The Dragon’s Tongue

How Can I

speak of dragons
when dragons from the world are gone?

How can I
be your inspired one
when the myths of the gods are lost?

To sing them back from the void before creation
I will need a dragon’s tongue!

Lord of Annwn
grant me the strength
by the breath of dragons
to write this book.

Over the past few weeks I have known possession by the awen; the inspiration, the divine breath that flows from Annwn, the breath of the gods, the breath of dragons; like I have never known it before.

It’s come after a couple of fallow years; sowing, reaping, dissatisfaction with flawed and failed crops.

I was beginning to fear that, after making my lifelong vows to Gwyn ap Nudd, to serve him as his awenydd, that the awen had dried up. What irony! A tiny part of me had begun to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Whether my powers of discernment were off. Whether he’d been having a laugh with me.

But my soul, to him eternally present, spoke otherwise. Only now I’ve realised I’d experienced a time of labouring, harrowing, preparing the ground for the oak to rise and the lightning to strike. For my fall from the tree amidst this collective shattering of the grounds of our society brought about by COVID-19 and into Annwn, the Deep, where I was to find the Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue.

Thus has been born my next mythic book – The Dragon’s Tongue. Much of it has been gifted to me at dawn, in response, I believe to my evening prayers, in particular to Gwyn, Gwyn’s father, Nodens, Lord of Dream, Gwyn’s mother, Anrhuna, Dragon Mother of Annwn, and Gwyn’s beloved, Creiddylad.

You will probably not be surprised when I say their stories are central, with those of the dragons, and their conflict with the Children of the Stars*. There isn’t much evidence for dragons in the Brythonic/Welsh myths aside for an episode where Lludd/Nudd/Nodens ends a plague by ending the battle between two dragons and another where they appear, red and white, in a vision of Merlin Emrys. But there is the red dragon is on the Welsh flag and dragons are all around us in our folklore.

I’ve been reading mythic literature, journeying with the deep gods, the dragon-gods, long enough to know, when you get to the bottom of any myth, as Gordon White says, it is ‘dragons all the way down’.

I have long wanted to write the story of Anrhuna, the forgotten Dragon Mother, and also a creation myth. I have wanted what is lacking in the Brythonic/Welsh stories penned by medieval Welsh scribes. Something polytheistic, something penned by an inspired one of the gods, that provides insights into the mysteries of creation, of life, death, and rebirth, without the patriarchal Christian overlay.

Finding nothing else I realised I would have to do it myself. Following being gifted with the voice of the Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue I started in the beginning, in the Deep, with Old Mother Universe and her Cauldron and how a dragon slipped from it and fell into the Abyss. How, from formlessness, she gave birth to the elements in dragon-form to form the world (yes – the world was made by dragons and not by God or some other demiurge). How the Children of the Stars slew Anrhuna, cut off her nine dragon heads with their long necks, and bound them on the Towers of the Wyrms…

From this flowed the story of the conflict between the Children of Annwn and the Children of the Stars, a tale of love and war, the mysteries of birth, death, and rebirth, of the coming of the Black Dragon.

After I swore to Gwyn that I would complete it beneath the leaning yew, where I met him, I got most of the first draft written over those days of thunder. When the lightning from the Spear of Lugus which killed Anrhuna lit the skies, when the rain poured, when the energy was strange and high.

This, I believe, would not have been possible if we were not in lockdown due to COVID-19. If I had not had this time without the pressures of finding paid work by volunteering with the Wildlife Trust and helping organise local poetry nights. If I had not stopped drinking, got off social media, started counselling for my anxiety and found out its root is having Asperger’s, which has helped me to stop blaming myself for my failures in ‘the real world’ and to cultivate space for my gods and my soul.

The birth of this book has restored by faith in my gods and through it I finally feel reborn as Gwyn’s awenydd. The first draft is complete, but is far from perfect, and I am predicting it may take months, even a year or so to firm it up. But, it has been born, and I am incredibly excited about it.

So if you’re interested watch this space and if you’re really interested you can find out more about my creative processes and see unseen work, including some of the drafts, by supporting me on Patreon HERE.

*My name for the Children of Bel(i) and Don.

The Spirit of the Depths and the Service of the Soul

My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned. I am here again.’
Carl Jung

In his Red Book Carl Jung speaks of refinding his soul and rebuilding his relationship with her after a period of soul loss. He was called to do this by ‘the spirit of the depths’ who is opposed to ‘the spirit of this time’:

‘The spirit of this time would like to hear of use and value… that other spirit forces me nevertheless to speak beyond justification, use, and meaning… He took away my belief in science… my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical. He robbed me of speaking and writing for everything that was not in his service.’

Jung records how the spirit of the depths opened his eyes to vision – to his soul, the things of the soul, and the soul world. This spirit forced Jung to stop treating his soul as a ‘scientific object’ and told him to ‘call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul.’

Once he reached that awareness Jung called out to his soul and encountered her as a person and as a living landscape. She appeared to him in a number of guises (all female) – as Salome, as the spirit of a dead girl (who forced him to eat her liver!), as a serpent, and as a ‘small white bird’. She showed him a variety of visions, some of which predicted the First World War, some beautiful, most Hellish. She appeared to him as a desert, and, it may be argued, as the many places in Hell he explored.

Jung learnt that he is merely the ‘symbol and expression’ of his soul. She taught him that everything he does and says ‘comes from and belongs to me’. Ultimately he entered ‘the service of the soul’.

***

Jung’s words are of interest not only because they contain a great deal of mystical depth and wisdom but because they remind me of my own calling to serve Gwyn ap Nudd, a god of Annwn (‘the Deep’ – the soul world in the Brythonic tradition) and to restore my relationship with my own soul.

Like Jung I was called away from service to ‘the spirit of the times’ by ‘the spirit of the depths’.

From doing something ‘of use and value’ to the ‘inexplicable’ and ‘paradoxical’ – to ‘the service of the soul’. This happened when I decided to write my PhD thesis on ‘Imagination’ in William Blake’s prophetic books rather than trending topics and in my choice to write books based on personal visions that challenge the grounds of already obscure Brythonic/Welsh myths rather than a ‘how to’.

It’s only since I’ve accepted I’m never going to be able to make a living from such work and stopped using social media to publicise it I’ve managed to make space to journey and write more deeply.

Over the past month I’ve begun a quest, like Jung’s, for ‘a myth to live by’, that has been calling me even further away from the myths that others recognise from the medieval Welsh texts. To visions of my gods that are more direct, unfiltered by Christianised narratives, but less recognisable and hence relatable (unless, as I hope, I ultimately succeed on touching, through the personal, on the universal…).

In this space, as a way of repairing my own soul loss, I have been reconsidering my relationship with my soul. This began the day I met Gwyn leading the fairy funeral procession on Fairy Lane in my home town of Penwortham. Unlike in the original legend in which the fairies were tiny black-clad men clad with red caps they were taller than me and dressed in Victorian funeral garments. Gwyn, who I didn’t recognise, was wearing a black hat and leaning on a walking cane, his only recognisable feature being his long, silky white hair. As in the original the ‘fairies’ carried a coffin. And, like the hapless protagonist, I looked into the coffin and saw my own corpse. Only she looked ‘other’. Gwyn told me “a part of your soul is trapped in Annwn” before revealing his identity.

When I started journeying to Annwn with Gwyn I was reunited with this lost part of my soul. She appears as a warrior-huntress (who I am and/or watch) aboard my white winged mare with hounds. She’s everything I’m not – practical, courageous, able to fight, hunt her own food, survive in the forest.

At first I wondered whether this is simply facile wish fulfilment. Shouldn’t I, a suburban muppet, be more like my usual bumbling, clumsy, scatter-brained self? To this Gwyn replied with a resounding “No!” and told me this is the exact form my soul needs to take to get work done in his world.

I wasn’t completely certain she was my soul at first and I’m still not sure she’s the whole of my soul. Yet I haven’t found any other parts yet. I’ve has inklings in intuitions and dreams of past lives as a soldier and a nun but they feel like past selves my soul has inhabited rather than soul parts.

There is also the dark magician who sometimes shows up in my dreams and who I’ve chased through a number of books and who I’ve always kind of wanted to be if only I was good at magic. I spent a while wondering if he is my animus* but have reached the conclusion he has his own enigmatic existence, that dark magicians don’t give away their secrets, and accepted him as a guide of sorts.

In contrast to Jung I’ve found that my soul rarely speaks to me. For the past eight years since I’ve journeyed with/as her she hasn’t said a word and it’s only since reading Jung I’ve tried to speak to her. This resulted in her telling me to ‘be silent’ and ‘to come’ (to see what she had to show me). This demonstrates it’s not that she can’t speak but she’s not very talkative. I’m guessing this may be because I’m so full of words and chatter and her silence compensates like with our other qualities.

I think it’s possible that my white winged mare and perhaps my hounds are also parts of my soul. I believe my mare has been with me since birth and am tentatively referring to her as ‘my soul animal’ or ‘my spirit animal’ (as opposed to ‘a spirit animal’) to avoid terms from other cultures such as power animal’ or ‘totem animal’. This manifested early on in me galloping round and round the playground on my own pretending to be a horse when the other children were playing games. Eventually I started horse riding and spending all my time at a local riding school working for rides, training as a riding instructor, and later returning to a career in horses after finishing my PhD.

And with horses there were always yard dogs – labradors, terriers, the crazy cocker spaniel I shared a mobile home with. Unlike with horses I’ve never had my own dog (my parents are cat people) so I’ve never got to know dogs that intimately. Whilst I generally feel at one with my horse I often feel like I’m full of yappy excitable hounds jumping up and down inside me that refuse to calm down. Like the dogs that come and shake all over me or out me when I’m meditating I find them annoying. Whilst I’ve only got one horse** my first hound guide was an old shaggy wolf hound and he was replaced by two young Hounds of Annwn when I decided to make my lifelong dedication to Gwyn.

So my current view contrasts with Jung’s in that my soul appears as many parts at once. Also my soul is both male and female – my huntress is female, my mare is female, and both my hounds are male.

My main challenge in this deepening ‘service of the soul’ is learning to trust my soul. Putting aside my feelings of bitterness and resentment that my soul will never earn me any money and my fears that by following my soul away from known Brythonic mythology I may lose my already small audience.

But what are these fears compared to losing one’s soul?

*Mainly because Jung states that that men have a female anima and women have a male animus – a gendered binary logic that doesn’t ring true to me.
**Ok there’s ‘the dark horse’ but I think he’s a water-horse, a land spirit, rather than a part of my soul.

Burning Mary and the End of Days Sun

Following the revelations that Anrhuna, the Dragon Mother, was reborn as Matrona and replaced by Mary I journeyed to find out more about the land of the dragons. My dragon guide took me on her back to view a scene where the sky was pink, the molten orb of the sun was shrouded by mist, stony platforms floated, and a red dragon flew slowly and majestically by, leaving traces of smoke in the air.

I felt touched and honoured by its beauty but at the same time realised I felt fragile, paper thin. I was no longer sitting on a dragon but was in the tenuous hold of two winged beings, one on each shoulder.

They took me to follow the red dragon into a cave which I instantly knew was ‘the Womb Room’, where Anrhuna’s womb was taken for safekeeping after she had been slain by the Children of the Stars. Within it was a mural of Mary with her child and all around it were red flames.

The red dragon told me that Mary must ‘burn’ so that Anrhuna could return to dragon form again.

Then I received the insight that it is we, humans, who are keeping Anrhuna as Mary in human form. But, knowing how many millions of people love her, I realised that even if I had the power to ‘burn’ her and thus take her away it would be wrong and that this was not my role or my place. I wondered whether ‘burn’ might have a different meaning to being burnt or being destroyed. Could there be some kind of revelation of Mary as Anrhuna in which just her image was burnt away?

At this point I realised that other humans had been to the Womb Room before me to paint the mural and that there were offerings there – a vase of flowers and coins and statuettes and other treasures.

I was afterwards told that the sun always hangs within this land and is ‘The End of Days Sun’. That it is a piece of ‘dragon art’. That the sun isn’t really in their land, but they create this art to remind them of the imminence of the End of Days. I had a feeling this was an important part of their lore.

This vision combined with my constant calling to ‘see Mary’ when I’m out walking, whether it is a visit to the site of St Mary’s Well and St Mary’s Church on Castle Hill in Penwortham, St Mary’s in Bamber Bridge, Our Lady and St Patrick in Walton-le-Dale, Ladyewell in Fernyhalgh, or the old St Mary’s in Leyland, prompted me to do some research on Saint Mary the Virgin in Christianity.

To my astonishment it revealed some imagery which fits quite closely with my vision. I found out that Mary is often identified with ‘the woman clothed with the sun’ in the Book of Revelations. She appears ‘with child’ ‘travailing in birth’ then appears ‘a great red dragon’ waiting to devour the child (!).

The child (Jesus) is taken up to the throne of God and the woman flees to the wilderness. Hence follows the battle between the angels and the dragon (the Devil) and his angels and their casting out. The dragon persecutes Mary but she is given eagle’s wings with which to fly away. He then tries to drown her in a flood of water but the earth saves her by swallowing it. Finally he turns on her descendants.

Here we find Mary with child and burning or ‘clothed with the sun’ which is also ‘the End of Days Sun’ relating to the time of apocalypse or revelation and a reference to a primal battle against a dragon.

Only the stories are very different. In the Christian story the red dragon is the adversary of Mary, God, with whom she conceives her son, and his angels, who battle against the dragon/Devil and his angels. In the story I have been gifted the war between Anrhuna as the Dragon Mother and the Children of the Stars has already taken place and the red dragon is advising me to ‘burn’ Mary. It is, at least, interesting that Mary was given eagle’s wings and I was held in the air by two winged beings.

I have no idea what to make of these complex overlappings and reconfigurings of images yet but feel that in some sense revealing them here is part of the process through which Mary may burn yet not be burnt. Perhaps like the burning bush – ‘the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.’

When I went to visit Mary at Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s on the first of June it was sweltering. She looked serene. Contrastingly my backpack was sweated to my back and the sun was scorching my bare calves.

Mary said: “It’s not me who is burning but you.”

The Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue

A red dragon crawls through the ashes of a dead world. Her eye is a black void. It is like an oil slick. She crawls on her belly. She crawls on broken claws. She crawls with raspy breath, a small strand of smoke wavering from her nostril like a broken signal, not quite forming a question mark.

Above her fireworks flash in hallucinatory patterns with the rainbow pain and beauty of an LSD trip. The essences of the dead world, its eidetic memories, which only the eyes of the void can read. She does not look up because her optic nerves are frayed and jangled and her neck is stiff from gazing.

As the lights fade she lies down, lays her heavy head in the dust. The final images flash in her scales. As she disintegrates they fall with the pictures contained within them like monads – if only they survived those in the present might have glimpsed their errors in this future but with her they crumble.

As the cavern of her skull caves in the last thing left is her lower jaw and her long red tongue. On its tip is a spark of fire. Spitting, hissing, crackling, it refuses to give over this meaty muscle to the death winds, who are already arriving with their steeds, their chariots, their hounds, their whips to drive her remnants across the plains of dust so that she and her world are well and truly forever gone.

It spits, hisses, crackles against the attacks of the death winds. It glows, it grows, a fiery orb, hardens into a dragon’s egg. After nine nights and nine days it cracks, each split like dark lightning, and from it bursts a female figure black as the void with a multitude of wings and a serpent’s tail.

She puts the tongue into her mouth and her voice is heard in every mote of the dead world.

*The Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue is going to be the narrator of some or all of the new mythic book I am working on.

A Myth To Live By

In the preface to The Red Book, Carl Jung’s account of his ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, there is a quote about how it originated in his drive to find the myth he was living and get to know it:

‘I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: “what is the myth you are living?” I found no answer to this question, and that to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust… So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth.’

Since I read this book a couple of years ago Jung’s question has stuck with me. I’ve had a fascination with myth since as long as I can remember, the mythic world first being presented to me in the fantasy novels I have loved reading since I was young child and then in increasingly older forms as I read the re-workings of the Graeco-Roman and Christian cosmologies in the poetry of Shelley, Blake, Milton, and followed them back to their sources in ancient Greek myth and the Bible.

It was this longing for the depth of a mythic ground that led me from analytical to Continental philosophy, through phenomenology with its focus on lived experience and aesthetics with its focus on art, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy in which the gods Dionysus and Apollo are shown to give birth to myth and its artistic expressions through Dionysian ecstasy and Apollonian vision.

Having discovered ancient Greek polytheism, I posed the questions of whether the gods exist now and whether people worship them. Finding out about modern Paganism I began to seek the gods. The Greek and Roman gods were there, but seemed distant – my connection felt like a broken radio signal.

The gods who found me were the gods of my land, the landscape of Lancashire, of ancient Britain. To my sadness I found that few of them had myths. Bel, Belisama, and Brigantia, were known only by their names on Roman inscriptions, Roman histories, in later place-names. Those who had myths by the names they were known by in medieval Wales: Nodens/Nudd/Lludd and his son, Vindos/Gwyn ap Nudd, Matrona/Modron and her son Maponos/Mabon, were euhemerised. Lludd appears as a ‘human’ king of Britain. Mabon, Gwyn, his rival, Gwythyr, and his beloved, Creiddylad, are incorporated into King Arthur’s court list and Gwyn is demonised as Arthur’s nemesis. And the dragon-goddess I have come to known as Anrhuna isn’t mentioned anywhere at all.

As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, over the past seven years I have been devoted to him, I have been working with his myths, with the myths of his kindred, to pare away the Christian veneer. To get back (or perhaps forward) to an understanding that is animistic and polytheistic. To a myth I can live by.*

In The Broken Cauldron and Gatherer of Souls I gave voice to myths that I felt spoke not only from medieval Wales but a wider Brythonic and pre-Brythonic culture born when people returned to Britain after the Ice Age and began to listen to the gods of this land, who perhaps guided them here.

As a person with a penchant for philosophy, for asking big questions, for desiring a groundwork, coming to Brythonic polytheism I have been frustrated by the absence of a creation myth and by the lack of stories that speak explicitly about how we came to be here and the journey of our souls.

I have found echoes of the Big Bang in the story of how Ceridwen’s cauldron broke with a scream, in the word crochan which means ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’ of how she gave birth to the universe. I’ve long intuited that ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in Welsh mythology (which shares parallels with ‘The Battle of Moytura’ in Irish mythology) contains the remnants of the ancient clash of the culture gods against the gods and monsters of the Otherworld from which our world and civilisation originated. I’ve felt ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ contains broken fragments of the soul’s return to Annwn, to the cauldron, to be reborn.

But I didn’t have the courage, the foolishness, the presumptuousness required to attempt penning new myths, myths that exposed a personal vision of my gods that others might not agree with, that would be open to criticism, that would expose the teachings of my soul, until the coronavirus arrived.

Until the lockdown struck and my internship with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust was postponed indefinitely and my possibility of finding paid work in conservation began to look increasingly shaky due to the threat of the recession and my discovery that having Asperger’s is the source of my difficulty with social interaction, which was always going to make it tough leading volunteers.

Until I was faced with the possibility that I could lose my elderly parents to the coronavirus and, as I live with them, my home. Without my mum and dad, a home, a job, what would I be left with? The small income from blogging about my vocation as an awenydd from my Patreon supporters. My relationship with my gods and with my soul, my imperative of myth-making, with my soul-work.

Thus my book of new myths, working titled ‘The Gods of Peneverdant’, has been born.

*Here I paraphrase the title of a book by Mary Midgely, The Myths We Live By, in which she presents science as our dominant myth.

Who am I?

I am not Taliesin enthroned in Caer Siddi where bardic words are a fountain of wine and mead and are served like sweet pastries and Turkish Delight on golden platters by a whirl of wisp-like spirits.

I am not Myrddin alone and starving in the Forest of Celyddon amongst the gwyllon with icicles for hair and a lean wolf beside him. By pine and root and name of plant and bone of bird laying to rest the skeletons of Arfderydd, healing rib by rib by the wisdom of awen.

I am not Orddu in her cave listening to the slow drip of water counting down to her preordained death.

I am not Afagddu on the shoreline. I have not swallowed stones. I have never tricked a fisherman.

I am not the Dark Magician in his high tower in the woodland at the back of the world where people come and go like the mists whilst his intentions, like the tower, forever remain concealed.

I am not the Nun in her cloister, the Bride of Christ with wedding bells in her head suffocating in his tomb.

I am not the Priestess of Avalon who serves my god lighting candles at the White Spring.

I am a suburban poet. I am Gwyn’s awenydd. I am not quite a hermit. I am possibly almost a mystic.

I am a between person. I am at home and not at home here in Peneverdant. I am in Creiddylad’s Garden. I like the slowness of the watering can. I like chloroplasts and slipping into them to learn of light and dark reactions, to become part of the Calvin-Benson Cycle. I like garden gnomes.

Perhaps one day I will wear a robe and shave my head or perhaps I will go naked in spite of the neighbours and the gaps in the garden fence or perhaps I will disappear like a mason bee into a bug hotel.

I know that, one day, like everything in this garden, I will be compost. Food for stinging nettles and beetles.

I am the key to the mysteries for which I have not found the lock yet.

I am the book in my hand that is not yet written.

The Gifts of Solitude

The past few weeks, following my discovery it’s likely I have Asperger’s, have been difficult and revealing, but ultimately rewarding and healing. I feel like this revelation has come at the right time, during this period of lockdown, when I have time alone to process it.

Learning more about autism I have gained some valuable insights for others. I discovered the story of Matthew Tinsley* who, like me, used alcohol as ‘a coping strategy against the extreme anxiety caused by being autistic and living in a non-autistic, social, flexible world.’ ‘His diagnosis gave him the knowledge to realise his own anxiety as an autistic person, and his need to reduce the demands upon him.’

I also watched Chris Packham’s ‘Asperger’s and Me’**. In this programme Chris shares his experiences of sensory overwhelm, struggles with social relationships, and his obsession with the natural world. I was particularly disturbed by his visits to the US to find out more about remedies to eradicate autism and agreed with his conclusion that for many autistic people the best treatment is to be allowed to spend time alone. Chris is blessed with being able to live on his own in a house in the woods.

Looking back at the past I can now see that the periods when I experienced the highest levels of anxiety were those when I was putting the greatest demands to be in social situations upon myself. At the time I was writing and editing for Gods & Radicals and forcing myself to go out to protests and engage in a lot of political debate online I got so ill with anxiety and IBS I didn’t dare go anywhere that wasn’t within 20 minutes of a toilet ‘just in case’ and that lasted for a couple of years.

I also got very stressed when I combined taking an admin job that I found overwhelming (I had mistakenly taken it presuming it would mainly be managing a website and producing posters and a newsletter and hadn’t realised it involved dealing with spreadsheets and… administration… duh!) with a leading role in applying for and gaining funding to organise a series of local events called ‘The Wild and Rural Lives of Poems’. These lines from a poem written at the time describe the effect:

After the late night meeting
my head was pale and flashing
a tawdry halo a broken circuit
a worn out lighthouse
behind my eyes…

I did those things for the right and the wrong reasons. I went to the anti-fracking protests because I genuinely wanted to stand up for the landscape I love – I didn’t want to see Belisama’s river poisoned, more aquifers shattered like the aquifer beneath Castle Hill, more damage to the underworld. I wanted to create beautiful and magical events. But I was also aspiring to fit with a model of the ideal pagan/poet – socially and politically engaged and doing outward service to my community because I felt insecure about the value of my own work, which is more personal and mystical.

Repeatedly I’ve made the mistake of thinking to be a good awenydd and polytheist to my gods I should have a role in a religious community and be promoting the awenydd path and Brythonic polytheism. This drive again, came from good and bad motives, and had mixed results. During my time with Dun Brython we produced some valuable articles and shared some enjoyable meet-ups. Yet we never achieved our aim of growing the group and developing a shared practice due to lack of interest.

At Awen ac Awenydd we’ve done good work collecting and sharing information on the path and personal testimonies on our website and in our anthology ‘The Deep Music’. Yet I failed, after three attempts, to organise a physical meeting in the North West of England. The strain of administering the Facebook group, never knowing what arguments I might have to deal with, outweighed the benefits.

The time arrived to acknowledge it is best for me to be solitary, like many of the awenyddion of the past. Myrddin in his forest, Orddu in her cave, Afagddu hanging out his black wings on the shoreline. That, as I’ve always known, I’m not cut out to be a Taliesin – a celebrity bard.

These insights are the gifts of solitude. Having worked through them I have reached the stage where I can begin, as my gods keep telling me, to focus on ‘my gift’ – my awen. Learning I’m autistic and will always struggle with social relationships has given this imperative the additional strength and urgency needed to blast away my lack of belief in my path born from the arguments about cultural appropriation and my failure to learn Welsh, master the medieval texts, and prove myself a ‘proper’ awenydd.

In my solitude, free of demands, praying, journeying, drumming, drawing, writing, I’ve been thrown back on a far more raw and primal relationship with the awen and with my gods little mediated by the Welsh scribes. Visions of the deep and its deities from before Welsh was spoken, Brythonic, ancient British, before there were humans to speak at all. Of the Annuvian, of the depths, of the Other.

The gift of a mythos that is deeply personal and that I hope to say a little more about soon.

*https://network.autism.org.uk/good-practice/case-studies/autism-and-alcohol
**https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdEJdr-vfs

The Mothers of Destiny

I.

Bendithion yr Awen

I undertake a fool’s quest to understand the origins of the breath of life and in my foolishness am granted an answer. I find myself amongst a crowd singing with them as three Mothers of Destiny breathe the awen (which is at once inspiration and one’s fate) into a baby.

It is suspended over a baptismal font that reminds me of the Roman altar to the Mothers at Lund Church near Springfields around five miles away from me.

Our voices are pre-Roman, Roman, post-Roman, of all the women who have sung their blessings to a child in this ancient gathering place and in churches where Matrona ‘the Mother’ appears as Mary and the Matronae as Faith, Hope and Charity.

They rise and fall as we sing: “Awen bendithion yr awen bendithion yr awen bendithion…”

II.

Sea Maidens

My fool’s quest continues as I cannot, now, resist returning to the mothers to pose the question of my own destiny. They appear as three sea maidens, stormy, stony-faced, amidst a sea of raging waters.

III.

The Web of my Destiny

The goddess in the middle shows me ‘the Web of my Destiny’. She holds it between her hands like a cat’s cradle. It shimmers golden and pulsates with coloured jewels of energy. She tells me that a small tweak can change everything. I realise that making a cat’s cradle is a two-way process, between a person and the gods, and it’s my turn.

My Hawthorn Mind

Beneath the tall blue sky the white-blossomed hawthorns dance. Twisted, gnarled, they are beautiful in their imperfection. They cast no judgement on themselves or others.

People are not like trees with their constrictive norms of body and mind. Look at me from the outside and (aside from the lockdown hair which resembles something between a hedgehog, a mushroom, and a duck’s arse) and you will see a ‘normal’ thirty-eight-year-old woman – able-bodied, physically fit, average-looking. Talk to me at a Pagan or poetry event and I might pass. Get to know me over a few days, a month, a couple of years and you may notice the scars, physical and psychological, catch a glimpse of my hawthorn mind. The twists, the gnarls, the thorns turned out and in.

Since primary school I’ve felt mentally crippled. Highly intelligent but socially inept. Being speccy-four-eyed, pot-bellied in my puppy fat, and lower middle-class with a southern accent at a school on a northern council estate (which was once referred to as ‘the Beirut of Preston’) didn’t help. I was mercilessly bullied.

Eventually I learnt not to talk about the fairies at the bottom of my garden or my imaginary friends. To feign an interest in the other children’s gossip about each other and celebs and to watch the soaps so I could join in (even though I hated them and would much rather have been lost in the imaginal worlds of the Faraway Tree, Narnia, or Krynn).

When I hit my teens I found a crutch. Alcohol. It helped me disguise my social limp, to keep limping along when otherwise I’d have fallen flat on my face in a gormless heap. It quickly became a cure-all. It obliviated, for a while, my feeling of being different. It helped me find words when I had none, to kiss boys when I had no desire to, to find oblivion when I could not sleep, to dance when I wanted to lie down and die.

Between the drink and the drugs and working hard toward my philosophy and English degree I sometimes wondered what was wrong. It wasn’t until my third year when I had a particularly bad meltdown during which, in vision, I was sitting on a rock at the end of the world unable to decide whether to live or die, that I decided to seek help.

I got a standard diagnosis of ‘anxiety and depression’, a packet of anti-depressants, and a referral to a psychiatrist who refused to help me because I wasn’t suicidal at the time, despite having constant panic attacks, suffering from insomnia, and self-harming.

The anti-depressants worked and, perhaps partly because I couldn’t drink on them, I excelled in my final year. I gained a first by getting 80% on my dissertation on the sublime, the writing of which, unknown to my tutors, was my way of understanding the undoing of my own mind by panic brought about by social and/or sensory overwhelm.

After failing to get funding for my PhD, with a career in horses, and to write a fantasy novel, all the while continuing to battle with anxiety and depression and using alcohol again as crutch, I finally met my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd. He helped me find meaning and purpose in my life as his awenydd, taking me to other worlds, and out of myself to perform poetry. For the first time in my life, in service to him, I did not fail. I wrote three books and the climax was the performance for Gatherer of Souls.

My depression lifted. I found I didn’t hate myself, others, or the world so much any more. When I discovered the possibility of finding paid work that fit with my vocation and hoped wouldn’t be too taxing on my mental health through volunteering with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust I found the strength to kick away the crutch.

Yet the anxiety I had been using alcohol to medicate remained and threatened to be my undoing as my dread of social situations and feeling of being overwhelmed grew. I tried the doctors again and, this time, refusing anti-depressants, was offered counselling.

Three months on, in the midst of lockdown, I’ve started CBT and, during this period, had a revelation that came not from my counsellor but from my mum which explains why I feel so different: she’d always thought I had Asperger’s, but didn’t know how to tell me!

Suddenly everything made sense. My highly focused interests: philosophy, horses, visionary poetry, Brythonic polytheism, my singular devotion to Gwyn. My problems with social communication and human relationships and inability to understand how other people can want to talk about each other and celebrities rather than pursuing ‘that one thing’. That my feelings of panic and overwhelm are symptoms of autistic meltdown.

That this is the reason I have been stuck in a constant cycle of wanting to find paid work and to have a small role in my communities locally and online, but failing because I don’t recognise the limitations brought about by Asperger’s, which lead to me getting anxious, overwhelmed, and burnt out, and giving up, and feeling like a failure.

That it’s likely I have Asperger’s was confirmed when I scored 7/10* in the AQ10 test on the phone with my counsellor a couple of days ago. I’m hoping for a referral to the Lancashire Autism Service (which I understand will take a while particularly at this time).

Looking back a part of me feels bitter. If I’d received a diagnosis as a child perhaps I would have recognised my limitations, wouldn’t have hated myself so much for being different, wouldn’t have got so anxious and depressed, (yet another whispers perhaps I’d have felt worse…).

Another part says I wouldn’t have learnt the lessons I’ve learnt. It’s possible that, living a more sheltered life, ‘the doors of the perception’ to the visionary realms would never have opened, that I’d never have met Gwyn and never become his awenydd.

My gut feeling is that now, during the lockdown, when I’ve got plenty of time to reflect on and process it and work through how it might affect me in the future and plan ahead, is the perfect time to find out. I might have gone to pieces otherwise.

As I walk beside the twisted white-blossomed hawthorns I come to understand my differences. To not only accept but celebrate the twists and gnarls of my hawthorn mind.

*6/10 or above suggests somebody has Asperger’s.

The Other Side of the Door

Porth-Annwfyn. Some numinous, arcane agnomen, but which to my dream cognition was livid as moonshine and did plainly signify: Gate of Elysium.’
David Jones

Porth Annwn ‘Door of the Otherworld’. Porth so easily rolling into ‘portal’. The type of door that not only forms both a barrier and an entranceway between here-and-there but transports elsewhere.

Doors are usually boundaries between rooms in a building or its inside and outside and gates serve a similar function in walls, fences, and hedges. Doors and gates that are portals transport between worlds.

Most famously, in the Brythonic tradition, in the poem ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ we find the lines ‘A rac drws porth Vffern, llugyrn lloscit’ ‘And in front of Hell’s gate lamps were burned.’ This suggests there is a gateway through which Arthur and his warriors travelled from Thisworld to the Otherworld and that lamps were burned in the course of a vigil until he and only seven of his men returned. Annwn, ‘the Deep’, was equated with Uffern ‘Inferno’ or ‘Hell’ by Christians in medieval Wales.

Although there a number of places known as ‘Hell’s Gate’ across the world I’ve never found one in Britain. Although, at liminal times, in liminal places, I have been transported to the Otherworld. I have no control over such events.

Finally, I was guided by the Witches of Pennant Gofid, who I believe were similarly devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd, my Lord of Annwn, to create my own doorway. They guided my hand in drawing it and decorating it with the head of Gwyn as bull-of-battle, shapeshifting horses and hounds, and two new guides – a bird man and antlered woman. The teeth symbolise it being the maw of Dormach, Gwyn’s Death Hound. the Jaws of Death.

When I step out of the door it is always into a misty hinterland. Occasionally I’m standing on solid ground, but often it’s marsh, and more often I’m on my winged horse treading mist with my hounds beside me. It’s said of Gwyn and Dormach that they travel ar wybir ‘on the clouds that haunt the mountaintops’ and that wybir or nuden ‘condensed floating white cloud’ ‘serves as a garment for Gwyn’.

And so we travel ar wybir, like Gwyn, until the mist clears, or someone appears to guide us out. Setting off right or left, or North, East, South, or West never works as the directions don’t function the same in Annwn (if they exist at all). I often end up in the same places, but never by the same routes. In contrast to other followers of shamanistic paths I haven’t managed to form a stable map of Annwn.

I’ve been told by numerous teachers one should always return by the same route. Some days I manage this, but other days the routes undo themselves as if Annwn is innately resistant to memory. I search instead for the mist, wait for it to come, like my god, to sweep me up, place me back at the portal.

The door is always shrouded by mist and I have only just realised, after two years of constant use, that I have never seen the other side of the door. That I drew only my entryway, on my side, in my room, in Thisworld. That the origin and location of the exit, on Gwyn’s side, in the Otherworld, is a mystery.

All I know is that as I approach through the mist I have a feeling of increasing solidity. There is ground beneath my feet and the door is set within a wall. This creates the impression the door may once have been part of a fortress, shattered, fragmented, still able to float in the mist like Gwyn’s castle.

Could it be a cast-off door from the Fort of Pen Annwn rendered disposable by Arthur’s despoiling? A relic of Hell’s Gate? Or something older, or newer, but nonetheless no less mysterious? No burning of lanterns will shift the mist and again I must trust a gift of Gwyn’s that is incomprehensible.