12. Places associated with this deity and their worship
13. What modern cultural issues are closest to this deity’s heart?
The stories of the children of Llŷr are part of the landscape of North Wales: Aberffraw, where Bendigeidfran holds court, and where Branwen and Matholwch marry; Castell Dinas Bran, overlooking the Dee; Bedd Branwen, on the banks of the Alaw in Anglesey. As one of these siblings, my sense is that Manawydan has a share in these places – if not in any specific sites (interestingly, no monuments mention him by name) then at least in the wider geographical spread of Liverpool Bay, from the Isle of Man to Anglesey.
The Isle of Man, of course – Ynys Manaw – shares his name, but there we stray into Manannan’s waters…
In the Second Branch, Manawydan and his fellow six survivors journey from Harlech, to Gwales (Grassholme? Lundy? At any rate, an island), to London, where they bury Bendigeidfran’s head. Of these three places, only Gwales feels to me like a site of real connection to Manawydan. And that might be because of what happens next: in the Third Branch, he comes to Dyfed – the place of Pryderi and Rhiannon and, coincidentally, my childhood; where Grassholme (and other wonderful islands) can be found, and where several generations of my family have fished and picked cockles and other such things for as long as anyone remembers.
Shorelines, estuaries, islands: these are Manawydan’s places.
To walk the shorelines of this island is to understand their vulnerability. Pollution, from industry and overconsumption, is always encroaching on the delicate balance of these ecosystems. Strangely, although I care about pollution very much, my UPG is that this is not an issue which is close to Manawydan’s heart. As the head of our order often says, whatever we cast into the sea will return to us, however transformed, on the tide. Whenever I clear litter from the shore, I get the strong sense that I am doing it not for Manawydan but for myself, my fellow shore-dwellers and the other beings who share this place – an important and completely valid act of spiritual devotion and environmental responsibility, but not ultimately for his sake. The sea will take anything we cast into it. It is important for us to remember that we are the ones who will not be able to live with ourselves (literally, ecologically, as well as morally) if we poison it. This is our responsibility, not his.
What does seem close to his heart, in my experience, is justice: the enactment of it, with dispassionate neutrality. He is a figure who can work with murky, indefinite shades of grey and, within them, find what little certainty there is, and use it to establish a fair way forward. He does this not by looking for certainty, but by embracing uncertainty and learning to see it for what it truly is: his story could be a perfect illustration of Keats’ quality of “negative capability.” And, of course, I would see this quality in him; my whole career up to this point has been inspired by Albie Sachs’ assertion that the role of an archivist is to “preserve uncertainty.”
And this sense of justice does encompass environmental issues, too – but I get less of the sense of a fierce guardian of place from him than I do from other deities; more a strong commitment to the principle of justice. Cyfiawnder.
Ag yngwirionedd, Cyfiawnder;
Ag ynghyfiawnder, Cariad.