St Tydecho and St Tegfedd: Druidic Deities as Welsh Saints

by JoHarrington

What happened to the Celtic Gods and Goddesses after coming of Christianity? Some staggered on in fairy tales, others were lost and a few were incorporated.

The process of converting a whole nation, from one religion to another, always requires a little give and take.

Places of worship built alongside - or over - already holy sites; festivals aligned; ideologies, where possible, matched by similar in the new religion, or added if it proved too stubborn to remove.

Then there are the Gods and Goddesses. Mostly the Christian God was simply styled as superior, gaining converts through sheer supremacy. Everyone prefers to back a winner. Those deities in second place could fade from view, or become demons within a generation or two.

But some proved difficult to dislodge. Many of them, in the Celtic world and beyond, were merely invited into the Christian universe to serve as its earliest saints. In Wales, St Tydecho and St Tegfedd may well be prime examples.

St Tydecho and St Tegfedd: 6th Century Welsh Saints

The brother and sister duo were based in Llanymawddwy, mid West Wales. They may have witnessed the legendary Battle of Camlan in the valley below.

Their legend states that the holy pair arrived in Cardigan Bay on boats from Brittany. But others have argued that they came from South Wales instead.

Scholars have searched in vain for their origin in either location.

St Tydecho (pron. Tie-de-CH-o, with the 'ch' like that in loch) settled as a hermit, sleeping on a blue rock, upon the mountainous slopes of Mawddwy. It was his miracles wrought against various rulers that enabled three local churches to be founded.

They were all built by 537 CE, when the Annals Cambriae tells us Arthur's last battle of Camlan was fought within their view.

Famed for his healing abilities, did the saint tend the injured and dying there? His story doesn't say.

His sister St Tegfedd (pron. Teg-veth) is sometimes said to have followed him there, or else she arrived with him. Despite her brother's wild lodgings, she is never stated to have been a hermit too. Some chroniclers fudge over the contradiction by imagining a home for her down in the valley. But that's never mentioned in their histories.

She too has lent her name to churches in the region. And further afield too! One in Gwent records that Tegfedd suffered martyrdom at the hands of marauding Saxons.

In St Tydecho's Church in Mallwyd, a stained glass window shows him kneeling before a king. A third figure is stoning the saint to death. But no other information has survived to describe further what is going on. We still don't know who was wearing that crown.

Image: The Persecution of St Tydecho
Image: The Persecution of St Tydecho

Various legends, or genealogies, included a third sibling in their party. He apparently didn't stay, as none of the legends beyond their arrival talk about the third. Nor can any quite agree upon his name. St Cadfan, St Samson, St Dogfael and St Mael have all been identified as the brother who came to Mawddwy.

At least one of them (St Mael - not to be confused with the later Irish one) is strongly suspected have had a divine origin.

It is well established that Celtic saints include amid their number plenty of Gods and Goddesses from the old Pagan faith. They were simply called saints, with their preternatural powers explained as evidence of miraculous prayer. Each saw their stories stretched upon a Christian framework, some more successfully than others.

This practice certainly happened in North Wales, whenever Christian missionaries encountered a deity whom their potential flock wouldn't surrender, as I highlighted in the article below.

Anglesey lies off the Gwynedd coastline of North Wales. Its ancient credentials, as the headquarters for Celtic Druids, lives on in its Christianized landmarks.

But did those saints include St Tydecho and St Tegfedd? The siblings held their mission during the 6th century, seemingly a little late for the need to transmute deities of the Druids into Christian form. The whole of North and mid Wales should have been decidedly Catholic by then.

Nevertheless, the evidence is there; and if I'm correct, then it tells us that the spread of Christianity was a much more prolonged process than generally imagined.

Three centuries after the faith arrived in Britain - two since it seriously took hold - these pair may constitute proof that there was still a need to turn Pagan deities into Welsh saints, if there was to be any hope of full Christian conversion.

Dictionaries of Celtic Pagan Gods and Christian Saints

There's far more crossover here than either side will generally admit.

Water, Rocks and the Greenwood: the Nature of St Tydecho

This sixth century Welsh saint certainly felt at home in the natural world. Is there a clue to his true identity there?

St Tydecho was known to be a wild kind of holy man, living, sleeping and praying outdoors.

His stomping ground was the Mawddwy promontory now called Mynedd Llwyn Gwilym (Grove of Gwilym's Mountain), and he left his mark upon its landscape in some quite immediate ways.

High up, where the mountain's green slopes meet the sheer cliff-face, there is a rectangle cut in the rock. This is Gwely Tydecho (Tydecho's Bed), where he apparently slept.

Close by is the large blue stone Cadair Tydecho (Tydecho's Chair), which features significantly in his legend, as I'll later recount.

The aforementioned slope is called Rhiw y March (Hill of the Horses). Near to their summit, there's a large stone basin carved into the mountain. It's called Ffynnon Dydecho (Fountain of Tydecho), as water collects there. The legend states that if you empty it, Tydecho's miracle will fill it again.

Viewed from this spot, above the highest waterfall of Llaethnant, the very rock-face is said to be his face in profile.

Llaethnant (milk stream) gained its name through one of his miracles. He startled a girl carrying milk over the ford, so that she dropped her bucket. To make up for it, Tydecho prayed until the water of the stream turned into milk. It still runs white now, though carries only water.

Buches Tydecho (St Tydecho's Fold) is said to mark the spot where she dropped the milk. It's an ancient cell, with great stones positioned to create a space inside, referenced here as a place to corral the milking cows. It's positioned upon Ffridd-y-Glascoed. Ffridd meaning the scrubland between high and low habitats. Glascoed translating as 'green wood'.

Rocks, water and green woods crop up a lot in Tydecho's story. Could the fact that he was stoned hint towards an older legend, whereby he was part of the stones?

St Tydecho is described as wearing nothing but a coat made of hair. The implication is that it was used as an aid to increasing his discomfort, rendering him more austere and therefore holy.

Another way of looking at it is that he was naked and covered in hair.

A 19th century vicar trying to find the etymology of Afon Banwy - a river upon the banks of which one of St Tydecho's churches stands - came up with 'from the goats', or 'waters of Pan'. But that seems a strange transportation of a foreign God to me.

Ban actually translates as 'peak; horn; or corner', with the 'wy' part referring to sacred waters. River of the Holy Horn then. Perhaps not so far from the Greek God Pan after all!

Maybe it's worth noting that all of Tydecho's churches were built alongside west flowing rivers.

The Pagans can raise their eyebrows in the knowledge that Annwn - the Welsh Afterworld - was accessed by sailing west. Christians can ponder the fact that all rivers tend to run in that direction on this side of the Aran Mountains.

Yet the churches dedicated to Tydecho all share another feature too.  They were placed upon grounds already deemed sacred in the religions they supplanted. Gigantic yew trees grace the precincts of each building, while standing stones or other neolithic monuments are in their vicinities. Both suggest divine connections reaching back into antiquity, far older than the Druids.

Perhaps the Christians weren't the first to co-opt him into a new faith.

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The Meaning in Tydecho's Name and Genealogy

Tydecho could be a Catholic saint, whose wild living fame was used to Christianize landmarks linked to the Green Man. Until we investigate his name.

His name - Tydecho - translates as the house (ty) of nightfall (decho). His father was said to be Annwn Ddu. Annwn is the Welsh Afterworld, while ddu means black.

His sister is Tegfedd or, in English, Beautiful Graves.

Their mother is said to be Anna ferch Meurig of Gwent; a woman often linked with the Arthurian legend. Generally as an early occupant of various positions in the family trees, which were later given to Morgan Le Fey.

In some versions, Annwn Ddu is called Amwn Ddu. It's from this that we get Mawddy (Mwn-ddu). Tag on 'wy', meaning holy place (generally water), and you get the area itself - Mawddywy.

So the good saint is actually the House of Dusk son of the Black Waters of Annwn.

Still sounding like a Catholic priest to you?

Everything about Him screams Celtic God of the Underworld to me, perhaps an aspect of Gwyn ap Nudd or Cernunnos; a divine guardian of the land.

Originally St Tydecho's feast day was at Easter. In the old calendar, that meant that it always fell between April 4th and May 8th, or Beltane as we Pagans call it. (More recently, it's switched to December 17th, for no reason that I could uncover.)

In Druidism, the God of the Underworld doubles as the instigator of the Wild Hunt at Beltane. In this aspect, He is all about fertility, battling all challengers for the right to impregnate the divine May Queen. It's during this festival that Celtic rulers ritually wed the Goddess of Sovereignty.

Moreover, there are blatant hints that St Tydecho acted this capacity, fulfilling Gwyn ap Nudd's traditional role as the Goddess's Champion and ruler of beasts. Not least because he earned the right to freedom for all humans and creatures within his parishes. (Slaves who reached his church doors could not be claimed by their owners, as long as the escapees stayed within Tydecho's ecclesiastical boundaries.)

The saint's most famous clash was with Maelgwn Gwynedd, ruler of Ynys Môn and Gwynedd, and eventually Pendragon of the Britons (High King). This tale can all too easily be read as a Sovereignty legend.

Particularly when we note that Tydecho's first church was built at Mallwyd, AND Maelgwn became chieftain of the Gwynedd Votadini, in the same year - 520 CE.

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It's my belief that St Tydecho represents a much older deity of the Celtic Underworld. Read these guides to learn more about what I mean by that.
Occasionally a name leaps out of the annals of history with such force, that you just have to run with it. Maelgwn, ruler of Gwynedd, tested the patience of two saints.

The Legend of Maelgwn Gwynedd and St Tydecho

St Tydecho lived in Powys, the region to the south-east of Maelgwyn's territory. The exact area is today in Gwynedd, brought by marriage over three centuries later.

In the solitude of Mawddwy, St Tydecho slept on a blue rock. He spent his days in prayer, clad in nothing but a coat made of hair. He was so holy that the mountainside itself formed into the profile of his face.

Maelgwn Gwynedd sought to plague him, sending a stud of white horses to be pastured alongside the rock where Tydecho prayed. It was a cold, frosty season and the horses should have died. But Tydecho's prayers kept them fat and healthy. Moreover, they turned them yellow, so Maelgwn couldn't claim that they belonged to him.

Infuriated, Maelgwyn stole the saint's bulls. But St Tydecho was not thwarted in the ploughing of his field at Dol-y-Ceirw. He simply captured a cohort of wild stags and set them in harness. Then called upon God to bring a grey wolf to chase them. In their fright, the bucks pulled the plough through Tydecho's land.

Now livid, Maelgwn Gwynedd unleashed his pack of pure white hounds upon the deer and the wolf. He sat down on Tydecho's rock to watch the carnage, laughing in glee at the sport. But then disaster befell the ruler. When he tried to stand again, he found himself stuck fast to the blue stone.

Maelgwn was forced to beg the saint for help, pleading for forgiveness and promising to donate land upon which Tydecho might found a church. Only then was he released from the rock.

St Tydecho's Church in Mallwyd was built in 520 CE. It nestles inside a grove of massive ancient yew trees, which were sacred to the Druids. More churches followed throughout the area, in Llan-y-Mawddwy, Cemmaes and Garthbeibio.

Image: St Tydecho's Church in Mallwyd (14th century, replacing original 6th century)
Image: St Tydecho's Church in Mallwyd (14th century, replacing original 6th century)

Analysis of the St Tydecho versus Maelgwn Gwynedd Story

As interpreted from the perspective of a Wiccan, rather than a Druid, based upon a highly Christianized story. Things could go wrong.

This one couldn't be more Druidic if it tried!  If St Tydecho actually existed as a human man, then I'm willing to bet that he was a priest of the old ways rather than the Catholic Church.

Maelgwn Gwynedd sought to ritually wed the Goddess of Sovereignty (white horses), thus had to engage in the Wild Hunt (cattle raids and white dogs) in order to prove his worth. He was challenged by the Goddess's divine champion (Tydecho) in Dol-y-Ceirw (Meadow of the Stags, with the White Hart being the traditional Celtic signal for the Sovereignty Games to begin).

Tydecho was victorious, able to harness his power as Sovereignty's Champion (stags) long enough to furrow Her land (ploughing the field), thus it was His seed which fertilized Mother Earth. Tydecho's triumph was complete when He was able to command the bedrock itself, to entrap His challenger, forcing Maelgwn to concede ('donation' of land - that wasn't his to give).

In short, Maelgwn Gwynedd tried to invade Mawddwy in 520, and failed to take it.

But aren't we missing someone important?

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St Tegfedd, Goddess of Sovereignty at Mawddwy

This is a story that's been heavily Christianized, hence some elements may have been deleted from the record.

Any Celtic divine figure that's covered in hair (or a hair coat) and initiating a Wild Hunt should have a Goddess of the Land somewhere in the background.  He's patently the Champion of Sovereignty.

She's missing from this story, but present and correct in related stories about St Tydecho.

The hermit saint lived with his sister. (On the rock? Or was he just a part time hermit, returning often to that nice house down in the valley?) 

St Tegfedd is also often referred to as a nun. (Perhaps the nunnery was on the rock too? We don't know! The Christian record doesn't say!)

Poor St Tegfedd had a terrible time of it.  She was abducted by Cynan, a prince in Powys, who was determined to make her his wife. St Tydecho prayed until Cynan and his warband went blind. He brought Tegfedd back and begged for forgiveness - laced with donations of land - to have his sight restored.

All of which is quite strange, because Tegfedd was already married to Cedig, son of Ceredig - the son of Cunedda who conquered the region still called Ceredigion. Only now her father (and presumably Tydecho's too) is Tegid Foel, the giant husband of the Goddess Cerridwen, who gave his name to Llyn Tegid, aka Bala, a few miles up the mountain-side.

Tegfedd gave birth to two sons - Afon (river) and Sant (Saint). The latter became King of Ceredigion and raped St Non (absolutely not the Mother Goddess also known as Mon or Don), who gave birth to St David and promptly became a virgin again.

Her name features in the village and huge reservoir of Llandegfad in Gwent.  Her church is surrounded by extremely ancient yew trees, which were sacred to the Druids (and believed to have been so in antiquity before that). It was once called Merthyr Tegfedd, because she was murdered there by Saxon invaders.

Do stop me when you spot Tegfedd Goddess of Sovereignty, won't you?

On the surface this is a fairly cut and dried scenario. In the year that Maelgwn Gwynedd rose to power, as chieftain of Gwynedd and Ynys Mon, he sought out Sovereignty, in order to become ritually wedded to the land.

Though he doesn't get the girl, he does sacrifice his white mares (by handing them over, whereby he couldn't claim them back), which WAS the moment of ritual husbandry.

Yes, it's utterly Pagan - and placed Maelgwn right at the center of a Druidic rite - but that's not enough for us to conclude that he too was Pagan.

There's a watered down element of this Sacred Marriage still in the coronation vows today. Queen Elizabeth II spoke the words, but she's still head of the Church of England and probably not a Druid.

However, something more could well have been going on here.

Three things struck me as odd. If we're going to treat this as a straight Sovereignty story, then these things don't seem to fit well at all.

  • Tegfedd's name means Fair/Beautiful Grave.  Sovereignty Goddesses tend to be called after a flower, or something white/innocent/pure, or a name recalling the Mother/Queen. Moreover, there aren't links with Cerridwyn, who was at least a muse, but more commonly considered as the Dark Mother.
  • The extreme emphasis on the fact that the stone is blue.
  • The land's bounty comes from Tydecho, as evidenced by the fact that he causes Lliathnant Waterfall to flow with milk.

Call it instinct rather than academia, but I think we're looking at Maelgwn Gwynedd's Bardic initiation hidden in symbolism here.

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Tegfedd: Beautiful Graves in Mawddwy

If her name is referencing burial sites, then we should find them. We most certainly do that, including an intriguing one involving three ladies.

If Tegfedd was ever a Sovereignty Goddess, then where are the graves that are reflected in Her name? The answer is everywhere on that mountainside. At least, they were.

Mawddwy overlooks Camlan. Arthur's legendary last battle was fought there. The place-name evidence fills that valley with graves.

But even without that, we know from a 19th century collection of local lore, penned by Griffith Edwards (Works, 1895), that there were once hundreds of cairns up there.

There was one called Pen Câd Cymry, which was over sixty yards wide. But they'd already gone by his time. Local farmers had gradually carried off all of the stones to use in walls and buildings.

Perhaps a greater significance may be attached to the three enormous barrows lying close to Llanymawddwy. They are called Carneddau'r Gwragedd, or Cairns of the Women.

The story goes that three mothers set out on a long walk across the mountain, determined to reach the church at Mawddwy in time for the service. A blizzard had set in, but this wasn't about to stop them. Except it did. All three died of exposure up there, and the barrows were built over them to mark the spot.

Christians. Building enormous Bronze Age style barrows. On top of a mountain, not down in the churchyard. Anything sound odd here to you too?

Another version that I've found, dating from 1875, states that it was the Chapel of Ease at Garthbeibio that was the women's destination. But that was dedicated to St Tydecho too. The cairns were erected by local women from all neighboring districts, who gathered up the stones in their aprons.

Also discovered close by were the remains of a 'stone chest'. This was a construction of six stones, so placed to form a space inside large enough for a man to lie down. Therein were ashes, along with bits of bone and human hair.

The good reverend recording all of this, in the 19th century, said that it was used for Druid sacrifice. There was a cell nearby - of what construction, he didn't write - which was found to hold an ancient skeleton, sitting on a slab, where he'd apparently starved to death. It was thought he'd been destined as a sacrifice, but he'd been forgotten about, for whatever reason.

Please do note that these are Victorian vicars and their congregations trying to explain things that occurred over a millennia before. Though the Welsh do have long memories, they're not all trained bards.

While no-one doubts that there was human sacrifice in the depths of British antiquity, the best that we can say here is that it's interesting to find such things recalled for this particular spot.

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Tegfedd's fair graves pre-dated the Celts. They certainly existed before either Druids or Christians had Her as their answer for them.

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I wrote the title to this section, then went digging in my bookshelves for a book I knew I possessed about Morgan Le Fey. I thought it might be helpful in supplying information for what I meant to write about here.

Then another slim volume - little more than a pamphlet really - quite literally fell on me.

It was Laurence Main's Camlan: The True Story?, which I'd totally forgotten that I owned. I bought it in 1997, and I'm not sure that it's even in print anymore. It mentions Tegfedd.

Incidentally, Laurence Main is the author of another book, which hours ago was the first that I added to this article. That too was about Camlan, but without the references to Tegfedd. That is a history and a walking guide. This is a psychic journey through a sacred landscape.

The beautiful correlation is not lost on me, even if the evidence isn't quite what's expected of a historian trying to join up the dots. It works on a Pagan level, and maybe that's all that matters.

Main's psychic quest was initiated by an English colleague channeling messages from Maelgwn Gwynedd. In this vision, Maelgwn was a warrior of the Goddess, and the champion of a strong, independent Celtic nation, free from the destructive influence of Rome. He directed the author to spend the night camped at Gwely Tydecho during Beltane, which he did.

Next morning, that caused him to be sitting in St Tydecho's Church in Mallwyd for an hour, waiting for a life. That's where he read the story that I've already recounted to you.

It all works perfectly to illustrate the point that I had been about to make.

The link between Tegfedd and the neolithic graves suggests a deeper wedding than that of ruler and land. The thing about graves is it puts somebody inside the Earth itself, within the context of a religion that believed in reincarnation. An initiate isn't wedded to Sovereignty here. They're nestled inside Her, like a child in the womb, ready to be reborn.

It pointed more towards Inner Sovereignty than Outer Rites.

A Shamanic journey of the mind and soul, awakening the Bardic awen, with Tegfedd occupying a role more commonly associated with Cerridwen. 

She's the Dark Mother chasing Her Gwion from the higher lake (Llyn Tegid) to the lower lake (Llyn Mawddwy), along a route that would take the Initiate through three long barrows dedicated to the Triple Goddess - here more akin to the Fata Morgana, the Matronae or the Weird Sisters (in the truest prophetic sense), than the Maiden, Mother and Crone.

A journey into death, then passing through those channels in a ritualistic rebirth, designed to see the world(s) through new eyes.

Traveling the path of a waterfall and stream running white, like nature itself had provided a mother's milk. A vigil on the bluestone, wedding the initiate to their awen, then down the slope of horses to the yew grove below.

Laurence Main is an initiated Druid. During his psychic venturing, Tegfedd was revealed as a Pagan priestess. She tended the wounded at Camlan. When a messenger found her, she returned to her brother's church in Mallwyd, in order to see if she may heal her legendary cousin's wounds.

It was Tegfedd who was there for Arthur, as he died in St Tydecho's Church. It was she who claimed custody of his body and whose spiritual legacy she held. She took him on a barge across Llyn Mawddwy.

In short, Main's quest led him to the conclusion that hidden behind the fading face of an obscure sixth century saint was the prototype for Morgan Le Fey.  Just as I'd been about to say. Only he framed her as a real human being, while I still see the Dark Muse of Bardic Awen, or an aspect of the Goddess of Inner Sovereignty.

One final point from Main on Tegfedd. In his research, he came across two legends regarding her demise. The first is the one that I discovered - the saintly woman who was killed in Gwent, when the Saxons broke over its borders. The second is that she (not Tydecho) was the one stoned to death.

Only Main searched for more information on the inner highways of Celtic questing. He learned through a medium not open to academic inquiry that it was Welsh villagers in Llandegfedd who stoned her to death. They'd discovered that she was a Pagan, and pregnant outside wedlock too.

Your choices regarding Tegfedd are clear:

  • Reject all that's been suggested and reinstate her as society would have it. Safely positioned as a Catholic Celtic saint, practically forgotten.
  • Accept my educated guesses, rooted as far as possible in academia, that She was a Druidic Muse of Inner Sovereignty.  A Dark Goddess of the Cauldron, inspiring psychic journeys of a Shamanic nature.
  • Accept a Druid's visions concerning her, revealed during a psychic journey of a Shamanic nature.

Of course, I'm not a Druid, I'm a Wiccan. They can all be true at the same time without any apparent contradiction!

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Tydecho, Celtic God of the Inner Underworld

After all this, you may be wondering who Tydecho is and what role He had to play.

Tydecho represents the gatekeeper of this Bardic questing, for those willing to embark upon a journey as much mental charged, as locked into a physical landscape.

He is the House of Dusk,  through which only those worthy may enter into the Dark Night of the Goddess. 

A son of the Underworld, whose rocky bed provides the first station beyond the Graves of the Women. A cradle to receive the newly reborn initiate, ready to be weaned on the glories that may now be revealed within their vision.

An eisteddfod upon his blue stone chair is now available to those who have earned the right to claim it. ('Eistedd' - to sit; 'fod' - to be) Perhaps here we glimpse the origin of the Gorsedd (throne), the ultimate prize for a Bardic Champion; not to mention the rocks which are placed to show that a Gorsedd was there.

Those who sit upon the blue stone Chair can never really get back up again. Upon some level they will, like Maelgwn, be stuck fast to it forever, because what has been seen cannot be unseen. Their inner eyes are opened to the essential life-force laid bare in the Dark Lady's cauldron, and the Mysteries now encircling.

Tegfedd's Gwion has become Tydecho's Taliesin; a bard whose inspiration is what the Gaelic Scots call Òran Mór - the Great Song, the melody of the world.

They have accessed a tremendous oneness, that lies at the core of all living things. They are both the Hunter and the Hunted; the peace that is found, heart to heart, when only truths may be spoken now. A bard awakened in this way may never compose songs of falsehood again, even if their lives depended upon it. They have accessed the point of Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd (the truth against the world), and there's no going back from that.

This then was the moment of Bardic initiation. Accepting the awen, earned upon surrendering all that bound them to self and society, and allowing oneself to enter a dream state unfettered by normal convention.

Maelgwn Gwynedd gave up his white horses - symbolic of Sovereignty, during the year when he became ruler - and they turned yellow.  Maelgwn stole Tydecho's bulls, and kept them for himself.

We can interpret this via another Welsh tale of Bardic seeing.

In The Dream of Rhonabwy, the eponymous hero enters into three days and three nights of a vision so profound, that we're still passing it on now. Rhonabwy accesses it by giving up the 'comfort' of a straw bed to lie wrapped in a yellow bull's hide.

Tydecho has been the Challenger all along. Bringing wild nature into the picture, revealing it all in its most magical aspect. Magic here meaning the wisdom of the mage.

That now becomes even more apparent, as He harnesses stags to his plough.

In Celtic spirituality, the King Stag frequently represents majesty in nature. (It's no accident that it was the subject of the painting The Monarch of the Glen.) 

It turns up in this capacity in a parable about the Goddess's Sovereignty Games. The King Stag fights the Young Stag, which takes its place as leader. In its turn, the Young Stag will grow into its prime, then past it, giving way to the next Young Stag able to defeat it. The King is dead, Goddess save the King!

But more to the point, the Horned God is popularly - though not exclusively - depicted with antlers upon His own head. The Wild Hunter IS the King Stag, and Tydecho is here fulfilling that role. Providing in His primal example - hair coat, existing outdoors - a stripping away of civilization and nurtured propriety, which allowed its Champion to work with natural forces.

The Hunter and the Hunted, both at the same time. The ruler and the ruled simultaneously.

And just to hammer home the imagery, Tydecho and his harnessed stags are chased by a grey wolf, the companion of Cernunnos.  All of which is answered by Maelgwn Gwynedd releasing his white dogs to hunt the wolf, Tydecho and the stags, adding to the cycle of Hunter and Hunted.

Why? In truth, I'm unsure, though I do have some guesses.

White is the color of Sovereignty, but also the color of the Cwm Annwn - the dogs of the Underworld - which over Maelgwn could be demonstrating his mastery.  There might also be significance in his own name:  Mael (warrior) gwn (hounds) Gwynedd (white). He understands the scene enough to insert himself into it?

The most important aspect being that this is the moment when Maelgwn sits upon the blue stone.

We hear no more about the wild nature scenes playing out upon the Rhiw y March (hill of the horses); that entire Sovereignty scene has vanished. Maelgwn is no longer contemplating his rule. Tydecho's Wild Hunt demonstration is over. All that matters is the blue stone and Maelgwn unable to put it aside.

Blue is the color of harmony, and the highest level of Druidry attained. It's also the color of the Bards, who wore sky-blue to signify they'd mentioned the requisite number of verses.

It's the color of the Bardic awen and visionary dreaming. A landscape open in truth, on all levels.

Blue stones, especially in the vicinity of a well, held extreme importance in the swearing of oaths. Any spoken there were absolutely binding.

There's some suggestion that this harks back to the time when human sacrifice was enacted on blue stone altars, though that practice possibly pre-dated the Druids. Those sacrificed became the messengers of their people, in petitioning deity.

Who could tell a lie, on the blue stone Gorsedd, in the presence of the divine, with all of the Mysteries open in their view?

Maelgwn duly does make an oath now, though it's framed in the Christian telling as promises of atonement for being naughty.

He commits to giving land and funding for Tydecho's Church, though that's suspect, given that Mawddwy wasn't in Gwynedd in the 6th century and therefore not Maelgwn's territory to donate. It may be an element added later to provide more weight to his contrition, or to add a date of 520 CE to the telling.

The Gwynedd ruler furthermore swears to uphold 'the privilege of sanctuary for a hundred ages so that neither man nor beast could be taken from his land; no battles, or burning, or killing to be admitted there.' 

In other words, a sacred place where everything runs wild and free. No social constraints. Peace.

Could this be why the legends also tell us that Maelgwn didn't fight at Camlan? He arrived with an army, which Arthur expected to help him win the day. But instead Maelgwn remained stationed in Brithdir, just across the valley, possibly condemning Arthur by inaction.

Finally Tydecho allows Maelgwn to rise from the blue stone Gorsedd. Every bard, however enlightened, has to enter the world again. Unmentioned, but a logical progression, is Tydecho's final role in the shamanic journey.

The gatekeeper - the House of Twilight - has two dwellings. Himself, and the place at the foot of the mountain. This is the final location for an initiate, a resting place for quiet contemplation, or a halfway house between the Otherworldly realm and reality.

That this is marked by a standing stone, within a grove of ancient yew trees, enclosed by the churchyard walls of St Tydecho's Church, shows just how long this has been a sacred site. Three religious eras encased around each other, like layers in the same, old story.

Representing the focal point for a Christian tale, embedded with Druidic symbolism, incorporating ancient monuments which were built to serve an older religion yet.

As for Tydecho and Tegfedd, they might be Christian saints terribly slandered by fertile imagination. But if not, then might they be more than a God and Goddess of the Druids, reconstructed through history and inspired visions? 

Could they even represent some distant memory of ancestral deities? Filtered through two religions from another, that we couldn't even begin to reconstruct. Perhaps one where the Wild Hunt held real and present danger, and the fair graves were filled, but the promised reward was worth lugging a heavy blue stone, all the way from Caer Angli, to a spot halfway up a mountain in Mawddwy.

Three in One Religions: Neolithic, Druid and Christian

Regardless of the truth or fantasy in all that you've read here today, that tiny spot in Wales has seen at least three religions layered on top of its landscape.

More About St Tydecho and St Tegfedd

Medieval monks used to visit each church and landmark left by this ancient Welsh saint. You could follow in their footsteps on a pilgrimage to St Tydecho.
Once St Tydecho was one of the most venerated of British saints. A cluster of churches bearing his name hints at that once important Tydecho pilgrimage trail.
Updated: 04/05/2015, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/01/2014

Having now been there, I can confirm the number/location of the churches: Llanmawddwy, Mallwyd, Garthbeibo, Cemmaes and one which no longer exists on the mountain ridge above Aberangell. The first is closed down/abandoned, though not in ruins. Mallwyd and Cemmaes have their doors unlocked, so you can go inside. Though the notices concerned the Church in Wales, the set up inside both looked Catholic. We unfortunately missed Garthbeibo, as it wasn't signposted from the main road, and time constraints forbade going to hunt for it.

JoHarrington on 04/20/2014

Llanymawddwy is right next to Dinas Mawddwy. The name alone suggests that there was once a dinas up there - Iron Age 'city' - and the archaeology is there to confirm it. Incidentally, there was once a huge lake too - Llyn Mawddwy - but that's disappeared over the centuries. You can still see the shape of the shoreline though.

The Green Lady, in this instance, followed after the Gwyllidian Coch Mawddwy - red-haired bandits who some think were a real Tudor period human clan, and others think were fairy. I'm currently sitting firmly on the fence with that one, as there's evidence either way.

frankbeswick on 04/20/2014

Green ladies are normally associated with castles, unless they are the only ones mentioned in the books. Was the house a manor house or an ancient building? These accounts confirm my vew that there is more to place than merely physical configuration.

JoHarrington on 04/19/2014

Ah! I suppose that the clue was in the name.

We've definitely nailed this, but I'm still coming up with stuff. It hadn't even occurred to me yet to check the area against the fairy legends. They're there. In abundance. We even have the Green Lady visiting a local house, and a whole horde of preternatural robbers.

Plus some suggestion that the Mallwyd church was positioned thus through supernatural guidance, but I'm yet to pin down that story. It's vicars have been some of the most important writers, translators and bards in Welsh history! (Ab Ithel for a start, translator of 'Y Goddodin')

frankbeswick on 04/19/2014

A chapel of ease! I should have known it. A church in a large parish might have an outlying chapel some miles away so that the minister can visit local congregations to give services, allowing them not to travel to the distant church. This is a chapel of ease.

Lying in a stone bed [grave] for three days and nights is a symbolic death; and rebirth follows. Heroes are in mythology twice born. The hero/king descends into the tomb/underworld for three days and returns to overcome death. It is only thus that having been reborn he can be a hero. Aengus Og at Newgrange went into the barrow, the womb of the goddess, and was reborn.

JoHarrington on 04/19/2014

Thank you for looking. I was wondering what was so unusual about it! The Cemmaes one used to have 'several enormous' yew trees, but most they were cut down in the 18th century. It doesn't tell us if they were arranged in a grove.

I thought that the three were: Mallwyd/Mawddwy, Cemmaes and Garthbeibo, with the last one being a chapel of ease for Mallwyd. Is that different to a church in any notable way?

I'm currently finding some interesting correlations between the Maelgwn story and Aengas Og at Newgrange. Particularly in the fact that they seem to be repeating the same oath AFTER a king has lay in a stone bed (Gwely Tydecho shades here) for three days and three nights.

I'm getting more convinced by the second that we're right here. Definitely Pagan origins.

frankbeswick on 04/19/2014

I have just looked and found two. The one at Mawddwy in the St Asaph diocese is sometimes described as being at Mallwyd and elsetimes at Mawddwy. This leads people to think that there are three, unless there is a third that I have missed.

Both churches are built on the site of a sixth century church, which was demolished for the newer build. The Mawddwy one has a slightly elongated design, which renders it a bit unusual [this is the one with mammoth bones.] In each case the sixth century church is lost. The evidence that they are originally pagan sites is that in each case the church yard is a bit unusual: the one in Bangor dioscese has a semicircular enclosure [a henge?] and the other a hexagonal one. Slightly odd for a church yard, but not very odd. The one in Mawddwy has an the remains of an earthwork nearby, the wall of which slopes down behind and away from the church, and as Mawddwy is on a rockey outcrop this could well be the site of a hill top henge. There could well be churches built into henges and other sacred enclosures.

Each churchyard has ancient yews indicating a pagan sacred place. At Cemmaes in Bangor diocese there are four of them, each very old, the oldest being near the lychgate, where corpses would be brought in, and there are three younger ones. I am unsure what to make of this. The one at Mawddwy has two holy wells nearby. This is another indication that it is a pagan site. One site has a boulder with a hole in it in the graveyard. This is a known kind of megalith.

Beyond this there seems to be nothing unusual about the churches. They were definitely constructed on ancient pagan sites.

JoHarrington on 04/19/2014

Since replying last time, I've also made a discovery. There are two MAMMOTH bones above the doorway in St Tydecho's Mallwyd church. I'm not just talking big bones, but actual mammoth bones. How cool is that? And yes, lovely touch regarding his possible antiquity, except they were only added there in 1914.

I've also called into doubt my own translation of Tydecho's name. The trouble is that 'decho' isn't actually a Welsh word. I'm now wondering if 'dechreu' is a closer fit - 'beginning' or 'originate' or 'to commence'. If so, then I'll have to go over my links to see if the scenario that I painted still fits.

I do like your linking them to an bodak agus an cailleach. I'm certainly familiar with the second of those names, and yes she fits beautifully with how I was aligning Tegfedd. I'll follow your lead with the coupling.

I agree with all else that you've said.

It might be worth you searching the internet for St Tydecho's churches (there are three), as I keep coming across references to them being unusual, without much information as to why. Thanks in advance.

frankbeswick on 04/19/2014

Having re-read this article I am convinced that we are dealing with a pair of neolithic deities. Tydecho is an elemental male: hair-covered and thus the embodiment of primitive, wild masculinity. I therefore suspect that he was a fertility deity, and that would make Tegfefdd his mate. She was no nun! These are a local embodiment of the deities that the Gaels called an bodak agus an cailleach, the old man and the old woman. This pair of deities had different local names across Europe, and are part of the Vanir. You know them as the Lord and the Lady.

There are other neolithic and bronze age elements here. The barrows and the mothers are ancient. The matrones [mothers] are triple goddesses shown in engravings right into the Roman period, when they had their own festival. As for the significance of blue stones, think Stonehenge. Blue stones from South Wales were shunted across to Wiltshire for their ritual use. This shows that they were valued in the neolithic. You are right to think of the barrows as representing belief in reincarnation, return to the womb of the mother. Goddess faiths tend to lead to belief in reincarnation,as returning to the goddess is returning to the womb.

There is still a shrine to an bodak agus an caiileach in Glen Lyon, which is tended by a local shepherd. Scottish fisherman used to stop at the island Gigha where they would seek luck from this pair and their daughter at an ancient shrine

I suspect that a monk re-rote the ancient tale as Christian, but as you said, the simple account in which Britian turns completely Christian over a few centuries was never historically valid.

JoHarrington on 04/19/2014

Hell, in that sense, is actually more akin to the Norse Helheim than anything described by Dante.

While you're feeling suspect about early saints from a Catholic prospective, us Pagans are certainly guilty of seeing old Gods concealed in them all. There was a real push to reclaim them a while ago, followed by the inevitable backlash from scholars telling us off about it.

To my mind, a few did creep in there - and I'm fairly certain that Tydecho and Tegfedd fit the bill - but the vast majority really were human beings and Christians too. However, it does appear that you couldn't pick up a prayer book in 6th century Wales without being made a saint! And those who did weren't above nicking a few Pagan elements to enrich their miraculous stories.

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