The Orchard King – Afallach, Son of Beli


Ah Glastonbury, the little Somerset town that grabbed a snippet of Arthurian mythology a ran wild with it. The quirky shops that line its high-street sell everything from Goddess figurines and flower crowns to replica swords and Ouija boards, while its many healers and psychics make bold and daring claims to cure whatever affliction you may or may not suffer from, for the right price.
The inspiration for this quaint market towns flamboyant new-age persona can be traced to its claim to be non other then the true location of Avalon, the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur and his wife Guinevere, who where supposedly interred in the grounds of the Glastonbury Abby, a once magnificent cathedral, now reduced to ruins by the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century.
However, if you where walk through the towering bones of the Abby and past the famous grave within, you can find a secluded and peaceful orchard of gnarled apple trees, and there among the blizzard of white petals swirling in the march winds, find yourself in the presence of the true King of Avalon…

The Myth of Afallach – King of the Otherworld
Afallach’s role and function in Welsh mythology seems to have been largely forgotten, there are no surviving tales in which he appears and his name is referenced rarely, often as an ancestor figure in the genealogical tracts of legendary Kings of Wales. A rare reference to Afallach can be found the the tale of his daughter Modron.

In the parish of Llanfares there is a river ford, where every day dogs would gather to bark incessantly. The nearby villagers avoided the river, terrified by whatever otherworldly threat drove their hounds to this kind of madness. When King Urien Rheged heard of this strange place he decided to seek out the truth others where too scared to uncover, and followed the barking dogs to the river ford. There on the banks of the river he discovered a beautiful maiden washing her clothing, and overwhelmed by a sudden surge of desire he seized the woman and had his way with her. after the terrible deed the woman thanked Urien, Crying “Blessed be the feet that brought thee here!”. “But why do you thank me?” he asked. “Because I was doomed to wash at this ford until I conceived a son by a christian man. I am Modron, daughter of Afallach King of Annwn, return to this spot in a years time and you shall receive your progeny”. and, heeding her words, Urien returned to that spot a year later and discovered on the banks of the river two babies, a boy and a girl, who he named Owain and Morfudd.

Here Afallach is directly referenced not only as the father of Modron, something we will explore later, but is directly referred to as a King of Annwn, a title with huge implications when exploring the role he plays in lore,making him the fourth canonical King of the Otherworld in welsh myth alongside Arawn, Hafgan and Gwyn ap Nudd, something that raises a number of questions regarding the nature of royalty in Annwn and the fluid nature and identities of the Kings of Annwn.

The Etymology of Afallach – Aballac, The One of Apples
the etymology of Afallach is relatively straightforward, the earliest iteration of his name is Aballac, deriving from the Welsh Afall meaning “apple”. linguistically this can be traced back to the proto-celtic root word *aballo. This renders his name as effectively “The One Of Apples”.
It seems highly likely then that Afallach, like so many other characters in Welsh legend is a reflex of a much older, mythological figure.
Abellio is a Romano-Celtic Deity that was once worshipped in the Garonne Valley region of southwest France, where a large number of inscriptions dedicated to him have been uncovered. seemingly a God of Apple trees or orchards, he also had associations with the healing arts and once carried solar qualities that led scholars to associate him with Apollo and Belenus. Could this Gaulish deity be the inspiration for the ancient King of Avalon?

Avalon and the Enchantress
Afallach’s connection to the mysterious Isle of Avalon is fascinating to say the least. the original name of Avalon in welsh is “Ynys Afallach, or ”Isle of the Apple“, and it is specifically stated that the tree grows in abundance there. However the link between Afallach and Avalon is significantly deeper then sharing the same name.
There exists broken across several works an implication that a tale once existed focused Afallach and his nine daughters living on an enchanted island. William of Melmesbury, writing in his book De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae was aware of a version of this tale, writing the Isle of Avalon was named ‘from a certain Avalloc who is said to have lived there with his daughters, owing to its being a solitary place’. further fragmented poetry refer to this tale stating that Afallach ‘lived on an Island with his nine daughters, who tended to a fountain there.’
It is fascinating to note that Morgen le Fay, the sorceress of Arthurian myth, and the character most closely associated with Avalon, is herself likely a reflex of the Afallach’s daughter Mordron. Morgen is referred to as the Wife of Urien, one of nine sisters who guard Avalon, and is referred to in her earliest appearances as a goddess as well as a sorceress, creating a compelling case for her true identity being Afallachs daughter.

Family of Afallach – Morgen and the Maidens Nine
Throughout Welsh lore Afallach is named as the father of two sons and at least ten daughters. The sons are Owain ap Afallach and Euddolen ap Afallach, neither of these men appear in surviving tales and are mainly relegated to genealogical tracts of legendary Celtic saints.
Afallach’s daughters are the mother goddess Modron, and Gwallwen, who was a mistress to the semi-legendary King Maelgwn Gwynedd. Geoffery of Monouth names the other seven sisters of Morgan/Modron as Moronoe, Mazoe, Gliten, Glitonea, Gliton, Tyronoe, Thiten and Thiton, stating that it is these woman who receive the body of Arthur and begin the arduous work of healing his mortal wounds.
The concept of the ‘nine sorceresses’ seems to have been a central aspect of Welsh cosmology, with groups of nine women appearing in multiple forms and roles throughout its body of lore. The most notable example of this is in the poem “The Spoils of Annwn” in which nine maidens guard a Cauldron hidden within one of the Otherworldly forts of Annwn, kindling the fire with their breath.
The nine maidens are also mentioned in a single line of the 10-century poem ‘Pa Gur yv y Porthaur’, in which they battle against, and are subsequently slain by, the Arthurian hero Cai, a similar story plays out in the native tale ‘Peredur son of Efrawg’, in which Peredur is forced to do battle against a group of nine evil sorceresses who wreak havoc on the land. It seems likely that these tales all reference the same group of nine woman acting in a capacity as powerful guardians of the Otherworld and its hidden secrets, the later tales of their slaughter at the hands of various Arthurian knights perhaps meant to showcase the victory of “Christian” heroes over the older Pagan Gods.
another interesting link is between Morgen, her sisters and the Otherworld is that of the Mogens, a race of maiden-like water nymphs that seduce and drown men during the flood season. Morgen Le Fey’s name is derived from these creatures, and it seems likely they are connected to the maidens in some way. Somerset based legends involving the Morgens seems to support this, further reinforcing the link between them, Glastonbury and Avalon.

Eveling, the Feary King of Cumbria
Though much of Afallach’s legacy is forgotten in his native Wales, he is still remembered in another part of the country by a different name. In Ravenglass, Cumbria, there is the remains of an ancient roman fort of Glanoventa, where King Eveling is still said to reside with his daughter Modron.
The name Eveling is itself an English corruption of Afallach, and tales off his deeds seems to have survived intact in Ravenglass up until the 16th century, as the writer William Camden states that the stories of Eveling where “spoken of much” in the area. Even now his position as a King of the Fey is remembered.
Its interesting to note that Afallach in his guise of Eveling shares his role as Faery King with his nephew Gwyn ap Nudd. Both these beings are referred to in Welsh lore as Kings of Annwn, when combined with Modron’s name mutating over time to Morgen Le Fey, “Morgen the Fairy”, it leads credence to the idea of Faery folklore in the british Isles being a survival of earlier mythology concerning the Andedion.

The Journey Onward
What scant shreds of information we have left of Afallach hint at powerful Otherworldly Deity, a King of Annwn ruling over the lush and verdant orchards of his island kingdom, with his beautiful and deadly daughters at his side. as time passed on the deeds and tales of Afallach faded into obscurity, as it has with so many others, and yet in another part of the country, among the ruins of a fallen empire, rumors spread of an ancient King of the Fay and his beautiful daughter, who hold court amidst the debris of Glanovents.
As Awenydd we have access to subtle means of travel, we are able to visit the verdant Isle if Apples and seek an audience with the Orchard King, to ask for a brief sip from the fruitful fountain that stands amidst the trees, but only if we have the courage to stand before his nine daughters, and pass their deadly trial…

Sources
Davies, Trefor Rendall – A Book of Welsh Names
Bromwich, Rachel – trioedd ynys prydein
Davies, Sinoed – The Mabinogi
Bartrum, Peter Clement – A Welsh Classical Dictionary
Eveling, Cumbria’s Faery King and Celtic God

Echoes Of Glory – Rediscovering Rhun Son Of Beli

Though a surprisingly large body of work has survived the centuries since the first storytellers shared tales of the beings they had encountered, it is also sadly apparent that we have also lost a great deal, with entire mythological epics now only existing as passing references in other stories.

Many of the ancestors, spirits and gods once renowned in our past have seemingly fallen into obscurity, their deeds and accomplishments lost to the ravages of history, or more optimistically, stowed away in a library and museum collections, awaiting the day their stories will be told once again. That doesn’t mean their voices have fallen silent indefinitely however, as Awenydd we can use our knowledge of legend and lore along with the gift of Awen to answer the call of long forgotten voices. Rhun is one such Spirit.

Red Ravager – Rhun Ap Beli Mawr

Finding references to Rhun and his nature is no mean feat, this is only compounded by the seeming over popularity of the name among historical Kings of the early Christian period and the subsequent confusing of myth and history by later scholars such as Geoffrey of Monmouth. However there are a small handful of clues that when pieced together give us a tantalising glimpse of this lost figure.

Rhun is mentioned four times with the Welsh literary tradition, in Iolo triad 31 he is referred to as one of three “blood soaked ones” of the isle of Britain alongside Morgan the Courteous and Arthur, this triad goes on to state that “when they marched to war no one could remain at home, so greatly where they loved, they were victorious in every war and battle that did not involve ambush or deception. Their armies obtained soldiers wherever they marched.

TYP20 names Rhun as a Red ravager alongside his nephew Lleu and the seemingly otherworldly warrior Morgant, it is stated in the triad that “neither grass or plants would grow for a year where these men had walked”, their destructive power was only surpassed by Arthur himself who could render a land barren for seven years after setting foot on it.

An alternative version of TYP13 mentions him as the father of Gwyddar, a “Chief officer” of Britain.

He is also referred to in a poem penned by the thirteenth century Bard Hywel Foel Ap Griffi, who writing on the imprisonment of Owain Goch ap Gruffudd states:

“If he where a free man, like Rhun Ap Beli,

He would not let Lloegr burn his borders”

These references begin to present a very compelling picture of a charismatic and brutal war god, loyal to this men and his land yet merciless when facing his adversaries, destroying all who oppose him.

The exact etymology of the name Rhun is tricky to decipher, however it contains the element Rhu, which means “shout” or “bellow”. Another possible etymology for his name is that it originates in the proto-celtic roinos which can be translated as “route, road or landmark”. From this we can deduce a handful of possible names for him:

One who bellows

Road maker

Landmarker

The possible etymologies add a different flavour to his character, giving either the impression of a powerful warrior unleashing his battlecry, or a man who clears a path through the battlefield, both rather fitting for a blood-soaked red ravager.

It’s interesting here to contrast Rhun with the two other established warriors in his family, Caswallawn and Nyniaw. While all three of them are incredible powerful combatants the techniques they use in battle are very different. Caswallawn uses subterfuge and powers of illusion to ambush his enemies, Nyniaw strikes in a self-destructive and devastating rage while Rhun uses charismatic leadership and a salted-earth tactics to decimate his opposition. These three Spirits of war give us an intriguing insight into the Celtic peoples paradoxical view on conflict and violence, a people that would often fight naked and with no regard for their own lives in battle, but who also cared deeply for their fellow tribe members, chose their battlefields with careful and deliberate tactics in mind and who would use ambush and hit-and-run tactics to devastating effect.

As with his brothers and sisters Rhun defies simple categorisation as a god of war, he is also a charismatic leader who can harbour such devotion in his men that they will leave all they know to follow him, a man of such destructive nature that he is a literal walking wasteland, yet also the father of a wise and noble leader… and perhaps in a sense that is the essence of Rhun. he is charisma, that je ne sais quoi that great men and women sometimes possess, an ability to draw people to their cause, and to change the world…. For better, or for worse.

Wayfinding – Experiences of Rhun

When I was researching the family line of Beli Mawr, Rhun’s name practically leapt from the screen at me, and yet I could barely find a scrap of information about him. What little I could piece together was on shaky ground, a trio of triads, one an alternative version of a much better established piece, and another in the works of Iolo Morganwg, with no way of knowing for sure if it was a fabrication on his part. The reference to Rhun in the poetry of Hywel Foel Ap Griffi was invaluable, and yet gives very little real information about who Rhun was.

However for some reason his name has stuck in my mind and refuses to leave, and over time I feel I have began to get more complete feel for who he is, and what influence he controls. He has spoken to me in idle thoughts and appeared to me in meditations and dreams, as a tall a powerful looking man, drenched from head to toe in blood, a hatchet gripped tightly in his hand. Though Rhun is never associated with axes in Welsh lore, In my personal experiences with him the image of the axe or hatchet has became a key piece of imagery I relate to him

Devotional practice to Rhun is process of trial and error, after all there are no historical records of his worship, so initiative needs to be used. Offerings of fragrant teas, mead and cooling water are all things that I have personally found appreciated as devotional offerings to Rhun. The Gaulish counterparts of Rhun’s siblings where placated with sacrifices of dogs, who were ceremonially killed and cast down wells. This practice is quite rightly considered unacceptable in today’s society, but I have found that miniature clay figurines of hounds can be an effective stand-in offering if the Spirit in question is agreeable to the exchange.

Despite his mysterious nature I have found Rhun to be a potent force,  in situations I have found myself in that require me to be especially charismatic or assertive, he has shown me that by closing my eyes and centering myself within, I can call on Rhun for a small taste of his power, and if he obliges, I can place myself in that commanding mindset. This has been a powerful gift, providing me with assistance in overcoming nerves and gaining courage when I can’t quite seem to find my own.

As an ally in acts of divination alongside the other children of Beli he councils me in matters regarding charisma and authority, and also gives warning of the price paid for letting praise and ego cloud my judgement. Rhun serves as a reminder to remain in control of our personal power, and never to lose sight of the human cost of our actions.

I moved away from neo-druidry towards a more reconstructionist framework because I was wary of how some groups and people seem to twist sources, *ahem* “channel infomation”, or just flat-out makeup whole swaths of Pagan spirituality without making it clear that this is their own personal experience of the Gods rather than information from a primary source. Needless to say that what is written in this half of the post is my own unverified personal gnosis! However In my fumbling attempts at building a meaningful connection with Rhun I had to tentatively venture beyond the scarce fragments that have survived in Welsh lore and trust my intuitions and experiences. I have found that Rhun’s voice still calls over the clash of conflict, ringing loud and clear through the years and over the landscape of Wales. All we need to do is listen.

True Black Tarot Review

“It is only in darkness we can see the stars”


Author: Arthur Wang
Publisher: self-published
Available At: https://trueblacktarot.com/


By the Gods, this deck is absolutely gorgeous. The passion project of Arthur Wang, the True Black Tarot kickstarter was first posted on the 17th of September 2017 and soon barreled right past the required amount as people fell in love with the impeccable craftsmanship and luxurious artwork of this beautiful deck. Each element is designed with style, function and beauty in mind, and together present a deck of cards that feel arcane in a way many modern decks just cant quite capture. Every aspect of True Black is an experience, it is no over exaggeration to say that it, like the Fountain Tarot before it, represents the pinnacle of craftsmanship in Tarot and Oracle design. It’s amazing, I love it, here’s why:

The Box

The design of the box itself is exquisite. Matt black with the name of the deck and a beautiful star-map motif embossed on the box in black foil, it’s a work of art in its own right, and instantly eye-catching sitting on any shelf. The inside of the magnetic-close box continues the astrological design with the now customary “premium tarot deck quote” on the inside of the lid, this time claiming “it is only in darkness we can see the stars”, just a perfect introduction to this deck. The box is a solid build, and is sturdy enough to protect your cards from being scuffed, but you won’t be risking damage to this beauty, believe me.

The Book


Running at 112 pages the little white book (or should that be little black book?) that comes with the deck is compact, tactile and informative. With the same matt finish and black foil embossing as the box, its an attractive little guide, but the true value of it comes in its exploration of the complex imagery of the cards. Each of the Minor Arcana cards are given a page to themselves, with four keywords outlining their main themes, a small black silhouette of the image and a short passage exploring the symbolism and meaning behind each one. The Major Arcana get the same treatment as the Minor, with four keywords, a small silhouette image and passage about them, this time with an extra page for each of them detailing the hidden meaning of the embossing on the cards, something that is essential if you want to delve into the hidden depths of this opulent deck…

The Cards

Just handling these cards is a sensual experience, with an almost rose-petal like texture to them. The cards are hand edged in black and, according to the website, are printed on 18pt stock card stock, and while I have no idea what that means, I can hazard a guess and go with “sturdy” and “thick”. This deck is BIG, running at twice the size of a conventional RWS deck. The cards are also supposedly scratch, chip and splash resistant, and while I am never going to risk trying those claims out, it’s comforting to know this deck is going to last.

The back of the cards are fully reversible, with a matt black colouring featuring True Black’s embossed foil star-map design, creating a subtle and stylish visual. However it is, of course, the images on the cards themselves that solidify True Black as a masterpiece in Tarot design.


Arthur Wang’s vision was to design a timeless work of art, something that he explains in evocative detail in his Kickstarter description:

“True Black’s inspiration is timelessness. Tarot is a compendium of mankind’s omnipresent hopes, fears, and dreams, and a tarot deck should feel as everlong and constant as our human nature. The figures, styling, and clothing are designed to be enigmatic in presence, unable to be placed in any specific time or place, though simultaneously colored with facets of both the past and future, an artifact of our collective consciousness.”

Each image conveys this vision perfectly. Depicted in an almost dream like context, they shine from the darkness bathed in the glow of a golden shaft of light, almost as if they are being displayed in a museum, or performing on stage. this stylistic choice is highly reminiscent of the almost “staged” feel of the images in the Rider-Wait deck, the influence of Pamela Coleman Smith’s background in stage design influencing her now iconic paintings.

The Human figures that feature on the Major Arcana and Court cards continue this dream-like quality. Their faces obscured, their bodies perfectly formed and marble white, they appear not as people but almost as grecian statues, artifacts of humanity itself.
The Minor Arcana are more pip-like in their design, but absolutely beautiful in their execution, and each of the 79 cards are painted in opulent tones of ivory white and luminous gold, with some cards sporting the occasional punch of fiery orange, emerald green, blood red and the merest hint of sapphire, all soaked in a delicious degree of chiaroscuro. Photographs don’t really do them justice, these are truly a sight to behold.

Each of the Major Arcana feature an embossed UV foil design that accentuates the underlying symbolism of the cards in new and fascinating ways, from a topographic map of lake Mungo behind the Hierophant, to a depiction of Milgrim’s experiment surrounding the Devil, each of these details add a complex and nuanced dimension to readings.

There is simply not enough praise I can give the True Black Tarot, it is absolutely perfect. I love it, you know you want it, find it at www.trueblacktarot.com

Breaking The Wheel – Arianrhod Daughter Of Beli

Updated 19/01/2019

Arianrhod is a popular goddess in neo-paganism, perhaps too popular for her own good. She has enraptured the hearts and minds of devotees ranging from Wiccans and Druids to Goddess worshippers and Occultists, she is praised as the “Lady Of The Silver Wheel”, Welsh Goddess of the moon and stars, fate and destiny. But look below the silver gilding of her stories and you begin to find a very different, and much darker entity….

From The Fourth Branch – The Tale Of Arianrhod

Arianrhod is introduced to us in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, just as her Uncle Math faces a terrible predicament. Math suffers a strange curse, his feet can never touch the ground unless he is in battle, if he ever makes contact with the earth during peacetime he will surely die. The only place he can rest his feet is in the lap of a virgin, a role that is filled by the maiden Goewin.

Unbeknownst to All, Math’s Nephew Gilfaethwy was obsessed with Goewin, and with the help of his brother Gwydion, tricked Math into going to war so he could rape the poor maiden.

Goewin, battered and bruised but unbroken by her cruel ordeal tells Math what had happened to her at the hands of the two brothers, and appalled by what they had done, Math vows to make Goewin his Queen as compensation for her ordeal, swiftly followed by hunting down and punishing Gilfaethwy and Gwydion in the way only a master magician can.

Unfortunately this now leaves Math with a serious problem: he needs a maiden footholder or he will soon die, Goewin, no longer a virgin, cannot fulfill this role any longer. Gwydion, perhaps hoping to get back into Math’s good books, suggests Arianrhod for the role, and she is soon summoned to the court. Math asks Arianrhod if she is a virgin, and when she cagily answers yes, he asks her to prove it to him.

Math bends his wand, and placing it on the floor, asks Arianrhod to step over it. She does so and immediately gives birth to a young boy. Humiliated, she turns to run from the court but suddenly gives birth a second time to a formless mass that is quickly spirited away by Gwydion. Math names the first boy Dylan, who immediately takes to the ocean, swimming like a fish, while the afterbirth Gwydion stole soon develops into a second child.

Gwydion takes this boy to meet his mother, but Arianrhod is mortified by the news she has a second unwanted son, and angrily places a curse on the boy: he will never have a name unless it is Arianrhod herself who gives it to him, something she has no intention of ever doing.

Luckily Gwydion is every bit as cunning as his sister, disguising himself and the boy as shoemakers, and luring his sister in with the promise of golden shoes, gets her to unwittingly spend time with the child, during which she names him Lleu Llaw Gyffes “the fair on with the skillful hand” after watching him kill a wren with a stone. Much to her disgust she realises that her first curse has been broken and places a second on him, that he will never wield a sword unless it is given by her.

Gwydion solves this by simply using a variation of his first trick, dressing himself and Lleu as bards and gaining entry to her court. Using his powers of illusion Gwydion summons a spectral army, and Arianrhod, fearful of attack, arms everyone in the court…. Including Lleu.

By this point Arianrhod has had more than enough of Gwydion and Lleu, and places one final, nigh-unbreakable curse on her son: He will never have a mortal wife. While Gwydion and Uncle Math combine forces to break this final curse, Arianrhod returns to her castle, feeling confident her magic cannot be bested…

Exploring the Myth

The fourth branch of the mabinogi gives us several insights into the nature of Arianrhod.

Arianrhod is a Goddess remarked as being exquisitely beautiful even among the other fair maidens of the Mabinogi, described with a complexion “as pale as the snow”, Arianrhod appears to hold a great deal of sted by her image, even down to the perceived status of her virginity. This is so important to her that she is even prepared to lie to Math about her maidenhood even though his very life depends on her honesty, and when her deception is revealed before the court she flees in shame, without so much as a second thought for her newborn son Dylan.

When Gwydion arrives at court one day with her second son, Arianrhod is enraged by the sight of the child, and demonstrating both her vindictiveness and her exceptional talent as a magician, places a Tynged on the boy.

A Tynged meaning “Destiny”, “Doom” or “Fate”, equivalent to the Irish concept of a Geas, is effectively a binding spell that forces a person to be obligated to, or prohibited from, a particular action.

It takes all of Gwydion’s cunning to break the first two tyngeds, and even then he has to turn to his Uncle Math for assistance overcoming the third one, triggering a chain of event that almost lead to Lleu’s death.

The formidable magical power of Arianrhod is expanded on further in the poem The Chair Of Cerridwen, in which the Goddess Cerridwen, speaking through Taliesin, stands in awe of an enchantment performed by Arianrhod, in which she casts a protective rainbow around her court, a feat that held in the same esteem by Cerridwen as Math and Gwydion’s creation of Blodeuwed from flowers, something seemingly considered the magnum opus of magical workings in welsh lore.

So formidable is Arianrhod’s knowledge and resources that in TYP35 caswallawn asks her above all their siblings for her assistance in the rescue of the kidnapped maiden Fflur. Caswallawn is an accomplished magician in his own right, as are many of his brothers, the fact that he would turn to Arianrhod for help first and foremost is another demonstration of her renown for the arcane arts.

Though her shaming in Math’s court is mainly born from her brother Gwydion’s meddling, Arianrhods use of Tyngedhedau against Lleu shows an astounding degree of antagonism against her own child. One explanation for her intense hatred of her son could be that Lleu serves as a reminder of her shamining in Math’s Court. Sadly there is very little left of the tales surrounding Arianrhods second son Dylan, save a few scattered references to his accidental death at the hands of his own Uncle, the smith god Gofannon, so we are unable to ascertain whether he was spared Arianrhods wrath, however it may be simple proximity to Gwydion that made Lleu a target of her ire.

The version of the fourth branch preserved in the Mabinogi may not be the only version of the tale, there are hints scattered throughout Welsh lore that point to a very different story, one that casts Arianrhod in a much more sympathetic light.

The 15th century poet Lewys Mon seems to have been aware of a different version of this tale, one in which Arianrhod is Math’s footholder:

“Old Math son of Mathony: the arms of a chaste, white-armed wise one was his pillow each night. Arianrhod, none was like her, Math would not live without her.”

This reference is not exclusive to the work of Lewys Mon it seems that this version of the story was well established even during the 16th century. These narrative scraps, combined with the incredible degree of parental affection demonstrated by Gwydion towards his nephew Lleu, alongside Arianrhods intense hatred of her own child, have led some scholars to propose a different narrative of the fourth branch.

In this amended version it was Arianrhod, not Goewin, who was violated by Gilfeathwy and Gwydion. Deeply shamed, Arianrhod hides her ordeal from the court until she is forced into a test of chastity by Gwydions meddling, and in doing so she gives birth to Dylan and Lleu, the offspring of an incestous rape. Horrified and enraged Arianrhod flees the court, and in time will place her curses upon her and Gwydion’s son.

We cannot know for certain if this simply an alternative version of the story popular during the 15th century, or the original narrative of branch four, but it is an interesting fragment of lore regarding Arianrhod.

The search for the father of Arianrhods twins is further compounded by the genealogical tract Bonedd yr Arwyr, which list the family lines of Don and Math, the tract lists Blodeuwed, Lleu and Dylan as the three direct descendants of Math. Blodeuwedd was constructed by Gwydion and Math from the flowers of oak broom and meadowsweet, literally being her creator, Math is effectively also her father, and earlier in the fourth branch he adopts Bleiddwn, Hyddwn and Hychdwn Hir, the three offspring of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, who conceived them in animal form during their punishment for Goewin’s rape.

is it also possible that he orchestrated the birth of Dylan and Lleu as well? The virginity test he subjects Arianrhod to is loaded with sexual imagery, not least his asking her to step over his bent “wand”. It seems a distinct possibility that her sudden pregnancy was magically instigated by Math himself towards some end, possibly to acquire an heir to the throne, a role Lleu later fulfills.

With these sources taken into mind the fourth branch of the mabinogi offers a great deal of possible directions to explore Arianrhods nature, but what more can we find about her beyond the pages of the Mabinogi?

Myth In The Landscape – Caer Arianrhod

The location of Arianrhod’s mythical Court exists as a physical part of the Welsh landscape. If you cast your eyes across the sea from the coast of Gwynedd during the spring low tide you may see a small rocky outcrop just peaking above the waves, according to legend the beautiful glass fortress of Caer Arianrhod once stood here, the waves crashing at its foundations.

Caer Arianrhod is mentioned multiple times in Welsh lore, in the fourth branch of the mabinogi it is the place she retires too after her humiliation, Gwydion and Lleu must disguise themselves as Bards in order to gain access to the fortress and break the second Tynged.

Caer Arianrhod’s nature is further expanded upon in poetry attributed to the legendary bard Taliesin:

From The Chair Of Cerridwen: “A raging river rushes around her court, a river with its savage wrath beating against the land, destructive its snare as it goes around the world”

From The Tale Of Taliesin: “ I have been three times in the prison of Arianrhod”

From The Rebuke Of The Bards: “My darling is below. ‘Neath the fetters of Aranrhod, you certainly do not know the meaning of what i sing”

These three fragments of poetry unveil a whole new aspect to explore, not just relating to Caer Arianrhod, but also to the very nature of Arianrhod as a Goddess.

The theme of entrapment is explicit in each of these references, the raging ocean beats against the rocky outcrop of Caer Arianrhod before encircling the earth in a “snare”. Taliesin laments his imprisonment in the fortress, a place where his beloved still resides, caught in her fetters. The choice of words used in the poetry, of snares and fetters, is instantly evocative of the nature of the Tynghedau she places on Lleu, reinforcing her nature as an antagonistic agent of obstruction and entrapment, a Goddess whose glass fortress is as much a prison as it is a palace.

Something that becomes instantly apparent when reading these passages is the similarity to the language used to describe the otherworld fortress of Caer Siddi in the poem The Spoils Of Annwn:

“In order was the prison of Gweir in Caer Siddi, Through the course of the tale of Pwyll and Pryderi. None before him went into it, by the heavy blue chain that held the loyal lad, And before the spoils of Annwn, bitterly he sang.”

The imprisonment of the divine youth Taliesin by Arianrhod is not only reminiscent of Gweir’s incarceration but also parallels events surrounding the characters of Pryderi and Mabon who are all trapped in otherworldly fortresses. When compared to the fate of Lleu, bound by his mother through the use of magic never to become a man, and the parallels become undeniable.

In the Rebuke Of The Bards Taliesin claims “My darling is below. ‘Neath the fetters of Aranrhod, you certainly do not know the meaning of what I sing”. That someone sings during their entrapment is yet another recurring theme we have seen repeated, Gweir “sings bitterly” before the Spoils of Annwn, and in Culhwch and Olwen the youth Mabon is compelled to sing a lamentation to his fate during his imprisonment in Caerloyw.

The recurring nature of this event, the youthful poet trapped and lamenting his fate, can be contrasted effectively with the events of the fourth branch, in which Gwydion and Lleu disguise themselves as Bards in order to gain access to Caer Arianrhod.

Could this repeating scenario be symbolic of some form of bardic initiation, where the young student must go through an ordeal to find his voice? Or perhaps this is itself an analogy, a mythic explanation of the “tortured artist” who can only be sing because deep down s/he is trapped by the very gift of creativity?

Regardless of how we choose to interpret this, the insight it gives into the true nature of Arianrhod is invaluable, her nature appears to be intimately tied up with concepts of entrapment and obstruction, a far cry from her modern interpretation as a moon Goddess.    

While there is no real connection between the Goddess and the moon in Welsh lore, there is a link between Arianrhods castle and the nights sky. The Welsh name for the constellation of the Corona Borealis is Caer Arianrhod, the Corona Borealis is a collection of eight stars which can be seen high in the sky during the summer months, before falling back below the horizon later in the year. This gives us a beautiful symmetry with the terrestrial rock formation of Caer Arianrhod, as it emerges from the waves at the spring low tide before being reclaimed by the sea.

There is a piece of local folklore from the anglesey area that reiterates the cyclical rising and sinking of Caer Arianrhod, telling the story of the flooding of the court:

“Caer Arianrhod was a beautiful fortress that brought a sense of awe to all who saw it, but its inhabitants were cruel and wicked people. Their heartlessness was soon fittingly rewarded, and the great castle was swallowed by the sea, its inhabitants and its shining towers pulled into the murky depths. Only three people survived its destruction: Three of Arianrhod’s sisters by the names of Gwennan, Elan and Maelan bi Don. They where gathering supplies at Cae’r Aelodau on that fateful day, when they looked back towards Caer Arianrhod they were shocked to see it being pulled beneath the waters. Frightened and homeless the three women fled to different parts of the island that now bare their name: Gwennan to Bedd Gwennan which in time would become her last resting place, Elan to Elans holding and Maelan to Mealan’s Moor.”

The folktale itself shares many obvious similarities with the flooding of another “wicked” Court, that of Prince Tegid, the husband of Cerridwen. In both tales a Otherworldly fortress that rest in a body of water is seemingly flooded due to the supposed cruelty of its inhabitants. It seems more then likely that these two stories are both closely related, perhaps a product of the christianisation of Wales. These tales no doubt exaggerate the brutality of Arianrhod and Tegid, two powerful Deities that could potentially be a threat to the new religion. If these stories where adaptations of earlier myths, could the inundation of these two fortresses imply something else entirely?

Tegid Himself appears to be an Andedion, a Deity that is not native to our world, instead existing in the Otherworld realm of Annwn. Unlike Caer Arianrhod, Tegids Court could never have physically existed in Llyn Tegid due to the fact that the lake exists in a glacial cleft over a mile deep. It seems that to the Bards of old, Llyn tegid is a liminal place, where Tegid was able to pull his otherworldly fortress through the waters that partition our two realities for a time, before returning to his own realm of Annwn.

This feat is achieved by the Andedion enchanter Llwyd ap Cil Coed in the Third Branch, he summons a tower from the Otherworld in order to trap Pryderi and Rhiannon.

Tying this together with the previously stated similarities between Caer Arianrhod and Caer Siddi, it becomes apparent that Arianrhod has a much deeper connection with the Otherworld and its Andedion inhabitants then it first appears.

The Etymology of Arianrhod – Aranrot, the Great Wheel

The key to understanding the confusion many people seem to have regarding Arianrhod comes down to a simple mistranslation of her name. The commonly accepted etymology of Arianrhod’s name is that it consists of the elements Aryan, meaning “silver”, and Rhot “wheel”, creating the translation of “silver wheel”. Many people have taken this to indicate Arianrhods association with the moon, evoking the image of a powerful lunar goddess.

However the earliest iteration of the name was not Arianrhod but Aranrot, this is spelling that used throughout the earliest recorded versions of the fourth branch of the mabinogi.

This variation of the name retains the “wheel” element of Rhot, but alters the first element of her name from Aryan “silver”, to Aran, “Huge”, “Round” or “Humped”. The mutation of Aranrot into Arianrhod seems to have originated in a scribal error, likely due the similarities between the words Aryan and Aran, coupled with her role as a patroness of one of the Tri Aryanllu or “Silver Hosts” detailed in TYP35. In the triad she loans her wealth and forces to her brother Caswallawn, and along with him sets forth on a quest rescue the kidnapped maiden Fflur. Thus the association was made between Aranrot and silver, in time leading to the mutation of her name.

There are a number of different interpretations of Aranrot. A literal translation offer a small number of possible variations:

“Humped Wheel”

“Huge Disc”

“Round Wheel”

While at first these translations may seem odd, even nonsensical, by looking at the recurring themes surrounding Aranrot we can begin to explore her nature.

The “Great Humped Wheel”, Aranrot is the very embodiment of the cycles and repetitions that define our lives and the world in which we live. The seasons turn, the Corona Borealis sinks below the waves only to rise again and again into the sky, just as its rocky counterpart is swallowed by the sea before emerging once more. Her role in legend reflect her function, Lleu and Gwydion break one curse only to be hit by another and then another, Taliesin escapes her prisons only to find himself trapped once again. She seems to be a Spirit of compulsion and fate. Beautiful in her countenance… and terrible in her rage.

The Family Of Arianrhod – Mist, Battle And Poison

Aranrot’s mother is identified as Don in the Fourth branch, and she is counted among her fourteen children in the genealogical tract Bonedd yr Arwyr. Don and her Irish counterpart Danu are theorised by scholars to be linked through the existence of a theoretical Indo-Europian Goddess *dʰenh₂, “Fluvial Waters”, a Deity associated with freshwater, fertility and the land, who later would be remembered in both Welsh and Irish legend as the mother of the Gods.

The identity of her father is presented to us in TYP35 where she is named as the daughter to Beli Mawr, an ancient ancestral Deity with links to the Gaulish Solar god Belenus.

She is the only definite child of their union, as the father or fathers of Don’s thirteen other children, and the mother or mothers of Beli Mawr’s countless offspring are never officially named in text. Aranrot has both a position in the Court of Don and a mythic function as a daughter of Beli Mawr, effectively making her a nexus point between the realms of land and sky.

She also seems to be intimately connected to the realm of the sea, her fortress lies in the ocean where the waves that pass create a “snare around the world”, eventually inundating her court.

Her first two children, Dylan and Lleu, also have an intimate connection with the realm of sea. Dylan and Lleu are complex and fascinating figures, with a rich mythological significance of their own right.

After the twins are born via Aranrot stepping over Math’s bent wand, Dylan is reject by his birth mother but taken in by Math, who baptises the boy “in the custom of the time”. Dylan takes to the sea immediately after this, “taking the nature of the wave”. He is accidentally killed at a later date by his uncle Gofannon, and later poetry by Taliesin claims that the sea beats against the shore, seeking to avenge Dylans death.

Her second child Lleu overcame the curses placed on him by his mother, becoming a king and warlord “who gave right to nobody”. Supposedly killed in combat his grave is located “under the sea flood” according to the document Englynion Y Beddau.

The final fates of her two children once again reiterate Aranrot’s connection to the sea and conflict, functioning as a bridge between the three realms of land sea and sky.

Aranrot married at some point after the events of the fourth branch, TYP35 names her husband as Lliaws ap Nwyfre, whose name translates as “multitude”, while his father Nwyfre’s name can be translated as “firmament”, together they give us an impression of a vast and powerful sky Deity. There are two mentions of Lliaws in wider Welsh literature: Englynion Y Clyweid describes him as an “agreeable soldier”, while the 12th century poet Prydydd Y Moch calls him “pleasant Lliaws”. This together with his name casts Lliaws as a benevolent entity, in stark contrast to the more sinister portrayal of Aranrot.

Aranrot has two children by Lliaws, named in TYP35 as Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar. There are various etymologies for their names, the most likely are that Gwenwynwyn means “Thrice Holy/Blessed/White”, though it is a real possibility that it is in fact a corruption of Gwanwyngwyn, giving the meaning “White Spring”, perhaps alluding to his function as a snow or melt-water spirit. Gwanar can be translated as “moving forward, leading, trailblazing” or alternatively “Warfare. They accompany Aranrot and Caswallawn on their uncles quest to rescue the maiden Fflur, and together function as expressions of Aranrots power, reinforcing the martial qualities of both Lliaws and Caswallawn.

The Journey Onwards

If we look beyond the depiction of Aranrot in modern neo-paganism we find a wealth of fascinating information regarding a complex and powerful entity. As Awenydd we can delve deeper into the mysteries of Aranrot and form a close reciprocal connection with the Goddess of the great wheel.

Aranrot’s story is full of contradictions and complexities, as we form a personal connection with her we venture deeper into the crystalline bowles of Caer Arianrhod… and discover the chains we place on ourselves.

Cloak And Dagger – Caswallawn Son of Beli

updated 19/01/2019

Of all the players that feature in the pages of the Mabinogi perhaps none possess the subterfuge, the brutality or the mystery of Caswallawn. Introduced late into the second branch, Caswallawn uses a cloak of invisibility to slay the six stewards entrusted by King Bran to protect his kingdom, and in the process accidently kills his own nephew Caradog, who dies of a broken heart after witnessing the murder of his comrades. Caswallawn takes seven lives with six strikes and snatches the throne from the children of Llyr.

From this point onwards Caswallawn’s shadow looms long and dark over the narrative of the third branch, Pryderi heads to london to pay tribute to the new King in place of Manawydan, who out of fear refuses to be in the presence of Caswallawn, a fear that later causes him to stay his hand when he, Rhiannon, Pryderi and Kigva are attacked by townsfolk, lest the news of their fighting reach the new King.

What we see of Caswallawn within the pages of the Mabinogi paints a picture of of a murderer and a tyrant, a man who kills without mercy or remorse… but there is more to this dark usurper then first meets the eye, Caswallawn’s tale is one of brutality, betrayal, love and sacrifice that instigates the rise and fall of the House of Beli Mawr.

The Etymology of Caswallawn – Where Myth And History Meet

When researching Caswallawn’s story it quickly becomes apparent that a large portion of the lore relating to him was lost at some point in time before the four branches of the Mabinogi where recorded. This is sadly not an isolated event in Welsh Mythology, and the footprints of several other now-forgotten tales can be seen in the Mabinogi, The Native Tales and in particular the Triads, all of which allude to forgotten sagas such as the imprisonment of Llyr, the adventures of the hero Llemenig and the death of Dylan Ail Ton, to name but a few.

Fortunately there is still a few scraps of narrative information we can use to gain insight into his nature, including the origin of his name.

The etymology of Caswallawn is a complex one, the name itself is a Welsh adaption of the Common Brittonic name Cassiuellauanos, a compound word consisting of Kassi, meaning “love, hate, passion” or alternatively “bronze”, and *uelna-mon meaning “leader, sovereign, king”. From this we can decipher some possible translations of Caswallawn’s name:

Passionate Leader

Bronze King

Loving Sovereign

However, the largest problem faced when trying to explore the name and narrative of Caswallawn comes with his confusion with the historical figure of Cassivellaunus.

Cassivellaunus was a British prince of the Catuvellauni tribe who fought the Romans in the defence of Britain in 54ad. He utilised brutal war tactics and hit-and-run combat utilising chariots to fend off Caesars forces, but was ultimately betrayed by the Trinovantes tribe of what is now modern Essex, who held a long term grudge against the Prince after he killed their King. The Trinovantes revealed the location of Cassivellaunus’s stronghold to Caesar’s forces in exchange for Roman protection, and Cassivellaunus, cornered and desperate, ended up suing for peace to prevent further bloodshed, which Caesar, conscious of wasting resources, accepted.

At some point the historical Cassivellaunus and a mythological figure became conflated, gaining the name Caswallawn, the welsh equivalent of Cassivellaunus’s name. Rather than being a mythologised retelling of the Caesar-Cassivellaunus conflict, the tale of Caswallawn itself seems to have at one point been a pre-existing narrative, with the names of key characters altered to reflect historical events, as we know that many of the stories featuring his key narrative existed before Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, which solidified the connection between the two. This was possibly done to add an air of “historical validity” to aspects of the Mabinogi, and was attempted with several other characters in the second branch including  Manawyddan and Caradog, who are identified with the historical figures of Mandubracius and Caractus respectively, creating a frustrating snarl of history, myth and speculation.

A possible original name for the mythical figure of Caswallawn could have been Cadwallon, a Welsh name derived from *Katuwellaunos, a proto-Celtic compound word with the elements Katu – “Battle”, Welna – Leader and Mnos “One”, giving us a possible etymology of “The One Who Leads Battle”, which interestingly enough is a variation of the name of the Catuvellauni tribe the historical Cassivellaunus was the leader of. Both Katuwellaunos – Catuvellaunus and Kađđiwellaunos – Cassivellaunus give the form Kaswallon in the  Kernewek language, which adds to the confusion.

This difficulty is compounded by the fact that unlike the majority of his brothers and sisters there is no direct parallel to Caswallawn in the Gaulish Pantheon, and finding a corresponding god is near impossible due to the confusion surrounding the original name and identity of Caswallawn. There are two Gaulish Deities who share naming conventions and qualities with Caswallawn, Caturix and Magiorix, who may have developed into the figure of Caswallawn at some time:

Caturix was a Deity whose name translates as “battle-lord”. He was worshipped by the Helvetii tribe and had a central temple in Aventicum, he was associated with the Roman Deity Mars.

Magiorix was a God associated with Apollo by the Romans, his name can be translated as “The Great King”.

This is purely conjecture, and at the moment there is no way we can tell for certain whether either of these Deities served as the inspiration for the figure of Caswallawn,  he may in fact be a Spirit unique to the Welsh landscape, a curious blend of the mythological, historical and folkloric.

With no concrete comparative framework to explore Caswallawns characteristics and qualities, we must instead turn to other elements of Welsh legend to further our understanding of his nature.

Beyond The Mabinogi – Exploring The Triads

Outside of the narrative of the Mabinogi Casswallawn is mentioned in six Triads:

TYP38, which refers to Caswallawns Horse Meinlas, which can be translated as “slender grey”, the triad describes the horse as one of the “three bestowed horses” and “three lively steeds” of the Isle of Prydain.

TYP59 refers to Caswallawn and his nephew Afarwy ap Llud, who’s malicious advice to accept Meinlas from “Ceaser” in exchange for placing the forefeet of his horses on the shore of Prydain is called “one of the three unfortunate counsels”, while related Triad TYP51 delves deeper into the ruinous rivalry between the uncle and nephew

TYP71, names Caswallawn as “one of the three lovers of Ynys Prydain” due to his star-crossed romance with the flower maiden Fflur ferch Mugnach Gor.

TYP67 names him a “Golden Shoemaker” alongside his cousin Manawyddan and nephew Lleu, after Caswallawn disguises himself as a cobbler to rescue his beloved Fflur, who had been kidnapped by Caesar.

TYP94 praises Caswallawn for holding one of the “Three Immense Feasts” of the Isle of Prydain in London, where a staggering number of animals were slaughtered to feed his guests: twenty thousand cattle, a hundred thousand sheep, fifty thousand geese and capons, along with countless domestic birds.

Finally, TYP35 names “The Three Silver Hosts” who left the isle of Prydain, never to return again. Caswallawn, his Sister Aranrot and her Sons Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, along with their soldiers and riches, sail from the Island in search of Fflur and seemingly vanish without a trace.

Various genealogical tracts list a son of Caswallawn named Meirchion meaning “Horses”, though it does not state whether Fflur was the childs mother.

From these Triads we can begin to piece together a more complete narrative of Caswallawns tale:

“Caswallawn, eldest Son of Beli Mawr, heard news of Brans departure from the Isle of The Mighty to rescue Branwen, and hatched a malicious plot to claim the throne for himself. Donning a cloak of invisibility and taking up his sword, Caswallawn sneaked into Bran’s camp and murdered six of the seven men entrusted by the giant to protect his kingdom. Cawallawn planned to spare the life of the seventh man Caradog, owing to the fact he was his sisters grandchild, however upon seeing the murder of his friends and the disembodied sword of Caswallawn, Caradog dies of bewilderment. The only survivor of the massacre was a young man named Pendaran, who fled into the woods to escape Caswallawns blade.

Caswallawn, having usurped the throne from the house of Llyr and announced himself the new King of Prydain, commenced the tour of his kingdom. Many feasts were held and nobility throughout the land came to pay homage to their new King, including Pryderi, who was secretly hiding Manawyddan, the last surviving child of Llyr.

at some point during his tour of the land Caswallawn met a beautiful flower maiden named Fflur ferch Mugnach Gor, and fell deeply in love with her. He started courting the maiden and for a time Prydain is peaceful and prosperous under its new king.

That time of peace was never meant to last however, and worrying reports soon reached Caswallawn of a fleet of warships moored just off the shore of the island. Concerned of a possible invasion Caswallawn sent his nephew and most valued advisor Afarwy ap Llud to meet with the newcomers and discern the threat they pose.

Afarwy traveled to where the war-fleet is moored and spoke to its leader, a man who called himself “Caesar”. he requested that Afarwy return to Caswallawn with a curious proposition: he will offer the King a rare and beautiful horse called Meinlas, in exchange for Caesar being able to rest the fore-hoofs of his men’s horses on the shore of Prydain. Listening to Afarwys advice Caswallawn accepted the terms of the deal and the two leaders striked an uneasy accord.

That changed when Caesar first laid eyes on Fflur, driven mad with desire for the maiden he planed to kidnap her and with the help of the treacherous Afarwy, who secretly had his own designs on the throne, Caesar dragged Fflur to his ship and set sail back to his homeland.

Upon hearing of his beloved’s abduction Caswallawn set out on a desperate search for Fflur, using magic of illusion to disguise himself as a shoemaker in order to infiltrate Caesars stronghold.

His mission ends in failure, and desperate and dejected, he returns to Prydain to seek assistance from his sister Aranrot, a woman of formidable magical power. Feeling for her brothers plight, Aranrot lends her support to his cause, providing him with her assistance, soldiers, wealth, and the support of her two sons Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar. With their combined forces Caswallawn set sail with his silver host in search of his fair maiden Ffur… and sadly this is where our story ends, Caswallawns warfleet never touches the shores of this world again, instead vanishing into the mists, never to be seen.

And thus ends the tale of Caswallawn.

Even within the rudimentary narrative we can piece together, we can begin to see a number of key elements to the story that enables us to gain insight into the players involved in Caswallawns tale. We will take a brief look at each key point:

Llen Arthur – The Cloak

Caswallawn uses a cloak of invisibility to kill the seven stewards, though how he managed to come into possession of such a powerful artefact is never mentioned in the surviving material. A mantle with very similar properties is mentioned among the Thirteen Treasures of Britain as being in the possession of King Arthur.

Llen Arthur, specifically named Gwenn in The Dream Of Rhonabwy, is stated to render its wearer invisible, and is considered one of Arthur’s most prized possessions, so much so that is among the handful of artifacts he will not give to his cousin Culhwch in order to rescue the maiden Olwen. As with many of the other items among Arthurs collection its name originates in the Welsh word Gwynn meaning “white”, denoting an Otherworldly origin for the mantle.

There are no other references to cloaks of invisibility outside of Arthur and Caswallawn, indeed it seems likely that it is a unique artefact passed between the two Kings at some point, though the specifics of how and when it changed hands between Caswallawn and Arthur or vice-versa have now been lost.

Caradawg And The Seven Horsemen

Caradawg’s name can be translated as “Beloved”, he is the son of Bran, and therefore great-nephew of Caswallawn through his sister penardun. Caswallawn doesn’t kill Caradawg due to this association, but Caradawg dies “of bewilderment” after witnessing his comrades being murdered by an unseen assailant, mirroring his aunt Branwen’s own death in the same story. Caradawg’s tragic death sets in motion the a chain of events that result in his granddaughter Elen, along with her husband the emperor Maxen, overthrowing the Children of Beli and reinstating Llyr’s bloodline on the throne.

Of the six men that Caswallawn kills, two are seemingly related to other characters directly referenced in this or other stories in the four branches:

Llassar fab Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid is the son of the supernatural lake giants Cymidei Cymeinfoll and Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid, the original owners of the ill-fated cauldron of Rebirth featured in the second branch. His name can be translated as Azure, and while his father’s name Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid is complex, it can be taken to mean something along the lines of “free-flowing flame”, with Llasar perhaps representing the fire needed to boil the Cauldron itself. The name could be a reference to the practice of enamelling shields which would render a translation of “free-flowing azure falls” referring to the process of pouring liquid enamel onto a shield, in the third branch Manawyddan reveals he learned how to decorate saddles in this manner through watching Llasar work his craft.

The second man, Heffeyd Hir, seemingly appears in a number of guises throughout the Mabinogi, such as Heffeyd Hen, Rhiannon’s father and royalty of the Otherworld in the first branch, and Eufeydd in the fourth branch as the brother of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy. His name is a heavy corruption Eufydd, itself a corruption of Ogimos, the name of the Gaulish god of eloquence, which developed from the Indo-European Hek. The root word Hek can be variously translated as “stone, vault, sharp” or alternatively “path, guide, trail”. His epithet Hir can be taken to mean “tall”, but also has connotations of distance and time, and can mean “far-reaching” or “long lived”. He is one of the many characters in the Mabinogi who doesn’t adhere to the logic of our world, he seemingly ages backwards, dying in the second branch only to return in the fourth.

The other four men killed by caswallawn are named as Unic Glew Yscwydd, Idic son of Anarawc Walltgrwn, Ffodor son of Eruyll and Wlch Minasgwrn. These men don’t appear to be connected to any other events or characters in Welsh literature, and their first names seem conspicuously absent of any significant origin, while many of their epithets merely contain descriptions of their appearance or characteristics.

Pendaran

Pendaran is a genuinely confusing figure. The foster father of Pryderi in the first branch, he appears in the second as a young squire, and the only survivor of Caswallawns killing spree. Pendaran’s name is a compound word stemming from Pen “Head, Chief, Apex” and either taran “thunder” or dar “oak-tree” giving a handful of possible etymologies:

Chief of Thunder

Giant Oak Tree

Pinnacle of Thunder

Pendaran flees deep into the forest when Caswallawn attacks the seven defenders, there seems to be an implication here that Caswallawn couldn’t find the boy once he entered the woods, perhaps owing to the fact that the deep forest is Pendaran’s “home turf”, or that he has an affinity for trees and woodland.

Fflur Ferch Mugnach Gor – Flower Of The Otherworld

On the surface Fflur is a continuation of a long line of fecundity and sovereignty Goddesses in Welsh mythology, her name translates into modern English as “Flower”, and her relationship with Caswallawn is very reminiscent of the ritualised “marrying of the land” that took place upon the crowning of a new King. with this in mind Caswallawns love for Fflur and her subsequent abduction by an invading ruler who desires her for himself can be interpreted in a number of ways.

The central conflict can be seen as a metaphor of war and invasion: the invading ruler stealing the land from its rightful King, and along with it, its riches and abundance for himself. This mythic event can be seen in the fourth branch of the mabinogi, where in order to give Gilfaethwy a window of opportunity to rape the maiden Goewin, Gwydion must fabricate a war with Pryderi in order to distract his Uncle Math. Here a physical rape of a Goddess figure can only happen in conjunction with a symbolic rape of the land through war.

The conflict between Caswallawn and Caesar is also very reminiscent of another theme running through the Mabinogi, that of rivalries and conflicts between the Spirits of our world and the Otherworldly domain of Annwn.

We will explore the possible nature of Caesar as a renamed Otherworld entity in a later section, however Fflur herself is seemingly the daughter of an Otherworld spirit.

Fflur’s father is named as Mugnarch Gor, a compound name that contains several elements. Gor can be interpreted as a corruption of either Corrach “Dwarf” or Cawr“Giant”, while his first name, variously spelt as Mugnach, Mygnach or Ugnach, contains the suffix -ach, denoteing his nature as a supernatural being or phantom, as can be seen in the names of other mythological figures such as the Gwrach-y-Rhibyn or “Hag Of The Mist”.

His primary appearance is in the poem The Conversation of Taliesin and Ugnarch, where he appears as an imposing and sinister figure, surrounded by his white hunting hounds and “with great horns”. He attempts to entice Taliesin back to his fortress with the promise of “shining mead” and “gold for his spear-rest”.

Taliesin, seemingly caught in an unusual moment of unease, refuses as politely as he can, stating that he does not even know the name of the strange man, and is in a hurry to reach the court of Gwydion and Lleu. making his excuses Taliesin leaves this mysterious figure with haste. Why does Taliesin seemingly fear this man, after all his wilful trespasses into the Otherworld?

Naturally there are some obvious themes here, it could very well be that Taliesin is wary of accepting hospitality from an otherworld entity. The belief that consuming food offered by the Fay somehow “binds” a person to the Otherworld is a relatively well known occurrence in myth and can be seen in wider Welsh folklore and beyond, such as the refusal of St Collen to eat the food of Gwyn ap Nudd, or the Greek tale of Persephone eating pomegranate seeds from the underworld.

Ugnach himself appears as a spirit of the Otherworld in a similar vein to Gwyn and Arawn, a huntsman who shepherds lost souls to his fortress in Annwn, though serving in a seemingly more sinister capacity. Could it be that Fflur is a daughter of Otherworld royalty, as Rhiannon, Gwenhwyfar and a number of other sovereignty Goddesses seemingly are?

Exploring “Ceaser”

Gaius Julius Caesar invaded in 43ad, instigating a conflict that took over 40 years and resulted in the deaths of over 70’000 people. It was a brutal conflict, one that forever changed the face of Prydain. It seems only natural then that we would see reflections of Caesar and his Empire recorded in folktales and stories, however the true role of Caesar in Welsh mythology is a deeply complex one, incorporating a number of elements that imply a supernatural quality to the “Caesar” that appears in Welsh legend and lore.

Caesar’s appearance and actions in the triads are very suspect, he and his army sail in from across the sea and offer a very strange deal to Caswallawn: a prized, almost supernaturally nimble horse called Meinlas “slender gray”, in exchange for Caesars forces being able to place the fore-hoofs of their horses on the land. This is a delicious piece of mythological doublespeak, one that helps us to uncover who or what “Ceaser” really is in this tale.

Caesar doesn’t ask for safe harbour, or even temporary sanctuary on the shore, just the front two legs of his horses to touch land. This isn’t the first time that placing feet on the ground has been an issue for someone in Welsh lore. Math ap Mathonwy, the powerful magician of the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, cannot place his feet directly on the earth or he will die, instead he must rest them in the lap of a virgin or be engaged in constant battle to stave off the curse he suffers from. Math is so indicative of the Otherworld that he physically cannot touch our realm, could it be that this “Ceaser” is also bound by a similar embargo, one that can only be broken by the Kings permission to touch Sovereign soil?

His abduction of Fflur is also an indication of his nature as an Otherworld being, the kidnap or entrapment of a Goddess by the denizens of Annwn and their subsequent rescue can be seen multiple times in Welsh Myth such as Llwyd Cil Coed’s entrapment of Rhiannon and Pryderi in the third branch of the Mabinogi and Gwyns kidnap of his sister Creiddylad.

There are the remains of a second Welsh myth that involves a battle between Caesar and another child of Beli named Nyniaw, a version of which is recorded in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

In this story Ceaser wields a powerful sword named Angau Coch, or “Red Death” (the Latin translation of this story instead gives the name Crocea Mors meaning “yellow Death”). The blade has the power to instantly decapitate anyone who is struck by it, or otherwise inflict injuries so grievous that death is inevitable. There is no other reference to a special sword being owned by Caesar in any other historical manuscript, meaning that it is highly likely that Crocea Mors is unique to Welsh mythology, its attribute of instant decapitation can be tied to the symbolic significance of the cult of the head in Celtic culture, once again reinforcing the mythological hallmarks of the Welsh Ceaser.

Just as it seems likely that at some point the archaic myth of Caswallawn was fused with the historical King Cassivellaunus, so too was his rival Ceaser fused with a character from Welsh myth, an Otherworld warlord armed with a legendary death-dealing sword.

Meinlas

The horse that Caesar offers Caswallawn is named in TYP38 as Meinlas, meaning “Slender Gray”.

A “gray” horse has a pale coat that ranges from pure white to silver, but tends to have dark skin underneath that usually shows through the ears and snout where the hair is thinner, as opposed to a “white” horse which would have pale skin beneath their coat and therefore a more uniform appearance. A white animal with noticeably different colouring on its ears and nose should prove instantly recognisable for anyone with a knowledge of Celtic mythology, Meinlas has all the hallmarks of an Otherworld creature. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that horses were revered by the Celts as embodiment’s of Royal Sovereignty, so Meinlas itself could perhaps represent an accord between Caswallawn’s rule of Prydein and the Otherworldly Kingdom held by “Ceaser”, one that is broken when he kidnaps Fflur.

The Golden Shoemaker

Upon learning of Fflurs abduction Caswallawn abandons his throne to search for her, using his powers of illusion to disguise himself as a shoemaker.

“The Golden Shoemakers” Caswallawn, Manawydan and LLeu (by proxy of Gwydion, who provides the magic), are not only representative of each of the three houses of Welsh lore, they are also three of the premier magicians of their respective families. The extent and importance of this title is something of a mystery, though the Gaulish equivalent to Lleu, named Lugos, was seen as a tutelary god of craftsmen and shoemakers, heavily implying a connection between these three figures and skill in craftsmanship, reinforced by Manawydan’s talents in various crafts in the third branch. The “golden” element could also be a reference to the perfection of a craft, the ability to take something as mundane as leather shoes and transmute them into something beautiful through an act of magic and skill.

Aranrot

Having failed in his first attempt to rescue Fflur, Caswallawn returns to Prydain and seeks out the assistance of his sister Aranrot. Better known in modern times by the name Arianrhod, Aranrot is a deeply complex and often misunderstood figure, who merits her own exploration.

TYP35 gives a fascinating insight into brother and sister, not only does it demonstrate Aranrots wealth and martial power, but the fact that Caswallawn turns to her in his hour of need over his other siblings is telling, presenting her as one of the more competent members of her family. This also seems to continue the recurring “pairing” of Beli’s children, as seen with Nyniaw-Pebiaw and Llud-Llefelys, impling a deeper symbolic connection between Caswallawn and Aranrot then first meets the eye.

Aranrot’s sons Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar accompany their mother and uncle on their mission to save Fflur. There are various etymologies for their names, though the most likely are that Gwenwynwyn means “Thrice Holy/Blessed/White”, though it is a real possibility that it is in fact a corruption of Gwanwyngwyn, giving the meaning “White Spring”, perhaps alluding to his function as a snow or melt-water spirit. Gwanar can be translated as “moving forward, leading, trailblazing” or alternatively “Warfare”.

Together they function as both expressions of Aranrot’s power – Gwanar as warfare, Gwanwynwyn as an embodiment of winter and desolation, (“Aranrot of laudable aspect, pale as the snow”), and also as the mythic repercussion of Fflurs abduction, with the spring Goddess of Sovereignty kidnapped, warfare and winter consume the land. The desolation caused by Caswallawns single-minded pursuit of Fflur is reinforced by TYP35, which names the combined forces of Caswallawn and Aranrot as on of the three “Tri Aryanllu” or “Silver Hosts” of prydain, so named because of the riches and men they took away from Prydain, never to return.

The Journey Onwards

This is all we can gain from Caswallawn by working with the historical and mythological evidence we have left on him, but as Awenydd there are skills we can utilise to delve deeper into his mysteries and form a powerful spiritual relationship with this enigmatic spirit, though it will be far from easy. Cawallawn is a difficult and complex being, one that defies simple categorisation or easy worship. Throughout Welsh legend he embodies many uncomfortable and contradictory roles, individual to each of us: the usurper and kin-slayer, the benevolent King, devoted lover, ruthless warlord, and desperate man… Caswallawn speaks to the deepest, darkest heart within us all, and asks a piercing question:

What would you be willing to inflict on others to achieve your hearts desire? And are you willing to surrender it all, everything you have and all you are, for the person you love?

References

Davies, Trefor Rendall – A Book of Welsh Names

Bromwich, Rachel – trioedd ynys prydein

Davies, Sinoed – The Mabinogi

Bartrum, Peter Clement – A Welsh Classical Dictionary

https://barddos.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-conversation-between-taliesin-and-ugnach/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassivellaunus