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In the first Prydain novel, there is a scene where Taran and Gwydion witness (in stealth) the bad guys having a gore-fest where they burn men in baskets and there are "Proud Walkers" (men on stilts). Gwydion says that these are old, brutal practices that the bad guys are resurrecting.

Just wondered if either or both of these practices are something in Welsh history or Welsh legends? Or just LA's invention.

P.s. Always sort of reminded me of the "cross-X" tree-people-pulling-apart in A Short Sharp Shock.


Edit: I accepted the answer about Druid wicker basket man burning. Interesting to hear that is/was at least a meme, from Roman claims of the Druids. While, we didn't get much on Proud Walkers, I suspect that was Alexander, mixing in some aspects of the rural stilt walkers of France in, despite them not being cruel. E.g.:

https://www.amusingplanet.com/2017/08/the-stilt-walking-shepherds-of-landes.html

As even the wicker burning has some aspect of him morphing the tradition. And he does say several times that he takes legends and changes them anyhow, to fit his story.

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  • What's brutal about stilts?
    – Adamant
    Commented Jun 19 at 21:03
  • @Adamant - They're brutal on your ankles.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 19 at 21:09
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    Adamant (treating your comment seriously), it's not clear. But it's in the air. There is definitely something menacing about it. If you read the passage, you'll get the drift. I'm just a lazy oft-banned troll (but I repeat myself), but when some arduous person edits in the relevant passage, you'll get the drift. Commented Jun 19 at 21:16
  • I traced the wicker sacrifices back to Caesar's Gallic Wars when I was a kid, but I was never able to find a similar source for the stilt walkers.
    – Buzz
    Commented Jun 20 at 8:48
  • I wonder (and wondered as a child) if the stilt stuff was Alexander kind of confabulating the rural stilt walkers of France. He was overseas and married in France. And those stilt walkers are kind of an iconic thing...maybe not cruel, per se...but that was the author mixing/matching. Commented Jun 20 at 12:39

1 Answer 1

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There is some historicity behind it, even if the sources are a bit thin.

The Wicker Man was a construct of branches used for immolation sacrifice of animals and people by druids. As far as I know the only source for this is Julius Caesar in his Commentary on the Gallic Wars; section on druids here. You can read the Commentary at Project Gutenberg for free. The translated passage reads:

Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames

Osiers are branches from willow species, known for being used to make baskets - potentially suitable for containing people in the context of immolation, I would have thought.

Gaul (now ~France) is not in Britain, but druids existed in both areas, and it is even thought that Druidism arose in Britain and then spread to the continent. JC did invade Britain in 55 and 54 BC, but was not very successful and didn't get into Wales, though druidism was common throughout Britain at the time. The Commentary was written over the period that encompasses the time-frame of JC's invasion of Britain, but the Commentary doesn't mention druidism in association with Britain.

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    You rock! I continue to be amazed by how smart AND kind the people in this forum are. (Still waiting for my eventual banning.) I will wait for the green check a little, in case someone knows more about the Proud Walkers. Commented Jun 19 at 22:17
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    Although druidlife.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/the-truth-about-wicker-men is worth a read for how infeasible it would be, which means it might be more storytelling (particularly painting the foreign savages as terrible people who need to be subjugated).
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 20 at 0:40
  • There is a horror novel Ritual (1967) by David Pinner, about Druid rituals in modern Britain, which inspired the horror films The Wicker Man (1973) and The Wicker Man (2006), and a novel sequel, The Wicca Woman (2014). The Prydain novels were published from 1964 to 1968, and so might have inspired Ritual (1967) instead of vice versa. Commented Jun 20 at 6:02
  • @FuzzyBoots absolutely - you'd need a lot of wood to effectively burn people into ash, though enough to make them die is another matter, and certainly burning at the stake was a common enough procedure throughout Western Europe from Roman times onwards.
    – bob1
    Commented Jun 20 at 9:07
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    The Romans abhorred the Druids above pretty much anyone else and they did because of their brutality and bloody practices. The Romans found the practices bloody and terrible. Scary.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jun 20 at 13:01

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