Pen Annwfn

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Title given to Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, when he returns to Dyfed after his triumphant sojourn in Annwfn; First Branch, episode 1.
Pwyll had fought and vanquished Hafgan, the adversary of Arawn, King of Annwfn. He also treated the Queen of Annwfn with chastity, sexual restraint. Both behaviours win him a close alliance with Annwfn.

Pwyll has ambivalent identity in several ways. Here he acquires a new title which commemorates a great achievement. This is not unusual for people in legend or history, and it continues today. But the change of name also reflects Pwyll’s merging with Arawn as he stays a ritual year in Annwfn, ruling as, and looking exactly like, Arawn..

The Dyfed -Annwfn alliance is seen as a great achievement by Pwyll, and he is admired in both realms for forging it. Whatever quality of humanity Arawn found critically necessary to vanquish the enemy Hafgan is a matter of speculation. On the other side the advantage is clear for Annwfn is described as a place of great wealth, gentility and perfect orderliness. Rich gifts are exchanged between the two lands to maintain the alliance: horses, greyhounds, hawks, and treasure.

But one of the gifts of Annwfn eventually becomes a key cause of Dyfed tragedy. The gift is a herd of pigs, a new and especially valued breed. In the Fourth Branch this valuable herd is the target of the magician Gwydion in his machinations, aimed to foment a war. Pwyll’s son Pryderi, is seduced into breaking his word to Annwfn, and this brings about his death.

In Welsh folk tradition it is understood that the gifts of the Others, those we call the Fair Ones, may seem fair and rich but their price must always be paid. They are not like us.

(First published 28/12/2014: Shan Morgain)

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