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Faerie Lore : Lake Fairies - "The Gwraig Of the Golden Boat"

I revisit once again the character of the Gwragedd annwm (sing: Gwraig) the Welsh lake fairies, (literally, wives of the lower world, or hell) , which pleases me most. Click here for my previous related post.

On previous posts I have discussed about the celtic belief in lakes, rivers, and wells, believes later christianized and concealed under the characters of Saints deeds and sancutaries . There is a large amount of legends regarding the origin of lakes in several celtic countries, and in some of them, we can find the folk type of a fairy dweller, maybe remnant believes on ancient deities, or rather the Goddess herself.

On this legend I share with you, we can trace some of the usual folklore types regarden these lake maidens.
  • They can be seen rowing golden boats with a golden oar & come out to land to dance at midnight.
  • They can be lured ashore with bread and cheese offerings.
  • Men who marry the lake maidens must never hit them or touch them with iron or they will go back undersea.
  • A man who gives a lake maiden tri ergyd diachos (tree AIR-geed dee-AH-khose) three causeless blows will lose her forever

This legend of "The Gwraig Of the Golden Boat" is taken from the book "British Goblins: Welsh Folk-lore, Fairy Mythology, Legends and Traditions" by Wirt Sikes [b. 1836 d. 1883] - hereby depicted, the original illustration by T. H. Thomas - London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington -[1880] " (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!)

"The Gwraig Of the Golden Boat"

This version relates that the enamoured farmer had heard of the lake maiden, who rowed up and down the lake in a golden boat, with a golden oar. Her hair was long and yellow, and her face was pale and melancholy. In his desire to see this wondrous beauty, the farmer went on New Year's Eve to the edge of the lake, and in silence awaited the coming of the first hour of the new year. It came, and there in truth was the maiden in her golden boat, rowing softly to and fro. Fascinated, he stood for hours beholding her, until the stars faded out of the sky, the moon sank behind the rocks, and the cold gray dawn drew nigh; and then the lovely gwraig began to vanish from his sight.

Wild with passion, and with the thought of losing her for ever, he cried aloud to the retreating vision, 'Stay! stay Be my wife.' But the gwraig only uttered a faint cry, and was gone. Night after night the young farmer haunted the shores of the lake, but the gwraig returned no more.

He became negligent of his person; his once robust form grew thin and wan; his face was a map of melancholy and despair. He went one day to consult a soothsayer who dwelt on the mountain, and this grave personage advised him to besiege the damsel's heart with gifts of bread and cheese. This counsel commending itself strongly to his Welsh way of thinking, the farmer set out upon an assiduous course of casting his bread upon the waters, accompanied by cheese.

He began on Midsummer eve by going to the lake and dropping therein a large cheese and a loaf of bread. Night after night he continued to throw in loaves and cheeses, but nothing appeared in answer to his sacrifices. His hopes were set, however, on the approaching New Year's eve. The momentous night arrived at last. Clad in his best array, and armed with seven white loaves and his biggest and handsomest cheese, he set out once more for the lake.

There he waited till midnight, and then slowly and solemnly dropped the seven loaves into the water, and with a sigh sent the cheese to keep them company. His persistence was at length rewarded. The magic skiff appeared; the fair gwraig guided it to where he stood; stepped ashore, and accepted him as her husband. The before-mentioned stipulation was made as to the blows; and she brought her dower of cattle.

One day, after they had been four years married, they were invited to a christening. In the midst of the ceremony the gwraig burst into tears. Her husband gave her an angry look, and asked her why she thus made a fool of herself. She replied, 'The poor babe is entering a world of sin and sorrow; misery lies before it. Why should I rejoice?' He pushed her pettishly away. ' I warn you, husband,' said the gwraig; ' you have struck me once.'

After a time they were bidden to the funeral of the child they had seen christened. Now the gwraig laughed, sang, and danced about. The husband's wrath again arose, and again he asked her why she thus made a fool of herself. She answered, 'The dear babe has escaped the misery that was before it' and gone to be good and happy for ever. Why should I grieve?' Again he pushed her from him, and again she warned him; he had struck her twice.

Soon they were invited to a wedding; the bride was young and fair, the groom a tottering, toothless, decrepit old miser. In the midst of the wedding feast the gwraig annwn burst into tears, and to her husband's question why she thus made a fool of herself she replied, 'Truth is wedded to age for greed, and not for love-summer and winter cannot agree--it is the diawl's compact.' The angry husband thrust her from him for the third and last time. She looked at him with tender love and reproach, and said, 'The three blows are struck-husband, farewell!' He never saw her more, nor any of the flocks and herds she had brought him for her dowry.

  • A Note from Wirt Sikes :

In its employment of the myth to preach a sermon, and in its introduction of cheese, this version of the legend is very Welsh indeed.

The extent to which cheese figures in Cambrian folk-lore is surprising; cheese is encountered in every sort of fairy company; you actually meet cheese in the Mabinogion, along with the most romantic forms of beauty known in story.

And herein again is illustrated Shakespeare's accurate knowledge of the Cambrian goblins. Heaven defend me from that Welsh fairy!' says Falstaff, 'lest he transform me to a piece of cheese '['Merry Wives of Windsor', Act. V., Sc. 5]

Bread is found figuring actively in the folk-lore of every country, especially as a sacrifice to water-gods; but cheese is, so far as I know, thus honoured only in Cambria.

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