The Celtic Origins of Arthurian Legends
by Thomas DeVoss

he question of the existence of King Arthur is one that has puzzled scholars for centuries.  Arthur has lived on in so many multifarious manifestations and has been connected with so many different stories he has become more of a myth than any historical figure.  The actual Arthur would have to have lived during the fourth and fifth century but his character is “crystallized” to fit in with any generation's literature and culture.  The Arthur mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century Historia Regum Brittaniae is different in both arms and personality to the Arthur posed in The Saga of the Mantle (12th c), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th c), or Chretien de Troyes Lancelot (12th c).  In fact Lancelot isn't even in any (substantial) earlier version.  These latter three accounts of Arthurian living are contrasted to the works of Lawman, Wace, Sir Thomas Malory, and even the earlier (and less informative) works of Gildas Badonicus (6th c), Bede (7th c), Nennius (late 8th c), or in Y Goddodin (7th c).  Whereas earlier works tell of a warlord of supreme ferocity in battle, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries recount a generous and chivalrous knight (and round table) fighting for women's honor and all that is right.  By the fourteenth century people had apparently grown tired of the chivalric works and so satire filled the void.  Then in the 15th century Malory tries to tie everything together (bear in mind that things are already inextricably related) compromising some belligerence for some chivalry in a good mix.  Despite the differences in armor, personality, and even the use of basic characters almost all of the Arthurian legends draw on a similar Celtic background for their plot.

The Characters

First and foremost, to understand where the Arthurian literature comes from, we must understand the origin of the characters.  This lets us know the basis for the personalities and mannerisms we have come to know and grow fond of in the Arthurian Legends.


The Merlin stories come from a group that originally concerned two distinct persons, one a sixth century Welsh prince, Myrddin ab Morfryn, and the other, Vortigern's prophet Ambrosius (according to Nennius' Historia Britonum).  Geoffrey of Monmouth continued Merlin's development using the name Merlinus for both these persons, and then proceeded to combine the stories about them as though they referred to a single individual. In Monmouth, Merlin actually brings the massive stones to Stonehenge all by himself (with the help of his magic). Monmouth also directly states that Ambrosius is another name for Merlin. As any scholar should tell you though, Monmouth was not telling a history, but his own version of the stories he had heard. Monmouth was a Welshman, originally Grufydd ab Arthur, and despite his facts differing dramatically from Nennius and shading towards the Celtic myths rather than the Breton's (noting his Welsh background) his text is still read sometimes as a history.  Monmouth refers to Cornwall in the Welsh Caerleon, and also displays his Celtic ancestry by authoring the prophesies of Merlin, one of the Celts greatest heroes. (The Mysteries of Britain, Lewis Spence) Indeed, even the Grail quest is historically linked back to Merlin and Celtic cauldrons.  Chretien's main characters are all based on Celtic tradition and the story line follows the story of the Voyage of Bran and Cuchulainn (also see  Most scholars will therefore admit that Merlin's character has been around since long before Monmouth's Historia since its only a composite of an already popular character.  Parry points out a "remarkable parallel to the Vita Merlini in the Irish Frenzy of Suibhne (Philological Quarterly, IV, 193), and Sullivan long since pointed out an Irish parallel to the story of Vortigern's tower (O'Curry, Manners and Customs, I, cccxxxiii)." (Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Loomis)

Displaying all the powers appropriate for a great Druid, Merlin fits the Celtic archetype of king's advisor snugly. All this should be expected, of course, for Merlin most probably originates deep in the Celts' mythic past.  Originally Lailoken, the character was already, even in the earliest Welsh poetry, a traditional archetype. Driven mad in battle, Lailoken flees to the forest and lives with the wild beasts, at the same time gaining the potent gift of the second sight (prophecy).  This wizard takes his place as the most prominent Celtic element in all of Arthurian literature.

Lady of the Lake and Morgan Le Fay

Even the very Lady of the Lake herself seems to be derivative of a Celtic goddess of sovereignty.  The Lady of the Lake appears first in 1179 in Conte de la Charrette by Chretien de Troyes as the Dame du Lac, a type of fairy who raises Lancelot.  She gives him a magical ring, a stone which enables him to break enchantments and summon her to him.  This character recurs in The Vulgate Merlin (1215-1235), Lanzelet (1194-1205) by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven, the prose Lancelot (1215-1235), and again in the thirteenth century prose Prophecies de Merlin.  Celtic and Arthurian scholar Alfred Nutt contends that this Dame du lac " every form and at all periods of Celtic mythic literature, and forms one of the most distinctive and characteristic personages of that literature."  Some have even ventured so far as to say that the Dame du Lac and Morgan Le Fay come from the same Celtic sources due to their similar use of magic and relationship to the mysterious.  However, this theory falters when analysis of their personality shows polar opposites.  In Le Prophecies de Merlin Morgan actually seeks to harm Lancelot while the Lady of the Lake protects him.  These same differences carry over into the Arthurian legends as well.  Still, the possibility that the characters of the Lady of the Lake and Morgan Le Fay, and even Nimue or Vivien all stem from the same person is there.

The character of Morgan Le Fay is a very interesting one.  She deceives Arthur to conceive Mordred, plots against him, and in various works tries repeatedly to kill him, but then when Arthur is mortally wounded she bears him to the Island of Avalon.  In Gawain and the Green knight she is referred to as "Morgan the goddess"  while in Monmouth's Vita Merlini she is labeled a nymph.  The Vulgate Lancelot says that Morgan left human society and dwelt day and night in the forests by the fountains, so that people foolishly called her "Morgain la deesse,"  or Morgan the goddess.  This is important since Celtic scholars think that Morgan is derivative of Modron, which in turn comes from the Gallo-Roman goddess Matrona, a water nymph and nature goddess.  Modron is the Welsh character that is mother to Owein and Mabon.  Interestingly enough, in the german Lanzelet there is a character Mabuz who scholars think is the same as Mobon whose mother is the Lady of the Lake.  Rhys asserts that Morgan Le Fay was doubtless a Welsh Morgan, meaning "sea-born", and identified with the Irish Muirgen, "one of the names of the aquatic lady Liban." (Studies in Medieval Literature, Loomis) When all this evidence is taken into account and the traditional tale is analyzed, the characters of Morgan and the Lady of the Lake do indeed seem related.  While the Lady of the Lake endows Arthur with his power and Morgan Le Fay usually tries to remove him from power, it is Morgan who ultimately carries Arthur off to take care of him.  "The nature of the sword itself and its attainment from the Lady of the Lake argue persuasively for mystic origins, but the disposal of the sword is even more noteworthy.  Sacrifice was common among the Celts, and often took the form of votive offerings presented to the gods in shrines, or surrendured to the forces of nature. There are many examples of weapons and other metal goods cast into pools, rivers, and lakes as offerings; these are especially connected with funerary rites. The casting of a dying king's sword into a magic lake seems almost an open window into a long lost culture," and an appropriate ending to any Celtic tale.  (


The Character of Lancelot du Lac can be traced back through the Welsh Llwch Lleminawc to the Irish god Lugh Loinnbheimionach.  The Celtic original of Lancelot, this Llenlleawc, was an Irishman, who in Kilwch and Olwen performs deeds similar to Cuchulinn's expedition to the other world to carry off the three cows, the cauldron, and the maiden Blathnat.

In the "Spoils of Annwn",  also known as the "Harryings of Annwn", another Lancelot character is hero.  Here, Arthur goes in his ship Prydwen to Ireland with his men to get a caldron from Diwrnach.  After being entertained, Arthur demands the caldron from Diwrnach but is refused.  Bedwyr (Bedivere) then seizes it and gives it to a servant.  "'And Llenlleawc the Irishman seized Caledvwlch (Excalibur) and brandished it, and slew Diwrnach the Irishman and his company.'" (Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Loomis)

Others have contended that Lancelot along with the other grail heros Gawain, Boors, Perceval and Galahad all may claim to be young sun-gods who have descended into Arthurian romance from the realms of Celtic mythology, thus ignoring the Irish connections and making the stories more contemporary and derivative of Welsh and Breton tradition.  Lancelot is present in a beheading game in Perlesvaus just as many of the other grail seekers are, as a later character placed into a much older Celtic tale.  Briefly, the story in this version sees Lancelot come to a wasteland, "wherein wonned neither beast nor bird, for the land was so poor and parched that no victual was to be found therein."  He enters a city where the walls and churches are completely dilapidated and the inhabitants are no where to be seen.  Then he comes upon a great palace where people are crying over a young knight who is about to go to his death.  This fated knight comes forth in a red tunic with a gold girdle.  He charges Lancelot to cut off his head with the stipulation that in a year Lancelot return  and submit himself to the same act.  Reluctantly, Lancelot agrees and cuts off the knights head.  He looks back to see no sign of the knights body of head but only hears lamentations and cries for vengeance.  In exactly one year, Lancelot, true to his word, returns to the spot. The brother of the slain knight meets him, sharpening the ax and yelling that now Lancelot's time has come.  Lancelot cries out for Guinivere, takes three blades of grass, and stretches his neck on the chopping block.  The knight strikes a blow but misses, and then two damsels rush forth and cry to the knight to spare Lancelot.  Lancelot then learns he was the first knight yet to return and fulfill his end of the promise to the beheading game.  Suddenly, there is great rejoicing and the city is thronged with people and returned to lush vegetation and beauty.

Lancelot also appears in older Welsh literature as a figure called Llwch Llawwynawc, one of Arthur's knights.  The second half of this name has been translated to mean "of the white hand."  Upon first thought, one might equate this with the lady of the lake but no early works indicate this.  Instead the more probable derivation is through the Irish God Lug himself.  Lug or Lugh Loinnbheimionach, "Lug of the mighty blows," or any number of variations, was the god of sun and lightning thus explaining the white hand.  Lug is also at once the father of Cuchulinn and identical with him.  Thus Lugh Loinnbheimionach is the ultimate source for all the names, and names like Lugh Lamhfadda or Lugh Lleminawc are all derivatives.  The confusion with the lady of the lake probably comes from the Bretons in that their Welsh translation of Llwch means "lake."  Thus this character became Llwch Lleminawc or Llawwynawc of the Lake.  The French version of this name would be Lancelin, which occurs early in Brittany, and became Lanceloc of the Lake.  However, when written in manuscripts the scriptic c often looks like t and was thus inherited.  The derivation of Lancelot is similarly related to Gawain's development because of their ancient family tie.  This relationship explains why Gawain plays the alter ego of Lancelot in so many cases.


Gawain is derived from the Welsh epithet Gwallt Avwyn, applied to Gwrvan, or the "little Gwri, who in turn represents little Curoi or Cuchulinn." (Studies in Medieval Literature, Loomis)  Cuchulinn and Curoi both get confused as the son of Lug, and this is an easy mistake to make since they are almost completely identical.  While they come from slightly different backgrounds they have all the same characteristics.  They were both so precocious that they took arms at the age of seven and Cuchulinn is often replaced by Curoi in many versions of the Blathnat abduction.  In Cuchulinn's Phantom Chariot Cuchulinn takes the place of Curoi, in that Cuchulinn plays the chief role in the attack and rescue of the Ulstermen when overtaken by a storm.  This story embodies all the basic aspects of Curoi but the protagonist is replaced by Cuchulinn.  They do have one glaring difference however, Cuchulinn is always represented by a little, beardless boy no older than 17, while Curoi is huge and terrible.  Roger Loomis contends that Cuchulinn may infact mean little Curoi thus further linking the two.  These two are connected to Gawain through their stories.  One of the most famous of Irish stories  was the love affair between Cuchulinn and Curoi's wife, Blathnat, and even the account of the three days' visit of Cuchulinn's to Curoi's castle is to be found in Bricriu's Feast.  Could then, the huge Sir Bercilak in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight be representative of  Curoi while Cuchulinn represents Gawain?  This would evoke another interpretation of the Gawain story, a deeper psychological analysis based on the symmetry of their opposed characters.  This might be a little far-fetched since Cuchulinn actually undergoes the same beheading ritual as Gawain when he strikes off the head of Terror Son of Great Fear.  The umpire for this beheading test is called the Yellow Son of Fair.  The Terror Son and the Yellow Son have been identified with the solar and stormy aspects of the same diety.  Curoi embodies both aspects, while Gawain is very obviously equated with the solar aspect.  In Chretien's Ivain, it explicity says "Gawain is the sun."  It is for these reasons that Gawain and all the other characters associated with Curoi or Gwri are thought to be sun gods apostheosized.

Others have pointed out Cuchulin's connetion to the mythical Welsh figure Gwri.  Their birth myths are almost identical, and furthermore, Welsh myths know a big Gwri and a little one.  It is this character Gwri who is also thought to have given rise to Peredur and Perceval for Peredur's first name was supposedly Gwri.  Wheter or not this connection is there, Gawain is still the main character in one of the most Celtic and derivative tales in all the Arthurian legends; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The stories

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The anonyous 14th century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is mostly based on Chretien's continuation to Perceval, the Livre de Caradoc and Bricriu's Feast.  In both these stories, the beheading test takes place but the Livre de Caradoc ends quite differently.  The Irish Bricriu's Feast sees the hero Cu Chulinn take the role of Gawain and submit himself to the ax chop of a "bachlach."  The start of the story tells of Cu Chulinn's greatness and of his many entertaining deeds.  It goes on to speak of all the "champion portions" Cu Chulinn wins and all the small battles he fights but It is not until the very end that most of the similarities come.
    When, "One day as the Ulstermen were in Emain Macha, fatigued after the gathering and the games, Conchobar and Fergus mac Roig, with the Ulster nobles as well, proceeded from the playing field outside and seated themselves in the Red Branch of Conchobar. Neither Cu Chulainn nor Conall the Victorious nor Loegaire the Triumphant were there that night. But the hosts of Ulster's heros were there. As they were seated , it being eventide, and the day drawing toward the close, they saw a big uncouth fellow of exceeding ugliness drawing nigh them into the hall. To them it seemed as if none of the Ulstermen would reach half his height. Horrible and ugly was the carle's disguise. Next his skin he wore an old hide with a dark dun mantle around him, and over him a great spreading club-tree branch the size of a winter-shed under which thirty bullocks could find shelter. Ravenous yellow eyes he had, protruding from his head, each of the twain the size of an ox-vat. Each finger was as thick as a person's wrist. In his left hand he carried a stock, a burden for twenty yoke of oxen. In his right hand was an axe weighing thrice fifty glowing molten masses of metal. Its handle would require a yoke of six to move it. Its sharpness such that it would lop off hairs, the wind blowing them against its edge."  This great giant, clad all in gray, challenges the court, "come whosoever of you that may dare, that I may cut off his head tonight, he mine tomorrow night."
    "With that Munremur took the axe from the ballach's hand. Seven feet apart were its two angles. Then the bachlach put his neck across the block. Munremur dealt a blow across it with the axe until it stood in the block beneath, cutting off the head so that it lay by the base of the fork-beam, the house being filled with blood."
    "Straightway the bachlach rose, recovered himself, clasped his head, block, and axe to his breast, and made his exit from the hall with the blood streaming from his neck. It filled the Red Branch on every side. Great was the people/s horror, wondering at the marvel that had appeared to them.  By my people's gods, said Dubtach, if the bachlach, having been killed tonight, come back tomorrow, he will not leave a man alive in Ulster. "
    Needless to say, the giant returns, in this version a day later instead of a year.  But Munremur, the slayer, is nowhere to be found.  "'Truly it is not right for Munremur not to fulfill his covenant with me,'" says the bachlach.  "'Who of the warriors that contest Ulster's Champion's Portion will carry out a covenant with me tonight?  Where is Loegaire the Triumphant?'"
    The next day, Loegaire too is nowhere to be found.  "The fourth night the bachlach returned, and fierce and furious was he."  He upbraids the court of Ulster, "'Ye men of Ulster, your valor and your prowess are gone. Your warriors greatly covet the Champion's portion, yet are unable to contest it. Where is the mad fellow called Cu Chulainn? I would like to know whether his word is better than the others.'"
     But Cu Chulinn responds, "'No covenant do I desire with you."
     To this the bachlach retorts, "'Likely is that, thou wretched fly; greatly dost thou fear to die.'"
     Immediately thereafter, "Cu Chulainn sprang towards him and dealt him a blow with the axe, hurling his head to the top rafter of the Red Branch until the whole hall shook. Cu Chulainn then again caught up the head and gave it a blow with the axe and smashed it. Thereafter the bachlach rose up."
    The next day, Cu Chulinn bravely awaits the dreaded bachlach saying, "[He] would rather have death with honor" than life with cowardice.
    The bachlach calls for him and Cu Chulinn places his head upon the chopping block but after some conversation, the bachlach proclaims, "'O Cu Chulainn, arise! Of the warriors of Ulster and Erin, no matter their mettle, none is found to compare with thee in valor, bravery , and truthfulness. The sovereignty of the heros of Erin to thee from this hour forth and the Champion's Portion undisputed, and to thy wife the precedence always of the ladies of Ulster in the Mead-Hall. And whosoever shall lay wager against thee from now, as my tribe swears I swear, all his life he will be in danger.' Then the bachlach vanished. It was Cu Roi mac Dairi who in that guise had come to fulfill the promise he had given to Cu Chulainn." (

    There are notable differences but the same basic story line is in place.  The court is that of Ulster instead of Arthur but those could possibly be linked in that Arthur was always known as Arthur ap Uther and with "Uther's" similarity to "Ulster" any number of misinterpretations could arise.  Also, this huge knight is clad in grey not green as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  This might be a transcription and communication discontinuity because the same word that means green can also be used to describe grey in the Celtic and Irish languages - glas.  In this version, that is nearly 6 centuries earlier than Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the most glorified aspects of the hero are his fighting skills and bravery, whereas in SGGK more is made of Gawain's virtue and honor than anything else.  This is yet another example of changes in basic societal belief influencing writing.  In the earlier works more stories of fighting and bravery are present while in the 14th and 15th century works, generally, more romance and chivalry arise.  If the name of Curoi and thus Cu Chulinn are related to Gawain might there be other character's who's names work in Sir Gawain and the Green Knights etymology?  Why yes.  The character "bachlach" seems very similar to Sir Bercilak, the lord who entertains Gawain and actually turns out to be the Green Knight.  A linguistics examintion provides further proof.  The Old Irish way to pronounce "bachlach" would have most likely been "bech-eh-lac", thus further heightening the similarity.  Here also do we see the duality of Cu Roi and Cu Chulinn.  Cu Roi was in a desguise of a bachlach when he sees Cu Chulinn.  This might be indicative of their similarity mentioned earlier.
    Other scenes in Bricriu's Feast also point to its Arthurian connection.  King Conchobar sat in a hall, and "twelve other couches were set up around him, destined for the twelve chief warriors of Ulster."  This is the same number of knights that would sit around the traditional round table (according to Didot Perceval).

Similarities to Lancelot's situation in Perlesvaus are equally obvious.  In Livre de Caradoc, Caradoc passes the same test as Gawain except that the challenger reveals himself as Caradoc's true father, Eliavres.  Apparently, the King of Vannes, Caradoc, was married to Isaive of Carhaix but Isaive's lover, the enchanter Eliavres, succeeded in substituting on three sucessive nights a greyhound, a sow, and a mare each desguised to look like the queen in the King's bed.  Eliavres took this opportunity to sleep with the queen three times and impregnate her.  The product of this consumation is a boy who is named after his supposed father, Caradoc.  Later in the child Caradoc's life he passes the same basic beheading test as Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  After the test, the challenger tells him that he, Elviares, is Caradoc's true father.  Caradoc goes to Vannes and tells the king (his father) of the perceived deception.  Immediately, the king imrisoned his treacherous wife, and forced the adulterer, Elviares, to lie successively with a greyhound, a sow, and a mare thus making the punishment fit the crime.  From these beastial relations were born three animals a greyhound, a boar named Tortain, and a colt named Levagor.  The story goes on to tell of Isaive's attempt to kill King Caradoc by hiding a snake in a cover, but Caradoc survives, albeit with a shortened arm and Isaive suffers the loss of a nipple when Caradoc tries to cut off the snake.

This version has many similar elements but does not entirely explain the story.  While many element of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight go back through Irish mythology, and others claim Welsh ancestry, the story serves as an intelligent compilation of many violently contrasting works.  The strange beheading ritual can only go back to early Celtic mythology, a time when supernatural beings frequented literature.

The Grail Quest

One of the most famous motifs in Arthurian Legend is the Quest for the Holy Grail.  Most Arthurian text draws on Robert de Boron’s Joseph (1190) and the more popular works of Chretien de Troyes in the mid to late 12th-century like Conte del Graal (~1174-1177).  The story is of a virtuous knight i.e. Percival or Galahad, who set forth to find the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. It was further hallowed by catching a few drops of the Jesus's blood during his crucifixion, and later brought to England (as luck would have it) by Joseph of Arimathea. In the medieval romance, only Galahad, the purest and best of the knights, possessed the grace to actually achieve the Grail. However, this sublime Christian myth has much older roots amid the ancient Celtic tradition.

Chretien's Conte del Graal is the earliest datable Grail story scholars rely on.  In his account of the weird scene in the castle of the maimed king (the Fisher King) "there is not a trace of Christian symbolism or assimilation." (Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Loomis)  The glittering vessel borne by a maiden is called "a graal" not "the graal" indicating that it has no tie to the cup of the last supper but is merely a nice bowl.  In fact the derivation of "grail" most likely goes back to the Latin word "Cratalis" meaning bowl so associating the grail with Christ's cup is already a stretch considering the wealth of Celtic cauldron myths.

The most in depth account of the early history of the Grail is in the first part of the Vulgate cycle, called the Estoire del Saint Graal.  It discusses the Grail's origin as a relic which had touched Christ's lips and carried his blood by way of Joseph of Arimathea to Britain and then many of the miracles that the said Grail caused.  It contains the names and the stories of the ancestors of the Grail Hero, who in this cycle is Galaad.  Merlin appears as a forest dwelling druid with the gift of prophecy and magic but in this text is known as Celidoine.  This character might actually be the same Merlin Celidonius, the famous Welsh God.  As a child they are both involved in mysterious death rites involving a tower, they both are distinguished by a life in the woods, their preternatural knowledge, and their study of the stars.

An early Welsh poem entitled Preiddeu Annwyn, "The Spoils of Annwn," recounts how King Arthur set sail to Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, or the Land of the Dead. In typical Celtic fashion, his object is to raid this supernatural realm and steal "The cauldron of the Head of Annwn," a powerful magical device and potent symbol in Celtic religion. The mission was a disaster from which only seven of Arthur's warriors returned. "It is easy to see the transformation of this mythic journey into the romance of the Grail Quest, both being so alike in quality: the idea of a long and perilous journey in search of a cup/bowl/cauldron symbol which fairly seethes with magical potency.”  This specific cauldron was described quite interestingly:

'The head of Annwn's cauldron -- what is it like?
A rim of pearls, it has around its edge;
It boils not the food of a coward or perjurer(?).
The bright sword of Llwch was lifted to it,
And in the hand of Lleminawe it was left.
And before the door of Hell's gate lamps were burning,
And when we accompanied Arthur, a brilliant effort,
Seven alone did we return from the fortress of the Perfect Ones.'
(Translation based on works of Rhys, Stephens, and Squire)

This cauldron provides some basis for the grail legends in that they are both mystical testing devices.  Just as the Grail cannot be found by anyone who is not pure of spirit, this cauldron will not cook food for a coward.  Also, this cauldron is only attained by the brave Lancelot just as later cauldrons could only be attained by worthy knights.  It seems as though the story of what knights are worthy also follows a distinct path.  For the grail/cauldron quests of the early and middle ages the heroic knight that perserveres to find the cauldron is brave and a mighty warrior.  As time progresses the hero character shift into one that is chivalrous and well-mannered.  In this way, modern readers can track the personalities and likes of the people of the middle ages for as time advances the hero evolves as well to better fit in with the society.

It is this very story which also might be responsible for many of the misconceptions and badly mutated stories that have been passed down and retold.  This cauldron is referred to as "The head of Annwn's cauldron,"  Annwn being the place where the cauldron is located and "the head" refering to the king of the land.  Surprisingly, this tale often gets twisted and retold and the head becomes an actual human head and the cauldron sometimes contains it.  One popular example is in the Welsh tale of Peredur.

The anonymous tale of Peredur, dating to before any of Chretien's works and possibly drawing on the Conte del Graal  also gives rise to the Arthurian grail quest.  This Peredur is the same as Perceval in Perlesvaus, and Didot Perceval and the Conte del Graal.  It is the story of a young man named Peredur who upon leaving Arthur's court comes first to the castle of an uncle of his, who is lame and whose attendants fish from the bank of a lake.  Here he is told to cut a staple with a sword. He does this but breaks his sword but finds he can fix the sword and staple by merely placing the pieces together.  Peredur is then told to break the staple again but the same thing happens and he again rejoins the sword.  The Uncle tells Peredur one more time to break the staple but this time he cannot reconnect his sword.  The Uncle says that he has arrived at 2/3 strength and should not come back until he has reached he potential strength.  The next day he comes to the castle of a second uncle, where he is tested three times in the cutting of a bar and the rejoining of its parts.  The next scene sees Peredur in discourse when two youths bring a huge spear that drips three drops of blood from its tip.  "Then behold two maidens coming in, and a large platter between them, and the head of a man on the platter, and blood in plenty around the head." (White Book Mabinogen, edited by J.G. Evans, 1913)  When everyone sees both the spear and the head, mass lamentation breaks out followed by everyone returning to their chambers.  The story picks up many years later when Peredur is at King Arthur's court in Caerleon, and a miserly and disfigured woman on a yellow mule who scolds him for not asking his uncle (the first one) about the spear and bloody head.  She says that since he didn't ask the uncle's land has experienced war and slaughter.  Peredur then vows to learn the story of the lance.  After many adventures Peredur ends up at the castle where he finds his gray-haired and lame uncle and where a blond youth tells that he was the bearer of the spear and the head in the platter.  The head belonged to Peredur's cousin who was slain by the sorceresses of Gloucester, the sorceresses, the youth goes on, that Peredur is destined to kill.  The story concludes with Peredur's inevitable revenge upon the sorceresses.  The story obeys the known Grail Quest formula except that the lame Fisher King is the first lord Peredur meets, while the custodian of the bleeding lance, et cetera was Peredur's uncle. The bleeding lance, instead of being the spear that gashed the side of Christ, was the weapon used to slay a cousin of Peredur's, and the silver bowl/plate carried the head of that unknown cousin.  When this was revealed to Peredur, he set out and with the help of Arthur avenged his slain relatives.  A slightly different story obviously but not without its similarities.  A noble questing knight, looking for Christ-like objects, on the side of Arthur, and with many of the same characters.  Roger Loomis contends that the noticeable inconsistencies from the Grail Quest could be later additions.  No where else is there any bloody head in a platter or any hint that the vessel was connected to any family tragedy or feud.  Because of these facts and, "Inasmuch as these other versions in French and German show many primitive traits not found in Peredur and since Peredur itself is manifestly corrupt, the chances are overwhelming that the introduction of the head in the platter and the vengeance motif are afterthoughts." (Studies in Medieval Literature, Loomis)  The sexual imagery associated with the lance is indeed inappropriate in any Christian grail quest and is indicative of its earlier origins.

In Celtic Mythology, there is more than one cauldron.  Aside from the Pearl rimmed caldron of the Head of Annwn, there was the Caldron of Britain, the Caldron of Bran, Manannan's cup of truth, the Cup of Sovereignty on the palace of Lug, and the Caldron of Blathnat, along with other lesser cauldrons.  Each of these cauldrons had different mystical powers.  "The Caldrons of Bran and Blathnat both had healing powers, with Bran's being more sophisticated.  In this case, when a soldier was slain in battle, his body was cast into the caldron, and he would wake up the next day at his peak physical condition.  However, he could never speak again, which was supposed to protect them from revealing secrets learned in the land of the dead."  Thus, the grail's power to provide food also comes from previous myths.  The Irish CuChulainn story has a vat that was perpetually full of food, and a welsh myth had  the vessel of myws which took food for one man and turned it into food for 100 men.  Finally, pagan traditions also had grails which could distinguish worth in men.  Manannan's cup of truth broke when three lies were told, and reunited when three truths were told.  Also, the Caldron of Britain and the Cauldron of the head of Annwn would broil meat only when put in by a brave man, and would not broil when meat was put into it by a coward.  Just as powers are ascribed to each cauldron, similar powers are assigned to the Holy Grail.  "In Creitian's version of the grail story, Gawain was healed by the grail after his battles, the grail provided an abundance of food, and the grail refused to give food to Gawain because Gawain did not kneel at the grail's appearance. These powers all came from Celtic and Welsh traditions."  (


    All mythology goes through its own history.  Early mythology is primarily about creation myths and etiological stories.  As the years go by myths start to branch out and seek to explain the origins of the culture they represent.  This naturally evokes the hero myths and stories of great warriors and incredible deeds.  The stories that have mythical beasts and otherworldly creatures are inherently older than ones that don't have them because those things always happened "a long time ago."  In this simple way, the Arthurian text that draws on the absurd or impossible must be from an older age.  One where the same rules don't apply.  One where miracles can happen.  The societies that predate the Arthur stories are those of the Celts, the Welsh, the Irish, and the Scots, among others, and each of these cultures lends their unique myths to the Arthurian tapestry.  Celtic mythology is, in turn, largely based on Irish mythology so the etymologies are often times intertwined.  "Curoi, Blathnat, Bran, Manannan, and Findabair and the stories that clustered about them became inextricably tangled with those that clustered about Myrddin, Chei, Elen, Peredur, Avallach, Belli, and Modron."  Nennius himself used three Irish documents in his historical compilation.  We shouldn't be surprised then to see that Arthurian literature is not entirely original, especially given the similarities in stories and characters.
    Some scholars go so far as to contend that the Celtic elements in Arthurian legends are unfounded and coincidencental.  Some claim the derivation of Arthur from the Roman Artorius (generally a widely accepted root) was actually confused with a divinity corresponding to the Irish Airem and the Artaean Mercury of the Gauls.  The evidence for this scenario is that the story between Arthur, Guinivere, and Mordred has a vague resemblance to that of Airem, Mider, and Etain.  However, not only is this resemblance vague, but the story wasn't officially recorded until the 18th century and that text was primarily inspired by a 16th century chronicle.
    One scholar even goes so far as to claim that the Arthurian legends are entirely based on a group that wandered up from the middle east called the Norts.  The connections are interesting and it seems their history and myth is almost identical bur there seems to be little historical evidence to support the claims.
    The only hard fact in this field is that, "Finality is not, in any case, to be dreamed of in a field where so much remains to be learned."  (Sir John Rhys)  Until someone can reconcile Vulgate Latin, with Old French, Old English, Middle English, Breton, Gaelic, Old Irish, and Old Scottish texts (at the very least) and derive from them flawless etymology and the personality of the author, there will always be gaps and differences of thought.  Simply stated, there are too many things we don't know about early Medieval society to say with unabashed assurance that the Arthurian legends come from any one source.  It is more likely, however, that all the societies in and around Great Britain, including Ireland, Brittany, and the rest of the rest of central Europe all contributed to the legends we cherish.

Other Information and Derivations...

List of Celtic/Welsh Names and Arthurian Derivatives
(Taken from Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Loomis)

Anna (wife of Beli)
Anna (wife of Lot)
Bran le Benoit
Ban de Benoic
Bedivere, Beduerus
Beli Mawr
Bellinor, Pellinor
Belin, Pellean, Pelleas
Bron, Ban, Brian, Bran-dus
Cath Palue
Iseult, Ysolt
Guinebaus, Gundebaldus
Che, Kai, Cajus, Cei
Mordred, Mardoc, Madoc, Mordrain, Malduc
Meleagans, Malvasius,
Morgan, Morgaswe
Evien, Ivain, Eventus
Perceval, Perlesvaus
Priure, Pierre, Petrus
Rithe, Ryons
Urien, Uen-t-res

Charts for the derivations from the Celtic "Curio" and "Lug"
(Taken from Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, Loomis)
***Best viewed in full screen***
***click Chart for high-res image***


Bibliography An Arthurian resource with a little information on The Legend's Origins, The Grail, other quests, fun and gamnes, The Celts, The Arthurian Court, and Arthurian England.  Also has a nice picture gallery with mostly paintings. A page with links to many traditional Arthurian texts.  A link off of the main site... Another great Arthurian resource that focuses on the literary King Arthur.  Has links to online texts of many Arthurian stories and many scholarly essays. The mother of all Monty Python sites.  Lots of sounds, complete scripts, and many good pictures. A collection of some commonly read Celtic Mythological Texts with emphasis on Irish aspects. A link off of the above site.  Contains the story of Cu Chulinn. I took pictures from the archive and linked to some fellow group presentations.  I took a couple of Indiana Jones pictures pertaining to the Grail from here.

From Scythia to Camelot, A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, by C. Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor, Garland Publishing, Inc.  New York, NY & London, 1994

Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance, by Roger Sherman Loomis, Haskell House Publishers Ltd. New York, NY 1967

Studies in Medieval Literature, A Memorial Collection of Essays, by Roger Sherman Loomis, Burt Franklin, New York, 1970

White Book Mabinogen, edited by J.G. Evans, Cf. J. Loth, Mabinogen (1913)

Le Morte d'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory, ed. Janet Cowen, Penguin Books, London, England, 1969

The Romance of Arthur, An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation, ed. Wilhelm, Garland Publishing, Inc. New York and London, 1994