In the mid-seventies, Robert Bly, fueled by the work of Marie-Louise Von Franz and others, raised his interest in story to almost the same degree as his passion for poetry. The conference made the acute realization that we didn’t have the stories, the stories had us.
Having the good fortune to encounter Gioia Timpanelli, Connie Martin, and then Michael Meade, Martín Prechtel and others, Bly gave weight and centrality to stories at the conference, especially the fairy tale tradition. These were not recitals from books, these were moments ablaze! Masks, ritual, spontaneity, community involvement: the conference became a place for living myth, not expired recital. In recent years the conference has re-established its reputation as a place for truly experiential encounters with myth — not just as performance, but as a way of thought, a way of beholding.
It is in this tradition that the Conference opens itself to a theme and story each year.
This year, we dive into The Mabinogion. The Mabinogion is based upon a 14th century manuscript known as ‘Red book of Hergest’. The work is a collection of eleven tales of early Welsh literature and draws upon the mystical word of the Celtic people intertwining myths, folklore, tradition and history. These tales are thought to have a much more ancient provenance, being passed down through the generations by word of mouth by the early Welsh bards. These early Welsh or Celtic storytellers wandered Britain and beyond, swapping their many tales for board and lodging. The tales they told tended to be memorized only in outline, the details being filled in and embellished as the story unfolded.
The four ‘mabinogi’ tales, from which the Mabinogion takes its name, are thought to be the earliest dating from the 11th century. These include:- Pwyll, which tells of how a Prince of Dyfed takes the place of the King of the Underworld; Branwen, which tells how the unjust treatment of a queen starts a war in Ireland; Manawydan involves overcoming an enchanter and the rescue of a mother and child, and Math the Lord of Gwynedd who ends up turning his nephews into beasts. (Source: Historic UK)