Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Mabinogion tale performed, How Culhwch Won Olwen

A descendent of Twrch Trwyth and piglets

The Photo: A wild boar sow and her piglets. Boars are typically social animals, living in female-dominated sounders [a herd of wild swine] consisting of barren sows and mothers with young led by an old matriarch. Male boars leave their sounder at the age of 8–15 months, while females either remain with their mothers or establish new territories nearby.

Storm Frank: Oh my! 70 mph winds and record rain fall. For the month of December there was record breaking rainfall; 1015 mm = 40.6 inches for the month fell in Capel Curig in the north west of Wales. The M4 along the south of Wales was blocked at Bridgend (west of Port Talbot) by standing water for a day, but that’s clear now. Locally we have been extremely fortunate to have just a few trees blown down and no substantial damage.

A Holiday House Party: Since this was my first year end holiday season as Baroness I wanted to extend the hospitality of the Barony to everyone in the area, but particularly the landed gentry and farmers with land abutting the Barony as well as local leaders in government, business and industry. So I invited the local land owners (a few neighbors from surrounding farms and estates) and the movers and shakers from the local villages to a long weekend house party over the New Year weekend when most were on vacation during the holidays. Guests arrived on Thursday the 31st and departed today, Sunday the 3rd of January.   

Thursday and Friday dress for dinner was business attire. Dress for Saturday night was black tie for the men and gowns for the ladies. I would have gone with white tie, but some probably didn’t have it and the men looked splendid along with Tim in his Dress uniform.  The menu for Saturday night (Jan 2nd) was the castles famous crown rack of spring lamb (in two rack crowns) and wild boar tenderloin, green string beans, roasted potatoes with mince pie and ice cream for dessert. Coffee, tea and sloe brandy or wine with dessert. I think it was more curiosity than anything else that had so many women guests asking for the Barony’s sloe brandy rather than wine since the brandy is not sold and bottles are rarely given away. The meal was served in the Great Hall with the Yule log burning in the massive fireplace at the other end. I used the great hall so the minstrel galleries, there are two, could be used for the entertainment and the acoustics from the galleries is quite marvelous with the voices reflecting off the huge roof timbers so that every word spoken can be heard clearly by the guests in the hall below.

I was delighted that no one sent regrets (and all attended even with the terrible weather we are having) though I imagine everyone was curious, especially the women, to see what changes I’d made to the castle and to judge the new Baroness ‘in performance’.  Not leaving anything to chance I had the conversations in the bathrooms recorded so I could hear the comments when the women (especially) though they were alone. Being reviewed by ones jealous and sometimes hormonal neighbors is not particularly pleasant, but I’m very pleased to say the castle and the meal were given very high marks! I was given high marks for both hospitality and presentation, but my reputation as a Cougar and an expert in the art of Pompoir was well known and the women all talked about keeping their men out of my aura as even some of the women found me attractive. I really want to try and stay away from establishing sexual relationships with married neighbors since if they go bad having a disgruntled neighbor can be unpleasant so I don’t think the local wives have anything to fear from me as I’m not giving local married men (not that some aren’t worthy of my time) any romantic encouragement.

In welcoming remarks before we sat down to dinner I confirmed that I will continue to allow hunting, fishing and trapping on Barony land as long as applicable laws are followed. I had been holding that announcement back building the suspense. There had been a rumor in the village that I might forbid hunting, fishing and trapping on my land so there was a sigh of relief and a applause when I got that out of the way as one of the first things I talked about. Another thing that I knew local people are edgy about, but no one dared mention, at least not to my face, is that I wasn’t born in the UK and therefore “She’s not one of us.”   

It’s true that I was born in Virginia and have an East Coast accent to the extent I have an accent at all and not a plummy one from a posh school in the Home Counties or Switzerland, though as an actress I can speak in one when necessary. And my immediate family hadn’t been of the aristocracy nor lived in the UK for years. So I tried to allay any fears by mentioning that while born in the U.S. I was of British parents whose ancestors can be traced back for hundreds of years and in the case of my great aunt’s family from whom I inherited the Barony for almost a thousand years. Too, I am very interested in my Welsh heritage and the history and legends of the Welsh nation if I’m permitted to use that term, not that I’m a nationalist. Actually, I’m a Royalist and support the Monarchy even though HM may not be too pleased with my forms of employment and amusement. Not that some Royals aren’t above a roaming hand in a girl’s tights or down her cleavage when the opportunity presents itself.  

I’ve been engrossed for months in reading a new (2007) translation of The Mabinogion by Sioned Davies to get a feel for ancient Welsh legends that began as oral tales and much later were set down in manuscripts very few of which have come down to us. So I thought it would be fun to have as entertainment for the final evening of our gathering one of the legends recorded in the Mabinogion performed from memory by a troupe of Jongleurs.  The troupe used Sioned Davies translation as their script and had been working on their lines for the past few months and for the last several weeks has been rehearsing in great hall. They are amazingly good with voice changes for the different characters in the tale! The story we chose was How Culhwch Won Olwen.

How Culhwch Won Olwen: In the introduction to her translation of The Mabinogion Sioned Davies says this about the legend How Culhwch Won Olwen:

“How Culhwch Won Olwen portrays a world far removed from that of European romance, a world where Arthur holds court in Celli Wig in Cornwall and heads a band of the strangest warriors ever… who, together with Arthur, ensure that Culhwch overcomes his stepmother’s curse and marries Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden Chief Giant. The interest throughout is in the action with the hunting of the magical boar Twrch Trwyth reminiscent of a fast moving film as he and his piglets are chased by Arthur and his men from Ireland across south Wales, and eventually to Cornwall.  All characters are stereotyped – the beautiful Olwen, the handsome Culhwch, the treacherous Ysbaddaden; talking to ants, owls, stags, and salmon poses no problem as one of Arthur’s men, Gwrhyr interpreter of languages is there to translate. Indeed, the story with its rhetorical set-pieces and burlesque scenes, is a world apart from the restraint and control of the ‘Four Branches’ [the first four stories in the Mabinogion] and is without doubt, a tale to be performed – vocality is of its essence.”

That particular tale’s vocality is why I hired the Jongleurs to perform it during my house party at the castle to boost interest in Welsh history and develop regional (if not national) pride. Years ago all Welsh children were read tales from The Mabinogion so they became familiar with the legends and characters in them. Now however, that’s seldom the case. So I included a brief synopsis (below) of the story, from Wikipedia, for each guest as sadly there are great many people in Wales these days who are unfamiliar with the Welsh legends set down in The Mabinogion. You can read the full Wikipedia article HERE.

“Synopsis: Culhwch's father, King Cilydd son of Celyddon, loses his wife Goleuddydd after a difficult childbirth. When he remarries, the young Culhwch rejects his stepmother's attempt to pair him with his new stepsister. Offended, the new queen puts a curse on him so that he can marry no one besides the beautiful Olwen, daughter of the giant Ysbaddaden Pencawr. Though he has never seen her, Culhwch becomes infatuated with her, but his father warns him that he will never find her without the aid of his famous cousin Arthur. The young man immediately sets off to seek his kinsman. He finds him at his court in Celliwig in Cornwall; this is one of the earliest instances in literature or oral tradition of Arthur's court being assigned a specific location and a valuable source of comparison with the court of Camelot or Caerleon as depicted in later Welsh, English and continental Arthurian legends.

Arthur agrees to help, and sends six of his finest warriors (Cai, Bedwyr, Gwalchmei, Gwrhyr Gwalstawd Ieithoedd, Menw son of Tairgwaedd and Cynddylig Gyfarwydd) to join Culhwch in his search for Olwen. The group meets some relatives of Culhwch's that know Olwen and agree to arrange a meeting. Olwen is receptive to Culhwch's attraction, but she cannot marry him unless her father agrees, and he, unable to survive past his daughter's wedding, will not consent until Culhwch completes a series of about forty impossible-sounding tasks. Fortunately for Culhwch (and the reader), the completion of only a few of these tasks is recorded and the giant is killed, leaving Olwen free to marry her lover.”

Imagination and romance: The Jongleurs with their marvelous performance kept everyone at the feast on the edge of their seats, entrancing even most skeptical and the faint-of-heart as they told of Arthur and his men gathering items required in the 40 tasks needed to win Olwen and chasing the magical boar, Twrch Trwyth, and his piglets through Ireland, Wales and Cornwall. The audience responded with sighs at the frequent and vicious fights and high death toll of Arthur’s men in bloody battles with the forces of the magical boar; and cheers when Ysbaddaden, Olwen’s father, faced with having all his demands met reluctantly gives her to Culhwch and then was beheaded. Even the most rational guests found themselves spellbound suspending disbelief for the time it took to enjoy the performance.

Although everyone knew better there was a definite feeling among my guests that the delicious wild boar tenderloin that was being served was from Twrch Trwyth himself. For the two hours that the Jongleurs were performing my guests and I were drawn so deeply into the tale that time passed very quickly. It was as though we were hypnotized by the fluidity and cadence of the narrative as the marvelous performers told the ancient tale.

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Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort