Humans have been working with metal for a long time: from the Copper Age (approx. 3500 – 1700 BCE) when the soft, malleable metal was the first to be smelted and used. So it’s not surprising that many cultures have smith-gods, and that in the Celtic world the smith-god and his name occur in Gaul, Wales, England and Ireland, making him one of the few pan-Celtic deities.1
And a very literal one – Goibniu, Gofannon and Cobannos all mean “Smith”.
The fourth branch of the Mabinogion is shaped by exchanges between Arianrhod and Gwydion. From the moment he brings her into the story by suggesting her as Math’s footholder (which seems such an innoncent idea: let’s get my sister, your niece, to do it!) the two are at odds. For the two men subject Arianrhod to a chastity test, since Math’s footholder must be a virgin, a magical condition laid down for his kingship.
Arianrhod fails the test in grand style, giving birth to not one but two boys. Math has one of them baptized and names him Dylan, but this son opts out of the family quarrels and goes to live in the sea. The rest of the story follows the career of the other son, Lleu, as Gwydion tries to get around the curse that Arianrhod has laid on her son.
“It was said that she lived a wanton life, mating with mermen on the beach near her castle and casting her magic inside its walls.”
When I was researching Arianrhod for a recent post, I kept turning up variants on the quote above. In fact, the sentence: “She enjoyed herself sexually, with a distinct preference for mermen,” cropped up frequently without any variation whatsoever. Obviously a lot of copying was going on, but what did the original say? Continue reading
In an earlier post I talked about the goddess Matrona, or Mother. This time I want to look at a goddess who is totally unmaternal, Arianrhod. Her story comes from the fourth branch of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh early-medieval tales.