a tangled web

5. Members of the family – genealogical connections.
6. Other related deities and entities.

In the Mabinogi, Manawydan sits at the centre of a web of relations between the Houses of Llŷr, Beli Mawr and Annwfn. He is, along with Branwen and Bendigeidfran, one of the children of Llŷr at the heart of the Second Branch. Unlike his sister Branwen (the ‘white’ or ‘sacred crow’) and his brother Bendigeidfran (the ‘blessed crow’), Manawydan has no discernible corvid connections – although, as I have mentioned before, I associate him very strongly with the cormorant; not strictly a crow, but known in Welsh as morfran, ‘sea-crow’. Of their father, Llŷr, very little is written. His name means ‘ocean’ and his epithet Llediaith, or half-speech, suggests either foreign origins or a form of speech which is only partially intelligible – which, as a poetic expression of the sounds and strangeness of the ocean, works for me.

Manawydan’s mother is Penarddun, the ‘chief fair one’, who is either the daughter or the sister of Beli Mawr, depending on your reading of the geneaology. Beli himself is also the father of Aranrhod of the Fourth Branch, making Manawydan a cousin to Lleu Llaw Gyffes and to the oceanic Dylan Eil Ton. Beli is often interpreted as cognate with Belenus, the ‘fair shining one’, a solar deity worshipped throughout the Gaulish and Brythonic regions. The idea of Manawydan belonging to both the ocean and the solar or celestial realm, by lineage, fits well with my experience – and the magical, illusory, mist-wrapped qualities expressed in his stories seem to draw on this dual heritage of sea and sky.

Penarddun herself is also mother to Nisien and Efnisien, the two half-brothers of the children of Llŷr. Efnisien in particular drives most of the action of the Second Branch; first mutilating the horses of Matholwch, then foiling the plot to ambush Bendigeidfran, before throwing Branwen’s son Gwern on the fire and finally destroying the cauldron of rebirth, sacrificing himself in the process. Efnisien and his brother Nisien were conceived when their father, Euroswydd, imprisoned Llŷr, who thus became one of the three ‘exalted prisoners’ of Britain named in Trioedd Ynys Prydein.

In the Third Branch of the Mabinogi, having returned to Britain as one of seven survivors of the raid on Ireland, Manawydan marries the mother of his comrade Pryderi: Rhiannon – about whomthere is more to say than I could possibly squeeze into this blog post! In marrying her, Manawydan marries into the family most closely connected with the realm of Annwfn, on which the First Branch centred. A lot has been written about the symbolic significance of Rhiannon as a goddess of sovereignty and the land; her marriage to Manawydan, son of the ocean, seems to draw on a mythical motif of the marriage between land and sea (Naomi writes beautifully about the marriage of Cailleach Bheara to Manannán mac Lir: https://leithincluan.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/stories-from-the-pilgrimage-pt-1/).

Complex and dry though it may seem, this tangled web of relationships, marriages and filial connections is a beautiful expression of the nature of Manawydan as a deity. He is married to the land, yet apart from her; a son of both ocean and sky, with a father indescribable (or at least undescribed) and only half-intelligible, and a mother named for her luminous beauty. He is the point at which land, sea and sky all melt into one another on the shore, when the otherworldly Western isles feel as though they are just out of reach over the horizon, beyond the setting sun.

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