"tseemed to him that the little man had becometransformed into a very beautiful and giganticfigure, with a face that shone like the sun,and opalescent colours gleamed round him.Then music sounded again through the quietevening air, and Fionn saw that Cnu Deireoilwas still before him. But ever after thatFionn believed that the little harper was oneof the children of Dana, and that for somepurpose of his own he had chosen to showhimself to Fionn, and become one of his men. The next day the Fians returned to theirhome on the Hill of Allen, and Cnu Deireoilaccompanied them. Nor would Fionn evermake any journey afterwards without hislittle harper, and in stormy weather, or whenCnu Deireoil grew tired, Fionn would pickhim up and carry him under his mantle; forthe chief of the Fians possessed a very nobleand kindly heart, and always showed a greatgentleness and courtesy to any one smallerand weaker than himself. Cnu Deireoil was a great wonder to thegiant warriors of Fionn, who had never seen"
The last couple of days has been incredibly hectic & with work taking a bite into my writing I've had to take my cues where & when I can. So I dug out my notes for one of my most successful Arthurian games. Today we're going to take a moment to talk about Clark Ashton Smith, Irish mythology, & Celtic literature. In this case the connection between Arthurian literature, Welsh mythology, and the possible heart of pure corruption sitting right in the heart of England. The Otherworld is quite distinct from the realm called Annwn.
The realm of Annwn is a virtual paradise on Earth & a point at which the chaotic realm of Fairyland overlaps over the classical Greco Roman Underworld.
"Annwn, Annwfn, or Annwfyn (in Middle Welsh, // Annwvn, Annwyn, Annwyfn, Annwvyn, or Annwfyn) was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn (or, in Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd), it was essentially a world of delights and eternal youth where disease was absent and food was ever-abundant. It became identified with the Christian afterlife in paradise (or heaven)."
There are places where the traditions & gonzo weirdness of Welsh legend cross right over into original Dungeons & Dragons ruins & adventure turf . The first Gods, Demigods, & Heroes by Rob Kuntz, & James M. Ward came out in 1976 & I've had multiple copies of this classic OD&D. The gods of the Celtic race feature predominantly at the heart of the book. The Celtic material is especially helpful when designing dungeons associated with the twisting and branching subject of Arthurian literature & legend.
The realm of Annwn is a gateway of adventure right in the heart of England's backyard. Here the gods have faded off, the Elves of ancient legend have gone deep into Fairyland and the realm has become much darker as time has rolled on. The ancient king of a dangerous cult & the head of a race of child snatching Elven monsters.
Gwyn ap Nudd the king of the Tylwyth Teg or "fair folk" and ruler of the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn, and whose name means “white son of Nudd”. Described later on as a great warrior with a "blackened face", Gwyn is intimately associated with the otherworld in medieval Welsh literature, and is associated with the international tradition of the Wild Hunt.
This all goes back to the earliest roots of Arthur's predecessors in myth & legend. There are backbone legends that play merry havoc with the occult traditions of the seasons similar to the legends of the Roman god Hades. There is a deep connection to Chaos here and it belies the dangers of Annwn laying just below the realm's surface.
The connections to the Holy Grail here are obvious within the Welsh mythological tradition. There are still darker connections more modern horror writers especially HP Lovecraft, & Clark Ashton Smith.
Image by Ernest Wallcousins, 1912.
Efnisien sacrifices himself to destroy the cauldron of rebirth.
The Tylwyth Teg are another cross point monster for the dungeons & realms of Annwn.
"Tylwyth Teg (Middle Welsh for "Fair Family"  Welsh pronunciation: [ˈtəlwɪθ teːg]) is the most usual term in Wales for the mythological creatures corresponding to the fairy folk of English and Continental folklore and the Irish Aos Sí."
These are child snatching monsters of the highest order & very dangerous horrors to cross in the English & Welsh countryside. But these horrors are very familiar creatures to many dungeon masters & players.
"In later sources the tylwyth teg are described as fair-haired and covet golden-haired human children whom they kidnap, leaving changelings (or "crimbils") in their place. They dance and make fairy rings and they live underground or under the water. They bestow riches on those they favour but these gifts vanish if they are spoken of, and fairy maidens may become the wives of human men. These fairy wives are however still bound by traditional taboos. They must be careful to avoid touching iron or they will vanish back to their realm never to be seen by their husbands again.
The connections between HP Lovecraft's Ghouls & Changlings are fairly obvious especially when we look at his story 'Pickman's Model'.
The chaos cults of the Arthurian past might have been both a boon & a bane during the time of Arthur with the connections to ghouls both problematic & downright dangerous. The night was prowled by Wild Hunts & worse. Ancient rites & traditions were practiced in the darkest of dungeons. Those of ghoul's blood could cross into the chaos filled dream worlds of Fairyland in the small hours of the night in the most dangerous dungeons. Perhaps there were other Roman mystery cults of very darkest aspect where the rites of an ancient prince of the dead and undead were remembered. The hellish mindless ghouls of AD&D might well be the lap dogs of cults of the darkest occult stripe.
Ghoul AD&D Monster Manual First Edition
It was when I had read Clark Ashton Smith's Empire of the Necromancers that Orcus came into focus;
"Unbroken before them, through fields devoid of trees and grass, and across the channels of dried-up rivers, there ran the great highway by which travelers had gone formerly betweea Cincor and Tinarath. Here they met no living thing; but soon they came to the skeletons of a horse and its rider, lying full in the road, and wearing still the sumptuous harness and raiment which they had worn in the flesh. And Mmatmuor aad Sodosma paused before the piteous bones, on which no shred of corruption remained; and they smiled evilly at each other.
'The steed shall be yours,' said Mmatmuor, 'since you are a little the elder of us two, and are thus entitled to precedence; and the rider shall serve us both and be the first to acknowledge fealty to us in Cincor.'
Then, in the ashy sand by the wayside, they drew a threefold circle; and standing together at its center, they performed the abominable rites that compel the dead to arise from tranquil nothingness and obey henceforward, in all things, the dark will of the necromancer. Afterward they sprinkled a pinch of magic powder on the nostril-holes of the man and the horse; and the white bones, creaking mournfully, rose up from where they had lain and stood in readiness to serve their masters.
So, as had been agreed between them, Sodosma mounted the skeleton steed and took up the jeweled reins, and rode in an evil mockery of Death on his pale horse; while Mmatmuor trudged on beside him, leaning lightly on an ebon staff; and the skeleton of the man, with its rich raiment flapping loosely, followed behind the two like a servitor."
It doesn't matter your station or social standing the power of undeath & necromancy makes a mockery out of the afterlife. Todd Lockwood's Orcus from 1981's Dragon takes all of the grayness of the demon prince's realm & brings it into sharp focus. There's a certain mocking black magick something about this piece that has the same effect on me as the Ray Harryhausen skeleton fights. You can almost see the movements of the skeletons bringing the poor sacrifice before the bloated demon prince.
The world of the far future is not immune to the mockery & weirdness of the chaos induced fairy glamour of the cousins of the Elves. Clark Ashton Smith's Charnel God, The (1934) goes into the rites & rituals of Mordiggian which are very similar in point of fact to Arawn (or, in Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd).
"All who die in Zul-Bha-Sair are the property of Mordiggian," insisted the taverner sententiously. "Outlanders are not exempt. The dark maw of his temple yawns eternally, and no man, no child, no woman, throughout the years, has evaded its yawning. All mortal flesh must become, in due time, the provender of the god."
Wild Hunt Artwork AD&D 1st Edition Deities & Demigods
Once again the cross point exists right in the heart of England perhaps in a hidden valley long from the providence of man. Adventurers are more likely to run into the remains of such cults at the fringes of Europe's ragged and haggard history during adventures. History & warfare are most likely to have erased any & all traces of such cults or have they?