Wales shares with other Celtic countries an ancient mythology
and traditional lore, although much of this was suppressed
with the spread of Christianity from the fifth century on, and
a succession of conquests by Romans, Normans, and English.
Many of the enchanted stories of the King Arthur cycle are also
found in Welsh tradition.
In the seventeenth century, Puritanism took a firm hold,
and the spread of Methodism in the eighteenth century further
worked to eradicate traditions of magic, although the religious
revivals of the late nineteenth century had a wild, almost Pagan
flavor about them and were accompanied by the appearance of
various forms of paranormal phenomena.
Ancient Traditions
One of the great sources of Welsh legends is the Mabinogion,
dating from medieval times, containing stories for oral
recitation by bards in the halls of the ancient princes of Wales.
Typical motifs in these tales are supernatural birth, visits to the
Other World, and magic shape-changing. Rhiannon, the wife
of Pwyll, possessed marvelous birds that came from the Unseen
World, and their singing held warriors spellbound for 80 years.
In another story, Lvevelys helps his brother Lludd to eradicate
three plagues that have devastated Britain—the Coranians, a
strange race whose knowledge is infinite and who hear everything
uttered, even the softest whisper; a horrifying shriek that
penetrates every house on a May evening, caused by the battle
between two dragons; and a great giant who carries off all the
food from the king’s palace.
A well-known story is that of the birth of Taliesin, chief of
the bards of the west. The hero, Gwion Bach, goes to the Land
under Waves at the bottom of Lake Bala in North Wales. There
he finds the giant Tegid the Bald and his wife Ceridwen, goddess
of poetry and knowledge. Ceridwen owns an immense
cauldron in which she brews a mixture of science and inspiration,
with the aid of her books of magic. This great brew has to
simmer for a year and a day, and she sets the blind man Morda
to keep the fire going and Gwion to stir the brew. It is to yield
three magical drops.
Toward the end of the year, as Ceridwen is picking herbs
and making incantations, three drops of the brew spurt out of
the cauldron and fall upon Gwion Bach’s finger. With the sudden
heat on his finger, he puts it into his mouth to cool, whereupon
the three drops instantly give him knowledge and meaning
of all things, and he becomes aware that he must guard
against Ceridwen’s cunning, so he flees to his own land. Meanwhile
the cauldron bursts and the rest of the brew is a black poiWaldensians
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
son that overflows into the waters, poisoning the horses of Gwyddno
Ceridwen seizes a billet of wood and strikes blind Morda on
the head, but he declares that he is innocent and that it is the
fault of Gwion Bach. She runs in pursuit of Gwion, but he sees
her coming and changes himself into a hare. She changes herself
into a greyhound and follows him. He runs toward a river
and becomes a fish, but she, in the form of an otter, chases him
under the water, so he must turn himself into a bird. She becomes
a hawk and gives him no rest in the sky. Just as she is
going to swoop on him, he sees a heap of winnowed wheat on
the floor of a barn, so he drops among the wheat and turns
himself into one of the grains. She turns herself into a black
hen, scratches at the wheat and swallows him.
She carries him for nine months and is delivered of him, but
cannot kill him because of his beauty, so she wraps him in a
leather bag and casts him into the sea to the mercy of God. He
is carried into the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir and found by
Prince Elphin, who has come to catch fish in his net. Elphin renames
him Taliesin, which can mean ‘‘beautiful brow’’ or
‘‘great value.’’
Wales is also considered a center for the cult of the Druids
(brought by the Celts), who came into Wales as early as 200
B.C.E. They were said to practice human sacrifice, although it
has also been claimed that the victims were criminals. They also
employed methods of divination.
The Druids are thought to have come from ancient Gaul,
where they were suppressed in the Roman Conquest as a rival
source of power and prestige. The historian Pliny the Elder recorded
their association with the mistletoe plant in their sacred
He also mentioned a mysterious object used by the Druids,
which he named the ‘‘serpent’s egg.’’ It was roughly the size
and shape of a small apple, and it was said that a mass of hissing
serpents threw this egg into the air. If it could be caught in a
white cloak before touching the ground, it would convey powers
of magic to the possessor, such as the ability to float against
a river current, and success in legal undertakings.
Witchcraft and Demonology
Sir Dafydd Llwyd, who lived in Cardiganshire in the reign
of Charles II, had studied black magic at Oxford. He practiced
as a physician and was famous for his wonderful cures, but his
skill was owed to a familiar spirit or demon that he kept locked
up in a book of spells. One day, the story is told, he accidently
left this grimoire behind and sent his pageboy home to fetch
it, commanding him to on no account open it. Like most lads
the boy could not resist being inquisitive; he lifted the cover
and turned over the leaves, with their weird inscriptions.
Suddenly there came forth a huge demon who frowned and
in a hoarse grumbling voice asked to be set to work. In spite of
his terror, the boy had the wit to say, ‘‘Fetch me some stones
out of the River Wye.’’ In a few moments, stones and pebbles
began hurtling through the air, when Sir Dafydd, aware that
something was wrong, came hurrying back and conjured the
spirit back into the book before any serious harm could be
As early as the twelfth century, Christian priests in Wales
were warned about letting the Eucharistic Host get into the
hands of magicians and witches, who might secretly slip it out
of their mouths and hide it in a handkerchief or glove. In 1582
the wife of Edward Jones was called upon to prove to the satisfaction
of the archdeacon of Lewes ‘‘that she did eat the Communion
bread and put yt not in hir glove.’’
As late as the opening years of the eighteenth century, two
old dames were said to have attended the morning service at
Llanddewi Brefi Church to partake of Holy Communion, but
instead of eating it like the other communicants, they kept it
in their mouths and went out. Then they walked round the
church nine times, and at the ninth circuit the Devil came out
of the church wall in the form of a frog, to whom they gave the
Host from their mouths, and by doing this, sold themselves to
Satan and became witches.
There are many stories about Dr. John Harries
(1785–1839), a celebrated Welsh physician and seer of Cërt-yCadno,
Carmarthenshire, who was said to possess a great book
of magic, which was kept locked to prevent any ignorant person
from letting loose its powerful influences. Harries boasted of
his knowledge of future and distant events, imparted to him by
familiar spirits.
Belief in witchcraft persisted into the twentieth century in
Wales, but it concerned ‘‘white witches’’ who cast useful spells
and horoscopes, or averted evil events. In 1933 there was a wise
man in Llangwrig, Montgomeryshire, who was famous
throughout Wales for breaking the spells of witches. He kept
his book of divination and an almanac in a rosewood casket.
In November 1936 a correspondent in John O’London’s Weekly
stated that ‘‘even now belief in witchcraft in the upper parts
of the Wye Valley is not quite extinct.’’ In the following month,
another correspondent stated ‘‘When we lived in a small village
in Montgomeryshire some years ago we found a widespread
belief in witchcraft among the farmers of the district.’’
If the cattle became sick, farmers visited the wise man to find
out who had bewitched their beasts. If two farmers had a serious
quarrel, one of them went to the wise man to obtain a charm
to injure his neighbor.
Phenomena at Religious Revivals
Welsh preaching is celebrated for its fervor, and the traditional
hwyl or peroration of a sermon is said to have magic effects.
During the nineteenth century, there were reports of
mysterious luminous phenomena associated with revivalism,
and such accounts were given again in 1904 and 1905 during
the inspired revival campaigns of Mary Jones of Egryn. Jones
was a happily married peasant woman with a family, when in
December 1904 she received beatific visions instructing her to
undertake the work of religious revival that had earlier been
the mission of the preacher Evan Roberts in Glamorgan.
The first night of Jones’ mission was marked by the appearance
of a mysterious star and various lights. She herself reported
seeing ‘‘a circle of small stars, encompassing a cross of diamond
stars, and on this cross at times the draped figure of the
Saviour.’’ The strange luminous phenomena were witnessed by
other individuals. A skeptical businessman was driving her
home one evening from a meeting, and prayed that he might
be accorded a sign if she was indeed a divinely ordained
preacher. Immediately there appeared above the road, in front
of the car, a misty star. As the man gazed a luminous cross was
formed inside it, sparkling with diamonds, and upon this was
a draped figure with bowed head.
On another occasion, Jones herself reported seeing the
Devil, who first appeared in the figure of a man, but when she
started singing revival hymns, suddenly stopped, turned on her
and became transformed into an enormous black dog. She
prayed for strength, and the dog rushed growling into a hillock.
The star and the light were seen by many people from the
first day of Jones’ mission. The star seemed to rest above particular
houses where converts later came to the meetings. It also
followed her on her journeys. On her trip to Criccieth, for example,
the lights were witnessed by the people with her. At
Bryncrug, a few miles inland from Towyn, the gallery of the
chapel was flooded during the service by the mysterious light.
After the service, the light, in the form of a ball of fire casting
its rays down to earth, was seen by a party of young quarrymen.
Overtaking the light, which had stopped, they knelt down in
the middle of the road and held a prayer meeting, bathed in
the unearthly light.
Some of these lights and their movements are reminiscent
of many modern accounts of UFOs.
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. WALES
The Gardnerian Revival
In the last generation, growing out of the initial work of
Gerald B. Gardner (the witch of the Isle of Man), a new neopagan
witchcraft or Wicca movement spread from England
through the British Isles, the lands of the commonwealth, and
the United States. As the movement grew and broke into numerous
segments, there arose a number who attached themselves
to Welsh witchcraft traditions. Among the early covens
in the northeastern United States in the 1970s were the New
York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witchcraft and the New England
Coven of Welsh Traditional Witchcraft, which supplemented
their Gardnerian rituals with material from folkloric,
archeological, and anthropological texts on Wales. Several significant
groups—the most notable possibly the Church and
School of Wicca (Box 1502, New Bern, NC 28560) and the
Cymry Wicca (Box 4196, Athens, GA 30605)—claim to draw on
Welsh traditions. In addition, many modern witches, drawing
on the Mabinogion, have chosen such names as Ceridwen and
Taliesin as their religious names.
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston, Mass. Beacon
Press, 1987.
Charlton, I. W. The Revival in Wales. London, 1905. (Pamphlet)
Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. London Faber & Faber,
Guest, Lady Charlotte, trans. The Mabinogion From the Llyfr
Coch o Hergest. 3 vols. London, 1948.
Jones, Edmund. A Relation of Ghosts and Apparitions Which
Commonly Appear in the Principality of Wales. Bristol, England
Jones, T. Gwynn. Welsh Folklore and Folk Customs. London
Methuen, 1930.
Morgan, J. V. The Welsh Religious Revival, 1904–05. London
Chapman & Hall, 1909.