Alder Leaf

A little head
above the water
after a month
of rain.

The sole leaf
of an alder sapling
to survive the
hurricane.

“Bring back,
bring back the leaf,”
Simon Armitage’s refrain.
As a modern ark
sets sail

to plumb
the depths of
climate change
I sit here

and mind a leaf

destinies
intertwined beneath
the rise of muddy water.

Will it survive the flood?

Will we?

 

Green Equinox

This equinox
seems greener than before –
warmth, steam remind me of the Atlantic rainforests in Wales
where it rains six days out of seven glaw, glaw, glaw,
whilst protests sweep the planet like clouds
but do not quell the Amazon fires.

I win my green belt in a martial art
learning to harness light like photosynthesis,
undoing my roots, learning to twist, kick, turn, leap,
kicking back against body dysmorphia.

The leaves, all green-brown, are not yet
in their autumn splendour bursting into colour
like lollipops like coloured belts I don’t yet know the meaning of.

Leaves of ash fall, touch my shoulder, give me strength.

Heaven and Light, Joyfulness, Fire and Sun, these
are the names of the first three poomsae but the fourth
is Thunder and the morning after I win that belt

I’m awoken by a mighty roar and flash of lightning
illuminating my room, the altars of my gods, a broken mirror,
my laptop and the jam jar in which I keep my pens
painted black with yellow and red stars,

the rubber the only dumb thing like the doubts
that hold me back yet the eraser of my past.

The skies are broken glass and the stream a darkness
running from eternity as a voice from a martial arts film asks:
“What do you see in front of your fist?” “My destiny.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*‘Glaw, glaw, glaw’ is Welsh for ‘rain, rain, rain’.
**The martial art I am learning is Taekwondo and my instructor is Eddie Ellison.
***The lines from the martial arts film are from Streetfighter II: The Animated Movie (1994).
****All photos are my own except ‘Lightning Ground Storm‘ by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash.

Naming the Beast

I. The Polar Vortex

And so it begins….
circling in the polar night
pulling its coldness into itself
building its turning lair in the sky
an icy serpent howling around it
where the sun never shines.

II. Breakdown

Hot waves rise
from the warming Arctic
confusing the serpent who flies
like a stream of jet through the polar night.
She pauses, reverses her motion.
The castle falls from the sky.

III. The East Wind

Falling falling southward
this broken abode of a beast so cold
shaking out and flexing uncountable limbs.
When it meets the blast of the east wind
that long-haired traveller revels in
his chance to beat the west wind.

IV. The Beast from the East

So many eyes of snow
so many teeth that bite and rend
so many claws that rattle under doors
to bring the chill of the poles biting in.
The beast is born. The beast is born.
The beast is born again.

***

A few days ago I was out running in a T-shirt. On ‘the last day of winter’ (in meterological terms) I’m back to my winter woollens. Yesterday I woke up to the rare sight of my home town of Penwortham, which is a low-lying suburb near the Ribble estuary, blanketed in snow.

Suburban Penwortham

Greencroft Valley snow

The north west of England has not been hit as badly as places in the east where schools have been closed and transport has been disrupted. Everybody’s talking about the Hollywood-esquely named ‘Beast from the East’ and I don’t think I’m the only one trying to get my head around the polar vortex, the polar night jet, polar vortex weakening, polar vortex breakdown, and the recent phenomenon of the polar vortex splitting due to sudden stratospheric warming.

The science behind it is fascinating, awe-inspiring, and troubling. Before I looked into it I wasn’t aware the polar vortex existed, let alone that it’s strongest in the dead of winter when the North Pole is utterly immersed in darkness, and that it is encircled by the enigmatic polar night jet.

An area of low pressure spinning counter-clockwise over the pole(s) due to the Coriolis effect, its strength and position in the mid to upper troposphere and stratosphere are based on the transfer of heat by the polar jet stream and by oceanic currents. Every year it strengthens and grows higher in winter and breaks down between mid-March and mid-May, issuing in spring.

This year’s breakdown was particularly dramatic due to a sudden stratospheric warming. Last week temperatures in the Arctic rose rapidly by twenty degrees. Waves of warm air rising into the stratosphere caused the polar vortex to reverse, split, and move southward and downward into the troposphere to meet the easterly winds. Thus the Beast was born.

This sudden stratospheric warming has been linked to climate change. The shrinking of Arctic sea ice (which is at ‘a record low for late February at 14.1 million square kilometers’) means more water is exposed, releasing heat into the atmosphere, disrupting the polar jet stream and causing the polar vortex and its encircling polar night jet to reverse and break down. Another factor is changes in the North Atlantic Drift, which flows north from the Gulf Stream.

***

Thinking back, this is not the first time we’ve experienced ‘freak’ weather around this time of year. In 2013, on the 23rd of March, I recall walking through a blizzard near to Denham Hill knee-deep in snow and seeing a pair of snow men and a snow dog outside Hill Top Farm.

My guess is this was probably caused by a breakdown of the polar vortex too. Perhaps also the cold snap in February 2009 when I was working at Red Lion Farm in Sarratt as a groom and we had to water the horses from the sink in our mobile home because all the taps were frozen.

Danny, Red Lion Farm, Sarratt 2009

For the past few years I’ve been aware the seeming arrival of spring is often followed by bitter winds, hail, snow, frost. In this I’ve seen signs of the battle of our Brythonic seasonal gods, Gwyn (Winter) and Gwythyr (Summer), for Creiddylad (a fertility goddess).

Gwythyr defeats Gwyn on May Day when the polar vortex breaks or has already broken down. The ancient Britons saw Calan Mai (1st May) as the beginning of summer and Calan Gaeaf (1st November) as the beginning of winter. Would such weather have surprised them?

What would they have made of the naming of the beast?

The naming of storms is a new phenomenon designed to identify and remember them and to alert people to their dangers. Give something a name, an identity, acknowledge its personhood and immediately it is treated with respect. This is rooted in the old magic of naming.

Our earliest storytellers knew this when they gave names and forms to the forces of nature. Only when they named the gods and the monsters they were not following a catalogue of pre-given names, but responding to revelatory visions whose source was these deities themselves.

In ‘Reading Harvey’s Dark Ecology’ Finnchuill notes that ‘monster’ comes from the Latin word monstrum, ‘a showing of divine portent’. Our Brythonic texts are packed with monsters with hundreds of heads, shimmering scales, and the wind itself is invoked as: ‘a strong creature / with no flesh or bone, / no veins, no blood, / no head, no feet.’

‘The Beast from the East’, unlike the pre-chosen alphabetical names ‘Aileen, Brian, Caroline, Dylan’… (for 2017/2018) at least has a poetic ring to it even if it smacks of ‘Hollywood makeover’. It won’t be forgotten and in coming years I wouldn’t be surprised to see further headlines such as ‘The Return of the Beast’ or ‘The Beast Bites Back Again’.

What does the name reveal about its nature? How might we read its appearance as a portent? In the past people might have seen such a monster as originating from Annwn, the Otherworld. Now instead we follow its tracks from the east to its lair in the dark, cold, abyssal place in the stratosphere from which, with the polar vortex, it has departed and to which it will return. This location, like Annwn, might also be associated with Gwyn, Winter’s King.

In the warming of the Arctic ocean we find man-driven climate change lending strength to Gwythyr. Gwyn strikes back by releasing the beast. Our ‘wacky’ (from WACC – warm Arctic cool continent) weather reflects the balancing measures taken by the seasonal gods which may be less a boyish battle for a maiden than an attempt to save her life on order of the goddess of the earth.

As we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans continue to warm we can expect to see earlier and fiercer appearances of the Beast. With eyes of snow and icy claws and rending teeth it will return again from the East.

SOURCES

Alister Doyle, ‘Wacky weather makes Arctic warmer than parts of Europe’, Reuters
Duncan Middleton, ‘Beast from the East: How the weather got a Hollywood makeover’, BBC News
Finncuill, ‘Reading Harvey’s Dark Ecology’, Pagan Bloggers
Jesse Zhang, ‘Understanding Climate Change: Polar Vortex Weakening’, TedxMileHigh
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Polar Vortex’, Wikipedia
Why do hurricanes have names?’, BBC News

Nodens and the Weather Shapers

I. The Mural Crown

At Lydney overlooking the Severn stands a Romano-British temple dedicated to Nodens. From it was recovered a mural crown. It depicts him riding from the waves on a chariot pulled by four water-horses. Flanking him are wind-spirits and water-spirits.

Plate XIII Bathurst

 

I had used this image on my altar to Nodens for several months before thinking to pose the question of who these mysterious spirits are. Out walking in my locality in the voices of the winds I received the answers: ‘weather-shapers’ and ‘shapers of dream’.

My meditations have led me to the intuition that the spear-bearing wind spirit on the right is the piercing east wind. The spirit on the left with the spiralling rag is the west wind who brings both the warm moist air that keeps our climate temperature and storms and hurricanes.

Both water-spirits have the bodies of men, the frontlegs of horses, and the tails of serpents. The spirit on the right carries two pick axes and the spirit on the left a hammer and chisel. They are the shapers of the cloud formations that arise from evaporating waters approaching from the east (across the Continent and North Sea) and the west (the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea).

One of the translations of ‘Nodens’ is ‘the Cloud Maker’ from the Proto-Celtic stem *snoudo ‘mist, clouds’. He is later known as Nudd ‘Mist’. He and his spirits are the shapers of Britain’s weather.

II. The Cry of the West Wind

Whereas the east wind came across as quick-witted, clear-minded and bold, the west wind struck me as inconsistent and troubled, like a misunderstood youth: smiling, enthusiastic, and eager to please, but also moody, prone to fits of violence, brooding on some kind of trauma.

This reminded me of the words of Nimue Brown in her evocative essay ‘Watching for the winds’. Nimue lives ‘Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn / And the Severn seeks the sea’. She witnessed the tryst of the east and west winds last March on Swift’s Hill and noted their parting was ‘hesitant and regretful’ as if ‘they might not meet again’ or feared the circumstances of their next meeting. After the east wind departed the west wind remained, uneasy, not knowing what to do with himself, and shared ‘a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help.’

To interpret this cry I had to look beyond Britain to the direction from which the west wind blows: across the Irish Ocean (the domain of the sea-god Manawydan) to the Atlantic Ocean (associated with the sea-goddess Iwerydd and her consort the sea-god Llyr – Manawydan’s parents).

III. The North Atlantic Gyre

The warmth of the west wind is connected with the complex system of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of four gyres that form the ‘global conveyor belt’ of oceanic currents that determine the earth’s climate. It begins near the equator off the west coast of Africa where warm water driven by the easterly trade winds becomes the North Atlantic Current.

In the Gulf of Mexico it becomes the Gulf Stream. Joining the Antilles Current in the Straits of Florida it gains strength before the westerly anti-trade winds drive it toward Europe bringing 300,000,000 kWh/s of warm air – equivalent to the heat of a million nuclear power stations.

It then splits into the Irminger Current, which heads toward Greenland, and the North Atlantic Drift, which continues to Europe. The interactions of the west wind and the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift raise Britain’s temperatures 5 – 10 degrees Celsius higher than other continents at the same latitude and play a large role in shaping our mild, wet weather.

When these currents have lost their heat the cold water sinks (in the Denmark Strait it drops dramatically 11,500 feet as the world’s biggest waterfall) and returns as the Labrador Current beneath the Gulf Stream and the Canary Current past Africa.

Lines_of_sargassum_Sargasso_Sea - Copy_By Unknown - Ocean ExplorerNOAA, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid1175629

In the centre of the gyre lies the calm deep blue Sargasso Sea, which is named after its unique sargassum seaweed. The bounding currents deposit the refuse they carry in its midst disturbingly creating the ever-growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

IV. The Re-Shaping of the Weather

It’s well known that anthropogenic global warming is having a drastic effect on our climate, which has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age. The rise in sea temperature has led to storms and hurricanes forming further north buffeting Britain’s coast and to more rain and flooding.

Some scientists claim that the melting of the ice caps will lead to the water around Greenland cooling and becoming less saline. Salinity is one of the factors that causes cold currents to sink. If their circulation stops this will shut down the North Atlantic Gyre issuing in a new Ice Age.

Even the gods and spirits are in trouble. The west wind, impelled to bring storms, his nature threatened by the cessation of the warm currents cries out for help, but his voice falls on deaf ears.

Centuries of Christianity and reliance on the predictions of science have cut us off from the weather-shapers. The arguments of our modern aeromancers, ‘weather-diviners’: the meteorologists and climate scientists who strike up a conversation of sorts with the gods through their instruments have not been listened to and now it’s too late to turn back the clock.

V. The Last Salmon? The Last Eel?

Atlantic_salmon_fish_Wikipedia_Commons

On the mural crown beneath Nodens and the weather-shapers is an enigmatic figure with a short tail hooking an enormous salmon. Salmon also appear on the mosaic in the centre of the temple.

The Severn was once renowned for its migrations of salmon leaping upriver to their spawning grounds. Atlantic salmon are now in decline due to the lethal combination of weirs preventing them returning and spawning, damage to habitat, industrial fishing, and global warming.

Changes in the currents of the North Atlantic Gyre due to rising sea temperatures have affected Atlantic salmon who use them to swim to and from their feeding grounds in Greenland.

European_eel__Anguilla_anguilla_clipart_web

Eels, who spend part of their life in the Severn, use the cold currents of the gyre to swim to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea. Their larvae utilise the warm currents.

Could the snake-like creature wrapped around Nodens’ arm be an eel?

Both these creatures, sacred to Nodens, whose lives have been intrinsically connected with the Severn for thousands of years, are currently in decline. New fish passes have been placed in the weirs. This might help, but the changes in the North Atlantic Gyre lie beyond human repair.

V. The Broken Crown

The image of Nodens and the weather-shapers provides us with a picture of the ‘beauty and integrity’ of Britain’s climate and the fecundity of its rivers during the Romano-British period.

If the mural crown was crafted again today its vision of wholeness would be broken by the agony of the west wind torn between two fates – stormbringer and bringer of a New Ice Age. The water-spirit in the west would be the crafter of ominous storm or snow-clouds. The salmon would be in distress, the eel wriggling nervously, both on the brink of disappearance. Nodens, ‘the Cloud-Maker’, would be a troubled god, riding far less victoriously on his chariot.

This crown was once worn by a priest of Nodens who had the task of interpreting pilgrims’ dreams. Who would wear it today? Who would interpret the dreams shaped by the beings shaping Britain’s weather – hurricanes of garbage, seas rising over coastal towns, salmon lost in sealanes, stranded elvers wrapped in sargassum? Who could bear the cries of distress?

SOURCES

David Righton, ‘Empirical observations of the spawning migration of European eels’, Science Advances, Vol 2, No. 10, (2016)
D. Freidland, ‘Oceanic changes in the Sargasso sea and declines in recruitment of the European eel’, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 64, Issue 3, (2007)
J. Dadswell, ‘The North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar: the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ hypothesis’, Journal of Fish Biology, 77, (2010)
Nimue Brown, ‘Watching for the winds’, A Beautiful Resistance, (Gods & Radicals, 2016)
Renee Cho, ‘Could Climate Change Shut Down The Gulf Stream?’, State of the Planet, (2016)
Nodens’, Wikipedia
Scheme to re-open Severn to fish wins almost £20m in funding’, The Guardian
The North Atlantic Gyre’, Eduspace,
The Gulf Stream Explained’, In a Nutshell

What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens

P1130621 - Copy

My article ‘What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens’ has been published on Gods & Radicals HERE.

After heavy rain and floods across northern England, Scotland and Wales my article focuses on addressing Nodens (‘the Catcher’) as a Romano-British rain god. Exploring Nodens’ identification with Neptune as a god of rain it moves onto his role as a dream-god at Lydney and transformation into Lludd of the Silver Hand (a Catcher who cannot catch) and parallels with the Fisher King. It ends by discussing the importance of ‘asking the question’ and being open to answers in a time of uncertainty and climate change.

Ribble Rising

After a month’s heavy rain across northern England, rivers have risen to record levels. Following 100mm of downpour in one night in Lancashire, the river Ribble (from Gallo-Brythonic Riga Belisama ‘Most Shining’ or ‘Most Mighty Queen’) burst her banks at Ribchester and Whalley, forcing people from their homes.

Yesterday the Ribble ran high between Penwortham and Preston swelling under Penwortham Bridge carrying trees, branches, tyres and other debris out to the sea with an urgent roar.

A playground in Middleforth with an overflowing storm drain was underwater.

Several riverside footpaths were submerged.

The Ribble had flooded the bottom of Miller Park completely, almost covering the fountain and pagoda.

The Pavillion Cafe was cut off like a stranded lake dwelling.

P1130527

As dusk approached, Victorian lamps illuminated the submerged pathway.

P1130534

 

Luckily at the most dangerous point: high tide at around 11pm, the Ribble did not break over the flood walls. Avenham and Miller Parks and the flood plains of Central Park managed the rest and no-one was evacuated.

It would have been a very different story if the Riverworks project, which intended to create a barrage on the Ribble and build on its floodplains had gone ahead. We have Jane Brunning and other ‘Save the Ribble‘ campaigners to thank that we have Central Park instead.

This morning, I walked along the old railway track to see Central Park’s flooded fields.

The floods had receded from Avenham and Miller Park and the Ribble sunk back to her normal course.

P1130579

Last night Belisama heard our apologies, songs and prayers. Today she received gratitude and thanks. This was the highest I have ever seen the Ribble rise. It was really quite terrifying and gave me a fuller understanding of why, before flood-walls, our ancestors revered and feared her as a Mighty Queen.

With temperatures increasing ten times faster than in known history and water levels rising globally I fear this will not be the last time the Ribble bursts her banks. It is a clear message everything possible must be done to slow climate change and adjustments must be made to accomodate rising rivers and returning wetlands.

Having Central Park saved us here. My thoughts are with those not so lucky in Ribchester, Whalley and in York from where 2,200 people have been evacuated.