Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns and the Door to the Otherworld in Welsh Folklore

This article was originally posted on the #FolkloreThursday.com as Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: Reflecting on Faerie Brides, Drowned Towns, and the Otherworld by zteve t evans September 28th, 2017.
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Edvard Munch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Welsh Lakes

There are may lakes scattered around Wales, each with their own unique characteristics and history. Many also have the most amazing legends and folklore associated with them, and the purpose of this work is to discuss some of them. This work does not attempt to be academic or scholarly. Instead, it attempts to explore thoughts that are more intuitive and reflective, and hopefully look towards stimulating ideas within the reader to construct their own interpretations of the folk tales and lakes mentioned should they wish to. 

A few things to note: Articles on the following lakes (Lake Bala also known as Llyn Tegid, Llyn Barfog, Kenfig Pool, Llyn Coch or the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch and Llyn y Fan Fach) all appear on the #FolkloreThursday website and links are placed in this article for easy access to them. The term ‘llyn’ is the Welsh word for ‘lake,’ and they are often used interchangeably. There are also a great many more lakes in Wales than can possibly be mentioned here, and many of them have other folk tales and folklore. Finally, there are many different versions of the same legends, and the ones mentioned here may be different to the ones you know. 

Origin of the Tales

Although only six lakes are discussed, it will be seen that these have a rich heritage in folklore and in some cases share similar stories. In other cases, the stories appear very different though there may be threads that link some together. The age of the tales and folklore is very much open to debate. Many scholars think they date from the Middle Ages but have far older elements built into them. These elements may be of Christian, Celtic, or possibly even older cultures. For example, are the legends of drowned towns and cities distant, faded memories of real towns (or at least settlements) that once existed either alongside or were built over a lake/replaced by a lake in some sudden flooding or disaster? It may that each succeeding human culture altered or added to the stories to reflect their own beliefs and situation, as will be discussed later. There is also a possibility that they were transported to the lakes from outside Wales, perhaps in the early movement of people across Europe from as far away as the Black Sea region.

The Doorway to the Otherworld

The Welsh lakes are often remote and situated on the edge of human society. In some tales they are presented as the doorway to the Otherworld in Welsh folklore, as is the case with the Red Lake, Llyn Cwm Llwch, and Llyn y Fan Fach. The lakes themselves are not the Otherworld, but the portal that is passed through to enter and exit it. The faerie brides, their fathers, and their sisters can pass through and visit earth, and sometimes they bring animals with them. In certain other Welsh fairy tales this occasionally happens to humans, as is the case with Llyn Cwm Llwch where an island of the Otherworld was made available to human visitors every May Day. This privilege was withdrawn after it was abused. For humans who visit the Otherworld or have dealings with it there is often a sad ending. They are often betrayed by their own frailties and, in many ways, it is the human frailties that are explored in the stories referenced here.

The Faerie Bride and the Mirror of Nature

The story of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach also looks at human frailties. In her first appearance at the lakeside, the lady is brushing her long, fair hair with a golden comb and using the lake as a mirror. It is a scene that is reminiscent of descriptions of mermaids on the seashore. Yet she is not half fish as a mermaid is, and is not really human either and this is not by the seashore. Neither is the female in the story of the Bride of the Red Lake. Both are unmistakably not human and appear to be more of a mere-maid, possibly of the Gwragedd Annwn, the female dwellers of the Otherworld of Annwn who according to Welsh folklore also appear from Llyn Barfog.

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Welsh Legends: The Bride From the Red Lake

From #FolkloreThursday.com

By zteve t evans 27/04/2017

Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: The Bride from the Red Lake

adolf_echtler_e28093_a_water_nymph

By Adolf Echtler (1843–1914) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Llyn Coch, or the Red Lake, is a Welsh lake situated on Mount Snowdon an area steeped in legend and folklore. One legend tells how a mortal man made a contract that allowed him to take a bride from the Otherworld that he had met at the Red Lake and fallen in love with.  However, it was essential he abide by the terms of that contract.  In Welsh tradition and folklore, there are a number of similar examples where a mortal man takes a bride from the Otherworld and they live happily together, sometimes having children, but there is often a sad ending. One example is found in the tale of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach.  In many cases the man found his love living in a remote lake or pool of water and the two fell in love wishing never to part.  After making a promise to her father that must never be broken consent is given and they marry. However, there are those who say that it is risky to have relationships with those of the Otherworld. This point of view is indeed seen in many Welsh fairy or folk tales concerning humans who come into contact or even marry someone from the Otherworld.  Presented here is one such tale called The Bride of the Red Lake.

The Bride from the Red Lake

There was once a farmer who one day decided he would go fishing in the Red Lake. When he arrived he found the lake shrouded in mist.  Then a sudden gust of wind cleared a path through the mist across the lake and to the farmer’s surprise revealed a man perched upon a ladder busily at work thatching a haystack.  Stranger still, the ladder appeared to be standing on top of the surface of the water as did the haystack.   The farmer was astounded but the vision quickly faded and soon all that could be seen was a gentle rippling of the water where the haystack and the thatcher had been.

After this, the farmer often visited the lake hoping for another glimpse of this strange otherworld but saw nothing out of the ordinary and he thought no more of his extraordinary vision.   Then one autumn day he rode his horse up to the lake.  As it was a hot day he rode his horse into the water so that it could drink easily from the cool lake.   It was a lovely day and while the horse was drinking the farmer sat on its back and stared lazily at the ripples that moved gently across the surface of the Red Lake.

Then, what he saw next made him jump.   Under the surface of the water a little distance from him he saw the face of the loveliest maiden he had ever seen in his life looking at him through the gently rippling water.  He sat spellbound staring at her and she calmly gazed back at him.   As he stared, her head and shoulders slowly emerged from the water and she looked deep into his eyes.

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