Y Tylwyth Teg is the most usual Welsh name for fairies, which are also known by the euphemism bendith y mamau [Welsh: mother’s blessings]. Although most stories about y tylwyth teg are recorded from oral tradition, references to them appear in writing as early as Giraldus Cambrensis (c.1146–1223). In distinction from other Celtic fairies, they are more often associated with lakes, especially at Llyn y Fan Fach in south Wales. Gwlad y Tylwyth Teg is a Welsh name for fairyland.
According to the folklorist Wirt Sikes the Tylwyth Teg may be divided into five general types: the Ellyllon (elves), the Coblynau (fairies of the mines), the Bwbachod (household fairies similar to brownies), the Gwragedd Annwn (female fairies of the lakes and streams) and the Gwyllion (mountain fairies more akin to hags). The ellyllon (singular ellyll) inhabit groves and valleys and are similar to English elves.
Other names for y tylwyth teg include: dynon bach teg, gwarwyn a throt, jili ffrwtan, sili ffrit, sili-go-dwt, trwtyn tratyn.
Their food consists of toadstools and fairy butter (a type of fungus) and they wear digitalis bell flowers as gloves. Like other fairies they are thought to possess magical cattle, the most famous of which is the Speckled Cow of Hiraethog. Goats were believed to on very good terms with the tylwyth teg, who every Friday night comb goats’ beards to make them decent for Sunday.
They dance and make fairy rings and they live underground or under the water. They ride horses in fairy rades (processions) and visit houses where bowls of milk are customarily put out for them. They are ruled by Queen Mab and King Gwyn ap Nudd who bring prosperity to those they favour.
In general y tylwyth teg are portrayed as benevolent but still capable of occasional mischief. Some of their later stories even profess improved behaviour and good morals, such as promising rewards of silver to young women who keep tidy houses. they covet golden-haired human children and will often kidnap them, leaving changelings or crimbils in their place.
They bestow riches on those they favour but these gifts vanish if they are spoken of, and fairy maidens may become the wives of human men. These fairy wives are however still bound by traditional taboos. They must be careful to avoid touching iron or they will vanish back to their realm never to be seen by their husbands again. In one of the most commonly told stories of y tylwyth teg, a mortal young man seeks to marry a beautiful young daughter of the fairy host. She agrees, but only on the condition that he does not touch her with iron nor strike her with three unnecessary blows.
- Cooper, J.C., ed. (1997). Brewer’s Book of Myth and Legend. Oxford: Helicon Publishing Ltd.
- Sikes, W. (1880). British Goblins: Welsh folk-lore, fairy mythology, legends and traditions. London: Sampson Low, pp. 12, 54, 56.
- Hugh Evans, Y Tylwyth Teg (Liverpool, 1944);T. Gwynn Jones, Welsh Folklore and Folk-custom (London, 1930;Cambridge, 1979). Folk motifs: C433, F233.5.