Goodby Welsh Mythology . . .

the white deer logo black

. . . hello White Deer.

I’m changing course, heading in a new direction.

I’ll still be running the Welsh mythology courses, The Four Branches and Deer Stalking, but for some time now I’ve been searching for a different path through the woods.

This new direction is different enough for me to see a need to change the whole identity of this project, so from now on this is the White Deer website. The welshmythology.com url will still work but I’m making whitedeer.earth my main domain from now on.

Why White Deer? Well, those of you familiar with myths and folk tales from around the world will recognise the importance of special animals. For those of you not so familiar, here’s a quick outline:

In Celtic tradition, there are numerous examples of special animals, many of them white. We need only look at the Four Branches to find the shining white dogs of Arawn, red-eared and hungry for the hunt. The white boar in the third branch leads Manawydan and Pryderi to the otherworldly fortress. The Stag of Rhedynfre is one of the oldest animals in Culhwch ac Olwen, and in Irish and Scottish stories, white deer are often associated with the otherworld.

Deer as a symbol of the supernatural was also adopted by Christian tradition. Several early Welsh saints were accompanied by special stags, St Derfel and St Illtud perhaps being the most famous. Elsewhere in Europe the story of St Eustace is another example of a stag embodying the divine.

But special white animals aren’t just a European phenomena, we find them all over the world. One of the central figures of Lakota mythology is White Buffalo Calf Woman, who gifted the sacred pipe to native people. In some African traditions White Lions accompany strange events.

For me, the White Deer is a very suitable symbol for myths themselves. If we follow them carefully, they can show us the way into the deep woods, where we often encounter that strange and mysterious beast sometimes known as the Self.

More on this new direction in the coming months.

Deer Stalking Sessions

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Adventures in Celtic Myth.

In old Celtic tales, when the hero goes out to hunt in the wilds, it usually means something strange is about to happen. A magical animal often leads the hunter to a fateful meeting with the mysterious powers of the land.

These magical animals are just like the stories themselves. They can lead us deep into the woods. And if we have the ability to sit still and the wit to be quiet, if we wait for our eyes to adjust to the half-light of the woods, there’s a chance we’ll witness them in all of their wild glory, dazzling us with sudden inspiration.

The Deer Stalking series is a metaphorical hunt for the white deer of Celtic mythology. I promise you nothing but to take you to where the deer sometimes graze, and if you are lucky you may indeed catch a brief glimpse. We will at the very least scare up a few inklings and disturb a few hints.

This 8-part series contains 10 hours of recorded talks and discussions and 125 pages of detailed, full-colour notes.

  1. Awen in The Book of Taliesin
  2. The Importance of Threes: A Bardic Education
  3. The Wild and Wild Men
  4. Transformations in The Book of Taliesin
  5. Dreaming the Taliesin Landscape
  6. The Welsh Craft of Poetry
  7. The Fortress of Immortals
  8. Living and Dying in The Book of Taliesin

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For those of you who took part, remember you get your download free! Just get in touch if you haven’t already got your copy.

The Four Branches Course 2018

 

Course Introduction

The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is an old Welsh classic that was first written down about 900 years ago. It appears to be a collection of traditional tales that probably originated in the oral storytelling tradition of the early Welsh. The only real certainty is that they were written down by some talented, but unknown, author.

The Four Branches are set in a past where the Welsh aristocracy still claim the Crown of London, and consider the whole of the island to be their sovereign territory. Historically speaking, this would have been sometime between 350 and 500AD. The Four Branches could preserve one of the oldest versions of Britain to have survived.

As a result, the tales can tell us much about what Britain was, is and could still be. They explore in great detail the possibilities and problems that arise for those who seek to claim dominion in her lands.

As one would expect of such tales, The Four Branches contain some quite traditional ideas. One of the most common is the idea of aristocracy and inherited nobility, an idea that sits at the heart of many cultures to this day.

But even though The Four Branches are almost exclusively concerned with the Welsh upper class, what’s surprising about these ‘nobles’ is that their aristocracy (status through lineage) rarely has anything to do with what kind of people they are. The tales suggest nobility isn’t something that’s inherited from your family or determined by your sex.

The nobility of The Four Branches is something that arises from personal integrity and wisdom, not family genetics. More often than not it’s the nobility of heart, not the nobility of inherited status, that’s put in service of the land and her people.

It’s obvious when characters diverge from the path of nobility because they always cause suffering, and not always their own. When the ‘nobility’ fail to act from a nobility of heart, the repercussions can be apocalyptic in magnitude.

So often in the tales the positive lesson is brought into relief by a negative example. Ignorant aristocrats inevitably make bad, blinkered choices, and when they do, the right course of action is stressed by its absence. It’s for this reason that The Four Branches can be read as lessons for civil life, a life in a civilised Britain.

The Four Branches Course 2018

This is the 5th incarnation of the Four Branches course, and each successive version has built upon the foundations of its predecessor. That’s no less true for the 2018 version, as the audio lectures are based on material from The Magic of Meaning courses of 2016 and 2017.

But this isn’t just a re-hash of what was explored in those earlier courses. This current version takes a closer look at how the tales present nobility, aristocracy, sovereignty, and ultimately the myth of Britain herself.

As with the earlier versions, the main objective of the course is to stimulate interpretation, to feel out the contours of the myths contained in The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, and attempt to apprehend the old truths concealed in its symbols.

The general approach is to consider The Four Branches as teaching tales, instructive stories that have an almost (but not quite) allegorical quality to them. They are also considered in terms of how they correspond to other myths and stories from Europe and the rest of the world.

Please see this page and scroll down to The Shape of the Course if you wish to register

Gŵyl Chwedleua Aberystwyth

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illustration by Valeriane Leblond

Here’s a couple of talks I gave at the brilliant Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival last weekend (11-13 March). Such a rare opportunity to enjoy the company of professional storytellers, artists, musicians and fully-engaged audiences. I really couldn’t have managed to pull off such mad scheme anywhere else.

New Cloth From Old Thread Crowd sourcing The Fifth Branch with festival participants:

Or you can download the MP3 here, and listen at your own convenience:

New Cloth from Old Thread, Gŵyl Straeon Aber, 13.3.17

The Fifth Branch Guessing at what a fifth branch could be by following the recurring patterns and themes of the original four branches:

Or you can download the MP3 here:

A Fifth Branch, Aber Storytelling Fest, 11.3.17

Every performance at the festival was illustrated live by two artists, the resulting sketches have been uploaded onto the festival website. Take a look here, and don’t miss the next one!

There was a nice piece on the festival in the New Welsh Review:

http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=1394