The Wind in the Leaves, Part 3: A sense of the sacred

So having defined an audience, where could an author begin?

When seeking to evoke any type of myth, there is one very important aspect that should be borne in mind: myths tend to express absolute values. It’s the coherence of those values that can give myth its power, its ability to shape our world-view, at least in those moments when we’re immersed in a tale. 

One of the absolute values of The Four Branches is sovereignty, the indivisible power and natural right of the perfect kingdom, encompassing the land, it’s people and their rulers. Two other absolute values in the tales are honour and her reflection, shame: both motivate important events, ultimately shaping the actions of the characters. In the imagined world of the tales, such values are as hard and pervasive as any natural law.

Honour and shame compel different responses in The Four Branches: compassion in Rhiannon as she acknowledges her midwives’ shame; grief in Branwen for the tragic war that arose out of her shaming and subsequent attempts to restore her to honour. Likewise, over-sensitivity to honour and shame causes destructive fury in Efnysien, and a lack of sensitivity to the very same values causes a callous folly in Gwydion. These are all very varied responses to the constants of honour and shame.


Lady Godiva by John Collier (1897), another medieval female embodiment of honour and shame.

If we take The Four Branches as our model, when creating a symbolic narrative that has the potential to evoke a myth, it should be founded upon similar absolute values. These absolutes will provide the true north of the mythic landscape, the direction by which all other directions are known. Absolutes point the way along the pilgrims path that characters either progress upon or are turned away from.

Fundamentally, these absolutes rest upon a sense of the sacred. They can only be absolute if they are treated as sacrosanct within the world-view of the tale. They can never truly be violated or undermined, only deferred or delayed. They exert a pull upon all who live in the tale’s imagined world, pervading the common understanding of the characters, their intuitions and behaviour.

Even though such absolutes are fundamentally impersonal in nature, they affect the personal lives of good and bad alike. Just as Lady Justice is blindfolded, these apparent ‘natural laws’ don’t see personal circumstance, they simply operate without discrimination. They are presented as perpetually imminent, woven into the fabric of a tale’s world, yet almost exclusively expressed through individual lives. 

Appreciating how these values shape the lives of the characters offers the audience an opportunity to see how this also plays out in real life, how our fate is often determined by such seemingly immutable laws. Rhiannon’s plight in particular, submitting herself to an arbitrary law so as to protect those who betrayed her, is a powerful symbol for how such seemingly abstract values have such a powerful effect on our lives.

From that personal perspective, it’s natural to respond with empathy and compassion for this human condition, to transcend our own limited perspective by accepting the perspective of others. Such a transcendence doesn’t necessarily need to be presented as some melodramatic spiritual awakening either, but as in Rhiannon’s case, it could be a simple recognition that fear motivates even good people to do bad things. Compassionate souls will wish to honour that reality.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s