Hypothetical Welsh Pantheon
God of Light? also called Beli, Belin, Belinos, Belinus, Bellinus, Belenos.
beli: shining (modern Welsh: pelydur--radiant. It is common for b's and p's to mutate into one another in Welsh, depending on dialect and time period. Deriving from the Celtic word bel--to shine, to be bright. The old Celtic god was called Belinos/Belenos)
mawr: great, large
Legendary king of Britain, Beli either is in origin the Celtic sun god Belenos or was conflated with him at an early period, but here in his medieval form is consort to the (semi-hypothetical) earth mother Dôn (see below), and acts as ancestor of the British kings and a crucial (but entirely imaginary) tie to the family of Jesus.
While many scholars, such as Ifor Williams, have seen Beli Mawr as a later version of the god Belenos, it has been observed by some, like John Koch, that Belenos would produce the medieval Welsh form Belyn, not Beli (just as Cunobelinus in Middle Welsh takes the form Cynfelen; Lugobelinos took the form Llewelyn, etc.), while it is *Belgius/Bolgios that produced "Beli." Koch then argues that the Belgae tribe means "Host of Belgius" (god of lightning), much like Brigantes means "Host of Brigantia". There is a Belyn mentioned in the Triads; he is a historical figure, Belyn of Leyn, who died in 627.
It's possible, of course, that Belenos and Bolgios, both gods associated with shining, were conflated at some point, and that the popular god Belenos was later believed to be a divine progenitor of the kings of Britain. It is from this conflation that we get Bellinus filius Minocanni, who is himself a mistake of scribes.
The problem of Bellinus and his father Minocanni can be traced back to a mistake in a reading of Seutonius' life of Caligula:
Nihil autem amplius quam Adminio Cynobellini Britannorum regis filio, qui pulsus a patre cum exigua manu transfugerat, in deditionem recepto, quasi uniuersa tradita insula, magnificas Romam litteras misit, monitis speculatoribus, ut uehiculo ad forum usque et curiam pertenderent nec nisi in aede Martis ac frequente senatu consulibus traderent.
All that he accomplished was to receive the surrender of Adminius, son of Cynobellinus king of the Britons, who had been banished by his father and had deserted to the Romans with a small force; yet as if the entire island had submitted to him, he sent a grandiloquent letter to Rome, commanding the couriers who carried it to ride in their post-chaise all the way to the Forum and the House, and not to deliver it to anyone except the consuls, in the Temple of Mars the Avenger, before a full meeting of the senate.
"Adminio Cynobellini Britannorum regis filio" was later mistaken to be "Minocynobellinus Britannorum regis filius" by the Christian historian Orosius. From here, it is believed that some scribe split the name into two, and knowing of the figure Belinus, decided that Minocanus must be his father; the name then passed into Welsh as Mynogan. For unknown reasons, Nennius then identified Cassivellaunus--not Cunobelinus--with Belinus.1 From there, Cassivellaunus, the defeater of Caesar, became Caswallawn son of Beli Mawr.
Beli the Ancestor
According to the Harlian MS3958, Beli was founder of both the Gwyr y Gogledd (Men of the North--Rheged, etc.) and the Gwynedd line and husband to a woman named Anna, "mater eius, quam dicunt esse consobrina Mariae uirginis, matris Domini nostri Iesu Christi"--"their mother [of the Gwynedd line of kings], who they say was a cousin of the Virgin Mary, mother of our lord Jesus Christ." This is interesting for several reasons: first being that in the Mabinogion, most of the activity of the sons of Dôn happen in Gwynedd, where her brother Math is king. Math never appears in the genealogies for Gwynedd, but Dôn may, in fact, be Anna. The reasoning is that, perhaps influenced by the Irish confusion between Danu/Danann and Anu (both are listed as the mother of the gods), there was also this confusion between Don and Anna. "Anna" could also have been a euhemerization; "Anna" is also the name given to Arthur's sister in Geoffrey's history, while tradition names her Morgan Le Fay (probably related to the Irish Morrigan; and there may be a common confusion of origin between Danu, Anu, Brigit, and Morrigan; see Anu).
Moreover, Danu/Anu is also confused in some rescentions of the Lebor Gabala Erren with Brigid; Brigid, when "reformed" into St. Brigit, was then made the wet-nurse of Jesus and a cousin of Mary. What we may then be seeing in the genealogies is the "reformation" of Dôn/Anna in the same way Brigid was. As such, her relationship with Beli Mawr would then, according to these genalogies, make them the ancestors of the entire Gwynedd line, and as such parent gods. We also see this in the same manuscript when in the Dyfed line it is insisted that the Elen Luyddawc of Maxen is St. Helen, mother of Constantine who found the True Cross, while other lines insist descent from Cleopatra1
Beli in Literature
Elsewhere, (namely in The History of the Kings of Britain), Beli reverts to the Latin theonym Belinus and is made the brother of Brennius (Brân), and his rival. This rivalry may be behind the Mabinogi's battles between the Children of Don and the Children of Llyr, as Brân was the son of Llyr, and Beli the consort of Don.
The Mabinogi has little to say about him, except the following: that he was king of the island and had four sons: Caswallawn, Nynniaw, Lludd, and Lleuelys; that Caswallawn gained the crown by killing Caradawg ap Bran, whose father Bendigedfran was king at the time; and that he and his sons lost the kingdom to Maxen Wledig, however, who "drove them to the sea." He then gave the kingdom to Eudaf ap Caradawg.
In Ireland, there is a figure called called Bile or Bíle, an ancestor figure, grandfather of Donn lord of the isle of the dead and father of Mil Espaine, ancestor of the Irish; some have drawn a connection between Bile and Beli, but it is inconclusive.
Beli Mawr is also thought, by Roger Sherman Loomis, to be the origin of the Arthurian figure of Pellinor, father of Percivale (Perceval). Again, the mutation of B to P and (here) M to N makes the case: Beli Mawr--> Pelli Nor--> Pellinor. However, the characters of Pellinor and Beli Mawr are too undefined to make a positive identification.
See also: Belenos, Belatucadros
1. The Vatican recension of Historia Brittonum correctly gives Cassibelanus instead of Bellinus. 2. The Irish also claim descent from a pharoah's daughter, Scotta.
Bartrum, P.C. Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts. Cardiff: UWP, 1964.
Birkhan, Helmut. "Beli Mawr." Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ed. by John T. Koch. ABC-Clio, 2005.
Giles, J.A. Six Old English Chronicles. London: H. G. Bohn, 1848.
Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. ed. & trans. Lewis Thorpe. NY: Penguin, 1977.
Koch, John T. "Belenus." Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ed. by John T. Koch. ABC-Clio, 2005.
Kondratiev, Alexei. "Danu and Bile: The Primordial Parents?" An Tríbhís Mhór: The IMBAS Journal of Celtic Reconstructionism. Vol. 1, No. 4, Bealtaine 1998. URL: http://www.imbas.org/danubile.htm.
Lebor Gabála Érenn, parts IV and V. ed. by R.A.S. MacAlister. Irish Texts Society Vols. XLI and XLIV. Dublin, 1941, 1956.
Loomis, Roger Sherman. Celtic Myth and Arthurian Romance. NY: Columbia University Press, 1927.
The lost books of the Bible. ed. William Hone, trans. Jeremiah Jones. originally published in 1820. New York: The World Pub. Co., 1926.
The Mabinogion. ed. and trans. Jeffrey Gantz. NY: Penguin, 1976.
Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic Religion and Culture. Rochester, N.Y. : Boydell Press, 1997.
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Mary Jones © 2004