Archive for the ‘Bran’ Tag

Of Bridges and Leaders, Part 2

[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
  • Renewal
  • Ability to find light in darkness
  • Courage of self-reflection
  • Introspection
  • Comfort with self
  • Honoring ancestors
  • Connection to the Crone
  • Divination
  • Change in consciousness
  • New occurrences
  • Eloquence

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?

raven2But 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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Image: Raven

Of Bridges and Leaders: A Branch from the Mabinogion

Here begins an old tale from the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, told on the Island of the Mighty — Prydein or Britain.  It starts small, like many tales that grow at length to something greater.  This particular story begins with a bird …

starlingA flutter of wings, a small dark shadow overhead.  You look up.  With a Welsh name like Bran, which means Raven, you’ve grown used to such encounters.  Like calls to like, after all.  The bird, a starling, circles you,  its breast heaving with the double strain, it turns out, of a hasty sea journey and the urgent message it has for you.  It alights on the windowsill of your chamber.  Claws scuttle on the stone, as it gazes at you expectantly.  The charcoal feathers shift and settle.  As king of Britain, you’ve learned to listen.

The bird chirps its news.  The message, it seems, comes from your sister Branwen …

BranwenSome years past, Branwen married Matholwch, the king of Ireland.  A canny match. True, their wedding didn’t come off without a hitch, but then what wedding does? Efnisien, your difficult half-brother, arrived in the middle of the betrothal feast and made a stink at not being consulted.  More than peeved, he acted, mutilating some of Matholwch’s prize horses. Ah, brothers-in-law. Men on both sides lunge for their weapons. From feast to fight on the same day.

Quickly you hit on a fitting response: a gift from the royal treasury.  A conciliatory gift, a magic cauldron you give Matholwch that has the power to revive fallen warriors.  The Irish king, appeased by the marvelous gift, looks calmer.  His jaw unclenches.  At a gesture, swords are sheathed.  Spears grounded.  Blood cools, as the court bard strikes up a soothing song.  Crisis avoided.

Over the months and those first years, messages come. Time for a child and heir born to the royal couple, your nephew Gwern — check.  Time for the memory of the wedding embarrassment of an unruly relative to die down — check.  Time for healing …

A sharp squawk brings you back to the present.  The starling’s news is dark.  The shadow of Efnisien’s deed, it appears, still pricks the Irish pride and honor.  The Irish king, your brother-in-law, is mistreating Branwen, in spite of the fine heir she has provided him. He beats her daily and has banished her to the kitchens.  Nothing for it, you know, but to set out with a troop of warriors to resolve the problem — personally.  You summon men from all 154 cantrefs (districts) of Wales.  With you travel your brothers Manawydan and Efnisien.  You will not be ignored.

You cross the Irish Sea, and even before you beach your boats and stand on the eastern shore of Ireland, word of your coming has spread.  The Irish, determined to slow if not halt your advance, have taken out some of their own key bridges.

Your great stature makes you a giant among your subjects.  Literally. Leaning across each river and valley as you come to it, you lay your own body down for your men to cross over.  As you do, you say the words, “A fo ben, bid bont” — “He who would be a leader, let him be a bridge.”

[Part Two]

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Images:  starlingBranwen.

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