Glastig (glaistig, glaistic, glaisein, glaishrig) To Gwythyr fab (Celtic mythology and folklore)

Glastig (glaistig, glaistic, glaisein, glaishrig)

Scottish and Welsh folkloric figure. A fairy of Scotland and Wales, "the gray-handed one" was a gray thin woman (sometimes, a giant) whose long yellow hair hit the ground behind her; like others of her race, she wore the preferred fairy color, green, from which she was sometimes known as the green glastig. Rarely seen in company (although sometimes a pair could be spotted together), the glastig hung around farms where there were cows; she was also found around people of friendly demeanor but low intelligence, whom she loved and cared for.

The glastig had a preternaturally loud voice that could be heard many miles away. As a spirit of the milk cattle, she demanded an offering of the first milk taken each morning; failure to observe this politeness resulted in her drying up the milk or otherwise punishing the stingy dairyman. If offered regular libations of milk, left in pitcher or bowl on the doorstep, the glastig stayed for some time. As a householding spirit like the brownie, she cleaned especially well whenever guests were on the way, so awakening to a sparkling clean house was an immediate signal to look out for visitors. As with other laboring spirits, it was important never to speak of the glastig or, even worse, to compliment her labor, for that forced her to move away to another farm.

In the Isle of Man the fenodyree was a figure similar to the glastig; she lived in the mountains but snuck down to the farmlands to tend to the fields and to help secretly about the house. Like similar fairy figures, she refused to accept payment or recompense for her work and disappeared if it was offered.


British mythological site. Considered by some to be the site of the other-world island of avalon, the small southwestern English city of Glastonbury has many mythical and legendary associations. Below its pyramidal hill, the tor, lie the ruins of several significant Christian sites, including Glastonbury Abbey, beneath which king arthur and queen guinevere are said to be buried, and the renowned Chalice well, also called the Blood Spring, with its iron-red waters. The legend of joseph of ari-mathea says that he built the first Christian church in Britain there. As Christian chapels and churches were often established on older Celtic and pre-Celtic sacred sites, it is no surprise to find that Glastonbury was held in legend to be the entry to annwn, the Welsh Otherworld, where the fairy king gwynn ap nudd reigned; there is evidence of Iron Age, probably Celtic, settlement on the Tor, which may point to a Celtic origin for that folkloric character. Thus the site remains connected in legend to the sacred even if the original monuments and myths have been lost.

Glastyn (glashtin)

Manx folkloric figure. On the Isle of Man lived this form of the spectral water horse, who appeared as a handsome man with curly hair, beneath which, if carefully examined, were ears that looked remarkably like those of a horse. Handsome he might be, but he was also dangerous. He snuck into the homes of young women when they were alone—their families having gone to market or out fishing— and dragged them into the sea to their deaths.

Glen Lyon

Scottish mythological site. In an astonishing survival of ancient, possibly Celtic, ritual, a Scottish region continues an age-old tradition centered on summer’s beginning at beltane on May 1. Located in the Grampion mountains of Tayside near Fortingall is a small valley called Glen Lyon. Within the small valley are many place-names associated with the ancient goddess, the cailleach or hag: Glen Cailliche (Hag’s Glen), Allt Cailliche (Hag’s Stream), and Tigh nam Cailliche (Hag’s House), the last being a pile of water-smoothed rocks of roughly human form. The largest, a bit over a foot in height, is named the Cailliche; two smaller stones go by the names of the Bodach (old man) and Nighean (daughter). Some small unnamed rocks represent the old woman’s babies. Each Beltane, a local resident washes the stones and replaces them in a traditional spot; each samhain the hag and her family are put away into a small stone house.

The connection of the ritual appearance and disappearance of the stone family with the Celtic holidays may indicate that it derives from Celtic times, although the hag goddess herself is believed to reach back even deeper into prehistory and represent a cosmic goddess of the pre-Celtic people. Legends in the area say that the Irish hero, fionn mac cumhaill, once lived there.

Glewlwyd Gafaelwar

Welsh hero. This warrior and guardian figure of Wales was absorbed into Arthurian legend as the watchman at the gates of king Arthur’s court at camelot.


Folkloric figure. Not a Celtic creature at all, the gnome found in Celtic lands derives from medieval science and alchemy that imagined creatures appropriate to each of the four elements: salamanders (fire), nereids (water), sylphs (air), and gnomes (earth). The gnomes were thought to live under the earth, working perhaps as miners; the word itself may derive from genomus, "earth-dweller." They are easily confused with such truly folkloric creatures as fairies and knockers, but have no real legends attached. The dwarfs familiar to modern children from the tale of Sleeping Beauty are a variation of the gnome.


Symbolic animal. There is evidence that the goat was among the animals considered sacred to the Celts and therefore useful for sacrifice. Because of a curse, goats were forbidden near the Christian abbey in kildare, originally a site of Celtic worship. As the sanctuary was sacred to women, and men were barred from it, the goat may have represented the male force; the horned god cernunnos was often depicted with goat’s legs, though with stag’s horns. The sexuality of the male goat is legendary; in Christian imagery, derogation of the male sexual force is indicated by showing the devil as a goat-footed being. Perhaps this connection explains why st. patrick was so often described as a goatherd: a symbolic way of describing Christianity’s control over male sexual instinct. In folklore the same energy is personified as puck or the pooka, a fairy being.

The most notable remnant of ancient regard for the animal is the still-extant puck fair, a harvest festival in the town of Kilorglin in southwestern Ireland, where a white male goat is crowned as king, fed fresh cabbage, and displayed aloft on a platform while festivities go on beneath it. The fair’s name comes from the Irish wordpoc, meaning "he-goat." The fair traditionally lasts three days in mid-August: Gathering Day, when the goat is installed as king; Fair Day, when festivities abound; and Scattering Day, when the goat is taken from his perch and sold at auction or released into the wild. Documented evidence shows that the fair has been continually held since at least 1613, although it is believed its earliest date is much earlier; some, however, contend that the obvious pagan symbolism of the rite would have caused its eradication during the period of Christianization and claim it is a medieval or Norman invention.

Goayr heddagh

Manx folkloric figure. The Isle of Man is haunted by this fairy creature or ghost that takes the form of a goat.

Goban Saor (Gobhan Saor, Gubawn Seer)

British and Irish folkloric figure. In parts of Britain and Ireland where Vikings lived, we find vestiges of the divine smith, wayland, in this folktale character. An amoral figure, he once put an old woman into his furnace so that he could hammer her into a young maiden. He is said to have served as architect on many significant churches. It is often difficult to tease out the various cultural strands in tales of Goban Soar, who like the Celtic smith god goibniu is sometimes described as the owner of the great cow of abundance, the glas ghaibhleann.

Goblin (hobgoblin)

British folkloric figure. A general name for evil fairies, "goblin" indicates a being who is at best mischievous and irritating, at worst dangerous. Goblins came in various guises, including the VOUGH and the pooka, the bogie and the water horse; all have roots in the Celtic vision of the otherworld; they are thus distinct from gnomes, which belong to the lore of medieval alchemy. English poet Christina Rossetti used aspects of traditional fairy lore in her long poem "Goblin Market," linking the image of leering, evil goblins with the motif of fairy kidnapping to create a frightening vision of emotional distress.

Gobnat (Gobnait, Cobnat, Abby, Abigail)

Irish heroine, saint or goddess. A Christian shrine in Ireland’s Co. Cork, at the town of Ballyvourney, shows a sheela na gig, a self-exposing hag whose image has been linked to ancient mother goddesses. The resident spirit of the shrine is said to be St. Gobnait, patroness of bees, who may be a Christianized version of an ancient goddess of the locality. The bees served as her watchdogs, warning her against any danger that approached.

She is said to have been one of three sisters, the others being the more clearly mythological crobh dearg (or lasair) and latiaran. In early February the beginning of spring in Ireland and the time of the Celtic feast of imbolc are devoted to Gobnait, suggesting that she was the first of a triad of seasonal goddesses, for her sisters are also linked to dates in the ancient calendar. A famous shrine to her is located at what is now Kilgobnet (church of Gobnat) in Co. Kerry.


Irish mythological race. A branch of the ancient mythological Irish race known as the fomorians, the Goborchinn were ruled by eochaid Echchenn, "horse-head." As the Fomorians were consistently associated with the sea, the Goborchinn may have some connection to the mythological water horse. Those who interpret the BOOK OF INVASIONS, in which the Goborchinn appear, as a mythological record of actual immigrations into Ireland suggest that the Fomorians represent a pre-Celtic people of which the Goborchinn were part.

God (gods)

Cosmological concept. It is impossible to speak of the "God of the Celts," for the Celts were polytheistic in the extreme; they did not believe in one but in many gods. Unlike the Romans, who conquered the Celts and reinterpreted their religion even as they recorded it (see interpretatio romana), the Celts did not arrange gods in a hierarchical order. Despite Caesar’s announcement that mercury was the chief Celtic god, there seems to have been no such head of a ranked pantheon.

In particular, the Celts did not believe that male gods took precedence over goddesses; there is significant evidence that the reverse was true. While goddesses seemed to represent stable parts of the landscape (mountains and rivers and the like) as well as the force of fertility and many human arts, gods more typically lent their energies to the changeable aspects of life: the surging sea, the transformations of magic, the burgeoning of vegetative and animal life. Often gods were seen to reflect the life of human men, as with ploughman gods and hunters, although even those could also indicate the cycle of fertility that led to abundance.

Goddess (goddesses)

Cosmological concept. The prominent role played by the goddess in Celtic lands has been noted by virtually all scholars of the subject, although whether that prominence translated into greater freedom or power for actual women is a subject of fierce contention. Similarly, there is debate about whether the strong goddess figures found in Celtic lands were adopted from earlier, presumably matrilin-eal, cultures such as the Picts, or whether they represented the Celtic worldview. Whichever is true, Celtic goddesses had in common with Celtic gods their special link to place; most goddesses are found in only one place and seem to have been envisioned as intertwined with its powers. Goddesses are particularly connected with fresh water, both in the form of springs (usually called wells) and of rivers; with animals, especially the cow; and with mountains, especially high peaks.

Celtic goddesses had several functions: They were maternal, caring for the earth itself as well as for individual children; they were prophetic, especially foretelling death; and they were transformational, connected with poetry and smithcraft and healing. The domain of the various mother goddesses included the entire life-cycle, from birth through adolescence and the fertility of maturity. Such maternal goddesses were envisioned as protective forces, providing the necessities of life—especially food—to their huge families of human children. These maternal goddesses are often envisioned as being the earth itself; round mountains were envisioned as the breasts of the great mother goddess, and rivers were imagined alternatively as her blood and her nourishing milk.

Images of the mother goddess are ubiquitous throughout the Celtic world; probably they were used as protective amulets as well as objects of worship. The strength of the mother goddess has led many scholars to propose that the Celts had a matrilineal social organization in which descent was traced through the mother-line; others, however, contend that vestiges of such a social structure represent the heritage of pre-Celtic groups like the Picts, as does the practice of polyandry or multiple husbands so common in Celtic mythology. Yet others deny all indications of the importance of the ancestral mother as feminist propaganda and propound the idea that the Celts were completely patriarchal and patrilineal.

In addition to the mother goddess, we find the feminine divine associated with prophecy throughout the Celtic world. In many cases she seems a goddess of death, predicting rather than bringing about the inevitable end of life. Finally, we find goddesses associated with transformation: with the inauguration of kings (see sovereignty) and with shape-shifting, as well as with poetry, with smithcraft, and with healing. Some contend that all are aspects of maternity, but goddesses associated with prophecy and transformation are not usually described as having children, which suggests that the domains were separate.

Godiva (Godgifu, Dame Goode Eve)

British heroine. In 1967, on the reputed 900th anniversary of Lady Godiva’s death, the town of Coventry held a celebration in her honor. Her apparently historical story incorporates so many Celtic mythological motifs that it is difficult to discern the truth behind the legend. Both she and her husband, Leonfric earl of Mercia, are mentioned in medieval chronicles, which praise her generosity and record details of her famous ride.

When Leonfric piled such ruinous taxes upon his vassals that the land was groaning and people were starving, Godiva pleaded for mercy. But Leonfric refused to alleviate the people’s woes. Cruelly, he taunted his wife that only if she rode naked through Coventry town would he ease the tax burden on his people. The brave lady took up the challenge, but to preserve her modesty she asked that the windows of the town be shrouded with fabric on the day of her ride. Then, dressed only in her long hair, she rode through the empty streets.

Only one person—Peeping Tom—ignored her request, and he was struck blind at the sight of her resplendent body.

The region around Coventry was home to the Celtic tribe called the Brigantes, who recognized the horse goddess either as epona or under another name. Their own tribal name indicates that they honored brigit, a goddess known in other contexts to have the power both to blind and to restore sight. The image of a mounted woman clad only in her hair is known in Ireland from the story of the forthright heroine grainne. Finally, female nakedness as a Celtic cult practice to increase the fertility of the fields is known from classical sources, including the Roman author Pliny; Lady Godiva’s ride had the effect of providing more abundance for her impoverished people. Thus the legend of Lady Godiva both disguises and preserves the image of an ancient goddess protector.


Welsh heroine or goddess. Chosen to perform the ceremonially important office of footholder to king math of Wales, whose feet were never to touch the ground—a common indicator of a sacred king—Goewin had the misfortune to inspire lust in the heart of one of Math’s nephews. Aided and abetted by his brother, the trickster poet gwydion, gil-faethwy raped Goewin. He was punished severely for the crime, but Goewin lost both her virginity and her position, for only an untouched girl was permitted to hold the king’s feet. As partial recompense, Math married her and made her queen.

Gog (Gogmagog, Gigmagog)

Cornish folk-loric figure. This Cornish giant was described by Geoffrey of Monmouth as attacking the British king Brutus during his inauguration ceremonies, only to be soundly defeated by the warrior Corineus. The legendary figure later developed into two threatening beings, Gog and Magog, who attacked Londinium (London) during the reign of king Vortigen.

Goibniu (Goibne, Gaibnenn, Gobnenn)

Irish god. The smith of the tuatha de danann, the tribe of the goddess danu, Goibniu was one of the three gods of craft who created a new arm for their king nuada when his arm was struck clear off in battle. As a blemished king, it appeared Nuada would be forced to resign his rulership. Goibniu set to work, crafting a silver arm so perfect that, attached to the stump, it began working like a real arm. (Some versions say the god of healing, dian cecht, crafted the silver arm.) Nuada of the Silver Arm was still not considered unblemished, and so the stingy and evil half-Fomorian bres mac Elatha ascended to the throne, only to be driven out not long after. The situation was resolved when the gifted physician and magician miach sang incantations that made skin grow over Nuada’s silver arm, making him whole once again. With that bionic arm, Nuada was able to lead his people to victory in the second battle of mag tuired, which established the Tuatha De’s dominion in Ireland.

Before the battle, the son of Bres and brigit came to spy upon Goibniu and steal his magical secrets. Goibniu killed the lad, ruadan, which caused his mother to invent the wild sound of keening to express her grief. For himself, Goibniu was able to heal his wounds by traveling to the sacred well on slane hill.

Every smith was a magical figure in ancient Ireland, turning raw stone first into metal and then into beautiful and useful objects such as jewelry and weapons. Such high prestige carries over to the mythological sphere as well. Sometimes named as the owner of the glas ghaibhleann, the cow of abundance, Goibniu was said to live in Co. Cavan, where the name of the Iron Mountains suggest an early mining industry. This connection with abundance is also emphasized by the myth that Goibniu possessed a cauldron from which his guests could endlessly drink and, instead of becoming intoxicated, grow ever younger and more healthy. In folklore Goibniu survived as goban saor, a sharp and clever smith who appears in many tales.

Goidel (Gadelus, Gaedhal, Gael, Gaedel Glas, Gathelus)

Irish hero. It is probable that this figure is a literary invention rather than a real divinity; he is named as the ancestor of the Goidelic (Gaelic) Celts of Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. In a complicated and clearly Christianized text, he is said to have been the grandson of an Egyptian Pharaoh, healed of a childhood illness by the biblical Moses. English poet and propagandist Edmund Spenser described Goidel or Gathelus as the son of Cecrops of Argos, a mythological Greek king, who married a princess of Egypt and took her to Spain, where they became the ancestors of the Irish race. Goidel may be the same as the figure who otherwise appears as Mil (see milesians), although he is also called one of Mil’s sons or grandsons. His ancestor rifath scot was the one who, in the chaos of the biblical Tower of Babel, became a speaker of Scots Gaelic; Goidel himself created the Irish language by joining words from the other 72 languages he knew.


Symbolic metal. Gold was a valuable metal to the Celts, who were renowned as metalworkers, but its value was based as much in myth as in commerce. It was associated with the sun and, as such, with prosperity brought about through the growth and abundance of summer’s vegetation. This association made gold a sought-after metal for personal ornamentation; torcs or neck-rings of twisted gold are among the treasures of ancient Celtic design and craftsmanship. Ritual objects, like the golden boat found in Broighter bog, also attest to the importance of gold to the Celts, both insular and Continental.

The Celtic reverence for gold was noted by ancient authors. Diodorus Siculus noted that the Celts had "a strange and peculiar custom in connection with the sanctuaries of the gods; for in the temples and sanctuaries which are dedicated throughout the country a large amount of gold is openly placed as a dedication to the gods." The openly displayed gold would not be stolen, for that would bring on unshakable bad fortune; the same tradition can be found in the placing of coins in sacred spots in Ireland and Britain today, which similarly tend to remain undisturbed.

Gold was also linked with the goddess and her diminished form, the fairy queen, for such beings were often described as having long golden hair. aine and etain are described as combing their golden locks with a golden comb. The lights of fairyland are often said to be gold, and human greed could be tempted by the apparent wealth of gold found there, though stolen pocketsful would reveal themselves to be only the butter-colored flowers of the gorse when the visitor returned to earth.

In degraded form after the decline of Celtic religion, this magical substance became nothing but money, as when leprechauns were sought for their pot of gold and the treasure of the goddess was transformed into the "Money Hole" of munster, a place of inexhaustible wealth lost somewhere on the slopes of the Loughfennel mountains. Thistles were sometimes said to grow at locations of buried fairy gold.


Welsh heroine or goddess. The legend of this Welsh princess, whose name means "bright day," probably disguises an ancient goddess of fertility, who may derive either from Celtic or pre-Celtic sources. She married a prince, cilydd, but was unable to conceive by him, causing consternation among her people, who both wished for an heir to the throne and worried over the symbolism of a barren couple on the throne. Unfortunately, when she finally became pregnant, Goleuddydd went mad and refused to live indoors, raging through the wilderness instead (the same motif is found in the Irish tale of mess buachalla). When the time of her labor came, she went to the sty of a swineherd and there bore her son, thereafter called kulhwch or "pig." Like rhiannon, the Welsh horse-goddess who bore a colt, we have here a transparent disguise for an ancient pig goddess of fertility.

Goll mac Morna (Aed, Aodh mac Fidga)

Irish hero. This one-eyed warrior was the traditional enemy of the great Irish hero fionn mac cumhaill. He was a hero originally named Aed ("bright"), son of Morna (hence, mac Morna). His father may have been a giant of the fir bolg people, who are associated with the province of connacht, also Goll’s domain. When Aed lost an eye in combat with a man named Luchet, he became Goll ("the one-eyed"). Other versions of the tale say that Goll’s opponent was cumhall, Fionn’s father, whom Goll promptly killed and beheaded. This initiated an endless feud between Goll’s family, the clan morna, and Fionn’s, the clan ba^scne.

Goll was not always Fionn’s enemy, for he rescued the hero from the clutches of three powerful hags who held him captive in the cave of Keshcorran, and Fionn rewarded him by giving Goll his daughter in marriage. Nor was Fionn always Goll’s foe, for he once found him sleeping by the Shannon River and, sheathing his sword, let the weary one-eyed warrior rest. Thus many see Fionn and Goll as part of a mythological cycle in which each relies upon as well as opposes the other. Ultimately, however, enmity rules: Fionn, freed from Keshcorran, promptly killed Goll’s grandson fer i, which began the cycle of violence again. Ultimately driven to the edge of Ireland, Goll lived without food or water for 30 days, becoming wild with despair and hunger before dying at the hands of a minor member of the fianna, Mac Smaile. Goll’s death did not end the feud, which continued until the Fianna was finally overcome at the battle of gabhair. Some legends say that after his death Goll found a new home in one of the magical islands of the western sea, on whose shores he had met his doom.

Goll also appears in the legend of lugh, the half-fomorian, half-tuatha de danann hero best known for killing his grandfather, the fierce and evil balor. One version says that Lugh was killed by Goll, while in another Lugh killed Goll after the great second battle of mag tuired. Goll himself is easily confused with the Fomorian king Balor, who had one evil eye that killed with a glance. Finally, a minor tale describes Goll’s death at the hands of the young warrior laoghaire mac Crimthann, who won the hand of his beloved der greine as a result of his successful battle against the gigantic Goll.

Goll mac

Morna may be connected with, or identical to, another one-eyed figure, the salmon who swam in the pool near the famous waterfall of assaroe and sometimes named fin-tan, who also bore the name of Goll Essa Ruaid. This identification further links Goll to Fionn, for it was the salmon of Assaroe that, cooked and accidentally eaten by Fionn (see finneces) that gave Fionn his magical insight and wisdom. Finally, Goll mac Morna has been linked to another one-eyed hero, Goll mac Carbada, killed by the ulster hero cuchulainn in a fight that echoes Fionn’s with Goll.

Golwg (Golwg Haffddydd)

Welsh heroine. In some early Arthurian legends, this is the name of the maidservant to esyllt, who later became the lover of a friend of trystan’s. When the story evolves into that of Tristan and iseult, the maid’s name is given as brangien.


Symbolic bird. Both the tame and the wild goose (see barnacle goose) had mythological and symbolic significance to the Celts. The barnyard goose, a notoriously aggressive being, was seen as an image of the warrior divinities, both male and feamle. Stone geese lined the temples of Gaul, while Brittany produced bronzes of war goddesses with goose-head helmets. Given this symbolism, it is ironic that the Celtic siege of Rome was ended when the geese of the goddess Juno Moneta’s temple set up such a commotion that the defenders were roused and the invading Celts defeated. So strong was the identification of Celtic people with the goose that the animal was a taboo food among the Britons, used for divination and eaten only on ritual occasions. Some fairy beings could change by shape-shifting into geese, as could the waterbird-hero Geroid Iarla.

Goreu (Goreu fab Custennin)

Welsh hero. A relatively obscure character, Goreu appears as a hidden child in the story of KUHLWCH AND OLWEN—hidden because a giant, olwen’s father yspaddaden penkawr, had eaten his 22 earlier-born siblings. Freed by king arthur, Goreu became a member of the court of camelot and ultimately slew his family’s gigantic enemy.


Greek goddess. A familiar icon to the Romans was the decapitated head of the Gorgon Medusa, whose image from Greek mythology was taken over by them and used as an apotropaic or warning sign. When the Roman legions arrived in Celtic lands, they found a well-established cult of the head; the Gorgon seemed a familiar emblem and was adopted into some Romano-Celtic temples,most notably that of sul at the famous thermal springs or aquae sulis at Bath in southwestern Britain. While Medusa was a goddess, the Celtic sacred head was typically a male one; thus the "male Gorgon" found in the temple of Sulis is a unique melding of Greek, Roman, and Celtic meanings in one image.


Irish mythological site. Somewhere in the otherworld was the magical city of Gorias, from which the tuatha de danann received one of their great treasures, the spear of lugh.


Arthurian hero. igraine, one of the most beautiful women in Wales, was married to the duke of Cornwall, Gorlois, and was the mother of several daughters, including the magical morgan and the doomed morgause. Although she was happy with her husband, Igraine caught the attention of the heroic uther pendragon, who wished to take her to bed. Igraine was a faithful wife, however, and so Uther conspired with the magician merlin to appear to Igraine in the body of her husband. Igraine did not know that Gorlois was already dead by Uther’s hand when she conceived arthur, the once and future king of Britain.

Gorm (Gorm the Grim)

British mythological site. The image of a giant of this name is carved into the side of the gorge of the River Avon. Gorm probably descended from a local divinity made monstrous by the interpretations of Celtic (possibly Viking) religion by Christian priests. The image was said to represent a cannibal; vestiges of belief in a figure with this name are also found in Orkney.


Symbolic plant. A hardy plant found throughout Ireland and Britain, gorse grows in harsh as well as fertile conditions. In spring the tough prickly bushes burst out with velvety fragrant yellow flowers, some of which remain through the summer. It had two major uses: as a fuel, for it is plentiful and burns at an intense heat; and as the mainstay of hedges, for cattle hesitate to approach its spiny, dense growth. In Wales, a sprig of gorse was worn as protection against witchcraft. (See also furze.)

Govannon (Gofannon, Gafannon)

Welsh god. The Welsh smith god, a parallel deity to the Irish goibniu, was a great artificer linked with the magician king math. Smithcraft was considered almost magical in early times, when the refining of metal was still a new and rare process. The divine smith had agricultural powers as well, for it was he who cleaned the plows at the end of planting, to ensure that the tools of abundance would serve another year.

Govannon appears in the collection of myths called the MABINOGION as the accidental murderer of the goddess arianrhod’s magical son dylan, who was mourned by the very waves of the sea. In folklore Govannon was renamed goban saor and described as the builder of early churches. In addition to his role as god of craftsmanship, Govannon had power over the elements and the weather; some have found in him an ancient thunder divinity like taranis.

Gradlon (Gradlon Muer, Grallon, Garallon, Gralon)

Breton hero. In one of the most dramatic stories from the Celtic region of France— Cornuoille or Brittany—we learn of the king Gradlon and his beautiful pagan daughter, dahut. He was a loving father who indulged his daughter’s every wish, including attending her nightly balls and other diversions within the walls that protected the low-lying city from the surging sea. A monk, guenole, warned him about his daughter’s allegedly evil proclivities, but Gradlon would hear nothing against Dahut. Yet the beautiful city of ys was doomed, for Dahut attracted the attention of cado, a sea god or sea monster who wanted to drag the princess down to the undersea world with him. The monk saved Gradlon, for the king had accepted Christianity despite his daughter’s more traditional beliefs; in some variants, Guenole forces Gradlon to sacrifice Dahut to the sea in order to save himself, while in others the two simply escape as the deluge pours into the magnificent city of Ys.

Gradlon appears in several other tales from Brittany, which show him as a model of the Celtic regional king who made his land wealthy and who protected it by defeating the Vikings on the Loire river. In some texts, his name is said to have been borne by later kings of the region.

Grail (Holy Grail)

Symbolic object. Generally pictured as the sacred cup from which the Christian savior Jesus drank at his Last Supper in Jerusalem, the Grail is also sometimes said to be the platter on which he was served his bread or paschal lamb at the Passover dinner he shared with his disciples on the night before he died. A third alternative holds that the Grail was a cup that caught the blood of Jesus as he lay dying. After his crucifixion and resurrection, joseph of arimathea, a merchant at whose house the Last Supper was held, transported the Grail to Britain. Thus the Christian emblem of the mystery of transubstantiation—the change of common bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus—became grafted onto a series of legends and myths of Celtic origin to become a complex yet compelling tale that continues to inspire poets and thinkers.

The Grail quest was set in motion by a young knight of the round table, percival, who found himself in a dead kingdom ruled over by a king who had been wounded in his groin, the symbol of his fertility, and so could do nothing but fish in the land’s increasingly empty lakes, for which reason he was called the fisher king. The king welcomed Percival to his castle, where a banquet was prepared.

There the young knight was presented with strange visions: Before his eyes appeared a floating chalice and a bleeding lance that hovered in midair while the court sat in silence. Percival chose to remain silent in the face of these marvels, never asking what they signified. The vision then evaporated, as did the palace and the king and all his court.

And so the quest began. The Grail quest took a different form for each knight who embarked upon it, for each was granted the quest appropriate to his character. Various endings are proposed in various texts: The thinly disguised Christian hero galahad receives the Grail and is transfigured into sanctity; lancelot finds the Grail Castle but falls into a trance and does not enter; Percival returns to the Grail Castle, asks the relevant questions—whose is the cup, why does the lance bleed, and what does it all mean?—and thus heals the king and restores the land, after which he himself is elevated to the kingship.

The story of the quest for the Grail includes several Celtic motifs. The Fisher King is the blemished king of Celtic tradition, which held that any king with a physical blemish could not rule. The Grail itself is the cauldron that appears in many forms in Celtic myth: It is the Welsh goddess ceridwen’s cauldron wherein wisdom was brewed, the cauldron of rebirth of the Welsh hero efnisien, and the great ever-abundant cauldron of the Irish god dagda. The symbolic meaning of the Grail fluctuates, but it is connected generally to fertility, although in some Christian tellings it appears to represent the opposite, being linked with the refusal to accept sexuality and thus with sterility.

Grainne (Grania, Grainne, Grace)

Irish heroine or goddess. The story of this fiery woman and her lover diarmait Ua Duibne is one of the most famous of the entire fenian cycle, told and retold in many variants. It begins with a race up the sides of the munster mountain called slieve-namon, "the mountain of the women." When the aging hero fionn mac cumhaill announced that he would wed the fastest woman in Ireland, the self-possessed princess Grainne decided that the honor should be hers. Fionn sat on the cairn atop the mountain, and at a signal all the women raced toward him. Fleet of foot and fierce of heart, Grainne reached the prize first. And so the wedding was set.

Various texts claim that Grainne was a princess of ulster, of Munster, or of tara. Most agree that the wedding feast was held on the royal hill of Tara, where a monument called Rath Grainne still stands. But before the wedding festivities had ended, Grainne had noticed that her new husband was considerably older than she was. Restlessly, she looked around.

Among the gathered heroes of Fionn’s band, the fianna, was Diarmait Ua Duibne, a young man who had many clearly visible attractions but whose most irresistible was under cover. Either a cap or bangs always covered Diarmait’s forehead, for there was a dimple or birthmark called a BALL SEIRC—a beauty mark that caused any woman who saw it to grow crazy with love. At the festival, Diarmait was playing with Fionn’s dogs, and as he did so he happened to toss his hair from his forehead, and the ball seirc was revealed. Instantly Grainne fell hopelessly in love with him. (This theme of fated love occurs as well in the Celtic-inspired story of tristan and iseult, but there the fated affair is launched through mistaken sharing of a love elixir.)

Diarmait had no desire to run off with the new wife of his leader, one of Ireland’s fiercest warriors. But he did not reckon on Grainne’s willfulness. Grainne learned that Diarmait was under a GEIS, a sacred vow, never to refuse a woman who came to him neither clothed nor unclothed, neither afoot nor on horseback, in neither daylight or dark. And so Grainne arrived veiled in mountain mist or catkin down, mounted on a goat, just at sunset, and thus found a way to force him to run away from Fionn with her.

In some versions of the tale, Grainne drugged the entire Fianna—including her intended husband, but sparing the man she desired—and convinced Diarmait to elope with her. The couple ran toward the Shannon River that cuts Ireland in half, sleeping there in what became known as the Wood of the Two Tents, for Diarmait feared to sleep in the same tent with Grainne, knowing that Fionn was on their trail. Once again Grainne prevailed, mildly mentioning to Diarmait—after a narrow escape from a monster—how nice it was to know something, at least, found her desirable. Shamed, Diarmait joined Grainne in her tent.

Fionn was indeed behind them, together with the entire Fianna. The couple kept a step ahead of their pursuers, Grainne wrapped in a cloak of invisibility while Diarmait leaped stupendous lengths to stay out of danger’s reach. Each night they slept on a different stone bed, so that the dolmens that mark the Irish countryside are now known as the "beds of Diarmait and Grainne." They ran so far and so fast that they never slept two nights in one place nor ate a cooked supper— but they ran far and fast together.

Finally, however, they grew exhausted by their constant travel and took refuge with a giant named searbhan, who let the couple hide in his magical rowan tree, warning them however to leave the berries strictly alone. But hungry Grainne could not resist, and Diarmait killed Searbhan so that the two could eat the magical fruit. Unfortunately, Searbhan’s dying screams revealed the couple’s location to the pursuing Fionn.

Climbing quickly up the tree, Diarmait and Grainne hid from her former suitor, his former leader, but Fionn suspected where they were. He sat beneath the tree and began to play FIDCHELL, a cribbage-like board game that had been Diarmait’s passion, against his friend oisin the bard. Unable to resist indicating the best move to his chum, Diarmait dropped berries onto the board from above, thus revealing his location to Fionn. And so the pursuit began again, until the god aonghus og pleaded the lovers’ cause to the pursuing Fionn, and the pair was restored to favor. They did not return to Fionn’s abode at the fort of Almu, rather, they retired to Grainne’s rath near the magical cave of Keshcorran in Co. Sligo.

Fionn finally had his revenge: He lured Diarmait into a wild boar hunt atop the legendary peak of ben bulben, knowing that the young man was under a geis never to hunt boar and realizing that Diarmait would have a hard fight against the boar, Gulben, who was a man whom his father had killed, enchanted into that fierce form. When the magical boar lay dead with no injury to Diarmait, Fionn again taunted his rival, forcing him to pace out the length of the corpse. A sharp bristle stabbed him and Diarmait fell down, near death from unquenchable bleeding. He begged Fionn to bring him water, and the old man did so, but then let it trickle away as the dying Diarmait watched, remarking that Grainne should see his beautiful body like that, all covered with gore and blood.

Because of her name, which hides the word for sun within it, Grainne has been often interpreted as a diminished goddess of sovereignty, whose selection of Diarmait over the failing Fionn meant the passage of her power to the younger man. Similarly, the circuit of Ireland by the loving couple recalls the king’s circuit of his lands with the goddess as well as the daily movement of the sun across the landscape.


Irish heroine. In Co. Limerick, at Carrigogunnel ("rock of the candle"), a light shone every night, killing whoever cast eyes upon it. Grana was the name of the witch or fairy who lit the smiting candle; she may be a diminished form of grainne or grian, goddesses associated with that area. One of the valiant fianna, Regan, donned a cap of invisibility and snuffed Grana’s candle, thereby destroying her power.

Gray Man (Far Liath, Liath Mhor)

Scottish folkloric figure. A giant specter who haunted the Scottish shores as well as those of Ireland, the Gray Man is thought to personify the sea mist in which travelers can be lost and, thereafter, drowned. He looked especially for boats carrying red-haired people and women but would attack any other boats at whim.


Symbolic color. Together with red, this was the color most favored by the fairy races who inhabit the ancient Celtic lands. Many humans, especially in Scotland, traditionally refused to wear this color so as not to offend their fairy neighbors; indeed, some Scottish families considered it fatal to don the color. Common associations between the color green and flourishing vegetation point to the fairies’ earlier incarnation as spirits of fertility and abundance.

Green Children

British folkloric figures. Mythology and history collide in the tale of the Green Children, a girl and boy with green skin and hair who abruptly appeared in Suffolk in the 12th century. They spoke no known language and, although clearly ravenous, refused to eat the meat they were offered. Although the boy died shortly after the pair crawled out of a hole under a downed tree, the girl lived to learn enough human speech to tell her rescuers that she and her brother came from a race that lived beneath the earth. She called her home St.

Martin’s Land, which she described as a land of constant rain that otherwise closely resembled the upper world. The girl explained that she and her brother had become lost while tending their flocks and had accidentally come up to the surface world. The girl later married, but she kept frequenting the place of her emergence and one day disappeared, presumably to find her way home. Recent theories hold that the children were not fairies at all—as their coloring sug-gested—but that their green hue was the effect of malnutrition, and that they were simply lost children from a war-torn area of England who had reached the unfamiliar "surface" by traveling through abandoned mineshafts.

Green Isle

Scottish mythological site. One of the fortunate isles, the Green Isle was a part of fairyland filled with orchards of magical fruit, especially apples. The Green Isle was sometimes called the Isle of Apples and imagined to be inhabited only by women.

Green Ladies

British folkloric figures. Like the identically named dames vertes in France, these fairy maidens were thought to haunt fresh water—wells and lakes and pools—in Britain. They were sometimes destructive, luring people to their death like mermaids, but could be jovial and pleasant as well.

Green Man

British folkloric figure. Found carved in stone and wood in English medieval art, this figure of a man’s face peering out from leaves and branches—or perhaps composed of those leaves and branches—is one of the most evocative and mysterious evidences of folk belief in Celtic lands. Although known by no other name than the Green Man, he has been interpreted as representing a guardian spirit of the corn, a masculine force of abundance. Most faces have a mild or even benevolent look, although a few look angry or threatening; some seem intoxicated.

A similar figure is found outside England as early as Roman times, when a male Medusa was sometimes used as an ornament; whether the head had religious significance is unknown, although he may have represented the woodland god silvanus. But the male mask in Britain is distinct in that the leaves are not a decoration but part of the face, which either emerges from them or dissolves into them.

If there was a myth or legend that defined the meaning of the Green Man, it has been lost. It is possible, however, that vestiges remain in literature and folk tradition. The Knight that gawain meets in the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is often interpreted as a literary reflection of this figure. The dancer called jack-in-the-green, who wears a leaf-covered mask in some British festivals on beltane (May 1), may be a living representative of the Green Man.


Irish goddess. Although many commentators find evidence of sun gods among the Celts, there is equal or stronger evidence that the sun was seen as a goddess, at least in Ireland where a goddess with the clearly solar name of Grian ("sun") is found. As her name is pronounced like "green," some places that include this syllable, like Pallas Green near the fairy hill of knockainy, may refer to Grian; some have posited the derivation of that word from the solar power to bring forth plants.

Although no myths remain of Grian in Ireland, she is found in place-names like Tuamgraney and Lough Graney, which are also described as locations important to the obscure figure gillagreine. Grian is described as the sister or twin of another goddess with solar attributes, aine, the goddess or fairy queen of the magical lake lough gur. As Aine was associated with summer rituals, it has been proposed that Grian ruled the winter sun. Whether there is any connection between Grian and the vibrant heroine grainne is not established. Many goddesses were called Grian as a kind of title; thus Macha is called "sun of womanfolk."

Grianan Aileach (Greenan Elly, Aileach, Oileach; Ailech Neit; Aleach Ned)

Irish mythological site. An impressive, huge stone triple-walled hillfort in Co. Donegal goes by this name, which means the "sunroom" (grianan) of the otherwise unknown Aileach, said to be a woman or a goddess buried under the structure. But the vast circle of stone is no sunroom, and Aileach has also been defined as the name of the land or the tribe of its builders. Thus while the structure itself speaks eloquently of past importance, the name is more puzzling than explanatory. Occasionally it is said to have been named after grian, the hypothesized sun goddess, but that is true only insofar as the word grianan derives from that of the sun.

Aileach is listed in early texts as the capital of the province of ulster after the fall of emain macha, thus putting it on the same level of such important sites as tara and cruachan. Legend has it that the tuatha de danann, the mythological tribe of the goddess danu, built Grianan Aileach and held it against the milesian invaders; their king, nuada of the Silver Arm, is said to be buried beneath its walls. The site was also the special home of the beneficent god dagda, who buried his son aed Minbhrec there. Grianan Aileach was one of the last forts to be held by the historical rulers who descended from the Celts, for it remained the seat of the Ui Neill dynasty, descendants of niall of the Nine Hostages, until the 13 th century.

Grimes Grave Goddess

British goddess. Because it is difficult if not impossible to date rock, the cultural origin of the tiny figure that goes by this name cannot be unquestionably established. The goddess was found in Norfolk, England, in the area of prehistoric (4000 b.c.e.) flint mines called Grimes Graves, where pit-mines as deep as 50 feet were dug with only deer antlers as shovels. Roughly shaped from white chalk, the goddess figure is squat and smirking, possibly pregnant; she reminds many observers of the sheela na gig, controversially labeled a goddess figure. That the Grimes Goddess was deliberately deposited in the mine is argued by the offerings found with it: a chalk phallus and several small chalk balls, a chalk lamp, flint blocks, and antlers. The original name of the goddess has been lost, and her meaning can only be a subject of conjecture.


Breton folkloric figure. In Brittany we find a folkloric figure that may be related to the Scottish and Irish GRUAGACH, but which had an evil disposition in contrast to the gruagach’s helpful one. Once, it was said, there was a boy and a girl, promised as spouses to each other at birth but orphaned and left to grow up as best they could. When he came of age the boy, Huarn, went off to seek his fortune. His intended, Bellah, gave him three talismans: a bell that would ring when he was in danger; a knife that would free him from any bonds; and a staff that would take him wherever he wanted to go. Off Huara set, walking until he reached the Isle of Lok, where a fairy woman lived surrounded by the waters of the lake. She took him beneath the water and showed him a palace, all built of seashells with crystal and coral decorations that made soft music as he passed. A garden of water plants grew around it, and within it people were celebrating merrily.

Inside the palace the groa’ch lay down upon a golden bed, her green dress clinging to her voluptuous body and coral ornaments winking from her silky black hair. She urged the boy to stay with her, promising him the riches of the sea, for her lake opened into it through a secret passage, and all her treasure was gathered from ships that sank in the ocean. Huach almost forgot himself in the splendor of this fairyland, but back home Bellah heard the bell ring and, disguised as a boy, came rushing to save her promised lover. As they escaped together, the sea drowned the palace of the tempting but destructive water-witch.

Gromer Somer Joure

Arthurian hero. The beautiful maiden ragnell was turned into a hag by this evil magician.

Gronw Pebyr

Welsh hero. After the Welsh poet-hero gwydion had created a woman of flowers for his son/nephew lleu llaw gyffes, the flower-wife blodeuwedd grew tired of her husband and fell in love with the hunter Gronw Pebyr. The two conspired to kill Lleu, with Blodeuwedd providing the secret information about her husband’s vulnerability and Gronw Pebyr striking the fatal blows.

Gruagach (grogan, grogach)

Scottish and Irish folkloric figure. This figure may descend from Celtic guardian divinities who watched over specific families and may originally have been divine ancestors. In Scotland the gruagach was a fairy woman who watched the cattle like a barnyard brownie; she required frequent libations of milk, preferably poured into special hollowed-out stones (see BULLAUN) called leacna gruagach. She dressed in green, as was the fairies’ habit, and had long golden hair, another indication of her otherworld nature. Even on sunny days, she was often drenched, as though she had been out in a downpour, and quietly asked humans who encountered her if she could stand beside the fire and dry herself.

The gruagach could also be male; in Co. Donegal, an immigrant Scottish family reported seeing a small man hanging about the farmstead, dressed only in his long red hair (a sure sign of fairy blood). When the farmer was later injured while threshing oats, the little naked fellow took over and kept a steady pace of work despite his lack of appropriate attire. The woman of the place, apparently suspecting her laborer was a fairy, avoided speaking to him or thanking him for his work (see laying the fairies). But after several days of work by the gruagach, the woman took pity upon his nakedness and knit him a tiny sweater. That was all it took; the little guy disappeared the next day. The gruagach’s name has been connected with terms for "hair," with which they were believed to be spectacularly endowed.


Irish hero. The father of the mountain goddess ebhlinne of munster, Guaire lived in the great bru na boinne, the prehistoric stone complex on the banks of the River Boyne, far to the north of his daughter’s land. Another Guaire was an historical king of connacht, renowned for his generosity; he even provided meals to anchorites in the nearby mountains by having the food whisked through the air. Guaire’s castle at Kinvarra in Co. Galway, which can still be visited today, was the site of the challenge to the bard Senchan, which resulted in the return of the lost epic, TAIN BO CUAILNGE, from the otherworld.


Manx curse or prayer. On the Isle of Man, it was traditional to both pray and curse while kneeling; cursing was called "wishing upon the knees." One strong traditional curse was called the Skeab Lome or "naked broom," in which a broom was invoked as a power to sweep away evil (or one’s enemies).

Guenole (Guenole, Gwennole, Winwaloe)

Breton hero. This Breton saint was the abbot of ys, the beautiful doomed city of the pagan princess dahut. It was Guenole who saved gradlon, Dahut’s father, while sentencing Dahut to die beneath the waves of the sea. Such figures, interpolated into Celtic myth with the coming of Christianity, sometimes have at their root an ancient elemental divinity, transformed and humanized. As Guenole is connected with the sea, he may have taken on some aspects of an ancient sea god; conversely, he may simply represent the intrusion of Christian morality into Celtic culture.

Guinevere (Guenievre, Gwenhwyvar, Gwen-hwyfar, Ganore)

Arthurian heroine or goddess.

The theory that the stories of the quasi-historical king of Britain, arthur, derive from Celtic mythology is strongly supported by the central position of Guinevere in the tales. If, as many agree, Arthur’s "wife" is a thinly disguised Welsh goddess, the sad tale of her betrayal of the aging king for the noble younger man becomes a variant of the common story of the king’s marriage to the goddess of sovereignty—a goddess who married one king after another, for she was the land itself. In offering herself to the manly knight lancelot, by this interpretation, Guinevere enacted the traditional role of the goddess.

Variants in which Arthur married three women, each named Guinevere, further strengthen the identification of this queen with the three-fold goddess, as does the derivation of her name (gwen, white; hwyvvar, fairy or spirit) from words that link her to the other-world and to the Irish goddess/heroine finnabair. Similarly, her marriage to Arthur on the festival of summer’s beginning, beltane, points to a ritual drama rather than merely a dynastic alliance.

The story of Guinevere’s marriage to an aging king and her later love for a handsome knight almost exactly parallels the Irish story of fair grainne and her young lover diarmait, who ran away from the aging fionn mac cumhaill; there are also parallels in the forced marriage of the the young heroine iseult to king mark of Cornwall despite her love for the younger tristan. Like Diarmait, Lancelot at first attempted to maintain his loyalty to his king while sleeping next to the woman he loved, placing a sword between them to deter intimacy, just as Diarmait pitched two separate tents.

Ultimately, however, love conquered caution, and the resulting affair between Lancelot and Guinevere split the loyalties of Arthur’s knights of the round table. Many of them went off on hopeless quests, including that for the grail. Guinevere finally determined that she could no longer live with Arthur and arranged an abduction, instructing her maidens to dress in green—the color of fairyland—on the morning of Beltane, further support for the idea that she was herself from the Otherworld. Some versions of the story describe a decision by Arthur to execute Guinevere for her unfaithfulness, with Lancelot rescuing her at the last minute from the flames.

Her escape, however, was followed by an eventual return to Arthur. By then the court of camelot was in ruins and its king was in combat with his mortal enemy and bastard son, mor-dred. Although in many tellings Guinevere is blamed for the shambles that Camelot became, it was Arthur who had planted the seed of its downfall. Arguments for interpretation of Guinevere as the goddess of Sovereignty point to early legends that Mordred carried off and married Guinevere in an attempt to solidify his claim to Camelot’s throne, suggesting that she, rather than Arthur, held the keys to the kingdom. Contemporary renderings of the tale, including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s wildly popular Mists of Avalon, attempt to redeem centuries of disdain for Guinevere.


Arthurian hero. A minor figure in the tales of camelot, Guinglain was the son of the transformed hag, ragnell, and the exemplary knight of the round table, gawain.

Gundestrup Cauldron

Archaeological treasure. In 1891 a great silver cauldron was found in a Danish peat bog, where it may have been either ritually deposited or hidden in a time of crisis. Bas-reliefs across the face of the vessel, which is believed to date from the 2nd or 1st century b.c.e. show enigmatic scenes that appear to be rituals, and figures that appear to be divine. Because the site where the treasure was found is of ambiguous history, it has sometimes been argued that the cauldron represents Germanic rather than Celtic material, but most scholars agree that the cauldron either was of Celtic manufacture or was influenced by Celtic belief. A goddess being conveyed on a cart and a horned god resembling the one known elsewhere as cer-nunnos are among the most important figures on the vessel.


Scottish folkloric figure. A cattle-herding brownie of the Scottish islands, the gunna hung about small farms making sure the cows did not trample the garden. As with many such helpful sprites, he went naked despite the weather. Any attempt to provide clothes drove the gunna away (see laying the fairies).

Gutuatros (pl., Gutuatri)

Continental Celtic social role. This name was born by certain continental Celtic druids who served at specific temples. As the name appears to mean "speakers," they may have practiced divination.

Guy Fawkes

British folkloric belief. The 1605 failure by Roman Catholics to destroy the English Houses of Parliament, led by a man named Guy Fawkes, led to an annual festival, supposedly in honor of the conspirators’ execution. The date of the festival, November 5, is suspiciously close to the old Celtic feast of winter’s beginning, samhain, on November 1. In addition, the typical celebration involves bonfires, which may have replaced the festival fires traditional to Samhain.


Arthurian hero. The lover of king arthur’s half sister, the sorceress morgan, Guyomard was an untrustworthy knight who so angered Morgan that she cursed a valley in the magical forest of broceliande. Any knight who wandered into that perilous valley after being unfaithful to his mistress would be trapped there forever, surrounded by imagined demons and insurmountable obstacles. lancelot, who was ever true in his heart to his beloved Guinevere, finally broke the enchantment.

Gwalchmei (Gwalchmei fab Gwyar)

Welsh hero. In Arthurian legend, Gwalchmei appears as the world’s speediest runner and as one of the advisers to the mythological king arthur.

Gwarthegy llyn

Welsh folkloric figures. Most Celtic lands have tales of fairy cows that recall the supreme importance of their herds to the ancient Celts. In both Scotland and Ireland these cattle of the otherworld were imagined as having the typical coloring of fairy beings: red body and white ears. In Wales the pattern changed slightly, for the gwartheg were completely white like ghosts. They could interbreed with the stock of earthly farmers, much to the advantage of the mortal cows visited by a stray white fairy bull. Alternatively, a fairy cow might decide to settle down on this side of the veil, producing prodigious amounts of milk until, like the mythical cow of abundance called the glas ghaibhleann, she was driven away by greed. One farmer who attempted to slaughter his fairy cow found her and all her progeny called away by a lake-maiden.


Welsh hero. A minor character in the Welsh MABINOGION, he was a suitor for the hand of the goddess/queen rhiannon against the heroic king pwyll. Through trickery, Gwawl forced Pwyll to step back from his suit, but Pwyll returned the favor by tricking Gwawl into crawling into a bag, which he then used like a football with his warriors.

Gwendydd (Gwendolyn, Gwendolena, Gwend-dydd, Gwyneth, Ganieda, Venotia)

Welsh heroine. This Welsh woman was the sister of the renowned magician merlin—perhaps his twin,perhaps his lover, perhaps both. It was to her that Merlin passed on his magical powers and his knowledge, once the seductive viviane had trapped him in her magical forest. In tales that describe her as Merlin’s wife, Gwendydd married the generous king rhydderch hael after Merlin went mad.

Gwenfrewi (Winefride)

Welsh heroine. The quasi-historical 7th-century Gwenfrewi was assaulted by a local prince, whose attempt on her virtue she managed to escape. He came after her and, drawing his sword, decapitated her as punishment for her self-control. Rolling down a hill, her head came to rest in a little valley, where a healing well immediately burst forth. Bueno, a minor saint and Gwenfrewi’s uncle, put her head back on her shoulders, where it instantly knit together, leaving only a small thin scar across the throat as evidence of the crime.


Welsh hero. The child of the Welsh princess branwen and her Irish husband, king matholwch, did not live long. His uncle efnisien mutilated Matholwch’s horses without reason, which gave the king cause to hold Branwen a prisoner in Ireland, during which time she bore Gwern, who was named king of the land in his infancy. Efnisien killed Gwern by burning him alive when he was only three years old, causing the great battle in which most of the Welsh heroes and all the warriors of Ireland were killed.

Gwion (Gwion Bach)

Welsh hero. The name of the great Welsh bard taliesin in his first incarnation was Gwion, whose adventures began when he was a little boy hired by the great hag goddess ceridwen to tend to household tasks. An important one was to stir the cauldron in which Ceridwen brewed herbs for a year and a day, intending to make her ugly son afagddu wise, in order to make up for his appearance.

Warned not to taste the brew, Gwion tried to follow orders, but the stuff bubbled out and seared his skin. The boy popped his finger into his mouth and, therefore, absorbed all the wisdom intended for the goddess’s son. In a series of transformations, Ceridwen pursued him until he turned himself into a grain of wheat that, transformed into a hen, she gobbled up. It impregnated her so that she gave birth to a reborn Gwion, who became the great poet Taliesin.

Gwrach y rhibyn

Welsh folkloric figure. Like the washer at the ford, this banshee-like fairy woman warned of imminent death, usually by standing at a crossroads or near a bend in a stream. She was huge and hideous, with coarse red hair, a massive nose, and eyes that shone red.

Gwragedd annwn

Welsh folkloric figure. While most fairy women were dangerous to humans, luring men to fairyland to enjoy and discard, the Welsh lake maidens or Gwragedd Annwn were a different breed, for they enjoyed settling down with human men and made excellent wives. However, there was a firm taboo against ever lifting a hand to such a lake maiden. Even a blow struck in jest caused them to leave husband and children behind, taking all their fairy wealth—which could be substantial—and plunging into the nearest lake.


Welsh hero. This name was given to the kidnapped hero pryderi by his foster father, after the boy had miraculously appeared from out of the night sky one beltane.

Gwyar (Anna)

Welsh goddess. The story of this ancient Welsh goddess, wife of the god of heaven, is fragmentary. All that is left is the meaning of her name ("gore"); her relationship to king arthur, said to have been her brother (at other times the name given for Arthur’s sister is morgause or morgan); and the information that she had two sons, one good, the other bad.

Gwyddno (Gwyddno Garanhir)

Welsh hero. A minor figure in the story of KULHWCH AND OLWEN, he was said to have a basket that was magically filled with food at all times—a basket that Kulhwch had to steal in order to gain his beloved Olwen.

Gwydion (Gwidion, Gwydion ab Don)

Welsh hero. The son of the great Welsh mother goddess don, Gwydion figures importantly in the great compilation of myths called the MABINOGION. Although he is central to the action, he plays a secondary role to the more active parties: his brother gilfaethwy, his uncle math, his sister arianrhod. When Gilfaethwy conceived a lustful fixation upon the maiden goewin, ceremonial footholder to king Math, Gwydion helped him find an opportunity to rape her. In punishment, Math turned the brothers into deer, pigs, and wolves consecutively. When he gained his human form back, Gwydion proposed that, as the deflowered Goewin could no longer be footholder to Math, Arianrhod take her place.

But Arianrhod failed to pass a magical test of virginity, giving birth to a wriggling lump of flesh that leapt into the sea to become dylan Son-of-Wave and another unformed child whom Gwydion nursed in a chest until he was old enough to claim arms and a name from his mother. Arianrhod, still angered by Gwydion’s connivances, refused, but Gwydion found a way to trick her into naming the boy lleu llaw gyffes. Next, with Math’s help, Gwydion formed a woman, blodeuwedd, from flowers to be the boy’s bride. That, too, ended poorly, with the girl attempting to murder her husband, who turned into an eagle. Gwydion, always ready with magic, brought Lleu back to human form and sent Blodeuwedd away in the form of an owl.

Other tales show Gwydion changing fungus into horses and creating seagoing ships from thin air. Under the name of Gwion, he was imprisoned in the otherworld, where he became a bard as a result of the inspiration he received. He may have brought back more than poetry from the Otherworld of annwn, for one text refers to him as a thief who stole magical swine and brought them to the surface world. This magician, poet, and trickster is believed to be a diminished version of an earlier Welsh god, one whose domain included both the stars, where he lived in the Milky Way (Caer Gwydion), and the underworld of Annwn.


Welsh folkloric figure. In Wales strange female spirits were said to haunt lonely roads. With her apron thrown over her shoulder, trudging wearily along carrying a wooden milk-pail, this ancient hag wore ash-colored rags and an oblong four-cornered hat. There is no record of her attacking those she met on the roads, but her appearance was fearsome enough to frighten lonely travelers. Like other members of the fairy races, she feared metal, especially iron, and vanished instantly if confronted with a knife or other piece of cutlery.

Gwynn ap Nudd (Gwyn ap Nudd, Herne, Herne the Hunter, Gabriel)

Welsh hero. The Welsh king of fairyland, "White One, son of the Dark," was said to reside under glaston-bury tor, the small pyramidal hill that is southwestern England’s most significant feature. Gwynn reigned over the folk called the TYLWYTH TEG, beautiful tiny people who wore blue and danced all night in the fashion of Irish fairies. His special feast was spring’s beginning, beltane, when he led the wild hunt to raid the land of the living. His name means Gwynn, son of Nudd; his father was king of a Hades-like Otherworld called annwn. He could materialize at will, surrounded by his beautiful host playing fairy music. His queen was the daughter of lludd, creiddylad, on whom Shakespeare based the character of Cordelia in King Lear.

Alternative names used of Gwyn ap Nudd are Herne the Hunter, the frightening figure who skulks around Windsor Forest in England; and Gabriel, known best for his vicious fairy hounds.

Gwythyr fab

Greidawl Welsh folkloric figure. This warrior was one of two contenders for the hand of the maiden of springtime, creiddy-lad, in Welsh folk ceremonies that marked the beltane season. Representing the summer, Gwythyr always won, defeating the winter king, gwynn ap nudd.

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