Overheard at a Park Bench in Bangor

“Hello Sir. What are you reading?”

“It’s an essay called ‘The Will To Believe,’ by William James.”

William James.

William James.

“Oh, nice, I haven’t heard of him before. what’s it about?”

“Well, basically it’s a philosophical justification of Belief, in which it can coherently exist alongside rationalism and science.”

“Oh, interesting. I’ll have to look into it. William James, you said?”

“Yes, he was an American philosopher and psychologist who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century, around the time that psychology was becoming its own discipline, separate from philosophy. You might be more familiar with one of his most famous books, called The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

“I’ll have to look into it. So, what do you believe?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in belief.”

“What do you mean?”

“Put it this way, I’ll give you another line from one of my favorite writers: Belief is the death of intelligence.”

*blink* *blink*

“What does that mean?”

“Well, I interpret it to mean that when we fixate something into a belief system, we tend to close ourselves off from the possibility of novelty, and seeing the world in a different way than we did yesterday.”

“Ah, so you have to keep thinking and challenging yourself.”

“Sure, something like that.”

“We believe that too. I’m from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”

“Oh, cool. I have a copy of the Book Of Mormon in my library. One of your colleagues gave it to me, probably 30 years ago now.”

“Have you read it?”

“Not all the way through, and honestly I haven’t picked it up in years. I find Mormonism to be one of the most interesting religions out there.”

“Oh, how come?”

“Mostly because its history, how it was founded, is a great story. I really like stories about Christ that are outside the norm, as portrayed in the Gospels. Also for other little things that make me go hmmm. For instance, that they call someone as young as yourself an ‘Elder,’ if I’m reading your nametag correctly. In my tribe, that term is used for people with quite a bit more life experience than is possible for one so young.”

“What religion are you?”

“Well, I don’t really believe in Organized Religion with capital letters, and for the most part I think monotheism is a blight upon humanity. But if you want to call me something, call me a pagan.”

“What do you mean, pagan?”

Pagan is Latin for Redneck.”

*blink* *blink*

“Well, that stuff you were talking about earlier, about not stopping thinking when you believe something, well we believe that too.”

“Cool.”

“So, would you mind if we stopped by sometime to talk to you?”

“Well, I don’t live here. I’m in town for a gig, I live 100 miles away.”

“Oh. Well, can I give you this card? You should look something up on the web, I bet you’d get a lot out of it.”

“Sure, if I can give you a copy of my Radical Paganism pamphlet. I bet you’d get a lot out of that, too.”

“Have a good night, Sir.”

“You too.”

Preiddeu Annwn

Preiddeu Annwn is an old middle-Welsh poem, attributed to the Bard Taliesin, that dates back (in written form) to the 9th century. It was originally included in the Book of Taliesin. Like all Celtic literature of this time, it is based on a much older oral tradition, gradually finding its way to written form.

Preiddeu Annwn — prounounced PRY-thee AHN-oon — translates as “the treasures of the Underworld.”

This poem is significant for many reasons. One of them is that it seems to be an early prototype of the Arthurian Grail Quest. It contains the refrain “Except seven, none returned,” despite the fact that the quest began with three ships (Prydwen, Arthur’s ship) full of men. The later Grail legends focused on the cup, only the water symbol. This early poem contains all 4 Hallows for each of the four elements, retrieved by Quest from the underworld.

There are a few translations (my favorite is the one by Caitlin and John Matthews) of this poem available, but I didn’t find any of them satisfying. Some of the translations better convey the meaning of the poem, but lose the gorgeous rhyme & rhythm of the Welsh. It’s stunning to hear:

As a result, I compiled my own version in English. I don’t read or speak Welsh so I can’t say this is my own translation. I do not vouch for anything remotely like accurate Welsh scholarship here — I did this merely for fun, as a creative exercise, to create something with some rhyme & rhythm in English, that might convey some of the original meaning.

With that said, here is my version of the poem, with the original Welsh on the left, and lots of creative license in my English rendering on the right.

Preiddeu Annwn

The Treasures of the Underworld

I

1. Golychaf wledic
pendeuic gwlat ri.

1. Hail!

2. [r]y ledas ypennaeth
dros traeth mundi.

2. Sovereignty!

3. bu kyweir
karchar gweir
ygkaer sidi.

3. Gweir’s prison was prepared in Caer Sidi,
the Fortress of the Mound

4. trwy ebostol pwyll
aphryderi.

4. in the manner of Pwyll and Pryderi.

5. Neb kyn noc ef
nyt aeth idi.

5. None before Gweir went down,

6. yr gadwyn trom las
kywirwas ae ketwi.

6. into the heavy blue/gray chains
that bound the loyal youth.

7. Arac preideu annwfyn
tost yt geni.

7. And before the spoils of Annwn
he sang his bitter sound.

8. Ac yt urawt
parahawt
ynbardwedi.

8. Forevermore,
The bards will speak this Truth.

9. Tri lloneit prytwen
yd aetham ni idi.

9. Three shiploads of Prydwen’s men
sailed to Annwn

10. nam seith
ny dyrreith
ogaer sidi.

10. Except seven
none returned from Caer Sidi,
the Fortress of the Mound.

II

11. Neut wyf glot geinmyn
cerd ochlywir.

11. The bard’s song sounded

12. ygkaer pedryuan
pedyr ychwelyt.
12. in the Four-Peaked Caer Pedyrvan,
forever turning.
13. yg kenneir
or peir
pan leferit.
13. And of its cauldron
was my first song sung
14. Oanadyl naw morwyn
gochyneuit.
14. Nine maidens kindled the cauldron
breathing it to life
15. Neu peir pen annwfyn
pwy y vynut.
15. What is the nature of
Lord Annwn’s cauldron?
16. gwrym am yoror
amererit.
16. Enameled iridescence
and pearly white its rim.
17. Ny beirw bwyt llwfyr
ny rytyghit.
17. It will not cook a coward’s food;
its destiny sings a nobler hymn.
18. cledyf lluch lleawc
idaw rydyrchit.
18. The flashing sword of Lleawg
was thust into it.
19. Ac yn llaw leminawc
yd edewit.
19. And left in Lleminawc’s hand
20. Arac drws porth vffern
llugyrn lloscit.
20. Before the door of Hell
lamps burned grand.
21. Aphan aetham ni gan arthur
trafferth lechrit
21. And when we went with Arthur,
We struggled with The Great Work.
22. namyn seith
ny dyrreith
o gaer vedwit.

22. Except seven
none returned from Caer Vedwyd
Fortress of the Mead-Feast.

III

23. Neut wyf glot geinmyn
kerd glywanawr.

23. I Taliesin, first Herald of Glory;
my song sounded

24. ygkaer pedryfan
ynys pybyrdor

24. In Caer Rigor, the Fortress of Hardness
On the island Gate.
25. echwyd amuchyd
kymyscetor
25. Where night and day
are one.
26. gwin gloyw eugwirawt
rac eu gorgord.
26. Bright wine was set
before the gathering.
27. Tri lloneit prytwen
yd aetham ni ar vor.
27. Three shiploads of Prydwen’s men,
we furrowed the flood.
28. namyn seith
ny dyrreith
ogaer rigor.

28. Except seven
none returned from Caer Rigor,
The Fortress of Hardness.

IV

29. Ny obrynafi lawyr
llen llywyadur

29. I merit more than scholars
mere scribes and clerks

30. tra chaer wydyr ny welsynt
wrhyt arthur.

30. Who know not Arthur’s valor
Beyond Caer Wydyr
the Glass Fortress

31. Tri vgeint canhwr
aseui ar y mur.

31. Six thousand men
stood high upon its wall.

32. oed anhawd
ymadrawd aegwylyadur

32. It was difficult
to speak with their watchman.

33. tri lloneit prytwen
yd aeth gan arthur.

33. Three shiploads of Prydwen’s men
went with Arthur.

34. namyn seith
ny dyrreith
ogaer golud.

34. Except seven
none returned from Caer Golud
the Occult Fortress.

V

35. Ny obrynaf y lawyr
llaes eu kylchwy

35. I merit more than cowards,
their shields hanging limp.
36. ny wdant wy pydyd
peridyd pwy.
36. They know not which day
or who was created
37. py awr ymeindyd
y ganet cwy.
37. or what hour
Cwy was born.
38. Pwy gwnaeth
arnyt aeth
doleu defwy.
38. Who made him
who did not go
(to the) meadows of Defwy, the Court of Heaven?
39. ny wdant wy yrych brych
bras y penrwy.
39. They know not the starry ox,
stout-collared,
40. Seith vgein kygwng
yny aerwy.
40. Seven-score links
in its fastening.
41. Aphan aetham ni gan arthur
auyrdwl gofwy.
41. And when we went with Arthur,
a sorrowed journey,
42. namyn seith
ny dyrreith
o gaer vandwy.

42. Except seven
none returned from Caer Vandwy,
the Fortress of God’s Peak.

VI

43. Ny obrynafy lawyr
llaes eu gohen.

43. I merit more than weak clerics,
their wills gone slack.
44. ny wdant pydyd
peridyd pen.
44. Who do not know which day
our king was made,
45. Py awr ymeindyd
y ganet perchen.
45. what hour
he was born,

46. Py vil agatwant
aryant ypen.

46. nor of the silver-headed beast
they guard for him.
47. Pan aetham ni gan arthur
afyrdwl gynhen.
47. When we went with Arthur,
a sorrowed journey,
48. namyn seith
ny dyrreith
o gaer ochren.
48. Except seven
none returned from Caer Achren
the Fortress of Enclosedness.

VII

49. Myneich dychnut
val cunin cor.

49. Monks throng together
like a pack of dogs
50. o gyfranc udyd
ae gwidanhor.
50. After an encounter with the wise
who know
51. Ae vn hynt gwynt
ae vn dwfyr mor.
51. whether the wind blows on one path?
whether the sea is one mass of water?
52. Ae vn vfel tan
twrwf diachor.
52. whether a single spark
will tinder a fierce fire?

VIII

53. Myneych dychnut
val bleidawr.
53. Monks throng together
like a pack of dogs
54. o gyfranc udyd
ae gwidyanhawr.
54. After an encounter with the wise
who know
55. ny wdant pan yscar
deweint agwawr.
55. When midnight
and dawn divide
56. neu wynt pwy hynt
pwy yrynnawd.
56. Where the wind wanders
until its current subsides
57. py va diua
py tir aplawd.
57. what sea it ravages,
what land it strikes.
58. bet sant
yn diuant
abet allawr.
58. How many ancestors
in the ground abide.
59. Golychaf y wledic
pendefic mawr.
59. Hail!
60. na bwyf trist
crist am gwadawl.
60. Sovereignty!

Kobo Touch: First Impressions

I finally received the Kobo Touch today. I thought I’d write up some first impressions.

First, this unit is a definite upgrade in heft over the Amazon Kindle. It is much sturdier and just feels more solidly built. This is a touch screen unit, whereas my old kindle used buttons on the side for page turning. I have to say I’m not a huge fan of touchscreens in general, I find they get matted up and worn looking from all the skin contact. I’d probably rather have a clean screen for a device like this.

One con is that the unit could not be activated until it ran the Official Kobo Software(tm), which of course only runs on Windows or Mac. Linux users are out of luck. I tried to install the Kobo software under Wine but it didn’t work. So I booted over to Windows, and initialized the software.

As soon as that was done, I came back to Linux and to my eBook collection I maintain using Calibre. I like Calibre a lot, though it is a bit clunky. I was then able to disable auto-syncing on the Kobo and upload my book collection.

So…. yay! I have an ebook reader again, and it isn’t a kindle. Both of these are wonderful things.

Heimskringla

Heimskringla The genealogy research I’ve done traces one line of my Norwegian heritage to the Yngling Kings, which are chronicled in the Heimskringla. This history was written by Snorri Sturluson, who is also famous for compiling the Prose Edda.

I have Lee Hollander’s translation of the Poetic Edda, and it is one of my favorite translations because it is faithful to the original poetry. I’m sure eventually I will have to get various translations of this Heimskringla as well, because it turns out these are the stories of my ancestors.

From Wikipedia:

The name Heimskringla was first used in the 17th century, derived from the first two words of one of the manuscripts (kringla heimsinsthe circle of the world).

Heimskringla is a collection of sagas about the Norwegian kings, beginning with the saga of the legendary Swedish dynasty of the Ynglings, followed by accounts of historical Norwegian rulers from Harald Fairhair of the 9th century up to the death of the pretender Eystein Meyla in 1177. The exact sources of his work are disputed, but included earlier kings’ sagas, such as Morkinskinna, Fagrskinna and the twelfth century Norwegian synoptic histories and oral traditions, notably many skaldic poems.

This is very interesting stuff, and I look forward to diving in more deeply.

Initial post on Ancestry

I just uploaded a bunch more detail to the Ancestry page of this site. It’s only a bare beginning, just a list of names with some basic info and a lot of Wikipedia links. This ancestry traces back to the Viking Sagas, and the Yngling dynasty, which is the oldest known Scandanavian dynasty. this goes back through Snorri Sturluson’s writing, and they are mentioned in Beowulf.

This ancestry walks an intriguing line between history and mythology. I look forward to diving in more deeply and adding as much info as I can find. This will likely be a project that unfolds over many years.