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King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land

The Divine Feminine in the Mabinogion

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

Reveals how the ancient Celtic text of the Mabinogion was the mythical predecessor to the legends of King Arthur.

• Revised edition of Arthur and the Sovereignty of Britain (UK) that includes the author's latest research and insights.

• A comprehensive reader's companion with synopsis of stories and full commentary.

• Written by renowned scholar Caitlín Matthews, author of The Celtic Wisdom Tarot (15,000 sold).

The ancient Celtic stories of the Mabinogion have received universal recognition from scholars as both sources of the Arthurian legend and keys to insights into the ancient magic of the Celtic Otherworld. Now renowned Celtic scholar Caitlín Matthews, drawing on a full range of medieval texts and ancient Welsh writings, provides a fully revised and updated reader's guide to these rich and far-reaching tales.

In King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land, Matthews sheds particular light on Sovereignty, the Goddess of the sacred land of Britain, and the spiritual principle of the Divine Feminine. Clearly revealed are the many alternate forms taken by the Goddess of the Land--including her incarnation as Morgan of Avalon, who plays a dominant role in the Arthurian cycle. Also established are links between the legendary characters of the Mabinogion and their counterparts in other living myths of the Western world. Through the marriage of the Celtic kings to the Goddess of the Land, the sacred contract between political rulership and responsibility for the land's well-being is dramatically revealed. In King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land, Matthews once again articulates definitively the continuing relevance of ancient Celtic thought and belief as illustrated in the powerful myths and legends of ancient Britain.


King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land
The Divine Feminine in the Mabinogion

Chapter 1
Arthur and the Matter of Britain
If his forehead is radiant like the smooth hill in the lateral light, it is corrugated like the defense of the hill, because of his care for the land and for the men of the land.
David Jones, The Roman Quarry

And Sovereignty said to Niall: “And as you saw me ugly at first but at last beautiful, even so is royal rule. The land cannot be won without battles, but in the end everyone finds that sovereignty is both beautiful and glorious.”
“Echtra Mac Echach Muigmedoin”
The Fame of Arthur, Undying King

Arthur lives in the imagination and soul of the people. He is the focus and burning glass for many aspirations, combining the heroic endeavors of the pagan world with the spiritual chivalry of Christian Europe. Arthur’s grave, as the early Welsh poems Englynion y Beddau (Stanzas on the Graves) tell us, is an unthinkable sepulchre; he has not died but dwells in Avalon--he will come again. The legends in which he figures have currency among both the very simple and the very wise because of the Arthurian world’s immediacy in human terms and because its stories operate on many levels.
The Matter of Britain, as the stories of Arthur are called, is a very subtle blend of stories, history, traditions, and beliefs; its followers are likewise various—literary critics, medievalists, and folklorists mingle with those who like the stories for their own sake. There are others for whom Arthur has become a cult figure. He is hero and god,120 a being whose identity is worthy of assuming within the confines of a war game or role-playing scenario,147 a model which psychologists can apply to patients’ unconscious functions, and an inspiration to mythographers and metaphyscians.47, 86 Arthur is the stuff of epic film, novel, and enduring mythic heroism.
This Arthurian mystique has been copiously studied and extrapolated. Despite the protestations of rationalists that evidence for the historical Arthur is thin on the ground, the argument that he did exist will not go away. Reverence for Arthur has at various times assumed a semi-mystical fervor which scholars have found distasteful, for to them it surpasses the respect properly due to someone whom they regard as a literary invention and it teeters on the verge of the downright heretical. How has this come about?
The medieval literary corpus of Arthurian stories that most of us know is only one stratum of the excavation in question. If we look deeper, the literary evidence becomes thinner, but what does exist reveals quite a different picture of Arthur. One existing source is the Mabinogion, which, though first written down between 1100 and 1250 C.E., was the product of a rich oral tradition and preserves a portrait of Arthur and features of his career that might baffle someone familiar with the great king only through late-medieval sources.
For a start, Arthur was not a noble king based on the Norman or Plantagenet model; he was a warlord surrounded by his war band which was not above a little cattle-raiding or pig-reiving, according to the Welsh Triads.38 In texts like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain,10 Arthur performs his own deeds rather than sending one of his knights to carry them out on his behalf. We are continually struck, however, by the way in which Arthur seems to move effortlessly between the earthly realms and the Otherworld, for he seems at home in both.
And here, perhaps, we are at the root of the mystery, for Arthur blends skillfully into a mythological hinterland which is even now only just being comprehended. His power to excite reverence or mystical fervor is due in no small part to his connection with and relationship to deeply rooted mythological archetypes arising from the land of Britain. While it was “almost a miracle if he could extract a tear at a pious reading or discourse,” St. Ailred of Rievaulx wrote of an unnamed novice in 1141 C.E., it is no wonder that this novice “had frequently been moved to tears by fables which were invented and dissembled concerning an unknown Arthur”92--for the consciousness of that time more easily swarmed with native and familiar archetypes than with those propounded by St. Ailred and his fellow clerics.
In the same way in which saints stepped into the shoes of native deities, so the medieval King Arthur replaced the earlier proto-Celtic Arthur, who was in turn a resonance of a mythic archetype of ancestral memory. Mythic identities, like suits of clothes, are changed or appropriated easily. In Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain111 I attempted to show how one mythic motif percolated through British tradition to take in figures as diverse as Arthur, Bran the Blessed, and Mabon himself. In this volume my intentions are to show another kind of mythic archetype, that of Sovereignty, the Goddess of the Land, for it is through her that Arthur earns much of the supernatural reverence surrounding him. His association with her and her representatives will be detailed in chapter 10.
Arthur’s reputation seems, from medieval accounts, to be based solely on his Round Table knights and their exploits and on his notable birth and passing into Avalon. In fact, Arthur’s is a submerged reputation based on deeds and exploits whose traces can be discovered in extant early literary sources. In these episodes, such as the “Preiddeu Annwfn” (The Spoils of Annwfn--Mabon, chapter 6), in which we see him traveling in his ship, Prydwen, to steal the empowering symbols known as the hallows, he is dressed in his mythic guise, fulfilling an ancient, redemptive action in order to return balance to the land of Britain. In doing so, Arthur is the earliest Grail winner, establishing a pattern that is followed by Perceval, Bors, and Galahad in the later texts.

About The Author

Caitlín Matthews is internationally renowned for her research into the Celtic and ancestral traditions. She is the author of 36 books, including The Celtic Tradition, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, and Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom. She is co-founder of the Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies, which is dedicated to oral, shamanic, and sacred arts. Caitlin Matthews has a shamanic practice in Oxford, England, and teaches worldwide.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (October 1, 2002)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780892819218

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Raves and Reviews

"Once again Caitlin Matthews has used her tremendously rich powers of imagination and presentation to produce a personal interpretation of Celtic literature that inspires and enchants."

– Ronald Hutton, Ph.D., author of The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles

"As with its companion Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain, I have found King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land to be essential reading. No other study takes the reader through the Mabinogion more masterfully. This book is an indispensable guide to indigenous Celtic literature and myth."

– Ari Berk, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mythology and Folklore, Central Michigan University

"The heart of the Celts beats in these tales from the ancient Welsh, interpreted by one of today's most astute and sensitive writers on mythology."

– Patricia Monaghan, author of The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines

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