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welsh god, poison arrow, god of the underworld, fellow warriors

The Story of Brân the Blessed

Author: John Patrick Parle

Copyright © 2001

Brân was a Welsh god of the
underworld whose eminence is most often associated with his
the "Wonderful Head." Though he could present himself as a principal
of battle, Brân was also a patron on bards, minstrels, and
musicians. He was huge, colossal. No house or ship was large enough
to hold him, according to the stories of hyperbole.

In the tales, Brân's sister Branwen the Fair Bosomed was
married to King Matholwch of Ireland. Due to various affronts of
Branwen, not to mention the later death of Branwen's son, the Welsh
crossed the Irish Sea to attack Ireland. Those on the east coast of
Erin saw an eerie vision of a mountain and a forest on the water.
Branwen informed King Matholwch that the mountain was Brân walking
across the sea, and that the forest was a multitude of masts from
Welsh naval ships coming to bring her just relief.

The Welsh landed and fought furiously against the Irish. The
warriors of Ireland seemed to have the upper hand. This was because
they had the cauldron of Brân, which was given to Matholwch as a
wedding present. The Irish needed only to plunge their slain warriors
into the cauldron, and they would be brought back to life. The Welsh
discovered this and successfully destroyed the cauldron.

The warriors of Wales proceeded then to defeat the Irish.
But there were only seven Welshmen left unhurt, including Pryderi,
Manawyddan, Taliesin the Bard, and four others. The high drama of the
situation was that Brân himself was seriously wounded, pierced in
the foot with a poison arrow. He was in agony. Brân asked his seven
fellow warriors to cut off his head, carry it to London, and bury it
there with his face towards France. This was so that Brân in his
death could stand watch against any foe that tried to invade Britain.

So Brân's head was removed, and at this point proceeded to
become famous in Celtic mythology. The seven bearers of Brân's
head began the journey to London, but stopped for a feast and to be
serenaded by the three birds of Rhiannon. These birds sang so sweetly
that the men slid into a state of oblivion and lost all track of
time. For seven years the men drank and ate, and conversed in an
agreeable and pleasant fashion with the head of Brân, which
behaved like it was very much alive. Then they journeyed further, only to
stop and have an eighty year feast, again losing all sense of time, and
talking amiably with the animated head of Brân.

But then one of the seven head bearers realized that 87 years
had passed since their journey had begun. And upon seeing Cornwall,
they all resolved that their mission must be completed. So Brân's
head was buried in London facing France, only to be disinterred by
King Arthur in a later myth. Brân is often called in legend "the
Blessed," and he is considered alternately to have had a Noble,
Venerable, and Wonderful Head!

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