Branwen, whose name means “white raven,” is a Welsh Goddess mostly known as the goddess of love, gentleness, and beauty. Branwen’s story is a tragedy, however, and she suffered so much violence and loss at the hands of men that she eventually died of heartbreak and became known also as the Goddess who releases women from bondage and protector of the abused.
Branwen married Matholwch after he sailed from Ireland to the shores of Wales to ask for her hand. This represented a treaty between Ireland and Wales, but one of her brothers was not invited to the wedding or in on the decision making process of whether or not Branwen would marry a foreigner, and for that he maimed Matholwch horses.
Branwen’s brother Bran, the King of Wales, gave Matholwch the Cauldron of Rebirth and many other gifts as a way to atone for this wrongdoing. Matholwch accepted, but when he and Branwen returned to Ireland, and after she bore him a son, the people heard what happened to the horses and became enraged, and in his cowardice Matholwch punished Branwen by forcing her to live and work in the hot kitchen and suffer daily beatings. Not one person showed her kindness.
One day she found a starling with a broken wing and over time nursed it back to health. When the starling was healed Branwen taught it to speak and sent a message to her brother Bran to let him know of the violence she suffered daily. When news reached Bran he was horrified and set sail with an army to bring her and her son back to Wales.
There are many details to this story, but the focus here is Branwen. When her brothers arrived they worked a peaceful treaty (at Branwen’s request) for her release. She did not want a war. Her son was to be the first natural born heir king of Ireland, and Matholwch was to build a house large enough for Bran (who was a giant) to live in. The same meddling brother who created this situation for Branwen by maiming the horses was not satisfied with this treaty and murdered Branwen’s son by throwing him into a fire.
War then broke out and it decimated both the Irish and the Welsh peoples. Bran was wounded in battle by a poisoned spear, so his brother cut off his head (which was still talking) and carried it back to Wales along with only seven surviving warriors. Branwen, after reaching her home land, then died of a broken heart.
In the abuse she suffered from her husband and the community who encouraged it, who thought her deserving of it, in the loss she suffered at the hands of violent men who think only of themselves, Branwen became the face of the abused, the face of survivors, the face of courage. In her immortality as Goddess, she has become the protector of the abused.
Her lovingkindness and patience never left her, her desire for peace remained, she kept the truth of who she was despite what she endured even unto death. She reminds us that we all keep the truth of who we are, despite what we have endured, even unto death. No one can harm our true essence.
Branwen was married to a cowardly and abusive man, but she was able to leave with the help of her true community. She helps women leave abusive situations and provides protection and healing to those who have suffered abuse. Her story shows the importance of believing women and taking actions to help them leave abusive situations. It also shows the folly of prideful men and the pervasive consequences of their violence.
Anyone who understands or has experienced abuse knows how Branwen felt. She was isolated from her family and friends. Her power was taken from her. She was made to suffer even though she was at fault for nothing (and there’s never a good excuse for abusing anyone). She is lucky that she had the opportunity to reach out, and that when she did, she was believed and that those who loved her took action (even if her story doesn’t have a happy ending). Many stories of abuse victims do not have happy endings. This is something we must face and do all we can to change.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence in its various forms affect everyone. Even if you’ve never been a victim of domestic violence, chances are you know someone who has. We all must do what we can to help those who suffer abuse (all kinds of abuse, and all kinds of people- not just women) leave their situation and find safety and healing and peace.
There are many resources out there for those who are in abusive situations. This website has links and phone numbers for national services:
Local to Rochester, MN is this link:
Those of us in the community must do what we can to provide spaces of safety, without any judgment, to the brave survivors who come to us for help. There is no shame in surviving.
Don’t forget to donate to your local women’s shelter. The link below also provides information on helping someone in an abusive situation:
The featured image of the white Raven is a photo by Mike Yip. Learn more about him and see more of his work here: http://vancouverislandbirds.com/contents.html