Understanding THE FOURTH BRANCH
The story of the Fourth Branch is told from the perspective of the tribes of Light.
This Branch portrays their final victory over the older tribes of Pwyll and Llyr. The powerful image of enlightenment portrayed at the end of the story attempts to convince us that they are worthy inheritors of the Power and Sovereignty of the Land of Britain.
We may wonder, are the Four Branches a story-tellers’ process to validate and connect the tribes of Light to the Old Ways, proving their right as worthy successors?
Another means of achieving this powerful process of propaganda would be by using the Bluestone of Preseli in ancient Dyfed to build the new Temple of the Sun at Stonehenge. This can be seen as a strong political statement that links the ancestors of the Land with the newcomers.
As the Fourth Branch unfolds, Math, the Chief, has his claim to rule validated by the Goddess as Goewin.
Each of the heroes of the previous Branches have been validated by the Goddess in some form. Pwyll underwent complex tests in the Other-world and then ‘married’ the Goddess as Rhiannon. Bran was brother to Branwen as Goddess, and in some ways, interconnected with her. Manawydan also ‘married’ Rhiannon, and Pryderi was ‘born’ of her.
Math needs to keep his feet in Goewin’s lap to validate his role. Her lap is like a bowl or chamber ‘holding’ the power of Sovereignty for him. The Divine Feminine is frequently depicted as a cup, bowl, cauldron; something that contains a space or void that can be filled with the pure Spirit energy of Life. Masculine energy is portrayed as a sword, spear; something directive, thrusting, active.
Soon into the story, Gwydion instigates some truly shocking events, the violation of the Goddess and the ‘death’ of Pryderi, representing the death of the old ways. Out of all this destruction springs Lleu Llaw Gyffes, a Child of the Sun.
All of this clearly depicts the final subjugation of the tribes of Night and the victorious ascendancy of the new tribes of the Sun, who have seized ‘possession’ of the Sovereignty of the Land.
When Goewin is raped, it is clear that the new people want a different relationship with the Land than the one the older tribes cherished. They are farmers and they want to ‘own’ it. They want to impose themselves upon it rather than respect and work with it.
Math seems at first to punish Gwydion and Gilfaethwy when they violate Goewin. But the trial they undergo is simply an Other-world process for experiencing knowledge of the roles of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energy.
In other words, they are not punished, their transformation as male and female animals simply constitutes their ongoing spiritual education and evolution as sorcerers.
The active role of Goddess passes to Arianrhod, and she is apparently not interested in making things easy for Math or Gwydion. Every obstacle she places in Gwydion’s way is overcome, and enables Lleu Llaw Gyffes to evolve to his full potential, by means of overcoming her challenges.
When Lleu Llaw Gyffes first appears on the scene, we are told he is a twin. His brother, Dylan, is a Child of the Sea, that is, he is a Child of the tribes of Night. The polarity of Dark and Light are both present in the womb of the Goddess at this moment, however, Dylan is later ‘accidentally’ killed by his uncle.
Under Gwydion’s tutelage, Lleu grows up to be a warrior and chief of his own Lands. Blodeuwedd, his ‘wife’, is another personification of the Goddess. No wonder she has to be ‘conjured’ or ‘forced’ to make a ‘bond’ with Lleu. From the way the Goddess has been treated by these people, she is unlikely to volunteer her favours.
As the ‘Flower Bride’, Blodeuwedd is not ‘made’ by Math and Gwydion, but ‘summoned’. The story is once again emphasising their new-found superiority over the Goddess/Land. She is ‘compelled’ to come into being as a Bride for Lleu by the power of their arts, and when she later turns into an owl, she is freed and returns to be part of Nature again.
Blodeuwedd’s apparent treachery enables events that lead to Lleu’s enlightenment. Why should the Goddess not call forth Lleu’s death? In all her forms throughout the Branches, she has been treated dreadfully, without respect at every turn, and more so at the hands of this new tribe. However, her actions create the possibility of Lleu’s great transformation, which is brought forth by the ‘death’ she prepares for him.
It is common in Shamanic practice to ‘die’ to one’s old Self at some point in one’s practice. This often occurs in an Under-world journey where one may be taken apart, stripped of flesh, and then re-assembled anew. The story of Taliesin echoes this theme. He is eaten by the Goddess Ceredwen whilst he is a grain of wheat and she is a hen. She then bears him in her womb and gives birth to him as Taliesin, not Gwion Bach as he was called before this 'death'.
Upon receiving his death-blow, Lleu Llaw Gyffes transforms into an Eagle, a powerful animal archetype of transformation and of the Sun.
When Gwydion finds him, he describes a picturesque scene; an oak tree, an eagle at the top with pieces of rotting flesh and maggots falling from it, and a great sow at the base of the tree eating the flesh and worms.
The oak tree is the Shaman’s Pole, the pole-between-the-worlds, and later the Oak is closely associated with the Druids.
The Eagle is the Child/Shaman/Proto-Druid/Human who is dropping his old Self and becoming ‘pure’ and transformed.
The rotting flesh is all the negative energy and unwanted detritus of the old Self, accumulated throughout life.
The Sow is the Goddess who ‘eats’ the negative energy, leaving Lleu Llaw Gyffes pure, transformed and enlightened.