The Mabinogion or Mabinogi? A guide for the confused.

by michaelharvey in Mabinogi, Mythology

Mabinogion or Mabinogi?

So which is it? The short and confusing answer is – both. The Mabinogion or Mabinogi are a collection of stories collected together in the Middle Ages around eight hundred years ago. The Mabinogion usually refers to the whole collection within which there are four separate ‘branches’ of related stories called the four branches of the Mabinogi. Clear? Don’t worry if not because it is the stories that are really important. Professor Sioned Davies of the Department of Welsh in the University of Cardiff knows a lot more about the background to these stories than me  and you can read more here.

Tomen y Mur. Home to Blodeuwedd and Lleu. Mabinogion or Mabinogi?

Tomen y Mur. An important location in the 4th Branch of the Mabinogi. Photo credit Chris Webb.

From Telling to Writing

What I do is tell these stories and the more I tell them the more they amaze me. The first challenge was just to get my head round the twists, turns and plot leaps. After that I had to start picturing the landscapes and people before I could open my mouth. Now, after over twenty years of telling these stories, I have embarked on a new stage. Writing them down for others to read. I have always pottered around with writing and one day a friend encouraged me to do a writing course. Those few days led by the Canadian writer and teacher Barbara Turner-Vessalago were a game changer. I can heartily recommend her courses and books to anyone wanting to have more fun and satisfying writing experience. Without question, it has been central to the process of putting Pig Boy together.

Mabinogion or Mabinogi? This time in Italy

Telling the 2nd Branch in Rome as part of the Raccontamiunastoria Festival with translation by Paola Balbi

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Expect the Unexpected

Back to the Mabinogion or Mabinogi. The stories twist and turn and there are bizarre intrusions into the narrative. For example, in the First Branch of the Mabinogi a man is having problems with his horses. Every year his mare has a foal and every year it disappears on the the night it is born. Finally he decides to see what is going on for himself. So, he waits in the stable with his sword, determined to stay awake. Suddenly he hears a terrible noise outside. He stands ready with his sword drawn. Then a huge claw and massive hairy arm burst through the window.

The claw grabs the foal and the man leaps forward to save it. He swings his sword at the arm and chops it off at the elbow. There is a scream of pain outside and the monster lumbers off. The man rushes outside and, once he is sure it has gone, he goes back to the stable. There, in the straw, where the foal had been there is a beautiful baby boy with golden hair, wrapped in silk, waving his arms.

Location for many Welsh legends. Mabinogion or Mabinogi?

Sunset in Eryri/Snowdonia. Site of many stories from the Mabinogi

A Quantum and Chaotic World

See what I mean about the wonky plot line? Now, this could be really off-putting but as you get into the stories something really interesting happens. You get used to it. In fact, you get more than used to it. After a while this multi-dimensional plotting makes sense. Not just in its own terms but because it is actually a much more accurate picture of the world. Endings only exist in stories. There are actually no endings in our lives. Yes, we all die but our families and friends will go on talking about us and living their own lives.

There are no beginnings either. Yes, we were all born but we already have a huge effect on our parents and wider families before we actually enter the world. And as for one thing leading to another in a straight line? Yes, it does happen but most often in the trivial and routine parts of our lives. The big stuff is quantum and chaotic. They might have been ’caused’ by something but not in a direct and straight-line kind of way. Think about all the really big stuff that has happened to you and I am pretty sure that they will all have one thing in common – unpredictability.

Mabinogion or Mabinogi?

Music, song and spoken word bring the story of the 4th Branch to life. Photo credit – Chris Webb

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The stories in the Mabinogion or Mabinogi are sophisticated and worldly enough to understand the disorderly universe we live in. These stories express it through talking about the place where anything can happen – Annwn (the Celtic otherworld).

 

 


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