Four Branches: Storytelling, Myth & Magic
Finding Evidence in the Past - Ancient British Story
If information about Shamanic Britain was retained by later British cultures, where would we find it and how would we recognise it?
Information was passed by oral tradition, through stories and mythological tales. The stories encapsulated hidden meanings in their symbolic nature, some of which we will explore later. The symbolic nature of stories is evident across the globe and throughout time. Consider biblical parables, early creation myths, and the Dreamtime stories of the Land in Australia. People have kept their own cultural creation myths and stories going for vast periods of time.
For modern westerners, if something is literal, it is connected to the physical and material. It is experienced in what we call ‘reality’, and likewise, the symbolic or allegorical is ‘not real’. To the Shaman’s mind, they are both ‘real’. The physical/material experience is not the be-all-and-end-all of what is reality.
Symbolism can be found anywhere, signs in Nature such as those made by animals or weather patterns, coincidences and synchronicities, dreams and visions, ‘knowing’ or ‘seeing’ without eyes. All of this and more is just as real as the physical experience to the Shaman. Non-physical experience is different to the physical, but not deemed ‘less than’.
Symbolic meaning, then, is ‘real’, and equal in importance to any other experience.
Inuit culture is one of the ancient Shamanic cultures that was left untouched by Westerners for a very long time. According to anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, in Inuit culture, hearing, rather than seeing, is considered the superior means of experiencing truth. As a result, their oral storytelling tradition takes on a whole new perspective, and is seen as the primary means of imparting truth and wisdom within their culture.
Symbolism in story and myth has the ability to transfer meaningful information to those who know the symbols, whilst appearing to be nothing but stories to those that don’t. This has the benefit of reaching humanity on a deeper, sub-conscious level, so that the old wisdom is integrated into the collective consciousness over time. This is important, for we are not all ready to understand the information at the same time.
The disadvantages are that oral tradition can get lost over the years and the stories are susceptible to gradual alteration. New generations frequently re-frame the stories within the confines of their own time.
Within the 'Four Branches', there is a Medieval overlay apparent. The stories were transferred from an older oral tradition to the written form during this period.
When reading 'The Mabinogion', it helps to recognise the Medieval content and separate it from the original themes.
As a ‘story archaeologist’ digging for the kernels of the past, one must learn to discern the gold, wash away the mud, and focus on the hidden jewels.