A different encounter with the Divine
Along with a culture’s creation myth there can be few more central moments than when that peoples encounters the divine. That moment fundamentally shapes the relationship with a transcendent force and imagined god.
In the case of the Jewish people it was that meeting of Moses as leader of the Israelites with Yahweh on the top of Mount Sinai. Yahweh having induced fear with fire and thunder gives Moses a gift, a tablet of stone on which are inscribed the ten commandments.
As John Moriarty, the late Kerry poet and mystic pointed out the contrast with the Irish encounter could not be more stark. Here the king/hero Bran whose life was upended by a ‘longing’ ends up meeting the Irish Sea god, Manannan MacLir. His gift, a silver branch. This Moriarty saw as a way of perceiving the world – silver branch perception.
Here we have a contrast between a God whose elements are fire and stone and one whose elements are air and water; one whose gift is a tablet of commandments and another whose gift is “silver branch perception” – a way of perceiving the world.
The Connections and insights from Participants
Here are some of the most significant connections and insight from participants and collected by the Bard team:
Connection 1 – A Time out of Time
In the way that Bran’s voyage to the otherworld was a ‘time out of time’ so this corona virus lock down is also a time out of time. This lock down can be seen perhaps as a time of opportunity and possibility what the Greeks called “Kairos” time. Other comments were that it was of time slowed down and this gave people an opportunity to assess what is really important.
Connection 2 – The Gift of Silver Branch Perception – A Way of Perceiving
The silver branch gift as being part of the encounter with Manannan was an experience where the divine gave Bran a very different way of perceiving the world. In this regard the gift was seen as an enhancement of one’s awareness of the world. The point made was that this was about the oneness and the connection between all things and an aspiration to know one’s fuller known ness (evoking Aristotlean potentiality).
Connection 3 – A Time of Planting Seeds to germinate a new normal
The germination theme came up in another connection in a comment that ‘we are locked away to germinate like seeds’. This was captured in a Mexican proverb ‘they tried to bury me but didn’t know that I’m a seed’.
Taken together the idea of taking the time out of time and also a new way of perceiving there was discussion of this time being about the germination of a new normal. In this regard the silver branch suggest critical thinking about what is going on at this time. This critical thought is not just about access to knowledge nor is it about looking to authority figures. For some this new normal was exciting leaving open the new and the possible generated from the bottom up.
Connection 4 – The Paradox of the Silver Branch
The question here was is the branch of this world (but seen differently) or is this a separate otherworld from which there is no return. In the story as told the branch occupies both of these options. We are left with the paradox. Perhaps it is not one or the other but both/neither and perhaps a cognisance of and comfort with that ambiguity and this is at the heart of silver branch perception.
Connection 5 – The Image of the Golden Thread
In the story, Bran catches a ball of thread, and is pulled back to the Island of Joy he is seeking to leave. Is this, one participant commented, to be seen as Covid 19 a golden threat pulling us into a perceptive mode of thought whether we want to go there or not.
Connection 6 – The Power of Longing – a “Call to Adventure”
Many were struck by how a strong man, Bran, who was secure as warrior and king and apparently impervious to all challenges, yet is suddenly brought low by a totally different form of power. As Moriarty put it “Bran Mac Feabhal laid low not by a sword but by longing’. In the language of myth this is typically the ‘call to adventure’ that begins the Hero Journey, as we find we are pulled into a journey into the unknown, after that longing. In Bran’s case perhaps this was the King Journey rather than the Hero Journey.
Connection 7 – The Return Journey from a world upside down Being an exile and removed from life as you knew it not only changes your perception of the world but other people’s perceptions of you as you return. Could this return be difficult or even, as in Bran’s case, impossible! One feature of the world of Bran (and Covid 19) is how it turned things upside down and how the low paid front liners (often women and immigrants) were now heroes. This is world upside down! But surely out challenge is to make the return journey. In the myth Manannan comes ashore but not Bran. Do we need a different ending?
The Story of the Story
The story of Bran mac Feabhail is one of a fictional character, originally written with much in verse. Though written at a time when Christianity was well established the story is based on pre Christian ideas of the otherworld. The writer was a Christian he was working within the structure of an international folklore motif of a man who returns from the timeless other world. The text was written in northern Ulster in the early eighth century.