Bran the Blessed

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Brân the Blessed (Welsh: Bendigeidfran, literally "Blessed Raven", also Brân Fendigaidd) is a giant and king of Britain in Welsh mythology. He appears in several of the Welsh Triads, but his most significant role is in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, Branwen, daughter of Llŷr. He is a son of Llŷr and Penarddun, and the brother of Brânwen, Manawydan, Nisien and Efnysien. The name "Brân" translates from Welsh as "Raven".

Contents

Role in the Mabinogion

The Irish king Matholwch sails to Harlech to speak with Bran the Blessed high king of the Island of the Mighty and to ask for the hand of his sister Branwen in marriage, thus forging an alliance between the two islands. Bendigeidfran agrees to Matholwch's request, but the celebrations are cut short when Efnisien, a half-brother to the children of Llŷr, brutally mutilates Matholwch's horses, angry that his permission was not sought in regards to the marriage. Matholwch is deeply offended until Bran offers him compensation in the form of a magic cauldron that can restore the dead to life. Pleased with the gift, Matholwch and Branwen sail back to Ireland to reign.

Once in Matholwch's kingdom, Branwen gives birth to a son, Gwern, but Efnysien's insult continues to rankle among the Irish and, eventually, Branwen is mistreated, banished to the kingdom and beaten every day. She tames a starling and sends it across the Irish Sea with a message to her brother Bendigeidfran, who sails from Wales to Ireland to rescue her with his brother, Manawydan and a huge host of warriors, mustered from the 154 cantrefs of Britain. The Irish offer to make peace and build a house big enough to entertain Bendigeidfrân but hang a hundred bags inside, supposedly containing flour but actually containing armed warriors. Efnisien, suspecting treachery, reconnoitres the hall and kills the warriors by crushing their skulls. Later, at the feast, Efnisien, again feeling insulted, murders Gwern by burning him alive, and, as a result, a vicious battle breaks out. Seeing that the Irish are using the cauldron to revive their dead, he hides among the Irish corpses and is thrown into the cauldron by the unwitting enemy. He destroys the cauldron from within, sacrificing himself in the process.

Only seven men survive the conflict, among them Manawydan, Taliesin and Pryderi fab Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, Branwen having herself died of a broken heart. The survivors are told by a mortally wounded Bran to cut off his head and to return it to Britain. For seven years the seven survivors stay in Harlech, where they are entertained by Bendigeidfran's head, which continues to speak. They later move on to Gwales (often identified with Grassholm Island off Dyfed) where they live for eighty years without perceiving the passing of time. Eventually, Heilyn fab Gwyn opens the door of the hall facing Cornwall and the sorrow of what had befallen them returns. As instructed they take the now silent head to the Gwynfryn, the "White Hill" (thought to be the location where the Tower of London now stands), where they bury it facing France so as to ward off invasion. The imagery of the talking head is widely considered to derive from the ancient Celtic "cult of the head"; the head was considered the home of the soul.

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