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 Folklore and Legend: The Drowned Town of Lake Bala

From #FolkloreThursday.com
By zteve t evans, March 9th, 2017

Drowned Towns and Sunken Cities: The Legend of Lake Bala, Wales

Lake Bala is also known as Llyn Tegid, and in Welsh folklore is known for its legend of having a sunken town beneath its surface.  It is situated in Gwynedd, Wales, and the modern day town of Bala lies on its eastern shore.  There are two different legends that give different accounts of how the flooding took place.  One concerns the spring of Ffynnon Gower or Gower’s Well, and the other involves the wickedness of a prince named Tegid Foel.  This article looks at the legend of Tegid Foel. 

The Legend of Tegid Foel

According to legend, Tegid Foel had a fine palace in the town now underneath Lake Bala and lived a life of opulence and excess.  He had a reputation for cruelty and greed, and oppressed his people.  The gods had sent several warnings and provided opportunities for him to change his ways, but still he unheedingly persisted in his greed and excesses.

When his first grandson was born, he decided he would celebrate the birth with a lavish feast.  He sent invitations to all the important princes in Wales and beyond, and invited all of his family to join him in the banquet at his palace in Bala.  Now, they say a man is known by the company he keeps, and there were many who would not attend the celebration because they refused to associate with this cruel and barbaric prince.  Sadly, like attracts like and the banquet was still attended by many powerful men of ill repute and behaviour.

The legend of the drowned town beneath Lake Bala in Wales

Llyn Tegid is the Welsh name for Lake Bala in Gwynned which is the largest lake in Wales. It is nearly four miles long and covers 1,084 acres and is up to 136 feet deep. Although it is 529 feet above sea level it is situated in a rift valley lying northeast to southwest sloping down to meet the sea at Tywyn. The River Dee flows through the lake which is part of the river’s regulation system. Legend says the waters of the Dee never mix with the waters of the lake, though this has not been confirmed. The modern town of Bala is situated on the northern banks of the lake.

Like other Welsh deluge legends such as Tyno Helig and Cantre’r Gwaelod there is the legendary submerged town of old Bala unLder the waters. This legend differs because Lake Tegid is a freshwater inland lake while the kingdoms of Tyno Helig and Cantre’r Gwaelod were located under what is now sea. Nevertheless, all three were the victims of a catastrophic deluge and they do have some common factors. This work will focus on Lake Bala. and discuss the two different legends which tell how the old Bala town was flooded and the lake was created.  Read more Continue reading

The Welsh legend of the birth of Taliesin

Taliesin was one of the most famous and celebrated bards in Wales and holds an important place in Welsh history, mythology and culture to this day. Although evidence is patchy he was thought to have been born around 534 AD and died around 599 AD and was believed to have performed at the courts of three Brythonic kings. Many legends and myths grew up around him and some of his poems are still available today. The legend of Taliesin’s birth begins before he was born. This seems a strange thing to say but this is how the story went.

Ceridwen’s gift

By Llyn Tegid, (Lake Bala) in Penllyn, lived Tegid Foel who had a wife named Ceridwen. The couple had three children named Ceirwy, Morfran and Afagddu. Now Afagddu was unnaturally ugly and unbelievably stupid. Nevertheless, Ceridwen his mother, who was also a sorceress, loved him greatly and decided that to compensate for these disadvantages she would give to him the gift of knowledge.  Read more Continue reading