March 13th – July 24th
A 20 week course, Sundays 8pm GMT / 3pm EST / 12pm PST
The Welsh word mabinogi means something like ‘tales of youthful exploits’, or perhaps even ‘tales for the youth’. Either way, even though it’s not a common word, it was the name given to the Welsh prose classic The Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It has long been acknowledged that The Mabinogi, first written down around 900 years ago, contain Celtic myths that have their roots in the ancient past of Iron Age Europe. So we could say mabinogi also means something like ‘traditional tale’, or ‘ancient lore’.
In recent decades, several new English translations of The Four Branches have been published, making these old Welsh stories available to a much broader, English-speaking audience. Celtic myths are not difficult to find in this digital age. But understanding what these myths mean isn’t necessarily that straight forward. Never mind the difference in language, we live in very different times to those in which these ancient tales emerged, and whereas we often read them as we would a novel, it’s very likely that in the past they were considered to be far more allegorical.
Some of these stories were crafted by exceptional storytellers, intentionally created to be used as cyfarwyddyd, an old Welsh word that not only means ‘story’, but also ‘lore’, ‘direction’ and ‘guidance’.
As the Greek philosopher Sallustius put it . .
To conceal the truth by myths prevents the contempt of the foolish, and compels the good to practice philosophy.
If this tells us anything, it is that the people of ancient Europe were very aware of the power of myth.
I should stress that using myths to convey complex truths is by no means unique to the Celts. We find this same tendency all over the world, from Aesops fables and the Christian Bible to the folk tales and myths of the Americas, Africa, India and China. Countless traditions have found storytelling to be one of the most powerful ways of helping people understand themselves and the world they live in. And forgive me if I am a little biased, but the Celtic peoples had their own unique artistry when it came to creating such tales.
But if The Four Branches of the Mabinogi were meant to be understood as more than just tales of magic and wonder, why is it not so easy for us modern readers to tune into this deeper layer of meaning? Why can it be so difficult to understand these stories sometimes? Well, in my opinion, what’s often missing is simply the opportunity to consider and discuss what they could mean with other people. I know that may sound very simplistic, but it’s actually an important part of oral storytelling that’s often missing from our modern reading culture.
Oral storytelling traditions don’t begin and end with a quiet audience. Storytelling is a far more communal affair than reading alone, and likewise the tales have a more communal life where there’s more opportunity for discussion, comparison and debate, never mind private contemplation. Think of what can happen after visiting the cinema or the theatre: we often fall into conversation about what we’ve just seen. Consider that happening on a far more regular basis. Modern reading is often a solitary act, but the ancient tradition of sharing stories was, by its very nature, far more communal and participatory.
When we come together and pay attention to the stories, when we talk through our own responses and compare them with those of others, we begin to build a picture made of many perspectives that can inspire new understanding and insight. That’s why this course not only features video lectures, but also opportunity for group discussion.
Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird studied the Welsh bardic tradition at Bangor School of Welsh, and has taught courses on and offline for the last decade. As well as having a longstanding interest in Celtic mythology and folklore, he’s also a musician and occasional storyteller.
All of the information you need about taking part is provided below, but should you have any further questions, please get in touch.
The course lasts 20 weeks and runs every Sunday apart from April 17th and June 5th. Each live session is held over Zoom and starts 8pm GMT / 3pm EST / 12pm PST.
- Before each session you will either need to read a section from The Four Branches of the Mabinogi and / or watch some of the pre-recorded lectures that are available on the website.
- The text isn’t supplied with the course materials, so you will have to buy a copy. The translation I suggest is by Sioned Davies in The Mabinogion (OUP 2007). There is also a Kindle edition. Please DON’T use the Lady Charlotte Guest translation that’s freely available online.
- When using Zoom for the first time, after clicking on the link you’ll be prompted to download a small piece of software. Agree to all of the permissions and you should be guided through to an online chatroom. If you want to try it out before we begin, let me know and we’ll arrange a test call. You don’t have to use the video option if you don’t want to, but you will need to use your screen as I’ll be sharing images and text for you to look at.
- Every online session is recorded, so if you miss one, you can watch back at a more convenient time. All of the course materials and recordings will be kept on the course web-page. I’ll share it with you in our first session.
- BUT, none of the group discussions will be recorded, this is because there will be several groups meeting and discussing at the same time, making recording impossible. All of the other materials will be available to you, and you can still follow the course without taking part in the discussions, but you will get more out of it if you can attend.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: I do sometimes make the recordings available for sale to the wider public. If you don’t wan’t to feature in those publicly available recordings, please let me know as I can easily edit you out. I will remind you all of this before we begin, but unless otherwise stated, by subscribing to the course you give permission for me to use your contribution to the recording.
To follow the course you will need to sign up to the website as a member. As well as access to the live Zoom calls, this membership also gives you access to all of the other video courses on the site, including The Taliesin Tradition, The Native Tales and the The Three Romances.
The membership fee is flexible, so you can choose a monthly fee that suits you. Choose a price between £25 ($33) and £75 ($99). This will be your monthly recurring fee for as long as you are a member of the website. You can cancel anytime.
Please pay what you can. The flexible membership model is to ensure those on low incomes can afford to take part, but if everyone pays the lowest possible amount these courses will no longer be financially viable.