Bendigeidfran, Bendigeid Vran, Brân
A King of Britain in ancient Welsh legend. E. K. Chambers thought that he might be a manifestation of the pseudo-historic Breninus. His name means “Raven”, and it matches an Irish God of that name. Bran was the son of Llyr the sea god and is often described as a giant, his mother was Penardun. In the non-Arthurian Welsh story of Branwen, Bran forms an uneasy alliance with Ireland through the marriage of his sister Branwen to the Irish king. Eventually, he went to war with Ireland, destroyed the island, suffered devastating losses, and was mortally wounded in the foot by a poisoned spear, which caused his land to fail. Aspects of his Irish war parallel Arthur’s adventures in The Spoils of Annwn and in Culhwch and Olwen, including the journey to an island, the recovery of a cauldron (of plenty), and the survival of only seven warriors.
His story is recounted in the Daughter of Llyr, episode of Mabinogion, appearing as Bendigeidfran, ‘Bran the Blessed’. He is is mentioned in the Triad of Three Fortunate Concealments where Bran led an expedition against the King of Ireland, in which Bran was mortally wounded. He ordered that his head (a powerful talisman) be cut off and buried on the Hill of Ravens (Tower Hill or White Hill) in London as a protection against the future invasion of Britain. In that of Three Unfortunate Disclosures Arthur dug it up, as he wanted to be the sole guardian of Britain. The legend still lives on, of course in the belief that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, England will fall.
Bran is considered by some to be the inspiration for, or the prototype of, Bron the Fisher King in the Robert de Boron Grail legends. The association with the latter is strengthened by Bran’s death from a wound made by a poisoned spear (the Fisher King having suffered from a poisoned wound through the thigh or genitals). Bran also possessed a magic horn – a horn of plenty that produced food and drink whenever they were desired – and some advocates of the Celtic theories relate that horn to the Grail, which, in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, contains a single Mass wafer capable of sustaining life indefintiely. There is a possibility that other characters (in particular Perceval’s father) may also be descended from Bran; indeed, the mystery surrounding the name and identity of Bran makes him a versatile figure, and a character of the same name has even turned up (in Susan Cooper’s series ‘The Dark Is Rising’, from the 1960s and 70s) as the son of Arthur and Guinevere.
Bran is recorded as the father of Caratacus, king of the Catuvellauni at the time of the Roman invasion in 43 AD. Bran was thought to have introduced Christianity to Britain. Bran is also linked with Brons, the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea, and is thus made one of the guardians of the Grail. He is also regarded as an ancestor of Arthur on both the maternal as paternal sides in Bonedd yr Arwyr.
The figure of Bran likely inspired several Arthurian characters, including Ban of Benoic (a corruption of ‘Bran le Benoit’), Brandegorre, Bran de Lis (Brandelis), and Brandelidelin. (R.S. Loomis thought that a great number of characters in French romance owed their origins to Bran.) A Welsh triad names Bron as
one of the three blissful rulers of the Island of Britain, who first brought the faith of Christ to the nation of Cymry from Rome, where he was seven years a hostage for his son Caradawc.
Along with this religious connection, we have the epiosode of Bran’s maiming (in Branwen), his ownership of a magical vessel (the cauldron) which provided bounty to worthy warriors, and the decay of his land following his wound.
Triads of the Island of Britain (Welsh ”Triads”) | 11th century to 14th century