Of Corgis and the Wee Folk

A new article and mental_floss explains “The Ancient Connection between Corgis and Fairies“:

When one thinks of corgis, the first thing to come to mind may very well be, “Isn’t that the breed of dog the Queen of England really likes?” That’s true, of course. But there are plenty of other fun facts to file away about the fluffy canines. For example: Fairies used to ride them into battle.

That’s if you believe Welsh legend, anyway. According to the stories, a pair of corgis—specifically, the breed known as the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, as opposed to the Cardigan Welsh Corgi—were gifted to two human children by the “wee folk,” who used them for any number of tasks.


Bendith y Mamau: Ugly Welsh Faeries

George Cruikshank, Herne the Hunter, 1840s

George Cruikshank, Herne the Hunter, 1840s

In Glamorganshire and Carmarthenshire, Wales, bendith y mamau (“mothers’ blessing”; roughly pronounced ben-dith uh mah-may) is a generic term for all faeries. The other Welsh term for faeries is tylwyth teg (“fair family” or “fair folk”).  Some see these two terms as synonymous.

As in many faery legends, it was thought best to refer to the bendith y mamau with a flattering euphemism. In fact, there little that is “motherly” or “blessed” about these creatures. More often than not, they are, in fact, malicious and destructive in their dealings with mortals.

According to some accounts, these creatures are a grotesque cross-breed of goblin and faery. They possess the glamour or illusion-magic of faeries but the stunted and ugly appearance of goblins. Some say they have an affinity with either brownies or the pisgies (pixies) of the West Country.

The bendith y mamau are known to kidnap mortal children and replace them with their own hideous offspring, called crimbils. Stories suggest, however, that these mortal children might be returned many years later with only the faintest memory of their time among the Fair Folk. Bendith y mamau can be envious creatures, particularly of another’s beauty. They generally treat their captives well, however.

These faeries are also associated with Welsh underworld hounds. These beasts, usually called cwn annwn (“hounds of the underworld”) are sometimes also known as cwn bendith y mamau or simply cwn mamau. The appearance of these spectral dogs is thought to be an omen of death. They are also associated with the Wild Hunt.

Despite these unseemly characteristics, these faeries are also often skilled musicians and singers. Their music is capable of producing a trance-like reverie that erases a person’s memory, leaving them with only a faint recollection of the sweet music itself.

Brazil and Hy Breasail

Might the nation of Brazil have been named after a mythical Island in the North Atlantic? The Celtic Myth Podshow lays out the theory:

So how did the country called Brazil end up with it’s name ? One theory says that Brazil was initially colonized by people coming from Viana do Castelo (in northern Portugal), and that through the knowledge of legends from the Celts in Galicia, they would have been aware of the lost continent of Brazil. And not only Columbus, but other early explorers from England knew about the lost land of Brazil. According to”The Island of Brazil”, a contemporary account written by William of Worcester (and published in the late 18th century) recalled that when word of a “new land to the west” reached Bristol in the late 1470s this was presumed to be Brazil. In 1480, a Bristol merchant John Jay outfitted at great expense an 80-tonne ship to sail to the island of Brazil, described as “a name often given in medieval European tales to a land far to the west of Ireland”. Setting sail in July 1480 from Bristol, Jay’s ship voyaged west, intending to “traverse the seas.” But the journey ended in failure. English crews had yet to master the new methods of astronomical navigation devised in Portugal and Spain: open, oceanic voyaging – as opposed to island hopping by way of Iceland and Greenland.

In the Welsh and Cornish myths, Bresal was a High King who made his home in the Otherworld “which is sometimes called Hy- or I-Breasal in his honor”. Like in the Irish myth, “His world is visible on only one night every seven years”. Thus, it is clear that the Celts of Galicia, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and sailors from England all knew of the legend of the lost land of Brazil. Would it then be unreasonable to assume that when Portuguese explorers reached South America they mistakenly thought they had landed on Breasal’s world and named the land they discovered “Brazil” in his honour?

A contradictory theory sets the name in a different context:

Of course, it is possible that the name of the country called Brazil is not connected with the Celtic myth – but in my opinion this theory is not convincing. In this account, the word “Brazil” is derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word “Brasil”, the name of an East Indian tree with reddish-brown wood from which a red dye was extracted. The Portuguese found a New World tree related to the Old World brasil tree when they explored what is now called Brazil, and “as a result they named the New World country after the Old World tree”.

Quite interesting.




Daoine Sídhe: Celtic Fae Nobility

The daoine sídhe (Scots Gaelic, daoine sith) are said to be the descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“People of the Goddess Danu”), a race of deities that figures prominently in Irish mythology.

These gods are, in fact, common to various Celtic cultures. Danu herself was known as Dôn in Wales, for example. Both names go back to a Proto-Celtic form Danona. Likewise, the earliest Celts worshipped deities named Lugus (Lugh, Lleu), Noudans (Nuada, Nudd), Ogmios (Ogma, Eufydd), etc. They arrived in Ireland in the distant, mythic past. Some legends say they arrived in flying ships. At any rate, they brought with them several powerful magical artifacts: the Lia Fail or “Stone of Destiny” that helped select successive kings of Ireland, the spear of Lugh, the sword of Nuada, and the cauldron of the Dagda. After defeating the indigenous Fomorians, they became the undisputed rulers of Ireland.

It is said that only iron weapons could injure them. The Tuatha Dé Danann were eventually defeated by the Iron-Age Milesians—the ancestors of the contemporary Irish—and driven to the Otherworld, which homeland they access via the ancient burial mounds that dot the Irish countryside. They continue to live, it is said, as invisible beings. In Irish thinking, the Otherworld is closer to this world at dawn and dusk. This is thus a special time at which sightings of these fae are more likely.

The descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann are known by a bewildering diversity of names, including:

  • Daoine sídhe or aes sídhe, both meaning “people of the mounds.” The simple term sídhe is also commonly seen.
  • “Still-moving people” or “people of peace,” alternate interpretations of the term daoine sídhe.
  • Daoine uaisle, meaning “lordly ones” or “gentry.”
  • Cloan ny moyrn (“children of pride/ambition”) or adhene (“themselves”), names favored on the Isle of Man.
  • The Fair Folk, the Good Folk, or the Good Neighbors.

All of these terms are euphemisms to avoid using the straightforward Gaelic term siabhra (Irish) or siabhrach (Scottish) “faery.” Use of this term is thought to be far too forward for mortals to use with impunity lest the sídhe take notice of the perceived slight.

By all accounts, the daoine sídhe are powerful magicians. In early Irish manuscripts, they are described as “gods and not gods.” They are generally described as stunningly beautiful, although they can also be hideous monsters. It is likely a duine sídhe can look like whatever he or she wants to. In addition, these fae are often accomplished shapeshifters.