Live Webinar with Rhyd Wildermuth

I’m looking forward to this webinar at which Edward Butler and Rhyd Wildermuth will be speaking about the polytheist revival and the present issues it faces and its future prospects.

Henadology

On Sunday, Oct. 30th I will be hosting a live webinar with Rhyd Wildermuth at 9 AM EST, 3 PM CET and 6:30 PM IST. Rhyd and I will explore the meaning of the revival of sundered polytheist traditions, the ideas and values that it embodies, and the broader significance of this movement in the contemporary world. 

Rhyd Wildermuth is a druid, a pagan polytheist, a political theorist, and a prolific author on topics related to paganism, animism, environmentalism, and political issues. He lives in the Ardennes and is devoted to Brythonic, Germanic, Gaulish, and other gods, as well as to ancestors and local land spirits.Rhyd is also the co-founder and director ofRitona a.s.b.l., a not-for-profit publishing organisation advocating for pluralism, tolerance, and respect for indigenous and non-industrial ways of being in the world.

Among other titles, he is the author of Being Pagan: A Guide to Re-Enchant…

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Brythonic Texts Meditation Group

In November I will begin co-hosting with Thornsilver Hollysong a new meditation group on Brythonic texts as a collaboration between the Monastery of Annwn and Land Sea Sky Travel. Our first text is ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir.’

The Monastery of Annwn

We are very excited to announce that we are going to be working in collaboration with Land Sea Sky Travel to provide a monthly meditation group focusing on Brythonic texts.

It will be co-hosted by Lorna Smithers and Thornsilver Hollysong and will take place on the second Thursday of the month 1 – 2pm EST / 6 – 7pm GMT through the LSS Zoom channel HERE.*

We will be beginning with ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir‘, which is a medieval Welsh poem from The Black Book of Carmarthen. In these sessions we will read it slowly, verse by verse, discuss the meaning and background, and meditate upon chosen phrases and verses in order to gain deeper understanding and gnosis of the dialogue and of Gwyn as a Brythonic God.

Week One – Introduction with translator Greg Hill – Thursday 10th November

An introduction…

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Our Nine Vows

We have agreed upon our vows at the Monastery of Annwn and I am looking forward to taking them, as a nun of Annwn, on the new moon on October the 25th.

The Monastery of Annwn

Over the past few weeks members of the monastery have agreed upon the nine vows we are going to take to make it a living reality in time and place through shared devotional practices to the Gods and Goddesses of Annwn.

1) To abide by the values of devotion and inspiration.

2) To keep the Rule of the Heart (to cultivate love of the Annuvian Gods and follow our hearts in aligning our heartbeats with the greater beat of Annwn).

3) To consecrate and caretake a personal space as a cell of the Monastery of Annwn.

4) To maintain a devotional practice to one or more of the Gods and Goddesses of Annwn morning and evening.

5) To pray and check in with other members of the monastery at least monthly with the aim of building friendships and community.

6) To make time on a regular basis for deepening our…

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In Service to Creiddylad

So, to You, 
finally I turn, still 
not knowing truly
who You are,

remembering 
how, twenty years ago,
my philosophy tutor criticised me
for prioritising the sublime over the beautiful. 

Yes- the sublime is Him – the power within and beyond
the land, in Annwn, in the cold mountains, the ice of the Ice Age,
all that threatens to tear the body, the mind, the soul apart,
yet, like Rilke’s angels, disdains entirely to destroy us.

And yes – the beautiful is You – the power who arrives
after the winter, after the Ice Age, You who brought the flowering plants
after your mother brought the mosses many aeons ago.

After being torn apart You are the one who heals after the awe,
after the awful, after near-death, the out-breath of the Awen – Life.

I have always avoided the beautiful, drawn instead to the darkness
where beauty cannot be seen because it is too painful.

That’s why You come veiled to Your suitors in Your white dress,
why only He can undress You, fully understands you…

To them You are always riding away on Your white winged horse.

In their longing they do not see the gifts of the flowers
You leave in your steps, Your beauty unveiled in every hoof print.

They long only to tame You, yoke You, at the mounting block.

I shall not be like them, seeking to master You, possess You,
instead I shall come with reverence for Your veil,  Your veiled ones, 
with a patience for every flower, not forcing them to reveal their secrets.

I, who have served Death, will learn to put Life beside Him as a Goddess.

It was a long, long time ago when I was criticised for prioritising the sublime over the beautiful. It has always stuck with me. I avoided our modern conception of beauty because it is so confused, so tainted, by the glossy photographs we see in magazines.

In the Welsh myths Creiddylad is described as ‘the most magnanimous maiden in the Islands of Britain’. She is generous, forgiving, She is the sister of Gwyn ap Nudd, King of Annwn, and His beloved. He is Otherness, She is Hereness, She is Presence, She is what we might call mindfulness today amongst the flowers.

I spent seven years with Him and now I am called to walk with Her in my new role as an ecologist.

My rearrangement of my altar reflects these changes as I give Gwyn and Creiddylad equal space. The plant is, oddly, a Bromeliad, from the tropical Americas, which I sensed She liked when I did our weekly food shopping at Morrisons. It represents the fact that neither plants nor gods know any boundaries.

A Glimpse of Pure Sunshine

The final prose poem in Melissa Lee-Houghton’s challenging confessional collection, Sunshine, is called ‘Hope’. Hope is scarce. The subject is a dream akin to a horror movie where the narrator is kidnapped and her companions are beheaded one by one, ‘blood gushing like red schnapps.’ When she is the only one left alive for a moment she thinks she’s won. Yet the time arrives for her to hang her head over the metal sink for the man in the white surgeon’s mask with the scalpel. ‘Hope’ ends with the following lines: ‘Although my psychiatric worker said it’s more than unusual, I died in that dream, and I went somewhere. Part of me remains there, happily, in the glamorous glare of lost hope and a sadness spun of pure sunshine.’

This poem struck a chord because two years ago I had a horrific dream ending with the suggestion of an afterlife. I was a soldier fighting in a jungle and had been captured to be executed. As I faced the firing squad, I knew I was going to die. I called to Gwyn ap Nudd, my patron god, for help. Filled with superhuman strength, I broke away in the form of a heavily muscled pig-like warrior. However, I was tracked down and recaptured. When I consulted Gwyn from my cell, he told me he couldn’t save me again. I must send my soul into the hazel, the beetle and… a third thing I can’t remember when it came to my execution. The next minute I was walking amongst hazel trees with a friend, speaking with complete calm about how to get my soul into a tree and turning over the leaves to find a beetle. I was utterly convinced about the survival of my soul, the calmest and surest I’ve ever felt. That reassuring feeling, like a glimpse of pure sunshine, remains with me to this day.

Fairy Lane

Gwyn’s Feast

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For 29th of September an introduction to Gwyn’s feast, its abolition, and how it can be reclaimed. ‘Join us by holding a feast for Gwyn, performing a ritual, making an offering, reading a poem, raising a glass, or simply speaking his name.’

Dun Brython

Gwyn ap Nudd is a god of the dead and ruler of Annwn. As the Brythonic leader of ‘the Wild Hunt’ he gathers the souls of the deceased back to his realm to be united in an otherworldly feast. This repast of the dead can, at certain times of the year, be participated in by the living.

Unfortunately this is a tradition that Christians went to great lengths to bring to an end. This article will introduce the evidence for Gwyn’s Feast, how it was abolished, and how it might be reclaimed by modern polytheists.

*

In ‘The Spoils of Annwn’, as Pen Annwn, ‘Head of the Underworld’, Gwyn presides over a feast in Caer Vedwit, ‘The Mead-Feast Fort’. At its centre is the cauldron of Pen Annwn, with its ‘dark trim, and pearls’, which ‘does not boil a coward’s food’: a vessel symbolic of rebirth.

Arthur raids seven…

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I am Tina Rothery

 

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Ok… I know I said I wasn’t going to be blogging here again until Imbolc, but I wanted to mention a small but hopeful event that took place in Preston yesterday. Anti-fracking protestor, Tina Rothery, was cleared of the contempt of court charge made against her by Cuadrilla and escaped a 14 day sentence in Styal jail.

At 10.30am, I joined 150 people gathered on Preston Flag Market to march down Friargate, then up the Ring Road to Preston Combined Court on the Ring Way. When we arrived at the court, everybody chanted “I am Tina Rothery” and “I am Tina too”. There was something immensely powerful about the willingness of so many people to put aside their own concerns and identities for the day and become Tina as she waited for the result of the case.

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Whether this transformative magic had a role in the judge’s decision to allow Tina to walk free remains uncertain. What is certain is that there was a good deal of slipperiness on behalf of Cuadrilla and their lawyers. Ruth Hayhurst notes, ‘Yesterday, Cuadrilla’s lawyers told the media that the hearing was about the contempt of court ruling and that it had been organised by the court, not by the company. But today’s case was listed as Cuadrilla V Rothery and a lawyer from Eversheds represented the company.’ During the hearing, Cuadrilla made a turn around and decided they would no longer pursue Tina for the money.

Tina’s victory adds to the beacon of hope that shines from Standing Rock. It shows that people coming together to stand for our sacred landscapes and watercourses, our communities and the truth have the power to win out. The anti-fracking movement continues to grow. When we are all Tina Rothery this threat will be banished from our land for good.

Lamentation for Catraeth

‘By fighting they made women widows,
Many a mother with her tear on her eyelid’
Y Gododdin

After Catraeth battle flags sway in the wind.
Storm darks our hair. Our tears are rain.
We press cheeks against cold skin,
load biers with sons and husbands
who will never drink in the mead-hall again,
lift weapons, smile across a furrowed field,
mend the plough, yoke oxen, share a meal,
touch ought but blood-stained soil,
chilled fingers reticent to let go.

Storm sky breaks. Our love pours out.
Ravens descend on soft wings to take them.
How we wish they would take our burning eyes,
flesh we rend with nails unkempt
from the year they left for Din Eiddyn,
drunk their reward before it was earned

at dawn with sharpened spears
at daybreak with clashing spears
at noon with bloody spears
at dusk with broken spears
at night with fallen spears,
shattered shields, smashed armour, severed heads.

Seven days of wading through blood.
Of each three hundred only one lives.
Their steel was dark-blue. Now it is red.
Because of mead and battle-madness
our husbands and sons are dead.

We rend our veils. The veil is rent.
We long to tear out our hearts
and offer them instead
to the Gatherer of Souls approaching
with the ravens and hounds of death,
whose face is black as our lament,
whose hair is the death-wind,
whose touch is sorrow,
whose heart is the portal to the otherworld.

Our men rise up to meet him.
The march of the dead is his heart-beat.
The dead of centuries march through him.
The great night is his saddle.
The dead men ride his horse.

Forefathers and foremothers hold out their hands.
We do not want to let go but they slip
through our fingers like water
like tears
from sooty eyelids
into the eyes of others
into the eyes of their kin
to gather in the eyes of the Gatherer of Souls.

They are stars in our eyes now.
They are stars in the eyes of the hounds of death,
marching from drunken Catraeth:
the battle that knows no end.

Dogs of Carlisle

I went to Carlisle looking for proof of the claim it was the capital of Rheged and thus the seat of Urien Rheged where Taliesin sang his praises. I was also curious about whether I’d find any traces of Gwyn ap Nudd in the context of my research into his forgotten connections with the Old North.

I didn’t find what I expected and I found many things I didn’t expect. Such is the way of the world when you venerate a god of strange dogs…

*

Carlisle Cathedral

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When I got to the entrance of the grounds of Carlisle cathedral I was stopped dead in my tracks by a stunning black-backed gull with a blush of red on his yellow beak, red star-studded rims around yellow eyes and black tail feathers spotted white. It wasn’t just his colouring. I felt like I recognised him.

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However, there was a man eating a burger on the bench beside me. It wasn’t a time for talking to gulls. I looked around the ruins of the chapter house, the fratry, the friar’s tower, and St Cuthbert’s church then approached the doors of the cathedral.

On either side were sculptures of dogs. One was thickset, heavy-jowled, mouth open as if to speak an order or breathe out a blast of wind. The other was smaller, crouched, leaner, ready to pounce with an intriguing serpent-like fork at the end of her tail. Guard dogs. They let me pass.

Inside were chapels to St Wilfrid and St Michael, statues of bishops sleeping like corpses on their tombs. In the treasury a beautiful Roman glass bowl, stones engraved with early Christian art, collections of chalices, platens, jewellery. I was most impressed by the high star-studded ceiling and the ornate artwork on the misericords.

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Misericord means ‘mercy seat’. The monks stood for their seven daily sets of prayers hence their seats folded down. However for the elderly and infirm a small shelf was created for support. This is the origin of some wonderful art: wyverns, man-headed lions, a siren with a mirror, a woman beating a man, St Margaret of Antioch being swallowed by a dragon and eaten by a boar*. In a world where neither prayer nor craftsmanship are valued, the time and effort put into carvings to support the backsides of praying monks seem undreamable.

There was no mention anywhere of Urien Rheged or Taliesin. When I got out, the gull was waiting at the entrance. I sat on the wall and shared some crumbs from my sandwich. An old woman approached, remarked on the proximity of my ‘friend’ and told me there had not been black-backed gulls in the area until a pair nested on one of the roofs. Everyone was terrified the little grey chicks would tumble out. Yet they’re alive and well and it looks like they’re staying.

*

Carlisle Castle

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Like the Cathedral, Carlisle Castle was built (in stone) in the early 12th century but was founded on an earlier site. This was known in the Romano-British period as Luguvalium ‘Strong in Lugus’ and as the capital of Civitas Carvetiorum: the territory of the Carvetii tribe (‘the deer people’). A Roman fort which housed 1000 men was built there in 73AD then another called Petriana facing it on the north bank of the Eden.

Due to its powerful defensive position near the confluence of the rivers Eden and Caldew and to Hadrian’s Wall plus its earlier status as a tribal centre (which may have become one of Nennius’ 26 cities: Cair Ligualid) scholars have conjectured it may have been the capital of Rheged.

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I walked the walls, descended into the half-moon crescent, found the well, and the tower where Mary Queen of Scots had been kept. Descending into the basement of the keep, once a storehouse and dungeon, I read how the thirsty prisoners had been forced to lick the stones for moisture.

In that inner cell I spotted grooves in the stone, a wet glint. Water? I touched it and my finger came away damp. Like a tongue. I felt the crush of bodies, the walls closing in, said a quick prayer for those who had been imprisoned, and rushed back to the light.

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On the first floor the Great Hall with its expansive fireplace was the kind of place you could imagine a poet performing for a King. However, once again neither Urien nor Taliesin were mentioned. Up another flight of stairs a pair of walls decorated by bored 14th C guards with drawings from coats of arms and oral tales. Engraved on the door: a huntsman and his dogs.

*

The Eden and Caldew

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I walked from the castle down to the river Eden, noting the path that runs along the line of Hadrian’s Wall. The Eden would have felt peaceful if it wasn’t for policemen searching for something in snorkels which set me slightly on edge. At the spot where the Eden and Caldew meet I touched the water and saw a shoal of tiny newly hatched fish.

Up the Caldew jackdaws flocked between the trees. As I walked back through the woods I felt like I was surrounded by them every way I turned: a fairytale moment, a jackdaw on every branch, in every ear. I don’t see jackdaws in Penwortham and was enchanted by their roguish presence. At the end of the wood I found a freshly fallen feather.

*

Curse and Counter

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Walking through the subway between the castle and city centre I came across the infamous Cursing Stone. Designed by Gordon Young and made by Andy Altman it was set in place in 2001. It is inscribed with the Curse of Carlisle, which was used against the Border Reivers by the Archbishop of Glasgow in 1525. The curse is 1069 words long. It begins:

“I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without.”

The Cursing Stone has caused controversy because since its instalment Carlisle has suffered from a spate of bad luck including foot-and-mouth disease, floods, rising crime and unemployment and the relegation from the league of Carlise United football team.

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Christians have campaigned to have it removed. I noticed behind the stone was a door engraved with a Christian prayer and a cross saying ‘blessing’: an attempt to redress the negativity of the curse? Ensuingly someone less high-minded had written beside ‘honourable’ ‘just’ ‘pure’ in permanent marker, ‘Ha ha your God is dead.’

*

Tullie House Museum

You could spend days in the Tullie House Museum learning about the history of Carlisle (from a hand-axe dating to 10,000BC to the modern-day) and looking at the art-work. I had only a couple of hours left so had to keep my focus on finding something relating to Urien and Taliesin.

The bottom floor was entirely dedicated to Roman Britain and included statues and altars to the Roman deities and interactive spaces where you could enter a tent or try on jewellery. I noticed a brooch featuring a hunting dog then upstairs a dog statuette from the Romano-British period. Both put me in mind of the votive hounds offered to Gwyn’s father, Nudd/Nodens.

To my surprise I found numerous sculptures of Celtic deities: a Celtic wheel-god (Taranis?), three sets of Genii Cucullati, three sculptures of the Mother Goddesses and a dedication, a Celtic horned god, the eye-catching ram-horned head from Netherby with his deep, sunken eyes and fathomless expression. There were also altars to Hueteris, Belatucadrus, and Mars Cocidius.

I’d seen many sketched in Anne Ross’s Pagan Celtic Britain and wasn’t prepared to see them all together at once. It was overwhelming and rather peculiar seeing them packed into four cabinets; some headless, limbless, or defaced. I managed to get my act together and speak their names, those I knew, those I didn’t. Images of deities sculptured 2,000 years ago, revered, now viewed in a entirely different context.

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The most surprising find was a cauldron. I’ve been researching the stories of the broken cauldron in British mythology for the past two years yet this was the first time I’d seen a cauldron in real life. The Bewcastle Cauldron was found during peat cutting at Black Moss, was missing its handles and coincidentally had been repaired five times by patching. Most astonishingly it was surrounded by orange lights; in ritual, I place candles around my cauldron in the same manner! Once again there was no sign of Urien or Taliesin.

*

A Wild Dog Chase

If I’d seen a goose I might have been able to say I’d been on a wild goose chase. However, I found myself led along my journey by a variety of strange dogs, birds (but no geese), and other bizarre creatures to the cabinet of the gods and the ‘grail’ itself: the handle-less patchwork cauldron.

A strange day out and in the non-logic of it this ‘wild dog chase’ I sense the presence of my Annuvian deity…

*I found out the correct identities of the carvings on the misericords from an obscure pamphlet called Cry Pure, Cry Pagan by Thirlie Grundy which a friend coincidentally happened to own.