Sacred Waters

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Mererid’s Well – her spring of waters
Remembered here to recall her story
Bearing the cup of the land’s memory.
 

Here too a stone from another spring:
Coventina’s Well, long lost and forgotten
Called back from the deep pool of oblivion.
 

Now two more stones for Belisama
From where the Ribble ripples over her bed,
To add to this altar to sacred waters.

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Notes:

  1. Mererid’s story is remembered HERE
  2. My visit to Coventina’s Well is described HERE
  3. The stones for Belisama were collected by Lorna Smithers and shared with myself and Lee Davies as part of a meeting to discuss the BRYTHON project. A BRYTHON  blog will ensue at Calan Mai.

 

 

 

 

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Enchanting the Shadowlands

enchanting Review of Enchanting the Shadowlands by Lorna Smithers


This is a substantial collection of poems and prose by Lorna Smithers written in response to an imperative from Gwyn ap Nudd who gave her the task of ‘enchanting the shadowlands’, of bringing back enchantment to the land through her writings. As a task carried out for the god she follows it is an exemplary illustration of one way of following the path of the awenydd and , indeed, of showing dedication to the gods.


The Prelude sets the scene for the collection with a reference to the ‘Bull of Conflict’, the words addressing Gwyn ap Nudd at the beginning of the dialogue between him and Gwyddno Garanhir contained in an early Welsh poem in the manuscript of The Black Book of Carmarthen. Following this the collection is divided into a number of sections, each of which are aspects of a journey in the sense that they chronicle a development through time both in the imaginative life of the poet and in the landscape she celebrates while at the same time culminating in a union with Gwyn.

The first section recalls the early history of what is called ‘the ‘water country’ before the land was drained and when people lived close to the wetlands. There is then a section for Nodens, Gwyn’s father in the mythological record. Sections follow which look at the growth of community around Castle Hill, the life of the meadows, the re-imagining of the town of Preston in its original designation of Priest Town, the river Ribble and its Goddess Belisama and, finally, sections focussing on Gwyn himself and his Hall. There is a rhythmic movement between these sections, each changing the perspective but also keeping a clear focus on different aspects of the project of imaginative recall.
As the reader moves through each section the landscape is explored, relationship affirmed and the purpose of the developing narrative kept firmly in the author’s gaze:


I write this prayer for the souls
of the long forgotten dead
who greet us in the fields,
wandering roads and haunted farmsteads.


This is an assured voice, balancing the free expression of her message with a control of the rhythmic development of the verse so that the emphasised words also carry subtle echoes of each other, so ‘souls … fields’ assonate together and interrelate with the harder ‘d’ sounds of ‘roads’, ‘fields’ and ‘farmsteads’.
The “stories must be told”, as a verse in the same poem has it, and the task of discovering a place to live that is ‘enchanted’ is fulfilled by this telling so that gramarye may once again be infused with our experience of living in the landscape. This is not simply an antiquarian exercise in recovery but clearly, as well as being divinely inspired, also undertaken out of love for the landscape itself.


There is, of course, a particular focus on her own locality of Penwortham, or Peneverdant as it is called in he sources back to the Domesday Survey of 1086 that have been researched as part of the project. Understanding history and the felt particularities of the lives of the people who have lived on the land is a strong feature of the poems, and with more detail and a little more definitively in the prose pieces which intersperse them. These also relate some of the legends and myths of the area as in the moving story and subsequent poem about the drying up of a local well. In this way the recognised history of the area known as Castle Hill is brought to life with imaginative insights into events and the people who experienced them. The spirit life, which is inseparable from the physical life for those who would really know it, and the perception of Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of Annwn as he is described in another early Welsh text, infuses the stories told and shapes the collection.


‘The Meadows’ section evokes the life of the fields and ends with a powerfully resonant poem with the refrain “ …Horse of my dreams …” and the charged final line “And we plunge into darkness to the kingdom of our bond” which as well as re-iterating the pact also begins to anticipate the concluding sections. We get there via ‘Priest Town’ and the songs to Belisama and the Ribble. The Gwyn ap Nudd section returns to the early Welsh sources of his mythology, from Culhwch and Olwen and the legends of the Wild Hunt. And so to his Hall in the final section. This might be regarded as the hall of the dead but this is no place of gloomy sojourn. Though it is “Summer here and winter there” and the celebrated life of the earlier poems is a “brief home”, the arrival there is a consummation :


When my task is complete
will you take me, make me whole?


This is addressed to the Hounds of Annwn at the end of the previous section. Once in the Hall


When you are truly swallowed
the universe will spit you out saying
break every boundary.


We are part, that is, of an enduring eternity. Nothing is set in stone. There is “no theodicy” as another poem has it, but there are “truth and promises” binding us to “the boundless infinite”. By such apparent paradoxes truth is found, promises made and the imperative of the god fulfilled.


The Coda poem that completes the collection is addressed to the Ancestors who are “… presence … stories on our lips.” In this collection those stories are told and the Ancestors are made present. It is a remarkable testament to a promise made as well as being a skilfully wrought work by a committed awenydd.

The Star-Strewn Pathway


Who walks the Path of the Awenydd? One such is Lorna Smithers. Her dedication to the Path in seeking to fulfil her pact with Gwyn ap Nudd has resulted in her producing a newly-published collection of poems –Enchanting the Shadowlands – in response to his prompting. This will be reviewed here in a future post. Her formal dedication of the collection took place at Glastonbury and is recorded on her blog which can be accessed via the feed in the sidebar of this blog. It is fitting that she should be given space to present her personal interpretation of the nature of the path . Each of us must walk it as the call of the gods determine. Her voice deserves a place here as one who walks it with honour and exemplifies how the role of the Awenydd can be adopted today. This is what she has to say:

-*-

The Star-Strewn Pathway
‘Thence rolled down upon him the storm-clouds from the home of the tempest;
thence streamed up the winter sky the flaming banners of the Northern lights;
thence rose through the illimitable darkness on high
the star-strewn pathway of the fairy king.’
Wirt Sikes

I write this post as a newcomer to the path of the Awenydd, having walked it in earnest little longer than a year and a day. The terms Awen and Awenydd have been familiar since coming to Druidry. In the Awen I found a name for the all-consuming force of inspiration that has burnt forever in my veins with the fire of stars in the iciest reaches of a dark universe. Its furious purpose was revealed by a god after many years of searching.

Restless years. Wilder years. Seeking Blake’s infinite. Throwing my soul into the furthermost abysses of Western European philosophy where reason bites its own tail, curls up and dies and the only way to survive the white hot sun of truth is to burn with and express its creativity.

Trying to find a framework to decipher visions of our native spirit world without knowing if my experiences were ‘real’. Searching Christian mysticism, Graeco-Roman, Saxon and Norse mythologies and finding only analogies. Discovering Britain has its own mythology in The Mabinogion, The Triads of the Island of Britain, The Four Ancient Books of Wales and regional folk and faerie lore.

Finally, Gwyn ap Nudd, my Fairy King finding me and teaching me to walk the Star-Strewn Pathway.

***

The Star-Strewn Pathway begins in one’s local area with the recognition the whole landscape is inspirited. Awen sings from the earth-sun at this world’s core through its molten mantle, sandstone bedrock, layers of clay and harrowed loam. Wonder can be found in backyards of composting earthworms and hatching spiders.

Pathways lead to suburban edgelands. Narrow valleys of trees impossible to build on, brooks shrunken by drainage systems tripping down wooden platforms. Algae-covered stagnant ponds beloved of ducks. Decaying mills pink with Herb Robert housing volleys of pigeons circling above.

These places are inspirited and there are spirits: huge boggarts who once stretched gurgling through mosslands grey and whiskery; undines clasping their last waters; newly planted woodlands arising into forms of consciousness with inherent knowledge of tree, bird and mycelia of mushrooms to the tread of deer.

Inevitably pathways lead abroad. It is necessary to trace local brooks to the river’s crashing heart, find its trickling source and greet rolling tides with the sea at its shining estuary. To meet its Great Goddess who washes her hair by moonlight and stretches watery arms throughout the watershed.

To travel ancient woodlands of oak men, snow-topped mountains of icy blasting and cities of tower blocks, steeples and malls which guard a heritage locked in catacombs and glassy vaults. Every facet of woe and joy, awe and strife, adds to the alchemy of our own sun.

***

In rain or mist, at twilight to the touch of thunder, it is possible to step from known to unknown pathways. Wandering lost in a storm-cloud of emotion I have often found myself on unfamiliar tracks with strange figures, no longer myself. Sometimes it is those dusky shadows who beckon me, footsteps leading into the wildwood’s tangled heart.

In the wildwood all the fay lights are lit by stars. They dance and glimmer, throwing bright shapes and longer shadows across paths which intertwine like roots. These paths have their own lives, untwining and uprooting to walk their own way through the wood. Where the fay strew their lanterns on the ground one might find the Star-Strewn pathway.

There is a long tradition of caves and holes leading to the underworld. Their entryways are utter darkness. Timeless. Illimitable as despair. They lead into a womb of tunnels, the edge of an abyss, to where that age-old creatrix Old Mother Universe gives birth to stars. From thence the Star-Strewn Pathway unfurls through underground heavens.

When the moon is full she lays out her bridge of vibrant stars in the river. The ripples become stepping stones. From the river-moon the Star-Strewn Pathway leads through the catastrophic beauty of falling stars to the star-decked parapets of the Fairy King’s hall.

At his banquet stars burn and freeze. The order of things is undone. In the crux of fairy arts, the Fairy King’s Star Cauldron, the wonder of the universe is reflected and re-made anew.

***

There are other ways to reach Gwyn’s Hall. As many ways as there are souls. Some fly with coveys of hounds or wild geese. Others do not need to fly at all.

This is not the path for everyone. There are many gods, stars and cauldrons.

Any soul flight requires a return to and grounding in the body of this world; dragging backward through hedgerows, screaming and echoing from slanting rock-faces to kiss the earth with bloodied and muddy lips.

Apostasies need voicing in cafes and bars, chain-stores and museums. Launching into the internet’s mirror-void where the dust-mote of a spark of Awen can be multiplied into a million blazing simulacra fading as quickly into black holes.

Following the Star-Strewn Pathway does not lead to catasterism ‘placing amongst the stars,’ but living a full life upon this earth, returning to and from the halls of our deities, knowing only our bones and star-songs will survive for future generations. Until, with our land and gods, we are swallowed by the sun. Perhaps in this manner we will receive our final catasterism.