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…
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