[Part One here]
And so the tale unfolds, its apparent focus on the actions of men. But what of Branwen, sister of Bran? She is not merely passive, an unwitting pawn in the hands of her brother, her family.
In her story a second and hidden teaching lies in plain sight, so to speak.
“She tames a starling and teaches it human speech,” goes one version. Such an innocent line. Does she achieve this before her mistreatment begins at the hands of her new husband, Matholwch king of Ireland? During? In either case, her deed stands as a marvel.
The -wen affix in Welsh is one way to form feminine names: Branwen, no less than Bran, is a leader, a bridge. A Raven. For if she tames the starling before she needs it so desperately, foresight and guidance are hers because she listened and acted on them. And if after, to her belong inspiration and determination and a singular courage. To win the trust of a wild creature, to teach it speech, even if it is mimicry, to impress on it the urgency of her plight, to teach or guide it where to fly to find Bran, and on finding him, to repeat the message — each is remarkable alone, to say nothing of all of them together, while being abused and degraded. This is the power of the animal in us, of Raven wisdom.
I do a quick internet search for “raven wisdom” and through a marvel worthy of the story, within seconds “A Bit about the Raven” appears among the links. What are some characteristics of Raven Wisdom, according to the site?
- Rebirth without fear
- Ability to tear down what needs to be rebuilt
- Ability to find light in darkness
- Courage of self-reflection
- Comfort with self
- Honoring ancestors
- Connection to the Crone
- Change in consciousness
- New occurrences
Each of these is apt and fitting, without forcing the issue. Deserving of meditation. Fear would rule you if it could. In Branwen’s case, with abuse and pain and betrayal at the hands of your husband, trapped in another country, all your blood kin, except for your child, across the sea, out of reach. Raven brings rebirth without fear. Branwen realizes the gift of self-possession, and “possessing” the self, a kind of paradox, she — we — have all that is needed.
I’d take a good Black Ops team any day, or barring that, a revolver, you think. And in the short term, these advantages would serve. But how well would they serve? Rescued, delivered, you return to your old life. No change, no growth to speak of, only new sorrow, and harrowing memory. A resolve not to be married off without your consent? Maybe it started as a love match, not just a political marriage. Who can say, from what the story itself offers?
But if you “learn” from the experience, but do not also transform as a result, you learn not to trust your own judgment, not to trust the judgment of your family who supposedly love you, who launch you into such a disastrous marriage. Not to trust life to bring you home.
Raven offers more. It asks us about our own consciousness, about our attitudes to kinds of wisdom we may not (yet) value, or which we may even disdain or abuse, but which remain as gifts given before we can see and claim them as ours. Raven is nowadays ubiquitous as a Craft name, a Pagan nickname, or initiatory identity. Raven was the first degree of initiation among the devotees of Mithras. And Raven is the trickster and initiator par excellence among traditional peoples of many cultures.
For the story does not end merely in rescue …
Part Three coming soon.
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