Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Fair One with a Skillful Hand

Lud's Church XI

Gwydyon ap Don, of toiling spirits,
Enchanted a woman from blossoms,
And brought pigs from the south.
Since he had no sheltering cots,
Rapid curves, and plaited chains.
He made the forms of horses
From the springing pants,
and illustrious saddles. [1]

Lleu Llaw Gyffes
If we accept Eric Hamp’s theory [2] that the Mabinogi originally was a cycle of tales pertaining to the family of Pryderi, an account of the birth, disappearance and restoration of Mabon, which being another name for the British god Maponus, the divine son, whose imprisonment and release is one of the tasks Culhwch must accomplish to win Olwen in Culhwch and Olwen, then the Fourth Branch, The Mabinogi of Math, probably terminated in the death of Pryderi at the hands of Gwydion’s magic which was recorded in the original “Battle of the Trees” (Discussed in Part X – The Enchantment of Gwynedd).

In the Fourth Branch Lleu Llaw Gyffes is not yet born at the time of the Battle over the stolen pigs between Gwydion and Pryderi and therefore does not feature in the poem “The Battle of the Trees” either. It would therefore appear that the tale of Lleu was a later appendage to the original tales of Mabon and family, probably because ultimately it portrays a cycle of birth, death and rebirth, as we shall see.

Lleu’s first appearance in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi is after the death of Pryderi in battle with Gwydion and his magic. The battle was constructed by Gwydion by stealing Pryderi’s magic, otherworld pigs, in an attempt to get Math’s foot-holder Goewin on her own so that Gwydion’s brother Gilfaethwy, who had fallen hopelessly in love with her, could get her on her own. The result of this was that Math had to find another maiden foot-holder. Gwydion and Gilfaethwy suggested their sister Aranrhod, daughter of Don, but she failed Math’s virginity test when stepping over his magic wand and dropped a curly yellow haired boy, Dylan, Prince of Wave, and then as she ran for the door dropped another small something, which Gwydion immediately took away and hid in a chest at the end of his bed. This grows fast as a fair haired boy. Gwydion took the four-year-old, often referred to as ‘his boy’ to Aranrhod, but she denied the boy was hers and places three curses on him over a period of time. Firstly she denies him a name unless she names him herself, which she does after he hits a wren with a needle, when disguised a shoemaker, the naming incident is clearly very significant. ‘God knows,' said she 'the fair one strikes it with a skillful hand’. Gwydion then said ‘he has obtained a name, and the name is good enough "Lleu Skillful Hand" he will be from now on.'

As we saw in Part VII - Songs from the Sons of Llyr there are two variants to this name in Welsh, Lleu/Llew: the later appearing in later versions of the tale and probably due to scribal error; the former is the original as revealed by the rhyme scheme in at least two poems; one in the Mabinogi of Math in the stanzas sung by Gwydion to Lleu while he is in the form of an eagle, the other from the Book of Taliesin.

In the Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch, The White Book of Rhydderch, he is known as both Lleu and Llew, although it is mostly written as Llew in the White Book texts and the spelling Llew is more common in Mabinogi texts probably having arisen from the ambiguities of early welsh spelling and manuscript errors. Although they may sound similar, Llew translates as ‘lion’ which is quite different and therefore is sometimes translated as the “Lion with the Steady Hand” which is quite incorrect as the naming of Lleu Llaw Gyffes is revealed in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, as we have seen above as 'the fair one with a skilful hand’, as Lleu means “light” or “fair” as in colour. [3]

This is confirmed as the oldest fragment of the Mabinogi of Math mab Mathonwy, found in the Peniarth 16 Manuscript, gives “Lleu” ONLY as the name. The rhyme in the three ancient englynion contained in the tale of Math shows that the true form of the name is Lleu:

Dar a dyf yn ard uaes,
Nis gwlych glaw, mwy tawd nawes.
Ugein angerd a borthes.
Yn y blaen, Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

An oak grows on a high plain,
Rain wets it not, though doth corruption seep
A score of crafts does it uphold
And at its crown Lleu of the Skilful Hand [4]

There is still much discussion between scholars as to the interpretation of Lleu's name and suggestions have been forward as 'The Bright One/The Shining One' based on the presence of the component 'lleu' meaning ‘light’ in Cymric. This led many Victorian scholars to propose Lleu as a sun-god, [5] although modern opinion seems to have moved away from this as an out-dated notion.

Lleu is also related to the Cymric word goleu literally meaning 'banisher of darkness', stemming from the proto Indo-European root *leug- (blackness, darkness) word and it has also been suggested that Lleu may be related to the proto-Celtic root *lug- (oath) which is linked both to pledges and contracts. A significant retort exists between the name 'Lugus' and the Old Celtic stem lugi- meaning "to swear, oath" (appearing in Irish as luighe, in Welsh as llw, and in Breton as le). [6]

Lleu, coupled with the epithet Llaw Gyffes (Skillful Hand) shares many qualities and is undoubtedly cognate with the Irish deity Lúgh as represented in Irish mythological texts as hero and King of Tuath de Dannan. Lúgh is known by the epithets Lámhfhada ("long hand"), Ildanach ("skilled in many arts"), Samh-ildánach ("Equally skilled in many arts"), Lonnbeimnech ("fierce striker"). These epithets are far too deliberately similar for the connection of Lleu to Lugh to be purely coincidental as we will see later.

The Warrior's Graves
In addition to the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, the name Lleu also appears in the Triads, the Book of Taliesin and in the Stanza of the Graves or Englynion y Beddau (also known as 'The Graves of the Warriors of the Island of Britain'), found in a number of Welsh manuscripts, the earliest and most important is in the Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin) collection containing seventy-three stanzas; although the Black Book manuscript dates to the 13th century Thomas Jones has dated the original text to the 9th- or 10th-century but they probably represent much older oral folklore traditions. [7] The Stanza of the Graves although not specifically giving the site of Lleu’s grave states it is under the sea near the grave of his kinsman, [8] this is generally presumed to be a reference to Dylan Eil Ton, who as we have seen, according to the text of the Fourth Branch, is Lleu's twin.

The traditional site of Dylan’s grave is at Maen Dylan, a large stone situated along the shoreline at Aberdesach, near Clynnog-fawr, within Caernarfon Bay. Less than two miles along the coast to the north of Maen Dylan, situated on the sea-shore, near to the village of Llandwrog, just off the A499, lies Dinas Dinlle(u) (grid ref: SH437563) on the seaward boundary of a large strip of land, called Morfa Dinlleu, running north up to The Bar, entrance to the Menai Strait. Local tradition claims that Lleu Llaw Gyffes lived at Dinas Dinlle and that Dinas Dinlleu was named after him, meaning literally "City of Lleu's Fortress".

The remains of this large circular hillfort, next to the sea, was originally defended by double banked ramparts some six metres high and deep ditches, with an entrance to the south-east. There are a number of depressions within the ramparts where huts once stood as well as a badly damaged mound which could be the remains of a round barrow. The western edge is steadily eroding into the sea. It is claimed the Roman road Watling Street originally ended here. The site has not been fully excavated, but sherds of Roman pottery have been discovered in the past, suggesting occupation or reoccupation in the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD

The grave of Lleu’s kinsman’s referred to in the Stanza of the Graves may not be Dylan after all, as there is the possibility that it is his Uncle and foster father, Gwydion who is also said to be buried at Morfa Dinlle [9]

After the naming episode in the Fourth Branch when he hits the wren and receives his name from Aranrhod as 'the fair one with a skilful hand’, Lleu and Gwydion return to Dinas Dinlle:

“The following morning in the young of the day, they walked along the beach up as far as Brynn Aryen; and at the top of Cefyn Cludno, they kitted-out [some] horses and went along to Caer Aranrhod”[10]

East off the shoreline at Dinas Dinlle there is a cluster of rocks, a reef known as Caer Aranrhod which is named after Lleu's mother. The City, or Caer, of Aranrod, is reported to have been engulfed by the sea; the ancient site occasionally comes to view at low tides, not far from Clynnog.

For the site of The Castle Of Aranrod, Charlotte Guest in her notes to the Mabinogion, quotes Rev. P. B. Williams, in his "Tourist's Guide through Caernarvonshire," speaking of Clynnog, he says: "There is a tradition that an ancient British town, situated near this place, called Caer Arianrhod, was swallowed up by the sea, the ruins of which, it is said, are still visible during neap tides, and in fine weather."

Although it is said that Caer Aranrhod refers to the submerged reef, however, we have seen previously that Aranrhod’s name is originally and consistently spelled Aranrot, meaning ‘big, round wheel’ having astrological connotations; this has been interpreted in some traditions as the Milky Way, but the Milky-way is named after Gwydion, termed Caer Gwydion, who gave his name to the constellation of Cassiopeia, in Welsh, Llys Don, (the Court of Don). We find the Welsh name for Lleu’s mother in the constellation of the Corona Borealis; Caer Arianrod.

The Stanza of the Graves confirms the association of this episode of the Fourth Branch with Clynnog:

“where the wave makes a noise,
the grave of Dylan is at Llanfueno” [11]

Llanfueno is the church (Llan = enclosure or church) dedicated to St Bueno which lies south along the coast from Dinas Dinlleu and Maen Dylan in the village of Clynnog Fawr. It has been argued recently that the redaction of the stories of the fourth branch of the Mabinogi (Math vab Mathonwy) took place in the monastic settlement (Welsh clas) at Clynnog. [12]

click for larger image

Saint Beuno, was perhaps the greatest of North Wales Celtic saints, legends linking him with miraculous healing powers. He founded the monastery at Clynnog Fawr in 616 AD and the Church founded around 630 AD. Clynnog Church, large for a small village settlement, became an assembly point for pilgrims bound for Bardsey Island. Saint Beuno founded a "clas" (a hybrid between a Monastery and a College) an institution peculiar to the Celtic Church, and it became the most important ecclesiastical centre for Western Caernarfonshire. The group of clergy who held it appear in the oldest manuscript of the Venedotian Code, under the name of ‘clas Beuno’.

The second curse that he shall not bear arms unless Aranrhod does herself, which she does after Gwydion creates the allusion of a fleet of ships attacking.

Not of mother and father
The third course she inflicts on Lleu is that she shall not have a mortal wife, which leads Gywdion and Math to construct Blodeuedd, as revealed in the Battle of the Trees:

Not of mother and father,
When I was made,
Did my Creator create me.
Of nine-formed faculties,
Of the fruit of fruits,
Of the fruit of the primordial God,
Of primroses and blossoms of time hill,
Of the flowers of trees and shrubs.
Of earth, of an earthly course,
When I was formed.
Of the flower of nettles,
Of the water of the ninth wave.
I was enchanted by Math,
Before I became immortal,
I was enchanted by Gwydyon [13]

Blodeuedd ('Flowers' 'Blossoms') took Goronwy, the lord of Penllyn as a lover and tricked Lleu into revealing how he could be killed:

‘It is not easy,' Lleu continued 'to kill me by a blow . It would be necessary to spend a year making the spear to strike me with - and without making any of it [at any other time] except when one was at mass on Sundays.'
'And is that certain?' she asked.
'It's certain, God knows,' he replied 'I cannot be killed inside a house, nor outside,' he continued 'I cannot be killed on horseback or on foot.'
'Aye,' said she '[so] in what way can you be killed?'
'I'll tell you,' he replied. 'By making a bath for me by the side of a river, making a curved, slatted roof over the tub, and thatching that well and without [leaving] any gaps. And bringing a buck,' he continued 'and putting it next to the tub, and me putting one of my feet on the buck's back, and the other one on the side of the tub. Whoever would strike me [while I am] like that would bring about my death.'

She gave the secret of how to kill Lleu to her lover Goronwy, who then spent a year and a day making the spear. She then gets Lleu to act out how he can be killed while Goronwy is hiding behind Brynn Cyfegyr (hill of combat) on the bank of the River Cynfael.

Lleu emerged from the bath in a gazebo-like bath house (having no walls but a roof), neither “indoors or out” with one foot on the back of a goat (a billy-goat in Welsh is bwch gafr 'buck goat') neither “on horseback or on foot” and the other on the edge of the bath, neither “on land nor on water”. Gronowy rose up from behind the hill and cast the poison spear and struck him on the side. Lleu being struck with the only weapon that could kill him: a spear that has been forged for a year and a day "while folk are at mass on Sunday" immediately turned into an eagle and took flight letting out a terrible scream. Goronwy then took control of Lleu’s lands and ruled over both Ardudwy and Penllyn.

Gwydion searches all over for Lleu, eventually he finds him by following a sow into a valley, Nant Lleu, which is now called Nantlle in western Snowdonia, just a few miles east of Dinas Dinlleu.

Lleu transformed as an Eagle - Alan Lee

Gwydion could see the sow was grazing on rotting flesh and maggots that fell from the eagle when he shook himself. He realised that the eagle was Lleu and sung to him to entice him down as we saw in Part IX – Math’s Tale. Lleu fell into Gwydion's lap who struck him with his magic wandand he changed back to his human form but was nothing but skin and bones. Gwydion took him back to Caer Dathyl, and with the best doctors in Gwynedd brought him back to good health before the end of the year.

1. The Chair Of Ceridwen. Book Of Taliessin XVI - From The Four Ancient Books of Wales by W F Skene.
2. Mabinogi and Archaism, Celtica 23 by Eric P Hamp
3. Celtic Culture, A Historical Encyclopedia By John T. Koch, 2006, pp 1164 – 1166
4. The Fourth Branch oh the Mabinogi: Math mab Mathonwy.
5. See for example John Rhys, The Hibbert Lectures, The Origins of Religion in Heathendom.
6. Lugus: The Many-Gifted Lord by Alexei Kondratiev. Originally published in An Tríbhís Mhór: The IMBAS Journal of Celtic Reconstructionism #1, Lúnasa 1997.
7. The Black Book of Carmarthen, The Stanzas of the Graves, Thomas Jones - John Rhys Memorial lectures, Proceedings of the British Academy 53 (1967).
8. Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin, edited by A O H Jarman, Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1982.
9. In her Notes to Math The Son Of Mathonwy in her Mabinogion collection Lady Charlotte Guest states that “The grave of Gwydion ab Don has not been left unrecorded; it was in Morva Dinllev, the scene of one of his adventures with Llew Llaw Gyffes.” However, she does not name her source.
10. The Fourth Branch oh the Mabinogi: Math mab Mathonwy.
11. Thomas Jones, 1967, op cit.
12. “Clas Beuno and the Four Branches of the Mabinogi” - P. Sims-Williams, in 150 Jahre “Mabinogion” B. Maier and S. Zimmer (eds.), 2001, pp111-127
13. The Book of Taliesin VIII - From The Four Ancient Books of Wales by W F Skene.

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