Lleu Llaw Gyffes

Lleu Llaw Gyffes

Lleu Llaw Gyffes (IPA|/ɬeɨ ɬau gəfes/, sometimes misspelled Llew Llaw Gyffes) is a figure of Welsh mythology. He appears in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, the tale of Math fab Mathonwy. Lleu is widely understood to be the Welsh equivalent of the Irish Lugh and the Gaulish Lugus.

Lleu in the Mabinogi

The story of Lleu and the "tynghedau" of Arianrhod and then of Lleu and Blodeuwedd form respectively the second and third part of the Mabinogi of Math fab Mathonwy.


When his mother Arianrhod is magically tested for virginity by Math she gives birth to Dylan Ail Don. Ashamed she runs to the door, but on her way out something small drops from her, which Gwydion, Arianrhod's brother, wraps up and places in a chest at the foot of his bed. Gwydion later hears something screaming from within the chest, and opens it to discover a baby boy. He finds a foster mother for the child, who grows at an incredible rate, and by the time he is two years old he is able to find his own way to the court. Gwydion raises him from this point on.

Lleu and the "tynghedau" of Arianrhod

Gwydion presents Lleu to his mother. The furious Arianrhod, shamed by this reminder of her loss of virginity, places a "tynged" on the boy: that only she could give him a name. Gwydion however tricks his sister by disguising himself and the boy as cobblers and luring Arianrhod into going to them in person in order to have some shoes made for her. The boy throws a stone and strikes a wren "between the tendon and the bone of its leg", causing Arianrhod to make the remark "the bright one struck with a deft hand". At that Gwydion reveals himself, saying "Lleu Llaw Gyffes ("bright, with a deft hand") is his name now". Furious at this trickery, Arianrhod places another "tynged" on Lleu: only she can arm him. Gwydion tricks his sister once again, and she unwittingly arms Lleu herself. She then places a third "tynged" on him: he would have no human wife. Gwydion and Math create a woman for Lleu out of the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet, naming her Blodeuwedd ("Flower Face").

Lleu and Blodeuwedd

Blodeuwedd has an affair with Gronw Pebr and tricks the secret of his death out of him, since Lleu can not be killed during the day or night, nor indoors or outdoors, neither riding nor walking, not clothed and not naked, nor by any weapon lawfully made. He reveals to her that he can only be killed at dusk, wrapped in a net with one foot on a cauldron and one on a goat and with a spear forged for a year during the hours when everyone is at mass. With this information she arranges his death.

Struck by the spear thrown by Gronw's hand, Lleu transforms into an eagle and flies away. Gwydion tracks him down and finds him perched high on an oak. Through the singing of an englyn (known as englyn Gwydion) he lures him down from the oak tree and switches him back to his human form. Gwydion and Math nurse Lleu back to health before reclaiming his lands from Gronw and Blodeuwedd. In the face-off between Lleu and Gronw Gronw asks if he may place a large stone between himself and Lleu's spear. Lleu allows him to do so, then throws his spear which pierces both the stone and Gronw, killing him. Gwydion corners Blodeuwedd and turns her into an owl.


The name Lleu shares the same roots as the Modern Welsh words "golau" ("light"} and "lleuad" ("moon"), and means both "light" and "bright". Like the word "golau" it can also refer to fair or blond hair.

The contemporary compilation of etymological lexica at the universities of Leiden and Wales [http://www.wales.ac.uk/documents/external/cawcs/pcl-moe.pdf] [http://www.indo-european.nl/] suggest that this name is derived from Proto-Celtic *"Lug-u-s", but this Proto-Celtic lexeme exhibits great ambiguity in its semantics both in Proto-Celtic and in Proto-Indo-European.

For many years the name *Lugus was derived from the Proto-Indo-European root "*leuk-", "light", and thus he was considered a sun god. This etymology is problematic because Proto-Indo-European *"k" did not under any known circumstances become *"g"- in Proto-Celtic, but remained *"k". The direct descendent of the Proto-Indo-European root *"leuk-" (‘white light’) in Proto-Celtic is *"leuk-" as in the name of the Celtic lightning god Leucetios. So if one applies the principles of Occam's razor, *"leuk-" is not the most plausible etymology (though some have suggested that PIE "*leuk" had a variant form "*leug-," which could indeed have produced a Common Celtic "*lug-").

The Proto-Celtic lexeme "*Lug-u-s" may be related to the initial morpheme in the Proto-Celtic "*lug-rā" ‘moon’ (sometimes proposed as the proto-form behind Welsh "lloer," though Peter Schrijver suggests an alternative etymology for "lloer," from Common Celtic *lus-rā, where the root would be cognate with that of Latin "luridus" [earlier "*lus-idus"] "pale yellow"). Another possibility is Proto-Indo-European "*leug-" meaning "blackness, dimness, darkness" (thought by Pokorny to be the root of the ill-attested Gaulish word "lugos" ‘raven’), or "*leug-" ‘swamp, peat-bog’. Proto-Celtic "*Lug-u-s" may equally be related to Proto-Celtic "*lug-" meaning "oath, pledging, assurance" on the one hand and "deceive" on the other (derived from Proto-Indo-European *"leugh-" ‘avowal, deception’). Juliette Wood interprets his name as deriving from Proto-Celtic *lug-, "oath", which would support this identification of Mercury as a god of contracts. The name may also be related to Old Irish "lug" "lynx", perhaps indicating the existence of a Proto-Celtic root that denoted an animal with "shining eyes", from PIE "*leuk-" "to shine" (compare Greek lunx "lynx", perhaps from a zero-grade form "*luk-" with infixed nasal). This god’s name may also be related to Latin "lugubris" "mournful, pertaining to mourning," from "lugere" "to mourn," from a Proto-Indo-European base "*leug-" "to break" (cf. Greek "lygros" "mournful, sad," Sanskrit "rujati" "breaks, torments," Lettish "lauzit" "to break the heart")


* Ifans, Dafydd & Rhiannon, "Y Mabinogion" (Gomer 1980) ISBN 1 85902 260 X

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