The Madness of the March Wind on Gods & Radicals

My article ‘The Madness of the March Wind’ has been published on Gods & Radicals HERE. ‘The shift in perspective, from the March Wind as a mad but familiar ally to alphabetically named storms viewed as entirely dangerous and oppositional, reflects climate change and our changing attitudes toward the weather’.

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Henwen – The Birthing and Devouring Sow

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I. Henwen – ‘Old White’

In Triad 26. we find the story of a sow called Henwen ‘Old White’. She belongs to Dallwyr Dalben and is kept in Glyn Dallwyr in Cornwall in the care of Coll, son of Collfrewy, one of three ‘Three Powerful Swineherds.’ She becomes pregnant and it is ‘prophesied that the Island of Britain would be the worse for the womb-burden.’ Therefore Arthur and his warriors set out to destroy her.

When Henwen is ready to farrow she goes into the sea at Penrhyn Awstin and is followed by Coll (and, presumably, Arthur and his men). Landing in Wales she begins to give birth to offspring. Surprisingly, they are not piglets! In Gwent she brings forth a grain of wheat and a bee, giving the name to Wheat Field, and in Pembroke barley, ‘therefore, the barley of Llonion is proverbial.’ In these two instances, in South Wales, Henwen’s births are benign and generative, creating crops and pollinators.

When Henwen reaches North Wales, however, she gives birth to wild creatures. At the Hill of Cyferthwch in Arfon she brings forth a wolf-cub and a young eagle. The wolf is given to Bergaed and the eagle to Breat, princes of the North, and they are both ‘the worse for them.’ We find a contrast between the fertile plains of South Wales and the wilder, more rugged regions of North Wales.

‘At Llanfair in Arfon under the Black Rock’ she gives birth to a kitten who is thrown by Coll into the sea. The sons of Palug foster it in Môn (Anglesey) ‘to their own harm’ and it becomes known as Palug’s Cat. In ‘Arthur and the Porter’ we are told that it was eventually ‘pierced’ by Arthur and his men. However, before they managed to kill it, nine score chieftains fell at dawn and it devoured them. Palug’s Cat was one of Three Great Oppressions of Môn along with Daronwy, and Edwin, King of Lloegr.

II. A Sow’s Feast

It believe that Henwen also makes an appearance in ‘The Fourth Branch’ of The Mabinogion. In this story Gwydion is searching for his nephew, Lleu. Gwydion stays at the house of a peasant in Manor Bennard. He learns his learns his host owns a sow who returns every night to feed her piglets. However, nobody knows where she goes during the day ‘any more than if she sank into the earth’. These lines recall Triad 26. where Henwen sinks into the sea, suggesting her otherworldly nature.

Gwydion follows the trail of the sow to a mighty oak which stands between two lakes and is neither wetted by water nor melted by fire. At its roots the sow is feasting hungrily on rotten flesh and maggots. When Gwydion looks up he sees they are falling from Lleu, who is perching in eagle-form in the top-most boughs, pierced by the spear of his rival, Gronw, the gore dripping from his rancid wound.

In the context of this story it seems significant that Gwydion is led to Lleu by this mysterious sow. Earlier Gwydion stole the seven piglets who were given to Pryderi, son of Pwyll Pen Annwn, by Arawn, King of Annwn (along with Coll and Drystan, Pryderi was one of the ‘Three Powerful Swineherds’).

These piglets were special, ‘some kind of creature that has never been in this island before has arrived in the South’. Gwydion’s theft led to a chase from South to North Wales and several devastating battles between his men and Pryderi’s. Pryderi was finally killed by Gwydion in single combat.

It is my intuition Henwen was the Annuvian mother of the seven piglets. Her devouring of Gwydion’s nephew may represent her taking back from him in exchange for what was stolen from her. The chase South to North and trail of devastation are thematically linked with Henwen’s story.

Another point of note is that Daronwy, ‘The Oak of Goronwy’, is referred to as ‘the radiance of the men of Goronwy’ and therefore associated with Lleu’s rival, Gronw Pebr (pebyr mean ‘radiant’). It could be the oak where Lleu perched after being wounded by Gronw’s spear – a scene based on an older initiatory myth. With Henwen’s clawing child, Palug’s Cat, it is included in the Oppressions of Mon. Thus it makes sense to find Henwen devouring the dying Lleu back into Annwn at its roots.

III. Hwcha Ddu Gwta – ‘Black Short-Tailed Sow’

In Welsh folklore we find a mysterious verse about Hwch Ddu Gwta ‘Black Short-Tailed Sow’:

Black short-tailed sow
On every stile
Spinning and weaving
On Calan Gaeaf night

Get home quick, be the first
The Hwch Ddu Gwta gets the last.

She is said to emerge from the ashes of bonfires on Nos Galan Gaeaf and wait at stiles to prey on people walking home late. It is bad luck to be the last to get home as Hwch Ddu Gwta will eat you.

It seems possible the white Henwen, the birthing mother who provided the harvest, is also the black devourer.

There is a similar legend in southern Sweden. Gloso is a ‘glowing sow’ who appears ‘over the twelve days of Christmas’ with ‘eyes of fire, sparks spring from her bristle, and she travels like a burning flame.’ This recalls Hwch Ddu Gwta’s birth from the embers on Nos Galan Gaeaf.

She is also connected with the harvest. Three blades of wheat are left for her in the field. ‘These are for Gloso: one for Christmas night, one for the night of the new year, one for king’s night.’ This makes me wonder whether similar rituals existed to appease the harvest sow in her darker winter apparel.

IV. Ceridwen – The Old Mother

Greg Hill suggests Hwch Ddu Gwta might be connected with the Ladi Wen ‘White Lady’ who also walks abroad on Nos Galan Gaeaf, and with Ceridwen, the goddess of the cauldron. Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, also identified the sow with Ceridwen, ‘the White Lady of Death and Inspiration.’

It is my personal belief that Ceridwen is the Old Mother of the Universe, the Great Goddess from whose crochan, ‘womb’ or ‘cauldron’, all life is born and to whom it returns at death. This would certainly fit with the Henwen ‘Old White’ as the mother who births harvests and monsters and swallows the dead.

SOURCES

Charles Lecouteux, Phantom Armies of the Night: The Wild Hunt and the Ghostly Processions of the Dead, (Inner Traditions, 2011)
Greg Hill, ‘Traditional Customs for the Calend of Winter’, Dun Brython
Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Robert Graves, The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (Faber & Faber, 1999)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
William Skene (transl.), ‘Arthur and the Porter’, Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective

The Loneliest Bench in the World

The loneliest bench in the world
stands beneath grey clouds.
It has always been there
on the bank of the Douglas
in the late afternoon glooms of March
as the dark moon curls within herself
and the oyster catchers sing
and Warton Aerodrome
looks like a distant space-dream.
You can stay there if you wish
or leave down the country lanes
where the remains of barns
look like Golgotha
through the always rain
and try to find a way home.

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On Vocation and the Mystical Collage

Vocation, from the Latin vocatio ‘a call or summons’ by God/a god, is rarely discussed in the Pagan communities, yet it is central to other religions. Why the silence? Is it because not all Pagans see Paganism as a religion? Because not all are called to revere and worship and serve the gods? If only a few of us receive such a calling and there is no framework of support within the major Pagan organisations, how do we navigate the highs and lows, the trials and pitfalls, of trying to live a vocation that has no precedent in the modern world and cannot be wholly reconstructed from the ancient?

These are questions I have been faced with, have wrestled with, have returned to time and time again during the last seven years over which I’ve finally responded to my calling by serving an apprenticeship to the Brythonic god Gwyn ap Nudd and making a lifelong dedication to him as his awenydd.

At the very beginning I knew of no-one else who had a received calling from a god. Having discovered the awen and the Brythonic myths through Druidry I met others within the Oak and Feather Grove and the Druid Network who offered support, but only a few who could relate to my experiences.

Only a few people experienced the awen as a burning all-consuming force demanding total dedication, that could only be quenched in the ice of a death-god, that would only be satisfied when its flames were seared as words onto a page, the cost of whose burning is burn-out and the ashes of depression.

Thus, for the most part, I stumbled through the mist and the darkness with the guidance of my god as my only certainty and, in my darkest moments, sometimes wondered if I could even trust him, he of many names and guises, whose realm is one of uncertainty and illusion, whose hounds are not always hounds. (So far his lack of pretences to truth and lack of false promises have always proved true).

Through speaking openly about my experiences and reaching out to others I slowly began to find other polytheists who had experienced a similar calling and shared all the same problems. The main one being that we have no support structure, no guidance, no place within secular society or the big religions. That we all know in our hearts what we are doing by building devotional relationships with the gods and spirits of the land and bringing inspiration to our communities has value, but this cannot be seen or understood by a society that values material wealth and economic growth above all else.

Because of this it is impossible to make a living from such a vocation. Yet some people manage to find careers through which it might be expressed such as teaching, counselling, conservation; some even get paid for their art. Others take any job that pays the bills and leaves the mind free for the true work.

I am currently making a small amount of income from book sales, writing for Gods & Radicals, and from my Patreon supporters, and have been able to live off this because my parents put me up. However, as this ultimately unsustainable, I am aware the time has arrived to return to part-time work.

Perhaps this has always been the case. Mysticism has never spoken to the masses, yet for those who follow such a path, the words of the mystics of the past are like bright shining jewels that glitter above the abyss, and can be life saving. Thus I write to add words born out of dedication to my gods to that glittering collage in the hope they will shine for others in the future.

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The question I pose to others is how can we support each other when there is no institutional support? How can we make our collage outshine the allure of goods and wealth? How can we work together as co-creators of a world in which the gods are honoured and the land and its spirits are respected?

One of the reasons Greg Hill and myself set up the Awen ac Awenydd website and several awenyddion set up the Facebook group was to create an online space for such discussions. I’d be interested to hear the response of people from the wider Pagan and Polytheist communities.

Ffortiwna

Ffortiwna
you are beautiful
sparkling-eyed
contagious laughter

humming at your wheel
the silver threads of destiny
shimmering between your fingers
your silver thimble dancing
as you sew our garments

your magpies plucking
the threads and cutting them off
with a snap of their beaks.

On your loom we are broken
and rewoven more tightly
into your singing web.

You are spider-like
in your song many-eyed
watching over us.

You are undecipherable.

We count your magpies
but cannot guess your will.

You raise us up and whirl us
through the skies in your chariot
of thundering silver wheels
then you hurl us down.

Still I come to court you
with magpie-feathered hair
on bent trembling knees

in gratitude and acceptance.

Everyone weeps with me.

Wheels and Feather of Ffortiwna

*This poem was written as a response to ‘O Fortuna‘, a complaint about the goddess of Fortune in the Classical myths. A few months ago I had an encounter with the Gallo-Brythonic god Taranis and his daughter, who told me she was known as Fortune by the Romans. I afterwards intuited that in the eyes of the Britons she would have been known as Ffortiwna. This poems attempts to present a more balanced view of this goddess based on my personal gnosis.

Patron Rewards for February

Snowdrops Walton Park

Patron rewards for February have been mailed out to my supporters on Patreon. In my monthly newsletter I discuss the unseasonable shift in the weather from snow and ice to walking round in shorts and a t-shirt after a temperature rise of twenty degrees and my concerns about another summer of drought combining with Brexit. I also share how my relationships with my gods and working with myths has helped me through the testing time of my umbilical hernia repair operation and a consequent infection.

This month’s crazy thing is a poem based on a vision of ‘the Book of the Living Hand’, which I intuited contained some of the names of the spirits of Annwn and was used to invoke them. It belonged to ‘the Magician of the Orme’ (the Great Orme) and he sacrificed his hand to close it. Whether this has any basis in history or lore or is purely a fiction I’ve been inspired to write remains to be investigated…

In ‘Unseen Work’ I share the story of Daronwy, ‘the Oak of Goronwy’, the Brythonic World Tree. This is written in the voice of Y Darogan Annwn and tells of its planting by the Mother of Annwn, the wars between the gods, and its impending destruction by humanity.

You become a supporter of my work on Patreon and sign up to receive these rewards HERE.

The Epiphany of Lleu Llaw Gyffes

Lleu

I. The Oak

Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree

Tell me why
he has pierced us
with his spear

Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree

Tell me why
ooze drips from our
rancid wounds

Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree

Tell me why
we are filled with
rot and maggots

Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree

Tell me what
visions we must see
in these leaves

Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree
Lleu-in-the-Tree

Tell me what
lessons we have
failed to learn

II. Lleu’s Lament

I am filled with bitterness:
black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, blood,
yet no theory of the humours
or anatomy of melancholy
explains my sad state

and no letting of blood
or application of leeches can
purge the badness within.

So I am here on this tree
telling the story of how I saw
the sun and it was Fool’s Gold.
My wife was made of flowers.
My armour turned to dust.
My fortress was rubble.

I have lost the meaning of my name.

I have come to doubt I even exist,
yet cannot close my eagle eyes.

Like the Eagle of Gwernabwy
I have watched civilisations rise and fall.
Like the Eagles of Pengwern and Eli
I have sunk my beak into flesh
and tasted rot and maggots.

I have seen the rotting corpses
on the battlefield at the end of the world,
the souls sparkling like iron pyrite
in the veins of the night skies.

I have looked into the abyss
and the bright lights do not console me.

I go with reluctance into Gwydion’s arms.

III. Lleu’s Resurrection

He does not want to live,
this putrid sack of dirty feathers,
bones, rotten flesh, stench,

still I clamp my mouth to his,

massage his reluctant heart
slippery and recalcitrant.

When this does not work
I call upon all the electricity
from Maentwrog Power Station,
take the paddles and recite

the words of a forbidden spell
stolen from the depths of Annwn
to bring life to the newly dead.

An ALMIGHTY FLASH –

his body jerks like frog’s legs
or the monster of Frankenstein.

He breaks the leathery bonds,
shakes off his feathers and rises
like the sun from my stony table
leaving a black charred shape.

A haze of smoke surrounds him.

His eyes are burning his hair aflame!

BEHOLD THE RESURRECTION
OF THE LIGHTNING GOD!

IV. Dinas Lleu

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

woodbine twines the walls
as if in search for a lover

an owl circles overhead
with a hoot is gone.

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

thistles break into the hall
to find an empty hearth

the fire long gone out,
a pile of black char.

Lleu will not return
to Dinas Lleu tonight

in the ashes I scrawl
with a feather the outline

of a bird against the sun
unknowing if it is the end

or beginning of a myth.

*I wrote this sequence of poems in a single morning shortly after finding out I’d got an infection following my hernia repair operation. Thankfully it seems to have cleared up now.