Fourth Branch
The Mabinogi

Further Comments

Although much interpretation of this branch of The Mabinogi appears in the Taxonomy and is   concerned with the attributes and hierarchical domains of the Deities, there are a few elements of the story which give us further insight into Keltic society at that epoch.

Here then are a few additional comments upon other areas of text which may shed further light on the Fourth Branch:-

1. "At that time Math son of Mathonwy might not live save while his two feet were in the fold of a maiden's lap...... .  Now the maiden who was with him was Goewin daughter of Pebin of Dol Bebin in Arfon."

Math's very existence, then, lay in the 'maiden' aspect of the Feminine Principle (as we have said, he was an extension of Dôn) and Goewin, which means sprightly, denoting youth, reinforces this aspect in the myth.

2. "And Gilfaethwy son of Dôn set his heart on the maiden (i.e. Goewin) and loved her so."

This demonstrates a slow turning from a tradition in which the woman chooses her man in a matriarchal society - the ultimate breach coming soon in the tale.   As the maiden represents Dôn, the lusting of Gilfaethwy after a symbolic mother may point to a taboo on incest.

3. "And the maidens were roughly forced out and she (Goewin was lain with against her will."

Here power is finally usurped from the Feminine Principle - a revolt against the ancient Matriarchal Harmonies, heralding an epoch in which patriarchy was to emerge as the norm.

4. a) the transmogrification of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy into animals for three years as punishment for the rape of Goewin.

b) Math's command that they bring forth young between them.

c) Math's final retort: "And a great shame have you had, that each of you has had young by the other."

a. is a fitting retribution for their bestial act of rape, which enables them to experience sexual violation each at the hand of the other, and together with b., demonstrates - c.   "a great shame" - the ultimate disgrace among men and, therefore, a taboo in Keltic culture - the act of homosexual copulation.

5. Arianrhod enters the tale and is pregnant to Gwydion.   She is the Earth Goddess who avers she is yet a maiden.

Maidenhood or virginity in Keltic culture simply meant being a woman who was not pair-bonded.   (I do not use the word 'married' as I doubt here was such a formal concept.)   This is similar to the Roman description of a woman being a virgo (i.e. unmarried) or a virgo intacta (unmarried and untouched by a man.) 

Nevertheless a woman could be a maiden (unattached) yet choose to lie with man and become a mother.

6. "'Well', said she (Arianrhod), 'I will swear on him a destiny, he shall not get a name till he get it from me.'"

The custom is revealed that it is the mother who names her child - logical in a matriarchal society where the identity of the father may be unknown.   The child always took its identity from the mother's bloodline.   (Note that the Sons and Daughters, the Deities of The Warband, were called the offspring of Dôn, not Beli.) Vide "Cyflwyniad Y Mabanod."

7. "'Well', said she (Arianrhod), 'I will swear on this boy a destiny that he shall never bear arms till I myself equip him therewith.'"

Thus the Keltic custom of the mother arming her son on his reaching mature years.   This is still done in a rite of passage,"Urddo Marchawc" - a coming of age ceremony.   Following a blessing with the sword, the mother says "Gwisc ymdan y gwryanc hwnn" which is the Middle Welsh for "Put armour on this youth."  She then proceeds to arm the marchawc accordingly saying "Y'th law di nu y rodaf i" - the Middle Welsh for "Into thy hands I now give it" after each weapon.

8. The conjuring of a wife for Lleu from flowers.

Here woman is formed for the use of man which demonstrates that patriarchy is established.

9. Blodeuwedd's treachery.

There are some mitigating factors in her treachery and betrayal of Lleu:-

a. She was not allowed to grow according to her own true and indeed composite nature, being 'uprooted' from her real state.

b. She was moulded by the dictates of man to be what, by nature, she was not.

c. She was transformed, therefore, against her true will and thus became not only untrue to Lleu but to herself.

d. In her punishment by being transformed into an owl, she is given the wisdom that is this creature's hallmark and, of course, with wings which denote soaring spirituality.  As the owl is a night bird, this demonstrates woman's prerogative to be more atune with the Great Lady of Night - The Goddess of the Moon, on conscious and unconscious levels as well as physiological.  Her true path now lies open to her - the divine mystique of womankind.

The Moral: this inset demonstrates the ills that can ensue when patriarchy holds sway.

More relating to the Legend of Math can be seen in the Major and Minor festivals which are seasonal psycho-dramas.

Copyright ©  Gareth Pengwerin 1986     
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