The Gwragedd Annwn (pronounced Gareth Anoon~w in Welsh is a vowel pronounced “oo”, and “dd” in Welsh is pronounced “th”) were Welsh lake maidens. Their name literally meant “wives of the Underworld.” They were said to inhabit a watery realm of Annwn, the Celtic Underworld, or Otherworld, not like our modern conception of Hell. Summerland was part of Annwn that was where the souls of the good would go when they died. This makes it more similar to Hades on Greek myth than to the Christian perception of Heaven and Hell! Still there was always people (particularly later members of the clergy) that would see the Gwragedd Annwn as evil figures. The Gwragedd Annwn is were the story of the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legends originated. Many have speculated that she was in fact a member of a species of fae known as the Gwragedd Annwn.
These Celtic faerie women were the protectors of lakes, and held important prominence in the tales of ancient Wales. There are some people that find a connection between lake maidens and swan maidens. I can see the connection in that both have water as a primary element in the tale! I have not found this in older literature on the Gwragedd Annwn, but I have seen it theorized by other bloggers. Links to some other bloggers that write about this interesting figures can be found in the further reading section below!
There is much connection to what we think of as mermaids, given the dominion over the water element. Lake maidens do not have fish tales, but it is obvious that any water faerie will easily be inextricably linked to mermaids. Mermaids are, after all, the most famous of water faeries. Lake maidens differ in other ways in that mermaids are in the ocean (salt water) and Gwragedd Annwn are maidens that live in lakes (fresh water, often times). Often found in the lakes on deserted mountainous areas the lake maidens can have a haunting quality.
Gwragedd Annwn were known to taken human men as husbands and lovers. They would produce many part fae children through these liaisons. This is one of many types of faeries that was known to have children with mortal men. This also leads to the belief that many people who have Celtic blood, are at least part faerie!
I also find the Gwragedd Annwn to be connected to the Russian faeries the rusalky. Rusalka (the singular version of the word) were much more malevolent in nature. They were known to lure men into their watery lairs by appearing as naked women, commonly with only their long hair covering their bodies. Men would be unable to resist the beauty of these women and would come into the water. The rusalka would kiss him and then pull him under the water to be drowned! This scene was actually utilized by Once Upon a Time when the Lady of the Lake tried to seduce Prince Charming! So the creators of that series apparently also saw the connection between lake maidens and rusalky as well!
I hope that you enjoyed learning a bit about these lake maidens. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The Lady of the Lake in Lancelot Speed’s illustration for James Thomas Knowles’ The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights (1912). I found the image on wikipedia.org.
- The Fairy Bible by Teresa Moorey
- Water Witchcraft: Magic and Lore from the Celtic Tradition by Annwyn Avalon
- Mermaids: The Myths, Legends, & Lore by Skye Alexander
- Once Upon a Time (2011-2017)