How Lleu Llaw Gyffes Got his Name,
A Celtic Myth for the Winter Solstice

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This is the story of How Lleu Llaw Gyffes Got His Name, a Celtic Myth for the Winter Solstice. This story tells how Arianrhod gave birth to the Sun and the Moon, and shows why people hunt wrens at Christmas. This retelling is based on the translation by Kenneth Morris, from the story of Math mab Mathonwy, one of the four branches (tales) of the Mabinogion, the collection of Welsh mythology.

seaweed by Arthur Rackham Math mab Mathonwy had lost his attendant, the young woman whose responsibility it was to be his “foot-holder” and so he needed a new one. Arianrhod was brought to him.
“Are you a virgin?” he asked.
“I know not but that I am,” she responded.
Math took a wand and bent it and put it on the floor. “Step over this” he said. Arianrhod took one step over the wand and a beautiful healthy blond-haired boy emerged. The child gave a loud cry and Arianrhod made for the door. As she stepped over the threshold another tiny form emerged from her. No one noticed, but Gwydion picked it up and covered it in a velvet cloth and took it home and hid it in a chest.

Math mab Mathonwy accepted the yellow-haired child and gave him a name according to the custom. The child was named Dylan, and the same day the child went to the sea and dove in. He took on the nature of the sea and lived in it as well as a fish and no wave ever broke under him.

A few days later Gwydion woke up hearing a noise from the chest at the foot of his bed. He opened the chest and found a child inside, holding his arms out. He took the child to be raised by a woman in the village and she kept him for a year. In that one year he grew as big as a two-year-old, and for each year after that, twice as large as normal child. When he was eight years old he was large enough to attend public gatherings by himself. Gwydion saw him at one of the gatherings and so did Arianrhod, his mother. When she saw him, she asked Gwydion what child it was.
“He is your son.” he answered.
“And what is his name?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have a name.”
“He shall never have a name then, unless I give him one,” answered Arianrhod, putting a geas on the boy. Gwydion swore then that the child would receive a name anyway, though she were unwilling to claim him.

Gwydion took the boy with him and walked along the beach. Where they found seaweed, Gwydion charmed it into the form of a boat, and he took more seaweed and made from it beautiful cordovan leather. They began to sail in the boat and he charmed them into a different appearance so that they could not be recognized. When they came near Caer Arianrhod (the castle of Arianrhod), he put ashore. He took some of the cordovan leather and they began to make shoes from it, where they could be seen from the castle.

“What men are those?” asked Arianrhod.
“Cobblers,” she was told. Messengers were sent to see the work and they found Gwydion and the boy in disguise, gilding and coloring the leather. It was very beautiful work; so the messengers informed Arianrhod.

Arianrhod had her feet measured for shoes and sent the measurements to Gwydion so that he could make shoes for her. Gwydion made the shoes, but not in quite the right size; he deliberately made them too big. Arianrhod sent back again, but this time he made shoes for her which were too small. Finally she agreed to go and see him to get the right size shoes. [fuggle26]

When she arrived, Gwydion and the boy were working on the leather. Gwydion and Arianrhod greeted each other. “It’s a pity you cannot make shoes in the right size,” she said. “Now I can,” he answered her.

Just then a wren landed on the deck of the ship and the boy threw his needle at the bird. His needle pierced the bird in the leg between the sinew and the bone. Arianrhod laughed and said, “what a skillful hand the bright-haired one has!”

Gwydion spoke up, “Now he has a name, and a good name it is: Lleu Llaw Gyffes ‘Bright Skillful Hand’ he shall be called!”

Immediately, he dissolved the charm and the leather that they had been working on became seaweed again. That is how Lleu Llaw Gyffes got his name and why he is called a shoemaker or Leprechaun.

It is from this story about his naming, which is part of the celebration of the birth of a child, that Celtic people reenact Hunting the Wren and sing Wren King Songs, at the season of the rebirth of the sun, the Winter Solstice. The entire Mabinogion can be read on Sacred-Texts in a translation by Lady Gregory Guest, made in 1877. This part of the story corresponds to pp. 421-424 of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion in that translation.

© 2007, last updated 8/7/2015,