Gwydion fab Dôn

Gwydion fab Dôn is a central figure in Welsh mythology, renowned as a magician, hero, and cunning trickster. His most notable role is in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, where much of the narrative revolves around his interactions with his nephew, Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Gwydion’s presence extends beyond this tale, featuring prominently in Welsh Triads, the Book of Taliesin, and the Stanzas of the Graves.

The name “Gwydion” holds significance, potentially translating to “Born of Trees,” hinting at deeper connections to nature and perhaps hinting at his origins or powers.

Mythological exploits

War with the South

In the mythological narrative, Gilfaethwy, nephew to the Venedotian king Math fab Mathonwy, becomes consumed by desire for his uncle’s virgin foot-holder, Goewin. His brother, Gwydion, devises a scheme to incite conflict between the northern and southern realms. Utilizing his magical abilities, Gwydion steals mystical pigs from Pryderi, the king of Demetia, provoking Pryderi to retaliate by marching upon Gwynedd. Amidst the chaos of war, with Math preoccupied, Gilfaethwy returns home and commits the heinous act of raping Goewin.

Pryderi and his forces engage in battle across various locations, including Maenor Bennardd and Maenor Coed Alun, suffering consecutive defeats. The conflict escalates to a climactic showdown at Y Velen Rhyd in Ardudwy, where Gwydion and Pryderi engage in single combat. Through a combination of strength, valor, and potent magic, Gwydion emerges victorious, resulting in Pryderi’s demise. The men of Dyfed, mourning the loss of their leader, retreat to their homeland, lamenting the tragic outcome of the battle.

Lleu’s death and resurrection

Upon learning of Goewin’s assault, Math punishes his nephews by transforming them into various pairs of animals: Gwydion becomes a stag, then a sow, and finally a wolf, while Gilfaethwy assumes the forms of a hind, a boar, and a she-wolf. Each year, they produce offspring—Hyddwn, Hychddwn, and Bleiddwn—sent to Math. After three years, Math releases them from their punishment and seeks a new foot-holder.

Gwydion proposes his sister, Arianrhod, who undergoes a magical virginity test administered by Math. During the test, she unexpectedly gives birth to a robust boy named Dylan, who possesses the essence of the seas until his demise at the hands of his uncle Gofannon.

Overwhelmed by shame, Arianrhod flees, dropping something small on her way out, which Gwydion retrieves and places in a chest by his bed. Later, he hears cries emanating from the chest and discovers a baby boy inside. Some scholars speculate that in an earlier version of the tale, Gwydion was the father of Arianrhod’s sons.

Battle of the Trees

The Battle of the Trees holds a significant place in Welsh mythology, featuring a mythological clash between the sons of Dôn and the forces of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld. Amaethon, Gwydion’s brother, instigates the conflict by pilfering a white roebuck and a whelp from Arawn, king of the Otherworld, sparking a formidable battle.

Gwydion joins his brother in combat, utilizing enchantments with the assistance of Lleu, rallying “elementary trees and sedges” to rise as formidable warriors against Arawn’s forces. The alder spearheads the assault, while the aspen succumbs in battle, and the oak stands as a stalwart defender against the enemy. The bluebells unite, causing a stir, but the holly emerges as the ultimate hero, tinted with vibrant green.

A warrior fighting alongside Arawn remains invincible unless his name is correctly guessed by his adversaries. Gwydion discerns the warrior’s identity by noting the sprigs of alder on his shield and cleverly sings two englyns:

“Sure-hoofed is my steed spurred into action; High sprigs of alder adorn your shield; Bran is your name, with branches gleaming bright.” Sure-hoofed is my steed in battle’s array: High sprigs of alder grace your hand: Bran, bearer of the branch, Amaethon the valiant has prevailed.”