Who is Gwydion? Our Guide in Cornwall

September 1, 2019

Hello everyone, this is Kyra. Some of you are probably wondering who Gwydion is and why his name is featured heavily in our upcoming retreat to Cornwall (Gwydion's Crossing: Between Worlds Retreat). Gwydion is my spirit guide. He is a Welsh trickster god, equally responsible for creation and destruction. I wanted to provide a bit more insight into not only his origins, but also why we are working with him during this retreat.

Gwydion’s Origins

Gwydion is primarily featured in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh oral myths that were written down in the 12th and 13th centuries. Interestingly, this is also where some of the first, unromanticized stories of King Arthur appear as well. Gwydion is featured in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion - Math fab Mathonwy. 

A very short summary of the story: Gwydion and his brother are nephews to King Math. Gwydion’s brother lusts after Math’s handmaiden, who must remain a virgin as Math must rest his feet on the lap of a virgin to stay alive except in times of war. Gwydion, using magic and trickery, starts a war with the neighbouring King Pryderi so that Math must fight him, leaving the virgin maiden exposed. During the ensuing battle, the maiden is raped by Gwydion’s brother and Gwydion ends the battle by slaying Pryderi.

Math finds out that the maiden has been violated and punishes the brothers by turning them into pairs of mating wild animals for three years - first a stag and doe, then a boar and sow, and finally a pair of wolves. The two brothers produce three sons together. At the end of three years, all is forgiven and Math seeks out a new handmaiden. Gwydion suggests his half-sister, Arianrhod but Math doubts her virginity and tells her to step over a wand to prove she is one. Arianrhod does so, but a baby falls from her womb and a small bundle which is quickly taken by Gwydion. Arianrhod flees in shame.

Some months later, the bundle that Gwydion picked up begins to cry, it is a baby. Gwydion acts as the father of the child in this story (there is speculation that Gwydion is the real father which explains Arianrhod’s shame over the two children if they are born of incest), and when the time comes brings him to Arianrhod. Arianrhod lays three curses upon the child: that he shall have no name except one given by her, that he shall bear no arms except those given by her, and he shall never have a human wife. Gwydion, once again using magic and trickery, deceives Arianrhod into naming the boy Lleu Llaw Gyffes (meaning fair-haired one of skillful hand) and arming Lleu with a spear.

As for the last curse, Gwydion and Math create a bride for Lleu out of flowers - her name is Blodeuedd (meaning flower-faced). Lleu and Blodeuedd live in happiness for several years, until one day when Lleu is gone for a few days, a lord named Gronw appears. Gronw and Blodeuwedd fall in love and conspire to kill Lleu. Lleu can only be killed under a certain set of conditions, which he shows to Blodeuwedd, and Gronw successfully spears Lleu. The injured Lleu turns into an eagle and flies away.

Upon hearing what has happened, Gwydion searches for Lleu and finds him still as an eagle in a tree. Gwydion transforms him back into a human and takes care of him until his health is restored. Then Gwydion turns Blodeuedd into an owl as punishment (her name then becomes Blodeuwedd) and Gronw is killed by Lleu.

Trickster Gods as a Catalyst & Arthurian Parallels

As you can see, Gwydion plays both good and evil in this story, but as I have learned, for the gods nothing is truly black and white. Trickster gods are especially seen as “bad”, however, they are needed to drive the plot forward. If Gwydion hadn’t arranged a rape, Lleu might have never come into existence.

When I first met Gwydion, he appeared to me as the Horned God, Cernunnos. It was not until I asked him who he was that I actually got an answer. In our training, John Matthews even asked me if I was sure it was Gwydion and looked very surprised. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of initiation rites and obscure messages in the Otherworld. 

Trickster gods navigate the liminal space, and act as a bridge between our world and the Otherworld. They test you (Gwydion won’t answer me if I ask a stupid question), but in some ways that makes them the best teachers. They do not coddle or provide you with an exact answer because you are expected to do the work yourself. They foster independence and growth, because to work alongside them you have to rise to the occasion. 

Gwydion draws some parallels to other trickster gods (Loki comes to mind), but he also has some clear parallels to Merlin from Arthurian legend. Both arrange through magic and trickery for a man to have intercourse with a woman, which by proxy leads to the birth of a hero, and both act as a father figure and guiding hand to the hero.

Many of us picture Merlin as an old wizened wizard, however he most certainly was a young man at some point. Gwydion perhaps lacks the wisdom and foresight that older Merlin possesses, but he embodies many of the qualities of young Merlin. Funnily enough, Cornwall sits directly across the water from Wales. Perhaps it isn’t too far-fetched that once Gwydion completed his work in Wales, he travelled across the waters to Cornwall to usher in the next story, this time a little older and a little wiser.

Gwydion’s Crossing

We have chosen to work with Gwydion for a couple of reasons for this retreat. The first is that he simply wanted to be involved. The name actually came to Elizabeth instead of me, he clearly wanted to be a part of this.

The second is his capacity as a psychopomp, he acts as a guide between our world and the Otherworld. Gwydion walks the border between seen and unseen. While we assist you in the seen world, he will guide you through the unseen. He acts as a guide, an initiator, a bridge between worlds. He may not be the easiest guide to work with, but he is a powerful one with important lessons to teach us.