Geraint and Enid: Coming of Age and Sovereignty in the Arthurian Legends

by JoHarrington

Also known as Geraint Son of Erbin, this tale from the Arthurian Romances looks like the usual Sovereignty story. But there's much more going on than that!

No Celtic legend tells its story at face value. Laden with symbolism, many are thinly veiled deity tales, while others have real history at their root. Some treat the two as indivisible.

The worst culprits are those linked into the sprawling collection of Arthurian lore. Those legends are layered with politics, and the debris additions of changing fashions and fads through the centuries. This is by no means the fault only of ancient authors. We're still doing it today.

In the sure knowledge that plenty of cultural context will be needed, how do we read the story of Geraint and Enid?

The Celtic Writers of the Arthurian Geraint Legends

There are two contexts required to fully appreciate the tales of Geraint ac Enid and Geraint, Son of Erbin. Medieval Welsh audiences would have understood it all.

It was not the Welsh, but the French who first committed to print a version of the legend of Geraint and Enid.

Chrétien de Troyes penned his courtly love epic of Erec et Enide, nearly two hundred years before it appeared in the Welsh language. For all its trappings of a French Medieval court, he had based his tale on a Celtic legend, and set the action in Wales.

The Welsh bards would have long since read Chrétien's prose. But they probably also had access to versions approximating his lost Celtic source material.

Almost certainly there would have been oral traditions of the legend before anyone ever wrote it down. Those circulating amongst the Welsh could assume a basic understanding of Celtic Pagan spirituality, even long after the people converted to Christianity.

The Goddess of Sovereignty has her stake in this story.

Two Celtic versions of the stories have survived the centuries. They merged to become the tale known to us as Geraint, Son of Erbin, famously retold in the collection of Welsh legends known as The Mabinogion.

Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (The White Book of Rhydderch) recorded its version of Geraint ac Enid somewhere around 1350. Historians believe that monks from Strata Florida Abbey - near to Aberystwyth - copied existing manuscripts into a single volume.

That collection was commissioned by Rhydderch ap Ieuan Llwyd, a local nobleman who lent his name to the place where he lived - Parcrhydderch, in Llangeitho, Ceredigion.

If the dating is correct, then Rhydderch would have been around twenty-five years old at the time. He was (or later became) the Lord of two territories, Genau'r Glyn and Tregaron. It might be expected that he could therefore identify quite strongly with Geraint's position, as a young man being asked to give up his servitude in Arthur's court, in order to take up responsibilities in his own land.

Medieval authors wrote to please their patrons, or else the rich paid to be etched into the legends.

Rhydderch's interest might have been further whetted by the fact that Chrétien de Troyes' version identified the territory of Erec (Geraint) as being in Ceredigion (Cardigan). But if so, he didn't follow through on that. Rhydderch's legendary Geraint ruled in Dumnonia - modern day Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Brittany - just as the histories suggest he may have done in life.

Welsh audiences would have known their history too. They could read, or hear these stories performed, within the context of the known past and what the bard had to say about the present patron.

Even in the 21st century, tales from The Mabinogion are used to bring Welsh communities together, and enflame them with a sense of their own history.

The second Welsh version - which merged with Rhydderch's in The Mabinogion - was written around 1382. Llyfr Coch Hergest (The Red Book of Hergest) is the heftiest collection of ancient Celtic stories in existence. In terms of Welsh heritage, it represents a mini library in itself, preserving the greatest number of our legends.

Llyfr Coch Hergest was penned in Ynysforgan (Morgan's Island), close to Swansea, in Gower. Many hands went into creating the manuscript, all working under the supervision (or patronage) of Hopcyn ap Tomas ab Einion.

Hopcyn was seen as somewhat of an expert in Celtic spirituality and the bardic tradition. In 1403, he was summoned to Carmarthen by Owain Glyn Dŵr, during the latter's uprising that freed Wales from English rule. Hopcyn took a kind of Merlin position to Owain's Arthur, interpreting prophetic verses and consulting histories for campaign advice. Owain called Hopcyn the 'maister of the Brut', i.e. an authority on the chronicles of Britain - religious and secular alike; a bardic role that would have been the preserve of the Head Druid in pre-Christian society.

Both Hopcyn and Owain were Christians, but their observances here owed much more to the Druidism of their ancient forefathers. The fact that they not only knew about Pagan Welsh ideals, but placed importance upon acting within them, proves just how prevalent such beliefs were in early 15th century Wales.

In short, the legend of Geraint ac Enid can be read within the context of Welsh Paganism, despite the fact that was committed into print centuries after Christianity came to Britain. Nor would Welsh readers and audiences for recitals need any prompting to see the clues inherent in the narrative.

The veneer is Medieval courtly love. The loud and clear subtext is the Goddess of Sovereignty testing Her champion, before supporting or rejecting his claim to rule a nation. Hopcyn would have ensured that the Celtic Pagan heritage was kept intact throughout.

More Modern Editions of The Mabinogion

Retaining the essence of the original stories, these Welsh legends keep on being updated to make sense to new generations of readers.

Geraint ac Enid as a Sovereignty Tale

Medieval Welsh audiences wouldn't have viewed Enid as a human woman. She was patently a Goddess of the land.

Forget all you know about this legend from the tellings of Chrétien de Troyes and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

The ancient Welsh had no knowledge of courtly love, nor were their Medieval descendants too enamored with Anglo-French notions of chivalry. Celtic nations experienced the dark side of chivalric warrior knights, as their lands were conquered and their culture suppressed.

French poet Chrétien de Troyes was the first to commit the legend into print. He based it upon a lost Celtic source (probably Breton), but changed the name of Geraint to the more continental sounding Erec.

He almost certainly also tore out many of the supernatural elements, which would have betrayed the divine origin of Enid. In doing so, he created a tale wherein a docile human woman was treated appallingly.

Yet even in Chrétien's version, a careful reading reveals something other than an epic tale of courtly love. Perusing Erec et Enide within the context of Celtic mythology illuminates details overlooked, or deemed irrelevant and incompatible with the chivalric theme, by the author.

For example, why would it be so important that Enide is first seen dressed in white? And that once she's entrenched in the court, her attire is suddenly described as red?  Moreover, the colors of her horses are described in excruciating detail, as is the one that she chooses to ride.

During the final sequence, there's a line which speeds by so fast that it barely registers. Enide's mount is black and white, with a green line separating the two. When did you last see a horse whose natural pigmentation included the color green?

These are all the colors of the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty. White before a potential ruler successfully claims his land; red once he has become ritually wedded to it; black when territorial battles are fought, or one ruler otherwise gives way to a successor.

Green symbolizes fertility - seen elsewhere in the Green Man - a ruler whose connection to the land is now so divinely ordained, that he can rely upon the support of its Goddess. Nor was this an idle matter.

The continued prosperity of each tribe was bound up in the bounty of the land. That ritual marriage meant that the people could expect great harvests. In purely practical terms, this proved the chieftain's prowess in farming and hunting, finding ways that maximized the stockpile of resources yielded from within his tribal borders. Even today, we'd call that land husbandry. It's hardly a huge step from there into the divine rendering of that ruler as husband of the land.

Celtic tribes would look to their Goddess of Sovereignty, in Her warlike aspect wearing black, to help defend their borders from erstwhile invasion.

The most famous example there is Irish Sovereignty Goddess Morrighan, who took on Ulster's Cuchulain in Her guise as Queen Maeve of Connaught.

Divine intervention aside, a wise ruler knew well the boundaries and features of his land.

He could discern when another tribe was sneaking bits of territory from around the edges (the laws of Hywell Dda made this a dire offense in the ancient constitution of Wales).

His intimate knowledge of the land meant the terrain could be co-opted to provide an edge in battle, as Robert the Bruce demonstrated so decisively at Bannockburn.

At the core of Geraint ac Enid is undoubtedly the chronicle of a ruler (Geraint) becoming ritually wedded to his land's Sovereign Goddess (Enid).  Even if the story wasn't already bursting to the brim with tell-tale symbolism, there's a clue in her very name.

Celtic legends have a tendency to be very literal in reference to half-hidden deities and other supernatural beings.

Enid has its etymology in a Brythonic Celtic word eneid. It's pronounced exactly the same. It means breath, soul or life, in a sacred context. This might be illuminated by throwing in some related words:

  • Eneidiog means to have a soul or be animated by passion;
  • Eneidiol pertains both to being psychic and truly being alive (as opposed to merely surviving);
  • Eneideg translates as 'psychology' - the Celts believed that the soul or essence of a person resided in their heads;
  • Eneidio is to 'endure with soul'.
  • Eneinio describes the act of anointing in a ritual setting. (Yr eneiniad olaf - extreme unction)

Some writers have taken it much more literally than that. In Southern Brittany, there's a region once called Bro Ereg by the Celtic Bretons. The French renamed it Broërec. Its capital city of Vannes has led to it frequently being referred to as Vannetais. In Breton, that would be Gwened and Bro Wened.

Did Chrétien de Troyes derive the names of Erec and Enid from Broërec and Bro Wened?

If so, then their status was maintained. Erec/Ereg derive from the name of a 6th century Breton warlord, Waroch. He ruled over the territory known as Bro Wened (Enid). This identifies Enid as the Sovereign Goddess of the Veneti tribe. 

The Welsh versions place Geraint in his own historical territory, in the British region now defined as Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. There Enid is the Dumnonii Goddess of Sovereignty.

It's tantalizing to ponder whether Chrétien's Breton source material already referred to the couple as Ereg and Gwened/Wened/Enid. The tale could have been more generic than supposed by the way that Geraint's name became indelibly attached. It may have applied wherever an erstwhile ruler needed to connect to a place grown alien to him.

One thing is certain, the Breton legend was blatantly about Sovereignty too. Chrétien couldn't ignore it, so he subverted it.

Books about the Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty

Enide as the Goddess of Sovereignty in the French Romances

French poet Chrétien de Troyes retained the symbolism of a Celtic Goddess in 'Erec et Enide', but redirected the underlying message.

Medieval French and Anglo-Norman writers tended to misinterpret Sovereignty.

There is some debate as to whether this was done deliberately (as an act of cultural suppression) or unwittingly (displaying a lack of understanding regarding Celtic spirituality).

Remember that these are legends penned by, and for, a people who had already conquered Celtic territories. Some smugness might be supposed, if they did grasp the concept.

From the 12th century on, it became fashionable to relate questions of Sovereignty to the person, not the land, as a facet of courtly love. Though authors all retained the fact that this pertained to women, not men.

Chaucer's Wife of Bath is a much more blatant example than Erec et Enide.

Itself an appropriation of the Celtic tale of Gwalchmai (Gawain) and the Loathly Lady (Ragnell), the hero is asked to discover the thing that all women want. The answer is control over their own lives.

Women demand Sovereignty over men.

For some this might be construed as a warning against allowing women to manipulate via pillow talk. For the Romance writers, like Chrétien de Troyes, this theme fitted in nicely within the broader context of courtly love codes.

There knights pined away in longing for their heart's desire. They worshiped their lady-love with self-destructive passion. Disdaining all manly pursuits in order to court their heroine.

Those ladies of the courtly love tales stood untouched at the center of such adoration. They were held to impossibly high standards, more akin to divine than real women. Each one was described as being beautiful, gentle, soft of mien and distant. All were as pure and virtuous as the Virgin Mary.

At a single glance, anyone could tell that our heroine was nobly born and unworthy of Earthly pursuits, even if she was shabbily dressed. Perfect strangers rushed to serve her and love-sick knights worshiped at the shrine of her.

A Goddess-like lady, whose mere existence exerted control over the lives of men, and whose word or wishes inspired quests.

This courtly love ideal naturally flowed into other codes of chivalry. Any insult to her - real or perceived - demanded vengeance on her behalf. Knights waged war upon each other to defend their damsel's honor.

Thus was Sovereignty realized in the Romances, as females ruling their men.

Chrétien de Troyes portrayed both Guinevere and Enide in this way.

At the very beginning of the story, Erec set out on a quest to avenge an insult to Guinevere. During his battle on her behalf, he met Enide. She took over, in his affections, as his new Sovereign lady.

Dressed in white, she was taken home to become his wife. Now the queen of her brave knight's heart, she changed into a red gown. Erec neglected all manly pursuits to linger in her room, his whole life taken up in the worship of his wife. Her control was absolute.

But then the censure of the court led to Erec feeling the need to prove his masculinity, thus rejecting Enide's rule to the extent that he forbids her to even speak to him.

She is forced to exert her will quite openly, taking the initiative in order to save Erec's life. Until  Enide finally grasps control over her own destiny by choosing between two potential husbands - Erec or Limors. Proving without a doubt that she favors Erec causes him to rise up in her defense.

Only at the end, when Erec falls in love with her all over again, does Enide get to wear a red gown, while mounted upon a black, white and green horse.

She's once more the Goddess of Sovereignty, as defined by French and Anglo-Norman writers.

Courtly Love and the Goddess of Sovereignty

Discover more about how Medieval Romance writers harnessed Celtic landscape spirituality to the French desire for supremacy in love.
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Enid as Goddess of Sovereignty in the Welsh Legends

The context is set from the very first scene. Celtic audiences were primed to hear how Geraint claimed his territory to rule in accord with its deity.

Chrétien de Troyes's lingering upon the colors of Enide's clothing isn't present in the Welsh rendering of the tale. It didn't need to be, because Celtic audiences weren't misdirected into viewing their Enid as a human being.

From the outset, the Celts were aware that She was the Goddess of Sovereignty.

Even though the tale weaves along similar lines to that told by the French poet, it ends up being a totally different story.

It's not even particularly about Enid. This is the legend of Geraint, son of Erbin, during a transitional time, whereby he went from being one of Arthur's followers to a chieftain in his own right. Enid is there to provide context and to ensure that our hero always remembers what's at stake.

Not a bride, but his ancestral lands and the continuing prosperity of his Dumnonii people.

The legend begins with a white hart being spotted in the forest. Arthur and all of his followers go to hunt it, but Geraint somehow missed his cue to saddle up and leave with them. Meanwhile Gwenhwyfar over-slept. Leaving late, she invites Geraint to travel with her, in a bid to catch up with the hunting party.

Listening to a Welsh bard relating this, audiences would already know the score. The appearance of the white hart (young stag) alone is the Celtic equivalent of somebody holding up a board reading, 'This is going to be a Sovereignty story, ok?'

Gwenhwyfar is herself a thinly disguised Goddess of Sovereignty. By escorting Geraint away from the court, into the direction of the white hart, she's pretty much telling us from the beginning that it's time for him to take up his responsibilities in his own realm.

It's unlikely that anyone would have missed the subtext so far, but if they did, then the trio they encounter in the forest proclaims it loud and clear.

Geraint, Gwenhwyfar and her maiden intercept a dwarf, a knight and a lady on a white horse upon the road. The maiden is sent to ask their names, but she's rebuked by the dwarf and struck across the face. Geraint rushes forward and demands an apology for the maiden, as well as knowledge of their names. He too is whipped on the face by the dwarf, who not only rudely refuses any information, but boasts that Geraint isn't worthy to know it.

Geraint aside, every person present is a Celtic deity, though it's never expressly stated.

The maiden, Gwenhwyfar and the lady on the horse are the Goddess of Sovereignty in Her triple aspect. Naturally they personify the land.

The dwarf is the Father God Beli Mawr, an ancestral deity of all Celtic people.

The knight is Edern ap Nudd, representing his own divine father Gwyn ap Nudd, God of the Underworld.

Like a length of interwoven Celtic knotwork, we have the land, the people and their spirituality working upon Geraint - initiating and witnessing the start of his journey. Within the context of the white stag, that's like a neon arrow has just been stamped over his head reading, 'this dude is about to become a ruler.'

Now all that Welsh audiences needed to know was where, and if that land's Sovereign Goddess would approve his claim.

Geraint rides on to 'avenge the insult to Gwenhwyfar's maid'. The whole sequence that follows doesn't occur in this world, but in the Otherworld. The hint is in the fact that the place is called Y Nwyl (the fog) and it's populated by Otherworldly figures, including the trio from the forest.

The nature of the place becomes clear when Geraint learns the details of the event taking place on the morrow. The Knight of the Sparrow-Hawk will lift said bird from a perch created from a silver rod (Arianrhod) and proclaim his lady the most beautiful in the land. If stated without challenge for three years running (three is a sacred number in Celtic mythology), then the land belongs to him.

In other words, it's a place for a claimant to declare their intent to rule, while wooing the Goddess of Sovereignty.

Moreover, there's a foreshadowing of the difficulties inherent in Geraint's own Dumnonii territory. It's a rich, welcoming land, full of happy people and plentiful resources, but three different men wish to rule it - Earl Ynwyl, his nephew and the Knight of the Sparrow-Hawk, aka Edern ap Nudd. Now Geraint is prepared to challenge them all.

Sovereignty steps forward in the form of Enid ferch Ynwyl (Soul, daughter of the Mists).

Her very first act is to take care of Geraint's horse, thus aligning herself with two more Celtic goddesses - Epona and Rhiannon. Throughout the rest of the tale, Enid will consistently be linked with horses, frequently acting as their groom.

Epona is a Fertility Goddess, but also rides Her horses to guide souls towards the afterlife. It's believed that Celtic chieftains had to ritually mate with a white horse in Her honor, thus She's also a Goddess of Sovereignty.

Rhiannon (aka Great Queen) also acts as Sovereignty incarnate. She demands more than life and death from her people. She connects this world with the Otherworld. Wisdom, truth and justice figure strongly in her legends, as does the motif of the 'wronged wife'.

Enid as Sovereignty is confirmed threefold. When she serves Geraint with drink and food (hospitality); when he wins the Sparrow-Hawk challenge in her name; and when he announces his wish to marry her.

Welsh listeners hearing the name Enid ferch Ynwyl, and spotting the blatant links to Epona and Rhiannon, would understand immediately that this isn't going to be your average Sovereignty story. It's not a tale of boy meets girl, boy impresses girl, boy becomes ruler.

Something much darker and psychologically wrought is about to take place.

This is soon confirmed. Leaving Ynwyl should be the end of the story. The ruler has secured the favor of Sovereignty, now all that's left is to take up his position at the head of his tribe. Enid even gets the white horse that's emblematic of her divine status.

But Geraint does two quite startling things. He orders Enid not to wear anything but her shift, i.e. not to clad herself in attire that would symbolize her changed aspect, as the divine wife of a nation's ruler. Then he does not take her home to Dumnonia.

Instead he asks that Gwenhwyfar clothe her. This could be his way of acknowledging Arthur's overlordship of Dumnonia, as High King of Britain, though that has never been historically proved. Otherwise, it's tantamount to declaring another Sovereign Goddess as superior to his own. This impression is reinforced by the fact that Geraint continues to reside in Arthur's court for three more years.

How can he be the land's true husband, if he's not even within his territorial borders?

Celtic Music from Dumnonia by Jim Causley

Geraint as Reluctant Ruler of Dumnonia

Some people aspire to greatness. Others have it thrust on them by their parents, with no regard to what they want from life, and with circumstances conspiring against them.

The issue is forced, when messengers arrive from Geraint's father.

Erbin states outright that he's now too old to effectively defend Dumnonia. His son is required to come home and take up his responsibilities as ruler.

Geraint's response is to let Arthur decide what to do.

For a moment there, the future of Dumnonia hangs in the balance. If Enid is with Geraint, then she's not with Erbin, hence the implication that all is not well in their native land. 

Spiritually, the tribe's ruler is dragging his feet and deferring all decisions.

Arthur is fond enough of Geraint to cover his folly with a serious helping hand. Arthur sends the erstwhile Dumnonii leader home, with a cohort capable of easing his transition.

Gawain (one of Arthur's own chief advisors) and Edern ap Nudd (still representing the interconnected Underworld) attend Geraint, alongside a group of experienced chieftains or their heirs. Together they ensure that Geraint is accepted by his people, knows his territory and faces no immediate challenge to his leadership, then they depart.

All fired up, Geraint enthusiastically consolidates his position as ruler, then seems to get bored. Significantly, we're told that he gives up on holding tournaments, because there's no-one there who can provide a decent challenge.

He's patently still hankering for his old life back with Arthur.

Geraint takes to hanging around with Enid, while neglecting his duties to his people. In short, his resentment at having to come home is such, that he considers his mere presence to constitute leadership. He does love his land, hence staying put, but as something abstract. It's not a soul connection worthy of his passion nor even his active participation.

It's his father, the old ruler, who still truly cares about their territory and tribe. He's attentive enough to see the vulnerabilities opening up, and he turns to Enid - the Goddess of Sovereignty - for help. Her distress signals that a power struggle could usurp Geraint as reluctant ruler.

We're told that Geraint misunderstood Enid's cry to mean that she'd already been unfaithful, i.e. that she'd already switched her divine support in favor of another claimant. But his interpretation wasn't too wide of the mark.

Enid had pretty much just given him notice that his indifference had to end. He had to learn to love Dumnonia body AND soul, accepting her favor not in arrogance as his right, but as something to be cherished for its own sake. He had to live and breathe the place. The Dumnonii had to mean more to him than Arthur's people.

The Goddess of Sovereignty would always choose the strongest and the best candidate to favor as chieftain. Geraint was that, hence she supported him still. But from now on, it wasn't enough to merely rule. His connection to the land had to be absolute.

Geraint understood. If he didn't fight hard for something that he didn't particularly want, then he would lose it. What followed was the reluctant ruler on a spiritual journey of discovery to find out if he cared.

Books about Dumnonia at the Time of Geraint ap Erbin

Dumnonia is largely understood to mean modern day Devon, but it incorporated part of Cornwall and Somerset too.

Geraint ap Erbin's Journey into the Underworld

Geraint and Enid's long ride across a landscape filled with Otherworldly challengers did not take place in Dumnonia, but within the psychic heart of it.

Geraint told his father that he was going to Lloegyr.

Usually we understand this to mean England - as in that part of Britain over-run by Angles, Saxons and Jutes, the boundary of which changes over time - but the magical landscape over which they roam does not look like anywhere in the physical world.

Geraint initiates up a psychic or Otherworldly trek, where he examine two things:

  • Whether he can still love his own land, even when it's viewed at its most ugly (Enid is told to wear her shabbiest dress and shut up);
  • Whether his land can still love him, even when he's being an immature git.

The conclusion won't be merely can he rule Dumnonia - he's well equipped to do that - but would he be prepared to die in defense of his people and his land?

Enid should never have been viewed as a human woman, but during this journey, she's fundamentally a piece of land on a horse. She IS Dumnonia.

As they set out, she represents all that Geraint resents about his situation. He's furious with her.  He wants her unspoken obeisance, even when he treats her with utter disdain, because it's taking all his will to even be there.

His heart belongs in Arthur's warband, where he was carefree and had fun doing precisely what he wanted to do without responsibilities. Geraint didn't want to put his youthful pursuits behind him, leaving the high status and famous place for what feels like a backwater in comparison. It feels like his life-style and surroundings were down-graded, even though his personal position has been elevated.

Geraint is like someone coming home from a long holiday, unable to settle again into the grind. Or a student returning after years of independence at University, only to have to fit around their parents' rules. Or a teenager, whose friends are all allowed to go to the party, but who is forced to stay home himself.

And in that state of mind, with his heart breaking in contemplation of a future just like this, he's asked to make a case for loving - on a deep soul level - the place where he now resides.

Read into his evolving perception of Enid the same for Dumnonia. When Geraint sleeps in exhaustion, but forces her to stay awake. He's both punishing her and being extremely selfish, putting his own needs before hers. But, as the journey progresses, he calls a rest because she looks tired. He's starting to consider her well-being.

Further along, he pities her. Then notices that she's suffering under his neglect, and eventually sees her beauty. All of this is foreshadowed in the landscape. His perception of his surroundings - dark, scary forest; beautiful valley - always heralds a change in his view of Enid.

Until they are on the same horse, reflecting a renewal of his ritual wedding to the Goddess of Sovereignty. The land and its ruler are now one again.

Quests Through the Celtic Mysteries

Geraint's dark journey has many mythic connotations with other Celtic heroes, in particular Pwyll, who swopped places with the King of the Underworld.

Enid's Testing of Geraint, Son of Erbin

There is nothing passive and docile about what Enid put Geraint through on that journey. It was all a challenge to see if he was worthy.

Without context, it's too easy to view Enid as the put upon wife.

Dragged into danger, emotionally abused and left without a voice; deprived of sleep, used as bait and saddled, quite literally, with the physically taxing care of an ever-growing number of horses. Nearly abducted, nearly raped, nearly killed - all on several occasions - until she's finally forced into a marriage against her will, and told to look happy about it, while her husband isn't yet confirmed dead on his bier.

It wouldn't look good in a court of law, would it?  But instant grounds for divorce. Should Geraint ever serve papers on her.

You see, Enid set everything up. These are Her challenges to him, not the other way around. They are in the Otherworld, and She is the Goddess of Sovereignty.

The Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty has three aspects.  White - the land to be claimed. Red - the land claimed in ritual marriage.  Black - the land to be fought over in war.

Enid's clothes on that journey are not described, other than She's wearing her shabbiest attire. She never once outwardly changes into Sovereignty's most dread aspect - akin to Cailleach, Ragnell or Morrighan - but nevertheless, that is what She has now become. She's demanding that Geraint prove his worth, and she's counting down until the moment when she withdraws Her support for his rule.

Famously, Enid utters three cries. Once when the people mutter behind Geraint's back - the distress that starts the whole Otherworldly journey.  Secondly when he's defeated the giants and falls unconscious from his horse.  Then thirdly that soul-shattering shriek that apparently raises Geraint from the dead.

Where else in Celtic mythology have you heard three screams uttered from the mouth of a Sovereignty Goddess? 

In Ireland, the Banshee (an aspect of Morrighan) visits the home of a dying person on three successive nights, screaming in the woods. In Wales, the Gwrach-y-Rhibyn also cries out 'like a woman in greatest agony' on three occasions. In my opinion, she is similarly an aspect of Morrighan. For both, the countdown of cries results in death and therefore a change in the ruler.

In the story of Lludd et Lleflys, an almighty scream is heard every May Eve. It's the White Dragon invading Britain, and the Red Dragon comes to see off the erstwhile conquerors. Again it's the cry of Sovereignty in peril.

Enid's cries increase in volume and pitch each time she utters one. They are each deliberate. They are the cry of the land itself lamenting AND warning simultaneously. Each time that Enid weeps or screams, assume that Geraint is losing.

Geraint's journey into the Otherworld of Dumnonia recalls Pwyll's passage into Annwn for a year and a day. Enid was certainly recalling Pwyll's divine wife Rhiannon.

Geraint has to fight a lot of challengers on that quest to find awen in the land. This is not accidental. Enid is leading the way, riding upon her horse (and towing many others), and she is always the one to spot their foes first.

Each encounter becomes increasingly more supernatural and/or divine. The first knights represent potential human claimants to his land, presumably English ones from Wessex, seeing as Geraint stated that he was entering Lloegr.

Then we encounter the Dun Earl. On the surface, he's an aristocrat intent upon the slaughter of Geraint and the rape of Enid. That's a terrible thing in itself, but rendered even worse because they are guests in his realm. The extensive list of all that food is to make it clear that this is a breach of the Celtic laws of hospitality. In other words, a ruler is being very bad and violating the etiquette of his land.

The Dun Earl also recalls the Dun Knight in another Welsh tale, The Dream of Rhonabwy. That knight is pecked to death by ravens. Make no mistake, this IS Enid in Morrighan mode.

Then we move on to Gwiffred Petit - a figure whose name is patently ripped and re-Cymricized from Chretien de Troyes's telling, which is a shame, because the name he chose was Guivret. That's extremely close to Guynet, the Middle Welsh rendering of Gwynedd or Gwened. The land attacks again.

Dwarves in Arthurian tales also tend to be barely disguised versions of the God Beli Mawr.

Geraint's bloodiest battle of all is with the three giants. They are generally symbolic of another huge (in every sense of the word) Celtic deity, Bran the Blessed. Moreover, his killing of them, only to swoon in a deathlike state himself, recalls another legend.  Ederyn ap Nudd (of Sparrow-hawk fame in this story) also fought three giants and suffered an identical Fate. This was on Brent Knoll, which is located in Geraint's land of Dumnonia.

In short, every one of these battles is magically charged and relating to possession of the land and/or leadership of a tribe. Enid arranged them all.

There are two climactic encounters. The first is in the Hall of Limwris, where Enid's third and final scream seems to wake Geraint from the dead. There's much talk of forced marriages and smiling though your heart is breaking, but remember that this is Enid's realm. She has set this up.

This is Geraint's final great test. He's hurt in ways that should (and possibly were) mortal, but still leaps up to save Enid. Thus he finds out that he does love his land enough to die in its defense.

It might well be that the Goddess of Sovereignty has split into Her triple form here. In addition to Enid, there is another Maiden. The nameless one sobs over her properly dead knight (an alternative destiny for Geraint and Enid), then goes strangely quiet. Watching.

Pure speculation provides the third in the Trinity. Could Limwris be a shape-shifting Morgan Le Fey? Chretien called this figure Oringle, Count of Limors, which is generally translated as 'made up name, Count of Death' - the Grim Reaper come in response to Enid's earlier wailing about wanting Death to take her. Limwris itself today translates as 'man out of legend', but that's in reference to this story.

Morgan is strangely missing, considering that she turned up earlier on being nice and healing Geraint, then handing him back to Enid.  Plus the fact that her castle AND son are in the next scene.

The upshot is that Geraint accepts his leadership position, falls in love with Enid and he is ready to be her husband again. They leave on one horse and hurtle straight into the mystical finale - the ritual wedding of the land.

After being suitably attired by the Little King (Beli in disguise), Geraint enters into the Enchanted Games. Everything described is symbolic of a chieftain claiming his territory. He defeats the knight and picks up the horn. Over and over again, we're told what that horn does - it lifts the mists.

Enid ferch Ynywl (Soul, daughter of Mists) backs down. Geraint has won her favor and goes on to rule a prosperous land.

Enid and Geraint: Oil Painting by Arthur Hughes

The Dark Side of the Goddess of Sovereignty

Enid's challenges nearly did kill Geraint, but that was the lot of the Celtic Sacral King. There were reasons why a ruler had to love his land.

Image: Britain in 540CEAs prospective chieftain of his people, Geraint needed to gain Enid's approval and support in his claim of the territory.

His leadership was insecure without it. His own tribe could reject him in favor of another claimant, if a case could be made for Sovereignty favoring the challenger. Plus everyone would feel uneasy, until the land's own deity was perceived to be on side.

Prolonged power struggles left territories exposed to take over bids. No consensus for leadership meant no warlord could guarantee that his commands would be obeyed in battle. Neighboring chieftains could easily exploit that confusion to expand their own boundaries. Sovereignty might well favor the invaders.

Without a divinely acknowledged ruler, its people were deemed vulnerable in other ways too. There was no reason for nature to yield its bounty. Sovereignty could well punish them for the snub implied by leaving the land without a husband.

Even with a seemingly acceptable leader ritually wedded to the land, Sovereignty might be capricious. Her displeasure exhibited by natural catastrophes, or the ordinary consequences of bad husbandry, required a drastic response.

The historical record and legends alike show that Celtic leaders could easily become sacrificial victims, if the crops failed too often. That was the land turning against the people living upon it.

Its Goddess needed to be appeased with blood - Her fearsome dark aspect coming to the fore - and that had to be blood worth shedding. The very nature of a sacrifice requires something precious to be given, the loss of which would be felt by those making it. Otherwise it's not a divine sacrifice. It's the spiritual equivalent of having a clear-out, then donating all unwanted junk to charity.

The most valuable blood in any tribe is that running through the veins of its ruler. Leaders represent their people; speaking, acting and making decisions on behalf of their whole nation. A Sacral King features so prominently in the darkest legends of the Celts, because his execution was not only a big deal, but also the last line of defense.

If that didn't appease Sovereignty, then nothing would. The tribe was doomed.

Books about the Celtic Kings of Britain

Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'History' looms large in the Arthurian chronicles. Written in 1136, it's one of the earliest Medieval sources available.

The Real Geraint ap Erbin

He may read like a legendary, semi-divine Arthurian figure, but Geraint really did live. He died in the defense of Dumnonia.

There was another, quite massive reason why Geraint may have been reluctant to take on responsibility for Dumnonii lands. He lived during the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

Dumnonia was surrounded on three sides by water and on the fourth by hostile Saxons. The latter had already swarmed across Lloegyr (England), and it was their avowed intent to take Geraint's homeland too. Who wouldn't quake at such a responsibility - as keeping one's people safe and borders intact - during those circumstances?

In 501 CE (some say 480), the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded:

Port and his two sons, Bieda and Maegla, came to Britain at the place called Portsmouth, and slew a young Welshman, a very noble man.

That Welshman is believed to be Geraint. He certainly did die in battle against the Saxons. A seventeen year old boy was present, who witnessed what happened and survived said Battle of Langport. He grew up to be the bard Llywerch Hen, and he wrote an Elegy for Geraint.

It began:

Before Geraint, the enemy's scourge,
I saw white horses, tensed, red,
After the war cry, bitter the grave.

I like to think that Enid was there to meet him at the end. But she wouldn't be. She'd be with his successor. 

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Updated: 04/06/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 04/06/2014

My work here is well and truly done. :) Thank you for reading to the end.

That's the thing about these legends. They really are a mixture between real history, mythology and religious stories (most Pagan, some early Christianity, plenty of Medieval mysticism).

Ember on 04/05/2014

Yes, I did see that. And you know, after getting through it all, the ending really killed me. Not in a bad sense, but to have gone through all of that, and then it's like by the way... And then you ended it all with those last three lines. So before I could think of a place to go with it all I kind of just sat there like :C

JoHarrington on 04/05/2014

See what I meant about no obvious places to split it into more articles?

You're asking a very Wiccan question there. It's usually framed as, 'all gods are one god, and all goddesses one goddess' - a phrase made famous by Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'The Mists of Avalon'. Some Pagans do believe it, others go with no, they're not all the same.

I've argued that question from both sides. But really I think the confusion comes in the difference between archetypes and individuals. In worldly terms, that's like wondering if you and I are the same, because we're both women. We could make a great argument that we are. But even better ones that we're not.

I meant that Enid was in the dark aspect of the Goddess of Sovereignty, as usually typified by Morrighan.

Knowing me means that sooner or later you get to know the Mabinogion too.

Ember on 04/04/2014

When you told me this was the longest article ever, and I said it didn't look that long... I was wrong, for the record.

Are goddesses with similar attributes but different names essentially the same goddess then? Or are they different. I guess here you were talking about Morrighan and said she is an Irish goddess, but then also said that Enid was Morrighan (or at least channeling her then?)

I recall you pointing out the Mabinogion to me in Wales, but I can't remember exactly what you said to me about it at the time. Funny how it's all coming back up now.

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