In ‘Y Dylluan’ (‘The Owl’) (1350), the medieval Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym refers to the ‘Crazy Owl’ ‘of Gwyn ap Nudd’:
Piercingly she shrieked: I recognise her form,
she is the bird of Gwyn ap Nudd.
Crazy Owl that sings to robbers,
misfortune on her tongue and on her tune.
She will not be silent whilst he chants his prayer by starlight. He cannot sleep because of ‘the voice and screeching of the Owl, / her frequent outcry and her laugh, / and poetry’s travesty from her tongue.’ His description of her is far from flattering and becomes increasingly sinister:
Dirty she is, with two raucous cries,
big-headed, with a hateful shout,
broad-browed, and berry-bellied,
old wide-eyed catcher of mice,
busy, vile, and colourless,
shrivelled her voice, her colour that of tin…
and her face, like that of a gentle human being,
and her form, she-fiend of birds.
Speaking of her ‘wretched song’ he says ‘“Hw-ddy-hw” – a lively gasp – / with energy, by Anna’s grandson, / she incites the hounds of night.’ By the “hw-ddy-hw” we know Dafydd is referring to the tawny owl who is also known as the screech owl.
‘Anna’s grandson’ refers to Gwyn. In The Mabinogion, Gwyn’s father, Nudd/Lludd is the son of Beli Mawr who, in the Harleian Genealogies, is partnered with Anna. This may be mapped onto an older cosmography where Bel and Don are the ‘parents’ of Gwyn’s father, Nudd.
The ‘hounds of night’ are the Cwn Annwn, ‘Hounds of the Otherworld’, with whom Gwyn hunts the souls of the dead. This poem suggests the screech of Crazy Owl precedes Gwyn’s Hunt and that she flies at its head, terrifying, fiend-like with her human-like face.
In the final verse, Dafydd determines not only to scare the owl away with his song, but to ‘put… a bonfire in each ivied tree’, presumably with the intention of eliminating owls!
Gwyn is not the only god of hunting and the dead who appears with an owl. Charles Hardwick notes that the Hunter Hackelberg, who he identifies with Woden, the Germanic leader of ‘the Wild Hunt’, is accompanied by an owl named Tutursel:
‘Mounted on his white or dappled grey steed, the wild huntsman may always be recognised by his broad-brimmed hat, and his wide mantle, from which he is named Hakelbarend or Hakelberg, an old name signifying mantle-wearer. The hooting owl, Tutursel, flies before him.’
In the story of ‘The Hunter Hackelberg and the Tut-Osel’, the owl was a nun called Ursula who tormented her sisterhood and interrupted services with her ‘discordant voice’. Therefore they called her Tutursel. After her death, ‘from eleven o’clock at night she thrust her head through a hole in the tower and tooted miserably; and every morning at about four o’clock she joined unasked in the matin song.’
When the nuns realised the voice was Tutursel’s they refused to enter the nunnery until she was banished. Tutursel eventually met Hackelberg and found she delighted in his wood-cry “Hu Hu!” as much he delighted in her “U! Hu!” and she has flown with him since.
We do not know the story behind how Crazy Owl came to fly with Gwyn. Yet the reference to her ‘face, like that of a gentle human being’ may suggest she is of human origin or is a shapeshifter capable of taking human form.
In ‘The Fourth Branch’ of The Mabinogion, Blodeuwedd, a flower maiden, is transformed into an owl by Gwydion as a punishment for helping her lover, Gronw, to kill her husband, Lleu. This story may be based on an older seasonal myth where Blodeuwedd chose freely to be flowers whilst with Lleu in summer and an owl whilst with Gronw (a hunter god) in winter.
This story is paralleled by Creiddylad spending the summer with Gwythyr and winter with Gwyn. This led me to wonder whether Creiddylad takes owl-form on Gwyn’s Hunt. My meditations spoke otherwise – Crazy Owl is a separate person to Creiddylad with her own story*.
I’d like to end with this poem by Thomas Vantor, written in 1619, which describes the owl as a bright lady singing the dirge of the dying and puts me in mind of the Crazy Owl of Gwyn ap Nudd:
Sweet Suffolk owl, so trimly dight,
With feathers like a lady bright,
Thou sittest alone, singing at night
Te whit, te whoo, te whit, te whoo,
Thy note that forth so freely rolls
With shrill command the mouse controls,
And sings a dirge for dying souls,
Te whit, te whoo, te whit, te whoo.
*Crazy Owl’s story will appear in my next book Gatherer of Souls.
Dafydd ap Gwilym, Poems, (Gomer Press, 1982)
Charles Hardwick, Traditions, Superstitions, Folklore, (Forgotten Books, 2012)
Kristine Weinstein, The Owl in Art, Myth, and Legend, (Book Sales, 1991)
Marianne Taylor, Owls, (Bloomsbury, 2012)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
‘The Hunter Hackelnberg and the Tut-Osel’
‘Battle not with monsters Lest you become a monster. If you gaze into the abyss The abyss also gazes into you.’
You call us monsters,
we with single eyes in our heads
glaring with an ugly neon green light.
We who keep battalions of men beneath
the roofs of our mouths and in our napes,
fat with hundreds of souls softly slither
through the netherworld’s nocturnal
grandeur undoing form and shape.
If you wish to live and prosper battle not with monsters.
Do not pierce us with spears.
Do not slice off our sanguine limbs
and nail them to the gables of your halls.
Do not cut off our voices with our heads.
Do not come to us with mirrors for fear
of being turned to stone and slaughter
all of our many-headed reflections. Do not lure us with scantily…
In The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman (*spoilers ahead*) there is a frightening scene where Caramon Majere and Tasslehoff Burrfoot accidentally travel forward two years ahead of their own time. They arrive in a landscape of ‘slick ash-gray mud’, ‘ragged boulders’, and ‘fire-blackened stumps’. The sky is ‘a strange violet colour, boiling with weird luminescent clouds laced with lightning of brilliant blue’. Rain falls ‘like molten lead’, thunder rolls, and fire sweeps across the mountains. Nothing is alive.
To their horror Caramon and Tasslehoff recognise the stumps of the great Vallenwood trees of the valley where Caramon’s home town of Solace lay. They discover a mass grave and a monument commemorating Caramon’s wife: ‘Tika Waylan Majere’ ‘Your life’s tree felled too soon. / I fear, lest in my hands the axe be found’. Beside it lies Caramon’s corpse with a chisel in its hand.
When night falls the companions see the three moons of magic and constellations of the gods have fallen and been replaced by a single new constellation: an hourglass.
This desolate future was created by Raistlin Majere, Caramon’s twin brother, a black-robed mage cursed with hourglass eyes that see all things dying by a wizard called Fistandantilus. In a desperate bid to prevent Fistandantilus from claiming his body as a vessel for his soul, Raistlin went back in time, becoming his foe and walking in his footsteps to a certain point.
Raistlin and Fistandantilus shared the same hubristic ambition: to slay Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, become gods themselves by claiming her power and killing all the other gods. Whereas Fistandantilus failed to open the portal to the Abyss where Takhisis dwells, Raistlin succeeded.
Previously Caramon and Tasslehoff went back in time to save Raistlin from himself. Throughout his life Caramon had supported his twin in spite of him committing increasingly ruthless deeds including attempting to kill him. Only when Raistlin said he would abandon Crysania, a cleric of Paladine, God of Light, once she was useless to him, did Caramon realise he was irredeemable.
Caramon left Raistlin in the distant past and, whilst trying to return to his own time, accidentally visited the future. Having seen what will happen he realises he must go through the portal into the Abyss and do something he should have done long ago: kill his brother.
The portal stands in the laboratory in the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. It takes the form of a door on a platform surrounded by the five heads of a dragon: black, white, blue, red, and green.
It is guarded by Raistlin’s dark elf apprentice, Dalamar. Dalamar is the sole witness to the wonders and horrors of his master’s magical experiments, his creation of the Live Ones and the Dead Ones, the withered things and staring eyes in the glass jars. Surprisingly he is not on Raistlin’s side. He is a spy for the Wizard’s Conclave who paid for his treachery when Raistlin burned five holes in his chest and has guessed what the world will be like if Raistlin succeeds.
When Caramon arrives in Raistlin’s laboratory Dalamar has been mortally wounded by Caramon and Raistlin’s half-sister, the Dragon High Lord Kitiara, who intended to support Raistlin. It is now up to Caramon to prevent Raistlin from returning through the portal.
Caramon enters and finds Crysania on the brink of death before confronting Raistlin. When Raistlin realises Caramon has not come to help him but to prevent him leaving he determines once again to kill his brother. Yet Caramon bears news of the future that Raistlin is, at first, hungry to hear:
‘You will win… You will be victorious, not only over the Queen of Darkness, but over all the gods. Your constellation alone will shine in the skies… over a dead world, Raistlin – a world of grey ash and smouldering ruin and bloated corpses. You are alone in the heavens, Raistlin. You try to create, but there is nothing left within you to draw upon, and so you suck life from the stars themselves until they finally burst and die. And then there is nothing around you and nothing inside you.’
Refusing to believe Caramon, Raistlin uses his magic to drag Caramon’s visions into his own mind. He sees ‘the bones of the world’ and ‘himself, suspended in the cold void, emptiness around him, emptiness within. It pressed down upon him, squeezed him. It gnawed at him, ate at him. He twisted in upon himself, desperately seeking nourishment – a drop of blood, a scrap of pain. But there was nothing there.’ Raistlin recognises the emptiness within himself and can ‘almost see his soul, frightened, lonely, crouched in a dark, empty corner.’
As Raistlin looks upon Crysania’s blackened body he imagines her eyes staring into his emptiness and realising there is nothing. Yet there is ‘something, not much, but something. His soul stretched forth its hand.’ He touches her blistered skin and realises she is not yet dead.
Raistlin gives up his plan and orders Caramon to take Crysania back through the portal whilst he fends off Takhisis to prevent her following, in spite of his knowledge of his fate: ‘You will be tortured in mind and body. At the end of each day, you will die from the pain. At the beginning of each night I will bring you back to life. You will not be able to sleep, but will lie awake in shivering anticipation of the day to come. In the morning my face will be the first sight you see.’
However, when Takhisis sinks her claws into Raistlin he is touched by a hand, a voice telling him it’s just a dream and he can wake up. A strong arm encircles him, a hand ‘forms childish pictures in the night’, “look, Raist, bunnies,” he hears Caramon’s voice.
Caramon takes Crysania through the portal and Raistlin closes it. Caramon’s love saves his brother and the world. The warrior returns to the Vallenwoods of Solace and his happy marriage with Tika to become the father of five children.
When Dalamar has recovered he pulls the curtain across the portal, shuts the staring eyes, locks the laboratory door ‘with a lock that has not been made by any locksmith on Krynn’ and gives the key to one of the spectral guardians to keep for ‘all eternity’.
The Test of the Twins is the third book of the Dragonlance ‘Legends’ trilogy and was published in 1986. I first read it when I was at high school. This ending has always stuck with me and is just as powerful and pertinent reading it twenty years on.
As hurricanes and wildfires imperil our world I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone came back from time with a report of ashen lands, barren rocks, blackened trees; the moon and stars falling from the sky to be replaced by a single constellation overlooking this age of the Anthropocene: Man
Only we cannot travel through a portal to prevent a black-robed mage from killing the gods. Beginning with our dragon-headed goddesses they were slaughtered by warriors and priests and the portals closed many centuries ago.
The powers who govern us are deaf to reports, visions, the pleas of their brothers. They cannot see their shrivelled souls cringing in the corners of their million pound penthouses, would never reach out to their victims, turn back to the gods, face their fates.
Luckily gods don’t stay dead forever and now they’re returning to our world. Our portals weren’t locked by dark elves although we might find them as guardians and surprisingly on our side. Caramon and Tasslehoff’s journey through time to save Raistlin and the world succeeded. The undoing of the Anthropocene is a magical quest we must likewise embark upon.
‘Thy time is thy own Though across it you travel Its expanses you see Whirling through forever Obstruct not its flow Grasp firmly the end and the beginning Turn them back upon themselves All that is loose shall be secure Destiny be over your head.’
– Instructions for a time travel device
from Time of the Twins
‘Every district has its last wolf.’
Lays of the Deer Forest
I watch across the troubled waters
of the Bay whilst you gather up
the Last Wolf of Lancashire
from Humphrey Head.
Some say he was driven
over Kirkhead and Holker
and plunged across the Leven,
sheltered on Coniston Old Man,
swam Windermere to Gummershaw,
Witherslack, Eggerslack, Grange,
met his end in Sir Edgar’s cave
by John Harrington’s lance,
others he fled the Bowland forest
where your ghost-wolves still howl
and was stuck by a thousand pikes
where tides meet the headland.
With thumb and forefinger
you squeeze his wounds closed,
pass your hand across glazed eyes
like the shadow of a lantern.
You shake out his pelt. His soul slips free
to join the wolf-dance in your death-light:
the dance of all the Last Wolves you gathered up…
From Gleann Chon-fhiadh, the Wolves’ Glen,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
pulled the dirk from her breast, the spear
from her flank, the steel gauntlet, lamhainn chruaidh from
the trap of her jaws,
laid her amongst
her slaughtered cubs
and sang out their yelping souls.
From between Fi-Giuthas and Pall-a-chrocain,
pinewood known for deer and township in the crooked river,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
carried back his heavy black head
severed for fear he’d live again,
sewed up his severed throat,
wounds where he’d been buckled and dirkit,
sang his black shape hurtling back
through pines, upriver, startling deer.
From a cave of bones in Helmsdale
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Sutherland:
closed her stab-wounds,
straightened out her tail from when she was suspended
by a God-like hand, wolf-shadow snapping
ineffectually over her dead cubs,
their ruddy-armed killer.
Her tail straight,
you sang her family whole into the Otherworld.
You gathered up the Last Wolf
of Inverness: pieced together his skull
shattered by an old woman’s frying pan,
sang him back to where he will no longer
prowl into houses or lick
a human hand.
You gathered up all the Last Wolves from
the Wolf’s Rivers, Burns, Crags, Glens, Dens,
Hills, even from Wormhills. You gathered
up the Last Wolf of the Weald
as you gathered up the Last Elk, Aurochs, Bear, Lynx, Boar…
I watch the Last Wolves join your wolf-dance.
White wolves, grey wolves, black wolves,
she-wolves and cubs vivid as stars
whilst bioluminescent fishes
leap across the Bay.
‘And here is our old grey enemy, the last wolf in England, stone dead.’
Many counties claim England’s wolf. Lancashire is no exception. It’s a story to raise the hackles, stir a deep and ominous growl from the pit of the belly of anyone who loves the wild.
This mean old tale is set during the fourteenth century but written records are comparatively recent. The earliest appears in The Remains of John Briggs (1825). Here we are told ‘a bold and intrepid knight, named Harrington, fixed his abode at Wraysholme’ and ‘erected the Tower’.
In Harrington’s day all the wolves in the south had been killed, but a few remained in the forest of Cartmel. ‘These it was his amusement to hunt, in order to exterminate the breed.’
Whilst hunting on Humphrey Head, Harrington was ‘stopped by the shrieks of a female in extreme peril’. She was trapped in the cleft of a rock by ‘an enormous wolf… his barking was tremendous and death lightened his eyes’. John ‘transfixed the animal with his lance’.
The hapless maiden immediately fell in love with her rescuer and they married. Harrington made the wolf – the last in England – his crest. The ‘happy pair… were buried in a niche in Cartmel church. Their effigies were cut in stone with a figure of the wolf at their feet.’
In an elaborated retelling in a ballad printed in the Annals of Cartmel (1872) King Edward had offered a prize for the head of the last wolf in England. To win it Sir Edgar Harrington organised a hunt and promised the hand in marriage of Adela, his ward, to the killer of the wolf.
Two knights competed for her favour: Leyburn and the mysterious Delisle. Delisle was a stranger who appeared on a white Arab horse. Adela wanted neither as her heart belonged to John Harrington, Edgar’s son, who she believed had died fighting in foreign lands.
The hunt reached its end on ‘Humphrey’s Height’ with the wolf ‘racked with sore distress’ approaching a ‘black hole’. Adela sat aboard a palfrey on the other side. Delisle’s horse leapt the chasm where Leyburn’s failed. To Adela’s horror the ‘wild wolf’ burst into sight baring its ‘glistening teeth’.
When Adela next looked the wolf and Delisle’s horse lay dead and the knight unscathed. Delisle revealed his identity as John Harrington, Adela’s lost love, and the pair were married immediately by a priest in a cave ‘called Sir Edgar’s Chapel still’.
The head of the last wolf in England became John Harrington’s crest. The ballad ends:
In Cartmel’s Church his grave is shown,
And o’er it side by side,
All graved in stone lie brave sir John,
And Adela his bride.
The tale was further romanticised in Jerome Mercier’s novel The Last Wolf (1906) where it is retold from the perspective of a friend of Adela’s called Margaret of Arnside. John Harrington was sent away to fight in the Crusades and Adela feared he had been killed by Turks. He again re-appeared as Delisle on a ‘milk-white Arab’.
Only Delisle’s horse made the leap as rushing toward Margaret and Adela came a ‘gristly beast… with grinning jaws and cruel, bloodless eyes… no hound but the wolf itself, in the rage of imminent death.’ Delisle’s horse was torn down yet he transfixed the wolf with his spear.
As Adela fainted from her horse John caught her and she recognised her former love. Again they were married on the spot in Sir Edgar’s Chapel.
The story ends: ‘And so, by the will of God, and in His own good time, the old, rough, cruel days passed away, even like the race of wolves – the last one being slain by a gentle Christian knight. Thus were the ignorance and cruelty of former ages slain by gentlehood and Christianity, and ere long the dawn of a new day came…’
The story of Lancashire’s last wolf has a basis in the local landscape and its history but doesn’t all ring true. John Harington (de Haverington) was a real person. His father was Sir Robert de Haverington. As far as I am aware no records of a Sir Edgar Harrington exist. John was born in Farleton in 1281 and owned lands in Furness. He did not build Wraysholme Tower, which was erected during the 15th century.
John was knighted in 1306 and in 1309 accompanied Edward II on a military expedition to Scotland and stayed within the military until 1335. It seems likely he was involved in the First War of Scottish Independence (1296 – 1314) which ended in Scottish victory when Edward was defeated by Robert de Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn. It is impossible that John fought in the Crusades because the ninth and final Crusade took place between 1271 and 1272.
Sir John was married to Joan of the Dacre family (not to Adela), died in Aldingham, and was buried at Cartmel Priory in 1347. At the foot of John’s tomb there is a grotesque with a face that looks part-human, part-wolf, with what looks like a serpent’s tail. The creature at Joan’s tomb-foot, more strangely, looks part-mermaid, part-lion! Unfortunately I have been unable to find out anything more about these enigmatic sculptures.
A wolf appears on the Harington family crest and a golden wolf’s head is the weathervane on Cartmel Priory.
It seems possible John Harington was associated with the hunting of Lancashire’s last wolf and killed it in the cave on Humphrey Head in the early 14th century. If this is the case, the story was clearly embellished, perhaps by John’s descendants when they built Wraysholme Tower during the 15th century as a way of romanticising and justifying their rulership. I remain sceptical about the wolf attacking a screaming maiden and the ‘love story’ being true.
It’s significant to note that an entirely different variant exists wherein the wolf was hunted down by local people from the Bowland Fells and slaughtered with pikes on Humphrey Head. Additionally, other accounts claim that wolves roamed Bowland well into the 15th century.
Wolves have been present on the land-mass we know as Britain for at least 120,000 years. This is evidenced by wolf bones found with the remains of hyenas, hippos, elephants, tigers, deer, weasels, and rabbits, in Kirkdale Cave in North Yorkshire.
‘A rude instrument produced from a wolf’s metacarpal bone’ found with the Red Lady of Paviland, the oldest ceremonial burial in Western Europe dating to 33,000 years ago, in Goat’s Hole Cave on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales is suggestive of a long-standing tradition of humans interacting with wolves and associating them with death and passage to the Otherworld.
Dogs began evolving from wolves 32,000 years ago and were domesticated by European hunter-gatherers. When the first humans returned to Britain after the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, following the reindeer north, they and their dogs would have competed with wolves and feared and revered them as fellow predators.
Various examples of human bones gnawed by canids before their burial from the prehistoric period show the ancient Britons practiced excarnation. They left the corpses of their dead outside so the flesh could be consumed by wolves or dogs then buried the bones afterward.
Wolves and dogs were sacred to the ancient British hunter god Nodens/Nudd ‘the superior wolf-lord’ and his son Vindos/Gwyn. Gwyn owns a wolfish dog called Dormach, ‘Death’s Door’ and hunts with dogs who devour the corpses of the dead before he gathers their souls to Annwn.
Wolves/dogs appear as guardians of the underworld in many world myths. Intriguingly both Dormach and Cerberus, guardian of Hades in Greek mythology, have serpent’s tails, just like the wolf pictured at the foot of John Harington’s tomb who uncannily shares Dormach’s grin…
The relationship between humans and wolves (but not dogs) broke down in the Neolithic as people transitioned from hunting and gathering to farming. The woodland habitat of wolves was destroyed and, as humans laid claim to the herds, the displaced wolves became seen as a nuisance who preyed on ‘their’ animals.
Wolves gained a reputation for being numerous and noisome. According to Hector Boece a king called Dorvadilla who ruled Scotland in 2BCE decreed: ‘he slayer of ane wolf to have ane ox to his reward… Oure elders persewit this beist with gret hatreut, for the gret murdir of beistis.’ Boece’s translator notes the Caledonian forest had ‘gret plente of… wolffis’ and describes the ‘wolffis’ as being ‘rycht noysum to the tame bestiall in all parts of Scotland.’
References from Y Gododdin equating warriors with wolves: Gwefrfawr is ‘a wolf in fury’ and Tudfwlch the ‘wolf of the host’ and bleiddiad, ‘wolfish warrior’, suggest wolves were still held in a certain amount of esteem for their ferocity amongst the Britons in the 6th century.
However, in Arthurian mythology, Rhymi, who goes ‘in the form of a she-wolf’, and her whelps, Gwyddrud and Gwydden ‘two old men from the land of enchantment’, are hunted down by Arthur and changed ‘back into their own shape’. Arthur contends with Gwrgi Garwlwyd, ‘Rough Grey’, another wolfish shapeshifter, and slaughters cynvyd, ‘dog-heads’ ‘by the hundred’.
Wolves continued to be heavily persecuted into the Middle Ages because they preyed on flocks, devoured the corpses of the dead after battles, and dug them up after burial. The Welsh King Hywel Da paid a tribute of 300 wolf-skins to King Athelstan in 950. Norman kings employed wolf hunters who operated wolf-pits and allowed criminals to pay for their crimes in wolf-tongues rather than being put to death.
Edward I ordered the extermination of all wolves from England and Edward II followed in his footsteps. This led to their extinction from England and Wales in the 15th century and Scotland in the 19th century.
Of all extinct animals wolves seem to speak to humans the loudest. This is demonstrated by our plethora of last wolf stories and the comparative lack of tales about the last elk, aurochs, lynx, beaver…
I’m always surprised by how many people in the Pagan community have wolf guides. This seems to go deeper than them simply being ‘cool’ and may have a basis in their presence within the landscape as animals we shared a sacred relationship with for many thousands of years.
Wolves haunt us. Their absence from our physical and spiritual ecosystems leaves a yawning howling gap that, like Bwlch Safan y Ci, ‘the Pass of the Dog’s Mouth’, will never be closed.
A.O.H. Jarman (transl.), Aneirin, Y Gododdin, (Gomer Press, 1998)
Ed Yong, ‘Origin of Domestic Dogs‘, The Scientist,
Janice Short, ‘Wolf’s Tale’, The Wolves and Humans Foundation,
James Stockdale, Annals of Cartmel, (Kessinger, 2010)
Jason Smalley, ‘England’s Last Wolf‘, Way of the Buzzard
Jerome Mercier, The Last Wolf, (Grange Over Sands, 1906)
John Briggs, The Remains of John Briggs (Kessinger, 2010)
Marianne Sommer, Bones and Ochre: The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland, (Harvard University Press, 2008)
Natural Historian, ‘Kirkdale Cave Hyena Den‘, Naturalis Historia,
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
‘Arthur and the Porter’, Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective,
‘Ice Age Wolf Bones found in Thornton Cleveleys Garden‘, BBC News,
‘Wolves in Great Britain‘, Wikipedia,
‘the cloak fled from his body, a myriad of ravens having stripped from him his flesh sinew and skin leaving only great white pillars of bones, the foundation of a temple and a tower. I do not yet know where his head lies.’
You saw his cloak take flight
like the biggest magician’s illusion I have ever seen.
It’s said cloaks flutter like paper towels between remembering and forgetting
and we do not perceive their significance until ravens appear
at the windows of our towers to strip away the disguises
we wear like the Raven King.
We don’t want our cloaks to take flight.
We don’t want to be stripped down to flesh sinew and skin.
We don’t want our bones to be the pillars of temples and towers.
We want… we want… c-c-cars… h-h-houses… t-t-televisions
streaming an onslaught of violence whilst
we eat takeaways.
We don’t want to think about Brân torn apart
or to ponder which raven has taken
the jewel of his soul to a nest
of broken clocks
whilst the thrumming in our foreheads
says it’s in his head it’s in his head it’s in his head…
For seven and eighty years Brân’s head spoke counsels
of great wisdom before it was buried
and dug up like a bone
We have not yet found his head.
It’s cloaked beneath the wings of a myriad ravens
eluding us like the pea in the shell game,
whilst the towers crumble
and we wrap our cloaks tighter around us,
massage our heads, our crown chakras, our third eyes…
Allan o dywyllwch caf fy ngeni
Allan o waed caf fy ngeni
Allan o ysbryd caf fy ngeni
Yn canu o Annwn
Tri phelydryn golau
Tri phelydryn llais
Tri phelydryn wirionedd
I oleuo â rhyfeddod
Ac yn torri’r galon wytnaf
Yn canu o Annwn
Out of darkness I am born
Out of blood I am born
Out of spirit I am born
Singing from Annwn
Three rays of light
Three rays of voice
Three rays of truth
To illuminate with wonder
And break the hardest heart
Singing from Annwn
About a month ago I awoke with the symbol above in my mind with the name ‘Annuvian Awen’. Awen derives from the Indo-European *-uel ‘to blow’ and has the same root as the Welsh awel ‘breeze’. It is the primordial breath that binds all things, as Kristoffer Hughes says, ‘the voice of the universe speaking to itself’.
The Awen symbol was popularised by Iolo Morganwg in the 1860s. He claimed it was derived from a Welsh alphabet recorded by Nennius in the ninth century and that its meaning was ‘I am that I am’. It has been used by Neo-Druids since.
In medieval Welsh poetry ‘the ogyrven of threefold inspiration’ originate from the cauldron of Ceridwen. Crochan means both ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’. It is the place from which all beings of the universe are born and to where they return at death.
The cauldron of Ceridwen lies in Annwn, ‘Very Deep’, the ancient British Otherworld. It is guarded by the Head of Annwn: a god with many names who I know as Gwyn ap Nudd. Gwyn guides the souls of the dead and of living initiates to the cauldron.
The black background of the Annuvian Awen represents the origin of Awen from the darkness of Ceridwen’s cauldron in the depths of Annwn. The red stands for the blood of the dead (human and non-human) whose sacrifices have made it possible the living can have Awen. The white is spirit: the breath, the voice of truth, the misty otherlight of the ogyrven ‘spirits’ contained in the person of Gwyn ‘White’ who is also known as the giant Ogyrven.
When I had created the design I received the gnosis I must write a poem to accompany it in English and Welsh. My Welsh is very basic. Having written the English version with an eye to how it looked and sounded in Welsh, translating as I went, I contacted fellow awenydd and Welsh-speaker Greg Hill for help with the translation.
Greg corrected my grammatical errors and helped me with choices of individual words. Interestingly this led to changing the tense of the English poem from past to present which was a big improvement. This fortuitous exchange of Awen between awenyddion gave birth to the poem in its present form. We decided to use it with the symbol on the front page of ‘Awen ac Awenydd’: a website providing a repository of information on the awenydd path.
For me the Annuvian Awen forms an expression of the path of the awenydd that acknowledges the importance of depth in our increasingly superficial world; the need to recover the inspiration that lies in the deeps of Annwn and in the deep places of our souls to combat the soullessness that allows the destructive systems that are wrecking Thisworld to thrive.
The ways to Annwn are dark, misty, uncertain, steeped in blood, for the most part forgotten. Yet there are gods and guides who offer to walk with us and share our quest. So we go with them through the darkness, across the river of blood, to return with the otherlight to illuminate the beauty of Thisworld because not only our lives but the lives of our souls depend on it.