Episode 013 — Bran Cerddorion

Listen to the latest episode of “Upon a Pagan Podcast” and hear Tommy interview me about my music!

Life With Trickster Gods

For episode 013, I prattle on about attending the OBOD East Coast Gathering, as well as the rcent move from near Dallas to much further away (near the Oklahoma border). Then, I drop a lovely bit from Rachel Patterson, where she reads from her Pagan Portals book “Kitchen Witchcraft”. I’m not much on kitchen type stuff — but I’ve already purchased a copy of this book for myself.  🙂 Then comes an interview with Bran Cerddorion – where I do a horrible job of pronouncing his last name (why do I find Celtic and Welsh names to be more unpronounceable than Japanese or Chinese?), and totally miss the point that he only has one album out right now. But we discuss so much more than my fifty-year-old failing memory too. I play two of my favorite songs of his at the end of the show too.  Remember folks – if…

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Bardin’ Hard: PPD & ECG

Playing around the fire at ECG
Playing around the campfire at ECG

I’ve returned from a wild week of what I call “Barding Hard.”

Last Sunday, the 13th, I had the great fortune and honor to play at the Kansas City Pagan Pride Day–my first “official” performance ever. It was a ton of fun, and I got a lot of good feedback after the show (including some potential exciting news…but that’ll have to wait for the time being).

Here’s a link to a playlist of my performance there (more videos will be uploaded ASAP):  

It was totally beyond my frame of reference to perform in front of a live audience (aside from the occasional campfire), and it was just so fun and exciting to be able to share my stuff with people…live.

The day after KCPPD, I hit the road for a long, long journey to Pennsylvania to attend the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids’ East Coast Gathering. This was my first year attending, and just six months after I had attended my first ever OBOD Gathering down at the Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. OBOD’s community gatherings are beyond words. It is such a welcoming, inviting community filled with love, peace (Heddwch, as Kristopher Hughes has taught us), and the Awen.

It was interesting reflecting on the last week. An interesting mix of events, as I performed my first ever public performance as a musician, but also I met one of my musical inspirations for the very first time. At OBOD’s ECG I had the honor to chat with Damh the Bard. His music was some of the first pagan music I listened to, and was one of the main reasons I got into Druidry in the first place and got inspired to make Pagan music. His first song book, also, is home to some of the first songs I learned to play on guitar. To be able to thank him in person for the inspiration was indescribable, and he is such a cool guy.

Every night at ECG we had a bonfire and a bardic circle where everyone was encouraged to get up and perform some Bardic Art. Two of the nights I shared a song of mine (Brothers of the Night and We Can’t Hold Hands When We’re Pointing Fingers).

Although I love these Bardic Circles, I would love to see them adopt a more inviting way to conduct them, perhaps in the same vein as the Bardic Circle I attended at Heartland Pagan Fest in 2012, where there was someone “running” the show, and you’d go in a circle. When it was your turn, you had the chance to sing/play/recite something, or just pass if you were too shy or had nothing prepared. This way I felt everyone had an equal opportunity to be able to do something. It also cuts out the uncertainty of “should I go up and play something? No, someone else wants to, I shouldn’t get in the way.” But in the end it was still a very inspiring, magical time shared around the campfire.

We had some great workshops and talks, guests, food, and ritual, but the thing that will remain with me the most was the people. Meeting such like-minded people and hanging out with them for a weekend was such a treat, but ultimately didn’t last long enough! I feel I’ve left a part of me in the Poconos, and I can’t wait to go back to my new “home” next year.

I left ECG with a hot, burning fire in my head. It’s only been three months since I released my first album, “Four Branches,” but I am beyond ready to start on something new. This time ’round, this album will be a lot more personal, a little less myth (though probably not totally devoid of at least one story), and…how should I put this…barefoot? That’s the only way I can put it, but I’m really excited to get to work on it. Time to let the Awen flow once more.

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Going with the Flow

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It’s been a few weeks since the 50 songs in 90 days (a.k.a. 50/90) started, and I’m just going with the flow. Also, four days ago marked the one month mark of Four Branches‘s release! I’m really excited about both of these, and I thought I’d talk a bit about 50/90’s progress so far.

So, in 50/90, you are encourages to write a song and record a demo (if possible) and post it to your personal 50/90 page (mine is here). More often than not, I do record a demo, no matter how simple/rudimentary, for each of my songs. I tend to set aside every Monday for recording since it’s the only day I don’t work and have the house to myself.

My first song I recorded for 50/90 is entitled Cumulus Drifting  and is actually based around the piano piece, one of the first ever “songs” I ever “wrote” when I first bought my cheap keyboard (my first real instrument I purchased at least 5 years ago).

One of my favorite parts of 50/90 is collaboration. It seems every year I collaborate with the user “wyatt” in which I record music for one of their lyrics. This year the collaboration came quite quickly as I read a particular lyric entitled Chaff Before the Wind. I could not get it out of my hand that this was an “Irish drinking song.” I recorded the demo almost before I notified them that I really wanted to record one! And here is the demo. Arguably one of my favorite songs I recorded thus far in 50/90.

Before this year, a LOT of my songs for 50/90 has been inspired by Celtic mythology (you can thank 50/90 for Four Branches). This year was a departure as I began writing songs based off of other stories…specifically parables of the Buddha.

Ever since I heard this particular parable, I was always enamored with the story of the wise man walking down the road and meeting the Buddha. He asked if he was a god, and the Buddha said no. He asked him if he was a wizard/sorcerer. Buddha said no. He asked if he was a man. Buddha said no. The wise man asked “what are you then?” The Buddha simply replied “I Am Awake.” Such a simple, but profound story. So I wrote a song about it. One of the verses in the song is based around verse 183 from the Dhammapada, so I sneak in some teachings of the Buddha in there, too. ;). I’m also trying to write a song based off another Buddhist parable. And you can hear lots of Buddhist themes throughout other demos of mine like Liberation.

I’ve also written songs based off of weird dreams, musings, etc. The source of inspiration when it comes to “forced” songwriting. And there’s still a lot more to come! I’m just going with the flow of Awen, slowly but surely. Who knows? Perhaps there’s another album in there somewhere!

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Songwriting Challenge and a Peek at the Future

In just about three days begins the insanity of songwriting mayhem: 50/90. 50/90 is a songwriting challenge that pits you, as a songwriter, against your better judgement. The goal: write 50 songs in 90 days.

Now, the only requirement for a song to be qualified as a “song” is just a title, but most people post at least lyrics, if not demo recordings. I tend to gravitate towards posting demos of all 50 songs of mine during this challenge.

Usually, this songwriting challenge, as well as its parent challenge February Album Writing Month (FAWM, fawm.org) encourages you to write brand new songs. But just as I do with National Novel Writing Month, I usually pick something old of mine, dust if off, and make it anew.

This last FAWM I focused on knocking out my Four Branches album (which is available now at http://brancerddorion.bandcamp.com/releases, btw), and I thought for 50/90, since my mind is overflowing with enthusiasm for future projects, figured I might as well knock some new material for those future projects out.

I have two specific projects (read: albums) in mind, though as of now I won’t go into much detail (except to say that one will heavily feature Native American flute!), but rest assured I’ll be dedicating most of my Mondays to sitting in front of my microphone and computer throwing stuff together.

I’ll be posting some of the demos for you all to hear, so keep your ears covered for that. If you want to keep up on how my 50/90 is doing, you can follow my progress at my 50/90 page: http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/user/brancerddorion

I really enjoy the 50/90 challenge and the online community it brings with it. There are some really cool folk out there, and a surprising amount of pagan/pagan-oriented songwriters too! It’s been a very supportive place, as well as a springboard for inspiration and motivation.

I can’t wait to see what comes of the next 90 some days.

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5 Years a Pagan

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Today is June 23rd, and it’s a special day for me. I mentioned it one of my last blog posts, but I thought since it’s June 23rd now, I’ll go more in depth about it.

Five years and a day ago, I dedicated myself to the Pagan path. As I remember it, it was a sunny, beautiful, magical Summer Solstice day (but I could have just been a bit high-on-life at the time!).

I had constructed the fiery orange/red/yellow wheel (pictured above) out of lots of cardboard, paper, skewers, and a chunk of styrafoam that I painted and adorned with orange ribbon.

I had built this wheel because of the book I was reading at the time, “Simple Wicca” by Michele Morgan. In the book she says “Decorate a wooden wheel with crimson and yellow paint, gold ribbons, and bright sun-colored flowers. Roll it down a slope at sunset, or, if conditions permit, set the wheel ablaze and send it downhill into a pond or lake to hail the glory of the Sun King and the beginning of the waning year.” (Michele Morgan, Simple Wicca, p. 57).

I had planned to do just such thing with my wheel I had built, because there was a great hill in my parents’ front yard that had a pond at the base. But I didn’t think they’d appreciate me almost setting their yard on fire, so I kept the wheel.

I had bought this book not too long before this moment in what I will always remember as the “floodgates of my mind bursting wide open.”

i had had a conversation with a friend and coworker not too long before where she had said something to the effect of me being a Christian. I was taken aback by this, because I had not identified as Christian for a long, long time. In response, I had told her “I’m not Christian.” She asked me “What are you then?”

Both the combination of uttering the phrase “I’m not Christian” (perhaps for the first time in my life) and her question of what I was felt as if a door in my mind had opened. The realization hit me: I really wasn’t Christian. I had always felt stuck to the label growing up, always feeling like “Well, I have to be Christian…duh.”

That feeling of being stuck to the Christian label went deep. I remember years back in early high school when I read S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire, in which many of the characters were Wiccan, and they portrayed a very beautiful Wiccan life set in a post-apocalyptic world. I remember thinking “Wow, they worship a goddess…that’s beautiful…too bad they’re wrong, and too bad I’m Christian. I would love to do that. But I can’t, because of God.”

It’s such a strange thought looking back at it, but being raised in a Christian household meant not even considering for one second other religions as being “true.”

After the epiphany of I’m not Christian, I thought long and hard about who I was, what I was. I was always interested in paranormal and occultish stuff, and Wicca (and paganism in general) always stuck out at me since reading Stirling’s books. I remember a few times seeing a Wiccan thread on some online forum, and thinking Gosh, those people are awesome.

So a few days later, I found myself standing in the metaphysical section of Half Price Books. I had never realized they had a whole section of Pagan books. I felt like I was peering behind a curtain of forbidden knowledge (hmm…occult?) that most people didn’t even dare to peek through. I stared at a wall of Pagan books, books on witchcraft. Where did I even begin?!

I needed something small, something unassuming. Something simple. So when I saw the title Simple Wicca, I grabbed it and brought it home, hidden behind a different book under my arm. I told no one about it, lest they think I was crazy. I didn’t even know what I was getting myself into.

I read the book late at night on my nights off (think “under the covers with a flashlight”), as I worked (and still work) overnights. With every turn of the page, I fell in love. I think I was about 50 pages in when I decided “This is me. This is so me.” From that moment on, I considered myself pagan. I would wait, however, until Summer Solstice (which was only a few days away, anyway) to “dedicate” myself, as the book recommended.

I’m not sure I had an altar until Lughnasadh (and that one was made with a plastic patio table), and I don’t remember the exact details (was it in the afternoon on the hill in my parents’ front yard? Or in my room late at night facing the window?), but I do remember making the decision that I would celebrate in a year and a day, June 23rd, my year and a day of following the pagan path.

Now, I’m not so sure Simple Wicca was a great beginner’s book (I should have picked up Buckland’s book or Cunningham’s I suppose), but it was what led me to the Pagan path, and even though after the year and a day I decided that Wicca wasn’t exactly for me, I stuck with the Pagan path. It was another year of just being “eclectic Pagan” until I’d stumble on Druidry.

From the beginning of my Pagan journey, I fell in love with pagan music. Some of the first music I heard was Spiral Dance’s album Women of the Earth, Wendy Rule’s Deity, SJ Tucker’s Blessings, and of course Damh the Bard.

Now Damh the Bard stood out to me immediately when I heard his song Green and Grey on an episode of PaganFM (I was also a Pagan podcast fiend early on, too!), because this was a guy singing! I had a hard time finding male pagan musicians (not that there was anything wrong with the female pagan musicians…they’re incredible!), and when I first heard Dee on PaganFM introduce Damh the Bard with Green and Grey, I was excited to hear what was going to be played.

Now, if you’ve ever heard Green and Grey, you know what I’m talking about. It starts off with the sounds of birds, and a flute fading in. I thought “Oh, instrumental new age music? This is pretty cool,” just a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t actually hear the male musician sing. But then the guitar kicked in, and I knew it was going to be awesome. He started singing, and I knew this guy was going to be a favorite. Not too long after, I bought all of his available music.

Ah, that was a great summer of music for me…

If you know Damh the Bard at all, you know he loves his Celtic mythology. Many of his songs cover stories from Welsh myth and legend, and I soon fell in love with the songs like Oak, Broom, and Meadowsweet, which tells the tale of Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Blodeuwedd, and Taliesin’s Song, which is a song about Taliesin…obviously.

I just had to find out where these stories were coming from, so I started searching for Blodeuwedd and soon found out they came from The Mabinogion.

For beginner Pagans, it’s always a search for the “right Pantheon,” and I was no different. Up until discovering the Mabinogion, I was still at a loss. I had no idea where to go. But upon discovering the Mabinogion and finding out there was a guy named Bran (my nickname growing up was “Bran” or “Branflakes”), I was hooked. I instantly loved the stories in the Mabinogion. I loved the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin, the idea of the Awen.

It wasn’t until two years into my Pagan journey that I realized that the Awen was a huge part of Druidry. I knew about Druidry, I knew about the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, but I just never connected the dots before. So on the night of Imbolc 2012, I joined OBOD.

My path continues on, and I am so excited to be entering my fifth year as a Pagan. This might not seem very long for those who have been on such a path for much, much longer, but I have learned so much.

Last year, I made this blog post about 4 years: http://paganbran.com/2014/06/23/four-years-of-walking-a-pagan-path/

Two years ago, I made this video blog about 3 years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgCp-G39Ln8

And this year I’m making this blog (and a video blog at my youtube channel: http://youtube.com/c/brancerddorion).

And…Four Branches. As I stated in my last blog post, I’m releasing my first album of pagan music today, sort of as a commemorative celebration of 5 years on a pagan path.

(You can purchase my album here: https://brancerddorion.bandcamp.com/album/four-branches)

But this isn’t a commercial, this is about my 5 years being a Pagan. I have learned so much about…well, about everything, and I continue to learn more and more every year. If it’s one thing I think being Pagan is about, it’s about learning about yourself, about the world around you, about how to live mindfully and compassionately with the world around you and with the people around you. But you don’t necessarily have to be Pagan to learn those things. I hope every path you walk teaches you those, because to me that’s what being human is all about.

I hope everyone out there learns a thing or two in their coming year, in their years past, in their day today.

Peace, love, and blessed be,

Bran.

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13 Days…

Screen shot 2015-06-07 at 6.13.46 PM

As I write this, there are 13 days separating me from the release date of Four Branches. The reality is finally sinking in of what I have done. It might not be the greatest thing ever to be produced and performed, but I am very proud of the album. I’ve always told myself I’d either get a book published or record an album (self-publishing a horrible 35,000 word novel at the age of 16 doesn’t count…), and after a year or two dilly-dallying around, I finally told myself to get on with it.

After receiving the artwork for the album, I slapped it all together and realized what I had on my hands (virtually, at least), was a completed project, and I was ready for the next step: production. I sent off the necessary stuff and realized I had completed what I had set out to do. And by June 23rd, I’ll have a lot of copies of the CD in my hot hands.

The next step was to tell people about this CD.

June 23rd has always been the release date in my mind for many reasons, regardless of how close it is to when I opened pre-orders (pre-orders, by the way, are available!). I liked the idea of having a “sabbat” release date, so two days after the Summer Solstice was close enough. And June 23rd hold extremely significant personal meaning (which you will probably hear about ON June 23rd).

June 23rd is my “pagan path anniversary” day, or as my wife coined it “Pagan Path Day.” This year I’ll be celebrating my 5th anniversary of walking a pagan path. I dedicated myself to a pagan path on Summer Soltice, June 22nd, 2010, and ever since then I’ve celebrated the “year and a day,” or June 23rd.

So to commemorate five amazing years, I decided I wanted that to be the release date of my album.

I’m really excited about where my album has taken me, and it’s really cool to look back not only over the last year, but over the last five years on where my path and passions have taken me (but more about that in 13 days!)

For example, on May 25th, I was on the Pagan Musings Podcast, talking about my new album. You can listen to that here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pagan-musings/2015/05/25/pmp-bran-corddorion-and-the-four-branches-of-the-welsh-mabinogion

I’m also really excited and proud to announce I’ll be playing at the Kansas City Pagan Pride Day on September 13th.

I don’t think any of that would have been possible if I hadn’t decided to step out of the guitar closet and exposed my music to the world. It wouldn’t have been possible without Four Branches.

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Rambling Bran: Approaching the End…and a New Beginning

Work on my Four Branches album is coming to an end very soon. As soon as the artwork is in my sweaty, anxious hands, the physical album will shortly fall into place: it will soon be time to finalize the thing.

Reflecting on the album and its genesis, I am amazed. Four Branches unknowingly began production in 2013 when I wrote the first song (a very rough–and very different–version of Face Changer that I had entitled Pwyll Pen Annwfn). And just five months ago, I put my foot down and decided that, beginning in February, I would attempt such a feat.

Now, just a few short months later, I’m putting the final touches on an album. The very idea blows me away. I never set out with the intention of creating an album. But here I am.

I’ve always loved the act of creating art of all forms. Ever since I was nine years old, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to write stories. I wrote hundreds and thousands of pages, probably millions of words, and I still write to this day. But more often than not my writing has been focused in song instead of narrative. And that’s completely okay with me.

I never set out on a creative pursuit with the intentions of creating for others. I sit down at the computer with an empty Word document, or sit down with my guitar in my hand not thinking What do people like, but What do I want?

Some of the stuff I create I’m scared to share with others. For example, for the last eight years I’ve written a series of bizarro fiction novels that I only let three other people read. I think who in the world would want to read this? It’s nuts. But I cherish the nuttiness, like a fine piece of chocolate.

And for the longest time, I was the same with my music. I was “raised” in my musical ways by my brother, and in front of a recording microphone, alone in a room. I could instantly hear myself, and I thought it sounded ridiculous. But I loved (and still do love) making music, telling stories with song, conveying some strange ideas through lyrics and melodies.

I don’t profess to be good at what I do, only that I’m good at having fun doing it. When I decided I would make a public album–and one based off of Welsh myths, no less–the idea terrified me. Aside from a small community of online amateur songwriters and a few close friends and family members, I never told anyone about my music.

So when I came out of the guitar closet, I took baby steps, unsteady and cautious. It was almost as if I was afraid of what others would think, what others would say. But you know what? At the end of the day, none of that matters. You do what you do because you love it. It’s taken a while for me to realize this, and it’s still sinking in rather slowly, but hey, baby steps.

So Four Branches is coming to a close, the creative process involved is winding down, and soon I will reveal it to anyone who might be willing to hear it for a second. But it’s not an end.

When I began pondering the idea of creating an album, I juggled with the idea for almost a year. I have so many ideas in my head that sometimes it’s hard to know which one I was set on creating first. I have many ideas for albums, and for a while the idea of Four Branches sat in a limbo state.

Four Branches won the first round, and that’s one less idea to juggle. Now I’m stuck performing a Mill’s Mess, with three (oh gods, don’t throw me another ball!) ideas spinning and jumping about in my arms. And I know soon I’ll have to change the strings on my guitar and start again. Many an album beg for creation, and I must abide the pleas. And soon.

So yes, Four Branches is coming to an end, creatively speaking. But there are already so many more songs coming, bursting at the seams really. And I cannot wait to create more.

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The Awen

Well, I decided to spruce up my site a teeny bit in preparation of the impending release of my album Four Branches, and I thought I should share a song from the album to christen the updated site! This is The Awen, from, of course, Four Branches. (You can hear more about this song in my 4th blog post about the songs on the album!

It’s getting very close until Four Branches will be released, and last minute technical details are being put into place. But expect a mid-June release at the earliest! And expect the ability to pre-order soon, too! The Awen is a flowin’, and I cannot wait to release it to the public!

Peace,

Bran

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Exploring: “Four Branches:” The Independent Tales of the Mabinogi (post 4/4)

Well, it’s come to an end. This is the fourth and last post exploring my upcoming album Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song.

The branches have ended, but in many different translations of the Mabinogion you will find several different stories following the Four Branches. Some of them are called Independent Native Tales or the Five Romances or whatnot.

One of these miscellaneous stories is entitled How Culhwch Won Olwen. This is a downright epic story.

Culhwch is this guy who is in love with Olwen, the daughter of a giant named Ysbaddaden. The giant tells Culhwch that the only way he’ll get his daughter’s hand in marriage is if he completes all these impossible tasks.

It’s almost a Hercules story in a way. The giant gives ol’ Culhwch a huge list of tasks he needs to complete, and each time the giant says “You must do this,” Culhwch pretty much laughs and shrugs and tells the giant “Easy peasy!” The giant tells him “Oh, you may think it’s easy, but you also have to do this! And that!

And the list of tasks is so incredibly long and absurd. Reading it, I had a headache by the time Culhwch headed out for adventure. In the song, I obviously shrink the list considerably and focus on what I think were the main tasks.

He first must obtain a pair of shears and a comb from between the ears of Twrch Trwyth, a dangerous, hellish boar. And a long series of impossible situations make it so that it’s nearly impossible to get the boar. Among the long, tedious list is the fact that there’s only one hound that can hunt the boar, a dog named Drudwyn. But whoops, only one man can handle the dog, the man named Mabon, but whoops, no one knows where this guy is. Some people say Mabon is very similar to Pryderi, as he’s been lost since birth. The list goes on to say they need a specific collar, a specific leash, all these specific people…it’s impossible tasks all the way down, pretty much.

Culhwch gets his cousin, this guy you probably never heard of by the name of…um King freakin’ Arthur, to lend him pretty much an army. The author does us an injustice and names off every single person he takes with. It takes up literally pages of just names. It almost puts The Wheel of Time to shame with its name dropping.

Anyway, Culhwch gathers a great big army and they go off looking for Mabon.

They ask the oldest animals in the world, being a bird, a stag, owl, eagle, and salmon, they finally discover where Mabon is, and they rescue him. Then, they get the hound Drudwyn (and all the superfluous stuff that they needed to get, too). They pursue the boar, who rampages across the country and destroys a lot of stuff and murders a ton of people, but they finally corner it and get the shears and comb. The giant has them cut his hair and then kill him, and they win Olwen at last. Ends on a strange note, to be honest. But the story is full of things that made me go “Ha! Wait, what?

This is a very basic retelling of the tale. If you read the actual story, be prepared to stumble over pages of Welsh names and tedious banter between giant and mortals. My song How Culhwch Won Olwen condenses it down into a Disneyfied version safe enough to consume! It’s an epic story, so I felt I needed an “epic” feel to it.

Admittedly, this song wasn’t going to be on the album…I just had no love for it until I sat down with my instruments and began piecing it together. Now I absolutely love it.

The last song on the album, The Awen, tells the greatest story of Welsh mythology, in my opinion.

It’s the story of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

This goddess named Ceridwen creates a brew, called the Awen, to give to her son in order for him to gain the knowledge and inspiration of all there is, was, and ever will be. But the servant she has stirring the cauldron, Gwion Bach, accidentally takes the Awen for himself and becomes enlightened (think Celtic Buddha). Ceridwen gives chase in anger, giving way to a shapeshifting pursuit. Gwion Bach finally turns into a grain of wheat, and Ceridwen turns into a hen and eats him.

She gives birth to him nine months later, and throws him into a coracle into the sea. He is found later by a stranger and is given the name “Taliesin” meaning Shining Brow, and even as a newborn infant he recites the greatest poetry ever. He is the greatest Bard of the Island of the Mighty.

The song isn’t exactly a retelling of the story as it is kind of a chant, a devotional in a way. I didn’t write it with the intention of telling a story. In truth, the three verses were written years apart from each other. The first rendition of the song included only the last verse: Taliesin, you drank the Awen. Share it with me…share it with me. This almost has a prayer-like quality to me. We’re asking Taliesin to bestow upon us the inspiration of the Awen.

It was about a year later that I wrote the first verse: Ceridwen, light the fires. Boil the cauldron, invoke, inspire. Brew the Awen, brew it well. You have a story to tell. This highlights Ceridwen as creatrix of the Awen, the goddess of inspiration and wisdom.

The middle verse came way later and highlights the shapeshifting chase: The hare, the hound, the salmon and otter, the wren, the falcon. The grain of wheat, the black-crested hen. Run, boy, run.

This bit in the story has been said to have symbolized an initiatory process (indeed, it was an initiation of sorts for young Gwion Bach), and the four classical elements can be seen implemented in it, as well (Earth: the hare and hound, Water: The salmon and otter, Air: the wren and falcon, Fire: the grain of wheat–the seed of life–and the hen). Lots of imagery and symbolism in this story. It’s no wonder why it’s such a central theme in Druidry and Bardistry.

So in the end, you can hear elements of the story being told in the song, but it is by no means a comprehensive retelling. It’s, in my opinion, the best way to end the album, on a hopeful and inspiring note.

Afterthoughts:

Why did I want to create an album telling the stories of the Mabinogi? It was actually a very tough decision. I knew I wanted to create this album at some point, but I didn’t know if it would be my first try at making an album. It was actually a toss-up between this and two other ideas, and I would frequently switch gears over a few months’ time. “I’m going to make a Mabinogion album” I would tell myself. Then a few months later, “Why would I do that? I’m going to make a different album!” And a few months later, I’d change my mind again until one day I took a step back and said, “I’ll let the Awen flow where it wants to go.” And here we are.

It was songs like the ones on the Four Branches album that originally turned my attention to Welsh mythology and the Mabinogi. Stories are meant to inspire, meant to encourage exploration of not only the past and the world around you, but more importantly your Self. Stories like the Mabinogi seem to unlock something in my mind, opens the floodgates of dreamlike imagination and inspiration.

I always like to mention Damh the Bard’s song Oak, Broom, and Meadowsweet when I talk about such stories and songs because that was one of the first songs that really captured my imagination and flipped a switch in my mind. I thought, “Hey, this is a really fun story.” I saw lots of imagery in it, lots of symbolism, and I just had to figure out where it came from. That really was what turned me on to the Mabinogi in the first place.

If my album does the same for someone else, if a specific line gets stuck in someone’s head or makes them think “Huh, I wonder what all that was about,” and engages their curiosity and imagination, I think I’ve done my job.

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Exploring: “Four Branches,” the 4th Branch of the Mabinogi (post 3/4)

This is the third blog post out of four exploring my upcoming album Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song. In this one, I’ll be discussing the final branch of the Mabinogi! This branch follows Math, son of Mathonwy.

Apparently, this Math guy has to have his feet in the lap of a maiden unless he’s at war (or else he’d die or explode or something…I don’t know). The thing is…this guy named Gilfaethwy is in love with the current foot-rest maiden named Goewin. His brother Gwydion concocts a plan to get Math to go to war so Gilfaethwy has a chance at this maiden, Goewin (remember, Math must have his feet in the lap of a maiden unless at war!).

In order to get Math to go to war, they trick Pryderi (who, surprise surprise, we saw in the first branch, second branch–one of the seven to survive Bran’s tragedy–and third branch) into giving them pigs, the same pigs, some say, that Pwyll received from Arawn in the very first story of the Mabinogi. Pryderi gets angry when he realized he’s basically been robbed, and goes to war against Math. Now Math can take his feet out of the lap!

Gwydion and Pryderi go head to head in one-on-one combat, and Pryderi is sadly killed. This strikes me as really sad, because we’ve seen this guy’s birth! And now killed in what might as well have been a mugging–Gwydion tricked him to give him the pigs, and all Pryderi wants is the bigs returned! Pryderi, if anything, is the victim. But that’s just my opinion.

Meanwhile, Gilfaethwy gets the girl.

Math is furious, because his maiden foot-rest has been deflowered and innocent men slain over what he probably thinks was now a dumb idea. As punishment he turns Gwydion and Gilfaethwy into three animals: deer, pigs, and wolves for one year each. Each time, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy have a kid together, and when they return for the fourth time, Math turns them back into men again. (In the song, I re-order the animals to deer, wolves, then pig to retain some of the irony of the song title/subject matter).

The song I wrote for this was “Pigs Pigs Pigs!” and obviously it’s a fun song. The story itself is so convoluted and strange that I couldn’t help but make the song upbeat and fun.

The story goes on as Math needs a new maiden foot-rest. He chooses Arianrhod, Gwydion’s sister, but she is revealed not to be a maiden and gives birth to a son in before their very eyes.

She hates the kid and curses him not to be given a name. Gwydion won’t have that though, and he tricks Arianrhod in naming him “Lion with a Steady Hand” or Lleu Llaw Gyffes (apparently the proper translation is Llew Llaw Gyffes–Llew meaning “lion” in Welsh, but whatever).

She then curses him not to have weapons unless she give them to him. Gwydion again tricks her into giving him weapons. Then she curses him never to have a wife. Gwydion, along with Math, use their magic to create a woman out of flowers, and Lleu Llaw Gyffess has a wife at last. Her name is Blodeuwedd (literally translated as Flower Face).

The song I wrote for this one is called “Steady Hand Lion,” and from the title alone I thought it deserved a bluesy rocky sound to it. It’s kind of told through Gwydion’s eyes and has sort of that “tricksy edge” I perceive Gwydion to have (since he did, after all, devise the whole Pig incident right before all of this, and then he devises all the trickery against Arianrhod).

The next song is “Invocation of Blodeuwedd,” which is a very simple chant, as if we were Math and Gwydion conjuring up the Woman of Flowers to be Lleu’s bride. This was the first song I wrote out of the 12, not knowing it would turn into a whole album retelling the story of the Mabinogi.

You’d think having a beautiful wife made of flowers was awesome, but soon she fell out of love with Lleu and fell in love with a dude named Gronw. They planned on killing Lleu and succeeded…sort of.

You see, the only way in which Lleu could be killed, according to Lleu himself, is pretty convoluted. The method includes (but is not limited to), standing with one foot on the back of goat and the other foot on the edge of a cauldron/tub on the shores of a river and getting impaled by a spear that was made over a period of a year and day (and only when people attend mass). Apparently this extremely precise recipe of “Lleu Llaw GyDead was the wrong one, because of instead of killing him, he turned into a rotting eagle and flew away. (This always amuses me…Lleu himself told Blodeuwedd this detailed list of ingredients for his own dead soup, so he either knew what she was up to, or he didn’t even know how he could die! All I can think of is Lleu rubbing his chin and thinking “Oh yeah, that’s what happens! Oops…”)

Gwydion finds him shortly after and urges him down from a tree and into his lap. Then, Gwydion turns him into a man again and curses Blodeuwedd to be an owl for eternity. Lleu kills Gronw by throwing a spear through a boulder and piercing his heart (Damn, Lleu is awesome! Super strength, impossible to kill even with the precise recipe, and turns into a freakin’ eagle? We have a superhero, guys…now I’m rethinking the songs I wrote about him…coulda been better…).

All joking aside, this story is almost a tragedy. An apparent match made in heaven is destroyed with treachery. The song I wrote for this one is “The Owl and the Eagle,” and tells both of Lleu’s curse as an eagle and Blodeuwedd’s curse as an Owl. I inserted the Welsh englyn that Gwydion sings to Lleu while in the tree, though I’m sure I butchered some of the Welsh (I’m learning, what can I say?)

This is where the four branches end, and I felt it wasn’t the best of places to stop. It’s such a downer to end on a tragedy like that. But fear not! There’s more! The next blog explores the “bonus” songs from the album, songs telling the stories of a few Independent Tales from the Mabinogion collection…

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