The Reaping Month and Gwyn’s Return

Today is the first day of September. This name originates from the Latin septum ‘seven’ which derives from a time when it was the seventh month because the Roman calendar began with March.

In Wales this month is known as mis Medi. According to Andrew Breeze this name is related to medaf ‘I reap’ and to met ‘cut, harvest’. This seems to be a fitting etymology for the month when the last of the crops are cut down and harvested and the last of the meadows are mown or reaped.

Breeze claims that the name of my local Iron Age tribe, the Setantii, who inhabited the plains of present-day Cheshire and Lancashire between the Mersey and the Wyre may be corrupted from met.

Breeze suggests they were less reapers of crops than of men. To this our archaeology recording the burials of severed heads and the head-hunting depicted in poetry from the Old North bears testimony.

My patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, a Brythonic death-god is a reaper of souls. Some of his worshippers, such as Kristoffer Hughes, see him as death himself, as Britain’s original grim reaper.

He is depicted as a reaper of ‘armies’ and ‘cut reeds’ in ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’:

Gwyn ap Nudd, helper of hosts,
Armies fall before the hooves of your horse
As swiftly as cut reeds to the ground.

Interestingly, as the Setantii inhabited my local landscape when it was mainly marshland and mossland and there is scarce evidence for agriculture, it seems likely they would have cut and used reeds (although reed cutting usually takes place from December to April rather than in September).

I first met Gwyn on August the 31st 2012 close to sunset. As, for the Celts, days begin at sundown not sunrise, this would be very close to the beginning of September. Since he came into my life I have been involved with the reaping of local wildflower meadows and how this shares a kinship with Gwyn harvesting souls and cutting down his rival, Gwythyr ap Graidol, a god of summer and seed.

In Cornwall September is known as Gwyngala ‘White Fields’ suggesting associations with Gwyn.

Return of the Reaper

I hear you
galloping back
your horse’s hooves
are like scythes
glinting in

the September breeze.

I will pick up
the blade again
the long-handled rake
bend my back
with you

reap these armies.

Heads of grass
and meadow flowers
fall limbs folding.
Scattered shields.
Bright helms.

A woman weeps.

Your beloved
mourns your rival.
His headless corpse
on the stubble
dead again.

Spirits are freed

to join your host
mingling in night air
in fields of white mist
as we stop and drink
toast the harvests

until Doomsday.

Spirits of Annwn fly over reaped fields

Spurned birds circle
fields weeping
for all that is good
in the world
gone

dry harvest
all the legions of the dead
strewn fallen scattered
let them seed
this world in the arms of their loved ones

the circles begin again
hearts cut in twain

by the reapers’ blades
hear them come
softly sweeping bare-footed
with the silence of a love song

pile straw onto carts

the hallowed dead
ascending in a cloud of wings

spirits of Annwn fly over reaped fields

then down and under
circling circling