Plotting Camlann: Letters from the Dead
“….and Morfran son of Tegid - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his ugliness. Everyone thought he was an attendant demon; he had hair on him like a stag. Sanddef Pryd Angel angel-face - no one wounded him at the battle of Camlan because of his beauty. Cynwyl Sant the saint – one of three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan; he left Arthur last, on Hengroen his horse.”
An Attendant Demon
The first mention of Morfran, son of Tegid is found in Culhwch and Olwen, dating to the 11th century it is the oldest Arthurian tale. Morfran is listed in the embedded triad above with Sandde Bryd Angel and Kynwyl Sant as three men who escaped from the battle of Camlan. Morfran, meaning literally ‘Great Crow’, was so ugly he was mistaken for an attendant demon. Morfran is listed among the many warriors of Arthur’s court invoked by Culhwch in his pursuit of the hand of Olwen daughter of the chief giant Yspaddaden. Morfran is also found in the later native tale The Dream of Rhonabwy, listed as one of Arthur’s counsellors.
Morfran is mentioned in two Welsh Triads (Trioedd Ynys Prydein); as one of the “Three Slaughter-Blocks of the Island of Britain” (TYP 24); and his horse is noted as one of the “Three Lovers’ Horses of the Island of Britain” (TYP 41); “silver-white, proud and fair, horse of Morfran son of Tegid.” According to Rachel Bromwich a ‘slaughter-block’ is a “chopping-block of battles, one who holds his ground firmly in battle, in spite of the enemy’s blows”
Morfran son of Tegid is listed as one of "The Twenty-four Knights of Arthur's Court" in a late manuscript where we find him again coupled with Sanddef Angel-Face as two of the "Three Irresistible Knights" along with Glewlwyd Mighty-Grasp. No one could refuse them anything: “Sanddef because of his beauty, Morfran because of his ugliness, and Glewlwyd because his size, strength and ferocity.”
Into the Darkness
But today, Morfran is probably best known for his part, albeit minor, in the Story of Taliesin (Hanes Talisien) in which he was the son of Ceridwen, the crooked sorceress. He is a purely mythical figure located at Penllyn, at the head of Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid); his father Tegid was said to have lived in the centre of the lake.
Evidently, this is a very old, well developed tale but does not appear in any Welsh manuscript until the 16th century; in the earliest version found in a manuscript written by Elis Gruffydd, Morfran is called Afagddu, ‘utter darkness’, because of his ugliness. In later versions Afagddu, or Y Fagddu, has become Morfran’s ugly brother.
Realising her son would never come to anything because of his looks, Ceridwen boiled a cauldron of a special herbal concoction for a year and a day. At the end of this period the cauldron would produce three drops of the brew which would instil extraordinary wisdom and the gift of prophecy to whoever they should fall upon. Gwion Bach and an unnamed blind companion tended the cauldron for 12 months and when the three drops spring forth they land on him. We hear no more of Afagddu who disappears from the tale. Ceridwen sets after Gwion in a shapeshifting chase, finally to swallow him as a grain of wheat. Nine months later Ceridwen gives birth to Taliesin the bard of radiant brow.
Morfran’s Otherworldly qualities dominate modern stories of him, in which he is seen as the personification of the shadow. This concept arises from our first encounter with him; the chilling prospect of coming face-to-face with a demon on the battlefield would send a shiver down the spine of most warriors who, would at that moment, have departed from their corporeal existence and entered the spiritual realm.
Next >> Sanddef Pryd Angel
Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University of Wales Press, Fourth Edition, 2014.
Patrick K Ford, The Mabinogi and other Welsh Medieval Tales, 30th Anniversary Edition, University of California Press, 2008.
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, Llwellyn, 2013.
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