann, was also made a saint, and both the names of the mother and daughter (Non or Nonna and Ann and Anna could be variants of the same name) have led some to believe they are in fact Christainised versions of Ana, otherwise known as Danu in Ireland and Dôn in Wales. In Irish tradition, Non also gave birth to other women saints who went on to become mothers of saints themselves. There is a clear association with the divine mother within the Christian context, never mind the more pagan association with Ceridwen I discuss in the previous post. There is another example of a similar transformation with the goddess Brigit becoming, amongst other things, the Welsh Sant Ffraid.

To run with this a little, we have a mother who is twinned with a divine mother, no doubt a fertility goddess from an earlier pagan context, and a father twinned with the old horned god (read previous post for the background to this). Both parents seem to have taken on divine attributes for the conception of this most important of Welsh religious leaders. This is all located in Dyfed, the setting of the first branch of the Mabinogi where Pwyll takes on the form and nature of Arawn, king of Annwfn, a variant of the Lord of the Hunt if ever there was one. That tale infers the correct attitude that’s required when a mortal man takes on the form of a male god and is given the opportunity of making love to a goddess. His correct attitude ensures Pwyll the love of Rhiannon, the goddess incarnate come to seek the man who showed her respect and treated her with honour.

Opposed to this we have Sandde, St. David’s father, going on a hunt associated with magical wonders (as did Pwyll), but in Sandde’s case he does the exact opposite of Pwyll and rapes St. Non, the goddess in mortal form. I don’t know what that says about the Christain context as opposed to the more Pagan Mabinogi version. It may say much, it may say little. Regardless, when Non comes to give birth to Dewi the very Earth is split asunder with the terrible contractions she experiences. She splits rock and causes a spring to burst from the ground at the moment Dewi is born. Her nature and condition is reflected in the Earth, underlining her role as a sovereign goddess of the land working in mortal form.

There is also her position as a liminal figure. Non gives birth where land meets sea, as is Taliesin born in a similar position, in a fish weir on Borth beach, an in-between place that’s symbolic of crossing from the world of mortals into the depths of Annwfn, where the divine live. The second branch of the Mabinogi uses the sea and water in much the same symbolic way. Also, in Rhygyfarch’s account of Dewi’s life, when Non is pregnant with Dewi:

The second miracle which David did was when his mother went to church to hear Saint Gildas preaching. When Gildas began to preach he was not able to go on; then he said “Go out all of you from the church” said he and he a second time attempted to preach but could not and then he enquired whether there were any one in the church besides himself. “I am here” said the nun between the door and the partition. “Go thou said the saint out of the church and request all the parish to come in.” And all of them came to the place and then the saint preached clearly and loud. Then the parish asked him “Why couldst thou not preach to us a little while ago and we were anxious to hear thee.” “Call'” said the saint, “the nun to come in whom just now I sent from the church.” “Here I am,” said Nonn. Then said Gildas “The child that is in the womb of this nun has more property and grace and dignity than I have; for God has himself given to him the privilege and supreme authority over all the saints of Wales for ever both before the day of judgment and afterwards. And therefore” said he, “there is no way for me to remain here any longer on account of the child of that nun to whom the Lord hath given supreme government over all the people of this island . . .

Notice that Non is again in a liminal place, “between the door and the partition.” This could imply her being at once in this world and also in that deeper, more powerful realm of the spirit. Again there is that idea of two in one, of both places – the mundane and supernatural – containing the same nature, and of both figures – the mortal and the divine – containing the same person.

Cyfarchion yr ŵyl.
Last edited by Welsh Mythology on 02 Mar 2015, 23:52, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Heddwen » 02 Mar 2015, 17:15

Diolch - double celebrations as I was lucky enough to have been born on St Davids day!

Thank you for the additional information regarding Non. I'd heard that there were the ruins of her nunnery/convent somewhere along the high street in Llanon. More digging around/research required, methinks. I was rather hoping that she would have been pagan, but as the two religions ran side by side for so long then maybe they merged the different traditions for many years. Perhaps christianity and paganism were interchangeable at that time.

If you're in the area, there's a symposium and storytelling of 'The Mabinogion' weekend on the 13th to the 15th March. I know that a few OBODies are attending it. Here's the link....https://www.facebook.com/events/378715965619729

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby DaRC » 03 Mar 2015, 13:12

That's was great - thanks for this :D covering both St. David and his mother.
St. David was a pupil of St Paulinus
Which St Paulinus? I'm guessing St Paulinus of Trier as St Illtud was supposedly a student of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanus_of_Auxerre
As an aside I've always thought the Pelagian heresy seemed to have links to Druidic thinking/
Her mother, Anna or Ann, was also made a saint, and both the names of the mother and daughter (Non or Nonna and Ann and Anna could be variants of the same name)
In a weird piece of synchronicity I had just been revising the Breton legend of St. Anne in a pagan context..
“In the beginning there was Annwn, Gwynvyd and Abred and within Gwynvyd there was heaven and earth. And the earth (Anne, Anu or Danu) was without form and void (Anne, Anu or Danu was barren). And darkness (affliction and confusion) was upon the face of the deep (on the face of Anne), and the Spirit of Heaven (Joachim, Beli Mawr or the"Fair Shining One") moved upon the face of the waters (the waters of Anne’s tears to console her). And He said, ‘Let there be light (Mary, the great music or Oran Mor) … and the gathering together of the waters (the gathering of the graces) they called Maria (the seas, Mor or Mary).”
but in Sandde’s case he does the exact opposite of Pwyll and rapes St. Non, the goddess in mortal form.
Which echoes Gilfaethwy raping Math's footholder, Goewin, in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi.

And finally, I think I've discovered who should be the patron Saint of England http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Alban not that I have anything specifically against St. George, it's just that he's not even British and half the world seems to have him as a patron. Although the Scots could also claim him if they got fed up with St. Andrew...
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 04 Mar 2015, 11:12

Hi DaRC, its a pleasure.

Paulinus? Well, there's me having lead you astray at the very outset. Nobody knows, as I'm sure you're aware. Having gone to dig out a link, for example the National Library biog casts doubt upon my claims! This was the Paulinus I ment, but they say he may have been a student of Garmon and not Illtud:

http://yba.llgc.org.uk/en/s-PAUL-SAN-0500.html

If that's the case then that leaves Pelagius either in or out of the St David crowd. St Garmon was likely to have been in with the determinism of the Continental church and against the free willing Pelagians amongst the Brits. He was sent over from Brittany to keep the Augustinian law alive. Although if they had to keep sending suit-n-tie folk over to sort out the hill hippies, Pelagianism may well have still been a flavour of the British Church by the time we get to St David. Who knows.

But the grafting on of a native birth myth to St David's conception has a whiff of "it was meant to be" about it so not Pelagian in spirit at least. Part of the tale also reveals a taking away of freedom, a violent disregard of the sovereign self in the rape of Non. Something antithetical the Four Branches tradition at least, as you rightly point out, the rape of Goewin ultimately resulting in the failure of Math's male lineage.

St Ann is such an interesting figure. Good luck with the reworking, plenty of rich material there. What sources are you working from? Are they online? Would love to see them. There's a Breton lai of St Non as well but haben't found a translation yet.

Why St Alban as patron saint of the English? First English marter? could well have been from any one of a number of tribal backgrounds, although you do realise the better your case for his supremacy the more likely I am to claim he was obviously Welsh :grin:
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby DaRC » 04 Mar 2015, 13:37

Ahh of course St Paulinus of Wales
Pelagianism may well have still been a flavour of the British Church by the time we get to St David. Who knows.
Indeed but not officially as I've just noticed that by CE 450 Pelagianism was regarded as heresy and St David was born ca CE 500, but I think you can see echoes of Pelagianism in British Culture, but that could just be me
What sources are you working from?
The one I've take is from the text of a speech by Frank A Mills about the Oran Mo’r - unfortunately it's not on-line but I can PM you a copy.
Why St Alban as patron saint of the English?
Because of Albion, Alban mean 'from the white'
better your case for his supremacy the more likely I am to claim he was obviously Welsh :grin:
Ah but modern genealogical research is against you - so as long as he was a Romano-Brit born in England he's English :o
I will be going with the theory that the Anglo-Saxons invasion was more similar to the Viking one... a mostly warrior elite whom the locals then adopted their language and dress from
as opposed to Stephen Oppenheimer's mitochondrial DNA theory that much of South Eastern England could have already been populated by the Saxons well before the Romans left.
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Reuils » 04 Mar 2015, 15:30

Thankyou,what a pity Welsh Mythology isn't included on the curriculum in Welsh schools.........but I doubt at that age I would have found it as fascinating a I do now !

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Dathi » 04 Mar 2015, 20:02

Thanks for thread and posts. Great to have really knowledgable contributions.

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Heddwen » 04 Mar 2015, 20:54

Well they certainly include it now. Both of my children attended Ysgol Gymraeg in Aberystwyth and I certainly remember them studying Blodeuwedd, Branwen and Dwynwen amongst some of the others. I wish that I had gone there myself :grin: I think that the eisteddfod as an institution has had a part to play in educating our youngsters aBout our myths and legends. Its certainly taught in schools these days.

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 05 Mar 2015, 08:56

The one I've take is from the text of a speech by Frank A Mills about the Oran Mo’r - unfortunately it's not on-line but I can PM you a copy.
That would be great DaRC, if possible, thankyou.
Ah but modern genealogical research is against you - so as long as he was a Romano-Brit born in England he's English :o
I will be going with the theory that the Anglo-Saxons invasion was more similar to the Viking one... a mostly warrior elite whom the locals then adopted their language and dress from
as opposed to Stephen Oppenheimer's mitochondrial DNA theory that much of South Eastern England could have already been populated by the Saxons well before the Romans left.
I think I'm with you there. Culture is often thicker than blood in practice. Speaking as a pure mongrell myself of course.

I think that based on the name Alban at least he was more likely to have been Germanic by culture, if not by ancestry. Confusingly enough though, isn't Albion an early Celtic name for the Isles? Reduced to a name for Scotland only by the British and Gaels but preserved by the classical writers as a name for the whole island according to his holiness, Wikipedia.

Regardless, I think having one name for the whole of the island is a powerful symbol. Its been tried several times of course. Perhaps that's what Garmon was alluding to by founding an Alban cult. Garmon could well have been aware of a classical tradition for Albion. Interesting. I suppose that may have been his political intention at least. One island, one Latin Church. Certainly gives Alban an older mythology than St George, who was Palastinian I think.
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby DaRC » 05 Mar 2015, 14:03

Ahh yes I'm pure mongrel too :D
I think that based on the name Alban at least he was more likely to have been Germanic by culture
Indeed - in the same way that the early Wessex kings (Cerdic et al) seem to have Germanicised Celtic names.
One island, one Latin Church. Certainly gives Alban an older mythology than St George, who was Palestinian I think.
Particularly at a time when there was rivalry between the Celtic and Latin churches. Yep St. George was Palestinian although how he managed to kill the Dragon of Uffington Hill is beyond me! A bit like St Leonard who seemed to slay a lot of Dragons...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_of_Noblac
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Reuils » 05 Mar 2015, 17:39

I'm so pleased to hear that ,Heddwen,you have to remember,I was in school in Wales when St David was still in short trousers !!!!!!!!!!! :oops:

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Heddwen » 05 Mar 2015, 17:50

Ah, bless you. I've just joined the sages and crones forum so I'm not that far behind you!!!

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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 07 Mar 2015, 14:20

. . . I was in school in Wales when St David was still in short trousers !!!!!!!!!!! :oops:
Well, when I was in primary school St David's day was when the adults made us all dress up in old fashioned gear, including trowsus llaes (short trousers), gwascod a chap pig (waistcoat and flat cap) for the boys, a full traditional dress for the girls. Big black hat and red shawl. The standard's gone up recently though, this is the Cardiff parade from last year, stunning day:

http://www.stdavidsday.org/oriel3/content/index_6.html
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Re: St David and Taliesin: brothers in myth

Postby Reuils » 09 Mar 2015, 19:43

Thankyou for the photographs ,don't remember anything like that in my 3 years at Uni there !
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