from Ceunant Coch. I feel like Blaenau Ffestiniog.
No, the mountains above slate hearts torn out.
Where have we hidden it this time in this never ending
shadowplay of shifting guises not knowing whose hand
reaches through the hole in the slate into another world
and drags something back to make us whole?
This poem is based on the battle between Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Gronw Pebyr in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogi. In it I believe the King of Annwn takes the guise of Gronw to defeat Lleu. In an additional identity exchange, in this poem, I found myself in the role of Annwn’s king becoming Gronw.
The battle took place on the bank of Afon Cynfal near Bryn Cygergyr ‘the Hill of the Blow’. Llech Ronw ‘the Slate of Gronw’ is a stone found in 1934 on the bank of the Cynfal. It was washed down from Ceunant Coch and now stands on Afon Bryn Saeth. I haven’t visited Llech Ronw. The pictured stone is the replica at Llyn Trawsfynydd and the accompanying photograph is of the mountains above Blaenau Ffestiniog.
‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a ‘sacred and festive season’ marked by Christians between Christmas Day (25th December) and the Epiphany (6th January). It was instituted by the Council of Tours in 567 to mark the period between the birth of Jesus and the revelation he is God incarnate on the visit of the magi.
For me, as a Brythonic polytheist who venerates Gwyn ap Nudd as Winter’s King, the mid-winter holy days have always felt particularly special and sacred. They begin with Eponalia, on 18th December, the feast of the horse-goddess and midwife of the sun. This is followed by the Winter Solstice, 21st / 22nd December, the height of Gwyn’s reign and presence within the land. 24th December is Mother’s Night and, although this is traditionally an Anglo-Saxon festival, one I associate with the Mother Goddesses such as Matrona/Modron and Anrhuna. 25th December is the day of the rebirth of the sun-child Maponos/Mabon. Then the next twelve days are a time of rest and celebration based around casting out the old year and welcoming in and preparing for the new.
Over the past few years I have noticed an increasing number of other pagans and polytheists exploring ways of marking these holy days. There are existing traditions of using them for divination. From my mum I learnt of the tradition of recording one’s dreams and linking them numerically to the calendar months. Cailtin Matthews has suggested using the Twelve Days for reading nature omens in a similar way.
In his essay ‘On the First Day of Christmas, the Dead brought back to me…’ Lee Davies connects the Twelve Days with Gwyn, the Wild Hunt, and the dead, who ride out to clear the ground for the New Year and also bring blessings of prosperity. He speaks of the koryos tradition in which people not only embody but ‘become the dead’ – a possible root of the misrule associated with the Twelfth Night.
With this in mind I decided to use the Twelve Days as a period of more intensive prayer and prayer writing for Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn and the dead with whom he rides out on his hunt through the winter months. This resulted in a series of visions and visionary dialogues. Here I share a selection from the twelve prayers.
Twelve Days of Prayer
I. Prayer is to open the little box of the heart to let in the god who cannot fit within
two sides of a membrane flap, dissolve like the so-called ‘veil’
between the worlds when you ride from the mist on a creature somewhat like a horse two hounds with teeth within teeth all the countless uncontainable monsters of Annwn
filling this little box I sometimes call a heart. When it bursts and otherworlds spill forth I know it is so much more.
III. You are ghost. You and your legions.
You clothe yourselves in cloud, in mist, you move through our world like the wind. Sometimes we hear you passing through. Sometimes we sense only your silence as you fill our vales with neither your presence or absence.
Sometimes I feel ashamed of my flesh and my fear to follow you into battle in the wars that rage on between the worlds.
Could it be that I’m afraid of death?
Of seeing my ghost looking back at me as I write this poem from amongst your kind?
“You wear your flesh and your fear well.”
You speak in the voice that turns gold to leaves and flesh to dust and skin to paper bearing an elegy on the heels of your host.
IV. “Fierce bull of battle, awesome leader of many,” I find myself whispering Gwyddno’s words as though they were the beginning of an ancient prayer.
“Who will protect me?”
“I will protect you.”
Your armour is a night of stars and each of them wields a spear against
my deep demonic fears.
I am awed by your strength as I am mystified by its origin for to whom does a god turn? To whom does a god pray?
I see a bull striding majestic down a passageway of light into the infinite brightness of a star, a heart, a fortress, the Otherworld within his chest.
VI. I come to pray when I want to scream.
If I could comprehend you could I contain the spirits within?
I fear to scream is the obliteration
of all prayer until you show me
how you tend to all the silent and the unsilent screams
for a scream is prayer as crescendo.
VIII. I pray to you as your awenydd as your inspired poet
speak of my restlessness the jangling of spirits within my intimation I could be
so much more and you say:
“Poetry is more than rhyming words. Awen is more than human speech.
The soul of the earth is living poetry and each soul itself a poem breathed –
part of the divine breath which keeps
the rivers afloat, the mountains high, the deer running through the woodlands, the birds in the skies, the flowers growing upwards turning their heads towards the sun. And has the power to transform it all – hurricanes, volcanic flames, tidal waves, the death-wind from a nuclear blast creating the wolves with glowing eyes and the monsters with limbs where there should not be limbs spoken of by awenyddion of long ago.
It can destroy (or fix) everything.
Why do you think I keep the awen in a cauldron in a fortress that disappears that spins that is shrouded by mystery and mist and is sometimes known as the towers of the winds and sometimes as the whale’s belly?
There is nothing more – I should know for I have sought, I have hunted, with every hound of Annwn beyond where the winds of Thisworld and Otherworld blow beyond the Universe and its moment of conception and come back with nothing on my bloodless spear, my hounds with nothing in their empty jaws, bearing nothing in my empty hands but knowing a little more about nothing.
One cannot be any more and about nothing there is nothing to be said so be happy as you are, awenydd, whilst still a bearer of the divine breath.”
XII. Your gift
is a shining bow washed in the light of the New Year’s sun.
I pray for the strength to draw it. I pray for the patience to carve the arrows each engraved with the words of a spell. I pray for the focus to shoot true,
mind, body, and bow as one, straight to the heart.
I carry my heart in my hands
and lay it upon your altar.
“It is so heavy, so sad, so lonely.”
Your spirits bear witness
in the blinking eyes of trees,
shivery breezes rustling leaves,
the distant bones of wind chimes.
Some amongst them are hungry.
They are held back only by
your invisible command.
A part of me wishes it would break.
“What do you want me to do with it?”
You speak wearily from your sleep.
“Bury it and someone will dig it up.
Take it to the end of the universe
and it will return in a space shuttle.
Give it away and it will still be yours.
If I feed it to my hounds or devour it
myself your pain will live on in us.”
It stares back at me – obdurate aorta,
perfect superior vena cava, pulmonary
arteries and veins, atria and ventricles
pumping out their irrepressible beat.
“Take it away,” you speak abruptly.
As I gather it up and depart tearfully,
“it is strong,” you say more kindly,
“see it as a gift and not as a burden.”
A dozen invisible hands press it back
into my chest and seal the vision shut.