On this blog, we talk about two things:
The trial that is life and WELSH MYTHOLOGY.
Sometimes they coincide! Today, though, it’s mostly just Welsh mythology, because I’m reading a lot and I wanna tell you about things.
First item of order, I love John Rhys. He is witty, he knows so much, he transcribes tales in Welsh and then in English, his footnotes are a riot. I am continually devastated that he lived something like one hundred years before me. The book he’s written for me (yes. for me) is an absolute behemoth, but it’s not even daunting because I’m just delighted every time I read him.
I must gush about him, forgive me.
Next on the docket! The nature of the book is not only to share Welsh lore, but to analyze it as well as comparing and contrasting different versions of the same tale to try and come to what the common denominator of a single story is (such are the trials of an oral tradition; local detail changes). This means you read stories in clumps of like-with-like; even if they aren’t variants of the same story, Rhys has them grouped by genre.
And do you want to know what a whole freaking genre of Welsh lore is?
KIDNAPPING A FAIRY WIFE.
Well, maybe not a whole genre, but dudes. I read like 75 pages’ worth of young Welsh dudes kidnapping beautiful fairy women to marry them.
These bros see the Fair Family dancing in the dusk at their fairy circles, having great merriment and looking all beautiful and glowy and crap, and one of these particular fairy women sends him “head over ears in love” and he is “so caught up with emotion” that he “can’t help” dashing to the revelry, seizing the object of his romantic attention, and running with her back to his home where he bars the door with iron (so she can’t get out and her family can’t come in to get her) and continually entreating her to marry him.
And then. These men have the continual AUDACITY to be surprised when the fairy women are like, “No! I don’t want to marry you!”
Usually, the rest of the story goes something like “I won’t be your wife, but as long as I’m here, I guess I’ll be your servant.” And he’s fine with it, but later beats the dead “be my wife” horse again, and the fairy says “FINE but only if you can find out my name.” (Which, somewhat disturbing that the guy never thought to ask her name, but we’ll set it aside). Then he always finds it out through some Rumpelstiltskin-y maneuver and she marries him and they have a few kids and live very happily, yada yada.
My sister has pointed out to me that the kindap-y/rape-y tone is hardly unique to Welsh mythology; it’s kind of a hallmark of mythology in general. But still.
You don’t see any young Welsh maidens being so “head over ears” taken with beautiful fairy men that they kidnap them, do you? Hmph. Get it together, fictional Welsh dudes.
LASTLY: I was absolutely captivated by a passage in this book-of-great-obsession that described old Welsh naming conventions. Stay with me; it’s delightfully complicated and convoluted.
(Also, quick disclaimer that my understanding may still be somewhat infantile; I’ve read that section, like, 58 times, but it is somewhat confusing section, so I could definitely be wrong here. Call me out if you’re a secret Welsh-name expert, I welcome it).
So imagine you have a woman. Her name is Oewin Williams. She marries a man, named Davy Hughes. Women do not take their husband’s surname; so Oewin will be Oewin Williams until she dies. They have some children and live in blissful happiness all their days. Now, how did they name their children? Well, we have a couple options.
If their firstborn is a boy, he is named after the matriarchal surname. So baby number one could be named something like Sion Williams.
If their firstborn is a girl, they default to the patriarchal name; so she would be something like Catherine Hughes.
Anyone after the firstborn is named with the patriarchal surname. However:
The first boy – after the first born if he’s a boy, of course – is named in a reverse of his father’s name. So Oewin and Davy’s first son would be named Hugh Davies.
So, our little family: Oewin Williams, the mother; Davy Hughes, the father; Sion Williams, their firstborn son; Catherine Hughes, the second-born daughter; and Hugh Davies, the other son.
The place where I think I might have it twisted is with how being named after the patriarch goes; it may be that Catherine would be Catherine Davies, since she is Davy’s daughter.
I’ll have to read the section a 59th time.
But it’s still very interesting regardless. The most interesting tidbit to me is the bit about a woman’s surname; it’s so cool to me that she keeps her name forever. And passing it on through her own lineage, too – even though it’s not a guarantee that she will (if the first born is a girl, she’s out of luck on passing the name down) but the fact that it’s a thing deeply intrigues me.
I don’t know if anyone who reads this likes it when I ramble on about these things, but guys. It is so fascinating. So I will continue to regale you with my findings on Welsh lore, culture, and conventions.
Remind me, next time, to tell you the tale of the frog.
(It’s not Welsh, it’s from my life. But it’s definitely worth a post, and it’ll give you a break from my obsession).