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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

Meet Y Telwyth Teg: The Five-fold Faeries of Wales

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Both Morgan le Faye and the Lady of the Lake may have been based on Welsh faeries known as Gwragedd Annwn.
Both Morgan le Faye and the Lady of the Lake may have been based on Welsh faeries known as Gwragedd Annwn.

Irish folklore is filled with stories of the Good People. Not to be outdone, the Scots and Welsh have their own faerie lore. Some of these Otherworldly beings are common across the Celtic cultures, such as the Puca (or Pwca in Wales) and various Water Horses (the Each-Uisce, Kelpies, and the Ceffyl Dwr). But each nation has faeries that are unique to it. And each has its own way of describing—or more accurately, classifying these magical beings. The Irish have Trooping Faeries and Solitary Faeries. You should try to steer far clear of the latter. The Scots have the Seeley Court, faeries who are more or less benevolent (although you always have to be careful with faeries!), and the Unseeley Court, who are malicious. The Welsh have one overarching term for the Fair Folk: Y Telwyth Teg. But under that umbrella are five different types of faeries. Today’s post will introduce you to them.

Y Telwyth Teg: An Overview

Although the Telwyth Teg are usually said to consist of the five types listed below, there also seems to be one more, a social group of faeries similar to the Irish Trooping Faeries. I say this because the Telewyth Teg are said to dance outside on moonlit nights dressed in flowing robes and to ride horses in faerie processions. They also are said to enjoy visiting humans and staying in their homes overnight, especially if the home is well-kept and there is an offering of cream for the Fair Folk (some of the faeries would prefer something stronger).

Stand with Ukraine.
Stand with Ukraine.

They seem to like humans and are willing to admit some to their society. Faerie women of Y Telwyth Teg sometimes marry human husbands, but these Fair Folk (female or male) are harmed by cold iron, so if the faerie wife touches it, she will disappear. In contrast to shapeshifting Scottish Selkies, who sometimes are tricked into marrying human men and will return to the sea (their natural form is seal-like) if they get the chance, the women of Y Telwyth Teg seem to marry humans willingly.

Like all Celtic faeries, the members of Y Telwyth Teg (“the Fair Family”) will bestow generous gifts on humans who win their favor by speaking well of them or doing them a kindness. On the other hand, again like their Irish and Scottish cousins, these faeries will bring disaster down on the heads of those who offend them.

But don’t be fooled by the Fair Family’s apparent benevolence. They like to steal fair-haired children, replacing them with changelings.

Bwbachod: Household Helpers

Similar to Scottish Brownies and Irish Gronochs, the Welsh Bwbachod adopt human families and move in with them. They then help the family out by doing household tasks while the family sleeps. Physically, they have dark skin and long noses. They are well-meaning in general, but they are faeries so they can be vindictive and get upset over seemingly innocent or minor offenses. In particular, Bwbachods detest people who abstain from alcohol and they can respond by hurling things at the offender. They also tend to react badly towards members of the clergy.

Coblynau: Faerie Miners

By knocking on cave walls, the Coblynau, Welsh mining faeries, lead miners to places where rich lodes lay hidden.
By knocking on cave walls, the Coblynau, Welsh mining faeries, lead miners to places where rich lodes lay hidden.

These faeries are tiny, only a foot and a half tall, but they do an invaluable service to Welsh miners. Dressed in mining outfits, they tend to work on their own, far away from the humans, at times, they will lead the miners to places where rich lodes lay hidden by knocking on the cave walls. Similar to the Cornish Knockers, the Coblynau also may warn miners of cave-ins.

Gwragedd Annwn: Ladies of the Lake

Of course, the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend is well-known, but she is not the only supernatural female who inhabits Wales’ freshwater lakes and rivers. There are numerous Lake Maidens and they are known collectively as the Gwragedd Annwn or “Annwn Wives.” Annwn is the Welsh name for the Otherworld.

These Fair Folk are quite fair. They have skin that is considerably pale. Other than that, they are extremely beautiful and alluring. Most of the time, they live underwater in palaces or even town-like communities that are hidden by the magic of glamor. It is said that their lakes often have a beautiful island paradise at their center, again invisible to human eyes. It is possible that Morgan le Fay may have been based on a Gwragedd Annwn since she, in early Arthurian literature, is depicted as a queen who rules the island of Avalon. Also, again in early Arthurian tales, she is a gifted healer. The Gwragedd Annwn are excellent healers, using herbal remedies.

The Gwragedd Annwn are different from other Celtic folklore water-dwelling faerie women in that they completely resemble humans and have no water creature characteristics. Scottish Selkies, in contrast, look like human women on land but shapeshift into their natural seal-like form when they go into the water. Irish Merrows are similar to mermaids, half-woman / half-fish. Even though these Lake Maidens have no apparent water creature characteristics, they can breathe underwater and can move through it easily it as if they were walking through air. And they can walk on land without shapeshifting at all.

These are the members of the Telwyth Teg who sometimes marry humans. But the choice is always theirs. They are never forced or tricked into the relationship. Once married, they will want to live away from town and prefer to reside near water.

If you go walking on mountain roads in Wales, be sure to bring a knife to protect yourself from a Gwyllion.
If you go walking on mountain roads in Wales, be sure to bring a knife to protect yourself from a Gwyllion.

Although they are beneficent by nature usually, they are quite possessive. Not just of their husbands. A Gwragedd Annwn will be fiercely possessive of everything she considers hers, even something as simple as a comb.

Gwyllion: Mountain Hags

The Gwyllion seem more like witches than faeries. They tend to haunt mountain paths and delight in confusing travelers and causing them to get lost. Folklore claims that a Gwyllion can cause you to lose your way even if you’re quite familiar with the road. Sometimes, this faerie will simply sit and watch the traveler. This is unnerving, especially since Gwyllions are said to look like terrifying hags and can make strange noises as well as cackling at you. The good news is this intimidating faerie can be banished simply by pointing a knife in her direction.

Ellyllon: Elves

It’s unusual to find elves listed as a type of faerie, but Welsh folklore has categorized them as a member of the Fair Family. These members of the Telwyth Teg hang out in valleys and groves. They wear foxglove flowers on their hands and like to eat toadstools. If they like you, they’ll grant you prosperity.

So, there you have it. Y Telwyth Teg is a somewhat unusual collection of Fair Folk. What do you think of them?

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Slán go fóill

All artwork for this post (except for the Ukrainian flag and the GIF) was done by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.

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