The Gifts of Solitude

The past few weeks, following my discovery it’s likely I have Asperger’s, have been difficult and revealing, but ultimately rewarding and healing. I feel like this revelation has come at the right time, during this period of lockdown, when I have time alone to process it.

Learning more about autism I have gained some valuable insights for others. I discovered the story of Matthew Tinsley* who, like me, used alcohol as ‘a coping strategy against the extreme anxiety caused by being autistic and living in a non-autistic, social, flexible world.’ ‘His diagnosis gave him the knowledge to realise his own anxiety as an autistic person, and his need to reduce the demands upon him.’

I also watched Chris Packham’s ‘Asperger’s and Me’**. In this programme Chris shares his experiences of sensory overwhelm, struggles with social relationships, and his obsession with the natural world. I was particularly disturbed by his visits to the US to find out more about remedies to eradicate autism and agreed with his conclusion that for many autistic people the best treatment is to be allowed to spend time alone. Chris is blessed with being able to live on his own in a house in the woods.

Looking back at the past I can now see that the periods when I experienced the highest levels of anxiety were those when I was putting the greatest demands to be in social situations upon myself. At the time I was writing and editing for Gods & Radicals and forcing myself to go out to protests and engage in a lot of political debate online I got so ill with anxiety and IBS I didn’t dare go anywhere that wasn’t within 20 minutes of a toilet ‘just in case’ and that lasted for a couple of years.

I also got very stressed when I combined taking an admin job that I found overwhelming (I had mistakenly taken it presuming it would mainly be managing a website and producing posters and a newsletter and hadn’t realised it involved dealing with spreadsheets and… administration… duh!) with a leading role in applying for and gaining funding to organise a series of local events called ‘The Wild and Rural Lives of Poems’. These lines from a poem written at the time describe the effect:

After the late night meeting
my head was pale and flashing
a tawdry halo a broken circuit
a worn out lighthouse
behind my eyes…

I did those things for the right and the wrong reasons. I went to the anti-fracking protests because I genuinely wanted to stand up for the landscape I love – I didn’t want to see Belisama’s river poisoned, more aquifers shattered like the aquifer beneath Castle Hill, more damage to the underworld. I wanted to create beautiful and magical events. But I was also aspiring to fit with a model of the ideal pagan/poet – socially and politically engaged and doing outward service to my community because I felt insecure about the value of my own work, which is more personal and mystical.

Repeatedly I’ve made the mistake of thinking to be a good awenydd and polytheist to my gods I should have a role in a religious community and be promoting the awenydd path and Brythonic polytheism. This drive again, came from good and bad motives, and had mixed results. During my time with Dun Brython we produced some valuable articles and shared some enjoyable meet-ups. Yet we never achieved our aim of growing the group and developing a shared practice due to lack of interest.

At Awen ac Awenydd we’ve done good work collecting and sharing information on the path and personal testimonies on our website and in our anthology ‘The Deep Music’. Yet I failed, after three attempts, to organise a physical meeting in the North West of England. The strain of administering the Facebook group, never knowing what arguments I might have to deal with, outweighed the benefits.

The time arrived to acknowledge it is best for me to be solitary, like many of the awenyddion of the past. Myrddin in his forest, Orddu in her cave, Afagddu hanging out his black wings on the shoreline. That, as I’ve always known, I’m not cut out to be a Taliesin – a celebrity bard.

These insights are the gifts of solitude. Having worked through them I have reached the stage where I can begin, as my gods keep telling me, to focus on ‘my gift’ – my awen. Learning I’m autistic and will always struggle with social relationships has given this imperative the additional strength and urgency needed to blast away my lack of belief in my path born from the arguments about cultural appropriation and my failure to learn Welsh, master the medieval texts, and prove myself a ‘proper’ awenydd.

In my solitude, free of demands, praying, journeying, drumming, drawing, writing, I’ve been thrown back on a far more raw and primal relationship with the awen and with my gods little mediated by the Welsh scribes. Visions of the deep and its deities from before Welsh was spoken, Brythonic, ancient British, before there were humans to speak at all. Of the Annuvian, of the depths, of the Other.

The gift of a mythos that is deeply personal and that I hope to say a little more about soon.

*https://network.autism.org.uk/good-practice/case-studies/autism-and-alcohol
**https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdEJdr-vfs

The Call of the Hooded Man

He started appearing in my tarot readings at the beginning of the year: the Hooded Man. In my reading for 2020 on New Year’s Eve in the place of ‘home’, then again and again, strangely, mysteriously, as we shifted from a stormy winter to a glorious spring and I was spending more time with people outdoors.

In the Wildwood Tarot the Hooded Man occupies the traditional position of the Hermit. His ‘Position on the Wheel’ is ‘the mid-winter solstice’. Dressed in a black cloak adorned with holly he stands amidst the snow with a wren at his side, a staff in one hand, a shining lantern in the other. He points towards a doorway in a great tree with a wreath upon it, offering solace from winter’s harshness.

The main meaning of this card is ‘this is the time of solitude and contemplation’. Why was I getting this card when I was busying myself with work parties five days a week and preparing for an internship at Brockholes, which involved outdoor work and engaging with large groups of volunteers?

The answer came as the arrival of coronavirus, as the lockdown, the perfect reason to respond to his call. But what did I do for the first three weeks? Spend my time watching what everyone else was doing, beating myself up for not being busy, for not having a proper job, resisting the call of the Hooded Man.

And yes, I felt it, and he spoke to me clearly. On one occasion this was through the new module on ‘Holly’ in the Tree Spirit Medicine course on the Way of the Buzzard Mystery School. The course leaders, Jason and Nicola associate holly with ‘sanctuary, resilience, and protection’. These were qualities I felt I needed to draw upon and immediately I associated them with the Hooded Man. I journeyed to holly to ask ‘how to slow down and participate in the Hooded Man’s sanctuary.

Holly said:

The berries of life
are not always yours.

So what is yours?

How will you
grow your berries?

What can you offer?

How will you shape
your sanctuary?

I took this to mean that I couldn’t just barge into the Hooded Man’s sanctuary and assume his berries (the hard-won fruits of many years of solitude and contemplation) are mine for the taking. That I must take the time and effort to shape my own sanctuary, grow my own berries, share them with others.

What was particularly significant about this journey is that the day afterwards, after I had cut back and cleared the blackberry bushes which were taking over the bottom of my parents’ garden, I found a little holly sprig. Immediately I knew this was ‘the Hooded Man’s corner’: a place I could find sanctuary.

But still I resisted for fear that retreating would make me less of an awenydd to my community and gods. When I first set out on the awenydd path it was with the purpose of serving Gwyn and the spirits of the land through sharing poems and research on mythology and my personal journey.

Somewhere along the line, when I was involved with Dun Brython, when Greg Hill and I founded ‘Awen ac Awenydd’ I felt these responsibilities were nudging me toward community leadership. However, Dun Brython never grew due to a lack of interest in Brythonic Polytheism. Whilst the Awen ac Awenydd Facebook group generated some interesting discussions, the participants didn’t mesh enough to develop a shared practice, and the plans for a physical meet-up failed completely.

I reached the conclusion that Facebook is not a suitable platform for building meaningful relationships and left. ‘You’re not a follower but you’re not a leader,’ the words of my wise friend, who read my tarot, haunted me. What am I then? What is the role of an awenydd who neither leads nor follows?

“You must focus on your gift,” the voice of my god from within.

Reflecting on the nature of this gift I realised that it is the awen and the meaning of ‘gift’ is manifold. The awen is not only my gift, my talent, my role in the world, my destiny, but is given by the gods and something I have a responsibility to give back to others. This being gifted with and my giving of awen is of value in itself. I don’t need to be a leader or a spokesperson for my path.

This revelation came as a huge relief and has given me clarity about where I’ve made mistakes in the past. After watching a podcast with Martin Shaw on ‘Pandemic and Mythic Meanings of this Cultural Movement’ in which he posed the question ‘would this not be a good time to re-establish a relationship with our souls?’ I realised over the past few months I have neglected my soul’s journey.

When I journeyed to the Hooded Man for advice on how to focus on this he said I need to ‘clear space outer and inner’ and ‘cultivate a longing for the mysteries’ in the place of my anxieties.

What was of interest, and slightly disturbed me, was that he told me has had burning ambitions, been riddled by doubts, that he has made made mistakes, that his aura of calm is the result of centuries of inner work. That sometimes it is just a facade that covers over the conflicts he feels within.

For some reason I thought he had always been the Hooded Man at perfect peace in his self-mastery. Yet a story, or many stories, lie beneath the the hood of this man who has many faces.