People have been on this island before it was an island, when it was a peninsula. They knew of the gods that formed the landscape they lived on, they knew their names and gave them masks of a sort to clothe themselves in. The masks were passed on from generation to generation, the gods who wore them changed with the people and the landscape.
Nodens is a patina on a mask. He is covered with the patinas of Nudd and Lludd, and under him are more gods hidden away by time.
Lludd Llaw Eraint appears in the 12th to 13th century literature as a 1st century, legendary King of Britain, son of Beli Mawr and brother of Llefelys. His kingdom was suffering three plagues; a race of otherworldly beings, two warring dragons and a giant raiding the kingdom’s store of food. He enlists his wiser brother’s help and together they bring an end to all three plagues and restore the kingdom. Beyond this, it is difficult to get a hold on what this legend retains from the preceding centuries. We know that Lludd is a derivative from Nudd by means of mutation to alliterate with ‘Llaw Eraint’ (‘of the Silver hand’) which is a clear connection to Nuadha of Ireland with his silver hand. Whether the silver hand is an original feature of the Brythonic mythos or something that was brought over with Irish peoples in the centuries following the end of the Romano-British period is debatable. There is also a case for the mutation to Lludd being caused by, or being the cause of conflation between Lludd/Nudd and Lir or Llyr.
What this legend shows us is that the actions of the clever and somewhat tricksy brother Llefelys are much like the interactions of Nuadha and Lugh in the Battle of Mag Tuired. As such, Lugos (himself a middle Welsh derivation from Lleu and ultimately Lugos) was viewed as the brother of Nodens.
What we can extract from the tale of Lludd, is that he was what we could call a ‘good king’; he rebuilt city walls, was generous with his money and looked after the people. Within Dumezil’s First Function roles, this paints him as the Lawgiver King. His brother Llefelys, who also falls within the First Function, fits more into the role of Magician. This role of Llefelys-Lugos slots more neatly into place when you consider the raven associations and his North-European cultural equivalent of Odin; another magician ruler.
In modern Welsh, Nudd means ‘fog’ or ‘mist’, and aside from him being the father of the underworld ruler and chthonic god Gwyn, we know very little about Nudd save for the fact his name derives ultimately from Nodens; ‘catcher’. He is reduced to a stepping stone from the more Medieval Lludd, and what we can glean from him and his relationships, to the older Nodens.
Before we step further back to Nodens and who he had become, mention also must be made of Teyrnon Twrf Lliant ‘Lord of the Roaring Wave/Sea’. Regardless of whether his epithet means wave or sea, he has definite associations with the seas and as ruler of Gwent in the far southeast of Wales it places him in the neighbourhood of Lydney, the shrine to Nodens. Notably, it is in the adjacent River Severn that the phenomenon known as the ‘Severn Bore‘ occurs; a periodic large wave that runs upstream tens of miles. This might be the ‘Raging Wave’ of the seas come inland. His name derives from Tigernonos ‘Great Lord’ and he is placed as counterpart to the ‘Great Queen’ Rigantona (Rhiannon). There is no direct link in terms of names here, but the associations paint a connection between Teyrnon and Nodens, particularly when we start exploring the associations of Nodens himself and compare him to the other gods within the continental Indo-European cultures and myth.
The next step on our journey towards Noden’s shoreline, is to scratch away the patinas of Nudd and Lludd, of Teyrnon of the Roaring Sea and take with us the Law-Giving King and the God of the Waters. Our task now is to uncover Nodens himself, and begin to find those hidden parts of the Lord of Deeps, the God-King and the Ruler of the Underworld.