Arawn: the Celtic God of Death and the Underworld, explained

Being the ruler of the Underworld brings with it great responsibility. Here’s everything you need to know about Arawn, the Celtic God of Death.

Arawn is a God that yields darkness, strikes fear, and fashions a smouldering cloak. The Celtic God of Death has origins in Welsh mythology. He is the ruler of the realm of Annwn, known as the Otherworld or the Underworld.

However, it seems that there is more to this Celtic icon than first meets the eye. While some associate Arawn with dark intentions, the Underworld represents an ‘idyllic’ resting place for the dead.

Read on to find out more about the fascinating history of the Celtic God of Death.  

Ireland Before You Die’s interesting facts about Celtic gods and goddesses:

  • Celtic gods and goddesses are known from places of worship, statues, engravings, and other sources.
  • Each Celtic diety is linked to a different aspect of life, like love or death.
  • As well as gods and goddesses, Irish mythology comes in the form of symbols, folklore stories, festivals, and traditions.
  • Some of the most well-known Celtic deities include Danu, Lugh, the Morrigan, the Dagda, and Brigid.

Who is Arawn? – more than just the Celtic God of Death

Arawn is the Celtic God of Death.
Credit: Instagram / @northern_fire

The Celtic God of Death certainly makes an impact at first glance. He is known to be tall, looming, and sporting a grey cloak. He rides a grey horse, making him an imposing figure that often sparks fear in those he approaches.

It is believed that the name Arawn comes from the Hebrew name Aaron, meaning ‘exalted’.

Arawn’s connection with death and intimidating appearance often means that he is associated with evil. However, his kingdom, Annwn, is actually depicted as a peaceful haven of plenty.

According to Welsh mythology, Arawn guards over Annwn as a fair and just ruler. Like any good leader, he honours his promises but also punishes roguery with a heavy hand. 

Arawn is often described within Celtic folklore as the Provider, the Virtuous, and the Guardian of the Lost Souls.

READ MORE: the top 10 Celtic gods and goddesses explained

Symbolic representation – beyond the terror, death, and decay

Arawn is seen as the Celtic God of Death.
Credit: Instagram / @seidr_art

Despite his warm disposition, the Celtic God of Death often symbolises war, revenge, terror, and hunting. These dark symbols are all connotations closely tied with death.

Arawn is often associated with his loyal Hounds, as well as his magical pigs. If you find the Celtic God of Death’s fascination with animals intriguing, his association with both animals are detailed below.  

MORE: IB4UD’s guide to the top 10 Celtic symbols

The Hounds of Annwn – Celtic God’s best friend

The Hounds of Annwn are associated with the Celtic God of Death.
Credit: Instagram / @giogio_cookies

Welsh folklore tells of the Hounds of Annwn or Cwn Annwn. These are the faithful hounds that belong to Arawn and reside in the Underworld by his side. Similarly to their master, they represent loyalty, guidance, hunting, and death.

During winter and autumn, it is said that they go on the Wild Hunt. They ride through the night hunting evil spirits and terrorising wrongdoers.

The sound of their shrill howl is believed to be the omen of death, which lure wandering spirits to their final resting place in Annwn.

In Christianity, the Hounds of Annwn are demonised, detailed to be Satan’s Hounds of Hell. However, this directly contradicts Welsh mythology’s image of Annwn being a haven of bliss and youth.

RELATED: Ireland Before You Die’s A-Z of Irish mythological creatures

The season of death and decay – The Wild Hunt’s melancholic backdrop

Arawn is associated with autumn and winter, or the season of death and decay.
Credit: Pixnio / Marko Milivojevic

Arawn is also associated with the decay of autumn and winter. It is also the time of year where the Celtic God is most active, summoning spirits to Annwn during The Wild Hunt.

Throughout autumn, leaves often change colour and fall, and animals retire and prepare for the harshness of winter. This time of year represents change, death, slumber, and decay.

Regarding old age, the transition from autumn to winter also symbolises the idea of human maturity and ‘the end’.

The Mabinogion – the 12 tales of Welsh mythology

Arawn is known as the Celtic God of Death.
Credit: Flickr / laurakgibbs

The Mabinogion is a collection of 12 tales, separated into four ‘Branches’, representing the fundamentals of Welsh mythology.

Arawn is mentioned in the First and Fourth Branches of the Mabinogion. In the First Branch, he encounters the Lord of Dyfed, known as Pwyll.

Arawn is believed to have punished Pwyll, denying food to the Hounds of Annwn and instead showing favour to his own Hounds. For his discourtesy, Pwyll was sentenced to trade places with Arawn for a year and a day.

Pwyll proved his worth throughout his punishment, even battling the Celtic God of Death’s greatest enemy, Hagdan.

In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, the relationship between Pwyll’s son Pryderi and Arawn is described. During this time, Arawn gifted Pryderi with many enchanting items, including the magical pigs from Annwn.

Your questions answered about Arawn

If you’ve got more questions relating to this subject, you’ve come to the right place. We answer some of our readers’ most frequently asked questions in online searches in the section below.

What is Arawn the god of?

Arawn is the Celtic god of death. As the ruler of the realm of Annwn, he is strongly associated with fear.

What are the colours associated with Arawn?

As the god of terror, revenge, and war, the colours often associated with Arawn are red, brown, black, green, gold, and white.

Who was the strongest Celtic god?

For a long time, the Dagda has been considered the strongest of all the gods in Celtic mythology. Translating to “the good god”, the Dagda is depicted as strong in both stature and wisdom.

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