Ancient Wisdom of Wales Series

Giants and Floods

By E. A. Holmes
Shortly before the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle, the mayor of Caernarfon was interviewed on BBC television. The interviewer with a broad smile on his face began by chaffing the mayor: "What does it feel like to have the eyes of the world on you when, not so long ago, according to tradition, your countrymen used to paint themselves with woad?'' The mayor of Caernarfon, wearing his chain of office, with its ancient gold medallion of Cadwaladr, last of the kings of Britain, pulled himself to his full stature of five foot three and replied with flashing eye: "The race to which I belong was a civilized people three thousand years ago, when your ancestors were tending pigs on the Danube!" If one can read aright the old Welsh Celtic records, and the prehistoric legends that go back into the mists of time, there may be material enough to vindicate the mayor's assertion. Generally speaking, the Welsh are not good at "blowing their own trumpet," and maybe a Saesneg can blow a few notes for them!
Wales is a country about the size of Holland. It lies to the west of Britain, and is bounded by the sea on three sides. The Irish Sea -- or as it is now called (at least in Wales) the "Celtic Sea,'' in case there is oil under it -- rolls its sometimes angry breakers on the forth and west coasts of Wales, whilst the Bristol Channel, and the St. George's Channel, which make up the wide estuary of the river Severn, water the southern coastline. Eastwards, of course, Wales adjoins England.
There was a time when Celtic Britain stretched from the lowlands of Scotland down the whole of what is now England and Wales. London was a Celtic city. But along came the Romans, and after them the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and the Celts were pushed westward, so that in the sixth century AD they could claim only southwest Scotland, northwest England, Wales and the Cornish peninsula. Two more defeats, one at Chester to the northeast of Wales, and one in Cornwall, isolated Wales, and left only the mountain fastnesses to the Cymry people. Ireland is also Celtic, of course, but has its own history of Celtic colonization.
Here in Wales, these mountain fastnesses, the rushing streams, cloud-capped heights and natural greenery, feature a most beautiful country, where reminiscences of the past are thinly veiled. Dyfed was "Gwlad Yr Had," Land of Mystery, when the earth was young, and the gods walked among men. One can find the sites, at times even the ruins of cities, mentioned in the old legends; and some of the lakes, rivers and mountains retain the very names of the Welsh gods and heroes or giants that one finds in the stories of the Mabinogion, and the poems of the bards. There is a mountain alongside the river Conwy where the Welsh patriarch Math, son of Mathonwy, held his court -- a Welsh Mount Olympus. There is a monument to sixth century Taliesin, greatest of the historical bards, on the shores of Lake Geirionydd, and the area abounds with localities named in mythological tales woven around him. There are two places, one amongst the peaks of Snowdon, and the other in mid-Wales, on the summit of Cader Idris, where initiations into the old Mysteries are said to have taken place, and there are still local traditions of "fights with giants" at these places. Idris was the name of one of four local giants, the others being Yscydion, Offrwm, and Ysbryn, all names of local hills. One meaning of Yscydion is "the contender''; another, is "to be joined or coupled together," (Pughe's Welsh-English Dictionary).
One of legendary Arthur's men, Owain ap Macsen, slew, and was slain by, a giant at Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, and the cairn at the top of Yr Wyddfa, topmost peak of Snowdon, is said to be the tomb of the giant Rhitta Gawr, who was vanquished by Arthur. Rhith means "a form, a shape, a figure, an appearance, a guise." Gawr means "giant.'' From the little we know about the Mystery schools of Greece and Britain, it would appear that the candidate for initiation had to contend with, and prevail over, his animal nature, the primeval elements of his natural self, and thereafter to ally himself, to couple himself, to become at-one, with Divinity.
Are these giants allegorical representations of cyclopean forces in the natural man, forces and guises which, one day, we have all to transcend in the natural course of evolution, or are they a race memory of days so long ago that they were prehistoric even to men long before our era? Stories and legends about giants are to be found in many lands other than Britain and Greece. They are so prevalent in the Eddas of the Norse, in the legends of Persia and India, and in the tales of the Greenlanders, that the Rev. Edward Davies, in his book, Celtic Researches on the Origin, Traditions and Languages of the Ancient Britons,ventures the opinion that they are all drawn from the same source, that they are copied from nature --
but the Celtae themselves, while they acknowledge that such a race (of giants) dwelt amongst them, strenuously maintain that they were distinct from the real founders of their nation. -- pp. 81-2
In Cruden's Concordance to the Old and New Testament we find interesting references to these giants of old, and perhaps a clue as to who they were, and why the Celtae disowned them as ancestors:
GIANT: In Greek, Gigas, in Hebrew, Nophel, or Nephilim, which may signify a monster, or a terrible man, who beats and bears down other men. The Scripture speaks of Giants who lived before the Flood; they are called Nephilim, mighty men which were of old, men of renown, Gen.. 6:4. Aquila, instead of Gigantes, translates this word Nephilim, Epipiptontes, men who attack, who fall with impetuosity upon their enemies, a translation, says one, which renders very well the whole force of the Hebrew term. Symmachus translates it, Biaioi, violent men, cruel, whose only rule of their actions is violence, and force of arms.
The Scripture calls them sometimes Rephaims. For example: Chedorlaomer and his allies beat the Rephaims, or giants, at Ashteroth Karnaim, Gen.. 14:5. The Emims, ancient inhabitants of the land of Moab, were of a gigantic stature, they were of the number of the Rephaims or giants. Deut. 2: l0-l l. These giants of the old world, who once carried themselves insolently towards God and men, but were quickly subdued by the divine power, and drowned with a deluge, do now mourn or groan from under the waters where they were buried, or in their subterranean and infernal habitations, Job 26:5.
According to the archaic traditions, these giants belonged to the Atlantean race. The Celts claimed to be Aryans, a race which succeeded the Atlanteans from the time of the flood. In Welsh terms, the souls of these antediluvian giants had become so depraved that they failed to keep pace with the evolutionary current of developing humanity, and remained submerged in gross physical matter, in the circle of lower Abred or, even worse, had fallen into the subhuman regions of "Annwn."
The same traditions treat of terrible natural cataclysms in former ages, when continents broke away and were inundated by the seas, and when other landmasses came into being. Such things have been going on all the time during the geologic ages. The rocks of the Great Orme at Llandudno in North Wales are said to be over 500,000,000 years old, and the fossil records in them show they were once under the sea. Each of the most violent and wide-reaching of these cataclysms, however, is said to have brought to an end one cycle of human history, and to have opened a new chapter in the evolutionary story. H. P. Blavatsky speaks of the Lemurian age, then the Atlantean age, followed by our present age, as three chapters, each with its pages and verses, in the long history of the human race.
In 1944, archaeological researches in China and Java unearthed relics of giants. It was estimated that human beings weighing around at least 800 pounds must have been living in those parts. The average human today weighs around 150 pounds. The discovery was documented in Dr. Franz Weidenreich's book, Apes, Giants and Man (see The Theosophical Forum, Sept. 1946, p. 410). Both the scriptural records and the Welsh legends connect giants with the time of the flood, memories of which seem to be worldwide.
According to the Rev. Edward Davies, memories of the flood survive in Welsh place-names. The name Lake Bala -- or Llyn Tegid, its Welsh name, meaning the Lake of Serenity -- is particularly rich in such allusions. Tegid Foel is the husband of Ceridwen in the Welsh legends. He is also the Celtic "Janus,'' looking into the past and into the future. The Caldron of Ceridwen has close connections with the Ark of the Covenant, as we shall later discover. Two springs and their streams, called Dwyfawr and Dwyfach, which the Rev. Davies associates the names of the god and goddess of the Ark, flow into Llyn Tegid. They are, jointly, the source of the river Dee, anciently called Peryddon, the stream of the great causes. Tradition has it that these streams do not mix with the waters of the lake, but flow "uncorrupted'' through it until they arrive at Bala on the lower end of the lake. The name Bala means "going forth,'' and the local people always call the town "Y Bala," the going forth. Nearby is an artificial mount called Tomen y Bala, which the Rev. Davies equates with Mount Ararat, where Noah and his company are supposed to have made their descent and ''going forth.'' Also nearby are the mountains Arenig Fawr and Arenig Fach. Aren and Arene are "names of the Ark'' (Mythology and Rites of the British Druids, pp. 192-3).There is an account, in the Welsh Triads, of the bursting of Llyn Llion by which "all persons were drowned, with the exception of Dwyfan and Dwyfach, who escaped in a ship without sails, and the isle of Britain was repopulated from them."
One must be careful of too literal an interpretation of these "Arkite" allusions. The stories of the flood have many levels of meaning, and the ark is a symbol of many things. The Biblical version is off-putting, of course, in its naive story of all the animals going into the Ark two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo, and the appalling implications which this carries! In itself this shows how allegorical the Arkite legend is, and how applicable to spiritual interpretations it may be. It is interesting that a literal translation of the Welsh name for the Ark, "Nefydd Naf Neifion" has been given as: "the work of the Creator-Creators" or "the construction of the Ship of Ships'' (Cambrian History, Rev. R. W. Morgan). One is reminded of the Boat of Ra issuing from the Deep, in the Egyptian version of the birth of worlds.
Tucked inside the flyleaf of my copy of the Rev. Edward Davies's book on the British Druids is a typewritten note headed: "Item . . . Arkite Lore; whatever this is supposed to imply. Mr. Davies seems to be determined to see a reference to the Biblical Deluge in every single line of Welsh poetry. We are driven to the conclusion that Taliesin and his compeers ate, drank, thought, and slept 'Arkite' mystery throughout their lives."
"This book''continues our commentator, "has been written from the standpoint of a man who 'condescends' to expound the 'ignorant superstitions of an inferior race. Such a view cannot be the parent of an objective study. It is in itself a confession of the deepest ignorance and superstition for which we can hardly blame a person brought up amidst the calm complacency of the 18th century, a period which had plumbed the very depths of human knowledge, and had laid bare all the secrets of the world. Such was the background of this book!'' The note carries an inscription in ink, in block letters: "CORR . . . . . C. HUWS."
One cannot but be amused at the righteous, and perhaps justified indignation of this Mr. C. Huws, who is surely related by race, if not by blood, to our worthy mayor of Caernarfon! But maybe to understand a little more -- and no one is going to claim ''to understand all," in the terms of the French proverb -- is to forgive a little more.
We are given a wonderful clue to all this by Dr. Gottfried de Purucker, when he said:
If we were able by some wonderful cosmic magic to isolate a man and allow him to pursue his destiny in isolation through life after life after life after life until the Manvantara [world period] ended; and there were none to begin the next manvantara except this isolated one individual, do you know that coming down into manifestation as the inaugurator, initiator, and evolver of the world, that one single man from the seeds of lives locked up in him even now, would produce ten classes of monads? Out of him would flow all the families of beings, all the races of beings. From him would come the three Elemental Kingdoms, the Mineral Kingdom, the Vegetable Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, the Human Kingdom and the three Dhyani-Chohanic [Godlike] Kingdoms. -- The Dialogues of G. de Purucker 3:422
You will notice that de Purucker uses Hindu and Tibetan terms. A close connection between the Druidic religion and that of the Hindus has been noted and commented upon by scholars. So, if he is right, it would appear that we are all, every one of us, a "ship without sail," a "Ship of Ships,'' "Creator-Creators," "Arks of the Deluge," and so likewise must all the lives below us be vessels to their own infinitesimal life-atom constituents.
It follows also that we ourselves must be "life-atoms'' in the bosom of some great Being or Beings in this universe or macrocosmos in whom we live and move and have our very life. And who can say where this vast hierarchy of such Beings ends? Such thoughts go beyond our power to encompass them, and we can only allegorize them in Holy Grails, or Arks of the Deluge, or Cauldrons of Ceridwen, bringing into appearance and disappearance both worlds and men "like a regular tidal ebb, flux and reflux.''
No wonder the Arkite legends abound in all religions, for they have reference to that "ocean of knowledge" which, "unfathomable in its deepest parts . . . gives the greatest minds their fullest scope, yet, shallow enough at its shores, . . . it will not overwhelm the understanding of a child.''
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1986 Copyright © Theosophical University Press)

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