A hwyll worthy of the word grew – with warmth, welcomes, enthusiasm and eager expectation as a large group of listeners gathered in the Chillingham Arms upstairs room – and on Zoom – regulars and “first time” – and settled in for the night’s very special visitor – Hugh Lupton.
The Mabinogion is 11 Medieval prose tales which draw on ancient oral traditions. The earliest gathering of these is The White Book of Rhydderch c.1350, which you can see in the National Library of Wales just outside Aberystwyth. One of the most notable and celebrated of manuscripts, it is the earliest collection of Welsh prose texts, with some poetry.
For me, the sounds of the pub faded as Hugh played a tune to draw us into these magical, strange and dark tales. Immediately we were in touch with another world – Annwn, the “in-world”. A wonderful woman rode a red-eared white horse, with which the King – Pwyll – could never quite catch up; how Pwyll was tricked by another suitor to give Rhiannon up at their very wedding feast; and how an interminable year passed for him with notches around the door to mark off the time until, disguised as a beggar wrapped in an old donkey skin, Pwyll carried out Rhiannon’s plan to lure the suitor into a magical sack. But the violence of revenge got out of all proportion and the suitors companions were abused and humiliated.
The art and wisdom of Hugh had made the places and possibilities known and now recognised by us – Arbeth and a nearby circle of lichen-covered rocks (a visit to which could result in a catastrophe or a wonder) the valley of Glyn Cuch, a spring and a cauldron. Suddenly, a land of nettles, brambles, bracken and gorse where everyone had vanished and the ashes in the great hall were cold.
The 2nd “branch” tale of the Mabinogion began with a war from which only 7 survived to return to Arbeth. Pwyll was dead. This tale wove together revenge for the revenge, with friendship, love, and care for others, as well as no harm done to a hostage mouse!
Our continuing delight and good fortune was an ‘encore’ story which I last heard told by Tamar Williams. The whirlwind of the hot pursuit of the young boy who had three drops from the cauldron on his tongue – from animal to animal and eventually, exhaustingly and exhilaratingly, as a grain of wheat to be reborn as the great Bard, Taliesin.
Truly an evening of wonder and delight.
Further recommended reading “The Dreaming of Place” Hugh Lupton (Propolis)