Mabinogion Folk Tales

The Mabinogion was the collection of Celtic folk tales featuring Celts’ mythological, traditional, and historical worlds.

This Welsh anecdote, composed of literary figures like King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, were exchanged for loading and flooding by early Celtic wanderers in Britain.

Much of European literature was influenced by Mabinogion, written in around 12-13 the century, which Lady Charlotte Guest later translated in the mid 19th century.

The medieval prose had elements extracted from two late-medieval manuscripts, namely “the White book of Rhydderch” and “the Red Book of Hergest.”

Eleven folklores depicting romance, fantasy, and fiction genres could be found in the book.

The Mabinogion

The opening few lines of the Mabinogi
The opening few lines of the Mabinogi

Welsh princess Gwenllian, daughter of the king of Gwynedd, was said to be the author of the Mabimogoin in the 12 th century. It was brought into light by Lady Guest in her compilation known as the Mabinogion.

“Mabinogi” was derived from an ancient word “mab,” meaning “youth of boyhood” that gradually became popular as “tale of boyhood” and finally only “tale.”

The tales were extracted from a 14th-century book, “the White Book of Rhydderch” and “the Red Book of Hergest,” with slight orthographic and lexical changes.

The Mabinogion series was split into four branches called “Four braces of Mabinogion,” Each component contained numerous tales in sequences and was named after the protagonist.

Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math completed the series that circumvented the character Pryderi.

Different stories of Mabinogion were written at various times as the fragments of the fables provide a record of early myths, legends, culture, and Wales.

Yet Scholars debate the actual origination date based on historical and linguists’ depiction found in the texts.

The disjointed nature of Celtic stories in the Mabinogion having unique content was relatively unknown to scholars before the 18 th century in any written form as it was passed down through generation via oral practices. 

Philosophical studies estimated Mabinogion to have included per-Christian Celtic mythology based upon the analysis of their characterization, plot structures, and languages with an overlay of Anglo-French influences.

Lady Charlotte Guest encountered Pughe’s and chose to translate it to amuse her family, as mentioned in her publication of the Mabinogion.

However, she talked about the inappropriate content regarding sexuality in the first branches for the children to be included in the book, so censorship was a must.

Pwyll

Pwyll King of Dyfed hunting with his hounds
Pwyll King of Dyfed hunting with his hounds

The main branch of Mabinogion, Pwyll, was set in the southern hemisphere of Wales, which was thought to have strong links with the magical underworld known as Annwn.

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The central character of the branch, Pwyll, was the king of Dyfed, a galactic land of great magical caldrons.

He underwent a series of incantations before gaining the title of “Head of Annwn” while he enhanced his friendship with Arawn, king of Annwn, and exchanged shapes kingdoms with Arawn.

Pwyll won Goddess Rhiannon, a semi-divine figure he loved, from his rival Gwawl. The Great, also referred to as Rhiannon, bore a son to Pwyll named Pryderi, whom Gwawl abducted.

Unfortunately, Pryderi disappeared just after his birth, so the nurses responsible for the baby’s care accused Rhiannon of killing or cannibalizing her newborn.

Rhiannon endured severe punishment despite her innocence, and years later, Pryderri was rediscovered from the house of Tyron Twryf Lliant.

Pryderi was restored to the court of Dyfed, then succeeded Pwyll as ruler in both Dyfed as well as Ann.

The main accounts of the first branch revolved around Pruderi’s birth, youth, and initial career days.

Along with pagan mystery tales, the story carried a mixture of the traditional tribal history of medieval times.

Branwen

Branwen
Branwen

The second branch of Mabinogion dealt with Branwen, goddess of love and beauty, the center of origination of lives in the Island of Mighty. 

Brown was the daughter of Llyr, and her story falls as the “slandered wife” where she met the same fate as goddess Rhiannon in the first branch after marrying a man out of their world.

Branwen was the sister of Bran the blessed; that signifies raven in Welsh dialect. Bran, the British king, also had an evil half-brother Efnisien who laid the revenge plots later on in the story.

Bran gave his sister in marriage to the king of Ireland Matholwch to bring about a peaceful alliance between Ireland and Britain.

Meanwhile, Efnisien flamed with anger upon not being consulted about his half-sister’s marriage, maimed Matholwch’s horses with swords to seek revenge.

After learning about Efnisien’s deeds, Bran tried to pacify Matholwch with new horses, magical gifts such as a cauldron that could bring the dead to life, silver rods, gold plates.

Although hurt from the insult, Matholch accepted gifts and made his way to Ireland.

Branwen had to pay for her brother’s deed back in Ireland as she was banished to a kitchen where she had to live, work, and was often beaten.

Fed of extreme tormentation, she managed to slip off a letter to her brother Bran one day.

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A fierce battle emerged between Britain and Ireland, but the caldron gifted by Bran revoked the dead Irish, which was finally destroyed by Efnisien that cost him his life.

Britain miserably defeated Ireland in the combat; Branwen could not take the destruction brought upon both the nations, so she also died of heartbreak.

Only seven Welsh soldiers survived who then moved towards Harlech, listening to the songs of Rhiannon to make them forget their pain.

On the island of Gwales, one of the soldiers opened the wall of Cornwall that reminds them of their lost ones.

Meanwhile, only five pregnant women surviving in Ireland gave birth whose children repopulated Ireland.

Manawydan

Manawydan
Manawydan

The third branch of Mabinogion circulated the aftermath of the second branch of the series.

Manawydan was one of the Welsh soldiers that survived the battle between Wales and Ireland who had recently buried the head of warrior king Benedigeidfran.

Manawydan declared himself a dispossessed man; hence the main idea of the third branch was dispossession and expatriation of Gaelic traditions.

The demographic upheavals in the plot were associated with the proto-historic information.

Brother of king Bran, Manawydan was the only heir to the British throne after the battle, friends with Pryderi. Manawydan married Rhiannon, widow of Pwyll, who was mentioned in the first branch.

A mist of enchantment befell Dyfed deserting it, so Manawyden made his living producing beautiful saddles, shoes, and shields.

Some tradesmen again drove them, so they decided to move to Alberth despite Pryderi’s desire to stay back and fight.

One day Pryderi with his hounds followed a shiny white boar to a nearby deserted fort ignoring Manawydan’s advice, and hence got trapped in a magical cauldron.

Rhiannon, worried for her son, rushed towards the fortress where both the mother and son vanished at night time along with the fort.

Manawydan, along with Pryderi’s wife Cigna, did farming, but his reap fields were stripped bare every time.

Eventually, he got hold of a fat mouse, desperate to kill it, and moved to Alberth; meanwhile, a cleric and priest refrained from doing so.

In the instance, a bishop pleaded with Manawyaden to let go of the mouse for a price he wished.

Manawyaden asked for lighting spells over Rhiannon and Pryderi in exchange for a mouse without wasting a moment.

The bishop turned out to be Llwyd, who put Dyfed under spells to avenge the humiliation of Gwawl from the first part while the mouse was his pregnant wife.

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Finally, the cast over Dyfed disintegrated, and Manawyden successfully restored Dyfed.

Math

Lleu rises in the form of an eagle
Lleu rises in the form of an eagle

The terminal and the most complex branch of Mabinogion was centered on the birth, death, and rebirth of a Celtic hero-God, Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

Lleu was a druid god dressed in medieval attire who provided shreds of evidence of pre-Christian cults.

This branch preserved the magico-religious culture of pre-Christian Europe that discussed the emergence of the Celtic language during 3000-1000 B.C.

The tale spun around the Lleyn peninsula as Math, the son of Mathonwy, ruled Gwynedd. A magical conspiracy arose as Math’s nephew Gilfaethwy fell in love with a foot maiden Goewin.

Magician Gwydion stole pigs from Pryderi to give Math a gift, deceiving Pryderi with toadstools as a horse swapping it with pigs.

Pryderi set an attack on Math, meanwhile back in Gwynedd, Gilfaethwy raped Goewin.

Upon knowing the truth, Math turned Gilfaethwy and Gwydion into animals, turning their offspring into boys.

Years later, Gilfaethwy was freed of his animal form and was offered service by a pregnant maid who gave birth to Lleu.

Lleu, in his youth, went to Math to get relieved of Arionrhod’s curse of not having a human wife. Then, Lleu married Blodeuwedd, who later fell in love with a neighboring lord.

Lleu was planning to be killed, but as he was not an ordinary mortal man, his wife tricked him, so he was attacked with a spear that must be in a year in making.

Luckily, Lleu escaped as an eagle who was converted to an ill human by Gwydion.

Lleu avenged by turning Blodeuwedd into an owl while her lover Goronwy was given a stone to shield the same spear thrown at Lleu so that it would pierce the stone to kill Goronwy.

People believe that the very stone exists today at Llech Row in the Cynfal Valley.

Conclusion

The Mabinogion tales represented pre-historic Celtic mythology in romance, fiction, and fantasy.

It described Wales as a magical land with astounding heroic elements discussed in eleven short folktales.

Especially the four branches of the Mabinogion series were primarily concerned with ancient Christina norms prevalent in the Celtic era, inclusive of the origin of Celtic language and the progression of Celtic literature.

Plotline surrounded Pryderi’s story; however, he was not the only attraction of the stories.

Manawyden, Branwen, and Math were also depicted as crucial figures of the story orally passed down to European descendants. 

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