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Who Is The Gatekeeper?

Pa Gur is perhaps the oldest Welsh Arthurian poem preserved in manuscript. In it, the Welsh Arthur seeks entry for himself and his men into the fortress of Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr. But some allusions in the poem suggest that not all is as it seems, and there may be something else going on, something that evokes a much older thread in the Arthurian myth regarding death, honour and praise.

4 thoughts on “Who Is The Gatekeeper?

  1. I have long been of the opinion that several of these early poems are inter-linked in describing the same Arthurian journey to the Otherworld. Arthur as psychopomp is probably the best interpretation and raises questions as to Arthur’s origins.
    Excellent stuff.

  2. I’m going to break my comment up to hopefully get it to go through. Sorry how long it is, I hope my long windedness doesn’t sour your attitude of me!

    Very bold speculations bound by a deep understanding of the literature and its background! It’s your brand of incisive scholarship at its finest! I can only make one tangential note: whether or not Arthur was once a psychopomp I think the basic plot of Culhwch is roughly faithful to indigenous Welsh tales, including the Glewlwyd scene, and so shouldn’t be regarded as lesser or secondary to the poem. Not that you ever say such a thing, but it could be inferred. I believe this because there remains a collection of supporting evidence in Irish. No less than three Finn Cycle stories heavily resemble Culhwch: the late 12th/early 13th c Cael and Credhe episode in Colloquy of the Ancients, the 15th/16th c Adventures of Art son of Conn, and the 15th/16th c Feast at Conan’s House.

    1. The Welsh “C” text precedes these Irish ones so therefore C was not influenced by them, while the Irish tales, for their part, share an interesting continuity that is not found in C. In the Irish stories the motherless hero needs the intercession and guidance of a mysterious female figure to succeed in winning their Olwen analogs. As far as I can tell this motif isn’t obviously present in C. I think that that points to independent developments from a much older story, perhaps a Celtic myth. It’s my theory that the Irish female figure is an early example of the “donor” type tale motif, a type most famously exemplified these days with the “fairy godmother”. Regard that often in international folktales the donor character is the spirit of the protagonist’s deceased mother. A good representation of this is found in the Grimms’ fairytale Aschenputtel, a direct forerunner of the modern Cinderella story. In the German, the ghost of the heroine’s mother interferes on her daughter’s behalf as the benevolent donor character. An earlier example (though later than the Celtic texts) is the Scandinavian poems dubbed the Svipdagsmál.
      It’s true that the Irish texts never explicitly state that the mystery woman is the hero’s mother, even when the text acknowledges her supernatural character. Yet I still think that the sum of the Celtic evidence makes it a reasonable argument to make, and leads one to conclude that the Welsh and Irish prose literature accurately reflects a very ancient indigenous narrative.

  3. Trouble getting comment to stay up, breaking it up to multiple comments. Sorry for how obnoxiously long winded it is.
    Very bold speculations bound by a deep understanding of the literature and its background! It’s your brand of incisive scholarship at its finest! I can only make one tangential note: whether or not Arthur was once a psychopomp I think the basic plot of Culhwch is roughly faithful to indigenous Welsh tales, including the Glewlwyd scene, and so shouldn’t be regarded as lesser or secondary to the poem. Not that you ever say such a thing, but it could be inferred. I believe this because there remains a collection of supporting evidence in Irish. No less than three Finn Cycle stories heavily resemble Culhwch: the late 12th/early 13th c Cael and Credhe episode in Colloquy of the Ancients, the 15th/16th c Adventures of Art son of Conn, and the 15th/16th c Feast at Conan’s House.

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