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In Welsh mythology, Gwydion is a magician appearing prominently in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi and the ancient poem Cad Goddeu. He is the brother of Gilfaethwy and Arianrhod, and the nephew of Math fab Mathonwy. In the Mabinogion he is called the son of the goddess Dôn, making it likely he is an euhemerized god or demi-god. The name Gwydion (which should more properly be spelled Gwyddien in Modern Welsh, as can be adduced from its Old Welsh form Guidgen; cognate with Old Irish Fidgen) may be interpreted as "Born of Trees"[1].

Mythological exploits

In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, Gwydion helps his brother Gilfaethwy rape Goewin, Math's foot-holder. To this end he steals Pryderi of Dyfed's pigs, thus forcing Math away to fight a war (Math only took his feet from his foot-holder's lap to go to battle). Gwydion and Gilfaethwy sneak back to Math's court where Gilfaethwy rapes Goewin. When Math hears of this, he turns his nephews into a series of mated pairs of animals; Gwydion becomes a stag for a year, then a sow and finally a wolf. Gilfaethwy becomes a hind deer, a boar and a she-wolf. Each year they produce an offspring which is sent to Math: Hyddwn, Hychddwn and Bleiddwn; after three years Math releases his nephews from their punishment.

In the search for a new foot-holder, who must be a virgin, Math tests Gwydion's sister Arianrhod. The test reveals that Arianrhod is not a virgin, however, when she immediately gives birth to two children after stepping over Math's wand: Dylan Ail Don and an unformed blob.

Dylan is a sea-creature who immediately moved into the ocean, but on the other child Arianrhod places three tynged (see the Irish geis) upon him: the child will never have a name unless she herself names him, he cannot carry weapons unless she arms him (neither of these things does she intend to do), and he cannot marry any human woman. In effect she denies her child three major aspects of humanity, but Gwydion puts his nephew in a box and raises him. When the boy is old enough Gwydion takes him incognito to see Arianrhod, who declares he is a "bright one with a sure hand" or in some versions "fair-haired skillful hand" when she sees him drop a wren with a single stone. Gwydion reveals the child is her son and that she has unknowingly supplied him with a name; from then on he goes by Lleu Llaw Gyffes, "bright one with a sure hand". Arianrhod is similarly tricked into supplying her son with weapons. The third curse proves harder to overcome, so Gwydion and Math use magic to create a wife for Lleu out of flowers, named Blodeuwedd (flower face). Blodeuwedd proves unfaithful and with her lover, Goronwy, attempts to slay Lleu. Lleu does not die but transforms into a wounded eagle, and Gwydion tracks him with the help of a pig and finds him perched on an oak. He calls Lleu down from the tree by singing an englyn known as englyn Gwydion, returns Lleu back to his human form and with the help of Math heals him. They return to Lleu's estate where Gwydion turns Blodeuwedd into an owl, and Lleu himself kills Goronwy.

Gwydion also appears in the medieval poem Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), found in the Book of Taliesin. There he wins a battle against Bendigeidfran by animating an army of trees and guessing Bendigeidfran's name.

See also

References

  1. ^ Koch, John, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p. 867
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