THE FOUR BRANCHES - tales from THE MABINOGION
In 1849 Lady Charlotte Guest conducted the translation of some old Welsh manuscripts. This collection of stories came to be known as ‘The Mabinogion.’
The Mabinogion consists of ‘The Four Branches’, plus five Native Tales and three Romances.
The stories in The Mabinogion are mainly taken from ‘The White Book of Rhydderch’ (copied from other written sources at the hands of scribes c 1350) and ‘The Red Book of Hergest’ (copied at the hands of one identified scribe from 1382).
Written versions of these and other early Welsh manuscripts existed before these dates. Based on the written form and language used in the stories, scholars currently date the written origins of the stories from 1060 to 1200. On the same basis, another story found in The Mabinogion, 'Culhwch and Olwen' is believed by scholars to pre-date the Four Branches by about 100 years.
The stories themselves pre-date their written form and derive from a much older, oral tradition, although there is no consensus of opinion on how old the stories are. The ancient roots of the subject matter of these stories is not disputed.
The Four Branches are clearly mythological in nature. Each of the Four Branches ends with the line “…thus ends this branch of the Mabinogi.” The word ‘Mabinogi’ is not fully understood, but it was this that led to the modern title.
One character, Pryderi, appears in connection to all Four Branches. His name means 'Oaks of Britain'. What a great name for a Shaman or Druid!
The Four Branches centres around the story of two types of people with their different ways of life, the tribes of Pwyll and his ally, Llyr, and the tribe of Don or Dan. They can be seen as the Dark, ancient tribe of the past ways, and the Light, evolving tribe of newcomers to the Land. Pwyll's tribe, in particular, represents the oldest tribal people.
The stories seem to be set during the transition period between the ways of the Hunter-Gatherers and the Farmers in Britain, which is about c 3,200 BC.
Here you will find a brief summary of the stories that make up the Four Branches. I have provided them here for the benefit of understanding, but in no way do the versions here do these tales justice.
To enjoy the tales properly and in all their fine prose, please read them in a well translated version of 'The Mabinogion'.
I have referred to 'The Mabinogion' translated by Gwyn Jones & Thomas Jones and published by Dent, Everyman's Library edition.