Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch were the three powerful and mysterious enchantresses of the Marshes of Morva. Although their identities were apparently fluid and interchangeable, each of the witches had a distinctive appearance and persona: Orddu, the apparent leader, had tangled hair adorned with many ornaments and a decisive personality; Orwen wore a necklace of milky stones and was the most positive and cheerful of the trio; Orgoch was the least agreeable and the most threatening, with a black cowl that shadowed her face.
Powers and Personae
The three witches were the original owners of the Black Crochan. At some time in the distant past, they lent the Cauldron to Arawn, who in turn used the enchanted device to create an army of undead warriors, the Cauldron-Born. Later, the enchantresses reclaimed the Cauldron, but were nonetheless willing to relinquish it again in exchange for a magical price.
The three may be called witches or enchantresses, but otherwise were very mysterious beings; as one of the Fair Folk said to Taran, "It's more a question of what they are, not who they are." From day to night they changed from ugly, ancient hags into three beautiful young maidens. Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch could also change into each other, swapping their identities among themselves as a mundane trio might trade hats.Companions. Is it possible that they saw in Taran the inherent propensity for heroism, leadership, even lordliness? Huntsmen of Annuvin into sinking into a bog. It is further implied that the witches transformed several previous Huntsmen into animals. They deemed the act of stealing the Cauldron back from Annuvin to have been no trouble.
Their late-night weaving, along with hints of their powers, their great age, the shifting tapestry Taran saw at Orddu's wheel (concerning which see below), his feeling of having glimpsed something beyond his grasp, and their final "gift" to Taran all seem to imply that the women were some kind of cohesive entity, a triumvirate spirit being, even perhaps immortal. In some sense, it seems, they wove the fabric of people's lives during the age of enchantments in Prydain.
AppearancesDallben in the marshes as a baby, and raised him as their own. However, when he a youth they were compelled to send him away after he accidentally ingested a potion that made him their equal in intelligence. As they said, it was too much wisdom under one roof. In parting, the witches offered the young man the choice of a sword -- with which he might have been the mightiest hero in Prydain; a harp -- with which he might have been the most famous bard; or The Book of Three, which would give him wisdom and understanding. He chose the latter and so, selected his destiny, though reading it aged him and bent his back. brooch which Taran has inherited from Adaon. The enchantresses further warned that the only way to destroy the Cauldron was to have a living being voluntarily climb into it, well knowing he or she would perish in the act. Mirror of Llunet and left him with the advice that "The seeking counts more than the finding" and "every robin must scratch for his own worms".
The witches make one final appearance near the end of the series, this time in the shape of beautiful maidens (a form only glimpsed in The Black Cauldron). They gave Taran a farewell present of an uncompleted tapestry which depicted his life's story. They told him that they would soon leave on a journey of their own. When Taran asked them to give him the answer of one final question as a last boon, they replied (a little sadly), "When in truth did we ever give you anything?" before vanishing.
In the 1985 animated film, Eda Reiss Merin voices Orddu, Adele Malis-Morey voices Orwen, and Billie Hayes Orgoch. For reasons known only by the animators, Orwen is portrayed as being romantically infatuated with Fflewddur. As in the Chronicles, the witches serve as minor antagonists and comedy relief, but they are also helpful, providing information to the heroes about the powers of the Black Cauldron. However, at the climax they appear as huge, goddess-like beings, ensconced in cloud. They use their powers to bring Gurgi back to life, revealing themselves to be divine entities entirely apart from Lloyd Alexander's skein-weaving creations.
The movie further reveals a darker side to the witches' personality, albeit one used for comedic effect in their main scene. Namely, the trio share a penchant for turning people into frogs and eating them, having amassed a collection of victims which they keep stocked for mealtime. But while the Companions are in the cottage seeking the Cauldron, the amphibians escape! In turn, Orgoch morphs Fflewddur into a frog, and is about to eat him, when Orwen -- true to her amorous character as imagined by the Disney team -- intervenes to save the bard.
Legendary InspirationsLloyd Alexander explains in the Author's Note to Taran Wanderer that the three witches "appeared in other guises", including the "Norns [of Scandinavian mythology], the Moirae [of Greek], the Triple Goddess [of Celtic]" and other "transformations". Years later Alexander expanded the list to include the cauldron-stirring trio from Macbeth1. And while the author never names the British iterations, it's worth noting that in medieval legend the wounded King Arthur was cared for by three queens (one of whom was his sister, the sorceress Morgan LeFay).
As to nomenclature, the name Orddu appears in the Mabinogion, as a witch whose blood Arthur must acquire. Here she's called "the daughter of the witch Orwen of Penn Nant Govid, on the confines of Hell". Orgoch's name is not drawn from legend but may mean "blood-red sorceress" according to author Elizabeth Lane.
1 Tunnell, Michael O. The Prydain Companion. Henry Holt and Company, 2003.
2 Lane, Elizabeth. "Lloyd Alexander's Chonicles of Prydain and Welsh Tradition." Orcrist 7, 1973.