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Welsh mythological prose finds its most enchanting
breath in the Mabinogion, a collection of stories about the gods and
goddesses of the Celtic Britons. More formally the work is known as
the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Although the full set of tales
cannot be told here, an introduction of the Briton deities will be
made within the specific branch they play a role in.
- Branch One of the Mabinogi--Pwyll, the Prince of Dyfed in southern
Wales, works a bargain with Arawn, ruler of the Underworld, whereby
Pwyll governs there for a period and eventually becomes the Pen Annwn
(or Head of the Underworld). Pwyll then woos for his wife Rhiannon,
the daughter of Heveydd the Ancient. To win her, Pwyll outwits the
suitor Gwawl with the help of a magic bag. Pwyll and Rhiannon marry
and have a son named Pryderi, who plays major roles in other
- Branch Two of the Mabinogi--Brân the Blessed and his sister
Branwen the Fair Bosomed are principals in a both tragic and comic
tale where the forces of Wales are pitted against their Celtic
counterparts in Ireland. Branwen marries the king of Ireland and they
have a son named Gwern. Upon the treacherous death of her son,
Branwen dies of a broken heart. The Welsh seek vengeance and battle
furiously against the Irish. Brân is struck down, but continues to
bring good humor among his band of warriors. More on Brân is
- Branch Three of the Mabinogi--Pryderi gives the realm of Dyfed to
Manawyddan, the sole surviving child of Llyr. By this time Pwyll has
somehow disappeared from the mythic scene, and Pryderi offers his
mother Rhiannon as a wife to Manawyddan, thus further calming the
latter's sorrows. Manawyddan and Rhiannon, and Pryderi and his wife
Kieva all become close companions in the adventures ahead. But the
dilemma is that someone is casting enormous spells on Dyfed, turning
it from a rich territory to a wasteland. And castles appear out of
nowhere, then vanish with loved ones trapped inside. Vengeance is
the source of the riddle, though Manawyddan, Pryderi, and their wives
end the tale with happy sentiments.
- Branch Four of the Mabinogi--Gwydion and Arianrod, being children
of the goddess Dôn, were high in the Briton pantheon. Gwydion was
a sort of druid of the Welsh gods, a "master of illusion and phantasy." He
was a friend and helper of mankind, and a constant fighter against the
powers of the underworld, the realm of Annwn. Arianrod, called the
"Silver Circle," bore two sons--Dylan and Lleu. Dylan had a great affinity
for the sea, and swam as well as the best fish in the ocean. It is said
that the waves of Britain wept for Dylan at his death. Arianrod had poor
bonds with her other son Lleu, and his care was left largely to Gwydion.
Mâth, the brother of the goddess Dôn, was a master of magic and Gwydion's
teacher of spells.
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