Lleu Llaw Gyffes

Lleu Llaw Gyffes is a prominent figure in Welsh mythology, notably featured in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, known as the tale of Math fab Mathonwy. This narrative recounts Lleu’s birth, marriage, death, resurrection, and his rise to the throne of Gwynedd. He is depicted as both a skilled warrior and a magician, often linked with his uncle Gwydion.

Lleu is commonly interpreted as the Welsh counterpart to the Irish deity Lugh and the Gaulish deity Lugus. Some scholars propose a connection between Lleu and the divine son figure Mabon ap Modron.

The story of Lleu and the tynghedau of Arianrhod, followed by the tale of Lleu and Blodeuwedd, constitute respectively the second and third parts of the Mabinogi of Math fab Mathonwy.

In the narrative, Gilfaethwy, nephew to King Math fab Mathonwy, develops an infatuation with Goewin, a virgin foot-holder in the king’s service. To fulfill their desires, Gilfaethwy’s brother Gwydion engineers a conflict between the north and south, allowing them to violate Goewin while Math is preoccupied with the ensuing war. Gwydion’s scheme involves stealing mystical pigs from the Demetian king, Pryderi, leading to an invasion of Gwynedd.

Despite initial victories, Pryderi ultimately succumbs to Gwydion in single combat, leading to his death. Upon learning of Goewin’s mistreatment, Math punishes his nephews by transforming them into various pairs of animals for three years. Once their sentence is served, Math seeks a new foot-holder and chooses his sister, Arianrhod. During a magical test of her virginity, she unexpectedly gives birth to a son, Dylan.

Arianrhod, ashamed of her situation, places a curse upon the child, decreeing that only she may name him. However, Gwydion circumvents this by tricking Arianrhod into inadvertently naming the child Lleu Llaw Gyffes, “the fair-haired one with the skillful hand.” Enraged by this deception, Arianrhod imposes further restrictions upon Lleu, including denying him a human wife.

To counteract Arianrhod’s curse, Gwydion and Math create Blodeuwedd, a beautiful maiden, from the flowers of the oak, broom, and meadowsweet. Lleu and Blodeuwedd eventually marry, but Blodeuwedd betrays Lleu by conspiring with Gronw Pebr to kill him. She tricks Lleu into revealing his vulnerability, and Gronw hurls a spear at him.

Injured, Lleu transforms into an eagle and flees. Gwydion ultimately finds and restores him to human form. With Gwydion’s assistance, Lleu avenges himself by killing Gronw and turning Blodeuwedd into an owl. Lleu then ascends to the throne of Gwynedd.

References to Lleu are also found in early Welsh poetry and medieval texts, highlighting his significance in Welsh mythology.

Etymology of Lleu

The name Lleu is believed to be derived from Proto-Celtic *Lugus, although its precise meaning and etymology remain topics of scholarly debate. Various theories suggest connections to concepts such as light, the moon, darkness, oath-taking, and deception. Additionally, there are proposals linking the name to Old Irish lug, meaning ‘lynx’, and Latin lūgubris, meaning ‘mournful’.