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.

northwest

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 http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/the-champions-portion-prehistoric-feasting-at-llanmaes.htm).

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vistula_Veneti), 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 http://www.uhu.es/pablo.hidalgo/docencia/registro/archivos/ljsanchez/the%20precolonial%20phoenician%20emporium%20of%20huelva.pdf.

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

http://ezinearticles.com/?Silver-and-Myth&id=4151917

“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:
http://www.celtnet.org.uk/gods_g/gwyn.html “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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-12518683 and there was also a huge marching camp http://www.roman-britain.org/places/blaencwmbach.htm 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 http://www.glastonbury-pilgrim.co.uk/st-collen.php 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:
http://www.megalithic.co.uk/modules.php?op=modload&name=a312&file=index&do=showpic&pid=78199
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)

http://www.thetemplebooklet.co.uk/gwyn_ap_nuddbyAngelikaRudiger.htm#_ftn4

“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 http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsBritain/CymruGlywyssing.htm.

And from http://www.celtnet.org.uk/gods_g/glwyddyn.html
“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:

http://www.theoi.com/Cult/HeliosCult.html

CULT IN SIKYONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinevere “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. http://heritage-key.com/site/caermead-roman-villa-llantwit-major.

Red Raven February 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Another possibility as to a connection with silver http://www.british-trees.com/treeguide/birches/nbnsys0000003827
Note the additional information at the bottom of the page.

RR

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 http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/caradfgt.html

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 http://www.roman-britain.org/places/burrium.htm. 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) http://druidnetwork.org/deity/mythology/grant_culhwch2

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 : http://www.celtnet.org.uk/miscellaneous/cath_palug.html

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 http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/nation10.htm

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 http://britam.org/simeon.html

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