The Mabinogion, or more correctly, The Mabinogi, are a collection of ancient Welsh tales that were originally preserved in written form in the White Book of Rhydderch (1300-1325) and the Red Book of Hergest (1375-1425). Portions of this mystical text were written as early as the second half of the 11th century, and some sections are much older still. The stories are believed to have been passed down from a bardic oral tradition. It is from this older, oral tradition of story telling that many of the fantastic and supernatural elements of the tales have come. The tales, which are outwardly concerned with the lives of various Welsh royal families – figures who represent the gods and goddesses of an older, pre-Christian mythological order – are themselves much older in origin. It first came to general literary prominence in the mid 19th century, when Lady Charlotte Guest published her translation of 11 medieval Welsh folk tales under the title “The Mabinogion”.
“Mabinogi’, derived from the word “Mab”, originally meant “boyhood” or “youth” but gradually came to mean “tale of a hero’s boyhood”. It’s these first four heroic “tales”, or the four “branches” of Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math, which make up The Mabinogion.
A single character, Pryderi, links all four branches. In the first tale he’s born and fostered, inherits a kingdom and marries. In the second he’s scarcely mentioned, but in the third he’s imprisoned by enchantment and then released. In the fourth he falls in battle. The Mabinogion concludes with the Book of Taliesin, which is believed to have originated in the 6th century.
All of the stories are set in a mystical and magical landscape which corresponds geographically to the western coast of south and north Wales. The Mabinogion is not only to be enjoyed as a work of entertaining stories, but also as a tool for meditation and introspective journey work. There are many lessons hidden between the lines of the tales, and the gods and goddesses contained within it’s pages are worshipped to this day. Rhiannon, Mabon and Cerridwen all make an appearance in the Mabinogion.
The Mabinogion is recommended reading for all students in the House of Blackthorn.