Ffynnon – Source, Spring, Fountain

A couple of months ago, when I was feeling discouraged about the lack of interest in the Brythonic tradition, Gwyn showed me a fountain cascading down into concentric basins increasing in size and told me that likewise ‘the awen will eventually filter down’ and this made me feel more hopeful.

This vision led me to taking an interest in the role of fountains in medieval Welsh literature. I found out the Welsh word for fountain, ffynnon or ffynhawn, also means ‘source’ and ‘spring’.

In ‘The Death Song of Cörroi’, in The Book of Taliesin, Taliesin speaks of the ffynhawn lydan ‘wide sea-fountain’, the source of the sea. Patrick Sims-Williams suggests this refers to ‘a cosmological spring similar to Hvergelmir in Norse mythology’. Hvergelmir ‘boiling bubbling spring’ is the source from which the 42 rivers, including the 11 Élivágar ‘Ice Waves’, which run through the Nine Worlds flow. In the Greek myths all the rivers rise from Oceanus ‘Ocean’ suggesting a shared mythos.

In a poem called ‘Blessed be the Lord’ in The Black Book of Carmarthen we find the lines:

May the three fountains
bless you,
two above the wind,
one above the earth

Sims-Williams notes that, ‘in a poem called Divregwawt Taliesin “Taliesin” says that the ocean comes to us from one of these’. In ‘The First Address of Taliesin’ the bard speaks of teir ffynnawn ‘three springs’ or ‘three fountains / in Mount Sion’ showing a collation of Brythonic and Christian beliefs.

The image of a triple fountain is unsurprising considering many Celtic deities, such as the Matronae, the Genii Cucullati, and the Lugoves, appear in triple forms. The awen, poetic inspiration, is represented as three dots or as as three rays. The threefold fountain recurs in the alchemical tradition as the Fons Mercurialis.

Fons Mercurialis from the Rosarium (1550)

A fountain is central to Iarlles y Fynnon ‘The Lady of the Fountain’. The fountain stands beneath a green tree, with near it a marble slab and silver bowl fastened to a silver chain. Owain Rheged, a hero of the Old North, seeking adventure, throws water from the fountain from the bowl onto the slab. This brings about ‘a tumultuous noise’ then a hailstorm that strips the leaves from the tree and summons a black knight. Owain defeats him and becomes the guardian of the fountain and lover of its otherworldly lady. This story bears a resemblance with Pwyll taking the role of Arawn, King of Annwn.

Thus it is unsurprising that this central image mirrors the well/fountain and golden bowl hanging on four golden chains over a marble slab in the fortress of Llwyd Cil Coed, Brenin Llwyd, King of Annwn, which enchants Pwyll’s son, Pryderi, and his mother, Rhiannon.

It seems these are one and the same with the fountain that Gwyn, King of Annwn, showed me. A powerful symbol of awen springing forth from its source in Annwn ‘the Deep’. Flowing from myth, into story, into words, rippling out its numinous qualities into Thisworld.


Marged Haycock (transl), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Meirion Pennar (transl.), The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Llanerch Enterprises, 1989)
Patrick Sims-Williams, Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature, (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
‘The Rosary of the Philosophers’, MS Ferguson 210, (18th C)


10 thoughts on “Ffynnon – Source, Spring, Fountain

  1. contemplativeinquiry says:

    At a time when I was very engaged with Sophian visualisations, I had a strong connection with a fountain placed at the centre of Sophia’s garden, an innerworld heart space. Though a fountain and not a spring, it was linked for me to a passage in the Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus asks three followers what they think of him. Peter says he is like a ‘righteous messenger’, and Matthew a ‘wise philosopher’. Thomas refuses to make any verbal statement, whereupon Jesus indicates that Thomas has transcended discipleship saying: ‘because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended’. The suggestion seems to me that this can be available to all of us if we let go of labelling and projections. ‘The bubbling spring’ takes us beyond all that. As you say, the spring if allowed ‘can ripple out its numinous qualities in this world’. expressing itself in whatever way is needed. Thank you for your post!

  2. Greg Hill says:

    Waters of the Otherworld flow from springs, rise in wells and fountains across the mythologies of the northern world. Interestingly, Norse mythology also has three springs: Hvergelmir, the cosmological spring you mention, the Well Of Mimir where Odinn gave one eye for his wisdom and the Well of Urd (wyrd), all under Yggdrasill. I think, too, of Waldo Williams’ great mystical poem in Welsh where fountains rise to the sky and then shower down “like the leaves of a tree” on people working in the fields when they are gathered by “awen” and the “silent hunter” casts his net around them.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I hadn’t thought of how this fits with the three fountains in the Norse myths. Thank you. Is there an English translation of the poem you cite by Waldo Williams? It sounds very powerful.

      • Greg Hill says:

        There are two available translations of ‘Mewn Dau Gau’ (In Two Fields), the most easily accessible by Tony Conran and another by Rowan Williams. The problem is that neither translate the word ‘awen’ for reasons I can understand and which I might discuss in a forthcoming Cronicl yr Awen blog post.

  3. Yewtree says:

    I think it may not be a lack of interest in the Brythonic tradition, but a lack of accessibility. I love the feeling I get from Welsh and Cornish and Breton mythology, but I find much of it bewildering and impossible to keep in my head. Whereas I get Norse mythology and it goes into my head and stays there. Your posts are making Brythonic mythology more accessible to me.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’m glad to hear that. Oddly I can’t connect with the Norse myths very well although I sense their power. I think part of the calling to the Brythonic myths is that they are so deeply connected with the British landscape, but there is also a spiritual calling and depth that makes them work for me personally.

  4. Nimue Brown says:

    Robin, Tom and I have been talking a fair bit in the last week about what we’ve learned from how you work with stories that only hint at what went before, and what we might, possibly, be able to venture in the same way.

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