Candon Clannach wrote:
> Here's what I think. Branwyn (blessed raven) was originaly a title of
> Bra+n, whose sister may have been called Bronwen (white breast), and so
> the kenning for her brother may have been confused with her name (if
> indeed she wasn't just invented from the kenning itself).
your idea to interpret Branwen as the female personification and conterpart
of Brân from *Bran-wyn sounds interesting, indeed.
The colour white has been very important among ancient Celtic mythology, the
are several ancient god's names that are combined with vindo- "white", or
even borrowed from that root.
In Ireland the hero Finn/Find is known, whose childhood's story sounds quite
similar to the Welsh Gwion.
All these signs indicate a very old age of this idea, but in fact there is
hardly a connection between "white" and "raven/crow", simply because crows
are usually black and are associated with the night. For the Indo-Europeans
the crow was even a rather earthy, female creature, the root of Gaul.
branno- (*branna f. ?) is normally represented by female nouns (cf. C.Slav.
vrana f., while the male form *vran, is known only among the Eastern Slavs
[Ru. voron m.] and might be a later developement). Black has always been
connected with women ! (cf. Chin. yin, the numerous moon-goddesses etc.)
But on the other hand there are important signs that underline the
originality of Bronwen instead of Branwen:
Branwen is more than Brân's sister and her role is quite independent from
his one (cf. c)
as far as I know, the form Branwen is used only in literature, while in
folklore and in some place-names Bronwen survived, esp. in _bedd Bronwen_ on
Môn, where she is said to be buried
Branwen has been interpreted as an original mother-goddess for the following
- connected to birds (used a blackbird as messenger, was joined by the birds
of Rhiannon when she returned from Ireland)
- emphasis on her role as mother
- emphasis on her generousity
- her fate is closely bound on the one of the Magic Cauldron
as soon as she reached her own land (= Môn "mother of Wales"), she got fused
with ("was buried")
So she was interpreted as a personification of a Celtic goddess of land,
fertility and Abyss and compared with Gk. Persephone (who was kidnapped by
Hades and became the goddess of the underworld)
Although her myth seems very damaged by Christianity, it can be
reconstructed with the help of other I.E. sources, the "heart" of the story
- she was married (= kidnapped ?) and went into a strange land over the sea
(Ireland = Annwn ?)
- a hero (Brân) from her home came and robbed her and the Magic Cauldron
(the Cauldron's destruction in the Mabinogion might be a method to explain
how the Cauldron disappeared)
This looks very similar to a wide-spread I.E. myth of the goddess of the
"Magic Garden", the "keeper of the fruit of immortality" (apples, a magic
medicine, the drank of Imortality etc.), who is kidnapped by a god or hero
and brought to humans.
Gk. Herakles did so (apples of the Hesperids), Germanic Loki (Iduna), Odin
(mead), Ind. Indra (Soma).
As a fairy tale, the story survived in Ireland, Italy, Greece, Albania, in
Latonia and possibly in Germany (Siebenbürgen). I even read an archaic
example from Dagestan/Caucasus.
So she might have been a goddess of land and fertility. In the Mabinogion
there even a place-name from the same root is mentioned: Gwynn-frynn, where
Brân's head was buried. (So he was buried inside of her* ! Or is she just
the personificatioon of the hill ?)
Although in the Mabiogion Brân's role is oversized and in the Irish
version** there is only Bran himself mentioned, I am sure, that
Bronwen-Branwen is the older figure, and possibly the attribute *-wyn that
you suggest is rather an adoption from the goddess than otherwise.
What do you think ?
Bronwen is from Brit. *bronn- and *vindo-, the original word order is
*vindo-bronn-a "white hill (or: with a white breast ?)", Gwynn-frynn is from
*vindo-bronn-os "white hill" !
Brit. *bronnos m. meant "hill", of course *bronna f. means the same and the
developement from "hill (+ female)" > "female breast" > "breast (in
general)" is easy to understand.
cf. Mid.W. bronn-wynn adj.m. "white-breasted"
The Irish "Voyage of Bran" might be from the same myth, in the Mabinogion,
the main deed of Brân is the sea-voyage towards Ireland and the kidnapping
of Branwen !