Friday, 7 January 2011

Fairy Folk of Glastonbury

Glastonbury Tor has a long standing association with the fairy folk, as well as it's associations with early Christianity, Arthurian legends, the Isle of Avalon, and the doorway to Annwn - the Celtic otherworld. Perhaps it's most famous fairy story is that of the meeting between St Collen and Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the fairy folk and Lord of Annwn. Below is the story, as told in the end notes of the 1906 edition of Lady Guest's translation of the Mabinogion:

"A very curious legend, in which Gwyn ab Nudd bears a conspicuous part, is contained in the Life of St. Collen (Buchedd Collen), which is printed in a collection of Welsh remains, entitled the Greal. This Saint was the son of Gwynawc, ab Caledawc, ab Cawrdav, ab Caradawc Vreichvras, and having distinguished himself greatly in foreign countries by his zeal and piety, he returned to Britain and became Abbot of Glastonbury ; after a time Collen desired to lead a life of greater austerity than his high office at Glastonbury permitted ; so he departed thence, and went forth to preach to the people. The impiety, however, which he met with distressed him so much, that at length he withdrew to a mountain, " where he made himself a cell under the shelter of a rock, in a remote and secluded spot

"And as he was one day in his cell, he heard two men conversing about Gwyn ab Nudd, and saying that he was king of Annwn and of the Fairies. And Collen put his head out of his cell, and said to them, 'Hold your tongues quickly, those are but Devils.' — Hold thou thy tongue,' said they, I thou shalt receive a reproof from him.' And Collen shut his cell as before.

"And, soon after, he heard a knocking at the door of his cell, and some one inquired if he were within. Then said Collen, 'I am St. Collen, who is it that asks?' 'It is I, a messenger from Gwyn ab Nudd, the king of Annwn, to command thee to come and speak with him on the top of the hill at noon.'

"But Collen did not go. And the next day behold the same messenger came, ordering Collen to go and speak with the king on the top of the hill at noon.

"But Collen did not go. And the third day behold the same messenger came, ordering Collen to go and speak with the king on the top of the hill at noon. ' And if thou dost not go, Collen, thou wilt be the worse for it'

"Then Collen, being afraid, arose, and prepared some holy water, and put it in a flask at his side, and went to the top of the hill. And when he came there, he saw the fairest castle he had ever beheld, and around it the best appointed troops, and numbers of minstrels, and every kind of music of voice and string, and steeds with youths upon them the comeliest in the world, and maidens of elegant aspect, sprightly, light of foot, of graceful apparel, and in the bloom of youth ; and every magnificence becoming the court of a puissant sovereign. And he beheld a courteous man on the top of the castle, who bade him enter, saying that the king was waiting for him to come to meat. And Collen went into the castle, and when he came there, the king was sitting in a golden chair. And he welcomed Collen honourably and desired him to eat, assuring him that, besides what he saw, he should have the most luxurious of every dainty and delicacy that the mind could desire, and should be supplied with every drink and liquor that his heart could wish ; and that there should be in readiness for him every luxury of courtesy and service, of banquet and of honourable entertainment, of rank and of presents : and every respect and welcome due to a man of his wisdom.

"I will not eat the leaves of the trees,' said Collen. 'Didst thou ever see men of better equipment than those in red and blue?' asked the king. "Their equipment is good enough,' said Collen, 'for such equipment as it is.' "What kind of equipment is that?' said the king." Then said Collen, 'The red on the one part signifies burning, and the blue on the other signifies coldness.' And with that Collen drew out his flask, and threw the holy water on their heads, whereupon they vanished from his sight, so that there was neither castle, nor troops, nor men, nor maidens, nor music, nor song, nor steeds, nor youths, nor banquet, nor the appearance of any thing whatever, but the green hillocks."

Other versions of the above story suggest that the events took place at Llangollen in Wales instead. Considering how long ago the events are said to have taken place, it's hardly surprising that so many variations exist!


Having spent the first 27 years of my life in Somerset, to say I've visited Glastonbury a few times would be a bit of an understatement! I've visited few places with such magic and beauty, and I think Glastonbury will probably always be my favourite place to be. Whilst visiting my family over the festive season, I popped along to Glastonbury and it was one of my most magical visits yet. Most of the snow had melted but some remained in the shadows, the trees were covered in frosty icing, and a thick misty fog had enveloped the tor. One minute the tor was there, and the next it had gone, hidden behind the mist! It was indeed as if this world had passed and another stood in its place, peaceful and silent, and filled with wonder.

Little imagination was needed to see the mystical fairy landscapes and imagine the fairies trooping out of the fog and into our world, and although I didn't meet Gwyn himself, I did have a lovely visit from some hungry crows who politely asked if i'd mind sharing my breakfast with them. Who could refuse such an offer!

Also worth a visit in Glastonbury are Gog and Magog, a pair of enchanting ancient Oak trees. These beautiful gnarled old trees are full of stories to share, and i wouldn't be surprised at all if there are a few fairies hiding in between the roots. I didn't get a chance to visit them this time, but here are a couple of photos I took of them on a previous visit when the weather was a bit warmer and the trees a little greener.


Sources & Further Information
The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest
Glastonbury Pilgrim Centre, Gog & Magog
Gwyn - Ancient God of Glastonbury, Yuri Leitch

10 comments:

Valkrye said...

Hello, Just wanted to tell you what a lovely and interesting blog you have. I have only just found it this evening while searching for an image and was so pleased to find your blog instead! Hope you will continue to post your travels , investigations and wonderful evocative photos . I have e-mailed a friend about your blog as well, so you now have two followers for certain. Look forward to your next posting and think your idea of following up some of the U.K faerie legends and lore is a superb idea. All the best Valkrye

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you so much Valkrye! Means a lot to me to hear that you enjoy reading my blog, and I love it when people stumble across it by accident, I haven't really advertised it anywhere so glad to know there are readers out there! So many of the legends seem to be buried in dusty old books that are hard to find and hopefully by putting them online they won't get lost and people will remember them! :)

Valkrye said...

You are most welcome and truly a delight to stumble across both an intelligently written blog and beautifully illustrated but never descends into 'cutesy' or fluffy, the way some other well known 'faerie or fairy related blogs do. In a way, and it is selfish I know, but like the fact your blog is not well advertised ~ it is like coming across a special treasure that is known only to you( or a few like-minded others at most.) I really just wanted to let you know that someone (and likely more someones) are actually reading and truly enjoying what you are writing as well as your sensitive , very lovely photos .) in hopes you will continue to wander and write more for your blog! Very pleased too that you actually read my comment and it did not get 'lost" . I have read many of the books you refer to and it is especially lovely now to actually see and read more about some of legends. It adds another dimension to them. Are you familiar with the book on the legends and folklore of Herefordshire by Mary Ella Leather? Happy wanderings and explorations !

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you again for the lovely kind words :) Definitely planning lots more wanderings for the coming year, and more research to uncover long forgotten stories! I haven't read the book you mentioned, from the title it sounds right up my street though. I'm terrible at hoarding books and filling my shelves up a lot quicker than I get around to reading them! It doesn't help that I have a really terrible memory and can never remember where I read certain stories when I need to re-read them again! All part of the fun though! :)

Valkrye said...

As regards books, we sound much the same~ I have plenty that I have not got round to reading yet, but hope to , bit by bit. I think the book I mentioned has been reprinted and is now in paperback. It is a truly wonderful and almost definitive book on the fae in folklore and legend in that part of the country. Will look forward to stopping by in future to see what your latest finds are.

Helena said...

Thank you very much for posting this. Glastonbury looks like a beautiful, mysterious place!I'd love to be able to visit it!
Those oak trees are stunning and very inspirational.
Also, thanks for telling that story. It was highly amusing.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks Helena! Hope you get a chance to visit Glastonbury one day too! :)

McGlen said...

Hi, I'm an Italian amateur resercher about Faery Folklore in the British Isles and Ireland. this august i make a trip in South England, Cornwall and Scotland, and I think that your post abount Glastonbury are very useful for travel. Can You give me some information about faery folklore in the Dartmoor area? Please writhe me something at celtoligures@gmail.com
Thank You very much and sorry for my English. Bye!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi McGlen! Lovely to meet another folklorist :) By strange coincidence, I'm going to be spending a week around Dartmoor in September, and will be hopefully visiting a few faery sites while I'm there! Give me a few days and i'll email you with some more info on sites you may like to visit :)

McGlen said...

Ok, thank you so much for your help! I'm waiting for your news. Bye!