Y Mabinogi – Let’s talk about History

Charlotte_Guest_RhiannonAs many of you know by now my latest project is a spoken word, song and music album telling the tales within the Four Branches of the Mabinogion. Originally I thought this would be one double album, but I’ve very quickly realised that, in order to give these four intertwined tales the room to breathe and the magic they need to flow, they will now require a CD for each branch.

My first quest has been to re-explore the history of the Mabinogion. Where these tales came from and their journey from oral tradition to recorded work. I had explored their history many times before and my job unravelling their mystery was a lot harder. Happily those historians who so quickly dismissed them as mere medieval constructed stories have had their research replaced by linguistic scholars who can see the patterns within the old Middle Welsh words. It is in this language archaeology that the giant steps in our understanding of the Four Branches have been made.

Some years ago a Druid group openly declared that There are no Druids in existence today. The group had become very disillusioned with the way many modern Druids were still using the words of Iolo Morganwg within their rituals and theology, and that these same modern Druids still openly honoured the ‘fake Deities’ from a medieval book, i.e. The Mabinogion. This open declaration found a little support and a new group was formed by those who wished to break away. I, and many other modern Druids, watched on a little bewildered wondering why, if people weren’t happy with their path, they didn’t simply just walk away and do something else. Why was there the need to be so antagonistic? But as I watched I realised what was happening. The new group direction was defined by what it was not, and that was modern Druidry. It had to push against the other, to become. The problem arose when that ran out of steam. Modern Druidry carried on without them and they then had to begin to define what they were, as apposed to what they were not. A few of my closest friends were a part of that new group and what they wanted was more ancient authenticity to their path. I get that. A bit. Very quickly it became apparent that many in the new group could not agree what that authenticity should be, and things broke up. My friends found their home in Heathenry where the myths are planted on very firm foundations, and the rest of modern Druidry carried on quite happily as we were.

Why do I mention this?

During the time of this brief interruption I went to a talk given by one of the breakaway group. It was an open and pointed deconstruction of the Mabinogion. I sat in the front row as he used words such as ‘dangerous’ when it came to believing these old tales had any real Pagan antiquity. Many around me thought I would speak out, but I didn’t. I listened and kept my thoughts to myself. Afterwards the speaker came to me and asked why I hadn’t said anything. My answer was simple. We both knew a friend who had recently been converted to Atheism after reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. He went from being a pretty devout polytheist to a born-again Atheist in a weekend. Discussion on theology with him became impossible. Each idea offered on religion was simply put down by the reply, “Prove it exists.” The speaker at the event had had several online arguments with our mutual Atheist friend. I said that talking to him about the Mabinogion was like talking theology to an Atheist. That he wanted proof of something that went beyond the physical and material world. I didn’t have that proof. What I had was personal gnosis. I suggested that me discussing the Mabinogion with him was like him talking to an Atheist about theology. He went quiet. Then said, “Dave that is an annoyingly accurate analogy.”

However, if I had been sitting there now I would have had a lot more physical evidence to back up the ancient threads that can be found within the Four Branches. Threads teased away by gentle research into language and the patterns therein. I know my Heathen friends are very happy now working with Odin. Thor and the Nine Realms. What is nice is that the personal gnosis I had when connecting with Gwydion, Blodeuwedd, Aranrhod, Rhiannon and the other Children of Llyr and Don is being backed up by that research. Does that matter? Not too much, but it’s good to know.

So at the moment I am throughly enjoying the research by Will Parker, Marged Haycock, John Coch and John Carey. Amazing research that places the Four Branches back within the ancient Pagan world. Not just those tales, but also the poems of Taliesin, that were equally discarded. It is good to know that what many of us felt was true is now being explored in a proper, and respectful, scholarly manner.

I’ve often said that the tree doesn’t thrive if we dig up the roots. but there is no harm occasionally checking that the roots are strong and firm. These researchers, and their published books are helping to strengthen those roots. So now, as I open to the First Branch and the Journey to create an ancient tale told in a new way, I not only acknowledge my own gnosis, I also know that the name Rhiannon has been spoken for hundreds, if not thousands of years, as a Goddess upon the Isle of the Mighty.

May my words, music, and song, bring Her and Her kin honour.

I’ll keep you posted!

Blessed be.

By | 2016-10-14T11:00:21+00:00 April 11th, 2016|Categories: druidry, Mabinogion|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Jio April 11, 2016 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Everyone has their own beliefs systems and this is fine- spreading the word is okay if it is not forced on a person, you could walk away if you wanted to. But equally the talker must not set out to convert every one of his listeners.
    I look forward to learning more about the Mabinogion through your upcoming albums and making my own connections to it’s stories 🙂

    • Damh the Bard April 15, 2016 at 9:51 am - Reply

      Absolutely! I think it’s wonderful how these old stories speak to us on so many levels.

  2. Margaret April 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    What a delightful journey you are embarked upon, Dave. We, on the Druidic path, do seem to take a special pleasure when art and scholarship come together. I am greatly looking forward to the unfolding of your four (or even more) cd’s exploring these wonderful tales. For me, one of the great joys of this path is that slightly amused acknowledgement that truth is a matter of opinion, and there is nothing so true as thinking makes it so. Such an attitude makes fertile space for so much in the way of creativity and learning. Thank you for sharing your discoveries along the way!

  3. Hennie van Geel April 11, 2016 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    I am a dream-realist. If a Tale brings me feelings, thoughts, a practice and much more, it is real. So are the characters in it. Since I read Narnia , it is right possible to travel from one reality to another via a cabinet. The lesson is clear. Things are not always what they seem.

    I understand that in parts of the West Country and in parts of Wales, the mythology is a living reality among the common people. We might not understand it, but it is real.

    Besides, any good story can count on my support. And do I want to know more of that? You bet!

  4. Tim Holland April 11, 2016 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Thats quite a project! I knew the Mabinogion tales were important and held echoes of ancient practice, more so than Wicca, from years back when on the Lady Guest version was easily available, but without a huge background in scholarship they remained confusing echoes. Robin Williamson’s theatrical version in the 1980 lifted the lid a bit but theres rich seams to be mined yet!

  5. Sheryl Powell April 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    This all sounds so exciting, I look forward to hearing your new albums and more about the research behind them.
    I have just found your podcast recently, I’m listening to all the old archived podcast , it feels like home.
    I wish I had access to the reading material you have but upon doing some of my on searching of the authors you had mentioned I came across this, of which you may or may not be interested in, or already have, either way I found it interesting and thought I would share a bit of the article and the link.
    Thank you so much,. I truly enjoy the podcast and all the music that you share.
    Sheryl Mimi
    ~
    Taliesin
    Characters
    Name Variants: Taliessin, Talyessin, Teliesin, Talgesin, Thelgesinus
    Background Essay Author: Dianne Evanochko

    ~~ Taliesin Ben Beirdd (chief of the bards), as Taliesin the poet is also known, is considered one of the most significant Old Welsh bards. The poems associated with him are perhaps the oldest surviving Old Welsh poems and because of this some scholars of Welsh literary tradition, such as Saunder’s Lewis, have referred to the Welsh poetic tradition that followed as “Taliesinic.” What’s more, he is also frequently used as an iconic symbol of Welsh literature and poetry.
    http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/theme/taliesin

  6. Dewi Hughes April 11, 2016 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    Really interesting to find out about your research Damh. I’ve been interested in the Mabinogion for a while, and found the writings of W.J. Gruffydd and Proincias mac Cana very helpful. Probably a bit old fashioned now…

    • Damh the Bard April 15, 2016 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Thanks!

  7. Louisa John-Krol April 12, 2016 at 1:26 am - Reply

    Thanks for the fascinating article, Damh. I too am reluctant to enter into theological disputes, partly in gentle respect (as in “tread lightly, for you walk on my dreams”), also because cultishness doesn’t ride well with reasoning. Among pagans, I identify loosely with various descriptors, while aware that some friends are sensitive to distinctions, e.g. between Wicca and Witch, or between classical / traditional Druid versus modern strands. I like the word Heathen for its linguistic link to heath and that Wuthering Heights alchemy of Norse / Anglo Saxon & Norman / Latin. Overall, I’m most comfortable with the term “polytheist”, since polytheism is Latin for ‘many religions’, inviting elements of other faiths; my spiritual path is mostly a mix of Animism, Sufism, Graeco-Roman pantheism, Norse & Celt, but I also have friends from all the major religions. Despite Welsh & Anglo-Scottish parentage, being born in Australia provided distance from geo-blood ties, with the ancient Aboriginal Dreamtime in closer proximity. There is no need for tribalism, rivalry or exclusion in our pluralistic societies. We are free to learn from each other.

    • Damh the Bard April 15, 2016 at 10:01 am - Reply

      There are such obvious links between stories and myths around the world. They all have their own flavour and to me that comes from the land itself. The stories are heard by those on that land but we are all human – with very similar needs and wishes. So that land offers the tales, the people listen and tell the tales, but the meanings held within are so often similar, and that’s where being human, and not tribal, comes in. Thanks for the comment Louisa.

  8. Dru April 12, 2016 at 2:23 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for your post. The Mabinogion is a fascinating labyrinth of beauty, in my opinion. It is probably my “foundation” text, such great tales. Thanks for mentioning the sources of your current research. I will surely look them up, as not only do I love the myth but also the work by scholars. What a Druid nerd… And, I await your interpretation in song and word!

  9. Jeremiah April 13, 2016 at 10:19 am - Reply

    thanks for your wonderful work. You are a inspiration!

  10. jamie April 14, 2016 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Yet at some point in time way back someone must have made up the ancient tales. Does that make them any less valid? The real question should be does this resonate with me? Does this speak to me? Do these words have value? Does this system work? If you have a tool in your hand instead of discarding it, use it.

    • Damh the Bard April 15, 2016 at 10:10 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment Jamie. I’m not sure I resonate with your words ‘made up’. Maybe that’s my thing but I come from a different way of seeing worldwide myths. If you look at them deeply and with a less materialistic/rational viewpoint, it does seem that these tales, be they Aboriginal tales in Australia, Native American tales in North America, or European folklore and myth like the Four Branches, come from the land itself. It’s like the land tells the stories to the people who live upon it. The people listen and tell the tales. So rather than ‘making them up’ as a writer might write a book, it’s more like they open themselves up to hear what is already there. Speaking to tribal peoples around the world that seems to be a pattern. I am of course only speaking of those kinds of tale here in the article and if stories speak to us and resonate I also agree that it really doesn’t matter much where they came from. That’s the power of story. One only has to look at Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ to see that in action.

  11. Matt Lyons April 20, 2016 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Very glad you have found it will be an album for each branch. Each character and story is quite deep and complex and each set of journies has so many of it’s own stories to explore. I have re-read for the fourth time and always see something new in the power, mysticism, justice and travels. In the same way it would be inappropriate to get frustrated with never being able to meet or track down the very original bards (where’s that Tardis?), would a musician ban themselves from playing Greensleeves any more, as they couldn’t track down the original first perfomance of it (Henry VIII did an arrangement, but didn’t compose it-myth)? In the same way that the Romans often cross identified their gods into similar deities from the occupation, despite various conquests over the last 1500 years,enough people cared to carry the torch through, knowing full well that writing it down or even diguising the text to survive religious suppression, I believe enough of the strength of the oral traditions, even with some inevitable alterations over so many centuries, it simply comes down to “You cannot stop a good story being told”. As you are now about to do …and so another link in the chain that will take the stories forward again… and I cannot think of a better bard to take this forward. Shine on Dave 🙂

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