Fairies are a key part of British mythology, with many people believing in the pixie-like creatures to this day. In Wales, these winged creatures are known as Tylwyth Teg. They are one of the most famous mythological creatures in Welsh history, and one that people still believe in to this day all over Wales.
Despite the Disney version of the modern day making fairies out to be happy-go-lucky and helpful creatures, the Tylwyth Teg were much different. They were a much more evil, even demonic creature. Described as having fair hair and skin (Tylwyth Teg literally means “The Fair Folk”), they said to be “too diminutive for men”, meaning they were much smaller than your average human being.
The term “Tylwyth Teg” was written down for the first time in a poem called Ar Niwl Maith that is attributed to the 14th century-poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, in which the main character is dangerously but comically lost while visiting his girlfriend: “The flimsy enchanter flees, long burdened by the Tylwyth Teg.”
Their origin is much darker than you would expect. The Tywlyth Teg were said to be the soul of druids, stuck on earth after being denied entry into heaven. Because they were not Christian, the druids were not allowed into heaven, but were deemed too holy to be cast into hell. Their souls instead became the fairies of legend in Welsh.
The Tylwyth Teg are known to enjoy dancing and making fairy rings – an organic circle of mushrooms – but also have a more sinister side. They have an affinity for golden-haired children, and will lure them to the words to kidnap them, replacing them with a Changling.
These Changelings have the appearance of the missing child at first, but soon began to grow an ugly face, and become ill-tempered and shrivelled as time went on. Goats were said to be friends of the fairies, as they combed the goats beards every Friday night.
However, they are known to have good relationships with humans at times. Female Tylwyth Teg married human men, but would disappear back to the Otherworld if they were ever to touch iron. They also bestowed gifts onto humans that they thought upon favourably, but those items would vanish if the fairies were ever spoken of. They also ride hourses in procession, and are left bowls of milk by the local townspeople, to avoid any trouble from the fairies.
In Welsh Mythology, there is a “King of the Fairies” who is said to rule over the six kinds of Tylwyth Teg. Gwyn ap Nudd is a Welsh mythological figure who is said to be the king of the fairies and Annwn, which is the Otherworld. He is a demonic figure, tempting others with all the pleasures of the Otherworld before being defeated only by holy water.
Welsh soothsayers (those who could see into the future) would recite the name Gwyn ap Nudd’s name before entering the woodlands, asking for his permission to enter the dwelling of the Tylwyth Teg. They would proclaim “to the king of Spirits, and to his queen— Gwyn ap Nudd, you who are yonder in the forest, for love of your mate, permit us to enter your dwelling”, which was said to have protected them from being bothered by the Welsh fairies.
Different Types of Fairies
As mentioned earlier, there are six distinct types of Tylwyth Teg. Many of these aren’t like the fairies you are imagining, not being tiny, winged women who love playing and dancing. Some are evil, demonic creatures who resemble creatures more distinct than your average fairy.
As mentioned, the general Tylwyth Teg is said to live in the woodlands, and is ruled over by Gwyn ap Nudd. They are from The Otherworld, and are said to be the souls of druids, trapped on earth. They are short, fair faired and light skinned, while coveting golden-haired children – luring them into the woods to live forever.
They are demonic creatures who are known to kidnap humans, but also have been known to marry male humans. They were said to ride Corgis into battle, which you can read more about by clicking the image below.
Ellyllon are the Welsh version of the mythological elf. It is said to be smaller than the typical Tylwyth Teg, and live mainly in the Welsh Valleys, hiding away in the darkness from the humans. They are known to eat a diet of poisonous mushrooms, and are said to possess magical powers.
They can use their magic to either help or harm humans, depending on how they feel toward them. However, they are known as one of the more friendly fairies, especially compared to the Gwyllion.
Cobylnau (Fairies of the Mines)
Coblynau are more like Goblins, or Gnomes, in Welsh mythology. They are said to haunt the mines and quarries in Wales, which likely came from the multitude of deaths suffered during the peak of coal mining in Wales.
The name comes from the English word “Goblin”, and are portrayed similar to the creature of the same name. They reportedly dress in miners uniforms, but stand at only 1 yard (1.5m) tall. Witness says they are “very friendly”, but also incredibly ugly.
While they are said to be helpful, they never finish their tasks in the mine. This can cause them to get angry, which causes landslides that have killed thousands over the years
Bwbachod (Household Fairies)
The “Bwbachod” are mythical creatures and spirits from Welsh folklore, often referred to as house fairies or household spirits. They are believed to be small, helpful, and mischievous creatures that inhabit the homes and farms of rural Wales.
Bwbachod are primarily connected to the hearth and domestic life. They are thought to be benevolent beings, often taking on the role of house guardians. In exchange for offerings like a bowl of milk or some food left out for them, the Bwbachod are believed to offer protection, good fortune, and assistance with household chores.
They might help with tasks like cleaning, mending, or tending to animals on the farm. Bwbachod are described as small and playful. They are similar to the Pwca.
Gwragedd Annwn (Fairies of the Lakes)
With their name literally meaning “Wives of the Underworld”, it paints a good immediate picture of the Gwragedd Annwn. They inhabit The Otherworld, the water world of Summerland where the souls of the good people would go.
The Gwragedd are the inspiration for The Lady of the Lake story, where King Arthur is given the sword of Excalibur, and causing the death of Merlin. Nimue is said to be a Gwragedd Annwn. They were protectors of the lake, and were said to take human men as husbands.
Others view them as more evil, and see them more similar to the sirens of Greek Mythology. They are commonly associated with enchantment, beauty, and a sense of the supernatural
Gwyllion (Mountain Fairies)
The final of the Tylwyth Teg is the Gwyllion – the fairies of the mountain. They are a much more unfriendly breed of fairy compared to the Ellyllon, and are more like the mythical hag, or witch.
The Gwyllion are known to lead lost travelers astray, with any man who encounters them guaranteed to never find his way home. However, they are known to be afraid of knives, as they hold the power to banish them from this world. This may have some connection to King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur.
They are viewed as a much more demonic fairy, as shown in the story of Rowli Pugh collected near Cardiff by Wirt Sikes in the mid-19th century.