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The Quest for Avalon Within

By Jhenah Telyndru

Just as King Arthur rests eternally in Avalon’s safe keeping, so too does the memory of the Holy Isle endure, embedded in the lore and legacy of Britain’s legendary king. What remains are but tantalizing glimpses of the Apple Isle and her inhabitants—a barge full of mourning queens … a samite-enrobed arm emerging from the surface of a glassy lake, holding aloft the sword Excalibur … a paradisaical land of healing where dwelt Nine learned sisters, skilled in all manner of art, science, and sorcery. These scattered images suggest the seeds of something quite extraordinary to have cast such long shadows over the mystic landscape, and over the centuries, visionary writers from Sir Thomas Mallory to Marion Zimmer Bradley have grown and expanded upon these mythic elements, adding their own enchantments to Avalon’s ever-evolving story.

But the essence of Avalon is more deeply impressed in our collective memory than these few tales, the mythic origins of which can be found far afield from the realms of legend and richly imagined fiction. History teaches us, through the lens of Classical sources, that Celtic women stood side by side with men in service to their people as Druids—that elite class of priests, judges, seers and healers who have been a source of wonder and spiritual inspiration since ancient times. In addition to these women druids—called “bandrui” in Old Irish—who played important and direct roles in Celtic societies, we also know that there were enclaves of Holy Women who dwelt apart from the rest of society, often on secluded islands and in sacred groves. Where history provides us with a few direct examples, many more can be found in the realm of legend; these are significant because myths reflect the realities of the societies that birth them, providing windows into their culture and philosophy.

The Roman geographer Pomponius Mela gives an account of the Gallicenae, nine priestesses who dwelt on the Isle de Sein off the coast of Brittany. Famed for their oracular gifts, healing powers, and possessing the ability to shapeshift and control the weather, these women were said to live in perpetual virginity (meant in the old sense of being beholden to no man, as they would leave their island periodically to take lovers) and perform ecstatic rites in service to the Divine. Breton legend speaks of another group of nine women called the Korrigan, powerful shape changers and healers who dwelt deep in a sacred grove, and whose stories appear to reflect ancient rites of kingmaking.

Read the original article at: Llewellyn Journal

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