Modern Druidry

The Story of Dinas Emrys

November 22, 2010

I was doing some research into the ancient hill fort of Dinas Emrys, and found this excellent and comprehensive re-telling of the story of the foundation and inhabiting of Dinas Emrys taken from Puffin children’s book “A Book of Dragons” edited by Roger Lancelyn Green (pages 68-73).

The hill has become special to me, being renowned as Merlin’s Castle, and it is a place where I recently connected to the spirit of Merlin again to re-invigorate my campaign to re-energise the failing parts of the energy grid of these ancient lands in which I roam.

Here is the story….


The Red Dragon of Wales

In the days before Caesar conquered Britain there lived a king called Lludd who built himself a city in the south-east of the island, set about it a wall with towers and gates, and named it after himself, Caer Lludd – which the Romans called Londinium and the Saxons London. And in today’s city Ludgate is still called after that ancient king.

Lludd ruled peacefully for many years. But not long before the first coming of the Romans, many strange evils fell upon the land: and among them was

‘a shriek that came on every May-eve, over every hearth in the Island of Britain. And this went through people’s hearts, and so scared them, that the men lost their hue and their strength, and the women their children, and the young men and the maidens lost their senses, and all the animals and trees and the earth and the waters were left barren.’

‘And thereupon King Lludd felt great sorrow and care, because he knew not how he might be freed from this plague. And he called to him all the nobles of his kingdom, and asked counsel of them what they should do against this affliction. And by the common counsel of the nobles, Lludd the son of Beli went to Llevelys his brother, king of France, for he was a man of great counsel and wisdom, to seek his advice.’

King Llevelys was indeed wise beyond all men living at that time. For after a little he was able to tell his brother both the cause of that terrible shriek, and how he might set free the Island of Britain from it.

King Lud and assorted progeny

‘This plague that is in your kingdom,’ said Llevelys, ‘is caused by a red dragon. Another dragon of a foreign race is fighting with it, and striving to overcome it. And therefore does your dragon make a fearful outcry. And in this wise may you overcome the plague. After you have returned home, command that the Island be measured in its length and breadth, and in the place where you find its exact central point, have a pit dug, and command a cauldron full of the best mead that can be made to be put in the pit, with a covering of satin over the face of the cauldron. And then remain watching, and you will see the dragons fighting – first in the shape of other animals, and then as flying dragons battling in the air. Finally, after wearying themselves with fierce and furious fighting, they will fall upon the covering, and they will sink in, and the covering with them, and they will draw it down to the very bottom of the cauldron. And they will drink up the whole of the mead; and after that they will sleep.

Thereupon do you immediately fold the covering around them, and bury them in two stone chests, in the strongest place you have in y0our dominions, and heap earth over them.’

Then Lludd returned back to his own land. And he ’caused the Island of Britain to be measured in its length and in its breadth. And in Oxford he found the central point, and in that place he caused the earth to be dug, and in that pit a cauldron to be set, full of the best mead that could be made, and a covering of satin over the face of it. And he himself watched that night. And while he was there, he beheld the dragons fighting. And when they were weary they fell, and came down upon the top of the sati, and drew it with them to the bottom of the cauldron. And when they had drunk the mead they slept. And in their sleep, Lludd folded the covering around them, and in the securest place he had in Snowdon he hid them, in two stone chests. Now after that the place was called Dinas Emrys, but before that, Dinas Ffaraon. And this the fierce outcry ceased in his kingdom.’

Five centuries later, after the Romans had conquered Britain, and occupied it for more than four hundred years, and left it as the Saxon invaders began to pour in from the east, and Picts to flood over Hadrian’s Wall to the north, a king called Vortigern ruled the Island.

Wonderful mural of King Vortigern

In trying to beat back the invaders he made the great mistake of inviting other Saxons under their chieftains Hengest and Horsa to come to his aid, granting them part of the country in return. For very soon they were demanding more and more, and it seemed that before long they would conquer the whole Island of Britain. Driven at length into the mountains of North Wales, Vortigern sought out a strong place on which to build a castle that would withstand any attacks from the Saxons. He consulted his twelve wise men, and they all advised the great mound at the foot of Snowdon by Nant Gwynant called Dinas Emrys.

On top of Dinas Emrys there is a wide, flat shelf covering half the summit, and behind it a curved rocky ridge suitable for the towers of a castle. On the wide shelf of flat ground Vortigern bade his stone-masons and carpenters build him a hall with many rooms round about it, and walls with towers outside that again.

So hewn stones and shaped timbers were carried up Dinas Emrys and stacked ready for building the hall. But next morning they had all disappeared an nothing remained with which to begin constructing the great castle of refuge, nor even the hall that was to be its centre.

Materials were at once collected for a second time and stacked ready for use. But a second time they vanished in the night as if the soft green turf in the centre of the place had opened and swallowed them up.

Then Vortigern consulted his wise men, and they said: ‘You must find a child born without a father, put him to death and sprinkle his blood on the ground where the hall is to be built – otherwise you will never accomplish your purpose.’ So Vortigern sent messengers throughout Britain, and in Monmouth [ed. Other versions have this as Caernarvon usually – Gwas] they came upon a boy whose mother swore that he had no father – save only one who had visited her in a dream and seemed to be no earthly man.

They brought the boy to Vortigern where he sat on a rock on Dinas Emrys, and stood him before the king on the flat space where the turf seemed to grow much greener than elsewhere.

The site of the dragon well

Why have you brought me here?‘ asked the boy.

My wise me have said that only if the stones are cemented with your blood can my hall be built in this place,’ answered Vortigern.

By what magic do you know this?’ the boy asked of the wise me. ‘For I think it is by magic that you have sought to find how the stones and timbers may be stopped from vanishing each night in the ground.’

But the wise men answered nothing, and they were afraid of the boy’s knowledge.

My lord king,’ said the boy, ‘let me prove to you the ignorance of these men, and that even I can see farther and more clearly than they. Bid them answer the questions that I put to them.’

Answer what he asks,’ said Vortigern shortly.

First,’ said the boy, ‘tell me what lies hidden under this place that will not let any building be erected upon it.

When they could not answer, the boy said: ‘I beg your majesty to command your workmen to dig into the ground, and you will find a pool of water which causes the foundations to sink and the materials to be swallowed up.’

This was done, and presently they uncovered a deep pool under the ground which had caused the earth to give way beneath the stones and beams.

Now tell me what lies at the bottom of this pool,’ said the boy. And when the wise men could not answer, he said: ‘At the bottom lie two chests made of stone. I beg your majesty to have the pool drained, and you shall see them.’

When the pool was drained the two stone chests stood revealed, and the boy said: ‘Tell me now what lies hidden inside them . . . You cannot, then I will do so. In one chest is imprisoned a Red Dragon and in the other a White Dragon. Open, and you shall see if I speak truth.’

As soon as the two chests were opened the two Dragons whom King Lludd had imprisoned there awoke from sleep and came out. And one of them was read and the other white. Immediately they saw one another they charged screaming and hissing, and a terrible battle began, with flames pouring from their mouths and the smoke half-hiding them from view.

Soon the White Dragon seemed to be winning, and it chased the Red Dragon which fled with terrible shrieks to the edge of the hill of Dinas Emrys, and flew round and round it, pursued by its adversary.

But presently the Red Dragon turned at bay, and in a little while it was chasing the White Dragon: and at length the White Dragon flew screaming away up towards the top of Snowdon. And the last they saw of them was the Red Dragon prancing in triumph on the very summit of the mountain, before the clouds came down and hid him from their sight.

Red and White Dragons tussling

Then the boy said: ‘The Red Dragon signifies our people of Britain. For a long time he shall suffer woe and be driven into hiding by the White Dragon, who signifies the Saxons whom you have invited into the Island. For a little space the Red Dragon shall conquer, when King Arthur rules this land: but when he passes into Avalon, the White Dragon shall triumph wholely, and the Saxons shall rule all Britain. Yet at the last Arthur shall return, and the Red Dragon of Wales conquer the White and set his country free.

There was a long silence of awe when the boy finished speaking. At last King Vortigern said:

It seems to me that you are a greater magician and a wiser man, boy though you are, than any of these who think to advise me. Tell us now, what is your name?’

I am Merlin,’ was the answer, ‘Merlin, whose name is also Emrys. And Dinas Emrys is the place where I shall dwell. Dinas Emrys which is ‘Merlin’s Castle’ – and here I shall lie hid until the time comes when I am needed.’

After this Vortigern and his followers departed from Dinas Emrys, and before long the Saxons triumphed over him and he was burnt to ashes in the castle of refuge which he built for himself at Gwent in Monmouthshire.

But when Uther Pendragon ruled over Britain (albeit the Saxons held most of the land) Merlin led him by night to the castle of dark Tintagel by the Cornish sea. And there the lady Ygraine bore him a son called Arthur, whom Merlin hid until the day came when he was to draw the Sword Excalibur from the stone and become king of the Island of Britain and, with his Knights of the Round Table, drive back the Saxons and free the country from them for one bright generation – before the darkness fell again.


So, what have we learned from this allegorical tale? It works on many levels, but I like to consider that it tells the tale of Merlin’s mastery over the two competing aspects of human energy forms: the red feminine energy and the white masculine energy. As a master magician of energies Merlin was able to employ psychic abilities for the purpose of prophecy and so vault himself into a position of power and influence that reflected the ancient status of the druid as a confidante of royalty.

The story ultimately tells the tale of how the masculine white energy overcomes the red feminine energy forces, leaving the country in the grip of an increasingly masculine culture. The illuminating light of the Sun has triumphed over the reflected glories of the Moon. Merlin, however, lets us know that one day, in 700 years according to the traditional cycles, this balance will tilt back the other way and he will return to oversee that change.

One day I will discuss the tale in all its detail, but for now I leave you to revel in the tale as told.


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