Stone Circles in Cornwall
Second millennium BC, Cornwall, England.
The circle in late-Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain may have had a religious significance.
'I asked the lady in the gift shop at the gardens how their name was pronounced,' said Miranda, as they waded into the tall grass inside the circle. She and Quintin had driven down to Cornwall to see four Bronze Age stone circles, but it was only a short drive from the azaleas of Trengwainton National Trust Garden to a stone circle called Boscawen Un, so they had stopped off on the way. 'I'm sure Sir Gawain's name was pronounced Gawen, not gaWain. Like Owen in Welsh. I've seen it spelled Gawen in Medieval English. Gwain in Cornish means Spring, as in the season, according to this guide to Trengwainton Gardens. Like Gawain's name in Welsh, which is Gwalchmai, hawk of May. These Arthurian myths are mostly Cornish, after all. And look at these lovely Bronze Age stone circles that the Cornish people have preserved for millennia.'
King Arthur was born in Cornwall,' agreed Quintin. 'His mother was Ygraine, the wife of the Duke of Cornwall whom King Arthur's father Uther Pendragon impersonated on the night that King Arthur was conceived. Sir Gawain is also half-Cornish, the son of King Arthur's older half-sister Morgause. But his father was King Lot of Orkney, and there are some clues that place Sir Gawain's origin in Galloway, or Lothian in Scotland.
One of the Celtic saints, Saint Samson of Dol, complained of the persistence of pagan rites on a Cornish hilltop,' replied Miranda, battling her way to the central stone that was leaning at a very phallic angle. 'They were celebrating a day that was sacred to the god Lugh in the old Celtic faith. That was in the days when Cornwall was supposed to be Christian, in the five-hundreds AD I think. I wonder whether it was here?'
'I'm sure the old pagan rites were preserved,' agreed Quintin. 'King Arthur probably wasn't a historical figure. In the earliest Welsh poems to have come down to us:
Arthur is portreyed as a figure of a pan-Brittonic folklore and mythology, associated with the Otherworld, supernatural enemies and superhuman deeds, not history. The Roman occupation of Britain affected Cornwall much less than other parts of the country, of course, and the old traditional way of life might have persisted here for much longer.
'Sir Tristram was a Cornish knight and the Cornish might have taken their old stories over to Brittany during the tribal wars that followed the collapse of Roman rule in Britain, where they reappeared in the medieval period as Breton lais. But there were other influences as well. Sir Lancelot has no connection with Cornwall. He was the son of King Ban of Benwick, which the thirteenth century pre-Vulgate Lancelot places in northern France.
'But then, how might Lancelot be pronounced in Old French? Something like Lance Ullr? Ullr was an Old Norse god with a lot of the traits often ascribed to Odin. A master of the runes and a guide to the dead. The Medieval Arthurian stories might have drawn upon many different sources, the pan-Brittonic folklore and mythology from Wales, Cornwall via Brittany, and from southern Scotland, and perhaps also from the Norman French, descended as they were from Norse invaders from Scandinavia and northern Scotland. Perhaps the Anglo-French nobility in the twelfth century courts of England and her overseas territories in France and southern Italy wove a mythical epic involving France, Cornwall, Britain and Nordic Orkney, in defiance of Christianity.
'And the prehistoric stone circles in Cornwall are beautiful.'