Celtic Mythology

The Welsh Pantheon

What is the “Fourth Branch” story of Math and his family and the birth of Lleu?

Math of Gwynedd, son of Mathonwy, is a god of wealth. He has a strange fixation, requiring that when he is not at war his feet must rest on the lap of a virgin. His nephews Gwydion and Gilfaethwy trick Math in order that Gilfaethwy might have the virgin used by Math. When the ruse is discovered and the virgin found no longer to be a virgin, Math turns his nephews into boars for three years. Gwydion tries to substitute his sister Aranrhod for the stolen footstool maiden, but she gives birth to a boy child, the sea god Dylan, as she steps over Math’s sword during her virginity test, making her ineligible to be Math’s footstool. And soon after that, an object emerges from her that Gwydion hides away. This is, in fact, Lleu (a cognate for the Irish Lugh), the product of an incestuous relationship between Aranrhod and her brother Gwydion. Ashamed, Aranrhod refuses to name the child. But when Gwydion and the child come to the king’s court as shoemakers, Aranrhod inadvertently names her son by exclaiming over his brightness and skill. Thus, he becomes Lleu Llawgyffes (“Fair-haired and skillful of hand”). When Aranrhod declares that the boy will never bear arms not given to him by her, Gwydion uses his magic again to overcome that oath. Math and Gwydion also undermine Aranrhod’s determination that Lleu must never marry into a race “now on earth,” by creating a wife, Blodeuwedd (“Flower”) for him from the blossoms of three plants.


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