He Will Guide The Dead Back Home

For Gwyn ap Nudd

There’s a sea behind a river,
behind a brook, behind a stream,
and when the stars within it gather
He will guide the dead back home.

There’s an ocean in the cauldron
where the stars began to burn
and as our candlelight grows dimmer
He will guide the dead back home.

His is an infinite vocation
in those dark and starry seas
and when the stars depart their stations
He will guide the dead back home.

When the seas are black and bloody
and the stars are but black holes
all souls to Him He’ll gather –
He will guide the dead back home.

When the cauldron’s but a memory,
seas and stars are but a dream,
all souls in Him He’ll gather –
He will guide the dead back home.

This poem appears in the later part of my book-in-progress ‘In the Deep’ and was written by Maponos/Mabon for Vindos/Gwyn ap Nudd. 

It felt fitting I share it tonight, on Nos Galan Gaeaf, as a way of honouring Gwyn as He rides out with His hunt to gather the souls of the dead.

In the background are my doorway to Annwn and photographs of my ancestors.

Digital Book Sale on Gods & Radicals

My publisher, Gods & Radicals, are currently having a digital book sale as a celebration of their seventh anniversary. My three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls are all available at a 33% discount reduced from $6.00 to $4.00. Many other Pagan, Polytheist, and anti-capitalist titles are also available at up to 50% discount and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer and All That Is Sacred is Profaned are free. The link is HERE.

Books Re-Released on the Ritona Imprint of Gods & Radicals Press

I am very happy and excited to announce that my three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls have officially been re-released in print by the Ritona Imprint of Gods & Radicals Press (which specialises in mythic and mystic works).

Enchanting the Shadowlands has been updated with a new cover, layout, and foreword by Rhyd Wildermuth (below).

‘It’s thought human language derived from the songs of the land. The theory goes like this: our early ancestors, who were always walking through a world full of living songs—the caws of birds, the howls of wolves, the tiny buzzing of insects, the rush of streams, the crack and hiss of fire, the oceanic laughter of trees in wind—began to see meaning in those sounds. Playfully they would imitate them; others around them, hearing a familiar sound from an unfamiliar source, suddenly understood “meaning.” 

If one of them wanted to tell the others a wolf was nearby, he would make the sound of the wolf, and the others would understand. That there were bees nearby, which meant that sweet dripping gold was also nearby, could be conveyed with a buzzing sound. Then there were also all the clicks and soft explosive noises made with the tongue on teeth or palate, the guttural groans and gulping sounds, the labial pauses played upon the lips: all these tricks of the mouth and throat to bring the world around them into the eventual meaning of words.

It’s easy to fell disconnected to this truth now, when so much that is said has so little reference to the land and all that live within it. It’s all ‘buy this’ and ‘calculate that,’ language of fear, of power, of the human world disconnected from its source.

The earliest priests and shamans—up to and including the bards and druids, and many wise person roles in indigenous societies still—are poets. This is not surprising, because if it is your role to intercede between people and the powers of the land, then you ought to be able to understand—and thus also speak—their language. The birds call in a certain way and snow is coming, the trees creak and bend in a particular fashion and a storm shall soon arrive. The animals of the forest suddenly go silent: there is a wolf. The great herd beasts are uneasy, lowing mournfully: a sickness is coming.

To speak to the land you must sing as it does.  To translate for the land, you must understand what it is saying. That’s what poets are for, and that’s what Lorna Smithers is startlingly brilliant at.

She sings the stories not just of the land that is now, but also the stories of its ghosts, the land that once was. This collection, her first, is particularly filled with the songs of ghosts, the chants of ancestors, the wails of lost lives and felled forests, the low roar of the mills poisoning air and river and earth while all that lives there sickens and despairs.

There’s a particular poem in Enchanting The Shadowlands that once made me double over in sorrow, tears that were not mine running down my face. I looked around myself and didn’t know where I was, because I wasn’t where I had been when I started reading the poem. My fingernails caked with dirt, scrabbling through infertile soil for a root that looked like my stillborn child.

Yet I have never had a stillborn child, nor have I ever been in that place, which is the pure magic of her poetry. 

The best translators make you forget that you are not hearing the original in its own language; the best poets make you forget you are reading a poem at all. Again, that’s Lorna’s brilliance, and I’m deeply happy you are about to experience this, too.

Rhyd Wildermuth

The Ardennes 

15 April 2021′

You can purchase my books by clicking on the icons in the right hand menu. There are also free copies available for reviewers so if you would like to review one please get in touch.

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

P1240462 - Copy - Copy - Copy

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 Last Wolves

Every district has its last wolf.’
Lays of the Deer Forest

I watch across the troubled waters
of the Bay whilst you gather up
the Last Wolf of Lancashire
from Humphrey Head.

Some say he was driven
over Kirkhead and Holker
and plunged across the Leven,
sheltered on Coniston Old Man,
swam Windermere to Gummershaw,
Witherslack, Eggerslack, Grange,
met his end in Sir Edgar’s cave
by John Harrington’s lance,

others he fled the Bowland forest
where your ghost-wolves still howl
and was stuck by a thousand pikes
where tides meet the headland.

With thumb and forefinger
you squeeze his wounds closed,
pass your hand across glazed eyes
like the shadow of a lantern.

You shake out his pelt. His soul slips free
to join the wolf-dance in your death-light:

the dance of all the Last Wolves you gathered up…

From Gleann Chon-fhiadh, the Wolves’ Glen,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
pulled the dirk from her breast, the spear
from her flank, the steel gauntlet,
lamhainn chruaidh from
the trap of her jaws,
laid her amongst
her slaughtered cubs
and sang out their yelping souls.

From between Fi-Giuthas and Pall-a-chrocain,
pinewood known for deer and township in the crooked river,
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Chisolm:
carried back his heavy black head
severed for fear he’d live again,
sewed up his severed throat,
wounds where he’d been
buckled and dirkit,
sang his black shape hurtling back
through pines, upriver, startling deer.

From a cave of bones in Helmsdale
you gathered up the Last Wolf of Sutherland:
closed her stab-wounds,
straightened out her tail from when she was suspended
by a God-like hand, wolf-shadow snapping
ineffectually over her dead cubs,
their ruddy-armed killer.
Her tail straight,
you sang her family whole into the Otherworld.

You gathered up the Last Wolf
of Inverness: pieced together his skull
shattered by an old woman’s frying pan,
sang him back to where he will no longer
prowl into houses or lick
a human hand.

You gathered up all the Last Wolves from
the Wolf’s Rivers, Burns, Crags, Glens, Dens,
Hills, even from Wormhills. You gathered
up the Last Wolf of the Weald

as you gathered up the Last Elk, Aurochs, Bear, Lynx, Boar…

I watch the Last Wolves join your wolf-dance.
White wolves, grey wolves, black wolves,
she-wolves and cubs vivid as stars
whilst bioluminescent fishes
leap across the Bay.

Humphrey Head III

Lamentation for Catraeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gatherer of Souls

I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain…
I am alive, they in their graves!
– Words spoken by Gwyn ap Nudd in The Black Book of Carmarthen XXXIII

Spring is here, daffodils
amongst the headstones,
flowers on the cenotaph
grieving summers of war-

shells shattering spirit paths,
ditches filled with corpses,
a perverse test of love
for brave young fools

and you being liminal,
battle rage and compassion
on the blood soaked fields
where banshees wail

gathering the fallen
from amongst explosions,
returning to Prydain
wracked and torn.

Spring is here, yet in
Annwn’s long autumn you know
the weight of the battle dead,
the sorrow behind the veil.

War memorial in Penwortham