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,