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.

In the Awen

I am what I am:
awenydd as noun and verb.

I am possessed and I am possession.

In Peneverdant, between Penwortham and Annwn,
I belong to Gwyn in every extension of my soul
through time and space and dark matter
(and for one moment I am him).

Living by my vows I am fulfilled and fulfilment.

Please don’t take it away from me again,
this inspiration, this divine breath,
until my lord comes for me
at the end of the world.

Twelve Days of Prayer

‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a ‘sacred and festive season’ marked by Christians between Christmas Day (25th December) and the Epiphany (6th January). It was instituted by the Council of Tours in 567 to mark the period between the birth of Jesus and the revelation he is God incarnate on the visit of the magi.

For me, as a Brythonic polytheist who venerates Gwyn ap Nudd as Winter’s King, the mid-winter holy days have always felt particularly special and sacred. They begin with Eponalia, on 18th December, the feast of the horse-goddess and midwife of the sun. This is followed by the Winter Solstice, 21st / 22nd December, the height of Gwyn’s reign and presence within the land. 24th December is Mother’s Night and, although this is traditionally an Anglo-Saxon festival, one I associate with the Mother Goddesses such as Matrona/Modron and Anrhuna. 25th December is the day of the rebirth of the sun-child Maponos/Mabon. Then the next twelve days are a time of rest and celebration based around casting out the old year and welcoming in and preparing for the new.

Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing number of other pagans and polytheists exploring ways of marking these holy days. There are existing traditions of using them for divination. From my mum I learnt of the tradition of recording one’s dreams and linking them numerically to the calendar months. Cailtin Matthews has suggested using the Twelve Days for reading nature omens in a similar way.

In his essay ‘On the First Day of Christmas, the Dead brought back to me…’ Lee Davies connects the Twelve Days with Gwyn, the Wild Hunt, and the dead, who ride out to clear the ground for the New Year and also bring blessings of prosperity. He speaks of the koryos tradition in which people not only embody but ‘become the dead’ – a possible root of the misrule associated with the Twelfth Night.

With this in mind I decided to use the Twelve Days as a period of more intensive prayer and prayer writing for Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn and the dead with whom he rides out on his hunt through the winter months. This resulted in a series of visions and visionary dialogues. Here I share a selection from the twelve prayers.

Twelve Days of Prayer

For Gwyn

I.
Prayer
is to open
the little box of the heart
to let in the god who cannot fit within

two sides of a membrane
flap, dissolve like
the so-called
‘veil’

between the worlds
when you ride from the mist
on a creature somewhat like a horse
two hounds with teeth within teeth
all the countless uncontainable
monsters of Annwn

filling
this little box
I sometimes call a heart.
When it bursts and otherworlds
spill forth I know it is
so much more.



III.
You are ghost.
You and your legions.

You clothe yourselves
in cloud, in mist, you move
through our world like the wind.
Sometimes we hear you passing through.
Sometimes we sense only your silence
as you fill our vales with neither
your presence or absence.

Sometimes I feel ashamed
of my flesh and my fear to follow
you into battle in the wars that
rage on between the worlds.

Could it be that I’m afraid of death?

Of seeing my ghost looking back at me
as I write this poem from amongst your kind?

“You wear your flesh and your fear well.”

You speak in the voice that turns gold to leaves
and flesh to dust and skin to paper bearing
an elegy on the heels of your host.



IV.
“Fierce bull of battle,
awesome leader of many,”
I find myself whispering
Gwyddno’s words as though
they were the beginning
of an ancient prayer.

“Who will protect me?

“I will protect you.”

Your armour is a night
of stars and each of them
wields a spear against

my deep demonic fears.

I am awed by your strength
as I am mystified by its origin
for to whom does a god turn?
To whom does a god pray?

I see a bull striding majestic
down a passageway of light
into the infinite brightness
of a star, a heart, a fortress,
the Otherworld within his chest.

VI.
I come to pray
when I want to scream.

If I could comprehend you
could I contain the spirits within?

I fear to scream is the obliteration

of all prayer until you show me

how you tend to all the silent
and the unsilent screams

for a scream is prayer
as crescendo.



VIII.
I pray to you
as your awenydd
as your inspired poet

speak of my restlessness
the jangling of spirits within
my intimation I could be

so much more and you say:

“Poetry is more than rhyming words.
Awen is more than human speech.

The soul of the earth is living poetry
and each soul itself a poem breathed –

part of the divine breath which keeps

the rivers afloat, the mountains high,
the deer running through the woodlands,
the birds in the skies, the flowers growing
upwards turning their heads towards the sun.
And has the power to transform it all –
hurricanes, volcanic flames, tidal waves,
the death-wind from a nuclear blast creating
the wolves with glowing eyes and the monsters
with limbs where there should not be limbs
spoken of by awenyddion of long ago.

It can destroy (or fix) everything.

Why do you think I keep the awen
in a cauldron in a fortress that disappears
that spins that is shrouded by mystery and mist
and is sometimes known as the towers of the winds
and sometimes as the whale’s belly?

There is nothing more – I should know
for I have sought, I have hunted, with every
hound of Annwn beyond where the winds
of Thisworld and Otherworld blow beyond
the Universe and its moment of conception and
come back with nothing on my bloodless spear,
my hounds with nothing in their empty jaws,
bearing nothing in my empty hands but
knowing a little more about nothing.

One cannot be any more and about nothing
there is nothing to be said so be happy
as you are, awenydd, whilst still
a bearer of the divine breath.”



XII.
Your gift

is a shining bow
washed in the light
of the New Year’s sun.

I pray for the strength to draw it.
I pray for the patience to carve the arrows
each engraved with the words of a spell.
I pray for the focus to shoot true,

mind, body, and bow as one,
straight to the heart.

The Awenydd Identity and Cultural Appropriation

Introduction

I’m writing this essay because, over the past few months, I have noticed a number of people speaking either of their reluctance to identify as awenyddion due to fears of cultural appropriation or more generally voicing their concerns about English and American Pagans appropriating the term.

I first came across the term awenydd ‘person inspired’ in Natural Druidry by Kristoffer Hughes. In its lightning-like connection to the awen ‘poetic inspiration’ and used as a descriptor of one who quests and gives voice to this divine breath in poetry I intuited it was the word I’d been searching for to describe my spiritual path (I had formerly identified as a bard). This was confirmed by my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, on the Winter Solstice in 2013. Since then I have served Gwyn as an awenydd by giving voice to his myths and those of other Brythonic deities, the lore of the land, and the ancestors. With Greg Hill I co-founded the Awen ac Awenydd website and, with Lia Hunter, we have been working on compiling an anthology featuring the voices of other modern awenyddion.

So it came as a bit of a shock that my adoption of the awenydd identity might be seen as cultural appropriation. And that, much worse, I might have unwittingly influenced the choice of others to appropriate the term. Over the past few weeks I have led discussions on the topic on the Awen ac Awenydd Facebook page and discussed it with Greg by email and would like to share some conclusions.

The Awenydd Identity

Firstly I will provide an introduction to the awenydd identity. The earliest use of the term awen is found in Nennius’ History of the Britons (828) where he refers to Talhearn ‘Tad Awen’ ‘Father of Inspiration’, chief of the famous bards Aneirin, Taliesin, and Cian. This may be our first reference to an awenydd.

Here it is important to note that bardism has its roots in an older Brythonic tradition. From the Iron Age, throughout the Roman-British period, until the Anglo-Saxon invasions all of present-day England, Wales, and southern Scotland were part of a shared Brythonic culture. Taliesin and Aneirin composed poems about the battles between the Brythonic rulers and the Anglo-Saxons which gave rise to the fall of Yr Hen Ogledd ‘The Old North’. As the invaders pushed the Brythonic peoples west they took their stories and traditions with them, leading to them being maintained in Wales.

In his Description of Wales (1194) Gerald of Wales speaks of awenyddion ‘people inspired’ who ‘when consulted upon any doubtful event, they roar out violently, are rendered beside themselves, and become, as it were, possessed by a spirit.’ Their answers are described as ‘nugatory’, ‘incoherent’, and ‘ornamented’ yet can be explained the ‘turn of a word’. These are hallmarks of both poetic and prophetic language. Their inspiration comes from states of ecstasy and dreams. The awenydd is depicted as a solitary spirit-worker and soothsayer.

In medieval Welsh poetry awen originates from the cauldron of Ceridwen and/or from God. It is seen to flow from Annwn, ‘the Deep’ or ‘the Otherworld’, where the cauldron is guarded by Pen Annwn. In The Story of Taliesin receiving (or in some versions stealing!) awen from the cauldron, thereby becoming an awenydd, is the source of Taliesin’s omniscience and mastery of the bardic arts.

The term awenydd is consistently used as a synonym for an inspired poet. For example the fourteenth century poet Dafydd ap Gwilym describes himself as an ‘awenydd gwyrdd’ ‘green poet’. Lewis Glyn Cothi, in the fifteenth century, refers to Grufydd ab Rhys and his kinsmen as ‘awenyddion’.

In a letter to his cousin (1694) the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan speaks of an orphaned shepherd receiving awen when the ‘hawk upon the fist’ of ‘a beautiful young man with a garland of green leaves upon his head… a quiver of arrows att his back’ flies into his mouth and awakes in him ‘fear’, ‘consternation’ and ‘the gift of poetrie’. This of interest because it is suggestive of awen being gifted by a numinous figure – perhaps Maponos/Mabon, a god of youth, hunting, and music/poetry.

During the Druidic revival, awenyddion are conceived radically differently. In hisBarddas (written in the late 18th century but published in 1862), Iolo Morganwg speaks of Awenyddion as ‘Aspirants’ who have ‘no privileges’ within the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Island of Britain until they have completed three years of discipleship. Only then may they graduate from the lowly status of Awenydd to ‘Primitive Bard Positive’. Iolo states that Awen comes ‘from God’.

Following Iolo, in his introduction to the heroic elegies of Llywarch Hen (1792) William Pughe refers to Awenyddion as ‘disciples’ who are examined for their ‘understanding, affections, morals, and principles’, undergo ‘severe trials’, and must ‘learn such verbs and adages as contained the maxims of the institution, and to compose others himself, on any relative subject, doctrinal or moral’ to gain the the degree of ‘Bardd Braint’ a ‘Bard of Privilege’.

Here we find the awenydd as the lowest position within a highly moralistic order based on Christian concepts. We are miles away from the shepherd lad being gifted with inspiration by an unnamed god.

The term awenydd is defined today in The Dictionary of the Welsh Language as an ‘(inspired) poet; bardic pupil; inspired person, genius’. In modern Wales it is used to refer to poets who write in strict metre.

Like many terms some parts of the meaning of awenydd have changed through the centuries, but its essence remains the same. It consistently refers to somebody who receives awen from the divine (be it the Brythonic gods and spirits or the Christian God) and expresses it in well crafted poetry.

Last year, on the basis of these two underlying currents, at Awen ac Awenydd we created our own definition of the awenydd identity – ‘an awenydd is a spirit-worker and inspired poet in the Brythonic tradition’.

Cultural Appropriation

Awen ac Awenydd is a community of self-identified awenyddion. Some of us, such as Greg, live in Wales and are Welsh speakers. Others, such as myself, live in other parts of the UK, or in America, and are learning Welsh. For us the question has risen of whether we are appropriating the awenydd identity.

To answer this question we need to understand the concept of cultural appropriation. This came into use in the 1980s as part of the discourse critiquing Western expansionism and colonialism. It entered the Oxford Dictionaries in 2017 where it is defined as ‘the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.’

Cultural appropriation involves a dominant culture taking elements from a minority culture and using them to make a profit, for fun, or for fashion, without giving anything back. This is often done without knowledge of or sensitivity to their meaning within the culture they are taken from and is a form of colonialism. This differs from cultural exchange in which the interchange is mutually beneficial.

Examples of cultural appropriation include the adoption of ‘exotic’ aspects of Indian culture following the economic exploitation of the Indian subcontinent by the British Empire, the claiming of the religious term ‘Shaman’ outside the indigenous religion of Siberia and its neighbouring peoples, and the use of ‘Sweat Lodges’ from the Amerindian tradition against the wishes of the Lakota elders (who suggest casually employing their techniques may be harmful to the participants).

Unfortunately, since the term has become fashionable, there have been a proliferation of more superficial examples such as an eighteen-year-old girl wearing a cheongsam to her high school prom and the row over Jamie Oliver’s ‘punchy jerk rice’.

Am I Appropriating?

So the question arises of whether English and American Pagans (members of dominant cultures) are appropriating the term awenydd from the Welsh (a minority culture) thus engaging in an act of colonialism.

First off I’d like to say that this question is based on the presuppositions that there is an absolute distinction between England and Wales and that Wales has been colonised by the English. There is a strong argument for the English colonisation of Wales over the last thousand years. There are numerous examples of military (Anglo-Norman castles), economic (mines, reservoirs), religious (the English Prayer Book), and linguistic (the Welsh Not) oppression. However, Wales along with England and Scotland, has benefited from oppressing other countries as part of the British Empire. More positively there are numerous examples of mutually beneficial cultural exchange between Wales and England (such as the Anglo-Welsh poetry of Henry Vaughan, David Jones, and Dylan Thomas).

These issues are complex, thorny, put our presuppositions into question, and do not take into consideration that for many centuries beforehand present-day England, Wales, and southern Scotland were part of a Brythonic culture which remains alive within the land and our shared heritage.

During our conversations Greg suggested, as a general condition, that an English or American Pagan would be appropriating the awenydd identity if they were doing so without knowledge of the Welsh culture and its Brythonic roots and were profiting in some way without giving anything back. For example an English Pagan selling courses on becoming an awenydd without knowing the background of the Welsh myths and mispronouncing the names would be appropriating.

Since I discovered that the stories of the Brythonic deities have been preserved in the Welsh myths I have been studying them and sharing them online and through performances in my local community. I’ve written three books based on the lore of the land and Brythonic mythology. I occasionally give talks and workshops sharing my knowledge and facilitating connection with the Brythonic gods. I am slowly learning Welsh, am a member of Preston’s Welsh Club, and for the past few years have made sure that Welsh poetry is included in the World Poetry Day event I help organise.

I believe I’m making the necessary effort to learn about the Welsh/Brythonic culture and language. Yet could it be said I’m profiting financially and in terms of status from selling it to other English people? Possibly, but my financial gains from books, talks/workshops,and poetry performances are miniscule in contrast to the amount of time and effort I’ve put into research and creative writing, plus the majority of my work is available for free online to people of all nationalities. And there is really nothing to be gained in terms of status by identifying with a little known path – it’s not like I’m declaring myself Arch High Druid of the Old North or Chief Bard of Gwyn ap Nudd or something.

Conclusion – In the Eyes of the Gods

More fundamentally it’s my personal belief that what we call the awen and the deities associated with it are much older and deeper than human concepts and distinctions. When Gwyn appeared in my life seven years ago I was completely befuddled by the question of why a wild Welsh god would want anything to do with a suburban English poet. It’s taken me that long to unravel his connections with the Old North and role as a psychopomp guiding the dead and the living back to Annwn and presiding over the mysteries of the awen as the guardian of the cauldron of Ceridwen.

For me being an awenydd is a religious calling based on my relationship with my patron god. It’s not something I can give up because I’m afraid someone will accuse me of cultural appropriation.

This was proven when I tried taking down the term ‘awenydd’ from my blog and the Annuvian Awen symbol I’d been gifted. It hurt. Both are essential to my relationship with my god and to my soul.

My personal decision to continue identifying as an awenydd is based on this feeling rather than logical and political arguments, which always break down into meaninglessness in the eyes of the gods.

cropped-annuvian-awen1-250

*With thanks to discussion and feedback from Greg Hill, who is a paradigmatic example of an awenydd who honours and serves the Brythonic gods and is engaged in modern Welsh culture, having learnt Early Welsh and provided translations of many Welsh texts into English as part of his vocation.

Mabon Learns to Play the Harp

It was Mabon who played then in the youth of the world
Greg Hill

Take the hand of the invisible
and make it visible.

Pluck a chord of light
like a string from the ball of the sun.

Imagine spiders spinning their webs

between the constellations;
the songs of the stars,

make them audible.

Fashion the nine chords
of my harp – the harp of Teirtu –

do not think of how it will play alone
as you in this House of Stone

in the hall of Pen Annwn.
Think not of the turning of his fortress

‘in Annwn below the earth’
or ‘in the air above’.

Do not ponder the reason
for your imprisonment – why

you must become an awenydd or bard.

Reach into the darkness with the audacity
of youth and imagine the discovery

of the wealthy realms of Pluto.

Ask not why the sun does not shine there,
why a dog’s jaws are the doors

and questions remain unanswered.
Reach deep within for the chord that moves

the hearts of planets – underworld gods.

In the river of tears consume the hazel nut
unknowing if it contains the awen

or countless meteoric souls.

Escape down the trail of a meteor
on the salmon of Llyn Llyw.

Take the hand of the visible
and make it invisible.

Forget this story –
you have always been the harper
and my harp has always played on…

Mabon's Harp

Methanogens and the End of the World

I. In the Deepest of Places…

They’re possibly the oldest living beings on earth. They possess the power to create and destroy life-giving climates. They thrive in the deepest of places and most extreme conditions – submarine springs, volcanic vents, hot desert sands, glacial ice – as well as in marshlands, rice paddies, landfills, sewage plants, and in the guts of termites, ruminants, and humans. Discovering their existence forced scientists to restructure the phylogenetic tree and rethink the origins of life.

Their name is only just beginning to make it into our mainstream vocabulary. They are methanogens.

Methanogens are methane generating microorganisms who can only survive in anaerobic environments. Because of their microscopic size and inability to survive in air containing oxygen they weren’t identified until the 20th century. Yet suspicions about their existence had been inferred.

Gas collecting in the marshes near Angera JPEG

In 1776 Alessandro Volta discovered the flammability of marsh gas on Lake Maggiore. Poking the reedy bottom of the marsh with his cane he collected the bubbles in a gas container then set fire to it, producing ‘a beautiful blue flame’. Natural scientists called this ‘swamp air’ ‘carbonated hydrogen’ and in 1865 ‘methan’ was proposed. ‘Methane’ was accepted in 1892.

Pierre Jacques Antoine Béchamp was the first to suspect methane was formed by a microbiological process as the result of a fermentation experiment in 1868. It was not until 1936 that the first methanogen, Methanobacillus omelianskii, was isolated with Delft canal sediment by Horace Albert Barker. This marked ‘the beginning of the modern era for the study of methanogenesis.’

Scientists went on to find out methanogenesis, a form of anaerobic respiration which uses carbon rather than oxygen as an electron acceptor, takes place in three ways: carbon dioxide reduction (hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis), cleavage of acetates (acetoclatic methanogenesis), and the breakdown of methylated compounds (methylotrophic methanogenesis).

II. Ancient Things

In 1997, during an experiment with RNA, Carl Woese discovered that methanogens are phylogenetically different from bacteria and eukaryota (this branch includes fungi, plants, and animals) establishing a third domain on the phylogenetic tree.

450px-Phylogenetic_tree.svg

This new group of microorganisms was named archaea, ‘ancient things’. Because their ‘methanogenic metabolism is ideally suited to the kind of atmosphere thought to have existed on the primitive earth: one that was rich in carbon dioxide and included some hydrogen but virtually no oxygen’, Woese asserted they could be the earliest living beings on our planet.

According to James F. Fasting their generation of methane, a greenhouse gas, from carbon dioxide and hydrogen, kept the young earth warm between 3.5 and 2.5 billion years ago when the sun burnt only 80 per cent as brightly as today. They played a significant role in the chain of events that led to the development of other life forms.

Methanogens were driven underground by the great oxygenation event 2.3 billion years ago – a time that corresponds with the first Global Ice Age. The world-changing effects of methanogenesis were felt again 252 million years ago when a bacteria transferred two genes to methanosarcina. This allowed them to feed on carbon on the sea floor, releasing immense amounts of methane into the atmosphere, raising the temperatures and acidifying oceans, leading to the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, which killed 96% of species on the earth.

III. A Dangerous Game

The greenhouse gases responsible for global warming in our current era are carbon dioxide (82%), methane (10%), nitrous oxide (5%), and fluorinated gases (3%). Although methane only accounts for 10% ‘it is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in global warming potential’.

74% of methane emissions in our atmosphere are produced by methanogens. The main sources are wetlands (22%), coal and oil mining and natural gas (19%), enteric fermentation (16%), rice cultivation (12%), biomass burning (8%), landfills (6%), and sewage treatment (6%). Our ability to understand and work with methanogens will play a crucial role in our future. A great deal of research has been carried out into the pros and cons of methanogenesis.

A study by Susannah G. Tringe et al. focuses on ‘a pilot-scale restored wetland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of California.’ Tringe notes that wetlands are effective carbon sinks, but methane production can outweigh the benefits in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases. By mapping the relationships between microbial communities and gas measurements her group aims to ‘reduce methane flux to the atmosphere and enhance belowground carbon storage.’

Several studies have been carried out on methanogenesis in coal mines. It has been discovered that the majority of emissions from mines are biogenic as opposed to thermogenic and take place by acetoclastic methanogensis from hard coal and mine timber. Ways of using the methane for energy are being explored. Methanogenesis also occurs in shale and experiments in biostimulation to improve productivity in combination with fracking are in progress.

Studies on landfills, a new source of organic (and inorganic) matter for these ingenuous microorganisms, show that methanogenesis, which follows hydrolysis, acidification, and acetogenesis, is an essential process in the breakdown of ‘municipal solid waste’. In landfills, as well as in wetlands, coal, and shale, acetoclastic methanogens work with acetate-producing bacteria in a syntrophic relationship. This also occurs in the breakdown of sewage. Again, ways of using the methane for energy and thus reducing emissions are being explored.

A common theme that cropped up in all these studies is that the complex interrelationships between methanogens and other bacteria and the role of methanogenesis in the global cycles are not fully understood. Nothing is said about the intelligence and agency of these secretive near-invisible beings who have played a key role in the shaping of our climate for billions of years.

Methanosarcina, Wikipedia

Science, measuring, quantifying, postulating, manipulating, rarely listens to or respects its subjects. The Permian-Triassic extinction, which took place as the consequence of a small genetic change, highlights the potential dangers of attempting to manipulate these complex microorganisms. Without understanding, without relationship, we are playing a dangerous game.

IV. Listening to the Deep

For me as an awenydd working with Brythonic cosmology, methanogens, chthonic beings who inhabit the deepest of places and feed on organic matter composed of dead organisms, seem associated with Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Otherworld, where the dead and dead worlds reside. Death-eaters par excellence, their activities release the gaseous spirits of the dead into the air.

These processes are essential on both physical and spiritual levels and are part of the earth’s innate balance. When this is disturbed, as now, by mankind’s raiding of Annwn for fossil fuels and release of its spirits, extinction events swiftly follow to correct the disequilibrium.

This knowledge from the depths of time is embodied in Brythonic mythology wherein Gwyn ap Nudd is said to contain the spirits of Annwn in order to prevent their destruction of the world.

Whereas we once mined with due reverence for the rules of the gods of the deep (Nodens/Nudd,‘Lord of the Mines’ was venerated at an iron ore mine at Lydney), who keep its spirits in check, their forgetting has led to all-out ravaging with disastrous consequences.

Over two thousands miners in Lancashire alone have lost their lives, many as a result of explosions caused by methane, which is also a threat at landfill sites. Flammable methane haunts the taps of people whose water has been contaminated by fracking. Global warming, caused by greenhouse gases, is claiming the lives of at least ten thousand species a year.

As the death toll rises I believe it is no coincidence that methanogens have begun to reveal themselves to us (as opposed to us thinking we are so clever finding them); coccoid, baccilic, in enigmatic strings and webs, under the UV illumination of fluorescence microscopes. These 3.5 billion year old microorganisms who dwell deep in our guts are clearly communicating.

Methanogen Microwiki

Will we learn their language? Will we listen? If we do will they lead us to redemption or destruction?

Gwyn ap Nudd,
you who have travelled time
to know the secrets of archaea:
their containment and release,

you who exist in the no-time
of Annwn between life and death
please teach us to listen
with reverence again

before you and your spirits
decide our end.

SOURCES

Carl Woese, ‘Archaebacteria: The Third Domain of Life Missed by Biologists for Decades’, Scientific American, (2012, originally published 1981)
Colin Schultz, ‘How a Single Act of Evolution Nearly Wiped Out All Life on Earth’, Smithsonian
Daniela Buckroithner, ‘Microbiology of Landfill Sites’, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Masters Thesis, (2015)
Fabrizio Colozimio et al.,‘Biogenic methane in shale gas and coal bed methane: A review of current knowledge and gaps’, International Journal of Coal Geology, Vol. 165, (2016)
James F. Kasting, ‘When Methane Made Climate,’ Scientific American, (2015)
Ralph S. Wolfe, ‘A Historical Overview of Methanogenesis’, Methanogenesis: Physiology, Biochemistry & Genetics, (Chapman and Hall, 1993)
Sabrina Beckman et al, ‘Acetogens and Acetoclastic Methanosarcinales Govern Methane Formation in Abandoned Coal Mines’, Applied and Environmental Biology, (2011)
Shaomei He et al., ‘Patterns in Wetland Microbial Community Composition and Functional Gene Repertoire Associated with Methane Emissions’, American Society for Microbiology, (2015)

Mist and Darkness and the Road to Joy – The Completion of Gatherer of Souls

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Over the past three years I have been working on a book for Gwyn ap Nudd, my patron god, to whom I devoted myself five years ago in January at the White Spring in Glastonbury.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was going to be about. It began simply as ‘Gwyn’s Book’. Because I am based in Lancashire and so many other writers have explored his connections with Glastonbury and Wales I decided to focus on his stories originating from the Old North, which are found in The Black Book of Carmarthen and Culhwch and Olwen.

After some time he made it clear that he did not want me to write an academic book (I therefore published my research on my website HERE) or  simply repeat the old tales penned by Christian scribes. Instead he wanted me to peel back the golden patina, expose the atrocities committed against him and the people of Annwn by Arthur, and journey back to the roots of his mythos in pre-Christian times when he was venerated as a god of the dead and gatherer of souls.

I met with other Inspired Ones who served him and whose souls he gathered such as the ancient ancestors of Orddu, ‘Very Black’, the Last Witch of Pennant Gofid; the northern British prophets Myrddin and his sister Gwenddydd; witches who flew with him between sky and air; wild women, madmen, poets, broken dreamers whose dreams have never been recorded.

I was prompted to explore how the closing of the doors of Annwn led to the sense of disconnection and soul loss that forms the void at the heart of the Anthropocene and to see the wonder in Gwyn’s reappearance on the brink of time as the Anglo-American Empire, which has its roots in Arthur uniting Britain under ‘One King, One God, One Law’, begins to fall.

My devotional journey has had its ups and downs. Sometimes it has felt like an endless ‘wow’ as I’ve discovered faces of Gwyn as yet unrecorded and hidden facets of his nature. At others, when I’ve been stuck in the Arthurian stories, unable to see beneath or get a break through, or I’ve written Gwyn’s voice wrong, I’ve felt frustrated, awkward, unworthy, and utterly inept. Yet I never once thought about giving up as I knew it was something I had to do.

Because there are no groups in the North West of England who venerate the Brythonic gods and goddesses or work experientially with our native myths my journey has been a lonely one. At low points I have contemplated joining the Anglesey Druid Order and even becoming a nun (when I hit thirty-five I realised it was my last chance!) although within I have known that my path in life is to walk with Gwyn even when all he can offer is “mist, darkness, and uncertainty”.

I’ve seen writing this book through to the end because serving him as an awenydd, although sometimes tough – Gwyn is the god who contains the fury of the spirits of Annwn and he is that fury just as he is the god who gathers the dead with love and compassion – is a source of deep and profound joy. Walking with him, whether through the starlit skies, or industrial smog, or blood-strewn battlefields, or the healing woodlands of Celyddon has always felt utterly right.

Gatherer of Souls is a book of new visions of the forgotten mythos of Gwyn ap Nudd  recorded in poems and stories to be published on Gwyn’s Feast, September the 29th, this year.

Over the past week I have read it out loud to Gwyn and it feels fitting that he has approved it as we approach the eclipse of the super blue wolf moon.

The Scarecrow in the Storm

On the 2nd of July I attended Pagancon and participated in a shamanic workshop with Nicola Smalley from Way of the Buzzard. Nicola opened with an introduction to shamanism then told us she had been advised by her guides to lead a journey to find out ‘how to weather the storm’.

This interested me as a number of pagans have recently received communications from the gods and spirits about ‘the storm’. This could be our environmental and political situation and/or something more…

After the journey several of the other participants shared their experiences. I didn’t share mine as I didn’t know what to make of it. Beneath a storm-dark sky in a field of wind-blasted wheat I met a scarecrow clothed in black rags with a burlap sack for a head.

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“Are you the guide who can help me weather the storm?”

No reply from the featureless sack-face as wind tore at the scarecrow’s ragged clothing and he swayed on his stick.

I rode on. And the scarecrow took flight and rode the horseless wind beside me.

“So you are my guide…”

We rode to a cliff edge to look down on a city encased in stone where the people hunkered down, cowering, gnome-like, senses closed to hope and beauty.

“What’s an awenydd to do in such a place?”

Silent the scarecrow. I’m the one with the words it seems… then the drumbeat changed and it was time to return to thisworld.

***

That’s not the first time a scarecrow has appeared in my life. Since I studied a poetry module as part of my degree they’ve been showing up. I’ve written about scarecrows at summer’s end, scarecrow arguments, humans reduced to a scarecrow-like existence. I’ve written in the voice of a bird-scarer.

When I looked up the history of scarecrows I found out they were not used in Britain until many of the children who worked as bird-scarers (armed with a clacker from dusk to dawn to scare away the birds) died during the plague in the 13thC. It was only then that farmers started creating straw men with gourd faces and propping them on poles.

I also discovered they had an abundance of names. In Devon ‘Murmet’, Somerset ‘Mommet’, here in Lancashire and in Yorkshire ‘Mammet’. ‘Mawkin’ in Sussex and ‘Hodmedod’ in Berkshire. ‘Hayman’ across England. ‘Bwbach’ in Wales. On the Isle of Skye ‘Gallybagger’ and on the Isle of Wight ‘Tattie Bogal’. In Scotland ‘Bodach-rocais’ ‘Old man of the rooks’.

Names such as ‘Bwbach’ and ‘bogal’ are synonymous with bogies and ‘Mammet’ was used from the 13th-17thCs to denote a ‘false god or idol’ and later applied to ‘a doll or puppet, a lifeless figure, an effigy, a scarecrow’. All hold an otherworldly resonance. It’s no wonder in many of our stories scarecrows come to life.

***

In relation to weathering the storm it struck me that scarecrows stand strong in all weathers. This is exemplified by Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘The Scarecrow’.

The Scarecrow

All winter through I bow my head
beneath the driving rain;
the North Wind powders me with snow
and blows me black again;
at midnight ‘neath a maze of stars
I flame with glittering rime,
and stand above the stubble, stiff
as mail at morning-prime.
But when that child called Spring, and all
his host of children come,
scattering their buds and dew upon
these acres of my home,
some rapture in my rags awakes;
I lift void eyes and scan
the sky for crows, those ravening foes,
of my strange master, Man.
I watch him striding lank behind
his clashing team, and know
soon will the wheat swish body high
where once lay a sterile snow;
soon I shall gaze across a sea
of sun-begotten grain,
which my unflinching watch hath sealed
for harvest once again.

Made from the leftovers of thisworld yet imbued with the spirit of the otherworld, undignified yet strangely maintaining dignity, the scarecrow is a liminal figure who stands as an unspeaking guardian to the changing seasons and cycles of the crops.

He knows how to weather the storm.

What he lacks is a voice and expression on his burlap face. Perhaps we can work together: the awenydd and the scarecrow in the storm.

No Other Way

Because there’s no other way.
Because the gods have got me by the heartstrings.
Because I see over the horizon not what’s on it.
Because I see birds who are not birds.
Because I am in hidden spaces.
Because I love mist.
Because no-one tells the whispers of the silent.
Because words can dance like pictures on cave walls.
Because my people are hungry.
Because the wind howls down my neck.
Because I wake at night and there are stars.
Because the mortality ship is sailing.
Because I am the threshold.
Because another world’s stars hem me in.
Because I look above and the worms are singing.

Breaking the Silence

Two months ago I decided to take a break from blogging. I’d returned from Wales after climbing mist-ensorcelled hound-haunted Cadair Idris. Standing on the shoulder of a giant dizzied by his mad dreams. Staring down into Llyn Cau and Llyn y Gadair. Finding refuge in the hut of the mountain guide.

In Wales the gods are huge. Their names and stories echo from deep valleys and massive mountains and are carried in streams and rivers to where the immensity of the sky meets the immaculate sea on the western coast. From Pen y Gadair the mists of Gwyn ap Nudd never leave.

On Borth beach I read Heron’s new translation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’. The name Borth derives from Porth Wyddno and is the location of Cantre’r Gwaelod (The Bottom Hundred); Gwyddno’s drowned kingdom. It was my intuition Gwyddno died there and the poem records a conversation between the worlds where Gwyn offers Gwyddno protection and guides him to Annwn (the Brythonic otherworld).

Reading the poem was immensely powerful. I experienced vividly the presence of these two great mythic figures speaking against the backdrop of the pebbled beach and roaring sea. Afterward at sunset I saw the otherland of which Gwyn speaks ‘where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore’ appear on the horizon.

Borth VI returned to Penwortham mind-blown with much to absorb in thought and dream only to experience another immensity. This time a crushing one. Walking the section of the old pilgrim’s path that leads across the A59 from the site of St Mary’s Well to the War Memorial I got trapped in the middle of the road: unable to cross because of the heavy rush of traffic at school pick-up time.

A59 between site of St Mary's Well and Penwortham War MemorialI knew this was the result of the widening of Penwortham By-Pass. A rush which will only increase when a new stretch of by-pass is built leading over the river Ribble to Junction 2 of the M55 (which exists only in name having been planned over 40 years ago). That this was linked to the expansion of BAE, the University of Central Lancashire, to the building of new housing developments and employment sites throughout Preston and South Ribble.

I was struck by the overwhelming gnosis it was beyond me to stop the growth of this monster. I could not stop the City Deal. I’d known for a while the City Deal was something not even the most seasoned campaigners would dare take on as a whole. That each of us must find our own way of protecting what we value within the realms of possibility whether it’s by campaigning against individual developments, fracking (which will not only ruin the landscape and poison our sacred watercourses but fuel the monster), austerity, defending and caring for an area of green space or growing and nurturing a community group.

Acknowledging this insight has taken a lot of readjustment during which I realised attempting not even to save the world but just South Ribble and Preston, Penwortham even, was beyond my capability and making me ill. Not only that, Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ with its aquifer shattered in 1884, its holy wells dry, its banks subsiding with falling trees and gravestones under increasing duress from the By-Pass wanted to close down. Hence the closure of ‘From Peneverdant.’

What did I have left? The Friends group I run in Greencroft Valley with its wildflowers and apple trees. The monthly poetry night I play a lead role in organising at Korova Arts Cafe & Bar which provides a safe and welcoming space for newcomers and established poets to perform. The Oak and Feather Grove.

My relationship with the land and the gods which my recent travels north and to Wales have taught me need not be limited to Penwortham. The inspiration and awe I find in my path as an awenydd devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd. The depth and magic of his known and unknown stories. A growing awareness of other Brythonic gods and goddesses and their myths.

Whilst I’ve had support and companionship from friends and family and other poets and pagans, until the past couple of months my path as an awenydd and Brythonic polytheist has been a lonely one. However, in October I went to Glasgow to a ritual to Epona-Rigantona led by Potia and last week returned to Borth and finally met Heron, whose writing has guided and inspired me for several years.

Together on Borth beach Heron and I read my story ‘The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir’ which I wrote after my previous visit to Borth based on his translation of Gwyn and Gwyddno’s dialogue. It was moving and beautiful reading and listening to the words, born from the place, from an ancient poem passed on from poet to poet, feeling it live on the sea breeze and the rolling tides, honouring Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp, Gwyddno’s passing and the absent cranes (‘garan’ from Garanhir means crane in Welsh) who I gave the role of soul-birds. Afterward we walked across Cors Fochno (Borth Bog), where cranes may have nested, up Cwm Clettwr and to Taliesin’s grave.

I returned nourished with my feeling of the increasing import of the Brythonic myths juxtaposed with my frustration so few people have an interest in them. Of having much to share but no-one to share with. Which led once again to despair until I had a dream which somehow I knew took place ten years in the future.

I was leading a guided tour of one or two disinterested people to ‘Cockersand Fields’ (which I interpreted to be the fields near Cockersand Abbey where a statue to Mars-Nodens was found) and was feeling ready to give up on this task and life altogether. I hadn’t put my heart into it for several years. Then I saw a group of young backpackers approaching from boats on a sunset beach with smiles and eyes filled with hope. They’d come searching for stories about Gwyn, which I’d failed to write: a failure I suddenly regretted and a friend pushed me to rectify.

The dream seemed to be telling me not to lose hope in a vocation that nurtures my soul, brings me joy and could likewise bring meaning and purpose to others because my writing doesn’t provoke immediate responses or recognition. To think of the long term rather than satisfaction in the now.

Thus for the first time since the closure of ‘From Peneverdant’ I break my silence. Whilst I can’t promise my words will save the world or even Penwortham, I hope for others led down strange paths by little-known gods they may provide signposts in the mist that lead to the strength and inspiration to live with joy and depth in this troubled world.

Borth III