Life on the Fringe - 8: A Handful of Welsh Heroes - Galahad, Gilfaethwy, Gofannon, Goibniu and Goleudydd
Galahad, the pure at heart
Sir Thomas Malory describes the conception of the pure lad: Elaine, daughter of the Grail King Pelles uses sorcery to trick Lancelot into thinking she is Queen Guinevere. King Pelles already had magical fore-knowledge of Lancelot fathering a child on his daughter. The boy would grow to become the most renowned knight in the world, chosen by god to find the Grail. Pelles also knows Lancelot will only lie with his beloved Guinevere. Wise woman, the Lady Brusen gives Pelles a magic ring that Elaine can use to appear as Guinevere to Lancelot.
They while away a night together and when he learns Elaine with her wiles has tricked him he threatens to kill her. When he is told he has fathered a son he becomes forgiving. Nevertheless he does not marry Elaine, nor does he wish to be with her and goes back to Arthur's court.
Galahad is born and put in the care of a great aunt, an abbess of a nunnery, to be raised by her. In adulthood Galahad is brought together with his father at Camelot during the Feast of Pentecost, where he is escorted by an old knight to the Round Table. He seats himself on the chair named 'Siege Perilous', a disused seat kept unoccupied for the only one who will achieve the Quest for the Grail. Others who sat there ended their days suddenly, badly. Needless to say Galahad survives the test, witnessed by the king.
Arthur leads Galahad to the riverside, to where a sword stands in a stone inscribed 'Never will men draw me but he from whose belt I should hang, and he will be the best knight in the world'. Galahad easily draws the sword and Arthur proclaims him the greatest knight. Sir Galahad is invited to become a knight of the Round Table. Not long after that Arthur's court witnesses a vision of the Holy Grail and the quest is undertaken by all to find it.
Galahad travels alone for most of his journey, laying low any enemies who stand in his way. He saves Sir Perceval from a score of hostile knights and saves maidens in distress. He is re-united with Sir Bors and the three meet Sir Perceval's sister. She leads them to the Grail Vessel in which they reach the far shore and Perceval's sister sacrifices herself to save a stranger's life. Sir Bors leaves them to take her body home for burial.
After several adventures Galahad and Perceval find themselves at the court of King Pelles and his son Elizar. These very holy men take Galahad to a room where he is permitted to see the Grail Cup and Galahad is asked to take the cup to the holy citadel of Sarras. Having seen the Grail Galahad asks to die at the time he chooses. Thus it is that on returning to Arthur's court Galahad is visited by Joseph of Arimathea; he experiences such a feeling of elation that he asks to die there. Bidding farewell to Perceval and Bors, Galahad is transported by angels to heaven.
Whereas it is not mentioned whether the Grail us ever seen on earth again, it is mentioned in the 'Morte d'Arthur' that no knight since Galahad has been deemed capable of attaining the 'Sangreal' (the Grail).
The Arthurian quest for the Grail, all-consuming saga of the search for purity made by the knights of the Round Table in which only one will find release. Follow young Galahad's labours, the setbacks, the temptations. Only one knight will find success - Stephen R Lawhead's Pendragon Cycle moves on as mysteriously as before
A touch of Gallic grandeur
A few more nuggets of Celtic knowledge:
FILI (plural FILIDH), bard(s) or poet(s), often attached to a royal court. Learned as well as being verbally gifted they had to know the heroic tales and genealogies as well as poetic metres. They were often endowed with the gift of prophecy. They had the functions of poets, seers and royal counsellors, were often considerably well schooled before being allowed to carry out their art;
GALAN MAI was the Gallic (Welsh) equivalent of the Gaelic Beltane, held on the first day of May;
GAUL, thought to be the precursor of France was really included in the cantons we know now as Switzerland and the lowlands of Belgium. As the Romans overran Gaul some Celts assimilated into Roman culture, some migrated further west and many were slain in the colonisation process;
GOFANNON was a divine blacksmith, the Gallic version of Goibhiniu in Gaelic myth. He is said to have struck the blow that killed his nephew Dylan Eil Ton, son of Aranrhod (cf);
GWRHYR was one of the troop gathered to help Culhwch find Owen. He was chosen because he 'could understand the animals and therefore ask them the way';
GWRI was the name given to Pryderi by Teyrnon when the child appeared on his doorstep;
GILFAETHWY and GWYDION
the son of Don in Welsh mythology, who fell for Goewin, foot-holder at the court of Math fab Mathonwy - and thus supposed to be a virgin. He told his brother Gwydion of his love for Goewin and they set about the quest to win her. The best way to go about it, Gwydion reasoned, was to get Math away from his court, and to do this a quarrel between Math and Pryderi was engendered. In a war Math would be away from his court for a long time and would therefore not need a foot-holder.
Gwydion sought Math's permission for him to go to Pryderi and ask him to give as a gift to Math a herd of enchanted swine, given to him by Arawn. Math consented and the brothers set out with followers to Pryderi dressed as bards. After feasting with Pryderi Gwydion offered to tell a tale. Pryderi was so delighted at this he offered the 'bard' anything he wished in reward. The choice fell on the swine but Pryderi told him he had sworn to Arawn that he would not let go of the swine before they had borne as many offspring as the animals he had been given.
Gwydion used his magic powers to bring forth twelve mafnificent horses and as many magnificent hounds in exchange for the swine. Next day the horses and hounds vanished and Pryderi knew he had been duped. He thought Math was behind the trickery and set out to get the swine back. Math saw Pryderi approach with his men and took them to be invaders. They went to war and Math had no need for Goewin's services.
With Math out of the way Gilfaethwy was able to take Goewin, some saying by force, others that he kidnapped her. Either way, they had her by trickery. Math condemned them both to change shape each year, wolves one year, deer the next and swine the year after and so on. Although men, they had to bring forth offspring in the shape they were in that year. After three years Math thought they had been punished enough and had them restored to their human form
Wife to Cilydd and mother of Culhwch, she fell victim to insanity and wandered the land whilst with child. She seemed to be sane again by the time she went into labour but, finding she was in a field of swine she became very fearful.
The fear brought on the birth and her son was named after the birthplace, the 'hwch' part of the boy's name meaning swine. In one version of the tale Goleuddyd was so afraid she left the child amongst the animals and fled. The boy was found by the swineherd and taken to the hall of the child's father.
Another element of her legend points to her realising she was about to die and was fearful her husband would marry again, and that Culhwch would be dispossessed if the second wife bore him heirs. Cilydd had to swear to her he would not re-marry until a briar with two heads grew from her grave. To forestall such a thing happening she had a monk, her personal confessor, watch over the grave and pull out any plant that that grew there.
After seven years the monk grew weary of the task, a briar with two heads grew out of the grave and Cilydd duly married again.
(For the rest of this tale see the tale of CULHWCH in the previous Hub-page: LIFE ON THE FRINGE - 7).
Next - Part 9: More Welsh tongue-twisters
© 2013 Alan R Lancaster