Gwyn ap Nudd

Gwyn ap Nudd sometimes spelled Gwynn ap Nudd, stands as a significant figure in Welsh mythology, holding the title of king over the Tylwyth Teg, or “fair folk,” and ruler of the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn. His name translates to “Gwyn, son of Nudd,” reflecting his lineage.

Gwyn ap Nudd is a Lord of Annwn

We know from Culhwch and Olwen that Gwyn ap Nudd is a Lord of Annwn.

Gwynn the son of Nudd, whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race. He will never be spared thence.

Culhwch and Olwen

Also in the Life of St Collen he is mentioned as king of Annwn. Eventually he and his court are vanquished from Glastonbury Tor with the use of holy water by St. Collen.

And as he was one day in his cell, he heard two men conversing about Gwyn ab Nudd, and saying that he was king of Annwn and of the Fairies.

St. Collen and Gwyn ap Nudd

Gwyn ap Nudd’s Animal Companions

In the Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir his horse is called Carngrwn [Round-hoofed]. Despite this in Culhwch and Olwen we find out that the only horse that can carry Gwyn is Du, The Black One.

“Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not get. There is not a horse in the world that can carry Gwynn to hunt the Twrch Trwyth, except Du [The Black One], the horse of Mor of Oerveddawg.”

Culhwch and Olwen

This particular horse seems to be known elsewhere in the Welsh tradition, although with some variations in its name and ownership.

Three Horses who carried the Three Horse-Burdens:
Black Moro, horse of Elidir Mwynfawr, who carried on his back seven and a half people from Penllech in the North to Penllech in Môn. These were the seven people: Elidir Mwynfawr, and Eurgain his wife, daughter of Maelgwn Gwynedd, and Gwyn Good Companion, and Gwyn Good Distributor, and Mynach Naomon his counsellor, and Prydelaw the Cupbearer, his butler, and Silver Staff his servant, and Gelbeinevin his cook, who swam with his two hands to the horse’s crupper – and that was the half-person. Corvan, horse of the sons of Eliffer, bore the second Horse-Burden: he carried on his back Gwrgi and Peredur and Dunawd the Stout and Cynfelyn the Leprous(?), to look upon the battle-fog of (the host of) Gwenddolau (in) Ar(f)derydd. And no one overtook him but Dinogad son of Cynan Garwyn, (riding) upon Swift Roan, and he won censure and dishonour from then till this day. Heith, horse of the sons of Gwerthmwl Wledig, bore the third Horse-Burden: he carried Gweir and Gleis and Archanad up the hill of Maelawr in Ceredigion to avenge their father.

The Welsh Triads

Elidir Mwynfawr, a semi-legendary Coeling warlord of the Hen Gogledd who was supposed to have made a bid for the kingship of Gwynedd in the late sixth century.

The Black, from the seas famous,
The steed of Brwyn, betrayer of the country.

The Song of the Horses

‘The Black’ one of the Oceans, which is similar to the form found in the Troiedd Y Meirch or ‘Triads of the Horses’, although with a different owner.

This may be a “water horse” was originally a name given to the kelpie, a creature similar to the hippocamp, which has the head, neck and mane of a normal horse, front legs like a horse, webbed feet, and a long, two-lobed, whale-like tail.

The Family of Gwyn ap Nudd

Family ties connect Gwyn to prominent figures within Welsh mythology, including his father, Nudd/Ludd and his grandfather Beli Mawr, son of Manogan.

Notable among his siblings are Edern, a renowned warrior in Arthurian tales, and Owain ap Nudd, briefly mentioned in Geraint and Enid.

“This pleases me,” said Gwenhwyvar. And Arthur became surety for Edeyrn, and Caradawc the son of Llyr, Gwallawg the son of Llenawg, and Owain the son of Nudd, and Gwalchmai, and many others with them.

Geraint and Enid

And on the third day Geraint set forth, and many went with him. Gwalchmai the son of Gwyar, … and Edeyrn the son of Nudd.

Geraint and Enid

Gwyn ap Nudd & Culhwch and Olwen

In legend, Gwyn is entwined in the saga of Culhwch and Olwen, where he abducts Creiddylad from her betrothed, Gwythyr ap Greidawl, sparking a fierce conflict between the two adversaries. Following a brutal battle, Gwyn emerges victorious, leading to the tragic fate of Nwython and his son, Cyledr, at Gwyn’s hands.

A little while before this, Creiddylad the daughter of Llud Llaw Ereint, and Gwythyr the son of Greidawl, were betrothed. And before she had become his bride, Gwn ap Nudd came and carried her away by force;

Culhwch and Olwen

The intervention of Arthur results in a pact between Gwyn and Gwythyr, binding them to duel for Creiddylad annually until Judgment Day.

When Arthur heard of this, he went to the North, and summoned Gwyn ap Nudd before him, and set free the nobles whom he had put in prison, and made peace between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr the son of Greidawl. And this was the peace that was made:–that the maiden should remain in her father’s house, without advantage to either of them, and that Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwythyr the son of Greidawl should fight for her every first of May, from thenceforth until the day of doom, and that whichever of them should then be conqueror should have the maiden.

Culhwch and Olwen

To win the affection of Olwen, Culhwch ap Cilydd is tasked by her father, the giant Ysbaddaden, with a series of daunting challenges. Among these is the perilous mission to obtain the comb and scissors from the ferocious boar, Twrch Trwyth. Recognizing that this task is unachievable without Gwyn’s assistance, he is summoned to support Arthur and his companions in their quest against Twrch Trwyth.

“Though thou get this, there is yet that which thou wilt not get. It is not possible to hunt the boar Trwyth without Gwynn the son of Nudd, whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race. He will never be spared thence.”

Culhwch and Olwen

The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir

Gwyn also features prominently in The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, where he recounts his role as a warrior and psychopomp, guiding fallen British warriors to the afterlife.

There is some debate as to the relationship between Gwn ap Nudd and Creiddylad. In The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, Gwyn describes himself as the lover of Creiddylad.

Carngrwn [Round-hoofed] is my horse, the torment of battle, 
Fairy am I called, Gwyn the son of Nudd,
The lover of Creudilad, the daughter of Llud.

The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir

Revered as the leader of the Wild Hunt, Gwyn’s spectral hounds, known as the Cŵn Annwn, are said to herald imminent death. His presence at Caer Vandwy, an otherworldly fortress mentioned in Preiddeu Annwfn, further underscores his mystical significance.

Throughout Welsh folklore and literature, Gwyn ap Nudd remains a captivating figure, embodying the enigmatic allure of the Welsh Otherworld and the eternal cycle of life and death.

Later Traditions

According to a Speculum Christiani, a14th century Latin manuscript against divination, Welsh “soothsayers” would repeat the following:

ad regem Eumenidium et reginam eius: Gwynn ap Nwdd qui es ultra in silvis pro amore concubine tue permitte nos venire domum”

Translation (from Medieval Folklore):
“to the king of Spirits, and to his queen–Gwyn ap Nudd, you who are yonder in the forest,for love of your mate, permit us to enter your dwelling.”

The Invocation of Gwyn ap Nudd, Speculum Christiani

Dafydd ap Gwilym, the renowned fourteenth-century bard, references Gwyn in several works, indicating his widespread recognition in medieval Wales. In Y Dylluan, Gwilym describes the owl as the “fowl of Gwyn ap Nudd,” while Y Pwll Mawn recounts an autobiographical incident involving a lake referred to as “the fish lake of Gwyn ap Nudd” and “the palace of the elves and their children.”

Gwyn is frequently linked to the Wild Hunt, akin to figures like Woden or Herne the Hunter. Some traditions name Gwyn’s chief huntsman as Iolo ap Huw, who, on Halloween, “may be found cheering Cŵn Annwn over Cader Idris.” In the Black Book of Carmarthen, Gwyn identifies his finest hound as Dormarch.

Etymology of Gwyn

The name “Gwyn” translates to “fair, bright, white,” akin to the Irish “fionn.” This connection suggests a link to the Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhail, whose maternal great-grandfather was Nuada. Gwyn’s father, Nudd, shares similarities with the Brythonic deity Nodens.

“Gwyn” is a common noun and adjective, still in everyday use, with connotations of “pure, sacred, holy.” It also remains a popular personal name, retaining its significance across Welsh culture.