This will be the first entry in Celtic Mythology. When I researched this pantheon I decided to include all the Celtic, Welsh and British deities because they covered roughly the same geographical areas. Also, you’ll find in this series that I am going to cover a male and female for each letter because there were so many more compared to the Slavic Pantheon.
Here we go…
Celtic Goddess of witchcraft and herb lore. A healing Goddess of the Tuatha de Danann, Goddess of medicinal plants and keeper of the spring. She regenerates or brings the dead to life again. Call on Airmid for general aid in magic, for healing, learning herbalism, or understanding family loyalty. She can also inspire craftspeople.
In preparation for the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, she along with Diancecht (her father) “took one of each of all the herbs in Ireland” and created the “Well of Healing” called Tiopra or Tiobraid Slaine meaning fountain or spring of healing/wellness. Legend indicates that Tiobraid Slaine can be found between Mag Tuired and Lough Arrow. The Well (or cauldron) was used to heal wounded warriors; those injured or near death entered it, coming out fully healed and ready to fight again.
When her brother Miach was killed Airmed planted 365 herbs on his grave. When she harvested the herbs she spread them out on her cloak and arranged them in order of their healing properties. But Diancecht, still jealous of her brother’s success in replacing the silver arm Diancecht had made for Nauda with a real flesh and blood arm, mixed up the herbs, so that no one knows all their right powers to this day.
An additional source of healing energy that Airmed offers comes from working with stones. These stones were passed over the body while an incantation was pronounced, placed into the holy well thereby activating it, dipped into water, which the patient would then drink, or simply worn. Most of the stones are rounded and smooth like an egg, this shape and their many healing and magical attributes may be the origin of the famed “druid’s stones”. Others stones are uneven and have small holes or indentations.
Arawn is one of the Welsh kings of the underworld, his kingdom known as Annwn or Annwfn which was the paradise of peace and plenty. He is the Keeper of Lost Souls and is well known for riding his horse alongside his white, red-eared hounds through the autumn, winter and early spring skies, hunting for wandering otherworld spirits or perhaps fey. Stories tell that the baying of the hounds sounded a great deal like the cries of wild geese during migration so that is probably how the legend began. It’s because of this gathering aspect that he falls perfectly into the lord of the underworld mold.
Another key aspect of the underworld god archetype that really stood out to me is that of fear and like so many of the pagan stories Arawn’s rides to collect the wandering spirits was redefined into something dark and terrifying. “Later the myth was Christianized to describe the ‘capturing of human souls and the chasing of damned souls to Annwn’, and Annwn was equated with the ‘Hell’ of Christian tradition.”
Other aspects of Arawn that were interesting to me was that he was also sometimes referred to as a magician and is “the guardian of the magical animals within his kingdom, among these The Unicorn”. Information about him was very limited so I am unable to really build on these characteristics.
Arawn is linked with many prominent names in Welsh legend. He befriended the hero Pwyll, husband of the horse goddess Rhiannon and Lord of Dyfed another otherworld, while hunting as told in the Mabinogion, the medieval cycle of legends. Here is one telling of the story:
“Pwyll meets the god [Arawn] while he is out hunting on the fringes of his kingdom, and offends Arawn by letting his hounds loose on a stag already being hunted by him. Eventually they enter into a bargain were they exchange places for a year in each other’s form. Pwyll becomes Lord of the Underworld, and Arawn becomes the Lord of Dyfed. During this time Pwyll slays Hafgan an enemy of Arawn who has been troubling his kingdom. They both become firm allies because neither of them sleeps with the others wife during their exchange.”
Some sources say that Pwyll killed Hafgan with a single blow and that after changing back Arawn gifted Pwyll with a magic swine that Pwyll later gave to his son, Pryderi.
Arawn is probably best known for his appearance in the short, often call obscure poem, Cad Goddeu, otherwise known as the Battle (or Army) of the Trees. The sixth century poem appears in The Book of Taliesin and tells the story of a war between Arawn and Amaethon, a poughman, that started when Amaethon is said to have stole a roebuck (male deer), whelp (puppy) and a lapwing (bird) from the kind of Annwfn. Central to the story was the magician Gwydion, a student of Amaethon, who used his ‘staff of enchantment’ to turn trees into an army to fight for them. The war is said to have been won with Gwydion guessed the name of Arawn’s ‘man’ Bran, perhaps a reference to Bran the Blessed.
A scholar by the name of Robert Graves claims to have translated the poem even though he admittedly knew no Welsh whatsoever. Graves is said to have also rearranged the poem in order to use it to prove his thesis about the origin of the Ogham, the Druidic alphabet, a point that was central in his book, The White Goddess that was published in 1948. He hypothesized that Arawn and Bran were actually the same underworld god and that the battle was more of wits rather than brawn. According to Graves, Gwydion could only loose the battle if the name if his companion, Lady Achren (whose name means ‘trees’), was guess by Arawn. Likewise, Arawn would be defeated if Gwydion guessed Bran’s name, which was the outcome.
While his book had a large following, some of his counterparts who specialize in Welsh literature have scorned him. “[Marged Haycock and Mary Ann Constantine] …both subscribe to the idea that Cad Goddeu does not encode heresies about ancient pagan religions as Graves believed, but that the poem is a burlesque, a grand parody of bardic language. Francesco Bennozo argues that the poem represents ancient fears of the forest and its magical powers. While such arguments are far more measured than Graves’s theories, they may represent a simplification of the difficult and bewildering poem.”
I think that the most interesting point I found about Cad Goddeu is that composer John Williams used a version of the poem translated into Sanskrit when creating the score for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and directly wrote the second movement of his 2004’s Horn Concerto off the ‘Battle of the Trees’. I have to admit that I thought of the Ents from The Lord of the Rings when I first heard of the battle.
Arawn was also linked with King Arthur of Camelot. “Arawn was the owner of a magical cauldron with rejuvenating powers, that would not boil a coward’s food. Arthur led a quest into Annwn, Arawn’s Kingdom, to steal this precious artifact.” The cauldron is said to have the power to restore life but left the victim a mute. Arawn is further linked to Arthur by some scholars as being an antecedent of Alain li Gros who was keeper of the Grail and father of Perceval li Gros, one of Arthur’s knights.
There is a fictional character named Arawn in the trilogy The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Arawn is the main antagonist of the popular series that even had a Disney animated film adaptation released that was call The Black Cauldron, named after the second book. Unfortunately, the film didn’t include the Arawn character but it looks as if the author did some research into the name. Arawn was an evil sorcerer who ruled over the land called Annuvin, a place that was also known as the Land of Death.
Speaking of Arawn and fictional stories I also have to note that the name ‘Arawn’ is used in my favorite fictional series of all time. Arawn is not a god, but a royal house from the country of Andor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series that I stated reading back in 1994. It is a (projected) twelve novel series that is sci fi/fantasy at its best. Jordan hoped to complete the series prior to his death in 2007 but the last book remained unfinished. Thankfully, Brandon Sanderson has been chosen by the family of Robert Jordan to write the last book that will be based on major plot points outlined by Jordan before he passed. I’ve also recently found out that a major motion picture company (New Line I believe) has purchased the rights to Wheel of Time, but there are no plans as of yet for a film. Come on Peter Jackson… catch wind of this!
Sphere of influence – death and justice
Colors – red & black
Animals – hounds, pigs
Planet – Saturn
Heart of the Witchs Path YouTube channel: