Wye’s Woman at Madley Pool

I went for a walk this afternoon, over to Madley Pool, in the village. This is where Efrddyl (say it as Averill) was the priestess, Well Maiden, guardian of the waters.

Efrddyl’s story is the archetypal priestess with the “fatherless child” … the virgin birth, the magical child with the father from out of this world. Look at all the myths, even the Christian myth has the fatherless child but cannot accredit it properly. Merlin is the archetype fro the British tradition, indeed his fame and credibility go worldwide. Efrddyl’s child is our local Merlin-figure, indeed he is even said to have crowned Arthur at Woodchester and his story is tied up inextricably with all the Arthurian tales; Gawain held lands hereabouts; there are many places that bear the name of Eign … another way of saying Igraine, Arthur’s mother, she held lands here too. A house nearby, now owned by my cousin, is said to have been part of Gawain’s estates.

So … the story …

Efrddyl’s father came back from the wars. His daughter, lady of the house, was there to greet him. She washed and combed his hair as was the tradition of respect in those days. As she passed close to him he saw that her belly was swollen, she was with child.

‘And who is the father?’ he demanded.

Efrddyl was silent. She went to wipe the comb.

‘Here, girl!’ Peibio caught at her skirt, pulling her towards him. ‘Who is the father?’ He caught her eyes.

She held his eyes back, saying nothing. Delicately, she pulled her skirt away.

‘No!’ Peibio pulled her back. ‘You will tell me!’

Again she pulled her skirt away, shaking her head.

Silence, stretched between them.

Peibio sat slowly back. ‘Take her,’ he said, gesturing to the men beside him.

They took her, down to the river, the Mother Gwy. They threw her in.

Her skirts sucked up the water, pulling her down. The currents took hold of her, swept her round and pushed her back so that she landed on the shore. The men knew their master’s will, they pushed her back.

Again, the water sucked at her skirts, her legs, caught in the weeds. Again the river currants took her and swirled her about, freeing them and sending her gently back again to the shore.

Again the men took hold of her. This time they pushed her far out into the main currant. And again, the currant took hold of her. This time it held her and steered her further down the shore to where a little mound stood up by the river bank. Softly, it nudged her to the bank. She lay in the soft grasses, panting, choking, coughing the water out of her lungs.

Peibio called the men.

‘Get wood. Build a fire, build it high and wide. Set the girl upon it and put fire to it.’

The men built the pyre, high and wide, of good dry wood.

Pulling the wet clothes off her they forced her naked onto the pyre, took torches and set it alight. Angry and fearful, Peibio went back to the homestead, sat all night with jugs of ale. What had he done? He could not now undo it.

Morning came. Peibio did not want to see, to know. He sent a boy down to the river to find the ashes.

In no time at all it seemed the boy was back.

‘Sir … sir .. sir … it … she …’

The boy could get no words out.

‘What is it boy?’ Peibio grabbed him by the front of the tunic.

‘S-sir … it …’ He wrenched himself out of his lord’s grip to scared to care for rectitude. ‘Sir, you must come see for yourself.’ And he fled the house.

Slowly Peibio got up, made his way down to the riverbank.

He found a sight. There, sat upon a white stone, sat his daughter. In her arms was a child, a boy-child. There was no sign of the fire. He stood and stared.

Slowly, delicately, in all her naked glory, Efrddyl came down from the stone. She held out the child to Peibio. The baby reached a little hand and stroked his grandfather’s pox-ridden face – Peibio had the leprosy – and straightway the sickness was gone.

A magical child! Peibio had heard of such things but to him? To his daughter? What was this?

He recalled the river. She had pushed the girl back to him. Three times. And the fire. That too had gone to sleep, died rather than burn the girl. She was more than he had known.

He took them back to the homestead, the daughter and her child. He looked at his lands, there was the spring, and the pool that it fed, the source of the water that fed the land. The water had given her back to him, stopped him in his stumbling ways, that would have caused the land to waste had he taken the priestess from it. It made his heart grow cold to think on it.

‘Efrddyl …’ he called to her. ‘Efrddyl … you must go to the pool. You must keep the waters, for the land, for the people.’

And so it was.

Efrddyl was the Lady of the Land. She kept the waters, guarded them, gave them to the people. She brought up her son to know the Lady know the goddess and to serve her. She kept the waters of the Land. ___________________________________________________________

The name of the village, “Madley”, it comes from Matle which means holy place and comes from Lann Ebrdil the holy place of Ebrdil or Efrddyl. Later, with the Christians, there came a cult of the Virgin Mary – another form of the Goddess and in her form as mother of the fatherless, magical, child. The earlier cult was remembered this way – Ebrdil and her son Dyfrig, in the land named after her, Ynis Ebrdil, Ebrdil’s island.

This is one of the places we use on the workshops, Exploring the Goddess. Soon after the time of Imbolc, we work with Efrddyl who is also Olwen, Lady of the Whitte track, Lady of the Moon who guards the waters that are the life-blood of the Land.  we sit with Efrddyl and learn from her how to keep the land from becoming the Wasteland.  We explore the goddess, learn her ways, sat quiet by the waters her priestess guards.

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