Mythology Explained: Manawydan Son of Llyr

Welcome to a third week of Mythology Explained! If you’re new to this, basically I take Celtic, Welsh, and Norse myths and explain the stories to you.

I’ve been looking at the Mabinogian the past two weeks and so I’m continuing where I left off with the story of Manawyden Son of Llyr.

The Mabinogian
Manawyden Son of Llyr

Part One: The Mound Strikes Again

After Manawydan, Pryderi and the other seven men buried Ben’s head in London, they all planned to go their separate ways. Manawyden realized that he had nowhere to go now that Caswallan Son of Beli sat on the throne of London. Even though Caswallan was his cousin, he refused to be part of his court.

Pryderi being hospitable, offers Manawydan his seven cantrefs in Dyfed and his mother Rhiannon to be Manawydan’s wife. Manawyden says he won’t take all of that from Pryderi but seeing no other option decides he will at least go to the court and look at the land and meet Rhiannon.

Manawydan hit it off with Rhiannon on the first night and they agree to be married. They slept together.

Later, they’re feasting in Arberth and Manawydan, Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa (Pryderi’s wife) go to the mound where Pwyll first spotted Rhiannon. While standing on the mound there was a great commotion, and everything around them disappeared. The cattle and sheep in the fields, the people from their homes, the people at the court in Arberth, all of them were gone.

Part Two: Pissing off England

The four of them, Manawydan, Pryderi, Rhiannon and Cigfa stayed in Dyfed for a year feasting on what they could find and when they ran out, they hunted. Then it came to them that they should go to England.

The first town they settled in that took up saddle making. They turned the saddles blue and soon, nobody in the town would buy a saddle from any of the other saddle makers. It came to their attention that the other saddle makers intended to kill them. Pryderi wanted to make a stand against them but Manawydan said no, and they went to another town instead.

In the second town they took up shield making and soon nobody would get a shield from anyone unless it was from them. They worked fast and produced things in great quantities. Word came to them that the other shield makers wanted to kill them. Pryderi was willing to stand against them, but Manawydan said no and they traveled to another town.

In the third town they took up shoe making, thinking that other shoemakers wouldn’t conspire to kill them. As it turns out, they became some of the best shoemakers, including gold buckled shoes. Soon, nobody in the town bought shoes unless it was from them. And the other shoemakers did conspire to kill them. Again Pryderi was okay with standing against them but Manawydan suggested they return to Dyfed to see what had become of their realm.

Part Three: Thickets, Forts and Crofts

When they arrived in Dyfed, Manawydan and Pryderi rounded up their hounds and sent them out. They came upon a thicket from which a white wild boar emerged. They chased the boar until it lead them to a large Fort. The hounds followed the board and didn’t return. Pryderi told Manawydan that he wouldn’t forsake his hounds so he followed them to the Fort.

While inside the Fort Pryderi found a beautiful fountain and above it was a golden bowl suspended by four large chains that twisted into the sky. He reached for the bowl and the moment he touched it he became stuck, his feet on the platform, and his hands on the bowl. He lost his ability to speak and therefore could do nothing but stand there.

Manawydan got tired of waiting for Pryderi so he went home. Rhiannon asked where Pryderi her son was and Manawyden told her the story. So Rhiannon went to the Fort to find her son, and she too became stuck to the bowl. Then they disappeared.

In the meantime Cigfa got so upset for being all alone with only Manawydan that she didn’t care if she lived or died. Manawydan said he would be good to her, they would go to England again and take up shoe making. Manawydan tried it, but the other shoemakers soon conspired to kill him. So Cigfa and Manawydan went back to Dyfed where Manawyden grew crops.

The first crop grew and he said he would harvest it the next day. When the sun rose, Manawydan saw that the crop was reduced to nothing but stalks. He went to the next crop and it was ripe, so he said he would harvest it the next day. The next day came and again the crop was reduced to nothing but stalks. He went to the third crop, and it was ripe. He planned to watch the crop all night to see what was ruining him.

It was mice. An entire hoard of mice raced into the field when nightfall came, one mouse per stalk. Manawydan watched in horror, unable to fight all of them. When they were retreating, each with a stalk in hand, he caught a pudgy one and put it in his glove.

He went to Cigfa and explained how he caught the thief and how he would hang it in the morning. Cigfa told him it was dishonorable of him to deal with vermin in this way but told him to do as he wishes. Manawydan said he wished to destroy it and so Cigfa said to do it.

Part Four: The Collar and the Hammer

Manawydan took the rat to the mound at Arberth and began to set up two forks so he could hang the mouse. As he was sticking the forks in the ground a bard approached. He asked what Manawydan was doing. Manawydan was surprised, he hadn’t seen anyone in Dyfed in seven years. He told him that he was hanging the mouse. The man offered him the money he had got from begging in order to free the mouse. The man didn’t want to see a man as honorable as Manaqydan disgrace himself by executing such a lowly vermin.

Manawydan refused. He continued to rig the contraption by which he would hang the mouse when another man came by, this time an Ovate. He asked what Manawydan was doing and Manawydan explained. The Ovate offered him three times as much as the Bard for the mouse’s freedom. Manawydan refused. The Ovate took his lead.

A Druid came then, with an entourage. The Druid offered seven times as much as the Bard for the mouse. Manawydan refused, so the Druid offered twenty four times as much as the Bard for the mouse. Manawyden said it was not enough. The Druid offered all of his horses and his possessions in return for the mouse. Manawydan again said it was not enough.

The Druid asked what Manawydan wanted. Manawyden asked for Pryderi and Rhiannon to be released. The Druid said it would be done. Manawydan said it was not enough, he wanted the enchantment over Dyfed removed. The Druid said it would be done. Manawydan said it was not enough, he wanted to know who the mouse was.

Turns out the mouse was the Druid’s wife. The Druid had turned his entire legion of warriors into mice, and then turned the ladies of his court as well. He’s also the one who took Rhiannon and Pryderi and the one to cast the enchantment over the land. He did this because of the Badger in the Bag game Pwyll had played on one of his relatives once.

Manawydan accepted that but he wanted to see Rhiannon and Pryderi before releasing the mouse. He also wanted to ensure that this would never be avenged on Pryderi, Rhiannon or himself. The Druid said that was a good idea otherwise the affliction would fall on him.

Manawydan then saw Rhiannon and Pryderi approaching and asked the Druid what they had been forced to do. Pryderi had been a gate-hammerer and Rhiannon had been hauling hay like a donkey. That was their prison.

Here ends this branch of Mabinogian.

And if you’re still enjoying this series, please leave me a comment! Next week we explore Math Son of Mathonwy.