Llue Llaw Gyffes


An investigation into Llue Llaw Gyffes, is being shared here with the Druidic Dawn Community.

The events attributed to Llue Llaw gyffes is probably well known through the forth branch of the Mabinogion translated by Lady Charlotte Guest; inclusive of the later translators of the Red Book of Hengest. The main events within the literature occur within the landscape around Gwynedd although Nantlle is probably more familiar to readers. Specifically as it's associated with the two lakes where, Gwydion sang an englyion calling Llue in an Eagle form, from the oak tree. Additional locations within the proximity also play an important role, inclusive of those further a field. Overall it could appear one is dealing with a regional mythology which pertains to the area. The region is defined by the mountain range, which curves around enclosing Gwynedd and Môn, from the Conwy to Machynlleth. In itself, a natural geographical feature that acted as a boundary and a defensive barrier for centuries, right into the medieval period. However behind it, facing northwest towards the sea, the House of Dôn held its court.







Head of Nantlle valley with Llyn Uchaf and Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in the back ground.

Photo: Feb 2003




The court of Dôn is associated with Lleu according to the Haeswyn Hen tact where it’s indicated his father is Math ab Mathonowy from Math’s court.[1] The linking of these two courts suggests it occurred via Arainrhod fech Dôn where past scholars equated Arainrhod and the Dôn lineage to a goddess and the sovereignty of the land.[2] According to the Mabinogion; Math needed a virgin foot holder, Arainrhod is vouched for by Gwydion ap Dôn, and a test is imposed by Math to verify her virginity. This test entailed stepping over his wand once placed on the ground. Arainrhod traverses from one side to the other, when Dylan ail Tôn is born. Yet, a further "bundle" was also left behind, although Arainrhod then returned to her court at Caer Arainrhod; one presumes these events occurred at Caer Dythal.[3] Needless to say, Arainrhod failed the virginity test; Gwydion retrieves the “bundle” and places it in a trunk”. Dylan ap Dôn the first born finds solace within the aquatic world. Nonetheless Math is left without a foot holder, [4] plus Gwydion has an unidentified bundle in a chest or trunk. The house of Dôn becomes linked to the house of Math, while Math is referred too being an uncle to the sons of Dôn.

Gwydion bundle develops into a young child, which grows at a miraculous rate. Indeed Gwydion ap Dôn removes the child and raises it at Dinas Dinlle; where he acts as a caring father giving instructions to his adopted son. Indeed Gwydion had attempted to get the mother to name her son; instead she cast three destinies upon the child. Irrespectively the child has an incredible speed of growth, being already one year old when removed by Gwydion from the trunk. The story unfolds when the child is one year, it has the abilities of a two year old, but when it was two the child acts as though it is four. At four, Gwydion took the child to his mother. At this time the child is indicated to have displayed the personality, and skill of a proficient eight year old. At this age, Gwydion and the child disguised as shoemakers, having taken a boat from aber Menai to Caer Arainrhod. Here the child displayed his skill by hitting a wren with a stone from his sling, subsequently he receives a name from his mother Arainrhod whom described him as, Lleu Llaw. At another time in the future Lleu is given arms by his mother also, after Gwydion ploy of conjuring up ships gathering and preparing to attack Caer Arainrhod. Together Gwydion and Lleu ride out on swift horses this time offering aid to Arainrhod to defend the Caer. Thus Gwydion assists in breaking two of the three destines imposed by his mother on Lleu. The final destiny concerning Lleu was that he would not have a mortal wife. Both Gwydion and Math, who created together Blodeuwedd, from the spring flowers overcome this.[5]

Seeing that Lleu Lawgyffes now had a name, arms and a wife, he was then granted a cantref to govern in Ardudwy by Math.[6] It is purported to be here where Gromw Pebyr from Penllyn befriends Blodeuwedd, while Lleu was away with his household dealing with court business of his court. The relationship cumulates in a plan to remove Lleu from his court.[7] Yet, Llue is not an easy person to eject, similar to his birth, there is just one particular way in which he can only meet his death. Readers of the Mabinogion will be aware of the stance that had to be taken for this to occur. However it is of great interest reflections of this image also occur elsewhere.[8] This event where Llue took up the position has been associated with the course of the river Cynafal.[9] The river is fed from Llyn Morwynion situated in the uplands above ffestinog where later the Mabinogion narrative informs Blodeuwedd maiden attendants drowned here, while escaping Lleu, before Flower face is transformed into an Owl. Nonetheless, Lleu is encouraged to take up the position and Gromw throws the spear, it hits and wounds Lleu who them transformed into an Eagle and flew of to the north.[10] It is Gwydion who finds the eagle between the two lakes having returned to Nantlle and perched on an oak tree; here the eagle rests in the upper branches and Gwydion sings: -

An oak grows between two lakes,[11]

Black and speckled are Sky and Glen,

If my Speech be not untrue,

Here are the members of Lleu.

An oak grows in a ploughed field,

Rain wets it not nor heat melts it more;

Nine score pangs have been endured,

In its top by Llue Llawgyffes.

An oak grows below the slope;

A fair hit that I should see him,

If my speech be not untrue,

Lleu will come to my lap.

Trans: Sir John Rhys 1888 p. 399

The eagle is coaxed to descended to Gwydion who then takes Lleu to Caer Dafral, here Gwydion and the physicians of Math restores health over the course of a year. Having recovered Lleu sets about gathering an army together to reclaim his court in Ardudwy along with removing Gromw and reclaims his wife Blodeuwedd. Lleu is victorious in the skirmish though no records appear to exist which describe the events. However we do hear of Blodeuwedd and her maiden’s flight from the court, towards Penllyn previously mentioned. As for the capture of Gromw Pebyr, he has to mimic the position which Lleu had previous taken and face the same trail. Although the narrative does inform us Gromw was allowed to hide behind a standing stone, unlike Lleu.[12] Gromw meets is death through a spear thrown by Llue which shoots right through the stone.[13] Blodeuwedd on the other hand is transformed into an owl. It’s assumed that Lleu regains the control of his court, which is basically where the narrative ends.

Additionalr references to Lleu are located in the Black Book of Carmarthen within the 'Stanzas of the Graves' verse 35. One learns Lleu grave is not on the land but out at sea. Nonetheless a shadow is cast over him, as he “spared no one.”[14] The triad’s no. 38 names Lleu horse as Meyngan Mangre (Pale Yellow of the Stud), alternatively in the book of Taliesin its named as March Lleu Lletuegin (The Horse of Llue the half-reared). Interestingly there is a mention of Lleu having a son named Minawg ap Llue, but all what can be learned here is he was a successful in battles with his life ending in Arllechwedd.[15]

Overall it appears Lleu Lawgyffes is placed within the region, with its relationship to the landscape however this may be a later bardic tradition. There is also an Aber Lleu to consider which is opposite Lindisfarne in NE England where Urien is recorded being assassinated through treachery. This could make things problematic in any attempt to pin the Llue story to a particular locality.

Recent revaluation of Lleu inclusive of various symbolic associations relating to the linguistic Celts; this has led to suggestions of Lleu could be an ancient Brythonic celestial deity with associations to “light and Oak trees”.[16] It would appear terrestrial associations have already been discussed for this association over seventy years ago, plus comparison to other mythology in Europe and the middle East.[17] Solar associations of Lleu Lawgyffes becomes equated with the light of the Sun,[18] indeed such associations have been published by welsh antiquarians in the late 1800’s. It’s interesting to note Blodeuwedd is transformed into a creature of the night, i.e. an owl, for her part in the plot against Lleu. [19] Overall the myth suggests a more archaic oral foundation, which points towards the seasonal cycle of agriculture. Indeed the phase used by Lewis Mon in the 15th century when speaking of Arainrhod informs that no “man might not live without her” is very apt in this case. Specifically when the etymology of Arainrhod of “silver wheel” could indicate the Sun, Moon or a constellation. Lleu Llawgyffes would then become the child of the resulting Union of the Sun and Moon; or the earth and the Sun when disguise as Arainrhod as having sovereignty of the Land. The theme tends to suggest one of sexual cosmology, which is a common generic seen elsewhere.[20]

Original 23 Aug 1998
Last updated 17 Feb 2005


Bartrum P. C., 1966, Early Genealogical Welsh Tracts, University of Wales Press (EGWT)

Bartrum P. C., 1993, A Welsh Classical Dictionary, National Library of Wales

Bromwich, R., 1961, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, University of Wales Press, Cardiff

Crumley C.L., 1999, 'Sacred Landscapes: Constructed and Conceptualised', in Ashmore W. and Knapss B., Archaeologies of Landscape Contemporary Perspective, Blackwell pp. 269-276

Green, M. 1992, Dictionary of Myth and Legend, Thomas and Hudson, London

Griffiths, W.J. 1928, Math vab Mothonwy, University of Wales

Griffiths, J., 1953, Rhiannon: An inquery into the origins of the first and third branches of the Mabinigi, University of Wales, Cardiff

Guest, C., Lady, 1849, Mabinogion, Landovey, vol. I, II & III

Guest, C., Lady, 1997, Mabinogion, Dover, NY unabridged

Gwenogryn, E., 1910, Book of Taliesin Facsimile and text, Llanbedrog

Olwig, K.R. 1993, 'Sexual Cosmology: Nation and Landscape at the conceptual Interest of Nature and Culture; Or what does the landscape really mean?' in Barabara BEnder (Ed.) Landscape: Polotics and Perspectives, Berg, Oxford pp. 308-343

Morris, L., 1878, Celtic Remains, Cymmrodorian Society (Supplementary Issue)

Krupp, E.C. 2000, 'Sky Tales and why we have them' in Healaine Selin (Ed.) Astronomy across cultures: The History of Non-Western Astronomy, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands, pp. 1-30

Senior, M., 1993, Gods and Heroes in North Wales: A Mythological Guide, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch

Stephens, M and Jones, R.B., 1922 The MAbinogi, University of Wales Press (trans)

Rhys, J., Sir, 1888, The Herbert Lectures, William and Northgate, Edinburgh

Willliams, M., 1929, 'The Dying God in Welsh Literature' in Revue Celtique XLVI pp. 167-214


[1] Math ab Mathonowy where Math being the son of Mathonowy, the ending prefixes of 'wy' indicates his father being the founding ancestor of the tribe of Mathono in Gwynedd. At present one is not aware historically of any evidence to this family group. Arainrhod.fech Dôn is the wife and mother of Lleu. It too, could suggest she is a sovereign goddess, so what of Math? Considering that Math is the son of the founding ancestor and likely father of Lleu; Math in all probability has developed into a semi divine role on earth, i.e. his married to the Goddess/Sovereign of the land/sky. Math role is further emphasised, he hears where everything spoken on land and sea reaches. In comparison from the medieval Irish literature the King marries the land also, to ensure fertility for the community. In itself it takes on a common agricultural ideological theme, which ensures fertility of crops and brings a sense of union between the sky and earth.

[2] Sir John Rhys, Herbert Lectures, Edinburgh, 1888

[3] Various locations have been suggested by scholars for the site of Caer Dythal; Pen y Gaer (Conwy); Tir Ceri (Mynedd Efli) and Caer Engan (Penygroes) depending on the scholars read for instance.

[4] Math foot holder is resolved according to tradition through Goewin fech Peblin from ynys Môn. Whom Math is described as being protective towards her virginity. However this would appear to be a later interpretation as in the Bards from the 15th century, specifically Tuder Aled and Lewis Môn indicate it was the chastity of Arainrhod, which Math guarded, and not Goewin. Yet a change in the story line appears to have occurred in its later retelling. While past research into the function of Math wand. Whereby scholars have deduced similarities in folk tradition relating to fertility where this is enhanced or bestowed on the individual stepping over it. Indeed it has lead to suggestions where Math wand impregnated Arainrhod, which caused the miraculous birth. On the other hand stepping over the wand in folk traditions might be considered as moving from one state of being, or world to another. For instance two single people joined in handfasting steps over wooden stick or wand, from the world from individuality, on one side; to one of a union in life together on the other side. Alternatively the wand could signify and divides the world between Math and the goddess who then steps over into the world of mortals. Taken that Arainhod is a sovereign goddess daughter of the earth /sky who materialises and subsequently gives birth to a divine son. Yet, Arainrhod returns to her world, having failed the test in mortal form. Figuratively speaking she may well have regain her virginity when returning to Cear Arainrhod.

[5] EGWT p20 indicates Lleu is Dylan twin brother, and Blodeuwedd are directly descended from Math and Arainrhod. In contrast WJ Griffiths and Sir John Rhys associated Gwydion ap Dôn to be the father within the literature.

[6] This court is often associated with the later Tomen y Mur, a roman garrison near Ffestiniog. It is interesting to note during the early part of the 20th century; scholars often suggested the idea the later bards were attempting to make sense of the Roman ruins in the landscape through associating stories and folklore to them.

[7] Geowin has lordship over a nearby Cantref.

[8] Lleu death or dyhenydd W.J. Gruffiths notes, the iconography displayed in churches of St Mary, Beverley; Worcester, Stratford on Avon, Norwich Cathedral an in the choir of York Minster. Depictions of images where “a naked man bestrides a goat, with a hare under his arm with one foot touches the ground.” also occur. In contrast Worcester displays the same image, but this time it’s of a woman. All have the same posture that Lleu describes in the Mabinogion (Gruffiths 1928, 309-311).

[9] Bartrum PC, 1993; Rhys J, 1888; Senior M, 1993 and Stephens, M and Jones, R.B, 1992

[10] It is interesting that Lewis Morris associate this event to an older version, which connects the night sky to various constellations (Morris 18, 231). However this may be incorrect as this deals with Gwydion ap Dôn seeking out his wife amongst the stars.

[11] Two lakes certainly existed in Nantlle right up to the 18th century; this scene has been painted and recorded at that time by xxx. The lake has since been backfill probability due to slate quarrying activities. A marsh and a bog, which traces the lake former existence, mark the lower lake position today.

[12] Local historians have over the years been searching for this stone in which Lleu spear penetrated through. Such a stone has been located on one of the tributaries of the river Cynafal (Senior, M 1993, 30-1).

[13] The stone is known as Llech Ronw by earlier scholars,

[14] Perhaps it would beneficial to back track to explore the bundle concept, which later developed, into Lleu. It's very clear that Arainrhod only produced a single child after taking Math test. Scholars have in turn explored the concept of the bundle belonged to the afterbirth. W.J. Griffiths studies on the afterbirth associations from various indigenous people. Overall these revealed various beliefs and could indicate a generalisation referring it containing the spirit of the child previously born. Although Dylan becomes part of the aquatic world, it would suggest one is dealing with the spirit of Dylan ap Don. Indeed this might help to explain Lleu growth process. E.g. the child whom Gwydion discovers was the bundle/after birth, which had already transformed into a year old child.

[15] See Bartrum P.C., 1993 p. 410

[16] See Miranda Green 1992 p 133-34: It’s interesting to note Blodeuwedd is transformed into a creature of the night, i.e. an owl, for her part in the plot against Lleu. With the association of light, it could well indicate an adaptation of an earlier story explains the difference between light and darkness brining about a balance between the two half’s of the day/year.

[17] See Williams M, 1929: Suggest a common theme is apparent which points to the Sun and its movement through the seasons.

[18] See Archaelogia Cambrensis late 19th century editions

[19] See Miranda Green 1992 p 133-34:

[20] see Olwig K.R. 1993; Crumley C,L. 1999 and Krupp E.C., 2000

Celtic, Druidry, Gods and Goddesses, Llue Llaw Gyffes, Wales,
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