Thursday, November 18, 2021

Corruption & Chaos Of The Welsh Underworld For Old School Campaigns

 "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"

Heroes of the Dawn 1914

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. 

"In both Welsh and Irish mythologies, the Otherworld was believed to be located either on an island or underneath the earth. In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, it is implied that Annwn is a land within Dyfed, while the context of the Arthurian poem Preiddeu Annwfn suggests an island location. Two other otherworldly feasts that occur in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi are located in Harlech in northwest Wales and on Ynys Gwales in southwest Pembrokeshire."

While I've been planning a sea crawl the fact is that the more I've dipped into the mythological connections of the realm of Annwn.  The more I find deep connections to Arthurian literature & folklore in the Welsh tradition. All of this is a part of the
Four Branches of the Mabinogi.

"The Four Branches of the Mabinogi or Pedair Cainc Y Mabinogi are the earliest prose stories in the literature of Britain. Originally written in Wales in Middle Welsh, but widely available in translations, the Mabinogi is generally agreed to be a single work in four parts, or "Branches." The interrelated tales can be read as mythology, political themes, romances, or magical fantasies. They appeal to a wide range of readers, from young children to the most sophisticated adult. The tales are popular today in book format, as storytelling or theatre performances; they appear in recordings and on film, and continue to inspire many reinterpretations in artwork and modern fiction.
(The Mabinogi needs to be disentangled from The Mabinogion which is the modern name for a larger collection of British/ Welsh mediaeval tales. Published versions of The Mabinogion[1] typically include the Mabinogi. The name The Mabinogion first appears in print 1795,[2] based on a single medieval mistake, but the name then became firmly established in modern usage for the larger collection.)"
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.
"AnnwnAnnwfn, or Annwfyn (in Middle Welsh/ˈænn/ AnnwvnAnnwynAnnwyfnAnnwvyn, 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 OtherworldAnnwn, 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.

"Annwn plays a reasonably prominent role in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a set of four interlinked mythological tales dating from the early medieval period. In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, entitled Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, the eponymous prince offends Arawn, ruler of Annwn, by baiting his hunting hounds on a stag that Arawn's dogs had brought down. In recompense he exchanges places with Arawn for a year and defeats Arawn's enemy Hafgan, while Arawn rules in his stead in Dyfed. During this year, Pwyll abstains from sleeping with Arawn's wife, earning himself gratitude and eternal friendship from Arawn. On his return, Pwyll becomes known by the title Penn Annwn, "Head (or Ruler) of Annwn." In the Fourth Branch, Arawn is mentioned but does not appear; it is revealed that he sent a gift of otherworldly pigs to Pwyll's son and successor, Pryderi, which ultimately leads to war between Dyfed and Gwynedd.
The similarly mythological epic poem Cad Goddeu describes a battle between Gwynedd and the forces of Annwn, led again by Arawn. It is revealed that Amaethon, nephew to Math, king of Gwynedd, stole a bitch, a lapwing and a roebuck from the Otherworld, leading to a war between the two peoples. The denizens of Annwn are depicted as bizarre and hellish creatures; these include a "wide-mawed" beast with a hundred heads and bearing a host beneath the root of its tongue and another under its neck, a hundred-clawed black-groined toad, and a "mottled ridged serpent, with a thousand souls, by their sins, tortured in the holds of its flesh".[3] Gwydion, the Venedotian hero and magician successfully defeats Arawn's army, first by enchanting the trees to rise up and fight and then by guessing the name of the enemy hero Bran, thus winning the battle.
Preiddeu Annwfn, an early medieval poem found in the Book of Taliesin, describes a voyage led by King Arthur to the numerous otherworldy kingdoms within Annwn, either to rescue the prisoner Gweir or to retrieve the cauldron of the Head of Annwn. The narrator of the poem is possibly intended to be Taliesin himself. One line can be interpreted as implying that he received his gift of poetry or speech from a magic cauldron, as Taliesin does in other texts, and Taliesin's name is connected to a similar story in another work.[4] The speaker relates how he journeyed with Arthur and three boatloads of men into Annwfn, but only seven returned. Annwfn is apparently referred to by several names, including "Mound Fortress," "Four-Peaked Fortress," and "Glass Fortress", though it is possible the poet intended these to be distinct places. Within the Mound Fort's walls Gweir, one of the "Three Exalted Prisoners of Britain" known from the Welsh Triads,[5] is imprisoned in chains. The narrator then describes the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn: it is finished with pearl and will not boil a coward's food. Whatever tragedy ultimately killed all but seven of them is not clearly explained. The poem continues with an excoriation of "little men" and monks, who lack various forms of knowledge possessed by the poet."

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[1] 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.[1] 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.[4]

As the Bendith y Mamau they are sometimes described as stunted and ugly.[1] They ride horses in fairy rades (processions) and visit houses where bowls of milk are customarily put out for them. A changeling story tells of a woman whose three-year-old son was stolen by the fairies and she was given a threefold instruction by a "cunning man" (magician) on how to get him back. She removed the top from a raw egg and began stirring the contents, and as the changeling watched her do this certain comments he made established his otherworldly identity. She then went to a crossroads at midnight during the full moon and observed a fairy rade in order to confirm that her son was with them. Lastly she obtained a black hen and without plucking it she roasted it over a wood fire until every feather dropped off. The changeling then disappeared and her son was returned to her.[1][5]
According to the folklorist Wirt Sikes the Tylwyth Teg may be divided into five general types: the Ellyllon (elves), the Coblynau (fairies of the mines), the Bwbachod (household fairies similar to brownies), the Gwragedd Annwn (female fairies of the lakes and streams) and the Gwyllion (mountain fairies more akin to hags). The ellyllon (singular ellyll) inhabit groves and valleys and are similar to English elves. Their food consists of toadstools and fairy butter (a type of fungus) and they wear digitalis bell flowers as gloves. They are ruled by Queen Mab and bring prosperity to those they favour.[6]"

Wrapped up in the legends & literature of the Welsh mythology is the origin point for ghouls in Europe for my purposes this is an especially useful adventure point for the Lion & Dragon retro clone system. Here these monsters filtered down with the Romans and before them with various traders to the shores of Britain. These monsters have always been around & have been the servants of the Elves going back to the earliest days of England and the myth of the changling as monster within proves more evidence of this.
"In the Anglo-Scottish border region it was believed that elves (or fairies) lived in "Elf Hills" (or "Fairy Hills"). Along with this belief in supernatural beings was the view that they could spirit away children, and even adults, and take them back to their own world (see Elfhame).[20][21] Often, it was thought, a baby would be snatched and replaced with a simulation of the baby, usually a male adult elf, to be suckled by the mother.[20] The real baby would be treated well by the elves and would grow up to be one of them, where as the changeling baby would be discontented and wearisome.[21] Many herbs, salves and seeds could be used for discovering the fairy-folk and ward off their designs.[21]
In one tale a mother suspected that her baby had been taken and replaced with a changeling, a view that was proven to be correct one day when a neighbour ran into the house shouting "Come here and ye'll se a sight! Yonder's the Fairy Hill a' alowe." To which the elf got up saying "Waes me! What'll come o' me wife and bairns?" and made his way out of the chimney.[20]
At Byerholm near Newcastleton in Liddesdale sometime during the early 19th century, a dwarf called Robert Elliot or Little Hobbie o' The Castleton as he was known, was reputed to be a changeling. When taunted by other boys he would not hesitate to draw his gully (a large knife) and dispatch them, however being that he was woefully short in the legs they usually out-ran him and escaped. He was courageous however and when he heard that his neighbour, the six-foot three-inch (191 cm) William Scott of Kirndean, a sturdy and strong borderer, had slandered his name, he invited the man to his house, took him up the stairs and challenged him to a duel. Scott beat a hasty retreat.[21]
Child ballad 40, The Queen of Elfan's Nourice, depicts the abduction of a new mother, drawing on the folklore of the changelings. Although it is fragmentary, it contains the mother's grief and the Queen of Elfland's promise to return her to her own child if she will nurse the queen's child until it can walk"

The connections between HP Lovecraft's Ghouls & Changlings are fairly obvious especially when we look at his story 'Pickman's Model'.
"There's no use in my trying to tell you what they were like, because the awful, the blasphemous horror, and the unbelievable loathsomeness and moral foetor came from simple touches quite beyond the power of words to classify. There was none of the exotic technique you see in Sidney Sime, none of the trans-Saturnian landscapes and lunar fungi that Clark Ashton Smith uses to freeze the blood. The backgrounds were mostly old churchyards, deep woods, cliffs by the sea, brick tunnels, ancient panelled rooms, or simple vaults of masonry. Copp's Hill Burying Ground, which could not be many blocks away from this very house, was a favourite scene.
The madness and monstrosity lay in the figures in the foreground—for Pickman's morbid art was pre-eminently one of demoniac portraiture. These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness. Ugh! I can see them now! Their occupations—well, don't ask me to be too precise. They were usually feeding—I won't say on what. They were sometimes shown in groups in cemeteries or underground passages, and often appeared to be in battle over their prey—or rather, their treasure-trove. And what damnable expressiveness Pickman sometimes gave the sightless faces of this charnel booty! Occasionally the things were shown leaping through open windows at night, or squatting on the chests of sleepers, worrying at their throats. One canvas showed a ring of them baying about a hanged witch on Gallows Hill, whose dead face held a close kinship to theirs.
But don't get the idea that it was all this hideous business of theme and setting which struck me faint. I'm not a three-year-old kid, and I'd seen much like this before. It was the faces, Eliot, those accursed faces, that leered and slavered out of the canvas with the very breath of life! By God, man, I verily believe they were alive! That nauseous wizard had waked the fires of hell in pigment, and his brush had been a nightmare-spawning wand. Give me that decanter, Eliot!

There was one thing called 'The Lesson'—Heaven pity me, that I ever saw it! Listen—can you fancy a squatting circle of nameless dog-like things in a churchyard teaching a small child how to feed like themselves? The price of a changeling, I suppose—you know the old myth about how the weird people leave their spawn in cradles in exchange for the human babes they steal. Pickman was showing what happens to those stolen babes—how they grow up—and then I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution. The dog-things were developed from mortals!"

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?

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