Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Lleu Llaw Gyffes

‘Bright One with the Nimble Hand’
Lleu Skilful-Hand, Llew

A Welsh hero god who is, perhaps, a degenerative version of the Irish Lugh, and who is, curiously, depicted as being a skilled cobbler. He was the second son born to Arianrhod, much to her shame, as she was being put through a rite that would attest her virginity. This rite was being carried out because her brother, Gwydion fab Dôn, had put Arianrhod forward for the post of foot-holder, a post that could be held only by an accredited virgin, at the court of Math fab Mathonwy. Her first-born son was immediately named Dylan.

Gwydion fab Dôn snatched up Arianrhod’s second child and hid him in a chest, later adopting the boy as his own. Four years later, and still without a name, the child was shown by Gwydion fab Dôn to his sister Arianrhod. Reminded of her shame, she cursed the child, saying that he would never bear a name until she herself gave him one. Some time later Gwydion fab Dôn managed to circumvent this curse by disguising himself and the young boy and travelling to Arianrhod’s castle, where she was tricked into calling the boy Lleu Llaw Gyffes, which means ‘Bright One with the Nimble Hand’. Gwydion fab Dôn could not resist revealing their true identity to his sister, and in her fury she cursed the boy a second time, this time saying that he would never bear arms until she herself armed him.

Later Gwydion fab Dôn and the now maturing Lleu Llaw Gyffes travelled to Arianrhod’s castle, placed in these legends on the isle of Anglesey, and by use of magic made it seem as if the castle was under attack. In her fright, Arianrhod armed Llew Llaw Gyffes, but again Gwydion fab Dôn could not resist boasting of the deception, and Arianrhod cursed the youth for a third time, saying that he would never marry a mortal woman.

Enlisting the help of Math fab Mathonwy, Gwydion fab Dôn also bypassed this final curse, for together the two magically created a woman of the flowers of oak, broom and meadowsweet whom they named Blodeuwedd. Lleu Llaw Gyffes married Blodeuwedd, and this time at least Gwydion fab Dôn appears to have resisted the temptation of boasting to his sister.

All did not go well with Lleu Llaw Gyffes’s marriage, however, for after a short time Blodeuwedd started an affair with the hunter Gronw Bebyr. Together, the lovers plotted to kill Lleu Llaw Gyffes, but they knew that this could not be accomplished before their victim had revealed the exact manner in which he could be dealt a mortal blow. Finally, Blodeuwedd managed to persuade her husband to reveal that he could be kill only by a spear that had been worked for a year and a day at Mass time on Sundays, and then only if he had one foot in a bathtub and the other on the back of a billygoat. Gronw Bebyr immediately set about forging the required weapon.

A year and a day later, with the spear ready, Blodeuwedd managed to convince Lleu Llaw Gyffes to demonstrate to her the ridiculous position he would need to adopt to be killed. As he took up his stance, Gronw Bebyr rose from his hiding place, but managed only to wound Lleu Llaw Gyffes, who changed into an eagle and flew away to die from his injury.

Gwydion fab Dôn tracked down Lleu Llaw Gyffes by following a sow that fed on the maggots that dropped from the eagle’s festering wound. He found the dying hero perched in the branches of a tree and cured his wound before changing Blodeuwedd into an owl for her infidelity. Llew Llaw Gyffes resumed his human form and killed Gronw Bebyr.

Llew is an Anglicised and shortened variant of Lleu Llaw Gyffes.