Dahut - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Breton witch-princess-mermaid-goddess, only one tale about Dahut survives and it derives from Christian sources. The story is hazy and has many gaps.

Dahut was the daughter of Gradlon, King of Cornwall and a Druid. Her mother is Malgven, Queen of the North, a magical character, perhaps another witch-goddess. Her father and mother spend a year at sea, where Dahut is born, but her mother dies.

Dahut loves the sea and is inspired to build a miraculous crystal-walled city in Brittany named Ys, built below sea level so that it seems to emerge from the sea. To prevent flooding, a high dyke is built and locked with a unique brass key. Only one copy of this key exists and King Gradlon has it.

The legend implies that Dahut is a sea spirit or a priestess of the sea. It is not a particularly complimentary tale: Dahut is portrayed as a femme fatale who seduces a different man each night. According to the story, Dahut insists her lovers wear a black silk mask that transforms into deadly metal claws in the morning, killing him so that she can feed his body to the sea.

Ys was fabulously wealthy. Dahut had a sea dragon who did her bidding and brought the treasures of the sea to her. Dahut ruled the city, maintaining Celtic traditions and Pagan deities. Eventually, she had a confrontation with Corentin, Bishop of Quimper, and shortly afterwards disaster struck.

Dahut was always on the lookout for new lovers/sacrificial victims. One day a stranger dressed in red rode up to the palace; she fell madly in love with him and wished to keep him, rather than kill him. Unbeknownst to her, according to the standard version of the story, it was Satan on a mission of punishment from God. Because of the sins of Ys, the magical crystal city was about to be transformed into the equivalent of an underwater Sodom and Gomorrah.

In order to prove her love, the mysterious red stranger demanded the key to the dyke. Dahut stole it from her father and Satan opens the dyke and the sea floods in. St Guenolé, a resident of the area, appears, ordering King Gradlon to repent. Gradlon tries to escape from Ys on horseback, together with Dahut whom he wishes to rescue. Guenolé however strikes him, insisting that he abandons Dahut as the price of survival, which ultimately Gradlon does. Gradlon and Guenolé are the only two survivors.

Following the deluge, Gradlon renounces Druidry and Guenolé converts him to Christianity. Gradlon became ruler of the city of Quimper where a statue of him gazing in the direction of Ys still stands at Corentin Cathedral.

Dahut was allegedly transformed into a mermaid, in which guise she survives.

Although the story was told to emphasize the powers of St Guenolé, it may be based on an actual fifth-century disaster. Several Roman roads now leading into the sea, allegedly once led to Ys.

Dahut’s tale is (unsympathetically) retold in Abraham Merritt’s 1934 pulp novel Creep, Shadow, Creep.

See CREATIVE ARTS: Literature: Creep, Shadow, Creep; DICTIONARY: Druid; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Korrigans.