Monday, 12 August 2013
Arthur, the Grail, and Independence
Two projects - both about William Wallace - are in the pipeline; one, I believe, by Scottish Television, and the other by Sir Ridley Scott.
And why not? It's a great story, and even if Mel Gibson's Braveheart played fast and loose with historical facts, it makes a great film. We'll not make too much, at the stage, of the fact that the name Wallace derives from the same Anglo-Saxon root - wealas, meaning 'foreigner' - as 'Welsh', so that whatever his Scottish ancestry, William Wallace was actually a Welshman, a Briton.
But then, maybe we should celebrate Wallace's Welsh - i.e., British - roots. After all, his heroic attempts to free his country from foreign (English) oppression came a full 700 years after an earlier Briton - who was also a Scot - fought so hard to stop the original English from taking over the Island of Britain.
That earlier hero was Arthur, and if you think he wasn't of Scottish blood - if you think he cannot have been a Scottish prince - then you've been brainwashed by propaganda. To put it very simply, the English stole the cultural heritage of the Scots (and the 'Welsh' Britons) and pretended that it belonged to them. It's as if the Brits decided that they liked the story of Shaka Zulu so much, they insisted on rewriting it in such a way as to make out that Shaka was born in Surrey.
If I might crib from the notes I made for my talk at Pagan Pride the other weekend:
King Arthur is a medieval myth. There never was a 'King' Arthur - the word 'king' didn't exist when Arthur was around. The earliest native sources refer to him as ymerawdwr, a Welsh variant of imperator or 'emperor'. The idea that he was a 'king' didn't come till much later, along with the preposterous claims that he was a 'Christian' and that he was buried at Glastonbury. Just one lie after another, I'm afraid, and mostly emanating from the medieval Church.
In fact, when the Cistercians gained a foothold in Scotland, alongside the Knights Templar, they began to rewrite the Grail stories with more than a few references to Scotland. Those references were later exchanged for 'Glastonbury' by propagandists working for the Benedictines, who were the Cistercians' main rivals.
The first Arthur on record was a Scot. Well over 100 years before the first 'recognised' reference to Arthur - in the History of the Britons (circa AD 829) - the Life of St Columba by Adomnan of Iona referred to a son of the then King of the Scots, Aedan mac Gabrain. This son was called Artur or Artuir, and he was destined to die in battle. The Irish annals indicate that he died in about 594, fighting against the Picts of Angus.
What is more, the early British literature abounds with references to Arthur in a northern context. There is, for example, Aneirin's Y Gododdin poem (circa AD 600), which is regularly mistranslated by scholars in order to make it appear that Arthur wasn't involved in Aneirin's catastrophic battle in North Britain. There are also the poems of Taliesin, the Chief Bard of Britain, who flourished in the second half of the sixth century, primarily in North Britain, and wrote of Arthur as a contemporary. Taliesin, like Aneirin, also praised certain conteemporaries of Artur mac Aedain, such as Peredur - i.e. Perceval; Owain - i.e. Yvain; Cynon - i.e. 'Kentigern'; and various others.
The poems of Myrddin Wyllt - later identified as 'Merlin' - belong to North Britain in the late-sixth century. The individuals named in medieval lists of the Pedwar Marchog ar Hugain Llys Arthur ('The 24 Horsemen of the Court of Arthur') were predominantly sixth-century figures based in North Britain, as are the individuals encountered in one of the earliest ecclesiastical sources to mention Arthur (Caradog of Llancarfan's Life of St Cadog - Cadog having been one of Arthur's knights), and the battles cited as Arthur's 12 great victories in the History of the Britons can all be traced to locations in Scotland, several to historically-attested battles involving the family and contemporaries of Artur mac Aedain.
I could go on. In fact, I am - in The Grail; Relic of an Ancient Religion, which is exploding the silly medieval myths about cups of the Last Supper and Arthur hanging around Glastonbury (or you could try The King Arthur Conspiracy, which has been praised by those who came to it without prejudice and preconceptions). But for now, the point is this:
Only English racism (sorry; let's say "nationalism", along with a touch of "xenophobia", a dash of "imperialism" and a healthy dose of "superiority complex") continues to try to pin Arthur and his legends to southern Britain. Only English racism - and Christian dishonesty - continues to insist that he must have been a fifth-century warlord of the south ... even though not a single shred of evidence has ever appeared to indicate who such an Arthur might have been.
Most of them refuse even to discuss THE FIRST ARTHUR ON RECORD, and when pushed will come up with some ludicrous gobbledegook along the lines of: "Well, Arthur son of Aedan - the first Arthur to appear in any literary source - MUST have been named after an earlier, decidedly more English Arthur, about whom we know absolutely nothing." You've got to be pretty far gone if you have to make claims like "the earliest on record must have been named after someone even earlier who probably didn't exist". But this is the reason why scholars persist in mistranslating the relevant lines in Aneirin's elegaic Y Gododdin poem - anything to hide the glaringly simple fact that Arthur was a sixth-century prince of the North.
Even Geoffrey of Monmouth, who cobbled together the nonsense about Arthur at Tintagel in Cornwall - even he knew that Arthur had fought at Dumbarton, and around Loch Lomond, and that he met his end fighting against 'Scots, Picts and Irish ... some of them pagans and some Christians.'
Artur mac Aedain died fighting against the Picts (and others). Before long, I'll be explaining what the Pictish symbol stones of Angus can tell us about that battle. According to the Irish annals, the battle was fought in 'Circin' - that is, Circenn, the Pictish province we now know as Angus.
Circenn - from cir, a 'comb', and cenn, 'heads'. The Picts of Circenn modelled their appearance on the boar, and shaved their heads in such a way as to mimic a boar's crest or 'comb'.
Of course, we all know that 'King' Arthur died fighting at Camlann. But where was 'Camlann'?
Well, much of southern and central Scotland was invaded by the Germanic Angles, once Arthur had been destroyed. So that by the seventh century, a great part of Scotland was speaking a Germanic tongue. This evolved separately from English to become the 'dialect' known as Lowland Scots.
Hence, Camlann - from cam, a Scots word meaning 'comb', and lann or laan, a Scots word meaning 'land'. And - surprise, surprise - the Pictish standing stones of 'Comb-Land' even show us images of the Grail and the death of Arthur's queen (who was buried, as the Scots have maintained for centuries, close to the site of the last battle).
Arthur was killed in the land of the 'Comb-Heads', otherwise the 'Comb-Land' or Camlann. And he died desperately trying to defend his people - the Scots, and the Britons of the North - against the encroaching Angles. The very people who, many years later, would steal his legend and pretend that it was theirs.
So, two major productions about William Wallace in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum. Not necessarily a bad thing.
But one of them, at least, should have been about Arthur - a true Scottish hero, betrayed by generation after generation of Englishmen.