The Burnt Mosslands

It’s Nos Calan Mai. In our old British myths, this is the night on which, centuries ago, a red dragon’s fiery scream blighted the land of Britain. On the next day, Calan Mai, the eternal rivals, Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ and Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White Son of Mist’ battle for their beloved, the flower maiden Creiddylad. (If either the Summer King or the Winter King take her forever the world will end.)

Five days ago, on Monday, I started my traineeship on the Greater Manchester Wetlands. I was not, thankfully, thrown into either of the fires that had happened on the mosslands in the area that week, but I attended their aftermath.

On Little Woolden Moss I visited the area of wet heath where the characteristic heathers had been burnt along with purple moor grass and brash. This was essential habitat for common lizards, field voles, and field mice, and a crossing place for bog bush crickets.

Gas pipes run beneath and, if the fire had penetrated the peat, it could have resulted in a blaze like a dragon’s breath, like Gwythyr’s flaming sword, which could have taken out the gas supply to much of the surrounding area.

Luckily, the pipes had been protected by scrapes, which had filled with water and been cultivated by sphagnum mosses, providing resistance to the flames.

The fire on Little Woolden Moss was 500 metres square whereas the fire on Red Moss had devastated over a dozen hectares – as far as the eye could see. Whilst the damage to the bog itself, burning off only purple moor grass and leaving the sphagnum mosses intact, was superficial, it was damaging for wildlife.

Small mammals, such as bank vole, water vole, and shrews; amphibians such as toads, frogs, and smooth newts; ground nesting birds such as lapwings and skylark would have lost their lives and, if not, their homes. On my visit I saw a broken nest and lapwings still display flighting over the burnt moss.

The plastic piling dams and drainage pipes were also damaged by the heat. 

This, I am sorry to tell you, was not the work of gods or dragons, but humans who had purposefully lit the fires because it was their sick idea of fun.

Still, the symbology stands, the connections between Nodens/Nudd/Lludd, who put a stop to the dragon’s scream, and his son, Gwyn ap Nudd, the lord of the once misty peat bogs whose sphagnum mosses dull his rival’s fiery feet.

On Monday my line manager suggested I take the restoration of the fire damaged wet heath on Little Woolden Moss as one my personal projects. I had never suspected my work on the mosslands would be so directly connected with Gwyn’s battle against Gwythyr.

This is not a warrior’s, or a poet’s, but a healer’s role – something I never imagined I would step into. Once I believed everything I touched died, but sowing seeds and planting flowers with Creiddylad has already proved that is not the case.

She keeps telling me everything comes back to plants – no sphagnum, no mossland; no heather, no heathland; no food for the bees or the butterflies. She is life and, because of our greed, every day, every night is a battle for her. The plants will be my allies against the anthropogenic forces creating an eternal summer.

Gwythyr ap Greidol: An Ancient British God of Fire, Sun, Summer, and Seed

Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ appears in the medieval Welsh story Culhwch and Olwen as the rival of Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ for the love of Creiddylad ‘Heart’s Desire’. That he is a fitting opponent for Gwyn and consort for Creiddylad, who are the son and daughter of the ancient British god Lludd/Nudd/Nodens, suggests he is also an important British deity.

Strip away the Christian veneer from Culhwch and Olwen and we have a story in which Gwyn (Winter’s King) and Gwythyr (Summer’s King) battle for Creiddylad (a fertility goddess). On Nos Galan Gaeaf, Winter’s Eve, Gwyn abducts Creiddylad to Annwn* and Gwythyr rides to Annwn and attempts to rescue her and is imprisoned. The abduction of Creiddylad and imprisonment of Gwythyr explain the coming of winter. On Calan Mai, the First Day of Summer, Gwythyr battles Gwyn for Creiddylad, wins, and she returns with him to Thisworld and together they bring fertility to the land. This explains the coming of summer. Gwyn and Gwythyr may earlier have been seen to slay one another on Nos Galan Gaeaf and Calan Mai and take it in turns to enter a sacred marriage with Creiddylad, who acted as a powerful sovereignty figure rather than just a maiden to be fought over.

It is clear from this tale that Gwythyr is our ancient British god of summer. In another episode in Culhwch and Olwen we catch a glimpse of Gwythyr’s associations with fire and sunshine. As he is walking over a mountain he hears ‘weeping and wailing’ and sees its source is a burning anthill. He cuts the anthill off at ground level and rescues the ants from the blaze. We do not know what caused the fire. Did their nest, which ants orientate toward the sun, a little like solar panels, in a summer day, absorb too much heat? Or was the fire caused by Gwythyr’s scorching feet? We have seen that one translation of his father’s name, Greidol, is Scorcher, and we know wildfires break out in the summer. Here we see the dangers of fire and the sun and Gwythyr’s attempt at remediation.

The ants go on to help Gwythyr to gather nine hestors of flax seed which was sown in ‘tilled red soil’, in a field that has remained barren, so it can be ploughed into a new field, to provide the linen for Olwen’s veil in preparation for her marriage to Culhwch. It is possible to read Gwythyr’s association with seed being linked to the ‘male’ side of fertility and with doing the groundwork for the arrival of summer for his bride, Creiddylad, might also require a linen veil for her wedding dress.

The ancient Britons used fire to clear the forest to plant hazel trees and wildfires bring about new growth – in Gwythyr’s associations with fire and seed we find these processes.

These stories show that Gwythyr is a god of summer, fire, and generation in Thisworld who is opposed to Gwyn, a god of winter, ice, and the destructive forces of Annwn, the Otherworld. On the surface one is a bringer of life and the other a bringer of death yet their relationship is one of interdependence. It is necessary they take it in turns to enter a sacred marriage with Creiddylad as an eternal summer or an endless winter would have equally deadly consequences for both worlds.

As Gwythyr’s story was passed on through the oral tradition he and his father were depicted as allying with Arthur against Gwyn and the ‘demons’ of Annwn and playing a role in their demise. Thus Gwythyr is associated with other culture gods like Amaethon, the Divine Ploughman, and Gofannon, the Divine Smith, who help the Christian king to civilise the wild and shut out the Annuvian.

This process may be traced back to the Neolithic revolution when farming began to replace the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the cultivation of seed hunting and foraging, the grain god (Gwythyr) the hunter (Gwyn). Christians did their best to eliminate the veneration of Gwyn by depicting him and his spirits as demons yet they continued to be loved in folk culture as the fairies and their king.

The stories of Gwythyr, by name, did not survive in the folk tradition, but it possible to find a likeness between him and other grain gods** who die a ritual death at the end of the harvest – when Gwyn, the harvester of souls, reaps down his rival and Gwythyr and the seed return to Annwn.

From the Neolithic period our society as a whole has favoured Gwythyr over Gwyn. We have created an eternal summer with the fire of Gwythyr in the engines of industry creating a society in which the cold and darkness of winter has been eliminated by electric lighting and central heating. Crops grow all year round under artificial lights. This has unsurprisingly led to global heating, to the climate crisis, to the scorching fires on Winter Hill where I perceive Gwythyr battling his rival. Ironically, and tellingly, these two great gods and the great goddess they battle for have been forgotten.

Yet, slowly, the worship of Gwyn and Creiddylad is reviving amongst modern polytheists. I know few who venerate Gwythyr and believe this is because his stories have been subsumed by those of other grain gods. This is a shame, for Gwythyr’s stories contain deep wisdom relating how fire, sun, summer and seed have played a role in the climate crisis from a polytheist perspective.

As a devotee of Gwyn, committed to the otherside, to the Annuvian, to redressing the balance, Gwythyr is a god whose powers I acknowledge through the summer and during the harvest period although I do not worship him. I would be interested to hear how and whether other polytheists relate to Gwythyr at this time.

*Annwn has been translated as ‘the Deep’ and the ‘Not-World’ and is the medieval Welsh Otherworld or Underworld.
**Such as Lleu Llaw Gyffes/Lugus and John Barleycorn.

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.

Creiddylad’s Garden

Creiddylad
most majestic maiden
in the Islands of Britain,
let me know your
majesty

in this garden

on my knees
two hands clasped
together on this trowel
making offerings
of water

amongst flowers
where you walk unveiled,
stunning, bees dancing
around you.

Let me be your bee!

Feed me
when I’m hungry.
When I fall exhausted
pick me up gently

and I will make
the sweetest honey.

“Stay here in this garden,” my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, advised me a week before the lockdown. A couple of days before my conservation internship was cancelled and, like many, I was rendered jobless.

We’ve been on lockdown in the UK for over a fortnight now and how I’ve to-and-froed, some days accepting this advice and, on others, after reading the news, wishing I was doing something more important, more heroic, than shopping and cleaning for my parents, tending the garden, doing my best to find the focus to pray, meditate, spend time in devotion to my gods, and to write for my supporters.

My main battle has been against feelings of guilt and uselessness caused by my awareness of the utter contrast between my easy life, touched by the bliss of the spring sun, and the hell that the nurses and doctors are going through on the front line, risking their lives fighting for the lives of others. The risks taken by the funeral services. The chaos and stress faced by supermarket staff. Our dependence on the long hours and monotonous work of fruit and veg pickers usually imported from abroad.

I’ve thought of applying for, have actually applied for, some of these jobs (which may have necessitated moving out of my parent’s house so I do not put them at risk), but nothing has come of it.

“Stay here in this garden.” I accept the gods have their reasons when the Blasted Oak, spelling disaster, appears in a tarot reading on what will happen if I take a veg picking job.

And deep within I know if I took any of the above jobs I’d likely get physically or mentally ill. That there is something fundamentally wrong with this industrialised and militarised system that keeps comparing the ‘fight’ against this virus with the Second World War and tries to inspire a wartime ethos.

And so I tend my parents’ garden, cutting back years of overgrowth, clearing the paths, weeding amongst the many beautiful flowers that already grow here – hyacinths, daffodils, bluebells, honesty. And the shrubs and trees – apple, pear, rose, quince, camelia. Watering the raspberry canes. Sowing herb and lettuce seeds in troughs and veg seeds – carrot, turnip, onion, cauliflower, broccoli – in the soil.

And somewhere along the way it enters my mind this is ‘Creiddylad’s Garden’. And once the thought has entered it will not leave. I come to see the face of Creiddylad, ‘the most majestic maiden in the islands of Britain’, one of our Brythonic goddesses of flowers and spring, in each flower.

Creiddylad is a sovereignty deity who walks between worlds and lovers. This ‘majestic maiden’ is truly a majesty, a Queen, the lifeforce of nature who inspires great awe in her worshippers and the male deities, Gwyn and Gwythyr, Kings of Winter and Summer, who fight for her every Calan Mai.

Through the Winter she dwells with Gwyn, in the Otherworld, as Annwn’s Queen. In the Summer, with Gwythyr, she is May Queen, a great sovereign in Thisworld, revealing herself slowly flower by flower.

In Creiddylad’s contrary nature I find a better understanding of my own pulls between darkness and light, Thisworld and Otherworld. There is a part of me that wants to walk with Gwyn, a warrior and psychopomp, facing death, disease and sorrow. And at the same time an awareness he and other humans do this so the rest of us can appreciate the flowers and the sunlight and the lives that are our gifts.

It sometimes seems easier, more worthy, to embrace pain than pleasure. Why? I do not know. Only that in Annwn the sadness of the dead is transformed into great beauty and joy, and it this is that Creiddylad brings with her when walks from the Otherworld, into the light, and embraces Gwythyr.

Many of the flowers in my garden speak of similar myths through the correlates of other cultures. The narcissus, or the daffodil, was the plant Persephone was picking before Hades took her to… Hades. The hyacinth was born from the blood of Hyacinth, the lover of Apollo, killed by his rival Zephyrus, and its beautiful petals are inscribed with ‘AI AI’ ‘Alas’. Lungwort’s petals turn from pink to blue as the flowers are pollinated, edging toward death, like flesh, or deoxygenated blood.

Nature and myth, death and life, Thisworld and Otherworld, are deeply intertwined in Creiddylad’s garden. A place where I work slowly, contemplating the mysteries, where I meet flowers, goddess, gods. It seems they don’t want me to be a hero but instead a small suburban bee offering a taste of Creiddylad’s honey.

Caledfwlch

He got up with Arthur’s sword in his hand and the image of two golden serpents on the sword. When the sword was drawn from the sheath, it was like seeing two flames of fire from the serpents’ jaws. And it was not easy for anyone to look at that, because it was so terrifying.’
Rhonabwy’s Dream

On the edge of Celyddon two serpents
danced, ziz-zag bodies tumbling, twining, jaws
bared, jets of fire
hissing from their sword-
like tongues as they rose and fell in terrifying
splendour beneath the golden

sun competing for the favour of a golden-
eyed female. Arthur followed the serpents’
tracks to behold the terrifying
sight. His jaw
dropped as their sword-
like bodies intertwined in deadly combat; fiery

and tempestuous as the fires
of Hell. From the burning undergrowth a golden
lizard scurried to avoid their sword-
play – a flash in a serpents’
eye before jaws
closed over him and a terrifying

darkness. Remembering the terrifying
battle between gods of ice and fire;
Flame-Lipped and Wolf-Jaws,
white and golden-
haired interlocking like serpents
wielding flaming and ice-rimmed swords,

Arthur decided he wanted a sword:
sharp-edged, cloud-lit, to tame those terrifying
rivals. He grasped the serpents,
hissing and spitting fire
in his golden
gauntleted hands beneath their jaws,

took them to the forge of anvil-jawed
Gofannon. “I want a sword
of purest gold,
beaten into the most terrifying
form; living, breathing two flames of fire,
harnessing the strength of these struggling serpents.”

Gofannon plunged the serpents, flickering-eyed, wide-jawed,
into his fire, skins sloughing, blackening, goldening,
intertwining as one terrifying sword.

Caledfwlch

*This is one of the poems that didn’t make it into Gatherer of Souls, but relates to the theme of Gwyn’s opposition to Arthur. The form I have used is the sestina.

 

Gwythyr and the Lame Ant

In Culhwch and Olwen there is an episode which opens with a curious scene. Gwythyr ap Greidol, ‘Victor son of Scorcher’, ‘was travelling over a mountain’ and heard ‘weeping and woeful wailing… terrible to hear.’ The source was a burning anthill. ‘He rushed forward, and as he came there he unsheathed his sword and cut off the anthill at ground level and so saved them from the fire.’

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What to make of this strange opening? Why, on earth, was the anthill on fire? Was Gwythyr having a burning bush moment akin to that of Moses on Mount Sinai? The fire shared a similar revelatory and numinous quality. However, the anthill, unlike the bush, definitely appeared to be burning up.

Did Gwythyr’s scorching feet cause the fire? His patronym suggests that, like his father, he is a god of fire and war. If so, his rescue of the ants shows a softer and more compassionate side to his nature. Or did the anthill catch fire on its own? It’s well known that wood ants orientate their complex homes (which have tunnels, storerooms, bedrooms, nurseries and even a graveyard) south toward the sun as if using solar panels in order to harness the energy for heat. Did it just get too hot?

Wood Ant Nest Coed y Brenin

Whatever the case, Gwythyr, rescued the ants. The symbolism of this act reveals Gwythyr’s connections with fire, the sun, the South, summer, and the building, heating, and saving of civilisation. These underlie the rest of the episode and his role in the narrative of Culhwch and Olwen.

Following their rescue the ants said to Gwythyr, ‘Take with you God’s blessing and ours, and that which no man can recover, we will come and recover it for you.’ ‘After that’ they ‘brought the nine hestors of flax seed that Ysbaddaden Bencawr had demanded of Culhwch, in full measure, with none missing except for a single flax seed, but the lame ant brought that before nightfall.’

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The retrieval of the flax seed was one of the forty amoethau, ‘impossible tasks’, that the giant, Ysbaddaden Bencawr, set Culhwch to win his daughter, Olwen. The flax seed was sown in ‘tilled red soil’ the day Ysbaddaden first met Olwen’s mother yet had never flowered. Culhwch was told he must resow it in a newly ploughed field to make a veil for Olwen in preparation for their wedding day.

Culhwch and Olwen is rooted in the folk motifs of ‘The Giant’s Daughter’ and ‘Six Go Through the World’. However, in this retelling, Culhwch did not fulfil the tasks with six helpers. Instead, his uncle, Arthur, completed them with aid from six warriors and a retinue of outlandish figures with strange abilities (such as Sgilti Sgafndroed who ‘would travel along the tops of trees’, Osla Gyllellfawr whose dagger could bridge a torrent, and Clust son of Clustfieniad ‘if he were buried seven fathoms in the earth he could hear an ant fifty miles away stirring from its bed in the morning’) and pre-Christian gods including Gwythyr, Amaethon the plough-god, and Gofannon the smith-god.

On the surface this narrative is about the overthrow of the primitive and oppressive reign of Ysbaddaden to bring fertility to the land as symbolised by Culhwch and Olwen’s marriage. The story of Gwythyr and the Lame Ant shows how, through an act of kindness, Gwythyr enlisted the aid of helping insects to perform a task no human could accomplish – crawling into the airy interstices of the soil to retrieve the flax seed. It’s possible to imagine that in longer versions there was far more suspense surrounding whether the flax seed was gained by the giant’s deadline and veritable relief when the lame ant finally appeared, limping valiantly, to add the final flax seed to the measure. The sowing and flowering of the seed demonstrates the fertilisation of a barren landscape.

800px-Flax_field

This gentle and benign episode is at odds with the violence pervading the rest of Culhwch and Olwen. Giants were mutilated and beheaded. Orddu the witch was cut in half and her blood drained and bottled. Ysgithrwyn was slaughtered for his tusk, Twrch Trwyth’s seven piglets were killed, and the Twrch only just escaped. Culhwch’s quest to win Olwen was twisted by the narrator to demonstrate Arthur’s civilising of the wild and banishment and all-out slaughter and destruction of the Other.

This conflict is embodied in Arthur’s allegiance with Gwythyr against his rival, Gwyn ap Nudd. In other texts we find out that Greidol was one of Arthur’s forty-two counsellors and that Gwythyr was the father of one of Arthur’s three wives (who are all named Gwenhwyfar!). Gwyn is a ruler of Annwn contrastingly associated with wildness, winter, the North, destructive Annuvian spirits, and death.

In Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur went North to intercede in the battle between Gwyn and Gwythyr for Creiddylad, a fertility goddess. He rescued Gwythyr and his men from Gwyn’s imprisonment, then bound the rivals in combat every May Day and said neither could take the maiden until Judgement Day. This seems to be a Christianised reworking of a seasonal myth in which Gwythyr, Summer, won Creiddylad on Calan Mai and this was surrounded by fertility rites, then she returned to Annwn with Gwyn, Winter, on Nos Galan Gaeaf, and Gwythyr and the powers of summer were imprisoned.

Once Arthur had defeated Gwyn – the Head of Annwn – and the body of Annwn had fallen, he usurped Gwyn’s leadership of the hunt for Twrch Trwyth and slaughtered Ysbaddaden. When his nephew, Culhwch, married Olwen, his civilising hegemony over the wild and the Otherworld was complete.

Yet it will not last forever. Otherworld gods don’t stay dead for long and dead giants, witches, and monstrous boars, having joined the furious and vengeful spirits of Annwn, will not remain shut out. Arthur is still dependent on the aid of the gods. And the gods of civilisation are dependent on the Other. Gwythyr depends on the help of the ants to traverse the chthonic regions beneath the red soil to rescue the seeds from the underworld, from the clutches of the spirits of Annwn. And one of those ants is lame. This mission is dangerous and touch-and-go. As more and more of our soil blows away, becomes barren and red, it seems less and less likely the Lame Ant will make the deadline.

soil_free_stock_photo_med

Uffern ar y Ddaear

Uffern ar y Ddaear – Hell on Earth

I’m surrounded by the smell of dead grass
dreaming of a machine that creates water from nothing.
Someone’s got the radio on too loud and always a baby is wailing.

I lift my nose and smell the smoke on the wind and my throat
is already whining for my master dead on the moors
like cottongrass, heather, butterfly, grasshopper,

where the battle that began on the first of May is still going on
between a fire ignited by one who belongs to the inferno
and the fire fighters with hoses, beaters, leaf blowers.

If only they could bring the rains and autumn winds,
summon them into a summer already too hot and too long,
where reservoirs empty and carbon reservoirs bake, burn, reignite.

I hear they’re trying to save the mast, 1000 feet high, which I saw
lit red like a warning sign beneath the full moon transmitting not only
radio, television for the BBC, ITV, C4, signals for mobile phones,

but some kind of howl we’ve somehow got used to between silences.
What if it goes down like the plane that crashed on the 27th of February
in 1958 when the snow was so cold no-one could rescue the 35 dead

who still roam the hill cursing the faulty radio signals and the drones
flying overhead in the way of the helicopter pouring its cauldron
of water from the reservoirs over the baking baking peat?

When the endless chatter ceases will everyone hear the howl
pouring the dead down Winter Hill like radio waves
from the spring where the Douglas starts

and the mourning song for Winter’s King
dead like a bog body amongst the burial mounds
beneath the burning feet of his rival who is ever victorious?

When we try to shut Hell’s gate with torches on each side
and inside red as a death hound’s oesophagus will we realise
the throat will never close and the howl wrenched from it is us?

800px-Campfire_flames

*This poem is based on the Winter Hill fire and the mythic battle between Gwyn ap Nudd (Winter) and Gwythyr ap Greidol (Summer).

Scorched

The UK is in the throes of a heat wave. Here in Lancashire temperatures have reached a scorching 30 degrees for four consecutive days. It’s been uncharacteristically warm and dry for two months. Preston, dubbed the ‘wettest city in England’, has barely seen an inch of rain since the beginning of May. Our lawn is scorched, our raspberries are shrivelled, the rivers and streams are running low.

In northern British mythology the first of May is the day that Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor son of Scorcher’ beats Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ in a ritual battle to win the hand of Creiddylad, a fertility goddess whose name may stem from creir/crair ‘treasure… object of admiration or love.’

Scorched Fire Sign

Gwythyr ap Greidol’s name suggests he is a god of victory in combat, the scorching fire of war and the heat of passion. His is the spark that gives life to the land but also initiates the wildfire. Over the last week wildfires have raged across Saddleworth Moor, Rivington Moor, and Winter Hill. The latter seems symbolic of Gwythyr, Summer’s King, beating Gwyn, Winter’s King, on his home ground. Of course I haven’t been up to Winter Hill whilst it is ablaze (last night it reignited in multiple locations), but I noticed the portent of the full moon over the mast, lit up red like a warning sign.

Scorched Winter Hill Warning

People have been evacuated from their houses and schools closed. Less has been said about the numerous birds, small mammals and insects who have lost their lives or been driven from their homes.

Just as concerning is the Ribble running the lowest I have ever seen, banks of silt and sandstone bedrock exposed, tributaries becoming drier and drier, pond water getting lower and lower. Water shortages have already hit in the South East and Staffordshire. In the North West United Utilities are recommending that we cut down on water use. On next week’s forecast there is not a drop of rain in sight.

Scorched Ribble

May 2018 was the hottest on record in the UK and June looks set to be a record breaker too. What is causing this uncharacteristic heat, empowering Gwythyr, the Victor, to increasingly destructive victories?

***

Research suggests this long period of hot weather results from the effects of man-driven global warming on the North Atlantic Polar Front Jet Stream. The Jet Stream is a ‘ribbon’ of winds blowing east to west at up to 200 miles an hour 9 to 16 kilometres above the earth’s surface over the mid-latitudes. It arises due to the contrast between warm tropical air and cold polar air. The differences in the pressure of warm and cold air produce a ‘pressure gradient force’. These winds would blow from high to low pressure, from south to north, if it wasn’t for the Coriolis effect.

jet_streams_wpclipart

The higher the contrast in temperature the stronger the Jet Stream. It is strongest in winter due to the cooling of the poles and weakest in summer due to their warming. Low pressure systems causing wet windy weather occur to the north of the Jet Stream and high pressure systems causing warm settled weather to the south. During the winter, when it’s strong, the Jet Stream lies south of the UK and gives us rain and wind. If it remains to the south we tend to have wet summers too. If the Jet Stream weakens in the summer and shifts north of the UK we are more likely to have hot still weather.

According to Dr. Jennifer Francis and Stephen Vavrus the warming of the Arctic is lessening the temperature gradient between the equator and the North Pole and causing the jet to slow and become ‘wavier’. James Mason explains that when ‘the eastwards progression of these upper waves becomes sluggish or stalls’ this ‘leads to prolonged weather-conditions of one type or another’ like this heat wave, which is dangerous not so much due to its temperature but the length of time without rain leading to wildfires and water shortages and potentially to drought and crop failure.

***

The root of global warming is humanity’s reckless drive for economic growth at the cost of the environment. Our government are aware of the increasing dangers of drought in the summer and flooding in the winter and are taking steps to deal with the effects but not the cause. Instead they are pushing ahead with plans to create more houses, more roads, more jobs; pumping out more greenhouses gases, removing more green space, causing more warming. Here in South Ribble alone 9000 houses are being built along with new and expanded roads and business parks. Preston, South Ribble, and Chorley are being merged into one urban conglomerate with parks as our only green spots.

Lostock Hall Gasworks Development

Dissenting voices are not listened to by the victors. From their positions of wealth and comfort they refuse to see, acknowledge, care about the effects their victory is having on the land and its creatures.

In British mythology Gwythyr and his father sided with Arthur against Gwyn and his spirits, the ancient animals, the monsters, the giants, the witches, and were victorious. In modern Britain the Arthurian court of war-mongering treasure-hoarding politicians and business leaders reign supreme.

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What to do in a world where history is determined and written by the victors, when, as Gwyn knows before going into battle every May Day, as Walter Benjamin says, ‘this enemy has not ceased to be victorious’?

Perhaps we must look beyond battle, beyond victory, which can only makes us the next victors, for other ways to our bit for the scorched land, the drying rivers, the dying creatures, the cast-out gods.

SOURCES

Ed Walker, ‘Winter Hill fire reignites and is in multiple locations’, Blog Preston,
John Mason, ‘A Rough Guide to the Jet Stream’, Skeptical Science,
Francis Perraudin, Helen Pidd and Kevin Rawlinson, ‘A hundred soldiers sent in to tackle fire on Saddleworth Moor’, The Guardian
Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’, Marxists.Org
BBC Weather, Penwortham, BBC website
Climate change the jet stream’, Climate Central
Preston’s named wettest place in England’, Lancashire Evening Post,
UK weather: Water shortage warnings and hosepipe bans as heatwave intensifies’, The Indepedent
What is the jet stream?’, Met Office

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

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