People have throughout the ages held a fascination for caves. A wide variety of traditions associated with caves occurs in Welsh folklore and the stories may concern smuggling, secret places where heroes are sleeping or fugitives have hidden, treasure has been concealed or mythical beasts have had their lairs. There are many caves in Wales where King Arthur and his knights are said to be sleeping, waiting to be called on when their country has need of their services. Such caves are supposed to exist on Lliwedd near Snowdon or at Craig y Dinas in the Neath Valley. We are also informed that King Arthur's treasure is buried in a cave at Llangwyfan on Anglesey and his magical adviser is imprisoned in a cave yet to be discovered on Myrddin's Hill near Carmarthen.
The history of the Celtic people goes back many centuries. The Celts transmitted their culture orally, never writing down history or facts. This accounts for the extreme lack of knowledge about them prior to their contact with the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. Having left no written records themselves, is not always easy to sort out. The bulk of what is written about them comes from observations made by their enemies or by those who would somehow rule them. To ascribe complete factuality to these accounts is, at best, fool hardy. Our best information comes from archeological research but even this is open to wide interpretation.
Long Meg and Her Daughters is a Bronze Age stone circle near Penrith in Cumbria, North West England. It was constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3,300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. The stone circle is the sixth-biggest example known from this part of north-western Europe. It primarily consists of 59 stones (of which 27 remain upright) set in an oval shape measuring 340ft (100 m) on its long axis. There may originally have been as many as 70 stones. Long Meg herself is a 12ft (3.6 m) high monolith of red sandstone 80ft (25 m) to the southwest of the circle made by her Daughters.
The monument is 109m x 93m in diameter. Long Meg herself stands 25m outside the circle, 6m above the farthest stone in the circle, " and is the tallest of the 69 stones at c.3.8m high and weighing c.9 tonnes." The Long Meg monolith is of local red sandstone, most likely from the River Eden or the nearby Lazonby hills, whereas the circle stones are of rhyolite and are glacial erratics. Two large blocks stand to the east and west and there are two extra 'portal' stones placed to the south-west. The placement of Long Meg is in the alignment between the centre of the circle and the point of the midwinter sunset. The south-west face of Long Meg has crystals in it, whereas the face looking towards the circle has spirals and other rock art inscribed on it.
Sir William Dugdale reported that there were 'two barrows of cobble-stones, nine or ten feet high' in the centre of the circle. It is thought that these were later burials using cobbles from the surrounding area.
Four of the stones in the circle appear to be non-local and are formed of quartz crystal. They seem to have been deliberately selected and placed at specific points in the circle that mark certain calendrical events (sunsets and solstices related to the four seasons, for example). They work by standing outside the circle at the stone directly opposite to the quartz stone concerned. One alignment, at Samhain / All Souls' Day, may involve Long Meg herself, a portal stone and one of the quartz stones.
The use of different coloured stones also seems to be significant - red, white and blue/gray predominate. There might also be a red 'equinox stone' on the east side of the Long Meg circle (as at Swinside and Castlerigg), involved in the Autumn and Vernal equinox sunrises and sunsets. The Long Meg stones may be involved not just with Solar timings, but also with Lunar ones as well (most northerly/southerly Moon rises and sets).
The Long Meg monolith has motifs on the face looking towards the circle arranged in three sections. The markings include: in the centre, a cup at the centre of three rings, a spiral of four turns and various concentric arcs; in the lower section, three faint figures at the left-hand corner, an anti-clockwise spiral, cup and ring and various concentric arcs; in the upper section are faint rings, ovoids, spirals and other markings. Some of the stones in the circle itself have artificial markings on them as well.
Dating and purpose
The large ditched enclosure lying immediately to the north of the circle is probably Neolithic. In this respect, it may be of the same date as other enclosures found in Cumbria that include: Carrock Fell, Skelmore Heads, Howe Robin, and Green How. If the stone circle is later than the enclosure, it is likely to be of early Bronze Age. There is the possibility that the Long Meg monolith was not contemporary with the stone circle.
Long Meg was something more than a burial place. However, the exact nature of the purpose of the monument is still a matter of conjecture. Clare summarises the various arguments concerning types, purpose, construction, size, layout, origins and dates, of Cumbrian stone circles and other monuments. His conclusion seems to be that the nature of the monument, and others like it (such as at Swinside), suggests that they are "places where people came together, probably at certain times of the year. Amongst activities at such times, we might envisage ritual, social exchange and trade." The "certain times of the year" mentioned here would probably have been calculated using the suggested predictive calendar as outlined by Hood. The actual building of the circle, perhaps taking place in stages over time, might in itself have been one of the purposes of the monument.
There a a few legends that surround the stones. The most well known is that they were once a coven of witches who were turned to stone by Michael Scott, a wizard from Scotland. It is said the stones cannot be counted - however if anyone is able to count them twice and come to the same total - the spell will be broken or it will bring very bad luck. Another legend states that if you walk round the circles and count the number of stones correctly, then put your ear to Long Meg, you will hear her whisper. The name is believed to come from a local witch, Meg of Meldon, who was alive in the early 17th century. It is said that from a certain angle, the Long Meg stone resembles the profile of a witch. A giant's bone and body believed to be buried there is though to have been large animal bones found at the site.
Pronounced "manan-awn mak lir" (Barinthus) Manannan Mac Lir is one of the most popular deities in Celtic mythology. He is Lord of the sea and of the three great waves of Ireland. He was the son of the mystical god Lir and and the husband of Fand. His Welsh equivalent was Manawydan ap Llyr. Sons were Ilbhreach and Gaiar.
Ancient Irish history and legends have come down to us through history thanks to the diligent chronicling of the early Christian monks. The best record of the rich Celtic mythological tradition is contained in the four cycles drawn up by twelfth century Christian scribes:
Most nature fairies are the descendents of pre-Christian Gods and Goddesses, or of the spirits of streams, lakes and trees. Black Annis, a blue faced said to haunt the Dane Hills of Leicestershire, and Gentle Annie, who governs storms in the Scottish Lowlands may be descended from the Irish Goddess Danu (Anu), mother of Irelands Cave Fairies. Their Highland sister Cailleach Bheur or Blue Hag, seems to be the spirit of Winter. She freezes the ground by stricking it with her staff, and loses her power when spring comes.
Late one night, so the story goes, a great doctor, who lived near Lough Neagh, was awoke by the sound of a carriage driving up to his door, followed by a loud ring. Hastily throwing on his clothes, the doctor ran down, when he saw a little sprite of a page standing at the carriage door, and a grand gentleman inside.
"Oh, doctor, make haste and come with me," exclaimed the gentleman. "Lose no time, for a great lady has been taken ill, and she will have no one to attend her but you. So come along with me at once in the carriage."
When Lanty M'Clusky married he set about building a house for his bride, and chose for it's site a beautiful green circle such as the faeries might choose as a playground. Although he was warned against this he thought the place was much too nice and he had no intention of building elsewhere no matter what the faeries thought of it.
On a certain day when Finn mac Cumaill rose at early morn in Almu, in Leinster, and sat upon the grass-green plain, having neither servant nor attendant with him, there followed him two of his people; that is, Oisin the son of Minn, and Diorruing the son of Dobar O' Baoiscne. Oisin Spoke, and what he said was:
"What is the cause of this early rising of thine, O Finn?" said he.
Tomnahurich is a steep wooded hill just on the outskirts of Inverness. It is said to be a fairy hill into which people could be lured often never to return. This tale of two fiddlers recounts the story of just such an unfortunate pair…
The two travelling Fiddlers were staying in Inverness and they made their living by playing in pubs or at social events. They were very good at what they did but had been having a hard time making ends meet, when they were approached by an old man who offered to pay them well for a nights work. Naturally delighted the two fiddlers accepted and followed the old man to Tomnahurich, coming to a stone doorway that they had never seen before, which appeared to lead directly into the side of the hill. A little worried but thinking of what they would earn the two fiddlers followed the old man through the doorway and down winding, torch lit, passages, arriving in a huge and beautiful hall filled with young, beautiful people.
A Story from Celtic sources
As retold by Beth Vaughan
The King, Sir Orfeo, could play the harp like no one else. When he played, birds stopped singing, just to listen. It was a small harp, one he could tuck under his arm and take with him wherever wanted.
The King of the Fairies - From J. Bowker, Goblin Tales of Lancashire, p. 52.
On the high road from Manchester to Stockport, where Levenshulme Church now stands, there lived many years ago an old man named Daniel Burton. (His grandson was afterwards for many years Rector of All Souls' Manchester.) "Old Dannel" was amazingly lucky. All that he did turned out well, so that in time it began to be said that he must be in league with the Devil.
The story of the Lambton worm is perhaps the most famous of the dragon/worm/wyvern stories that abound in the north of England, alleged to have inspired Bram Stokers final novel “The Lair of the White Worm”. There are many similar stories from the region including the Laidley worm of Bamburgh, the Longwitton Dragon of Northumberland, The Dragon of Loschy wood near Stonegrave, Helmsley, the less well-known Handale (near Loftus) serpent, the Sexhowe dragon and the Sockburn worm which inspired Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” written in Croft in 1855.
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"Amergin" is the word as it has been written in English, but the actual spelling of this name is "Amhairghin". It means "Birth of Song". According to legend, Amhairghin was one of the leaders of the "Men of Míl", who battled the Tuatha Dé Danann (or the Faery Clan) for possession of Ireland. As you can see for yourself, the Song of Amergin is, in itself, a self-claiming by Amergin of this island, as well as a challenge to the Tuatha Dé Danann, who were considered to be the gods.
The Torness Trows - an eyewitness account
This account was written in response to an article on trows published in a Scottish magazine in the 1960s. It came from an Englishman who had spent nearly two years on the island of Hoy during the Second World War:
"One stormy day in winter I was walking or struggling along the cliff top at Torness. The wind was high and howled about, low-lying, swirling clouds part-enveloped the land in misty rain. At times the pressure was so great that I was forced to bend and clutch at the heather to retain a footing.
The Wild Hunt was a folk myth prevalent in former times across Northern, Western and Central Europe. The fundamental premise in all instances is the same: a phantasmal group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting, horses, hounds, etc., in mad pursuit across the skies or along the ground, or just above it. It is often a way to explain thunderstorms.
When the winter winds blow and the Yule fires are lit, from the north of Scandinavia down to Switzerland, it is best to stay indoors, safely shut away from the dark forest paths and the wild heaths. Those who wander out by themselves during the Yule-nights may hear a sudden rustling through the tops of the trees -- a rustling that might be the wind, though the rest of the wood is still. But then the barking of dogs fills the air, with the hunters behind whooping "Wod! Wod!" a man's voice cries from above, "Midden in dem Weg!" and the host of wild souls sweeps down, fire flashing from the eyes of the black hounds and hooves of the black horses.
This particularly sinister folktale of the wild hunt is from Devon, and is based in the Dartmoor area, a place full of tales of the supernatural, especially the wild hunt.
One wild stormy night a farmer was returning home from Widecombe, somewhat worse the wear from the strong local beverages brewed on-site. The wind raged, and the rain beat down on him, forcing him to pull his hood over his face, and to wrap his jacket tight around him.