The Shaman and the Proto-Druid
A clear time-line exists throughout the Four Branches.
The themes of all the Branches relate to the transitional period after the Neolithic Farmers arrived but when the ‘old ways’ of the Shaman were still active.
Pwyll, in the First Branch, undertakes a Shamanic ‘journey’ to prove his worth to the Goddess/Land, and then enters into a Shaman's relationship with her.
She supports Pwyll in his endeavours against a challenger, Gwawl, who is symbolic of the Neolithic Farmers, and
whose name means ‘Light’, a big clue that he belongs to the Tribes of Day. Through this means we can see that the Sovereignty of The Land still lies with the oldest tribes.
Pwyll’s tribe dwell in Dyfed and this is known to be the last stronghold in Britain of the oldest indigenous tribes. Indeed, some archaeologists have postulated that this may be why the Bluestones from Preseli were used when the first standing stones were erected at Stonehenge, to connect the new spiritual centre at Stonehenge with the oldest ancestors of the land, a shrewd 'political' move at the time.
In the First Branch, Preseli is named as the meeting place for Pwyll and his elders and advisors, a place of counsel. Pwyll and his people are thus implied in the story to be a tribe of the original and oldest inhabitants of Britain.
The mention of the mound at Arberth, where Pwyll first sees Rhiannon, might imply a chambered tomb or long
barrow. This would place the story at the time of transition between the two cultures, from about c3,300 BC onwards. However, the mound is called Gorsedd Arberth, and gorsedds were places
of ritual and spiritual practice well before tombs or long barrows appeared in the landscape, so here the implication is of an even earlier time.
Long barrows and chambered tombs may have been built for complex uses, but it is unlikely they were merely and solely ‘graveyards’. The size and volume of stone and depth of earth would seem excessive if this was the only purpose.
They seem to have acoustic properties, and they can most certainly generate and amplify other energies. It would seem quite possible they were used for Shamanic ‘journeying’, as they would undoubtedly create a deep and profound experience that would allow the ‘journeyer’ to achieve a strong and powerful link to the Other-worlds, especially the Underworld or Annwn, and the story tells us that Pwyll achieved the strongest of alliances with Annwn.
These chambers are womb-like and may be used as part of an initiatic ‘vision quest’ or ‘journeying’ experience for the apprentice or Shaman.
Before these ancient sites were built, people used gorsedds for ritual practices, which are rocky outcrops.
Indeed, the later ancient monuments were frequently built near to gorsedds and in relation to them.
Originally, our ancestors would have used caves for such ritualistic encounters, such as those in South Wales on the Gower peninsular, where carvings and ochre images have been found, and where ritual artefacts were uncovered.
Tribal Native American people have a Shamanic tradition that has retained a living thread of tradition and practice, and the Anasazi people used similar chambers called ‘kiva’ for such ritual and Shamanic practices. As so many Shamanic practices seem universal, it is not a great stretch to imagine these chambers were used in this way in Britain too, especially as so many of them exist in our landscape.
So, the First Branch connects ancient Shamanic practice to the older times, when gorsedds were still in use in the land of the oldest tribes.
Then the Second Branch introduces us to the use of long barrows as part of Shamanic practice, in the story of Bran
and the Cauldron of Rebirth. A transition of culture is occurring through time from one story to the next.
The symbolic ‘offspring’ of Pwyll and Rhiannon’s union is Pryderi, he whose name means ‘Oaks of Britain’.
Pryderi represents the next generation of spiritual evolution towards the Proto-Druid, the stage between the old practice and the new.
His name infers a connection with Druidism, possibly it is his myth that created the connection used by the Druids that links them with the oak tree.
Pryderi interacts with the Tribes of Day, but belongs to the oldest tribes of Britain, the Tribes of Night. Some believe that the whole of the Four Branches is Pryderi's story, for he is the only character who is present in all four of the tales.
In the Third Branch, Pryderi is apprentice to Manawydan, a great Shaman connected to the Tribes of Night, but one who is adept in all the skills of the new tribes.
He teaches Pryderi farming skills and craftwork techniques. It is as though Pryderi is being trained to adapt
to the new world of the Tribes of Day, for by now it has become clear that it is only a matter of time before their ways are adopted by all.
The Second Branch hails the end of the fight between the Light and Dark tribes, when Branwen (as Goddess/Land) 'dies'.
The Third Branch sees the main characters of the old tribes skulking about the countryside as if they have become
In the Fourth Branch, Gwydion, Math and Lleu Llaw Gyffes represent the new spiritual culture of the farming peoples, people of the sun, and they have the clearest connections to the beginnings of Druidism.
And yet these characters also are a continuation of the Proto-Druid, for the Neolithic farmers are predecessors of the later Celtic culture within which the Druids flourished.
Gwydion and Math seem to give little more than a cursory nod to the Goddess of the Land, as she is reduced to a lap-maiden and can be ‘summoned’ at will. As Arianrhod, she appears to be tricked and outsmarted by Gwydion.
The implications of these actions echo the practice of imposing oneself on the landscape and of ‘possessing’ the Land.
However, clearly the Sovereignty and authority bestowed by the Goddess is important to these new people, and must still be acknowledged, for it gives their power to rule the authority it needs.
Indeed, the whole of the Four Branches seems created to link the Tribe of Day to the past and 'prove' their right and authority to rule, due to their connections to the Goddess and their inheritance from the tribes of the past.
Finally, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the Sun-King, is transformed through death. He is shown to us in the story as an Eagle in an Oak tree.
Here, at last, is the Proto-Druid. Here is a story that authenticates his claim to power and links him to the
people of the past from whom he has taken wisdom, knowledge, power and Sovereignty.