They say that you should try new things, and this is something I thought might be fun and educational for my readers. I’m a bit of a celtic myth junkie, as in, I’ve actually read the Mabinogian, the Poetic Edda and other collaborative works on Celtic, and Norse myth.
I was so much of a junkie that I actually looked up my ancestry and traced my lineage back to Thorstein the Red. He was a viking king of Dublin who was betrayed and killed by a Scottish guy. His family then moved to Iceland and after generations, my great grandmother was born, came to Canada and that’s how I happened.
Mythology Explained is my way of helping you out. Most of this was gibberish the first time I read it. The words, the names the places, all didn’t make much sense to me. The point is, you have to read it not for the historical stuff, but for the story bits. I have kept the historical references in here for those of you that like that sort of thing, but if you’re really into it, you’ll need to go look up your own family tree for these people. I’m in it for the stories. It’s really difficult in the raw versions to know what they’re talking about, who’s talking, etc. etc. This series is meant to help you understand what happened and to whom. I’ve broken the stories into parts and named them so you can better follow along.
If you like it, I’ll keep writing it!
P.S. Don’t worry about pronunciation, it’s really weird, so just do your best.
Pwyll Prince of Dyfed
Part 1: Arawn and Hafgan
Pwyll (Pooeellh), Prince of Dyfed (Doveead) was in his country of Arberth when he thought it was a good idea to go hunting. He left, traveled to Pen Llwyn Diarwya, slept there, then continued the next day to Glyn Cuch. He let his hounds loose and followed them. Not soon after he heard other sounds in the woods, sounds that hadn’t come from his dogs. He saw a meadow, and in it was a stag. Another pack of dogs hunted the stag and killed it. Pwyll came upon it and saw that the hounds were unlike any he had seen before. They had glittered white coats of fur and sparkling red ears. Pwyll chased the dogs away and let his own pack feast on the Stag, taking credit for the kill.
A man approached on a horse, in gray clothing. His name was Arawn, King of Annwfn, in the other worlds. Arawn and Pwyll quarreled about the hounds and the rightful glory of the kill. The hounds Pwyll had chased off belonged to Arawn. A pact was made in light of this. Arawn proposed that Pwyll would go to his kingdom and defeat an enemy of Arawn’s, a man named Hafgan. In turn Arawn would go to Pwyll’s kingdom and rule for a year. So it was done, they changed their shapes so that they looked like each other and set off. They agreed to meet a year from then in the same place.
Pwyll went to Annwfn. He was offered Arawn’s wife, but he refused to sleep with her. He defeated Hafgan, and when Arawn returned to Annwfn, he and Pwyll became friends.
Pwyll went home to Dyfed then, and his men said that he had not been a better man in the past year while Arawn was in his place. They said that they wished Pwyll would always be a man like that. Pwyll continued to be an honorable man and strengthened their friendships, giving them hounds, hawks and treasures. Because of his rule in Annwfn, he became known as Pwyll, Head of Annwfn, for bringing the two realms together.
Note: Annwfn is an other world, when Pwyll entered the meadow he had effectively crossed the barrier into the other world.
Part 2: Rhiannon daughter of Hyfaidd Hen
One night during a feast, Pwyll decided he would go to sit on a mound. His men warned him that any who sit upon that particular mound experienced one of two things: he will see a marvel or he will be injured.
Pwyll decided to take his chances and go to mound anyway. There he spotted Rhiannon on a horse that was moving at a reasonable pace. He called to his men and tried to have her pursued but anytime anyone did so, she ended up farther away than she had been before.
For nights this went on. Pwyll elected the fastest horses and sent them after the woman, and none could catch her. Finally, Pwyll took his horse and pursued her himself. He did not gain on her but he called to her and asked her, “In the name of the man you love most, wait for me.”
“I will wait gladly,” she said. “And it had been better for the horse if you had asked it long ago.”
Pwyll welcomed her into his court and asked her about her business. As it turned out, her father, Hayfaidd Hen was giving her to a man against her will. She came to Pwyll because she had loved him ad only him for a very long time and wanted to know his answer.
He said he would marry her.
They set a date, which was a year from that day.
Pwyll arrived in Hyfaidd Hen’s court exactly a year later. He had arrayed himself with a hundred horsemen. The feast was laid, Hyfaidd sat on one side of Pwyll, Rhiannon on the other, and the men each according to rank after that. They ate, celebrated and conversed.
After the dinner entertainment a brown haired man wearing a silk brocade entered the hall. He saluted Pwyll and said he had business with him and that he would not sit. The man came to ask a boon of Pwyll and before he had a chance to name the boon, Pwyll said, “Whatever you ask of me, as far as I am able to get it, you shall have it.”
Rhiannon gasped. She turned to Pwyll and said, “This is the man my father tried to give me to against my will.”
And then the man, Gwawl son of Clud, asked for Rhiannon. Pwyll conversed with Rhiannon, knowing that he could never grant such a request, but she insisted, saying that unless he wanted to go back on his word in front of everyone in the court and prove his dishonor, he would have to give her up. She devised a plan however so that Gwawl would never truly have her.
What Rhiannon did was give Pwyll a bag. Rhiannon managed to save Pwyll from giving Gwawl the entire feast that night, but at the same time she made a deal with Gwawl to sleep with him a year from that day. She told Pwyll to keep the bag he had with him, and when that day came to come in threadbare clothing and ask for nothing more than the bag to be full. Rhiannon enchanted the bag so that it would never be full lest a powerful nobleman got up and put his feet in the bag saying, “enough has been put in here.” When Gwawl does it, Pwyll could push him into the bag entirely and tie it up, then call his men who would descend on the court.
And that’s exactly what they did. A year later Pwyll showed up, tricked Gwawl, trapped him in the bag and his men had a go at the bag. They tried to guess what was in the bag and called it a badger, and therefore invented a game: Badger in the Bag.
The next day Pwyll granted requests to the minstrels in the land, and then asked Hyfaidd if he could return to Dyfed. He took Rhiannon with him.
Part 3: Rhiannon’s Plight
In Dyfed Pwyll’s men thought he was getting old. He had tried to have children with Rhiannon and it wasn’t working. At first they said to get rid of her and find a younger maiden to have an heir with, but Pwyll refused. Instead, Rhiannon became pregnant and had a child.
One night, while the ladies in waiting were supposed to be watching the child, it went missing. Instead of admitting it the ladies smeared blood on Rhiannon and made her think she had killed her own child.
Pwyll punished her by making her sit at the gate to his country where she would tell any man who did not know the story of her shame, what she had done to her son, and she would offer them a ride on her back to the court.
She did this for seven years.
Part 4: Teyrnon Twrf Liant
Teyrnon was having a problem with monsters stealing his colts the moment they were born. One time he decided to go out to the barn and watch the birth of the colt so he could face the monster that would take it. He stayed up all night, waiting, watching. At the moment the colt stood, a claw came through the window and tried to take it. Teyrnon cut off the arm at the elbow and rushed into the night but he couldn’t see a thing.
And then there was a baby swaddled in cloth left there. He raised the child as his own and called him Gwri. Teyrnon raised the colt that was born the same night Gwri showed up and gave it to Gwri.
In the meantime, Teyrnon had heard rumors about Rhiannon. He thought about it and decided that the boy was probably Pwyll’s since they looked the similar. Teyrnon brought the boy to Pwyll’s court and it was decided that Gwri was Rhiannon’s son. Rhiannon renamed him Pryderi.
Teyrnon and his wife became Pryderi’s foster parents, and the boy was given to Pendaran Dyfed to be further raised.
When Pwyll passed, Pryderi took over for his father and ruled the seven cantrefs of Dyfed. He then gained the three cantrefs of Ystrad Tywi, and the four cantrefs of Ceredigion. Then it occurred to him that he should get married and the one he wanted was Cigfa, daughter of Gwyn Gohoyw, son of Gloyw Gwallt Lydan, son of Casnar Wledig, and she was a noble.
Here ends this branch of the Mabinogian.
This is a great example of how Celtic life was so closely associated with the other worlds. It’s clear that for these people magic just existed. It wasn’t thought of as spooky.
I like the honor code represented in this part of the story. Pwyll is always true to his words, even if it’s at his own folly. By that notion there is also a lot of trickery that goes on, very common of the ancient Celts.
Teyrnon is my kind of hero. I’m glad he came and saved the day. I’m disappointed that the ladies who betrayed Rhiannon weren’t brought to justice in the story.
And . . . I wonder why people don’t play Badger in the Bag anymore. That bag got Rhiannon and Pwyll out of a sticky situation . . .
What did you think? Shall we continue? Next week I’ll be covering Branwen, Daughter of Llyr.