Nodens and the Weather Shapers

I. The Mural Crown

At Lydney overlooking the Severn stands a Romano-British temple dedicated to Nodens. From it was recovered a mural crown. It depicts him riding from the waves on a chariot pulled by four water-horses. Flanking him are wind-spirits and water-spirits.

Plate XIII Bathurst

 

I had used this image on my altar to Nodens for several months before thinking to pose the question of who these mysterious spirits are. Out walking in my locality in the voices of the winds I received the answers: ‘weather-shapers’ and ‘shapers of dream’.

My meditations have led me to the intuition that the spear-bearing wind spirit on the right is the piercing east wind. The spirit on the left with the spiralling rag is the west wind who brings both the warm moist air that keeps our climate temperature and storms and hurricanes.

Both water-spirits have the bodies of men, the frontlegs of horses, and the tails of serpents. The spirit on the right carries two pick axes and the spirit on the left a hammer and chisel. They are the shapers of the cloud formations that arise from evaporating waters approaching from the east (across the Continent and North Sea) and the west (the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea).

One of the translations of ‘Nodens’ is ‘the Cloud Maker’ from the Proto-Celtic stem *snoudo ‘mist, clouds’. He is later known as Nudd ‘Mist’. He and his spirits are the shapers of Britain’s weather.

II. The Cry of the West Wind

Whereas the east wind came across as quick-witted, clear-minded and bold, the west wind struck me as inconsistent and troubled, like a misunderstood youth: smiling, enthusiastic, and eager to please, but also moody, prone to fits of violence, brooding on some kind of trauma.

This reminded me of the words of Nimue Brown in her evocative essay ‘Watching for the winds’. Nimue lives ‘Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn / And the Severn seeks the sea’. She witnessed the tryst of the east and west winds last March on Swift’s Hill and noted their parting was ‘hesitant and regretful’ as if ‘they might not meet again’ or feared the circumstances of their next meeting. After the east wind departed the west wind remained, uneasy, not knowing what to do with himself, and shared ‘a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help.’

To interpret this cry I had to look beyond Britain to the direction from which the west wind blows: across the Irish Ocean (the domain of the sea-god Manawydan) to the Atlantic Ocean (associated with the sea-goddess Iwerydd and her consort the sea-god Llyr – Manawydan’s parents).

III. The North Atlantic Gyre

The warmth of the west wind is connected with the complex system of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of four gyres that form the ‘global conveyor belt’ of oceanic currents that determine the earth’s climate. It begins near the equator off the west coast of Africa where warm water driven by the easterly trade winds becomes the North Atlantic Current.

In the Gulf of Mexico it becomes the Gulf Stream. Joining the Antilles Current in the Straits of Florida it gains strength before the westerly anti-trade winds drive it toward Europe bringing 300,000,000 kWh/s of warm air – equivalent to the heat of a million nuclear power stations.

It then splits into the Irminger Current, which heads toward Greenland, and the North Atlantic Drift, which continues to Europe. The interactions of the west wind and the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift raise Britain’s temperatures 5 – 10 degrees Celsius higher than other continents at the same latitude and play a large role in shaping our mild, wet weather.

When these currents have lost their heat the cold water sinks (in the Denmark Strait it drops dramatically 11,500 feet as the world’s biggest waterfall) and returns as the Labrador Current beneath the Gulf Stream and the Canary Current past Africa.

Lines_of_sargassum_Sargasso_Sea - Copy_By Unknown - Ocean ExplorerNOAA, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid1175629

In the centre of the gyre lies the calm deep blue Sargasso Sea, which is named after its unique sargassum seaweed. The bounding currents deposit the refuse they carry in its midst disturbingly creating the ever-growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

IV. The Re-Shaping of the Weather

It’s well known that anthropogenic global warming is having a drastic effect on our climate, which has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age. The rise in sea temperature has led to storms and hurricanes forming further north buffeting Britain’s coast and to more rain and flooding.

Some scientists claim that the melting of the ice caps will lead to the water around Greenland cooling and becoming less saline. Salinity is one of the factors that causes cold currents to sink. If their circulation stops this will shut down the North Atlantic Gyre issuing in a new Ice Age.

Even the gods and spirits are in trouble. The west wind, impelled to bring storms, his nature threatened by the cessation of the warm currents cries out for help, but his voice falls on deaf ears.

Centuries of Christianity and reliance on the predictions of science have cut us off from the weather-shapers. The arguments of our modern aeromancers, ‘weather-diviners’: the meteorologists and climate scientists who strike up a conversation of sorts with the gods through their instruments have not been listened to and now it’s too late to turn back the clock.

V. The Last Salmon? The Last Eel?

Atlantic_salmon_fish_Wikipedia_Commons

On the mural crown beneath Nodens and the weather-shapers is an enigmatic figure with a short tail hooking an enormous salmon. Salmon also appear on the mosaic in the centre of the temple.

The Severn was once renowned for its migrations of salmon leaping upriver to their spawning grounds. Atlantic salmon are now in decline due to the lethal combination of weirs preventing them returning and spawning, damage to habitat, industrial fishing, and global warming.

Changes in the currents of the North Atlantic Gyre due to rising sea temperatures have affected Atlantic salmon who use them to swim to and from their feeding grounds in Greenland.

European_eel__Anguilla_anguilla_clipart_web

Eels, who spend part of their life in the Severn, use the cold currents of the gyre to swim to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea. Their larvae utilise the warm currents.

Could the snake-like creature wrapped around Nodens’ arm be an eel?

Both these creatures, sacred to Nodens, whose lives have been intrinsically connected with the Severn for thousands of years, are currently in decline. New fish passes have been placed in the weirs. This might help, but the changes in the North Atlantic Gyre lie beyond human repair.

V. The Broken Crown

The image of Nodens and the weather-shapers provides us with a picture of the ‘beauty and integrity’ of Britain’s climate and the fecundity of its rivers during the Romano-British period.

If the mural crown was crafted again today its vision of wholeness would be broken by the agony of the west wind torn between two fates – stormbringer and bringer of a New Ice Age. The water-spirit in the west would be the crafter of ominous storm or snow-clouds. The salmon would be in distress, the eel wriggling nervously, both on the brink of disappearance. Nodens, ‘the Cloud-Maker’, would be a troubled god, riding far less victoriously on his chariot.

This crown was once worn by a priest of Nodens who had the task of interpreting pilgrims’ dreams. Who would wear it today? Who would interpret the dreams shaped by the beings shaping Britain’s weather – hurricanes of garbage, seas rising over coastal towns, salmon lost in sealanes, stranded elvers wrapped in sargassum? Who could bear the cries of distress?

SOURCES

David Righton, ‘Empirical observations of the spawning migration of European eels’, Science Advances, Vol 2, No. 10, (2016)
D. Freidland, ‘Oceanic changes in the Sargasso sea and declines in recruitment of the European eel’, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 64, Issue 3, (2007)
J. Dadswell, ‘The North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar: the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ hypothesis’, Journal of Fish Biology, 77, (2010)
Nimue Brown, ‘Watching for the winds’, A Beautiful Resistance, (Gods & Radicals, 2016)
Renee Cho, ‘Could Climate Change Shut Down The Gulf Stream?’, State of the Planet, (2016)
Nodens’, Wikipedia
Scheme to re-open Severn to fish wins almost £20m in funding’, The Guardian
The North Atlantic Gyre’, Eduspace,
The Gulf Stream Explained’, In a Nutshell

8 thoughts on “Nodens and the Weather Shapers

  1. Greg says:

    I have often thought on the identity and nature of Manawydan and Manannán, particularly when walking along the coast and gazing out at sea as I was this afternoon. I’m reminded by your ‘weather shapers’ of the fact that the Irish text of Cormac’s Glossary says that he knew by regarding the horizon whether the weather would be fine or stormy and “because of that both the Irish and the Brythons call him a god of the sea” and also that the Isle of Man (Ynys Manaw in Welsh) is named from him. And have also thought on Nodens and his temple by the Severn Fludde (Llif Habrēna) and how identities sometimes seem to flow like the waters between gods, and how Manawydan, brother of Brȃn in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, and partner to Rhiannon in the Third Branch, can be identified as a god of the sea?

    If the gods cannot be pinned down to our definitions of them, they can, as you say, be troubled just as we are troubled by a changing climate and with what the winds may bring. Today the east wind brings cold to Ynys Prydain. That the West Wind is expected to bring back the warmth when next it blows is something we may not always be able to take for granted. Your mix of mythological reference, meteorology and climate science ( ‘a conversation of sorts with the gods’ puts it just right!) imaginatively interprets the mural in terms of our current plight, a consistent theme of your recent writing.

    • lornasmithers says:

      ‘Today the east wind brings cold to Ynys Prydain. That the West Wind is expected to bring back…’

      As a bit of a follow up I’ve been looking into the origins of this Eastern Beastie and how it relates to this post. It’s generally agreed that the warming of the Arctic has caused the sudden stratospheric warming which has caused the polar vortex to split and move south, moving the jet stream so the west wind can’t bring the warm Atlantic weather and causing the east wind to bring us this cold Continental weather and predominate. The warming of the Atlantic has been linked to changes in the North Atlantic Drift.

      I wasn’t aware of the existence of the polar vortex, which only forms in winter when the north pole is plunged into utter darkness, or the polar night jet before now. I also wasn’t aware the polar vortex is weakening and this is the reason we’ve had a few sudden snow storms in spring in the past. Maybe it’s the cause of our mad March winds?…

      I’m wondering how the awenyddion of the past would have perceived these events. We can guess that, like the Greeks, they perceived the winds as persons. Would they have had any conception of the oceanic currents and the jet streams? Would they have seen them as huge serpents in the water and air circuiting the skies and oceans? I wonder if that where the Norse Jormungandr came from?

      With the Warm Artic Cold Continent phemomenon I think there’s definitely some kind of balancing act between Gwyn and Gwythyr and Creiddylad as the deities of Winter, Summer, and the ferility of the land going on. The Arthurian myth makes us see them as two silly boys fighting over a girl like a rag doll but I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are much deeper intelligences at work who know and understand these weather systems, have understood them since way beyond this Ice Age, since the beginnings of the earth perhaps. They helped create these Goldilocks conditions and they’re doing *something* to manage our stupidity. I believe this about the mechanism that shuts down the gulf stream when things get too hot too…

      ~

      In relation to your comment on Mannanan knowing the weather and the seas from the very little I know of Manawydan I believe he serves this role too. And yes this blurs into Nodens’ role (who even more confusingly is sometimes equated with Manawaydan’s father Llyr!).

      To confuse things even further a look at the Welsh word for gas ‘nwy’ led me to Nwyfre, which I only just realised by looking at the Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymraeg was not originally understood to be life force as per the Druid tradition (that was Iolo’s invention) but originally understood to be the sky or firmament.

      Nwyfre is the father of Lliaw (host – maybe not a person?) and Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar in the Triads and as the father of Gwyn in the court list in Culhwch and Olwen. John Rhys identifies Nwyfre and Nudd and that leads to Robert Graves claiming:

      ‘Gwengwyngwyn is merely ‘The Thrice-white-one’, or Gwyn’s name repeated three times repeated, and Gwyn’s duty, as we have seen, was to conduct souls to the Castle of Arianrhod, like Thrice-great-Hermes; in fact, Gwyn… was Arianrhod’s son.’

      And intriguingly associating the one takes the role of Hermes to conduct souls to Caer Arianrhod (ie. Gwyn) with the lands of the dead beyond the North Wind:

      ‘The Castle of Arianrhod… Where was this purgatory situated? It must be distinguished from the Celtic Heaven, which was the sun itself – a blaze of light caused by the shining together of myriads of pure souls. Well, where should one expect to find it? In a quarter from which the sun never shines. Where is that? In the cold North. How far to the North? Beyond the source of Boreas, the North Wind; for ‘at the back of the North Wind’ – a phrase used by Pindar to locate the land of the Hyperboreans – is still a popular synonym for the Land of Death…. Caer Arianrhod… is the constellation called ‘Corona Borealis’… ‘the Crown of the North Wind’… Were the Hyperboreans, ‘the back-of-the-North-Wind-men’, members of a North Wind cult… Did they believe that when they died their souls were taken off by Hermes, conductor of souls, to the calm silver-circled castle at the back of the North Wind?’

      Which also fits with Dafydd ap Gwilym linking the family of Gwyn to the provinces of the wind. Some link to the polar vortex over the dark North Pole which surely must have some connection with ‘Winter’s King’?…

      There’s lots of interesting stuff here that seems to be bound up with Nodens/Nudd and Gwyn and Gwythyr and Creiddylad and their associations with the weather and its shaping and our climatic crisis… how this all fits together is beyond me right now but I feel it’s important…

      • Greg says:

        Yes I’m sure the awenyddion of the past would named and interpreted these events in terms of winds and possibly weather giants. I’m not sure I’d go along with Robert Graves on this, especially in view of my recent insights into Caer Aranrhod as an alternative destination for Taliesin in the Ugnach/Taliesin conversation.

        Quite a few neo-druid sites mistakenly refer to ‘nwyfre’ as ‘life force’, following Iolo. But his invention was not wholly arbitrary. I think, he conflated ‘nwyfre’ (firmament, aether) with ‘nwyf’ (vitality, passion, vivacity). The two words are separate but connecting them was typical of Iolo’s ingenuity.

      • lornasmithers says:

        I don’t see Gwyn’s Hall and Caer Arianrhod as the same either and think maybe Graves is off there. I’m not certain we should equating Nudd and Nwyfre either who seem different to me – a move that would remove their individuality and the reduce the complexity of the Brythonic cosmos. Intereting to hear about ‘Nwyf’ – this adds another facet.

  2. antlered says:

    This is incredibly interesting. I don’t have a relationship with Nodens today, but he was one of the first gods I ever approached and I love seeing him show up in my feed. Also, the fish-tailed figure on the crown is very neat – he makes me think of the Syrian god Dagan, who was sometimes depicted just like that with a fish tail. Atargatis/the Dea Syria was depicted that way too, I believe. It seems that that form is a bit enigmatic across cultures, as I’ve never seen a strong explanation as to why Dagan was depicted like that. Super cool!

  3. Nimue Brown says:

    To further complicate things on the wind and weather front, a lot of rain seems to follow the Severn up to about the area of the Nodens temple, when it decides whether it will fall on the forest of Dean, or the Cotswolds. i used to watch them coming, from the boat – totally unpredictable, and very much part of the micro-climate. I’d never really thought before about where the clouds break away from the river to go east or west, but it must tend to be around there.

    • lornasmithers says:

      That’s interesting. I wonder whether, along with the Severn bore and iron ore, that was why the Iron Age site was built there and then the Romano-British temple. With all of this going on at once it must have been seen as a powerful place where the deeps of the earth, the waters, and the winds came together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.