Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1856 Page 99
Archaeologia Cambrensis 1856 Page 99 is in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1856.
ON THE NAMES OF CROMLECHAU.
In the year 1849 an animated controversy, upon the design and original character of the cromlech, arose out of the Archaeological Meeting held at Cardiff; and in that controversy the Archdeacon of Cardigan, and Dr. Todd, of Trinity College, Dublin, took the leading parts.
In the course of the correspondence, Dr. Todd expressed a desire to know what these structures were called by the country people; and it occurred to me that a paper on the Names of Cromlechau might tend to keep up the interest of the subject. I have therefore thrown together a few remarks upon the various names by which these stones are popularly called. The earliest and simplest form of these names is Llech; but as there is a stone of some celebrity named by the bard Aneurin, under the designation of " carreg," I will speak of that first. The bard, speaking of the conduct of a certain warrior at the battle of Cattraeth, says:—
"Noc ac escyc carreg vur vawr y cyhadfan
Nid mwy eysgogit Wit mab Peithan."
Of these lines, the following is a translation:-
Wid, the son of Peithan, flinched no more
Than the great stone of the battle-field.
I am of opinion that our battle of Cattraeth occurred in 603, at Catterick, in Yorkshire, and that it was the battle of Digston, Daegsastan, or Egesanstane, of Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which evidently derives its name from some remarkable stone; for
Daegsastan, means the stone of the day (of victory, probably);
Egesanstane, is the stone of slaughter; and
Siggeston, the name of a place in the neighbourhood of Catterick, is the stone of victory.
Now, supposing this view to be correct, there must have been something remarkable about that stone; but whether it was a cromlech cannot be ascertained; and accordingly I only throw this out as a suggestion.
There is more reason to assume that the cromlech was sometimes, and at an early period, called llech. In the tale called " The Dream of Rhonabwy," one of the characters states that he went to the llech las, in North Britain, to do penance; and from the occurrence of the same word in the sense of a cromlech, I conclude that llech las was one of that class. Again, in the Mabinogi of Peredur ab Evrawc, we read that a lady told the hero,—
" Go thou forward unto yonder mountain, and there thou wilt find a grove, and in the grove there is a cromlech, do thou there challenge a man three times to fight, and thou shalt have my friendship. So Peredur proceeded onward, and came to the side of the grove, and challenged any man to fight. And a black man arose from beneath the cromlech, mounted upon a bony horse, and both he and his horse were clad in huge rusty armour."—p. 368.
The word in the original, here translated cromlech, is llech; but that this llech was a cromlech does not admit of doubt. We also read in the Triads of another llech, which appears to have been a stone of this class, where Arthur is said to have been three nights in a concealed prison under Llech Echemaint; and, therefore, without attaching any importance to the legends here alluded to, we may safely conclude that, at the time when these tales and Triads were written, the structures which form the subject of this inquiry were commonly called llechau. The date of these compositions cannot be ascertained with any exactness; but if we place them in the fifteenth century we cannot be very far wrong.1 The name llech is simply descriptive of the covering stone.
Note 1. It is a corroboration of the idea that many Triads are founded upon the romances, that while the three imprisonments of Arthur are only known in Welsh literature by allusion, the stories alluded to are to be found in English and French romances. One of these imprisonments is related in Malory's Morte de Arthur, chap. lxvi. Part II.
Next in antiquity, so far as we can ascertain it, is the common name, cromlech. The word, to the best of my recollection, does not occur in the writings of the bards. However, I should not like to speak positively of any but the bards of the sixth century. It does not occur' in the Welsh Laws, nor yet in the Triads; and no instances of its occurrence have yet been noted in our chronicles and tales, or in any of our oldest MSS. It does not occur in Davies' Dictionary, though the word was certainly in use in his day. However, one of the first instances of its occurrence is in the History of Pembrokeshire, of old George Owen, which was written subsequent to 1588, and possibly about 1600; and the passage in which it is to be found is copied at p. 560 of. Fenton's Pembrokeshire, where he says that the stone atl\» Pentre Evan was called " Maen y Gromlech."
This fact is interesting as an illustration of the sense in which the word was used in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and by the contemporaries of Bishop Morgan, whose translation of the Bible came out in 1588; and the only conclusion deducible from his use of the term cromlechydd y creigiau is, that he used the word in the popular sense which it had in his day, and which is satisfactorily established, upon the authority of George Owen, to have been precisely that which we now attach to the word. Dr. Todd was apparently mistaken when he supposed Bishop Morgan to have meant clefts in the rocks.
We next find the word used by the Rev. John Griffiths, of Llan Ddyfnant, in a letter to the celebrated antiquary, Robert Vaughan, of Hengwrt, who died in 1667. In that letter, quoted by Llwyd, and dated, suppose we say 1650, the writer states that these 1 structures were "called by an apposite name, cromlechau." Then we find it used by Llwyd, half a century later, in his additions to Gibson's Camden; and in 1723 it appears in Rowlands' Mona Antiqua. Dr. Todd was for this reason again mistaken, when he supposed Rowlands to have been the first to use this word in the sense we now give to it.
The word is common throughout all parts of Wales, though more frequent in North Wales than in the South, and appears to be a compound regularly formed from the word llech, a slab, or flat stone, and the feminine form of the adjective crwm, or crooked. Hence cromlech means a crooked, bent or inclined slab, or flat stone. The name however is simply descriptive; and whether it be much older than the time of Bishop Morgan, or a compound formed some three centuries ago, throws no light upon the primitive use of the structures so called. The theory advanced by the Rev. Mr. James, (Iago Emlyn,) at Cardiff, that crom was the name of an Irish god, appears to me untenable; and consequently this name in no way assists us to determine the vexed question, whether these structures are altars or graves; but, in passing, I may remark that the existence of any doubt upon the subject is at variance with the spirit of the age in which we live. Facts alone can determine the question; and those facts can only be obtained by excavation, in unfrequented localities.
George Owen was of opinion that the cromlech was a sepulchral monument, as were Llwyd, and the Rev. John Griffiths, supra cit., and therefore these elder antiquaries held the same view as Dr. Petrie and Dr. Todd; but the general opinion, up to a recent period, was in favour of the altar theory. George Owen also thought the name should be grymlech, or stone of strength; and the Rev. John Jones, of Llanllyfni, suggested awgrym-lech; but both suggestions appear to me untenable.
A third name for these structures is Croes lechau, or cross-stones. This occurs in the neighbourhood of Talgarth, and is purely descriptive. There is another Croesllechau in Monmouthshire.
Arthur's Stone, in Gower, or Maen Ketti2, Arthur's Stone, between Hay and Hereford, and Arthur's Table, in Caermarthenshire, are three names of cromlechau. They happen to be in the line of country traversed by . King Arthur and his knights, in the celebrated hunt of the Twrch Trwyth. This boar, Trwyth, according to the legend, had formerly been a British prince, but he was transformed into a boar as a punishment for his sins. And Lady Charlotte Guest, in an interesting note to " Kilhwch and Olwen," suggests that these cromlechau received their names from that legendary hunt, which extended from Porth Cleis and Milford, past the Preseleu mountains, thence to Loughor, up the vale of Towy, and down the vale of Wye, to its junction with the Severn, where the Twrch entered the water, crossed over, and went to Cornwall. She appears to be quite correct in that suggestion.
Note 2. It may be interesting to note, that this is one of several local names derived from an Irish saint, named Cetti, or Ketti; the others being Kilgetty, near Tenby, and Sketty, near Swansea. Similar names occur in Ireland; and the Drum-Keat of our day, appears in Adamnan as Dorsum Cetti. There are many instances in South Wales of the occurrence of the Erse or Gaelic Kil, a church, the equivalent of the Cymric Llan, in the names of churches. Kilgerran (Pembroke), Kilkennyn (Cardigan), Kilrheiddyn, Kilbebyll, Kil sanos, near Merthyr, are instances of this kind, and proofs of the Gaelic occupation of the districts in which they occur.
We have another group of names in-
Llech yr ast, Cardiganshire; the stone of the bitch.
Carnedd y viliast, Denbighshire; the carnedd of the greyhound bitch.
Llech y vilast, Glamorganshire; the stone of the greyhound bitch.
Gwal y vilast, Caermarthenshire, and Gwdl y vilast, Monmouthshire; the kennel of the greyhound bitch.
Llech y vleiddast (I forget where); the stone of the wolf bitch.
These are all clearly legendary, and throw no light upon the subject under consideration.
It must be evident, at the first glance, that these names, like those of the Arthurian group, admit of a collective explanation; but what the true significance of the names really is, appears to be as yet undetermined. Iolo Morganwg's idea on the subject, having forgotten the bardic fiction about " Da yw'r maen gydar ef engyl," was this:—
" In all probability the first British Christians, by way of showing their detestation, wherever they met with druidical or heathenish places of worship, converted them into dog or bitch kennels."—Malkin's South Wales, i. 169.
The Rev. Edward Davies thought the viliast of these cromlechau was his famous goddess Ceridwen. Both these explanations are very far-fetched, and certainly untrue. I think that the true significance of this group of names is neither historical nor allegorical, but legendary.
In the tale of " Kilhwch and Olwen," we read of a legendary animal, called Gast Rhymhi; and, singularly enough, one of the cromlechs, called Gwal y filast, or the kennel of the greyhound bitch, happens to be near the river Rhymney, on the Monmouth side; but this is simply a coincidence. The Cambrian legend in connection with this creature appears to be wholly lost, and I can only recover the mere outlines:—Gast Rhymhi was originally a female, and most probably one of distinction; and for some reason or other, in accordance with mediaeval ideas, she was transformed into a she-wolf. It is at this stage that she is noticed in the above-named story. Kilhwch demands the assistance of Arthur and his knights to obtain the hand of Olwen, his ladylove; and among other things, he demands " the two cubs of Gast Rhymhi" Arthur goes in search of this animal, and inquires where she is: some one answers that she is at Milford. The hero found the she-wolf in a cave at that place; and having surrounded her and her two cubs, the story states, " that God did change them again for Arthur into their own form." In this legend, it seems to me, we have the origin of these singular names; cromlechau would naturally be deemed fit habitations for such a creature: and when wolves had been forgotten, and the story worn away, a bleiddast might easily have given place to a milast. The only difficulty in the explanation may therefore be removed in this way:-
Llech y Gawress, or the stone of the princess, or giantess, in Cardiganshire, was another name for a cromlech no longer existing; and it appears to me not improbable that this giantess, or princess, for the word cawr, as was clearly shown by Mr. Lewis Morris, the well-known antiquary, very often means a prince, may have been the human form of Gast Rhymhi.
This is the best explanation that the native materials enable me to give; but in this, as in many other instances, the legends of Wales, to be fully understood, must be viewed from the standpoint of European literature. The legend of Gast Rhymhi suffices to explain the origin of those local names, but itself demands a fuller elucidation. It is the Cambrian form of the famous legend of Melusina; but as this may not be generally known, I will give a brief outline of the story, from the writings of Keightley, Thorns, and other writers on fairy mythology. There was an ancient priestess of the infernal Ceres, named Melissa; but it is uncertain whether this name has any connection with the following legend, though there are clear proofs that many similar stories, such as those of men transformed into stags, wolves or boars have a direct relation to the classic metamorphoses. The story runs thus:—The king of Albania married a fairy named Pressina, by whom he had three daughters, one of whom was named Melusina. Having offended her mother, she was condemned to become a serpent from the waist downwards every Saturday, until she should marry a man who would never see her on that day. She married a Count Raymond, of Lusignan; but the marriage was rendered unhappy by the deformity of their two sons. One of these burnt the other to death; and this calamity led Count Raymond, who had previously discovered his wife's secret, to banish the " odious serpent, and contaminator of his race" from his sight. At these reproaches she fainted away; and, in obedience to a decree of destiny, was compelled to traverse the earth in pain and suffering, as a spectacle, until the day of doom. But, so celebrated became her story towards the fourteenth century, that several of the noblest houses in France falsified their genealogies to show a descent from her; and, to gratify one of these, it was feigned that, on leaving Lusignan, she retired to the cave of Sassenage, in Dauphiny. Her story gave rise to the fabulous beings called Melusince, who (it is said) were transformed by Satan into spectres, malignant spirits, and horrible monsters, who were further said to infest deserts, woods, monuments, and lonely sea coasts. Lycanthropy was the most common fount of mediaeval metamorphoses; and men-wolves, or wolf-men, figure frequently in the legends of that period.
In this story we have the European original of a legend, of which the tale about Gast Rhymki is the Cambrian form. The word vilast, or milast, is possibly a corruption of Melissa, Melusina, or Melicendis, which is sometimes connected therewith; the fleiddast, and the ast, are descriptive of her she-wolf form; the two cubs were probably the two sons; and Rhymhi is probably a corruption of Raymond. Gast Rhymhi is, therefore, the she-wolf of Raymond; and it is most probable that the names of these Cambrian monuments are derived from this legend, and are subsequent to the fourteenth century.
Llech y Drybed is another name for a cromlech in Pembroke; but it appears to be purely descriptive; for the trybedd, or trivet, was an utensil used for holding pans and kettles over a hearth fire; and this stone, poised on three others, has been thus designated from its resemblance to the domestic tripods, which are probably still in use in those parts of Wales where coal and grates are unknown, or unusual.
Ty Illtyd, or the house of St. Illtyd, is the name of a well-known cromlech in Breconshire, and appears to have received this appellation from a popular idea that the saint had made this his cell; but, of course, the name is purely fanciful; for, though St. Iltutus is thought to have spent his last days in that county, we cannot suppose that this was his habitation. Yr Hen Eglwys, or the Old Church, is the local designation of a cromlech in Glamorganshire; but, as Glamorgan is the stronghold of the temple theory, and as this name savours strongly of theoretical preconception, but little reliance can be placed upon it. The name is evidently modern; and probably belongs to that heretical theosophy known as the Bardism of the Chair of Glamorgan.
Dyffryn Golych.—Another name, supposed to give much support to the temple theory, is that of Dyffryn Golych, in which now stands the largest cromlech in South Wales, if not in the whole Principality. The name Golych is rendered by some parties, " worship;" and, again, is said to be a compound of Gawl and lluch, two words signifying light. Hence this name is considered to have reference to the asserted druidic practice of worshipping " in the face of the sun, and in the eye of light." But, independently of the insufficiency of the proofs hitherto adduced to show that the Druids did worship in this way, there are two objections to these versions of that word. In the first place, the word occurs as the proper name of the Golich brook, which flows through, and gives its name to, the dyffryn, or valley; and, in the second, the orthography is Golich, not Golych, and will not sustain either of the above explanations. The name occurs in the Liber Landavensis, where we read of the Golich brook, the spring of Golich, of Trev Golich, and of Blaen Pant Golich (pp. 402, 502, 571). Hence I conclude, that Dyffryn Golich is neither more nor less than the valley of the Golich brook. Two of the names here cited seem to imply that Golich was originally a personal name.
These are all the names of cromlechs that now occur to me; but two other names, for what are termed druidic circles, deserve to be added to the list. A circle of this kind in Caermarthenshire is called by the two names of Buarth Arthur, or Arthur's fold, and Meini Gwyr. The first name is to be explained in the same way as the other names forming the Arthurian group; the latter, which has reference to the stones themselves, as distinguished from the circle which they form, indicates the popular impression that these stones were monumental; for Meini Gwyr mean the stones or monuments of warriors. Meini Cyfriol is a name which indicates something of the same kind, but more faintly. Nennius, speaking of a tumulus on the banks of the Wye, says that the measurement of it was never the same for two successive times; and Meini Cyfriol are similarly named, from an impression, now confined to country people, that they could never be accurately counted.
Having thus exhausted the list of names, we come to consider their bearing upon " the cromlech question;" and the result, so far as my sagacity extends, is wholly negative. It is, however, but justice to so eminent a scholar as Mr. Archdeacon Williams, to state, that he considers some of these names to be far more significant than they appear to me; for, in one of the series of sixteen very able and learned letters on the cromlech question, he mentioned several of these names, and promised afterwards to show at length that they supported the altar or temple theory. I am not aware that he has ever done so; but should he at any future time return to the subject, and demonstrate to my satisfaction that these explanations are unsound, I shall have no hesitation in acknowledging myself to stand corrected; for there are but few men so capable of doing as much justice as can be done to the modern Cambrian view of this subject.
The cromlech question itself is in far abler hands; but in respect of the Welsh names of these structures in various parts of the country, I am decidedly of opinion that they throw no light whatever upon the origin or use of the cromlech; the results are wholly negative; the names leave the question exactly where it was; they give no support of a reliable kind to either the grave or the altar theory, unless we may draw from them a conclusion of this kind—that the structures are so very old as to have left no indications of their use or origin in either the language or traditions of the Kymry. The popular fancy in affixing these various names to the southern cromlechau, appears to have been unrestrained by any tradition as to their former uses, or real character; and, if the conclusion here suggested has any foundation in fact, the negative results of this inquiry tend to support the views of the Danish antiquary, Chevalier Worsaae, that they are not the remains of any Keltic or Kymric race. However, I do not attach much importance to the suggestion here thrown out; but as, in all honest researches, it is of much importance to clear away all that is not relevant to the inquiry, this little paper may prove serviceable in that way.
In support of these views, we may cite the opinion of Dr. Owen Pughe, who, upon such a subject, may be considered the best authority. In the preface to his Llywarch Hen, he has these remarks:—
"Maen Gorsedd, the import of which is the stone of the assembly, was also called Crair Gorsedd, or the covenant place of the assembly, and Maen Llog, the stone of covenant; but it never was called cromlech, nor is this name to be found in any old manuscript whatever. It is therefore a name unfairly obtruded upon the public. The altar might be called cromlech for the same reason as other stones of the like form and position are termed in common language, but it has not the least allusion to the use which the bards made of it."—p. xlvii.
This celebrated preface, which, under the name of primitive druidism, sets forth the speculations of the bardic heretics of the fifteenth century, was written under the inspiration of Iolo Morganwg; and it is possible that the statement above made may also claim his sanction. In either case it is quite conclusive as to the recentness of the word " cromlech."
It will, of course, be observed that I have confined my observations to the cromlechau of South Wales, being less familiar with northern ground; but if some other antiquary would write a similar paper on the cromlechau of Gwynedd, he would render an acceptable service to Cambrian archaeology.
Merthyr Tydvil, Nov. 1855.