y tylwyth teg

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Giraldus Cambrensis (c. 1146—1223)



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[W, the fair folk].

The most usual Welsh name for fairies. They are often known by the euphemism bendith y mamau [W, mother's blessings] to avert kidnapping, especially in Glamorgan. Although most stories about y tylwyth teg are recorded from oral tradition, references to them appear in writing as early as Giraldus Cambrensis (c.1146–1223). They are described as fair-haired and as loving golden hair, and thus they covet mortal children with blond or fair hair. Their usual king is Gwyn ap Nudd. In general y tylwyth teg are portrayed as benevolent but still capable of occasional mischief. Some of their later stories even profess improved behaviour and good morals, such as promising rewards of silver to young women who keep tidy houses. In distinction from other Celtic fairies, they are more often associated with lakes, especially at Llyn y Fan Fach in south Wales. Another distinction is their fear of iron; unbaptized children should be guarded from y tylwyth teg by having a poker placed over the cradle. But like other fairies they are thought to possess magical cattle, the most famous of which is the Speckled Cow of Hiraethog. In one of the most commonly told stories of y tylwyth teg, a mortal young man seeks to marry a beautiful young daughter of the fairy host. She agrees, but only on the condition that he does not touch her with iron nor strike her with three unnecessary blows. Gwlad y Tylwyth Teg is a Welsh name for fairyland.

The link with such lakes as Llyn y Fan Fach has implied to some commentators that the conception y tylwyth teg is derived from dark-skinned, short, early inhabitants of Britain who lived in crannogs, primitive lake dwellings; this coincides with one of the four general theories explaining the origin of fairies. Smaller than y tylwyth teg are the ellyll, who may have been adapted from the non-Welsh elves. Other names for y tylwyth teg include: dynon bach teg, gwarwyn a throt, jili ffrwtan, sili ffrit, sili-go-dwt, trwtyn tratyn.

See Hugh Evans, Y Tylwyth Teg (Liverpool, 1944);T. Gwynn Jones, Welsh Folklore and Folk-custom (London, 1930;Cambridge, 1979). Folk motifs: C433, F233.5.

Subjects: Religion.

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