Anrhuna… it’s taken me many years to find out her name… nearly as many years as the many names I’ve known her by: Lady Ivy, Lady Green, Lady of Peneverdant (‘The Green Hill on the Water’), Lady of the Marsh, Mother of the Marsh, Mary of the Marsh, Marian, Mother of Annwn.
At my local sacred site, Castle Hill in Penwortham (Peneverdant in the Domesday Book), the church on the summit is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin, as was the well at the hill’s foot. I have known for a long time a goddess replaced by Mary lies beneath. I’ve felt her presence in the water dripping from the ivy, in ferns, hart’s tongue, enchanter’s nightshade, all the plants that love the damp.
She’s gifted me with visions of how the land appeared to the ancient Britons who worshipped her. The Bronze Age Lake Village, the way across the marsh to the sacred hill marked out by stakes, the moonlit processions spiralling around the hill to light a beacon fire, the burial mound beneath the castle mound, the grove of trees circling the area where the church now stands, beloved of the druids.
Where the river Ribble (known then as Belisama, ‘Most Shining One’) runs culverted and shifted from her course and on the other side stand the flats and out of town stores around the redundant docks I have listened to widgeon whistling and curlew calling across the marsh. I have seen tall, handsome cranes grazing beside the river and taller, mightier aurochs drinking deep, raising horned heads.
Stranger still, two people from the US have contacted me to share visions of this place. A while back Heather Awen spoke of witnessing women making offerings from a wooden platform, praying for ‘a baby to fill their womb’, and seeing a woman ‘wrapped in burlap… tied with ropes’ lowered into the marsh. More recently Bryan Hewitt reported being drawn to do healing work in the area and seeing people in wooden boats traversing the river. Afterwards I had my first vision of the goddess as a person – a woman in a wooden boat getting bigger and bigger until she filled the skies, then trying to take the hill and docklands, severed by the moved river, in her arms to make her marshland one again.
Bryan spoke to me of his relationship with a goddess he knows as the Mother of Annwn. When I met her on a journey she presented me with watery marshland imagery. A number of threads came together and I realised my local marsh goddess is this goddess of the waters of life flowing from Annwn.
Another thread that helped to complete this mysterious tapestry of place and deity is Bryan’s knowledge that the Mother of Annwn is the mother of Gwyn ap Nudd, my patron god, who I met in the damp woodland on the east bank of Castle Hill, where our local fairy funeral legend is set.
It is well known from his patronymic that Gwyn’s father is Nudd/Nodens, but the identity of his mother has fallen into obscurity. In The Descent of the Saints Gwyn is listed as the son of Tywanwedd, a little-known sixth century saint, who is also the father of Gwallog and Caradog, yet this has never rung true. Neither has the ungrounded claim of Robert Graves that Gwyn’s mother is Arianrhod.
The only real clue I have found is Ann Ross’s mention that at Nodens’ temple at Lydney there was found a stone statuette of a mother goddess, thirty inches in height, ‘her left leg crossed over her right’, ‘a corncupia in the crook of her left arm’, her head unfortunately missing. Pins were offered to her by women seeking aid with childbirth. It seems likely she is Nodens’ consort and Gwyn’s mother.
There is also evidence for the worship of Nodens here in Lancashire. Two statuettes dedicated to him were found on Cockersand Moss very close the remains of Cockersand Abbey. This was dedicated to Mary of the Marsh – my marshland goddess Christianised. I realised it was likely she and Nodens were worshipped together both there and here on Castle Hill with their son, Gwyn.
The final thread was finding out the goddess’s name. When guesswork failed I asked her directly and she set me searching for it through the reeds as if for a bird’s egg scaring up whistling ducks, digging down into the peat through layers of history to the age of dug-out canoes and bronze spears, hearing it whispered in my ear as if on the breath of a bog body – “Anrhuna” (tentatively ‘Very Great’).
The tapestry of land and deity at Castle Hill – Anrhuna, Nodens, Gwyn, alongside Belisama, is complete.