BRAN THE BLESSED, A FAERY KING MYTH
The Yuletide season provides us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on the ancient Welsh myth of Bran the Blessed, a vivid and compassionate tale that embodies the Wiccan values of giving, light, and rebirth. Bran’s story is one of personal sacrifice, conciliation, and a king’s love for his people and land. If he does not meet his obligations to the Goddess, Earth Mother, and the land itself turns against him. Bran’s myth is about how to become a good king.
Bran’s sister, Branwen, is Goddess of the Land, and as such, she is Bran’s reason for being. As Faery King and Guardian of the Cauldron of Rebirth, Bran is committed to his role as champion of Her cause. The Cauldron of Rebirth, originally from Ireland, has the power to bring dead warriors back to life and is a special symbol of the law and power of the land.
In the story, Branwen marries Matholwch, the King of Ireland, in order to form a bond between Britain and Ireland. Branwen’s brother however, is upset by the marriage and kills all of Matholwch’s horses. Bran replaces the horses, but Matholwch is not satisfied. In order to heal the breach, Bran must also give Matholwch the Cauldron of Rebirth. Despite so generous a gift, Matholwch is still not appeased. He mistreats Bran’s sister so badly, Bran must march into Ireland to save her. To prevent his arrival, Matholwch burns the bridge leading across the Shannon River. But Bran shapeshifts into a giant and acts as his own bridge, carrying his men on his enormous shoulders through the sea. Thus we find in Bran’s story the important line, which serves as a lesson to future leaders, “He who would be chief, let him make himself a bridge.”
Without the Cauldron of Rebirth, Bran’s forces are defeated and Bran is wounded. He orders his own beheading and while his men transport his head to be buried in the White Tower of London, Bran teaches everything he has learned from the Goddess’ Cauldron of Rebirth, passing on his wisdom to all future generations. This image of Bran’s head is one of many examples found in Celtic mythology and witchcraft of the skull as a symbol of power and wisdom. The skull is not something to be feared. Modern witches wear skull jewelry, symbolizing the house of the brain.
Yule is a good time of year to think about what we learn of Bran’s myth. This is a magickal moment of the ever-turning wheel: like Bran’s story, it is full of heart and passion, lightness and gravity, hope and realism. This is a time when we reflect on the unconquerable human spirit that the story of Branwen and Bran represents. (Laurie Cabot, Celebrate the Earth)
Cabot goes on to say she believes Yule, more than any other moment on the Wheel of the Year, is indicative of the unity of the Wiccan tradition. At Yule, we desire to cherish the best of all we have, and to seek out and acknowledge what is of great value in others.Yule is an awakening and a thankfulness for our knowledge of and our connection to the Wheel of the Year.