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Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain: Hero Myths in the Mabinogion

Overview

The authoritative reader's companion to the ancient Celtic myths in the literary masterpiece, the Mabinogion.

• Thoroughly updated edition of Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain (UK).

• Illuminates the rich archetypal patterns and meanings in the Four Branches of the Welsh Mabinogion.

According to prophecy, a liberator will come to bring light, truth, and freedom to every generation. His mythic title is Mabon, ...

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Overview

The authoritative reader's companion to the ancient Celtic myths in the literary masterpiece, the Mabinogion.

• Thoroughly updated edition of Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain (UK).

• Illuminates the rich archetypal patterns and meanings in the Four Branches of the Welsh Mabinogion.

According to prophecy, a liberator will come to bring light, truth, and freedom to every generation. His mythic title is Mabon, but his identities are many-including Arthur the King, whose coming we await. So says the mythic Welsh text the Mabinogion, which includes some of the oldest magical stories from British mythology and which has been intriguing and beguiling readers for centuries. 

In Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain, Celtic scholar Caitlín Matthews unlocks the encoded meanings of the Mabinogion and establishes it firmly as a precursor to other living myths of the West. From her fascinating study of these stories emerge two of the major figures of the Celtic tradition: the archetypal Mabon, deliverer and liberator of the land, and Modron, his mother, the Great Goddess herself. The initiatory pattern of Britain's inner guardians is revealed through the succession of the Pendragons, as each rises through the ages from boy, hero, and king to the role of Mabon. As descendants of the ancient Celtic oral tradition, the rich themes and archetypal underpinnings of the Mabinogion are stories for all time.

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Editorial Reviews

Philip Carr-Gomm
"The Mabinogion is one of the great treasure troves of our Western spiritual heritage, but to truly appreciate and learn from it we need a guide who can elucidate not only its mythology, context, and history, but also its spiritual depths. Caitlín Matthews expertly leads us into the heart of these Mysteries."
Katherine Kaigler-Koenig
"Recommended for libraries that support strong folk studies collections."
Ari Berk
"I have found Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain to be essential reading. Matthews makes valuable connections between myth and enduring cultural practices. No other study takes the reader through the Mabinogion more masterfully. This book is an indispensable guide to indigenous Celtic literature and myth."
From the Publisher
"I have found Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain to be essential reading. Matthews makes valuable connections between myth and enduring cultural practices. No other study takes the reader through the Mabinogion more masterfully. This book is an indispensable guide to indigenous Celtic literature and myth."

"Recommended for libraries that support strong folk studies collections."

"The Mabinogion is one of the great treasure troves of our Western spiritual heritage, but to truly appreciate and learn from it we need a guide who can elucidate not only its mythology, context, and history, but also its spiritual depths. Caitlín Matthews expertly leads us into the heart of these Mysteries."

Philip Carr-Gomm
The Mabinogion is one of the great treasure troves of our Western spiritual heritage, but to truly appreciate and learn from it we need a guide who can elucidate not only its mythology, context, and history, but also its spiritual depths. Caitlín Matthews expertly leads us into the heart of these Mysteries...
Ari Berk
I have found Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain to be essential reading. Matthews makes valuable connections between myth and enduring cultural practices. No other study takes the reader through the Mabinogion more masterfully. This book is an indispensable guide to indigenous Celtic literature and myth...
Library Journal
The Mabinogion is the source of some of the oldest myths of the Celtic tradition. Though no actual text of the stories is included in this volume, Matthews, cofounder of the Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies and author of 36 books, offers a companion to help elucidate the mythology. After a lengthy introduction discussing the Welsh storytelling tradition, she introduces each of the four branches of the Mabinogion. Each chapter begins with a synopsis of the story and is followed by detailed commentary on specific aspects. A third section extrapolates further, showing connections with other mythologies from Greek and Roman to Irish and British Arthurian traditions. Graphs and charts help to keep the complicated relationships and patterns of action in perspective. Unfortunately, the author assumes considerable knowledge on the part of the reader. Superscripts appear throughout the text, but they are merely references to numbered sources in the bibliography. Recommended for libraries that support strong folk studies collections.-Katherine Kaigler-Koenig, Ellis Sch., Pittsburgh
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780892819201
  • Publisher: Inner Traditions/Bear & Company
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Edition description: First North American Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Caitlín Matthews is internationally renowned for her research into the Celtic and ancestral traditions. She is the author of 36 books, including The Celtic Tradition, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom, and Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom. She is co-founder of the Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies, which is dedicated to oral, shamanic, and sacred arts. Caitlín Matthews has a shamanic practice in Oxford, England, and teaches worldwide.

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Read an Excerpt

Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain
Hero Myths in the Mabinogion

Chapter 1
The Realm of the Mabinogion

For the Welsh to distinguish between myth and history has always been a difficult exercise.
Emyr Humphries

Still lives on the ancient speech,
Still the ancient songs endure.
John Ceiriog Hughes

The Welsh Storytelling Tradition
It is summer 1983, Caernarvon Castle, North Wales. Within the castle grounds the timeless stories which form the Four Branches of the Mabinogion are being presented by a bilingual team of actors, musicians, and storytellers. They are but the most recent in a long line of storytellers who have helped transmit the Mabinogion from oral and written tradition to the imagination of new generations. The audience goes home in possession of a few fragments of a once mighty mystery tradition in which men and women encounter the gods, animals talk, leaves become gold, and the dead revive. A few may try to read the Mabinogion for themselves, puzzled, intrigued, and excited by the elusive hints which seem to dodge behind the main story just when revelation seems near. Many readers experience the same mixed emotions.
In order to untangle the complexity of the Mabinogion, it is necessary to understand that its stories arise directly from a lively oral tradition which, though it has parallels with the European chivalric cycles, ultimately derives from the folk traditions and mystery lore of Britain. It is the descendant of a venerable bardic tradition in which stories, poems, history, and ancestral lore were preserved in a professional though unwritten manner. We know from classical and Celtic sources that druids, poets, and storytellers taught their skills orally: They were never written down, although different forms of writing were in fact available.71
Why trouble to memorize the equivalent of a small library at all, it may be asked? To understand this we must realize that in the time of this tradition, one’s word was one’s honor; it still had the currency of authority, and learned and unlearned alike were equal under its wisdom. The oral education of Celtic society included all levels of learning: legal, genealogical, historical, prophetic, and religious—facets which are reflected in the Mabinogion itself and which put it outside modern categories of literature. But where once the druidic class had preserved the spiritual mysteries, in Christian times the ancient lore became the purview of the poet and storyteller. While this tradition was preserved freshly in many memories, as time wore on it began to lose touch with its roots. This is how we can distinguish traces of older belief within the stories which have come down to us.
The poet and the storyteller, who once shared professional status with the druid-kind (a class itself deriving from ancient shamanic tradition71) and preserved the old stories, slipped ever farther apart. The poet, or pencerdd, is represented in “The Dream of Rhonabwy” as chanting a eulogy which only another poet could understand; poetry had become technically arduous, its subtleties lost on the listener. Noblemen in Wales retained such poets in their households well into late medieval times in order to eulogize their family and achievements and relate the complex genealogies by which the poet’s lord might trace his bloodline to legendary kings. A pencerdd might not sing for common men; his fee was a high one, entitling him to honor and position. It is bards such as these—with an eye to the moneybags rather than their craft—that Taliesin satirizes so cruelly: “They sing vain and evanescent song.”2
For ordinary mortals, a teuluwr, or household poet, might suffice, a bard who would sing in the lower hall while his superior, the pencerdd, sang to his lord and lady in the upper hall. Less honored even than teuluwr, the clerwr, or wandering minstrel, was musician and storyteller to outlying homesteads, something like the poor scholar in “Manawyddan, Son of Llyr,” who comes from Lloegr, having begged his way: “I come from England, Lord, from song making,” but whose fees amount to a mere pound.
The cyfarwydd, or storyteller, may not have retained the status of the pencerdd, yet he never lost his popularity, for his stories were always accessible to his listeners. Like the Irish seanchai, the cyfarwydd had a store of tales which were handed down from master to pupil orally. Through such an oral tradition we receive the Mabinogion—a collection of stories which had been current for centuries before they came to be written down. Although each story has been given different emphases by different storytellers, the results are often remarkably consistent, as tell the scattered manuscripts from which the diplomatic edition of the Mabinogion is derived. Interestingly, errors crept into the stories when copyists lost interest in their weary task. As is revealed below, from one such error the word mabinogion is derived.
Set against the formalism of court poetry, the mutations of the stories give a lively variety and colloquialism to an ancient oral tradition. Just as in the Welsh language, in which initial consonants mutate or p becomes b, mh, or even ph, so the stories of the Mabinogion shine with a changing iridescence of forgotten tradition, hinting at significant episodes yet simultaneously obscuring them. It is true that we have inherited a pied tradition from storytellers who had lost many of the inner keys, though memory may yet recall portions which are lost or hopelessly tangled.

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Table of Contents

Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain
Hero Myths in the Mabinogion

Preface to the Second Edition

Preface to the First Edition: Into the Mabinogion

Acknowledgments

How to Use This Book
     A Guide to Welsh and Gaelic Pronunciation

1 The Realm of the Mabinogion
     The Welsh Storytelling Tradition
     The Name of the Land
     World and Otherworld
     The Mysteries of Britain

2 Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed
     The Head of Annwfn
     Synopsis of "Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed"
     Commentary
     The Adventures of the Mare and the Boy
     The Mare of Sovereignty

3 Branwen, Daughter of Llyr
     Entertaining the Noble Head
     Synopsis of "Branwen, Daughter of Llyr"
     Commentary
     Guarding the Hallows
     Cronos and the Sleeping Lord

4 Manawyddan, Son of Llyr
     The Story of the Hay Collars and the Doorknockers
     Synopsis of "Manawyddan, Son of Llyr"
     Commentary
     The Enchantments of Britain
     The Powerful Herdsman

5 Math, Son of Mathonwy
     The Enchanter's Nephew
     Synopsis of "Math, Son of Mathonwy"
     Commentary
     One-Eye and the Skillful Hand

6 Culhwch and Olwen
     Tasks and Heroes
     Synopsis of "Culhwch and Olwen"
     Commentary
     Freeing the Giant's Daughter
     The Spoils of Annwfn

7 Taliesin
     The Luck of the Weir
     Synopsis of "Taliesin"
     Commentary
     The Thumb of Knowledge
     The Hag and the Poet

8 The Totem Beasts of Britain
     Mabon and the Oldest Animals
     Guardian of the Beasts
     The Initiation of the Totems

9 Mabon, Son of Modron
     Perpetual Prisoner and Inner Sovereign
     The Lady's Champion
     The Royal Virgin of Avalon
     The Lost Fifth Branch

Afterword: The Song of Remaking

Appendix: Three Mystery Songs to Mabon

Bibliography

Index

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