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"Awen yn codi o'r cudd ac yn cydio'r cwbl"
- Waldo Williams
(Awen arising from hiding and everything binding)



The Hedge of Mist




     “If you travel on the road below you will never come back, 
there is the Hedge of Mist and within it there are enchanted games.” 

Who would venture there, 
into the Hedge of Mist,
past the severed heads on poles, 
through to the empty chair?

And who like Geraint 
(rider of long-legged horses, 
reddened by the onslaught of eagles,
slayer of giants, victor of Edern fab Nudd)
Would arrive to ensure
that “enchantment be no more”? 

     

(Quotations, direct and indirect, from the story of Geraint fab Erbin included in the Mabinogion collection and verses about Geraint - a warrior from Devon - in The Black Book of Carmarthen.)

~*~

The series of englynion in The Black Book of Carmarthen in praise of Geraint Fil' Erbin has been taken as an example from the south-west of Britain (specifically Devon) of the praise of warriors such as those in poems from the north, in particular The Gododdin. That Geraint was a great warrior is also a starting point for the presumably much later story about him in one of the romances in the French style that are included in The Mabinogion collection. Here his prowess in battle and his determination to be, as the Black Book poem has it, “the enemy of affliction/the enemy of oppression”, leads him to right a series of wrongs , first at Arthur’s court, then elsewhere before marrying Enid and returning to his own lands. It is only then, something like half-way through the tale, that his own story is told in what is a quite sophisticated psychological portrait for a medieval tale. Convinced that Enid no longer loves him he takes her on an aimless quest to prove something that even he is unsure of. This is a sort of madness which is only resolved towards the end of the story which culminates in the ‘Hedge of Mist’ episode. He banishes the mist and the magic that underpins it in the final vanquishing of its perpetrator, an act of destruction that could also be taken as a metaphor for the removal of his delusions about Enid.


But what of origins? There is a parallel tale in French from Chretien de Troyes, but called Erec et Enide. The name Erec is thought to derive from Breton Gwerec > Weroc. Enid(e)’s name comes from from ‘Bro Wened’, the original territorial name for the area of Vannes in Brittany as suggested by Rachel Bromwich. The question of origins, influences and borrowings is always difficult with this material but the balance of opinion seems to be that both the French and the Welsh stories have their origin in an older source, possibly from Brittany which had connections across the sea with the Brythonic-speaking peoples of the Cornish peninsula. It is significant that the name of the female character Enid/Enide remains the same in both versions while the male character has a different name in each. Geraint might stem from Gerontius, and so have an historical origin. Enid has been seen as a sovereignty goddess in origin, so it would be appropriate for her name to remain constant while the name of her suitor, the local chieftain or hero, would change with the change of location for the story, whether in time or space. 

So Geraint’s reconciliation with Enid can be seen as reflecting the pattern of the tale’s mythological origins in the chieftain’s renewal of his pact with the sovereignty goddess. At the same time the medieval tale can be seen as embodying chivalric conventions about the knight and, as the tale puts it, “the woman he loves the best”, and of her faithfulness to him. But because the tale also contains the literary devices already referred to, any analysis of it as a literary text also needs to recognise these. Going further, I suggest that this presentation of psychological problems within human relationships itself embodies mythic allusions. The final participation of Geraint in the hud a lledrith of the enchanted games when he enters the Hedge of Mist immediately follows his emergence from a psychotic state and his reconciliation with Enid.  The fact that he then brings an end to the enchanted games is a feature of much Arthurian literature where magic is still alive in the world but is being driven out of it. Geraint plays his part as a worthy Arthurian knight in this respect. Thus the tale operates as a mythic (diachronic) structure both in terms of its original mythic pattern and in the working out of its surface narrative. But it also operates as a synchronic structure in that it conforms to the conventions of the Arthurian romances of the early Middle Ages and, indeed, develops these conventions to portray the psychological tensions of human relationships in ways that such tales rarely achieve. The Hedge of Mist covers much that evaporates with the mist itself. Enchantment is elusive; it can be lost and then found, or not recognised at all. What we discover when we look into it, or into a tale of this sort, may depend on what we seek: a remnant myth, a living mythic narrative, a human drama, or simply an old tale about Arthur and his knights.




The tale of Geraint is included in all modern translations of The Mabinogion.

Text of The Black Book of Carmarthen taken from A.O.H Jarman Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin (Caerdydd, (1982)

Rachel Bromwich discusses the origins of both Geraint and Enid and the relevance of the sovereignty theme in Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Cardiff, 2006)

4 comments:

  1. Oooh an actual hedge of mist! Can't see any heads... from here...

    I've always read Geraint as a tale about disenchantment with Geraint's defeat of Edern ap Nudd and the combatant in the games and the banishing of mist and magic. It doesn't surprise me to come across evidence of Enid being a goddess with Edern being Gwyn ap Nudd's brother. He isn't depicted very flatteringly... I was always fascinated by the dual for the hawk and thought the hawk was significant as a hunting bird. Also Geraint's time spent 'wyllt'. I'd agree there is a deeper mythic origin.

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  2. Great post! It inspired me to read both Erec and Geraint, so I'm indebted to you for that.

    The question of origins is fascinating! It really does seem, in my amateur opinion, that the Geraint as we have it is derived from Erec, but from what little I know, I’d also say the tale’s origin is firmly Welsh. In Will Parker’s introduction to Geraint he summarizes a tale by William of Malmesbury, who lived before Cretien:

    a certain Yder fis Nuth is described as fighting three giants on the hill of Brentenol (identified with ‘Brent Knoll’ in Somerset), after having been knighted by Arthur... he is described as prevailing in this battle, but falling unconscious as a result of his wounds. The king, racked with guilt at the idea that he may have sent this young nobleman to his death, enlists a battalion of monks to pray for his revival, and when he recovers makes a generous grant of lands to the monastery involved.

    That is an episode right out of Erec/Geraint! That seems to prove the story’s British roots, in some capacity at least. It’s strange that Edern takes the hero’s role here, instead of more famously as the antagonist in the Tournament of the Sparrowhawk. Also interesting is King Arthur’s pangs of guilt...

    looking up Edern ap Nudd, there is an extant, fragmentary romance about him. The primary plot follows an interesting folk formula that can be summarized:

    Arthur is jealous of Edern because Guinevere mentions that she finds him attractive. While adventuring, they find Edern’s true love in the woods who relates news of two giants in a castle surrounded by heads on poles. Arthur seizes on this quest in a bid to encompass Edern’s death. Edern enters the castle but contrary to Arthur’s plans, he slays the giants. Sir Kay then gives Edern foul water, which renders the hero unconscious, as if dead. Arthur, now remorseful, grieves Edern’s apparent death, then leaves. Two Irish knights find Edern and heal him.

    Although an Anglo-Norman tale, it seems to parallel William of Malmesbury’s account. Now, as stated, the ‘man who sets hard tasks to slay his helper, only to come to admire him’ is a folk motif, but doesn’t mean it isn’t also an ancient Welsh mytheme. Stories like it can be also be seen in Old and Middle Irish texts, as well as the Classical Greek myth of Bellerophon and Iobates.

    The Joy of the Court/Hedge of Mist is an entirely different can of worms, everything about it only muddles clarity on the subject of the tale’s origins.

    It’s very much fun being able to discuss this with you, as someone who also shares a passion for Celtic myths and legends, so thank you for letting me share! What do you think about all this?

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  3. The issue of origins is a difficult one because There is always somewhere further back we might go (if we could) to discover where elements of a text emerged from myth, folklore or individual interpretation, or indeed behind these from the sources of all inspiration which are the gifts of the gods. It used to be thought that the mythical origins of medieval tales like those in the Mabinogion collection could be reconstructed. Few scholars now think this is a viable option for their research though many in the pagan community seek such revelations in visionary journeys and oher forms of direct inspiration. We can certainly find evidence for mythological origins, and identify characters as embodiments of divine figures in earlier mythological stories, but of course those stories trhemselves would have developed through prehistory so it is not always wise to look for a fixed point in the opast when the origin myth existed in a ‘pure’ state.

    So part of the point of the Geraint post was to show that certain elements of Iron-Age mythology were still discoverable in it, but that it also worked as a mythological narrative in terms of its significance for a medieval audience as well as conforming to other conventions for the presentation of Arthurian romance in the Middle Ages.

    Writers of such romances often blended traditional oral tale elements alongside material taken from other narratives and their own innovations. They may have had other motivating factors driving their narrative in addition to th desire to tell a good story, but if we are interesting in mythological content we will want to ask the question ‘How far was the author aware of mythological significance and how effective is the incorporation of such material into an ongoing mythological narrative?’

    We may also find mythological elements in the work of ‘historians’ and other commentators such as William of Malmesbury, Gerald of Wales, Geoffrey of Monmouth and others, or find the stories re-shaped as in the romance of Edern ap Nudd where the same events are ascribed to different characters. In each case we may say what Nennius was reputed to have said “I have made a heap of all that I could find’, or we might more imaginatively identify a pattern and shape that is significant for us and attempt to maintain and continue a tradition into one that meets the needs of our time, as others have done before us.

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  4. Thank you for such a thoughtful response to my question, I really do feel honored! Some of the elegance of your reasoning and sentiments is inspired, it could be a post itself, completely as is! I do agree that this sort of inquiry is unknowable, obviously, and comparative study of mythology to trace lost Iron Age Celtic beliefs can lead the seeker down a fathomless rabbit hole. I should say though, somewhat tangentially to your points, I don’t think that it’s true that academia’s espoused cautionary outlook is one that it truly believes, some of the most judgmental scholars like Bondarenko or Higham lapse into wild constructive speculation. Now please understand I enjoy reading them and I’ve learned a lot from them and others like them, but it’s natural for anyone, even hidebound academics, who devote some time towards a topic to develop an opinion on it, and frankly it’s fun and gratifying to make one’s opinions known. It also seems like the (supposed) closed view is making a shift towards openness, I mean, ‘current views’ are pendulous things, no ideology has a never ending floruit, of course, and younger academics like Jackson Crawford or Isolde Carmody for example are at least somewhat open to what would be called ‘reconstruction’. And that’s good, it seems to me pretty reasonable to investigate the beliefs of definite times and groups, like Iron Age Celts, when it’s stressed that these matters are not absolutely certain. Once again it’s also fun, it would be a disservice and detrimental to Celtic Studies to chase out such entertaining, invigorating challenges that inspire the mind.
    The question of authorial awareness of mythological elements is a great one! Enide, suggested as a sovereignty goddess, springs to mind.
    Carrying on traditions is a good and valuable thing I think, thank you again for such a good discussion! You are really a gentlemanly host!

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What do you think?