Tylwyth Teg II: More Welsh Fairylore

Introduction

For Part I, read here.

davies-photoWelshman Jonathan Ceredig Davies (1850-1932) was a world traveller who spent time in the Welsh colony in South America before living in Western Australia. Eventually, he returned to the land of his birth and began collecting folklore of the region. The result is a wonderful work entitled Welsh Folk-Lore of West and Mid-Wales, a weighty, but pleasant guidebook to the myths and beliefs of a vanished time. Davies writes of ghost stories, religious idiosyncrasies and marriage rituals which form a vibrant and mystical landscape. However, the jewel of the book is the section on Tylwyth Teg, or the fairy folk.

Welsh Folk-Lore was a labor of time and love. Davies spent nine years collecting both the stories and the funds to publish the project. His scheme was based on a subscriber’s list, an early twentieth century crowdfunding technique. It proved successful and the volume found publication in 1911.

Recently, a first edition subscriber’s copy was added to the Darkly Bright library. Inside, I found a hand-written letter to the supporter who received this copy. Accompanied by photos, the text is as follows:

Dyffryn Villa
Llanilar
N Aberystwyth
Rev-Sir;

My book is printed at last and am sending you the copy you kindly ordered. Please send remittance, price 10/6.

The College Library and the Public Library at Aberystwyth are taking my book. I wish the St. David’s College Library would do the same.

Perhaps you will kindly review the book in the magazine of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society unless it is too late.

Yours sincerely,
J. Ceredig Davies

letter-1

Above, Page 1 of the letter

letter-2

Above 2 & 3 of the letter

Although Davies did not address the cleric by name, he left enough clues to provide the identity of the subscriber whom he describes as “Reverend J. F. Lloyd, vicar of Llanilar, and energetic secretary of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society.” (Introduction, page IX.) Furthermore, Rev. Lloyd is listed in the List of Subscribers as found on page 346. See next image.

listing

And now, onto the realm Fairy Tales… a wondrous but dangerous land.


From the work
of
J. Ceredig Davies

FAIRY NAMES

The Fairies are spoken of as people, or folk, not as myths or goblins, and yet as spirits they are immortal, and able to make themselves invisible.

The most general name given them in Wales is “Y Tylwyth Teg,” (the Fair Family, or Folk); but they are known sometimes as “Bendith y Mamau” (the Mothers’ Blessing); and the term “gwragedd Annwn,” (dames of the lower regions), is often applied to the Fairy Ladies who dwelt in lakes or under lakes. Sometimes such terms as “Plant Annwn,” (children of the lower regions); Ellyll an elf; Bwbach etc., were applied to them, but such appellations have never been in common use. They were also known as “Plant Rhys Ddwfn” in some parts of the Vale of Teivy, more especially in the neighbourhood of Cardigan. But the general term Tylwyth Teg, is known everywhere.


SON OF LLECH Y DERWYDD AND THE FAIRIES

The writer of the following tale was the late Rev. Benjamin Williams (Gwynionydd), an eminent antiquarian, Folk-Lorist, and a bard, and it is to be found in Welsh in Y Brython, vol. III., page 460. It is evident that the scene of the story was West or Mid-Wales. Mr. Williams heard the tale from old people who believed in the truth of it:—

Yr oedd mab Llech y Derwydd yn unig blentyn ei rieni, ac hefyd yn etifedd y tyddyn. Yr oedd felly yn anwyl, ie, yn ddau lygad ei dad a’i fam.

Yr oedd y pen gwas a mab y ty yn gyfeillion mynwesol iawn, fel dau frawd, ie, fel gyfeilliaid. Gan fod y mab a’r gwas y fath gyfeillion, byddai gwraig y ty bob amser yn darpar dillad i’r gwas yr un peth yn hollol ag i’r mab. Cwympodd y ddau gyfaill mewn serch a dwy ddynes ieuainc, brydferth, ac uchel eu parch yn yr ardal, a mawr oedd y boddineb yn Llech y Derwydd; ac yn fuan ymunodd y ddau bar mewn glan briodas, a mawr fu y rhialtwch ar yr amser. Cafodd y gwas le cyfleus i fyw ar dir Llech y Derwydd. Yn mhen tua haner blwyddyn ar ol priodi o’r mab, aeth ei gyfaill ac yntau allan i hela; enciliodd y deiliad i ryw gilfach lawn o anialwch, i edrych am helwriaeth; a dychwelodd yn y man at ei gyfaill, ond erbyn dyfod yno, nid oedd modd gweled y mab yn un man. Parhaodd i edrych o gwmpas am dro gan waeddi a chwibanu, ond dim un arwydd am ei gyfaill. Yn mhen tro aeth adref i Llech y Derwydd, gan ddysgwyl ei weled yno; ond ni wyddai neb ddim am dano. Mawr oedd y gofid yn y teulu drwy y nos; ac erbyn dranoeth yr oedd eu pryder yn llawer mwy. Aethpwyd i weled y fan lle y gwelodd ei gyfaill ef olaf. Wylai ei fam a’i wraig am y gwaethaf. Yr oedd y tad dipyn yn well na’i wraig a’i fam, ond edrychai yntau fel yn haner gwallgof. Edrychwyd ar y fan olaf y gwelodd y deiliad ef, ac er eu mawr syndod a’u gofid, canfyddasent gylch y Tylwyth Teg gerllaw y fan, a chofiodd y deiliad yn y man iddo glywed swn peroriaeth hudoliaethus iawn rywle ar y pryd. Penderfynwyd ar unwaith iddo fod mor anffodus a myned i gylch y Tylwyth, a chael ei gludo ymaith na wyddid i ba le.

Aeth wythnosau a misoedd gofidus heibio, a ganwyd mab i fab Llech y Derwydd; ond nid oedd y tad ieuanc yno i gael gweled ei blentyn, ac yr oedd hyny yn ofidus iawn gan yr hen bobl. Beth bynag, daeth y dyn bach i fyny yr un ddelw a’i dad, fel pe buasai wedi ei arlunio; a mawr ydoedd yng ngolwg ei daid a’i nain. Efe oedd pobpeth yno. Tyfodd i oedran gwr, a phriododd a merch landeg yn y gymydogaeth; ond nid oedd gair da i’r tylwyth eu bod yn bobl hawddgar.

Bu farw yr hen bobl, a bu farw y ferch-yng-nghyfraith hefyd. Ar ryw brydnawn gwyntog, ym mis Hydref, gwelai teulu Llech y Derwydd henafgwr tal, teneu, a’i farf a’i wallt fel yr eira, yr hwn a dybient ydoedd Iddew, yn dynesu yn araf araf at y ty. Hylldremiai y morwynion drwy y ffenestr, a chwarddai y feistress am ben yr ‘hen Iddew,’ gan godi y plant un ar ol y llall i’w weled yn dyfod. Daeth at y drws, a daeth i mewn hefyd yn lled eofn, gan ofyn am ei rieni. Atebai y wraig ef yn daeog, a choeglyd anghyffredin, gan ddywedyd, ‘Beth oedd yr hen Iddew meddw yn dyfod yno,’ oblegid tybient ei fod wedi yfed, onid e ni fuasai yn siarad felly. Edrychai yr hen wr yn syn a phryderus iawn ar bob peth yn y ty, gan synu llawer; ond ar y plant bychain ar hyd y llawr y sylwai fwyaf. Edrychai yn llawn siomedigaeth a gofid. Dywedodd yr hanes i gyd, iddo fod allan yn hela ddoe, a’i fod yn awr yn dychwelyd. Dywedodd y wraig iddi glywed chwedl am dad ei gwr flynyddau cyn ei geni, ei fod wedi myned ar goll wrth hela; ond fod ei thad yn dywedyd wrthi nad gwir hyny, mai ei ladd a gafodd. Aeth y wraig yn anystywallt, ac yn llwyr o’i chof eisiau fod yr hen ‘Iddew’ yn myned allan. Cyffrodd yr hen wr, a dywedai mai efe ydoedd perchen y ty, ac y byddai raid iddo gael ei hawl. Aeth allan i weled ei feddianau, ac yn fuan i dy y deiliad. Er ei syndod, yr oedd pethau wedi newid yn fawr yno. Ar ol ymddiddan am dro a hen wr oedranus wrth y tan, edrychai y naill fwy fwy ar y llall. Dywedai yr hen wr beth fu tynged ei ben gyfaill, mab Llech y Derwydd. Siaradent yn bwyllog am bethau mebyd, ond yr oedd y cyfan fel breuddwyd. Beth bynag, penderfynodd yr hen wr yn y cornel mai ei hen gyfaill, mab Llech y Derwydd, oedd yr ymwelydd, wedi dychwelyd o wlad y Tylwyth Teg, ar ol bod yno haner can’ mlynedd. Credodd yr hen wr a’r farf wen ei dynged, a mawr y siarad a’r holi fu gan y naill y llall am oriau lawer.

Dywedai fod gwr Llech y Derwydd y diwrnod hwnw oddi cartref. Cafwyd gan yr hen ymwelydd fwyta bwyd; ond er mawr fraw, syrthiodd y bwytawr yn farw yn y fan. Nid oes hanes fod trengholiad wedi bod ar y corff; ond dywedai y chwedl mae yr achos oedd, iddo fwyta bwyd ar ol bod yn myd y Tylwyth Teg cyhyd. Mynodd ei hen gyfaill weled ei gladdu yn ochr ei deidiau. Bu melldith fyth, hyd y silcyn ach, yn Llech y Derwydd, o blegid sarugrwydd y wraig i’w thad-yng-nghyfraith, nes gwerthu y lle naw gwaith.”

The above tale translated into English reads as follows:—

The son of Llech y Derwydd was the only child of his parents, and also the heir to the farm. He was, therefore, very dear to his father and mother, yea, he was as the very light of their eyes. The son and the head servant man were more than bosom friends, they were like two brothers, or rather twins. As the son and the servant were such close friends, the farmer’s wife was in the habit of clothing them exactly alike. The two friends fell in love with two young handsome women who were highly respected in the neighbourhood. This event gave the old people great satisfaction, and ere long the two couples were joined in holy wedlock, and great was the merry-making on the occasion. The servant man obtained a convenient place to live in on the grounds of Llech y Derwydd.

About six months after the marriage of the son, he and the servant man went out to hunt. The servant penetrated to a ravine filled with brushwood to look for game, and presently returned to his friend, but by the time he came back the son was nowhere to be seen. He continued awhile looking about for his absent friend, shouting and whistling to attract his attention, but there was no answer to his calls. By and by he went home to Llech y Derwydd, expecting to find him there, but no one knew anything about him. Great was the grief of the family throughout the night, but it was even greater next day. They went to inspect the place where the son had last been seen. His mother and his wife wept bitterly, but the father had greater control over himself, still he appeared as half mad. They inspected the place where the servant man had last seen his friend, and, to their great surprise and sorrow, observed a Fairy ring close by the spot, and the servant recollected that he had heard seductive music somewhere about the time that he parted with his friend.

They came to the conclusion at once that the man had been so unfortunate as to enter the Fairy ring, and they conjectured that he had been transported no one knew where. Weary weeks and months passed away, and a son was born to the absent man.

The little one grew up the very image of his father, and very precious was he to his grandfather and grandmother. In fact, he was everything to them. He grew up to man’s estate and married a pretty girl in the neighbourhood, but her people had not the reputation of being kind-hearted. The old folks died, and also their daughter-in-law.

One windy afternoon in the month of October, the family of Llech y Derwydd saw a tall thin old man with beard and hair as white as snow, who they thought was a Jew approaching slowly, very slowly, towards the house. The servant girls stared mockingly through the window at him, and their mistress laughed unfeelingly at the ‘old Jew,’ and lifted the children up, one after the other, to get a sight of him as he neared the house.

He came to the door, and entered the house boldly enough, and inquired after his parents. The mistress answered him in a surly and unusually contemptuous manner and wished to know ‘What the drunken old Jew wanted there,’ for they thought he must have been drinking or he would never have spoken in the way he did. The old man looked at everything in the house with surprise and bewilderment, but the little children about the floor took his attention more than anything else. His looks betrayed sorrow and deep disappointment. He related his whole history, that yesterday he had gone out to hunt, and that now he had returned. The mistress told him that she had heard a story about her husband’s father, which occurred before she was born, that he had been lost whilst hunting, but that her father had told her that the story was not true, but that he had been killed. The woman became uneasy and angry that the old ‘Jew’ did not depart. The old man was roused, and said that the house was his, and that he would have his rights. He went to inspect his possessions, and shortly afterwards directed his steps to the servant’s house. To his surprise he saw that things were greatly changed. After conversing awhile with an aged man who sat by the fire, they carefully looked each other in the face, and the old man by the fire related the sad history of his lost friend, the son of Llech y Derwydd.

They conversed together deliberately on the events of their youth, but all seemed like a dream. However, the old man in the corner came to the conclusion that his visitor was his old friend, the son of Llech y Derwydd, returned from the land of the Fairies, after spending there fifty years.

The old man with the white beard believed the story related by his friend, and long was the talk and many were the questions which the one gave to the other. The visitor was informed that the master of Llech y Derwydd was from home that day, and he was persuaded to eat some food; but to the horror of all, when he had done so, he instantly fell down dead. We are not informed that an inquest was held over the body; but the tale relates that the cause of the man’s sudden death was that he ate food after having been so long in the land of the Fairies. His old friend insisted on the dead man being buried with his ancestors. The rudeness of the mistress of Llech y Derwydd to her father-in-law brought a curse upon the place and family, ‘hyd y silcyn ach,’ and her offence was not expiated until the farm had been sold nine times.”


SHON AP SHENKIN SEDUCED BY FAIRY MUSIC

Another story very similar to the one I have just given is the legend of Shon ap Shenkin, which was related to Mr. Sikes by a farmer’s wife near the reputed scene of the tale, that is the locality of Pant Shon Shenkin, the famous centre of Carmarthenshire Fairies:—

Shon ap Shenkin was a young man who lived hard by Pant Shon Shenkin. As he was going afield early one fine summer’s morning he heard a little bird singing, in a most enchanting strain, on a tree close by his path. Allured by the melody, he sat down under the tree until the music ceased, when he arose and looked about him. What was his surprise at observing that the tree, which was green and full of life when he sat down, was now withered and barkless! Filled with astonishment he returned to the farmhouse which he had left, as he supposed, a few minutes before; but it also was changed, grown older, and covered with ivy. In the doorway stood an old man whom he had never before seen; he at once asked the old man what he wanted there. ‘What do I want here?’ ejaculated the old man, reddening angrily; ‘that’s a pretty question! Who are you that dare to insult me in my own house?’ ‘In your own house? How is this? where’s my father and mother, whom I left here a few minutes since, whilst I have been listening to the charming music under yon tree, which, when I rose, was withered and leafless’ ‘Under the tree!—music!’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Shon ap Shenkin.’ ‘Alas, poor Shon, and this is indeed you!’ cried the old man. ‘I often heard my grandfather, your father, speak of you, and long did he bewail your absence. Fruitless inquiries were made for you; but old Catti Maddock of Brechfa said you were under the power of the Fairies, and would not be released until the last sap of that sycamore tree would be dried. Embrace me, my dear uncle, for you are my uncle … embrace your nephew.’ With this the old man extended his arms, but before the two men could embrace, poor Shon ap Shenkin crumbled into dust on the door-step.”

It is very interesting to compare this story of Shon ap Shenkin, under the power of the Fairies, listening to the birds of enchantment, with the warriors at Harlech listening to the Birds of Rhiannon, in the Mabinogi of Branwen, daughter of Llyr.

Bran Fendigaid, a Welsh King in ancient times, had a palace at Harlech, and had a sister named Bronwen, or White Breast, whom Matholwch the King of Ireland married on account of her wonderful beauty. After a while, however, the foster brothers of Matholwch began to treat Bronwen very cruelly till at last she found means to send a message to her brother Bran, in Wales; and this she did by writing a letter of her woes, which she bound to a bird’s wing which she had reared. The bird reached Bronwen’s brother, Bran, who, when he read the letter sailed for Ireland immediately, and during a fearful warfare in that country he was poisoned with a dart in his foot. His men had been bidden by their dying chief to cut off his head and bear it to London and bury it with the face towards France. They did as they were bidden by Bran previous to his death, and various were the adventures they encountered while obeying this injunction. At Harlech they stopped to rest, and sat down to eat and drink.

While there, they heard three birds singing a sweet song, “at a great distance over the sea,” though it seemed to them as though they were quite near. These were the birds of Rhiannon. Their notes were so sweet that warriors were known to have remained spell-bound for 80 years listening to them. The birds sang so sweetly that the men rested for seven years, which appeared but a day. Then they pursued their way to Gwales in Pembrokeshire, and there remained for four score years, during which the head of Bran was uncorrupted. At last they went to London and buried it there.

The old Welsh poets often allude to the birds of Rhiannon, and they are also mentioned in the Triads; and the same enchanting fancy reappears in the local story of Shon ap Shenkin, which I just gave.

Mr. Ernest Rhys in the present day sings:—

O, the birds of Rhiannon they sing time away,—
Seven years in their singing are gone like a day.”

In the region of myth and romance Rhiannon, the songs of whose birds were so enchanting, was the daughter of Heveydd Hen, who by her magic arts foiled her powerful suitor, Gwawl ap Clud, and secured as her consort the man of her choice, Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed. In Welsh Mythology several members of the kingly families are represented as playing the role of magicians.

It may be added that it is interesting to compare both the story of Shion ap Shenkin, and that of the birds of Rhiannon, with Longfellow’s “Golden Legend,” originally written in the thirteenth century by Jacobus de Voragine, in which Monk Felix is represented as listening to the singing of a snow-white bird for a hundred years, which period passed as a single hour.

One morning all alone,
Out of his covenant of gray stone,
Into the forest older, darker, grayer
His lips moving as if in prayer,
His head sunken upon his breast
As in a dream of rest,
Walked the Monk Felix. All about
The broad, sweet sunshine lay without,
Filling the summer air;
And within the woodlands as he trod,
The twilight was like the Truce of God
With worldly woe and care.
Under him lay the golden moss;
And above him the boughs of hemlock-trees
Waved, and made the sign of the cross,
And whispered their benedicites,
And from the ground
Rose an odour sweet and fragrant
Of the wild-flowers and the vagrant
Vines that wandered,
Seeking the sunshine, round and round.

Those he heeded not, but pondered
On the volume in his hand,
A volume of Saint Augustine,
Wherein he read of the unseen
Splendours of God’s great town
In the unknown land,
And, with his eyes cast down
In humility he said:
I believe, O God,
What herein I have read,
But alas! I do not understand’?

And lo! he heard
The sudden singing of a bird,
A snow-white bird, that from a cloud
Dropped down,
And among the branches brown
Sat singing
So sweet, and clear, and loud,
It seemed a thousand harp-strings ringing;
And the Monk Felix closed his book,
And long, long,
With rapturous look,
He listened to the song.
And hardly breathed or stirred,
Until he saw, as in a vision,
The land Elysian,
And in the heavenly city heard
Angelic feet
Fall on the golden flagging of the street,
And he would fain
Have caught the wondrous bird,
But strove in vain;
For it flew away, away,
Far over hill and dell,
And instead of its sweet singing,
He heard the convent bell
Suddenly in the silence ringing,
For the service of noonday.
And he retraced
His pathway homeward sadly and in haste.

In the convent there was a change!
He looked for each well-known face,
But the faces were new and strange;
New figures sat in the oaken stalls.
New voices chanted in the choir;
Yet the place was the same place,
The same dusky walls
Of cold, gray stone,
The same cloisters and belfry and spire.

A stranger and alone
Among that brotherhood
The monk Felix stood.
Forty years,’ said a Friar,
Have I been Prior
Of this convent in the wood,
But for that space
Never have I beheld thy face!’
The heart of Monk Felix fell:
And he answered with submissive tone,
This morning, after the horn of Prime,
I left my cell
And wandered forth alone.
Listening all the time
To the melodious singing
Of a beautiful white bird,
Until I heard
The bells of the convent ring
Noon from their noisy towers.
It was as if I dreamed;
For what to me had seemed
Moments only, had been hours!’

”‘Years!’ said a voice close by,
It was an aged monk who spoke,
From a bench of oak
Fastened against the wall;—
He was the oldest monk of all.
For a whole century
He had been there,
Serving God in prayer,
The meekest and humblest of his creatures,
He remembered well the features
Of Felix, and he said,
One hundred years ago,
When I was a novice in this place
There was here a monk, full of God’s grace,
Who bore the name
Of Felix, and this man must be the same.’

And straightway
They brought forth to the light of day
A volume old and brown,
A huge tome bound
In brass and wild-boar’s hide.
Wherein were written down
The names of all who had died
In the convent, since it was edified.
And there they found,
Just as the old Monk said,
That on a certain day and date,
One hundred years before,
Had gone forth from the convent gate
The monk Felix, and never more
Had he entered that sacred door
He had been counted among the dead!
And they knew, at last,
That such had been the power
Of that celestial and immortal song,
A hundred years had passed,
And had not seemed so long
As a single hour!”

In the stories I have already given those who fell into the hands of the Fairies were rescued or returned from them after a certain period of time; but I have heard some stories in which the victim never returned. A woman at Pontshan, Llandyssul, in Cardiganshire, related to me a story of a servant girl in that neighbourhood who was captured by the Fairies and never returned home again. A few months ago another tale of this kind was related to me at Llanrhystyd:


A LLANRHYSTYD MAID LOST AMONG THE FAIRIES

Mr David Morgan, Carpenter, Llanrhystyd, informed me that some years ago the maid servant of Pencareg Farm in the neighbourhood, went out one evening to bring home the cattle which were grazing some distance away from the house. A boy employed to look after the cattle in the day-time known as “bugail bach,” saw the Fairies dragging the maid into their circle or ring, where she joined them in their dances. Search was made for her everywhere, but she was never seen again.


 
Introduction and photos: copyright 2021 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

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