Monday, 8 August 2011
Beli Mawr, the Father of the Welsh Gods
Father of Caswallawn, Arianrhod, Lludd Llaw Eraint, and Llefelys. Possibly derived from Belenos, and as such he becomes a sun god , or god of Light (Shining One, or Bright One), but more probably he could have come from Bolgois, God of Lightning, or God of Death. Medieval Welsh grammatical rule tend towards the latter, whilst popular theory toward the former.
Medieval texts have him placed as the consort of Don, the Earth-Mother, and thus the ancestor of several Celtic lineages. He is also brother to Bran, and rival, which lead to the battles between the Sons of Don and the Sons of Llyr, of which Bran was one.
Caswallawn is said to have lead the rebellions to the first Roman invasions of Britain, which places him on the throne in the years just before. Arthurian legend places him as Pellinor, the father to Percival, which is grammatically feasible.
Although conflated with Belenos, he is more likely to have translated into Welsh from the Britonic Bolgios. For all intents and purposes, however, he may well have combined both roles of Belenos and Bolgios with the intense confusion of early British and Welsh history and mythology, Beli Mawr, Belenos and Bolgios have become fairly interchangeable. Perhaps it is Beli Mawr who has the wider personality, taking in both polarities of the other two, so he can range from the benevolent sun to the destructive power of lightning.
There are no myths or legends about Beli Mawr, save for him being the All-Father and consort of Don (Danu/Anu) and father of the gods and of many tribes of people. He has been christianised as the husband of Anna, cousin of the Virgin Mary, and daughter of Joseph of Arimathea, that same Joseph who has such strong links with Glastonbury and the Holy Thorn.
Dragons are also linked with Beli. The Snowdonia mountain city of Emrys, also known as Dinas Affaraon, was home to both Beli's dragons and the druid alchemists the Pheryllt. It was here that the Goddess Ceridwen visited, in her search for the formula for the Awen. These dragons are reputed to be harnessed to the chariot of the sky god, and occasionally the chariot of Ceridwen, but there are many tales of a lone flying dragon.
A common story is that of two dragons fighting, one red, one white. The red dragon is victorious. It has been said that the red dragon represents the Britons, and the white the Saxons (no coincidence between the colours of the Welsh and English rugby teams here!). But tales of dragons are far more ancient than the anglo-saxon invasions of celtic lands.
This is an article from mabinogion.info which I found particularly useful
Beli Mawr and the Belgae
Cassivellaunos, the first-century leader of British Celtic resistance against the armies of Caesar, is remembered in the Medieval Welsh tradition as Casswallon son of Beli Mawr. Beli Mawr, as we have seen, was the ultimate progenitor of the Brythonic ruling tribe, from whom a number of the most powerful royal houses in the British Celtic West claimed some kind of descent. However, there is no definable historical figure from Britain of the Late Iron Age with whom we can readily identify this figure. The origins of Beli Mawr, on the surface at least, would appear to be in mythic rather than historical reality.
Some have argued, along with the great Ifor Williams, that the name of Beli Mawr relates to the Gaulish god known as Belinos or Belenos. Numerous inscribed dedications to Belinos have been found in continental Celtic areas, especially around the Cisalpine Gaul area of Northern Italy, suggesting that this was one of a handful of meta-deities in the Celtic world to have gained pan-tribal, regional popularity. Frequently thought of as a solar figure, the name has been related both to Gaelic elements bel- / bile- meaning ‘fire’ ‘light’, as well as Celtic-derived Latinate words denoting beauty: bellisima etc. In view of this etymology and the evident popularity of this god in the Late Iron Age West, it is conceivable that this figure was somehow related to the Celtic festival of Beltain - which was celebrated in early May, when cattle were brought out of their winter quarters, and driven between two fires before being released into their summer pastures.
Furthermore, there can be little doubt that Belinos was powerful cult figure in Late Iron Age Britain as well: and it may even have been the case that (like Beli Mawr in Medieval Wales) Belinos had mythical importance as the divine progenitor of the ruling tribe. The name of Cassivellaunos itself is usually interpreted as ‘Lover (i.e. devotee) of Belenos’. The tribal grouping led by Cassivellaunos were subsequently known as the Catuvellauni ‘The Host of Belenos’, by the first century AD. One of the subsequent leaders of the Catuvellauni, who died shortly before the Claudian invasion, was known by the name or title of Cunobelinos (Welsh Cynfelyn) - ‘Hound of Belinos’.
However, much as the identities of Beli Mawr and Belenos may have become conflated, it seems unlikely that their names were etymologically related. Following the regular sound changes which caused the British Celtic tongue to mutate into the medieval language of Welsh, Belinos might be expected to produce a form like a form along the lines of Belyn or Belen. Indeed, this name is found in Welsh sources, both modern and medieval. A certainBelen o Leyn is described in the 62nd triad as the leader of one of the ‘Three Fettered War-Bands’ of the Island of Britain. The popular Welsh name Llywelyn, evidently contains this name in combination with that of another powerful Brythonic deity: Lleu (< Lugus) and Belyn (< Belinos). So if this is the medieval survival of the Gaulish god Belinos, it seems we must look elsewhere for the etymological origins of Beli Mawr. The most convincing Gallo-Brittonic exemplar for the Medieval Welsh Beli is the name Bolgios, who is described in Ancient Greek sources as a warlord from among the Galatoi (or Keltoi) in the third century BC. More of this figure and his association with the Sack of Delphi in 279 BC will be discussed below. But what must be initially made clear is that it is the name of Bolgios (rather than that of the Gaulish god Belenos) which, following all the regular sound changes of the Common Celtic language would have rendered a name like Beli (Mawr) in Medieval Welsh. A further connection is discernable between this name, and that of the tribal name of Belgae: the final wave of Late Iron age settlers who would have represented the last dominant British Celtic power before the arrival of the Romans. Although the precise details of the sound changes in Proto-Celtic and Common Celtic languages between 279 and 50 BC remain far from clear, the derivation of the tribal name of Belgae from the genitive form of the name of Bolgios would be entirely consistant with what we know about the Celtic inflections, sound-changes and onomastics. Thus Belgae (< *Bolgioi) can be understood to have had the literal meaning: ‘(The Host) of Bolgios’. The connection between the first-century Belgae, that Gallo-Brittonic hegemony of north-western Europe and the host of the Balkan Celtic chieftain some three hundred years before is reinforced by some startling correspondences in the archaeological and numismatic record. What this implies for the provenance of the Belgic people, and hence for the tribal-historic traditions of the Medieval Welsh, will be considered in more detail in the section after next. But first we must recap on the situation in Britain in the Late Iron Age, which witnessed the ascendancy of Belgic power over the British tribal scene.