Understanding THE SECOND BRANCH
A long time ago, people came by sea from the South East across Europe and into Ireland.
After they settled, some crossed at a later time into Britain. These people were some of the first of the New Tribes to arrive. They utilised a few early farming skills, but were still Hunter-Gatherers.
They heralded the beginning of the Neolithic in Ireland and Britain. Unlike Pwyll, who represents a long-standing indigenous British population, the tribe of Llyr represent these pioneers.
Llyr, Bran's father, was known as Llyr Llediaith, meaning Llyr ‘Half-speech’. This is believed to refer to him as an Irishman in Britain, due to his accent. However, all of the characters in the Four Branches are essentially symbolic, and as such they are ‘story-teller’ devices for recounting information about tribal groups rather than individual persons.
Llyr and his tribe have very strong connections to the sea, which carried them to their new
Perhaps, generations of their direct ancestors lived as sea-faring folk. Llyr is as well known in Irish mythology as he is in Welsh, for his people had close connections with both countries. Llyr is the ‘father’ of Bran/Branwen and Manawydan.
The tribe of Llyr have similarities with both Pwyll’s tribe and the new tribe of Light, known as the tribe of Don
(or Dan in Ireland). They choose to make alliance with Pwyll and Pryderi. In the Second Branch, the tribes of Light do not feature at all.
This story differs from the other Branches, and the action is a disguise for imparting an ancient knowledge that can only spring from the tribes of Night, the oldest inhabitants of the Land, and a Mesolithic past.
At the time of the Second Branch, Bran is a chief ruler in Britain, Pryderi is grown up and Pwyll is dead.
As the story begins, we are introduced to Matholwch, King of Ireland. We know already that the tribe of Llyr have strong Irish connections.
Following from the actions of Efnisien, it appears that Bran and Matholwch become enemies and war ensues, but Efnisien’s role can be interpreted otherwise, and the discord and warfare creates an effective cover and device for concealing what is really going on between them.
Efnisien plays the role of wise trickster. He appears to be making trouble, but a complex process is underway, and ritual sacrifices need to be made.
All of Efnisien’s acts involve fulfilling intended and required sacrificial procedures, from the horses, to the one hundred men in the house made for Bran, to the sacrifice of The Child of Branwen and Matholwch, and finally, Efnisien sacrifices his own life shortly before Bran's physical death, the sacrificial event that is the ultimate goal of all that has gone before.
It helps to consider human sacrifice from the perspective of ancient minds, rather than our modern ones. Before the dawn of the Tribes of Light, early people perceived dimensions other than our physical, daily world. Their psychic awareness was second nature, so their views about life and death were completely different.
They did not perceive the same preciousness and greedy desire for life and great fear of death that we do today.
Death was a transition from one state to another, and not necessarily something to be avoided. Besides, since they could see beyond it, they still had personal contact with those that passed beyond the veil, which is generally lacking for us today.
Bran and Branwen can be interpreted as two individuals, brother and sister, Shaman and Goddess, but also as the male and female aspects of the one being.
Bran is portrayed as a man of great physical stature, but as a great Shaman, he can also be seen as a person whose masculine and feminine energy is fully realised, a state accessed by the greatest of Shamans. These characteristics make Bran the ideal candidate for the task at hand, that is, being integrated into the Land for the benefit of the tribe, as a 'Stone King'.
A key part of the story is the conversation between Matholwch and Bran about the cauldron of
The cauldron represents knowledge of a very specific kind, and the cauldron-bearers are the source of that knowledge.
This couple are clearly ancient beings. Their journey implies a Shamanic process of elemental
initiation. They emerge first from a lake, a ‘birth’ in the element of Water. They face an ordeal within the furnace of the ‘Iron’ house, representing a purifying ritual with Fire and the
transformational properties of Metal.
Matholwch is unable to appreciate or cope with their skills and knowledge and sends them away, but Bran understands what profound secrets they represent, and welcomes and maintains them.
The conversation between Bran and Matholwch about these two characters is really a conversation about how Bran came to possess the secret knowledge of how to intergrate a being within the earth after death, to be accessed by the living.
Bran is really giving Matholwch this secret knowledge when he gives him the cauldron of rebirth.
The cauldron is a symbol for the Divine Feminine.
A burial chamber, long barrow or passage grave, likewise, is a version of the womb of the Goddess. Both the cauldron and the passage grave act as reservoirs for the energy of the Goddess that creates Life.
We are told by archaeologists that passage graves are places where people buried their dead, however, they do not tend to contain complete skeletons but a few long bones and skulls, and their construction is excessive for such a purpose if none other is intended.
During the time they were in use, the dead were believed to have been laid outdoors to be consumed by Nature, so that the body could return to its Mother.
The passage grave is a generator and focaliser of energy, integrating with natural landscape power lines.
It is a most powerful place for a Shaman to make an Other-world journey and to undergo an initiatic process of seclusion and contemplation akin to a vision quest.
To place selected bones in the chamber may very well enable connection with ancestors within this sacred space.
In the story, the cauldron of rebirth is used to bring the dead back to life. There is a significant similarity between this idea and being able to 'connect' with those members of the tribe who had passed over within the passage grave chamber.
In his book ‘Earth Light’, R. J. Stewart discusses an
encounter with a chief or king who was ‘merged’ with the Earth inside an ancient passage grave in Jersey.
This involved a complicated process of a chief being buried alive, a process that took time and involved the
death of several others.
After this process is completed, the king can be accessed for consultation by the living. The ‘Stone King’ is in a timeless state. The process is described as one of “merging with the environment, and finally emerging ‘on the other side’ of it as an entity of wholeness or integration, able to link and mediate through various stages of human and non-human evolution.”
The author goes on to say “The rule or pattern of tombs of this sort was general for all dolmens and passage graves……which can be seen today. Some are empty and failed, but others retain their inner contact and can be used.”
The difference between the ‘Stone King’ and other persons sacrificed as part of the process is that the communication flow with the ‘Stone King’ is two way, and that reflects how the other bodies placed in the cauldron did not have the power of speech, but Bran's head did.
(Please refer to 'Earth Light' by R J Stewart, Appendix 6 The Tomb of a King: Ancestral Contact at an Ancient Site.)
We hear that Bran goes to Ireland for war, but let us postulate that his journey to Ireland is to undergo a ‘merging’ with the Earth, and the ‘house’ they build for him is a passage grave.
War is a symbol for the battle the Dark Tribes are engaged in, trying to survive the arrival of
the new Tribes of Day who are contesting their power and taking over the Land.
The story tells us they constructed the largest of buildings to accommodate Bran. Perhaps this large 'house' was Newgrange.
If so, this dates the events to around 5,200 BP. In that ‘house’ (passage grave), one hundred men are sacrificed, and so is Branwen and Matholwch’s young son. He is The Child, the manifested evolution of the tribe's relationship with Nature as facilitated by the Shaman.
All are sacrificed by Efnissien who seems to be the one overseeing the whole operation. The stakes are high, the Tribes of Night are desperate to avoid losing their identity and connection to the Land in these times of change.
Out of the cauldron of rebirth (house/passage grave) came many spirits of the dead who could not communicate with the living. But when Bran is killed, his head can miraculously communicate with them all.
The head is addressed for consultation by those alive over a period of eighty-seven years, during which none of them age, implying these events occur in the Other-world.
The head of Bran is eventually interred to protect the Land when buried at The White
Mount. Indeed, The White Mount in London, where Bran’s head is buried, is the location of the Tower of London. This is the reason there are always Ravens kept at
the Tower, for ‘Bran’ means Raven, and it is said that as long as the ravens remain at the Tower, Britain will be safe from invasion. This is a 'folk memory' of the role of Bran's
During the story of the Second Branch, Branwen dies shortly after Bran’s physical death, which supports the inter-connectedness of the two of them being 'as one’.
She is also the Goddess and the Land, and this is a turning point, where the Goddess of the Land can be seen to
‘die’ in the greater sense, as the real battle is becoming lost, the one between the Tribes of Dark and Light, although death means a transition rather than an ending.
It is as though all the efforts of the tribes of Pwyll and Llyr have been in vain, for the tribes of Light will be in the ascendancy in the story of the next Branch.
The Child has been sacrificed, which is akin to sacrificing the future of the tribe.
From here onwards, the female characters who represent the Goddess; Cigfa, Goewin, Blodeuwedd, Arianrhod and even Rhiannon, seem either disempowered and passive or aggressive and challenging, but they are no longer working in harmony with their consorts as Rhiannon did.