Arawn, Lord of Annwn

Arawn is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology, particularly known as the king of Annwn, the otherworldly realm, as depicted in the Mabinogi, a cornerstone of medieval Welsh literature.

Arawnin and the Mabinogi

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi: In the First Branch, Arawn’s significant encounter with Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, is a central story. Pwyll enters Annwn and disrupts a hunt led by Arawn’s hounds.

And as he [Pwyll] was setting on his dogs he saw a horseman coming towards him upon a large light-grey steed, with a hunting horn round his neck, and clad in garments of grey woollen in the fashion of a hunting garb. And the horseman drew near and spoke unto him thus.

The First Branch of the Mabinogi: Pwyll Pendeuc Dyfed

As restitution, Pwyll agrees to switch places with Arawn for a year and a day to defeat Arawn’s rival, Hafgan, which Arawn himself couldn’t accomplish.

“There is a man whose dominions are opposite to mine, who is ever warring against me, and he is Havgan, a King of Annwvyn, and by ridding me of this oppression, which thou canst easily do, shalt thou gain my friendship.”

The First Branch of the Mabinogi: Pwyll Pendeuc Dyfed

During this time, Arawn poses as Pwyll in Dyfed. The story is notable for the friendship that develops between Pwyll and Arawn, especially given Pwyll’s respect for Arawn’s marriage.

In the Fourth Branch, the bond between Pwyll’s realm and Arawn is symbolized through the gift of otherworldly pigs from Arawn to Pwyll’s son, Pryderi. These pigs become a point of contention and lead to conflict with Gwydion fab Don, resulting in Pryderi’s death.

“Pryderi the son of Pwyll; they were sent him from Annwn, by Arawn the king of Annwn, and still they keep that name, half bog, half pig.” 

Math Son of Mathonwy

Other Legends

Cŵn Annwn: In Welsh folklore, Arawn is linked to the “Hounds of Annwn” that are said to ride through the skies, but Arawn himself is less directly referenced in these traditions. The are pure white with red ears according to the Mabinogion.

For their hair was of a brilliant shining white, and their ears were red; and as the whiteness of their bodies shone, so did the redness of their ears glisten. And he came towards the dogs, and drove away those that had brought down the stag, and set his own dogs upon it.

The First Branch of the Mabinogi: Pwyll Pendeuc Dyfed

Cad Goddeu: Some sources, including the Welsh Triads, connect Arawn to the “Battle of the Trees” (Cad Goddeu). It is suggested that a theft by Amaethon from Arawn led to this battle. This narrative, while not in the main text of the “Cad Goddeu” in the Book of Taliesin, is noted in other sources and reinforces Arawn’s significance in Welsh mythological warfare and lore.

These are the englyns that were sung at the Cad Goddeu (the Battle of the Trees), or, as others call it, the Battle of Achren which was on account of a white roebuck and a welp; and they came from Hell, and Amathaon ab Don brought them. And therefore Amathaon ab Don, and Arawn, King of Annwn (Hell), fought. And there was a man in that battle, unless his name were known he could not be overcome; and there was on the other side a woman called Achren, and unless her name were known her party could not be overcome. And Gwydion ab Don guessed the name of the man

The Battle of the Trees