In Search of Lost Gods: Gwyn ap Nudd

by Dennis on February 5, 2012

“I didn’t buy a map; that would have spoilt it, somehow; to see everything plotted out, and named and measured. What I wanted was to feel that I was going where nobody had been before.”

From ‘A Fragment of Life’, by Arthur Machen.

The formidable figure of Gwyn ap Nudd dominates the mythological landscape of Britain, both ancient and modern. He is the Dark Lord of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld; he is the King of the Tylwyth Teg and also the fearsome leader of the Wild Hunt. There is a vast amount of information about him on the internet, so I shall forebear from reproducing it all here; instead, I shall simply refer to those parts that particularly captured my attention while I was studying and pondering this alluring figure.

For those of you who are regular visitors to this site, it will come as no surprise when I begin this post by quoting yet again from Ralph Whitlock’s 1979 book In Search of Lost Gods:

“Against the backdrop of human settlement in Britain, even the Celts were relative newcomers. As warlike invaders they started to arrive in Britain about the middle of the first millennium BC, but before that the island had an unwritten history of at least two thousand years. The Celts came in no great numbers, imposing themselves as an aristocracy on the older races, and it is unlikely that they initiated a great religious upheaval. Rather, their own beliefs were probably grafted on or merged with those of a much older religion.

Thus, in our search for the old gods, we may well find traces of those who had commanded the worship of men in the days when Stonehenge was young….”

It also strikes me as perfectly possible that, when searching for these old gods, we should find evidence of men of flesh and blood, whose reputations and exploits were such that they went on to acquire the standing of gods or demi-gods in the wild tales and legends told by their descendants. It seems likely that Hercules, Theseus, Arthur and others were once historical figures, so it seems no less likely that someone such as Gwyn ap Nudd may have once physically walked and ridden across the mist-shrouded plains and hills of prehistoric Britain. I’m under no illusions that I’ll even come close to proving such a thing, but if this man once existed, he may have left signs of his life and passing that we can discern in certain words and legends, as well as upon the physical landscape in which we live.

There is no shortage of material to consider, but his kingship seems as good a place as any to start. When I read of Gwyn ap Nudd being described as the King of the Tylwyth Teg, my mind immediately wandered to Stonehenge and the possibility that it may have been Caer Sidi, or the Fairy Fortress described in Taliesin’s poem The Spoils of Annwn.

Even if Stonehenge was not the structure mentioned in the poem, it still possesses many attributes that would seem to link it to the Fair Folk, perhaps the most notable being ‘Stonehump’, the recently discovered mound that has apparently always existed on the site, marked below with a blue spot.

I’ve written about the other connections between Stonehenge and the Fair Folk in the link above to the Caer Sidi page. Whether or not these links and associations were ever ‘real’ in the sense that archaeologists and other scientists approve of, I cannot say, but that is not my concern. I’m simply interested in the fact that there’s no shortage of reasons to believe that Stonehenge was once associated with the Fair Folk, or with a belief in them, so as Gwyn ap Nudd was later credited with being the King of these beings, it seems reasonable to me to believe that he was once associated with the monument and its landscape.

As the Lord of Annwn, or the Welsh Otherworld, Gwyn is also identified with Glastonbury, but as the Tor is merely one portal of many to the Otherworld, rather than the Otherworld itself in its entirety, I see no reason why Gwyn should not have been associated with all the other portals or openings to this strange realm; indeed, I would regard it as inevitable. Again, the portal or entrance to the Otherworld that springs most readily to mind is Stonehenge, while I’ve long ago lost track of all the information that’s been presented here that makes the compelling case for this notion.

In this context, I was intrigued to learn that Gwyn’s family or tribe was described, in mediaeval times, as being the “Talaith y Gwynt”, or the “the nation of the wind.” If I’m correct about Vespasian’s Camp once having been the City of Apollo as described by Pytheas of Massilia, then it follows that there were once kings in this place known as Boreades, or sons of Boreas, the ancient Greek god of the North Wind.

It may be that the word ‘Boreades’ derives from a different source, but it’s possible that there are other links between Boreas and Gwyn ap Nudd. Boreas was intimately associated with horses and one of Gwyn’s later manifestations was as the Leader of the Wild Hunt; as for their dispositions, Boreas was depicted as rapacious with dark, straggly hair and was said to be very strong with a violent temper, a description that isn’t a million miles away from that of Gwyn.

I also noted that one Roman term for the North was Septentrio, as used by Pliny, Tacitus and others. The word derived from ‘septem triones’ or ‘seven plough oxen’, a term that was used to describe the constellation of the Great Bear, but I mention this purely on account of the number seven, which will appear again later on in this piece. As Carl Sagan once observed “Imagination takes us to worlds that never were, but without it, we go nowhere,” so it may be that all these links between Gwyn ap Nudd and Stonehenge are illusory, but they make a poetic logic, if nothing else, while they were substantial enough to register on my consciousness and to linger there.

Before we leave Stonehenge, I’ve written in depth about the mountain of evidence linking the Druids to the ruins on the plain, so I won’t go over it again. Nonetheless, it seems completely unavoidable to me that the Druids and their forebears – proto-Druids? Keepers of the Portals? – were intimately associated with the site from the very earliest times, so this made me think of some other possible links between Gwyn and Stonehenge, as well as between Gwyn and the Druids.

As the Lord of Annwn and later as the Leader of the Wild Hunt, Gwyn ap Nudd came to be viewed as a psychopomp, or one who led the souls of men into the Otherworld or afterlife. Pomponius Mela described the Druid belief that souls were eternal and lived on in the infernal regions, or ‘ad inferos’, an idea that’s echoed almost literally in the idea of Annwn, but I shall come to the etymology of ‘Annwn’ in due course.

In his Natural History, Pliny wrote of the Druids: “Therefore we cannot too highly appreciate our debt to the Romans for having put an end to this monstrous cult, whereby to murder a man was an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh most beneficial” while in the Arthurian tale Culhwch and Olwen, Gwyn ap Nudd murdered a nobleman named Nwython, then forced the man’s son to eat his father’s heart. This cruel act may simply have been a form of mental torture, so I may be wrong in seeing it as some form of Druidic communion, but the matter of the consumption of human flesh by Druids and by one of Gwyn’s victims seemed to be worth remarking upon, if nothing else.

There seems little doubt that the name Gwyn means something like ‘fair’, ‘bright’ or ‘white’, while it later acquired associations with holiness or purity. In a multitude of recorded Near Death Experiences, survivors speak of having seen a welcoming figure in white as they made their way through the afterlife, or Annwn, so I naturally wonder about this in connection with Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp and on account of what I see as his Druidic connections, while it’s perhaps worth mentioning once again that Pliny described the Druids as wearing white during one of their more important ceremonies.

Something that took my mind away from the environs of Stonehenge was the matter of Gwyn’s father, Nudd, or Nudd Llaw Eraint, or “Nudd of the Silver Hand.” The business of someone possessing a silver hand has been nagging at the back of my mind ever since I first read about it, many years ago, but the quiet voice has yet to make itself fully heard and understood.

In the meantime, I remembered the discovery of a Roman silver ingot in the Mendips, dated to somewhere around 48 AD, while I also remembered from my previous studies of this region that the ancient Dobunni tribe were noted artisans. In addition to this, their name almost certainly means something like “The People of the Deeps”, while it’s possible that the word ‘annwn’ can be found in the last syllables of the tribe’s name.

As I wrote in my book and elsewhere on this site, the Mendips have many ‘archaeologically attested’ entrances to the Underworld in the form of the strange swallets, or holes in the limestone, while the Neolithic specialist Jodie Lewis has described the area as “a landscape full of special and somewhat mysterious places.” As Gwyn ap Nudd was the Lord of Annwn, then it follows that he would also be associated with the entrances to this dark realm, while in light of his father’s disfigurement, there is something tantalising about the presence of silver and silver mines in this region, not to mention the skill at metalworking of its former inhabitants.

Even now, however, it’s difficult to get away completely from Stonehenge. As Dr Robin Melrose detailed in his book “The Druids and King Arthur“, Queen Aelfthryth founded a Benedictine monastery in Amesbury in AD 979, which was named after Saint Melor and in which his relics were housed. Aside from any other attributes, Melor was highly notable on account of having lost his right hand at the age of seven, when it was replaced by a silver prosthesis that eventually grew to function as well as the original. It is a truly bizarre tale, matched only by that of Gwyn’s father Nudd, so it’s difficult not to see some link between Gwyn ap Nudd and the Stonehenge region when we bear in mind the scarcity of holy men with prosthetic silver hands who lost the originals to acts of violence.

Gwyn’s father Nudd seems to have derived from the Celtic god Nodens, who was often equated with Mars, the Roman war god. Gwyn is described as a great warrior, and while there’s no doubt that there were many such people in ancient Britain, the mention of people who excel in battle immediately brings to mind the fearsome Silures of South Wales, those people upon whom “neither terror nor mercy had the least effect”, according to Tacitus.

Furthermore, I’m struck by the references to Gwyn ap Nudd possessing a blackened face, something that also makes me think of the Silures on account of the way in which they were described as being dark of complexion [coloratus] by Tacitus in his biography of Agricola. The ancient Ethiopians were so-named on account of their burned or blackened faces, while they were patently black all over, so I find myself wondering about Gwyn’s blackened face and its precise meaning, especially as his name means ‘white’ or perhaps ‘holy’.

Whatever the truth of the matter may be, his prowess in battle and his dark face inescapably brings to mind the Silures, so it seems natural to look once again to the north-west of Stonehenge, to the heartland of the strange and ferocious people who defied the Roman legions for so long and with such outstanding success.


I would have looked somewhere to the north-west of Stonehenge in any event, for reasons that I’ve gone into on many occasions before, but the former capital of the Silures tribe seems as good a place as any to look for traces of Gwyn ap Nudd, the mighty warrior with a blackened face.

In the medieval poem The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn’s martial standing is praised, because he is described as “the hope of armies” and “hero of hosts”; as for the place of his origin, he replies to the questioner “I come from battle and conflict.” If, as I suspect, there’s an Iron Age [or even earlier] origin for these tales, then I can think of no better place for Gwyn to have been born and raised than in the heartland of the Silures, who successfully resisted the Romans from around 43 AD to 78 AD, when instead of being vanquished and made extinct, they came to a mysterious agreement or settlement with the otherwise unforgiving invaders.

Be all that as it may, just a brief glance through one of my books on folklore reveals that fairies are reputed to be seen at nearby Trellech, while Master Pwca, or Puck, was said to haunt Trwyn Farm. A black dog, possibly one of the Cwn Annwn, has been seen at Redbrook [an apparition I saw for myself in the early 1990s], while a pack of these creatures have also been seen at Tregare and Penrhos. There is yet another haunted tumulus at Newcastle, while in the same place, fairies and elves were said to congregate at an oak tree, something that I find of great interest on account of the link between the Druids and oaks. I could continue for a long while yet, going through all my books, but it seems certain that this area is more haunted than most in Britain, and not just by ghosts.

All this and more seems reason enough to look closely at Usk, whose Welsh name is Brynbuga, an appellation or title that was first recorded in the 15th century, apparently. The meaning of this name is casually given as “The Hill of the Bogeyman”, but a closer examination reveals that there is a very great deal more to the matter than just that. I suspect that the information becomes more relevant still when we remember that Gwyn ap Nudd was The Lord of Annwn and that according to the poem Culhwch and Olwen, Gwyn was the person “whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race.”

Gwyn ap Nudd is an accomplished enough character in any event, but given the details provided about his appointment as Lord of Annwn, he is extremely impressive. Elsewhere, Annwn is thought of as a generally benevolent afterlife, similar to the Elysian Fields when it was ruled by Gwyn’s predecessor Arawn, but Gwyn is described here as [presumably] the only person with the ability to keep in check a host of supernatural monsters that would otherwise destroy Mankind. If Gwyn ap Nudd ever lived, then he must have been a formidable Druid, priest or magician to have acquired such a singular standing, and it is with the idea of this singularity in mind that I return to an examination of the word ‘Brynbuga’.

As I wrote earlier, it is presumed to mean Hill [bryn] of the Bogeyman [buga]. In brief, when we look at the word ‘buga’, we see that it may be related to hobgoblin, Irish bocan, Early Irish boccanach, as well as the Welsh bwg (bwci, Cornish bucca), English bug, bugbear and bogie, as well as Puck, the Anglo-Saxon puca and larbula and boc-sithe, meaning an apparition or ghost.

There is the possibility that Buga may have been a proper name, the name of a giant that once roamed Gwent along with six others of his kind, which made me think of the repeated refrain in The Spoils of Annwn whereby “seven alone rose up…” All this is interesting enough, but I was particularly struck by the observation in a book called The Development of Celtic Linguistics that ‘buga’ might not be a proper name, nor a reference to a ghost or demon, but could instead mean “The Hill of THE Buga”, or in other words, the most fearsome supernatural being of them all.

If the word ‘buga’ is related to the word ‘boggart’, then it refers to an always-malevolent creature whose realm was mainly the north of England. Otherwise, there was the giant Buggane of the Isle of Man, a creature that always dwelt near water, but whichever way we look at it, there is something awe-inspiring about such a strange place name, regardless of its precise or original meaning. The uniqueness of this name fascinates me, so I find it hard to not see some parallel with the singular details of Gwyn ap Nudd’s reign over Annwn, especially when I bear in mind all the other circumstantial evidence I’ve provided above.

Gwyn was described as the Lord of Annwn, who kept a brood of demons in their place, and as the King of the Tylwyth Teg or the Fairies, so when I consider a landscape haunted by ghosts, fairies and the Cwn Annwn, with a place with such an unusual name as Brynbuga at its centre, then some connection between the person and the place becomes unavoidable for me.

I was born and grew up in Usk, living there for 18 years, and for most of that time I lived just a hundred yards or so away from a Puck’s Lane, which skirted a field behind the gaol in which the bodies of executed prisoners had been buried. As a young boy in the late 1960s, I always wandered along to see the large-scale excavations at Usk, then in the early 1970s, due to the generous and enlightened attitude of those in charge, I was allowed to work there myself, something I enjoyed beyond the power of mere words to convey.

As far as I’m aware, the Romans set up a fort at Usk that also contained a cavalry wing, in or around 55AD, then in AD 66 or 67, the legion moved out, leaving behind a caretaker force of auxiliaries until a new legionary fortress was built at nearby Caerleon in AD 75. The reason always given for this relocation of the fort was because of flooding, which makes me wonder how auxiliaries, or native troops, were better able to survive being swamped by water than Roman soldiers. The foundation of this fort in 55 AD also came shortly after the destruction of an entire legion by the Silures, who continued to harass and kill Romans for over twenty years, so I also find myself wondering why the twentieth legion left Usk when it did and why auxiliary troops continued to be stationed in what had been the capital of the Silures.

I’m inclined to believe that something other than occasional floodwater caused these movements and I’m also inclined to believe that this ‘something’ was related to the later name of the place, but I cannot prove it. We know that Caesar’s legions in 55BC were fearful of the mist-shrouded island they were ordered to invade, so I can well imagine that the men who went into south Wales over a century later were at least mildly superstitious about setting up camp in the heart of a tribe that had already caused them so many problems, with many more to come.

I’m sure that others will speedily correct me if I’m wrong and this is something I would welcome, but I also seem to recall that no Roman cemetery was ever found at Usk, despite the fact that the place was occupied for ten years by a legion in the middle of some of the most hostile territory in Britain at the time. Presumably, a good many Romans met violent deaths in or around Usk at the hands of the Silures during the active life of the fortress there, but if this was the case, I don’t know of anyone ever having found the graveyard for this people, which in turns leads me to wonder if they were buried elsewhere and if so, why?

Were the deceased, or those who disposed of them, fearful of ending up in an Otherworld that was hostile and malevolent towards their souls? I do not know, but again, I suspect that the reputation of the place known as The Hill of the Spectre or Demon was in place long before the name Brynbuga was first written down in the Middle Ages.

Long before I ever thought of doing such a thing, a study of the ‘haunted’ landscape around Usk was effectively carried out by the writer Arthur Machen, pictured above at Caerleon. You can read about this man for yourself, of course, but he was and still is regarded as a superlative writer on the subject of supernatural terror in the countryside. Arthur Machen was born in Caerleon, just a few miles away from Brynbuga, or Usk, and while he is perhaps best known as the author of The Bowmen, the tale that played such a prominent part in the story of The Angels of Mons, many of his stories deal with otherworldly creatures that inhabit the countryside of south Wales, while he gathered his information by wandering extensively around the landscape in question.

I’m not aware that Machen ever wrote any non-fiction on this subject, but his chilling body of work reflects the belief in and perhaps the “daimonic reality” of the many supernatural entities, such as malevolent earth spirits, of this locale. It may be that there are other parts of the British Isles that are equally rich in such things, which have nonetheless gone unrecorded through lack of a gifted and insightful author to chronicle them, but the simple fact remains that Machen’s written legacy bears witness to this region being home to some particularly potent supernatural creatures.

When I combine all this with the other available information about giants and suchlike in ancient Gwent that corroborate Machen’s observations, then consider the strange name of Brynbuga and the unique standing of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Dark Lord of Annwn and King of the Tylwyth Teg, then a meaningful pattern begins to make itself known to me that is endlessly fascinating to contemplate.

Machen’s stories do not necessarily constitute ‘proof’ of any kind, but it would be a boring world indeed if we all shared identical values. On the one hand, there are those who will thrill to the latest archaeological revelations concerning Stonehenge, which are based on an apparent anomaly on a geophysics survey and on an unexcavated possible pit, and that’s absolutely fine if that is the kind of objective evidence that either satisfies curiosity or else further provokes it.

Personally speaking, at least as far as a study of Gwyn ap Nudd and Stonehenge is concerned, I’m inclined to place slightly more value on the implications of the written works of a man who influenced and who was praised by H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley, a man who wrote a story that Stephen King believes to be the best of its kind and a man who played a major part in one of the strangest cultural events of our times, the episode of The Angels of Mons.

There are still many loose ends to tie up, such as the precise origins and meanings of words such as Burrium, Boulaion and Bullaeum, ancient names for Usk that may possibly be related to the ‘buga’ element of Brynbuga. I’ve wondered about Boreas, in this context, but it’s highly doubtful that there’s any connection there, but on the subject of winds, there’s still the question of the proper meaning of the ‘venta’ in the name ‘Venta Silurum’. There’s also the question of the meaning of the word ‘Gwent’ and a host of others that may have some bearing on the distant origins of Gwyn ap Nudd, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

While it stands to reason that many people reading this might regard any link between Brynbuga and Gwyn ap Nudd as ‘unproven’ at best, my contemplation of the Lord of Annwn led me to the pleasing study of an intriguing place name, while it has also reinforced my growing conviction that there is ‘some thing’ hidden in Gwent that was regarded as having immense value by our ancestors.

Wordsworth wrote of it as an insubstantial “something….whose dwelling is the light of setting suns”. There was a time when I thought of it as a physical artefact or idol, but now I’m more inclined to believe that it was some sacred path, dancefloor or place where select people congregated in the belief that their presence in a certain location and at a certain time would confer notable powers upon them, something not too far removed from Machen’s ideas about psychogeography.

And there, for now, the whole matter must rest, but there’s no doubt in my mind that “Somewhere, something wonderful is waiting to be discovered”.

My grateful thanks to Thalia Took, artist, for permission to use her wonderful image of Gwyn ap Nudd at the top of this post. My grateful thanks also to Dr Robin Melrose, Aynslie Hanna and MOJO Productions, to Mark Kirkbride for allowing me to discover for myself what it’s like inside a hill such as Brynbuga, and to all those I met while growing up in Usk in the 1960s and 1970s.

{ 92 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin Melrose February 6, 2012 at 7:59 am

Hi Dennis,

After I read your piece, about Nudd and his silver prosthesis and the the silver mines of Mendip, something occurred to me: why silver? You believe – and I agree – that Gwynn son of Nudd is a very ancient figure, but as far as I know, silver was something that our earliest ancestors were not familar with. So I looked in Pokorny’s ‘Indo-European Etymological Dictionary’ and found that Latin ‘argentum’ and Irish ‘airget’come from a root meaning ‘glittering, white’, and are related to Arjuna, the great warrior and hero of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata. Being one-handed seems to be common in Welsh mythology – in Culhwch and Olwen, Cai’s companion Bedwyr is one- handed and had a lance which would produce a wound equal to those of nine opposing lances.

So there may have been a mythical hero whose name was Silver, but that doesn’t quite answer the question. Another interesting piece in the puzzle is that one of the earliest iron swords found in Britain (650BC) was discovered at Llyn Fawr in the Cynon Valley, which was probably in the territory of the Silures. To someone used to bronze, an iron sword must have looked silver in colour. And an important ritual site has been found at Llanmaes, also in the terriory of the Silures (see

So we may be dealing with an Iron Age warrior hero with a flashing iron sword. It’s my belief that ‘venta’ means homeland, and is related to Veneti, who are found in the Baltic (see, the Adriatic and Brittany. According to Julius Caesar, the Veneti of Brittany were renowned sea-farers, and the Liburnians of the Adriatic (who may have been related to the Veneti) were famous as sea-farers and pirates, and their galleys called ‘liburni’ were adopted by the Romans. I don’t know about the Baltic Veneti, but it wouldn’t suprise me if they were the ancestors of the Picts (Gildas talks of the Picts attacking Britain in their curraghs). So it is likely the Silures were drawing on a heroic past both mythical and real when they resisted the Romans for so long.

Robin Melrose February 6, 2012 at 9:51 am

Hi Dennis,

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous post. The Silures may have come from southern Iberia, and Tartessos in Iberia was an important silver mining area. Tartessos may have been Huelva, near the Riotinto silver mining area, established as a Phoenician settlement between 900BC and 770BC. If you’re interested, you can read about Huelva at

chris johnson February 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Interesting point Robin, about Tartessos, which I will file in my memory banks. I do not recall many silver objects from this ancient period, but I will be looking out from now on.

Thanks Dennis for another marvelous post. I think it is a stretch to link Gwyn ap Nudd to Stonehenge in this way, but likely I should reflex further.

Dennis February 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Robin, thank you very much not just for these two contributions and the intriguing information they contain, but also for all the other generous and inspirational assistance you’ve provided. I don’t doubt that Gwyn is connected with Gwent in many ways, while I’m sure that yet more will surface in time to come, so I’m looking forward to having more possibilities to ponder.

It was satisfying to be able to connect the idea of ‘Annwn’ with silver in the Mendips, while the strange business of St Melor and his silver hand [in the vicinity of Stonehenge, with Nodens not much further afield] is something else that brings Gwyn to mind, in addition to the idea of Stonehenge being a portal to Annwn.

It may be inconsequential, but it struck me as odd to think of Gwyn being a king [of the Fair Folk] with his loose connection with silver and with Stonehenge. I mention this simply on account of the Amesbury Archer being described as the King of Stonehenge, when he was buried with copper blades, while we have Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Aurelius Ambrosius, or Gildas’ Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was a ‘golden’ king. Still, kings or royal dynasties have been linked with Stonehenge from the earliest known days of the monument, so I suppose it’s inevitable that such people would be associated with precious metals of one kind or another somewhere along the line.

Chris, thank you very much for your kind words, as I very much appreciate them. You are welcome to stretch, reflex or otherwise cogitate here to your heart’s content, if you wish, especially if in so doing, everyone else is provided with some food for thought. There are terrible penalties to be incurred in the worlds of academia and archaeology for thinking out loud, much to the frustration of many archaeologists and academics, but I am in the blissfully contented state of not caring less for the considered views of the “Historian on the Edge” or any others of his ilk. If I’m wrong about something, which is surely inevitable from time to time, then I’m more than happy for this to be pointed out or argued about, which actually adds to the intense enjoyment of exploring these matters.

In this vein, I was briefly tempted to write another 15,000 words or so about Gwyn, but they’ll probably surface in the course of time. Meanwhile, one other highly tentative link between silver and the ‘SILVRES’ occurred to me earlier today, but I’ll see what others have to say and I’ll write it up in a few days’ time. I also found myself pondering again the many possible reasons for Gwyn ap Nudd’s fame, something I was going to write up as a Part II in this post, but again, I’ll write it up here at my leisure, for what it’s worth, perhaps after others have offered their thoughts on some of the different elements of Gwyn ap Nudd, his history and his fame.

JohnWitts February 6, 2012 at 8:14 pm

This may provide an answer of sorts to Robin’s question

“Also, as opposed to gold, which is usually representative of wealth, opulence or holiness, silver is generally assumed to be more useful, in both weaponry and as a tool, while still maintaining the aura of magic and divinity.”

LLyn Fawr is about 4 miles to south east of Glyn Neath: “Later folklore diminished Gwyn’s role and aspect until he became the leader of the Tylwyth Teg (the fair-folk or fairies). He is said to reside beneath hills in many parts of Wales, but his most famous residence and the one named after him is Glyn Nedd (the vale of Neath) originally named the vale of Gwyn vab Nudd but truncated to the vale of Nudd where the mouth of Annwfn lies.”

Whilst Gwyn may be be associated with many areas in one form or another, it does seems more than coincidence that Neath at the bottom of valley was the site of very strongly defended Roman fort and there was also a huge marching camp only two miles up the valley from Neath.

Dennis February 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm

John, thank you for this and also for all the other information you’ve sent in concerning Gwyn ap Nudd, as I’ve found it all very interesting. While I think that the evidence suggests that there was something very potent about the location of Usk 2,000 years ago, which had less to do with a strategic position than a reputation it had, what you’ve had to say about the Roman forts near Neath is just as thought-provoking.

We know from the 2008 excavation at Stonehenge that the Romans took an intense interest in Stonehenge, so I would not be remotely surprised if the placements of the fort and camp you describe were based not just only military expediency and necessity, but also with local beliefs of the time in mind as well.

The idea of Gwyn residing beneath various hills in Wales is almost identical to the stories about Arthur, of course. With this in mind, I immediately think of the Iron Age chariot burial, which took place around 2,500 years ago, while the grave of this man was revisited around 500 years later, at a time when the Romans were threatening the area. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if something virtually identical were one day unearthed in Gwent for reasons I’ve gone into many times before.

Dennis February 6, 2012 at 11:25 pm

And while I think of it, I would seriously question the idea that Gwyn’s role and aspect were in any way diminished by becoming the King of the Fair Folk. Patrick Harpur made an admirable job of demonstrating that any given ‘golden age’ of a belief in the Fair Folk has always been ascribed to former times, but I suspect that this belief is just as potent now as it has been for centuries. To be the Lord of Annwn is impressive enough, but to also be thought of as the King of the Fair Folk and the Leader of the Wild Hunt, on top of being a warrior without equal, seems to me to show that there were few, if any, who could equal his standing.

JohnWitts February 7, 2012 at 7:58 am

Once discovered it becomes clear Gwyn ap Nudd is a very significant deity with strong links to Gwynedd and Glastonbury as well as many other locations. However it was the Vale of Neath where the strongest elements focused although of course that may only be akin to emphasising Rome with respect to Christianity.

My belief is that Gwyn represented something very powerful. It is the only way to explain his popularity and wide ranging attributes. His powers have therefore filtered down and were remembered generally whereas a weak deity, if recalled at all, could only have had local and specific significance. The fact Gwyn meets St Collen at Glastonbury is evidence of his import in representing the old beliefs in its conflict with Christianity.

His association with the Spoils of Annwn as well as part in Culhwch and Olwen provide a strong connection to Arthur who, above anything seems to have grown to be far more important in myth than in real life. My theory is that this was the result of his association with ancient gods in the first place, then later Christianity with the Silures also playing a part.

From Culhwch Gwyn’s abduction of Creiddylad and his May Day fight with Gwythyr ap Greidawl portray him as a winter sun god. If there is a fundamental in the nature then it is the dualism of life and death, light and dark, sun and moon, male and female, sowing and harvest etc. Whatever is represented at Stonehenge it must have been meaningful to the life of the ordinary people. They above all else were bound to the basics of the natural world, its order and rhythm and this must have played a part in the religion and ritual played out at Stonehenge. And it seems entirely feasible Gwyn represented some aspects of their beliefs.

Dennis February 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I don’t wish to sidetrack into a discussion of early Christianity in these parts, but after John’s mention of the various hills beneath which Gwyn ap Nudd is said to reside, I remembered the Skirrid, or Ysgyryd Fawr, a mountain not far from Usk, or Brynbuga.

I’ll leave you to look up the links and references yourselves, but the Skirrid has long been known as the Holy Mountain or the Sacred Hill; it has the remains of an Iron Age enclosure on the summit and there are all manner of fascinating legends attached to it, while it was thought to have split in two at the moment of the crucifixion of Christ.

From distant memory, the Skirrid is just twelve miles or so from Usk, so I find it surprising that one hill or mountain should be considered sacred and should be linked with ‘the holiest of men’, while another nearby hill should bear a name suggesting that it’s the hill of a being who’s the polar opposite to Christ. I’d personally say that the legends connected to the Skirrid make the name Brynbuga even stranger; bearing in mind the sheer variety and concentration of supernatural beings in the area, from giants to the Fair Folk to ghosts and at least two haunts of the Cwn Annwn, it reinforces my belief that Brynbuga has something to do with Gwyn ap Nudd.

Otherwise, I note that Gwyn ap Nudd was also associated with woodlands and that travellers would appeal to him by name for permission to enter, something that brought to mind Wentwood in Gwent, the largest ancient woodland in Wales and once part of an even bigger forest.

Angie Lake February 8, 2012 at 12:55 am

I’m hoping this link will work to show you the view from the megalithic tomb known as ‘Arthur’s Stone’, near Bredwardine, to Skirrid Fawr. There are also links to the legends in comments under the photo:
I did feel at the time that the chamber was constructed so that the opening faced this outstanding view.
The mountain certainly seemed to focus the attention, with its superb shape, and I’d love to visit it one day. (Sugarloaf near Abergavenny is another!)

JohnWitts February 8, 2012 at 6:14 am

I have not researched this aspect myself, but I recall Gwyn being linked to St Michael (perhaps due to his association with Glastonbury Tor)

“To sum up we could say that we might well assume that a deity of the sun or sky of central importance developed into Gwyn. Even vast periods of time and dramatic historical changes were not able to remove this deity from the memory of men, neither in Celtic nor in mediaeval times – despite the enormous efforts of the Christian church. In fact, the Church had somehow to ‘absorb’ Gwyn and to fight him at the same time, and so St. Michael had to replace him – as a interpretatio Christiana”.

Dennis February 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Thank you, John, that’s fascinating. I was thinking about the word or name Gwyn last night, with its various meanings of white, shining, pure and holy, trying to think of some one or some thing that could be described by them all.

The first thing that sprang to mind was the Moon, which I think could reasonably be described in such a way. The other person or event that came to mind was the episode of the transfiguration in Matthew 17: 2, where Jesus went to the top of a mountain with some disciples and “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light”. I’ve always been intrigued by this event, not least because when it happened, the ghosts or spectres of two dead prophets also appeared and spoke with Jesus.

I think it’s inevitable that Gwyn ap Nudd would have been associated with Stonehenge for reasons I’ve already given, but the description of him as a ‘Winter King’ reinforces this idea, on account of the way that the monument was used at midwinter until the early 17th century. Then, of course, there’s the matter of Apollo Hyperborea, who was said to spend the winter months in Britain – this is all endlessly fascinating and I’m certain there’s a lot more to come, not least because I have some more thoughts on the matter myself, which I’ll post when others have made their contributions.

And thank you as well, Angie, for the links and the photos they contain. I regularly visited all these mountains when I was a child, while the last one I visited when I was last in Wales was the Blorenge. The Sugarloaf is the one that has the most prominent place in my memory, on account of all the wonderful days I spent there with my family when I was a child.

Neil February 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Looking at the link Angie sent through, Skirrid Fawr looks similar to the mountain in the middle of Crete that is supposed to be Zeus’s head (it might even be called Mt Zeus!), in a reclining position.

Also, I like Robin’s suggestions that the Silures could be from Iberia. I mentioned on another thread that their appearance could lead them to have been from Ireland, and therefore, possibly from Iberia (given the migration/invasion stories). From the little I’ve read, there seems to have been constant movement of peoples from Wales to Ireland and back, right up until more ‘historical’ times, with little kingdoms led by Irish leaders, especially on the coasts. Sorry, no sources to hand…

Dennis February 9, 2012 at 2:38 am

With direct reference to Nodens and his silver hand, I see that Lydney, with its notable temple in honour of Nodens, was in the heart of the realm of the Silures.

Furthermore, according to this link, there were notable silver mines on what are now the Welsh borders, territory that would again have belonged to the Silures, while other notable silver mines that were exploited by the Romans lay not far to the south in the Mendips.

JohnWitts February 9, 2012 at 6:44 am

Post-Roman and with important connotations in the geography of Arthur (and with that an unavoidable link with Gwyn) it seems ‘Cernwy’ is misplaced as Cornwall when in reality very much in the territory of the Silures

And from
“In the narrative of Culhwch ac Olwen where it is said: ‘Glwyddyn Saer who constructed Ehangwen (blessed or white spread), Arthur’s Hall’. so it seems possible that Camelot was white.

JohnWitts February 9, 2012 at 7:44 am

Sorry; under some time pressure this morning, but I could not resist a quick search for some more clues:

I) SIKYON Chief City of Sikyonia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 11. 1 :
“They [the Sikyonians] say that the sanctuary of Artemis and Apollon [in Sikyon] was made by [the mythical king] Epopeus, and that of Hera after it by [the mythical] Adrastos. I found no images remaining in either. Behind the sanctuary of Hera he [Adrastos] built an altar to Pan, and one to Helios (Sun) made of white marble. [At Sikyon] is built an altar to Pan, and one to Helios (Sun) made of white marble.”

And “The Welsh form Gwenhwyfar, which seems to be cognate with the Irish name Findabair, can be translated as The White Enchantress, or alternately The White Fay/Ghost”

Of course this may all be entirely coincidental and meaningless, but it seems the more you look the fact is the more coincidences- however tenuous – you see.

Alan Hassel (who was not afraid to offer alternative views) has now denied free access to his website but I do recall an article in which he mentioned white marble being found in abundance. I believe that this at Caermead Villa Llantwit Major.

Red Raven February 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Another possibility as to a connection with silver
Note the additional information at the bottom of the page.


Aynslie February 9, 2012 at 12:36 pm

John — Re: Arthur’s Hall and Camelot, Ehangwen was just one of many seats/halls/courts mentioned in written tradition, legend, poetry and pseudo-history that Arthur had around Wales and Southwestern England. Camelot as a name is a late-comer and could have been any or none of the earlier named locations.

Dennis February 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm

John and Red Raven, thank you both for these contributions. I don’t care if any links are tenuous to non-existent, because it is all of interest and it’s all food for thought, while I’d naturally like to be able to consider something then dismiss it if necessary, rather than not be aware of it at all.

As far as I can see, there are many possibilities ‘out there’ when we’re searching for information and ideas about Gwyn ap Nudd. I suspect that the matter of the silver hand pertains strictly to metal, given the existence of silver mines close to the temple of Nodens, but to consider other possibilities will do no harm at all.

It occurred to me that the Moon could be viewed as silver, while a number of modern songs attest to this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our ancestors saw it in the same light. I hadn’t thought of silver birch, but bodies of water can appear silver in certain lights and from certain viewpoints, while some fish, of course, are easily described as silver.

I can think of two possible links between the Silures and the Moon, but they’re extremely vague and speculative, so I’ll leave them until another time, because I suspect the story of Nodens, Gwyn’s father, deals squarely with the use of metal. At the same time, I’m interested in the idea of maimed kings, so I shall be returning to look at The White Goddess when I have time, as I’m certain there’s a lot of information and further food for thought there.

Again, with direct reference to the mighty warrior Gwyn, I think there are a great many aspects of the Silures to consider, so I’ll be writing about all this in the course of time, while I’m still pondering what Dr Robin Melrose has to say about the meanings of some of the words we’ve looked at. I find myself wondering about the repeated appearance of the word ‘white’, not least because it’s something I’ve written about at great length elsewhere in connection with the Druids and Albion.

Finally, for now, I’ll just give one small example of why I personally think it’s well worth scouring every possible source in the attempt to find some meaningful association that may in turn lead us somewhere else in our search for Gwyn ap Nudd.

A few days ago, I was idly leafing through a book entitled “Prehistoric Sites of Monmouthshire”, by George Children and George Nash when I came across the following in a discussion of Religion and Ritual on page 77:

“In addition to anthropomorphic deities, the Celtic imagination ascribed religious significance to birds and animals. This second group of beings includes ravens, swans, bulls, horses, stags and – among the Silures – cats. A number of tiles from Caerleon portray heads with cat-ears. Although found in a Roman context, it has been proposed that ‘all would seem to be directly relevant to native, doubtless Silurian, cults, and they are unparalleled….these strange cat-eared heads may thus reflect some genuine cult current amongst the Silures in which a deity, not necessarily to be regarded as a cat-god, at least has close affinities with cats in his cult legend, and perhaps traditionally manifests himself in feline form’. (Ross, 1967, 383-4).

Now, it may be a long shot, but when I read this about cats, my mind immediately went to the Heel Stone at Stonehenge – to cut yet another long story short, there’s clearly the head of some massive feline at the top, more akin to a leopard or lion than a domestic cat, but a feline all the same. I don’t know how or when this likeness came into being, but the Heel Stone itself is thought to have been one of the very earliest stones at Stonehenge.

As I’ve recorded elsewhere, the argument in favour of the bluestones having been brought all the way from somewhere in South Wales to Stonehenge by a human agency has received a boost, after the exact quarry was identified. We know from the discovery of the Boscombe Bowmen in 2003 that these men likely originated from south Wales or what was to become Gwyn’s territory, while the details in the story of Bluestonehenge lead us to believe that the bluestones were set up as early as 3,000 BC.

My point for now is simply this: there seems to be a lot of physical evidence that people from South Wales (the Men of THE Stones?) visited Stonehenge in its very earliest phases. Stonehenge, as a place of the dead, is therefore a portal to a latter Annwn as ruled over by Gwyn ap Nudd. The Heel Stone carries and perhaps carried a representation of a huge cat, and now I read of cat-heads in Caerleon – Gwyn’s territory – that “….are unparalleled….these strange cat-eared heads may thus reflect some genuine cult current amongst the Silures in which a deity, not necessarily to be regarded as a cat-god, at least has close affinities with cats in his cult legend, and perhaps traditionally manifests himself in feline form.”

I have no idea at all if Gwyn ap Nudd was ever thought of as a cat, but the presence of a feline head on a prominent stone that’s associated with brightness, light, the sun and so forth makes me wonder, while the fact that this stone is at Stonehenge or a portal to Annwn is all the more interesting.

Well, it’s up to others to decide if this has any possible value, so I’ll await your views on it all, after which I’ll post up something else that sprang to mind about the Silures, cats and Gwyn ap Nudd.

JohnWitts February 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Aynslie you are correct. The point I was making was a reference to ‘white’ and I should have made the connection clearer.

Just as Dennis does not want to venture into early Christianity, so I did not want to detour the thread to Arthur’s Camelot. However from Culhwch and Olwen: ” Drem son of Dremidydd, who saw from Celli Wig in Cornwall as far as Blathaon Head in Pictland when the fly rose in the morning with the sun. And Eiddoel son of Ynyr, and Glwyddyn the Craftsman, who built Ehangwen Arthur’s hall.”

I take Enhangwen to be a descriptive of the hall which is in this context is clearly located at at Celli Wig. Further information can be gleaned from Triad 1. ” Three Tribal Thrones of the Island of Britain:
Arthur as Chief Prince in Mynyw, and Dewi as Chief Bishop, and Maelgwn Gwynedd as Chief Elder;
Arthur as Chief Prince in Celliwig in Cornwall, and Bishop Bytwini as Chief Bishop, and Caradawg Strong-Arm as Chief Elder;
Arthur as Chief Prince in Pen Rhionydd in the North, and Gerthmwl Wledig as Chief Elder, and Cyndeyrn Garthwys as Chief Bishop”

Celliwiig is not in fact in Cornwall but the historical Cernwy which is clearly in South Wales west of Gwent and this is perhaps nailed by the chief Elder Caradawg Strong-Arm who was King of Gwent

However I do feel that we remain very strongly in the country where Gwyn ap Nudd has perhaps his strongest connections.

JohnWitts February 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

There is a lot of information on the Roman fort at Usk with a particularly interesting reference to Brynbuga as hill of the bogey(man)!

Dennis February 10, 2012 at 7:13 pm

It’s Friday evening and I doubt I’ll be making any meaningful contributions for a few days at least. Despite my rabid enthusiasm for this subject, I’m suffering badly from some seasonal ailment, but please by all means continue without me for the time being. Anon.

JohnWitts February 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm

I noted a “cats claw” i.e. Ysperir Ewingath, (see note 43)

I believe that Culhwch and Olwen reference some genuine traditions so those could be a line worth pursuing. Without further inquiry this may be a relevant place to start or perhaps just simply something of interest :

PS get well soon Dennis.

beaker February 11, 2012 at 12:18 am

haha, I just posted on another older thread, not realising this one existed, and here everyone is discussing the same stuff I posted about the mysterious St Melor. Great minds and all that!

The ‘silver’ could well be considered lunar or stellar rather than metal–for instance the goddess Arianhrod’s name means Silver Wheel and is taken as referring to the Northern Crown.

The word ‘bug’ as you’ve noted refers to a wide variety of supernatural beings, bogies and boggarts and bugganes etc; it is linguistically related to the eastern European ‘bog’ which in fact means ‘a god.’

Caer siddi is also known as Spiral castle; I think Robert Graves thought of it as a possible passage grave like Newgrange, with the spiral being the corbelled dome. However, it could be Stonehenge with its various ‘doorways’ and stone settings, perhaps seen as a sort of ritual maze that had to be passed through in a proscribed manner. The poem goes ‘all but seven none returned from Caer Siddi’…definitely a place associated with death. A similar place in Welsh legend is the Bone castle of Oeth and Anoeth which does remind me of a chambered long barrow.

JohnWitts February 11, 2012 at 7:19 am

In myths of Britain, Michael Senior says that “the Corona Borealis, the half circle of stars adjoining the constellation of Hercules in which this case this connection relates Aranrhod to the Greek Goddess Ariadne whose circlet these stars are said to be in that mythology. From the reference to Caer Aranrhod in the riddle of Taliesin, Robert Graves argues in The White Goddess that this – the circle of stars – is regarded as the Otherworld to which souls go after death and before rebirth, which would make Aranrhod a sort of goddess of death.”

Dafydd February 11, 2012 at 9:46 am

This is a most interesting article Dennis, thank you for your time and effort.

A few disjointed comments if I may…

GofM’s mention of giants brings to mind the legend of Beowulf and the Grendels. The Grendels were, according to the legend, some type of giant beings who preyed on humans in the dark of night. Their presence wasn’t limited to Scandinavia as I believe there are several place names in England which incorporate “grendel”, Grendel Lake, Grendel Pit, etc. I assume the Saxons, Angles, Jutes, etc. brought the name with them to Britain.

A brief description of these creatures can be found at

Regarding the Silures, they were a part of the Simeonite Tribe of Israel, the descendants of Shaul. The Simeonites and the Levites were noted for their fierce cruelty and war-like attributes, for which their father Jacob (Israel) soundly criticised them (Genesis 49:5). The Iceni were also Simeonites and possessed the same war-like attributes, but they differed in physical appearance. Shaul was Simeon’s son through a “Canaanitish woman” (Genesis 46:10) so it is assumed he had a more Mediterranean type complexion.

For more information on the locations of the Tribe of Simeon, see

Unrelated to this article, but which may be of interest, I recently read of the discovery of another henge less than one kilometre away from Stonehenge. This may be something you are already familiar with, but if not, more details can be found at

My best wishes for a speedy recovery,

JohnWitts February 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

From the really excellent ‘Early British Kingdoms’ website (which provides so many sources for reference) regarding St Melor

Dennis February 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm

In the normal course of events, I would write a great deal more here, both original pieces and replies to the contributions of others. However, I’m feeling severely under the weather, so I can’t hope to do justice to what’s been sent in, nor can I realistically write as well as I would ideally like to, so I hope this state of affairs doesn’t last long and I also hope everyone else will indulge me for a while.

I’d like to just briefly touch on the matter of a Silurian cat cult, which I mentioned earlier, because although there seems to be precious little to link Gwyn ap Nudd to cats, a few other details caught my eye. There is a case to be made, I understand, in favour of ‘Buga’ and other similar words to have come from the Indo-European root beu- or bheu-, meaning ‘to swell’, but I’ll leave it to Doctor Robin Melrose to enlarge upon this, [no pun intended].

As I wrote a few days ago, there is a Puck’s Lane in Usk, while the immediate region is home to another such manifestation and possibly more. As well as this, there’s the legacy of Arthur Machen and there are all the other sightings of supernatural creatures in the area, although I’ve not yet exhausted this subject. Again, as I wrote before, Brynbuga may mean ‘The Hill of Buga’ wherein Buga is a proper name, it may mean ‘The Hill of the ghost or spectre’, or it may mean ‘The Hill of THE Buga’, which is a more momentous matter altogether.

In brief, if it is true that these words derive from an earlier word meaning ‘to swell’, then this would be reasonable characteristic of Gwent’s seven giants, who could be said to have swollen from normal size to a far greater standing. The same reasoning might apply to deities who were once human, inasmuch as their standing has grown or inflated, while I also think it’s a reasonable characteristic of a ghost. I have numerous examples here, among my books on such things, of apparitions that rapidly inflated in size after they were first spotted, while we also speak of spectres and ghosts ‘looming up’ at us, which I think carries the same broad sense as swelling.

All of which made me think of cats. I’ve been around them all my life and the place where I live now is home to many such creatures, both domesticated pets and feral cats as well. If there’s one notable characteristic that a cat possesses, then it’s the ability to swell or swell up when it’s angry or threatened, something I see at least twice a day when I take my dog for a walk.

Everything that I know of any Silurian cat cult comes from the excerpt I provided earlier, while I know little of the connection between the variants on ‘buga’ and the possible origin in an earlier word meaning ‘to swell’ – nonetheless, given that the area around Usk or Brynbuga/The Hill of THE Buga is notably haunted, even if we only go by what Arthur Machen had to say, then I personally have no difficulty at all in seeing a connection between giants and spectres and at the same time, the veneration of cats, while there may yet prove to be more to the matter than just this.

For what it may or may not be worth, I have a lot more to say that might conceivably be relevant to the matter of Gwyn ap Nudd, but it will have to wait a little while longer, I’m afraid. In the meantime, thank you all once more for your kind words and for your fascinating contributions.

Tony Hinchliffe February 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm

For what it’s worth, I used to live at an intriguing placename in North Devon, High Bickington Parish, not so far from Umberleigh on the River Taw: that place is Little Silver House, at NGR 623209. I established that its name, like the similar ones (not that many) around Devon appeared to derive from their proximity to rivers, and therefore silvery reflections. And we had a magnificent view of such a phenomenon from our hilltop position.

I have since noticed in Wiltshire an abundance of Silver Streets, which it has been claimed relate to their orientation east-west, which cause a silvery hue on the road surface at sunrise & sunset.

But another possible explanation for some occurrences may be that the land was assessed in the Tithe Map era etc, as of little worth, or “little silver” – something I’ve recently noticed in a Wiltshire parish.

Dennis February 12, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Thank you for that, Tony, as I’m always interested in hearing of such things and I’d forgotten about the expression “of little silver”.

Otherwise, as I wrote earlier, I can think of numerous reasons for viewing Stonehenge as an entrance or portal to Annwn, something that would associate it with Gwyn ap Nudd or vice versa, while there’s the very pleasing and non-coincidental proximity of the silver-handed St Melor at nearby Amesbury.

Would anyone care to present a case – detailed or otherwise – for Silbury Hill and its immediate environs being thought of as another entrance to Annwn?

Angie Lake February 13, 2012 at 12:09 am

Hi Tony
Interesting to read that you lived in High Bickington parish. Though I live in S.Devon now, I was born and grew up in N.Devon, at Braunton. I believe there were silver mines around Combe Martin… must check this out.

In the past 18 months or so I’ve been doing research into the possible location of a ‘Celtic Sanctuary’ in the Bow area of mid-Devon (a proliferation of Nymets in the names of local villages, and Nemeton = Sacred Grove), and Hugh Franklin – whose essay on the area started me off – sent me this info:

“There is the indication of the wooded grove in the name “Silver Street” **Silva = Wood, not Silver.”

Opposite the field where Bow Henge (which was discovered in crop marks during an aerial survey in 1984) lies, are Silverstreet cottages. They sit on the other [N] side of the A3072 Copplestone to N.Tawton road, part of an ancient trade route to the north Cornwall coast.

Angie Lake February 13, 2012 at 12:23 am

Dennis… if Silva does mean ‘wood’, could that have anything to do with Silbury having a large post like the World Tree at its centre? No doubt they’d have found evidence of this when excavating it though? (I seem to remember there was a large hole down the middle from the top, but didn’t Skanska drill that one?) ;-)

Excuse me if you’ve already mentioned this in the thread, as I’ve only ‘dipped in’ to some of the comments. I have very little knowledge of the Welsh legends and am usually too tired when reading late at night to follow it all!

Anyway, we can only link that meaning .. Silva/Wood.. if the original name was ‘Silbury’, and how could we possibly know what its builders called it?

Dennis February 13, 2012 at 1:59 am

Angie, ‘silva’ means wood in the sense of a collection of trees, not the material, sadly. In 1723, some workmen planted trees at the summit of Silbury Hill on the orders of a Mr Halford or Holford, who was then the Lord of the Manor, but the name had been recorded as far back as 1281 as Seleburgh. As for knowing what its original builders called it, then one of my favourite quotes [which I've reproduced here many times before] is by Sir Thomas Browne:

“What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling Questions are not beyond all conjecture.”

I couldn’t agree more, so I aim to indulge in a great deal more conjecture and investigation on the subject of Gwyn ap Nudd, and quite possibly Silbury Hill in the process.

“On a huge hill, Cragged, and steep, Truth stands, and he that will Reach her, about must, and about must go.” As I have every intention of doing.

Robin Melrose February 13, 2012 at 6:36 am

Hi Dennis,

Interesting point about Silbury Hill being a portal to the underworld. The nearest thing to Silbury Hill is Glastonbury Tor which is of course natural, though the terracing of the hill may be man-made and Neolithic. Judging from the Sweet Track, and the relative silence of Glastonbury during the Bronze Age and most of the Iron Age, I wonder if the people of Glastonbury moved to Wiltshire (due to flooding) and built Silbury Hill in imitation of Glastonbury Tor. In that case, Gwyn ap Nudd would have originally been associated with Silbury Hill as well.

JohnWitts February 13, 2012 at 7:55 am

Strangely I do not recall stone circles being particularly strongly associated with portals and the otherworld. It may be the way the evidence has been presented but if anything, in folklore stone circles seem to be more associated with fertility and astronomy? This may well be a case of something I have not looked for so did not find (or perhaps failed to note). Certainly it seems an avenue worth pursuing and I have no doubt that Gwyn will crop up somewhere along the way.

chris johnson February 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Robin, I am also surprised why Glastonbury and Silbury are not conjoined more often in discussion. It could be that the Avebury folk were sufficiently inspired by what was happening at Glastonbury to build their own Tor, or people from Glastonbury took over at Avebury and got digging. At any rate the two locations are close enough for an exchange of people and ideas.

Personally I think Silbury was more of a portal to the heavens, not the underworld.

Dennis February 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I don’t ever remember stating my belief that stone circles [plural] were entrances to the Underworld or Otherworld, while it’s not a view I subscribe to. Stonehenge is not a place I view first and foremost as a stone circle, but Eternal Idol’s full of material from all manner of sources suggesting that the ruins were thought of as an entrance to the Otherworld.

In or around 1130, Henry of Huntingdon spoke of it as a place of portals or doorways, while I very much doubt that he was the first person to perceive the monument in this light. The ruins contained and probably still contain the remains of many of the dead, while the same can be said for the immediate vicinity and also the outlying barrow cemeteries, so it’s a very simple matter for me to see Stonehenge as an entrance to an Otherworld and that’s before I start thinking of ‘saints’ with silver hands and the like, who seem to be related to Gwyn ap Nudd, the Winter King.

As for Silbury Hill and Glastonbury Tor, they seem to possess many similarities. Both are striking inasmuch as they loom out of the landscape. Both appear artificial and while Glastonbury Tor is a natural feature, it has aspects that suggest it could have been fashioned by human or immortal hands. Both have suggestions of a spiral pathway, both have flat tops – although Silbury’s is far more pronounced – and both have had other mediaeval structures built at the summit.

Both Silbury Hill and Glastonbury Tor were once surrounded by water, making them islands that were cut off from the rest of the world, while both places unquestionably have a ‘mystical allure’ about them. Given these similarities alone, it would seem reasonable to think of Silbury Hill as an entrance to Annwn, but I think there are some further matters to take into consideration.

Annwn, as I understand it, is a realm of the dead that mortals can enter and leave under certain conditions, while the name itself probably meant something like ‘deep’. I’ve read of stories of King Zil on horseback haunting Silbury Hill on moonlit nights and these tales probably came about either through the sighting of a real phantom or else on account of the legends of King Zil being buried ‘deep’ within the strange hill, something else that suggests to me that it may once have been viewed as a portal to Annwn. The idea of a ghostly rider on horseback brings to mind Gwyn ap Nudd as the leader of the Wild Hunt, but I’ve not heard of any spectral hounds being spotted with this particular rider.

However, just up the hill and overlooking Silbury Hill is West Kennet Long Barrow. It seems to be perfect example of a Druid ‘specus’ as described by Pomponius Mela, and it seems to retain this use to this day, although the examples I’ve seen of this on the internet were not written by people who described themselves first and foremost as Druids. Its physical structure and former contents also equate perfectly with the Druid ‘ad infernos’, so this strange entrance to a purpose-built place of the dead directly overlooking Silbury Hill strikes me as a perfect entrance to Annwn.

Better still, there are stories that on Midsummer Morning, at sunrise, the long barrow is visited by a white or shining human figure, accompanied by a white dog with red ears, which seems to me to be an almost exact description of Gwyn ap Nudd in person, along with one of the Cwn Annwn, entering Annwn. There’s plenty about all this on the internet, but when I find time, I will trawl through some of the many books I have here in my study dealing with folklore and hauntings, while I still think there are other relevant observations to be made about Silbury Hill as far as Gwyn ap Nudd and Annwn are concerned.

JohnWitts February 13, 2012 at 5:45 pm

In an excellent essay by Larry Bull (University of the West of England, Bristol) on Stanton Drew, he proposes that the model for Silbury Hill was Maes Knoll. He says: “Further, given these similarities and a very similar landscape view of a conical hill next to a barrow-shaped hill, it may be suggested that a motivation for Silbury Hill was to reproduce Maes Knoll at Stanton. As noted above, conical hills certainly seem to have been important to the Somerset community. Once the similarities between Waden Hill and Settle Hill had been noted, the sites of Silbury Hill and the Sanctuary could have been marked”

Interestingly Maes Knoll is also associated with the Wansdyke

JohnWitts February 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm

A very quick and unscientific survey of the larger stone circles and the folk lore associated with them shows them to be considered petrified people (or giants). What that may mean I do not know, but in my mind I cannot imagine that there is a better example of what an entrance to the otherworld would be like than that offered by Bryn Celli Ddu. Angie is down as the contributor on

My feeling is that Gwyn is representative of the religion linked to megalithic tombs. The winter solstice is clearly important at two of the largest New Grange and Maes How and there is a discussion on this, as well as Bryn Celli Ddu on the following site

Dennis February 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm

I think that on balance, giants can be regarded as supernatural creatures, even though some very large men undoubtedly existed and from what I can recall, the Woodwose was said to have a physical reality as well. As for stones being petrified knights or maidens, then some element of the supernatural is clearly involved there as well, although I’ll have to trawl through some more books on folklore to see if there’s any suggestion of other stone circles – besides Stonehenge – being thought of as portals to an Otherworld.

It’s inevitable that we’ll digress, but I really want to stay on the matter of Gwyn ap Nudd, so with that in mind, thank you very much again, John, for providing all this interesting information which I’ll study as soon as I can.

Dennis February 13, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I have no idea how old the name Bryn Celli Ddu is, but I was interested to find this link suggesting that instead of “Mound in the Dark Grove”, it could instead be some kind of homage to a deity. I mention this, of course, on account of what John’s said about Gwyn ap Nudd and megalithic tombs, so if anyone can cast any further light on it, I’d be very grateful.

And while I remember, there is also this link from the BBC dealing with the antiquity of certain Welsh customs, something I had not heard about before.

Aynslie February 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

There are the Passage Tombs (Sidhe) all around the British Isles (most notably Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth in Ireland) which were believed to be entrances to the underworld home of the gods and then, later, the fairies. People (sometimes a few, sometimes dozens) were buried in side chambers along the internal passages of these mounds, rather than directly in the passages themselves, much as people were buried near Stonehenge rather than within it. Glastonbury Tor, though not a tomb, played a role identical to the Sidhe in the story of Gwyn ans St. Collen. Stories abound about people finding their way into the Otherworld through or under various burial mounds, as well as via caves.

Silbury may have been viewed in a similar way, as an Otherworld entrance, but I’m unaware of any stories about people entering another world through it or encountering gods or fairies or any other denizens of the Otherworld there. Do any exist? (I don’t count Zil as being in this category)

I’ve grown rather fond of the notion that Silbury, with its level top, might be an observation deck of some sort–a place to view sun/moon risings and settings and the night sky, in order to learn what the gods tried to teach through the movement of celestial bodies, perhaps as an aid to divination. Not being hollow or having any grave passages, Silbury’s focus seems to be external rather than internal.

Angie Lake February 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm

John says:
” … in my mind I cannot imagine that there is a better example of what an entrance to the otherworld would be like than that offered by Bryn Celli Ddu. Angie is down as the contributor on

The contributor name and date is misleading at the top of this site page. It must have been started off long before that, and not by me, though I have been inside Bryn Celli Ddu several times and have posted photos of it to the Megalithic Portal. (The pics on view when you open this page will be just the latest 25 or so. To view the earlier ones there is a link to click on just above these.)

On the subject of places similar to Silbury Hill, how about places near the Ness of Brodgar, like Maes Howe? Far-fetched, but in the recent programme ‘Orkney’s Stone Age Temple’, I seem to remember the theory emerging that this area was more important in its heyday than Stonehenge, and so there may have been a transfer of ideas north to south, rather than the other way around?

Dennis February 14, 2012 at 1:28 am

I do not know of any stories concerning people being able to enter or leave an ‘otherworld’ at Silbury Hill. I do not know how old or how genuine the stories of the phantoms are, but I find it remarkable that there should be a tale of a shining human figure entering a chambered tomb at sunrise on Midsummer’s Day, accompanied, of all things, by a large white dog with red ears, or one of the Cwn Annwn. I also find it remarkable that a figure on horseback is said to appear around Silbury Hill on moonlit nights, so what happens if we take away these apparitions?

We are left with a huge, chambered tomb, overlooking Silbury Hill and just a few hundred yards from it. The sheer size and nature of this long barrow makes it almost literally a portal to the realms of death, and it’s still functional millennia after its construction. If Glastonbury Tor was supposed to be an entrance to Annwn, then Silbury Hill seems like a smaller replica of the Tor, while the moat at its base would have effectively cut it off from the rest of the world, like some magical island.

Avalon was said to be the place where King Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds, or to rest or to be buried. I find it remarkable that Silbury Hill – or a smaller version of Glastonbury/Avalon – should have a story of a king being buried inside it or beneath it, and while the story or stories are meagre fare when compared with the Arthurian legends, there’s still a lot of detail to ponder.

The person said to haunt Silbury Hill and to be buried there is always linked with a horse. He’s either riding one in ghostly form outside the hill, or else he’s sat upon a life-size golden horse inside the hill, although another variation places him in a golden coffin. This person could have been a priest, Druid, ‘mighty warrior’, prince or huntsman, for example, but the stories specify that he’s a king and what’s more, we actually know his name. We might not understand who he was or what his name means, but I think that all the above constitutes a substantial amount of information.

I don’t know what if anything all this has to do with Gwyn ap Nudd, but in my opinion, Silbury Hill and its immediate environs such as West Kennet and East Kennet Long Barrows are huge, eye-catching structures that could well have been seen as either portals to an Otherworld or else otherworlds in their own right.

I think there are still more possibilities to be explored, so I’ll post them up in a day or so and if it’s not already obvious, I could not possibly be more interested in scouring all these subjects for even a tiny further clue about Gwyn ap Nudd and Annwn.

JohnWitts February 14, 2012 at 8:02 am

I hope this link works: (page 160) ***Mod. Note: If P.160 comes up blank, you may have to go to P. 158 in the Table of Contents, then click the forward arrow twice to get there.

It sums up perfectly what I have come to believe a probable explanation for Gwyn. Given his similarities with Osiris (another lord of the dead) whose cult is recorded circa 2500 BC but, surely would have developed earlier, it pushes Gwyn back in time before Stonehenge in its pomp.

The seasonal aspect of Gwyn hints very much for an agricultural context so it seems very likely that the religion was associated with the earliest farmers.

Regarding the Orkneys it has to be considered in a general scheme which suggests that it was one of the earliest megalithic centres sharing what seems to be a key coastal location (see map down the page on

DanJ February 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

As John’s last link clearly shows, Gwyn was the evil twin in a duo that encompassed both the sky and the underworld with both twins trying to dominate the real world. The twins fight every May Day (and, by corollary, every Samhain) for dominance and, by inference, the good twin wins, temporarily, until the next battle on November 1 when Gwyn gets the upper hand. So we cycle through summer and winter until their last battle at the end of time. As elegant an allegory of the seasons as the story of Prosperine and Pluto.

One thing that sticks out in this thread is a desire to dress Neolithic beliefs in the much higher quality raiment of the Iron Age. When Silbury Hill was piled up around 2500 BC, the belief system was a much more primitive and, by comparison, pure structure which lacked the anthropomorphic cynicism of later ages. One thing, however, is clear. Anything built towards the sky was not dedicated to the moldering ancestors in the underworld but to the sun and moon who ruled the sky and seemed to control human destiny and to the otherworld, where spirits soared free from the constraints of mortality.

We know from the axe factories spread throughout Britain that obtaining the rock for making sacred greenstone axes was not a trivial act as the miners at the Great Langdale Axe Factory in Cumbria would climb to the highest crags to extract their roughouts even though virtually identical material was available at the base of the mountain with little effort. Such devotion indicates a strong belief and points to the sky not the underworld. Burl believes the sacred axes were a manifestation of a solar cult that used the axes as proxies for the sun.

The same logic can be applied to the early, large stone circles, typically located on the highest ground available with vistas all around and possible alignments towards holy mountains. The same time these circles were being built, the long barrows and burial tombs of the past were being abandoned with signs of a changing belief structure probably originating or synthesized with the Orcadian Revolution. To me, this indicates a shift away from the underworld philosophy towards the more Apollonian belief in sky gods. This would imply, if anything, that stone circles served as entrances not to the underworld of darkness and chthonic dread but to the otherworld where death has no place and everything is fresh and new. Subsequent events, possibly the eruption of Thera and climatic downturn of the late 2nd millennium probably caused another shift in beliefs back towards a balance between the otherworld and the underworld and led to the evolution of the classical ancient gods with their all-too-human frailties.

Getting back to Silbury Hill, it does not stand alone in the landscape but has Avebury to the north and, more significantly, another artificial mound, the Marlborough, or Merlin’s, Mound to the east at a bearing of 89.2o. Marlborough Mound is only 8.3 km (5.2 mi) away and it strikes me as somewhat illogical to put two openings to the underworld so close together. The fact that these two mounds align to the rising sun at the equinoxes, the time of the pivotal shift towards the summer (North) or winter (South) sun, has to relate to the tremendous amount of labor involved in building both mounds and the purpose behind their construction. I don’t know if the two mounds were intervisible but have a hunch a fire built on top of the Marlborough Mound would stand out clearly to anyone standing atop Silbury Hill and herald the changing of the seasons twice a year.

When the Celts came on the scene, they obviously merged their beliefs with those of the indigenous people and imposed a much more sophisticated and symbolic framework on existing legends. Thus we have Gwyn ap Nudd, etc. rearing his ugly head and scaring small children at bedtime. Any story line the Celts adopted, such as Newgrange, Bryn Celli Ddu or Maes Howe being entrances to the underworld-or, for that matter, Stonehenge or Silbury Hill, are relatively modern inventions imposed on the remnants of the old Neolithic and Early Bronze Age civilization they found and have nothing to do with the intent or aspirations of the original builders.

Dennis February 14, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Dan, over the course of the last week or so, I’ve been relaxing and diverting myself by re-reading John le Carre’s Karla trilogy. All the books contain some wonderful and highly relevant stuff concerning multiple identities, reputations, motives, origins and so forth, but right at the start of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, there was this brilliant passage about a mysterious earthen feature at Thursgood’s school in Somerset:

“The Dip is a piece of Thursgood folklore. It lies in a patch of waste land between the orchard, the fruithouse and the stable yard. To look at, it is no more than a depression in the ground, grass covered, with hummocks on the northern side, each about boy-height and covered with tufted thickets which in summer grow spongy. It is these hummocks that give the Dip its special virtue as a playground and also its reputation, which varies with the fantasy of each new generation of boys. They are the traces of an open-cast silver mine, says one year and digs enthusiastically for wealth. They are a Romano-British fort, says another, and stages battles with sticks and clay missiles. To others the Dip is a bomb-crater from the war and the hummocks are seated bodies buried in the blast. The truth is more prosaic. Six years ago, and not long before his abrupt elopement with a receptionist from the Castle Hotel, Thursgood’s father had launched an appeal for a swimming pool and persuaded the boys to dig a large hole with a deep and a shallow end. But the money that came in was never enough to finance the ambition, so it was frittered away on other schemes….”

Like many others, I have my own ideas about what the original builders of Silbury Hill had in mind when they made this astonishing artificial mountain, but I don’t think it was anything to do with the people of the time re-affirming their links with Mother Earth with each basketful of soil they lovingly deposited there, which is the most recent notion I’ve heard espoused by The British Archaeological Establishment. I don’t know what the original purpose of Silbury Hill may have been, back in the dim and distant past, although it’s something I’m intensely interested in, but I’m also very interested in how it may have been perceived and viewed by later generations, especially those in the Iron Age, those who saw the place after the Roman occupation and those who saw it during the Dark Ages.

With specific reference to what you, Aynslie and others have said about Silbury’s heaven-reaching aspects, I think it’s worth looking again at what Professor John North had to say on the matter on page 278 of his 1996 book entitled Stonehenge, Neolithic Man and the Cosmos, when speaking about the Great Cursus at Stonehenge: “There are still writers who are content to allude to the possibility of racing on the site of a cursus, or of holding funereal games there – as described by Homer, albeit some two or three thousand years after our structures were built. It is hard to see what evidence one could ever find in support of these ideas, but when we consider the matter at all we are forced to acknowledge one important truth; from the fact that a monument was laid out with reference to the heavens it does not of necessity follow that it was always used with that reference in mind. The rituals of foundation are not necessarily the rituals of use.”

As with other matters, we can agree to differ on this, but I’m reasonably sure that our Iron Age ancestors would have viewed Silbury Hill and the nearby long barrows as entrances to the deeps of Annwn, but I’ll certainly present more evidence to bolster my case when I find some more time.

JohnWitts February 15, 2012 at 6:33 am

I suppose it depends on the base you start from as to what can be considered otherworldly but I can only think that entering the likes of Maes Howe and West Kennet was very much an out of the world experience. Looking for a modern parallel it could have been akin to the space and tranquility of a modern day cathedral.

In the scheme the of mounds the one at Hatfield Marden must not be forgotten and must have had some import. Concerning Silbury, Larry Bull proposes (section 5.5) that “this was perhaps not the first time the Somerset community had been involved in the construction of a large artificial mound since the second largest known example in the U.K. is Gop Hill in north Wales (see also Tomen-y-Faerde, Llanarmoon-yn-Ial [Cope 1998, p.81]). Other proto-Silbury artificial hills have been suggested by Burl [1976] to exist in Yorkshire – Ba’l Hill and Willy Howe – another area of Britain from which a distinct form of henge appears to have emanated (Type A [Burl 1991, p.13]) and so may have contained a significant community/culture. Somerset was connected to Yorkshire via the Jurassic Way (Bath to Rudston).”

And once here some consideration has to be given to St Michaels line who is proposed as the Christian substitute for Gwyn Christianised and which is suggestive of May 1 and Beltane – coincidentally the date given for Gwyn’s annual fight in Culhwch and Olwen.

JohnWitts February 15, 2012 at 7:45 am

A critical analysis of the Michael line

Tony Hinchliffe February 15, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Regarding LITTLE SILVER (my comment on 13 Feb at about Noon, following by 2 from you), yes, I agree another possible meaning could be in connection with the Latin name for wood = silvus/ silver. I recall there were also Little Silvers in Tiverton vicinity and near Great Torrington (both Devon). You can discover these in the Placenames of Devon literature.

I remember your mentioning the Nymet names in Mid-Devon earlier, and know Nymet Rowland as a placename. Isn’t “Nymet” a very ancient name associated with water and large land units? Now I remember trundling through on my low-powered motorbike as I familiarised myself with the Mid and North Devon countryside in the late 60′s, when we arrived down there, whilst studying Geography at Uni. (W.G. Hoskins was my Local Historian Hero back then).

Your going on to talk about Sacred Groves has suddenly made me stop and think: is it a coincidence that, near where I live toward the Westbury side of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, we have a Silver Street Lane, close to which is a Grove Junior School, along with lots of road names evoking “grove”, e.g. Hazel Grove, Hawthorn Grove. There may well have been a Roman population thereabouts, and a miniature figurine of a Roman God of horses was found nearby (and I live in the old ‘Studley’ part of Trowbridge, whose name derives from ‘horse pasture’). Perhaps I need to look on the Tithe Maps to find any preceding Grove Farm or similar, then we can really start to think in terms of an Iron Age Druid connection hereabouts!

I must go on to read the rest of the fascinating debate since around 13th February.

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