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Gods of Ancient Wales and the Celtic Britons

Author: John Patrick Parle

Copyright © 1999

A common temptation is to think that civilization reached
Great Britain through the vehicle of Roman occupation. But Celtic
civilization existed in Britain centuries before the Latins' arrival,
and before the Celts, societies existed in Britain sophisticated
enough to build Stonehenge.

The mythology of the Celtic Britons harkens back to a time
before there was an England (that is, before the invasion of Angles
and Saxons brought Germanic-speaking tribes to Great Britain). The
Celtic Briton myths are centered mostly in Wales and are written in
Welsh, a Celtic language. One can easily speculate that the deities
of Welsh mythology once had a broader appeal throughout Britain, as
has the mythic Celtic mortal from the region known to us as King

The pantheon of Welsh gods and goddesses came largely from
two mythic families: the Children of Dôn and the Children of Llyr.
Dôn was a goddess of the sky, and Llyr was a god of the sea.
Charles Squire speaks of a struggle and opposition of these two divine
families of the sky and of the sea. He envisages a general conflict of the
powers of the sky/light/life versus the sea/darkness/death.

Dôn, like the Irish goddess Danu, was a divine mother image.
Among her children were the god Gwydion and the goddess Arianrod,
both described further below. Through her husband Beli, Dôn
conceived Nudd (sometimes called Lludd), who founded a dynasty of his
own. A Welsh Triad (a short descriptive verse) sees Nudd as one of
the "three generous heroes of the Isle of Britain." Another Triad
sees him as having nearly inexhaustible wealth--being the owner of
21,000 milch cows. Nudd (or Lludd) was said in myth to have founded
London. There he built Caerlud (the Castle of Lludd), which over
time came to be called Caerlondon, and finally London. According to
tradition, St. Paul's Cathedral in that city is where a temple of
Nudd once stood. The son of Nudd was Gwyn, a bold warrior.

Parenthetically, we might note that texts sometimes vary in
the depictions of various figures in Welsh mythology as to whether
they were gods or mortals. An example is the god Pwyll, who is often
represented as a mortal Prince of Dyfed. Ample confusion was
accomplished by chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth, who saw Lludd as an
ancient king of the Britons. Indeed, Squire sees the early version
of Arthur of Camelot as a sort of divine figure. Suffice it to say,
that some characters listed as gods here also are represented as
mythic mortals elsewhere.

As for Llyr, his chief contributions to existing copies of
Welsh myth are his children: Brân the Blessed, Branwen the Fair
Bosomed, and Manawyddan. Each of these figures have captivating
stories from centuries past. It is entirely possible that tales of
Llyr were once vast, but have been lost to the ages. The god was
important enough to have a city named after him in ancient times, now
Leicester in the mid area of England. This primary center of his
veneration was originally called Caer Llyr (or Castle of Llyr), and
then Llyr-cester, before its present name. Charles Squire believes
that legends of Llyr influenced the early content found in
Shakespeare's King Lear, the story based on a mythic king of the
Celtic Britons.

This article continues in the separate excerpts:

  1. The Mabinogion
  2. The Story of Cerridwen
  3. The Story of Bran the Blessed
  4. Gwydion and the Battle of the Trees

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