The Bull-Horned Fortress

In the Age of Dragons you were a dragon and when you battled against your rival and were killed I built your fortress from your dragon bones. Crowned it with the horns from your dragon brow, the jewel in your forehead, light of the North.

In the Age of Giants you were a giant and when you battled against your rival and were killed I built your fortress from your giant bones. Crowned it with the horns from your horned helmet, your faces four looking out, rotating, turning. 

In the Age of Bulls you were a bull and when you battled against your rival and were killed I built your fortress from your aurochs bones. Crowned it with your mighty horns, the hooves of your many feet took it north, stampeding, snorting.

In the Age of Men you were a man and when you battled against your rival and were killed I built your fortress, as men do, from stone, from glass, from stories. I gathered your bones, laid you within, crowned it with your horned helmet.

Thus endures the story of your Fortress of Wonders and your sleep until Winter.

This prose piece and image were created following a meditation on Gwyn’s death and departure on Calan Mai. For many years I have experienced visions of his Bull-Horned Fortress and this morning I had a profound sense of it enduring through a series of mythic ages and myself being present throughout to tend his death and build his fortress.

Will You Leave?

Will the seasons continue to turn?

Will your battle still commence?

In these days of plague when
we need you so much

will you depart
to the land of the dead
to sleep in your cold castle
in Annwn?

~

The seasons must turn.

My battle must commence
and my death-blow must be struck.

Yet when I die you will see my ghost
and when I sleep I will sleepwalk.

Many will see the wolf of my soul.

Through these days of plague
I will guide the dead.

This poem is addressed to my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, on Calan Mai. Today Gwyn (Winter’s King) battles against Gwythyr (Summer’s King) for Creiddylad, a goddess of spring and flowers, and is destined to lose and return to sleep in the Castle of Cold Stone, in Annwn.

Burial

A Poem for Calan Mai

Two gods fight. Two dragons circle the sky.
A scream is in my mouth – soon my god will be gone.

He dies so the bluebells, mayflowers, hawthorn blossoms thrive,
baby birds pecking from eggs stumbling pink into the dawn.

There will be a victory tonight and there will be a wedding.
There will be a death tonight and there will be a burial.

Whilst lovers dance the maypole and tryst in the woods
I will walk alone without a bouquet and in silence

down forgotten paths to the castle of cold stone
where winter is entombed while summer rules

to pay my regards in tears of dew and mourning songs
amongst the kindly fay, the winged horses, the howling hounds.

While others laugh at the wedding I will weep at the funeral.
I will bury two dragons in the stone chest of my heart.

I will bury two dragons

Gwyn’s Death and Departure

You say you come from many battles and many deaths.
I try not to hold on or shed tears on the edge
of summer.

You’ve been doing this for many years.
I’m the fearful one.

After death you staunch your wounds,
draw your blood back
into itself

before your hounds come forever guides into the mists
with your horse who carries the dead.

You’ve never been more yourself.

You remind me of the November
we touched the moon and tell me not to mourn.

You are long-lived and my summers are limited:
hours to be savoured as a bee
drinks nectar from
a gold cup.

I cast off my grief
for my gown is not yet a shroud.

On the motorway bridge
where the railings sing like hummingbirds in the gale

I am alive yet your hunt is never far off.

She Walks Between Worlds and Lovers (Calan Mai)

It is summer in this-world when she is here
winter in this-world without her.
In Gwythyr’s arms she is Lady Life:
coming to be as the first snowdrop
purple yellow crocuses are her slippers
pink red primroses her cloak. Her smile
her lips are daffodils’ long trumpets.
May flowers weave her grassy hair
as she embraces this-world’s ruler.
In dewy glades Creiddylad is May Queen
in sacred marriage headdress a veil of hawthorn
wedding dress woven from wood anemone
wood sorrel she lies with him in woodlands
of bluebells starwort becoming buzzing fields
heliotropic gaze of ox-eye daisies poppies
face alive with vibrant butterflies and bees
exulting in the dance of pollen’s gold dust
until the seasons turn and cold winds come
she sees her time in this-world is over
and walks between worlds and lovers.

Blubells and Starwort

The Favour of Creiddylad, May Queen and Queen of Annwn

Wood anenomeA few weeks ago I published an article on the story of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad, which highlighted its significance as an ancient British seasonal myth originating in the Old North. This showed Creiddylad’s importance as a Brythonic goddess connected with the sovereignty of the land, outlined a depiction of her viewpoint and described her nature as a spring maiden and queen of Annwn.

It was my intuition Gwyn’s pride in being Creiddylad’s lover and references to his invocation in her name suggested she was an important fertility goddess in her own right. More recently I found this idea backed up by analogy with Ann Suter’s reading of The Hymn to Demeter. Like Persephone with Hades, Creiddylad is a free agent in a sacred marriage with Gwyn. As king and queen of Annwn they form a divine couple equal in power and independence.

To win Creiddylad’s favour on Calan Mai, Gwythyr, a human ruler, must descend to Annwn and battle against Gwyn. His willingness and skill are conditions of Creiddylad’s becoming his May Queen. Thus she returns to this-world to bring fertility to the land and makes him her king for the summer. Gwythyr’s reign is only temporary. On Nos Galan Gaeaf Gwyn takes her back to Annwn where in turn she presides over the processes of life and death.

One of the important lessons of this story is that all life comes from and returns to Annwn. The fertility of this-world is dependent on the underworld and its deities. This is reflected in the simple necessity of planting a seed underground and in offerings our ancient ancestors made in ritual shafts and pits. All trees and plants come from and decay back into the soil. This is ultimately the fate of our flesh and bones.

The beauty of the flowers of May is dependent on the deaths of many others. This applies to human ancestry. Our fruitful modern existence is founded on the death and toil of countless people. As is our creativity. Thus the Awen can only be won by making Gwythyr’s descent down through the ancestral heritage of our soil, establishing our own relationships with the underworld deities. Personal sacrifices must be made and their bounty shared.

Only then will our hawthorns blossom and the favour of Creiddylad, May Queen and Queen of Annwn be won.

Hawthorn*With thanks to Brian Taylor for pointing me toward Sarah Pike’s review of Ann Suter’s The Narcissus and the Pomegranate.