guardian of Annwn
guardian of souls
guardian of mystery
guardian of us all
guardian of Annwn
guardian of souls
guardian of mystery
guardian of us all
My essay ‘The Resilience of Small Things’ has been published on Gods & Radicals HERE.
I speak of some of the earth’s most resilient beings: mosses, tardigrades, and extremophiles, their exploitation by modern science, and the potential for rebuilding respectful relationships.
There’s something old about the poems in this book, a bone-deep knowing, a merging of self and land which is reflected in the cover image. It speaks of a time when the hills were the contours of giantesses, the curves of beautiful goddesses, a time that still is and is not with us now.
‘Walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself’ is the way bard and druid author Nimue Brown describes the process behind her new poetry collection Mapping the Contours. In the poem that provides the title she says ‘Human bodies are much like landscapes.’
In ‘Raised upon these hills’, one of the most beautiful hymns to a landscape I have ever read, Nimue evokes her lifelong relationship with the Cotswold Edge:
I was raised upon these hills,
My bones are made of limestone,
Sweet Jurassic limestone,
Grown from ancient seas.
I was raised upon these hills
My body made of fossils
Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn,
And the Severn seeks the sea.
She, land, and goddess are inseparable. In ‘Seeking Goddess’ Nimue speaks of going to the forest, rooting with the boar, sleeping with the lynx, making love with the trees, becoming ivy-templed and bird-haired, sharing milk and giving birth to bees. Inseparable too are the local animals and plants: urban foxes, an otter on a bus station, wild swans over the Severn, brambles, orchids, fly agaric. And most strangely a lonely ‘telephone bird’ ‘Outside my window impersonating / A ringing phone.’
There is a lot more uncanniness in this collection encountered in both the seen and unseen worlds. Trolls long to drink ‘the elixir of your terror’ and ‘dead things’ fall from the mouths of the dark siblings of the Shining Ones. In ‘Granny’s house’ ‘All chicken magic and bones’ Baba Yaga
…bears the knife
Opening bone truths
My shoulder blades
Beauty never dared
As well as engaging with folklore Nimue provides a more homely and nourishing alternative take on old British myths originating from the Dark Ages of warlords and shining-browed bards. Her cauldron does not brew potions for ‘blinding flashes or ‘burning heads’ but ‘soil food, soul food’, ‘everyday gifts’. Her thirteen treasures are not weapons but a loom, a log, a seed, a cup, a candle…
Tongue-in-cheek she speaks of becoming ‘indigenous English’, a ‘Dirty Briton’, claiming back soil and soul. This act of reclaiming forms the heart of the book. I’d recommend it to all poets, Pagans, and nature lovers as a paradigmatic record of recovering an ancient way of being that lies within our bones and the bones of the land.
‘I go to the fortress of Lleu and Gwydion.’
The Dialogue of Taliesin and Ugnach
there is a fighter jet
emblazoned with the name GWYDION.
On the passenger seat
there is a single
EAT ME it says.
I’m a sucker for a trick.
A one-way flight to Caer Wydion.
I take one bite.
It’s enough –
the plane dismantles
and the bonds of my atoms break.
Whatever is left is hurtled through space
to a fortress in a woodland
where trees bow down
to only one.
In a giant’s crown
Gwydion holds court
with the eagle-headed Lleu
and his three animal children –
Hyddwn, Hwchddwn, Bleiddwn,
fawn, piglet, snarling wolf-cub
polite in their bibs.
Gilfaethwy sits beside him –
brother and bride and groom
with sow’s ears and a snout.
Gwydion wears polished silver antlers
and a wolf-skin coat studded
with stars on the inside.
He throws down his wand.
At the look on my face his courtiers
laugh until their sides split
and their insides
fall out and roll about the floor
like jellies still trembling
Of course I can’t help but step over
the wand of the enchanter
then watch helpless
as my insides fall out –
an hysterical woman clutching
her wandering womb.
Two men with pencils
in the pockets of their lab coats
and long silky ass’s ears
take me down to the basement
where homunculi with eyes
in their foreheads are singing
eerie prophecies in glass jars:
a dozen miniature Taliesins
with tiny imperfections like
missing ears, fingers, toes.
Along an endless corridor
are countless doors opening
into rooms where hybrid plants
turn toward fluorescent lights
to the pulse of a water pump.
“Gwydion will never create
the perfect wife for Lleu.”
A feather light voice in my ear
then talons grip my shoulders
and bear me back to my home.
In ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in The Book of Taliesin we find the following lines about birch putting on armour:
Birch, despite his great intention,
was slow to put on armour,
not because of his cowardice,
but rather because of his greatness.
In this poem the magician-god, Gwydion, enchants 34 species of trees, shrubs, and plants to do battle against the ‘herbage and trees’ and monsters of Annwn.
I assumed birch’s armour was born out of poetic play until I found a passage in Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, which suggests these lines contain a deeper truth. Wohlleben speaks of how birches are pioneer trees who have developed various ways of defending themselves.
‘They grow quickly, so their trunks get thick fast, and they put on a massive layer of rough outer bark… Not only do browsers break their teeth on the tough bark, but they are also revolted by the taste of its oil-saturated fibres… The white color is because of the active ingredient betulin, its primary component. White reflects sunlight and protects the trunk from sunscald. It also guards the trunk against heating up in the warming rays of the winter sun, which could cause unprotected trees to burst… Betulin also has antiviral and antibacterial properties and is an ingredient in medicines and in many skin care products. What’s really surprising is how much betulin there is in birch bark. A tree that makes its bark primarily out of defensive compounds is a tree that is constantly on the alert… defensive armouring is being thrown up at a breakneck pace everywhere.’
Online research led me to learn that the betulin content in outer birch bark ranges from 10 – 40%. Birch bark has long been used in folk medicine. Native Americans boiled it and pounded it into an antiseptic and anti-inflammatory paste for use on ulcers, cuts, and wounds. Birch bark tar has long been utilised as an antiseptic and is an ingredient in ointments for eczema and psoriasis.
Betulin was ‘first isolated by sublimation from birch bark by Toviasom Lovitz…. In 1788.’ It has been proved to exhibit ‘antiseptic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and other properties’ and Betulinic acid inhibits the growth of human melanoma and other cancer cells.
Could the ancient bards who passed on the poems attributed to Taliesin have known of the defensive properties of birch’s armour and how birch bark can be used to heal and protect our skin?
Marged Haycock (transl), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees, (William Collins, 2017)
Robin D. Pasquale, The Medicine of The Birch Tree: Beyond Depurative, Naturopathic Doctor News and Review, (2014)
Svetlana Alekseevna Kuznetsova, ‘Extraction of betulin from birch bark and study of its physico-chemical and pharmacological properties’, Russian Journal of Bioorganic Chemistry, (2014)
We grow from the deep.
We are the descendants of stars,
archaea, bacteria, eukarya,
children of the soil united
in mycorrhizal ecstasy
shedding spores, leaves, seeds,
the bitterest of chemicals
and most beautiful artworks.
Last fruits of this world.
First fruits of another.
‘Fruits of Annwn’ is a kenning for mushrooms. I chose it as the new name for this blog because it reflects the symbiotic relations between the human and non-human, Thisworld and Annwn, from which myths and stories grow like the fruiting bodies of fungi from their underground mycorrhizal threads.
As the world as we know it dies from human greed and excesses we need new myths to teach us to live in respectful relationship with other beings and to die well. By recovering old stories and dreaming new ones, by questing the deep wisdom of Annwn, I aim to reweave the ways between the worlds. This blog will explore the intersections between ancient British mythology, polytheism and spirit work, nature, science, and our environmental and political crises.
May these fruits be good fodder for the next world.
2018 has been a life changing year for me in many ways. Not only have I completed my apprenticeship to Gwyn, but for the first time I have started to receive regular financial support for this blog and my next publications from patrons. Knowing my work is recognised and appreciated has given me a great deal of confidence and I feel less anxious about having to abandon it to find another job. For those who don’t follow my Patreon account the following are examples of rewards that patrons receive for their support.
This month’s newsletter focuses on a breakthrough I had in relation to my ongoing projects. For several months I have been working on a book with the working title ‘Porth Annwn’ documenting my explorations of the Brythonic Otherworld. During this process I have been led to a falling oak tree, poisoned serpents, and a mysterious figure called Y Darogan Annwn ‘The Prophecy of Annwn’. Here I speak about my revelations and the beginnings of a new novel which I will be working on alongside Porth Annwn. I also share my preparations for my lifelong dedication to Gwyn ap Nudd on January’s blood moon.
‘A Bit of Crazy’ contains a poem called ‘Lessons in Anatomy’. Minor ailments such as a foot injury and umbilical hernia and a journey in which I was called to name the bones of a dragon have prompted me to learn about anatomy and physiology and to get a feel for the atomic, cellular, and systemic structures within my own body. This poems reflects on those processes. In ‘Unseen Work’ I share a poem written in the voice of Y Darogan Annwn.
A sample of my first newsletter can be viewed HERE.
If any of the above inspires you to support me on Patreon my page is HERE.