In September 2012 I received an imperative from a Brythonic god called Gwyn ap Nudd; ‘enchanting the shadowlands’ (1). This took place in a visionary dimension of the Harris Museum in Preston where the bones of this land’s ancient ancestors lie amongst spoils of the civil wars, Jacobite rebellions and industrial revolution. Gwyn’s calling was not only to journey to Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) but deep into the dream of my local landscape for the purpose of gathering its memories and sharing them in my communities.
This task led me back to the Ice Age when the rule of winter thawed and following aurochs, red deer and wild horses the first people arrived at Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ and built their lake village. I saw the first springs bursting forth made into holy wells then watched their tragic retreat as the aquifer beneath the hill was shattered and its dragon spirit perished.
Standing before the half-demolished walls and shattered windows of Penwortham Mill transported me back to the clash of power looms and roll of spinning mules. Stories of cottage spinners and weavers forced from their homes and orphans torn from London apprenticed as piecers and sweepers to John Watson demanded to be told.
I wandered the towns behind Preston searching for the city’s soul in friaries of grey cloaked monks, silently screaming leper hospitals and pubs where tobacco smoke mixed with laughter (all demolished to make way for the by-pass and university buildings) constantly aware of the headless black dog on my trail. On the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War I stared into the hole in the sky above the cenotaph.
Throughout this time the shining waters of the river Ribble and its goddess, Belisama were a continuous source of inspiration. I learnt the shapeshifting ways of herons and auspices of gulls and wild swans. A local meadow took me to a land of grasshoppers, I flew away with bees who never returned and followed an old beetle back to the soil where he was born. The meadow was mowed, stripped and turned into a parking lot for vehicles expanding the by-pass and I raged about it.
I took some of these poems and stories through the mist and across the starry seas and cloud topped mountains of Annwn to Gwyn’s great hall to share with him at his feast amongst the hosts of the battle-dead. Others I recited to the spirits of the land or to human audiences at poetry performances in local cafes, libraries, the Harris Museum and Preston flag market.
It has taken me over two years to complete this collection. It may have taken less time if I had listened harder and had more trust in my gods and myself. My perennial fear of other people’s opinions led to me stalling and nearly giving up on it completely at the end of summer. The feeling of emptiness that ensued and Gwyn’s distance told me I had done the wrong thing.
Enchanting the Shadowlands is approaching completion. I have taken down the poems and stories from my blog for final revisions and hope to publish it next year.
Over this period I have learnt many things; stories of the land and its ancestral people, ways between the worlds and the binding nature of imperatives from the old gods. Unknown tales have been en-chanted. This land’s enchantments have been voiced from its shadows.
But my quest does not end here. A new calling awaits which will take me deeper into the mysteries of this land, Gwyn’s mythology and the Bardic Tradition. A growing commitment to my path as an Awenydd, to learning the Welsh language and travelling the lands where it has its roots.
I will be continuing to share my poems and other notes from my journey here, along with more about the next step on my path once I have found the words.
For now, bright blessings for the New Year.
(1) Recorded in my poem ‘The Bull of Conflict’