Why Gwyn ap Nudd rules the Tylwyth Teg

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In ancient times, according to the tale of Lludd and Llefelys, Britain suffered from three tribulations. One of these was an invasion of the island by the Coraniaid – a race of dwarves who could not be defeated, because they could hear any word that the wind could carry. The Welsh Triads add that the Coraniaid originally came from Asia (which in those days meant anything east of Greece, including what we call today “The Middle East”). Some versions of the Triads are more specific, and say that the Coraniaid came from Arabia. This is significant, but that’s for another post.

Lludd of the Silver Hand, King of Britain, defeated the Coraniaid using advice given by his brother Llefelys, the King of Gaul. Although the Coraniaid in Britain were all killed, the tale notes that they might return in the future, and the secret of how to kill them was preserved against that event.

In fact, we shall see they did return – and a modern-day Druid may well encounter them.

Walter Evans-Wentz, in his 1911 book “The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries”, records a great deal of Welsh lore about the people known as the “Tylywyth Teg” – in English, “the Fair Folk”. Evans-Wentz noted down accounts from people all across Wales, ancient folklore passed down amongst the Welsh-speaking community which still firmly believed that the Tylwyth Teg were real. The details differed from location to location, but there are common elements:

  • The Tylwyth Teg usually appear to be small, dwarf-like in size. However, they can appear human-size if they wish, and can ride horses.
  • They are invisible to humans. However, they can be seen if they choose to be seen, or if a human has the Second Sight (by birth, or later acquired).
  • They live in the Otherworld, but can come to our world at will via lakes, rivers, tunnels, burial mounds, and rings of mushrooms. Humans are also able to cross into the Otherworld by these paths.
  • The Tylwyth Teg can marry humans, and women of both the Tylwyth and human races can bear children in these cases.
  • The Tylwyth are a merry race, and can invite (or induce) humans to join their revelry.
  • Time in the world of the Tylwyth Teg is not the same as time in the human world; a fortnight there can be two years here.
  • The Tylwyth Teg are mortal, though because their time in their realm is slower than in ours, they appear to live far longer than humans. (It may be that their lifespan in their world is similar to ours in our own. Using the relationship from the previous point, one of the Fair Folk who lived for seventy years according to their own perception would live for 3,640 years in our world!)
    In some parts of Wales, the Tylwyth Teg were regarded as being hostile to humans. Elsewhere, however, they seem to be indifferent, or even friendly. This suggests that, like the ancient Britons, they live in clans or tribes, with different customs.
  • It was also reported that “they were sharp of hearing, and no word that reached the wind would escape them” – just like the Coraniaid!

It cannot be doubted that the Coraniad and the Tylwyth Teg are one and the same. The latter must be a second wave of settlers in Britain, who have learned from the fate of their predecessors. Where the first wave seem to have contested possession of our realm with the Britons, and as a result were wiped out by Lludd of the Silver Hand, the second wave seem to have opted to live more or less peacefully alongside us, in a realm which we perceive as being beneath the earth. Or, perhaps, they have been compelled to live peacefully…

In Culhwch and Olwen, we are told that Gwyn ap Nudd was “placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race“. That raises some interesting questions. Who are the devils? Why are we, the human race, described as “the present race”? And why would the “devils” seek to destroy us?

The answer may already be apparent to you. In English, Gwyn’s name means “Gwyn, son of Nudd”. Scholars, meanwhile, tell us that ‘Nudd’ is simply a different form of “Lludd” . And Lludd is, of course, the King of Britain who originally slew all of Coraniaid then in Britain, and who made sure that the secret of how to destroy them was preserved.

Gwyn, it seems, inherited his father’s secret, how to destroy the Coraniaid, and is therefore able to compel them to obey him. If it were not for that, the Tylwyth Teg – who inhabit Annwn as well as this world – might seek to destroy the humans of the present day in revenge for the fate of their predecessors…

There is more to be said about this – for example, where the Coraniaid/Tylwyth Teg originally came from – but that’s for another post.

Image credits: Ecoute by Philippe Rouzet on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

One comment

  1. Your articles on Gwyn ap Nudd and His relationship with the Tylwyth Teg seem more and more relevant lately. As a result, I started pondering was Lludd’s weapon was and read about the insects. That started me on a path of investigating insects from France that humans crush up in water. That led me to kermes insects, which produce the carmine red dye. I thought that was an interesting parallel.

    Like

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