Who is the Gatekeeper?

Opening the door from the otherworld island of Gwales
Margaret Jones

Although is was said there was a gatekeper at Arthur’s court, there was not. But Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr was there ….”
Owein : The Lady of the Well


A gatekeeper is an elusive character. He may not be a gatekeeper. He may only keep that gate on certain days of the year, or only on 1st January, the gateway to the year. He may deny entry to those for whom, elsewhere, he keeps their gate. Like Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr (‘Brave-grey Mighty-grip’), who is the keeper of the gate (though not the keeper of the gate) of Arthur’s hall in different tales, as when Culhwch comes calling in the tale of How Culhwch Won Olwen* and the keeper of the gate in quite another hall where he refuses admittance to Arthur in the poem ‘Pa Gur yw y Porthaur?’(Who is the Gatekeper?) unless he can prove the worth of his men. He may also be the keeper of the gate for Wrnach the giant when Cei and Bedwyr come calling seeking the things Culhwch needs to wed Olwen, a detail which may be referenced in the poem ‘Pa Gur yw y Porthaur?’ where Cei’s exploits “in Awarnach’s hall” are alluded to when Arthur tells Glewlwyd of his heroic deeds.** This would, of course, be an elaborate and circuitous joke, but it also embodies the double-sided nature of portals.

If we are puzzled, who should we ask? Manawydan fab Llyr is said to be deep in understanding and counsel when Arthur tells Glewlwyd of the qualities of his men. He, too, is a gatekeeper, remarking the door out of the otherworld fortress of Gwales which should not be opened until the occupants are ready to leave. He also watches the Portal through which both Rhiannon and Pryderi pass in the enchanted fortress which appears on Gorsedd Arberth, and keeps watch until he is able to bring them back into the world again. His representation in the Mabinogi as one who patiently bides his time and in Triad 8 as “lledyv” (humble, subdued) suggests one who waits to act at the appropriate time. Consider, too, the Irish tale of Mananaan mac Lir who meets Bran out on the sea as he is passing to the otherworld islands. Manannan says the sea is for him like a grassy plain as Bran passes in his boat through the rolling waves and Manannan sends him on his way.


*This is one if the many ‘doublets’ in the tale How Culhwch Won Olwen, mirroring a similar incident in a parallel episode elsewhere in the tale as if on the other side of a gate in another tale.
** Rachel Bromwich commented “it seems likely that the two gatekeepers have been interchanged, and that Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr originally figured as the guardian of the fortress of Wrnach” and, a little further on, suggests that the poem would therefore represent an earlier version of the episode of Cei and Wrnach. (Trioedd Ynys Prydein, revised 2006 edition, p.362)


The question is posed HERE~> in a different way, and when you have returned from THERE~>, consider these links as a mirror of a window between two worlds. Who, then, is a gatekeeper?

2 Comments

  1. I love the painting by Margaret Jones. The spiral imagery of the gateway reminds me of a spiral I have been given symbolising Annwn that relates to the Abyss. I’m enjoying how your explorations of Manawydan’s role as gatekeeper are developing.

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