Understanding THE THIRD BRANCH
Manawydan is the very powerful ‘brother’ of Bran. He is known as Manannan Mac Lir in Ireland, and the Isle of Man is named for him.
From the Welsh Triads, we learn that he built a prison made of human bones, known as the ‘Bone Prison of Oeth and Anoeth’. He is credited with holding Arthur captive within it for 3 nights.
The words ‘oeth’ and ‘anoeth’ relate to ‘power’ and also refer to a grave. In the 'Black Book of Carmarthen', the word ‘anoeth’ is used to refer to a ‘wonder’ or a ‘difficulty’ or ‘challenge.’ The Bone Prison is reputed to refer to the long barrow of Park Cwm on the Gower, South Wales, but also clearly implies an Other-world state or place.
The idea of being a ‘prisoner’ within Manawydan’s chamber could suggest an initiation under his tutelage. This may involve a period of withdrawal and being enclosed and sealed within the burial chamber.
In the Third Branch, Pryderi is in training to the older and more experienced Manawydan, and he is being taught the new skills of the farmers and craftsmen of the Neolithic.
When the party are in Dyfed, they hunt, but when they are elsewhere, they earn a living by making beautiful crafts in the style of the later Celts. This seems to symbolise the difference between the lifestyles of the old tribe living in Dyfed, and the new skills of the people who are now encroaching all around them.
It seems that the Hunter-Gatherers only remain living in Dyfed during this point of the story.
A great misfortune befalls the Land, clearly the result of some unseen interference. At the end of the story, we realise the new Tribes of Light have significantly increased their power and influence, and the barrenness of the Land is down to them.
During the course of the Third Branch, the skills of craftsmanship and farming are becoming more and more a part of
the daily lives of the old tribes as represented by Pryderi, as they adapt to the new ways being practiced by their neighbours. They can no longer sustain themselves by hunting alone, and are
compelled to utilise other means to survive, as a supplement to their ancient skills. This is a situation that effects many modern-day tribal people who face the world encroaching on their
Manawydan is skilled in both the old and new ways of living, so he teaches Pryderi the crafts of saddle-making,
shield-making and shoe-making. The story-teller is depicting scenes from a Medieval world rather than Neolithic, and confusing the Neolithic skills with those of the Celts. These crafts
symbolise new skills and processes, new ideas and creativity, developing out of the practical and material focus of early farming tribes of the Neolithic.
The appearance of the strange fort signifies another portal into Otherworld reality. In the First Branch, Pwyll enters the Underworld when he follows a stag.
The stag is the archetypal animal associated with the Shaman of the old Hunter-Gatherer tribes. Twenty-one Red Deer stag head-dresses were found at Star Carr near Scarborough. These items were dated to the Mesolithic period. They had been worked with tools, showing evidence that their purpose was for wearing on the head during some form of ceremonial event.
The stag is a primal beast during the rut, his crazed state echoes that of the Shamanic trance. These animals are closely linked to Shamans and their journeys.
In the Third Branch, the beast that Pryderi follows into the Otherworld is the boar. The boar is the stag equivalent associated to the new tribes. A symbol of the warrior, it is a beast of battle and represents the power of the sun.
In the story ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ the great boar Twrch Trwych symbolises a whole army coming into Britain from Ireland and rampaging across the Land.
The golden bowl that Pryderi encounters in the fort represents Sovereignty, the Goddess and the Land. It embodies the Goddess/Land ‘chained’ to the Upper-world, the Other-world ‘home’ of the new Tribes of Light.
The four chains represent the four elements, the four seasons and the four directions. All these symbols point to the Tribes of Light, and soon, Pryderi and Rhiannon have been ‘spirited’ away.
As Manawydan works to free them from their Other-world prison and restore them to the daily world, we perceive the story-teller’s depiction of the Shamanic practice of Soul Retrieval.
In the Third Branch, the Goddess is represented as 'Wise Woman' by Rhiannon and as 'Bride' by Cigfa, and is depicted as being in a powerless state.
As Cigfa, she is totally reliant on Manawydan for her wellbeing. As Rhiannon, she is captured and lost. Once again, she relies on Manawydan as Shaman to restore her. As a symbol for the Land and Nature, this echoes the barren state of the Land of Dyfed.
Pryderi and Rhiannon have been ‘captured’ in the Other-world and Manawydan must use his Shamanic skills to set their souls free again. All that Manawydan does is happening in Other-world reality. He uses the crops of the new farmers to ‘catch’ his foe, for it is one of the new tribe who is responsible.
The culprit is a friend of Gwawl, the man Pryderi’s father had beaten in the First Branch. He says he is is visiting his revenge for the shameful act of beating Gwawl in the bag. The revenge for this has been transferred to Pwyll’s descendants.
Now, the people of Light are powerful enough to ‘capture’ Pryderi and the Goddess, but, on this occasion, Manawydan has overcome them and the balance is restored once again.