Minstrels and Mead

We are entering what ancient people (I won't call them Celts, for that is not what they called themselves) the period known as Samhain, or in Scots Gaelic, Samhuinn. Not far from my house I can look out onto fields and hills that have recently been busy with the harvest that signals the end of summer. Particularly, and with not too much craning of the neck, or footfall, I can see Traprain Law and Castle Rock, in Edinburgh. These two peaks were, in ancient times, the home of the Votadini. To borrow a quote, "No one knows who they were, or.. what they were doin'"

Well, not quite. The Kingdom of the Votadini stretched down into the fertile plains of the tweed and beyond into Northumberland. They were successful farmers who had yields surplus to their own requirements and could accordingly trade and become rich. This fact is born out by a hoard, much of it Roman in origin, found atop Traprain Law. Their chief customer, it seems, was the Roman Army of Occupation. It was observed by the Romans that, at certain times of the year, the Votadini would make merry, and get thoroughly bladdered. Such a festival as Samhain would have served that purpose.

What became of them? Well, to cut a long story short the Votadini were subsumed by another tribe , the Gododdin. This kingdom fell to the Angles and was renamed Bernicia. The rout is commemorated in a late 6th or early 7th century poem, Y Gododdin.

Men went to Catraeth at morn
Their high spirits lessened their life-span
They drank mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring;
For a year the minstrels were merry.
Red their swords, let the blades remain
Uncleansed, white shields and four-sided spearheads,
Before Mynyddog Mwynfawr's men

I am now going to jump across historical themes and alight upon the recent find known as the Staffordshire Hoard, which possibly was made around the time the Gododdin were fleeing in terror, but long after the Roman occupation and obviously in a different part of the country.

The now well known inscription on one of the finds reads:

Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate the be driven from thy face.

The end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh centuries reflect an almost intoxicating mix of Pagan and Christian belief. Ritual and belief appeared to be a mixture of the two.

The fields I look out onto from my house have been worked by man for at least 2000 years to the same purpose - sustenance and commerce. Be it Samhain or Harvest Festival, at this moment, I am grateful for the earth's provision and make merry with minstrels and mead.

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