The Afanc - Mythical Welsh lake monster

Lady Charlotte Guest

The Afanc is a mythical Welsh lake monster. It is said to live in a number of different lakes in Wales such as llyn Llion, Llyn Barfog and Llyn-y-Afanc which bares its name. The creature also described variously as resembling a beaver, a dwarf and also a crocodile. It features in the tale of Peredur son of Efrawg (where it is known as the Addanc) contained within a collection of prose drawn from Celtic pre-Christian mythology and medieval Welsh manuscripts known as The Mabinogion. The Mabinogion is taken from The White Book of Rhydderch (Welsh: Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) written in the mid-fourteenth century and in The Red Book of Hergest (Welsh: Llyfr Coch Hergest) written later in the same century. Both contain a collection of the earliest Welsh prose texts. The stories draw from earlier pre-Christian Celtic mythology and contain the first examples of Arthurian tales.

There are many stories involving the Afanc. It is described as a fearsome beast, which can kill and eat victims who enter, fall or are dragged into its watery domain. It can also cause flooding and mass drowning. Peredur son of Efrawg contained in the Mabinogion was translated into English by Lady Charlotte Guest.  Lady Charlotte Guest (19 may 1812-15 January 1895) was the wife of John Josiah Guest who had industrial interests in Wales. She was a skilled in languages and during her time in Wales learnt Welsh. Her translation of the Mabinogion was the first to be published. She is highly regarded for her significant contribution to Welsh cultural revivalism.

In the Mabinogion story of Peredur, the Addanc of the Lake dwells in a cave. Close by is the Palace of the King Tortures. The Addanc kills three knights every day and the bodies of these same warriors are sent from the creatures cave. Every day they are then brought back to life only to return and be killed again. Such is the daily cycle of their death at the hands of the Addanc. The creature is finally killed by Peredur after he is given a ‘stone of invisibility’ by a beautiful maiden.

Iolo Morganwg

One of the various Welsh versions of the tale of the Afanc is that written by Iolo Morganwg.  In this story Hu Gadarn's  two long horned oxen pull the Afanc into a lake where it is killed. Iolo Morganwg (1747-1826) was born as Edward Williams in Flemingston in the Vale of Glamorgan. He was a passionate supporter of Welsh culture and also an active anti-slavery campaigner who revived Welsh bardic traditions in the 18th and 19th centuries and created the Welsh order of the bards.

He established the Welsh Gorsedd of the Bards drawing on ancient druidic traditions for inspiration. In 1819 the Gorsedd, seen as the guardian of the language and culture of Wales , was formally linked with the Eisteddford. The Gorsedd represents a coming together of bards not only in Wales, but also Cornwall and Brittany (Goursez Vreizh) and maintains the national Celtic traditions and language of these lands.

 

Further reading

North Wales Walks and Legends by Showell Styles

This volume features 18 scenic walks in North Wales suitable for all the family. The walks visit the locations of Welsh legends, including: the Afanc pool at Betws-y-coed; Llandudno, where Prince Madog set off on his voyage westwards; and the remains of Castell Dinas Bran at Llangollen.

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