Sunday 22 November 2015

The Ancients of the World

Another legendary inhabitant of Cos Fochno was a magic toad that was one of the six oldest creatures in the world, and one of the wisest.
An Eagle lived in the woods of Gwernabwy. Sadly his old wife-eagle died, and he was very lonely. He thought it would be good if he could marry an old widow of his own age. He thought he might ask the old Owl of Cwm Cawlyd to be his second wife, but first he decided to ask about her. Now the Eagle had a friend, older than himself, the Stag of Rhedynfre. The Eagle decided to ask him if he knew about the old owl.
The Eagle went to the Stag, who said this: "Do you see this oak beside me? Now it is just a withered stump, with no leaves or branches, but I remember when it was an acorn on the top of the chief tree of this forest. An oak is three hundred years growing, three hundred years in its prime, and three hundred years in returning to the earth. More than sixty years of the last hundred of this oak are passed and the Owl has been old since I first remember her. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Salmon of Llyn Llifon. Ask him if he knows about the old Owl."
The Eagle went to the Salmon, who said this: "I have a year over my head for every gem on my skin and for every egg in my roe, but the Owl was old when first I remember her. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Ousel of Cilgwri. Ask him if he knows about the old Owl."
The Eagle found the Ousel sitting on a hard flint, and asked if he knew of the Owl. The Ousel said: "Do you see this flint? It used to be so large it took three hundred yoke of the largest oxen to move it. It has only been worn away by my cleaning my beak upon it every night before going to sleep, and striking the tip of my wing on it after rising in the morning. Yet never have I known the Owl younger or older than she is today. But I have a friend who is much older than I, the Toad of Cors Fochno. Ask him if he knows about the old Owl.
The Eagle went to the Toad, who said this: "I never eat any food but the dust of the earth, and I never eat half enough to satisfy me. Do you see the great hills round this bog? I have seen the place where they stand level ground. I have eaten all the earth they contain, though I eat so little lest all the earth should be consumed before I die. Yet never have I known the Owl anything else but an old grey hag who cried to-whit-to-whoo in the woods in the long winter nights, and scared children with her voice even as she does to-day."
So the Eagle decided to marry the Owl and from Eagle’s courtship we know which are the oldest creatures in the world. They are the Eagle of Gwernabwy, the Stag of Rhedynfre, the Salmon of Llyn Llifon, the Ousel of Cilgwri, the Toad of Cors Fochno, and the Owl of Cwm Cawlyd, and the oldest of them all is the Owl.

I always imagined meeting the wise, old toad deep in the marsh. I never knew what I would ask him. But I never went there for fear of Ceridwen.

Tuesday 10 November 2015


But there were other legendary inhabitants of Cors Fochno. One was Hen Wrach Cors Fochno (the Old Witch of Cors Fochno), who I always took to be the legendary Ceridwen.

Ceridwen, the enchantress, had two children: an ugly son, Morfran and a lovely daughter, Creirwy.
Because Morfran was ugly, Ceridwen wanted to make him wise instead. She made a potion that had to be boiled in her magic cauldron for a year and a day. She got Morda, a blind man, to tend the fire. She used a young boy, Gwion Bach, to stir it. The first three drops of liquid from this potion gave wisdom; the rest was a deadly poison. But on the last night the blind man nearly let the fire go out. Gwion shouted in alarm and Morda put too much wood on the fire, which then flared up. The potion boiled over and three hot drops spilled onto Gwion's thumb, scalding him. Instinctively he put his thumb in his mouth and straight away he knew he had got the wisdom Ceridwen meant for her son.
Gwion knew Ceridwen would be angry, so he ran as fast as he could, but Ceridwen chased him. She nearly caught him, but then, using the power of the potion he turned himself into a hare and got away. But then she became a greyhound. She nearly caught him, but then he tuned into a fish and jumped into the river. But then she became an otter. She nearly caught him, but he leapt from the river, turned into a bird and flew away. But then she became a hawk. She nearly caught him, but then he saw a barn filled with grain. Tired out he flew down and turned into a single grain of corn.  But then she became a hen and started eating the grain. She pecked until all the corn was gone and she knew she had eaten Gwion. But then Ceridwen felt a stirring in her belly and she knew she was expecting a baby. She knew the child must be Gwion so she decided to kill it when it was born. But when the baby was born, he was so beautiful she could not kill him. Instead she put him in a leather bag and threw him into the sea.
Now Gwyddno Garanhir, who once was the king of Cantre’r Gwaelod was reduced to being a poor fisherman. He had a son called Elffin who was very unlucky. On Elffin’s 21st birthday he was told he could go to his father’s fish-trap and keep what ever was in it. He went to the fish trap and there was not one fish inside. Elffin was indeed unlucky. But then he noticed a leather bag caught in the trap. He looked in the bag and there was a baby boy. He went home and Gwyddno asked how many fish he had got. Elffin said “None” and Gwyddno replied “You are indeed the unluckiest of men.” But then Elffin opened the bag. Gwyddno saw the beautiful baby and declared that he was indeed ‘fair of brow’, in Welsh: Tal Iesyn, so the child was always known as Taliesin. Then Elffin was no longer unlucky, he was loved by Taliesin and together they had many adventures.
“What happened to Morfran?” I asked.

“He was all right,” said father. “He grew up to be a great warrior.”