Gwyn’s Hunt

Within modern Paganism Gwyn ap Nudd is generally understood to be a leader of ‘the Wild Hunt’. Before Jacob Grimm developed the term Wilde Jagd ‘Wild Hunt’ and applied it to various otherworldly hunts across Europe in his Deutsch Mythologie (1835), they were known by individual names, often referring to their leaders, such as ‘Woden’s Hunt’, ‘Household of Harlequin’, and ‘Herla’s Assembly’. This essay will focus on the Brythonic tradition of ‘Gwyn’s Hunt’.

The earliest literary reference to Gwyn as a hunter comes from Culhwch and Olwen (1090) where it is stated, ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn son of Nudd is found.’ This suggests Gwyn was the leader of the hunt for Twrch Trwyth, ‘King of Boars’, prior to Arthur. According to the text, which was penned by Christian scribes, Twrch Trwyth was a king changed into a swine by God ‘for his sins’. This overlay conceals a pagan tradition wherein the ‘boar’ was a human shapeshifter. Gwyn’s hunt was for a man: a shapeshifting human soul.

The following lines, ‘God has put the fury of the devils of Annwn in him, lest the world be destroyed. He will not be spared from there’ form another Christian overlay obscuring Gwyn’s role as a protector and ruler of Annwn containing furious spirits including the fay and the dead within his realm and person. The comb, razor, and shears Twrch Trwyth mysteriously carries between his ears may have been grave goods, suggesting he is a restless soul Gwyn hunts down into the ocean (symbolic of Annwn ‘the Deep’) on a cyclical basis to lay to rest.

In later folklore Gwyn is depicted hunting for souls with the Cwn Annwn, ‘Hounds of the Otherworld’, who are also known as Cwn Wybyr, ‘Hounds of the Sky’, and Cwn Cyrff, ‘Corpse Dogs’. These include Dormach, Gwyn’s fair red-nosed hunting dog. To hear or see the Cwn Annwn is a portent of death. This belief may be rooted in earlier traditions where wolves and dogs along with carrion birds (Gwyn is also associated with ravens who ‘croak over blood’) devoured the corpses of the dead before Gwyn gathered their souls.

A fascinating legend surrounds the minstrel Ned Pugh or Iolo ap Huw who disappeared into the cave of Tag y Clegyr playing ‘Ffarwel Ned Pugh’, ‘Ned Pugh’s Farewell’:

‘To leave my dear girl, my country, and friends,
and roam o’er the ocean, where toil never ends;
to mount the high yards, when the whistle shall sound,
Amidst the wild winds as they bluster around!’

Exchanging ‘his fiddle for a bugle’ the minstrel became Gwyn’s huntsman-in-chief and can be found ‘cheering Cwn Annwn over Cader Idris’ every Nos Galan Gaeaf.

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There are numerous instances where Gwyn (by this name or as a spectral or demon huntsman or fairy king), sometimes with his hunt and sometimes alone, also carries off the souls of the living. On Nos Galan Gaeaf, Gwyn wins back his beloved, Creiddylad, from Gwythyr and takes her to Annwn. Creiddylad’s descent with Gwyn to the underworld explains the coming of winter. Later folktales featuring abductions may have some basis in this old seasonal myth.

Here, on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire, there is a story featuring Sybil, the Lady of Bearnshaw Tower, who spends an unseemly amount of time on the hills and moors chasing wild swans whose hound-like calls remind her of ‘wild hunters and the spectral horseman’. She is swept from the dizzy heights of Eagle Crag overlooking Cliviger Gorge by a ‘demon’:

‘Immediately she felt as though she were sweeping through the trackless air… she thought the whole world lay at her feet, and the kingdoms of the earth moved on like a mighty pageant. Then did the vision change. Objects began to waver and grow dim, as if passing through a mist; and she found herself again upon that lonely crag, and her conductor at her side.’

Gwyn ap Nudd, ‘White son of Mist’, goes ‘between sky and air’ and moves ar wybir ‘through the clouds’. I believe Gwyn is ‘the spectral horseman’ and Sybil’s demonic ‘conductor’.

Sybil’s ability to shapeshift may have been learnt from Gwyn: a god of transformation. In deer-form she is hunted down by a human huntsman called William Towneley and forced to marry him. Her failed attempt to escape in cat-form leads to her death and burial at Eagle’s Crag where she was captured; her ghost and William’s can be seen there every Nos Galan Gaeaf.

eagle-crag-drawn-by-g-pickering-and-engraved-by-edward-finden-copy

The Cliviger area is also haunted by Gabriel Ratchets, corpse hounds who may be an Anglicised variant of the Cwn Annwn. In his poem, ‘Gabriel Ratchets’, which is based on Sybil’s story, Philip Hamerton opens: ‘Wild huntsmen? ‘Twas a flight of swans / But how invisibly they flew.’

Gwyn and his hunt are associated with soul flight and ecstasis. Ecstatic experiences with otherworldly beings were frowned upon by the Christian church and twisted into stories of abduction by a demon huntsman or fairy king who was confronted by knights and heroes who won those ‘poor souls’ back (whether they wanted to return or not…).

When I accepted Gwyn’s challenge to ride with him to the Otherworld and offered my soul into his care he showed me parts of Lancashire where people lived in lake villages and walked on wooden trackways then glaciers creeping across the landscape with blizzard winds.

This has led me to believe Gwyn was worshiped as a god of hunting and the transitions of the souls of the dead and living between worlds by this land’s earliest inhabitants after the Ice Age. Yuri Leitch identifies Gwyn with the constellation of Orion and Dormach with Canis Major (Sirius, the dog star, is Dormach’s nose). Gwyn is our ancient British Hunter in the Skies who rises from Annwn on Nos Galan Gaeaf and presides over the dark months of winter.

Nos Galan Gaeaf is an ysbrydnos ‘spirit night’ when Gwyn’s Hunt rides and the borders between thisworld and Annwn, life and death, and the laws that govern time and space break down. It is a time of migrating swans and geese and transitions of souls. It is a time of deep magic.

I’ll end with a passage from Sian Hayton’s ‘The Story of Kigva’ because, for me, it evokes so beautifully the experience of flying with Gwyn:

‘She felt a hand on her arm… steady, comforting her in her despair. The strongest one of all was there, as he had been in the forest and he promised, silently, that he would stay with her for the rest of her vigil. With tears she thanked him and felt herself gathered up in his arms. Together, from then on, they wandered the universe. He showed her things which only he knew. With him she touched the cold, hard moon and walked on the black rind of the sky. She found the stars felt like the taste of blaeberries and the north wind was truly a great river whose source was the mountains of the sun. He gave her jewelled collars and crowns and broke open an oak-tree so that she could feast on the honey. There was no one equal to him.’

*This article was first published on Dun Brython HERE.

SOURCES

Jacob Grimm, Deutsch Mythologie, https://archive.org/details/deutschemytholo07grimgoog
J. Gwengobryn Evans, The Black Book of Carmarthen, (Lightning Source,1901)
John Rhys, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (Oxford, 1901)
John Roby, Traditions of Lancashire I, (1872) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15271/15271-h/15271-h.htm
Philip Hamerton, The Isle of Loch Awe and Other Poems of My Youth, (Forgotten Books, 2017)
Sian Hayton, ‘The Story of Kigva’, Within the Hollow Hills, (Lindisfarne Books, 1995)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
T. Gwynn Jones, Welsh Folklore and Folk-Custom, (Redwood Burn, 1979)

Gwyn’s Hunt

For Nos Galan Gaeaf: An article on soul hunting and soul flight in the Brythonic tradition of Gwyn’s Hunt on this night of deep magic as the borders between thisworld and Annwn, life and death, and the laws that govern time and space break down.

Dun Brython

Within Neo-Paganism Gwyn ap Nudd is generally understood to be a leader of ‘the Wild Hunt’. Before Jacob Grimm developed ‘the Wild Hunt’ as a concept applied to various otherworldly hunts across Europe in his Deutsch Mythologie (1835), they were known by individual names often referring to their leaders such as ‘Woden’s Hunt’, ‘Household of Harlequin’, and ‘Herla’s Assembly’. This essay will focus on the Brythonic tradition of ‘Gwyn’s Hunt’.

The earliest literary reference to Gwyn as a hunter comes from Culhwch and Olwen (1090) where it is stated, ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn son of Nudd is found.’ This suggests Gwyn was the leader of the hunt for Twrch Trwyth, ‘King of Boars’, prior to Arthur. According to the text, which was penned by Christian scribes, Twrch Trwyth was a king changed into a swine by God ‘for his sins’. This overlay conceals a pagan tradition…

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Memories of Gwyn’s Hunt in Culhwch and Olwen

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Boar Hunt (from Moniack Sloe Liqueur)

I.
Recovering the Memories

Introduction: The Hunt for Twrch Trwyth and the Impossible Tasks

Within the main narrative of Culhwch and Olwen (1325) lies the story of the hunt for Twrch Trwyth ‘King of Boars’. To win Olwen, Culhwch must fulfil forty impossible tasks. These are set by Olwen’s father Ysbaddaden Bencawr ‘Hawthorn Giant’. The purpose of hunting the Twrch is to take the comb, shears and razor from between his ears so Ysbaddaden’s thorn-bush beard can be untangled, cut and shaved on the day of the wedding feast.

Twrch Trwyth is not just a huge silver, bristly, hoary, old boar but the son of a human chieftain: Taredd Wledig. He was reputedly turned into a boar by God as punishment for his sins. Beneath this Christian veneer lie deeper animistic roots disclosing Twrch Trwyth’s personhood and significance as one of Britain’s ancestral animals.

Irish and Norse myths feature magical boars who are hunted, killed, eaten, then the next day made whole. These could be rooted in tribal perceptions of father and mother animals who generate so long as they are treated respectfully. It is likely similar beliefs were found in Britain. It is of interest to note the Twrch is the father of seven piglets.

The list of impossible tasks contains the names of huntsmen, hounds and horses who are needed to hunt Twrch Trwyth. These include other mythic and numinous figures such as the pre-Christian hunter-deities Gwyn ap Nudd and Mabon mab Modron and a number of legendary hounds and huntsmen. Culhwch does not recruit these personages himself. He enlists the help of Arthur, who gathers and leads the hunt for Twrch Trwyth.

Gwyn’s Leadership of the Hunt

It is my intuition Arthur’s hunt for Twrch Trwyth is based on an older and more primal hunt led by Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White’ or ‘Blessed’ ‘son of Mist’. Gwyn appears as a divine warrior-huntsman with his white stallion, Carngrwn, and white red-nosed hound, Dormach in The Black Book of Carmarthen (1250). Here his role as a gatherer of souls is disclosed.

In later Welsh folklore Gwyn is associated with the Cwn Annwn ‘Hounds of the Otherworld’ and depicted hunting the souls of sinners. Many modern pagans view Gwyn as the Brythonic leader of the pan-European Wild Hunt. The longevity of Gwyn’s lore demonstrates his ongoing significance as a hunter-god and psychopomp within Britain’s consciousness.

Culhwch and Olwen is the only place Gwyn’s associations with the hunt for Twrch Trwyth can be found. However parallels exist within Irish and Norse mythology. Gwyn’s Irish counterpart, Finn ‘Fair’ ‘White’, leads the hunt for the giant destructive boar of Formael. The Norse hunter-warrior god and psychopomp, Odin, feasts on a mythic self-generating boar called Saehrimnir with his host of dead fighters in Valhalla.

Whereas Finn and Odin are central figures in Irish and Norse mythology, Gwyn plays a more marginal role in the British myths. I believe Gwyn may have once possessed a much greater mythos akin to the Fenian Cycle and the body of lore surrounding Odin.

Due to Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn, the Brythonic otherworld or underworld, he and his hunt have been demonised and marginalised through centuries of Christianity. Annwn has been identified with hell, Gwyn and his huntsmen with demons and the Cwn Annwn with hell-hounds.

This process can be traced within Culhwch and Olwen. Reading the narrative ‘otherwise’ to expose its sub-text shows how Gwyn’s mythos has been suppressed and replaced by Arthur’s. From its deeper levels memories of Gwyn’s hunt and the identities of its members can be recovered.

The Spirits of Annwn

Ysbaddaden tells Culhwch ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn ap Nudd is found’. This may refer obtusely to Gwyn’s earlier leadership of the hunt which cannot begin without its divine leader.

Gwyn is impossible to get because ‘God has put the spirit of the demons of Annwn in him, lest the world be destroyed. He will not be spared from there.’ Ysbaddaden’s words hint at Gwyn’s rulership of Annwn and containment of its spirits.

Gwyn’s paradoxical nature as a white and blessed protector on the one hand and the ‘dark’ embodiment of the fury of the spirits of Annwn on the other is too much for the dualistic logic of Christianity to handle. Hence it calls for an explanation via the agency of God. This intolerable ambiguity is the source of Gwyn’s marginalisation and suppression of his myths.

The only clue I have found to the identity of the spirits of Annwn is an inscription from Chamalieres invoking the Andedion ‘Underworld Gods’ including ‘Maponos Arvenatis’. Maponos ‘The Son’ was the Gallo-Brythonic name of Mabon; a pre-Christian deity of youth and hunting who also appears in the impossible tasks. Mabon’s mother, Modron, is the daughter of Avallach, a King of Annwn. Mabon’s Annuvian nature is clear.

Thus it seems possible Mabon and other figures found imprisoned or underground in the narrative of Culhwch and Olwen are spirits of Annwn and members of Gwyn’s hunt. It seems significant some are viewed as prisoners of Gwyn and it is Arthur’s task to liberate them. By freeing huntsmen, hounds and horses from imprisonment in the underworld, Arthur removes them from Gwyn’s containment and finally usurps his role as the leader of the hunt.

II.
The Members of Gwyn’s Hunt

Who are the members of Gwyn’s hunt?

It is possible to locate them in the Impossible Tasks in Culhwch and Olwen.

Drudwyn and Graid son of Eri

One of Culhwch’s impossible tasks is to get Drudwyn ‘Fierce White’ who is so fierce and strong no leash can hold him except the leash of Cors Cant Ewin. No collar can hold the leash but the collar of Canhastyr Can Llaw plus… the chain of Cilydd Canhastyr is required to hold the collar along with the leash!

Drudwyn has clear Annuvian qualities. I’m reminded of a later folkloric reference to an ‘Infernal Dog’ which takes the form of a mastiff with a white tail and white snip down its nose and grinning teeth which conjures a fire around it.

Drudwyn is the ‘whelp’ of Graid son of Eri. In the episode of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad, Graid attacks Gwyn with Gwythyr’s army and is resultingly defeated and imprisoned by Gwyn then rescued by Arthur. It seems likely this takes place in Annwn.

This episode is flanked by the opening sentence ‘It is best to seek Drudwyn the whelp of Graid son of Eri’ and the closing words ‘Arthur obtained… the leash of Cors Cant Ewin.’ By rescuing Graid, Arthur also got Drudwyn and his leash. Thus Graid, Drudwyn and his leash may all be seen as brought from Annwn.

Mabon mab Modron

However it is not Graid who is destined to hold Drudwyn on the hunt but Mabon mab Modron. Mabon is an important god of youth and hunting in his own right. I have previously noted his associations with the spirits of Annwn and descent from Modron, daughter of Avallach: A King of Annwn.

In Culhwch and Olwen Mabon is impossible to get because he was stolen from Modron when he was three nights old. Nobody knows where he is or whether he is alive or dead. Arthur’s men find it necessary to consult the oldest animals: the blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhedynfre, the Owl of Cwm Calwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy and the Salmon of Llyn Lliw.

This tale is of considerable antiquity and may date back to a pre-Arthurian variant where Modron herself was seen as wandering the earth conversing with the animals to find her lost son.

Arthur’s men are guided by the salmon to Caerlowy (Gloucester) where Mabon is found lamenting in a ‘house of stone’. He complains ‘no-one has been so painfully incarcerated in prison as I, neither the prison of Lludd Llaw Eraint nor the prison of Graid son of Eri.’

Arthur and his warriors arrive to defeat Caerlowy’s defenders whilst Cai tears down the wall and takes Mabon on his back. Mabon is borne ‘home’ and made a ‘free man’.

Links between Mabon, Graid and Drudwyn become clearer. They are all prisoners of Annwn released from its unhomeliness and redeemed of their Annuvian natures to join Arthur’s hunt.

Gwyn Myngddwn

Mabon’s designated steed, Gwyn Myngddwn ‘White Dark Mane’, was also got at the same time as Drudwyn’s leash. Gwyn Myngddwn does not belong to Mabon: he is the horse of Gweddw. Gweddw’s horse is listed as one of ‘Three Bestowed Horses of the Islands of Britain’ in The Triads as Myngrwn ‘Arched Mane’.

Gwyn Myngddwn’s white colouring and epithet ‘swift as a wave’ suggest he possesses Annuvian qualities and may be a water-horse. ‘Myngrwn’ is also suggestive of arching waves. Gwyn Myngddwn’s watery nature makes it possible for Mabon to ride him into the Hafren (the river Severn) and snatch the razor from between the Twrch’s ears.

Rhymi and Her Two Whelps

Another impossible task Arthur fulfils is capturing the ‘the two whelps of the bitch Rhymi’. Rhymi is fascinating because she is a shapeshifter who adopts the form of a ‘she-wolf’. It is enlivening to find a powerful female figure in this male-dominated narrative.

And more so when parallels with Irish mythology are considered. Finn owns two beloved hounds called Bran and Sceolang. They are the son and daughter of his aunt who was transformed into a dog whilst she was pregnant. Hence they are his nephews!

Gwyn’s descent from Nudd ‘the superior wolf lord’ suggests like his father he was theriomorphic and able to take canine form. Perhaps Rhymi and her whelps have familial connections with Gwyn.

Rhymi and her offspring dwell at Aber Cleddyf in a cave. The fact that they can live beneath a river underground is another sure indicator of their Annuvian nature.

When Arthur nears Aber Cleddyf he speaks with a farmer called Tringad who says Rhymi and her whelps have been destroying his landscape. Arthur boards Prydwen and leaves some men on the ground. Together they round up and capture the wolfish-hounds and God turns them back into their ‘own shape’.

I assume ‘own shape’ means human form. This contrasts with God fixing Twrch Trwyth in swine-form. Becoming animal is punishment whereas humanisation represents redemption. Rhymi’s whelps appear as hounds again on the hunt so this magic doesn’t last long.

Cynedyr and Cyledyr Wyllt

Rhymi’s whelps can only be held by a leash from the beard of Dillus Farfog. The only huntsman who can hold the leash is Cynedyr Wyllt who ‘is nine times wilder than the wildest beast on the mountain.’ Cynedyr is one of the gwyllon: madmen, wildmen or spectres who have intimate connections with the forest of Celyddon.

Celyddon is the Welsh name for the Caledonian Forest, which has long-standing associations with wildness and death. The 6th century Classical writer Procopius said north of the wall ‘it is actually impossible for a man to survive there even half an hour, but countless snakes and serpents and every other kind of wild creature occupy their area as their own. And, strangest of all, the inhabitants say that if a man crosses this wall and goes to the other side, he dies straight away… the souls of men who die are always conveyed to this place.’

In The Black Book of Carmarthen Myrddin Wyllt speaks of his flight to Celyddon after the Battle of Arfderydd to recover from trauma wandering amongst wild creatures and gwyllon. In The Life of St Kentigern (12th C) (as Lailoken) Myrddin shares his guilt and a vision of an unendurable brightness in the sky and host of warriors. One is described as a ‘demon’ who tore Myrddin out of himself and assigned him to the wild things of the woods.

It seems possible this company was Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn. Hence they played a role in Myrddin’s retreat to the forest and transition into wyllt-ness but also his recovery and acquisition of the powers of poetry and prophecy.

We know nothing more about Cynedyr Wyllt than his reputation for extreme wildness. Yet we find the story of Cyledyr Wyllt within the episode of Gwyn, Gwythyr and Creiddylad. Along with Graid son of Eri, his brother, Pen, his father, Nwython, Nwython’s uncle Gwrgwst Ledlwm and Gwrgwst’s father Dyfnarth, Cyledyr accompanied Gwythyr in his attack upon Gwyn.

During their imprisonment, Gwyn killed Nwython and fed his heart to Cyledyr, who went mad. I have no idea whether this gory scene is founded in ancient ancestral rites or superstitions about Gwyn or whether it was invented to demonise him.

It seems significant four generations of Strathclyde Britons are captured and Cyledyr is fed his father’s heart. Could Nwython’s heart be viewed as containing the life-force of his family? Could transgressing the moral bounds of Dark Age society be a form of initiation into Gwyn’s hunt? Consuming his father’s heart clearly makes Cyledyr ‘wyllt’.

Neither human or animal (Myrddin takes the form of a bird and Cynedyr is compared to a mountain beast), living or dead, the gwyllon occupy a liminal position similar to the spirits of Annwn.

Later, Arthur goes north and captures Cyledyr. Alongside Mabon, Cyledyr rides the Twrch into the Hafren and snatches the shears from between his ears.

III.
Gwyn’s Hunt and Impossibility

The Escape of Twrch Trwyth

Arthur’s hunt for Twrch Trwyth begins in Ireland. After the hounds are loosed, the Twrch lays waste to a fifth of the land. Arthur fights the boars for nine days and nights and only kills one piglet.

Twrch Trwyth and his piglets then swim across the sea to Wales. The Twrch kills men and beasts in Daugleddyf then cattle in Cynwas Cwryfagyl. At the river Nyder, he stands at bay. In the first round he kills four of Arthur’s champions. In the second he slaughters Arthur’s son, Gwydre, and several other men. The next day he kills numerous ‘men of the country’ including Arthur’s chief craftsman, three servants of his gatekeeper and the King of France.

Arthur’s men lose the Twrch at Glyn Ystun. At this point Arthur summons Gwyn to him and asks if he knows anything about Twrch Trwyth. Gwyn says he does not. It seems likely the Twrch has fled deep into the wild or taken shelter in Annwn and Gwyn is covering his flight from his adversary.

This makes it painstakingly obvious in spite of Ysbaddaden’s demand all the listed hunters are gathered before the hunt begins, Gwyn has not been got and is not riding with Arthur. There is no evidence of Gwyn’s recruitment in the text nor of the capture of his steed: the famous water-horse Du y Moroedd ‘The Black of the Seas’.

Following Gwyn’s evasion of revealing the location of Twrch Trwyth, Arthur’s men are forced to hunt his piglets instead. Of the group who take them on none survive except one. When Arthur arrives with men and hounds the Twrch returns to defend his little pigs. Four piglets are killed. Another piglet is slaughtered at Garth Grugyn. After the King of Brittany and Arthur’s uncles meet their end the last piglet is defeated at Ystrad Yw.

Arthur summons Devon and Cornwall and they agree to drive Twrch Trwyth into the Hafren. Arthur and his warriors fall upon the Twrch and souse him in the river. At this point Mabon and Cyledyr flank him and snatch the razor and shears. Two of Arthur’s servants drown.

Afterward Twrch Trwyth escapes to Cornwall. Following a confrontation which makes the preceding trouble look like ‘mere play’ the comb is taken. He is chased from Cornwall into the Cornish sea. It is noteworthy Arthur and his men do not (cannot, dare not?) kill Twrch Trwyth.

Perhaps the rite of killing the Twrch is preserved for Gwyn, his legendary water-horse, Du, and his Annuvian huntsmen alone. Only they possess the knowledge of Nudd / Nodens ‘the catcher’ which is required to hunt and kill this great magical silver-bristled ancestral boar and bear him away to the feast in the deep from which he runs wild again.

Impossibility and the End of the World

Although Arthur does not complete all the impossible tasks, the comb, shears and razor are wrested from between the Twrch’s ears. Ysbaddaden’s beard is untangled, cut and shaved (down to the bone and even his ears are cut off!) and after his decapitation Culhwch marries Olwen.

The Twrch is hunted and the shaving equipment won but at a terrible cost. A fifth of Ireland is decimated along with a good part of Wales. Countless huntsmen lie dead including members of Arthur’s court, his close companions and family, most notably a son.

One recalls Ysbaddaden’s caution: ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn ap Nudd is found’. The reference to Gwyn’s containment of the spirits of Annwn, a task he cannot be spared from in case the world is destroyed, highlights the danger inherit in Arthur’s decision to usurp his role as leader of the hunt and contain it with the help of God. This raises the question of whether the consequences would have been so dire if they worked together.

I don’t believe this is possible. Gwyn’s paradoxical mythos which transgresses the bounds of civilised Christian society is not compatible with Arthur’s worldview. There is not room for two leaders of the hunt. Arthur’s usurpation of Gwyn’s role as a protector of Britain could be the key to his marginalisation.

The central fact about Gwyn’s hunt is it belongs to him and the spirits of Annwn: the not-world, the deep, the realm of impossibility where all boundaries between civilisation and wildness, human and animal, life and death break down.

Attempting to make the impossible possible Arthur contains Gwyn’s hunt in a form palatable to Christian civilisation for a limited amount of time before, like Twrch Trwyth, it slips back into the watery realm of impossibility.

It is my further intuition Gwyn’s hunt is not only bound up with the literal destruction of the world but the end of the worlds we create as people. It is associated with the dissolution of what is possible and the manifestation of the impossible and thereby with radical change at the deepest level.

Nicolas R. Mann writes: ‘Gwyn is not only a guide into Annwn but also mysteriously connected with the end of a world… Gwyn may be seen as a guide into the next human world.’

EPILOGUE

As centuries of disbelief dissolve
they can be seen again
on the misted edges of Celyddon.

Drudwyn’s fierce white face pushing forward.
Graid son of Eri with a tentative hand on his collar.

Bright radiant Mabon holding Drudwyn’s leash,
leading Gwyn Myngddwn arching
his white neck and tossing his dark mane.

Deep in the forest Rhymi shakes
velvety flaps of red ears
as she suckles a litter of soft white pups
who will one day run with young hunters.

Cynedyr and Cyledyr fly
on the wings of birds
traverse mountains
goat-footed.

Standing apart in ruffled white furs
with a steadying hand on Du’s neck
Gwyn listens with Dormach
to the song of the forest
for a sign it is time.

They call to us to take their hands
ride swift mounts steer bellowing hounds
through the gap in the skies
where nothing is impossible.

Should we choose to join them
it is wise to heed
Culhwch and Olwen:
know for better or worse
the fate of the world is at stake.

Fairy Lights and The Strangeness, Fishergate

Last night I dreamt I was watching a television programme in my living room. Somehow I entered it and became an active participant. With a group of friends I was preparing to stage a protest. For it to succeed, a special light on a tree needed to be changed. I ran with a blonde, sporty woman (who I did not know) across a car park to the tree, which stood on the end of a busy city street I identified as Fishergate in Preston.

The lights were off. The one we had to change looked more like a silver Christmas decoration and stood out as markedly special and ‘other.’ As the woman started taking it down, chatting easily, she paused. Her expression froze into uncanny wistfulness and her gaze grew distant. Speaking in a voice from far away, she told me “it belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd.”

I knew at this point (somehow being outside the programme and within it) the words and memory that possessed her were not her own. Like in a film there was powerful, beautiful music. A strange wind blew, stripping away the façade of the city streets. I had a profound sense of another landscape stirring and awaking at the sound of Gwyn’s name. Once the strangeness had blown over, the woman began chatting normally as if nothing had happened and traffic started driving past again.

Throughout the preparations there were rumours about the massing of an army of otherworldly beings. As someone in the programme with an audience member’s knowledge I knew they were the fay / Gwyn’s hunt and could sense them gathering in clouds and forests somewhere behind. I had the feeling they might disrupt the clash between the two sides in the protest. As audience, I was aware this was the part I was looking forward to.

This awareness brought me back to my living room to see the credits rolling down the screen…

***

The dream inspired me to walk into Preston at dusk tonight. Several months ago, Fishergate (the high street) was pedestrianised. The road was narrowed to make way for wider pavements and as a final touch, trees. Delighted when I saw first saw them, I walked the street, greeting them in turn and welcoming them to the city.

Since the Christmas lights went off, the trees have been lit by fairy lights. Following rain and hail, the pavements gleamed. Reflected in windscreens the lights shone like cold stars, miniscule glances leaping from fragments of hail.

Fishergate, PrestonIdentifying the tree from my dream, I noticed all the lights were working.

Tree, FishergateI stood with the tree for a short while. Crossing the road and looking back, I saw huge dark ominous clouds gathering over the County Hall, which is where the anti-fracking protests will take place on the 28th and 29th of January.

Fishergate, County HallThe music of hail came down. An immense strangeness like none I had known before came over the city. I felt as if I stood in another Preston where the landscape was more than it was by the strange life of those lights against winter’s silver-grey sky. Everything seemed more profound and enthused with meaning, although I couldn’t divine what the exact meaning was.

Fairy LightWhat happened to the silvery light, which belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd and led me to the strangeness remains uncertain.