Session 57: Ystafell 9
Mabinogi, Mabinogion, Celtic legend

Chair: Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan

Calumniated storytellers: the precedent for female re-telling in the Mabinogi

Emma Watkins
Prifysgol Caerdydd (Cardiff)

In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is falsely accused of destroying her own child. As punishment, she is forced to tell strangers the story of her supposed wrongdoing and carry them on her back like a horse. In the lively debate surrounding Rhiannon’s equine punishment, academics have largely overlooked the second facet of her penance: the forced recounting of a false narrative, which turns her intelligent voice into the instrument of her suffering. Rhiannon’s plight is echoed in the Mabinogi’s Second Branch, when a scorned Branwen teaches a starling to speak and has it deliver a letter telling the story of her mistreatment.  Both characters are variations on the folklore motif of the Calumniated Wife, an international tale type featuring a woman outcast after marriage. But in Rhiannon and Branwen, the author of the Mabinogi re-writes the motif, empowering the unjustly ostracized women to reclaim their narratives. The storytelling of the Calumniated Wives conflates patterns of subversive female speech in the Mabinogi with the predominantly male generative act of storytelling. In re-telling their stories, the Calumniated Wives assert their innocence and ultimately escape their punishments. By reading Rhiannon and Branwen as purposefully empowering re-writings of the Calumniated Wife motif, this paper illuminates a tradition of subversive female storytelling in the Four Branches and complicates the discussion surrounding the possibility of female authorship of the Mabinogi itself. 

Animal names in the Mabinogion

Lucie Vinsova
Masarykova Univerzita, Brno

The purpose of this paper is to introduce some proper names of people and animals bearing a traceable connection to the animal world found in the texts of the Mabinogion, and present their etymologies with equivalents in other Celtic languages. The names will be accompanied by the respective excerpts from the original text and with translations. Where relevant, the names or animal species will be put into a wider mythological or cultural context. Some examples of these might be:

A pig Banw, "pig(let), hog; young animal", a piglet of Twrch Trwyth": MW banw, pl. beinw, OCorn baneu sus’, O Breton banscrofa’, Br banw; MI banb; Gaul PN Banuus, Banuo.

An ox Brych – "spotted, speckled, brown"; cf. (M)W brych "spot, speck, stain; speckled"; OI brecc "speckled"; Gaulish PN Briccus.

Three horses:

Call, lit. "wise; sharp, wily"; further Cornish cal, I callaid; maybe from Latin callidus.

Cavall, lit. "horse": MW caual, W cafall "horse, steed" caballus.

Cuall, cf. OW cúáll, W cuall "sudden, quick, speedy; hasty, mad, dull".

Dogs Glass, Gleissig, Gleissad, cf. W glas "(greenish) blue, greenish blue, grass-coloured, pale(-blue)".

Kulhwch, son of Kilydd: a tautological compound, where hwch means "pig" and kul-is compatible with Lithuanian kiaũlė"pig" <*keu̯lii̯ā, while Kilydd<*kūlii̯o-, cf. Lithuanian kuilỹs, gen. kuĩlio "boar" (Hamp, E.P. 1986. 'Culhwch, the Swine'. ZCP 41:257-58).

March, son of Meirchyawn, cf. MW march, pl. meirch "(war-) horse, stallion, steed".

Twrch Trwyth "the boar Trwyth", cf. MI Torc Triath (Lebor Gabála Érenn), OI Orc tréith "Triath's boar" (Sanas Cormaic).

The three steps of the Sun and the Matres: Celtic religion and its influence on the Christian present

André Pena Graña
Concello de Narón

The Celts from insular and continental Atlantic Europe left as a legacy a common pantheon and a common theology. This was in essence a Trinitarian monotheistic religion that encompassed a feminine lunar trinity (the Matres) and a masculine solar trinity embodying the three steps of the Sun: Sky, Sea, and the Other World in the orbe tripartito.

The Matres, characterized as three virgins through the seasonal cycle, also embody the Celtic political system. The young virgin that chooses the king that is to rule the Treba or Toudo remained as Saint Brigid or the Blessed Virgin Mary commemorated in Candlemas (Candelária or da Luz); when she married him and gave birth she became Mater (the ‘mother’ of the dying god Esus); and, after the death of the king, she assumes his soul (as an old virgin, cailleach, builder of the landscape); finally rejuvenating, she reinitiates the cycle with a new king that is to rule the land.

The masculine trinity represents the three steps of the Sun in the Earth’s orbit. In the first step it takes possession of the sky, in the second it takes possession of the sea, and in the third it takes possession of the Earth, the Underworld. It is conceived as a child and a teenager in the first step (with the related epithets sometimes shared in roman interpretatio by the same deities); as a psychopomp, guide of souls, in the second step; and as dying God and a judge of the afterlife in the third, symbolized by the Orbe Tripartito and the triskelion.

This presentation explores the continuity of these basic elements of Celtic religion in the new Trinitarian monotheistic religion that followed (Christianity) with its imposition by the Emperors of a decaying Rome after the crisis of the 3rd century CE.