Echos Of Glory – Rhun Son Of Beli and Penardun Daughter Of Beli

Though a surprisingly large body of work has survived the centuries since the first vellum parchments where marked with tales of our Gods, it is also sadly apparent that we have lost a great deal, with entire mythological narratives now only existing as passing references in other stories.

Rhun and Pennardun 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 these stories have fallen silent indefinitely however, as Awenydd we can use our knowledge of legend and lore along with the gift of Awen to tease out some precious strands of insight into these obscure children of Beli

Peerless Beauty – Penarddun Ferch Beli Mawr

Penarddun is referenced only once in the scope of Welsh lore, within the second branch of the Mabinogi, where she is named as the mother of five children: Bran, Branwen and Manawydan by her first consort Llyr Llediaith “Sea Half-Speech”, and Nysien and Efnysian, fathered by the obscure entity Euroswydd “Golden Adversary”.
The exact nature surrounding the conception of Nysien and Efnysien has been largely lost, however we can find clues through the Triads. TYP52 lists Llyr as one of the “three exalted prisoners” of Britain, having been jailed by Euroswydd Wledig. We can start to piece together a rudimentary narrative from this triad in which penardun is married to Llyr, giving birth to her first three children Bran, Branwen and Manawyddan. Llyr is then imprisoned by his rival Euroswydd, who steals Llyrs kingdom and marries, or at least conceives, his twin children with Penardun. Though the nature of Pennarduns role in the narrative has been lost, and we can no longer tell if she was a victim of Euroswydd lust or actively plotted with her new lover to imprison her husband, the events that surround her character indicate a similar pattern of upheaval and chaos that her brothers and sister tend to personify.

There seems to be confusion in the narrative as to whether Pennardun herself is a Daughter of, or Sister to Beli Mawr. this is due to references in the second and third branch that refer to Caswallawn ap Beli Mawr as Manawyddan ap Llyrs Uncle or cousin respectively. This could have been a translation error however and her name is referenced in the second branch as Penarddun Ferch Beli Mawr seeming to confirm her status as a Daughter of Beli and sister of Caswallawn et al.

The name Penarddun is a compound word, combining the elements pen “head, apex, chief” and arrdun “sublime, beautiful” from this compound we can see a couple of possible variations:

“Chief Beauty”

“Most Beautiful”

“Sublime beauty”

There is a fascinating parallel here between Penarddun and the Brythonic deity Belisama, whose compound name comes from Bel, meaning “bright, fair, shining”, with the superlative element -isama, that can be translated as something along the lines of “brightest one” or “most fair”. She was worshipped throughout Gaul and her influence spread to Britain where she was considered the Spirit of the river Ribble. Associated by the Romans with their Goddess Minerva, Belisama seems to have been considered a Spirit of light, water, arts and craftsmen.
Belisama herself was often venerated along side Belenus in Gaul, the two seemed to be intrinsically linked through their naming, worship and qualities. It is compelling to think that Penarddun “the Chief Beauty” of Welsh mythology and the Deity Belisama “the most fair”, both linked with Belenus/Beli Mawr in fact share a common origin.

We can speculate and theorise on Penarddun, try to understand her nature, the role she played in these stories we love. But she is elusive, like sunlight dancing on the surface of water she flits just beyond the grasp of our understanding.

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 gives us a tantalising glimpse of this lost figure.

Rhun is mentioned four times with the Welsh literary tradition, in TYP31 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.

Though sometimes it may seem that the stories of the past are lost to us, they never really die, not as long as there are people who love and cherish them. Penarddun, Rhun and countless other Spirits still call to their people through the mists of time, ready to shine a new light on age-old mysteries.

Breaking The Wheel – Arianrhod Daughter Of Beli

The second in our series looking at the nine children of the Welsh sky god Beli Mawr will explore Arianrhod. The Daughter of Beli Mawr and the Land Goddess Don, Arianrhod is an exceptional beauty, a powerful magician, and a terrible, terrible mother. But what can we discover of her nature, and how can we win the favour of the Lady Of The Wheel?

Arianrhod is… popular. Her name is widely known in Neopagan circles and she by is far the most famous of her siblings and even more renowned in modern practice then her father Beli. 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. Or is that just what she want you to think?

The Tale Of Arianrhod (Short Version!)

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, Maths 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 appalled by what has happend Math vows to marry Goewin as compensation for her ordeal, he then sets about hunting down and punishing Gilfaethwy and Gwydion the way only a master magician can.
However this now leaves Math with a serious problem: he needs a foothold or he will soon die, Goewin, no longer a virgin, cannot fulfill this role any longer. Gwydion, perhaps hoping to get back into Maths 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 took soon develops into a second child.
Gwydion takes the 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 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”. 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 simply uses 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, so 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 magic cannot be so easily bested…

Exploring The Myth
From her role in the fourth branch we can deduce several things about the nature of Arianrhod.
Arianrhod is described as being exquisitely beautiful even among the other fair maidens of the Mabinogi, described as being “pale as the snow”, and she seems to hold a great deal of stead by the (perceived) status of her virginity. A Goddess who is very concerned with image and appearance, she lies about her status as a virgin to her Uncle despite the fact his life literally depends on her honesty, and when she is revealed before the court flees in shame, without a second thought for the newborn Dylan.
A possible explanation for her antagonism towards Lleu, could be that he serves as a reminder of her shame, sadly there is almost nothing left of Dylans tale outside of veiled references to his accidental murder at the hands of his Uncle, the smith god Gofannon, so we cannot tell if he was spared her ire. Her use of magic to bind her own son shows the degree of hostility she has for anything that risks her carefully curated facade. Even Gwydion is shocked and appalled by her ruthlessness.
The animosity Arianrhod shows towards both Lleu and her brother Gwydion has led people to believe that there may be more her anger then first meets the eye. There is another version of this story, in which Arianrhod passes her test of Virginity and replaces Geowin as Maths footholder. The 15th century poet Lewys Mon makes a reference to this narrative in one of his poems”

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

This is not the only reference to this version of the story being told during the 15th and 16th centuries, this seems to be a well established version of the tale. This fact, along with the incredible paternal affection showed by Gwydion towards Lleu, have led some researchers to believe that in an earlier version of the tale Gwydion was the biological father of Arianrhods children. This is a compelling theory, one that explains Arianrhods hatred of Lleu if he was the constant reminder of an insestious union with her brother, however the genealogical tract Bonedd yr Arwyr, which list the family lines of Don and Math, throws this into serious doubt.
Bonedd yr Arwyr lists Blodeuwed, Lleu and Dylan as the three direct descendants of Math. Blodeuwed was constructed by math from the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet, as her creator he is effectively her father, and earlier in the fourth branch he adopts the three offspring of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, conceived in animal form during their punishment as his own, is it also possible that he orchestrated the birth of Dylan and Lleu as well? The virginity test he subject Arianrhod two is loaded with sexual imagery, not least asking her to step over his bent “wand”, It’s a very real possibility that her sudden pregnancy was instigated by Math himself towards some end possibly to acquire an heir, a role Lleu later fulfills.

It also becomes quickly apparent that Arianrhod is an exceptionally powerful magician. In the fourth branch of the Mabinogi it takes all of Gwydion’s cunning a magical talent to break her first two tyngeds, or curses, and even then he has to turn to his Uncle Math for assistance with the third. This is further reinforced by the poem The Chair Of Cerridwen, in which Cerridwen, speaking through Taliesin, speaks in awe of an act of magic performed by Arianrhod in which she casts a protective rainbow around her court, a feat that held in the same regard as Math and Gwydion’s creation of Blodeuwed from flowers. It is also interesting to note that in Triad TYP 35 she is the person that Caswallawn turns to for help in rescuing his love Fflur, who has been kidnapped by Caesar. Caswallawn is an accomplished magician in his own right, it says a great deal that he would look to his sister for assistance before the rest of his family.
But what more can we find about Arianrhod beyond the pages of the Mabinogi?

Beyond The Mabinogi – The Fort In The Ocean
Caer Arianrhod is a physical part of the Welsh landscape. Look from the coast of Gwynedd during the spring low tide and 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 taring at its foundations.
Caer Arianrhod is mentioned multiple times in Welsh lore, in the fourth branch of the mabinogi it is the location of her court and the place Gwydion and Lleu must disguise themselves as Bards to enter. There are three other references to Arianrhods Court in the poetry of 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”

Each of these three references contain a whole wealth of information, not just on Caer Arianrhod, but the very nature of the Goddess Herself. Each poem enforces concepts of entrapment, the raging waters beat against the shore of her court before encircling the earth in a “snare”, Taliesin himself recalls his imprisonment in Caer Arianrhod, a place where his beloved still resides, caught in her fetters. When placed alongside her use of binding spells on her son Lleu, we begin to open up to a new side of Arianrhod as a Goddess of obstruction and entrapment, who’s fortress is a prison as much as it is a palace.
Something that becomes instantly apparent when reading these passages is the similarity to the language used to describe 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.”

Not only does this passage share the theme of the imprisonment of the “divine youth” in the form of Gweir, something that we have seen repeatedly in the tales of Pryderi, Mabon and now Taliesin in Caer Arianrhod, but also that he sing bitterly during his imprisonment there, something that is resonates deeply with the imprisonment of Mabon in Caerloyw, during which he “sings a lamentation to his fate”. Within the 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”.

From the context of his poem we can find Taliesin sitting in the fort of Caer Siddi, bitterly singing in longing for his love. The recurring nature of this event, the youthful poet trapped and lamenting his fate can be compared to 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 act be some form of initiation into the Bardic arts, or maybe the fort is a physical representation of the old saying “all good art comes from suffering”?

Caer Arianrhod is also the name given to the Corona Borealis, or the northern crown, a collection of eight stars that 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 physical rock formation of Caer Arianrhod, as it emerges from the waves at the spring low tide before being reclaimed by the sea. A piece of folklore from the Anglesey area solidifies this connection, telling the story of Caer Arianrhod’s destruction:

“Caer Arianrhod was a beautiful fortress that brought a sense of awe to all who saw it, but its inhabitants where 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, Gwennan, Elan and Maelan bi Don, three sisters of Arianrhod. They where gathering supplies at Cae’r Aelodau on that fateful day, when they looked back towards their sisters Court they were shocked to see its destruction. 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.”

This scrap of folklore is fascinating as it mirrors not just the physical outcropping of Caer Arianrhod but also the progression of the Corona Borealis as it fall back below the horizon, the geology of the land and the stars of the heavens continuously retelling the tale of Caer Arianrhods destruction. The folktale itself shares many obvious similarities with the flooding of another “wicked” Court, that of Prince Tegid, the husband of Cerridwen. Both have court that sits in water and both are flooded due to the supposed cruelty of their inhabitants. These two tales have obviously been influenced by Christianisation, which has no doubt exaggerated the brutality of Arianrhod and Tegid, two powerful Deities that could potentially be a threat to the new religion. Could the inundation of these two fortresses imply something else entirely? Tegid seems to be an Andedion, A Deity that is alien to our world and originating in Annwn, perhaps he was somehow able to bring his fortress through the waters that separate our two dimensions for a time, before returning it to his own realm. This is a feat that is proven to be possible in Welsh myth, in the third branch the Andedion enchanter Llwyd traps Pryderi and Rhiannon in a tower he summoned from the Otherworld, perhaps Arianrhod can also perform this feat of magic, if so does that mean her connection with the Otherworld run deeper then we first thought?

What’s In The Name? – Wheels, Precious Metals And Mistranslations
The key point of confusion regarding the nature of Arianrhod is based on a mistranslation of her name. The commonly accepted emptymology of Arianrhod is that it stems from a combination of the Welsh words Aryan meaning “silver” and Rhot meaning “wheel”, evoking the image of a powerful Lunar Goddess. However the earliest iteration of the name seems to have been Aranrhot, the version of her name that is used throughout the fourth branch of the Mabinogi. This variation of the name still contains the “wheel” element of Rot, however the first component is Aran, which can be translated as “Huge”, “Round” or “Humped”. The “Arianrhod” mistranslation seems to have stemmed mainly from a combination of the similarity between the two words coupled with her association with the Tri Aryanllu or “Three Silver Hosts” mentioned in Welsh Triad TYP35. She contributes of one of the three hosts, and entrusts her army, along with her two sons, to her brother Caswallawn so that can rescue his kidnapped love Fflur. (more on Caswallawn here). While there could be a countless number of possibilities as to the meaning behind her strange title, we can look to what we have already learned about this Goddess to explore. Her name “huge round wheel” is evocative of cycles and repetitions that define her stories: 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 stories and legends reflect this, Lleu and Gwydion break one curse only to be hit by another and then another, Taliesin escapes her castle only to find himself there once again. She is history repeating itself, the old mistakes to rise to haunt us, the ebb and the flow of life itself. Arianrhod and her court are the hub of the world, the shining glass axel around which reality, chance and fate revolve.
The Family Of Arianrhod – Mist, Battle And Poison
Arianrhods parents are the sky god Beli Mawr and the Goddess of the land, rivers and fields Don. she is the only definite child of their union as the mother of Beli’s other eight children and the father of Dons thirteen offspring are never named. Arianrhod is listed as both a member of Dons Court and a Child Of Beli, effectively making her both a land and sky Goddess. Her mythology also seems to connect her with the realm of the sea, her son Dylan Eil Ton, “Son Of The Wave” instantly takes to the ocean after his naming, and the Court of Arianrhod sits far out to sea, where the waves crash against it, eventually inundating the Court. This sets her in a unique position in Welsh lore, a Goddess who sits between the three realms of Land, Sea and Sky.

While Arianrhod was famed as a false virgin in the Mabinogi she later married, 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 figure who was perhaps once seen as a benevolent sky Deity who bestows fair weather on his worshippers, or perhaps a God petitioned by men going to war, the “agreeable soldier” who would assist them during battle.

Together Arianrhod and Lliaws had two children, Gwanar and Gwenwynwyn, whose names mean “battle” and “poison”. They are mentioned once in TYP 35, where it is said they leave with their mother to take part in Caswallawn’s ill-fated attempt to rescue the maiden Fflur, their names only reinforces the martial qualities demonstrated by Arianrhod, Lliaws and Caswallawn.

Arianrhods final two sons, born though stepping over the wand of Math, are the twins Dylan and Lleu. While we will explore these two in greater detail in the next entry in this series, which will focus on Arianrhods brother Llefelys, needless to say they both reinforce aspects of Arianrhods essential nature. Dylan is heavily associated with the sea, a realm his mother is also intimately connected with, while Lleu, whose grave is said to be “under the shade of the sea”, was known as a destructive and ruthless fighter, “who spared no one”, once again reflecting the skills of warfare embraced by his extended family.
Working With Arianrhod – Fetters and Chains

Much like her brother Caswallawn, there is hardly anything we can use to base our veneration of Arianrhod on, therefore once again we must channel the Awen in order to connect with her. In my own practice I have found offerings of flowers, candles and incense such a lavender to be appreciated by her, offerings of sea glass and shells are other effective gifts to earn her affection.
Writing a prayer to the Goddess can also win her favour, providing you do not invoke her ire with false pleasantries. If you are feeling really adventurous you could try your hand at an englyn, a very difficult from of Welsh poetry you can learn more about here.

Arianrhod is a complex and powerful Goddess, who can lend her power and wisdom to a wide number of different magical pursuits, including protection of the home, calling on the three realms of Land, Sea and Sky during ritual, and in general magical workings such as sigil charging and incantation. She is also naturally, a formidable agent of curses, and acts of magic using representations of her chains as the focus can be very effective in acts of binding and obstructing people, projects and events.

One area in which Arianrhods help is very beneficial is that of inner exploration and shadow work. We are all held prisoner by something at some point in our lives, be it addiction, poisonous relationships, physical or mental illness, or even just a twist of fate. By using visualization and journeywork we can travel to Caer Arianrhod and see for ourselves the chains that hold us down in the same old destructive cycles, lamenting our fate. With time and dedication we may come to find that some of these chains we can break free from ourselves, while others are too much for us to bare on our own, we need to reach out for help and guidance if we are to escape the fetters of Arianrhod. Her lessons may be harsh and unforgiving, but the reward is freedom from the wheel you have bound yourself to.

Two down, eight to go. next time we will explore Llefelys, a man of knowledge and learning, who uses his smarts to overcome any obstacle. He is also one third of a triple Deity, hows that for a hook?

Yours in the Grove,
Bill

Cloak And Dagger – Caswallawn Son of Beli

This is the first entry in a series focused on the nine children of the Welsh sky God Beli Mawr. Caswallawn, the oldest son of Beli, is the first that we will explore, investigating his legend, function and powers, along with practical direction of how to venerate and work with this powerful and clandestine Deity.

Of all the entities that feature in the pages of the mabinogi, perhaps none have the impact, the cunning or the mystery of Caswallawn. Introduced late into the second branch, Caswallawn uses a cloak of invisibility to slay the six heroes entrusted by Bran to protect his kingdom, and in doing so causes Caradog, who is Brans son and Caswallawns great nephew, to die of a broken heart after seeing the bloodied corpses of his fallen comrades. In six fell strikes he decimates the House of Llyr and claims the Throne for himself. His shadow looms large 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 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 murder and tyrant, a man who, like his nephew Efnysien, kills without mercy or remorse. But there is so much more to this volatile Deity than first meets the eye, the tale of Caswallawn runs the length and breadth of Welsh lore, a tale that in time will lead to the rise and fall of the House of Beli Mawr…

What’s In A Name? – Emptymology, Mistranslations And Historic Conflation.

Identifying the original name and underlying emptymology of Caswallawn is a near impossible task. The major body of lore regarding Caswallawn seems to have been lost at some point before the four branches of the Mabinogi where recorded, this is not a unique occurrence in Welsh Mythology and the “footprints” of several other forgotten tales can be seen in the Mabinogi, The Native Tales and especially the Triads, which all elude to now forgotten stories such as the imprisonment of Llyr, The adventures of Gwydion’s three animal-turned-human children and the death of Dylan Ail Ton, to name but a few.

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, a British prince of the Catuvellauni tribe who fought the Romans in the defense of britain in 54ad. Despite his martial prowess and use of hit-and-run combat utilising chariots, Cassivellaunus was betrayed by by 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 Caesars forces in exchange for Roman protection, and Cassivellaunus ended up suing for peace to prevent further bloodshed, which Ceaser accepted.
Looking at his role in the Mabinogi, along with what we can tell from the narrative scraps of his tale we can deduce that he was a pre-existing character in Welsh Lore long before Cassivellaunus was pushed into the narrative framework of the four branches.
At some point, most likely after the writing of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (which only to compound measures further misnamed Cassivellaunus as Cassibelenus), Caswallawn, a Welsh equivalent of Cassivellaunus’s name, was given to the Deity featured in the second branch, possible to add an air of “historical validity” to the Mabinogi, in a similar way to how the Irish Goddess Brigid was later intertwined with an historical Catholic Saint.

So if this is the case, what is Caswallawns “true” name? The truth, sadly, is something we may never find out. There have been a number of suggestions for an original name, the most notable being Cadwaller, which would translate very roughly in common brittonic to something along the lines of “leading the scattering” implying a more active role in combat then the more stealthy approach he uses in the Mabinogi. Unlike the majority of his family line, there is no Gaulish or Brittonic God with attributes or naming conventions that parallel with Caswallawn, meaning that with no comparative framework to explore his nature we must rely on other aspects of Welsh lore to understand this particular Deity.

Beyond The Mabinogi – Exploring The Triads

Outside of the Mabinogi Casswallawn is mentioned in six Triads:

TYP38, which refers to Caswallawns Horse Meinlas, meaning “slender grey”, the triad describes the horse as one of the “three bestowed horses, and one of the “three lively steeds of Britain”.

TYP59 calls Caswallawn’s nephew Afarwy ap Llud’s advice to accept Meinlas from the “Romans” in exchange for placing their horses forefeet on the shores of Britain “one of the three unfortunate counsels” while related Triad TYP51 delves deeper into the ruinous rivalry between uncle and nephew

TYP71, which names Caswallawn “one of the three lovers of Ynys Prydain due to his unfailing love of the flower maiden Fflur.

TYP67 names him a “Golden Shoemaker” after he disguises himself as a cobbler to rescue his beloved Fflur who had been kidnapped by “Caesar”

Finally, TYP35 describes “The Three Siver Hosts” who left the isle of the mighty, never to return. Caswallawn and his men, along with his Nephews Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, leave with all their treasure in search of Fflur, and seemingly vanish thereafter

From these Triads we can begin to piece together a narrative, which looks something like this:

“Caswallawn, claimed the throne of Prydain after usurping it from the children of Llyr and soon began courting the beautiful maiden Fflur, whom he quickly feel deeply in love with. However, soon news came of forces arriving from beyond the sea, and worried of invasion Caswallon sent his nephew and trusted advisor Afarwy to discern the threat these newcomers posed.
Before long Afarwy returned with a deal from Caesar, the leader of the new arrivals: in return for a fine horse from their lands named Meinlas, Caesar was allowed safe haven on the Isle of Prydain. The deal was struck and the two forces met under a banner of peace.
However, once Ceaser set eyes on Fflur he was driven mad with desire for her and sought her for himself. With the help of the treacherous Afarwy he stole her away back to his ship and set sail across the sea. when Caswallon learned of his deception, he took after her, and using his powers of illusion, disguised himself as a maker of fine shoes in an attempt to infiltrate Caesars
Stronghold. However he failed, and desperate and dejected, he returned to Prydain to seek help from his sister Arianrhod, a woman of incredible grace and power. She offered him her forces and wealth, and along with Arianrhods two sons Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, gathered their combined forces and set sail for Caesars lands, never to return to the Isle of the Mighty.”

So let’s look closely at this narrative, because there is a lot to unpack. The key to this conflict is Fflur, a fair maiden whose name literally translates into “flower”. She is a quintessential Sovereignty Goddess, a being of fecundity and beauty, the land loved so deeply by the new King. her abduction then, could be seen as a metaphor, symbolic of land being stolen away by an invading force, such as the might of Caesar and his Roman Empire. However, there is an interesting twist when we look at the character of Caesar in this particular tale.

Caesar and his army sail in from across the sea, and offer a very strange deal to Caswallawn. He offers a prized, almost supernaturally nimble horse called Meinlas “slender gray”, in exchange for Caesars forces being able to place their horses forefeet on the ground. This is a delicious piece of mythological doublespeak, and one that helps us to uncover who, or what, “Ceaser” really is in this tale.
Meinlas, means “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. So Ceaser offers our king a pale horse with noticeably different ear and nose coloration. Hmm, that sounds familiar. In exchange for this Ceaser requests that he be able to place his horses forefeet on the land. He doesn’t ask for safe harbour, or even temporary sanctuary on the shore, just the front two legs of his horses to touch land. Why is that? This isn’t the first time that placing feet on the ground has been an issue for someone in Welsh lore. Math, the powerful magician of the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, cannot place his feet directly on the earth, instead he must rest them in the lap of a virgin, lest he make contact with the ground and die, war being the only respite from his odd curse. 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 King of the land himself? We can deduce that Caswallawn was later absorbed into the legacy of the historical figure of Cassivellaunus, it seems likely that his otherworldly adversary was renamed as Caesar to reinforce this connection.

“Caesar” steals Fflur away, and in doing so takes the fertility of the land itself, something that once again we have seen before with the Kidnap of Pryderi and Rhiannon following the wasting of Dyfed in the third branch. Caswallawn then abandons his throne to chase after Fflur and Ceaser, disguising himself as a shoemaker to do so. “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, there are a hundred and one different avenues to explore when looking at the role of the shoemaker. I wouldn’t even know where to start with this one, but that’s a story for another time #sequelbait.

So having failed in his attempt to save Fflur he turns to his sister Arianrhod for help. Arianrhod is a deeply complex entity, and we will discuss her in greater detail in the next installment of the Children of Beli series, but for now let’s look at her role in Caswallawns tale. She offers him soldiers and funds to track down Fflur, along with the support of her sons Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, “battle and poison”. Caswallawn takes his forces across the sea to find his beloved, and in doing so seemingly disappears from our world. Could it be that like Arthur, Bran and many others before and after him, Caswallawn ventured into the uncharted waters of Annwn?

So there we have it, insight into the Lore and Myths of Caswallawn son of Beli, but now we have a slightly better understanding of his nature and function how can we, as Druids and Magicians, connect and work with this Devine usurper of the throne?

Hidden Power – Working With Caswallon

Sadly there are no records of how Caswallawn was venerated, so we must utilise Awen to form a close connection with him. A Dagger or knife wrapped in cloth can make an effective representation of Caswallawn to place on an altar as a representation of the God.
As we have no primary sources on Caswallawn or his worship, it is down to you and your own personal connection to determine what He finds pleasing. In my own personal practice I have found offerings of mead and fragrant teas to be effective offerings, along with floral scented incense, oils and water washes, particularly rose, evoking memories of Caswallawns beloved Fflur. Constructing a short prayer to Caswallawn is also effective in gaining a favourable eye, I have found the liminal period around sunset to be a good time to perform a quick veneration, an example being something along the lines of:

By cloak and blade I call to thee,
Who sails upon the endless seas,
Caswallon, King of Subtle power,
Hear me in this twilight hour.

Caswallawn can lend his hand to a wide variety of magical workings involving personal sovereignty, protection of loved ones and enacticing rapid changes in status-quo, alongside less savory ends such as acts of subterfuge and gaining power at the expense of others.
Two areas I have found Caswallawn to be especially gifted in are that of protection and otherworld journeying.
Very mild invocation/embodiment of Caswallawns power can allow you effectively “cloak” yourself, something that can be incredibly effective in times when you are hoping to avoid attention, and something I practice on a regular bases to slip unnoticed past rowdy drunks after a late shift at work on a friday night. An effective way to do this is to center your breathing, as you breath out feel your conscious mind releasing its hold, and as you breath in feel Caswallawns energy fill the space, feel the weight of his cloak on your shoulders, and your physical presence melting into your environment. When you reach a point of safety thank Caswallawn for providing safe passage, symbolically take off the cloak, and perform your grounding routine of choice.
Caswallawn can also feature as a powerful traveling companion during Shamanic journeying and visualizations, especially those that take place in the realm of Annwn. His time spent in the Otherworld has allowed him to gain a good understanding of its topography and inhabitants, while his cloak can allow safe passage through otherwise dangerous places, though he lacks the patience of Arthur or the higher perception of Taliesin. As a God of our world we also have a powerful connection between us and him in the chaotic, alien realms of Annwn.

And there we go, the first of nine children of Beli Mawr. next time we will focus on Arianrhod, she’s a real piece of work that one, but oh boy is she fun.

Yours in the Grove,
Bill