Lessons from Bran

Lessons from Bran

Pentecost 6

We all know bran as being the outer layer of grain generally used for our morning cereal. It is often used to refer to any outer layer of a grain including rice. The health benefits for mankind from bran marry those that bran offers to the grain itself. The outer layers of a grain serve to provide it nutrients since they contain high levels of protein and necessary nutrition for the plant. For humans, bran affords a highly concentrated source of dietary fiber.

Bran is also the name of an Irishman famous in Irish mythology. According to legend, Bran decided to visit the “Happy Outerworld”, a mythological place the Irish believed to be the home of all immortals. These immortals were collectively known as the Sidhe. The Happy Outerworld consisted of two land, the Isle of Joy and the Isle of Women. Spoiler Alert: Women do not receive gentle treatment in this myth!

Fairy tales are usually stories with a purpose but stories that have a happy ending. After all, no one wants to learn a lesson that will ultimately end badly for them. The mythologies of ancient mankind were more than just lessons, they were life itself. The topics of these myths centered on the very living each person did and experienced. They dealt with things like birth and death and what came after death. They wove stories about the beginnings of mankind and their world. Drawing from cultural wisdom, a myth is the collective universal narrative or man and woman.

These myths are not just stories to be told around a campfire or fodder for the movie industry. They serve just as real a purpose today as they did when first told many centuries ago. Their original purpose to explain and answer life itself transitioned into myths being a compass for future generations. Much like the twentieth century book and movie “the Wizard of Oz”, the Irish legend of Bran spoke of home and finding one’s way back home.

Bran held a great feast, so the story goes. Going outside for some air after such a large meal, he hears a faint pleasant melody that lulls him to sleep. When he awakes, he sees a branch from an apple tree in full blossom has been placed next to him. He shows the branch to his friends and they are suddenly joined by a woman wearing unusual clothing. Bran decides she must be one of the Sidhe, an immortal. The woman tells of her homeland from whence the apple branch came and promises the men they will no longer suffer illness or death if they travel there.

Bran and thirty of his companions set sail and meet Manannan mac Lir, a sea god who rode on the waves in a horse-drawn chariot. The sea god tells them how to get to the Isle of Women but tells them first they will reach the Isle of Joy. Upon reaching this island, groups of laughing people wave from the shore, not answering any questions with anything other than laughter. One of Bran’s traveling companions remains on the Isle of Joy while the others set sail for the Isle of Women.

The Isle of Women offered the Irishmen peace and happiness and they remained for over a year. Soon, however, one of the men became homesick and convinced the others to set sail for Ireland. The women bid them farewell and suggested they return to pick up their friend from the Isle of Joy. They promised the men smooth sailing but warned them to never actually set foot on Irish soil again. Within two days the men could see the Irish coastline and waved to the people who gathered on the shore as they approached. Bran called out his name and said he and his friends had been traveling for over a year. The people called back that they had heard stories of a man named Bran but he had lived hundreds of years earlier.

As they neared the shore, Nechtan, the man who had become homesick, jumped onto the shore. AS he ran up the beach, his body turned to dust. This, realized Bran and the other men, fulfilled the prophecy of the women. The men turned their boat around and headed for the open sea and were never again seen. In seeking idle joy, Bran realized he had lost the most important thing – his home.

There are obvious parallels to the story of the Irishman Bran and the story of the Christian creation myth of Adam and Eve. Although not mentioned by specific type, most people believing the Biblical account of Adam and Eve believe the Tree of Knowledge, the one tree they were forbidden to partake the fruit of, was an apple tree. Perhaps because the branch in the story of Bran was an apple branch, it carried over to the Biblical account. Both were searching for something greater than their home and both discovered their search took them away from their home forever.

Myths of religion served to give people hope. Myths such as the one about the Irish Bran often serve to remind us sometimes what we have at home are enough for a good life. Other myths are told in the hopes that great leaders will learn and arise to lead into a better future. The hero or heroine of a myth serves as a good role model for children as they grow into adulthood. Myths remind us that while we are a diverse race, we share many things in common.

In his novel “You Can’t Go Home Again”, American author Thomas Wolfe wrote: “ Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen. The voice of forest water in the night, a woman’s laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children’s voices in bright air–these things will never change. The glitter of sunlight on roughened water, the glory of the stars, the innocence of morning, the smell of the sea in harbors, the feathery blur and smoky buddings of young boughs, and something there that comes and goes and never can be captured, the thorn of spring, the sharp and tongueless cry–these things will always be the same. “All things belonging to the earth will never change–the leaf, the blade, the flower, the wind that cries and sleeps and wakes again, the trees whose stiff arms clash and tremble in the dark, and the dust of lovers long since buried in the earth–all things proceeding from the earth to seasons, all things that lapse and change and come again upon the earth–these things will always be the same, for they come up from the earth that never changes, they go back into the earth that lasts forever. Only the earth endures, but it endures forever. The tarantula, the adder, and the asp will also never change. Pain and death will always be the same. But under the pavements trembling like a pulse, under the buildings trembling like a cry, under the waste of time, under the hoof of the beast above the broken bones of cities, there will be something growing like a flower, something bursting from the earth again, forever deathless, faithful, coming into life again like April.” I think Bran would have agreed.

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