Ffynnon – Source, Spring, Fountain

A couple of months ago, when I was feeling discouraged about the lack of interest in the Brythonic tradition, Gwyn showed me a fountain cascading down into concentric basins increasing in size and told me that likewise ‘the awen will eventually filter down’ and this made me feel more hopeful.

This vision led me to taking an interest in the role of fountains in medieval Welsh literature. I found out the Welsh word for fountain, ffynnon or ffynhawn, also means ‘source’ and ‘spring’.

In ‘The Death Song of Cörroi’, in The Book of Taliesin, Taliesin speaks of the ffynhawn lydan ‘wide sea-fountain’, the source of the sea. Patrick Sims-Williams suggests this refers to ‘a cosmological spring similar to Hvergelmir in Norse mythology’. Hvergelmir ‘boiling bubbling spring’ is the source from which the 42 rivers, including the 11 Élivágar ‘Ice Waves’, which run through the Nine Worlds flow. In the Greek myths all the rivers rise from Oceanus ‘Ocean’ suggesting a shared mythos.

In a poem called ‘Blessed be the Lord’ in The Black Book of Carmarthen we find the lines:

May the three fountains
bless you,
two above the wind,
one above the earth

Sims-Williams notes that, ‘in a poem called Divregwawt Taliesin “Taliesin” says that the ocean comes to us from one of these’. In ‘The First Address of Taliesin’ the bard speaks of teir ffynnawn ‘three springs’ or ‘three fountains / in Mount Sion’ showing a collation of Brythonic and Christian beliefs.

The image of a triple fountain is unsurprising considering many Celtic deities, such as the Matronae, the Genii Cucullati, and the Lugoves, appear in triple forms. The awen, poetic inspiration, is represented as three dots or as as three rays. The threefold fountain recurs in the alchemical tradition as the Fons Mercurialis.

Fons Mercurialis from the Rosarium (1550)

A fountain is central to Iarlles y Fynnon ‘The Lady of the Fountain’. The fountain stands beneath a green tree, with near it a marble slab and silver bowl fastened to a silver chain. Owain Rheged, a hero of the Old North, seeking adventure, throws water from the fountain from the bowl onto the slab. This brings about ‘a tumultuous noise’ then a hailstorm that strips the leaves from the tree and summons a black knight. Owain defeats him and becomes the guardian of the fountain and lover of its otherworldly lady. This story bears a resemblance with Pwyll taking the role of Arawn, King of Annwn.

Thus it is unsurprising that this central image mirrors the well/fountain and golden bowl hanging on four golden chains over a marble slab in the fortress of Llwyd Cil Coed, Brenin Llwyd, King of Annwn, which enchants Pwyll’s son, Pryderi, and his mother, Rhiannon.

It seems these are one and the same with the fountain that Gwyn, King of Annwn, showed me. A powerful symbol of awen springing forth from its source in Annwn ‘the Deep’. Flowing from myth, into story, into words, rippling out its numinous qualities into Thisworld.

SOURCES

Marged Haycock (transl), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Meirion Pennar (transl.), The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Llanerch Enterprises, 1989)
Patrick Sims-Williams, Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature, (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
‘The Rosary of the Philosophers’, MS Ferguson 210, (18th C)

 

The Vision of Ceridwen

I’m the broken bird-thing
at her table again

her wizened hand
in my claws

telling her
I’m going to mend
our broken vision

and all will be beautiful.

***

Sometimes you end up in a myth. It’s not the myth you thought you’d end up in or the myth you chose. You’re not who you thought you would be. Nobody else sees the myth the same way you do.

It began when I first started learning about the Bardic Tradition and heard that Ceridwen was the goddess of the cauldron that brews awen, the poetic inspiration that is like mead to the Brythonic bards.

As a poet I thought Ceridwen was a goddess well worth meeting so I drew myself a cauldron, lit a candle, constructed a visualisation. One of those 2D interfaces that sometimes helps you interact with what is. I imagined Ceridwen as a blue-robed, dark-haired, faceless woman stirring a cauldron.

Nothing happened. Then, from nowhere, out leapt a hideous grey-haired hag who put her bony arms around my neck, nearly strangling me. She demanded I go with her to her cottage in her woods. She sat me down at her table in a room with a sun dial and smaller cauldron over the hearth on a wobbly three-legged stool and insisted that I call her ‘grandmother’. Initially I thought she was an ancestor.

I presumed this showed Ceridwen wasn’t interested in me. She already had worthier devotees. Soon afterwards I got found by my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn and guardian of the cauldron.

I met ‘grandmother’ again when I was travelling Annwn in search of inspiration on my flighty white-winged mare. She ditched me and I found myself falling downwards through the air, flapping my arms like wings, steadily acquiring black feathers, but not quickly enough to stop me hitting the ground. When I returned to my senses the hag-like woman was standing over me. With a wrinkly smile she told me I was ‘beginning to get my raven’s wings’ before taking me to her cottage again.

There she told me to look into her cauldron, where I saw in vivid blues and reds a Dark Age battle of clashing spears, crashing swords, broken shields, fallen flags, blood crimsoning the nearby waters, then the shades rising in a sorrowful march to depart. Researching it afterwards I realised it was the Battle of the Region Linuis fought by Arthur against the Saxons and wrote a poem about it*.

After this gift of awen from her cauldron I began to suspect the hag was the real (as opposed to my imagined) Ceridwen. The name ‘grandmother’ came to make sense a couple of years later. Gwyn had shown me a cauldron filled with stars and not long afterwards I went to see my friend, Nick Williams, performing an experimental poetry set in a blacked-out room with strobe lights. I had the sensation of being in a cauldron of poesy and also in the womb of the universe. I recalled that Nick refers to a goddess called Old Mother Universe and realised she is Ceridwen – the oldest mother of all.

I went on to write a book called The Broken Cauldron, focusing on how Ceridwen’s crochan ‘cauldron’ or ‘womb’ is shattered in the Welsh myths and of my task of gathering the stars back into it.

Whereas, in the Bardic Tradition and Druidry, Taliesin and Arthur, those responsible for stealing the awen and the cauldron and the shatterings that have brought devastation to the land are hailed as heroes, I found myself standing in the shoes of Morfran ‘Sea Raven’, Ceridwen’s dark and ugly son, who was later known as Afagddu ‘Utter Darkness’.

He for whom she boils her cauldron in the hope the brew will inspire him and cure his imperfections. He who does not get the awen, who cannot win poetic inspiration the quick way, but must work to find the words to heal the lands poisoned by the contents of the broken cauldron, to repair it piece by piece, story by story, so the stars shine in bright new constellations on a new world.

Gwyn is my guide in this task, and in serving him, I am also serving Ceridwen. She does not appear to me often, but when she does, I am often her awkward black-winged child, the dark imperfect one.

As Afagddu I’m learning imperfection is necessary; an understanding of what others find repulsive, whether it’s darkness, death, decay, plastic, the monstrous creatures of Thisworld or the Otherworld. That these hold their own beauty when the concept is not corrupted by our society’s false ideals.

It’s not the Old Mother’s Universe that needs fixing, but the way we perceive it, the collective vision, which guides our acts. When we learn to see clearly both Creirwy* and Afagddu will be beautiful.

A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud Wikipedia Commons

*’The Region Linuis’ was first published in Heroic Fantasy HERE.
**Creirwy means ‘Lively Darling’. She is Afagddu’s beautiful (twin?) sister.

With thanks to Wikipedia Commons for the image ‘A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud’ by ESA/Hubble.

The Giant’s Letters

In Barddas Iolo Morganwg provides a mythical account of the origin of letters, which he claims was passed down from the ancient Bards of the Isle of Britain.

‘Einigain, Einigair, or Einiger, the Giant, was the first that made a letter to be a sign of the first vocalisation that ever was heard, namely, the Name of God. That is to say, God pronounced His Name, and with the word all the world and its appurtenances, and all the universe leaped together into existence and life, with the triumph of a song of joy. The same song was the first poem that was ever heard, and the sound of the song travelled as far as God and his existence are, and the way in which every other existence, springing into unity with Him, has travelled forever and ever… It was from the hearing, and from him who heard it, that sciences and knowledge and understanding and awen from God, were obtained. The symbol of God’s name from the beginning was /|\…

Einigan the Giant beheld the three pillars of light, having in them all demonstrable sciences that ever were, or ever will be. And he took three rods of the quicken tree, and placed on them the forms and signs of all sciences, so as to be remembered; and exhibited them. But those who saw them misunderstood, and falsely apprehended them, and taught illusive sciences, regarding the rods as a God, whereas they only bore His Name. When Einigan saw this, he was greatly annoyed, and in the intensity of his grief he broke the three rods, nor were others found that contained accurate sciences. He was so distressed on that account that from the intensity he burst asunder, and with his (parting) breath he prayed God that there should be accurate sciences among men in the flesh, and there should be a correct understanding of of the proper discernment thereof. And at the end of a year and a day, after the decease of Einigan, Menw, son of the Three Shouts, beheld three rods growing out of the mouth of Einigan, which exhibited the sciences of the Ten Letters, and the mode in which all the sciences of language and speech were arranged by them, and in language and speech all distinguishable sciences. He then took the rods and taught from them the sciences – all except the name of God, which he kept a secret, lest the Name should be falsely discerned; and hence arose the Secret of the Bards of the Isle of Britain.’

The letters were known as gogyrven, a term which has been translated as ‘spirit’ and ‘muse’, and provides the sense that the letters were inspirited and possessed their own lives and potent agency.

When etched onto wood with a knife each letter was known as a coelbren ‘omen stick’ and ‘The Coelbren’ was the name given to the alphabet, which later developed to contain twenty-four letters.

***

It has long been proven that Morganwg’s writings are forgeries and were not passed on from the ancient bards. They are also heavily influenced by Christianity. However, they may still be read as inspired works that contain deep truths open to reinterpretation from a modern Brythonic pagan perspective.

From numerous instances in medieval Welsh poetry where poets deny adamantly that awen is from God and not from the Great Goddess Ceridwen* we can derive that God replaced Ceridwen as the creator of the world and source of the awen. Their denials conceal an older truth. That the universe was born when she spoke her secret name which brought about the primal shattering of her crochan ‘cauldron’ or ‘womb’ – the Big Bang, and the echoing of her name throughout creation as awen-song.

If Ceridwen is our great creatrix, Old Mother Universe, who heard her song? Who is Einigan the Giant? A clue may be found in the name gogyrven or ogryven for letter. Ogryven is also the name of a giant. Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd speaks of ‘a girl in Ogyrven’s Hall’:

Unwilling to leave her (it would be my death)
My life-force is with her, my vitality ebbs
Like a legendary lover my desire undoes me
For a girl I can’t reach in Ogyrven’s Hall.

John Rhys says: ‘three muses had emerged from Giant Ogyrven’s cauldron. But Ogyrven seems to be one of the names of the terrene god, so that Ogyrven’s cauldron should be no other probably than that which we have found ascribed to the Head of Hades.’ It seems that Ogyrven is Pen Annwn, the Head of the Otherworld and guardian of Ceridwen’s cauldron. He is elsewhere known as Arawn or Gwyn ap Nudd.

The identity of Einigan with the Head of the Otherworld is consolidated by Iolo himself. In a later passage in Barddas, referring to the creation of the world we find the following dialogue:

Disciple: ‘By what instrumentality or agency did God make these things?’
Master: ‘By the voice of his mighty energy…’
Disciple: ‘Did any living being hear that melodious voice?’
Master: ‘Yes; and co-instantaneously with the voice were seen all sciences and all things cognitive, in the imperishable and endless stability of their existence and life. For the first that existed, and the first that lived, the first that obtained knowledge, and the first that knew it, was the first that practiced it. And the first sage was Huon, the son of Nudd, who is called Gwynn, the son of Nudd, and Enniged the Giant.’

Menw is a character from Welsh mythology who fittingly knows the language of the animals. The reference to him being the ‘son of Three Shouts’ may refer to the ritual cry of Diaspad Uwch Annwfn ‘the scream over Annwn’ and the power of the voice to summon Annuvian spirits to blight land and people.

Thus we have the seeds of an alternative story of the origin of letters inspired by Morganwg’s writings.

***

The Giant’s Letters

In the beginning there was Annwn, the Deep, a place of silent darkness within the crochan of the Great Goddess. In that silence, in that depth, a very small something formed – a name. And when the Goddess spoke her name, her womb, her cauldron shattered with an almighty bang, her waters broke and poured out in torrents of stars, planets, worlds, our beautiful world amongst them. The universe and its song were born from the secret name of Old Mother Universe and that song was known as awen.

But what is a song with noone to hear it? It was lucky that another of the gods of the Deep heard the song. He is known as Einigan the Giant, Ogryven the Giant, Gwyn ap Nudd, and countless other names. When he heard it, it was so powerful, so full of the joy of the becoming of the universe, so full of the sorrow of the shattering of the cauldron that would be never be whole again, that it seared three burning rays of light into his mind /|\. No matter whether he was sleeping or waking, no matter whether he sat still or ran or hunted through the universe for their source on his dark starry-eyed steed, they would not disappear and the song would not stop repeating itself over and over again.

“What is it you want? What is your demand?” he growled whilst resting at noon beneath a quicken tree.

“We want to be born, we want to be known, we want to be understood.”

The giant finally realised what must be done. Taking his knife he harvested a branch from the tree and cut it into three rods. Onto them he engraved markings for the ten deepest and most primal notes of the song, chanting each gogyrven over and over again, channeling into it its share of the light. When the three coelbren, ‘omen sticks’ as he called them, were formed, the rays faded from his mind. As he looked upon his creation he was filled with a feeling of deep satisfaction and peace and a strange but rightful emptiness, not unlike a mother who has just given birth to three beautiful children.

Yet he still could not rest until he found people who would come to know and understand his creation. He passed on the letters, but, to his horror, they soon lost their meaning. Rather than recognising them as the awen-song of Old Mother Universe, the echoing of her secret name, they began to worship the letters and the knowledge that they allowed them to accumulate instead. Every time a letter was written without purpose he was aware of the light of the universe fading out. He grew so angry that he broke the rods. The intensity of his grief burst his heart, burst him asunder like the broken cauldron. With his last breath he prayed their connection to the song of the awen and their rightful expression in poetry would be reclaimed.

A year and a day afterwards, Menw, son of Three Shouts, beheld the three rods growing from the giant’s mouth. Everywhere his parts had fallen the shoots of new forests of wild words sprang up. Menw learnt the letters and found to his delight they allowed him to commune with the animals who ran ran through those woodlands, with the stones, the rivers, the mountains, the bright shining stars. With all the things that echoed with the Song of Old Mother Universe. When he sang them out loud in perfect poetry he saw three rays of light burning in his mind and his heart was filled with joy.

Menw passed on the secrets of the awen to others who, like him, became awenyddion. When the last died, the light faded. Until those three rays were seen once again by an awenydd called Iolo Morganwg, who penned the story of Einigan the Giant. His works were passed on to others who would answer the giant’s prayer and reclaim the connection of his letters to the name of Old Mother Universe.

And what became of him? Death is rarely the end of a giant. Einigan died and returned to the cauldron. From it he was reborn as its guardian, the Head of Annwn, the ruler of the land of the dead from which the universe was born and to which it will return, as his reward for creating the letters.

abcedilros - the giant's letters

*Taliesin says:

I entreat my Lord
that (I may) consider inspiration:
what brought forth (that) necessity
before Ceridfen
at the beginning, in the world
which was in need?

In ‘The Chair of Teyrnon’ we find tension between conflicting translations of peir as ‘cauldron’ or ‘Sovereign’ (God). ‘Ban pan doeth o peir / ogyrwen awen teir’; ‘Splendid (was it) when there emanated from the Sovereign/cauldron / the ogyrwen of triune inspiration’.

Amongst later bards petitioning Ceridwen for awen is only acceptable when disguised as a metaphor and under the ordinance of God. Cuhelyn Fardd asks God for poetic power akin to ‘the dignity of Ceridfen’s song, of varied inspiration’. Prydydd y Moch requests inspiration from God ‘as from Ceridfen’s cauldron’ and asks God for ‘the words of Ceridfen, the director of poetry’.

SOURCES

Greg Hill, ‘The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall’, The Way of the Awenydd, (2015)
Greg Hill, ‘Who was Taliesin?’, Awen ac Awenydd
Iolo Morganwg, The Barddas, (Weiser, 2004)
John Michael Greer, The Coelbren Alphabet, (Llewellyn, 2017)
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Marged Haycock (transl), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)

Afagddu’s Sorrows

I.

Oh bone bird mother
do you not see my skeleton on the beach?

Do you not know which cormorant I was?

Do you not know how many stones I ate?
Do you not know of the sorrow of plastic I choked on?
Do you not know how I swallowed enough poison
to save the world but it was still not enough?

Whatever I did I could never gain perfection
with my oily wings, my puddling feet,
my shuffling look of misery.

II.

When I fought I flew into
a blind unchannelled rage like a primeval bird
and no-one could bring me back, could call me back again…

thus I was better as an attendant demon believed malevolent.

I could have been a bard if I had not sung the wrong songs –
the antithesis of the music of the tongue, disharmony, un-cynghanedd.

If my words had not creaked like a broken wing beating and beating
up above as I went about picking up loose pieces of words
that had been discarded like the limbs of dolls
and sad squashed teddies.

III.

In my childhood I had no hug, no cot, no mobile, no talking abacus,
and my mum did not leave the television on.

I didn’t really get to know the village where I was born
down beneath Lake Bala from which only
a harper and robin escaped.

I was more interested in the secret tunnel
between the worlds into which I could drag my ‘belongings’
and keep them safe – the rubbery Wellingtons,
the scribbly marker pens and notes.

Bala has always led to Tryweryn –

to the sunken villages and the empty beds
into which I climbed longing for mum and dad,

to the empty post office, school, chapel, chapel house,
to the cemetery and the new memorial chapel.

IV.

Black, ragged, bloated on November nights
I cannot remember my birthday but only the birthday
of my sister and how this was celebrated with whistles and balloons.

I instead was tarred and feathered and pecked to death

until I was rags and banners of intestine
and of course the cold dry bones,

until the door was opened
and I was bidden go.

Oh bird bone mother
if only you could see me now –

I am flying high beyond perfection.


Signposts to Annwn: Lore

Book.of.Taliesin.facsimile

This posts shares some of the lore associated with Annwn. Awen, the divine breath of inspiration, is seen to originate from Annwn. Also included are passages about initiation, death and rebirth, and the soul.

Awen

‘Let’s approach God who is
– according to the utterance of Talhaearn –
the true judge of the worth of the world,
the One who adjudged the qualities
of passionate song.
He with his miracle bestowed
immeasurable inspiration:
there are 140 ‘ogrfen’
in inspiration;
eight score
in each one.
In Annwfn he ranged the (divisions of inspiration),
in Annwfn he made them,
in Annwfn below the earth,
in the air above the earth.
There is one who knows
what sadness
is better than joy.
I know the set gradations
of inspiration when it flows;
(I know) about payments to a poet,
about propitious days,
about a joyful life,
about the aeons of the fortress,
about the ones like kings,
how long their dwelling places (shall last)…

I sing inspiration,
I bring it forth from the depth.
The connected river which flows (around the world):
I know its might,
I know how it ebbs,
I know how it flows,
I know how it courses,
I know how it retreats.
I know how many creatures
are under the sea;
I know the nature
of each one in its shoal;
how many divisions in a day,
how many days in a year…’
– The Hostile Confederacy, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘I entreat my Lord
that (I may) consider inspiration:
what brought forth (that) necessity
before Ceridfen
at the beginning, in the world
which was in need?’
– The Childhood Achievements of Taliesin, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘Where does inspiration flow to,
at midnight (and) mid-day?’
– I am the vitality, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘He (Urien) defended my song (emanating) from Ceridfen’s cauldron;
unrestrained is my tongue, a repository of inspiration.
That inspiration of poetry – my God created it
at the same time as fresh as fresh milk and dew and acorns…

I have three songs of consistent harmony
and they will be perpetuated by poets until Judgement.’
– The Chair of Taliesin, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘Here is the declamation of a brilliant poem
of immeasurable inspiration…

splendid (was it) when there emanated from the Sovereign/cauldron
the ‘ogyrwen’ of triune inspiration.’
– The Chair of Teyrnon, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘When the ‘Cadeiriau’ come to be judged
my own will be the best of them:
my song, and my cauldron, and my rules,
and my careful declamation, worthy of a chair in harmonious song.
I’m called a knowledgeable one in Don’s court,
I, and Euronwy, and Euron.’
– The Chair of Ceridwen, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Initiation

Sixty Years of Solitude

‘For sixty years
I endured solitude
in the water gathered in a band (around the earth),
(and) in the lands of the world.
I had a hundred servants,
(and) a hundred dominions after that.’
– The Hostile Confederacy, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Death and Rebirth

‘A hen got hold of me –
a red-clawed one, a crested enemy;
I spent nine nights
residing in her womb.
I was matured,
I was drink set before a ruler,
I was dead, I was alive,
a stick went into me;
I was on the lees,
separated from it, I was whole;
and the drinking vessel stiffened resolve,
(for) the red-clawed one imbued me with passion.’
– The Hostile Confederacy, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

The Soul

‘Do you know what you are
when you are asleep:
a body or a soul
or a pale mysterious thing?…

The lamented soul –
who saw it, who recognises it?
I am amazed in books
that they do not know for certain
what the soul’s dwelling is,
(and) what its limbs look like;
from which region flow
the great wind and the great stream
in dire combat
endangering the sinner.’
– The Childhood Achievements of Taliesin, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

‘I praise my Father,
My God, my sustainer,
who added, through my head,
a soul into my design.’
– Song of the Great World, The Book of Taliesin, (Haycock transl.)

Afagddu’s Declamation

Until death it shall be obscure –
Afagddu’s declamation
The Hostile Confederacy

I am bedraggled tonight, unwelcome,
the one taught to hang his head
in his mother’s court:

Utter Darkness, the Dark Son,
the Ugly One she wishes
utterly forgotten.

I carry no shield, spear, or sword.
The brushing of damp fur
on my thighs

unnerves the courtly women.
My hair hangs like ivies over
the face of a bridge,

disappears like rain into a dark adit.
They compare me to Sanddef
the angelic.

Wings tarred to my back, I am
the sea-bird abandoned
in the oil-slick.

I drag myself in with my shadow,
carping words in metres
they can’t name.

The slow swooshing of my feet
reminds them of wetsuits.
From my feathers

sadness drips like tears of oily rain.
When I shake myself off
like a wet dog

they flinch away from the globules.
Looking into my green eye
they are beholden.

With my reptilian beak I speak
of swallowing sorrow
like stones,

plummeting down to the deep
in search of lands
unpoisoned

by my mother’s toxic cauldron.
From the darkest places
I won my awen.

I cleared the blowholes of whales,
untangled sea turtles
from gillnets.

On islands of bottles, pill packets,
polystyrene, prosthetic limbs,
I laid out the dead.

I learnt to divine from the plastics
in the entrails of copepods,
euphausiids,

mussels, mackerel, jellyfish,
sea gulls who rattled
in flight.

From bottle caps and cotton bud sticks,
pieces of red, green, blue, yellow
Lego bricks,

an alphabet of magnetic letters
stuck to a sunken fridge
I read the future.

Of course they were upside down,
back to front, in another
language.

I was forced to turn myself inside out
like a rabbit unskinning
to decipher it.

I’m still not sure whose future
I brought back in
my pockets.

I empty them out and letters writhe
like sea worms spelling
an inky fate

to the chant of plastic-eating bacteria:
Ideonella sakaiensi I gathered
from the deep.

The courtiers draw back their chairs,
weapons aglinting,
curse me.

I am but the messenger – the angelus.
Nevertheless they take aim.
A terrible poetry

of microbeads spills from my belly
as I fly up like a fury
to declaim…

Cormorant_(Phalacrocorax_carbo)_(17)

Y Fferllyt / The Alchemists

Gwnëynt eu peiron
a verwynt heb tan
gwnëynt eu delideu
yn oes oesseu.

They’d make their cauldrons
that were boiling without fire;
they’d work their materials
for ever and ever.
The Hostile Confederacy

alchemy

In the blackness of a starless night
I could not stop brow-beating
myself with the hammer
of what is missing
inside me whilst outside
they forged a sky of black iron
with a ringing ringing beat dividing
cosmos from chaos within the metal dome
fixing the crystal constellations.
They’d make their cauldrons

sturdy and strong as they’d make
their crucibles and flasks and funnels
and their chimerical language,
working with the elements,
conjunctions of planets,
365 herbs to inspire,
voices rising like phoenixes
from the ashes of the nigredo
on magical wings higher and higher
that were burning without fire

whilst we burnt everything
and our cauldrons would not boil.
I walked the plains of cold dark vessels;
leaking, cracked, the prima materia
spilling out like poison.
As we emptied the oil wells
and the gas wells and I followed
the dragon ships the emptiness
inside me grew emptier.
Whilst we built our hell
they’d work their materials

in the cauldrons deep inside them.
Thus they’d brew their awen
whilst we pillaged elixirs
from other worlds
and the elements ran wild;
burning, drowning, shaking monsters.
The black sky cracked and with the crystal stars
we fell like charred birds from the heavens
plummeting without feathers
for ever and ever.

7. The Cauldron of Dyrnwch

The Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant: if meat for a coward were put in it to boil, it would never boil; but if meat for a brave man were put in, it would boil quickly (and thus the brave could be distinguished from the cowardly).’
The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain

A warrior-bard rides his motorcycle across the north,
his words like his weapons bold and defiant,
seeking to prove his worth
at the Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant.

Will he lose his defiance with his stuttering rifle,
like a broken mike stammer and stall?
If meat for a coward were put in
it would never boil.

Or will he proclaim his exploits on a megaphone
whilst miming each gun-shot wittily?
If meat for a brave man were put in
it would boil quickly.

Either way in the depths of the cauldron
his youthful flesh will be devoured most thoroughly
(and thus the brave could be distinguished
from the cowardly).

~

The Cauldron of Dyrnwch

~

Dyrnwch the Giant is a legendary figure associated with the Old North. His epithet gawr ‘giant’ poses the question of whether he was a large human or belonged to a mythic race. References to giants such as Brân the Blessed shows they held an important position in Brythonic mythology. More confusingly, human chieftains such as Maelor Gawr, who was killed in a raid on his fortress at Pen Dinas by Gwerthmwl Wledig, were given the epithet ‘giant’.

Dyrnwch appears by the name Diwrnach Wyddel ‘the Irishman’ in Culhwch and Olwen. Here the getting of his cauldron to boil food for his wedding guests is one of the impossible tasks Culhwch must fulfil to win the hand of Olwen, daughter of Ysbaddaden Bencawr, ‘Chief Giant’.

Diwrnach is the steward of Odgar King of Ireland. Arthur fulfils the task for Culhwch. He sails to Ireland on his ship, Prydwen, with his men. Diwrnarch invites them into his house to feast. When Arthur asks Diwrnach for the cauldron he refuses to hand it over. Llenlleog Wyddel, one of Diwrnach’s men, betrays him by grabbing Arthur’s sword, Caledfwlch, and killing Diwrnach and all his retinue. Arthur and his men flee with the cauldron filled with Irish treasure.

In Brythonic mythology Ireland is sometimes a synonym for Annwn, the Otherworld, because it is likewise across the sea. If this is the case, ‘Odgar’ is a name for the ruler of Annwn and Diwrnach is his steward. This reading is backed up by the fact that in ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ the Head of Annwn owns a cauldron just likes Diwrnach’s with a pearly rim that will not boil a coward’s food, which is again seized by Arthur.

Dyrnwch also appears by the name Wrnach in Culhwch and Olwen. Culhwch is told he must get Wrnach’s sword, which is the only weapon that can kill him. In this story he is most definitely a giant for he owns ‘the largest fort in the world’ and from it comes a ‘a black-haired man, bigger than three men of this world’. Cai fulfils the task for Culhwch by posing as a furbisher of swords and killing Wrnach with his own perfectly honed blade.

‘Arthur and the Porter’ mentions Arthur fought with a hag in Awrnach’s hall. This is another variant on the spelling of Dyrnwch and perhaps associates Dyrnwch with Orddu, ‘Very Black’, a ‘hag’ who dwelled in Pennant Gofid, ‘in the uplands of Hell’. Arthur went to the North to kill her. The boundaries between the North, Ireland, and Annwn blur. All are ‘not here’.

From this proliferation of stories we can conjecture that Dyrnwch was an important figure who guarded the cauldron of the Head of Annwn and died attempting to defend it in a liminal place.

From the Bronze Age, cauldrons literally held a central role in Brythonic culture at the centre of the feast. They were essential for cooking meat, which would have been seen as a magical process. The cauldron’s property of distinguishing the brave from the cowardly seems related to ‘the champion’s portion’ in which the bravest warrior was given first choice and the finest meat.

On a deeper level, in Welsh mythology, the cauldron is associated with death and rebirth. Brân the Blessed was gifted a cauldron which had the power to bring dead warriors back to life. Taliesin was reborn from the crochan ‘cauldron’ or ‘womb’ of Ceridwen from which the Awen* originates.

It seems likely the magical property of Dyrnwch’s cauldron and the champion’s portion had a deeper origin in an initiatory function wherein only a brave person could be initiated into the mysteries of death and rebirth in the depths of Annwn and thus receive his or her Awen.

*Divine inspiration. In some medieval Welsh poems it is synonymous with one’s destiny.

~

SOURCES

Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Patrick Ford, Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales, (University of California Press, 2008)
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 Skene (transl.), ‘Arthur and the Porter’, The Black Book of Carmarthen, Mary Jones Celtic Literature Collective

Annuvian Awen

Annuvian Awen

Allan o dywyllwch caf fy ngeni
Allan o waed caf fy ngeni
Allan o ysbryd caf fy ngeni

Yn canu o Annwn

Tri phelydryn golau
Tri phelydryn llais
Tri phelydryn wirionedd

I oleuo â rhyfeddod
Ac yn torri’r galon wytnaf

Yn canu o Annwn

~

Out of darkness I am born
Out of blood I am born
Out of spirit I am born

Singing from Annwn

Three rays of light
Three rays of voice
Three rays of truth

To illuminate with wonder
And break the hardest heart

Singing from Annwn

~

About a month ago I awoke with the symbol above in my mind with the name ‘Annuvian Awen’. Awen derives from the Indo-European *-uel ‘to blow’ and has the same root as the Welsh awel ‘breeze’. It is the primordial breath that binds all things, as Kristoffer Hughes says, ‘the voice of the universe speaking to itself’.

The Awen symbol was popularised by Iolo Morganwg in the 1860s. He claimed it was derived from a Welsh alphabet recorded by Nennius in the ninth century and that its meaning was ‘I am that I am’. It has been used by Neo-Druids since.

In medieval Welsh poetry ‘the ogyrven of threefold inspiration’ originate from the cauldron of Ceridwen. Crochan means both ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’. It is the place from which all beings of the universe are born and to where they return at death.

The cauldron of Ceridwen lies in Annwn, ‘Very Deep’, the ancient British Otherworld. It is guarded by the Head of Annwn: a god with many names who I know as Gwyn ap Nudd. Gwyn guides the souls of the dead and of living initiates to the cauldron.

The black background of the Annuvian Awen represents the origin of Awen from the darkness of Ceridwen’s cauldron in the depths of Annwn. The red stands for the blood of the dead (human and non-human) whose sacrifices have made it possible the living can have Awen. The white is spirit: the breath, the voice of truth, the misty otherlight of the ogyrven ‘spirits’ contained in the person of Gwyn ‘White’ who is also known as the giant Ogyrven.

When I had created the design I received the gnosis I must write a poem to accompany it in English and Welsh. My Welsh is very basic. Having written the English version with an eye to how it looked and sounded in Welsh, translating as I went, I contacted fellow awenydd and Welsh-speaker Greg Hill for help with the translation.

Greg corrected my grammatical errors and helped me with choices of individual words. Interestingly this led to changing the tense of the English poem from past to present which was a big improvement. This fortuitous exchange of Awen between awenyddion gave birth to the poem in its present form. We decided to use it with the symbol on the front page of ‘Awen ac Awenydd’: a website providing a repository of information on the awenydd path.

For me the Annuvian Awen forms an expression of the path of the awenydd that acknowledges the importance of depth in our increasingly superficial world; the need to recover the inspiration that lies in the deeps of Annwn and in the deep places of our souls to combat the soullessness that allows the destructive systems that are wrecking Thisworld to thrive.

The ways to Annwn are dark, misty, uncertain, steeped in blood, for the most part forgotten. Yet there are gods and guides who offer to walk with us and share our quest. So we go with them through the darkness, across the river of blood, to return with the otherlight to illuminate the beauty of Thisworld because not only our lives but the lives of our souls depend on it.

SOURCES

Angela Grant, ‘A Short History of the Awen’, The Druid Network
Greg Hill, ‘Awen’, Awen ac Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘Taliesin, the Bardic Tradition and the Awen’, The Way of the Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall’
Kristoffer Hughes, Natural Druidry, (Thoth Publications, 2007)
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Awen’, Wikipedia