Tales of the Gwyn Reaper

I was a bit stumped for ideas for a mythology post for this weekend, but then I remembered I’d been meaning to write about Gwyn ap Nudd, Welsh Lord of the Dead.

Picture by Thalia Took
I’ve already mentioned him a few times, as he appears as a character in The Merlin Conspiracy, and is identified as one of the leaders of the Wild Hunt. He was the son of the god Nudd, who was later retconned by Christian writers into Lludd, a mythical King of Britain. Gwyn’s role is that of both ruler of the world of the dead and psychopomp.

Picture Source: Tangnefeddu
The most famous story about him involves his rivalry with Gwythyr ap Greidawl over a woman named Creiddylad, who might possibly be Gwyn’s sister. That kind of thing never really seems to bother gods, though. The tale has it that Gwythyr was engaged to Creiddylad, but Gwyn kidnapped her, leading to war between the two. When King Arthur (yes, he’s in this story as well) needed Gwyn’s help in hunting the wild boar Twrch Trwyth, so he forced a truce between Gwyn and Gwythyr.

The terms of this truce were that the two would not fight except for one day every year, May Day (the traditional beginning of summer to the British), and this this battle for Creiddylad would occur annually until the end of the world. Conventional wisdom has it that this is a myth related to the changing of seasons, which means earlier versions of the story might well have not included King Arthur, as the seasons obviously already existed by his time. Perhaps Arthur had a certain amount of control over the weather if it really never rained until after sundown at Camelot, but I don’t think he introduced the progression of the seasons. What we likely have here is an old myth adapted into British folklore of the Christian era. In fact, it seems that Gwyn was reduced in power even more after that, until he was merely king of the fairies known as the Tylwyth Teg, rather than Lord of the Dead. It seems that British lore has always associated fairies with spirits of the dead, though, and it’s not like being a fairy king is anything to sneeze at. Regardless, I have to wonder if Gwyn had a role in Welsh mythology prior to the Arthurian legends, and what it actually was. The spread of monotheism changing former gods into mere folk heroes and lesser magical beings is a theme that comes up time after time in any study of mythology.

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