Who Was Arthur Pendragon?

Once upon a time, a starry-eyed college student majoring in geophysics, with high aspirations of becoming a technical writer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), decided to take classes that fed her equal love of the humanities. And so, she enrolled in an Arthurian Legend class and instantly fell in love with Arthurian Cycle stories and fairy tales (even more than she already had).

Hey there. This is Jesikah, one half of the Wonder-Twin duo known as MoonTree Books (aka Claire Luana & Jesikah Sundin). With our powers combined, we became badass mistresses of fairy tale fiction. Okay, we already were . . . *winks* But, we each have strengths that beautifully meld together in our partnership. Claire is truly magical when it comes to zero drafting and micro-outlining. And my powers manifest best in macro-outlining and research. We both write in ways that border on the poetic and pay hawk-eye attention to characterization. But I digress. Back to the title of this post: Historical Notes.

  1. Love. Research. And I love historical factoids.

I also have a love for origin stories. And the Arthurian Legend is a tale with origins as misty and mysterious as the gateway to the Otherworld. Most of the Arthurian narratives we know today stem from The History of British Kings by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century Welsh cleric who was obsessed with King Arthur and Merlin stories. Medieval tales aside, history buffs do know this: the Arthurian Legend is of Celtic origins and was hijacked by the French courts after the Norman invasion. The Normans, like the Romans (ha! They kinda rhyme), knew the key to assimilating people groups was to kill their gods. So, they killed their gods by re-writing and assimilating their fables and myths first. King Arthur began as a Bran the Blessed archetype (from the Welsh Mabinogion) and was transformed into a biblical King David archetype by the Christian Normans. The Normans even changed the grail from a cauldron-like serving dish, common in Celtic homes, to the cup of Christ.

As I dug deeper into myth origins, I grew frustrated with the druids and medieval monks. The druids were historians and lore keepers for the Celts, whether Gaels or Britons. But—a big BUT—the druids and Celts were orators. It was against their religion to write things down. There were a few heretics in the bunch and so we do have Ogham runes carved into standing stones and a few stone tablets. But not many and certainly not enough to piece together historical details we can confirm absolutely. And with nothing written down, it was easy for medieval monasteries to re-write Celtic history as a propaganda campaign for the Holy Roman Church. And, thus, paganism dissolved into the Otherworld’s mist and Christianity became the new state religion.

Despite these unfortunate drawbacks, I did learn a few interesting things about Celtic culture (from the continent and the Isles). The majority of their gods were water born (more on this in a bit). And they were branched out in Star Wars fashion. You either followed the Light side or the Dark side. The Light side were known as the Children of Danu (aka the Túatha dé Danann) and the Dark side were the Children of Domnu (aka the Formorians), as illustrated in The Ulster Cycle from Ireland.

The first mention of a “King Arthur” is in the Historia Brittonum dated 826 A.D., often attributed to Nennius, a 9th century Celtic monk and historian, who mentioned a “King Arthur” of Caerleon, Wales, also known as the Roman City of the Legion. Camelot is fantasy, which is why dozens of cities throughout Great Britain claim to be Camelot. Some historians even believe Arthur was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Roman-British war leader from the 5th century who is famed for winning a major battle against the Anglo-Saxons. Me? I don’t think Arthur existed. Not as an actual person in history. Rather, he was the equivalent of a super hero to deliver hope and rally the masses. We have The Avengers and they had Arthur Pendragon. That age was fraught with never-ending wars, invasions, territory expansion and border re-assignments, and old gods vs new gods. The people needed a hero to believe in, someone who would unite the masses and bring peace. Arthur was the post-Roman British mythological man for the job.

Another interesting factoid I learned about Celtic culture was their obsession with water sacrifices. When we modern people think of human sacrifices, we often think of a stone table and a bloody mess. But, actually, human sacrifices for the Celts were drownings. Their gods were born from and dwelled in water. And humans weren’t the only things sacrificed to the water. Archaeologists have found hoards of swords, shields, helmets, spears, and daggers in lakes, ponds, river beds, and even in the oceans around Celtic regions. Lady of the Lake anyone? Why a goddess would lift a sword out of the water makes sense when put in the context of Celtic culture. And Excalibur’s inscription? Even more so. “Take me up, cast me away.”

But my favorite part of the research? Learning how the Celts were more progressive than modern society with regard to certain social issues. They believed that women were 100% equal to the men, legally and socially. Women in Celtic cultures didn’t need a man’s approval or permission for . . . anything. And, the women practiced polyandry (multiple husbands). So, for those who are trying to piece together how an Arthurian Legend story works with Reverse Harem? This is how. Polyandry was a fairly common practice from what historians are beginning to uncover.

We set our tale in the mid-11th century. By this time, druids had appeared to have died out for nearly 800 years. Forgive our creative license, but Arthurian Legend just wouldn’t be the same without Merlin. Also, the official term “knight” was first noted in the late 11th century, after the Norman invasion. Until then, they were just known as noble-titled warriors. And, finally, castles didn’t appear until the 12th century, also thanks in part to the Normans. Wooden fortresses and manors were all that existed until then. Still, we used the term “Castle of the Maidens” as that is integral to Arthurian lore and even has Celtic ties.

There’s far more, which I will delve into after book two. Especially information on who “Gwenevere” actually was in the myth origins of Arthurian Legend.

If you’ve read The Biodome Chronicles, then you’ll recognize my ending: all errors that may exist while trying to represent Celtic and Welsh culture, mythology, geography, and Arthurian Legend elements are entirely mine. I am a storyteller, weaving together information that builds and forms worlds in our imaginations. In the famous words of Nennius, a 9th century Celtic monk, “I have made a heap of all that I could find.”

Your Knights of Caerleon lore keeper,

Jesikah Sundin

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