The Bards and Druids of Britain

by David William Nash | 1858 | 113,891 words

A Translation of the Remains of the Earliest Welsh Bards, and an Examination of the Bardic Mysteries....

Chapter VI - Of the Worship of Hu Gadarn, the Solar God

And the Druidism of the Welsh in the Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Centuries

The subject of British Druidism would not be complete without some notice of the supposed worship of the Solar God; or deified Patriarch Noah, and of the existence of the Druidical institution in Wales in the fourteenth century of the Christian era.

Towards the end of the fourteenth century, a learned divine and poet, Dr. John Kent, or Sion Kent, wrote the following lines:—

Two kinds of inspiration (Awen) truly
There are in the world, and manifest their course:
An inspiration from Christ of joyful discourse
Of the right tendency, a sprightly muse.
There is another inspiration not wisely sung,
And they make false and filthy predictions.
This one has been taken by the men of Hu,
Unjustly usurping authority over the poets of Wales;

or, according to Mr. Stephens,

The tumping buds of Wales.

When we inquire into the meaning of this accusation brought by the priest of Kenchurch against the Welsh Bards in the fourteenth century, we find it to amount to this.

In the Prose Triads, a compilation of various dates, there is a history of a personage called Hu Gadarn, or Hu the Mighty, who is represented as having been the divine leader of the Cymry in their migration from Taprobane, or the land of Asia, to Britain. The circumstances of his legend connect this Hu Gadara with the deluge, and it is usual to consider him as a deified representation of the Patriarch Noah. According to Davies, he lived in the age of the Deluge; by the help of his oxen he drew the Addanc out of the lake and prevented the recurrence of that calamity; he first cultivated the vine, and taught agriculture. This history is taken from the Triads, but not from the poetry of the Welsh. There is not a single ballad, not one composition, historical, philosophical, or mythological, among all those attributed to Taliesin and Merlin, which turns upon the history of this Hu Gadarn, or the marvellous actions attributed to him.[1] We cannot but conclude that the legend was entirely unknown to the age which delighted in the recital of the marvels ascribed to Taliesin. So excellent a subject for minstrelsy, mythic and religious, such as we have seen in the compositions above noticed, could not, if known, have been entirely neglected and passed over, without a single allusion by the bards who sang the history of Taliesin. In fact, Mr. Stephens has remarked, that the mention of Hu Gadarn first appears in the Welsh poetry after the death of Llywelyn ab Gruffyd, the last of the sovereign princes of Wales, who was slain in 1282.

The only pieces of evidence adduced by Mr. Davies in favour of the notion that the Solar God Hu was worshipped by the Welsh in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, are from the writings of Iolo Goch, bard of Owain Glyndower,and from Rhys Piydydd and Llywelyn Moel.

Iolo Goch simply describes Hu Gadarn in metre, what he is represented to be in the prose composition. The following is Mr. Davies’s version of the passage:—

Hu Gadarn the sovereign, the ready protector,
The King, giver of wine and renown,
The emperor of the land and the seas,
And the life of all that are in the world.
After the deluge he held the strong-beamed plough;
This did our Lord of stimulating genius,
That he might show to the proud man and to the humbly wise,
The art most approved by the faithful Father;
Nor is this sentiment false.

We quite agree with Mr. Davies that these lines are intended as a picture of the character and deeds of the Patriarch Noah, as represented in the Triads under the name of Hu Gadarn; but no one could infer from them, standing alone, that Iolo Goch and his patron Owain Glyndower performed orgies in honour of the Solar God, or sang hymns about Fiyd, before entering into their arrangements with Mortimer and Hotspur for the invasion of England. If so, they must have been the most inconsistent of idolaters, since, in “Iolo Goch’s Address to Glyndower,” with a description of the mansion and grounds of the latter, we find, among other objects of admiration, “a quadrangular church well built, well whitewashed, and chapels well glazed.”

The next extract is from Rhys Brydydd, which Davies says furnishes “a glaring proof” of the worship of the Heathen God; and certainly, if we did not know that Rhys Biydydd lived in Glamorganshire in the latter part of the fifteenth century, and had a son, a monk in the monastery of Margam, we might be induced to see some token of an unknown heresy in these lines:—

Bychanav o’r bychenid
Yw Hq Gadam vel bam byd
Ai mwyav a nav i ni
Da coeliwn a’n Dduw celi
Ysgawn ei daith ac esgud
Mymryn tea gloewyn ei glud
A mawr ar dir a moroedd
A mwyav a gav ar goedd
Mwy no’r bydoedd.

Thus translated by Archdeacon Williams:—

The smallest of the small
Is Hu Gadarn, as the world judges,
And the greatest and a Lord to us,
Let us well believe, and our mysterious God.
An atom of glowing beat is his car,
Light his course and active;
Great on land and on the seas,
The greatest that 1 manifestly can have,
Greater than the worlds.

To which must be added two lines from Mr. Davies:—

Let os beware of offering mean indignity to him, the great and bountiful.

Unfortunately these poems are not comprised in the Myvyrian collection, but exist in manuscript only; we cannot therefore Bee by the context the real significance of the passage; but it is evident that the whole force of the passage lies in the two lines,

Ai mwyav a nav i ni
Da ooeliwn a’n Dduw celi.

The writers who have discovered these mysteries all translate “Duw celi,” and “Christ celi,” by mysterious or concealed God, the concealed Christ. According to Mr. Herbert, the Christ celi, is the Sun, Mithras, and Elphin himself, in the higher Bardism. Dr. Owen translated the two lines from the Pseudo-Taliesin,

Ni bn oleuad
Cyn Celi cread:—

There has been no illumination
Before the Mysterious One’s creation;

but the application of common sense undisturbed by mysteries, shows the real translation to be,

There was no light
Before the creation of the heavens;

and renders quite plain that “Duw Celi,” and “Christ Celi,” are respectively God of Heaven, and Christ of Heaven, and that the word “celi” is the Latin cæli, and not in any way connected with “celu,” to conceal. The proofs of this statement are sufficiently abundant.

In the Black Book of Caermarthen there is an “Awdyl,” commencing

Arduireaue tri trined in celi.
Yssi un a thri, uned un ynni.

I will extol the three, the Trinity in heaven.
It ia one and three, one God to us.

We have seen in the whole of the poems above translated,' that the minstrels were plain, pious, and some of them very ignorant Christians, who believed in nothing worse than magic and witchcraft; and this example from the oldest Welsh MS. known, is sufficient to demonstrate that no hidden or mystical meaning lurks in the word “celi,” which in these poems must be translated “heaven” in the ordinary sense of the word. The same false interpretation of this phrase, occurring repeatedly in the works of the bards of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, has given rise to the greater part of these misconceptions, which vanish upon referring to the original poems, and considering the passages cited, in connection with the context. This will be rendered quite evident from two passages among many others in which the phrase in question occurs.

What other meaning than “Christ, of” or “in heaven,” can the phrase “Christ celi” have, or what mystery or heathenism can possibly lurk, in these lines of Llywarch Brydydd y Moch, addressed to Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in the thirteenth century ?

Crist creawdyr llywyawdr Un daear
    A nef, am notwy rac auar
Crist celi bwyf oelvyt a gwar
Cyn dywet gyuygwet gyuar
Crist mab meir am peir om pedwar defnyt
    Dofyn awen diarchar
Crist uab daw dym ryt ar Uauar
Y voU vy ri rwyse o dyar,
Llywelyn Uyw prydain ac phar.

Christ, Creator, Governor of the hosts of heaven and earth,
My protection from all evil,
Christ in Heaven, may I be wise and discreet,
Before I am consigned to the narrow place in earth.
Christ, son of Mary, who has created me out of four dements,
A profound and fearless muse.
Christ, Son of God, give me in abundance,
To praise my king, the ruler of the land,
Llywelyn, the chief of Britain, and her spear.

Or, in these lines of Einiawn fab Gwgawn, addressed to the same prince:—

Cyvarch om naf om neuawl Arglwyt
Crist celi culwyt cwl y ditawl
Celvyt leveryt o le gwetawl
Celvytoden meu ny to marwawl
Y brovi pob peth o bregeth bawl,
Y voli vy ri rwyf angertawl.
Ryvel diochel diocbwyth bawl
Llywelyn heilyn hwylveirt wadawl.

I request of my Creator, my heavenly Lord,
Christ of heaven, love-prospering, ever free from sin,
A skilful utterance from the depository of knowledge,
That my poetic art may not be without animation.
Attempting all things, as Saint Paul preaches,[2]
In the praise of my king tbe ardent leader,
No avoider of battle, not unskilful in prosecuting bis claim,
Llywelyn, the bounteous provider of bardic festivals.

This last example ought to be sufficient to explode the idea of any reference to a mysterious or concealed Christ known only to the Bards, in these poems. The reference to the preaching of Saint Paul, is quite decisive, even if the time in which these poems ware written, the known condition of society, the persons who wrote and the persons to whom these poems were addressed, did not sufficiently assure us that there was no mysterious heathenism publicly proclaimed in Wales in the fourteenth century.

The two lines above cited from Rhys Brydydd, must therefore read,

He is the greatest, and a Lord to us;
We truly believe, and our God in heaven.

It is impossible to decide satisfactorily on the intention of Rhys Brydydd in this passage, withont obtaining the sense of the entire poem; but the third extract cited in support of the paganism in these allusions, throws some light on the mystery. It is from a composition by Llywelyn Moel, a bard who lived in the fifteenth century, and was probably a contemporary of Rhys Biydydd. The passage as given by Mr. Davies is:—

Ychain yn o chynhenid[3]
Hu Gadam a darn o’i did
A’i born angel, a welwch
A pheirian eur flamdan flwch.

The oxen who are groaning
Of Hu Gadarn, and a part of bis chain
And his five angels, which yon see,
And golden harness with flames of fire flying about.

The allusions here are all capable of easy explanation by reference to the story in the Triads, but the five angels are an addition for purposes of effect. The words a welwch, “which you see,” explain that this is a part of, or alludes to, a miracle play, or dramatic performance called by the Welsh writers “Hud a Lleddrith,” in which the famous leader of the Cymry, and the adventure of drawing the Addanc out of the lake by aid of the two homed oxen and the chain, as related in the Triads, were represented. We can perceive also that the line in Rhys Brydydd which describes the chariot of Hu Gadam as composed of particles of glowing heat, refers to the representation of his chariot and harness as covered with flames.

Mr. Davies and Archdeacon Williams discreetly abstain from offering any interpretation of the mystery of the five angels by whom Hu Gadam was accompanied, as angels do not appear to have formed any part of the Druidical Pantheon. No other reasonable interpretation can be put on the words of Llywelyn Moel, than that he is referring to a miracle play. Mr. Stephens has already shown it to be very probable that several of the dialogues attributed to Merddin and Taliesin were intended for recital in a dramatic form, and that there were a great number of miracle plays in vogue among the Welsh of the middle ages.

Several of these dialogues have been preserved one between Taliesin and Myrddin, another between Arthur and Gwen-hwyvar; between Myrddin and his sister Gwendydd; between Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn mab Nudd, between Trystan and Gwalchmai, &c. We have one of these pieces extant in the Cornish dialect, the performers in which represented Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Death, Lucifer and the other devils, Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japhet, and the Heavenly Father;[4] and no doubt there are many such extant in the Welsh language among the unpublished Welsh MSS.

Although, therefore, we cannot clearly comprehend the meaning of Rhys Brydydd in the lines above cited, we may be quite sure that there is no great mysteiy in it, and that Hu Gadarn, though a popular character in the revived traditions of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was not worshipped as a god in the reign of Henry VI.

That there was some political secret attached to the party whom Sion Kent calls “the men of Hu,” is very probable, from his assertion that they made lying and vile prophecies. It is well known that this practice of making prophecies to which the name and authority of Taliesin and Merlin were attributed, was common with the Welsh Bards in the native or anti-English interest through nearly the whole of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, particularly in support of Owain Glyndwr, and afterwards in the cause of Henry VII. Davydd Llwyd ab Llewellyn ab Gruffyd, Lord of Mathafarn in Denbighshire, was the author of many of these predictions, intended to support the claims of Henry VII. He wrote about the year 1450, and was therefore very nearly contemporary with Rhys Brydydd and Dr. Sion Kent.[5] One of these predictive pieces, the author of which is unknown, called “The Confession of Taliesin,” prophesies the return of Owain (Glyndwr) in the year 1530, for the destruction of the German race.[6]

It is scarcely necessary to reason on the absurdity of supposing Druids and Druidism to have maintained themselves in Wales in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, since there is no evidence of the existence of any such institution or its professors in the sixth or seventh century.

We find however that the terms “Derwydd,” “Derwyddon,” and “Derwyddoniaeth,” though unknown to the romances, and but very sparingly employed in the romantic ballads, which we have examined, came into use among Christian bards residing at the courts of Christian princes in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Mr. Stephens is of opinion that the chief Bards of this epoch were desirous of forming some exclusive distinction for themselves, and the traditional veneration of Druidism was suited to their purpose; that they seized upon this, breathed new life into the old belief, and threw a halo of mystery round their own persons. But of this old belief there is no evidence whatever. There is nothing between Tacitus in the first and Cynddelw in the twelfth cefntury. The latter says, in addressing Owain Gwynedd,

Beirnaid am regyd beird am regor
Ath folant feirdion Derwydon dor
O bedeiriaith dyfyn o bedeir or;

for which Mr. Sephens adopts Davies’s version:—

Bards are constituted judges of excellence.
Bards praise thee, even Druids of the circle
Of four dialects, from four regions.

What the four dialects were, we know from the Hanes Taliesin, which states the Bards to have been learned in four languages—Latin, French, Welsh, and English—in all which languages they were to be ready to answer questions addressed to them. But “dor” does not mean a circle, but a door, a fence, ox protection; and by the phrase “Druids of the circle,” Mr. Davies has inserted a meaning which does not belong to the original, and which involves an air of mystery and a reference to the famous “ core” and stone circles. What thô poet says to his chieftain is,

Bards praise thee, the guardian of the wise ones
Of four languages.

Another extract, in which the same epithet occurs, has been misunderstood by Mr. Stephens. It is from a poem in stanzas addressed by Cynddelw to Madawg ab Maredudd:—

Nis gwyr namyn duw a dewinion byd
A diwyd Derwydon
O eurdorf eurdorchogion
Ein rif yn riweirth afon;

for which also Mr. Stephens has given Davies’s translation:—

Excepting God and the diviners of the land,
And sedulous Druids
Of the splendid race, wearers of gold rings, there is none who know
Our numbers in the billows of the stream.

Cynddelw is here made to refer to the number of the Druids; but on turning to the original we find that this is one of eighteen stanzas, and that the five preceding refer to the numerous retinue of Madawg ab Maredudd. The one immediately preceding is:—

Ym maes mathrafal mathredig tyweirch
Gan draed meirch mawrydig
Ar dadl cynadl ced fudig
Arwyd iawn wladlwyd wledig.

In the field of Mathrafal the sod is trampled
With the feet of splendid horses;
To those who converse with him he is bounteous of gifts,
The true token of a patriotic prince.

The number spoken of in the succeeding stanza evidently refers to the retinue, and not to the Druids of Madawg:—

It is not known, except to God and the diviners of the world,
And the sedulous sages
Of the golden troop, wearers of gold chains,
Our number, which is as the billows of the river:

where the epithets “eurdorf,” “eurdorchogion,” clearly apply to the warriors, and not to Druids or diviners.

When, therefore, we meet with the word “Derwyddon” in the poems of the known Bards of the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, addressed to known individuals, we must give them credit for having meant by the expression, not Druids in the sense of Julius Cæsar and Pliny, but simply philosophers or sages, or perhaps even conjurers, persons supposed to be endowed with supernatural powers or wisdom, like Dr. Dee or Sir Michael Scott.

In fact, the moment the passages cited to prove the Druidism of the thirteenth century, are examined with the context, and with the individual history of the persons involved, the mystery at once disappears.

Thus, in a poem addressed by Cynddelw, a celebrated Bard, to Owen Cyveiliawg, Prince of Powys, in the twelfth century, Mr.Davies gives the following extract as one in which “the Bard presents us with a curious glimpse of the mystic dance of the Druids”:—

Drud awyrdwyth amnwyth amniver
Drudyon a veirtyon
A yawl neb dragon,

which he translates thus:—

“Rapidly moving in the course of the sky, in circles, in uneven numbers, Druids and Bards unite in celebrating the leader.”

This passage is one of those cited by Mr. Davis as abundantly proving,

“not only that there were avowed professors of Druidism in North Wales and Powys during the twelfth century, and that they regarded the some mystical lore which is ascribed to Taliesin as the standard of their system, but also that their profession was tolerated, and even patronized, by the princes of those districts.”

Fortunately for common sense, and for the reputation of Giraldus Cambrensis, who represents Owain Cyveiliawe as a prince distinguished for justice, wisdom, and princely moderation,

“a man of fluent speech, conspicuous for the good management of his territories,”

this example of the prince’s toleration of Druidism is altogether misunderstood and mistranslated by Davies, who has omitted the concluding line of the passage,

Namwyn dreic ae dirper,

without which the others have no connected meaning. The meaning of the lines runs thus:—

Courageous his disposition, his pleasantries without number,
                         Warriors and Bards
                         Praise no chief
                                 But chiefs worthy of it.

There is here no mention of Druids[7] at all; and the example is a very fair one of the system of extracting so much only of these passages as appears to suit a particular purpose, and then forcing them into the desired meaning by a Mse construction.

It would be an endless task to present all the passages which Davies and others have mistakenly exhibited as proofs of the Druidical character of these writings. It is not without reason that Mr. Stephens protests against the system adopted by these writers, of allowing no play for the imagination of the Welsh poets, and assuming every word to be true to actual phenomena.

An amusing instance of this mode of dealing with poetic imagery occurs in Mr. Davies’s translation of another passage from the same poem of Cynddelw, in which the bard extols his hero in a number of ingenious similes:—

       Yn rith rynn ysgwyd
       Rac ysgwnn blymnhywd
       Ar ysgwyt yn arwein
Yn rith Hew rac llyw goradein
Yn rith llauyn anwar llachar llein
Yn rith cletyf claer clod ysgein yn aer
       Yn aroloct kyngrein
Yn rith dreic rac dragon prydein
Yn rith bleit blaengor vu ywein.

Mr. Davies’s translation of these lines is as follows:—

“In the form of a vibrating shield, before the rising tumult, borne aloft on the shoulder of the leader—in the form of a lion, before the chief with the mighty wings—in the form of a terrible spear, with a glittering blade—in the form of a bright sword, spreading fame in the conflict, and overwhelming the levelled ranks—in the form of a dragon, before the sovereign of Britain, and in the form of a daring wolf, has Owen appeared.”

“Here,” says Mr. Davies,

“we find the Bard imitating the Druidical lore, or the mystical strains of Taliesin, and representing his hero as having made no contemptible progress in the circle of transmigration .”

It would scarcely be necessary, considering the poet, the personage referred to, and the date of the composition, to refute so palpable an absurdity, were it not that even at the present day the same strange misconception of the meaning of these works of the Welsh Bards prevails. Not only do we recognize clearly in these images the mere sport of poetic fancy, but there are two circumstances which should have opened the eyes even of Mr. Davies himself to the true nature of the passage. Owain Cyveiliawe fought against Henry II., and that monarch is the “Dragon Prydein,” “Sovereign of Britain,” mentioned in the above lines. Even Mr. Davies would hardly contend that the Welsh prince had arrived at that point in the circle of transmigration, so as to have really appealed as a bonafide dragon before Henry II. Any doubts which might have been felt on the subject would, however, have been dissipated by a perusal of the rest of the poem. A few lines above, the Bard speaks of his patron as,

Gelyn traws ryvel troa ruvein yd wys
Tros y Ilya yn llundein.

A foe fierce in batüe against the men of Rome,
Against the palace in London.

This alludes to the circumstance of Owain Cyveiliawe's dispute with Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury, by whom, when preaching the Crusade in Wales, he was summoned to attend a meeting of the princes and clergy, which he refused, the jurisdiction of the see of Canterbury over the Welsh bishoprics having always been a disputed question. The plunge from such a subject into the depths of the circle of transmigration, in the space of four lines, is somewhat too sudden for the most credulous believer in the Druidism of the twelfth century.

Mr. Davies and the Archdeacon of Cardigan might have recollected that Giraldus Cambrensis was a contemporary of Owain Cyveiliawe. He was Archdeacon of Brecon, and in 1176, elected Bishop of Saint David’s, through not confirmed in the see. He was legate in Wales of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and very zealous and active in the reformation of abuses in the church. Can it be for a moment supposed that such a man Bhould have been ignorant of the existence of openly avowed Druidic superstitions and Hu-worship in Wales in his time, or that, being aware of it, he should have left it unnoticed either by action, or in his Itinerary ?

Footnotes and references:


We have already shown the supposed occurrence of the name “Hu” in the Elegy on Aeddon, the Llath Yoesen, and the Marwnad Utlier Pendragon, to be a mistake.


Probably referring to the Epistle to the Romans, xii. 11, “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.”


This is evidently a clerical error for “ochenaidiad.”


The MS. is in the British Museum, and is entitled “The Creation of the World, being a Cornish Play or Opera, written by W. Jordan, August 18, 1611.” See Cambro-Briton, vol. iii. p. 237. It has since been printed by Davies Gilbert. Another is noticed by Lhuyd in the Archaol. Brit.


Jones’s Welsh Bards, p. 45.


Ibid. p. 35.


The word is Drudyon, “courageous ones, strong ones,” not Derioyddon, " Druids.” This word drud occurs no less than twelve times in the fifteen consecutive lines, of which those above cited form a part, and always with the same signification.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: