Otherworldly Encounters: Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood

Howard Pyle [Public domain]

Eerie is the Otherworld and a strange tale to tell. In Welsh folklore and tales those who encounter the dwellers from that place – willing, or otherwise – often do not come out of it too well.  This is a retelling of one such story, Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood, from, The Welsh Fairy Book, by W. Jenkyn Thomas and has a happier ending than similar tales of such encounters.

Einion and the Lady of the Greenwood

It begins one fine summer day in the green woods of Trefeiler where Einion, the son of Gwalchmai, was out walking.  To his surprise he met a lady alone in the woods. She was slim, graceful and her complexion was very fair and she was very beautiful to behold.  Looking upon her Einion was interested in who she was and what she was doing out alone in the woods. He put his hand up in a friendly greeting and she readily waved back. From her action and demeanor he concluded she would not mind talking to him.

Therefore, he approached her in a calm and friendly manner and she walked towards him, indicating she was willing to speak to him.  As he drew near he cast a glance downwards and was surprised to see that instead of feet she walked on two hooves. Quietly and calmly she approached him and whispered,  “Thou wilt follow me wherever I go and wilt do as I bid thee from now until the end.”  

Einion stopped dead but it was too late she had him under her spell.  He promised he was her slave and would willingly go to the ends of the earth at her bidding.  All he asked was that he be allowed to say goodbye to his wife. So sure was she of her power over him the Lady of the Greenwood agreed but said, “You may, but I shall remain with you all the time invisible to all others but you.”

Goodbye

Einion, accompanied by the Lady, went back home to his wife Angharad to say goodbye.  They had been very happily married for many years and Einion loved her greatly. Although over the years both had aged he always saw her in his mind as the fair, young maiden he had married in his youth. Indeed, he truly loved her. However, when he got home she appeared before him through the spell of the Lady of the Greenwood to be an old hag. Nevertheless, he could still see the young maiden in her eyes but could not break the bond of the spell although he tried. Sadly he told her, “Love of my life, I fear it is necessary for me to leave you and our home.  I do not know how long I shall be or when I will come back, but I have to go.”

The couple wept in each others arms and  together broke a gold ring in two. Einion gave Angharad one half and she gave him the other.  At last all their goodbyes were said and Einion left with the Lady of the Greenwood. Eerie is the Otherworld and a strange, strange tale to tell and Einion was taken by the Lady to her homeland where  nothing is what it seems. The spell she had placed upon him was strong. He could see nothing of any place or person in an earthly form finding himself in a misty, distorted, shifting unfathomable landscape.  The only thing that did not change its appearance or form was the half of the gold ring given to him by his beloved Angharad.

The Otherworld

Time was not like that on earth and he had no idea of how long he lived in that queer and twisted place, but his grief and sorrow to him seemed eternal.  Bound by the Lady’s spell he was at her beck and call for her leisure and her pleasure. All he had that gave him any security was the half of the gold ring he carried that Angharad had given him.  Fearing that one day it should be lost or discovered he decided he would hide it behind his eyelid as the safest place he could think of at the time.

As he was doing this he became aware that a  man dressed all in white was riding towards him on a pure white horse. In his hand he carried a white staff.  The rider approached and and asked him what he was doing. Einion answered truthfully and with longing telling him about the ring and how he and his wife had given each other half. He explained he was placing his half behind his eyelid to keep it safe where he could always see it and cherish the memory of his beloved wife.  The rider said, “If that is so you must be willing to endure much pain and torment to keep her memory alive!”

“That I am!” replied Einion.

“Do you desire to see her?” asked the rider.

“That I do, above all other things and pleasures that exist!”

“If that is so, get behind me on this horse,” replied the rider.  Einion hesitated. Looking around he could not see anything of the Lady but noticed hoof tracks of huge size striding off northwards. Therefore, he accepted the invitation.  

“What kind of enchantment holds thee?” asked the rider.

Einion told the rider everything that had happened with the Lady of the Greenwood and himself as they rode.  He listened intently to everything and then said, “Take thee, this white staff in your hand and make a wish for whatever is your greatest desire.”

Einion was still under the spell of the Lady of the Greenwood and he wished to know where she was.  To his shock and horror the world about him transformed into a hideously grotesque world of madness.  The Lady appeared before him as he had never seen her before like some towering demonic beast, repulsive and terrifying and she pointed at him.   He cried out in fear and the rider hearing this threw his white cloak over him and she was gone. No sooner than she had disappeared when they came to the hill of Trefilir where Einion once had his home.  There were people about but he did not know them or they him.

After Einion had left home Angharad had spent the years in lonely grief and sorrow pining for her absent husband.  The Lady of the Greenwood becoming aware of Einion’s departure had traveled back to his home on the hill so fast she arrived well before him.  She transformed herself into a most noble and handsome looking nobleman and placed a letter in the hand of his grieving wife. The letter stated that Einion had died nine years previously in Norway.  

Angharad

The Lady now transformed as the nobleman, cast a spell upon Angharad so that she was bewitched by fair words of love and affection that were poured upon her.  He proposed marriage and told her she would become a lady of high standing, rich and prosperous. Completely under the spell Angharad accepted a date set for their marriage.   A great wedding feast was prepared and an elegant wedding dress made. Bards and musicians appeared and guests arrived for the ceremony there in her own hall in her own house.

It so happened that Einion’s harp still rested in one corner of the hall.  It was very beautiful and it attracted the eye of the bridegroom who wanted to hear it play.  Among the guests there were the best harp players in Wales and one by one they attempted to tune it.  One by one they failed. As the last gave up Einion entered the house carrying the white staff of the white rider.  Immediately another spell was placed upon Angharad and now Einion appeared to her as a bent and enfeebled old man, grey-haired and clad in rags.

Seeing that all the minstrels had failed to tune it he took it up and quickly placed it into tune.  He then proceeded to play a melody he had composed just for her. Angharad had loved that tune which he had often played to her before he left.  Angharad recognized the tune and marveled at how he should know it.

He told her, “I know it because I wrote it especially for my true love and I often would sing it to her. My name is Einion, the son of Gwalchmai and I am your husband.  See here is the half of the gold ring that you gave me when I left.”  

He put it in her hand but the enchantment upon her was strong and she said, “I cannot quite remember.“

Seeing she was bewitched he placed the white staff in her hand. Immediately, the bridegroom transformed into a hideous, raging beast and seeing this Angharad fainted in fear and shock.  When she came round there was no monster just Einion, the harp and the banquet table laden with food. Great was there joy at their reunion and with the wonderful aromas coming from the banquet table they decided to celebrate by sitting down to eat much relieved at the breaking of the enchantment.   Einion and Angharad spent many long years together and he was always careful of who he approached when out alone in the woods after that.

Happy Ending

The encounter of Einion with the Lady of the Greenwood brought him grief, sorrow and in the end great happiness. We cannot help but wonder if he had not had that encounter would be have ever reached such happiness. Indeed, eerie, eerie, is the Otherworld and a strange tale to tell. This time in the encounter with the Otherworld there was a happy ending but can we ever know where a story will take us?

© 08/05/2019 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright May 8th, 2019 zteve t evans

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Welsh Folklore: The Widow, the Red Bandits of Montgomery and Silly Doot

woman_and_baby_wearing_green_gloves_joshua_johnson

Joshua Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Elliot Griffis in his  book Welsh Fairy Tales, tells a strange story of a widow who had been robbed by a notorious gang of thieves and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery.  This is also the title of the story and presented here is a retelling of that tale.

The Red Bandits of Montgomery

There was once an infamous bunch of thieves, robbers and cutthroats known as the Red Bandits of Montgomery  who were notorious for climbing down the chimneys of houses and robbing the homeowner.  In an attempt to counter this old scythe blades were installed in the chimneys.

The Red Bandits had robbed and killed many people but one of their most heinous acts of lawlessness came when they brutally murdered a man who left behind a widow and a baby boy.  For the widow deprived of her husband and the baby boy of his father, the future was not very rosy, in fact it was bleak.   The widow had a good cow that provided a surplus of milk which she sold and she worked hard to make a living for her and her son. Money was always short but she always managed to pay the rent money on time which was fortunate because in those days landlords would throw their  tenants out leaving them homeless if they could not pay.

Theft in the Night

When he had been alive her husband had provided a good lock on the cowshed to keep the cow from being stolen and had installed scythe blades in the chimney as a deterrent to the Red Bandits, so the widow thought she would be safe.

However, the Red Bandits, not content with murdering her husband and depriving the boy of his father, knew she had a good cow and knew it provide enough milk to sell to pay the rent. They also knew that without her husband she was vulnerable and an easy victim and in their evil greed they decided they would rob the widow of it.   Therefore, their foremost expert in climbing down chimneys was selected to enter the house through the chimney, steal the rent money and the key to the lock on the cowshed and run off with the cow in the night.

When the widow awoke she found the rent money gone and dashing out to the cowshed found the cow had gone.  Devastated by the double loss she ran back to the kitchen and laying sobbing over the table not knowing how she an her son would survive.  As she was weeping for the hardness of the world she heard a knock on the door.

An Unexpected Visitor

Fighting back tears she called, “Why don’t you just come in, everyone else does!” not really caring anymore.  Pushing the door open there entered a very old woman with a very kind face.  She was dressed in the traditional way of Welsh women with the tall headdress but her clothes were in various shades of green.  Her dress had green ruffles and in her right hand she carried a staff and under he cloak she carried a bag.

“Tell me please, why it is you weep?” she asked the widow.

So the widow not knowing what else to do told her how her rent money had been burgled and her cow stolen and that she didn’t know how she was going to feed her baby son, or pay the rent money.

The old woman smiled kindly upon her and opening her bag began tipping out gold coins upon the table and said, “Well now, see here, there is more than enough gold to pay your rent and purchase another good cow!” as the gold formed a heap upon the table. “and it is all yours if you will give me what I ask and at the same time relieve yourself of a huge worry and burden,” and the old woman glanced across the room at the sleeping babe in its cradle.

The Bargain

The widow’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw the big pile of glittering gold coins laying on her kitchen table.  She had never seen such huge amount of gold before. She wondered and then nervously glanced across the room at her sleeping son, but said nothing.  Then she laughed at the half formed thought. Looking around her kitchen she wondered what she had that the old woman valued so much. Laughing at the poverty she saw around her she said,  “Hah! And what do I have of such value that you could possibly want? Tell me and you shall have it!” and then her laughter ceased and she was afraid.

The old lady looked kindly upon her and said, “I can help you.  I can give you gold, more than enough to pay your  rent, enough to buy a new cow – a herd of cows. I can make you you rich and takes away  all of your worries … and your burden.”

“What do you want?”  asked the widow fearfully.

“I want to help you.  I want to make you rich.  I came to take your baby back with me,” said the old woman.

Aghast, the widow realized that the old woman was from the Otherworld and had come for her baby.  She begged her frantically not to take her son telling her to take everything else but not her baby.  The old woman said, “Take the gold and make yourself rich.  Give me the child and relieve yourself of your burden.”

“Surely there is something else I can give, something else I can do for the gold?” begged the widow.

The old woman looked on her kindly and said,  “There are two thing that I have to tell you that that may help you decide.  The first is that by the laws of my world I cannot take your boy until three days have passed.  Then I will return with the gold and you shall keep that and I shall take the boy back to my world with me.”

“That is but one,” said the widow, “tell me the other.”

“The second condition is this.  If you can guess my name you win twofold;  you keep both the gold and and your baby son.”

Having said that the old woman scooped all of the gold into her bag and walked out the door saying, “I will return in three days for your answer,” and was gone.The widow without her cow and her rent money feared being turned out of her house and spent the night fretting and worrying, not sleeping  wink.

Silly Doot

After a restless night the widow decided she would visit her relatives who lived several miles away in another village to see if they could help.  She asked her neighbor to look after her son while she made the journey on foot to see them. Although they were glad to see her and sorry about the loss of her rent and cow they were so poor they could offer no more than emotional support which the widow needed and understood.  Feeling low in spirits she trudged home passing through a wood along the way. In the middle of the wood was a small grassy glade situated just a little way off the path. As the she came near the glade to her surprise she heard someone singing.

Carefully and quietly so as not to disturb them she crept through the trees to the glade to see who it was.  Skipping lightly round and round the center of the glade was one of the Otherfolk  happily dancing in a circle and singing,

“Ha ha! What a hoot!  What’s my name? Silly Doot!”

Round and round the glade she tripped while the widow hid behind a bush listening. Carefully and quietly she left the glade and made her way home as quickly as she could thinking carefully about what she had seen and heard.

On returning home she collected her baby boy from her neighbor, thanking them and set about her daily tasks working as hard as ever.  That night she went to bed and slept soundly despite knowing the old woman would return for her baby son in the morning.

The next morning she heard a rap at the door. She opened it and in walked the old woman in green carrying her bag.  Wasting no time she sat down at the table and tipped her bag up letting a pile of gold coins fall upon the table, saying, “The time has come.  Give me the boy and I will give you the gold, if you want me to help you, or if you guess my name correctly you get to keep both.  Are you up for this? Are you ready?”

The widow thought for a moment and then said, “How many guesses can I have and how long have I got?”

“You are allowed as many guesses as you choose and you have all the time there is,” replied the old woman, smiling confidently.

The widow tried name after name, after name, but each time the old woman said, “No!”

The old woman’s eyes began to gleam and she moved her chair nearer the cradle.  The widow thought as hard as she could and guessed again and again but each time she was wrong.  At last nearing defeat she fell quiet in despair and her mind went back to the previous day to the glade in the wood and the Otherfolk dancing and singing,

“Ha! Ha! What a hoot, what’s my name? Silly Doot!”

“Silly Droot!” cried the widow,

“Your name is Silly Doot!”

The old green woman turned red and then purple with rage, but simultaneously the door flew wide open and a strong gust of wind blew her clean up the chimney and she was gone leaving all of the gold in a big pile upon the table.  Whether she was cut to pieces by the scythes in the chimney we do not know but she never came back.

Justice for the Red Bandits

So the widow kept her baby and also the gold.  She spent wisely and prudently, buying two good cows, brought a new table and chairs and hid the rest of the coins under the hearth stone.  When her baby grew up she gave him a good education and he became one of the judges who hunted down and brought the Red Bandits to justice.

© 02/10/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright October 2nd, 2018 zteve t evans

Welsh Folktales: The Maiden of the Green Forest

In Wales there are many folktales and legends that tell how humans and people from the Otherworld sometimes fall in love and marry.  Very often it is a man who meets a woman from the other world and they fall in love. The woman or her father, often insists on a marriage contract being agreed by the bride’s groom that must be strictly followed. The groom agrees and the marriage takes place and they live for a time in happiness and then something happens that destroys or breaks the contract and destroys their happy life. There are many variations of this theme and presented here is a retelling  of a Welsh tale taken from Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis.

Prince Benlli

It is said that on the rare occasions when women of the Otherworld consent to marriage with a mortal they will only do so if the prospective husband makes a contract with them that must not be broken and must be strictly adhered to.  This story tells how a prince of Powys named Benlli found this out to his own cost. He had a fanciful notion in his head that to woo a woman all he had to do was say, “Come and be my bride,”  and they would instantly follow him saying “Thank you for asking, of course I will be your bride.” and the two would stroll off to church for the wedding.  At least this in his simplicity was what he thought,

The Maiden from the Green Forest

It so happened that sometime, somehow,  in the past he had been successful with this style of wooing.  He was married to a woman who had once been fair and beautiful but whose beauty and youth had quickly fled after marriage leaving her grey haired and wrinkled. It was probably the thought of a lifetime with her conceited husband that caused this, but Benlli now wanted a young pretty wife with rosy cheeks and long flowing golden hair and hoped to find one to satisfy his vanity.

One day he went hunting in the Green Forest and while his dogs were flushing out a wild boar he was surprised to see a beautiful woman with long golden flowing hair ride out of a cave on a milk-white horse,  She was the loveliest woman he had ever seen and he fell in love with her there and then, but she was gone before he could react. The next day he rode to the same cave in the forest and waited hoping to see her again.  Sure enough, the same beautiful woman came galloping out of the cave into the forest and in an instant had passed him by and was gone.

On the third day Prince Benlli again rode to the cave in the forest and once again the beautiful woman came galloping out on a milk-white steed.  This time he spurred his horse forwards forcing her to stop and as was his style simply told her her to follow him to his palace and be his wife.

The Marriage Contract

The beautiful woman looked at him and said,

“I will will be your wife if you promise to fulfill these three conditions.  First, your present wife must go. Second, you must agree that one night in every seven nights on Fridays I shall be free to leave you and you will not follow me.  Thirdly, you will not ask where I am going, or what I do and you will not spy on me. You must swear to me that you will uphold these conditions and if you keep them my beauty will remain unblemished.  If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long waving, water reeds shall grow in your hall. Do you agree?”

Without further delay, Benlli, agreed to these conditions and a solemn contract was made between the two and the Maid of the Green Forest became his wife.

As mentioned earlier, Benlli was already married and yet he had just wed the Maid and promised her that his first wife would go so how was he going to manage this situation?  Curiously, when the two arrived at his palace she had gone and never once returned, so that saved him a task.

Marriage

In the days that followed Benlii was very happy with his new wife who, everyday grew prettier and prettier.  They would spend days together chatting in the palace, or they would go horse riding in the Green Forest, or sometimes hunted deer. Indeed, the more her loveliness grew the happier he became. For a wedding present he gave her a ring that was set with a big and beautiful diamond and alone was worth a king’s ransom.  He gave her lavish jewelry of gold and silver and and a diadem studded with rubies and sapphires and loved his beautiful wife so much he would have given her anything. In those early days never once did he ever think of breaking his marriage contract.

However, time flies and in time all things change.  Three times three equals nine and after nine years with his wife disappearing every Friday night he began to grow curious as to what she was up to and where she went.  So much did he begin to dwell on the matter that it began to depress and worry him and became irritable and miserable in the company of others.  All of his servants and friends noticed the change in him but none dared to ask what the problem was.

Wyland the Monk

Then one night he had invited a very learned monk named Wyland to dinner and he had ordered the banqueting hall to be brightly decorated and that the best food and drink should be served.  He hired the best minstrel to provide the best music and entertainment.

Now, Wyland as well as being a monk, was also a man of magic and he knew and saw things that others could not see.  That night at dinner, despite all the finery, glamour and happy entertainment he could see Benlli was deeply unhappy and thoroughly miserable. He did not say anything to begin with but after the banquet was over he went home and decided he would call again in a few days time to see Prince Benlli and find out what was troubling him.  The next time he met Benlli, Wyland sat him down and said, “Tell me my friend, why are you so unhappy and miserable with life?”

Then Benlli related all to Wyland of how he had met and married the Maid of the Green Forest and of the three conditions of their wedding contract and said,

“Every Friday night, there am I with the owls hooting and the nightingales singing and my wife is absent from my bed until the sun rises.  I lay alone there wondering where she can be and what she is doing. Eventually, I fall asleep to wake in the morning finding her by my side.  I am overcome with curiosity and jealousy worrying about who she may be seeing and this is weighing down my soul. Even with all of my wealth, my luxurious palace and all its finery I am unhappier than any beggar in Wales or on the island of Britain!”

As Wyland listened to Benlli’s woes his quick mind realized there was a way he could make money from the prince’s woes and benefit his monastery at the same time.  All he had to do was to cure the troubles of Benlli’s soul and so he said,

“My friend, I have an idea that may help to ease your soul.  If you are but prepared to give the monks of White Minster one tenth of the flocks of sheep in your domain, one tenth of all the riches that flow into your treasury from the rents of the lands, and give the Maiden of the Green Forest to me, I can guarantee your soul will be free of all your troubles and at peace.  What do you say?

Benlli readily agreed and shook hands on the deal.

A Battle of Spells

On the next Friday night Wyland the Monk took his book of spells and went to the cave in the forest which he knew as being an entrance to the Otherworld.  There, he waited under the silvery moonlight. He had not been waiting too long when out of the cave on horseback there galloped a lady dressed in the finest clothes wearing a glittering crown upon her head.  He knew it was Benlli’s wife, the Maiden of the Green Forest and he stepped in front of her holding his book before him calling upon her to stop.  There then followed a battle of spells that saw lightning and fire light up the night as the two hurled spells and counter spells at each other.  Finally, summoning up the spirits of the air Weland told them of his plan to enrich the monastery and called upon them to assist and bind the Maiden of the Green Forest to his will saying,

“Spirits of the air, I call upon you to bind this maiden to me that she will always be at my side.  Bring her to me at the dawn of day to the crossroads before the town of Whiteminster and there I will marry her and she will be my own for all time!”

Waving his hands in the air and uttering special words he cast a spell that would prevent anyone from interfering with this and could not be broken.  Then he made his way to the crossroads to await the arrival of his bride-to-be at dawn. Arriving at the crossroads as the sun rose, to his disgust the first thing he saw was a hideous old hag who cackled and hissed and raised her hand pointing her bony finger at him. Set upon it was the big, beautiful diamond ring that Benlli had given to the lovely Maiden of the Forest when she had become his wife.

The Hag of the Green Forest

“Ha, ha, haaaa!  I hear my love approaching,  Come sweet lover and clasp me to thine bosom!” she shrieked through a mouthful of rotting teeth,

“Look at me, Wyland my love, look deep into my red and burning eyes and know that I am your betrothed.  This foul hag that stands before you was once the beautiful bride of Prince Benlli. When my beauty left me his love left with it but on the seventh night my magic brings back my beauty.  He has broken our wedding contract and I warned him, I said, ‘If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long, waving, water reeds that shall grow in your hall.’   This promise is now fulfilled and both your spell and mine are complete. From you he has received the freeing of his soul and eternal peace, for he is dead. My promise caused the a rivers and springs to gush and rise into his halls which is now covered in water and perch and pike play among the bulrushes and reeds.   The clashing of our spells means they cannot be undone and no charm or counter spell will avail. Therefore, Wyland my love, come to me and claim me as your reward for we have both kept our promises. Come take me, I am yours!”

So it was that Prince Benlli broke his marriage contract and paid the price as the waters of the land rose drowning him in in own halls. As for  Wyland the Monk – man of God and magic – he reaped what he had sown for himself in the tender loving arms of the Maiden of the Green Forest.

© 04/07/2018 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 4th, 2018 zteve t evans

 

 

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.

Aske

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: The Legend of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach

This post was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com August 17th, 2017 as Folklore of the Welsh Lakes: The Legend and Legacy of the Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach by zteve t evans

llyn_y_fan_fach_and_the_bannau_sir_gaer_-_geograph-org-uk_-_171027

Llyn y Fan Fach by Rudi Winter [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In Wales, legends of encounters with the Otherworld are never far away. One such legend is associated with Llyn y Fan Fach, a lake located on the northern side of the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire. This legend is also known as The Lady of the Lake, but it is not related to the Arthurian character of the Lady of the Lake. In this legend, the Lady is found living in the lake by a farmer, who falls in love with and marries her. They live in happiness for a time until she is forced to return to her own world, taking all that she brought with her, but leaving a remarkable legacy on earth to benefit humankind.

Gwyn the Farmer

The story begins with Gwyn, who lived with his mother on a nearby farm. One of his tasks was to lead the cattle to pasture, and one of his favourite places was Llyn y Fan Fach. His mother would pack him a basket of barley bread and cheese, which he gratefully ate while gazing dreamily at the reflections in the lake as he sat on its shore.

The Lady of the Lake

One day, as he arrived with his cattle, he was surprised to see the figure of a fair lady sat on a rock on the opposite shore. She appeared to be brushing her long hair with a golden comb, using the calm, unruffled surface of the lake as a mirror. He had never seen a woman so beautiful, and he found he was unconsciously holding out the barley bread and cheese his mother had packed for him to her. Seeing Gwyn, the lady stopped combing her hair and moved gracefully over the water towards him to see what he was offering. Seeing the barley bread and cheese, she laughed, shook her head and said:

“O thou of the crimped bread, it is not easy to catch me!”

Then she dived under the water and was gone.

Gwyn went home, but could not get the lovely lady out of his mind. He told his mother what he had seen and of the strange thing she had said before she dived below the water. As the lady had shown no interest in the hard-baked barley bread, his mother suggested he take an unbaked loaf to tempt her. Before sunrise next morning, Gwyn set out for the lake with an unbaked loaf of barley bread and some cheese. Finding a comfortable spot by the water’s edge, he settled down to watch the lake in the hope of seeing the mysterious Lady of the Lake again.

As the sun rose and the mists evaporated, he eagerly scanned the lake. However, by midday he had seen no sign of her. By late afternoon, he had still not seen her and began to despair. As he turned for home, sunlight rippling on a part of the lake caught his attention and the lady appeared in all her loveliness. Speechless in wonder, he offered her the unbaked bread he held in his trembling hand. She looked at the offering and laughed, her eyes sparkling, and said:

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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

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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: 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

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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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