Branwen, Welsh Goddess of Love and Beauty


judith Shaw photoBranwen, 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, Celtic Goddess painting my Judith Shaw

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.htmhttp://www.mabinogi.net/branwen.htm

Update – Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is ready for publication.  Pre-order your deck at her crowdfunding campaign with Indiegogo -9.19.17 – 10.19.17 – and help bring the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses into the world.

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.  She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Folklore, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality

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23 replies

  1. 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.

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    • 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. Hello,
    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!

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    • 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.

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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!

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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!

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    • 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

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  8. Hello

    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

    Thanks

    http://www.sergismite.blogspot.com.es/2017/05/branwen-reina-de-galles.html

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  9. 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).

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  10. Bronwen,
    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.

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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  11. And Judith I love your painting by the way. It’s lovely.

    Like

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