Tales of the Mabinogi: Manawydan, son of Llyr

Tales of the Mabinogi

This is Tales of the Mabinogi, where I tell you about one story from Welsh mythology. This week I’m looking at the story of Manawydan, son of Llyr, and the third branch of the Mabinogi. I should warn you, this is a strange one.

Manawydan is married to Rhiannon, mother of Pryderi. They’re good friends with Pryderi and his wife Cigfa so they all decide to go for a walk. While they’re out, an enchanted fog descends and everybody in the kingdom of Dyfed, apart from them, disappears. Although they search for two years, they don’t find anybody.

They move to England and start a saddle-making business. The other craftsmen get jealous and plot to kill them. The four move to another village, and the other craftsmen get jealous again. This happens a few times before they move back to Arberth (where people first disappeared). One day, Manawydan and Pryderi go hunting and they follow a white boar to a castle. Pryderi follows the boar into the castle and gets stuck to a golden cauldron.

When Manawydan heads back Rhiannon can’t believe he didn’t help Pryderi, so she goes to help instead. She also gets stuck to the golden cauldron, and the castle disappears. In the meantime, Manawydan and Cigfa do the sensible thing and become shoemakers in England. The same thing as earlier happens, and they begin to realise that everybody hates them.

Manawydan becomes a farmer (nobody can get jealous of that), but two of his fields of wheat get stripped bare two nights in a row. He watches the third field the next night and sees loads of mice eating the wheat. He manages to catch a fat, slow mouse and decides to hang it as a punishment. He plans to kill it in Arberth when a bishop appears and pleads for the life of the mouse. Manawydan agrees to spare it if the bishop can lift the curse over Dyfed.

It turns out the bishop, a guy named Llwyd, was the guy who created the curse. He did it because he was a friend of Rhiannon’s ex and wasn’t happy that Rhiannon had spurned Gwawl (the ex). It’s a slightly ridiculous motive, but this story is weird anyway. It also turns out that the fat mouse is Llwyd’s pregnant wife, and the other mice were ladies-in-waiting and soldiers who’d been sent to eat the wheat. Llwyd lifts the curse, and everybody lives happily again.

Like I said, it starts out a little mysterious, and then goes completely strange. I hadn’t really heard it before, but I don’t think I’ll be forgetting it very quickly!

Have you heard the story of Manawydan before?

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