Nos Galan Gaeaf and the Beast with the Fiery Halo

It’s Nos Galan Gaeaf. The night before the first day of winter. An ysbrydnos – ‘a spirit night’. Unlike its counterbalance, Nos Galan Mai, when monsters are slain and dragons calmed this is a night when the ysbrydion Annwn ‘spirits of the Otherworld’ walk abroad at the height of their power.

There is a monster amongst us, COVID-19, the Beast with the Fiery Halo. To represent it as such is in keeping with the traditions of many generations of ancestors who perceived diseases to be caused by malevolent beings, before science and technology revealed they are caused by micro-organisms. From an animistic standpoint, wherein all things are alive and have personhood, these views are not incompatible.

In ‘Hanes Taliesin’ the illustrious bard predicted the death of Maelgwn Gwynedd at the hands of ‘A most strange creature… His hair, his teeth, and his eyes being as gold.’ Maelgwn died after seeing Y Vat Velen, ‘The Yellow Plague’, through the keyhole in the church of Llan Rhos where he was ‘self isolating’.

Malaria, once known as the ague, took the form of a hag. Yr Hen Wrach, ‘The Old Hag’, was a seven foot woman who haunted Cors Fochno, Borth Bog. Her nocturnal visitations caused people to wake with the shakes. Samuel Taylor Coleridge later spoke of ‘the ghastly Dam, / Fev’rish yet freezing, eager paced yet slow, / As she that creeps from forth her swampy reeds, / Ague, the biform Hag!’

Nos Galan Gaeaf is a night when the veil of mist that separates the worlds is thin and the living may commune with the dead and the spirits of Annwn, some of whom we can name, and some whom are beyond categorisation. It is a time for telling stories in which otherworldly beings appear to haunt us and in which journeys to the Otherworld made. There is usually a dispelling or a safe return.

If we had a story about the Beast with the Fiery Halo it might go something like this. Many years ago our ancestors tried to build a world that was very much like the Otherworld, in which there was no want of food, or drink, or light, or heat, where no-one was cold, where no-one went hungry.

And that world was built at a great cost. The land was despoiled by mining and building. The air was polluted by fumes, which caused the temperature to rise. This led to the perishing of millions of trees, plants, animals, fish, and insects and to most of our ancestors living in servitude to the rulers who took power over the resources and machines that made this life possible. To depart from the system and the virtual world created by its technologies meant loneliness and ignominy, and at worst, death.

Most people accepted the cost, whether or not they were happy working at the machines, and turned a blind eye to the despoiling of the natural world because it was the only way to feed their families. Some did not. Some fought for change by protesting on the streets and others created nature reserves and planted trees and wildflowers and started growing their own food as an alternative.

Some prayed, to God, to the old gods, to Mother Earth, to Old Mother Universe, for something that would bring this system to an end. As if in answer to this prayer (and monsters are wily) appeared a beast the size of a sky scraper with limbs of countless animals, bent and twisted, as if trapped in a cage. Its lungs heaved phlegmatically in its scarred and hairy chest. Its many eyes were red and its mouths were gaping holes. Around its head was a blazing halo that burnt without burning the beast.

Like so many of the monsters in our myths it did not have a voice. It did not strike a bargain. It just came silently in the depths of winter and started taking the lives of our oldest most vulnerable people.

Protecting them came at a great cost: maintaining a distance from our friends and family, working less, travelling less, shopping less, to the benefit of the natural world and the detriment of our freedom. Our dependency on the rulers for financial support and the machines connecting us grew.

It felt like the unspoken bargain was this: ‘The lives of your old ones or your lives as you know them.’

Towards the end of summer we saw light shining through our prison bars. Although we all knew we had not defeated the monster we thought our sacrifices had kept it at bay. We dared to hope things might return to ‘normal’ but, as our liberties were restored, the monster took advantage. As winter approached, we saw the light was not sunlight, but the beast’s fiery halo, its triumphal crown.

The death toll is rising again. We are not at the end of the story but in media res, at the ‘crisis’, a Middle English term ‘denoting the turning point of a disease’ which is derived from medical Latin and dates back to the Greek krisis ‘decision’ and krinein ‘decide’. It’s decision time.

It’s as if we’re in a ‘choose your own ending’ book but the endings haven’t yet been written. We can only imagine them, happy or sad, tragic or comedic, apocalyptic or redeeming, guess there may be a twist.

Tonight the light of the blue moon is eclipsed by the beast’s fiery halo burning brighter than bright.

Nos Galan Gaeaf is a night on which, as a Brythonic polytheist devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd, I pray to him as the god who holds back the fury of the spirits of Annwn to prevent their destruction of the world and takes the souls of the lost and the angry dead to the Otherworld.

Countless times I have wondered why he has not held the beast back. Is it because he cannot or he will not? Is it because we are destroying the world? Because we too are monstrous?

We might consider that ‘monster’ originates from the Latin monstrum ‘to reveal’ or ‘to foretell’. Nos Galan Gaeaf, when Gwyn may be implored to part the mists of time, is a time for divination, for monstrous truths to be revealed and upon them our decisions based.

~

Gwyn ap Nudd

Starry Hunter in the Darkness
guide us through these nights of fear.

Midnight Rider on the Storm of Madness
teach us to ride these nights of tears.

Wise Warrior who guards the Cauldron
by the light of the blue moon

lead the living to deeper wisdom
and the dead back to Annwn.

On Producing Monsters

In May I began work on a new mythic book which developed the working title The Dragon’s Tongue. In it I set out on an ambitious project to weave together a narrative about the formation and ordering of the world from a struggle between the Brythonic culture gods against the deities and monsters of Annwn.

It was woven from my personal intuitions about links between Anrhuna, a Brythonic dragon goddess* and the mother with Nodens/Nudd of Vindos/Gwyn and Kraideti/Creiddylad and Tiamat in Enuma Elish and the slaying of Tiamat and her monster-serpents by the culture hero, Marduk, and the battles between the giants and monsters of the otherworld and the Tuatha Dé Danann/Children of Don in ‘The Battle of Moytura’ and ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in the Irish and Welsh myths.

In the first section ‘Anrhuna and Nodens’ I told the story of the creation of the universe from the crochan – cauldron or womb – of Ceridwen, Old Mother Universe, and of how Anrhuna slipped into Annwn ‘the Deep’ and gave birth to dragon-children who departed to shape worlds including ours.

The Old Mother birthed Bel and Don and from their union came Nodens, Uidianos/Gwydion, Brigantia, Ambactonos/Amaethon, Gobannos/Gofannon, and Aryanrou/Arianrhod. When these deities desired to bring order to the chaos of our world, ruled by dragons, Nodens went to negotiate with them, fell in love with Anrhuna, and this resulted in the birth of Vindos and Kraideti.

When Nodens failed to return his kindred made war against him and the dragons and Lugus/Lleu, who was begotten on Aryanrou by Uidianos by magic, slew Anrhuna, and her nine heads were bound on the Towers of the Wyrms. This resulted in the weakening and binding of the dragons of the world and the imprisonment of the giants (early children of the Old Mother) in their own fortresses.

In the second section ‘Vindos and Kraideti’ the children watched the defeat of their father and slaughter of their mother from the secret place where Nodens had hidden them and Vindos vowed to take vengeance. The pair rescued their mother’s womb from where it had been taken after her death by the winged serpents at the cost of Kraideti sacrificing her own womb in exchange, leaving her infertile.

From her womb Anrhuna was reborn as Matrona and she married Nodens and they brought life to the world. The rest of this section covered how Kraideti came into her power as a fertility goddess and Vindos as a god of the dead and ruler of Annwn and his battle with Graidos/Gwythyr for Kraideti. This resulted in a strange marriage between the three of them. An added twist was that, whilst Kraideti could not give birth to children in this world, in Annwn her womb gave birth to monsters.

In the third section ‘Lugus the Giant Slayer’ I told of release of the giants from imprisonment in their fortresses after the Ice Age and their alliance with Vindos. Uidianos, Lugus, and their kindred came to battle against the giants and Vindos and the monsters of Annwn who were defeated. Yet Vindos finally gained vengeance on Lugus by seducing his wife and mortally wounding him with a poisoned spear, which led to the scene of his epiphany in eagle form on the oak in the Fourth Branch.

I completed the fourth section ‘The Knowledge of Uidianos’ and the fifth section ‘The Black Dragon’ on the first draft but found there were too many problems with the first three sections to make it worth returning to these on the second draft. Plus… I don’t want to give away all my secrets yet…

My main result, to date, is a second draft of the first three sections that is 50,000 words long. I completed this at the beginning of August and have since been reflecting on it – weighing it both against the existing myths and my personal experiences with the deities whose myths I have retold. I also sent it out to my patrons and have had five sets of feedback, which have been invaluable.

My main problem has been with misfits between the story of Lugus, reconstructed from the stories of Lleu in the Welsh myths and Lugh in the Irish myths, and my version of the slaying of Anrhuna and the giants. Having recently returned to re-read the original sources the meaning at the core of the story of Lugus is that the giant he slays is his grandfather, which is an important element missing from my myth. I believe this can be worked, possibly for the better, by having Lugus opposed to Bel. I’m not sure how this would fit with his slaying of Anrhuna or his rivalry with Vindos yet though.

Whilst I have had positive feedback about the primordial power and significance of Anrhuna as a Dragon Mother, who gives birth not only to dragons and monster-serpents the monsters of Annwn, I don’t feel I’ve got her death scene right yet. I not sure she was really slain by Lugus. Or if she was slain at all. For she is very much alive to me in the here and now (something I got round in the book by having the Spirit of Anrhuna tutor Vindos and raise him to the position of King of Annwn).

Another problem I encountered was in my depiction of Anrhuna giving birth to monsters. There is a fundamental difference between viviparity (live birth) and oviparity (egg laying). If she is a dragon, and hence reptilian, would she not be laying eggs rather than giving birth? However I hazarded this could be set aside as I’m working with myth, which contains births from heads and thighs, not biology.

I also wondered whether my story about Kraideti giving up her womb and it birthing monsters in Annwn was a subconscious reflection of my choice not to have real children but to dedicate my life to creativity. In particular to giving voice to the gods and monsters of Annwn whose stories are untold.

Whilst I was reflecting on this Goya’s painting and its title ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ kept popping into my head and it felt like a fitting phrase summarising my decision when I set out to write the first draft of eschewing critical reflection and allowing the awen to flow wherever it willed at the outset.

I produced a lot of monsters. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It also fits with stories about monstrous births in the Welsh myths. Some are only hinted at. Goleuddydd gives birth to Culhwch ‘Slender Piglet’. Rhiannon, a Queen of Annwn, is punished for suspected cannibalism of her own son who like his mother, the Mare Goddess, may have taken the form of a foal.

Some are more explicit. The brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are forced to shapeshift into male and female animals and together they give birth to a deer, a boar, and a wolf, ‘three hideous sons’. Henwen, the White Sow, births a grain of wheat, a bee, a wolf, an eaglet and the monstrous Cath Palug.

Whilst I am in no way happy with the second draft and am aware I have a lot more reading and reflection ahead I have experienced a number of gains from the process. Firstly I have proved to myself that when I am immersed in something I am capable of working on it almost every hour of the day from when I get up at 5am until I go to bed 9pm and of producing 50,000 words that fit together by their own internal logic within three months.

Secondly, whilst I set out to write a personal myth due to my fears about being unable to write on the Brythonic tradition due to insecurities caused by the debates around cultural appropriation, I’ve found working through the problems with this approach has taken me back to the original sources and deeper. I’ve experienced feelings of acceptance by the family of Bel and Don as I share their stories, this has enlivened my awenydd path, and I’ve started learning Welsh again after a six month hiatus.

Thirdly, my writing of Creiddylad/Kraideti’s story along with personal experiences with her as a goddess of flowers this year in my garden has filled in a black hole in my personal mythos. For a long time I have been aware of the absence of Rhiannon by that name as a horse goddess who I’ve paradoxically felt is very much with me as my white winged mare and the horses who haunt my dreams.

Creiddylad’s revelation of her epithet ‘First Rose’ and her appearance to me riding a white winged mare in association with the moon have suggested she may be identical with Rhiannon. This would fit with both of them being Queens of Annwn who I have perceived giving monstrous births.

This opens the possibility and perhaps the necessity of incorporating material about Gwyn/Arawn and Creiddylad/Rhiannon and their son from the other branches of The Mabinogi into my book. It is implicit that Arawn is the otherworld father of Pryderi in the First Branch and Pryderi’s slaying by Gwydion would certainly provide added meaning to the conflict between Uidianos/Gwydion and Vindos/Gwyn/Arawn.

So this is where I am right now. On the brink of reason, pondering, if not producing monsters. If you would like to hear more about my creative processes, have access to unseen work from my drafts, and play a part in my creations by giving feedback, please consider becoming a patron HERE.

*Anrhuna is not known from existing sources but she has revealed herself to me within my landscape and in the iconography surrounding Nodens/Nudd/Lludd – in a mosaic of sea serpents with intertwined necks from the temple at Lydney and Lludd’s associations with two dragons.

Monsters of the Mere

In Beowulf, after the protagonist has defeated the monstrous Grendel in the hall of Heorot, he travels beyond the safety of its walls to the mere from which the monsters come to slay Grendel’s mother.

Beforehand, Hrothgar, King of the Danes, whose hall Beowulf is defending, describes ‘the haunted mere’:

‘a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere-bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.’

When Beowulf and his warriors arrive they find:

‘… The water was infested
with all kinds of reptiles. There were writhing sea-dragons
and monsters slouching on slopes of the cliff,
serpents and wild things…’

These quotes reflect a view of the wild land beyond the hall as uncanny and peopled by monsters. Beowulf is set in sixth century Scandinavia, but was composed in East Anglia during the seventh century and written down in the tenth century. I believe it was popular amongst the Anglo-Saxons due to the similarities between the landscapes and beliefs in Scandinavia and England.

Grendel is described as a ‘dark death shadow / who lurked and swooped in the long nights / on the misty moors’. The ‘shadow-stalker’ comes ‘In off the moors, down through the mist bands… greedily loping’. His mother is a ‘monstrous hell-bride’, a ‘hell-dam’, a ‘swamp thing from hell’, ‘a tarn-hag in all her terrible strength’, a ‘she-wolf’, and a ‘wolf of the deep’ who lurks in the mere. We find repeated associations between monsters and an untamed landscape viewed as hellish.

No doubt the descriptions of the Danish landscape and its monsters resonated with the people of East Anglia with its extensive fenlands and lowland moors and bogs and its many meres – Trundle Mere, Whittlesey Mere, Stretham Mere, Soham Mere, Ug Mere, and Ramsey Mere, now sadly drained.

It’s likely the Anglo-Saxons and the Brythonic people whose culture they replaced here in Lancashire viewed the Region Linnuis, ‘the Lake Region’, where Martin Mere (at twenty miles in diameter once the largest lake in England), Shoricar’s Mere, Renacres Mere, Gettern Mere, and Barton Mere once lay, as similarly haunted, before they were all drained with the bogs and marshes.

In the fourteenth century Middle English story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the protagonist battles against an array of monsters as he travels north ‘into the wilderness of the Wirral’ and beyond.

‘He had death-struggles with dragons, did battle with wolves,
Warred with wild trolls that dwelt among the crags,
Battled with bulls and bears and boars at other times,
And ogres that panted after him on the high fells.’

Memories of Grendel-like monsters might be retained in Lancashire’s rich boggart lore. Boggarts are malevolent spirits who haunted the bogs then later the farmhouses when the land was drained. Some merely caused mischief, scaring children with their penny-whistle like voices, breaking pots and pans or curdling milk but others made livestock lame or ill and even killed animals and humans.

King Arthur’s Pit, on the shore of Martin Mere near Holmeswood Hall, was haunted by ‘boggarts and ghouls’. There are traditions of ‘shadowy night-time figures passing marl-pits near the old mere edge’.

Roby records the story of a ‘mermaid’ or ‘meer-woman’ abducting a baby from its natural father then leaving the child with a fisherman who gives him to a Captain Harrington to be fostered. This puts me in mind of the monstrous claw that steals a foal and, implicitly, Pryderi in the First Branch of The Mabinogion then leaves the boy in the care of Teyrnon who raises him as a foster-father.

Coupled with Martin Mere’s associations with the nymph, Vyviane, disappearing into the lake with the infant Lancelot du Lac (who is said to give his name to Lancashire) and with Arthur’s sword we might intuit these stories originate from the presence of a female water deity or monster who stole children.

During the digging of the sluice to drain Martin Mere ‘human bodies entire and uncorrupted’ were found and its seems possible they were deliberately deposited in the water. From the surrounding area we have evidence of bog burials at North Meols and, further afield, Lindow and Worsley Man. Lindow Man was sacrificed, dying a ‘three fold death’, and others may have been sacrifices to water deities.

Bog burials took place from the Bronze Age through the Romano-British period in Britain and were common across Germany and Denmark showing shared practices and beliefs surrounding wet places.

Unfortunately we do not know for certain who these sacrifices were to or how these people perceived their deities. It is clear that by the sixth century, due to the influence of Christianity, both Grendel and his mother and the wild landscape they inhabited had been heavily demonised.

This is evidenced by the Christianised explanation of the origins of these ‘fatherless creatures’ as springing from the exile of Cain for killing Abel with ‘ogres and elves and evil phantoms / and the giants too’.

The pagan beliefs of the Danes are referred to and condemned in Beowulf:

‘Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed
offerings to idols, swore oaths
that the killer of souls might come to their aid
and save the people. That was their way,
their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts
they remembered hell.’

Yet these explanations come up against the conflicting belief these ‘huge marauders’ are ‘from some other world’ and that their origin ‘hidden in a past of demons and ghosts’, defies explanation.

The grendelkin, like the later boggarts, occupy liminal places in the landscape and between the worlds. A wonderful verb, scripan, ‘meaning a sinewy and sinister gliding movement’ is used to describe the way they move and may also apply to the way they shift between the worlds. The dobbie, our northern British waterhorse, a similar kind of being, ‘is described as a big, black, horrible, misshapen thing that “slips about”’ and is ‘more likely to be seen out of the corner of the eye’.

Here, in Lancashire, the deities of the lake were not slain by a dark age ‘hero’ but met a slower, more ignominious end at the hands of the wealthy landowners who drained the mere. The first was Thomas Fleetwood who secured an Act of Parliament in 1694. He employed 2,000 workers to dig the 1.5 mile channel known as the Sluice to the coast at Crossens. His draining of the mere was completed by 1697.

Fleetwood died in 1717 and the following is written on his monument in the church in Churchtown:

‘He wished his bones to be here laid, because he made into dry and firm land the great Martinesian Marsh, by the water having been conveyed through a fosse to the neighbouring sea – a work, which, as the ancients dared not to attempt, posterity will hardly credit… These labours having been accomplished, he at length, alas! Too soon, laid down and died, on the 22nd April, A.D. 1717, in the 56th year of his age.’

Fleetwood’s success was short lived. The flow of the water was not strong enough to prevent the Sluice from silting up and the floodgates were breached leading to winter flooding. In 1778 Thomas Eccleston employed Mr. Gilbert (who built the Bridgewater Canal) to redesign and rebuild the drainage system, which again was successful for a while, until the mere was inundated by the Douglas.

So continued the cycle of rebuilding and flooding until the new pumping station at Crossens was built in 1961 which is capable of 373,000 gallons per minute and is already running to full capacity at peak times.

This leads me to wonder whether the deities of the mere and its monsters are dead or merely waiting beyond the lumbs and deeps of the mere bottom in places ‘never sounded by the sons of men’.

The Monstrous Claw

after the noise an enormous claw comes through the window, and grabs the foal by the mane. Teyrnon draws his sword and cuts off the arm at the elbow… by the door there is a small boy.’
The Second Branch

I’m just reaching out
for your foal, for your first-born son.
I like to see blood on my claws.
I like the taste although
I do not eat them.

I just want you to know
there is a hole in your reality
bigger than the sun.

That nothing is safe.

Nothing.

You are not the only one who feels terror.

I know you long for my blood –
to lick it from your blade
when you have nailed
my arm above your window.

The exchange must be complete.

You try to close the window again.

How long can I go on reaching out
when it only ends in pain?

How long can you go in dread?

Fragments of Annwn – Depths

No-One Knows

the extent of the marshland of Annwn. Some cross it in a day. For others it goes on forever like the mist that obscures the musical birds, the shriekers of the mournful shrieks, the droners of the ancient drone, the players of the carnyxes that gurgle beneath the waters. You never know what is splashing behind on countless feet until it is too late. Sometimes you get lost following the will-o-wisps like lost hopes to where all hope fails. Sometimes you make sacrifices or become the sacrifice see your bog body your ghost flying free like a lonely bird. You become an inspirer or a guide only to bring doom to the unwary. When you think you know the way you slip. When you think you have found the awen you find it escapes words, that the sigh of its name is already escaping your lungs, that breath is not yours to keep forever and must return to the gods.

Awenydd of the Marsh

“You have not yet crossed the marsh.”

No, I’ve got lost again, led round on splashing circle feet to the village where there is a wooden pole and on it a woman seated cross-legged on the head of a bull a crane with wings spread above her.

When she’s not on the pole she’s in the central hut a cord of light down the centre of her spine surrounded by worlds that flicker in and out of existence whether at her will or not I am uncertain.

I’ve never heard her speak, seen her eyes blink, perhaps she dare not for fear of unseeing the realities she holds within her gaze. She doesn’t even breathe. Without her things would fall apart.

My eyes are tired, I’m out of breath, my worlds are out of reach, and I’m missing something.

An Abandoned Sea-Dragon

A blue watery dragon is snared by a weak rusty-looking metal chain around one leg, like a ship at anchor, like an abandoned boat, where the tides come up and wash over her body then back down again. She is ridden with fleas. She is one of the dragons that have been forgotten. I know I could easily break the chain but am told that it is not the chain that binds the dragon there. She has forgotten how to leave. The knight who chained her has fled from his fear of her death. The people do not feed her. She just lingers. It’s an awful story. A terrible mess. There’s no resolution. It’s embarrassing.

elizabeth-explores-unsplash

With thanks to Elizabeth Explores on Unsplash for the image.

Signpost to Annwn: Inhabitants

mathew-schwartz-unsplash

This post begins to list the inhabitants of Annwn: deities, guardians, otherworldly animals who move between the worlds, and denizens regarded as monstrous. It’s notable that many of these Annuvian figures are opponents of Arthur and his warband who are hunted down and/or slaughtered.

Deities

The Head of Annwn

‘The cauldron of the Head of Annwn, what is its disposition
(with its) a dark trim, and pearls?’
– The Spoils of Annwn, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Arawn

‘He (Pwyll) could see a rider coming after the pack on a large dapple-grey horse, with a hunting horn round his neck, and wearing hunting clothes of a light grey material…

“Lord,” said Pwll, “good day to you. And which land do you come from?”

“From Annwfn,” he replied. “I am Arawn, king of Annwfn.’’

“Lord,” said Pwyll, “how shall I win your friendship?”

“This is how,” he replied. “A man whose territory is next to mine is forever fighting me. He is Hafgan, a king from Annwfn. By ridding me of that oppression – and you can do that easily – you will win my friendship.”

“I will do that gladly,” said Pwyll. “Tell me how I can do it.”

“I will,” he replied. “This is how: I will make a firm alliance with you. What I shall do is put you in my place in Annwfn, and give you the most beautiful woman you have ever seen to sleep with you every night, and give you my face and form so that no chamberlain nor office nor any other person who has ever served me shall know that you are not me. All this,” he said, “from tomorrow until the end of the year, and then we shall meet again in this place”…

After defeating Hafgan and resisting the temptation to sleep with Arawn’s wife, Pwyll wins Arawn’s friendship. They exchange horses, hunting-dogs, hawks, and treasures. Pwyll becomes known as ‘Pwyll Pen Annwfn’.
– The First Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl)

Gwyn ap Nudd

‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn son of Nudd is found – God has put the spirits of the demons of Annwfn in him, lest the world be destroyed. He will not be spared from there…

No steed will be of any use to Gwyn in hunting Twrch Trwyth, except Du, the steed of Moro Oerfeddog…

‘Creiddylad daughter of Llud Llaw Eraint went off with Gwythyr son of Greidol, but before he could sleep with her Gwyn son of Nudd came and took her by force. Gwythyr son of Greidol gathered a host, and came to fight against Gwyn son of Nudd, and Gwyn triumphed, and captured Graid son of Erai, and Glinneu son of Taran, and Gwrgwst Ledlwm and Dyfnarth his son. And he captured Pen son of Nethog, and Nwython, and Cyledyr Wyllt his son, and he killed Nwython and cut out his heart, and forced Cyledyr to eat his father’s heart, and because of that Cyledyr went mad. Arthur heard of this and came to the North, and summoned Gwyn son of Nudd to him, and released his noblemen from prison, and made peace between Gwyn son of Nudd and Gwythyr son of Greidol. This is the agreement that was made: the maiden was to be left in her father’s house, untouched by either party and there was to be battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr every May day forever from that day forth until Judgement Day, and the one that triumphed on Judgement Day would take the maiden.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

‘Where is the land from which you come?

I come from many battles, many deaths
With shields held aloft,
Many heads pierced by spears…

My horse is Carngrwn from battle throng
So I am called Gwyn ap Nudd
The lover of Creiddylad, daughter of Lludd.’
– The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Hill transl.)

Edern ap Nudd

‘Suddenly they heard a noise. They looked in the direction of the noise, and they could see a dwarf… a woman… close to her a knight on a great, muddy charger, with heavy, shining armour on him and his horse. And they were sure that they had never seen a man and horse and armour whose size impressed them more, and all riding close together…

Then the Knight of the Sparrowhawk was making the proclamation and asking the lady to take the sparrowhawk.

“Do not take it,” said Geraint. “There is here a maiden who is fairer and more beautiful and more noble than you, and has a better claim to it.”

Geraint spurred his horse and charged him, warning him and striking him a blow severe and keen, bloody and bold in the strongest part of his shield so that his shield splits and the armour breaks in the direction of the attack and the girths break so that he and his saddle are thrown over the horse’s crupper to the ground…

(Geraint) struck the knight on the top of his head so that all the armour on his head shatters and all the flesh splits, and the skin, and it pierces the bone and the knight falls to his knees. He throws his sword away and asks Geraint for mercy…’
– Geraint son of Erbin, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Rhiannon

‘As they were sitting, they could see a woman wearing a shining golden garment of brocaded silk on a big, tall, pale-white horse coming along the highway that ran past the mound. Anyone who saw it would think that the horse had a slow, steady pace, and it was drawing level with the mound…

He (a member of Pwyll’s court) took the horse, and off he went. He came to the open, level plain, and set spurs to the horse. And the more he spurred the horse, the further she drew away from him. She was going at the same pace as when she had started. His horse became tired; and when he realised that his horse’s pace was failing, he returned to where Pwyll was…

“Groom,” said Pwyll, “I see the rider. Give me my horse.” Pwyll mounted his horse, and no sooner had he mounted his horse than she rode past him. He turned after her, and let his spirited, prancing horse go at its own pace. And he thought that at the second leap or the third he would catch up with her. But he was no closer to her than before. He urged his horse to go as fast as possible. But he saw it was useless for him to pursue her.

Then Pwyll said, “Maiden,” he said, “for the sake of the man you love most, wait for me.”

“I will wait gladly,” she said, “and it would have been better for the horse if you had asked that a while ago!”’
– The First Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Modron

‘In Denbighshire there is a parish which is called Llanferes, and there is there Rhyd y Gyfarthfa (the Ford of Barking). In the old days the hounds of the countryside used to come together to the side of that the ford to bark, and nobody dared go to find out what was there until Urien Rheged came. And when he came to the side of the ford he saw nothing except a woman washing. And when the hounds ceased barking, and Urien sized the woman and he had his will of her; and then she said “God’s blessing on the feet which brought thee here.” “Why?” said he. “Because I have been fated to wash here until I should conceive a son by a Christian. And I am daughter to the King of Annwfn, and come thou here at the end of the year and then thou shalt recieve that boy.” And so he came and he received there a boy and a girl: that is, Owein son of Urien and Morfudd daughter of Urien.’
Peniarth MS 147, (Bromwich transl.)

Mabon

‘There is no huntsman in the world who can hunt with that dog (Drudwyn – a hound of Annwn), except Mabon son of Modron, who was taken when three nights old from his mother. No one knows where he is, nor what state he’s in, whether dead or alive…

“With every flood tide I travel up the river until I come to the bend in the wall of Caerloyw; never before in my life have I found as much wickedness as I found there. And so that you will believe me, let one of you come here on my two shoulders.”

The ones who went on the Salmon’s shoulders were Cai and Gwrhyr Ieithoedd. And they travelled until they came to the other side of the wall from the prisoner, and they could hear lamenting on the other side of the wall from them.

Gwrhyr said, “Who is lamenting in this house of stone?”

“Alas, sir, he who is here has reason to lament. It is Mabon son of Modron who is imprisoned here, and no-one has been so painfully incarcerated in a prison as I, neither the prison of Lludd Llaw Eraint nor the prison of Graid son of Eri”…

Arthur summoned the warriors of this Island and went to Caerloyw where Mabon was in prison. Cai and Bedwyr went on the shoulders of the fish. While Arthur’s warriors were attacking the fort, Cai tore through the wall and took the prisoner on his back, and fought the men as before. Arthur came home and Mabon with him, a free man.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Sovereigns

The Fisher King

‘And on the shore of the lake there was a grey-haired man sitting on a cushion of brocaded silk, and young lads fishing in a small boat on the lake. As the grey-haired man saw Peredur approaching, he got up and made for the court, and the man was lame…

“I am your uncle, your mother’s brother.” Peredur sat down next to his uncle and they talked.

Suddenly he could see two lads entering the hall, and from the hall they proceeded to a chamber, carrying a spear of huge proportions, with three streams of blood running from its socket to the floor. When everyone saw the lads coming in this way, they all began weeping and wailing sot that it was not easy for anyone to endure it. Yet the man did not interrupt his conversation with Peredur. The man did not explain to Peredur what that was, nor did Peredur ask him about it. After a short silence, suddenly two maidens entered with a large salver between them, and a man’s head on the salver, and much blood around the head…

“Lord,” said the lad,” I came in the guise of the black-haired maiden… the black-haired man… And I brought the head on the salver, all covered in blood, and the spear with the blood streaming along it from its tip to its hilt. And the head was your cousin’s, and it was the witches of Caerlowy who killed him, and they made your uncle lame. And I am your cousin, and it is foretold that you will avenge that.’
– Peredur son of Efrog, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

The Lady of the Well

‘And following that crowd he could see a lady, her yellow hair let down over her shoulders and covered with the blood of many wounds, and she was wearing a dress of yellow brocaded silk, which was torn, and boots of speckled leather on her feet. And it was surprising that the tips of her fingers were not worn away, so violently did she wring her hands together. Owain was certain that he had never seen such a beautiful woman, if she had been in her usual form. And her cries were louder than those of all the men and trumpets in the crowd. And when he saw the woman he was inflamed with love for her until it filled every part of him.

Owain asked the maiden who the lady was.

“God knows,” said the maiden, “a woman you could say is the most beautiful of women, and the most chaste, and the most generous, and wisest and noblest. She is my mistress, known as the Lady of the Well, the wife of the man you killed yesterday.’
– The Lady of the Well, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Guardians

The Keeper of the Forest

‘“You will see on top of the mound an enormous black-haired man no smaller than two men of this world. And he has one foot, and he has one eye in the middle of his forehead; and he has an iron club which I assure you would take two men of this world to lift. He is not a violent man, but he is ugly. You will see a thousand wild animals grazing around him. Ask him the way out of the clearing. He will be rude to you, and yet he will tell you the way so that you will find what you want.”…

And when I got there the wild animals I saw were three times more remarkable than the man described. And the black-haired man was there, sitting on top of the mound. The man had told me he was big, but he was far bigger than that. And the iron club which the man had said would take two men to lift, I was sure, Cai, that it would take four warriors. Yet he held it in one hand!

And I greeted the black-haired man, but he replied discourteously. I asked him what power he had over those animals. “I will show you, little man,” he said. And he took the club in his hand, and with it he struck a deer a great blow so that it gave a great bellow. And at his bellow wild animals came up until they were as numerous as the stars in the sky, so that was scarcely room for me to stand in the clearing with them, what with all the serpents and lions and vipers and other kinds of animals. He looked at them, and ordered them to go and graze. And they bowed their heads and did homage to him as obedient men do to their lord. And he said to me, “Do you see, little man, the power I have over these animals?”

And then I asked him the way. And he was rude to me, but nevertheless he asked me where I wanted to go. And I told him who I was and what I was looking for. And he showed me.’
– The Lady of the Well, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

The Black Knight

“And with that you will see a knight on a pure black horse dressed in brocaded silk of pure black, with a banner of pure black linen on his spear.”…

And the birds’ song was most pleasing to Owain, he could see a knight coming along the valley. And Owain went to meet him and fought with him fiercely, and they broke both their lances, andf they drew their swords and began to fight. And with that Owain struck the knight a blow through his helmet and mail cap and hood of Burgundian cloth, and through the skin, flesh, and bone, until it wounded the brain. And then the Black Knight knew that he had received a mortal blow, and turned his horse’s head and fled.

And Owain pursued him, but he did not succeed in striking him with his sword though he was not far behind him. And then Owain could see a large, shining castle; they came to the castle gate and the Black Knight was let in, but a portcullis was let down on Owain. And it struck him below the hind-bow of the saddle so that the horse was cut in half, and it went through the rowels of the spurs on Owain’s heels; and the portcullis dropped to the ground, with the rowels and rest of the horse between the two gates. And the inner gate was closed so that Owain could not escape.’
– The Lady of the Well, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Defender of the Hedge of Mist

‘“Down there,” he said, “is a hedge of mist, and within it there are enchanted games. And no man who has gone there has ever come back”…

There was no-one inside the pavilion except for a single maiden, sitting in a golden chair, and an empty chair facing her. Geraint sat in the empty chair…

Suddenly they could hear a great commotion near the pavillion… a knight outside on a charger, wide-nostrilled, high-spirited, impatient, big-boned, and a mantle in two halves covering him and his horse, and plenty of armour under that.

“Tell me, lord,” he said to Geraint, “who asked you to sit there?”…

they began to fight… Geraint struck him in the strongest part of his shield so that it splits, and the head of the spear is in his armour, and all the saddle-girths break, and he himself is thrown over his horse’s crupper the length of Geraint’s spear and the length of his arm head-first to the ground. And quickly Geraint draws his sword, intending to cut off his head.

“Oh lord,” he said, “your mercy, and you shall have whatever you want.”

“I want only that this game is gone from here for ever,” he replied, “together with the hedge of mist, and the magic and enchantment which have existed.”
– Geraint son of Erbin, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Gatekeepers

‘You’re asked:
what is the name of the porter?’
– The First Address of Taliesin, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘What man is the porter?
Glewlwyd Gavaelvawr.
Who is the man that asks it?
Arthur and the fair Cai.’
– Arthur and the Porter, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Skene transl.)

‘They made for the gate. Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Iethoedd said, “Is there a gatekeeper?”

“Yes. And as for you, may you lose your head for asking…

Knife has gone into food and drink into horns, and a thronging in the hall of Wrnach. Except for a craftsman who brings his craft, it will not be opened again tonight.”’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Judges

‘When everyone’s separated out
I’ll come with a song
of a profound one who became flesh:
there has come a conqueror,
one of three judges in readiness.’
– The Hostile Confederacy, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Witches of Annwn

Orddu and Orwen

‘Arthur said, “Are there any of the wonders we have still not obtained?”

One of the men said, “Yes, the blood of the Very Black Witch, daughter of the Very White Witch from Pennant Gofid in the uplands of hell.”

Arthur set out for the North, and came to where the hag’s cave was. And Gwyn son of Nudd and Gwythyr son of Greidol advised that Cacamwri and Hygwydd his brother should be sent to fight the hag. As they came into the cave the hag attacked them, and grabbed Hygwydd by his hair and threw him to the ground beneath her. Cacamwri grabbed her by the hair and pulled her off Hygwydd to the ground, and she turned on Cacamwri and thrashed both of them and disarmed them, and sent them out shrieking and shouting… Hir Amren and Hir Eiddil… if the first two had difficulties, the fate these two was far worse, so that God knows how any of the four could have left the place, had it not been for the way they were all put on Llamrei, Arthur’s mare. And then Arthur rushed to the entrance of the cave, and from the entrance he aimed at the hag with Carwennan, his knife, and struck her in the middle so she was like two vats. And Caw of Prydyn took the witch’s blood and kept it with him.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Ointment of the Witches of Annwn

‘Unsightly fog wherein the dogs are barking,
ointment of the witches of Annwfn.’
– ‘The Mist’, Dafydd ap Gwilym, (Bromwich transl)

The Witches of Caerloyw

‘“There are nine witches here, friend,” she said. “together with their father and mother. They are the witches of Caerloyw. And by day-break we shall be no nearer to making our escape than to being killed. And they have taken over and laid waste the land, except for this one house…

And at dawn Peredur heard a scream… a witch was grabbing hold of the watchman, and he was screaming. Peredur attacked the witch and struck her on the head with a sword until her helmet and mail cap spread out like a dish on her head.

“Your mercy, fair Peredur son of Efrog, and the mercy of God.”

“How did you know, witch, that I am Peredur?”

“It was fated and foretold that I would suffer grief at your hands, and that you would receive a horse and weapons from me. And you will stay with me for a while as I teach you how to ride your horse and handle weapons.”’…

Peredur and Gwalchmai decided to send for Arthur and his retinue, to ask him to set upon the witches. And they began to fight the witches, and one of the witches killed one of Arthur’s men in front of Peredur, and Peredur told her to stop. A second time the witch killed man in front of Peredur, and a second time Peredur told her to stop. A third time the witch killed a man in front of Peredur, and Peredur drew his sword and struck the witch on the top of her helmet, so that the helmet and all the armour and the head were split in two. She gave a scream and told the other witches to flee, and said it that it was Peredur, the man who had been learning horsemanship with them and who was fated to kill them. Then Arthur and his retinue attacked the witches, and all the witches of Caerloyw were killed.’
– Peredur son of Efrog, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Hounds

Hounds of Annwn

‘And as he (Pwll) was listening for the cry of his pack, he heard the cry of another pack, but these had a different cry, and they were coming towards his own pack. And he could see a clearing in the forest, a level field; and as his own pack was reaching the edge of the clearing, he saw a stag in front of the other pack. And towards the middle of the clearing, the pack that was chasing caught up with the stag and brought it to the ground.

Then Pwll looked at the colour of the pack, without bothering to look at the stag. And of all the hounds he had seen in the world, he had never seen dogs of this colour – they were a gleaming shining white, and their ears were red. And as the whiteness of the dogs shone so did the redness of their ears. Then he came to the dogs, and drove away the pack that had killed the stag, and fed his own pack on it.’
– The First Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Dormach

My hound is sleek and fair,
The best of hounds;
Dormach he is, who was with Maelgwn.

Dormach rednose – why stare you so?
Because I cannot comprehend
Your wanderings in the firmament.
– The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Hill transl.)

‘Of the hound Dormarch we have a pictorial representation at the foot of page 97. Cerberus was a bodiless three-headed monster, with a serpent’s tail. Dormarch differs in having two front legs, and but one head. His body, however, is attenuated into a sort of forked tail, terminating in fan-like ends. An animal of this description was not adapted to run along the ground, and our text informs is that he moved ar wybir, ie. rode on the cloud that haunts the mountain-tops.’
– J. Gwenogbryn Evans, introduction to The Black Book of Carmarthen

Drudwyn

Drudwyn means ‘Fierce White’. It is likely he is a hound of Annwn.

‘You cannot hunt Twrch Trwyth until you get Drudwyn, the whelp of Graid son of Eri…

There is no leash in the world that can hold him, except the leash of Cors Cant Ewin…

The chain of Cilydd Canhastyr to hold the collar along with the leash.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Rhymhi and her Whelps

‘the two whelps of the bitch Rhymhi, Gwyddrud and Gwydden Astrus…

“She is,” said one, “at Aber Daugleddyf.”

Arthur came to the house of Tringad in Aber Cleddyf and asked him, “Have you heard about her here? In what form is she?”

“In the form of a she-wolf,” he said, “and she goes around with her two whelps. She has killed my livestock many times, and she is down below in Aber Cleddyf in a cave.”

What Arthur did was to set off by sea in Prydwen, his ship, and others by land, to hunt the bitch, and in this way they surrounded her and her two whelps. And God changed them back into their own shape for Arthur.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

‘There were two old men from the Land of Enchantment,
Gwydre the abstruse and Odrud.’
– Cywydd to Dewi Sant, Iolo Goch

Aned and Aethelm

‘Twrch Trwyth will never be hunted until you get Aned and Aethlem. They are as swift as a gust of wind; they have never been unleashed on a beast they did not kill.’
Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Glas, Glessic and Gleisad

‘Bwlch and Cyflwch and Syfwlch…
Glas, Glesig, Gleisiad their three hounds…

These three men blow their horns, and all the others come to shriek until no one could care whether the sky fell on the earth.’
Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Glas means ‘to bark’.

Cynvyn (Dog-Heads)

In Mynyd Eiddyn,
He contended with Cynvyn;
By the hundred there they fell,
There they fell by the hundred,
Before the accomplished Bedwyr.
– Arthur and the Porter, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Skene transl.)

Gwrgi Garwlwyd

On the strands of Trywruid,
Contending with Garwlwyd,
Brave was his disposition,
With sword and shield;
Vanity were the foremost men
Compared with Cai in the battle.
– Arthur and the Porter, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Skene transl.)

‘And Diffydell son of Dysgfdawd who slew Gwrgi Garwlwyd (‘Rough Grey’). That Gwrgi used to make a corpse of one of the Cymry every day, and two on each Saturday so as not to (slay) one on the Sunday.’
– Triad 32, The Triads of Ancient Britain, (Bromwich transl.)

Swine

Swine of Annwn

‘Pryderi son of Pwyll, Lord of Annwfn, with the swine of Penndaran Dyfed his foster-father. These swine were the seven animals which Pwyll Lord of Annwfn brought, and gave them to Penndaran Dyfed his foster-father. And a place he used to keep them was in Glyn Cuch in Emlyn. And this is why he was called a Powerful Swineherd: because no-one was able to either to deceive or force him.’
– Triad 26, The Triads of Ancient Britain, (Bromwich transl.)

‘“Lord,” said Gwydion, “I hear that some kind of creatures that have never been in this island before have arrived from the South.”

“What are they called?” asked Math.

“Hobeu, lord.”

“What sort of animals are they?”

“Small animals whose flesh is better than beef. They are small, and their name varies. They are called moch now.”

“Who owns them?”

“Pryderi son of Pwyll – they were sent to him from Annwfn by Arawn, king of Annwfn.” (And to this day that name survives in the term for a side of pork: half a hob.)

“Well,” said Math, “How can we get them from him?”…
– The Fourth Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

White Boar

‘They approached the thicket. As they approached, a gleaming wild white boar rose from it. Encouraged by the men, the dogs charged at him. The boar then left the thicket and retreated a little way from the men. And until the men closed in on him, he would keep the dogs at bay without retreating; but when the men closed in he would retreat and break away. They (Pryderi and Manawydan) followed the boar until they saw a huge, towering, newly built, in a place where they had never been before seen any building at all. The boar was heading quickly for the fort, with the dogs after him. When the boar and the dogs had gone into the fort, then men marvelled at seeing the fort in a place where they had never before seen any building at all…

In spite of the advice he received from Manawaydan, Pryderi approached the fort. When he entered, neither man nor beast, neither boar nor dogs, neither house nor dwelling place could be seen.’
– The Fourth Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Ysgithrwyn

‘I want the tusk of Ysgithrwyn Pen Baedd to shave with. It will be of no use to unless it is pulled from his head while he’s alive…

And then Arthur went to the North… and he went after Ysgithrwyn Pen Baedd. And Mabon son of Mellt went holding the two dogs of Glythfyr Ledewig, and Drudwyn, the whelp of Graid son of Eri. And Arthur himself went on the chase, holding Cafall, Arthur’s dog. And Caw of Prydyn mounted Llamrei, Arthur’s mare, and held the boar at bay. And then Caw of Prydyn armed himself with a small axe, and with fierce vigour set upon the boar, and split his head in two. And Caw took the tusk. It was not the dogs that Ysbaddaden had demanded of Culhwch that killed the boar but Cafall, Arthur’s own dog.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Twrch Trwyth

‘There is no comb and shears in the world that can dress my beard, because of its stiffness, except the comb and shears that lie between the ears of Twrch Trwyth son of Taredd Wledig. He will not give them willingly, nor can you force him…

Twrch Trwyth was, with his seven little pigs…

He was a king, and for his sins God changed him into a swine…

And Arthur fell upon Twrch Trwyth, together with the warriors of Prydain… And they grabbed him first by his feet and soused him in the Hafren until it flooded over him. Mabon son of Modron spurred his horse on the one side and grabbed the razor from him, and on the other side Cyledyr Wyllt rushed into the Hafren on another horse and snatched the shears from him…

Whatever trouble he had caused them before was mere play compared to what they then suffered in seeking the comb. But after one difficulty after another, the comb was taken from him. And then he was chased out of Cornwall and driven straight into the sea.’
Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Henwen

‘And the third, Coll son of C(o)llfrewy with the swine of Dallwyr Dalben in Glyn Dallwyr in Cornwall. And one of the swine was pregnant, Henwen was her name. And it was prophesied that the Island of Britain would be the worse for the womb-burden. Then Arthur assembled the army of the Island of Britain, and set out to seek and destroy her. And then the sow went about to farrow, and at Penrhyn Awstin in Cornwall she went into the sea, and the Powerful Swineherd followed her. And in the Wheat Field in Gwent she brought forth a grain of wheat and a bee. And therefore from that day to this the Wheat Field in Gwent is the best place for wheat and bees. And at Llonion in Pembroke she brought forth a grain of barley and a grain of wheat. Therefore, the barley of Llonion is proverbial. At the Hill of Cyferthwch in Arfon she brought forth a (wolf-cub) and a young eagle. The wolf was given to (B?)ergaed and the eagle to Breat, a prince of the North: and they were both the worse for them. And at Llanfair in Arfon under the Black Rock she brought forth a kitten, and the Powerful Swineherd threw it from the Rock into the sea. And the sons of Palug fostered it in Môn, to their own harm: and that was Palug’s Cat, and it was one of the Three Great Oppressions of Môn, nurtured therein. The second was Daronwy, and the third was Edwin, King of Lloegr.’
– Triad 26, The Triads of Ancient Britain, (Bromwich transl.)

Stags

Arawn’s Stag

‘And he (Pwyll) could see a clearing in the forest, a level field; and as his own pack was reaching the edge of the clearing, he saw a stag in front of the other pack. And towards the middle of the clearing, the pack that was chasing caught up with the stag and brought it to the ground…

Then he came to the dogs, and drove away the pack that had killed the stag, and fed his own pack on it…

“I have seen no greater discourtesy in a man,” he (Arawn) said, “than to drive away the pack that had killed the stag, and feed your own pack on it; that,” he said, “was discourtesy: and although I will not take revenge upon you, between me and God,” he said, “I will bring shame upon you to the value of a hundred stags.”
– The First Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

White Stag

‘“A stag have I seen in the forest (of Dean), and I have never in my life seen anything like it…

It is pure white, lord, and it does not walk with any other animal out of arrogance and pride because it is so majestic”…

“I shall do the appropriate thing,” said Arthur, “and go and hunt it tomorrow at dawn”…

“Then Gwalchmai said to Arthur, “Lord,” he said, “would it not be appropriate for you to allow the one who catches the stag while hunting to cut off its head and give it to anyone he wishes, either to his own lover or the lover of a friend of his, whether it is a mounted man or a man on foot?”
– Geraint son of Erbin, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Oxen

The Brindled Ox

‘those who nothing of the Brindled Ox, with his stout collar,
(and) seven score links in its chain.
And when we went with Arthur, sad journey,
save seven none returned from Man(d)wy Fort.’
– The Spoils of Annwn, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock trans.)

Nyniaw and Peibiaw

‘Two horned oxen, one from the far side of Mynydd Banog and the other from this side, and brought together under one plough. They are Nyniaw and Peibiaw, whom God transformed into oxen for their sins.’
– Culhwch and Olwen, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Cats

Cath Palug

‘And at Llanfair in Arfon under the Black Rock she (Henwen) brought forth a kitten, and the Powerful Swineherd threw it from the Rock into the sea. And the sons of Palug fostered it in Môn, to their own harm: and that was Palug’s Cat, and it was one of the Three Great Oppressions of Môn, nurtured therein. The second was Daronwy, and the third was Edwin, King of Lloegr.’
– Triad 26, The Triads of Ancient Britain, (Bromwich transl.)

Against Cath Palug
When the people welcomed him.
Who pierced the Cath Palug?
Nine score before dawn
Would fall for its food.
Nine score chieftains…
– Arthur and the Porter, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Skene transl.)

Mice

The Retinue of Llwyd

‘towards midnight, he heard the loudest noise in the world. He looked. There was a huge army of mice – they could not be counted or measured. The next thing he knew, the mice were making for the field, and each one was climbing up along a stalk and bending it down, and breaking the ear and making off with the ears, and leaving the stalks behind. And as far as he knews there was not a single stalk without a mouse to it. And they ran away carrying the ears with them. Then, enraged and angered, he charged in among the mice. He could no more keep his eye on them than on  the gnats or birds in the air. But he could see that one was very fat, and unlikely to be able to move quickly. He went after that one and caught it, and put it in his glove, and tied the mouth of the glove with string, and kept hold of it and made for the court…

“I intend to hang it tomorrow. And by my confession to God, had I caught them all, I would hang them”…

Then he came to Gorsedd Arberth, taking the mouse with him, and he pushed two forks into the highest point of the mound…

As he was hoisting it up, he could see a bishop’s entourage and his baggage and his retinue, and the bishop himself approaching…

“I am Llwyd son of Cil Coed, and it is I who placed the enchantment on the seven cantrefs of Dyfed, and I did so to avenge Gwawl son of Clud… And having heard that you were living in the land, my retinue came to me and asked me to turn them into mice so they could destroy your corn. The first night they came alone. And they came the second night too, and destroyed two fields. But the third night my wife and the ladies of the court came to me and asked me to transform them too, and I did that. My wife was pregnant. And if she hadn’t been pregnant you would not have caught her. But since she was, and you did, I will give you Pryderi and Rhiannon, and I will remove the magic and enchantment from Dyfed. I have told you who she is, now let her go.”

Monsters

The Silver-Headed Beast

‘what animal it is they guard, with his silver head.
When we went with Arthur, sad conflict,
save seven none came back from the Angular Fort.’
– The Spoils of Annwn, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Great-Scaled Beast

‘I pierced a great-scaled beast:
there were a hundred heads on him,
and a fierce battalion
beneath the roof of his tongue;
and another battalion is
in (each of) his napes.’
– The Battle of the Trees, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Black Forked Toad

‘A black forked toad:
a hundred claws on him.’
– The Battle of the Trees, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

A Speckled Crested Snake

‘A speckled crested snake:
a hundred souls, on account of (their) sin,
are tortured in its flesh.’
– The Battle of the Trees, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Beast with an Enormous Claw

‘Teyrnon gets up to examine the sturdiness of the foal. As he doing this he hears a loud noise, and after the noise an enormous claw comes through the window, and grabs the foal by its mane. Teyrnon draws his sword and cuts off the arm at the elbow so that part of the arm, and the foal with it, are inside. Then he hears a noise and a scream at the same time. He opens the door and rushes off after the noise. He cannot see the cause of the noise because the night is so dark; but he rushes after it and follows it. Then he remembers that he has left the door open and returns. And by the door there is a small boy in swaddling-clothes with a mantle of brocaded silk wrapped around him.’
– The First Branch, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

Monster in a Cave

‘They replied that there was a monster in a cave who killed them every day…

“You are going to fight the monster, but it will kill you. And not because it is brave but because it is cunning. It lives in a cave, and there is a stone pillar at the mouth of the cave, and it can see everyone who enters but no one can see it. And with a poisonous spear from the shadow of the pillar it kills everyone. And if you promise to love me more than all women, I will give you a stone so that you will see the monster when you enter, but it will not see you”…

Peredur came to the cave, and took the stone in his left hand and the spear in his right hand. And as he entered he saw the monster and thrust the spear through him and cut off his head.’
– Peredur son of Efrog, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)

The Black Serpent of the Cairn

‘There is a mound called the Mound of Mourning and in the mound there is a cairn, and in the cairn there is a serpent, and in the serpent’s tail there is a stone. And these are the attributes of the stone: whoever holds it in one hand will have as much gold as he wishes in the other hand.’
– Peredur son of Efrog, The Mabinogion, (Davies transl.)