Bendith y Mamau: Ugly Welsh Faeries

George Cruikshank, Herne the Hunter, 1840s

George Cruikshank, Herne the Hunter, 1840s

In Glamorganshire and Carmarthenshire, Wales, bendith y mamau (“mothers’ blessing”; roughly pronounced ben-dith uh mah-may) is a generic term for all faeries. The other Welsh term for faeries is tylwyth teg (“fair family” or “fair folk”).  Some see these two terms as synonymous.

As in many faery legends, it was thought best to refer to the bendith y mamau with a flattering euphemism. In fact, there little that is “motherly” or “blessed” about these creatures. More often than not, they are, in fact, malicious and destructive in their dealings with mortals.

According to some accounts, these creatures are a grotesque cross-breed of goblin and faery. They possess the glamour or illusion-magic of faeries but the stunted and ugly appearance of goblins. Some say they have an affinity with either brownies or the pisgies (pixies) of the West Country.

The bendith y mamau are known to kidnap mortal children and replace them with their own hideous offspring, called crimbils. Stories suggest, however, that these mortal children might be returned many years later with only the faintest memory of their time among the Fair Folk. Bendith y mamau can be envious creatures, particularly of another’s beauty. They generally treat their captives well, however.

These faeries are also associated with Welsh underworld hounds. These beasts, usually called cwn annwn (“hounds of the underworld”) are sometimes also known as cwn bendith y mamau or simply cwn mamau. The appearance of these spectral dogs is thought to be an omen of death. They are also associated with the Wild Hunt.

Despite these unseemly characteristics, these faeries are also often skilled musicians and singers. Their music is capable of producing a trance-like reverie that erases a person’s memory, leaving them with only a faint recollection of the sweet music itself.

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