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Celtic Elements.

Thus, old Celtic romance (Irish or Welsh) is largely concerned with a race of supernatural beings, the gods of the earliest Celtic Pantheon, and the mysterious wonderland in which they dwell. In Ireland they have retained a semi-divine aspect and attributes, they can shift shape at will, they are undying; in Wales they have come down to the level of powerful magicians. This race is in possession of marvellous talismans, the chief of which is a symbol of fertility and increase in the shape of a cauldron which yields an inexhaustible supply of food to the taste of each partaker. In Irish myth this talisman, the cauldron of the Dagda - "a company used not ever to go away from it unsatisfied,"-is definitely associated with three other talismans, " the sword of Lug the Long-Handed " (the Irish sun-god), " the spear Lug used in battle," and the Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny (now in the Coronation seat at Westminster Abbey) as the four precious objects which the god race brought with them when they first came to Ireland. A cauldron similar to that of the Dagda (the Irish Zeus) is also part of the gear of Manannan mac Lir (the Irish sea-god), and of Angus, son of the Dagda, the most potent magician of the immortal race. The dwelling places of these mysterious and powerful beings may, like the Grail Castle, be reached by mortals, but only chancewise and if the inmates are willing; like the Grail Castle they suddenly disappear from the ken of the mortal visitor, who finds himself lying on the bare hillside with no trace of the splendours he has witnessed. As in the Grail Castle, the visitor is feasted royally. In Welsh romance the same magic cauldron appears. In one case it belongs to Bran, son of Llyr (a Welsh representative of the Irish god race), and here its healing and life-restoring powers are dwelt upon. Such may well have been its attributes in some of those early tales underlying the existing Grail Quest which insisted rather upon the healing of the hero's kinsman than upon the restoration of his land to fertility. Elsewhere it is associated with other talismans of a decidedly mythical character, and is, like the Grail, celebrated alike for its material and its spiritual properties- it is a producer of food, but also of inspiration and ecstasy.

The conception that the welfare of a land may be so bound up with that of its ruler that his evil conduct, or simply his misfortune, may entail famine or desolation, and conversely that his merit or luck may ensure prosperity, is familiar in Irish heroic legend. So also is the conception that the supernatural powers may curse a land with sterility and restore it again to fertility. In Welsh legend magic is the agent, and the Welsh mythic romance, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, tells of Pryderi, and how his land was subjected by an enemy to an illusion, "where they were wont to see cattle and herds, and dwellings, they saw nothing now, neither house nor beast, nor smoke, nor fire, nor man, nor dwelling, but the houses of the Court empty and desolate, without either man or beast within them." From this illusion, as well as from imprisonment in a magic castle which vanishes as soon as he penetrates within it, Pryderi and his land are delivered by Manawyddan, son of Llyr (the Welsh counterpart of the Irish sea-god).

In a similar way the conception of a hero urged to the accomplishment of his task by a kinsman lying under enchantment until it is accomplished is also familiar in early Irish romance. It is indeed a conception of world-wide spread, but the Celtic presentment has distinguishing features. A lucky accident has preserved the fragment of an Irish folk story dating back to the tenth century at the latest, in which the bespelled kinsman appears in a hideous guise described in terms which strikingly recall the hideous damsel of the Conte del Graal (the hero's cousin, as we learn from the Peredur).

It goes without saying that an archaic state of society such as that of medieval Ireland and Wales laid the utmost stress upon the duty of blood vengeance, and that stories with this theme are common. A famous Irish example is the tale entitled "The Fate of the Children of Turenn," which recounts the tasks imposed by Lug the Long-Handed (the Irish sun-god) upon the slayers of his father. Among these tasks was the winning of a poisonous irresistible spear.

Reference to these early Celtic tales supplies the only hint of an explanation which has yet been suggested of the mysterious question. Their heroes are commonly subject to mysterious spells constraining them to do certain actions, or forbidding them from others, under penalty of disaster or death if they infringe the spell. With the Irish story-teller the geis, as the spell is called, plays much the same part as Nemesis in Greek myth; it is the controlling, over-mastering power. It may be conjectured that an injunction of this kind was laid upon the questing hero in one of the tales out of which the romances have grown; that he was constrained to use certain formalities in the accomplishment of his task, or had imposed upon him certain disabilities, and that this feature, misunderstood as it inevitably would be by twelfth century story-tellers, is reflected in the question incident as we have it.

This series of parallels could be greatly extended if, passing from the salient incidents of the Grail Quest, to which alone I have here been able to call attention, the secondary traits and episodes of the romances were made the subject of comparison. As might be expected, these have been less affected by intruding Christian symbolism, and in consequence they betray their close affinity to the archaic Irish and Welsh tales in a most marked manner. But enough has been instanced, I trust, to demonstrate that the texture, the colouring, the essential conception of the older Grail Quest stories, can be paralleled from early Celtic mythic romance, and, I may add, from no other contemporary European literature ; if the reference to Celtic romance be discarded, but one alternative remains, namely, that the French story-tellers of the twelfth century made up this fantastic Arthurian realm of eerie glamour out of their own heads.

We may thus feel assured that the talismans themselves, that the quest for them, and the use to which they were put, existed in stories older than and unaffected by Christianity. "We note the significant fact that two of the talismans, vessel of plenty and death-dealing spear, are part of the gear of the early Celtic gods, gods who also figure as engaged in laying under sterilising spells the realms of their opponents, whether of their own divine race or belonging to that of men. In so far as these objects could, before their Christian transformation, be charged with mysterious and awe-inspiring potency, in so far as these tales of magic strife could be invested with traditional sanctity, this was the case. It was no simple peasant's tale that came ultimately into the hands of the Christian story-teller, but one elaborated by the bardic class, the jealous guardians, alike in Ireland and in Wales, of the racial mythic and heroic traditions.

Quelle: The Legends of The Holy Grail, Alfred Nutt, London 1902, S. 55ff