The Other Leading Bran

Today I’d like to take a look at one of the mythical Kings of Britain, the giant Bran Fendigaid, or Bran the Blessed. His name can mean “raven” or “crow,” and he was large enough to wade through seas. Exactly when he would have ruled isn’t clear, as some myths credit him as the one who brought Christianity to Britain, while others have him living several centuries before Jesus. Mind you, it’s generally difficult to date myths, although King Arthur is usually dated to around the sixth century AD. It’s been proposed that Bran might have originally been considered a god, but there’s no evidence that he was actually worshipped. Bran belonged to the House of Llyr, the constant rivals of the House of Don.

The Welsh Mabinogion records the tale of how King Matholwch of Ireland, from the House of Don, asked Bran for the hand of his sister Branwen in marriage. Their brother Efnisien, who opposed the union and thought he should have had some say in his sister being married off, slaughtered Matholwch’s horses. As reparations, Bran gave Matholwch a magic cauldron he had received from some other giants, which had the power to bring the dead back to life. Anyone familiar with the works of Lloyd Alexander or the Disney adaptation of The Black Cauldron will probably remember this device. Bran would later come to regret his gift when he heard Branwen was being poorly treated and made war on Ireland, only to find the battle much more difficult because Matholwch just kept bringing his dead warriors back to life. Efnisien eventually sacrificed himself to destroy the cauldron from inside, but the war took a heavy toll on both sides. Bran was killed by a poisoned spear in his leg, but lived long enough to tell his men to cut off his head and take it back to Britain.

The head continued talking for a while, but ceased once the survivors of the battle had left Harlech in Wales. They eventually buried the head at the White Hill on the Thames, where the Tower of London now stands. It was said to stave off invasion, but King Arthur considered this superstitious nonsense and dug it up, saying that he would protect Britain without the assistance of any disembodied heads. He then threw it into the sea, so who knows where it is now? If anybody ever comes across a gigantic skull in the North Sea, you might want to bring it back to London.

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3 Responses to The Other Leading Bran

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