Welsh Mythology

Wales Awakening Christopher Williams

The Cymry = tribal aristocracy – Brythonic origin. Holding down a serf class – a mixture of Goidels, Brythons, Bronze Age, New Stone Age peoples plus aboriginals. Cymry invaded Wales from north England in 5th century AD. [Graves: White Goddess].

Proinsas mac Cana (1970). Wales – also rich mythological tradition – poorly documented. Complications = end of 12th century.

Earliest surviving tales = Culhwch and Olwen. The Four Branches (11th). Mabinogion – mythology – “…they represent the mere debris of a tradition recast in a loose narrative framework by a talented author who was less interested in preserving sources than in producing an effective piece of literature.” (18).

Debris = anecdotes, allusions, motifs, characters = paradigms. Welsh evidence – linked – Arthurian Cycle.

Welsh – began to emerge from its common British Celtic parent, along with Cornish and Breton > 5th and 6th centuries AD.

In Welsh – early Brythonic myths and legends survived. Welsh material – not as extensive or as old as the Irish. Welsh literature – flourished by 8th century AD.

The oldest book wholly in Welsh = Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin > The Black book of Carmarthen – 13th century AD. Contains – few poems on Myrddin (Merlin) legends. The mythological texts – preserved in two sources = Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch > White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325); Llyfr Coch Hergest > Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425). Stories in these two books = the Mabinogi = in English, the Four Branches of the Mabinogion.

The Mabinogi = 11 tales and romances. At least 3 = period earlier than surviving written texts. Culhwch and Olwen = the Quest for Olwen = style of 200 years earlier.

Welsh > wealth of manuscript archival material. E.g. see – A. Breeze, Medieval Welsh Literature (1997). Thesis = several Mabinogi tales – written by a Welsh princess called Gwenllian (killed in battle with the Anglo-Normans, 1136-1137).

Welsh Creation Myth – found in Trioedd Ynys Prydain. Collection of Triads – serve as a mnemonic device. Speaks of Llyon-Llion – Lake of the Waves. Overflows due to Addunc (monster in the lake). Lured from lair by oxen of Hu Gadarn – disposed of. In some versions = killed by Peredur.

However – Addanc – creates overflow thence ‘ deluge.. Cognate with Griva – role in Hindu deluge myth. Nefyed Naf Nefion > builds a ship. In this Dwyvan and wife Dwyvach escape. Nefyed = cognate with Irish Nemed  (arrived in Ireland after the deluge).

Addanc = hints of pre-Christian origin. Other sources compare more with ‘The Churning of the Ocean’. Comparative figures compare with Celtic Irish myth = Dhanu, Surabhi (the divine cow), the Tree of Knowledge. Dhanvantari = equivalent of Irish Dian Cecht (the physician of the gods).

The Battle of the Trees = Cad Goddeu.  A battle in Brythonic mythology. Fought between Arawn and Amaethon.  In myth became – white roebuck, the whelp, and the lapwing – all taken out of Annwn by Amaethon.

The Triads – describe it as one of three favourite battles in Britain. In the Book of Taliesin – a long, disorganised poem = Cad Goddeu.  Names trees in order of battle. Also called the Battle of Achren – there was a woman of that name in the battle on the side of Amaethon.

Bran – fought on the side of Arawn.  Gwydion sided with his brother Amaethon.  Usual interpretation = Gwydion turned trees into warriors.  Robert Graves – rearranged this poem + sequence which revealed its ancient meaning.  Therefore = not a battle of warriors.

However = a battle of letters of the learned. Thus = symbolism of ancient Celtic Tree Alphabet + mysteries of the druids.  Derwydd means oak-seer.  Thus a complex magic that is centuries old and centuries hidden.

Druid = one of a class of priests, teachers, divinities, magicians and pre-Celtic religion.  Possessed all supernatural and human wisdom. Rank = next to the king.  Their decisions final in all matters. Learning never written down.  Cult mysteries remained mysteries.

Druids functioned at all rituals of naming, burial, sacrifice. Mentioned in connection with human sacrifices associated with Beltane, Cromm Cruac, and at Tara.

Druids – could cause illness, sleep, death.  They could raise storms and mists. Draw the druid’s hedge or airbe druad – a fence around an enemy or army by incantation.  As healers – associated with mistletoe and its ritual gathering.

Annwn or Annwfn = the Brythonic mythological otherworld.  Conceived as an abyss or as an (not) and dwfn (the world). Located – either on the face of or under the earth, or over, or under the sea. A group of fortified islands out at sea.

Also as a great revolving castle at sea. This land was known as – Land Over Sea, Land Under the Wave or – Caer Sidi = revolving castle.  Annwn = land of delight and beauty. Without death or disease.  Its lord or king was Arawn. Who made friends with Pwyll the king of Dyfed in the Mabinogion.  Arawn owned a magic cauldron. The theft of the bitch, lapwing and roebuck led to the Battle of the Trees.

Shared a magic and inexhaustible mysterious cauldron with other Celtic Elysiums. Taliesin – located Annwn under the earth.  Identified it with a magic castle visited by King Arthur.

Gwydion = the son of Don in Brythonic mythology.  Brother of Amaethon and Govannon.  Incestuous lover of Arianhod and by her father of Dylan and Llew Llaw Gyffes.  Gwydion = Brythonic culture hero.  Brought the gifts of gods to mankind.

Celtic magician – popularly credited with instituting the first April Fool.  Conjured up a vision of armies to trick Arianhod who had cursed him.

Llew Llaw Gyffes = an early Welsh mythical hero.  Son of Gwydion by his sister Arianhod.  When born he had a triple curse laid on him  The curse – deprived him of his name, arms and a wife.  The curse was circumvented by Gwydion,  Llew met his death at the hands of his wife and her lover.  Was changed into an eagle. Gwydion found him and restored his shape.

Llyr = Welsh god of the Underworld.  Equivalent of the Irish god Lir.  Father of Bran the Blessed + Manawyddan.

Manawyddan = Celtic mythology.  Son of Llyr by Penardun and brother of Bran and Branwen.  Stepbrother of Evnissyen whose mother was Iweridd.  He was the second husband of Rhiannon.  Went to Prtderi’s aid and saved him from the spells of Lloyd.  Corresponds – Irish Manannan, son of Ler.

Bran =  a giant.  Brother of Branwen + Manawyddan.  Possessed – cauldron with power to bring dead back to life. But – not the power of speech.  Wounded – Battle against Irish.  Beheaded by other survivors.  Legend = head buried in London.  Eyes – turned towards France to ward off invaders.  Sometimes called Bran the Blessed.  Also = Bendigeid Vran.

Mabon =  Welsh god of youth. God of hunters and fishermen.  Son of earthly mother = Modron. Abducted at three days old. Known – north-western Britain.  Cult = extends along Hadrian’s Wall.  Known from many Romano-Celtic inscriptions.  Syncretised with Romano-Greek god Apollo.

Uther Pendragon = Father of King Arthur – according to Geoffrey of Monmouth + later writers.  Nothing in authentic Welsh tradition to link him with Arthur.  Or with Merlin.  Represented as brother of historic Ambrosius Aurelius.  In declining years – defeated Saxons. One version – name means ‘leader of warriors’.

Madoc = Welsh prince.  Alleged to have discovered America with a fleet of two ships.  Landed – Mobile Bay, Alabama, in 1170.  The Madon = extinct Native American tribe – said to be his descendants.  Legend = 15th century Welsh poem.


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