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Three Celtic Tales

Three Celtic Tales by Moyra Caldecott
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The Twins of the Tylwyth Teg is based on a well known story in Welsh folklore about a herd boy who marries a faery from under the lake. Before her father will allow her to marry him however, he has to choose between her and her identical twin sister. Taliesin and Avagddu is based on the tale from the Welsh Mabinogion. Ceridwen brews up a cauldron of magic to give her misshapen son Avagddu extraordinary wisdom, but the village boy who is employed to stir the cauldron sips it instead and becomes the greatest prophet and bard Wales has ever known -- Taliesin. Bran, Branwen and Evnissyen is based on a story from the Welsh Mabinogion about the war between mainland Britain and Ireland in mythic times. Evnissyen, the bitter and disgruntled half-brother of Bran, the Blessed, stirs up trouble in which both nations are almost destroyed.
Mushroom Publishing; November 2005
ISBN 9781843191360
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Title: Three Celtic Tales
Author: Moyra Caldecott


When the Celtic tribes migrated from central Europe into the British Isles about 700BC they brought with them their rich oral tradition of ancient myths and legends. In the long dark winters, when cattle herding and warfare were difficult, bards told these tales around innumerable hearth fires. Centuries later, they were written down by Christian monks in monastic scriptoriums. In the telling and retelling, changes were often made to suit the individual storyteller, but the essence of the story survived and blazes through to us even today.

The best-known collection of Welsh tales from these early days is commonly known as The Mabinogion. Some fragments of these stories were known from the White Book of Rhydderch, c.1325, but the earliest comprehensive collection was in the Red Book of Hergest, c.1400. Both these versions quote from earlier versions since lost. The Four Branches of the Mabinogion were not translated into English until Lady Charlotte Guest did so in 1849. I find her translation most valuable for its comprehensive and informative section of notes at the back.

Two of the stories in this book are based on texts in Lady Charlotte Guest’s translation of The Mabinogion published by J M Dent & Co., UK and E P Dutton, New York, 1906. These are “Taliesin and Avagddu” (pp.263-285, and notes on pp.424-432), and “Bran, Branwen and Evnissyen” (pp.33-48 and Notes pp.291-297).

“Bran, Branwen and Evnissyen” is the traditional story of the children of Llyr, and how Bran, in death, became a prophet. I have suggested a motive for Evnissyen’s destructiveness, and given my own interpretation of the three mysterious doors, as anyone encountering the tale must.

The traditional story of “Taliesin and Avagddu” tells of the transformation of a village lad into the famous bard Taliesin, but says nothing of the fate of Avagddu, the ill-favoured son of Caridwen who was denied the magic potion intended for him. My curiosity as to what happened to Avagddu after he was denied this magic brew inspired me to add suggestions from my own imagination about his fate.

It is well known that the Celts granted a particular importance to the head. Warriors proudly displayed the heads of their honoured enemies as they rode into battle – not only to show that they had conquered that person but that they now had his “power”. Sculpted oracle heads are frequently found by archaeologists in Celtic lands. The story of the magical being in human form who challenges the hero to cut off his head and then submit his own to the axe a year later appears many times in Celtic myth and has a deep esoteric meaning. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is perhaps the best known.

“The Twins of the Tylwyth Teg” is based on the story of the Mydfai herdboy mentioned several times in Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx by John Rhys (volumes 1 and 2, published by Wildwood House, London 1980 (pp.4-15); first published by Oxford University Press, 1901). In this story we are only given the life of the one twin, Olwen, and are told only what happened to her when she entered the world of mortal man above the surface of the lake. But whatever happened to the second twin? And what went on beneath the lake? In this retelling of the traditional tale, these questions are given an answer. The story of Haelwyn, the rejected twin, is a new addition of my own based on clues in the original story.