The final step of completing Enchanting the Shadowlands was my return to Glastonbury, where I devoted myself to Gwyn ap Nudd two years ago.
I arrived late on Wednesday night in torrential rain. I wouldn’t have climbed the Tor so late in the moonless darkness if it hadn’t been for a meditation showing I must walk into its shadow guided only by the invisible golden chain of trust and belief.
As I set out from my hotel in the town centre, it appeared the hounds of night had swallowed the hills and lay upon them breathing like dark clouds. Stepping through the gate from Wellhouse Lane I had the impression of crossing the threshold between the town of street lights and headlamps beaming like make-shift angels and the perturbing, unfamiliar shadows of the otherworld into which the Tor had mysteriously vanished.
Knowing the only way was onward to the summit of completion, I climbed through a darkness that felt alive across a wraith-field, between tree-lean and upward, past a hound-shade at the sentinel bench and grazing husks of rabbits. The only noise was a night-bird I could not name.
Fearing I’d crossed a threshold beyond return, stepped into another world completely, momentarily I panicked. Then I saw the tower and the Tor rising with it, edged with misty luminescence.
I knew Gwyn was there. Last time I visited, he was storm. This time he was the perfect awe of calm within the storm. Utterly welcoming. The cold, windswept height of the Tor was still and warm and the rain no longer fell on me.
Within the tower I finally lit my torch, showed him my completed manuscript and read ‘When You Hunt for Souls in the Winter Rain.’ Afterward the rain stopped. Outside I stood within an invitation to dwell with him in an infinite beauty felt not seen as a watcher from that lookout point between the worlds as his hounds breathed the land back again.
The next morning I climbed the Tor at dawn beneath a lava-lit sky and beheld the rising of a bold red sun.
As I walked the fields north of the Tor, the sun rose over the tower casting rays of light like streams of Awen. Standing within its shadow I heard a girl singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music…” She skipped over with her mum and dad and told them “we’re standing in the shadow of the tor.”
I took the path to Gog and Magog. Three deer leapt with a crash from the hedge and bounded before me, joined by a fourth further on, running into a field before I reached the blasted, elephantine and venerable oaks.
I’d planned to re-visit Wearyall Hill, Edmund Hill and Wick Hollow. However, the sun on the Tor and Gwyn’s call summoned me back to its summit. In a south-facing spot warm as summer, I fed crumbs from my sandwich to a conspicuous jackdaw with a raucous face, black flames of under-plumage and wing beat soft as straw. He was there throughout my stay with a punk-like pied wagtail with a quick ducking run, plucking worms bigger than the jackdaw’s.
Later, Gwyn prompted me to lean into dusk, fly with my jackdaws. After sluicing with them on a wing over the tower, I opened my eyes upon a flock of birds. Now every time I blink my eyes are filled with jackdaws.
The next day the Tor drew me back, blissfully sunlit in spite of a frosty start. In its magical perspective Gwyn invited me to gain insights about the shape of the coming year. They came in ribbons of a stratified sky, voices of jackdaws and a hawk that soared right up to the sun and plummeted back.
There was much sun imagery. And the instruction I must find and tend to my own sun. This reminded me Gwyn is not only a god of the Otherworld but under his earlier name, Vindonnus, a deity of ‘clear light.’
Walking down the northern lanes to catch a last glimpse of the shadow of the Tor I recalled stepping into the cavernous darkness of the Well House; water roaring and echoing from the mouth of Annwn and spilling into a stone basin; candles flickering in every hollow of dripping walls; shrines dressed and lit for three deities, Brighid, The Lady of Avalon and Gwyn ap Nudd.
In a perfect moment still and silent as eternity I spoke my vow to Gwyn as my patron there, two years ago, amidst dancing shadows beside the candlelit pool. This memory has been my joy and inspiration since, a treasure to carry to the grave and beyond.
Reflecting on that sacred space I thought of a recent journeying in vision to speak with Gwyn at the White Spring about my direction after completing Enchanting the Shadowlands. This influenced my return and is recorded in this poem:
The Star Cauldron
‘Is it not the cauldron of the chief of Annwn? What is its intention?
A ridge about its edge and pearls.
It will not boil the food of a coward, that has not been sworn…’
-The Spoils of Annwn
Returning not on time
but at the perfect time
to the place I made my vow,
your cauldron of pouring water
is still flowing and today
it contains the stars.
As always I have a question,
tearing through the veil
torn a million times,
calling through the names
and faces of indefinite thoughts,
impelled by a shape and form unsung:
the suggestion of a bardic book
prompted by a voyage
to the moon in the river
where I stood amongst your stars
and in the river-rain of their fire
learnt the Awen only follows absolute necessity.
You say “do what is necessary.
Write the book that needs to be written.
The stars in my cauldron, write it in their fire.”
During this intense encounter, in ‘The Star Cauldron’ I received a personal name for the cauldron of inspiration which belongs to Gwyn as ‘the Chief of Annwn.’ I was also honoured by his invitation to write with the fire of its stars; the pure and primordial Awen, on the condition I only followed absolute necessity.
Shortly afterward, I discovered a quote from Wirt Sikes which resonated deeply owing to the wintry, starry imagery and that I’d met Gwyn during a period of darkness and despair that proved to be a turning point in my life.
‘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.’
In ‘The Star-Strewn Pathway’ I found a new name for my path as an Awenydd.
Within this context it came as a shock when I found the White Spring (which should have opened 1.30-4.30pm on a Friday) was closed.
I waited for nearly an hour, hoping one of the volunteers was running late. Swathes of tourists began to arrive by the coach-load, rattling the bars, splashing in the water, taking selfies. Nobody came to open the spring.
Why? My question gaped wide as the mouth of Annwn. Had I done something wrong? Did the closure of the spring in combination with the cloudy skies; no stars, no cauldron, mean I was on the wrong path altogether?
These thoughts seemed at odds with my beautiful, powerful experiences on the Tor. Could this simply be the case of a volunteer not showing up? A reflection of the sad truth that limited access is the cost of preserving sacred water sources?
Eventually I went home troubled and thrown. The next morning I asked Gwyn about the meaning of the White Spring’s closure in relation to the Star Cauldron and Star-Strewn Pathway. He assured me it’s already done. What happens in vision is valid as physical reality.
I realised I’d visited the Star Cauldron and received the answer I needed, and decided to embark on the Star-Strewn Pathway before going to Glastonbury. My return to the White Spring was not necessary.
What mattered was completing Enchanting the Shadowlands and my experiences on the Tor; the sunrises, jackdaws, the single star in the wake of a new moon, standing in its shadow. Dwelling in Gwyn’s presence. His advice to find and tend to my own sun…