Celtic mythology is fascinating and includes tales from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England’s south-west and Brittany. The legends of King Arthur (including of such figures as Lancelot and Merlin) are probably the most famous example, but the romance between Tristan and Iseult is also well-known. Below are three figures from the Celtic mythology whose stories perhaps influenced modern literature.
I. Caer (Ibormeith)
Caer is a pan-Celtic goddess/fairy maiden (worshipped in Ireland, Scotland and Wales), who is associated with dreams, sleeping and prophecy. She takes the form of a swan and lives on a lake called The Dragon’s Mouth. Caer was a love interest of Aonghus, the Irish love god, who first saw her in a dream. Aonghus wanted to marry Caer, but he first had to pass one challenge – to recognise Caer, who took the form of a swam, among other seemingly identical one hundred and fifty swans. Caer and her sisters take the form of swans every second Samhain (a pagan festival celebrated on 31 October), and remain like that for a year. Aonghus successfully completed this challenge, and he and Caer were married. Swans feature in many Continental fairy-tales too, most famously in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale The Wild Swans , where a wicked witch turns the main character’s brothers into swans, and in Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake , where Prince Siegfried falls for the Swan Princess Odette. Interestingly, tasks to recognise someone and mistaken identities feature in many similar stories.
Geraint is a courageous warrior and character in the Welsh folklore that features in the Arthurian legend. He is also a protagonist in a moving tale of undying love. He forced his wife Enid to go with him on a difficult and dangerous journey because he suspected her to be unfaithful to him, when he supposedly lost some of his fighting ability. Enid was faithful, however, and endured her journey calmly and obediently, showing love and devotion to her husband. In the end, Geraint was very remorseful for his actions towards his wife, and the couple reconciled. I think that story now shares some aspects with Somerset Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil , where a husband drags his unfaithful wife to the centre of the cholera epidemic, and the result is that some of their differences are reconciled and misunderstandings vanish.
Taliesin was a Welsh wizard and bard, who is also regarded as a shaman and a prophet (he foretold the coming of the Anglo-Saxons). Taliesin is now better known as a Brythonic poet who wrote The Book of Taliesin, a Welsh manuscript dating to the first half of the fourteenth century. According to one legend, he was employed as a servant to the witch Geridwen, who was once preparing a special potion that has to be brewed for a year and will eventually enable anyone who drinks its first three drops to gain the secrets of the past, present and future. Young Gwion Bach (future Talieson) was tending the fire on which the caldron with the potion was brewing and it so happens that three drops of its liquid fell on his finger and he sucked the liquid in to ease his pain. Enraged, the witch pursued Gwion Bach as he took the forms of a hair, fish and a bird to escape. Incidentally, the same transformation aspects occur in a book by T.H. White – The Once and Future King [1938/58], where young King Arthur is transformed into different animals as Merlin (Myrddin) teaches him how to be a King. T. H. White based his story on Sir Thomas Malory’s The Death of Arthur .