Retelling Welsh Myths for a Greener Future

A Creative Workshop by Bethan James

Bethan James is a white woman with long fair hair. She is wearing a colourful top with pictures of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and she is leaning against a colourful, painted wall.

“A fo ben, bid bont”/ “If you want to be a leader, be a bridge” 


In 2022, I received Arts Council of Wales ‘Create’ funding for my project “Welsh Story Seeds: Planting Narratives of Climate Justice for a Sustainable Future.” I delivered virtual workshops alongside my mentor Fiona Collins that retold Mabinogion myths rooted in Wales’ unique cultural landscape. Participants from Head4Arts and Disability Arts Cymru used these realms of imagination to find their voices and nourish daring new possibilities for a greener future. 

I’m delighted to share workshop prompts inspired by these sessions with MODRON’S readers. You’re also welcome to “recycle” these activities for any creative group or community work you do: part of my project’s inspiration was the Welsh Government statistic that only 15% of people in Wales believe climate change will affect their local area ‘a great deal’ (source). Stories can be powerful tools of change for shaping narratives. Telling stories can also be an act of freedom and empowerment: you shape the world. They are a compass.

Prompt 1: When I say climate, what words spring to mind?

Spend a minute free-writing your responses to this without editing or judging yourself. There are no right or wrong answers. Return to this exercise at the end of the workshop. Has anything changed?

So, what do I mean by storytelling in the context of this workshop? The Society for Storytellers describes it as what emanates from the ancient art of oratory storytelling. The National Storytelling Network describes it as ‘the interactive art of using words and actions to reveal the elements and images of a story while encouraging the listener’s imagination.’

You may want to try some of the following activities aloud, with a friend, or in a group. 

Prompt 2: This workshop is also about finding joy in nature and connection with the natural world. Spend three minutes thinking about your favourite tree or flower.  

Why is it special to you? Use all the senses available to you. What does it look like? What are its textures – rough or smooth? Does it have a scent? How would it taste – sweet or bitter? Do you have personal memories or stories associated with it?

The myth I chose to focus on in my Arts Council of Wales workshop was the story of sorceress Ceridwen, from the Mabinogion’s Song of Taliesin. Although this was originally told by bards in princely courts 700 years ago or more, she resonates with me and many others today as a powerful and complex woman. 

Before we begin the next prompts, you can immerse yourself in her myth by reading the 19th century translation by Charlotte Guest here, or listening to this beautiful version as told by Jo Harrington…

Ready to start? I hope her story has sparked some ideas in you. 

Prompt 3: Let’s take inspiration from sorceress Ceridwen. Brew a spell in a cauldron that will be a protection potion to help preserve the natural world in Wales.

  • Take 5 minutes to think about what ingredients you’d mix into this cauldron as part of a magic spell to protect the environment in Wales. 

It could be the scent of freshly mown grass, a beam of sunlight, or a leaf plucked from the favourite tree or flower you selected in Prompt 1. Set your imagination free and don’t be constrained – nature is enchanting! 

Cauldrons and the Pair Dadeni (Cauldron of Rebirth) are pivotal images in Welsh myth and can be symbols of renewal. 

  • Next, take 5 minutes to think of your potion as a recipe: and recipes have methods as well as ingredients. What method does your magic need to work? 

Ceridwen’s potion has specific instructions: “Then she began to boil the cauldron, which from the beginning of its boiling might not cease to boil for a year and a day, until three blessed drops were obtained of the grace of Inspiration.” Maybe in yours, the herbs must be plucked at midnight under the light of a full moon? See what you can stir up. 

How did you find that? This exercise helps beginner storytellers because one method for approaching storytelling is to think of it as creating memorable pictures to put in people’s heads. Strong images or senses are a glue that can hold a story together. Another way of thinking about it is washing line clothes pegs – patterns of words and sounds strung together.

Now we’ll look at the theme of animals in this tale. There’s a thrilling moment when Ceridwen shape-shifts into various animals when she hunts down Gwion Bach, who ruined the magic potion for her son:

And she went forth after him, running. And he saw her, and changed himself into a hare and fled. But she changed herself into a greyhound and turned him. And he ran towards a river, and became a fish. And she in the form of an otter-bitch chased him under the water, until he was fain to turn himself into a bird of the air. She, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky.”

Prompt 4: If you could transform into an animal, what would you be, and why? Pick a creature that resonates with you. 

  • Take 5 minutes. Imagine with all the senses how this creature sees, smells, hears, touches and tastes the world. This narrative technique has the name “defamiliarization”, and I feel it offers a chance at empathy with animals by experiencing the world as they do. What does the world look like far below to a bird, and how does wind feel on its wings? If you’re a dog, think heightened smells. Intensify the world. 

Now pick a second animal from this list, and go for the one you’re most instinctively drawn to:

Dolphin | Lion | Snake | Monkey | Horse | Sheep | Hamster | Giraffe 

  • Take 15 minutes, and start jotting down ideas for a story between these two animals – the one you picked, and one from my list above. 

Are they chasing each other, like in the Ceridwen story – if so, what was stolen? Has there been an argument? Are they laughing together, or escaping? Think about the setting, for example, is it rural or urban?

Afterwards, look over your notes. Is there anything that surprises you, or jumps out at you?

You’ve planted the seed of your own story. Let’s take a look at inspiration for retellings next. 

Prompt 5: How would you approach retelling the story of Ceridwen? What could you play with in terms of characters, setting, themes, or time period – and why? 

In the ancient myth, Ceridwen wants her potion to bestow Awen (often translated as poetic inspiration) her son Morfran, who is variously described as ‘crippled’ or ‘deformed’. She uses nature’s herbs for the spell. I was interested in subverting this as someone with chronic illness who viewed it from an eco-ableist perspective. In my retelling, Ceridwen is a modern-day scientist trying to find a cure for her disabled son, but she realises what needs “curing” is other people’s perceptions. I also give her son Morfran a voice and agency in my version.

Remember: ‘the fairy tale has no landlord’, as a Greek proverb says, and stories can be retold and remoulded by you. 

Thank you for joining me on the workshop and planting the seeds of your own tales. Best of luck on your eco-storytelling journeys!

“To survive, we must tell stories”

Umberto Eco


  • Beyond the Border: Their next international storytelling festival takes place at Dinefwr, 7-9 July 2023. 
  • Crick Crack Club: The UK’s boldest storytelling programmers. They host an online audio archive. 
  • Rewilding Our Stories: A community that explores ecological and climate topics within fiction and creative nonfic. 
  • Dragonfly Eco: A place to find meaningful stories about our natural world and humanity’s connection to it

Other links

The Mabinogion, a new translation by Sioned Davies (Oxford World’s Classics, 2007)

Bethan James is a storyteller and marketer from south Wales. In 2022, she received Arts Council of Wales funding for a climate storytelling project, and was shortlisted for the Rhys Davies Short Story Award. Bethan represented Wales in the United Nations’ anthology Awake Not Sleeping – retelling fairy tales for gender equality. Tweets: @thebethanjames