Monday, 20 April 2015

Llyn y Fan Fach and the Physicians of Myddfai.

It was no dream; or say a dream it was,
Real are the dreams of gods, and smoothly pass
Their pleasures in a long immortal dream.
          John Keats

A striking tale from the Mabinogion featuring Llyn y Fan Fach
The nearby village of Myddfai claims fame as the birth place of modern medicine and the legend of the Physicians of Myddfai. Myths about The Lady of the Lake persist from ancient times and some believe that the Arthurian legend of the famous Lady of the Lake and Excalibur stem from here.

The Fern Law of Faery: The Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach
Llyn y Fan Fach (Welsh meaning Lake of the small beacon-hill) is a dammed lake in the eastern border of the Black Mountain (Brecon Beacons National Park) in Carmarthenshire, south Wales. Near to it is found Llyn y Fan Fawr.
A folklore legend is connected with the lake. In the folk tale, a local young man, son of a widow from Blaen Sawdde (near Llanddeusant) agreed to marry a beautiful girl who arose from the lake, on the condition that he would not hit her three times. He complied easily because the girl was so beautiful, and they were happy for years putting up a house in Esgair Llaethdy near Myddfai, and bringing up a family there. The girl had very special cattle, traditionally still kept at Dinefwr, Llandeilo, and other animals. But over time the man did hit his wife three times, and she had to go back to the lake according to the promise, taking the cattle with her. But the mother came back to them to help and instruct her children, and in particular one called Rhiwallon (in some versions Rhiwallon is the name of the young man who marries the fairy girl). In due course Rhiwallon and the other sons went to the court of Rhys Gryg from Deheubarth where they became famous doctors that are known today as the Physicians of Myddfai[citation needed]. A number of their medical formulas remain in the Welsh manuscripts.
It is probable that the "Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach" was originally a Celtic goddess[citation needed]. Some elements in the story also relate to Welsh traditions of the fairies (or Tylwyth Teg in Welsh).
Full story HERE

The Physicians of Myddfai.
The “Physicians of Myddfai” were herbalists in the twelfth century, which was a time of influx of new ideas and learning that inspired and gave momentum to the Gothic era. Contrary to the prevalent view that the medieval times were a time of darkness, it was in fact a period of immense cultural importance, with the first universities being founded and monastic schools established. A range of new knowledge became available through translation, including medical texts.

Myddfai was one such centre that flowered as a consequence of this new knowledge. In about 1177 AD the Welsh prince Lord Rhys (1132 – 1197) ruler of the kingdom known as Deheubarth in South Wales was instrumental in sponsoring the monasteries of Talley and Strata Florida. As the name of the latter - meaning the “Layers of Flowers” – suggests, these abbeys also flourished as schools and hospitals of herbal medicine.
One of the most remarkable facts in the history of the physicians was the establishment of exchanges between Myddfai and the medical school in Salerno. In the Gothic era Salerno had gained a pre-eminent reputation as a centre of medical excellence. They wrote medical advice in the form of a document called the ‘Regimens Sanitas’ a document which was circulated throughout the abbeys and monasteries of medieval Europe. Such was the reputation of the Myddfai physicians that personnel and medicine were freely exchange with those of Salerno. Through this link the physicians would have had direct access to the medical writings of Hippocrates and Galen, along with Arabic texts such as those by Avicenna.

Evidence of this exchange, is found in the many exotic herbs and spices were brought to Wales. For example aloes, nutmeg, cloves, myrrh, cumin, star anise, mastic, frankincense and saffron are all mentioned in their recipes of the Physicians of Myddfai.
It is significant that the Physicians of Myddfai traded, co-operated and gave support to and received support from fellow physicians in Italy and the Arab lands in the search for truth and the pursuance of the art of good medicine to help one’s fellow man. The last descendant of the Physicians of Myddfai was John Jones who died in 1743. The Physicians had practised Herbal Medicine in Myddfai for 500 years in continuous succession.
More great reading :
Myddfai is the setting for many tales of myth and legend. One such legend is the story of the Lady of the Lake.
The Lady of the Lake is the name of several related characters who play parts in the Arthurian legend. These characters' roles include giving King Arthur his sword Excalibur, enchanting Merlin, and raising Lancelot after the death of his father. Different writers and copyists give her name variously as Nimue, Viviane, Elaine, Niniane, Nivian, Nyneve, Evienne and other variations.
A number of locations in Great Britain are traditionally associated with the Lady of the Lake's abode. They include Dozmary Pool, Llyn Llydaw, Llyn Ogwen, The Loe, Pomparles Bridge, Loch Arthur, and Aleines. In France, she is associated with the forest of Brocéliande.
More can be read HERE
and Here
The use of herbs as cures for human ailments is as old as modern man, but has now been replaced by synthetic drugs.

Full text of "The physicians of Myddvai: Meddygon Myddfai is HERE
Meddyginiaeth, or mediciDe, numbers as one of
"the nine rural arts, known and practised by the
ancient Cjmry before they became possessed of cities
and a sovereignty ; "* that is, before the thne of
Prydain ab Aedd Mawr, which is generally dated
about a thousand years anterior to the Christian era.
In that remote period the priests and teachers of the
people were the Gwyddoniaid, or men of knowledge,
obviously so called from their being looked upon as
the chief sources and channels of the land.
It is to these men that the art of healing is attri-
buted, which they seem to have practised mainly, if
not wholly, by means of herbs. Indeed Botanology,
or a knowledge of the nature and properties of plants,
is enumerated as one of the three sciences, which
primarily engaged their attention — the other two
being Theology and Astronomy.

''The three pillara of knowledge, with which the Gwyddoniaid
were acquainted, and which they bore in memory from the beginning :
the first, a knowledge of Divine things, and of such matters as apper-
tain to the worship of God, and the homage due to goodness ; the
second, a knowledge of the course of the stars, their names and kinds,
and the order of times ; the third, a knowledge of the names and use
of the herbs of the field, and of their application in practice, in
medicuie. and in religious worship. These were preserved' in the
memorials of vocal song, and in the memorials of times, before there
were Bards of degree and chair." 
It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain.
Among the Cymry all branches of knowledge
were centered indiscriminately in the Gwyddoniaid
until the time of Prydain. These in his reign were
divided into three orders, Bards, Druids, and Ovates.

Some people there may be who are unwilling to
admit the authority of our native memorials as to the
•Druidic antiquity of the art of medicine among the
Cymry. But there exists not the slightest reason
for any incredulity or doubt on the subject. On the
contrary, the classical writers of Greece and Borne,
as soon as they are in a position to address us,
bear witness in a greater or less degree to the same
fact, and support the general correctness of our tra^
ditions. The physical researches of the Bards and
Druids seem to have caught their especial attention.
"The soothsayers," says Strabo, "are sacrificers and
Physiologists. The Druids in addition to
physiology practise ethic philosophy." Nature both
external and human — causes and eflfects— diseases
and their antidotes — all came under their cognizance,
and in their hands underwent a complete and prac-
tical investigation. Cicero informs us that he was
personally acquainted with one of the Gallic Druids,
Divitiacus the ^duan, a man of quality in his coun-
try, who professed to have a thorough knowledge of
the laws of nature, including, as we may well suppose
the science of medicine. 

Pliny enumerates some of the plants most in
repute among the Britons for their medicinal proper-
ties. He mentions the mistletoe, and observes that
in Druidical language it signified * All heal," omnia
sanantem — a name indicative of the efficacy which it
was supposed to possess; and it is remarkable, as
corroborative of his assertion, that OU iach is to this
very day one of the names by which the plant in
question is known to the Cymry. Nor does it appear
that its virtues, real or traditionary, were forgotten
in comparatively recent times. In the Book of
Howel Veddyg, a descendant of the celebrated phys-
icians of Myddvai, and which forms the second part
of the present volume, we are informed that the
mistletoe was efficacious in cases of general debility —
nervous complaints — brain fever — rheumatism — affec-
tion of the heart, liver, bowels, kidneys, spine-^
epilepsy — ^paralysis — insanity. It will strengthen the
sight and hearing, and all the bodily senses — prevent
barreness — and " whosoever takes a spoonful of the
powder in his ordinary drink once a day, shall have un-
interrupted health, strength of body, and manly vigour." 

Another plant mentioned by Pliny, is the selago,*
a kind of club moss, resembling savine, which^
according to him, the Druids much admired for its
medicinal qualities, particularly in diseases of the eyes.

The samolus,f or marshwort, is said also to have
been greatly used by them to cure their oxen and swine.

Welsh Botanology comprehends several plants,
which either by name or tradition, are associated
with the art of healing, and may be referred purely

* Lyoopodium Selago, or Upright Fir Mow.
t Samolus Valerandi, or Water Pimpernel.

to Druidical times, or at least to times when the
Bardic College enjoyed the protection of the state.
Such are the Derwen Vendigaid, or Vervain, the
symbol of Alban Hevin, as the Mistletoe was of
Alban Arthan — Arian Cor — Arian Gwion — Berwr
Taliesin — Bogail Gwener — Boled Olwen — ^Bronwen —
Cerddinen— Clych Enid— Erbin—Eirin Gwion— Ffa-
en Taliesin — Golch Enid — Llys y Dryw — Llys Tal-
iesin — Meillionen Olwen — Pumbys yr Alban — Ys-
pyddaden, with many others.


*'Man consists of eight parts: — the first is the earthy which is
sluggish and heavy, whence is the flesh. The second is the stones^
whicn are hard, and these are the materials of the bones. The third
is watery which^ is moist and cold, and is the substance of the blood.

Physician, namely Rhiwallon, who was assisted by
his three sons, Cadwgan, Gruffydd, and Einion, from a
place called Myddvai, in the present county of Caer-
marthen, whose rights and privileges, as enjoined by
law were worthily maintained and upheld by the prince.
Under his patronage these men made a collection of
valuable medicinal recipes applicable to the various
disorders to which the human body was then subject.
But though this collection bears their name, we are
not to suppose that all the prescriptions contained
therein were the result of the studies and experience
of the Physicians of Myddvai. Some no doubt had
been in the materia medica of Wales long before ; a
few indeed may perhaps be traced up to the time of
Howel the Good, if not to the sixth century. Such,
however, do not seem to have been reduced to
writing, until the Physicians of Myddvai took the
matter in hand, and produced the work, which is now
for the first time printed.

A knowledge of medicine was preserved in the
descendants of this femilj, and they continued to
practice as physicians at Myddvai, without intermis-
sion, until the middle of the last century.

The second portion of this volume purports to
have been compiled by Howel the Physician, son of
Rhys, son of Llewelyn, son of Philip the Physician,
a lineal descendant of Einion, the son of Bhiwallon,
from the Books of the first Physicians of Myddvai.

The three qualities of water : it will produce no sickness, no debt,
and no widowhood.

§ 14. The three best cooling drinks are apple water, goafs
whey, and spring water.


§ 7. As to a recent blow or fresh wound on the head, tlie
sooner it is dressed the better, lest there should be extrava-
sated blood upon the dura mater, and that it should become
concocted there. When the bone and the dura mater are
exposed, take the violet and fresh butter, and pound together.
If the violet cannot be gotten, take the white of eggs and
linseed, pounding tliein together ; or fresh butter and lin-
seed, and apply thereto till (the pain is) assuaged. Then
an ointment should be prepared of herbs, butter and tallow.


§ 15. Another treatment for an intermittent fever. Take
the mugwort, dwarf elder, tutsan, amphibious persicaria,
pimpernel, butcher^s broom, elder bark, and the mallow,
and boiling them together as well as possible in a pot, or
cauldron. Then take the water and herbs, and add them to
the bath. The following is a good medicine for this class of
diseases : take moss, ground ivy, or elder, if obtainable,
(if not obtainable, caraway,) and boil these two vegetable
substances well together. Then take the mallow, fennel,
pimpernel, butcher^s broom, borage, and the young leaves
of the earth nut, and bruise them as well as possible, put-
ting them on the fire with the two herbs before mentioned,
and boiling them well. This being done, let elder bark be
taken from that portion of the tree which is in the ground,
let it be scraped and washed thoroughly, and bruised well in
a mortar. Then take the liquor prepared from the fore-
mentioned herbs, and mix the said bark therein assiduously
between both hands, and set it to drain into a vessel to
acidify, fermenting it with goa^s whey, or cow'^s whey. Let
a good cupful thereof be drank every morning as long as it
lasts, a portion of raw honey, apple or wood sorrel, being
taken subsequently in order to remove the taste from the
mouth, after the draught. This liquor is beneficial to every
man who requires to purge his body.


S 20. A sterile woman may have a potion prepared for
her by means of the following herbs, viz : — St. Johns's wort,
yew, agrimony, amphibious persicaria, creeping cinque foil,
mountain club moss, orpine and pimpernel, taking an emetic
in addition.

§ 25. The roots of the mugwort boiled in wine, will form
an issue also ; the leaves treated in like manner will destroy


S 30. For the toothache. Take the inner bark of the
ivy, and the leaves of the honeysuckle, bruising them well
together in a mortar, expressing them through a linen cloth
into both nostrils, the patient lying on his back, and it
will relieve him.


§ 33. For a crusted scall. Take goat^s dung, barley meal
and red wine^ boil together into a poultice, and apply to the
part. This is the remedy, when the sore is not opened (by
the forcible removal of the crust.)


§ 34. For headache or pain in the joints. Take cakes of
pounded wheat, and grind into fine meal. Then take wood
sorrel, dandelion, betony, and red wine, bruising them
together in a mortar well, then mixing them throughly
together on the fire, adding ox tallow and salt thereto freely.
Let this plaster, spread on thick cloth, be then applied to
the shaven scalp* This will induce the breaking forth of
boils, thereby extracting the venom, and relieving the


§ 36. For worms. Take elder bark, wallnut bark,
white thorn bark, bitter sweet, and boil them together in
water. Let a cupful be drank thereof daily fasting, and let
the patient abstain from food till it is almost evening. This
should be repeated nine times.


i 42. For the toothache. Take betony and lay it under
the head, in an unbleached linen cloth, and it will cure it.
Another method is to take self heal, put it in a dock
leaf under the tooth, or on a hot stone, and place it hot in a
cloth under the painful tooth. Another is to take the round
birthwort, bruise it well, and apply it to the patient^s
tooth for a night. Another is to take the thorn apple
and apply it well. 


S 49. Poppy heads bruised in wine, will induce a man to
sleep soundly.*


§ 50. For impotency. Take some birch, digest in water,
and drink.*

§57. If you would remove a man^s drunkenness, let him
eat bruised saffron with spring water.

§ 58. If you would be at all times merry^ eat saffron in
meat or drink, and you will never be sad : but beware of
eating over much, lest you should die of excessive joy.

§ 69. If you would never be in an envious mood, drink as
much as would fill an egg shell of the juice of the herb called
wild clary, and you will not after fall into an evil temper.
If you would be always in good health, drink a spoonful of
the juice of the herb mallows, and you will always be so.

S 60. If you would always be chaste, eat daily some of
the herb called hart'^s tongue, and you will never assent to
the suggestions of impurity.


§ 66. To destroy flies, let the mugwort be put in the
place where they frequent, and such of them as shall come
in contact with the herb will die.

S 67. For the bite of a snake. Let the juice of the elder
be drank, and it will disperse all the poison.

^ Or as it may be also read, simply " the yolks of eggs."


§ 99. A medicine for nettle rash, (when indicating a bad
constitution,) so that it may disappear in three days. Take
good cheese and pound it briskly in a mortar. Mix honey
with it till it is transparent. Anoint the part therewith
frequently, laying a cabbage leaf thereon, and it will have
disappeared in three days.

§ 100. For the bite of a mad dog. Pound ground ivy
well in a mortar with lard, or pound leeks and vinegar, or
fennel seed, and honey together, and apply thereto.


§ 118. For a burm or scald. Put the leaves of the lily, in

boiling milk, and apply to the part till it is well.


S 131. If a man has taken poison let him take of the juice
of the dittany, and wine.


§ 137. As an antidote for poison, mix two nuts, three
dry figs, and a handful of rue, and thirty grains of salt,
giving it to the patient, fasting.


§ 139. Mustard. It is useful to expel cold humors. It
is good with vinegar for the bite of an adder or toad. It is
good for the toothache. It will purify the brain. It will
restrain profuse menstruation. It will provoke the appetite,
and strengthen digestion« It is good for colic, loss of hair,
noise in the ears, and dimness of sight, cutaneous eruptions,
palsy, and many other things.


§ 146. In order to be delivered from intoxication, drink
saffron digested in spring water.

§ 163. For boils. Take the juice of the morella (mush-
room,) plantain, barley meal, and the white of an egg.


§ 165. To remove warts. Take the inner bark of the
willow, make into a plaster with vinegar, and apply it.

§ 168. To make vinegar. Take clean barley, and put in
wine over night till the eve of next day.


§ 169. To promote the union of bone. Take comfrey,
and bruise with wine, pepper and honey, drinking it daily
for nine days, and they will unite compactly.


S 170. To make an eye salve. Take the juice * * ♦
and the juice of fennel root, celandine, lesser celandine^ sow'^s
lard, honey, a little vinegar, an eeFs blood, and a cock's
gall, letting them stand in a brass vessel till an efflorescence
takes place. This has restored sight to those who had quite
lost it.

Love and light,