Over the next month, on Land Sea Sky Travel, in the Corvids and Cauldrons chatroom, Vyviane Armstrong, Thornsilver Hollysong, Bryan Hewitt, and I are going to be hosting a series of meetings titled Tylwyth Gwyn. In them we are going to be exploring and deepening our devotional relationships with the Brythonic deity Gwyn ap Nudd and his family through shared devotions, practices such as meditations, and discussions of gnosis.
Thurs 4th Feb 2.30pm EST / 7.30pm GMT – Gwyn ap Nudd
Thurs 11th Feb 2.30pm EST / 7.30pm GMT – Creiddylad
Thurs 18th Feb 2.30pm EST / 7.30pm GMT – Nodens/Nudd
Thurs 25th Feb 2.30pm EST / 7.30pm GMT – Anrhuna
These meetings are free and everybody is welcome. You can join by the Zoom link HERE.
*This image is an illustration from Y Tylwyth Teg (1935) and pictures a man brought before the Fairy King (Gwyn).
This is an image I was inspired to draw of the King and Queen of Annwn as Bone Wolf and Bone Mare – a guise Gwyn ap Nudd and Creiddylad/Rhiannon have been appearing to me in this winter, a time of revelation, as so many things have been stripped bare.
“On an island lives the King of Annwn with a mysterious woman and no-one knows whether she is his sister, his beloved, his wife, his queen, or his daughter.”
These were words gifted to me at the beginning of a drumming journey that I undertook with the guidance of my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, a King of Annwn/Faerie, after asking him about the links I have intuited between his sister and beloved, Creiddylad, the mare goddess, Rhiannon, and the mother goddess, Modron.
There is little written about Creiddylad, but we know, like Rhiannon, she is a Queen of Annwn. As I have got to know her Creiddylad has revealed she is also associated with roses and horses. One of her names is ‘First Rose’ and she rides and takes the form of a white winged horse. Parallels exist between Rhiannon giving birth to Pryderi and him disappearing the same night as a foal is captured by a monstrous claw and Modron giving birth to Mabon, who is stolen away when he is three nights old. Whilst Creiddylad and Rhiannon are consorts of the King of Annwn, Modron is his daugher.
My journey resulted in the series of visions recorded in my poem ‘The Baby’s Gone’. My gnosis suggests Creiddylad, Rhiannon, and Modron are the same goddess with shifting identities.
Further, in the ‘Rose Queen Triptych’ I was inspired to draw, Creiddylad, ‘The Rose Maiden’, shifts into Rhiannon, ‘The Rose Queen’, then into the Mari Llwyd, ‘The Bone Mare’.
This didn’t come as a great surprise as I had similar experiences with Gwyn. When I first came to polytheism about ten years ago I regarded myself to be a hard polytheist (someone who believes the gods are real individual persons) as opposed to a soft polytheist (someone who believes the gods are aspects of a single god or goddess or psychological archetypes). I still stand by that belief, however, it has become a lot more fluid.
One of the defining characteristics of the gods across cultures is that individual deities have many names and titles. A prime example is the Norse god, Odin. Over forty of his names are recorded in The Poetic Edda alone and he is known by many more in other texts. The Greek goddess, Demeter, possesses several epithets such as aganippe ‘night mare’ and chloe ‘the green shoot’.
Gwyn first revealed himself to me by that name as the King of Annwn/Faerie in 2012. After our initial meeting I made my main focus the myths in which he is known as Gwyn but swiftly found he lay behind a number of our Fairy King and Wild Huntsman legends in Lancashire and my past experiences with the fay and the faerie realm.
My experience of dedicating myself to Gwyn at the cauldron-like White Spring beneath Glastonbury Tor confirmed the links I had made between Gwyn feasting on Glastonbury Tor in The Life of St Collen and Pen Annwn presiding over a mead-feast with his cauldron were correct.
I was far more cautious about equating Gwyn with other Kings of Annwn. However, as I worked with the myths, intuiting the similarities between Gwyn and Arawn, both of whom are huntsmen who preside over otherworldly feasts, have beautiful brides, and fight a seasonal battle against a summer god each year, I found myself inhabiting their overlapping tales.
In one instance, in a dream, I was thrust into the role of Pwyll, who took the identity of Arawn in Annwn and had to fight Arawn’s battle, in Arawn’s form, against his rival, Hafgan. Only, in my dream I was taking the role of Gwyn and was preparing to battle against Gwythyr. This resulted in my poem ‘If I Had To Fight Your Battle’. In another, as I was walking my local landscape in winter, I felt for a moment like Arawn-as-Pwyll making a circuit of a thiswordly kingdom, only my identity became conjoined, instead, with Gwyn’s as Winter’s King. Again, I recorded my experience in a poem: ‘Winter Kingdom’. To me this proves Gwyn ‘White’ and Arawn (whose name a translation has not been agreed on) are names or titles of the same god who has shifting identities across time and place.
Similar experiences from intuiting links in the myths and being gifted with poems and visions have led me to believe the King of Annwn goes by many other names. These include Afallach, the Apple King who presides over Avalon and Melwas who shares similar associations with Glastonbury, Llwyd ‘Grey’ who puts an enchantment on the land and abducts Rhiannon and Pryderi in The Mabinogion, Brenin Llwyd, ‘The Grey King’ who haunts the misty Snowdonian mountains, Ugnach, a figure with ‘white hounds’ and ‘great horns’ whose otherworld feast Taliesin refuses to attend, and Ogyrven the Giant, who presides over the spirits of inspiration.
Additionally, the King of Annwn spoke to me directly of his shifting identities in this poem:
I speak from the infinite joining of the circle as the snake bites its tail
the moment of awen in every always of the universe
the sea behind the sea the land behind the land the sun behind the sun.
I come from many deaths. From many deaths I am reborn.
Dis, Vindonnus, Vindos, Llwyd, Brenin Llwyd, Arawn, Ugnach, Melwas, Ogyrven.
Across the sea I am Finn. For tonight I am Gwyn.
Thus it is unsurprising his consort, the Queen of Annwn, has many shifting identities too.
Interestingly, when I was involved with Dun Brython, it was very much Rhiannon/Rigantona who brought the group together in the beginning and I came later as a devotee of Gwyn. One of the other members also had a strong relationship with Gwyn and it was member Greg Hill’s translations of poems featuring Ogyrven and Ugnach that helped me decipher the aforementioned connections. When Greg and I set up the Awen ac Awenydd group many other Gwyn devotees were drawn to it and the King and Queen of Annwn feel very central to the Brythonic tradition in the modern day.
Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ appears in the medieval Welsh story Culhwch and Olwen as the rival of Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ for the love of Creiddylad ‘Heart’s Desire’. That he is a fitting opponent for Gwyn and consort for Creiddylad, who are the son and daughter of the ancient British god Lludd/Nudd/Nodens, suggests he is also an important British deity.
Strip away the Christian veneer from Culhwch and Olwen and we have a story in which Gwyn (Winter’s King) and Gwythyr (Summer’s King) battle for Creiddylad (a fertility goddess). On Nos Galan Gaeaf, Winter’s Eve, Gwyn abducts Creiddylad to Annwn* and Gwythyr rides to Annwn and attempts to rescue her and is imprisoned. The abduction of Creiddylad and imprisonment of Gwythyr explain the coming of winter. On Calan Mai, the First Day of Summer, Gwythyr battles Gwyn for Creiddylad, wins, and she returns with him to Thisworld and together they bring fertility to the land. This explains the coming of summer. Gwyn and Gwythyr may earlier have been seen to slay one another on Nos Galan Gaeaf and Calan Mai and take it in turns to enter a sacred marriage with Creiddylad, who acted as a powerful sovereignty figure rather than just a maiden to be fought over.
It is clear from this tale that Gwythyr is our ancient British god of summer. In another episode in Culhwch and Olwen we catch a glimpse of Gwythyr’s associations with fire and sunshine. As he is walking over a mountain he hears ‘weeping and wailing’ and sees its source is a burning anthill. He cuts the anthill off at ground level and rescues the ants from the blaze. We do not know what caused the fire. Did their nest, which ants orientate toward the sun, a little like solar panels, in a summer day, absorb too much heat? Or was the fire caused by Gwythyr’s scorching feet? We have seen that one translation of his father’s name, Greidol, is Scorcher, and we know wildfires break out in the summer. Here we see the dangers of fire and the sun and Gwythyr’s attempt at remediation.
The ants go on to help Gwythyr to gather nine hestors of flax seed which was sown in ‘tilled red soil’, in a field that has remained barren, so it can be ploughed into a new field, to provide the linen for Olwen’s veil in preparation for her marriage to Culhwch. It is possible to read Gwythyr’s association with seed being linked to the ‘male’ side of fertility and with doing the groundwork for the arrival of summer for his bride, Creiddylad, might also require a linen veil for her wedding dress.
The ancient Britons used fire to clear the forest to plant hazel trees and wildfires bring about new growth – in Gwythyr’s associations with fire and seed we find these processes.
These stories show that Gwythyr is a god of summer, fire, and generation in Thisworld who is opposed to Gwyn, a god of winter, ice, and the destructive forces of Annwn, the Otherworld. On the surface one is a bringer of life and the other a bringer of death yet their relationship is one of interdependence. It is necessary they take it in turns to enter a sacred marriage with Creiddylad as an eternal summer or an endless winter would have equally deadly consequences for both worlds.
As Gwythyr’s story was passed on through the oral tradition he and his father were depicted as allying with Arthur against Gwyn and the ‘demons’ of Annwn and playing a role in their demise. Thus Gwythyr is associated with other culture gods like Amaethon, the Divine Ploughman, and Gofannon, the Divine Smith, who help the Christian king to civilise the wild and shut out the Annuvian.
This process may be traced back to the Neolithic revolution when farming began to replace the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the cultivation of seed hunting and foraging, the grain god (Gwythyr) the hunter (Gwyn). Christians did their best to eliminate the veneration of Gwyn by depicting him and his spirits as demons yet they continued to be loved in folk culture as the fairies and their king.
The stories of Gwythyr, by name, did not survive in the folk tradition, but it possible to find a likeness between him and other grain gods** who die a ritual death at the end of the harvest – when Gwyn, the harvester of souls, reaps down his rival and Gwythyr and the seed return to Annwn.
From the Neolithic period our society as a whole has favoured Gwythyr over Gwyn. We have created an eternal summer with the fire of Gwythyr in the engines of industry creating a society in which the cold and darkness of winter has been eliminated by electric lighting and central heating. Crops grow all year round under artificial lights. This has unsurprisingly led to global heating, to the climate crisis, to the scorching fires on Winter Hill where I perceive Gwythyr battling his rival. Ironically, and tellingly, these two great gods and the great goddess they battle for have been forgotten.
Yet, slowly, the worship of Gwyn and Creiddylad is reviving amongst modern polytheists. I know few who venerate Gwythyr and believe this is because his stories have been subsumed by those of other grain gods. This is a shame, for Gwythyr’s stories contain deep wisdom relating how fire, sun, summer and seed have played a role in the climate crisis from a polytheist perspective.
As a devotee of Gwyn, committed to the otherside, to the Annuvian, to redressing the balance, Gwythyr is a god whose powers I acknowledge through the summer and during the harvest period although I do not worship him. I would be interested to hear how and whether other polytheists relate to Gwythyr at this time.
*Annwn has been translated as ‘the Deep’ and the ‘Not-World’ and is the medieval Welsh Otherworld or Underworld. **Such as Lleu Llaw Gyffes/Lugus and John Barleycorn.
will you depart to the land of the dead to sleep in your cold castle in Annwn?
The seasons must turn.
My battle must commence and my death-blow must be struck.
Yet when I die you will see my ghost and when I sleep I will sleepwalk.
Many will see the wolf of my soul.
Through these days of plague I will guide the dead.
This poem is addressed to my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, on Calan Mai. Today Gwyn (Winter’s King) battles against Gwythyr (Summer’s King) for Creiddylad, a goddess of spring and flowers, and is destined to lose and return to sleep in the Castle of Cold Stone, in Annwn.
Creiddylad most majestic maiden in the Islands of Britain, let me know your majesty
in this garden
on my knees two hands clasped together on this trowel making offerings of water
amongst flowers where you walk unveiled, stunning, bees dancing around you.
Let me be your bee!
Feed me when I’m hungry. When I fall exhausted pick me up gently
and I will make the sweetest honey.
“Stay here in this garden,” my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, advised me a week before the lockdown. A couple of days before my conservation internship was cancelled and, like many, I was rendered jobless.
We’ve been on lockdown in the UK for over a fortnight now and how I’ve to-and-froed, some days accepting this advice and, on others, after reading the news, wishing I was doing something more important, more heroic, than shopping and cleaning for my parents, tending the garden, doing my best to find the focus to pray, meditate, spend time in devotion to my gods, and to write for my supporters.
My main battle has been against feelings of guilt and uselessness caused by my awareness of the utter contrast between my easy life, touched by the bliss of the spring sun, and the hell that the nurses and doctors are going through on the front line, risking their lives fighting for the lives of others. The risks taken by the funeral services. The chaos and stress faced by supermarket staff. Our dependence on the long hours and monotonous work of fruit and veg pickers usually imported from abroad.
I’ve thought of applying for, have actually applied for, some of these jobs (which may have necessitated moving out of my parent’s house so I do not put them at risk), but nothing has come of it.
“Stay here in this garden.” I accept the gods have their reasons when the Blasted Oak, spelling disaster, appears in a tarot reading on what will happen if I take a veg picking job.
And deep within I know if I took any of the above jobs I’d likely get physically or mentally ill. That there is something fundamentally wrong with this industrialised and militarised system that keeps comparing the ‘fight’ against this virus with the Second World War and tries to inspire a wartime ethos.
And so I tend my parents’ garden, cutting back years of overgrowth, clearing the paths, weeding amongst the many beautiful flowers that already grow here – hyacinths, daffodils, bluebells, honesty. And the shrubs and trees – apple, pear, rose, quince, camelia. Watering the raspberry canes. Sowing herb and lettuce seeds in troughs and veg seeds – carrot, turnip, onion, cauliflower, broccoli – in the soil.
And somewhere along the way it enters my mind this is ‘Creiddylad’s Garden’. And once the thought has entered it will not leave. I come to see the face of Creiddylad, ‘the most majestic maiden in the islands of Britain’, one of our Brythonic goddesses of flowers and spring, in each flower.
Creiddylad is a sovereignty deity who walks between worlds and lovers. This ‘majestic maiden’ is truly a majesty, a Queen, the lifeforce of nature who inspires great awe in her worshippers and the male deities, Gwyn and Gwythyr, Kings of Winter and Summer, who fight for her every Calan Mai.
Through the Winter she dwells with Gwyn, in the Otherworld, as Annwn’s Queen. In the Summer, with Gwythyr, she is May Queen, a great sovereign in Thisworld, revealing herself slowly flower by flower.
In Creiddylad’s contrary nature I find a better understanding of my own pulls between darkness and light, Thisworld and Otherworld. There is a part of me that wants to walk with Gwyn, a warrior and psychopomp, facing death, disease and sorrow. And at the same time an awareness he and other humans do this so the rest of us can appreciate the flowers and the sunlight and the lives that are our gifts.
It sometimes seems easier, more worthy, to embrace pain than pleasure. Why? I do not know. Only that in Annwn the sadness of the dead is transformed into great beauty and joy, and it this is that Creiddylad brings with her when walks from the Otherworld, into the light, and embraces Gwythyr.
Many of the flowers in my garden speak of similar myths through the correlates of other cultures. The narcissus, or the daffodil, was the plant Persephone was picking before Hades took her to… Hades. The hyacinth was born from the blood of Hyacinth, the lover of Apollo, killed by his rival Zephyrus, and its beautiful petals are inscribed with ‘AI AI’ ‘Alas’. Lungwort’s petals turn from pink to blue as the flowers are pollinated, edging toward death, like flesh, or deoxygenated blood.
Nature and myth, death and life, Thisworld and Otherworld, are deeply intertwined in Creiddylad’s garden. A place where I work slowly, contemplating the mysteries, where I meet flowers, goddess, gods. It seems they don’t want me to be a hero but instead a small suburban bee offering a taste of Creiddylad’s honey.