There be Dragons
It is said that the Dragon as an image and an archetype represents life and fertility in many cultures and whilst there seems to be no written records of dragons per se in Celtic myth (which is simply because there’s little or nothing written by the Celts), there are stories of giant serpents, worms and creatures which were dragon-like.
Lludd and Llefelys (Welsh: Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys) is a Middle Welsh prose tale written down in the 12th or 13th century; it was included in the Mabinogion by Charlotte Guest in the 19th century. It tells of the Welsh hero Lludd, best known as King Lud son of Heli in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, and his brother Llefelys.
Lludd inherits the kingship of Britain from his father, Beli. Soon after, he helps his brother Llefelys marry the princess of France and become king of that country.
Though Lludd’s reign starts off auspiciously – he founds “Caer Lludd”, later to become London, as in Geoffrey – before long three plagues disrupt the peace.
The first plague is a race known as the Coraniaid, who come to Britain and cannot be forced out, as their hearing is so good that they can hear anything the wind catches. The Coraniaid have been interpreted as ‘demonic’ beings in some sources, dwarves in others and perhaps, taking a more xenophobic perspective, simply a group of unwanted immigrants.
The second plague is a horrid scream that comes every May Day and causes all pregnant women in Britain to miscarry.
The third plague involves disappearing provisions: no matter how much Lludd may put in his stores, it will have vanished over the course of the night. Lludd takes his fleet to France to ask his brother’s advice.
With the aid of a brass horn that prevents the Coraniaid from hearing their conversation, Llefelys offers solutions to each plague.
The Coraniaid, he reveals, can be killed by a mixture made from a certain insect. This mixture is harmless to the Britons, so Lludd must convene a meeting of both groups and throw the mixture over everyone, thereby destroying the invaders.
The second plague is caused by a red dragon that is embroiled in combat with a foreign white dragon. Lludd must set a trap for them at the exact centre of the island – named as Oxford-, put them to sleep with mead, and then bury them underground in a stone chest. In many of the tales Ludd inters the dragons at Dinas Emrys.
Dinas Emrys (Welsh: fortress of Ambrosius) is a rocky and wooded hillock near Beddgelert in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. Rising some 250 ft above the floor of the Glaslyn river valley, it overlooks the southern end of Llyn Dinas in Snowdonia.
The third plague is caused by a “mighty magician”, who casts a spell to make the whole court fall asleep while he raids their stores. Lludd must confront him, keeping himself awake with a vat of cold water. The magician soon sees the error of his ways and promises to serve and be loyal to Ludd.
However a later King, Vortigern, is perplexed and rather bothered when he attempts to build his fortress at Dinas Emrys.
Each night his builders and masons raise the tower on the mountain only to find it collapsed and demolished in the morning. Alchemists, Magicians and Wizards are summoned but to no avail. The work completed in the day is destroyed during the darkness. It is by some supernatural means that the towers fall, so it is by supernatural intervention they will remain suggests Vortigerns advisors; and it is through the blood of a wizard not fathered by a ‘natural’ man that this intervention can be brought about claims one elderly, and to this point in effective wizard.
Of course there is such a man and he became known to us as Merlin.
Merlin upon arriving notices a spring dribbling from the face of the cliff and more ‘sees’ the two once sleeping dragons waking and battling with each other.
Merlin then announces:
“I will now,” said he to the king, “unfold to you the meaning of this mystery. The pool is the emblem of this world, and the tent that of your kingdom. The two serpents are two dragons; the red serpent is your dragon, but the white serpent is the dragon of the Saxons, who occupy several provinces and districts of Britain, even almost from sea to sea. At length, however, our people shall rise and drive the Saxon race beyond the sea whence they have come. But do you depart from this place where you are not permitted to erect a citadel, you must seek another spot for laying your foundations.”
The serpents (dragons) thus represented two warring factions in this story and for Lludd they represented ‘life’ – the cry of the dragon on Day Day caused the women in the kingdom to miscarry.
The Wyvern is a legendary creature with a dragon’s head and wings, a reptilian body, two legs, and a tail.
A sea-dwelling variant dubbed the sea-wyvern has a fish tail in place of a barbed dragon’s tail. It may be the origin of the red dragon of Wales and the golden dragon of the Kingdom of Wessex carried at the Battle of Burford in AD 752.
The Dragon of Mordiford
The Dragon of Mordiford was said to reside just outside the Herefordshire village of Mordiford, at the confluence of the River Lugg and the River Wye.
From early life, the dragon, green in colour, was found and loved by a small girl named Maud who resided in Mordiford and had longed for a pet. She had nurtured it from infancy.
When it grew into adolescence and adulthood, she remained the only person safe from its reign. Only she could soothe it, by gently stroking its claws and cuddling with it.
The townspeople soon became exhausted of the constant attacks from the dragon and desperate, sought help from the noblemen of Mordiford. A man from the local Garstone family set out in full armour to end the beast’s life forever, finding the beast nearly camouflaged into the forest’s many plants.
The dragon almost instantly released a blast of fire, Garstone barely deflecting it. He aimed a lance at the wyvern’s throat, releasing it and fully penetrating through the dragon. Maud, insane with rage, burst from the surrounding forest and came to mourn her past pet.
A story with echoes of St George and the The Dragon…
The story of the dragon remains part of Mordiford’s culture: it is continually mentioned in modern records of the town. From the time the dragon was said to have lived until 1811, a portrait of the dragon appeared on the wall of the main church of the village. In 1811, however, a vicar ordered it destroyed because dragons were considered “a sign of the devil”.
A reproduction of this painting of the dragon is displayed inside the church.
Here the ‘dragon’ (wyvern) is seen as a creature that can be ‘soothed’ by a maiden and is aggressive to others.
Again a theme of ‘life’ and ‘death’ is presented together with a link to something ‘evil’ or perhaps chaotic – recall Cythrawl from the section on Manred?
Could we see the two dragons as representing order and chaos and their constant battle is what is driving the creative, evolving forces of nature?