Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
Fairy Tales and the Ancient Mythology
In Arthur's day and before that, the people of South Wales regarded North Wales as preeminently the land of faerie. In the popular imagination, that distant country was the chosen abode of giants, monsters, magicians, and all the creatures of enchantment. Out of it came the fairies, on their visits to the sunny land of the south. The chief philosopher of that enchanted region was a giant who sat on a mountain peak and watched the stars. It had a wizard monarch called Gwydion, who possessed the power of changing himself into the strangest possible forms. The peasant who dwelt on the shores of Dyfed (Demetia) saw in the distance, beyond the blue waves of the ocean, shadowy mountain summits piercing the clouds, and guarding this mystic region in solemn majesty. Thence rolled down upon him the storm-clouds from the home of the tempest; thence streamed up the winter sky the flaming banners of the Northern lights; thence rose through the illimitable darkness on high, the star-strewn pathway of the fairy king. These details are current in the Mabinogion, those brilliant stories of Welsh enchantment. So gracefully clone into English by Lady Charlotte Guest, (‘The Mabinogion, from the Welsh of the Llyfr Coch o Hergest.’ Translated, with notes by Lady Charlotte Guest. New Edition, London, 1877.) and it is believed that all the Mabinogion in which these details were found were written in Dyfed. This was the region on the west, now covered by Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Cardigan shires.
More recently than the time above indicated, special traditions have located fairy-land in the Vale of Neath, in Glamorganshire. Especially does a certain steep and rugged crag there, called Craig y Ddinas, bear a distinctly awful reputation as a stronghold of the fairy tribe (There are two hills in Glamorganshire called by this name, and others elsewhere in Wales). Its caves and crevices have been their favourite haunt for many centuries, and upon this rock was held the court of the last fairies who have ever appeared in Wales. Needless to say there are men still living who remember the visits of the fairies to Craig y Ddinas, although they aver the little folk are no longer seen there. It is a common remark that the Methodists drove them away; indeed, there are numberless stories which show the fairies to have been animated, when they were still numerous in Wales, by a cordial antipathy for all dissenting preachers. In this antipathy, it may be here observed, teetotallers were included.
The sovereign of the fairies, and their especial guardian and protector, was one Gwyn ap Nudd. He was also ruler over the goblin tribe in general. His name often occurs in ancient Welsh poetry. An old bard of the fourteenth century, who, led away by the fairies, rode into a turf bog on a mountain one dark night, called it the ‘fish-pond of Gwyn ap Nudd, a palace for goblins and their tribe.’ The association of this legendary character with the goblin fame of the Vale of Neath will appear, when it is mentioned that Nudd in Welsh is pronounced simply Neath, and not otherwise. As for the fairy queen, she does not seem to have any existence among Cambrian goblins. It is nevertheless thought by Cambrian etymologists, that Morgana is derived from Mor Gwyn, the white maid; and the Welsh proper name Morgan can hardly fail to be mentioned in this connection, though it is not necessarily significant.
The legend of St. Collen, in which Gwyn ap Nudd figures, represents him as king of Annwn (hell, or the shadow land) as well as of the fairies. (‘Greal’, 8vo. London, 1805, p.337) Collen was passing a period of mortification as a hermit, in a cell tinder a rock on a mountain. There he one day overheard two men talking about Gwyn ap Nudd, and giving him this twofold kingly character. Collen cried out to the men to go away and hold their tongues, instead of talking about devils. For this Collen was rebuked, as the king of fairyland had an objection to such language. The saint was summoned to meet the king on the hill-top at noon, and after repeated refusals, he finally went there; but he carried a flask of holy water with him. ‘And when he came there he saw the fairest castle he had ever beheld, and around it the best appointed troops, and numbers of minstrels and every kind of music of voice and string, and steeds with youths upon them, the comeliest in the world, and maidens of elegant aspect, sprightly, light of foot, of graceful apparel, and in the bloom of youth; and every magnificence becoming the court of a puissant sovereign. And he beheld a courteous man on the top of the castle who bade him enter, saying that the king was waiting for him to come to meat. And Collen went into the castle, and when he came there the king was sitting in a golden chair. And he welcomed Collen honourably, and desired him to eat, assuring him that besides what he saw, he should have the most luxurious of every dainty and delicacy that the mind could desire, and should be supplied with every drink and liquor that the heart could wish; and that there should be in readiness for him every luxury of courtesy and service, of banquet and of honourable entertainment, of rank and of presents, and every respect and welcome due to a man of his wisdom. “I will not eat the leaves of the trees,” said Collen. “Didst thou ever see men of better equipment than these of red and blue?” asked the king. “Their equipment is good enough,” said Collen, “for such equipment as it is.” “What kind of equipment is that?” said the king. Then said Collen, “The red on the one part signifies burning, and the blue on the other signifies coldness.” And with that Collen drew out his flask and threw the holy water on their heads, whereupon they vanished from his sight, so that there was neither castle nor troops, nor men, nor maidens, nor music, nor song, nor steeds, nor youths, nor banquet, nor the appearance of anything whatever but the green hillocks.’
Chapter One, III and IV from:
Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions
by Wirt Sikes (1836 - 1883)
London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1880
Scanned and redacted by Phillip Brown. Additional formatting and proofing at sacred-texts.com by John B. Hare. This text is in the public domain. This file may be used for any non-commercial purpose, provided this notice of attribution is left intact.
Edited by Phyllis Doyle Burns
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