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Creatures and Characters From Welsh Mythology

Verity is a Physics with Teaching Bsc (Hons) graduate. In her spare time, she likes to cook, read and play video games.

An introduction to some of the most interesting characters and creatures from Welsh folklore and mythology.

An introduction to some of the most interesting characters and creatures from Welsh folklore and mythology.

Adar Llwch Gwin

The Adar Llwch Gwin shares some traits with that of the griffin. They are giant birds which are very intelligent, capable of not only understanding human speech but following orders—they are known to take commands literally.

In a tale, a warrior named Drudwas ap Tryffin was gifted Adar Llwch Gwin by his fairy wife before a battle. Drudwas was planning on entering battle against the legendary Arthur, and commanded his Adar Llwch Gwin to kill the first man to enter the battle. Drudwas intended for Arthur and his men to be the first to enter the battle, but Arthur was delayed meaning that Drudwas entered the battle first. The birds took his order literally and immediately turned upon their master and tore him to shreds, killing him.

A - Adar Llwch Gwin by AlterIcon on DeviantArt

A - Adar Llwch Gwin by AlterIcon on DeviantArt

Afanc

The Afanc is a lake-dwelling, water monster first described in the 15th century. Accounts of this monster vary wildly, and as such is has may different descriptions. In some accounts, it is thought to be a beaver (possibly due to the closeness of the words avanc (middle Welsh) and afanc (modern Welsh) which literally translates to 'beaver'). In some versions of the tale, it looks like a crocodile, and in others, it more closely resembles a dwarf. It also varies between versions of the tale as to whether the Afanc is simply a creature, or a demon taking the form of a creature.

The creature is not peaceful and attacks women and men indiscriminately. Anyone who enters the water in which they reside, whether on purpose or by accident, will be made into prey.

Afanc by ANIME407 on DeviantArt

Afanc by ANIME407 on DeviantArt

Cath Palug

The Cath Palug is one of Britain's many 'Big Cat' monsters, however, this one goes back to the 12th Century and is even referenced in Arthurian legend. This legend also differs from many 'Big Cat' legends as the Cath Palug is also semi-aquatic, a trait not usually connected to cats. As such, the Cath Palug always chooses to settle by large bodies of water.

The origin of the creature mentions a black kitten that was born to a great white sow, it was thrown into the ocean in an attempt to kill it, but it got caught up from the water in a fisherman's net. After being fished out of the water, it was cared for, and raised on an island by, humans who were unaware of its destructive nature. The Cath Palug grew and became a great plague on the island, killing men in scores. The man who killed the Cath Palug lost 180 men before he was able to kill the cat. However, the account of the killing is incomplete and it is only implied that the Cath Palug was killed. Therefore, it could be possible that the beast lives on.

Claws in the Night by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Claws in the Night by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Coblynau

The Coblynau is a goblin or gnome creature, approximately 1.5 ft tall, said to live in the Welsh mines and quarries. They initially appear ugly, wearing miniature mining outfits to try and fit in. They are actually very helpful and use a knocking sound to help miners find gold and other precious items while down in the mines. A Coblynau's work is never done, they work around the clock but never finish their tasks.

Coblynau by LuthienAredhel on DeviantArt

Coblynau by LuthienAredhel on DeviantArt

Cyhyraeth

The Cyhyraeth is a death spectre, a ghostly spirit. It does not have a form, however, those who are close to death will hear the Cyhyraeth's moaning and wailing. It makes its noises three times in warning, after the third time, the person dies. In the legends, the noises made by the spirit are mournful but disagreeable, similar to the sounds of someone struggling on their deathbed. The Cyhyraeth still sounds for any Welsh person far away, not in their home country.

Gwrgi Garwlwyd

Gwrgi Garwlwyd is a legendary warrior, sometimes also described as being a werewolf. Gwrgi was one of King Arthur's warriors, who fought against various monsters and people. He was such a prolific killer that he became a menace, killing one Briton a day. However, Gwrgi maintained his piety and would kill 2 men on a Saturday to avoid killing any man on a Sunday. He was eventually killed by a bard and his death was seen as a great fortune.

Henwen

The Henwen is the old white sow that was said to have given birth to Cath Palug. The sow also gave birth to many other creatures, some beautiful and benevolent, some malevolent and evil. Amongst the creatures that the Henwen gave birth to were a bee, a piglet, a wolf cub and an eagle. The birthing sow became to be a bad omen due to a prophecy, so the people of the isle chased her until she ran into the waters. She did not die and re-emerged on a different isle.

Henwen the White by Paige Carpenter

Henwen the White by Paige Carpenter

Morgen

The Morgen are eternally young, malevolent water spirits. Similar to sirens, they use their beauty to seduce men into the water and drown them. If the seduction would not work, they lure the men into the water some other way, presenting to them visions of underwater gardens, gold and crystal, just under the water's surface. The Morgen can also control water, and responsible for sending floods that have drowned entire towns.

Richard Wagner's Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods

Richard Wagner's Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods

Púca

The Púca is a nature spirit. The existence of the Púca is, in some regards, similar to the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy. The spirit can come in a dark form with black fur or hair, or light form with white fur or hair. They bring both good and bad fortune in equal mixture. The Púca is another shape-shifter and can take a wide variety of forms including rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, birds, foxes, wolves and goats. The Púca can even take the form of a human being, but there is always some kind of give-away that they are not human, such as an accompanying animal's tail or ears. It can speak to humans and will one day give advice and aid, and on other days confuse and scare people.

At the end of an agricultural season any crops still left out in the fields is known as the 'Púca's share', and the 1st of November is Púca's Day. On Púca's day, the Púca will either be only civil all day or will spit on all of the wild fruits thus leaving them completely inedible.

The Púca by Denise Nestor

The Púca by Denise Nestor

Water Leaper (Llamhigyn Y Dwr)

The Water Leaper is a water-dwelling creature that lives in ponds and swamps. It is considered truly evil, using a wide range of tricks to punish the innocent. The Water Leaper would wait in the water and snap the lines of fishermen in the hope that they would starve. It would eat livestock belonging to farmers and in other situations would even eat the fishermen that tried to fish in his ponds.

The Water Leaper is described as looking utterly grotesque; a giant toad with bat's wings, no hind legs, and a long tail with a stinger at the end. It can use its bat wings to fly over large spans of water, surprising those nearby by coming at them from the air.

Llamhigyn Y Dwr by Aiofa on DeviantArt

Llamhigyn Y Dwr by Aiofa on DeviantArt

Thank You for Reading!

Thank you for reading this article of some of the creatures and characters from Welsh mythology that I thought were the most interesting. I tried to stay clear of the ones that everyone already knows about (e.g. Welsh Dragons and Big Dogs).

If you think that I have missed one out, feel free to tell me about it in the comments below and I can try to include it! Likewise, if you found any of these particularly compelling, tell me which one you like the best!

References

  • Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopeidia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, "Llamhigyn Y Dwr", p270
  • Briggs, Katharine. An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Boogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, "Pwca", p 337
  • Bromwich, Rachel (2006), Trioedd Ynys Prydein: The Triads of the Island of Britain, University Of Wales Press
  • Franklin, Anna (2002). "Goblin", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies. London: Paper Tiger
  • Franklin, Anna (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopaedia Of Fairies Vega, London, p. 182
  • Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (University of Wales Dictionary), vol. I, p.41, afanc
  • Green, Thomas (2007), Concepts of Arthur, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus
  • Guest, Lady Charlotte (2002). The Mabinogion. London: Voyager. pp. 192–195
  • Keightley, Thomas (1880), The Fairy Mythology (google), p. 371
  • Lacy (superv.) & Pickens (tr.) (1993), Ch. 55, "The Devil Cat of Lausanne; King Claudas's Men Routed", Story of Merlin, pp. 410
  • Matson, Gienna: Celtic Mythology A to Z, page 1. Chelsea House, 2004
  • Offut, Jason (2019). Chasing American Monsters. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications
  • Rose, Carol: Giants, Monsters and Dragons. Norton 2000
  • Skene, William Forbes (1868), The Four Ancient Books of Wales (Google), 2, Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas Triads re Arthur p. 457-,Canu y Meirch (Book of Taliesin XXV) p. 175-7 (text) and Vol. 1, p.307- (translation)
  • Wirt Sikes. British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions. (2nd edition) London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1880. Page 216

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 VerityPrice

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