The Summerlands/Summer Country
Welsh: Gwlad y Haf
A term refering to several related, though in origin distinct, lands:
This name likely only reflects the Anglo-Saxon name of this area "Sumorsæte", now called Somerset, and not the later ideas of Iolo Morgannwg. The name "Somerset" likely means "Summerlands" with the idea that they are the summer grazing lands, as in the winter the marshes would flood and thus be useless.
The Kingdom of Melwas/Meleagant: Gorre & Glastonbury
In Arthurian legend, there is a land of Gorre, which has later been identified with Glastonbury due to Melwas beign identified as one of the rulers. Melwas is similar to Otherworld abducters, and his kingdom is identified with the Summer Country in the Life of Gildas:
"Being thereby exceedingly distressed, [Gildas] could not remain there any longer: he left the island, embarked on board a small ship, and, in great grief, put in at Glastonia, at the time when king Melvas was reigning in the summer country."
and Glastonbury is elsewhere identified with the Otherworld of Avalon. These elements became conflated into the Summer Country of Somerset being identified with the Otherworld. The identification of Glastonbury with the Summer Country has, of course, a mundane explanation, as Glastonbury is in the modern shire of Somerset, which derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon Somersæte "summer lands", i.e. the land for grazing cattle during the summer.
In Iolo Morgannwg's mythology, the so-called "Summerland" (Gwlad y Haf) that was the original home of the Britons before being lead westward by Hu Gadarn. The identification of Debrofani seems to have been Constantinople, but this is Morgannwg's invention; Debrofani instead comes from the Greek Taprobana, Ptolemy's name for Sri Lanka. Taprobana was, in the Middle Ages, occasionally identified with Eden, and thus logical that Iolo would pick this as the original home of the Britons. However, as he had settled on Hu Gadarn as a culture-hero of the Britons, he moved the location of Taprobana from Sri Lanka to Constantinople, where Hu Gadarn--actually the French romance character Hugh--was emperor.
The Summer Country in the Prydain Chronicles
In Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, the Summer Country is the original home of the Children of Dôn and the Children of Llyr. After Arawn is defeated and magic leaves Prydain, the Children of Don and those worthy commoners who helped them leave Prydain for the Summer Country for eternal life.
This seems influenced by the Iolo Triads (as are other elements of the Prydain Chronicles), but also by the Irish legends about the retreat of the Tuatha Dé Danann to the sídhe after the comming of the Milesians, and the story of King Arthur and his retreat to Avalon. However, unlike Arthur--who is to come again--or the TDD--who influenced events even after their leaving the surface world--the Children of Dôn leave for good, more like Tolkien's elves than anything else. A similar event happens in the end of Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Sequence; again, this might be an influence from Tolkien, who in turn was in part influenced by Celtic literature, particularly with regard to the Elves.
Combining ideas about Avalon, the Otherworld, and the Greek Elysian Fields, some Neopagans call the land of the afterlife "the Summerlands". I'm not sure of the origin of this designation, but it would seem to have its roots in a combination of the above elements.
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Mary Jones © 2009