No basics of Welsh Celtic mythology is complete without considering Albion’s once and future king. While Arthur has become to international hero, the earliest records of Arthur are from Wales. Tales later became Christianised, embellished and characters added, but the earliest writings were restricted to the Brythonic nations of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany.
Several poems of Taliesin tell us about this legendary king. Marwnat vthyr pendragon (The Elegy of Uthyr Pendragon) is the earliest reference to Arthur’s father Uthyr. He is described as a great warrior and man of valour. Other poems describe him as Arthur the Blessed. Arthur is mentioned numerous times in the Welsh Triads, a group of related texts which preserve Welsh folklore, mythology and history in groups of three. 24 knights were in Arthur’s court and many of their names are preserved in the Triads.
So much is written about King Arthur, that we cannot cover here, but the tale that later became the quest for the Holy Grail, is from a much earlier tale preserved by Taliesin, The Spoils of Annwn.
Arthur leads an expedition to Annwn (the Otherworld) to retrieve a magical cauldron. Three boatloads of men journeyed into Annwn with Arthur. Pwyll, the prince of Dyfed, who became the Chief of Annwn after helping its king, Arawn was one of those travelling with Arthur. As they journey, Gweir is found imprisoned in chains, within the fort walls of Annwn. He sings before the spoils of Annwn and will remain there until Judgment Day.
Taliesin, himself, joins Arthur on his quest for the Cauldron of Annwn and declares “my poetry, from the cauldron it was uttered, from the breath of nine maidens it was kindled, the cauldron of the chief of Annwn" referring to his former life as Gwion Bach. Along with the Cauldron, which is decorated with pearls they also take a richly decorated statue of a great Ox. The return journey is difficult and in each place they travel through more of Arthur’s party is lost. Of the three boatloads only seven return.
The Cauldron of Annwn has life restoring powers and was later gifted by Bran to his brother in law Matholwch, who ironically uses it to resuscitate his soldiers who bring about Bran’s defeat.