Map of the Mabinogi

My map of the world of the Mabinogi shows the Welsh and English names, and spans from Iwerdun (Ireland) to Llundain (London).

PIC IS BIGGER than shown here – rightclick and save!
Map of the World of the Mabinogi by Shan Morgain

COPYRIGHT remains mine as Shan Morgain, but you are free to rightclick and download for personal use, or teaching, providing the map is unchanged. For publication, please contact me.
>My thanks to John Davies, the sailor, for help locating Gwales (Grassholm) island; and for patient help with the Welsh names from Christine James, my supervisor. Any mistakes are still my responsibility.

Notes about the places in the map.

The boundary between Wales and England is the modern one. In the mediaeval period this fluctuated a good deal, changing according to the fortunes of war and colonisation. The First Branch of the Mabinogi presents Gwent as definitely a Welsh lordship: it was by the later 11thC under English, then Norman invasion.The Third Branch of the Mabinogi locates Henfford (Hereford) on the English side.

The First Branch opens at Arberth in DYFED, shown here at modern Narberth. An alternative location is northerly, near Ceredigion. Here Pwyll sets off to hnt, and later meets Rhiannon. GWENT where Pryderi grows up, is about 100 miles away from Arberth, five days to a week’s travel. Pryderi marries Cigfa of Gloyw (Gloucester) in border country. He adds the territories of Seisyllwch to DYFED (made up of Ystrad Tywi and Ceredigion both frequently contested territories). Annwfn is an anomalous location, possibly outside physical geography, so not shown.
The Second Branch has a Brythonic/ British king holding court at Harlech with its great rock, in GWYNEDD; ruling all Ynys Pydain, Britain. Branwen’s wedding is held at Aberffraw. The British sail west to war in IWERDDON (Ireland). Pryderi, Manawydan and other war Survivors return, to sojourn in Harlech, then Gwales off the DYFED coast. Cernyw (Cornwall) is visible from Gwales’ enchanted hall. Finally the Survivors take Bendigeidfran’s Head to Llundein.
The Third Branch is mainly set in DYFED. It mentions the usurper king Caswallawn in Caint (Kent). Pryderi visits him at Oxford. The Dyfed royals live at Arberth then go east to Henfford (Hereford), then returning to Arberth.
The Fourth Branch moves from the northern borders of DYFED (Ceredigion, Seisyllwch) to GWYNEDD.

Prosiect Mabinogi

Prosiect Mabinogi

A three day festival of the Mabinogi – in Wales – and I missed it! Horrors!
See the end of this post for a good description by a participant storyteller who was lucky enough to be there.
Also all is not lost as there is likely to be a repeat.

WHEN was it? Friday 13 March, Saturday 14 March, Sunday 15 March 2015.
WHERE was it? Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
WHO organised it? Peter Stevenson. storyteller and arts organiser.
HOW did the idea start? According to Peter’s email today, “The kernel of the idea for the event came from a group of Canadian storytellers who arranged a 3 day telling of the Odyssey a few years ago, an idea which was repeated by a group of Welsh and English storytellers, including myself, in Llanidloes two years ago. From that spark came the idea to do the same with Y Pedair Cainc, and the idea to arrange a symposium, music, live drawing and art exhibitions followed on, in order to show the importance of visual and creative art in epic story.”
WHY did I miss it? It was apparently publicised on the storytelling circuits, and the Welsh Depts. at Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities. Outside those charmed circles …

So what actually happened? FRIDAY 13 11am – 4pm: Symposium
Sioned Davies of course, on translation issues. Other speakers were as diverse as historical context (Rhun Emlyn) and dating (Glendon S. Farquhar); genre discussion (Rowan Zhao), storytelling and performance (Michael Harvey, Jackie Burek, Jeremy Turner, Fiona Collins); connections with the Nordic Tradition (Nely van Seventer); and female agency (Kit Kapphahn and Kate Leach).
In the evening there was a screening of the S4C film ‘Otherworld based around the Mabinogi but not a simple retelling. This was followed by a musical singing perfomance.

SATURDAY 14 MARCH 11.00 – 20.00 A full and complete bilingual perfomance of the Four Branches. Storytelling switching from Welsh to English and back again.
Pwll Pendefig Dyfed, gyda Michael Harvey, Guto Dafis a Dafydd Davies Hughes. Branwen ferch Llyr, with Cath Little, Christine Cooper and Fiona Collins. Manawydan fab Llyr, gyda Michael Harvey, Guto Dafis a Dafydd Davies Hughes. Math fab Mathonwy, with Cath Little, Christine Cooper and Fiona Collins. Meanwhile artist Maria Hayes was doing live artwork.
Followed by a Dance Twmpath with the Grassie Busville Band.

SUNDAY 15 MARCH. Sioned Davies; ‘Word, Image, Ideology; The Victorian Mabinogion.’ Stories , Jez Danks, storytellers and artists, Cafe Caffi Exhibition. The Eagle and the Owl, Tryptych Theatre. Informal stories and chat in the Cafe with cake?

See a very good account by participant storyteller Sharron Kraus.

Do not despair! Peter Stevenson, the curator of the event, is already talking to me about doing it again. Whee!
Prosiect Mabinogi-mini

Sioned Davies Narberth tour

21 Sept. 2013 A tour of the Mabinogion sites with Sioned Davies.

Beginning/End location: The Old School car park, Narberth, SA67 7AG
Price of ticket: £10 (£8 for Academy members)
Food and drink: Not included. There will be an opportunity to buy lunch on the trip.
Recommended clothing: Comfortable shoes; warm clothing; raincoat.

Contact Literature Wales to book a place on the trip:
029 2047 2266

Sullivan anthology reprint

Charles Sullivan has told me that Routledge Revivals List has agreed to reprint his key 1997 anthology. It is currently ONLY available from academic libraries, unless you’re lucky to have bought one years ago.

Sullivan, Charles William III, ed. 1996. The Mabinogi: A Book of Essays. NY: Garland Publications.

This is great news as this anthology collects together the array of work of the previous two decades, when Mabinogi perspectives changed radically from the past.
Charles said ” I published the book because I was tired of having to sort through pages of articles I had copied from various journals.”

Sullivan’s own particular field is modern interpretations on which he is insightful and incisive. Here is an accessible example of his thinking.

Tree of Leaf and Flame

This is a major Mabinogi storytelling with a long term tour across Wales and southern England.

VIDEO link
or it’s on youtube.

Daniel Morden is the storyteller, His book Tree of Leaf and Flame won the Wales Books Council Tir Na Nog Prize in 2013.

Oliver Wilson-Dickson – violin and Dylan Fowler – guitar, are nationally renowned for their passionate, powerful music. They have toured the UK with groups such as Jamie Smith’s Mabon and the Ian Macmillan Orchestra.


REVIEW It’s always great to see the Mabinogi brought to life and especially welcome as a storytelling because that comes close to the original mediaeval tradition. To have live evocative music is also well within the tradition of mediaeval performance, and a truly delightful enrichment. Daniel Morden presents the Mabinogi in a simple, personal manner, appearing on stage in casual style in very ordinary shirt and trousers as if just back from the office. This is a surprise alert in its lack of historical context; its ‘street’ image is borne out by a simplified performance.

As a storytelling its interpretation raises major issues about canon and creativity. To take one small detail, Daniel Morden as storyteller has Rhiannon arriving riding a white horse “dressed all in white.”  Now in the Mabinogi Rhiannon is richly arrayed in gold silk, specifically gold brocade silk.  A small detail, but such details in the Mabinogi often have complex and extensive implications, as this one does. Gold brocade silk is an important linking motif in the Mabinogi. Rhiannon, her consort Pwyll, her rejected lover Gwawl, her baby son Gwri/ Pryderi, the hero child Lleu, all wear it.  Their gold silk gives a thread of continuity between these people of wealth and enchantment, whose connections forms the essential structure of the saga.

Silk was the most exotic fabric of all, traded from far Byzantium or Venice. It was so expensive it could only ever be worn by the top elite. Its shining appearance gave its wearers a magical, gleaming image, setting them apart from the ordinary, making them look more than human. The shining of silk is part of the superior perfection of Annwfn, and its ambiguous but undoubtedly intense effect on the Dyfed dynasty of the Mabinogi.
Omitting this key detail is therefore an important decision. Rhiannon dressed in white becomes not so much a Mabinogi heroine marked out by affinity with other Mabinogi protagonists, as a classic romantic heroine, an Arthurian maiden in the Victorian style. Rhiannon was not a gentle maid in virginal white, so this could be a fascinating, radical innovation, a newly interpreted Rhiannon. Or it could be seen as an abuse of the original Mabinogi Rhiannon. No doubt this will strike readers and observers differently.

That is just a small detail and perhaps I fuss too much about it because I am a Mabinogi scholar. The Tree of Leaf and Flame presentation of the Mabinogi also made much larger changes to the tales.  Manawydan is completely deleted, and the Third Branch is led instead by Pwyll, who therefore does not die, and Rhiannon has only one marriage.
This has the advantage of a major simplification of the story for a modern audience. It allows for a much more basic stripped version for those unfamiliar with the Mabinogi. But certainly in Wales, and to some extent in England, a tour is speaking to an audience who very largely come because they already know and love these traditional tales. Major simplification here loses characteristic Mabinogi subtlety in mirroring Manawydan and Pwyll, two consorts of the same woman, as very different and polarised characters.  Pwyll is a successful warlord prince, while Manawydan is a failed one, who lives on the bounty of his friend, Pwyll’s son. Manawydan becomes a man of peace after surviving a genocidal war and losing his throne. He is a famous person in Welsh tradition, one of the Three Humble Chieftains of the Triads.  Pwyll and his son are by contrast exemplars of the heroic nobility, arrogant and formidable fighters. Manawydan is a social outsider, able to adapt to changed circumstances by taking up trade, and then farming.  The Mabinogi explores this major contrast with a sophisticated eye for social values. 

Is it worth losing the depth of this characteristic Mabinogi comparison technique,  in order to boil the tales down to a simplified  shortie? The loss of understanding by it of the Mabinogi is considerable, especially in terms of its tradition over the last four decades which emphasises its sophisticated use of parallels and polarities such as the Pwyll – Manawydan opposition detailed above. On the other hand perhaps we need to have versions of the Mabinogi which cater to audiences who have suffered from a recently depleted education system, and whose span of attention is often said to be reduced by the soundbites of modern media. Are people really unable to handle complex thinking these days? Should we adapt to this limited ability if it is so?

It is interesting to see a new storyteller challenge the Mabinogi tradition. I look forward to seeing this issue opened up for discussion.


The Mabinogi Bibliography

Sept. and Oct. 2013 I had collected a lot of the Mabinogi Bibliography in document form.  Did a triage on the main softwares available. Decided to use Zotero for the online bibliog. It has a neat double software which synchronises entries made on their site, and on my laptop.

I can categorise it using tags. It creates searchable, sortable bibliographies. I or any visitor can construct a selected bibliog list, and one or more items can be copied to clipboard in formatted style.

Rapidly grew it to 750 listings then settled down to steady slog to collect the rest.  Can’t insert it on my own site though.

Edit. Reached 1,000 listings by Spring 2014. I doubt it will go over 1,300. We’ll see. It has proven its weight in gold as they say.

Four Books (Exhibition NLW)

EXHIBITION The first time all the original Mabinogi  manuscripts have been in one place.

Now on display at the Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru – the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.

(Normally the Llyfr Coch is kept in Oxford but it has been lent for this exhibition. The Llyfr Gwyn is not in this special exhibition, but is close by in the same area.)

Outline info about the Manuscripts (PDF):…eld_a_ni/arddangosfeydd/ardd_pan_4llyfr_s.pdf


With thanks to Hilaire for circulating this information.

Sioned Davies ‘Performing the Mabinogion’

Sioned Davies ‘Performing the Mabinogion’ 17 July at Chapter Arts, Cardiff. FREE.

Sioned workshop

A workshop for storytellers with Sioned Davies, Translator of the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the Mabinogion, 2007. The workshop will be held through the medium of English and will include:

  • a very brief introduction to the Mabinogion and to the medieval Welsh storyteller;
  • a discussion of what makes a good storyteller, drawing on techniques found in the tales themselves;
  • guidance regarding pronunciation of Welsh personal names;
  • a discussion regarding how we can re-invent these tales (or individual episodes) for a modern-day audience.

Participants are very welcome to bring along  with them examples of specific problems/challenges that they have found when re-telling the tales of the Mabinogion, and any questions they may have regarding the texts themselves.

For further details and to reserve a place please contact Heledd Brooks-Jones, School of Welsh, Cardiff University on 02920 870637 or



Magnificent Myths of the Mabinogi 2009

In 2008 Manon Eames presented a miraculous stage version of the full Mabinogi in Aberystwyth. (My report here, with link to some photos)

The following year Jill Williams presented a slightly adapted version perfomed at the Pontardawe Arts centre by her own stage school Class Act. Like the original, the acting team were all very young, yet the depth and complexity of the performance was truly amazing.

Jill Williams, Pontardawe.

Jill Williams, Pontardawe.

The set, using stage platforms on different levels; the atmospheric lighting, and the exquisitely appropriate costumes, all helped to take us into the timeless world of the Mabinogi.  The setting was the tribal past, mediaeval Wales, and even by way of voice tones and quick asides, modern Wales. This is just as it should be, a composite made all the better by skilful use of both the Cymraeg and English.

It is a great sadness that neither Eames mighty original, nor Williams wonderful continuance, was filmed. Let us hope this is staged again, and this time, caught on video.