Third Branch of the Mabinogi, Manawydan laments the loss of his dogs, and comments that without them he cannot hunt and his livelihood is destroyed. Dogs were often highly prized: in 'Math',

Gwydion's gift to Pryderi in exchange for Dyfed's precious pigs includes twelve greyhounds; and greyhounds are among the presents given to Pwyll by Arawn of Annwn, in the First Branch.

Dogs are very closely associated with the supernatural: archaeological evidence for dog ritual in pagan Celtic Europe suggests that they possessed an underworld role (see chapters 5, 8). In 'Pwyll', Arawn,

king of the underworld, has a pack of shining white, red-eared dogs, their colouring proclaiming their Otherworld origins. The Cwn Annwn or Hounds of Annwn were death omens, described in an early Welsh poem as small, speckled and greyish-red, chained and led by a black, horned figure. These were ghost dogs which appeared only at night to foretell death, sent from Annwn to seek out corpses and

human souls. Both Welsh and Irish sources describe dogs with supernatural powers, some of them larger than life-sized. Mac Da Tho, king of Leinster, but in reality an Otherworld deity, possesses a large hound, coveted by Conchobar of Ulster and by the people of Connacht, Ulster's deadly enemies. Mac Da Tho invites heroes of both sides to a feast in which an enormous pig is slaughtered, and there follows the inevitable squabble over who should be allotted the champion's portion of pork. Fighting breaks out and the King of Leinster released his hound to see which side it will favour: it chooses the Ulstermen. The

superhuman status of Mac Da Tho is indicated by the huge size of both his dog and his pig. In the Welsh 'Tale of Culhwch and Olwen', Culhwch's quest for the hand of Olwen is associated with a number of tasks connected with supernatural dogs: one of his 'labours' is to seek the two whelps of a nc great bitch called Rhymni, who is in the shape of a she-wolf and extraordinarily swift: Another hurdle Culhwch has to clear is that of obtaining the Whelp of Greid, of whom it is said that no leash can hold him but the leash of Cors Hundred Claws and the collar of Canhastyr Hundred Hands. The only huntsman capable of controlling the hound is the divine hunter Mabon.76

In early Ireland, the prefix 'Cu' (Hound of) was frequently used in the Celtic names of heroes, to denote warrior status. But the most famous so named - Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann - had a very special and close relationship with dogs. As a young boy, he is called Setanta, but he kills the huge guard dog of Culann the smith and, as a penance, he takes the dog's place and also his name. This affinity with dogs recurs in the adult life of Cu Chulainn: he has a geis (a bond or taboo) on him that he must never eat hound-flesh. But he is offered dogmeat at a feast, and there is another geis on him never to refuse hospitality. He breaks the first rule and eats the meat; this act weakens the hero's supernatural strength and leads ultimately to his death. The episode is interesting, since it implies that dogmeat was a traditional food for the early Celts; this is borne out by the archaeology of Iron Age Europe, where dog remains are part of food refuse on settlement sites (chapter 2). But at the same time, dog ritual was very prominent in Britain and Gaul, and there is evidence that dogs fulfilled a special role in Celtic religion.


Like dogs, horses have - and had in antiquity - a special relationship with humankind. They were indispensable in battle, were used in hunting and were regarded as prestigious (chapter 4). In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, Pwyll and the underworld lord Hafgan fight on horseback. When Pwyll sees

Rhiannon for the first time, they are both mounted, as are his followers. Horses were important in Welsh gift-exchange; thus presents sent between Pwyll and Arawn consist of horses, greyhounds and hawks (all hunting-animals). In the Fourth Branch, Gwydion conjures up greyhounds and horses as

presents for Pryderi of Dyfed in exchange for the pigs given to his kingdom by Arawn. The high status of horses is demonstrated in the Second Branch, when Branwen's brother Efnisien mutilates the horses of her betrothed, Matholwch of Ireland, thus offering the Irish king an unforgivable insult and promoting

the catastrophic hostility between Britain and Ireland.

Giraldus Cambrensis chronicles an ancient Irish tradition concerning the inauguration of kings in

Ulster. A white mare is sacrificed and the meat cooked in a cauldron; the king-elect sits in the cooking-

vessel, bathes in the juices, eats the flesh and drinks the broth. Before the mare is killed, however, the

candidate imitates a stallion and pretends to mate with her. This is highly symbolic: the mare appears here to represent the land of Ireland, whose fertility is assured by her union with the mortal king. The association between the mother-goddess and horses is present in the image of Macha, both a single and triple goddess, with strong equine affinities. In one of her three identities, Macha seems to be half-

woman, half-horse: she is the divine bride of a human, the Ulster widower Crunnchu. At the great Ulster

Assembly, Crunnchu brags that his wife can outrun any of the competitors in the horse-race; he is held to his word and he forces Macha to run against the king's horses, even though she is nine months pregnant at the time. She wins the race but dies in childbirth immediately afterwards, giving birth to twins and

cursing the Ulstermen as she dies.

The link between women and horses occurs in the Mabinogi where, in the First Branch, the story of Pwyll and Rhiannon is told. Pwyll first sees Rhiannon riding past him on a large, shining white horse: attracted by her, he follows but, though his steed is swift and she does not appear to be going very fast, he cannot catch up with her. Next day, the same thing happens and Pwyll sends his fastest horseman to intercept the lady, but in vain. In desperation, Pwyll calls to her to stop and she immediately halts. It is clear from this and from the shining whiteness and great size of the horse that both Rhiannon and her mount are of supernatural origin. The horse symbolism continues: later in the story, Rhiannon is framed for the alleged murder of her 3-day-old son, and the penance prescribed by her husband is that she behaves like a horse, waiting by the gate of Llys Arberth and offering to carry visitors to the palace on her back, for

seven years. Many scholars have seen a close link between the Rhiannon of the Welsh legend and the Celtic horse-goddess Epona (figure 7.16), who is depicted in Romano-Celtic iconography seated sidesaddle on a mare (chapter 8).

Epona Macha Rhiannon

Figure 7.15 'Celtic Horses', a drawing by Jen Delyth.

Certain superhuman individuals are portrayed as having a strong affinity with particular horses, with whom their lives and destiny are intricately bound. This is the case both with the Welsh hero Pryderi and the Ulster demigod Cu Chulainn. In the First Branch of the Mabinogi,

Rhiannon's son is stolen as a baby, believed to have been killed by his mother. The scene moves from Llys Arberth to the home of one Teyrnon Twryf Liant, lord of Gwent Is-Coed: he has a mare who foals every May eve but on each occasion the foal disappears. One such night, Teyrnon decides to keep watch in the stable: the mare produces the strongest and most beautiful foal he has ever seen, but straight away a giant claw comes through the stable window and grabs the foal. Teyrnon strikes off the claw with his sword; there is a terrible scream and Teyrnon rushes outside, but the darkness is so profound that he can see nothing. On reentering the stable, he sees a tiny baby lying on the threshold, wrapped in a silken shawl. He and his wife foster the child, who grows up far

Figure 7.16 Stone carving of Epona, Meursault, Burgundy. Paul Jenkins.

faster than a normal human infant: when he is 3 years old, he is considered sufficiently old and responsible to be given the foal as a present. The little boy turns out to be the image of Pwyll, and Teyrnon, knowing the story of the royal loss, realizes that this must be the missing prince. The royal family is reunited amid much rejoicing and the boy is named Pryderi — Thus the early life of the young lord is intimately related to that of Teyrnon's foal, born at almost exactly the same time. The horse symbolism of the boy's mother Rhiannon must also be remembered.

The story of Pryderi and the foal has its Insular parallel in the life of Cu Chulainn. He is born at the same time as twin foals, and they become his two great war-horses, the Black of Saingliu and the Grey of Macha.86 The Grey is clairvoyante and weeps tears of blood immediately prior to her master's

death. It is significant that Cu Chulainn's horse is named after the great mother-goddess Macha, herself a horse-deity.

Supernatural horses can play good or evil roles: in the 'Tale of Culhwch and Olwen', Culhwch has to obtain two miraculously swift horses, Gwyn Dun Mane of Gweddu and Du, the horse of Moro

Oerfeddawg - the White and the Black— - to help him hunt the enchanted boar Twrch Trwyth. More sinisterly, red horses feature in the Irish myths as beasts of death: in the tale of 'Da Derga's Hostel', King Conaire travels to an underworld bruiden to meet his fate; on his way, he encounters three red horsemen, harbingers of death, messengers from the Otherworld, Da Derga's domain.89 Red is the Irish colour of death: we have noted already the underworld hues of dogs and cattle who are white and red, and the hounds of Annwn who are speckled reddish-grey. In the tale 'The Death of Ferghus', there is a death-image of a horse emerging at a gallop from the sea: he is multicoloured, with green legs, a golden body and a crimson mane, a magic horse who carries men across the ocean to the Otherworld.90

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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