Detritus

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Three of my poems have been published on Gods & Radicals. ‘Hurricane Garbage’, ‘Sarcophagus City’, and ‘Self portrait as a rat at the world’s end’ explore the theme of detritus ‘waste or debris’. Each is based on a dream.

GODS & RADICALS

These three poems explore the theme of detritus – ‘waste or debris’. The term derives from the Latin deterere ‘wear away’. Drawing on this additional sense they attempt to wear away the ignorance that has led to the build-up of detritus threatening our environment and its inhabitants with a world’s ending. Each poem is based on a dream.

~

Hurricane Garbage

We hear it coming –

it’s like the morning when they empty the dustbins;
the rumbling of wheels in the sky,
the sky god’s garbage truck
inside out upside down
the biting mouth
that chewed the garbage is regurgitating a hurricane.

A shoal of thirteen million plastic bottles
has rattled from the deep into the sky’s crescendo.
They are playing each other like a glockenspiel.

I see wars amongst the plastic cutlery.
Plastic shopping bags are swollen demonic ghosts
with bulging foreheads branded with high street names
chased by…

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‘A Sow’s Feast’ published in Air n-aithesc

My poem ‘A Sow’s Feast’ has been published in the Air n-aithesc Lughnasadh/Samhain 2017 issue which can be purchased HERE. Air n-aithesc: Our Message is a peer-reviewed magazine that hopes to offer well researched material for Celtic Reconstructionists and others who value the role of academics as much as they value the role of the spiritual in their practice. The magazine’s main aim is to offer as many resources as possible, from research articles to in depth explorations of how personal experiences fit in with the sources,  book reviews, and much more.’

Air n-aithesc IV II

The Two Birds of Gwenddolau

In The Triads of the Island of Britain we find two triads referring to ‘the two birds of Gwenddolau’.

The first is Triad 10. W ‘Three Chieftains of Deira and Bernicia, and they were three bards, and three sons of Dissynyndawd, who performed the Three Fortunate Slayings’; ‘Gall son of Dissynyndawd who slew the two birds of Gwenddolau, who were guarding his gold and his silver: two men they used to eat for their dinner, and as much again for their supper.’

The second is Triad 32. ‘Three Men who performed the Three Fortunate Slaughters’. ‘Gall son of Dysgyfawd who slew the two birds of Gwenddolau. And they had a yoke of gold on them. Two corpses of the Cymry they ate for dinner, and two for their supper.’

These birds must have been significant and held a sinister reputation if their deaths are recorded twice amongst the three fortunate slaughters/slayings of the island of Britain.

Who or what were they and why were they so feared so much?

Birds who feast on the corpses of the dead are common in Brythonic tradition. To ‘feed the ravens’ or ‘feed the eagles’ is a common metaphor for death. Gwyn ap Nudd, a death-god, appears with ravens who ‘croak’ on ‘flesh’ and ‘gore’. In the Heledd Cycle the eagle of Eli drinks ‘has swallowed fresh drink, / heart blood of Cyndylan the fair’ and wallows in the blood of ‘fair men’. Similarly the eagle of Pengwern ‘is eager for the flesh of Cyndylan’.

Interestingly August Hunt suggests a possible etymology for Arderydd, where Gwenddolau lived and was killed in battle. ‘Ardd = Hill’, ‘Erydd (= eryr) = Eagle) ‘Eagle-Hill or Eagle-Height’. He backs this up with lines in ‘The Dialogue of Myrddin and His Sister, Gwenddydd’, gueith arderyd ac erydon’ ‘The Battle of Arderyd and the Eagles’.

It thus seems likely the two birds of Gwenddolau were eagles. We might enquire further ‘what kind of eagles?’ In the Heledd Cycle the eagle of Eli is clearly a white-tailed eagle (often referred to as a sea-eagle): ‘The eagle of Eli keeps the seas; / He will not course the fish in the Aber. / Let him call, let him look out for the blood of men!’

Haliaeetus_albicilla,_Mull_2 Wikipedia Commons

Ian L. Baxter argues that the white-tailed eagle is the ‘carrion-gulper’ of Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry in which ‘men… gave the eagle food’; ‘Olaf feeds the eagles… the erne* drinks his supper’. He notes the white-tailed eagle is a ‘predator, scavenger and kelptoparasite’ and has a ‘marked preference for carrion… compared with the golden eagle’. Thus I believe Gwenddolau’s birds were white-tailed eagles.

Parallels with Irish stories where pairs of birds bound by gold or silver chains are transformed humans suggest Gwenddolau’s two eagles may be of human origin. Owain Rheged’s army are depicted as ravens who attack Arthur’s army, first carrying off their heads, eyes, ears, and arms, then seizing men into the sky and tearing them apart between each other.

On the Papil Stone we find a fascinating portrayal of two axe-wielding human warriors with bird’s heads and long beaks with a human head between their beaks. It seems possible Gwenddolau’s birds were warriors transformed into white-tailed eagles.

Papilstone

Their ritualised eating of two corpses of the Cymry for dinner and two for supper may symbolise Gwenddolau’s brutality as a warlord who slays four of his Cymric neighbours every day. Or it might refer obliquely to him practicing excarnation – leaving the bodies of his own Cymric people to be eaten by the birds before they were buried. Whatever the case, their corpse-eating certainly inspired a significant amount of fear across the island of Britain.

It is of interest the birds were also seen as guardians of Gwenddolau’s gold and silver. Gwenddolau was renowned for ‘gathering booty from every border’. One of his most treasured possessions was a golden chessboard with silver men who, once set, played by themselves.

How Gall son of Dysgyfawd slew the two birds of Gwenddolau remains unknown. It might be conjectured that they were slain after Gwenddolau was killed at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 and his ‘Faithful War Band’ who ‘continued the battle for a fortnight and month’ were killed.

The death of Gwenddolau and his two birds, like Diffydell Dysgyfawd’s slaying of Gwrgi Garwlwyd, ‘Rough Grey’, who ‘used to make a corpse  of one of the Cymry every day, and two on each Saturday so as not to (slay) one on the Sunday’ might be seen to form part of a process of eradicating shapeshifters associated with the pagan world. Gwrgi’s appearance alongside ‘dog-heads’ in ‘Pa Gur’ suggests he was a dog-headed man who feasted on human flesh.

These beings may once have been considered psychopomps by the pre-Christian peoples of Britain, devouring the flesh of the dead and conveying their souls to the Otherworld, who appeared increasingly uncanny and threatening as pagan beliefs were eliminated and replaced by Christian ones.

In the Neolithic Tomb of the Eagles on Orkney the bones of eight white-tailed eagles were found alongside human remains. It is likely they were buried with the humans as guides into the next life. Perhaps the birds’ associations with treasure might be linked to their custodianship of the wealth of the grave and guardianship of grave goods?

No white-tailed eagles soar over Arderydd anymore. White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK in 1918 as a consequence of their poisoning and shooting by gamekeepers because they were viewed as threat to livestock and gamebirds. The slaughter of the two birds of Gwenddolau forms an unhappy precedent to the white-tailed eagle’s extinction.

However, white-tailed eagles have been reintroduced to the west coast of Scotland. Since their reintroduction in 1975, 140 have returned to the wild. Still they are threatened by those who seek to poison them and to steal their eggs. We have a long way to go to restoring the sense of sanctity surrounding these birds which was clearly in decline around the time of Gwenddolau.

~

In this poem I attempt to evoke the presence of the two birds of Gwenddolau:

Two warriors fight over the corpse;
two sea-eagles juggling,

sun-yellow metatarsals
a band around the head crushing,
beaks yellow, sharp-tipped,
spliced tongues

darting the eyes
tugging out the optic nerve
sucking up the olfactory
clawing into the pit of the heart.
The sticky lungs are stretched between two beaks,
the duodenum unravelled to the stars like a birth cord.
Well-oiled beaks slide between joints
snipping ligaments.

They glean the bones.
The skull shines on the hilltop of the eagles.

As the extracted part flees like a glowing grain
toward the light of the Otherworld
they rattle their chain,

stomp their feathered legs
and laced up talons.

How long until they are free
to circle Arderydd white-tailed on strong brown wings
coursing for fish and skudding clawing feet
across the shining skin of the sea?

~

*Earn is Anglo-Saxon for white-tailed eagle and erne is Gaelic.

SOURCES

August Hunt, The Mysteries of Avalon, (August Hunt, 2011)
Ian L. Baxter, ‘Eagles in Anglo-Saxon and Norse Poems’, https://www.academia.edu/29025802/Eagles_in_Anglo-Saxon_and_Norse_Poems
Kelly A. Kilpatrick, ‘The iconography of the Papil Stone’ http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-352-1/dissemination/pdf/vol_141/141_159_205.pdf
Mark Prigg, ‘The return of the sea eagle’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2216152/The-return-Sea-Eagle-Researchers-say-extinct-bird-thriving-Scottish-coast.html
Peter Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000, (National Library of Wales, 1993)
Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
William F. Skene (transl), ‘The Heledd Cycle’ http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/h16.html

The Myrddin Who Guides Me

The Myrddin who guides me is Merlin Silvestris not Merlin Ambrosius.

The Myrddin who guides me does not serve Arthur or wear a pointy wizard’s hat and designer robes.

The Myrddin who guides me does not live in a castle and scrape or bow or ensorcel for Christian warlords.

The Myrddin who guides me does not condone the wars the warlords of Britain cause and support.

The Myrddin who guides me remembers the Battle of Arfderydd repeating as if it was yesterday.

The Myrddin who guides me remembers Gwenddolau beneath red soil and stacks of heads and limbs.

The Myrddin who guides me remembers the departing souls and the Gatherer of Souls speaking to him…

a hand gripping him and assigning him to the wild things of the wood.

The Myrddin who guides me shed his battle-madness with his warrior’s calluses like dead skin.

The Myrddin who guides me flew as a hawk and ran as a pine martin.

The Myrddin who guides me was the friend of a happy little pig, a golden apple tree, a silver birch,

and a skinny-flanked wolf with age-whitened hairs who shared the icicles on his naked limbs.

The Myrddin who guides me spoke the Awen from the wells of Annwfn with the aid of a water-sprite.

The Myrddin who guides me was a terrible-eyed prophet who made every tree of Celyddon tremble

with warnings St Kentigern and the Christian warlords ignored.

The Myrddin who guides me died and is dead and haunts me with mynydd ellyllon, ‘mountain ghosts’.

The Myrddin who guides me predicted his death: by stoning, by a skewering stake, by drowning.

The Myrddin who guides me would never have begged for the sacrament from St Kentigern before his death.

The Myrddin who guides me is not the Myrddin kneeling in the stained glass window at Stobo Kirk.

The Myrddin who guides me smashes every window, every text, every screen. He will never be contained.

He bursts from this poem!

The Myrddin who guides me is Myrddin Wyllt: the mad, the wild, the free.

Loch Awe and Cuillich Wood 137 - Copy

Devotional Poetry

Devotional Poetry

My article on ‘Devotional Poetry’ in the Brythonic tradition has been published on the Dun Brython blog. I’m going to be running a workshop on devotional poetry on Sunday the 23rd of July at the Wood Spirit Camp at Humphrey Head Outdoor Centre near Grange-over-Sands. For more information see my events page.

Dun Brython

Devotional poetry is defined by the Oxford Reference Library as ‘poetry expressing religious worship or prayer’.

Whereas the mainstream religions possess many centuries of continuous material, within Brythonic polytheism we have no ancient devotional poetry. This is because the Druids and Bards who maintained the religious traditions of Britain and their predecessors did not write anything down.

The names of the Brythonic deities are known only through Romano-British inscriptions and texts and their symbolism through Roman statues. This provides evidence of their worship, yet yields few clues to the poems and stories that might have been performed in their honour.

Between the 4th and 7th centuries the Britons were Christianised. By the time the oral stories of the Brythonic gods and goddesses were penned by Christian scribes in medieval Wales they had been reduced to human-like characters albeit with magical attributes.

However, The Mabinogion and The Four Ancient Books of…

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A Prayer For When You Sleep

For Gwyn

Four months without your presence here,
May, June, July, August…

you have pulled the hill-doors shut,
drawn your shadow

into your fortress
where snow is heaped upon the roof

and you are guarded by a vigil
of loyal, loyal hounds.

In the blink of your eye
the fortress turns –

one moment
an eternity in Annwn,

here May, June, July, August…
The flowers mark the stations

of your sleep – bluebells, red campion, ox-eye daisies.
The trees are green with your rival’s victory

yet in a yew grove I see you sleepwalk,
mime the making of a bow.

For four months I count forget-me-nots,
blow white seeds of dandelions

into the silent tolling of Annwn
and gather mugwort.

Four months without your presence here,
May, June, July, August…

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Gwyn Altar - Sleeping - Caer Ochren - Meg Falconer
Image Caer Ochren, based on lines about the birth of Pen Annwn in Preiddu Annwn, by Meg Falconer

Interview and Review in Eternal Haunted Summer

Eternal Haunted Summer - Summer Solstice 2017 3_midsummer_fire_at_san_river_trepcza_sanok
Eternal Haunted Summer, Summer Solstice 2017

In the Summer Solstice 2017 edition of Eternal Haunted Summer, an e-zine publishing ‘pagan songs and tales’, I have been interviewed by editor, Rebecca Buchanan, and Rex Butters has reviewed my book, The Broken Cauldron. Do check out the diverse blend of poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and interviews.