Calan Mai: “We’ll keep on fighting till the end”

It’s been a strange lead-up to Calan Mai (May Day) weather-wise. Last week temperatures reached a maximum of 17°C and it was hot enough to sit outside in a T-shirt. This week they’ve plummeted and many areas have seen snow, hail, sleet and thunderstorms.

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Snow on Winter Hill from Frenchwood Knoll, Thursday 28th April

In the myth I live by the fluctuations between hot and cold weather are brought about by the battle between two gods: Gwyn ap Nudd (King of Winter) and Gwythyr ap Greidol (King of Summer) for marriage to a sovereignty goddess called Creiddylad.

Last week Gwythyr was waving his gleaming sword in the sun’s rays thinking he’d triumphed. This week Gwyn bit back with his icy blade.

I can’t help seeing the irony in Gwyn’s unexpected comeback on the day my introduction to The Fire is Here was published on Gods & Radicals. This voiced my concerns about the postponement of the next Ice Age by man-driven climate change and the death of winter. Clearly this was Gwyn’s way of saying “I’m not gone yet!”

Gwyn and Gwythyr’s battle is traditionally resolved on Calan Mai. In Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur resolves it but neither combatant is allowed to marry Creiddylad until Judgement Day. Welsh folk traditions featuring battles where summer defeats winter followed by Maypole dancing suggest Gwythyr wins and marries Creiddylad.

When I awoke this morning and saw the rain it looked like Gwyn had the upper hand. It continued to drizzle all afternoon. I decided to mark the occasion on Frenchwood Knoll: a hillfort site on the north bank of the Ribble near Preston.

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On a clear day it is possible to see both the sun (‘Gwythyr’) and Winter Hill (‘Gwyn’) and signs of spring are visible in flowering bluebells, wild garlic and marsh marigolds (‘Creiddylad’).

 

When I got there, I found a loud, half-deserted funfair on Avenham Park next to the knoll. I realised it was likely to be busier than usual and there would be little chance for quiet contemplation. However, I walked the long way up, greeting the various totemic figures.

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When the coast was clear, I made a surreptitious offering to the spirits of place and spoke some words about the changing seasons. After I had finished, I realised the song blaring from the park was ‘We are the Champions’ by Queen:

“We are the champions, my friends,
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end.
We are the champions.
We are the champions.
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world.”

I couldn’t have had a clearer signal that Gwyn and Gwythyr’s battle is far from over. That was the final song of the day. When I returned past the rapidly deflating funfair, I noticed the music had been coming from ‘The Knockout Roadshow’ (!).

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The past couple of weeks have taught me quite a lot about the hubris of attempting to predict not only the weather but the future. I’m far less certain the world will ever see the end of winter (although that doesn’t mean climate change will not have dire consequences for humans and our non-human neighbours).

This evening at sunset I will change my altars so Creiddylad’s candle is beside Gwythyr’s but will not light them or make my (temporary) farewell to Gwyn until the sun shines on the flowers.

***

You can find Heron’s introduction to Calan Mai in Brythonic tradition with a focus on Rhiannon’s emergence from Annwn and marriage to Pwyll HERE.

You can read Nina George’s May Day piece “everything breathes the revolutionary spirit” which focuses on the Haymarket Riots and honours Albert Spies HERE.

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2 thoughts on “Calan Mai: “We’ll keep on fighting till the end”

  1. Beautifully written and illustrated piece…..and yes, yesterday I sun-bathed on our porch, well–more like sat in the sun, sweater still on, and today it’s rainy and cool. Uncertain, rapid weather changes seem the norm, if uncertainty can be called normal. Loved the synchronistic moment in your story when you heard the “We are the champions” song, a sign that winter and summer are still knocking each other about.

  2. As long as you walk the Earth, you will always find yourself somewhere on the edge of Gwyn ap Nudd’s wintry orbit. So it is fitting and necessary that you hesitate to cross the Winter Kingdom threshold until sun shines on flowers.

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