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Ritual Masks and Channeling

What can the almost universal practice of ritual mask wearing tell us about the Welsh bardic tradition? As far as we know, the medieval Welsh bards didn’t use masks in performance, but they did take on archetypal personas such as that of the legendary Taliesin, and there are suggestions that some of these performances were considered a type of ancestral channeling.

Anthropologists have studied countless examples of how ancestral spirits are brought alive in public performance, and some of these accounts can help us think through what the old Welsh bards were doing in their performances.

If you’re interested in following The Native Tales of the Mabinogion or The Taliesin Tradition, you can find these courses (and several others) here.

Bardic Craft and Animal Transformation

This video is in answer to two questions sent in from The Taliesin Tradition course:

  • what is the bardic craft of classical Welsh poetry?
  • what evidence is there for human to animal transformations in Celtic art?

You can follow The Taliesin Tradition course (as well as several others) with a subscription to the website. More details on this page.

Next Tuesday (16th) is the beginning of The Native Tales course, also available with the same subscription.

Tonight I’ll be live again on the Celtic Source Facebook page, this time answering quite a challenging question:

  • Why focus on interpretation? Shouldn’t we purely cover the historical facts and let people decide for themselves what something means? Isn’t that the work of scholarship?

Hope to see you there. Diolch yn fawr.

The Native Tales

A series of live lectures via Zoom beginning 16th November, every Tuesday at 8pm UK Time.

The Native Tales of the Mabinogion, these being The Dream of the Emperor Maxen, Lludd and Llefelys, How Culhwch won Olwen and Rhonabwy’s Dream, are a mixture of oral and written, Arthurian and pseudo-historical tales that form a significant part of The Mabinogion. They span at least two centuries of written tradition and, as with their sister tales, draw their basic materials from a much older oral tradition.

Yet even though each tale is firmly entangled in the web of native myth, each one is also uniquely set in its own historical or cultural context. Each tale does something different with the myths that it evokes, and even though there are similarities and connections between them, each tale presents its own vision of the world.

This course will locate each tale within the broader network of Welsh mythology, and discuss how their symbols, characters and events can be interpreted. The course will also discern the political, social and cultural motivations behind these strange stories, and compare them with both the other classics of Welsh literature and the broader European storytelling tradition.

The course is in two parts with a solstice celebration in the middle:

November 16th to December 14th: The Native Tales Part 1

December 21st: Solstice Celebration. An online event with music and storytelling.

January 4th to the 25th, 2022: The Native Tales Part 2

This is a live course accessible with a monthly subscription (including access to lecture recordings and materials), as well as access to the other courses on this website and to the private Facebook Group. New videos are added every week.

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Member £49.00 per Month. Select

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Before we begin . . .

Please get yourself a decent translation of The Native Tales. The translation I suggest is by Sioned Davies in The Mabinogion (OUP 2007). There is also a Kindle edition.

Audible have released an audiobook version of Davies’ translation, but it’s narrated by someone who can’t pronounce the Welsh names properly (don’t ask me why, please complain to them), so you can use it as a quick reference but don’t use it as a pronunciation guide. Also, please don’t use the Lady Charlotte Guest translation that’s freely available online. 

Please read The Dream of the Emperor Maxen in preparation for the first lecture. I’ll prompt you throughout the course to read the relevant sections and stories.

Please do get in touch you have any questions or comments.

This course is facilitated by Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird who completed his studies at Bangor University School of Welsh in 2011 with a dissertation on the bardic tradition of Medieval Wales. He has worked as a research fellow at the Library of Congress, Washing DC and has taught on courses in several different establishments. In recent years he has focussed on developing his own courses and running workshops for organisations and at festivals.

The Mythic Fortress

Concluding this short series on Welsh Arthurian poems we take a look at the broader use of the ‘enchanted fortress’ motif and see how it’s used to evoke several different themes, both sociological and mythological.

I’ll be taking this week off from the Facebook live videos but will be returning the week after (2.11.21) with with another series, beginning with questions sent in by you kind folks. If you do have anything you would like to ask me (you can ask me anything!), then please comment below and I’ll try my best to answer.

Who Is The Gatekeeper?

Pa Gur is perhaps the oldest Welsh Arthurian poem preserved in manuscript. In it, the Welsh Arthur seeks entry for himself and his men into the fortress of Glewlwyd Gafaelfawr. But some allusions in the poem suggest that not all is as it seems, and there may be something else going on, something that evokes a much older thread in the Arthurian myth regarding death, honour and praise.

The Spoils of Annwfn

Continuing with this short series on Welsh Arthurian poems, this talk takes a look at Preideu Annwfyn (The Spoils of Annwfn), one of the better known poems from the medieval Book of Taliesin. Like many other Taliesin poems from this period, it is a strange, ambiguous and multilayered text, and although many commentators have attempted to pin its ultimate meaning down, it remains a largely mysterious poem. In this talk we touch on at least some of the more definite things that can be said about it, and dwell in the mystery of all the things that can’t!