Cŵn Annwn

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Cŵn Annwn
Grouping Legendary creature
Sub grouping Spirit
Similar creatures Gabriel Hounds, Yell Hounds, Ratchets
Mythology Welsh
Other name(s) Hounds of Annwn, Cwn Annwfn
Country Wales
Habitat Annwn

In Welsh mythology and folklore, Cŵn Annwn (Welsh pronunciation: [kuːn ˈanʊn], "hounds of Annwn") were the spectral hounds of Annwn, the otherworld of Welsh myth. They were associated with a form of the Wild Hunt, presided over by either Arawn, king of Annwn in the First Branch of the Mabinogi and alluded to in the Fourth, or by Gwyn ap Nudd as the underworld king and king of the fair(y) folk is named in later medieval lore.

In Wales, they were associated with migrating geese, supposedly because their honking in the night is reminiscent of barking dogs.

Hunting grounds for the Cŵn Annwn are said to include the mountain of Cadair Idris, where it is believed "the howling of these huge dogs foretold death to anyone who heard them".[citation needed]

According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. Their coming is generally seen as a death portent.


Arawn, king of Ännwn, is believed to set the Cŵn Annwn loose to hunt mundane creatures.[1] When Pwyll saw the Cŵn Annwn take down a stag, he set his own pack of dogs to scare them away.[1] Arawn then came to him and said that as repentance for driving away the Cŵn Annwn, Pwyll would have to defeat Hafgan.[1]

Christians came to dub these mythical creatures as "The Hounds of Hell" or "Dogs of Hell" and theorised they were therefore owned by Satan.[2][3] However, the Annwn of medieval Welsh tradition is an otherworldly paradise and not a hell or abode of dead souls.[citation needed]

The hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night". An alternative name in Welsh folklore is Cŵn Mamau ("Hounds of the Mothers").

Da Derga is also known to have a pack of nine white hounds, perhaps Cŵn Annwn.[4]

Culhwch rode to King Arthur's court with two "Otherworld" dogs accompanying him, possibly Cŵn Annwn.[4]

The Wild Hunt[edit]

The Cŵn Annwn are associated with the Wild Hunt. They are supposed to hunt on specific nights (the eves of St. John, St. Martin, Saint Michael the Archangel, All Saints, Christmas, New Year, Saint Agnes, Saint David, and Good Friday), or just in the autumn and winter. Some say Arawn only hunts from Christmas to Twelfth Night.[citation needed] The Cŵn Annwn also came to be regarded as the escorts of souls on their journey to the Otherworld.

A Cŵn Annwn's goal in the Wild Hunt is to hunt wrongdoers into the ground until they can run no longer, just as the criminals did to their victims.[5]

Colouring and meaning[edit]

The Cŵn Annwn is associated with death, as it has red ears.[4] The Celts associated the colour red with death.[4] White is associated with the supernatural, and white animals are commonly owned by gods or other inhabitants of the Otherworld.[4] Therefore, the Cŵn Annwn is associated with death and the supernatural.

Similar creatures[edit]

In other traditions similar spectral hounds are found, e.g. Gabriel Hounds (England), Ratchets (England), Yell Hounds (Isle of Man), related to Herne the Hunter's hounds, which form part of the Wild Hunt. Similar hounds occur in Devon - particularly on Dartmoor and Cornwall but it is not clear whether they stem from Brythonic or Saxon origins.[6][7]

Cŵn Annwn in Popular Culture[edit]

  • On the 1992 album Black Aria by Glenn Danzig the last track is entitled Cwn Annwn.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski's books from the Geralt de Rivia cycle features a form of Wild Hunt heavily based on the Welsh myth on the Cwn Annwn.
  • The MMORPG Lord of the Rings Online includes monsters called "Cun Annun" which are based on the Cwn Annwn.
  • In the Roguelike NetHack, if the character is low on hit points, the game will display the message: "You hear the howling of the CwnAnnwn...".[8]
  • Cwn Annwn was the name of a short-lived Philadelphia-based Celtic folk band.
  • Cwn Annwn is the name of a St. Paul-based metal band.
  • Dogs of Annwn is a film production company based in South Wales.
  • The 1975 children's novel Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones contains many references to Cŵn Annwn and Welsh mythology.
  • The 2012 novel The Wild Hunt by Ashley Jeffery is a novel about a protagonist that sees the ghosts of the dead and hunts them with her shape-shifting hounds i.e. the cwn annwn. The novel centers around ghosts and Welsh mythology.
  • In the 2014 novel Visions by Kelley Armstrong, the main character is a reader of omens. After seeing large shaggy dogs, that she is often the only one who can see, she guesses that they are Cwn Annwn and researches them.
  • The 2014 Eluveitie song The Silver Sister makes reference to "the wolves from Antumnos" (Antumnos being the Gaulish name for the Otherworld and ancestor to the Welsh name Annwn).

Notes & references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ross, Anne (1986). Druids, Gods, & Heroes from Celtic Mythology. London, England: Eurobook. pp. 65–69. ISBN 978-0856540493. 
  2. ^ Pugh, Jane (1990). Welsh Ghostly Encounters. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. pp. 135 Pages. ISBN 0-86381-791-2. 
  3. ^ Celtic Mythology. Geddes and Grosset. 1999. pp. 480 Pages. ISBN 1-85534-299-5. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Fleming, Fergus; Husain, Shahrukh; Littleton, C. Scott; Malcor, Linda A. (1996). Celtic Myth: Heroes of the Dawn. Duncan Baird Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 0-7054-2171-6. 
  5. ^ Matthews, John; Matthews, Caitlín (2005). The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. HarperElement. p. 119. ISBN 978-1-4351-1086-1. 
  6. ^ BBC - Devon - Features - The story behind the Hound
  7. ^ The Hound of the Baskervilles: Hunting the Dartmoor Legend, P Weller,Halsgrove, 2008,ISBN SWDHTDL
  8. ^ Source:NetHack 3.4.3/src/hack.c - NetHackWiki, the NetHack Wiki

See also[edit]