Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

Page: 179

[pg 380] and submitted themselves for punishment to Māth. “Ye cannot compensate me my shame, setting aside the death of Pryderi,” he said, “but since ye come hither to be at my will, I shall begin your punishment forthwith.” So he turned them both into deer, and bade them come hither again in a twelvemonth.

They came at the appointed time, bringing with them a young fawn. And the fawn was brought into human shape and baptized, and Gwydion and Gilvaethwy were changed into two wild swine. At the next year's end they came back with a young one who was treated as the fawn before him, and the brothers were made into wolves. Another year passed; they came back again with a young wolf as before, and this time their penance was deemed complete, and their human nature was restored to them, and Māth gave orders to have them washed and anointed, and nobly clad as was befitting.

The Children of Arianrod: Dylan

The question then arose of appointing another virgin foot-holder, and Gwydion suggests his sister, Arianrod. She attends for the purpose, and Māth asks her if she is a virgin. “I know not, lord, other than that I am,” she says. But she failed in a magical test imposed by Māth, and gave birth to two sons. One of these was named Dylan, “Son of the Wave,” evidently a Cymric sea-deity. So soon as he was baptized “he plunged into the sea and swam as well as the best fish that was therein.... Beneath him no wave ever broke.” A wild sea-poetry hangs about his name in Welsh legend. On his death, which took place, it is said, at the hand of his uncle Govannon, all the waves of Britain and Ireland wept for him. The roar of the incoming tide at the mouth of the river Conway is still called the “death-groan of Dylan.”

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Llew Llaw Gyffes

The other infant was seized by Gwydion and brought up under his protection. Like other solar heroes, he grew very rapidly; when he was four he was as big as if he were eight, and the comeliest youth that ever was seen. One day Gwydion took him to visit his mother Arianrod. She hated the children who had exposed her false pretensions, and upbraided Gwydion for bringing the boy into her sight. “What is his name?” she asked. “Verily,” said Gwydion, “he has not yet a name.” “Then I lay this destiny upon him,” said Arianrod, “that he shall never have a name till one is given him by me.” On this Gwydion went forth in wrath, and remained in his castle of Caer Dathyl that night.

Though the fact does not appear in this tale, it must be remembered that Gwydion is, in the older mythology, the father of Arianrod's children.

How Llew Got his Name

He was resolved to have a name for his son. Next day he went to the strand below Caer Arianrod, bringing the boy with him. Here he sat down by the beach, and in his character of a master of magic he made himself look like a shoemaker, and the boy like an apprentice, and he began to make shoes out of sedges and seaweed, to which he gave the semblance of Cordovan leather. Word was brought to Arianrod of the wonderful shoes that were being made by a strange cobbler, and she sent her measure for a pair. Gwydion made them too large. She sent it again, and he made them too small. Then she came herself to be fitted. While this was going on, a wren came and lit on the boat's mast, and the boy, taking up a bow, shot an arrow that transfixed the leg between the sinew [pg 382] and the bone. Arianrod admired the brilliant shot. “Verily,” she said, “with a steady hand (llaw gyffes) did the lion (llew) hit it.” “No thanks to thee,” cried Gwydion, “now he has got a name. Llew Llaw Gyffes shall he be called henceforward.”

We have seen that the name really means the same thing as the Gaelic Lugh Lamfada, Lugh (Light) of the Long Arm; so that we have here an instance of a legend growing up round a misunderstood name inherited from a half-forgotten mythology.

How Llew Took Arms

The shoes went back immediately to sedges and seaweed again, and Arianrod, angry at being tricked, laid a new curse on the boy. “He shall never bear arms till I invest him with them.” But Gwydion, going to Caer Arianrod with the boy in the semblance of two bards, makes by magic art the illusion of a foray of armed men round the castle. Arianrod gives them weapons to help in the defence, and thus again finds herself tricked by the superior craft of Gwydion.

The Flower-Wife of Llew

Next she said, “He shall never have a wife of the race that now inhabits this earth.” This raised a difficulty beyond the powers of even Gwydion, and he went to Māth, the supreme master of magic. “Well,” said Māth, “we will seek, I and thou, to form a wife for him out of flowers.” “So they took the blossoms of the oak, and the blossoms of the broom, and the blossoms of the meadow-sweet, and produced from them a maiden, the fairest and most graceful that man ever saw. And they baptized her, and gave her the name of Blodeuwedd, or Flower-face.” They wedded her to Llew, and gave them the cantrev of Dinodig to [pg 383] reign over, and there Llew and his bride dwelt for a season, happy, and beloved by all.

Betrayal of Llew

But Blodeuwedd was not worthy of her beautiful name and origin. One day when Llew was away on a visit with Māth, a lord named Gronw Pebyr came a-hunting by the palace of Llew, and Blodeuwedd loved him from the moment she looked upon him. That night they slept together, and the next, and the next, and then they planned how to be rid of Llew for ever. But Llew, like the Gothic solar hero Siegfried, is invulnerable except under special circumstances, and Blodeuwedd has to learn from him how he may be slain. This she does under pretence of care for his welfare. The problem is a hard one. Llew can only be killed by a spear which has been a year in making, and has only been worked on during the Sacrifice of the Host on Sundays. Furthermore, he cannot be slain within a house or without, on horseback or on foot. The only way, in fact, is that he should stand with one foot on a dead buck and the other in a cauldron, which is to be used for a bath and thatched with a roof—if he is wounded while in this position with a spear made as directed the wound may be fatal, not otherwise. After a year, during which Gronw wrought at the spear, Blodeuwedd begged Llew to show her more fully what she must guard against, and he took up the required position to please her. Gronw, lurking in a wood hard by, hurled the deadly spear, and the head, which was poisoned, sank into Llew's body, but the shaft broke off. Then Llew changed into an eagle, and with a loud scream he soared up into the air and was no more seen, and Gronw took his castle and lands and added them to his own.