Nudd Lludd Nodons

A Cymric, Brythonic and Irish God, also known as Lludd, Lludd Llaw Ereint, Nuadu, Nuadu Aratlám, Nodons, Nodens, Nudens, Noadatus: The Water Maker, The Spirit of Water

As Nodons this deity is known from several sites in the United Kingdom, the most impressive of which is the Lydney Park temple complex, the Templum Marti Nodentis (Temple of Mars Nodens). Within the temple site was found a lead defixio addressed to Nodens: DEVO NODENTI SILVIANVS ANILVM PERDEDIT DEMEDIAM PARTEM DONAVIT NODENTI INTER QVIBVS NOMEN SENICIANI NOLLIS PETMITTAS SANITATEM DONEC PERFERA VSQVE TEMPLVM DENTIS (For the god Nodens. Silvianus has lost a ring and has donated one-half [its worth] to Nodens. Among those named Senicianus permit no good-health until it is returned to the temple of Nodens). A number of fragmentary inscriptions were found, and a few complete ones which included: D M NODONTI FLAVIVS BLANDINVS ARMATVRA V S L M (To the god Mars Nodons, Flavius Blandinus the drill-instructor willingly and deservedly flails his vow) on a bronze plate and PECTILLVS VOTVM QVOD PROMISSIT DEO NVDENTE M DEDIT (Pectillus dedicates this votive offering which he had promised to the god Nudens Mars) on a plate bearing the image of a baying hound. The remaining inscription simply reading DEO NUDENTI (To the god, Nudens).

The deity is also probably represented in Gaul as Noadatus where he is known form an inscription found at Mainz, Germany and is invoked along with Roman Mars. No other continental inscriptions to this deity are known and we have to return to the insular sources for further information.

The Lydney Park site, in Gloucestershire lies near a steep bluff and overlooks the Severn Estuary, which is interesting when considered in conjunction with the various elements of iconography found at the site. The temple itself is rectangular in outline, measuring some 72m by 54m with the cella (the central part of the temple) measures 29m x 49.5m in total and its north-western end is divided into three separate chambers 6.3m deep, possibly indicating the worship of a tripartite deity with each room dedicated to a different aspect of the triad. The temple of Nodens emulates the format of a normal Romano-Celtic shrine, although in a somewhat monumental style, using a rectangular plan instead of the usual square and providing for three separate shrines instead of the normal single cella. The floor of the cella was originally covered with a mosaic, only parts of which survive. The remaining fragments show dolphins fish and sea monsters. Within the temple numerous small finds were also recovered. These include nine statues of dogs in stone or bronze, a bronze plaque of a woman, a bronze arm, an oculist’s stamp, 320-odd pins and nearly 300 bracelets. The dogs, pins and bracelets all indicate Nodon’s temple to be the centre of a healing cult, with the dog a companion of the healing aspect of Mars and the pins are dissociated with childbirth. Bronze reliefs (of which the image above is a portion) discovered in the site depicting a sea deity, fishermen and tritons suggest some connexion of Nodens with the sea. A bronze object (headdress or vessel?) also shows a sea-god driving a chariot between torch-bearing putti and tritons. The equating of Nodons with Roman Silvanus is interesting in that it points to a ‘hunter’ aspect for Nodens. Indeed, some of the dog statues found at Lydney Park probably represent hunting dogs of a breed similar to Iris Wolfhounds and may be associated with the hunting rather than the healing aspects of Nodons. Finally, the various images of sea creatures, tritons and fishing deities strongly suggest an aquatic or maritime aspect to the deity (of course the fisherman is also a type of hunter and links to the hunting aspect of Nodons’ cult). Thus we have three aspects of the deity represented at a single site: healer, hunter, maritime deity. It should also be noted that the very name of the site, Lydney, may well be derived from the name Lludd, itself a variant of Nudd (see below) and can be interpreted as ‘Nudd’s Isle’.

The other site from which Nodons is known is Cockersand Moss in Lancashire, a suspected Romano-British shrine. Two Roman silver statuettes were found in 1718 at Cockersand Moss and the inscription on the base of the smaller statue was described as LVCIANVS • D M N • COL LIC APRILI VIATO • RIS V S (To the god Mars Nodontis, the College of Lictors [and] Lucianus Aprilis the traveller, in fulfilment of a vow) unfortunately both statues are now lost. The only other possible reference to Nodons comes from an inscription found at Chesterholm in the north of England which reads DEO NO/NEPTU which can be interpreted as reading ‘To the god Neptune Nodons’. If this interpretation is correct, this links Nodons with the Roman god of the sea, Neptune, and fits-in with the imagery found at Lydney Park.

By a process of linguistic drift Brythonic Nodons became Cymric Nudd. However, as Nudd he is really only known in the patronymic of his most famous son, Gwyn fab Nudd. Nudd, however, is cognate with the Irish deity Nuadu whose epithet Aratlám literally means ‘silver arm’. According to the legend Nuadu lost his arm in battle against the Firbolgs where it was severed by Sreng. Until then Nuadu had been the leader of the Goidelic gods, the Tuatha de Dannan, but as a king could not be disfigured. However, Dian Cecht the divine smith, with the aid of Credne, fashions a a silver arm for Nuadu and with magic attached it to his body making him whole again and enabling him to regain his throne. It is interesting to note that a metal arm was found amongst the artifacts at the Lydney Park temple indicating that the tale of Nodons’ loss of an arm might be part of his original mythos. Indeed, even in the later Cymric versions of these deities Nudd became known as Nudd Llaw Ereint (Nudd of the silver hand), a direct counterpart of Nuadu Aratlám. However, under the influence of the ‘ll’ consonant of his epithet a consonantal concordance occurred N(-Ll-)udd Llaw Ereint becomes Lludd Llaw Ereint. Toponymy alone (as discussed below) suggests that this occurred fairly early, before the end of the sixth Century at least and maybe even earlier. Thus Nudd Llaw Ereint becomes Lludd Llaw Ereint and it is by this name that he is known in almost all the extant Cymric tales.

The name of Lludd occurs twice in the Trioedd Ynys Prydein the first of these, triad 37 refers to the events of the Mabinogion of Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys and it is described as one of the ‘Three Concealments and three Disclosures of the Island of Britain’, this being ‘The dragons that Lludd son of Beli buried in Dinas Emrys in Eryri’. This would make Lludd/Nudd a son of Beli Mawr and a member of the Cymric deities known as the Plant Dôn. Whether this is a true part of Lludd/Nudd’s mythos or simply an attempt at crafting the deity into the ancient lineages of the Brython is not known. Certainly Beli Mawr is considered to be the paterfamilias of the Brythonic noble houses and their deities and it may be the Nudd was grafted into this lineage. Lludd also features in Triad 51 though only as the father of Afarwy named as one of the ‘Three Dishonoured Men who were in the Island of Britain’ because he summoned Julius Caesar and the men of Rome to Britain. Again this is an example of the grafting of mythological or at least legendary figures onto historical or semi-historical events. In poetry, Llyr is encountered in the Llyfr Taliesin, in the poem known as Armes Bychain Prydain (the lesser prophecy of Britain) which names Lludd as one of the seven sons of Beli. He is also named in two other poems of the LLyfr Taliesin: The Great Eulogy of Lludd and The Short Discussion of Lludd and except for a line which mentions Lludd and Llefelys in the latter poem their subject matter reveal little about their titles. We are left therefore with only the Mabinogion tale of Lludd a Llefelys as source material. Though the genealogies contained in the tale are based on the Bruts which in their turn are base either on the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, or at the very least on his source materials, the overall story contains elements that are undoubtedly pre-Galfridian in origin (especially the mention of the corranieid and the fighting dragons (more on which later). The story of the Mabinogion tale is summarized below:

Cyfranc Lludd a Llefelys (The Adventure of Lludd and Llefelys): Of Beli Mawr fab Manogan’s sons — Lludd, Caswallon, Nyniaw and Llefelys — Lludd was the oldest and after his father’s death the kingdom of the Island of Britain came into his hands. A prosperous ruler, he re-built the walls of Llundein (London) and he loved this walled city so much that it became known as Caer Lludd (Lludd’s Fortress) and then Llundein. Of all his brothers Lludd loved Llefelys the best, and when the king of France died, leaving his possessions to his only child, a daughter, came to his brother’s court that he might go to France to woo the maiden. They amassed ships and knights and went to France where an entreaty was sent and Llefelys gained the maiden and the crown of France and he ruled wisely and well.

After some time had passed three plagues befell the Island of Britain. The first of these were the Corranieid who could hear any conversation upon the wind, no matter how low it was spoken. The second was a shriek heard every Calan Mai (May eve) over every hearth in Britain. This shriek went through every person’s heart so that the men lost their hue and their strength and the women lost their children and the maidens and young men lost their senses and the animals and even the land itself was left barren. The third plague befell the king’s court — no matter how many provisions of food were prepared for the king’s tables, even if it were a full year’s supply, none of it could ever be found, except that which was consumed on the first night. And of the latter two plagues no one could work out how they were caused. By the common counsel of the nobles Lludd set sail to meet with his brother, Llefelys, who was a man of great wisdom and good counsel.

The great fleet of Britain set out and hearing of this Llefelys also set sail in his own great fleet to meet them, for he knew not the cause of his brother’s arrival. When Lludd saw this he took a single ship and set forth and his brother, seeing this, did the same. Heaving to they greeted and embraced one another and Lludd related his tale of woe. They took counsel together and so that the Corranieid could not hear them Llefelys had a speaking horn of brass made. But all the words spoken through this emerged harsh and hostile and so Lludd had the horn washed with wine to drive out the devil residing there, which was done. Llefelys then told Lludd that he would give him some insects, of which he could keep some to breed in case the affliction came to his land again. The remainder should be braised in water and when he came to his own lands Lludd was to bring his own people and the race of the Corranieid together as if he was to make peace between them. He should then cast the infused water over the assembled hosts and the water would slay the Corranieid but leave his own people unharmed. The second affliction, so Llefelys said was caused by a dragon and a dragon from a foreign race is fighting with it and trying to overcome it and the native dragon makes a fearful outcry. Lludd was to measure his entire island to find its centre and there a pit should be dug and a cauldron brimful of the best mead was to be put in the pit and covered with a layer of satin. The next time the dragons fought they would rise into the air and then, exhausted, they would fall to the earth in the form of pigs and landing on the satin covering they would sink into the cauldron. Drinking the mad, they would fall asleep and be captured. They should then be taken and buried in a stone chest in the strongest place Lludd had in his island and be buried in the earth. The third plague was caused by a magician who stole Lludd’s provisions, causing the entire household to sleep as he spirited the food and mead away. To catch him Lludd had to stay awake and he should prepare a cauldron of cold water and if sleep should threaten to overcome him he should plunge in. Only by this means would he catch the thief. Lludd returned to Britain and did what his brother had told him to do. All the Corranieid were slain with the insect-infused water, the dragons were caught at Oxford and imprisoned in Dinas Emrys and he caught a man of vast size who was taking his food to put it into a hamper he carried. They fight by magic and by strength but eventually Lludd is victorious and makes the man swear fealty to him. Thus were the three plagues of Britain defeated.

In this tale, the position of Lludd as king of Britain, succeeding his father, Beli, to the role is equivalent to his Irish cognate, Nuadu becoming the leader of the Tuatha de Dannan and Lludd may once have been considered the leader of the Cymric gods, the Plant Dôn. Lludd’s association with London is also interesting though the etymology for the name of the city is probably fanciful. However, one of the ancient gates into the city was the Lud Gate sited on Ludgate hill with its commanding view over the Thames. The site is reminiscent of that of Lydney park and may once have represented a site sacred to Nodons. Whether there was an Iron Age shrine to him on the site to him on the site may never be known, but the name of the site alone is suggestive. The dragons in the tale of Lludd a Llefelys may also be an echo of the sea monsters indicated to be part of Nodons’ cult in the Lydney Park mosaic though they are also a part of the Cymric national mythos. A few aspects of Nudd/Nodons’ cult remain to be examined. The first of these is the association of Nodons with certain fish, most notably salmon and trout as indicated by the image above. This is a reconstructed image based on a bronze frontlet found at Lydney Park and shows a seated figure, probably Nodons himself, hooking a salmon. Now the salmon is a sacred animal in Celtic belief, and is mythologically believed to be a wise and ancient animal (cf. The Salmon of Llyn Llyw) and the association is to do with knowledge or to place Nodons as one of the elder gods or both. The final fragment from Lydney, again a part of a head dress depicts a man with a flail in one hand who drives a four-horse chariot. This has previously been interpreted as a representation of Nodons as a solar or sky deity, but this is imposing a classical or Egyptian interpretation on Celtic iconography. It is just as possible that this represents an aquatic deity for horses are associated with the sea and with water in general, the Cymric Ceffyl Dwfr being a case in point and the white foam of the sea is sometimes known as the steeds of Mannan.

This has some bearing on the interpretation of Nodons’ name. Previously O’Rahilly has suggested that the name may be interpreted as ‘The Cloud Maker’ but this is dependent on Nudd being a solar/sky deity even though the evidence for this is dubious at best. Even the attempts to utilize the proto-Celtic and proto Indo-European lexicons provide us with a problem. Julius Pokorny in his Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch re-constructs Nodons into the proto-Celtic from *Noudant-s (with its connotation of ‘moisture’) and derives this from the Proto-Indo-European *neud- (make use of, enjoy; with the connotation of ‘acquisition’). Both these etymologies are based on Nodons being derived from an earlier form of *Noudant-s and this may represent a rather fanciful attempt at reconstructing a Theonym. It should be noted that the modern Cymric meaning for nudd is: ‘haze, mist’ possibly giving a connotation of ‘shadowy’. This would fit-in with one aspect of Nodens’ cult, as the father of Gwyn fab Nudd and therefore a ruler of the nether-realm and a psychopomp. Perhaps the name Nodens/Nudd is not Indo-European in origin and represents the survival of a native deity into Iron-age Celtic and then Romano-Celtic belief systems. As such the name may never be interpreted satisfactorily and we are left with its survival into extant Celtic languages. If this is the case then the only associations we have are with clouds and moisture in one form or other (taking mist also to be a force of moisture). This might account for Nodons’ association with white/silver metal such as silver. His name might therefore be interpreted as ‘The Water Maker’ or maybe ‘The Spirit of Water’ all of which would be compatible with Nodons’ various aspects for water, having a mirrored surface is was seen by the ancient Celts as the gateway between realms — relating to Nodons’ possible role as psychopomp and keeper of the realm of the dead (in this respect it should be noted that part of a healer’s role is easing a patient’s passage to the next realm). As a healer, water is also a crucial component both in terms of its elemental purity and its derivation from the bowels of the life-giving earth. In this respect the number of Celtic healing cults associated with springs and water sources. Finally we have Nodons’ aspect as a hunter — a hunter on land with hounds, but also a water-based hunter, a fisherman which leads us back to the water aspect of his cult.

The only other mention of Lludd/Nudd is in the ancient Mabinogion tale of Culhwch ac Olwen where Lludd Llaw Ereint is mentioned as the father of Creiddylad. Creiddylad, of course, is the prototype for Shakespeare’s Cordelia and may point to some later confusion between Lludd (or the Anglicized form Lud) and Llŷr to become the prototype for Shakespeare’s King Lear.