What Are the Major Elements of Welsh Mythology?

G. Wiesen

There are several major elements in Welsh mythology, often involving the types of stories that were told, the characters and figures popular in these stories, or the creatures that appeared in them. The most popular of these ancient stories are found in a collection called The Mabinogion, which contains 11 stories that have been well preserved. Kings and warriors are commonly found in these stories, as are men and women who can perform magic, and many of these stories follow or involve family lines. There are also a number of creatures common in Welsh mythology, including dragons, giants, spirits, and fairies.

Dragons are quite popular in Welsh mythology.
Dragons are quite popular in Welsh mythology.

Welsh mythology typically includes stories and legends that were told by the Britons prior to the expansion of Christianity into the British Isles. These numerous myths and legends were likely told by bards and traveling storytellers throughout what is now the UK. One of the oldest collections of Welsh mythology comes from two books, The White Book of Rhydderch and The Red Book of Hergest. A translation of the stories found in these two collections was made by Lady Charlotte Guest in the 19th century, titled The Mabinogion and consisting of 11 stories.

Wales is located in western Britain, between England and the Irish Sea.
Wales is located in western Britain, between England and the Irish Sea.

Many of these stories share certain figures and characters. Welsh mythology often deals with stories that follow a particular family; one story might focus on the actions of a man whose son is the subject of the next story. Kings and warlords are also commonly the subject of stories in Welsh mythology. The legends of King Arthur seem to have originated in a number of stories that are contained in The Mabinogion, including many of the same characters and events popularized in later stories of Arthur, Merlin, Sir Percival, and Yvain.

There are also a number of creatures found in Welsh mythology, and many of them have lingered in Western culture and stories. Dragons, called dregiau, are quite popular in these stories, and the image of a red dragon has long been associated with the Britons, their leaders, and their struggle against the Saxons. Giants and various spirits, including spirits of the dead and spirits of nature, are also quite common as elements of these mythological stories. Welsh mythology, much like Celtic mythology, also includes fairies, called tylwyth teg or “the fair folk,” who continue to remain popular in modern storytelling and fantasy art.

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