Branwen, Goddess of Love and Beauty, daughter of Penardim and Llyr, sister of Bran the Blessed, King over all the Island of the Mighty, was loved by her people for her gentleness, compassion and beauty. As Mother of the king to come in the tradition of the Old Tribes of the British Isles, she is the embodiment of Sovereignty. She is the Center from which all life emerges. She rules over the Land, both its spirit and its manifestation. Her vision is long, seeing the whole, the greater scheme of things. Sometimes this knowledge can be too much to bear.
Branwen (“white raven”), is most likely an ancient Goddess whose sacred spot is Cadair Bronwen (Branwen’s Seat), a mountain peak in the Berwyn range of Wales. Cadair Bronwen is topped with a cairn that resembles a nipple from afar.
Branwen’s story falls within the category of the ‘Slandered Wife’. Parallels can be drawn with the story of Rhiannon from the first branch of the Mabinogion, in that both Goddesses are falsely accused and suffer persecution after their marriages to men from a world different than their own. These types of tales are numerous in a time when the old way of feminine autonomy and sovereignty was giving way to a male-dominated world.
We first meet Branwen on the day that the Irish King, Matholuch, came to call. His fleet arrived on the shores of Wales with a great shield pointing outwards as a token of peace. He called out to Bran that he had come to ask for the hand of Branwen in marriage. Bran was very surprised as never before had a woman of the old tribes, much less She who would give birth to the next king, left her people to marry a foreigner. Nonetheless, Matholuch was invited ashore and Branwen was called for.
She arrived in all her raven-haired, white-breasted beauty. She blushed deeply upon seeing Matholuch, tall and handsome with golden-red hair shimmering around him. His face lit up with joy and desire when he saw Her.
A feast was prepared and the two, the Goddess and the King, spent the evening in conversation as they fell in love with one another. Though Branwen dreaded the thought of leaving Her people, She was in the grip of first love and She knew that she had to go with him. Matholuch was also in the heat of first love, but he never lost sight that She was the gateway into the world of kings to come. In his mind their son would rule both Ireland and the British Isles.
Manawyddan was not in favor of their union, but he acquiesced to their brother the King’s decision – since Branwen wanted to go with Matholuch, it would be so. Her other brother, Nissyen also said nothing against the marriage.
The marriage feast and consummation were held at Aberffraw. For many days after, the men of Ireland and Wales hunted together in celebration. Night after night Branwen and Matholuch shared the fire of their growing love.
But Nissyen’s twin, Evnissyen, who was best at stirring up trouble, had been absent during all this time. When he learned of the marriage, he was angry to have been left out of the decision-making. In his anger he maimed the Irish horses in a terrible manner.
Evnissyen’s act of terror caused an uproar and threatened war between the two peoples. The Irish marched off to their ships, stoney-faced with anger. Deep in the hearts of Bran and his brothers, they knew that the only true atonement would be the death of Evnissyen in retribution for the Irish loss. But this they could not do as it violated the very essence of the way of the Old Tribes. So instead, Bran called to Matholuch to return and accept a face-price such as had never been offered before.
The two kings, with Branwen at their sides and their people all around, came together again to settle the matter. Seeing that Matholuch was still uneasy, Bran offered yet another boone to his face-price, the cauldron of rebirth. Any man who is killed can be thrown into this cauldron and will emerge to fight again. Bran the Blessed warned Matholuch that a wise king would not use this cauldron as these unearthly beings can do nothing but fight. Ultimately they could be a worse fate to deal with than the enemy on the battlefield.
And so it was settled and Branwen sailed to Ireland with her man. The people were dazzled by Her beauty and charm. They were happy for a few years. Soon their son, Gwern, was born. Matholuch felt sure his plan for his son to become king after him was well underway. Never before had a king’s son become the next king in Ireland. In the Old Ways it was decided by Druidic visions; the New Tribes decided kingship by violence.
Up to this point, news of the maiming of the Irish horses had not reached the ears of the Irish people as the High Druid had placed a “gessa” on them that forbade them to speak of the incident. But the High Druid died when Gwern was a baby and men’s tongues loosened with news of the insult. The Irish were furious, blaming Matholuch for not getting blood vengeance. Ultimately they demanded that the King put Branwen aside and punish Her for Her brother’s sin. And he, coward that he was, acquiesced to their demands.
For three years Branwen endured shame and daily beatings while working in the hot kitchen. She was alone, without a friend in the world, tormented by all around her. She endured it all with pride. But the one thing she could not endure was living with the shame that she had chosen such a weak man as her own. Finally one day she found a wounded baby starling. She remembered Her mother’s starlings that she had taught to speak as a young girl. An idea hatched in her mind and hope was reborn. She nursed the starling back to health and slowly taught it where to go, who to find, and what to say.
Finally the time arrived for the starling to fly. All night Branwen passed her power, her words and her need to the starling. With the dawn she released her friend into the air who flew away toward Wales, the Island of the Mighty.
It was a long and terrifying journey but the starling reached its destination. It found Bran and spoke the words Branwen had taught it.
Horrified at the news, Bran amassed the men of Wales and set out across the water to free Branwen. Upon their arrival, and due to Branwen’s urgings for a peaceful settlement, Branwen’s release was negotiated. The face-price for peace was that Branwen’s son, Gwern would be the Irish High King and the building of a house large enough to house Bran the Blessed, who was a giant among men.
But once again Evnissyen intervened and catastrophe ensued. During a celebration of the house building and Gwern’s kingship, Evnissyen threw Gwern into the fire, killing the boy who all loved.
War broke out between the two peoples that destroyed them both. At the end of that day many lay dead but worse was yet to come. The Irish made the fateful decision to use the cauldron of rebirth to obtain demon warriors. Terrible battles raged. Finally Evnissyen, who finally accepted responsibility for what had arisen, sacrificed himself by going into the cauldron alive and breaking it apart from within. Toxic fumes engulfed all and by morning everyone was dead, save those sheltered in the Halls of Tara and the House of Bran.
Bran sent word to the Irish that they would leave the island on the morrow to what peace and reconstruction could be had. Treachery once more reared its ugly head as the remaining Irish warriors ambushed the remaining Welsh, ultimately delivering a death blow to Bran in the form of a poisonous spear. Bran, not wishing to endure a lingering death asked his brother to cut off his head and carry it back to Wales. Branwen then died of a broken heart. Only seven men returned to the Isle of the Mighty, accompanied by the magical, talking head of Bran.
Branwen’s story is truly one of sorrow. But as Goddess of Love, love infuses her story from beginning to end. Through love she seeks to unite the two lands. With love, she forgives and continues to seek peace even after her years of suffering in the kitchen. She sought this peace not only for the people but also for the land. And yet she also knows how to set boundaries, having finally shut Matholuch out of her heart forever. And in the end it was She, Great Goddess of Love, not any of the men, who died of a broken heart at the destruction surrounding her. She made the ultimate sacrifice, dying to the old so that new life could be born again.
Branwen is associated with the starling, the raven, the cauldron and the cup. Her colors are white, silver and green. Her planet is Venus.
Call on Branwen when you can’t see the forest for the trees and She will help restore your vision to one of wholeness. Call on Branwen when you are challenged and lacking in empathy and She will help you feel love again. Call on Branwen for the courage to persevere during times of danger and fear. Learn from Branwen how to maintain your courage and determination during stressful situations. And finally learn how not to let duty to your relationships override your own Sovereignty.
Resources: The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton, Celtic Mythology and Folklore, by Patricia Monaghan, http://www.sisterhoodofavalon.org/1-the-goddesses.htm, http://www.mabinogi.net/branwen.htm
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com
36 thoughts on “Branwen, Welsh Goddess of Love and Beauty by Judith Shaw”
Thank you, Judith, for your wonderful post. It was most timely for me as I had recently, as you said, let duty override my sovereignty. Your retelling of this traditional story was filled with strength and meaning. It held far more for me than so much of the religiosity that has become rampant. I will look up your website to see more of your artwork.
Anina, Branwen’s story is timely for me also as I just finished a 2 month period in which I felt a loss of my own sovereignty. And all the while with my work on Branwen calling me from the background. Her story is a good one to remember often as the world and those in it can overwhelm us with their demands. Thanks for reading.
Judith, what a beautiful tale. And what a beautiful image, as always. I don’t know where the lime green and gold cloak came from, but it seems so magically perfect, as is the white raven. This tale could transform into so many other forms. It could be a story for young people, a novel for adults, even a movie. And I even hear the strains of a cello in a symphony or ballet about Branwen (and I assure you that I am no musician). Thank you so much for your most heart felt telling.
Thanks for posting this lovely tale. I read it once in the Mabinogion, a few years ago, but your retelling far surpasses the one I read. It comes as a timely tale to me, since I have just remembered my own sovereignty and rescued myself from an abusive relationship. Brightest blessings to you!
Jean, Brightest blessings to you also and a big huge congratulations for having left an abusive relationship. I know it’s very hard to do and I am so happy to hear that you have done it. I’m grateful that my retelling of Branwen’s tale spoke to you in this time that you have reclaimed your own sovereignty.
MaryAnn, What a wonderful idea to transform this tale into an illustrated novel or short story maybe with music even (funny because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about combining music with my work.). Branwen’s colors are white, silver and green (thus the lime green cloak – I went bright). Venus is Her planet – see Venus in the sky and the bird is the starling who becomes Her messenger. Her name means “white raven” whereas Bran, Her brother the king’s, name means “raven”. So fitting for both. I need to add some of those things to the article – was up against the deadline and forgot. Thank you so much for reading.
Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. I am a member of the Sisterhood and getting to know Branwen, so your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Bendithion!
KS, The Sisterhood sounds like an amazing group to be part of. Branwen and themes of sovereignty seem to be a topic touching many these days. Thanks for reading.
Very poignant. It’s the theme of my life. I am the slandered wife. Divorcing now. I am so much more than that. I’m just pointing out the strange coincidences. Also have a brother. Named barnaby. And have suffered greatly to bring harmony. So much here. Hard to concentrate as I’ve just read it. Very very eerie. It’s me The theme. Everything.
Bronwen, So sorry to hear of your difficulties yet glad that Branwen’s story spoke to you. I hope Branwen’s story helps you find and maintain your own sovereignty while keeping your heart open to love.
My middle name is actually Branwen. Because it’s so unusual today, especially in the US, I’ve looked it up many times, many ways over the last 30+ years. I was surprised to see that it meant “white raven” in your story. Everything I’ve seen so far (not a lot as its not easy to find) said “black” raven or beauty. I’m very interested in learning all I can about every type translation and viewpoint. We know we are of Irish, Welsh/Celtics ancestry (among others), but I know little beyond my grandparent’s generation. Any info, or a nudge in the right direction would be absolutely wonderful and very much appreciated.
Thanks in advance, and thanks for the story!
Hi Eren Branwen, You might want to read The Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton. It is a beautiful re-telling of 4 of the stories from the Mabinogion. Branwen is part of The Island of the Mighty. I did not find any reference to Her name meaning Black Raven- only white. Judging from who She is and what She does I think White Raven is more appropriate. Whereas the Morrigan as a war and death goddess is associated with the black raven
Oops sorry Eren Branwen – I should have said to read the story titled The Children of Llyr for Branwen’s story.
Thanks! I’ll check it out. 😊
My name is Sergi . I am from Barcelona. I have a blog about myths and legends . I have posted a post
about Branwen. I put your amazing drawing in my post with your address. I hope you agree
Sergi, That’s fine. Sharing is good and links are too.
Actually amazing. I’m named Bronwen by my aunt, Brunhilde (also a wonderful name). It is very eerie the parallels of my life story with this. Just amazing. Also you know the raven is the bird of death and the white raven is symbolic of transformation out of death. Sort if like the Phoenix rising from the ashes of its own destruction. The Scorpio theme. (I’m also one of those).
That is interesting that your life has parallels to Branwen’s story. Branwen did die to the old so that new life and a new way could begin. And yes a very Scorpio theme for sure as Scorpio rules life, death and rebirth.
Really that’s not the half of it. It is startling how these themes of courage, purity, feeling compelled to create harmony, seeing the oneness in all things, enduring social alienation, being completely alone in a foreign land (I am an immigrant) not belonging in one’s own culture, persecution for not “playing the game”, feeling the suffering of all things especially mother earth. Marriage to one who isolated me further and revelled in humiliating and betraying me. Standing alone in the face of a community that shunned me due to his slander. (and my obvious difference to the average small town Texan cowgirl- Texas is free from all knowledge lol). Anyway I say these things not as a victim as I have been victorious in walking through this with my purity and love intact. Much stronger and wiser while maintaining my childlike wonder of all beautiful things. I just wanted to demonstrate the astounding parallels. Are you familiar with the Myers/Briggs temperament sorter test founded by Carl Jung? The INFP is this. The temperament that is compelled to heal the broken hearted and bring all things to harmony.
Wow Bronwen, It is amazing when myth comes to life as Branwen’s story has manifested in yours. I’m so glad to hear that you also are not a victim and have been able to maintain your sense of wonder and love. Thanks for sharing your story and maintaining the temperament to heal the broken heart.
And Judith I love your painting by the way. It’s lovely.
I see this story also as an appropriation of Female Goddesses for Patriarchal misogynistic propaganda, but I have an additional interpretation. To me, this story is about the power of women’s voice. At one time, the goddesses and her representatives/priestesses were considered as oracular and wise advisers. The Goddess Morrigan among others presided over prophesy. The Mabinogion tells of Rhiannon and how she helps Pwyll get out the mess his unwise choices got them into. Some women were even purported to see the future, like the Banduri or female druids. With the advent of Christianity and its exclusively male priests, women became bad advisers like Eve. Do not listen to women these stories say. They will lead men into evil. Listen to your priest.
I compare the story of Branwen to that of “Patient Griselda,” an abused wife who is rewarded for not speaking up by her insane and mega maniacal God-like husband when he makes her life a living hell. Griselda though is awarded a happy ending in her story after years of suffering, showing the reader that suffering in silence for women pays off. Branwen, on the other hand, complains and brings about the death of all she loves. This tale’s message is crafted to teach women that it is better to suffer in silence like Griselda, than to speak up.
In a Patriarchal society, a woman’s voice is dangerous and must be silenced lest it demand equality. Only men are allowed to own “wise” speech and “good” action. This ideology changes the Goddess Branwen into a helpless mortal, whose words do not aid but bring doom, corrupting and perverting her life giving and affirming powers. This tale warns women not to speak but suffer, denying them free-will, their family’s protection and the power to save themselves. It is sad that this is one of the only tales, if not the only tale that was written down about this lovely Goddess. Some woman should write another.
I do basically agree with your additional interpretation. The only caveat I would add is that it was recognized in the story that Evnissyen was to blame ” Finally Evnissyen, who finally accepted responsibility for what had arisen, sacrificed himself by going into the cauldron alive and breaking it apart from within.” Though Branwen appeared to blame herself which is another negative trait acquired by women’s experiences in the patriarchy – as if her love and devotion and ultimate seeking of rescue thru the starling’s message were the cause of the subsequent violence instead of the real cause – the greed and ego of Math and the hatred and envy of Evnissyen. Yet the underlying tone is that she is to blame it seems.
Finding a new story for her is a great idea. Many of the goddesses would be happy with a newly imagined story. Any ideas….
Hello again, Judith,
I share your dislike of the author’s implication that Branwen is to blame, but I’ve read so many stories like hers that I can’t help but see the story teller’s bias. We have both read about Rhiannon, a wise-worded and talkative woman who can easily get Pwyll out of dire trouble, yet once she is married, she can’t use the same wit to get herself out of her own predicament? Does marriage make you lose a few IQ points? She instead is advised “by wise men” to suffer in unjust silence and then is “rewarded” with her child’s return as well as her status for allowing people to climb on her shoulders like a pack animal, which could be a distorted and humiliating reference to her being a Horse Goddess.
In this story, it seems the author uses her powerful symbols of divinity to shame Her. Her child being taken from her could be a negative reference to fostering, which Christians frowned on. So, the ridicule of pagan beliefs seems to me like a theme in the Mabinogion. I feel annoyance at how women and Goddesses are distorted and silenced. I’ve seen this happen many times to female characters in Christianized pagan stories. They are made evil or powerless and used to promote a Christian ideal of womanhood and society.
You may find it odd, but the part about blaming Evnissyen bothers me as much as blaming Branwen. Evnissyen is described as a mother-son in the story. Why does the author put this detail in? Is it to cast doubt on matrilineal relations, or the idea that women were free to have multiple sex partners, or to put forth the idea of legitimacy through the father only, another Christian idea? Evnissyen is also a twin (this reminds me of Castor and Pollux, one mortal, one immortal or in this case one good, one bad), a trickster, a chaos bringer, and so probably represents a Celtic divine being like many of the characters in the Mabinogion. I would even suggest he represents some aspect of the lover god.
The cauldron according to Feminist interpretation is a symbol of the goddess, her womb that gives eternal life. It represents the very earth itself, but in this story the Goddess’ womb (most likely Branwen’s) makes monsters, not reincarnation. Evnissyen going into the cauldron is a reenactment of the death and rebirth of the goddess’s son/lover, who dies each year and is resurrected like the wheat. To me, the Lover God’s mythic sacrifice is perverted in this story, and he dies and does not return like Spring or reincarnate but destroys the earth womb that would give him eternal life and godhood.
The pieces of older mother goddess and her lover/son myths are there, but they are torn asunder just like the cauldron to malign Goddess-centered pagan belief systems. In this story, the Cauldron becomes a disembodied symbol of the Goddess, so that men can appropriate her power of rebirth and wield it separate from Her, but, in so doing, they pervert it since it is taken away from the proper-influence of the Goddess, and so no longer functions as it should. This is probably not the way the author wanted the story to be interpreted. He would want it to read, “pagan goddess’ power bad,” but I like this interpretation, and it seems to fit a feminist perspective.
The destruction of the cauldron is the destruction of the last vestiges of the Goddess’ and her lover’s power. The Cauldron is later transformed by Christians into the chalice or grail that men seek blindly in their subconscious desire to return to the Mother Goddess and her reincarnating womb, which in pagan societies was open to everyone not just Galahad, a child of Lancelot’s rape.
Myths were sometimes used as obfuscations, lies and misdirections aimed at hiding the truth from outsiders or testing initiates to see if they were able to see the truth in the lies of the stories (I am reminded of Cupid and Psyche.) Among the Celts and other mystery-based religions, the name of a Goddess or God had to be hidden like the name of Yaweh, so enemies could not gain power over you by knowing it, so religious truths were hidden for a similar reason and kept for the select few.
So, in order to recreate Branwen’s myth, I suppose we must do what an initiate would do and find the truth in the lies. We must de-Christianize the story we have. This takes us to the primal myth of the Goddess and her son/lover and his seasonal death and rebirth as he passes in and out of her womb/cauldron. We should also not forget, I suppose, that the Celts believed their Goddesses and Gods frequently reincarnated on earth, and so this one sad story in the Mabinogion is just one of Branwen’s endless lives. Who knows where she will pop up next? If we want to get even more basic this is the tale of death and rebirth on this planet, which is everyone’s story since the beginning of time, named and nameless. So, then it is your story and my story…
To me the Goddess/God is one, three, four, counted, uncountable, told, untold, said, unsaid, earth, moon, stars, universe, sand, dust, cell, me, not me, every female, not female, every male, not male, lover, hater, creator, destroyer, most sacred, most profane, whole, fractured, growing, dying, eternally old, eternally young, birthing, miscarrying, fecund, infertile, giving, taking, laughing, weeping, all the time everywhere without end.
I am sure in all the vastness of time and space another will come and rewrite the myth of Branwen/the Goddess of Love with that name or any of her myriad names with many more lovely words. Maybe in another life it was me or will be me, but it is not me at this moment. Is it you, since you love to retell these Goddess stories?
I am enjoying this discussion with you while I am trapped here. I rarely share my close readings. I was researching Branwen for a book I am writing. I wanted to know her symbology and your site provided that. Triple thanks from the Triple Goddess.
Thanks again for sharing your deep thoughts on all of this. Your thoughts on the cauldron have clarified for me some of what I found confusing. It made no sense to me that the Cauldron, which represents the womb of Mother Earth and life was the agent of destruction in this tale. Now from your insights I can understand why.
I’m not really sure if I agree with your interpretation of Evnissyen’s role or not. One thing that I feel is that the whole dying god thing is not the most primal but an invention put in place in the early days of Patriarchy. Archeological evidence from the Paleolithic and the early Neolithic – re: Marija Gimbutas in particular – shows a world in which the Goddess was supreme. The Bird Goddess and The Snake Goddess being the most frequent manifestations. I could certainly be wrong but I don’t think there was any evidence from these early times of a dying son/god who was reborn in the spring. Of course all of this was long before the written world which is what historians count as the beginning of civilization.
Even in the Celtic myths the more ancient view of the Cailleach and Brigid is that originally they were one and the same with the Cailleach guarding, protecting the dark womb of winter and creating mountains and storms during the cold winter months and then becoming the bright Brigid to guard, protect and nurture through the growing period of warmth and light.
I will think more deeply on Evnissyen’s role in all of this as you have certainly provided much fuel for thought.
One other thing I’d like to say is that the Mabinogian which inspired me is the Mabinogion Tetralogy, by Evangeline Walton, written during the late 1930s and early 1940s. The stories were compiled in Middle Welsh in the 12th–13th centuries from earlier oral traditions. It was Lady Charlotte Guest in 1838–45 who first published the full collection, bilingually in Welsh and English. So it was that original writing down of the oral tradition in the 12th – 13th centuries that first laid down the Christian bias and the demonization of female sexuality and power. From my reading of Walton’s Mabinogion Tetralogy I feel that she was attempting to honor the ancient ways of the Goddess. She presents the stories as existing when the matriarchal, goddess-loving world was first grappling with the new ideas filtering in from the eastern religions – ideas of virginity, male ownership of women and children, etc. She presents these as destructive to the balance and natural order of life. Part of Evnissyen’s disfunction she depicts as a result of those clashing world views.
I have started to reread the Mabinogion since I have learned so much since my first reading of it. I would love to be able to time travel back to the days when the Goddess was the embodiment of everything you mentioned in your comment – “To me the Goddess/God is one, three, four, counted, uncountable, told, untold, said, unsaid, earth, moon, stars, universe, sand, dust, cell, me, not me, every female, not female, every male, not male, lover, hater, creator, destroyer, most sacred, most profane, whole, fractured, growing, dying, eternally old, eternally young, birthing, miscarrying, fecund, infertile, giving, taking, laughing, weeping, all the time everywhere without end.” Your words express my own feelings on the Goddess/God.
I hope to stay in contact with you and would love to learn more about your upcoming book on Branwen as it progresses.
Perhaps I am the one to take of the challenge and create a new story for Branwen. We’ll see…. Now more than ever the world needs to reawaken to the Wisdom of the Goddess.
Thank you for your thoughtful response, Judith,
It has made me think too. I suppose my idea about Evnissyen being in some way representative of the Lover god, comes from reading about Lanceor and Colombe as the Goddess of sex/love and her lover who dies. I was also thinking of Taliesin’s birth myth. He was born from a wheat germ seed. I mentally compared this to the myths of Inanna and drew from there that there had to be a male agricultural god somewhere in Celtic myth, who went along with this ancient symbolism.
As simply a trickster, though, I suppose Evnissyen could just be a male variation of the destroyer or death. So, when he bursts the life-giving womb, he dooms everyone to eternal death without rebirth. His cauldron dive then becomes a mockery of all of humanities journeys through death into life. I don’t know why I find this a bit more depressing than the other interpretation … maybe because this makes him so one sided.
I have also read that the Goddess once ruled all, but I have always found this a bit uncomfortable because Christianity, which is one of the most misogynist and patriarchal religions, still has a woman in the divine spheres, and I would like to think that Mother Goddess worship was better than this and more inclusive. I would hope it would differ from Christianity as matrifocal societies differ from patriarchal. I want to assume that there was some divine representation of the male somewhere (there are some very old phalluses that have been found. The Goddess always has her bull or horse or boar as a symbol of male virility). It would only be fair. I don’t think I would like anyone to feel as women have at being denied a divine representative in their image to learn from and be inspired by.
If Goddesses are the best of women, then I think the best of us could see the best there is in men too. We would see them as our equals and just as divine and destructive as we are. Maybe I’m just a romantic or all the social distancing is getting to me, but all I know is if I were a Goddess, I would not want to rule the heavens alone like the God named God. I would at least want a companion, an equal. I would want a family of some type.
I personally believe we are all immortal souls just traveling in different flavored meat sacks… Gender to me is just a social construct of dos and don’ts and a big helping of hormones. My beliefs are similar to my understanding of what the Celts believed, that men and women are equals (as the Romans described the Bandruid and Druid) and that the immortal soul reincarnates. So, Goddess/God are pretty much just different/same manifestations of Divinity to me, but I recognize the need of others to have a divine entity that mirrors them gender-wise, relationship-status-wise, orientation-wise, life stage-wise, regional-wise and so on… that’s probably why we used to have so many Goddesses and Gods.
I was in a museum once in Italy, and they had this little god on display. He was burned in several places. He looked like a doll. He was from Crete where the priestesses rebelled because they were losing power to a new male god. Evidently the men wanted a God in their image too. So, the priestesses burned all the stores of oil on the Island, which were considerable, and the civilization collapsed in the aftermath. Oddly enough, I recall being there. I saw the look on my fellow priestess’s face that night. Her eyes were filled with madness and destruction. My heart rebelled against her infectious hate. She ran off with a torch in her hand, telling me to follow and burn everything even that pathetic shack-like shrine to a tiny male god. She set the straw roof on fire as she left. I saved that little God from the flames and hid him. I chose love and tolerance. I was in the minority. The worst of men suck when they have all the power, but worst of women suck too when they have it, probably because absolute power corrupts absolutely no matter what your gender. All I know is that we have to be the best souls we can be despite the distractions of our bodies, and that we should never be full of hate for anyone, for any reason if only because that will darken our own soul light.
I usually don’t write about myth because its myths all the way down, and there is no end to interpretations (including my own) and variations. Look at how the Legend of Arthur has moved and grown over the years. Also, people’s belief’s in myths can verge on religious attachment, which can make rational discussion of them a bit dangerous. For me, myths change like water, flowing together from many seas. I don’t think we will ever find the primal myth, and maybe I don’t want to because then it would be written in stone like the Bible, and we all know what a mess that caused and is causing. Humans move a lot as genetics have taught us. Every time we move, we take our stories with us and mix them with others. And maybe that was always the point of orality, to keep the myths new, changing, growing and moving forward to tell stories that inspire the next generation and speak to them of their own lovely divinity and try to remind all of us what Goddesses and Gods (bright and best souls) we really are.
As for my book, it is a re-telling of the Guinevere and Lancelot legend. I am going to un-blame them. For me, this story is a variation on the Goddess and her lover god theme. I want to re-magic and re-myth the story and bring back the Goddesses, Branwen, Aeronwen and Cerridwen.
It is quite interesting that you mentioned the “Mabinogion Tetralogy” by Evangeline Walton because I was just looking at a few days ago. If my library ever opens again, I shall borrow it. I had not realized it was a retelling at first and had to go get my Mabinogion to check after reading the preview. Ha! I have been seeing a lot of repeated or doubled themes even before writing about Evnissyen, the twin. I too was a twin and am a Gemini. Doubles upon doubles. Thank you for this sharing your ideas and points of view.
Sorry for my long delay in responding. I’ve been on overload with work stuff and the pandemic stress and worry.
First I would like to say that from what I have learned about our early days – the Paleolithic and the very early Neolithic – the “Matriarchy” was never the reverse of the Patriarchy. In fact the term is a modern one. I believe that the Goddess was seen as supreme because humans were living more in the magical time of nature and not separate from it as we are today. They saw the ongoing creation of life around them as coming from the feminine principle and perhaps did not even understand the male part of creation. There were gods but they were not seen as the originators of life. Perhaps early humans loved their Mother Goddess in the same way that a boy and a girl child love their mother, without feeling that one sex is loved more than the other but that her love is given unconditionally – at least in the ideal it is that way.
I think you would find a recent post by Heide Goettner-Abendroth, “Matriarchies Are Not Just A Reversal of Patriarchies enlightening.
Here’s the link – https://bit.ly/2xlYQJY. She says it much better than I can. Life doesn’t alway unfold tic for tat.
It’s also interesting to note that King Arthur who, if a real historical figure, would have lived as a warrior King in 6th century Wales. The tale that we have all come to love was developed much later in the 13th century by monks in France which included the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere. I first learned of this through a series of novels “The Lion of Wales” by Sarah Woodbury in which she writes of the 6th century warrior King, Arthur.
I’m not sure but is there a relationship between the Tristan and Iseult story and that of Lancelot and Guinevere? I look forward to see your re-telling of their story – one without blame
I love myth because of it’s ability to change – I am also a Gemini! To me myth is how we can weave the stories of our lives – how we can envision the world as it was and as we aspire for it to be.
I do not believe there is any gender associated with the great mysterious oneness from we come and to which we return. My understanding of Celtic spirituality is that we come from that unnamable oneness and the goddesses and gods are representative so to speak who help us understand the mystery. Discovering Celtic myth and spirituality has been a great blessing for me. I have just barely touched the surface of my understanding.
Please stay safe in these difficult times.
I hope all is well with you too and that you remain centered and can find some peace in these days.
I’m very familiar with matrifocal societies because my first culture is Native American. I was raised with a Mother Goddess, Falling Woman, who created the world, and I do love her because she was made in my image. She was brown, strong and intelligent, and indomitable. That myth is probably why I don’t think the Goddess reigned alone. There was a husband in the story in the other world and a lover, “whirlwind man” to impregnate the daughter of Falling Woman. They played minor roles, but they were there.
As a child I heard my creation myth from my Great-grandmother, which was very positive toward women. Many years later, I heard another version told by a man. The tale was misogynistic even though this was his cultural history as well. I considered that Western bias had corrupted his story, that the editor changed the tale, but I also wondered if men and women tell stories about each other that are a bit degrading to make the audience of the same gender laugh or feel superior. I have heard similar tales about the foolishness of male relatives from women in my family.
I posited that in a homogeneous culture that shared deities, some would be more important to women than men and vice versa. There would of course be overlap, but significance would vary by individual, as well as how the tale was told. I wondered if at times what got written down and passed on depended on the teller. Who did the Roman biographers and the priests ask about the stories they wrote down? Did that make all the difference in how women were viewed? Does author bias raise its ugly head again? I also wondered if different genders needed different expressions of the divine to fully know themselves, then a paradox would emerge, which version is true? The answer, I find most acceptable, is that religion is a personal truth not an objective one.
In my research, I have read that “Tristan and Iseult,” the Cornish love story, is the inspiration for the French addition of Lancelot by Cretien de Troyes at the behest of his patroness, Marie de Champagne. It is thought that that times fascination with Courtly Love is the reason Lancelot was placed in the tale. Others believe it is because Marie de Champagne was a Cathar and that Lancelot symbolized man’s search for and dedication to Sophia/Wisdom (Guinevere), which followed the tenets of the Cathar religion.
From my studies of the endless twists of the Arthurian tale, the first “love affair” was between Mordred and Guinevere in Monmouth’s Historia, 1136. If we go any earlier Guinevere is just Arthur’s queen in a line in a Welsh Triad, “The Red Book of Hergest.” There we find that Arthur has three wives named or that are titled Guinevere. Also a slap given from Guinevere’s sister, Gwenhyfach, is blamed for initiating the Battle of Camlann. It is one of the three fatal slaps that caused one of the three futile battles. In other early works, Arthur has at least one mistress and several children including a son by Guinevere. Arthur killed a son named Amr and buried him by a river. In another line of Welsh poetry, Mordred may have been an ally from Ireland. Then it is off to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Historia Regum Britanniae,” “The Vulgate Cycle,” “Le Morte d’Arthur and so on all the way to “The Once and Future King.”
I could go on and on, but it will make your head hurt.
I also like plumbing the depths of Celtic religions. I am new to them too. I like to discover the ways other people express the sacred. I like the poetic language and the glimpses I get of wise and powerful women. Sarah Woodbury’s guide to pronunciation is helpful. Thanks. I keep thinking my tongue is going to wrap around my epiglottis and kill me every time I mispronounce a Welch name.
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Popped up on my facebook feed today. Funny as I pulled Branwen yesterday with a ‘Sovereignty’ card on top – Branwen as the ‘challenge’. Thank you for the second read on this! Thank you for your work, Judith.
Maintaining ourselves centered in love as Branwen teaches, even in the face of suffering and pain, is certainly a challenge. It’s so great that you allow yourself to be guided by her wisdom. Thanks for reading.
I was spiritually lead by my family tree to the story of Bran and Branwen in the Mabinogion. Within the old Welsh genealogies, Llyr, Bran, and Branwen are considered our ancestors along with later characters in the tales of King Arthur….
So these stories feel very personal to me, even though I was born in America. And they are even more relevant since Roe v Wade has been overturned and once again women face restrictions on our bodily sovereignty.
Evnissyen reminds me of a man with malignant Narcissism who destroys everyone in his family and does not understand why he is ostracized from them. He blames them rather than looking at his own actions, and his kind brother Nissyen says nothing. I am still reading the second branch as we speak so I have not yet gotten to the part where he sacrifices himself in the Cauldron. I feel so much compassion and love for Branwen, the brave White Raven. I feel her broken heart.
I feel that we are here to redeem our ancestral Goddesses, learn from their trials and gain strength for our own struggles for balance and equality. The life of Mother Earth 🌍 is in peril and she needs guardians more of the Grail….
I meant to say she needs more guardians of the Grail
I also feel much love, compassion and respect for Branwen. What you say – “I feel that we are here to redeem our ancestral Goddesses, learn from their trials and gain strength for our own struggles for balance and equality.” – rings very true for me. We need a balance of the feminine and masculine energies that are inherent in all life. Out of balance masculine energies are most certainly threatening human existence on our beautiful Mother Earth