Honouring Gwyn ap Nudd

Glastonbury Tor, January 2013On the Winter Solstice a post for Winter’s King.

Samhain has passed. We’re in the dead season. The wild hunt rides the passageways of time and spirit paths lie open. Communities gather and ancestors draw close. Here I feel called to honour Gwyn ap Nudd by telling the story of how he became my muse and patron and made my life whole.

My first meeting with Gwyn took place at the nadir of a crisis. At the end of August 2012 I reached a point of conflict between my spiritual path and ambition to become a professional writer. After two years work completing a fantasy novel I realised its world was too complex and the language too heavy, it held little relevance or hope for a contemporary audience and was at odds with my developing relationship with the land and its myths.

His first appearance was at the head of a fairy procession at a local sacred site. Although I knew of the legend of the fairy funeral I didn’t think I’d encounter it directly nor did I suspect it would be led by a Welsh Fairy King. Yet Gwyn made his name and message clear. The myths of this land are real and he could help me access them. He challenged me to journey with him to the Otherworld, the condition of his guidance being that I lay aside my personal ambitions.

I spent several days considering- could I truly give up my ambition to become a professional writer? How would this change my life? How did I know I could trust him? What if I didn’t come back? Yet this experience, although it was confusing and terrifying felt more powerful and real than anything that had ever happened to me. I knew it was a once in a life time opportunity and I’d only get one chance. I returned to the fairy site and agreed.

Gwyn opened the gates to the past of this land and its myths. With his guidance I learnt how to ride the skies and ancestral pathways on my white mare, viewing the landscape’s lineaments from contemporary suburbia to medieval farmland, oak wood and peat bog to tundra and the age of ice. I met with ancestral people, the ghosts of trees and stampeding aurochs. I entered Faery and descended to Annwn.

Yet I still questioned what a deity associated with Wales and Glastonbury was doing in Lancashire. Reading his myths I realised two of Gwyn’s main stories- the abduction of Creiddylad and Arthur’s slaying of Orddu take place in the North. In the conversation with Gwyddno Garanhir, which depicts his role gathering the souls of the battle dead Gwyn says:

‘I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain,
From the East to the North;
I am alive, they in their graves!
I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain,
From the East to the South
I am alive, they in death!’

Gwyn is not only a king of Annwn and the fairies but a traveller between the worlds and across the landscape of Britain, maintaining the bonds between nature and humanity, the living and the dead. As a ruler and guide of this isle’s ancestral people his turning up at the head of a local fairy procession was not out of place.

Reassessing my past experiences I realised this wasn’t the first time I’d felt his influence. At Glastonbury festival in my late teens the veil had been lifted to reveal a vision of the Otherworld, a place I now recognise as Gwynfyd, which was coupled with a feeling of truth and ecstatic unity. Thirteen years later he had finally made his presence known, leading me from the cycle of aspiration, failure and frustration caused by my ambition to be a writer back to this magical unison with the land and its myths. He had made my life whole. In January I returned to Glastonbury and made my vow to him at the White Spring.

Since then my relationship with Gwyn has been a constant source of support and inspiration. Whilst the only piece of literature I know of that might link him with the Bardic Tradition is a reference in ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ to the Chief of Annwn possessing a cauldron warmed by the breath of nine maidens, I see him as a god of primal poetry- the wild Awen that thunders like the hunt through space and time and exists in the magic of nature, the songs of the fay and wisdom of the ancestors.

With his guidance I have discovered ways of connecting more deeply with the land and its spirits, its known myths and some unknown ones (a couple of which correspond with factual evidence!). In return I strive to communicate what I have learnt through written and spoken words to maintain the bonds between nature and humanity, this world and the Otherworlds.

And so, as we gather in the dead season, the wild hunt rides and spirit paths lie open I choose this time to tell this story to thank and honour Gwyn ap Nudd.

24 thoughts on “Honouring Gwyn ap Nudd

  1. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

    Lorna – Thank you for sharing this vision with us. I think it probably took a lot for you to write it as you are probably more comfortable with the partly hidden language of poetry rather than prose as you may be a little shy to come right out and share this. You are blessed in your relationship with Gwyn ap Nudd, who is neither in Wales nor Lancashire but within You and others who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Be Blessed this Yule tide turning of the year from darkness towards more light.

  2. S.C. Tanner says:

    You should not be surprised at the location if you consider the invaders of Albion that absorbed and displaced native populations. There is no real cause to restrict Gwyn ap Nudd to Wales and Glastonbury. I particularly admire how you describe Gwyn as a gatekeeper without actually stating it. I would envy you for your experience, but I harbor no ill-will toward you. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that I admire your experience. I do realize how deeply personal this must be to you and must thank you for sharing. It is inspirational, particularly on this occasion. As you have blessed me, may you also be blessed.

  3. HAwen says:

    I’ve noticed that many polytheists keep their personal relationships with Deities hidden, fear of being called crazy or UPG or whatever. Also one person’s relationship with a Deity can be very different than another’s, just like I am different with a lover than with student or a dentist. But telling these stories I believe is very very needed. Anything that takes away the theory and shows the practice is important. How we DO our religion. How we DO our lives. How we DO being human. No one can comment or criticize because the relationship is yours. It is however very meaningful we share our stories, our realities. Sexual abuse survivors, war survivors, women’s empowerment groups, trans support groups, the power of telling our stories changes the culture’s myths to match the culture’s reality. Myths are not lies, but I want myths that match reality. So THANK YOU for sharing this, blessed culture maker!!!

      • HAwen says:

        YES! So many contact me with problems with Deities being real. Or ceremonies being real. Or the dead being real. They don’t have enough community sharing stories about our experiences, just our theories, lists of lore, and structures. It’s like they read a book on reproduction but don’t know have to make love. When the Gods or Fey or ancestors or river becomes real, a lot people freak out. It’s been a topic for me and my friends lately as we’re getting people freaked out that this is all real and having NO guidelines, no experiences to compare theirs to, etc. I had to learn the hard way. All teachers did were generic 101 stuff not anything specific about “I went to a ritual and some… thing stuck to me for three days I am very sick.” or “How can I turn off the precognitive dreams about mundane details?” or “I did a ceremony for Woden and he came, I think, I’m not sure, is this crazy?” or my personal fave,a client in his mid 40s I had that at a young age was in a coven that dis a ritual to clear all their karma in that one lifetime. EEK! He regretted that. And all the oaths and pacts people are making to groups or Gods without thought. We have a disposable culture where marriage vows mean nothing to most people so people lightly enter lifelong or multi-life long relationships with near strangers. There is so much 101 written and endless theory but nowhere near enough personal experience for common wisdom. There’s no formula for what happened to you or why you chose how you did, but just knowing others experience similar things can help people handle their own better.

        Also the Gods’ myths and roles in their prime culture are so little known, maybe he is a God of poetry, maybe he was honored where you live. The lore is very fragmented and rewritten. (I know you know that.) And Deities are growing like we all are, maybe now he is expanding to the modern world’s needs for Him or He just likes you, regardless of what he “represents.” Who They are we learn best by relationships I think, not lore. Of course, I went nuts with lore in Celtic Reconstructionism but at the end of the day, the lore was often wrong according to the Deity. Or they changed with the times. I stopped trying to categorize them since they are Divine Mysteries. I don’t know what they are or what they think I am. But some of them choose to have a mutually beneficial relationship with me for reasons I don’t need to know. That’s just my personal POV for what it is worth. Eostere is here to teach me about death and dying. Huh, a dawn Goddess whose name was April to teach about gracefully dying? IF she wasn’t made up by Bede. I don’t know how to explain this but I am grateful for it!

      • lornasmithers says:

        I think for anybody starting out, whether it’s exploring magic, the Otherworld or connecting with spirits and deities there’s a certain amount of experimentation and looking for proof. And that if you set out with the assumption it’s all real it’s slightly less shocking when you find that proof.

        This doesn’t stop the power of certain experiences being surprising, overturning and life changing in ways that defy all expectations however and the myths only leave a limited amount of clues…

        Thanks for sharing a little about your relationship with Eostre.

  4. syrbal-labrys says:

    Yes, thank you. Gwynn has sent his hounds to be seen by me and my son…we both wondered if we would soon drop dead; the son did fall ill. But since, it seems we both have tasks appointed by the Hunter. He likes to play with my mind…appearing to me with music and as the antlered Herne; the later
    anglo-Saxonized version, as I believe of this Welsh Lord of the Dead.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’ve wondered about links between Gwyn and Herne, as well as with Arawn whose name simply means ‘exalted’ and Cerunnos, which means ‘horned.’ I’m pretty sure it’s him who has been Christianized as the angel Gabriel leading the Gabriel Ratchetts in Lancs. Although I don’t like to make assumptions until my proof is absolute.

      I’ve also experienced the power of his music in his hall and in the Otherworldly winds that accompany his presence along with the howl of hounds.

      Working with him has certainly been challenging, yet ultimately rewarding.

      Thankyou for sharing your experiences.

      • syrbal-labrys says:

        I’m a “soft” polytheist at best — not quite wiccan soft; I do not contend that all the” gods are one and all the goddesses one” for a single deified pair. But I’ve often thought that Gwynn and Arawn are one…and one with Herne. I’m not sure, when it comes to deities, that there is such a thing as absolute proof. While a mystical experience is substantive enough to he or she having that experience, it is also personal gnosis and may not translate abroad, so to speak.

        For me? I think Herne/Gwynn/Arawn/Cernunnos may all actually be the same as a far older Indo-Aryan Lord of the Beasts/Dance/Trees — I believe He may be Shiva! As I say, metaphysical mileage may vary! 🙂

      • Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

        I too have always been attracted to Shiva in his old form as Pashupati, the Lord of animals, as depicted on that carving from Mohenjadaro that looks So much like Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron. Look up an image of Lakulish Shiva whose form is a little later, and one of the lineages i was initiated into was that of Lakulish as the 28th incarnation of Shiva. But I read a recent study that said we know almost nothing about the latter’s worship amongst the Celts. I think many local gods and goddesses were once human heroes and heroines who after their death were elevated to divine status to represent an already archetypal force. In the Andes mountains the Incas worshiped the goddesses of various mountains, and those frozen sacrifices actually became the newest form of that goddess. Bottom line is these deities, like that of Gwyn, are still floating around waiting for Bards like Lorna to recognize and relate to and channel them in poetry and sagas.

      • syrbal-labrys says:

        Yes, I’ve seen that image of Pashupati From Mohenjodaro. It does remind me of the Celtic cauldron, quite strongly.

      • lornasmithers says:

        Interesting to hear you mention the Gundestrap cauldron image. That has become more pervasive in my life as I have found an image of my totem winged horse on it proving she’s ancient. Plus the horned figure increasingly calls to me. John Matthews says the figure isn’t Cernunnos but a shaman / awenydd. I don’t see why the figure can’t be both an awenydd and a horned god. In fact that is exactly the role Gwyn has led me to- seeking a poetry of the primal awen- I feel very strongly there is a connection there.

        Plus coincidentally at our solstice ritual somebody sang the pagan version of ‘Lord of Dance.’ The following lines stood out to me:

        ‘We dance ever slower as the leaves fall and spin
        And the sound of the Horn is the wailing of the wind
        The Earth is wrapped in stillness, and we move in a trance,
        But we hold on fast to our faith in the Dance!

        The sun is in the southland and the days grow chill
        And the sound of the horn is fading on the hill
        ‘Tis the horn of the Hunter, as he rides across the plain
        And the Lady sleeps ’til the Spring comes again.’

        Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

        Well you have gotten a lot of good comments, and made good comments back. You certainly hit the mark on this post. I would like to see the whole pagan version of Lord of the Dance as i can only find the Christian version.

  5. Nimue Brown says:

    That’s a tale to raise goosebumps, in its own right. Thank you for sharing, and for giving this rich, startling context to your work. Your frustation with the lack of otherworldly material in other people’s writing makes so much sense in light of this. I can think of no harder a choice to make than the one you were offered, but I think in all honesty, I would have chosen the other way, which is probably why I do not have your vision and insight.

  6. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

    Lorna as you can see by the many great comments people really appreciate you sharing this. I am going to reblog it now as the comments really fill it out well. BTW I like your new winter full moon and leafless trees background to your blog. BB

  7. gwynn ap nudd says:

    I found this personal statement very honest and it is quite thought provoking.
    I feel some envy because I would like to have such a strong sense of guidance and purpose in my life. I just don’t have that.

    I think is a pity that you did not finish your novel and then just tried to learn in retrospect from the mistakes-or perhaps it would have been helpful to rethink -at the point of giving up-how you could have made your writing more accessible or appealing
    I don’t doubt that you do have a lot of ability as a writer but you may not have mass appeal?
    Even if your writing were/is outstanding,that doesn’t mean it could ever necessarily be a ‘profession’ in any case-unless you took to journalism etc -so maybe that moment of reckoning had to come anyway?

    I am not a person who currently feels able to dispense wisdom and I don’t think I’ve anything much useful to say.

    But I do fear that your heavy investment in one particular ‘deity’ and one particular experience does leave you a bit vulnerable-surely I can’t be the only person to wonder if what has happened with Gwyn ap Nudd is not about a psychological process of change/reevaluation that you needed to make rather than something that actually happened out there when you saw a faery procession -is it just possible that over time you might reinterpret or gradually see your experience of Gwyn differently. Do you really know ‘him’ or yourself fully after all?

    On a more positive-and absolutely genuine -note, your integrity shines through in this -as in all your writing.
    That is something quite special in these rather cynical times and I massively admire your story and wish I were more open to the wider truths that you have found about the land and its spirits

    All Best for Christmas/ Yule
    Gwynn (actually a ‘real’ but not so impressive Gwynn)


    • lornasmithers says:

      ‘I can’t be the only person to wonder if what has happened with Gwyn ap Nudd is not about a psychological process of change/reevaluation that you needed to make rather than something that actually happened out there’

      I think that’s a very modern and reductive way of looking at direct experience of the divine. I feel the human capacity to experience both nature and the gods has been quite badly damaged by the metanarratives of empirical science and psychology. Whilst these are valuable in their own fields I feel their application to religious / mystical experience is illegitimate and has probably done alot of damage to people who have been branded / believed themselves ‘mad.’

      ‘Do you really know ‘him’ or yourself fully after all?’

      Nope, but I know both myself and Gwyn much better now than I did this time last year and it’s certainly an interesting and enlivening process learning more 🙂

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