A Meditation for Manawydan

man
Manawydan’s Glass Door – Water Colour by David Jones

Weldy racco … y drws ny dylywn ni y agori  
Look there … the door we should not open

(Spoken by Manawydan as the Company arrive in Gwales with the head of Bran in the second branch of the medieval Welsh  Mabinogi tales.)

 

Meditation

He has lingered at the doors of perception for so long I could not imagine him not being there. But never forthright, never an intrusive presence, sometimes barely a presence at all, as if he said:

“You wanted me for a god but I am not a god for you now … though I am here for you, for counsel should you want to listen – keeping the door that you might not open, but when you do open it telling you what I have to tell about the path that opens through it should you choose to listen, and take me for a companion, walking with you on that path. I am patient and will wait for days, weeks, months, years … longer if it is necessary, for the right time and until then I will be at the threshold watching from beneath my hood of shadow, like the shadow of trees in the corner of a field where the hidden path leads into the wood.

So you ask – or dare not ask – why I did not walk with Pryderi and Rhiannon when the door opened for them? When the Divine Son is snatched away and the Divine Mother follows as she did not follow before, then though I offer counsel which would be wise for you, for them, who are beyond counsel, I could only watch, and wait, and bide my time for action, to bring them back into the world, and bring the world back to its right shaping.

But for you … for you too I wait and will speak the words you need to hear when you need to hear them. The door is not locked; you have already seen through it. You know what is to be found there and that there is a task to fulfil when you walk that path.

But for now, learn patience. Do not call before the appointed time, do not bid me speak before I have something to tell you. But know that I am here for you, acknowledge me and I will hold my counsel and reveal to you its hidden depths: Standing aside from the busy-ness of the world to better see the way through and tell it in quiet words for those who listen.

This for you and for all of those.”

Reflection

When I was taught the art of focused meditation I always had a commentary, a reflection, on what I reported. So here I provide my own. Clearly this meditation results from many years of passive reflection on what it contains. Clearly too it contains things gained from study, from reading, from explorations of Brythonic lore, and so is not without some cultural influence. But it is not consciously shaped from these studies so much as emanating from having internalised them. Like the poet who has learned the verse forms and finds them providing a shape for the shapeless inspiration that is breathed through the breath of words.

So I knew that Manawydan was held to be ‘oet guis y cusil’ (profound of counsel). So I knew that he identified the door in Gwales that must remain shut for eighty years before the Company of the Head must leave their sojourn in that place and take the head of Bran to the White Mount and bury it there; … that he had refrained from claiming the lordship over Britain which had been usurped but retreated to Dyfed to marry the now widowed Rhiannon and ‘there was no woman more beautiful than she’; … that he lived simply but outwitted the Otherworld adversaries that had cast a spell over Dyfed and brought back Pryderi and Rhiannon from Annwn to live among us once again. All these things and more I ‘knew’ in the way that I knew how to breathe rather than as dry academic knowledge.

But more – I have perceived Manawydan on the edge of my meditations, my reflections, my perceptions of the Otherworld, the Gods, the deep presences of deity. And he has stayed there, biding his time quite apart from any cultural conception of him as a mythological figure, a cultural construct or a willed identity. So now as his hood is drawn back to reveal … what? I can only report his words as they came to me and, as he requests, acknowledge him as he has appeared to me.

*

A note on the painting by David Jones.
The reproduction doesn’t do it justice. The original water colour paints have a luminosity that is almost transparent so that the outside and the inside of the room seem to flow into each other. The glass door is a boundary between the two, but one that allows the scene outside to be an extension of the space inside and the carpet similarly seems to flow out of the room. The two worlds are one. Yet they remain apart.

Eponalia

An Observance for the Winter Season

The Sun sits low in the sky and dips even lower as his year draws to an end. The pale light of day soon passes to night. The tide ebbs. Each flower, each tree, each head of grass and grain, has shrunk to back to kernel: to hard seed, to nut, to reserved essence, biding the time until the light grows again and roots find a way through nurturing soil.

epona beasts
Epona on a funeral stele from Gaul

For now, Epona traverses the paths of the dead, riding through the dark, through earth and sea, each life that has passed moving with her, finding the way that she opens for them, losing the memories she closes behind them. The Sun will return and a new year begin, but now is the time of repose.

Epona, we are with you in the time of waiting, we pause with you now in the dark of the year.
We mark the time until the longest night when you stir the deepest well of the darkness like a river rising from the caverns of gloom.

 

Darkness falls
on the ivy leaf

Yulelight glistens
on the holly bough

As red fire stirs
in the kindling.

We count three days
to the longest night

Three more till the glimmer
of a longer day

Then seven to the eve
of New Year Calends

These days we count
from the Feast of Epona

First festival
of the Year’s turning.

 

The Solace of Rhiannon’s Birds

Labyrinth

I sought some solace in Rhiannon’s birds
that I might come to life again
or be lulled into a gentle sleep from which
a new life might begin. So birds came:

A blue tit hopped in through the window
and flew back to the wild from a cupped hand;
the swallows in the garage had four chicks
which came and went through an open door;

A young heron stepped slowly along a streamlet
intent on prey – these birds moved through the world
to bring me back to it, taking me with them
as they flew into the light of the Sun.

Then at Full Moon I awoke long before dawn
to go out under stars bright in the Moon’s eclipse
which was not an eclipse because there, smoke-red
she was visible in the sky and yet not visible.

From this deep mystery I went back
to the otherworld of sleep, it seemed
that I still walked the path of the dead
and so another day passed, another night

when the the Moon was bright, so bright
that as I watched her rise I flew
like a bird through the world, and still
next morning she was there in the western sky,

A daylight Moon remaining big and round
before she faded as the Sun broke through
and a bright day grew and something of Summer
still wreathed itself through coming Autumn.

Soon the swallows will fly south for the Winter
and we’ll hang food for blue tits on the apple tree
which now bears fruit for a sweet harvest
as Rhiannon’s birds sing their song for me.

Passing

EPONA with fabulous beast from a funeral stone in Gaul
EPONA with fabulous beasts from a funeral stone in Gaul

The hospital bed had been a place of turmoil for much of the day. My mum was pulling at the leads in her arm and the plastic face mask feeding her oxygen. Her condition had worsened since my visit the previous day. She had been poorly but able talk and ask about my journey from Wales to Lincoln. But now she was distracted, the world and its pains becoming too much to bear. When I came back later that evening she seemed hardly to know me. The duty doctor took me aside and indicated that I could stay after visiting time as she was unlikely to last the night. So I sat by the bed, curtains drawn around us, the machine occasionally flashing red and beeping as I held her hand to be with her in her travails.

It began to seem that the tubes and machines were an intrusion into an inevitable process, no longer useful in keeping her alive but hindering her passing, obstacles to her journey out of this life. I know that one of her feeds was giving her pain relief, and she would have been worse without it, but she seemed to be fighting them off, wishing to be free of the encumberance of them. I wished her a better journey, to walk the paths out of this life more serenely.

I thought of a Gaulish funeral stone I had been looking at recently, showing Epona leading one of the dead through a host of fantastic animals, walking the paths of the dead as a guide. Could I help her find these paths? We could not talk now, although I said reassuring things not knowing if she even heard them. But she did respond to my hand holding hers and gripped it for support. So I held on and imagined her walking with Epona through those dark ways surrounded by strange sights, perhaps bewildered but yet knowing she was led on the right path, the way she had to go.

The lights in the ward went off for the night, with only the background night lights still on. Her breathing became less laboured, as her light too faded and she seemed to be calmer. Her breaths were slower, more spaced out and she seemed almost peaceful, as if the fight was over and she could relax. The gaps between breaths lengthened and I knew her time had come. One more breath, almost a sigh as her head turned slightly to one side. Still I held her hand. The lights on the machine changed, not flashing now and a different colour, a single line of them, static and still. She too was still. A nurse came and looked at the machine. I said, ‘I think she’s gone’ and she turned to feel for a pulse at the neck. She nodded and went away before returning with a doctor. He too nodded and asked if I needed anything, more concerned with the living than the dead.

I needed a moment more, so they left me holding on still to her hand as I wished her well on her journey with Epona, that she should be led safely through the paths of the dead. Only then did I let go of her hand and gave her a farewell kiss before leaving her there looking so peaceful now, though sad to leave this life behind. Then, after saying what had to be said to the staff on the ward, I walked out into the strangeness of the night.

MIDSUMMER

jwort

Hypericum perforatum -*- St John’s Wort


The longest day, and we went
into the mountains to see it through.
The shallows of the river were dry
so we sat for the feast of Midsummer
on grey sand and shingle and only
the deeps of the river ran swiftly
in a narrow channel in the shade of leaves.
We lingered there till the day was spent.

It was open season and hunting weather
so we stalked flowers in grass and heather,
St John’s Wort had leaves with translucent dots
and petals edged with a beading of spots –
small suns of the mind to hallow the day
and keep from time his passing away.

*****



Gerard, in his Herball, describes St John’s Wort as having “many small and narrow leaves which if you behold betwixt your eyes and the light, do appear as it were bored or thrust through in an infinite number of places with pin points. The branches divide themselves into sundry small twigs, at the top whereof grow many yellow flowers, which with the leaves bruised do yield a reddish juice the colour of blood.”

Rhiannon


A mare rides through the enchanted day, she is wildness,
uncanny, something out of twilight in the light of the Sun
enchanted, our eyes are turned away from the world we know
but as she turns to us, her turning is an embrace, a calmness
dissolves the vision of horse and a woman stands there.
We are undone by the sight of her and everything she is:
Evanescent Horse, Endless Summer, Shining Goddess.

The First Rose

rose

Waiting for the first rose
For Rigantona
And the summer

After the rush of bluebells,
The too-transient apple-blossom
After the late spring squalls

And now the springing leaves
That green the woods
With deepening summer shade

Still I wait for the garden rose –
Its bud swelling to ripeness –
To open and to offer

The grace of long summer days
And balmy summer nights
At her dedicated space

Once again to her as always
As the season blooms
Around her altar.