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The Story of Saba and Brychan: A Folk-tale of the Dobunni

Saba was in love.

At fourteen summers, she was ready, and surely she was glad to be second daughter to the chief and not first. For her sister Cordaella, as chief's first daughter, was thereby Royal Woman of the tribe, whose husband would some day be king, and such things cannot be left to chance and mere liking.

Well, Cordaella was newly married and seemed pleased enough with the choice that the elders had made. But Saba, second daughter, could, in the way of things, choose for herself. And of all the young warriors, her eye had turned upon tall Brychan, he of the gray eyes and mouse-pale hair.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

As a storyteller, I tend to do much of my thinking through stories. In the ongoing discussion of cultural appropriation it seemed to me that abstract theorizing may well benefit from the wisdom of narrative. So I began casting about for a story that addressed the subject.

Theorist Cei Serith says, “When confronted with a new situation, first consult ancestral precedent.” The Received Tradition (or at least those portions of it with which I am personally conversant), has little to say on the topic of cultural appropriation directly, but in fact the practice has a surprising number of parallels with the grand old Keltic pastime (one could almost call it a sport) of the táin, the cattle-raid. The Kelts came by cattle-rustling honestly (so to speak): it would seem, in fact, to have been an ancient tradition of many Indo-European peoples (and, indeed, of pastoral cultures in general: compare the current problems with the self-same practice in South Sudan).

We have, to the best of our knowledge, no surviving mythology from the Dobunni, the Keltic tribe that inhabited the Severn basin and Cotswolds in what is now the south-west Midlands of England. (The “creation myth” that Stephen Yeates “recreates” in A Dreaming for the Witches cannot truly be called a story.) There seems to be good genetic and archaeological evidence to indicate that Dobunni population and culture survived into Anglo-Saxon times as the tribe known as the Hwicce. Maverick archaeologist Stephen Yeates would contend that the tribal religion of the Hwicce, with its strong continuities with the preceding Dobunni religion, is in fact what would become historic Witchcraft (and later, Wicca). Historical or not, it's a powerful story, for which I will admit a certain personal fondness, perhaps because some of my own ancestors hail from this same region.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    One wonders to what degree (if at all) memory of the tain remained current in 19th century Irish popular culture (before the liter
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Interestingly, I've suspected that the cattle-rustling in the American West, carried out in large part by Irish cowboys, was a cul
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks and hail, daughter of Dobunnia. Kindly give my regards to the Severn.
  • Danu Forest
    Danu Forest says #
    great stuff thanks for posting! the dobunni are thought to be the tribe where i actually live! hail the storyteller! ;-)

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

In the beginning of days, the Great Mother called all the peoples to her, her children, and to each people she gave its own proper food.

To the Cornovii she gave the deer to be their food, and indeed they are great hunters to this day. To the Brigantes, she gave oats to be their food, to the Iceni barley, to the Silures sheep, and so it was. To each people, its own proper food.

But to our people, to the Dobunni, to us she gave cattle to be our food, and their milk and their meat are indeed the best of foods.

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