The Mad Science of Gwydion
‘Again, he dare not answer, face
the forces he thought he had tamed.’
He used to be
the greatest magician in the world
before something in his mind slipped,
gwydd became gwyddioniaeth,
and magic madness.
Haunted by the mocking
call of an owl
he stays up all night
on the X-Ray machine staring
at the nucleii within seeds
and cursing the laws
of sexual reproduction -
genes, chromosomes, DNA,
the dance of sister chromatids
crossing over laughing,
his failure to transplant the gene
of obedience into a woman.
At 3am he rings Gofannon
to discuss the potential of AI
to create a new wife for Lleu,
an army of obedient women
marching to his command like trees.
When there is no answer leaves
another desperate message.
He paces his laboratory,
searches every medical dictionary
for the magic word by which Math
transformed he and Gilfaethwy
into deer, wolves, swine,
for he cannot shake the memories
of how they ran together and fucked,
the pressing together of animal bodies,
the tiny heartbeats of his pups beating
inside him regular as crystal quartz,
his maternal and paternal love
for their three wicked sons:
Bleiddwn, Hyddwn, Hychddwn Hir.
Unable to transform his ugly sons
for longer than one night -
the ball like Cinderella,
fur, tusks, antlers
gene isolation and cloning,
tries inserting new genes
into wolves and pigs
who rove the forest
not quite animal or human
like the gwyllon of Celyddon,
like the spirits of Annwn
howling howling howling
as if they have come
to take revenge for his theft
of the pigs, Pryderi’s death,
the Battle of the Trees.
On nights like this
he flees into his deepest vault
and shivering where it is –18 degrees
counts the seeds like a banker
cursing his lies to Amaethon,
their creation of the wheat that would
save the world from hunger
that has led to these new plagues.
There is a knocking at the door.
Again, he dare not answer, face
the forces he thought he had tamed.
Gwydion is a magician god from Welsh mythology. His name derives from gwydd, which bears connotations of knowledge, wood, trees, and weaving spell-songs, and is the root of gwyddoniaeth ‘science’.
Gwydion is a notorious trickster. In the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogion he uses his magic to steal pigs from Pryderi, son of Pwyll Pen Annwn, as part of a plot to help his brother, Gilfaethwy, rape Goewin, the footholder of their uncle, Math. Math punishes Gwydion and Gilfaethwy by transforming them into deer, wolves, and swine, and forcing them to mate with each other and bear offspring.
Gwydion later uses his magical skills to win a name, weapons, and create a wife from flowers for his nephew, Lleu. Blodeuedd ‘Flowers’ turns against them, plotting with her lover, Gronw to kill Lleu. After their plot fails Gwydion punishes her by turning her into an owl, Blodeuwedd ‘Flower Face’.
According to the lore surrounding ‘The Battle of the Trees’, a poem from The Book of Taliesin, Gwydion and Amaethon steal a hound, roebuck, and plover from Annwn and bring about a devastating battle in which Gwydion enchants an army of trees against the armies of Annwn and triumphs.
Gofannon, the god of smithing, and Amaethon, the god of agriculture, are Gwydion’s brothers. These Children of Don they may be seen as gods of culture opposed to the gods of Annwn, the Otherworld.
This poem looks at the repercussions of Gwydion’s trickery and the conflict between the culture gods and the wilder deities of Annwn, who they appear to have triumphed over, from a modern perspective. It seeks to show how the shift from gwydd to gwyddonaieth lies behind our current ecological crisis.
*Image by Michael Schiffer
Lorna Smithers is a poet, author, awenydd, Brythonic polytheist, and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd. She has published three books: Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls. She is a co-founder of Awen ac Awenydd and writes and has edited for Gods & Radicals. Based in Penwortham in North West England she gives talks and workshops, performs poetry at local events, and is learning Welsh. She blogs at Fruits of Annwn.