Myrddin Wyltt – the man before the wizard

In naming my hero from book three in the y Ddraig series, Lailocen (the Myrddyn), I went back to a range of old Celto-Cymric legends.

The ‘Merlin’ as he is most commonly recognised today was a collective evolution of a dozen authors across time and none of them close to the early middle age period that they are believed to originate. The ‘Merlin’ of the oldest known documents (pre Geoffrey of Monmouth) wasn’t a wizard, nor confidante to a King (Arthur or otherwise)–he was a man who went mad from grief following a battle, lived feral for a time and came out of it with the gift of sight.

The Black Book of Carmarthen, penned in the mid 13th century and believed to be a written collection of much earlier oral tradition tales speaks directly of several figures we recognise from the Arthurian panethon. Cai (who is portrayed as virtually peerless in battle), Bedwyr (a mighty slayer) and, most notably, Myrddin (Merlin) as a wild man of the woods. In the Black Book, Myrddin has fled into the Caledonian forest (Coed Celyddon) following a traumatic battle and there spends time living crazy and wild until regaining his senses and, with it, a new ability as a seer.

In Scots tradition, the same story is attributed to a man called Lailoken (or Laleocen in the ‘Life of St Kentigern’) rather than Myrddin and some scholars insist that Scotland’s was the earlier tale.

Show me any oral tale that doesn’t stretch and warp with time and endless retelling and tweaking. Show me any poet or bard, reliant on the satisfaction of his audiences for the food in his belly, that wouldn’t lend his stories a whole lot of local cultural bias and relevance as he travelled the land. This would easily have included names and dialect specific phrases.

But of course there was no Scotland then, nor no Wales. The land and peoples known as Cymry (or Brython immediately before it) spread all through that part of modern day Britain. So the Lailoken figure wasn’t Scotland’s or Wales’. It was likely Scotland’s AND Wales’. And a good chunk of England’s. It was a tale of the same peoples and society.

And it was told across Cymry.

In fact, the stories might be even older. The character from Irish/Gaelic lore, Suibhne, has characteristics in common with Myrddin. He too goes mad after a viscious battle and becomes a wild man of the woods, living in Yew trees as he goes. So perhaps the origin tale is more broadly Celtic and much older than the dark ages.

But what we are left with is the same man/tale described in Welsh lore as ‘Myrddin Wyltt’ (Wild Merlin), in Scots as Lailoken and in Irish as Suibhne.

In the 15th C a traditional tale speaks of Lailoken and adds ‘some say he was called Merlynum’. So by the 1400s the interchangabiliyt of Merlin and Lailoken was established. Similarly, in the pre-12th C poem ‘The Conversation of Merlin and his Sister Gwendydd’ his sister refers to Myrddin as Llallawg (pron. roughly Lahlooc) and its diminuative Llallogan (pron. roughly Lah-lohgan).

In ‘Ascension’ and ‘Myrddyn’ I have used Lailocen/Llallogan as the name of one of multiple Myrddyns existing in the y Ddraig world.