contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: Celtic Paganism

HARVESTING IN MIXED WEATHER

This picture was taken early one morning, at a moment slightly defended from the heat of early August. I was walking through woods to shelter from the sun.

Those days, intense in their moment, have already receded into the past. After a period of somewhat lower temperatures, and of flashes and rumblings in the sky followed by modest rainfall, we found ourselves in a flash flood on Sunday evening. For a relatively brief period, the A46 (a main road, locally) turned into a fast-flowing river not far from our house. Guttering held, but needs attention.

It was as if, following a period of contest, water had succeeded fire as the prevailing element. Now, the situation is less clear cut. But we are in a cooler and wetter place than we were at the beginning of the month. Daylight hours are reducing. We are leaning in to autumn.

During this time I have been busy with my own harvesting. The meditations presented in my last three posts (1) complete a basic repertoire of formal solo practice in my renewed Druidry. I have been fruitfully indoors during both heat wave (beyond my comfort zone) and the return of rain. I have been inwardly focused.

In my own Innerworld wheel of the year, apple presides over the first three weeks or so of the post Lughnasadh/Lammas quarter. Apple, in many traditions, is a Goddess tree, associated with both wisdom and healing (2). It is linked to a visionary ability to see beyond the surface: perceptions grow wiser and the heart sees further than it might otherwise do.

In Irish myth, Lugh was sent to collect apples from a Tree of Light found in the Otherworld. In Britain, after the Battle of Camlann, Arthur was taken by three Celtic goddesses to be healed on the Isle of Avalon (=Island of Apples).

In a more everyday way, my meditations serve the same goals. The timing of my work on them wasn’t exactly planned. But it doesn’t surprise me that my commitment to living the wheel of the year has led to this result.

(1) Links to the meditations:

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/08/09/meditation-living-presence/

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/08/12/meditation-wisdoms-house/

https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/08/15/meditation-energy-body/

(2) See: John Matthews & Will Worthington The Green Man Tree Oracle: Ancient Wisdom from the Greenwood London: Conections, 2003

BOOK REVIEW: Y DAROGAN ANNWN

The image above is the cover for Lorna Smithers’ new collection of poems, Y Darogan Annwn, and it illustrates the themes of the collection. Lorna Smithers explains: “Daronwy, the Brythonic World Tree, is falling. Beneath its boughs appears Y Darogan Annwn, a child-prophet, who prophecies the end of the Age of Man. She must find the source of the poison, outwit the scientists of Gwydion, and release the destructive fury of the spirits of Annwn. Her ultimate decision will be whether to become one with her prophecy.”

Prophecy, like poetry, is a gift of awen, the inspirational energy of Brythonic culture. To be awenydd, open and dedicated to this gift, is to accept its demands. Y Darogan is a child of the gods and a daughter of dragons. She is a shape-shifter who can move through multiple identities, the most poignant of which is that of a little girl. She will never grow up. Her individual life will last for less than a year.

The collection contains 50 poems in all. Two are introductory and the others are arranged in seven sections providing a narrative structure: Lock and Key; The Forest of Daronwy; The Fisher King; The Golden Ring; Doomsday; The End of Days; and The Hereafter. Together they present a wasteland story for our times, drawing on British Celtic and Arthurian themes whilst subverting the patriarchal assumptions of the old texts. The individual poems are each relatively short, and likely to have most impact on people who have some familiarity with the Mabinogion and the Brythonic mythos in which it is embedded. However the wasteland confronted is that of our own times: its military industrial complexes based on a perverted science, and the current slide into climate catastrophe.

For her self-introduction in the first verse, the infant Y Darogan uses pithy lines of power, reminiscent of The Book of Taliesin*, though with updated cultural references.

I have been a fallen star

and a tear in a river of tears

flowing through Annwn.

I have been hydrogen,

oxygen, carbon, nitrogen,

helium burning in the sun.

****

I have been dark matter

I have not been found by

the scientists of Gwydion.

By contrast, Doronwy, the Brythonic World Tree, is introduced in a prose poem, one of the longer individual pieces in the book. Together, these introductory pieces provide a point of departure for the story that builds over the seven main sections. Y Darogan’s mission of cleansing is itself a path of destruction, and “no Champion’s Light stands out on her forehead, just the darkness of the black hole”. Only at the very end is there a regenerative (rather than ‘redemptive’) note. The material demands verbal resilience in the face of multiple and unavoidable stresses, and even at its bleakest, there is power and magic in Lorna Smithers’ writing.

Oh Breath of the Wind

don’t leave me leave me please!”

She does not know how long

she has been wandering Pennant Gofid,

the Valley of Grief through ghosts and mist,

only that she found the treasure, became

the answer, and it’s harder to bear

than the weight of the crow.

The howling of wolves loudens.

The sky blackens with ghost-wings.”

Overall, I believe that Y Dorogan Annwn is a significant contribution to the re-visioning of the world’s great stories as we confront unprecedented challenges on our collective journey. I am grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.

Lorna Smithers’ blogs at https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/ using the title At Peneverdant. Her About section describes her calling as an awenydd and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, God of the Brythonic underworld Annwn, of the dead, and of the Wild Hunt. The Y Darogan Annwn collection is now for sale as a PDF, see link:

https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/2019/10/12/y-darogan-annwn/

  • The Book of Taliesin in The Four Ancient Books of Wales Forgotten Books, 2007 (Originally published in 1868, when the original material was translated and edited by William F. Skene)

BOOK REVIEW: AUSTRALIAN DRUIDRY

Highly recommended. Australian Druidry is a great introduction to modern Druidry in Australia. It describes the author’s journey to develop a Druidry for her needs. It shows all of us how to deepen into the wheel of the year, looking for cues in natural shifts rather than our calendars. As part of Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series, it is clearly and succinctly written.

For author Julie Brett, “modern Druidry is a path of nature-based spirituality being walked by many people over the world today. It centres on an understanding that is the ‘wisdom of the trees’ as the messengers of the natural world that can help us find guidance in our lives for peace, learning and personal development”. These principles can be taken to every part of the world, including the huge diversity of Australia itself, and customised to work any specific landscape.

Druidry is also a spirituality of recognition of our ancestors. Describing the people of Australia as “diverse as the landscape”, she defines the ancestors as “all the people who have come before us whether in our family or the lines of teachings we have received in our lives, or those who came before us in the land we live on”. This being the case, Australian Druidry is a not only a path “applicable to the Australian landscape and its inhabitants” but also an “invitation to explore and create”.

The author’s story shows a deep personal commitment to this path. This included ten month’s living in the UK, and particularly Glastonbury, England, where she tuned into the traditional landscape of Druidry, and apprenticed herself to local practitioners, before going on to develop her own distinctive practice in Australia. Returning home, she immersed herself in her own landscape, eventually creating a ‘coastal Sydney wheel of the year’. It is based around eight festivals, but with a distinctive resonance, not just up-ending the North European ones: Fire Festival, Storm Festival, Peace Festival, Moon Festival, Hardening Festival, Flower Festival, Wind Change Festival, Barkfall Festival.

The book includes sections on keeping a nature diary, animal symbolism, tree and plant symbolism, and forms of ritual practice. The emphasis is on offering possibilities rather than laying down a new template for people in the coastal Sydney area, or anywhere else. Having unleashed her own creativity, Julie Brett wants readers to unleash their own. At the end of the book, she invites us into the Druids Down Under Facebook group in the belief that sharing experiences inspires us. Australian Druidry is an inspired and inspiring book.

Julie Brett Australian Druidry: Connecting with the Sacred Landscape Winchester, UK & Washington, USA: Moon Books, 2017 (Pagan Portals)

SWEENEY’S SHAPESHIFT

Two extracts from Sweeney Astray, Seamus Heaney’s version of the medieval Irish work Buile Suibhne. Reflecting a time of religious change in Ireland, the first beautifully describes a shapeshifting transformation whilst making it the result of a curse. In the second, there is at least a suggestion that it might, rather, have been another route to holiness. Meanwhile Christian priests have taken on Druid powers and roles, – non-canonical forms of cursing and binding, the support of animal allies and directing peace negotiations.

“There was a certain Ronan Finn in Ireland, a holy and distinguished cleric. He was ascetic and pious, an active missionary, a real Christian soldier. He was a real servant of God, one who punished his body for the good of his soul, a shield against vice and the devil’s attacks, a gentle, genial, busy man.

“One time when Sweeney was king of Dal-Arie, Ronan was there marking out a church called Killaney. Sweeney was in a place where he heard the clink of Ronan’s bell as he was marking out the site, so he asked his people what the sound was.

“It is Ronan Finn, the son of Bearach, they said. He is marking out a church in your territory and what you hear is the ringing of his bell.

“Sweeney was suddenly angered and rushed away to hunt the cleric from his church. Eorann, his wife, a daughter of Conn of Ciannacht, tried to hold him back and snatched at the fringe of his crimson cloak, but the sliver cloak-fastener broke at the shoulder and sprang across the room. She got the cloak alright, but Sweeney had bolted, stark naked, and soon landed with Ronan.

“He found the cleric glorifying the King of heaven and earth, in full voice in front of his psalter, a beautiful illuminated book. Sweeney grabbed the book and flung it into the cold depths of a lake nearby, where it sank without trace. Then he took hold of Ronan and was dragging him out through the church when he heard a cry of alarm. The call came from a servant of Congal Claon’s who had come with orders from Congal to summon Sweeney to battle at Moira. He gave a full report of the business and Sweeney went off directly with the servant, leaving the cleric distressed at the loss of his psalter and smarting from such contempt and abuse.

“A day and a night passed and then an otter rose out of the lake with the psalter and brought it to Ronan, completely unharmed. Ronan gave thanks to God for that miracle, and cursed Sweeney.

….

“After that, Ronan came to Moira to make peace between Donal, so of Aodh, and Congal Claon, son of Scannlan, but he did not succeed. Nevertheless, the cleric’s presence was taken as a seal and guarantee of the rules of battle; they made agreements that no killing would be allowed except between those hours they had set for beginning and ending the fight each day. Sweeney, however, would continually violate every peace and truce which the cleric had ratified, slaying a man each day before the sides were engaged and slaying another each evening when the combat was finished. Then, on the day fixed for the great battle, Sweeney was in the field before everyone else.

“He was dressed like this:

next his white skin, the shimmer of silk;

and his satin girdle around him;

and his tunic, that reward of service

and gift of fealty from Congal,

was like this –

crimson, close-woven,

bordered in gemstones and gold,

a rustle of sashes and loops,

the studded silver gleaming,

the slashed hem embroidered in points.

He had an iron-shod spear in his hand,

a shield of mottled horn on his back,

a gold-hilted sword at his side.

“He marched out like that until he encountered Ronan with eight psalmists from his community. They were blessing the armies, sprinkling them with holy water, and they sprinkled Sweeney with the rest. Sweeney thought they had done it just to mock him, so he lifted one of his spears, hurled it, and killed one of Ronan’s psalmists in a single cast. He made another throw with the second spear at the cleric himself, so that it pierced the bell that hung from his neck, and the shaft sprang off into the air. Ronan burst out:

“My curse fall on Sweeney

for his great offence.

His smooth spear profaned

my bell’s holiness,

cracked bell hoarding grace

since the first saint rang it –

it will curse you to the trees,

bird-brain among branches.

Just as the spear shaft broke

and sprang into the air

may the mad spasms strike

you, Sweeney, forever.

….

“There were great shouts as the herded armies clashed and roared out their war cries like stags. When Sweeney heard these howls and echoes assumed into the travelling clouds and amplified through the vaults of space, he looked up and he was possessed by a dark rending energy.

“His brain convulsed,

his mind split open.

Vertigo, hysteria, lurchings

and launchings came over him,

he staggered and flapped desperately,

he was revolted by the thought of known places

and dreamed strange migrations.

His fingers stiffened,

his feet scuffled and flurried,

his heart was startled,

his senses were mesmerized,

his sight was bent,

the weapons fell from his hands

and he levitated in a frantic cumbersome motion

like a bird of the air.

And Ronan’s curse was fulfilled.

“His feet skimmed over the grasses so lightly he never unsettled a dewdrop and all that day he was a hurtling visitant of plain and field, bare mountain and bog, thicket and marshland, and there was no hill and hollow, no plantation or forest in Ireland that he did not appear in that day; until he reached Ros Bearaigh in Glen Arkin, where he hid in a yew tree in the glen.”

 

The second extract, where the Church is represented by the friendlier Moling, describes the end of Sweeney’s life – still as a wandering bird.

 

“At last Sweeney arrived where Moling lived, the place that is known as St. Mullin’s. Just then Moling was addressing himself to Kevin’s psalter and reading from it to his students. Sweeney presented himself at the brink of the well and began to eat watercress.

“‘Aren’t you the early bird?’ said the cleric, and continued, with Sweeney answering, afterwards.

Moling: So, you would steal a march on us, up and breakfasting so early!

Sweeney: Not so very early, priest. Terce has come in Rome already.

Moling: And what knowledge has a fool about the hour of terce in Rome?

Sweeney: The Lord makes me His oracle, from sunrise till sun’s going down.

Moling: Then speak to us of hidden things. Give us tidings of the Lord.

Sweeney: Not I. But if you are Moling, you are gifted with the Word.

Moling: Mad as you are, you are sharp-witted. How do you know my face and name?

Sweeney: In my days astray, I ested in this enclosure many a time

…..

Moling: Look at this leaf of Kevin’s book, the coilings on this psalter’s page.

Sweeney: The yew leaf coils round my nook in Glen Bolcain’s foliage.

Moling: This churchyard, this colour, is there no pleasure here for you?

Sweeney: My pleasure is great and other: the hosting that day at Moira.

Moling: I will sing Mass, make a hush of high celebration.

Sweeney: Leaping an ivy bush is a higher calling even.

Moling: My ministry is only toil, the weak and the strong both exhaust me.

Sweeney: I toil to a bed on the chill steeps of Benevenagh

Moling: When your death comes, will it be death by water, in holy ground?

Sweeney: It will be early when I die. One of your herds will make the wound.

“You are more than welcome here, Sweeney, said Moling, for you are fated to live and die here. You shall leave the history of your adventures with us and receive a Christian burial in a churchyard. Therefore, said Moling, no matter how far you range over Ireland, day by day, I bind you to return to me every evening so that I may record your story.”

 

When Sweeney is indeed mortally wounded by one of the communities’ herdsmen, the rest of the community feel anger and grief.

 

“Enna McBracken was ringing the bell for prime at the door of the churchyard and saw what had happened. He spoke this poem:

“This is sad, herd, this was deliberate,

Outrageous, sickening and sinful.

Whoever struck here will live to regret

Killing the king, the saint, the holy fool.

…..

My heart is breaking with pity for him.

He was a man of fame and high birth.

He was a king, he was a madman.

His grave will be a hallowing of earth.”

 

Sweeney lives long enough to confess and take the sacrament. “He received Christ’s body and thanked God for having received it and after that was anointed by the clerics”. Moling who “with holy viaticum” has “limed him for the Holy Ghost”, also expresses affection for Sweeney and reveals that he, too, has learned something.

 

“The man who is buried here was cherished indeed, said Moling. How happy we were when we walked and talked along his path. And how I loved to watch him yonder at the well. It is called the Madman’s Well because he would often eat its watercress and drink its water, and so it is named after him. And every other place he used to haunt will be cherished too.

“Because Sweeney loved Glen Bolcain

I learned to love it, too. He’ll miss

The fresh streams tumbling down,

The green beds of watercress.

He would drink his sup of water from

The well yonder we have called

The Madman’s Well; now his name

Keeps brimming in its sandy cold”.

 

Seamus Heaney Sweeney Astray London: Faber & Faber, 1983

AUTHENTICITY IN MODERN DRUIDRY

“Contemporary Druidry is a flourishing creative spirituality that is inspiring people the world over. Is it a closed system that was only open to new inputs several thousand years ago? Or is it an open system that allows for development and evolution?” Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of OBOD (1) explores these questions in his foreword to ‘Contemplative Druidry’ (2) adding, “Scratch the surface of any religion and you find that it is made up of a number of influences and elements. Examine a ritual text or liturgy and you can see the bricolage at work.” Moving deeper into the world of Celtic spirituality, he goes on to say:

“Mgr. Mael, the founder of the Celtic Orthodox Church in Brittany … received a series of meditative physical exercises in a vision and taught these as a system of ‘Celtic Yoga’. Are such attempts valid? … And are they not ‘fake’, having been so recently invented, while the Eastern systems are clearly genuine having been around for centuries? As regards validity, a method that is valid is one that works, however young or old it is. As regards inauthenticity, if a method is pretending to be one thing, while in reality being another, then that is indeed inauthentic. If Mgr. Mael had pretended his system of Celtic Yoga was practiced by the ancient Druids, this would have been inauthentic. But since he clearly stated he had received the exercises in a series of dreams, his system is what he authentically stated it to be: a method received in an altered state of consciousness. A false claim to an ancient lineage made for a system that has only been recently created renders it inauthentic, but if no such claim is made, can we use the term Druid to describe it?

“… Modern Druidry has been growing and evolving for the last three hundred years and if we were to throw out any additions to its body of teachings and ritual practice made during this time, we would be left with a small and unworkable set of conjectures. If we didn’t allow ourselves to call something Druidic that has only recently been created, we would have no Druidry to practice. But this shouldn’t mean that we can simply call anything Druidic. Druidry has specific features which help to define what it has become and how it is evolving. … Druidry has developed into a spiritual and philosophical approach that embraces embodiment and does not deny the gifts of the physical world and the body. In addition, it cultivates both inwardness and outwardness – an appreciation of the inner and outer worlds that fosters an engagement with the Earth and with community as much as it encourages an exploration of the depths of the soul and merging with the Divine. The evidence of the centrality of this approach can be found in Druidry’s love of Nature, its reverence for the Earth, and its cornerstone ritual observance: the Eightfold Wheel of the Year. These characteristics define Druidry and they also tell us what it is not.”

Specifically on contemplative Druidry he suggests:

“When it comes to the subject of this book, contemplation and meditation within Druidry, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to talk in terms of ‘Druid meditation’ or to describe techniques and approaches as Druidic, if they fall within the ethos of Druidry, because that ethos is specific: it does not try to subjugate, transcend or deny they body. There is no emphasis on the illusory nature of the physical world. The goal in Druidry, and hence in meditation for Druids, is to enhance our engagement with our embodies life, not to distance or separate ourselves from it.”

  • Order of Bards Ovates and Druids druidry.org/
  • James Nichol Contemplative Druidry: People, Practice and Potential Amazon/CreateSpace, 2014 (Foreword Deep Peace of the Quiet Earth: The Nature Mysticism of Druidry by Philip Carr-Gomm)

IMBOLC ADVENT

Erin nighean Brighde* has recently written about ‘Imbolc Advent’. I like this term. Where I live, mid-January could feel cold and dull and flat. It could be a time of post-festive blues, and a very long way from spring. My cure, from the early 1990’s, has been the eight-fold wheel of the year, now lived by many groups within and beyond the modern Pagan community. It has enriched me enormously.

For the last week or so I have been leaning in to Imbolc, the festival that, at the beginning of February (Northern hemisphere), celebrates the return of the light, the appearance of early flowers and traditionally also the birth of lambs. In Druidry, it is strongly linked to the Goddess Brigid. My leaning in to Imbolc this year has been interwoven with the transformation of three initially parched hyacinth bulbs (a late seasonal gift) in a pot of dry earth. The change began when I saw them draw water from a saucer. Its rapid disappearance was like watching a speeded-up film. Within a couple of days, stalks had burst almost alarmingly out of the bulbs, and it was not long before the scented bell-like lavender blue flowers emerged from the spikes. I realize that this was a contrived indoor event, but I have experienced it over the last week as a stunning display of life and growth, and hence an image of Imbolc Advent.

During the life-time of the Druid contemplative group, we tended to meet outside the festival times, partly to avoid clashes with other commitments, and partly to practice tuning into the year at other times. We could do this by taking the previous or following festival as a reference point and notice the mid-term difference, or we could more simply pay attention to the world we were in at the time of meeting. Over time, we developed a greater sensitivity to the rhythms and tides in the year as nature’s unfolding processes, since we were not focusing on the festivals themselves as events. Nonetheless, they remained important markers for our experience. They helped to provide us with a common language and orientation. That being said, I remember something special around Imbolc, out of all the eight festivals. The fire in the hearth, the arrangement and decoration of the space (snowdrops in particular) gave us a powerful experience of Brigid as a presiding energy, making Imbolc one of our most resonant times.

*Erin nighean Brighde https://hereternalflame.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/imbolc-advent-2018/

BOOK REVIEW: GWYN AP NUDD

Highly Recommended. Gwyn ap Nudd: Wild God of Faerie, Guardian of Annwfn, by Danu Forest, is a recent offering in Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series. Gwyn is well-known as the guardian of Glastonbury Tor displaced by St. Michael, but not widely understood. The author’s strategy is to explore Gwyn “through his various forms and tales, from King of the faeries, and lord of the forest, to guardian of the underworld and leader of the dead”. Deepening into her subject, she also suggests “ways to walk with our own darkness on our quest for our own Awen, our souls and our own self-knowledge, diving into the depths and drinking from the great cauldron until we arise at last reborn and radiant, filled with the light within the land”.

Gwyn is divided into five chapters, each of which offers an account of some aspect of Gwyn based on the traditional sources available to us. Each also provides opportunities for personal practice, through guided meditations, prayer, the making of offerings, space cleansing, saining or some other means. The whole book ends with an initiation. Although short and introductory, it is a practitioner’s book and, for me, provides enough input for people to develop and customize their work on a continuing journey.

The book includes a great deal of valuable information. The old sources are richly suggestive in images and themes, but difficult to organize into a coherent narrative. Indeed, coherent narrative is hardly true to the subject, and would likely miss the mark. I found that the chosen chapter divisions worked well for me as means of presenting the material without over-systematizing it. We begin by meeting Gwyn as the ‘white son of mist’, and are then taken into his connections with Annwfn and the Brythonic Faerie folk – the Tylwyth Teg. The other three chapters look at the imagery and meaning of the glass castle; Gwyn’s role in the Mabinogion; and at Gwyn, the Wild Hunt, and the dead.

The author relies both on scholarship and intuition in making connections, and lets us know which method she is using in specific cases. I like her transparency of process and the permission it gives to readers to awaken their own Awen when engaging with this material. In this way Danu Forest honours the commitment to provide a portal, and not just a text. For readers willing to make the effort, this book has the power to come alive in their hands. For others, it will provide a wealth of material on Gwyn and demonstrate his continuing relevance for our time. Either way, it’s a skillfully crafted piece of work, and well worth adding to our libraries.

Danu Forest Gwyn ap Nudd: Wild God of Faerie Guardian of Annwfn Winchester & Washington: Moon Books, 2017

A BIRD OF RHIANNON

“They went to Harlech, and sat down and were regaled with food and drink. As soon as they began to eat and drink, three birds came and began to sing them a song, and all the songs that they had heard before were harsh compared to that one. They had to gaze far out over the sea to catch sight of the birds, yet the song was as clear as if the birds were there with them. And they feasted for seven years”. (1)

The three birds are blackbirds, known as the birds of Rhiannon. They are at least partly of the Otherworld, for Rhiannon is a potent deity, linked to the moon and sovereignty. In the story of How Culhwch won Olwen (2), the giant Yspadadden Pencawr demands that the hero Culhwch capture Rhiannon’s birds to entertain him on the night before his death – a death which will immediately follow his daughter Olwen’s marriage to Culhwch, to whom his kingship will be passed. Yspadadden describes the birds as “they that wake the dead and lull the living asleep”.

Hence, in The Druid Animal Oracle (3). The blackbird is understood as “a being who can send us into the dreamtime and who can speak with discarnate souls”. The Oracle also points out that “Blackbirds are fond of rowan berries, one of the sacred trees in Druid tradition. …. Eating these berries, the blackbird is able to connect us with his healing song to the regenerative powers of the Otherworld and the Unconscious”.

In How Culhwch won Olwen, a blackbird also figures as one of the oldest animals who need to be consulted in a quest to rescue the Mabon, the divine youth of Brythonic tradition, from imprisonment. As the Jungian scholar John Layard (4) says, “all these figures conduct us back into the past, which is the equivalent to psychic depth … into the heart of the mother-world below, the matrix out of which all life grew up and the ever-renewing source of it”. The blackbird is in fact the youngest and most accessible of these helpful animals, “functions of instinct that assist if we are humble enough to ask their help”. For Layard, the blackbird is the bearer of “a maternal spirit-message”.

In the apparent world, my wife Elaine and I share our back garden with a pair of blackbirds, and sometimes chicks, for some months of the year. They are here now. They do sing both at dawn and dusk, with the twilight song for me the most notable. They have chosen a slightly hidden space and our willingness to have a relatively unkempt garden is partly for their sake.

I have recently been visited by another blackbird, also in a garden. This garden is both familiar and unfamiliar, known and not known. It appeared to me in a state of mild to moderate trance, and resembles the Sophia’s garden I used to work with as an innerworld nemeton. But much has changed. Sophia’s garden had a link to a temple and was well kept. Generally, it was a noonday kind of place, bright sun flashing on the fountain at the centre, illuminating the water. There were rose beds surrounding it, and fruit trees trained up mature brick walls. Alternatively, it was a place of magical silence in black night, lit up by full moon and stars. Now there is no temple. The fountain and rose beds, whilst still in place, show signs of reduced maintenance. It is twilight, liminal, with limited visibility.

A blackbird appeared and sang to me in this space, meeting me on mutually safe and accessible ground. Its message was one of availability and reassurance. I returned it in a spirit of openness and friendly affirmation. And then I was back in everyday reality. Now I simply wait, tentatively expectant, open to further connection.

  • Sioned Davies The Mabinogion Oxford University Press, 2007 The second branch of the Mabinogi
  • Sioned Davies The Mabinogion Oxford University Press, 2007 How Culhwch won Olwen
  • Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm The Druid animal oracle: working with the sacred animals of the Druid tradition New York: Fireside, 1994
  • John Layard A Celtic quest: sexuality and soul in individuation Dallas, TX: Spring Publications, 1985

POEM: GREEN MAN

William Anderson’s classic Green Man poem has thirteen verses of four lines each, and follows the wheel of the year from the Winter Solstice. As I write we have just reached the sixth verse, which has an off with my head theme. The honey of love is over and speaking through the oak is yet to come.

Like antlers, like veins in the brain, the birches

Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky;

‘I am thought of all plants’, says the Green Man,

‘I am thought of all plants’, says he.

The hungry birds harry the last berries of rowan

But white is her bark in the darkness of rain;

‘I rise with the sap’, says the Green Man,

‘I rise with the sap’, says he.

The ashes are clashing their bows like sword-dancers

Their black buds are tracing wild faces in the clouds;

‘I come with the wind’, says the Green Man.

‘I come with the wind’, says he.

The alders are rattling as though ready for battle

Guarding the grove where she waits for her lover;

‘I burn with desire’, says the Green Man,

‘I burn with desire’, says he.

In and out of the yellowing wands of the willow

The pollen-bright bees are plundering the catkins;

‘I am honey of love’, says the Green Man,

‘I am honey of love’, says he.

The hedges of quick are thick will May blossom

As the dancers advance on their leaf-covered king;

‘It’s off with my head’, says the Green Man,

‘It’s off with my head’, says he.

Green Man becomes grown man in flames of the oak

As its crown forms its mask and its leafage his features;

‘I speak through the oak’, says the Green Man,

‘I speak through the oak’, says he.

The holly is flowering as hay fields are rolling

Their gleaming long grasses like waves of the sea;

‘I shine with the sun’, says the Green Man,

‘I shine with the sun’, says he.

The hazels are rocking the cups with their nuts

As the harvesters shout when the last leaf is cut;

‘I swim with the salmon’, says the Green Man,

‘I swim with the salmon’, says he.

The globes of the grapes are robing with bloom

Like the hazes of autumn, like the Milky Way’s stardust;

‘I am crushed for your drink’, says the Green Man,

‘I am crushed for your drink’, says he.

The aspen drops silver on leaves of earth’s salver

And the poplars shed gold on the young ivy flower heads;

‘I have paid for your pleasure’, says the Green Man,

‘I have paid for your pleasure’, says he.

The reed beds are flanking in silence the islands

Where meditates Wisdom as she waits and waits;

‘I have kept her secret’, says the Green Man,

‘I have kept her secret’, says he.

The bark of the elder makes whistles for children

To call to the deer as they rove over the snow;

‘I am born in the dark’, says the Green Man,

‘I am born in the dark’, says he.

 

From:  William Anderson Green Man: archetype of our oneness with the Earth Harper Collins: London & San Francisco, 1990

BOOK REVIEW: BRIGID

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Timely and highly recommended. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well is shortly due for release in Moon Books’ Pagan Portals series. Author Morgan Daimler describes it as “a resource for seekers of the pagan goddess specifically”, offering “both solid academic material and anecdotes of connecting with Brigid in a format that is accessible and designed to be easy to read”. On my reading, this is an accurate description, and in my estimation Brigid takes its place as a valuable addition to modern pagan literature.

As Daimler points out, the Celtic Goddess Brigid is well known and popular. In the Gaelic-influenced world, she has an alter ego as a powerful Christian saint. Yet what we know, or think we know, is selective and potentially confusing for today’s pagan seeker. “The lore of the Catholic saint is attributed to the pagan Goddess, and some people see shadows of the Goddess in the saint. For many people new to Brigid, or to studying Celtic or Irish mythology, it can be extremely confusing to try to sort out the old beliefs from the modern, to tell the Irish from the Scottish. The end result is that some people who are drawn to honor the Goddess Brigid find themselves lost in a seemingly endless assortment of possibilities”. Yet, in an intentionally short and simple book, Daimler does a great deal to sort out potential points of confusion and help her readers to find their way. She also includes an important chapter on Brigid by Other Names – which include the Brythonic Brigantia, the Gaulish Brigandu and the name Ffraid in Welsh.

Brigid devotes considerable attention to mythology, and to traditional lore and festivals (including a reference to the American groundhog day). But, as a modern Polytheist Pagan, she also has a lot to say about Brigid as she is today, including modern versions of practices like the making of offerings, flame-tending, the creation of altars, divination, meditation and prayer. There is a complete chapter on Prayers, Chants and Charms. Above all, Daimler shares something of her own journey, and the numinous experiences she has had through her Brigid connection from the beginning of adolescence to a present in which she is devising Imbolc rituals with her children. Standing as she does in Irish Reconstructionist Polytheism, she says that “I do not think that the religious framework we use to connect to the Gods matters as much as the effort to honor the old Gods itself. I think that we can all do this respectfully and with an appreciation of history without the need for any particular religion”. Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge and Healing Well amply fulfills its author’s aim of helping its readers to benefit from time spent “getting to know Brigid”.

 

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