variations: a non-linear introduction

Welcome back :)

This has taken longer than expected – three full weeks of working, travelling and studying with barely a pause to catch my breath in between.  I managed to find a moment on the solstice (after a long train ride home from London) to gather a small bouquet of wildflowers and weeds growing on a patch of estuary scrubland, and weave them into an offering for the waters – but that will form another answer for a later question…  One of the unexpected challenges of this 30 Days of Deity Devotion has been the discipline of answering each individual question in some kind of order, when in practice all the answers run together, and seem to change shape the moment I grasp them.

On that note, the first instalment in this series of answers blurs the boundaries a little, but only because I find Manawydan impossible to introduce without reference to Manannán.  Who can tell where one sea ends and another begins?

On that note:

1.  A basic introduction to this deity
8.  Variations on this deity (aspects, regional forms, etc.) – part (i).

Manawydan fab Llŷr is the subject of my story.  A mythical chieftain of the Island of Britain, he is one of the three children of Llŷr in the Mabinogi.  He appears first in the second branch, the Mabinogi of Branwen ferch Llŷr, alongside his siblings Branwen and Bendigeifran and his half-siblings Nisien and Efnisien; his story then continues in the third branch of the Mabinogi, which is named after him and introduces the theme of his two epithets in Trioedd Ynys Prydein: humble chieftain, and golden shoemaker.  He is later named as a member of Arthur’s retinue in both the early Welsh poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur and in the tale of Culhwch ac Olwen, and ‘Manawyd’ is also mentioned in Y Gododdin.

Like any story centred on a deity in neo-pagan practice, what has survived through the ages is “a complex amalgam of tribal history and magico-mythical symbolism,”[1] augmented with folklore and gnosis.  My own tradition views him as a demi-god, an anthropomorphic figure through whom we can approach the fathomless mystery of his father.  I know him as a deity of shorelines and edges, a gatekeeper between our realm and the realm of the Deep.

In the Welsh literature, his only connection with the sea is through his patronymic; llŷr being an old Welsh word for ocean.  But the striking similarity between his name and the name of the Manx and Gaelic sea-god Manannán mac Lir has led to a scholarly consensus that these figures at least share some kind of common origin (various sources attest to this, though none of them with enough clarity to be worth quoting here!).

Now, instinctively, I tend to avoid conflating deities, preferring to meet each individual figure on their own terms.  Rooted as I am in the Welsh mythical world, Manawydan is my focus.  But my instincts increasingly lead me to consider Manannán as, if not another aspect of the same figure exactly, then at least part of the same whole to which Manawydan belongs.  It would be impossible for me to introduce the deity I know and revere without delving into this sense of continuity. Manawydan walks the shores of Gwynedd and Gwales and my homelands in Dyfed, but when I look out of my bedroom window now, it is Manannán I see (literally!).

*                             *                             *                             *

I first set foot on Anglesey as part of a walking tour around the island’s many ancient monuments: part archaeology lesson, part immersive storytelling experience; entirely magical.  And one of the emerging themes was that the builders of these monuments were travellers, crossing back and forth across the Irish Sea to bring new ideas and techniques from one settlement to the next.  The boundaries of language and region are, and always have been, mutable – a memory which is, I think, encoded in the tale of Manawydan, which remembers not only the expulsion of the Deisi and later tales of exile and dispossession in the early medieval Celtic world, but perhaps also recalls something of a time when boundaries were only physical and could always be traversed.  In the words of Eduardo Galeano, “in those days long past the entire world was our kingdom, an immense map without borders, and our legs were the only passport required”[2] – or, perhaps, in this case, a boat!  Something more of this memory is preserved in the epithet of Manawydan’s father, Llŷr Llediaith (as opposed to cyfiaith and anghyfiaith: people whose speech is mutually intelligible or unintelligible with ours, while Llŷr’s is somewhere in between) – but that is another story for another time…

[1]  Will Parker, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, p.371.
[2]  Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors, ‘A Feast on Foot.’

4 thoughts on “variations: a non-linear introduction

  1. I can see the reason for the blurring in the lack of boundaries between the seas… lots of little snippets I didn’t know about Manawydan here: a ‘golden’ shoemaker… and his presence at Catraeth (Catterick?) in Y Gododdin. Interesting stuff.

    Also, coincidentally I was just reading this blog, where the writer has just made a similar offering to Manannan so thought you may be interested… I *think* I see cormorants…

    • Thanks for the link! Lots of synchronicities there.
      The rereference in Y Gododdin is very obscure and something to read more closely, as and when I get the time and opportunity to track down a decent copy. Reference is made to the ‘land of Manawyd’ (Mary Jones’ given translation) – could this be analogous to Manannan’s ‘thrice fifty islands’ mentioned in The Voyage of Bran? The ‘golden shoemaker’ and ‘humble chieftain’ aspects of Manawydan are very interesting – hoping to delve into more detail in a future post!

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