- Sep 2021
A Congolese leader, toldof the Portuguese legal codes, asked a Portuguese once, teasingly: “What is the
penalty in Portugal for anyone who puts his feet on the ground?”
Was this truly a joke or is there more cultural subtlety here than provided?
Compare this with Welsh mythology from the fourth branch of the Mabinogi and a tale from Cpt. James Cooks' travels
The Fourth Branch pivots upon the towering figure of Math, Lord of Gwynedd, son of Mathonwy. Math was almost certainly of divine origin. His story is distinctive in Welsh mythology because it may reflect a pre-Christian myth of Creation and Fall. A condition of Math’s power – and indeed his life – was that, unless he was away fighting his enemies, he must stay at home and, bizarrely, sit with his feet in the lap of a maiden: the girl’s virginity was imperative. The name of Math’s foot-holder was Goewin. This strange prohibition on Math’s rule can best be explained if his origins lay in the pagan mythic tradition of sacral kingship so prevalent in Irish myths, wherein the mortal king ‘married’ the land in the form of the goddess of sovereignty. In a Welsh twist, the virgin status of the ‘goddess’ appears to reflect the perceived power of undissipated female sexuality, whose concentrated potency was necessary for the land to remain prosperous.
But the connection between royal feet and the land may have even more complex roots. When Captain Cook explored Tahiti in the mid-18th century, he came across a tradition in which a Polynesian chieftain journeying outside his own lands had to be carried because any territory on which he set foot automatically became his, thus risking war between him and neighbouring chiefdoms. Clearly it would be outrageous to suppose direct connections between early medieval Wales and 18th-century Polynesia. But Cook’s observations inspire us to look for deeper ways of interpreting Math’s situation. via chapter 4 of Aldhouse-Green, Miranda. The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends. (Thames and Hudson, 2015)