The Forge of Gofannon

Do you sense your maker, world?
Friedrich Nietzsche

My surname is Smithers. On and off I’ve been aware of the presence of a smith-god. The sound of hammer blows in the back of my mind. A vision of a forge at the fiery core of the world. The chisel-strokes of Nietzsche’s world-artist working in the Blakean moment between Thisworld and Annwn, beyond good and evil, where there is no past or future, but only the eternal of now creation. Making artefacts of great beauty, world-shattering technologies, weapons that are unconscionable, a dire world.

Over the past few years, as I have been working with the Brythonic mythos, Gofannon has been appearing in my stories forging important treasures – Caledfwlch (the sword of King Arthur), the Shield of Urien Rheged, the golden ring of Gwyn ap Nudd and the horse shoes for his horse.

The art of smithing is seen in most cultures as a magical process which literally transforms the world. It brought into being the Bronze Age and Iron Age and played a major role in the Industrial Revolution and Information Age. The smith is a central figure in many world myths. Yet, surprisingly little is known about Gofannon, our Brythonic smith god. This article summarises our knowledge from the Welsh myths and uses Irish parallels and modern gnosis to illuminate this ancient figure at his forge.

***

We know Gofannon is a smith-god as his name derives from the Middle Welsh gof ‘smith’. In Culhwch and Olwen his aid is required to set the plough used by his brother, Amaethon, the god of agriculture. This shows that, like the other children of Don, he was seen as skilled and as a culture god.

This is supported by lines in ‘The First Address of Taliesin’ where the legendary bard says:

I’ve been with skilful men,
with Math Hen, with Gofannon,
with Eufydd, with Elestron,
I’ve been party to privileges.
For a year I’ve been in Caer Gofannon.

In the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogion, Gofannon inexplicably kills his nephew, Dylan, the daughter of Arianrhod, who can swim ‘as well as the best fish in the sea’. This is named as one of ‘Three Unfortunate Blows’. Why he does so is never explained. However, we can go some distance to finding an explanation through a comparison with the story of Gofannon’s Irish cognate, Goibnu.

In the Lebor Gabála Érenn, Goibniu is the metalsmith of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Children of Dana. Like the children of Don possessing skills is intrinsic to their identity as culture gods. With Credne the silversmith and Luchta the carpenter Goibnu is one of Trí Dée Dána ‘three gods of art’. Goibniu is the half-brother of Brighid. Their mother is Dana and their fathers are Tuirbe Trágma and the Dagda.

Brighid has a son with the Formorian, Bres, called Ruadan. During the Second Battle of Moytura, which takes place between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the monstrous Formorians, Ruadan is sent by the Formorians to find out the secret of how the craftsmen of the Tuatha Dé Danann make their weapons.

Ruadan finds Goibniua at his forge crafting lance-heads with three blows of his hammer, Luchta cutting shafts with three blows of his axe, and Credne fixing the two parts together. After he reports back, Ruadan is sent by the Formorians to kill Goibniu.

Ruadan goes to the forge and asks Goibniu for a spear. Goibniu, unsuspecting, gives a spear to him. Ruadan thrusts it through Goibniu and, to his surprise, the smith-god plucks it out and hurls it at Ruadan, who is mortally wounded, and returns home to die. Brighid mourns Ruadan and this is the origin of keening.

One wonders whether a similar story lies behind Gofannon’s slaying of Dylan with Arianrhod replacing Brighid/Brigantia as his mother. It certainly seems to be no coincidence that Arianrhod’s second son, Lleu, is mortally wounded by Gronw, his rival for his wife, Blodeuedd, with a poisoned spear.

This spear is crafted by a smith (it does not say by who) when ‘people are at Mass on a Sunday’. This is suggestive of a pre-Christian forger working at a liminal time. Lleu then, in turn, strikes a mortal blow to Gronw with his spear. This exchange is not unlike that between Ruadan and Goibniu. That Gofannon is a forger of spears is backed up by lines from ‘The Dialogue of Myrddin and Taliesin’. The ‘seven spears of Gofannon’ are used at the devastating and futile Battle of Arfderydd.

***

In support of the existence of an earlier variant of the story of Gofannon killing Brighid/Brigantia’s son I would like to mention the personal gnosis of Potia Pitchford – a modern devotee of both these deities.

Potia and I were (virtually) together in a guided meditation led by Gemma McGowan at a conference on Brighid earlier in the year. This involved meeting the goddess at a forge deep within the land. Potia had a powerful experience which involved not only Brighid but Gofannon. In her blog post ‘Marked by Gofannon’ Potia writes of Gofannon holding her whilst Brighid pulled from her ‘what was needed to be reworked’ and placed it back inside her in three parts – ‘one band for each of three cauldrons’. Finally Gofannon placed an inch-wide copper band on her upper arm. This led to her to her getting the armband created as an item of devotional jewellery by Runecast Copper.

Potia’s vision of Gofannon and Brighid/Brigantia working together at this forge in the core of the earth spoke deeply to me. I’m tempted to see Brighid/Brigantia (who is both a smith and a poet) and Gofannon as the forces of creativity and smithing that shape our world and its technologies for good and for ill. As I work I am aware of their presence in the words I type and the laptop I type them on.

If Gofannon and Brigid/Brigantia are co-forgers, then Gofannon’s slaying of her son, perhaps as the result of an attack, would certainly add a layer of tragedy and poignancy to their relationship.

*With thanks to Hannah Gibbs for the image ‘Blacksmith‘ on Unsplash.

4 thoughts on “The Forge of Gofannon

  1. Greg Hill says:

    Interesting speculations. It is striking that Gofannon is only mentioned in the 4th Mabinogi in that indirect way in passing as the slayer of Dylan. Could there possibly be a confusion with Gronw :(Goronwy the Strong or Radiant)? In fact it does say in the tale that Gronw forges the spear, and the ‘poison’ seems to be magically effected by the fact that it is only worked upon ‘during mass on Sunday’ rather than a toxic substance (what had previously been called simply a ‘gwayw’ – ‘spear’ – only becomes a ‘gwenwynwayw – ‘poisonspear’ – when Gronw throws it, though the spear Lleu throws back is also called a poisoned spear in the Triad about the Three Faithless War Bands). Gronw is in some ways Lleu’s alter-ego so their exchange of blows (like that of Goibniu and Ruadan?) and common partnership with Blodeuedd might suggest a pairing as ‘skill gods’ merging or diverging as gods may do in tales about them told in the after-time of their acknowledged status.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Just checked the text and (as always) you’re correct. ‘Gronw laboured over making the spear, and a year and a day from that very day it was ready’. I’d never thought of the poison resulting from the spear being made ‘during on mass on Sunday’ before. Do you think this may be related to an older tradition of weapons being forged at a liminal time and this giving them magical qualities? I’m personally more inclined to see Gronw, as a hunter, to be identified with Pen Annwn than Gofannon – a smith, but it’s an interesting interpretation and equally compelling. The way the story tells itself to me Gronw went to Gofannon to forge him a spear. But I guess there were probably as many tales as tellers and tellings and the roles of the characters have probably always been shifting…

      • wintercoast says:

        Love these musings and research, thanks for sharing it!

        I have a question to Gronw and his identification with Gofannon, which is perhaps ancillary to the story told here.

        What about the relatively common theory that Gronw is another aspect of Lleu, suggesting that he serves as a death-and-rebirth deity who has to sacrifice himself to gain greater wisdom, a la Odin with whom he’s often compared?

        This might elucidate a bit of the relationship between Odin and Tyr in comparison to Lludd and Llefelys/Nudd & Lleu/Nodens & Lugus/Nuada and Lugh. Tyr is of course a derivative of Proto-Indo-European Dyeus Pater, who shows up in the Rig Vedas with that same name, as Zeus Pater in the Greek, Jupiter in the Roman, and as Dis Pater in the Gallo-Roman records, who may well be one the same as Sucellus, another smith, warrior, and psychopomp (perhaps even with the more mysterious Cernunnos). There’s a pretty establish mirror of Dis Pater/Brigantia/Ogmios in the Gaulish with Dagda/Brighid/Oghma, and there are reasons to believe that In Dagda and Nuada might have been the same person (or at least, with Nechtan, who is also considered one the same as Nuada). Of course Nuada/Nudd/Nechtan are all etymologically equivalent to Neptune in the Roman and Apam Napat in the Rig Vedic, suggesting that the Greek trinity of brothers Zeus/Poseidon/Hades might have been just one god in the beginning – Sky father and thus thunderer and thus rain god and thus water god, but also psychopomp and master of the khthonic. There’s good reasons to believe that Hades overlaps with both Zeus and Poseidon – we have Dionysus Zagreus as the son of a Khthonic death-and-rebirth Zeus OR the son of Underworld Lord Hades or the son of Sky Father Zeus; meanwhile Poseidon is equally known for his command of earthquakes and the khthonic realm, which makes sense from a Brythonic point of view, where Annwfn may be a either a fairyland or a land of the dead (or both), and may be beyond the limnal pools and lakes, or far out to sea, or beneath the ancient hills in tombs build by the ancients.

        Circling back to Gofannon, though, it’s worth considering Indo-European Perkwunos, and the possibility that this is an epithet for Dyeus Pater, which later was considered a separate entity, perhaps one the son of the other. To that end, we’d have Thor son of Odin, Pryderi son of Pwyll Pendaran (Taranis), some even speak to Lleu and Gwydion perhaps as facets of an earlier Belgic Lugus split into father and son (might explain how Lludd and Llefelys are siblings but Nudd is son of Beli Mawr while Lleu is Beli’s grandson via Gwydion and/or Arianrhod). To that end, Gofannion seems to share some commonalities Sucellus, Dis Pater, In Dagda, and yes, Nodons. The cauldron, the smithcraft, the warrior function, the fisherman function, the psychopompic function, these all seem to be mirrored in some capacity between these different deities.

        It could be that the Plant Dôn were greatly expanded over the centuries of story telling and the variations in stories told from one Brythonic clan to the next, or perhaps the split goes back further to continental Belgic or Gaulish traditions. In either case, perhaps we have a split of Lugus and “Dis Pater,” which then splits again into roles that represent different story functions. Dylan’s own aquatic role echoes that of the Salmon of Knowledge, so perhaps we have the killing of Dylan by Gofannion a mirror of the killing of Lleu by Gronw, and perhaps this speaks to this collection of deities in a death and rebirth role, with the uncle/brother/father serving in a psychopomp/winter role and the rebirth reflecting the ultimate returning of the sun.

        These could, of course, instead reflect conflation of unrelated deities, or adopting of stories of these deities that broke away many generations earlier, only to recombine in new ways. But I think it’s worth musing on, at least.

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