Lee Davies 2007
First published in Pentacle Magazine
Having taken a brief look at the main literary source with which to begin the path of the Baedd Gwyn, we should turn our attention to those characters who stand out, who shine amongst the others or who may have been relegated to a shadowy reflection of their former importance. Llyr is regarded as a sea god, his son Bendigeidfran for instance is at one point referred to as 'son of the ocean'. Within the children of Llyr I have included Rhiannon and her son Pryderi for a number of reasons; first of all, they can be seen as having been adopted into this family after Rhiannon married Manawyddan following Pwyll's death. Also, Pryderi was one of men who went with Bendigeidfran to retrieve Branwen from Ireland and he was also amongst the seven survivors. I also include them as part of the larger family for a more personal reason, throughout the Mabinogion and other associated early Welsh poetry there is trend whereby the children of Llyr are overcome by the children of Don. Gwydion for instance steals the pigs of Annwfyn from Pryderi and kills him, Amaethon and Gwydion take part in the battle of Kat Goddeu and together overcome the otherworldy host led by Bran. Following the return to Britain by Bran and the company of seven survivors, Britain had been overtaken by the sons of Beli Mawr who can be seen as the consort of Don. This ousting of an older family sounds very much like the myths or the Vanir and Aesir or the Titans and Olympians and like both an exchange and intermarrying occurs. In the case of the Cymric mythos, Llyr the sea god marries into the family of Don by marrying her daughter Penarddun whose name means 'Headland' or 'High Goddess', the headland possibility is very interesting as this would be extremely fitting a name for the goddess who marries the old sea god and literally bridges between sea and Land (Don?)
I have a personal hypothesis that the Children Llyr represents an older and indigenous family of gods who were ousted by the Children of Don, who are a cymricised family of gods from Ireland. This is, I think, backed up by the striking similarities between the Children of Don and the Tuatha De Dannan. This would also account for the lack of mythology and folklore concerning the main family members of the Plant Llyr. For instance, the branch in the Mabinogi which details the happenings of this family is called 'Branwen the Daughter of Llyr', yet she plays a very minor part in the story. This is certainly odd, unless of course the original myth focused more on her and what we have left is a reduced and watered down form.
Manawyddan is an enigma. Manannan mac Lir is a definite sea god who appears in the Irish myths, however his character is totally different from the Manawyddan that we find in the mabinogion. The Cymric Manawyddan has nothing to suggest oceanic affinities, it has been suggested by Gruffydd and MacCana that perhaps Manawyddan is merely a name imported into the mythos and given to an already existing character, his association with Rhiannon, fosterage of Pryderi and rescue of both in the third branch indicate that he may actually be Teyrnon again (as has been suggested by a couple of scholars), it was he who was replaced by the Pwyll character in the first branch. This would of course tie up the three member Divine Mother, Divine Father and Divine Child family and brings us back to a much older core mythos surrounding these three figures in what we find in the existing myths as a story in which the child and possibly mother are captured and lead to a barren-land like state. Once the father rescues them, summer and fertility are restored.
name means 'White Crow or 'White Breast' (if her name is Bronwen which
is how it sometimes appears in the original texts). One possibility is
that it means 'Blessed Crow', exactly like her brother, though with the
feminine 'wen' ending also denoting holy or sacred along with it also
meaning simply white. She was married off to Matholowch, a King from Ireland,
when she went to live with him she was mistreated and sent for help of
her brother Bendigeidfran by means of a starling.
In the Trioedd Ynys Prydein (Triads of the Island of Britain) she is called one of the three ancestral women of Britain. As she only had one son who was killed this seems odd, unless of course her importance has become diminished and lost. This also explains why the branch of the Mabinogion is named after her but she doesn't play a large part - it alludes to a lot of lost mythos surrounding Branwen. This is where I am going to introduce a little personal opinion and UPG; I had a vision, a kind of dream whilst in that not asleep yet not awake state, it was of Branwen with fiery dark red hair standing on a cliff screaming at the storm raging around her. She then plunged a dagger into her heart. It always seemed odd to me that as sister or maybe even twin to Bendigeidfran, she seemed so much weaker and not at all in control of her own destiny and if that were the case why would the whole tale be named after her? If the Preiddu Annwfyn is a more recent retelling of the original myth, perhaps the raid into the otherworld wasn't just to retrieve the cauldron (as in the poem) but also to retrieve Branwen. Maybe Branwen was the guardian of the cauldron, itself a representation of fertility and life and both had been captured by otherworldy forces (here represented by the Irish, after all the islands to the west of Britain were regarded as otherworldly). With fertility and sovereignty stolen, these islands were lost from the dynasty of Llyr and so the rise of the dynasties of Don and Beli Mawr came about. This is of course my own views and interpretations, but I hope you might see the point and intention of what I am trying to do. Branwen herself has hinted to me that I am on the right path in searching for her truer nature, a nature other than that reduced to a helpless woman in a mans world, and merely a 'welsh love goddess' as some have described her.
Bendigeidfran should be well known to most of us, he is the giant king of Britain who was the keeper of the cauldron or rebirth and who gave it away. In doing so and following handing it to the Irish, the British were almost wiped out and the lands lost to the dynasty of Llyr as the sons of Beli Mawr rose to ascendancy. An interesting idea has been put forward that Bran wasn't actually beheaded, but that this was later added out of confusion. In the second branch the seven survivors were called 'Assembly of the Head', 'pen' in welsh means head in the physiological sense but also head as in leader or ruler, such as 'Pen Annwfyn' or 'lord of the otherworld'. This being the case it has been suggested that following the apocalypse in Ireland, the survivors went with Bendigeidfran to the Otherworld, where he was to stay almost like the banishing of the older gods to the sidhe mounds in Irish mythology. His companions eventually returned to this world. So, with the possible mix up of the exact context of 'pen' the addition of the beheading and burial at White Mount were added in later. That said they are appealing additions and maybe should be kept as part of the Brythonic mythos, either way we can still regard Bendigeidfran as a sleeping otherworld lord who will look after this island.
Together, Bran and Branwen have strong corvid connections which generally in Brythonic lore denotes some sort of war or warrior like associations, now this we can of course see in Bran but it is absent in Branwen. Patrick Ford has pointed out that there is a possible and very interesting link between these two siblings and the giants Llasar Llaes Gyfnewid and his wife Cymidei Cymeinfoll who brought the cauldron of rebirth and plenty with them to Britain from the otherworld. They also have strong warlike associations in that the giantess gives birth to fully armed and grown warriors, and lots of them. Her name means 'bloated with war or warriors' and his, appropriately means 'fire'. Together their names are very fitting for the cauldron itself which can bring the dead back to life when their bodies are heaped inside and it is heated. Now here comes a big what if, what if these two giants were originally the siblings or couple of Bran and Branwen, both warrior like, both giant in stature, both coming from the otherworld to this with their cauldron, it certainly fits with the idea of these gods being underworld in nature and returning there on their deaths. It would also help get back to the lost myth of Branwen who was once much greater in stature and importance, after all, bearing so many warriors who strengthened these isles, it's no wonder she was named as one of the great ancestresses of the island of Britain. It's a possibility, maybe closer to the truth or maybe not. But it's a tentative step that we should all be making- trying to rediscover our gods rather then letting poorly written books spout the same tired garbage and us swallowing it up unquestioningly.
Teyrnon receives little mention in the Mabinogion, other than being the man whose mare whose its foal snatched every May Eve. On one May Eve he awaits the attacker and hacks off its arm to release the foal, he also finds a baby - Pryderi - whom he names Gwri. He eventually reunites mother and son after a time. His name means 'great king or lord' and the suffix -on attests to his original deity status. His involvement within the myth hints to a much older myth in which he is part of the divine family with Rhiannon and her son Gwri.
Rhiannon has had so much written about her it would be pointless to repeat it here. She is of course the welsh derivation of the Brythonic Rigatona or 'Great Queen', associated with horses and in that respect associated with Epona. Rhiannon is a euhemerized goddess of great importance; she is the great mother and queen, the goddess whose child is stolen from her and who is made to suffer and the kingdom with her. Her son is of course restored and there is a happy ending. This happens twice with the barren land/winter interval more obvious in the third branch of the Mabinogion. The first time round it is Teyrnon who reunites mother and child, his name of course being derived from 'Great Lord', this has led to Gruffydd putting forward that it should be Teyrnon who rescues mother and son in the third branch and that originally the three of them: Rhiannon, Teyrnon and Pryderi/Gwri/Gweir were a mythic divine family whose mythos included a Demeter like descent of the goddess tale.
Pryderi is a quasi historical character from Dyfed, what is now south-west Wales. It seems his name has become attached to the mythos of Rhiannon and her child at some point in the oral transmission of these tales. It seems originally the divine child was called Gwri (as he is named by Teyrnon in the first branch) but this has become replaced in the tale and through time with the name Pryderi. He has come to replace the divine child stolen from his mother, the child who grows up to be a great hunter, warrior and also one of the great swine-herders of the Island of Britain though it is these swine which lead to his downfall as he dies in combat with the enchanter Gwydion after Gwydion steals the otherworldly pigs. There is a strong reason to believe that the original Pryderi character/deity was also something like the Brythonic Mabon ap Modron a much more literal divine child - 'Son, son of Mother'.
Whilst I'm sure that I have repeated some already known information here, I also hope that some of what I have presented is slightly out of the norm or causes pause for thought. The above isn't by any means an exhaustive review of this dynasty of ancient welsh gods, it does cover the main figures and will hopefully lead the reader into further reading and that is my greatest hope. That you might look a little deeper, read a little longer and search that little bit harder. For that is how we will truly begin to forge a relationship with our gods and begin to uncover some of the forgotten mysteries of the Cymric tradition.