Gwyn ap Nudd the god of Avalon and king of the faeries.
Gwyn ap Nudd, whose name means “white son of Nudd” (or Nodens, Nuada, or Ludd, variations of Nudd) or in some interpretations “white son of night” ( or mist) is commonly known as the king of the faeries, as well as the guardian god of the Celtic underworld Annwn. He is often associated with Glastonbury, his home being the mythical glass castle beneath the Tor. He is also connected specifically with the welsh faeries, the Tyllwth Teg
At Samhain 2005 I was honoured to be asked by the organisers of the White Spring to initiate a faery space for the building, honouring in particular Gwyn ap Nudd (pronounced Neith) the king of the Avalon faeries.Having long felt a connection with Gwyn I had facilitated a journey circle at the spring that day to encourage others to connect with this ancient and powerful being. My own work with Gwyn had always led me to see a dolmen arch at the base of the Tor as the means of entry to his realm, and I was instructed by Gwyn to paint this dolmen entrance on the back wall of the spring which whilst already being the space put aside, is also the blocked entrance to the natural tunnels at the base of the Tor itself – thus magically reactivating and reopening this sacred portal.
I believe that access within the Tor has never been denied shamanically to those of appropriate intent, never the less, to make a representation in the outer world of this path between realities in situ has been a powerful experience for me.Wonderfully assisted by my partners artistic skill, I drew the lines of the doorway, guided by my allies and the genius loci- the spirits of place, always feeling Gwyn’s watchful presence and empowerment. As soon as the main shape was marked out on the wall I felt the flow of energy which I have always felt flow through the wall increase dramatically. I was instructed to feature certain other details on the portal- the red and white dragons, the Awen and the Ogham tree alphabet as guides and clues for those that wished to travel through. The work was complete by Imbolc 06, when I was also honoured to publicly draw the water from the white in honour of Gwyn and ritually mix it with the red water of Chalice well, signifying the magical alchemy of these powerful Glastonbury energies. For many months after, I dreamt continually of entering the Tor via the portal as well as meeting spirit and faery companions in the building itself, developing my connection with these beings and energies beyond any thing I would have anticipated.
Sometimes my explorations have been finely detailed and full of colour and light, whilst at other times I have been surrounded and supported by the darkness for what has seemed eternities. I now see this as my entering into a deeper level of connection with Gwyn and Annwn itself, inducing an inner reordering of my roots and core and strengthening my connection to Source.
Whilst often upon entering Annwn all becomes black for a while, there is nothing to fear. All that has served its purpose breaks down, and what is left is something pure, supported and sheltered by the womb of the earth. And yet that is only a threshold, for beyond that is the spirit of the earth, a brilliant light which is the Source of us all. It is this journey that Gwyn oversees, both for living travellers and the spirits of the dead. Ancestors can be found in Annwn, often in my experience in a vastcavern lit by the light of the earth rising up from below like a fire, but they may be found in many other settings also. Dragon energies, awesome pulsing beings that mediate the fiery earth energy in and out of the planet, as well as rootbeings and vast intelligences, perhaps like the ancient Greek Titans, which affect large weather patterns, volcanoes and earthquakes can also be found by exploring this realm, as can the earth goddess herself of course,often seen as a weaver goddess creating our destiny as well as our physical matter. It is especiallythis return to Her that Gwyn facilitates.
Sources from the middle ages associate Gwyn with the forest as a hunter deity, as well as the king of the faeries, and he can perhaps be equated with Herne and Cernunnos. In the fourteenth century, welsh soothsayers would invoke him for assistance. “To the king of spirits, and to his Queen, Gwyn ap Nudd, you who are yonder in the forest, for love of your mate, permit us to enter your dwelling.”
Tradition relates that Gwyn rides out each Samhain ( Oct 31st) as leader of the Wild Hunt, and scours the country in search of the spirits of the dead. His hounds, the Cwn Annwn, are white with red ears, identical to the hounds of the wild hunt lead by other gods such as Woden and Arawn. This connection between the faeries and the spirits of the dead, and their realms, is well documented in folklore and the Celtic tradition, attested to by the numerous tales of entering the faerie realm via burial mounds or barrows, and of travellers to faery seeing their dead relatives or neighbours at the festivities.
Gwyn as hunter god is traditionally accompanied by an owl. which gives further clues to his nature, as does his association with his favourite hound, Dormach with the ruddy nose. Hounds and dogs often being attributed as helping access the other world, as well as being eaters of dead or negative energy. Dormachis praised in “the dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd” from the Black Book of Carmarthen, where Gwyn’s attributes and exploits as a mighty warrior are listed. “ Gwyn ap Nudd, the hope of armies, sooner would legions fall before the hoofs of thy horses, than broken rushes to the ground.” His white horse Du earns him the title “the pale rider” a traditional title for the figure of Death.
Often within Annwn and his faery court within the Tor, I have seen Gwyn as a being of brilliant white light, sometimes riding enormous dinosaur like beasts that seem to be made of tar. It is my opinion that these are like the Formoire of Irish tradition- great primordial beings, earth elementals which often devour decaying energies. These are part of the eternal recycling of the planet and nothing to be feared, unless you want to hold on to something whose time has passed. In my experience Annwn is a place of great nurture and compassion which reveals your own darkness as a tool for transformation.
Gwyn is often described as a brilliant white glowing figure, much like the shining ones of the sidhe and tyllwth teg, of which he is leader. The tyllwth teg are famous for their dancing and revelries, and the welsh bardDavydd ap Gwylim believed Gwyn and his people responsible for playing numerous tricks on him. Unusually Gwyn is sometimes seen as having a blackened face, the mark of the underworld, and making an interesting comparison with the tradition of the Crow Morris, or Samhain Morris dancers, which are still extant in various forms across the West Country. As a being of glowing white light he matches his name,and thistogether with his character links him to the figure of Orion the hunter, whose constellation stands directly above GlastonburyTor during the winter months, beginning in time for Samhain. Gwyn is mentioned in the welsh triads as one of the three greatest astronomers of Britain, strengthening his link to the heavens as well as the earth, and encouraging belief in the Glastonbury zodiac. As a figure of the night sky, his connection with Nudd his father, the Irish Nuada silver hand, also becomes more apparent. as they are both lunar rather than solar male figures.
Interestingly, Gwyn has further correlations with Orion, as they both have water deities as fathers, as well as both being connected with hunting, winter and death. The importance of Orion, can be traced as far as ancient Egypt, where the main pyramids at Giza mark out the star pattern of Orion’s belt.
It is said that Gwyn was given the duty of guarding Annwn by King Arthur, however he considerably predates Arthur, but is significant enough to have survived the centuries in folk consciousness by beinggiven this overlay.His hunting and warrior abilities, as well as his connection with Arthur are also mentioned in the tale “Cullwch and Olwen.” where the hunting of the boar Twrch Trwyth is impossible without him. This tale is also likely to predate Arthur, and contains many ancient pagan motifs including the very oldest animals/ animal spirits; the stag, the owl, the eagle and the salmon, as well as the great boar, and the sacred solar prisoner, Mabon, an adult “ wondrous child” whose name means “son” and is often given the extended name“Mabon ap Modron”“Son of Mother.”. Into this mythic context comes the tale of Gwyn’s abduction of Creiddylad. from her intended husband Gwythyr ap Creidawl. Arthur is said to have judged that the two suitors should fight for her each 1st of May Beltane.
Creiddylad the daughter of Lludd or Lyr the god of the sea, was also worshipped by the early Britons and may or may not also be Gwyn’s sister, as Nudd and Ludd are sometimes considered to be one and the same. They certainly share the same sea/ water/ silver/ lunar attributes.Creiddyllad, later known as Cordelia, daughter of Lear in Shakespeare, is here a goddess of fertility and springtime, and as such is not subject to the same laws concerning incest as mortals, and her relationships in this pantheon are a matter ofMystery and a useful subject for meditation. Her tale is similar to the Greek Persephone and her underworld husband Hades. It is sometimes said that she remains in her fathers realm- the water, until the battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr is settled. Whilst this is clearly a patriarchal overlay, this could suggest she is one and the same as the Lady of the Lake, the ancient goddess/ priestess. Her position as dual mate to Gwyn and Gwythyr is part of the ancient pagan motif of oak king and holly king, the lords of summer and winter and their eternal cycle as consort of the goddess.
This connection and eternal battle further link Gwynwith his fellow hunter gods, who are inextricably connected to the cold season when hunted meat and the sacred connection with the horned stag were all important. This figure can even be seen today in the form of father Christmas, who wears the bloodstained hides of his reindeer and brought the gift of well needed meat to the people.
The worship of Gwyn at Glastonbury was of course unpopular with the growing Christian community which developed after the Roman invasion, as can be seen in the story of Gwyn and St Colen. The austere Christian mystic is said to have criticised Gwyn as being a devil and repeatedly refused his invitation to meet him at the faery court. When Colen finally agreed he refused the famous faery hospitality swearing “I will not eat the leaves of a tree.”. He is then said to have sprinkled holy water about him and then to have found himself alone on the hillside, after banishing himself from faery due to his ill manners. Of course it is sometimes claimed that Colen banished the faeries from the Tor, but centuries of private experience reveal that to be wishful thinking on the part of the medieval Christians. However, useful knowledge can be gained from this story. Gwyns graciousness in the face of open hostility is apparent as well as revealing the limits of that kindness. With faery, honour and respect are everything.
Colen insulting the food as “the leaves of the tree” gives insight into the faery realm compared to Colens view of the world about him. To the faeries there is a feast of delicacies and treasure about them. To Colen the gifts of the natural world are worthless. Of course this also relates to the traditional prohibition against eating faery food. Through Christian eyes in the past, the food is a trap bringing the damnation of being kept forever in faery. To others it is part of a sacred exchange creating an ever deepening contract and relationship with the faery realm. It is similar to the Celtic traditions of hospitality. It is important to be a good host. It is equally important to be a good guest. In this way Colens severance from faery mirrors modern humanities distance from the other realms, and from the earth itself.
Faeries of many kinds and appearances may be found within the Tor in my experience, although I believe they may be found anywhere when they are willing. The court of Gwyn and his mysterious Queen may be found beyond the dolmen threshold, when journeying with that specific intent, particularly if a faery guide is politely requested to assist in matters of pathfinding and etiquette. These beings are ancient and extremely powerful and must be treated and approached with respect if contact with them is to be achieved or maintained. These are not diminutive whimsical creatures of Victorian fantasy, but beings that live continuously in much closer contact with Source than mortals can imagine. Contrary to popular opinion, faery contact is better achieved through steady grounded presence than flighty enthusiasm or hallucinogenic stimulation, although meeting them may be an extremely heady experience indeed.
In a Celtic world view, Gwyn is a compassionate and powerful guide. As a warrior god he protects the people and in stills pride, respect and honour as moral codes. As the lord of Annwn he guides the lost and facilitates regeneration. As the king of faery he reminds us of our wild natural selves and our connectedness to all things, revealing our inner truths.These roles were indispensable in Celtic culture and even more in need today. Whilst merciless in the face of arrogance and disrespect, he is patient with mortal frailties, and has much to teach us about reconnecting with our planet, our ancestors and our own vital souls. When it is my time to leave this realm I am comforted that he will come for me.
First Published in Avalon Magazine 07 Copyright Danu Forest 07