In a previous post, I mentioned that researching for any writing project can take you to strange places, and I’ve particularly enjoyed reacquainting myself with Welsh myths and legends.
I remember being enthralled when a storyteller came to my school years ago and told us the tale of Taliesin. Ever since that day, I’ve loved traditional story-telling. There’s something timeless and important about passing on our heritage of stories.
Anyway, while filling in the gaps in my memory, I came across details and stories that made me smile, and I thought I’d share some favourites here.
- Everyone gets turned into animals
Welsh myth does a great line in metamorphosis stories, and these are the ones that I think really stick in a child’s imagination. From the punishment of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, who are turned into deer, then pigs, then wolves, to the witch Ceridwen pursuing Taliesin as they turn themselves into different creatures, you get a quantity of transfigurations that even Professor McGonagall would be impressed by.
2. These stories don’t pull any punches
Sometimes myths can seem like a precursor to fairy tales. And thanks to Walt Disney, we forget just how dark fairy tales often are. Well, the Mabinogion (that’s one of the main collections of stories in Welsh tradition) is dark. Really dark. Think Game of Thrones levels of violence, murder and rape. In one story, almost the entire population of Ireland is wiped out in battle, leaving only five pregnant women as survivors. Bet you miss those ‘turning into animals’ stories now, right?
3. The Battle of the Trees
OK, this one I absolutely love. The sons of Don go up against the forces of the Welsh Otherworld. And if you’re fighting soldiers from the land of the dead, you need a bit of magic to help you, right? Gwydion and Lleu magic themselves an army OF ACTUAL TREES. Walking, fighting trees. How cool is that? The hero of the battle is a holly tree, obviously.
4. There’s a special prize for pronouncing the names
Well, not exactly. But you join a secret club or something. If you’re not a native Welsh speaker (and statistically, let’s face it, most people reading this won’t be) you might struggle with all the strange names: Blodeuwedd, Bendigeifran and Eurosswydd might trouble you, while names like Llyr leave my English friends shrieking ‘but where are all the vowels?!!’ Get someone Welsh to coach you in how to say these names. They are beautiful when pronounced properly.
5. The Welsh get great monsters
The Welsh may be known for their dragons, but did you know we also have fairies, lake monsters, water spirits, giants and the Llamhigyn Y Dwr, a frog-like creature with bat’s wings and a lizard’s tale? And you thought Wales was just full of sheep.
I hope that this has convinced you that Welsh legends are worth a read. They may be strange and in places a bit grim, but they are also magical and evocative.