Welcome to the first of our Twelve Days of Christmas Posts. Every day there will be a new post introducing you to the fibre at the inspiration behind it. Each day was inspired by a different story from the Mabinogion, so I thought today was a good time to let you discover what The Mabinogion is.
I like to listen to things in the background, so I thought we'd start withe the BBC Radio programme In Our Time, and covers the information pretty well, though unfortunately the main presenter makes a bit of a mess at pronouncing some of the Welsh names. This is available globally.
The history of the Mabinogion is as oral stories, told by bards without the need for them to ever be written down. They are a record of a way of thinking and living that predate the Norman conquest of Britain, with the tales in the form we know them now dating to the late 11th and 12th centuries.
Our main source manuscripts date from 1350-1410, making these probably oldest written-down stories in the British Isles. The two main sources are Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (the White Book of Rhydderch) held by the National Library of Wales and Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest) held by the Bodleian Library. Digitised versions of both books are available.
The stories themselves are hugely different, sometimes funny, sometimes romance, sometimes scary, sometimes tragic. They philosophise, and also fantasise. There's no one individual author, and characters and versions of stories vary in the differing surviving manuscripts. It's also worth pointing out that this narrative is all in cymraeg, that is to say Welsh, which would actually be closest to the language spoken by most of Britains population before the Norman conquest.
The first translations were done by William Owen Pughe who split the tales in to several episodes in journals in 1795, 1821, and 1829. The first full translation was authored by Lady Charlotte Guest in 1838–45 bilingually in Welsh and English.
I'm using a modern retelling called The Mab as my guide. Like Lady Charlotte Guests original publication it's bilingual, but doesn't take itself too seriously, aiming to bring introduce the stories as being the sorts of tales you could tell to children, without dumbing them down, and occasionally changing them slightly to make them more pleasant for our modern ears. These stories were never set in stone and would have evolved over many years of oral storytelling, so I see no problem with them continuing to evolve. Each day will feature a different story.
The stories themselves are split in to 2 different groups. The first are a series of 4 tales called branches. A character called Pryderi appears in all 4 stories, though not always as the central character.
Four Branches of the Mabinogi
Today we don't have a Mabinogi tale, but one in the same narrative style introduces this kind of traditional story nicely, and is set in an area very local to me, so I thought it would be a nice thing to listen to on Christmas Day.
If you're in South Wales then Pontypridd Town Council have a children's activity trail that travels through the towns open places inspired by my main companion book, the Mab.
The fibre today was a hand dyed braid of Superfine Merino, Yak and Tussah Silk, and for the first time this year I've dyed up some semi-solid companion braids, using the same colours that are in the fibre. You've also got a drinks coaster handprinted here in Wales showing the Hounds of Annwn, these spectral dogs belong to King Arawn, who features in the First Branch of the Mabinogi tomorrow. If you want some companion braids, just head to the shop and you'll spot them... each day the limited edition blend of Superfine Merino & Silk will also be available.