Copyright
John Rhys.

Celtic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) online

. (page 32 of 35)
Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 32 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


he remembered it being cleaned out about fifty years
ago, when two basinfuls of pins were taken out, but
no coin of any kind. The pins were all bent, and
I conclude the intention was to exorcise the evil spirit
supposed to afflict the person who dropped them in, or,
as the Welsh say, dadwitsio. No doubt some ominous
words were also used. The well is at present nearly
dry, the field where it lies having been drained some
years ago, and the water in consequence withdrawn
from it. It was much used for the cure of warts. The
wart was washed, then pricked with a pin, which, after
being bent, was thrown into the well. There is a very
large and well-known well of the kind at C'lynnog,
Ffynnon Beuno, " St. Beuno's Well," which was con-
sidered to have miraculous healing powers ; and even
yet, I believe, some people have faith in it. Ffynnon
Faglan is, in its construction, an imitation, on a smaller
scale, of St. Beuno's Well at C'lynnog.'



364 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

In the cliffs at the west end of ILeyn is a wishing- well
called Ffynnon Fair, or St. Mary's Well, to the left of
the site of Eglwys Fair, and facing Ynys Entti, or
Bardsey. Here, to obtain your wish, you have to
descend the steps to the well and walk up again to the
top with your mouth full of the water ; and then you
have to go round the ruins of the church once or more
times with the water still in your mouth. Viewing the
position of the well from the sea, I should be disposed
to think that the realization of one's wish at that price
could not be regarded as altogether cheap. Myrctin
Farct also told me that there used to be a well near
Criccieth Church. It was known as Ffynnon y Saint,
or the Saints' Well, and it was the custom to throw
keys or pins into it on the morning of Easter Sunday,
in order to propitiate St. Catherine, who was the patron
of the well. I should be glad to know what this exactly
meant.

Lastly, a few of the wells in that part of Gwyned may
be grouped together and described as oracular. One of
these, the big well in the parish of ILanbedrog in ILeyn,
as I learn from Myrdin Farct, required the devotee to
kneel by it and avow his faith in it. When this had
been duly done, he might proceed in this wise : to
ascertain, for instance, the name of the thief who had
stolen from him, he had to throw a bit of bread into the
well and name the person whom he suspected. At the
name of the thief the bread would sink ; so the inquirer
went on naming all the persons he could think of until
the bit of bread sank, when the thief was identified.
How far is one to suppose that we have here traces of
the influences of the water ordeal common in the Middle
Ages? Another well of the same kind was Ffynnon
Saethon, in ILanfihangel Bachettaeth parish, also in
ILeyn. Here it was customary, as he had it in writing,



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 365

for lovers to throw pins (pinnan) into the well ; but
these pins appear to have been the points of the black-
thorn. At any rate, they cannot well have been of any
kind of metal, as we are told that, if they sank in the-
water, one concluded that one's lover was not sincere in
his or her love.

Next may be mentioned a well, bearing the remark-
able name of Ffynnon Gwynecf, or the Well of Gwyned,
which is situated near Mynyd Mawr, in the parish of
Abererch : it used to be consulted in the following
manner : When it was desired to discover whether an
ailing person would recover, a garment of his would be
thrown into the well, and according to the side on which
it sank it was known whether he would live or die.

Ffynnon Gybi, or St. Cybi's Well, in the parish of
ILangybi, was the scene of a somewhat similar practice ;
for there, girls who wished to know their lovers' inten-
tions would spread their pocket-handkerchiefs on the
water of the well, and, if the water pushed the handker-
chiefs to the south in Welsh ir de they knew that
everything was right in Welsh o cfe and that their
lovers were honest and honourable in their intentions ,
but, if the water shifted the handkerchiefs northwards,
they concluded the contrary. A reference to this is
made by a modern Welsh poet, as follows :

Ambett (fyn, gwaelffyn, a gyrch Some folks, worthless 1 folks, visit

/ bant gorls Mod Bentyrch, A hollow below Moel Bentyrch.

Mewn gobaith mai hen Gybi In hopes that ancient Kybi

. Glodfawr sy yn ttwydaw'r Hi. Of noble fame blesses the flood.

The spot is not far from where Myrdin Fard lives ;
and he mentioned, that adjoining the well is a building
which was probably intended for the person in charge

1 In the neighbourhood I find that the word guiaelilyn in this vcrs. i
sometimes explained to mean not a worthless but an ailing person, on tl
strength of the fact that the adjective gwael is colloquially used both 1.

and for ailing.



366 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

of the well : it has been tenanted within his memory.
Not only for this but also for several of the foregoing
items of information am I indebted to Myrdin ; and now
I come to Mrs. Williams-Ellis, of Glasfryn Uchaf, who
tells me that one day not long ago, she met at ILangybi a
native who had not visited the place since his boyhood :
he had been away as an engineer in South Wales nearly
all his life, but had returned to see an aged relative. So
the reminiscences of the place filled his mind, and,
among other things, he said that he remembered very
well what concern there was one day in the village at
a mischievous person having taken a very large eel out
of the well. Many of the old people, he said, felt that
much of the virtue of the well was probably taken away
with the eel. To see it coiling about their limbs when
they went into the water was a good sign : so he gave
one to understand. As a sort of parallel I may mention
that I have seen the fish living in Ffynnon Bcris, not far
from the parish church of ILanberis. It is jealously
guarded by the inhabitants, and when it was once or
twice taken out by a mischievous stranger he was forced
to put it back again. However, I never could get the
history of this sacred fish, but I found that it was re-
garded as very old l . I may add that it appears the well

1 Since writing the above remarks the following paragraph, purporting to
be copied from the Liverpool Mercury for November 18, 1896, appeared in
the Archceologia Cambrensis for 1899, p. 334: 'Two new fishes have just
been put in the " Sacred Well," Ffynnon y Sant, at Tyn y Ffynnon, in the
village of Nant Peris, ILanberis. Invalids in large numbers came, during
the last century and the first half of the present century, to this well to
drink of its " miraculous waters " ; and the oak box, where the contributions
of those who visited the spot were kept, is still in its place at the side of the
well. There have always been two " sacred fishes " in this well ; and there
is a tradition in the village to the effect that if one of the Tyn y Ffynnon
fishes came out of its hiding-place when an invalid took some of the water
for drinking or for bathing purposes, cure was certain ; but if the fishes
remained in their den, the water would do those who took it no good.
Two fishes only are to be put in the well at a time, and they generally live
in its waters for about half a century. If one dies before the other, it would



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 367

called Ffynnon Fair, ' Mary's Well/ at Lanctwyn, in
Anglesey, used formerly to have inhabiting it a sacred
fish, whose movements indicated the fortunes of the
love-sick men and maidens who visited there the shrine
of St. Dwynwen 1 . Possibly inquiry would result in
showing that such sacred fish have been far more
common once in the Principality than they are now.

The next class of wells to claim our attention consists
of what I may call fairy wells, of which few are men-
tioned in connexion with Wales ; but the legends about
them are of absorbing interest. One of them is in
Myrdin Fard's neighbourhood, and I questioned him
a good deal on the subject : it is called Ffynnon Grassi,
or Grace's Well, and it occupies, according to him, a
few square feet he has measured it himself of the
south-east corner of the lake of Glasfryn Uchaf, in the
parish of ILangybi. It appears that it was walled in,
and that the stone forming its eastern side has several
holes in it, which were intended to let water enter the
well and not issue from it. It had a door or cover on
its surface ; and it was necessary to keep the door
always shut, except when water was being drawn.
Through somebody's negligence, however, it was once
on a time left open : the consequence was that the water

be of no use to put in a new fish, for the old fish would not associate with it,
and it would die. The experiment has been tried. The last of the two
fishes put in the well about fifty years ago died last August. It had been
blind for some time previous to its death. When taken out of the water it
measured seventeen inches, and was buried in the garden adjoining the
well. It is stated in a document of the year 1776 that the parish clerk was
to receive the money put in the box of the well by visitois. This money,
together with the amount of 6s. 4^. , was his annual stipend.' Tyn y Ffynnon
means 'the Tenement of the Well,' tyn being a shortened form of /u/,/;.
' a tenement,' as mentioned at p. 33 above ; but the mapsters make it into
ty'n = ty yn, 'a house in,' so that the present instance, Tytiy Ffymin.
could only mean 'the House in the Well,' which, needless to say, It i.s n<-t.
But one would like to know whether the house and land were once held
rent-free on condition that the tenant took care of the sacred fish.
1 See Ashton's Mo Goch, p. 234, and Lewis' Top. Diet.



368 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

of the well flowed out and formed the Glasfryn Lake,
which is so considerable as to be navigable for small
boats. Grassi is supposed in the locality to have been
the name of the owner of the well, or at any rate of a
lady who had something to do with it. Grassi, or Grace,
however, can only be a name which a modern version
of the legend has introduced. It probably stands for
an older name given to the person in charge of the well ;
to the one, in fact, who neglected to shut the door ; but
though the name must be comparatively modern, the
story, as a whole, does not appear to be at all modern,
but very decidedly the contrary.

So I w T rote in 1893 ; but years after my conversa-
tion with Myrdin Fard, my attention was called to the
fact that the Glasfryn family, of which the Rev. J. C.
Williams-Ellis is the head, have in their coat of arms a
mermaid, who is represented in the usual way, holding
a comb in her right hand and a mirror in her left.
I had from the first expected to find some kind of
Undine or Liban story associated with the well and the
lake, though I had abstained from trying the risky
effects of leading questions ; but when I heard of the
heraldic mermaid I wrote to Mr. Williams-Ellis to ask
whether he knew her history. His words, though not
encouraging as regards the mermaid, soon convinced
me that I had not been wholly wrong in supposing
that more folklore attached to the well and lake than
I had been able to discover. Since then Mrs. Williams-
Ellis has taken the trouble of collecting on the spot all
the items of tradition which she could find : she com-
municated them to me in the month of March, 1899,
and the following is an abstract of them, preceded by
a brief description of the ground :

The well itself is at the foot of a very green field-
bank at the head of the lake, but not on the same level



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 369

with it, as the lake has had its waters lowered half
a century or more ago by the outlet having been
cut deeper. Adjoining the field containing the well is
a larger field, which also slopes down to the lake and
extends in another direction to the grounds belonging
to the house. This larger field is called Cae'r Ladi,
' the Lady's Field/ and it is remarkable for having in
its centre an ancient standing stone, which, as seen
from the windows of the house, presents the appear-
ance of a female figure hurrying along, with the wind
slightly swelling out her veil and the skirt of her dress.
Mr. Williams-Ellis remembers how when he was a
boy the stone was partially white-washed, and how an
old bonnet adorned the top of this would-be statue, and
he thinks that an old shawl used to be thrown over the
shoulders.

Now as to Grassi, she is mostly regarded as a ghostly
person somehow connected with the lake and the house
of Glasfryn. One story is to the effect, that on a certain
evening she forgot to close the well, and that when the
gushing waters had formed the lake, poor Grassi, over-
come with remorse, wandered up and down the high
ground of Cae'r Ladi, moaning and weeping. There, in
fact, she is still at times to be heard lamenting her fate,
especially at two o'clock in the early morning. Some
people say that she is also to be seen about the lake, which
is now the haunt of some half a dozen swans. But on the
whole her visits appear to have been most frequent and
troublesome at the house itself. Several persons still
living are mentioned, who believe that they have seen
her there, and two of them, Mrs. Jones of Talafon, and
old Sydney Griffith of Tydyn Bach, agree in the main
in their description of what they saw, namely, a tall
lady with well marked features and large bright eyes :
she was dressed in white silk and a white velvet bonnet.



RHYS



370 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

The woman, Sydney Griffith, thought that she had seen
the lady walking several times about the house and in
Cae'r Ladi. This comes, in both instances, from a
young lady born and bred in the immediate neighbour-
hood, and studying now at the University College of
North Wales ; but Mrs. Williams-Ellis has had similar
accounts from other sources, and she mentions tenants
of Glasfryn who found it difficult to keep servants there,
because they felt that the place was haunted. In fact
one of the tenants himself felt so unsafe that he used to
take his gun and his dog with him to his bedroom at
night; not to mention that when the Williams-Ellises
lived themselves, as they do still, in the house, their
visitors have been known to declare that they heard
the strange plaintive cry out of doors at two o'clock in
the morning.

Traces also of a very different story are reported by
Mrs. Williams-Ellis, to the effect that when the water
broke forth to form the lake, the fairies seized Grassi
and changed her into a swan, and that she continued in
that form to live on the lake sixscore years, and that
when at length she died, she loudly lamented her lot :
that cry is still to be heard at night. This story is in
process apparently of being rationalized ; at any rate
the young lady student, to whom I have referred, re-
members perfectly that her grandfather used to explain
to her and the other children at home that Grassi was
changed into a swan as a punishment for haunting
Glasfryn, but that nevertheless the old lady still visited
the place, especially when there happened to be
strangers in the house. At the end of September last
Mrs. Rhys and I had the pleasure of spending a few
days at Glasfryn, in the hope of hearing the plaintive
wail, and of seeing the lady in white silk revisiting her
familiar haunts. But alas ! our sleep was never once



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 371

disturbed, nor was our peace once troubled by sus-
picions of anything uncanny. This, however, is nega-
tive, and characterized by the usual weakness of all
such evidence.

It is now time to turn to another order of facts : in
the first place may be mentioned that the young lady
student's grandmother used to call the well Ffynnon
Grds Sion Gruffuct', as she had always heard that Gras
was the daughter of a certain Sion Gruffyd, 'John
Griffith/ who lived near the well ; and Mrs. Williams-
Ellis finds that Gras was buried, at a very advanced
age, on December 14, 1743, at the parish church of
ILangybi, where the register describes her as Grace
Jones, alias Grace Jones Griffith. She had lived till the
end at Glasfryn, but from documents in the possession
of the Glasfryn family it is known that in 1728 Hugh
Lloyd of Trattwyn purchased the house and estate of
Glasfryn from a son of Grace's, named John ab Cad-
waladr, and that Hugh Lloyd of Trattwyn's son, the
Rev. William Lloyd, sold them to Archdeacon Ellis,
from whom they have descended to the Rev. J. C.
Williams-Ellis. In the light of these facts there is no
reason to connect the old lady's name very closely with
the well or the lake. She was once the dominant
figure at Glasfryn, that is all ; and when she died she
was as usual supposed to haunt the house and its
immediate surroundings ; and if we might venture to
suppose that Glasfryn was sold by her son against her
will, though subject to conditions which enabled her
to remain in possession of the place to the day of her
death, we should have a further explanation, perhaps,
of her supposed moaning and lamentation.

In the background, however, of the story, one detects
the possibility of another female figure, for it may be
that the standing stone in Cae'r Ladi represents a

B b 2



372 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

woman buried there centuries before Grace ruled at
Glasfryn, and that traditions about the earlier lady
have survived to be inextricably mixed with those con-
cerning the later one. Lastly, those traditions may
have also associated the subject of them with the well
and the lake ; but I wish to attach no importance to
this conjecture, as we have in reserve a third figure of
larger possibilities than either Grace or the stone woman.
It needs no better introduction than Mrs. Williams-
Ellis' own words : ' Our younger boys have a crew of
three little Welsh boys who live near the lake, to join
them in their boat sailing about the pool and in camping
on the island, &c. They asked me once who Morgan
was, whom the little boys were always saying they were
to be careful against. An old man living at Tal ILyn,
" Lake's End," a farm close by, says that as a boy he
was always told that " naughty boys would be carried
off by Morgan into the lake." Others tell me that
Morgan is always held to be ready to take off trouble-
some children, and somehow Morgan is thought of as
a bad one.' Now as Morgan carries children off into
the pool, he would seem to issue from the pool, and to
have his home in it. Further, he plays the same part
as the fairies against whom a Snowdonian mother used
to warn her children : they were on no account to
wander away from the house when there was a mist,
lest the fairies should carry them to their home beneath
ILyn Dwythwch. In other words, Morgan may be said
to act in the same way as the mermaid, who takes a sailor
down to her submarine home ; and it explains to my
mind a discussion which I once heard of the name
Morgan by a party of men and women making hay one
fine summer's day in the neighbourhood of Ponterwyd,
in North Cardiganshire. I was a child, but I remember
vividly how they teased one of their number whose



vi] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 373

'style' was Morgan. They hinted at dreadful things
associated with the name ; but it was all so vague that
I could not gather that his great unknown namesake
was a thief, a murderer, or any kind of ordinary criminal.
The impression left on my mind was rather the notion of
something weird, uncanny, or non-human ; and the fact
that the Welsh version of the Book of Common Prayer
calls the Pelagians Morganiaid, ' Morgans,' does not offer
an adequate explanation. But I now see clearly that it
is to be sought in the indistinct echo of such folklore as
that which makes Morgan a terror to children in the
neighbourhood of the Glasfryn Lake.

The name, however, presents points of difficulty
which require some notice : the Welsh translators of
Article IX in the Prayer Book were probably wrong in
making Pelagians into Morganiaid, as the Welsh for
Pelagius seems to have been rather Morien T , which in
its oldest recorded form was Morgen, and meant sea-
born, or offspring of the sea. In a still earlier form it
must have been Morigenos, with a feminine Morigena,
but when the endings came to be dropped both vocables
would become Morgen, later Morien. I do not remember
coming across a feminine Morgen in Welsh, but the pre-
sumption is that it did exist. For, among other things,
I may mention that we have it in Irish as Mnirgcn, one
of the names of the lake lady Liban, who, when the
waters of the neglected well rushed forth to form
Lough Neagh, lived beneath that lake until she desired
to be changed into a salmon. The same conclusion
may be drawn from the name Morgain or Morgan, given
in the French romances to one or more water ladies ;
for those names are easiest to explain as the Brythonic
Morgen borrowed from a Welsh or Breton source,
unless one found it possible to trace it direct to the

1 See my Hibbcrt Lectures, p. 229, and the Mo MSS., pp. 42-3* 420-1



374 CELTIC FOLKLORE [CH.

Goidels of Wales. No sooner, however, had the con-
fusion taken place between Morgen and the name which
is so common in Wales as exclusively a man's name,
than the aquatic figure must also become male. That
is why the Glasfryn Morgan is now a male, and not
a female like the other characters whose role he plays.
But while the name was in Welsh successively Morgen
and Morien, the man's name was Morcant, Morgant, or
Morgan l , so that, phonologically speaking, no confusion
could be regarded as possible between the two series.
Here, therefore, one detects the influence, doubtless,
of the French romances which spoke of a lake lady
Morgain, Morgan, or Morgue. The character varied :
Morgain le Fay was a designing and wicked person ;
but Morgan was also the name of a well disposed lady
of the same fairy kind, who took Arthur away to be
healed at her home in the Isle of Avallon. We seem
to be on the track of the same confusing influence of
the name, when it occurs in the story of Geraint and
Enid ; for there the chief physician of Arthur's court is
called Morgan Tut or Morgant Tut, and the word tut
has been shown by M. Loth to have meant the same
sort of non-human being whom an eleventh-century
Life of St. Maudez mentions as quidam dcemon quern
Britones Tuthe appellant. Thus the name Morgan Tut

1 A curious note bearing on this name occurs in the Jesus College MS. 20
(Cymmrodor, viii. p. 86) in reference to the name Morgannwg, ' Glamorgan':
O en6 Morgant vc/iot y gelwir Morgann6c. Ereitt a dyweit, Mae o en6
Mochteyrn Predein. ' It is from the name of the above Morgan that
Morgannwg is called. Others say that it is from the name of the mechdeyrn
of Pictland.' The mochteyrn must have been a Pictish king or mormaer
called Morgan. The name occurs in the charters from the Book of Deer in
Stokes' Goidclica, pp. 109, in, as Morcunt, Morcunn, and Morgunn unde-
clined, also with Morgainn for genitive ; and so in Skene's Chronicles of the
Picts and Scots, pp. 77, 317, where it is printed Morgaind; see also Stokes'
Tigernach, in the Revue Celtique, xvii. 198. Compare Geoffrey's story,
ii. 15, which introduces a northern Marganus to account for the name
Margan, now Margam, in Morgannwg.



vr] FOLKLORE OF THE WELLS 375

is meant as the Welsh equivalent of the French Morgain
le Fay or Morgan la Fee l ; but so long as the compiler
of the story of Geraint and Enid employed in his Welsh
the form Morgan, he had practically no choice but to
treat the person called Morgan as a man, whether that
was or was not the sex in the original texts on which
he was drawing. Of course he could have avoided the
difficulty in case he was aware of it, if he had found
some available formula in use like Mary-Morgant, said
to be a common name for a fairy on the island of
Ouessant, off the coast of Brittany.

Summarizing the foregoing notes, we seem to be
right in drawing the following conclusions : (i) The
well was left in the charge of a woman who forgot to
shut it, and when she saw the water bursting forth, she
bewailed her negligence, as in the case of her counter-
part in the legend of Cantre'r Gwaelod. (2) The
original name of the Glasfryn ' Morgan ' was Morgen,
later Morien. (3) The person changed into a swan on
the occasion of the Glasfryn well erupting was not
Grassi, but most probably Morgen. And (4) the char-
acter was originally feminine, like that of the mermaid
or the fairies, whose role the Glasfryn Morgan plays ;
and more especially may one compare the Irish Muirgen,
the Morgen more usually called Liban. For it is to be



Online LibraryJohn RhysCeltic folklore, Welsh and Manx (Volume 1) → online text (page 32 of 35)