The Magic of Meaning Course 2020
This is the 8th time I’m running The Magic of Meaning Part 1. As with the earlier versions, the course is focussed on interpretation, feeling out the contours of the ancient myths contained in The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, attempting to apprehend the old truths concealed in its symbols.
Put simply, The Four Branches can be read as teaching tales, instructive stories that have an almost (but not quite) allegorical quality to them. This old Welsh classic was first written down about 900 years ago. It appears to be a collection of traditional tales that probably originated in the oral storytelling tradition of the early Welsh. The only real certainty is that these tales were written down by some talented, but unknown, author.
The Four Branches are set in a past where the Welsh aristocracy still claim the Crown of London, and consider the whole of Britain to be their sovereign Celtic territory. Historically speaking, this would have been sometime between 350 and 500AD. For this reason, The Four Branches could preserve one of the oldest versions of ‘Britain’ to have survived.
As a result, the tales can tell us much about what Britain was, is and could still be. They explore in great detail the possibilities and problems that arise for those who seek to claim dominion in these lands. As one would expect of such tales, The Four Branches contain some quite traditional ideas. One of the most common is the idea of aristocracy and inherited nobility, an idea that sits at the heart of many cultures to this day.
But even though The Four Branches are almost exclusively concerned with the nobility, what’s surprising about these ‘nobles’ is that their lineage rarely has anything to do with what kind of people they are. The nobility of The Four Branches is something that arises from personal integrity and wisdom, not genetics. More often than not it’s the nobility of heart, not he nobility of inherited status, that’s put in service of the land and the people.
It’s obvious when characters diverge from the path of nobility because they always cause suffering, and not always their own. When the ‘nobility’ fail to act from a nobility of heart, the repercussions can be apocalyptic in magnitude.
So often in the tales the positive lesson is brought into relief by a negative example. Ignorant aristocrats inevitably make bad, blinkered decisions, and when they do, the right course of action is stressed by its absence. It’s for this reason that The Four Branches can be read as lessons for civil life, a life in a civilised Britain.
The Shape of the Course
The course lasts 6 weeks, and is made up of 12 online sessions held Mondays and Fridays at 4:30pm UK Time beginning June 29th. There is also an optional session every Sunday at 9pm where I’ll be answering questions and reading the relevant sections for the following week.
Each session of the course covers a section from The Four Branches. It helps if you’re already familiar with the tales, but you can also read the appropriate section before each chapter as you work through the course. The text of The Four Branches of the Mabinogi is not supplied with the course materials, you will have to buy a copy.
The translation I prefer is by Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion (OUP 2007). There is also a Kindle edition. Please DON’T use the Lady Charlotte Guest translation that’s freely available online. It’s best not to use any translations earlier than 1960. I’ll be reading from the Sioned Davies translation every Sunday 9pm UK Time during the course in the private Facebook group that you can join. Then on the Mondays and Fridays (4:30pm-5:30pm UK Time) we’ll be discussing these sections.
All of the information you need about booking your place and taking part is provided in this PDF file:
Should you have any further questions, please get in touch here.