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THE MABINOGION

If we look at Celtic mythology, we are able to find that many of the Celtic Goddesses including Rhiannon, Arianrhod, Blodeuwedd and Branwen are all included in a collection of Welsh tales known as The Mabinogion. The Mabinogion was written somewhere between the second half of the 11th Century, and the end of the 13th Century C.E. Even though there are many people who believe that the myths in the collection are actually the original myths, that is not the case at all. In fact, the mythology that was set forth in The Mabinogion had actually been created by Welsh bards during a much earlier period in history. It was from them that the original myths were taken and then substantially changed.


The various myths included within The Mabinogion, are based upon the ancient oral bardic tradition, which makes them much older myths then they seem to appear in the collection. Most of the changes made in theregarding the myths were made by the patriarchal Christian Church, which did as a way of controlling the Pagan masses, thereby causing them to conform to the Church's own views; especially its views regarding morality. Once the Church had indoctrinated the people into its own particlar way of thinking, it then became much easier for it to introduce it's own particular form of religion into what had originally been a matriarchal and pagan way of life, within which the people worshipped the Goddess.


The Mabinogion was actually written in two separate manuscripts: the White Book of Rhydderch (circa 1300-25), and the Red Book of Hergest (circa 1375-1425). During the period from 1838 to 1839 C.E., Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest translated the Red Book of Hergest into English for the very first time.


The main characters in the tales that comprise TheMabinogion, play the roles of various members of the ancient Royal Houses of Wales, with all of the characters within it being based upon various Gods and Goddesses, from which Welsh and Celtic mythology was based. However, whomever did write The Mabinogion, did not place the myths within their correct periods in time. Rather, they placed the myths and the characters within them in a much later time frame. Since it had been the Church that had re-written the myths to reflect its own particular beliefs, the characters within The Mabinogion were portrayed as being reflective of the powerful Church's pariarchal mores.


Within the collecton are four separate tales which, when combined, make up the major part of The Mabinogion. Lady Guest named the collection The Mabinogion, having taken that name from the final line of each of the four main books, which state: "Here endeth the First Branch of the Mabinogion," or the "Second Branch," and on through the Third and the Fourth Branches."


There are recurrent themes in all four of the tales, reflecting the Church's strong patriarchal views, as well as stressing its belief that people should live their lives in honest and reasonable manners, in which moderation was believed to be an ideal that people should try to follow in every aspect of their daily lives.


Those particular themes are easily recognizable in each of the four tales and then, when it came to dealing with the "flowerface" Goddess Blodeuwedd, the Church became extremely adament, stressing its negative views that warned its readers of the terrible consequences that would occur if they lost control over their own sexual desires.


Besides the four major sections of The Mabinogion, eleven anonymous tales are also included within it. It appears that these tales were taken from Welsh mythology and folklore, dealing for the most part with Arthurian legend. The last three of these tales are Arthurian romances, that seem to reflect a powerful Norman-French influence. In fact, that Norman-French influence appeared to be so strong, that many people believed that these tales were either written by, or influenced by Chrétien de Troyes, the 12th Century poet of Welsh origin.


Whenever people try to date The Mabinogion strong disagreements arise. It it quite natural that Welsh scholars believe that it was written in the earlier period, which was approximately the mid to late 11th Century, and if that time frame is actually the case, then that would only strengthen their claim that their Welsh ancestors had been the major contributors to the collection. Even though the tales themselves may have been put into their present form towards the end of the 12th Century C.E., the stories themselves still arise from a much earlier period, and some of the tales may actually have been based upon a more distant period in Celtic Paganism; possibly even from the period when Gallo-Breton unity still existed.


Sir Ifor Williams believed that the earlier date, of approximately 1060 C.E., was a likely time for the book to have been written. He belief his belief upon the fact that (1) the text in the collection contained a great many outdated terms, (2) that there were hardly any French words within the text, (3) that various customs which had been extinct for an extremely long time were referenced within the text, and lastly, (4) that the period between 1055 to 1063 C.E. was a period during whichin time within which the bards from the North and South of Britain met in order for them to exchange their tales.


Of course, French scholars disagreed with the earlier dates and, in an attempt to prove that the French played a more promient role in the manuscript's creation, claimed that the period 1200 - 1250 C.E. was the correct period, rather then the earlier one.


In order to ascertain where the collection actually came from, and when it was created, experts have examined the style and content of The Mabinogion. It was that examination that caused them to conclude that, in all likelihood, the collection had evolved over many centuries, and that different sections of it had been passed around to a variety of different writers and storytellers. It was they who then altered the tales, at times actually changing them so much that they appeared to be quite different from the tales in their original forms. By editing the tales, those writers and storytellers had probably altered the tales, sometimes improving the tales while, on the other hand, possibly even destroyed them.


British mythology, in its truest and purest form, began with the ancient British, which was a pre-Celtic race that was widespread throughout most of Britain. Then, in approximately the 6th Century C.E., the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain, conquering the ancient British and forcing them to withdraw to the western part of Britain, which just happened to be Wales. It is because of this reason that the mythology of the ancient British frequently merged with, or came out of Wales.


After the people of Wales rebelled against the Norman-Anglo state, nationalism became extremely important to them. That nationalism also made the new generation of Welsh writers strongly believe that it was necessary to honor it's leaders, and one way to do that was to have the collection translated into their native language, which was Welsh.


Scholars, attempted to ascertain the actual author(s) of The Mabinogion. They noted in their research that an evenness of style and tone existed within the collection, which suggested that several different clerics may have quite probably written the tales in the 11th century C.E., using mythology that had come from a much earlier period in time, and included within it a variety of Gods and Goddesses who existed withinappeared in various Celtic myths.


All in all, there is one thing that still remains to this very day. That is that a veil of mystery hangs over The Mabinogion. When you consider the amazing amount of information that people have been able to glean from the collection, it is unclear why the collection had been completely unknown outside of (and to a large degree inside of) Wales, for such an extensive period of time, until Lady Guest finally translated it into English in 1838-49. In all likelihood, that may always remain a mystery, thereby adding to the mystique encompassing The Mabinogion.











Artwork by Amy Brown
Fantasy Art
Used With Permission




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