Gwydion and Aranrhod

Math, a Welsh god of great wealth, was burdened by a very unusual curse: he could only live if his feet were resting on a virgin’s lap. When his original virgin foot-holder was abducted, Math was forced to look for a new one.

Gwydion, God of illusion and magic, as well as of poetry and science, was Math’s good friend. He suggested his sister, Aranrhod, for the job.

Aranrhod was very honored that she was being considered. She went before Math in order for him to test her. As it turned out, she was not a virgin at all. Much to Aranrhod’s embarrassment, when Math waved his wand over her, she gave birth to two children on the spot. One of the children was named Dylan Eil Ton, meaning “Sea, Son of the Wave.”

The moment he was born, he plunged into the sea because he believed it was his native element. When he died many years later, at the hand of his own uncle, it is said that all the seas of Britain and Ireland wept for him.

Aranrhod’s other son was rescued by Gwydion. He raised the boy as his own child. The boy grew at a very fast rate. When he was two, he was able to travel on his own. When he was only four, he was the size of a boy twice his age.

One day, Gwydion took the boy to visit his mother. Aranrhod hated the children who had exposed her lie to Math. She was not happy that Gwydion brought the boy to her home. The only interest she showed was asking what his name was.

Gwydion replied that he had not yet been named. When Aranrhod heard this she decided to lay a curse upon the boy. She proclaimed that he would never have a name until she herself gave him one.

The idea of not having a name was a very serious problem. Many ancient Britons thought the name to be the same as the soul. Gwydion determined to find a way to secure a name for his son.

The next day, the two went to the seashore by Aranrhod’s palace. They disguised themselves as master leather craftsmen and set up a little shop on a boat. They made fine leather goods for the townspeople. After a short while, word of their great skill spread back to Aranrhod. When she heard of the craftsmen, she sent an order for a new pair of shoes.

Gwydion and his son set out to make the shoes. Although Aranrhod had given her measurements, they deliberately made the shoes too big. A servant picked up the pair and brought them back to Aranrhod.

She was very angry when she tried them on and found they did not fit. She sent her servant back and had him demand the shoes be made again. The second time Gwydion and the boy crafted a pair that were intentionally too small.

When Aranrhod received another pair in the wrong size, she was furious. She made her way to the shore to have an exact measurement of her foot taken. She would then wait herself while the shoes were made. Little did she know that Gwydion and the boy had been plotting to get her down to their boat all along.

While Gwydion measured Aranrhod’s feet, a bird flew over and landed on the deck of the ship. The boy took out a bow and arrow. He let an arrow fly. His shot hit the bird in the leg, which was considered to be the most difficult shot in archery. Aranrhod was very impressed.

“Truly,” she said, “the lion aimed at it with a steady hand.”

Gwydion rejoiced. He took off his disguise and told Aranrhod that she had fulfilled her own prophecy. From that day forward, the boy would be called Lleu Llaw Gyffes, which means “Lion With the Steady Hand.”

Aranrhod was very angry at having been tricked. In her rage, she placed a new curse on Lleu. She swore he would never be allowed to carry weapons until she herself gave them to him.

Gwydion again determined to find a way around the curse. He brought Lleu home and trained him to be a warrior. When the boy was old enough to bear arms, they once again made a journey to Aranrhod’s palace.

This time, they disguised themselves as minstrels. Aranrhod greatly enjoyed songs and invited the pair in to sing for her and her household. She was so pleased with their performance that she fed them and even gave them shelter for the night.

Early in the morning, before anyone else was awake, Gwydion began another trick. He used all his magic powers to cast a spell. He made it seem as if the entire castle were surrounded by a fleet of enemy ships. Then he woke the household with cries of an attack.

Aranrhod sprang from bed. She was terrified when she saw all the ships and did not know what to do. She begged the minstrels for their help. Gwydion replied that they could fight, but that they lacked weapons.

Aranrhod commanded her servants to provide weapons for Gwydion. Then she herself draped weapons over Lleu. By the time she was done, the illusion vanished. Gwydion began laughing and revealed his true identity.

Aranrhod realized that there had never been any ships. This time she was angrier than she had ever been before. She came up with her worst curse yet. She promised that Lleu would never have a human wife so long as he lived. Gwydion was not overly concerned—he had found his way around the other two curses; he would find a way around this one, too.

Gwydion thought the first step would be to go to Math, who was also a great magician. Together, they used their magic to create a woman from flower petals. They called her Blodeuwedd, which means “Flower Face.”

She was the most beautiful woman Lleu had ever seen. He immediately fell in love with her. He asked her to be his bride. She agreed and the happy couple were soon wed. As a gift, Gwydion presented them with a small castle near a lake.

The couple lived happily together. One day, though, Lleu left the palace to visit Math. While he was away, a stranger came hunting in the area. He was Gronw Pebyr, one of the gods of darkness. Blodeuwedd saw him in the woods and invited him into the palace.

The two fell in love and began a secret affair. They decided to kill Lleu so they could be together. They plotted ways to murder him. Lleu, however, was invincible in battle and could be hurt in only one way. No one knew what this secret was. It was up to Blodeuwedd to find out her husband’s one weakness.

When he returned from visiting Math, Blodeuwedd asked Lleu how he preserved his life. She lied and said she wanted to know in order to be able to protect against it ever happening. Lleu replied that he could only be killed by a spear that had been worked on for one full year, but never crafted on Sundays or holidays.

In addition, he would die only if the spear were thrown just after he had bathed, while he had one foot upon the bath and the other upon a goat’s back. Blodeuwedd pretended to praise the heavens that his death was so unlikely.

Over the next year Blodeuwedd continued her secret affair. Gronw spent the time crafting the spear. When the full year had passed, Blodeuwedd asked Lleu to show her in detail how he could be killed. That way, she lied, she would know how to protect him if anything ever happened.

The moment Lleu got into position, Gronw threw the spear. It had been dipped in poison. It sank deep into Lleu’s flesh, but did not kill him. Instead, he turned into an eagle. The mighty bird let out a great cry and flew off. After he left, Gronw took over the palace and married Blodeuwedd.

News of what happened made its way to Gwydion. He set off to find his son. While searching, he ran into a servant, who mentioned to Gwydion that one of his master’s pigs kept running off each day, but returned each night without fail.

No one could figure out where it went during the day. Gwydion decided to follow the sow. It traveled a great distance, but finally stopped to graze beneath a tree. Gwydion looked to see what it was eating.

He realized that the pig fed upon pieces of meat that were falling from the tree. It turned out that an eagle was at the top and the meat was the scraps from its kill. Gwydion felt in his heart that the eagle was his son.

Gwydion sang a song to the bird to coax it down. When it finally came down, Gwydion struck it with his wand. Lleu turned back into his human form. His father rejoiced, but realized that his son was still very weak. Gwydion brought Lleu to Math to heal completely.

In the meantime, Gwydion went to track down the woman who had betrayed his son. Blodeuwedd heard he was coming and tried to run. Gwydion soon overtook her. When he caught her, he turned her into an owl. Blodeuwedd was forced to spend the rest of her life hunting at night in solitude, as an outcast from all other birds.

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