Welsh myths, legends and folk tales encompass a broad spectrum from the famous Mabinogion tales to historical legends and stories about early Christian saints. Celtic tradition is the basis of much of the writing. Many legends center on the Druids and their practices, mixing fact and fiction.
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The tales contain references to several types of legendary figures. Fairies (y tylwyth teg) play a large part in some plots. These fairies were not evil—except for the odd one or two—rather, they looked upon humans in a kindly way. Like most fairies they lived underground and were quite tiny. Mermaids feature in Pembrokeshire stories. Giants figure prominently in Welsh tales. King Arthur was considered a great Celtic hero, and he appears in many of the tales.
The early Celtic Christian religion gave rise to many stories of miraculous doings by saints.
Evil spirits, witches, and wizards also play their part in myths. Witches were believed to live everywhere and have power over living things. The practice of nailing a horseshoe over the door came from the belief it kept witches out of the house. One story told of a fairy cow and a witch. The cow never ran dry until a witch milked it.
One of the better known Welsh legends that reflects the people’s desire for independence is the story of the Abbot from Vale Crucis Abbey who, when out walking, met Owain Glyndwr (a folk hero who fought for the independence of Wales). Glyndwr remarked that the Abbot had risen early, and the Abbot replied that Glyndwr had risen too early, a hundred years before his time. This tale supposedly refers to the Tudors coming to power in the country. When the Welsh Henry VII did become king in 1485, the Welsh people mistakenly thought it would gain freedom for their country.
The Mabinogion is a well-known collection of folk stories combining myths and legends with historical and fictional events. These stories started out as part of an oral tradition. They were written down as early as the 13th century, but were altered over the ensuing years. (They were not translated into English until 1849). Altogether there are 11 (some sources say 12) stories, preserved in two manuscripts: the White Book of Rhydderch (c1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (c1400).
The first group of four consists of the following stories: Pwyll Prince of Dyfed, Branwen The Daughter of Llyr, Manawyddan The Son of Llyr, and Math The Son of Mathonwy. They tell about the early Welsh kings and add in mythical figures, intertwining the two. Further stories have King Arthur as the subject, and two are about King Lludd of Britain and Magnus Maximus, the Roman Emperor. Three are Welsh romances.
For a concise and inexpensive summary of Welsh legends I recommend the booklet Myths and Legends of Wales.