My publisher, Gods & Radicals, are currently having a digital book sale as a celebration of their seventh anniversary. My three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls are all available at a 33% discount reduced from $6.00 to $4.00. Many other Pagan, Polytheist, and anti-capitalist titles are also available at up to 50% discount and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer and All That Is Sacred is Profaned are free. The link is HERE.
Many moons ago I read Polytheistic Monasticism – Voices from the Pagan Cloisters and provided the following endorsement:
‘This defining and much needed book fills a void in the polytheist community by giving voice to the small number of monastics who tend the sacred heart of devotion to the gods and spirits, and lead disciplined lives of prayer, contemplation, study, and work in accordance with monastic principles. To those called to polytheistic monasticism, those who are curious, and those who never knew it existed or was possible, it provides a sound introduction, with well-illustrated examples of personal paths.’
It will be available from Moon Books from the 25th of March HERE.
My re-imagining of the last moments of Worsley Man and article on his ritual execution and the deposition of his skull in a bog pool in the northern area of Chat Moss has been published on the Greater Manchester Environmental Fund blog HERE. GMEF is the organisation which gained the funding for my traineeship.
One of the perks of my job has been getting paid not only to do practical peatland restoration work but to research and write about the prehistoric archaeology of Chat Moss. I have also published an article on the Great Woolden Iron Age Hillfort Site HERE and will be giving an online talk and leading a guided walk on the subject early next year.
My books are also part of a sale through Gods & Radicals HERE. It’s lovely to see them alongside books by other authors, who I admire. I would particularly recommend The Book of Onei by Christopher Scott Thompson, The Kindness of Ravens by Rhyd Wildermuth, and Gods Speaking by Judith O’Grady.
I am very happy and excited to announce that my three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls have officially been re-released in print by the Ritona Imprint of Gods & Radicals Press (which specialises in mythic and mystic works).
Enchanting the Shadowlands has been updated with a new cover, layout, and foreword by Rhyd Wildermuth (below).
‘It’s thought human language derived from the songs of the land. The theory goes like this: our early ancestors, who were always walking through a world full of living songs—the caws of birds, the howls of wolves, the tiny buzzing of insects, the rush of streams, the crack and hiss of fire, the oceanic laughter of trees in wind—began to see meaning in those sounds. Playfully they would imitate them; others around them, hearing a familiar sound from an unfamiliar source, suddenly understood “meaning.”
If one of them wanted to tell the others a wolf was nearby, he would make the sound of the wolf, and the others would understand. That there were bees nearby, which meant that sweet dripping gold was also nearby, could be conveyed with a buzzing sound. Then there were also all the clicks and soft explosive noises made with the tongue on teeth or palate, the guttural groans and gulping sounds, the labial pauses played upon the lips: all these tricks of the mouth and throat to bring the world around them into the eventual meaning of words.
It’s easy to fell disconnected to this truth now, when so much that is said has so little reference to the land and all that live within it. It’s all ‘buy this’ and ‘calculate that,’ language of fear, of power, of the human world disconnected from its source.
The earliest priests and shamans—up to and including the bards and druids, and many wise person roles in indigenous societies still—are poets. This is not surprising, because if it is your role to intercede between people and the powers of the land, then you ought to be able to understand—and thus also speak—their language. The birds call in a certain way and snow is coming, the trees creak and bend in a particular fashion and a storm shall soon arrive. The animals of the forest suddenly go silent: there is a wolf. The great herd beasts are uneasy, lowing mournfully: a sickness is coming.
To speak to the land you must sing as it does. To translate for the land, you must understand what it is saying. That’s what poets are for, and that’s what Lorna Smithers is startlingly brilliant at.
She sings the stories not just of the land that is now, but also the stories of its ghosts, the land that once was. This collection, her first, is particularly filled with the songs of ghosts, the chants of ancestors, the wails of lost lives and felled forests, the low roar of the mills poisoning air and river and earth while all that lives there sickens and despairs.
There’s a particular poem in Enchanting The Shadowlands that once made me double over in sorrow, tears that were not mine running down my face. I looked around myself and didn’t know where I was, because I wasn’t where I had been when I started reading the poem. My fingernails caked with dirt, scrabbling through infertile soil for a root that looked like my stillborn child.
Yet I have never had a stillborn child, nor have I ever been in that place, which is the pure magic of her poetry.
The best translators make you forget that you are not hearing the original in its own language; the best poets make you forget you are reading a poem at all. Again, that’s Lorna’s brilliance, and I’m deeply happy you are about to experience this, too.
15 April 2021′
You can purchase my books by clicking on the icons in the right hand menu. There are also free copies available for reviewers so if you would like to review one please get in touch.
On the last dark moon, as England entered another national lockdown, I prayed to Gwyn for advice on what to make my focus over the approaching moon cycle. I received his answers through divination, a journey, and free writing, and the next morning, on the new moon, I was given the theme ‘Co(r)vid Moon’.
So, I decided to commit to writing 28 poems, one for each day of the moon cycle, relating to corvids and/or covid. Some days I wrote 2 – 4 and on others I didn’t write any at all, but I met my target. Of them 19 are shareable and I have put them together as a poetry pamphlet exclusively for my patrons as an expression of my gratitude for their invaluable support through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In these poems I explore my relationship with Gwyn as a gatherer of souls who guides the dead with ‘ravens who croak over gore’ and their role in this plague. I also dive into immunology and cell biology.
If you enjoy my work and would like a copy of the pamphlet please consider becoming a patron through Patreon HERE. There will be other gifts along with regular rewards such as a monthly newsletter, crazy things, access to unseen work, and your name in my future print publications and free signed books on higher tiers.
Here is a selection of the poems:
The Summoning of the Ravens
It is not we who summon but the ravens.
You will know it by the moment the sky goes out
to the cronk of their calls like the blinking of a god’s eyelid.
Do not ignore the momentary shadow of their four-fingered wings.
The casting of doubt on everything is only the beginning.
I have seen ravens on Dumbarton Rock, the Great Orme,
Pen Dinas, but never expected to see them here
in Peneverdant shuddering out the skies.
“Who” and “what’”and “why?” I cry
in this wilderness of lockdown, try to interpret
their unconquerable calls and their potent messages.
Every time I find words the ravens shift further out of sight.
A Raven has a Job Interview
“Tell me, raven, what qualities make you a good candidate for this role?”
“My great black wings, the sharpness of my beak, my love of flying between worlds.
My legendary wit and cleverness. My ability to find shiny and unshiny things.
My incredible memory and the comforting and uncomforting sounds of my words.
The unfathomable darkness, greatness, ultimately the kindness of my heart.”
“Can you give me examples of when you have worked alone and in a team?”
“Alone I fly, ever onwards, dark eyes swivelling like planets in their orbits,
searching for the corpses of the dead but, alone, I cannot open them, peck them apart,
so I call to the wolves and they come howling with their stronger muzzles to lay open
the wet flesh, the steaming jewels of the innards, and I call my sisters to feast.”
“And, finally, can you tell me what rewards you expect to get out of the job?”
“Well I would be lying if I didn’t admit it was the eyes – the colours of the irises,
the beautiful fragility of their dying light, their exquisite taste, the softness of corpses.
The magic in the moment a soul flies free. The prestige of flying with Gwyn ap Nudd.
Yet, in all honesty, what drew me to this job was the promise of immortality.”
A Raven Carries
the full moon in her beak
or is it a white blood cell – a stolen piece of me?
I see the sky is filled with ravens carrying little moons,
carrying pieces of me away and there are billions of them
because the body produces 10 billion white blood cells a day.
The sky is white with moons and black with raven’s wings.
I wonder if I am alive or dead or somewhere in between.
Are there islands of the dead for dead leukocytes
or do they long instead for another body and plasma?
Will they head for my co-walker and her horse and hounds
and settle like expected guests into her ectoplasm
or wing away to some otherworldly graveyard
where upon each stone is a small engraving
in a language only cells can speak?
In May I began work on a new mythic book which developed the working title The Dragon’s Tongue. In it I set out on an ambitious project to weave together a narrative about the formation and ordering of the world from a struggle between the Brythonic culture gods against the deities and monsters of Annwn.
It was woven from my personal intuitions about links between Anrhuna, a Brythonic dragon goddess* and the mother with Nodens/Nudd of Vindos/Gwyn and Kraideti/Creiddylad and Tiamat in Enuma Elish and the slaying of Tiamat and her monster-serpents by the culture hero, Marduk, and the battles between the giants and monsters of the otherworld and the Tuatha Dé Danann/Children of Don in ‘The Battle of Moytura’ and ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in the Irish and Welsh myths.
In the first section ‘Anrhuna and Nodens’ I told the story of the creation of the universe from the crochan – cauldron or womb – of Ceridwen, Old Mother Universe, and of how Anrhuna slipped into Annwn ‘the Deep’ and gave birth to dragon-children who departed to shape worlds including ours.
The Old Mother birthed Bel and Don and from their union came Nodens, Uidianos/Gwydion, Brigantia, Ambactonos/Amaethon, Gobannos/Gofannon, and Aryanrou/Arianrhod. When these deities desired to bring order to the chaos of our world, ruled by dragons, Nodens went to negotiate with them, fell in love with Anrhuna, and this resulted in the birth of Vindos and Kraideti.
When Nodens failed to return his kindred made war against him and the dragons and Lugus/Lleu, who was begotten on Aryanrou by Uidianos by magic, slew Anrhuna, and her nine heads were bound on the Towers of the Wyrms. This resulted in the weakening and binding of the dragons of the world and the imprisonment of the giants (early children of the Old Mother) in their own fortresses.
In the second section ‘Vindos and Kraideti’ the children watched the defeat of their father and slaughter of their mother from the secret place where Nodens had hidden them and Vindos vowed to take vengeance. The pair rescued their mother’s womb from where it had been taken after her death by the winged serpents at the cost of Kraideti sacrificing her own womb in exchange, leaving her infertile.
From her womb Anrhuna was reborn as Matrona and she married Nodens and they brought life to the world. The rest of this section covered how Kraideti came into her power as a fertility goddess and Vindos as a god of the dead and ruler of Annwn and his battle with Graidos/Gwythyr for Kraideti. This resulted in a strange marriage between the three of them. An added twist was that, whilst Kraideti could not give birth to children in this world, in Annwn her womb gave birth to monsters.
In the third section ‘Lugus the Giant Slayer’ I told of release of the giants from imprisonment in their fortresses after the Ice Age and their alliance with Vindos. Uidianos, Lugus, and their kindred came to battle against the giants and Vindos and the monsters of Annwn who were defeated. Yet Vindos finally gained vengeance on Lugus by seducing his wife and mortally wounding him with a poisoned spear, which led to the scene of his epiphany in eagle form on the oak in the Fourth Branch.
I completed the fourth section ‘The Knowledge of Uidianos’ and the fifth section ‘The Black Dragon’ on the first draft but found there were too many problems with the first three sections to make it worth returning to these on the second draft. Plus… I don’t want to give away all my secrets yet…
My main result, to date, is a second draft of the first three sections that is 50,000 words long. I completed this at the beginning of August and have since been reflecting on it – weighing it both against the existing myths and my personal experiences with the deities whose myths I have retold. I also sent it out to my patrons and have had five sets of feedback, which have been invaluable.
My main problem has been with misfits between the story of Lugus, reconstructed from the stories of Lleu in the Welsh myths and Lugh in the Irish myths, and my version of the slaying of Anrhuna and the giants. Having recently returned to re-read the original sources the meaning at the core of the story of Lugus is that the giant he slays is his grandfather, which is an important element missing from my myth. I believe this can be worked, possibly for the better, by having Lugus opposed to Bel. I’m not sure how this would fit with his slaying of Anrhuna or his rivalry with Vindos yet though.
Whilst I have had positive feedback about the primordial power and significance of Anrhuna as a Dragon Mother, who gives birth not only to dragons and monster-serpents the monsters of Annwn, I don’t feel I’ve got her death scene right yet. I not sure she was really slain by Lugus. Or if she was slain at all. For she is very much alive to me in the here and now (something I got round in the book by having the Spirit of Anrhuna tutor Vindos and raise him to the position of King of Annwn).
Another problem I encountered was in my depiction of Anrhuna giving birth to monsters. There is a fundamental difference between viviparity (live birth) and oviparity (egg laying). If she is a dragon, and hence reptilian, would she not be laying eggs rather than giving birth? However I hazarded this could be set aside as I’m working with myth, which contains births from heads and thighs, not biology.
I also wondered whether my story about Kraideti giving up her womb and it birthing monsters in Annwn was a subconscious reflection of my choice not to have real children but to dedicate my life to creativity. In particular to giving voice to the gods and monsters of Annwn whose stories are untold.
Whilst I was reflecting on this Goya’s painting and its title ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ kept popping into my head and it felt like a fitting phrase summarising my decision when I set out to write the first draft of eschewing critical reflection and allowing the awen to flow wherever it willed at the outset.
I produced a lot of monsters. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It also fits with stories about monstrous births in the Welsh myths. Some are only hinted at. Goleuddydd gives birth to Culhwch ‘Slender Piglet’. Rhiannon, a Queen of Annwn, is punished for suspected cannibalism of her own son who like his mother, the Mare Goddess, may have taken the form of a foal.
Some are more explicit. The brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are forced to shapeshift into male and female animals and together they give birth to a deer, a boar, and a wolf, ‘three hideous sons’. Henwen, the White Sow, births a grain of wheat, a bee, a wolf, an eaglet and the monstrous Cath Palug.
Whilst I am in no way happy with the second draft and am aware I have a lot more reading and reflection ahead I have experienced a number of gains from the process. Firstly I have proved to myself that when I am immersed in something I am capable of working on it almost every hour of the day from when I get up at 5am until I go to bed 9pm and of producing 50,000 words that fit together by their own internal logic within three months.
Secondly, whilst I set out to write a personal myth due to my fears about being unable to write on the Brythonic tradition due to insecurities caused by the debates around cultural appropriation, I’ve found working through the problems with this approach has taken me back to the original sources and deeper. I’ve experienced feelings of acceptance by the family of Bel and Don as I share their stories, this has enlivened my awenydd path, and I’ve started learning Welsh again after a six month hiatus.
Thirdly, my writing of Creiddylad/Kraideti’s story along with personal experiences with her as a goddess of flowers this year in my garden has filled in a black hole in my personal mythos. For a long time I have been aware of the absence of Rhiannon by that name as a horse goddess who I’ve paradoxically felt is very much with me as my white winged mare and the horses who haunt my dreams.
Creiddylad’s revelation of her epithet ‘First Rose’ and her appearance to me riding a white winged mare in association with the moon have suggested she may be identical with Rhiannon. This would fit with both of them being Queens of Annwn who I have perceived giving monstrous births.
This opens the possibility and perhaps the necessity of incorporating material about Gwyn/Arawn and Creiddylad/Rhiannon and their son from the other branches of The Mabinogi into my book. It is implicit that Arawn is the otherworld father of Pryderi in the First Branch and Pryderi’s slaying by Gwydion would certainly provide added meaning to the conflict between Uidianos/Gwydion and Vindos/Gwyn/Arawn.
So this is where I am right now. On the brink of reason, pondering, if not producing monsters. If you would like to hear more about my creative processes, have access to unseen work from my drafts, and play a part in my creations by giving feedback, please consider becoming a patron HERE.
*Anrhuna is not known from existing sources but she has revealed herself to me within my landscape and in the iconography surrounding Nodens/Nudd/Lludd – in a mosaic of sea serpents with intertwined necks from the temple at Lydney and Lludd’s associations with two dragons.
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.
A review from Adam Sargant on the The British Druid Order blog of ‘The Deep Music’ – an anthology of the writings of contemporary awenyddion edited by Greg Hill, Lia Hunter, and myself.
I was intrigued by Adam’s suggestion that this anthology shows a ‘a third way’ ‘the way of the inspired ones’ of coming to awen alongside the courses of contemporary Druidry and studying medieval Welsh bardic texts. For me this would be further defined as learning directly, experientially, from the gods and spirits of the Brythonic tradition.
The Deep Music is an anthology of writings, some essays, some creative, some poetry, of contemporary awenyddion (for those of you not familiar with the term, an awenydd is one who is inspired. But, as this collection makes abundantly clear, the form of inspiration is quite specific.) The awen, the “poetic inspiration” as explored through the writings and experiences of these contemporary awenyddion, gives us an insight into the nature not only of this inspiration (which I will go into later) but into the way in which a community can come together and successfully fill a void in tradition with a living, contemporary energy.
The collective from which these writings were originated in a collaboration between the poets and awenyddion Lorna Smithers and Greg Hill who created the Awen ac Awenydd website in 2015 and, in Lorna’s words, “perceived a void in information and discussion about inspiration, spirit work, mysticism…
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This is not an April Fool but an April Dog! As many people cannot visit local nature reserves due to the COVID-19 restrictions I am offering a free digital copy of my latest poetry pamphlet ‘April Dogs’. This collection honours the birds and other creatures of the wetlands and coasts of Lancashire and beyond and touches on the themes of the climate crisis, science, and war. Most of the poems were written in response to encounters with wetland birds on my stretch of the river Ribble and visiting reserves such as LWT’s Brockholes, WWT Martin Mere, and RSPB Leighton Moss.
You can download your PDF of April Dogs by clicking HERE.