Welsh Folklore: Llyn Barfog and the Female Dwellers of Annwn and the Legend of King Arthur and the Afanc

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com on July 20th titled Welsh Lake Legends and Folklore: Llyn Barfog, the Female Dwellers of Annwn and King Arthur and the Afanc by zteve t evans


Lyn Barfog by andy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In Wales, legends and folklore of King Arthur and the Otherworld are never far away, and lakes are often the settings for such stories. One such lake is Llyn Barfog, which is also known as the ‘Bearded Lake’ or the ‘Bearded One’s Lake,’ and is situated in a remote and lonely spot in Snowdonia. Some say it got its epitaph from the yellow water lilies that float upon its surface, or the reeds that fringe its banks. Another explanation says that it is named after a legendary being called the Bearded One. Who the Bearded One was remains a mystery, but there are two other legends associated with the lake that more are known about and are presented here. The first tells how a poor farmer came across one of the milk white cows owned by the dwellers from the Otherworld, and the second tells of how King Arthur rid the lake of a monster called the Afanc.

Doorways to  Annwn

In Welsh mythology and tradition, many of the Welsh lakes are regarded as doorways to and from Annwn, or the Otherworld. Many people believed the lakes to be connected to one another by underground rivers or subterranean ways that made them one vast underworld. There are examples of inhabitants of the Otherworld appearing from some of these lakes, such as the faerie brides of Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn Coch, to spend time on Earth and then return to their own world. Llyn Barfog appears to be one of many such lakes in Welsh folklore, where the dwellers of Annwn have entry and exit to the earthly world.

The Gwragedd Annwn

This legend tells how Llyn Barfog is associated with mythical beings called the Gwragedd Annwn, also known as the Elphin Dames, who were female dwellers of Annwn. At times, these could be seen in the distance on the hills and mountain tops. They were often accompanied by pure white dogs, known as the Cwn Annwn, and were either driving or tending a herd of milk-white cattle known as the Gwartheg Y Llyn. Both the dogs and the cattle were said to have had reddish-coloured ears and white coats.

The local people all knew about them. They had often seen them from afar for fleeting moments before they would vanish, and few had ever seen them up close. They realised they were the Gwragedd Annwn, who lived under the hills and lakes of Wales, and steered clear of them. The males were the Plant Annwn, and were often associated with Gwynn ap Nudd who was their lord.

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Welsh Legends: Hu Gadarn the Mighty

Hu the Mighty

Hu Gadarn was a legendary leader of the Cymry people who left their original homeland to settle on the island of Britain in antiquity.  According to some very ancient traditions the Cymry lived in another land they called the Summer Country of Deffrobani. The location of Deffrobani is uncertain with some accounts saying it was in the area of present day Istanbul, others point to the Middle East, while others claim Sri Lanka.  Nevertheless, the legends say that among the Cymry a wise and great leader appeared who they called Hu Gadarn, or Hu the Mighty.  This work will present some of his achievements and the significance to the Cymry race that he had on their settlement of Britain that are revealed in the legends and traditions.

Hu Gadarn the lawgiver

According to legend, Hu Gadarn was skilled in the arts and the sciences, such as they were, and he invented the plough.  He taught his people how to cultivate the land and how to grow crops.  So they grew their crops and he taught them how to build communities which gave them a home instead of roaming the land and relying on hunting the animals and picking the fruits and the nuts to live on.  They could now live together in their communities but sometimes they fell into arguing and fighting. To help them help each other he gave them laws.  The people followed his laws and there was less arguing and fighting and they began to work and live together as one people.

Although their crops grew and fed the people and their communities were successful other people envied them and attacked and stole from them.  Seeing this Hu Gadarn thought they needed a country of their own.  He talked to them and told them about the land that lie over the Mor Tawch, or the Hazy Sea and how it was under the protection of God. He told them of the animals that roamed wild and free upon those blessed shores.  There were wolves, bears, deer, wild oxen and multitudes of birds that swam on the lakes and rivers. Great eagles swept across majestic mountains, and verdant valleys and there were great fertile grassy plains and forests, but no humans lived there.  He asked them to follow him there and claim the island as their own.

Honey Island

The Cymry agreed and Hu Gadarn led them on a great journey across the land until they came to the shores of the Hazy Sea.  He showed them how to build and use coracles and they crossed the sea and landed on the shores of the island of Britain taking possession of it before any other humans had arrived.  They found it was just as Hu had described being only inhabited by animals such as wolves, bears and wild oxen and many other such beasts living in the forests, fertile valleys and plains.    The Cymry called their new home the Honey Island because of the abundance of honey they found they could harvest.

With Hu to lead them they built new communities governed by the laws he gave them and they built shrines and places of worship to give thanks to the gods for their good fortune.  Hu expanded his legal structure so everyone could get justice and he taught the people how to created songs to help them remember important information which was the system they used until the invention of writing. In this way important knowledge, history and traditions of the people were passed down from generation to generation and the Cymry became famous for their songs and poetry

Hu the Mighty and the Afanc

According to some Welsh traditions he was said to have been the first king of the island of Britain.  During this period there was a series of disastrous floods caused by a water-dwelling monster called the afanc.  These floods caused huge damage to people’s homes and crops. It was with the help of Hu the Mighty that the afanc was eventually transported to a lake on the slopes of Mount Snowdon using oxen to drag it there.  Once there it could do no harm and the flooding of homes and farmlands stopped.

Who was Hu Gadarn?

Hu Gadarn was first mentioned in the 18th century by Iolo Morganwg in Triads that are of questionable authenticity.  There was a “Huw” mentioned in the Book of Taliesin, but is thought not to be connected with Hu Gadarn.  Another character named Huw Gadarn is mentioned in the White Book of Rhydderch, as the emperor of Constantinople in stories that were adapted from a French tale.  He is also mentioned in the  Red Book of Hergest and several other works.  He also figures in Medieval French Romance in connection to Charlemagne and it maybe that these are derived from earlier Celtic stories.

There are some people who believe Hu Gadarn was none other that the great Israelite leader Joshua and the Cymry were from Tribe of Ephraim, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, though others dismiss this idea.  There are also claims he brought the Druidic tradition to Britain and Ireland but this is also disputed by many.

Maybe trying to pinpoint actual historical figures to legends misses what is really being said but please make up your own minds to meaning, or facts, but it does seem clear, that Hu Gadarn, fact or fiction, appears to have been a figure of some significance to the traditions of how Britain was settled and the origin of the Cymry.

© 17/01/2016 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright January 17th 2016 zteve t evans




The Welsh legend of the Afanc of the River Conwy

In Welsh mythology the Afanc was a monster that lived in rivers, lakes and pools. They were powerful supernatural beasts that would cause the waters they lived in to rise and flood the surrounding land when they became angry. They would also kill humans and animals when given the opportunity and were very dangerous.

Public Domain

In some versions of the legends the Afanc is a crocodile-like creature; in others it resembles a dwarf or demon. In this legend set around Snowdonia, Betws-y-Coed and the River Conwy it appears as a giant beaver-like creature.  Read more …