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.

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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.

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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.

You Read of a Smith

who made a pact with the devil
know little of how the story began
or what it implies when he sees the huntsman
galloping out of the fog on a cold dark October night.

You see the sweat dripping from his forehead sizzling
in the flames and are unable to tell what passes
between those dark brows when he sees
the horse he always shoes is lame,
its rider tired, shrouded by desperation,
yet still quiet-spoken when he makes his request
for shoes for running further faster between the worlds
to hunt down something that isn’t dead yet but isn’t living either.

You see the smith shiver as if ice has been dropped down his back
but not waver as he pumps the bellows, heats the furnace,
fires the steel, raises his hammer tries to imagine
what he is shoeing is only a hoof with wall,
toe, sole, tough and sensitive parts,
that this creature might be able to feel,
tries not to count the hooves that keep his forge ablaze all night
as the arched neck towers over him and the eyes flicker and glow.

Instead of counting his heartbeat he counts the beat of his hammer
which steeled his will during his ordeal in the fires that burn
like ice beyond good and evil, where he is working now,
face reddened, straining every muscle, engulfed
in the pain and ecstasy of creation for…
he will only ponder when there is nought but ashes
and hoof prints leading to where he, lame, cannot wander.
To where the stories you have read have come to an end and beyond.

*This poem is a Brythonic retelling of the traditional folkloric tale of a smith shoeing a horse for the devil. It features the smith-god, Gofannon, shoeing Du y Moroedd ‘The Black of the Seas’ for Gwyn ap Nudd. Gwyn is a ruler of Annwn, the Otherworld, and was equated with the devil. He rides out with his hunt to gather the souls of the dead on Nos Galan Gaeaf.

**Image ‘Man Shoeing a Horse’ by Jonathon Bean on Unsplash

Caledfwlch

He got up with Arthur’s sword in his hand and the image of two golden serpents on the sword. When the sword was drawn from the sheath, it was like seeing two flames of fire from the serpents’ jaws. And it was not easy for anyone to look at that, because it was so terrifying.’
Rhonabwy’s Dream

On the edge of Celyddon two serpents
danced, ziz-zag bodies tumbling, twining, jaws
bared, jets of fire
hissing from their sword-
like tongues as they rose and fell in terrifying
splendour beneath the golden

sun competing for the favour of a golden-
eyed female. Arthur followed the serpents’
tracks to behold the terrifying
sight. His jaw
dropped as their sword-
like bodies intertwined in deadly combat; fiery

and tempestuous as the fires
of Hell. From the burning undergrowth a golden
lizard scurried to avoid their sword-
play – a flash in a serpents’
eye before jaws
closed over him and a terrifying

darkness. Remembering the terrifying
battle between gods of ice and fire;
Flame-Lipped and Wolf-Jaws,
white and golden-
haired interlocking like serpents
wielding flaming and ice-rimmed swords,

Arthur decided he wanted a sword:
sharp-edged, cloud-lit, to tame those terrifying
rivals. He grasped the serpents,
hissing and spitting fire
in his golden
gauntleted hands beneath their jaws,

took them to the forge of anvil-jawed
Gofannon. “I want a sword
of purest gold,
beaten into the most terrifying
form; living, breathing two flames of fire,
harnessing the strength of these struggling serpents.”

Gofannon plunged the serpents, flickering-eyed, wide-jawed,
into his fire, skins sloughing, blackening, goldening,
intertwining as one terrifying sword.

Caledfwlch

*This is one of the poems that didn’t make it into Gatherer of Souls, but relates to the theme of Gwyn’s opposition to Arthur. The form I have used is the sestina.