Holding Lightning in Ben Cruachan

I.
I hold the snake-bolt
living writhing flashing

root of Dalmally substation
angel light of Glasgow

power to bring back the dead
make amends for tunnels of explosions

for the car that rolled off the edge
sunk into the depths of Loch Awe

(they are still there now
paddling the clutch in a void)

for men washed up in aqueducts
dammed up still shouting.

II.
In the machine hall no bags
cameras or weapons are allowed.

They didn’t prepare for my
conjuration from underground skies

illuminating the cavern with light
unlike pink phosphorescence

over tropical plants in forever midnight.
This is ever-day for Tigers

in living flesh wound-striped
dirt-streaked faces beneath helmets

no longer metallic beneath
a Celtic Cross but jaw dropping realities.

III.
But like old Cailleach at Brander’s Pass
their life does not last:

briefest of flashes
in the death hall of their making

they return to hollow stone
of the hollow mountain.

Lights go down at Loch Awe, Inverary
in every tower block in Glasgow

in Ben Cruachan’s hollow hall.
Cailleach’s price for bringing life

from death: she seals up the magic.
Seals up the mountain. Seals us in.

Loch Awe from Ben Cruachan

Loch Awe from Ben Cruachan

*More about the history of Ben Cruachan, its underground power station and surrounding mythology can be found here.

After Procopius

But on the north side… it is actually impossible for a man to survive there even half an hour, but countless snakes and serpents and every other kind of wild creature occupy their area as their own.’ – Procopius ‘The History of the Wars’ (6th C)

North of the Wall I am running
from Roman civilisation
from the ones who build straight roads
from the ones who stand in line.

North of the Wall I am running
to greet my madness
a whirlwind of serpents at my heels
torn-out leaves in my hair.

North of the Wall I am running
amongst mad women
streaking bare through the forest
shedding my second skin.

North of the Wall I am running
with every wild creature
a halo of birds around my coming
open-beaked with soaring wings.

North of the Wall I am running
with the hunger of the wolf-pack
howling and slithery-jawed
erupting into fur and paw.

North of the Wall I am running
with the madness of gwyllon:
shadowed men who come as wolves
the greater shadow of Annwn’s lord.

North of the Wall I am running
until I don’t want to run any more.
In our grove of pine there is silence
and the heartbeat of steady awe.

North of the Wall I stop running
and turn to face my challengers:
roads running on forever
countless rows of spears and shields.

From North of the Wall I return
cloaked in feather and claw.
To breach the gap
and bring down the divide

I am running back from the Wall.

Re-telling Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad II

For Calan Mai, a friend and I headed north of the wall for the May Bank Holiday. We stayed in a cottage on Inistrynich beside Loch Awe. My original plan was to re-tell the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad in Coille Coire Chuilc, one of the southernmost remnants of the Caledonian forest, as I had reason to believe the Strathclyde Britons associated it with Annwn.

However this didn’t happen. We got a bit too drunk on Nos Galan Mai and didn’t feel like travelling far. Instead I ended up telling the version written for Guests of the Earth by the loch in a grove of evergreens.

Evergreen Grove, Loch AweThe surrounding landscape reflected the dynamics of the time of year; wood anemones and bluebells on woodland edges, marsh marigolds in damper nooks. In wetter areas we found American Skunk Cabbage (or Swamp Lantern) with brilliantly suggestive leafy spathes and yellow spandixes.

Whilst the flowery floor said May most of the trees were only just coming into bud. The loch was ringed by snow-topped mountains; Ben Cruachan ‘Conical Mountain’, Creag Mhor ‘Great Rocky Hill’, Beinn Na Sroine ‘Mountain of the Nose’, Ben Lui ‘Deer Calf Mountain’, Beinn A Cleibh ‘Mountain of the Chest’, Meall Nan Gabhar ‘Hill of the Goats’, Meall Nan Tighearn ‘Hill of the Lords’.

Loch Awe and MountainsI found myself pondering whether this reflected the battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr for Creiddylad: winter and summer kings fighting for a fertility goddess, or whether it should be seen within the Gaelic context of the story of the Cailleach, Bride and Angus. Cailleach Bheur was one of the genii loci. Her failure to cover a fountain springing from Ben Cruachan resulted in the creation of the river Awe and Loch Awe. Turned to stone as a punishment she guards the Pass of Brander.

However I had an obligation to fulfil. I asked the spirits of place and spruce trees whether they minded if I told them an old Brythonic story. My request was met by a curious silence and agreement of tolerance. I decided to go ahead.

As I told the story I experienced less connection with the landscape than I do in Lancashire. Going through the words and figures, the bones of what happened, those bones seemed thin as wind. It didn’t touch the land or live. Afterward the spirits of place politely motioned us to leave.

Inistrynich GroveVisiting Coille Coire Chuilc the following day I was glad I hadn’t chosen to tell the story there. I experienced the landscape and its spirits, disturbed by lead and gold mining and taken over by tourists, as hostile. Locating Annwn in the Caledonian forest may have been valid for the Strathclyde Britons in the Dark Ages but didn’t feel right for me.

On the whole, and most ironically considering I had linked Loch Awe with the Awen, I felt more distant from Gwyn as his Awenydd than I ever had. Although he told me deep magic could be worked beside the loch I could not grasp it. I could not see the beyond of the shore even when liminal rain provided the cloaked apparel of mist.

I was glad to get back to Lancashire. To the Greencroft Valley meadow with its wood avens, leafy ox-eye daisies, newly planted plugs and apple trees blossoming pink and white. My fragment of Avalon in Penwortham.

Walking through the Yarrow Valley’s banks of bluebells, woodlands where with greater stitchwort they formed an undulating sea stretching away for miles in heady glory, I experienced Creiddylad’s presence more strongly than I ever had.

Of course, Gwyn keeps telling me in various ways we’re here, immanent within this landscape. To believe in his assertion. Yet I fight him because he’s not a recognised genius loci and I worry about what people will think even though I know he speaks the truth…

Whilst my quest to uncover Gwyn’s neglected connections with the Old North continues, I now feel a deeper pull to explore how his mythos maps onto this land, its changing seasons and ways into Annwn. Hidden histories and multitudes of otherworlds. Years he has been here and infinite future possibilities.

Re-telling Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad

This January after completing Enchanting the Shadowlands, I was invited by Gwyn ap Nudd to contemplate the shape of the coming year from Glastonbury Tor. In my mind’s eye the sickle moon of the previous evening reappeared in gold suggesting the importance of scything the wildflower meadow in Greencroft Valley. Recalling the golden sun and pinkish folds of the sky at sunrise lead to the gnosis I must set aside time to do something special on Calan Mai.

Two years ago I marked the occasion with the Grove of the Avalon Sidhe in the orchard beside Glastonbury Tor. Last year I recited a poem called ‘If I Had To Fight Your Battle’ for Gwyn in en-sorcelling mists on Winter Hill here in Lancashire.

This year I started studying the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad and its origins in the Old North in more depth. During this period I realised I was meant to re-tell it somewhere in the north on Calan Mai. At the same time Guests of the Earth started putting together a new set for local events in April and May. We decided to make our theme seasonal myths about the emergence of spring. It made sense I should re-tell it as part of the performance.

Re-writing it wasn’t easy. Arthur’s introduction into this early seasonal myth in Culhwch and Olwen was problematic for me. I was also concerned Creiddylad’s perspective was inadequately represented, the focus being the conflict between the male rivals and Arthur’s resolution of their struggle. This made it important to focus on Creiddylad as the main character.

Something that struck me was since I’ve been devoted to Gwyn I’ve not seen much of Creiddylad. At first I thought this was because she was shut away in her father’s house, as suggested in Culhwch and Olwen. Realising this was a later addition reflecting Christianity’s repression of fertility rites on Calan Mai I started trying to connect with her in person through meditation and free writing.

At the outset I received little and not exactly what I expected from a spring maiden: scattered images of gnarly bulbs and bones, layers of sediment, flowers but often on graves and damp with tears, the sensation of staring into a profound darkness.

A revelation occurred when I started looking at the relationships between her story and Persephone’s. Like Persephone who is both a spring maiden and queen of the underworld, Creiddylad is May Queen and Queen of Annwn. The battle on Calan Mai and Gwythyr’s triumph marks Creiddylad’s return to this-world with may flowers and hawthorn blossom. Her abduction by Gwyn marks her passage to Annwn when the meadow-flowers are scythed, through soil and stony bedrock.

I have tried re-telling Creiddylad’s story many times and haven’t yet written a version I’m completely happy with. For the Guests of the Earth performance I ended up choosing an early one focusing on her abduction and transformation from spring maiden into Queen of Annwn and return to this-world in maturity as May Queen.

Although this cast Creiddylad as a naive maiden stolen away by Gwyn and didn’t contain a strong enough sense of the sovereignty she possesses as an independent fertility goddess (I found out about this after writing it) the group agreed it was the most poetic. It was also the one that seemed to want to be told.

Our first audience at Market Walk on Market Street at ‘What’s Your Story, Chorley?’ including the children, enjoyed it (particularly the howling!). We’re planning to perform it again at Penwortham Live on Friday 23rd May in Aphrodite’s Health Food Shop.

Guests of the Earth at What's Your Story, Chorley 2015 012 - CopyThe version performed with Guests of the Earth (Peter Dillon, Nicolas Guy Williams and myself) can be found on our website. The following post covers what happened when I re-told this story north of the wall.

Lost Watercourses and Resacredization

lornasmithers:

Link to my first article for Gods & Radicals: ‘Lost Watercourses and Resacredization’. Here I trace the lost watercourses of my locality and explore telling the stories of my landscape as an affirmation of the sacred and means of defying capitalism’s commodification of nature.

Gods & Radicals is a web-site set up by Rhyd Wildermuth which aims to unite pagans in beautiful resistance against capitalism.

Featured Image -- 8037

Originally posted on GODS & RADICALS:

The watercourses of my local landscape were once considered very sacred. The river Ribble was venerated by the Romano-British people as Belisama ‘Most Shining One’ ‘Most Mighty One’. The boundaries of the settlements of Penwortham and Preston were defined by freely flowing streams whose deities would have been regarded as powerful guardian spirits.

Life depended on clean, pure water drawn from wells rising from underground sources. Rows of women queued on Petticoat Alley to collect their morning’s fill. Many wells possessed miraculous and healing properties. Ladywell and St Mary’s Well were important sites of pilgrimage. Mineral springs on New Hall Lane were renowned for curing eye ailments.

The brooks that form the perimeters of Penwortham can still be walked. However not a single glimpse of fresh free flowing water can be seen in Preston anymore. Every water course has been culverted. They can be traced by following signs: Syke Hill…

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“everything breathes the revolutionary spirit” by Nina George

for albert spies

now is our time, we rise, we grow,

those voices strangled on mayday,

silent resolve most powerful

of bright green emancipation.

we force through, we a tidal wave,

come summer, come the early spring

that we may swell to our full height

to die, hunker over winter,

we the green fuse that refuses.

Bluebells by Nina George* A poem by Nina George which captures the revolutionary energy of this time of year tying the green fuse of rising life with the origins of May Day in International Workers Day. Albert Spies was one of the leaders of the demonstration for the eight hour working day on Haymarket Square on May 4th 1886. This resulted in him being hung.

On her blog Nina cites some of the lines in his address to the court which inspired her poem: “Revolutions are no more made than earthquakes and cyclones. Revolutions are the effect of certain causes and conditions.” Another line I would like to add in the context of Nina drawing on his words is “the day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”

The original poem with more about Nina’s creative processes (this is the 30th poem she has written for napowrimo) along with lots other good stuff can be found on breathing fire into who we are.

She Walks Between Worlds and Lovers (Calan Mai)

It is summer in this-world when she is here
winter in this-world without her.
In Gwythyr’s arms she is Lady Life:
coming to be as the first snowdrop
purple yellow crocuses are her slippers
pink red primroses her cloak. Her smile
her lips are daffodils’ long trumpets.
May flowers weave her grassy hair
as she embraces this-world’s ruler.
In dewy glades Creiddylad is May Queen
in sacred marriage headdress a veil of hawthorn
wedding dress woven from wood anemone
wood sorrel she lies with him in woodlands
of bluebells starwort becoming buzzing fields
heliotropic gaze of ox-eye daisies poppies
face alive with vibrant butterflies and bees
exulting in the dance of pollen’s gold dust
until the seasons turn and cold winds come
she sees her time in this-world is over
and walks between worlds and lovers.

Blubells and Starwort