Strong as an Aurochs, Patient as a Heron

A figure has been appearing in my journeys back to the time of the ancient Britons to the lake dwelling on the marshland close to the green hill that put the ‘pen’ in my home town of Penwortham.

I first saw her as I approached the dwelling on a wooden pole decorated with animals. Amongst them she sat seated cross-legged on a bull with a crane in flight emerging from her head above her.

The second time I encountered her within the dwelling itself, again in a meditative position, a cord of light down her spine shining upward through the smoke hole into the heavens and down into the earth. She was encircled by worlds, flickering in out of existence, like juggling balls or fairy orbs.

Read this and you will probably be put in mind of non-Western traditions. Yet there is evidence that, like the indigenous people of the North-West Pacific Coastal communities of what is now called  America and Canada, the ancient Britons carved and erected ‘totem poles’ displaying sacred animals. For example at Stonehenge there were four pits with post holes dated to between 8,500 and 7000 BC.

I like to think of the new wooden carvings on poles between the docks and the hill on the Ribble and upriver on Frenchwood Knoll as expressions of animistic relationships with local creatures and as a call from our ancient ancestors to return to their worldview in which the natural world is inspirited.

Again, the cross-legged figure will likely put you in mind of the lotus position of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Yet, the artwork on the Gundestrup Cauldron, dating to between 200 BC and 300 AD, features Gaulish artwork including an antlered figure sitting cross-legged surrounded by animals.

It seems likely this position was adopted for meditation by the Indo-European and Eastern cultures because it works. It was possibly used in Gaul and in Britain by spirit-workers when journeying into the spirit world to meet with animal spirits and to shift into animal forms and invoke their qualities.

The fluid relationships between human and animal, and shapeshifting, are fundamental to Celtic art. In relation to my vision Tarvos Trigaranus, ‘the Bull with Three Cranes’, appears with the divine woodsman, Esus, on the Pillar of the Boatman from Paris and on a pillar from Trier and may be related to statues of bulls with three horns found at Autun and at Maiden Castle in Dorset.

A bronze bucket mount found at Ribchester, fifteen miles up the river Ribble from Penwortham, features a bull with knobbed horns and a prey bird emerging from its head with a human head on the back.

It has been suggested that the image of the Bull with Three Cranes may have originated from the mutual relationship between cattle and cattle egrets who stand on their backs and eat their lice as well as eating the worms and insects from the soil that is overturned by their great hooves.

Maybe this is the case but I also feel such images are representative of the human impulse to participate in and become one with the wider ecosystem, to feel the strength of aurochs, the joy of crane. To be taken out of oneself, to get out of one’s head, to soar with the wetland and prey birds.

I’ve recently been having a difficult time not only because of the stress of COVID-19 as a threat to the lives of my parents and an obstacle to finding paid work in conservation, but because my mum had a fall and broke her hip and had to have a hip replacement on top of my dad’s ongoing health problems.

Through this time in my morning meditations I have been guided to take the position of this ancestral figure and to invoke the strength of the aurochs and, rather than the qualities of the crane, the patience of the heron. I believe this is because this is a time, not of joyful dancing, but of waiting.

Aurochs is an animal I have long felt a connection with due to early experiences in journeys leading me to the aurochs skulls in the Harris Museum which were found in the vicinity of the lake dwelling. I often wonder whether some were offerings to my patron, Vindos/Gwyn, a hunter god referred to as a ‘bull of battle’. Whatever the case they are primordial and powerful presences.

I have been seeing herons in increasing numbers along the Ribble and beside local lakes and ponds for many years. They are a bird I am much in awe of for their quiet waiting and sense of wisdom along with their quickness and determination. I have seen a heron tustling with a huge eel on the riverbank. Recently I came within a foot of a young heron absorbed in fishing beside the Lancaster canal.

‘Strong as an aurochs, patient as a heron,’ is my current chant and this and the image of the awenydd seated on an aurochs bulls with a heron emerging from her head help me get through the days.

I wonder whether the awenyddion of the past worked with and depicted the animal spirits in similar ways?

*With thanks to the Harris Museum for use of the photograph of the aurochs skulls.

The Lady of the Marsh

I. Heather Awen and the Lady of the Marsh

Over the past few weeks I have been in conversation with Heather Awen, an animist and devotional polytheist based in Vermont in America, about an unknown Welsh marsh goddess. Tracing her mother’s ancestral line to northern Wales enabled Heather to perform a ritual where she raised a toast of pure clean water to each of her ancestors she knew by name.

Heather told me that the next day during her devotions to the Germanic goddess, Freyja, ‘a woman emerged out of nowhere, dripping with water as if she had leapt out of a lake like a fish. ” She’s my child!” she screeched “leave her alone!” She was very connected to a marsh… small and compact but curvy, darker skin with long wavy almost curly dark hair. And the fact that she knew me as her child felt very right and the closest thing I’ve ever felt to having a mother.’

Lady of the Marsh - Copy

Lady of the Marsh by Heather Awen

Since then Heather has worked to gain an understanding of the Lady of the Marsh and her ancestors. She has witnessed torch-lit processions up a winding hill and offerings of weapons of fallen enemies thrown into the marsh with jewellery and gifts of butter. Sometimes these were made from a wooden platform.

On dark nights women went to pray for a ‘baby to fill their womb’ and the dark moon was a special time of communion between ‘a woman and her goddess’. She also saw a woman ‘wrapped in what looked like burlap tied with ropes’ thrown into the marsh whilst people looked on frightened. Heather remains unsure whether this was a ritual burial or sacrifice.

Heather said: ‘The main focus of all of the ceremonies was the understanding that every member of our family lived at the bottom of the marsh. Women would pray there to have one enter their own uterus while the dead, literally at least sometimes, were returned – and this had been happening for a very, very long time, even if language and culture changed.

As things decomposed and layers of soil and water shifted, the lines between those not yet born and those who had lived also decomposed and shifted, bringing a sense of at least partial reincarnation. Once you are a member of the tribe that came from this lady of the marsh, your descendants also would be born from her, no matter how far away in time or space. I was her child even though her worship was an indivisible combination of blood and bioregion.’

II. The Lady of Peneverdant

When I read Heather’s first e-mail introducing some of her visions, I shivered. Although I live in Lancashire what she had seen felt familiar. My hometown of Penwortham was known as Peneverdant ‘the Green Hill on the Water’ in the Domesday Book. Its Bronze Age inhabitants occupied a Lake Village on Penwortham Marsh. This is evidenced by the Riversway Dockfinds: two dug-out canoes, part of a timber platform, animal bones and 30 human skulls dating from 4000BC to 800AD.

It is indubitable these people used Castle Hill as a defensive position and sacred site. On the hill’s summit is a church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. St Mary’s Well, which was renowned for its healing qualities, lay at its foot. I believe veneration of Mary here is rooted in the worship of an older pre-Christian ‘mother’ goddess.

My relationship with this female deity of the hill and marsh, who I am beginning to know as the Lady of Peneverdant, has developed slowly and tentatively. I feel her presence most strongly in the wet mosses and ferns in Penwortham Wood (on the hill’s east bank and side) and sometimes see her face or outline in the dripping ivy.

Lady on the Mound - Copy

 

During a sequence of lunar meditations I saw members of the Setantii tribe ‘the Dwellers in the Water Country’ leaving the hill in oaken boats paddling down-river on the dark moon and returning on the full moon for a torch-lit procession. As they lit a beacon fire and toasted the moon above and reflected in the waters I felt the building potency of their rite but the rest was cut off.

I often wonder whether the human skulls found near the Lake Village were from marsh burials or even sacrifices. The perfectly preserved head of a woman with long auburn hair wearing a necklace of jet with an amber bead wrapped in coarse woollen cloth (found in Pilling) along with the more famous Lindow Man ‘Pete Marsh’ show ritual burials were not unknown in Lancashire. The current scholarly theory is people who died up-river were carried down and washed up in a tidal pool.

It’s my intuition the Lady of Peneverdant was venerated by local tribespeople as a mother of nurturing and healing waters closely associated with women, childbirth and death, potentially for 4000 years. This changed when the Romans arrived around 70AD and put an end to women playing an equal role in religion to men.

Whereas the Romans venerated The Mothers across Britain, scattered rumours of a Mithraeum near to Castle Hill or within the hill itself suggest a different transformation took place here. The focus shifted from the mother goddess to a divine son: Mithras, who was miraculously birthed from a rock on December the 25th.

This ‘virgin birth’ could go some way to explain the later dedications to St Mary the Virgin. References to an Anglo-Saxon stone cross and inscription of the Magnificat suggest the well was Christianised when the Anglo-Saxons settled in Penwortham (630BC onward?) if not before.

Under Christianity a sacred complex developed centring on Castle Hill and St Mary. Penwortham Priory was built in the 12th C. A pilgrim’s path led to St Mary’s Well where people cleansed their hands and bathed in the healing water. The path led to a stone cross further up the hill where further prayers were said before visits to St Mary’s Church and Priory (which was dissolved in 1535).

The earliest evidence for ancestral burial on the hill is the tombstone of a 12th C ‘crusader’. The oldest gravestones date to 1682 and 1686. The graveyard has been extended several times since 1853 and is now used only for select burials and cremations with the majority of Penwortham’s people being buried at Hill Road Graveyard and Cemetery and in its new woodland burial ground.

The shift of worship and perhaps ancestral burial from the marsh to the hill and from a marshland goddess to St Mary led to the marsh losing its sense of sanctity. Local folklore featuring boggarts, dobbies, fairies, phantoms, and Jen o’ Lanterns show under Christianity marshes became viewed as sinister places associated with old ‘pagan’ beliefs. Even these cautionary superstitions faded.

By the time of the Tithe Map (1837) most of Penwortham Marsh had been drained and reclaimed as farmland. Far worse followed during the industrial revolution. When the dockland was built in 1884 the Ribble was moved south. Penwortham Marsh was cut in two by the river with its larger northern remnant not only becoming Riversway Dockland but part of Preston.

More tragically the Ribble’s movement shattered the sandstone bedrock and breached the aquifer beneath Castle Hill. Afterward St Mary’s Well dried up. Two years ago I had a vision of a water dragon gasping and shrinking then sliding into the underworld. I feel on some level this was the Lady’s womb.

Industrialisation has not ended. In the 1960’s the expansion of the A59 led to the covering over of the site of St Mary’s Well. Penwortham By-pass, built in the 1980’s, now obscures the hill and church, drowning its peace with the roar of traffic. It is my intuition vibrations from the by-pass combined with the shattered aquifer have led to the subsidence of the hill and falling gravestones. This has caused the closure of a large part of the graveyard.

For these reasons my relationship with the Lady of Peneverdant has been slow and difficult. Her marsh has been drained and severed and her holy waters have dried up. Often I feel she and the local spirits don’t want any more contact with humans. At one point I wished to revive their worship and introduce other pagans to the place but I’ve received clear signals this isn’t wanted.

III. Hopeful Coincidences

A couple of days after receiving Heather’s first e-mail I set off down the remainder of the pilgrim’s path toward Castle Hill. In Well Field I asked the Lady of Peneverdant whether she had ever been known as the Lady of the Marsh and if so could she show me a sign. As I walked across the field awash with rain from days of downpour so deep it nearly came over the top of my boots I received the gnosis ‘this is the Lady’s Field’.

Well Field  - Lady's Field - Copy

Passing the site of St Mary’s Well, ascending the steps, then crossing the A59 to Penwortham War Memorial I caught a glimpse of running water. Looking again I could not believe my eyes. I had found a new ‘spring’ flowing into a stony basin! Drawing closer I saw it was called Centenary Well and dated 1914 to 2014. It must have been built to mark the commemoration of the First World War.

Centenary Well - Copy

How could I not have noticed it before? Could this mean the aquifer wasn’t completely broken? I contacted local historian Heather Crook who told me Centenary Well was built last year by a local joiner called Peter Gildert to commemorate WWI. It was designed to channel run-off water from the hill. I hadn’t noticed it before as I hadn’t been past in a period of such heavy rain. Although I was disappointed to learn the water was run-off, finding the well on the day I posed the question seemed like a sure sign I was on the right track identifying her as the Lady of the Marsh.

The notion people in Lancashire and northern Wales once worshipped similar deities is backed up by Stephen Yeates’ theory that Gwynedd, Powys, Cheshire and Lancashire to Morecambe Bay were included together in Roman Valentia. Evidence from place-names, field patterns and customs based on the Venodotian Laws suggest northern Wales and Lancashire once shared a Brythonic culture. Until the 13th C a Brythonic language called Cumbric, which is similar to Cymric (Welsh), was spoken in Lancashire. My experiences suggest the Lady of the Marsh may be ‘the same’ deity with localised variants rather than the genius loci of a single site, which was my original belief.

One of the questions Heather asked was how to say ‘Lady of the Marsh’ in Welsh. To find out I got in touch with Heron who replied:

“Lady of the Marsh’ is best translated as ‘Arglwyddes y Gors’, although much wet ground in Wales apart perhaps from the marshy areas along the Gwent Levels, is upland boggy moorland, usually known as ‘Migneint’. So ‘Arglwyddes y Figneint’ or ‘Dynes y Figneint’ would also be possible. One other possibility also occurs to me and that is ‘Marian’, not a personal name but a term used to denote marginal (liminal?) land, usually between fields and beach. As a name it probably derives from Mar- or Môr (sea) but it might be fortuitous in this respect?’

In relation to the cluster of Marian sites on or near Penwortham and Preston Marshes: St Mary’s on Castle Hill, Lady Well on Marsh Lane, the site of St Mary’s Church on Friargate and a chapel and hospital dedicated to St Mary in Maudlands, the term ‘Marian’ seemed extremely fortuitous. In relation to its derivation from ‘Mar- or Môr (sea)’ I recalled that in Penwortham St Mary was worshipped as Stella Maris ‘Star of the Sea’ which fits with the long usage of the area by sea-faring people.

Of the Marian sites I mentioned only St Mary’s on Castle Hill remains. Lady Well was connected with a Fransiscan Friary (which gave the names of Friargate and Greyfriar’s Pub). The Friary was dissolved in 1539 but the well remained open until the 19th C. It now lies beneath the carpark of student halls on Lady Well Street. St Mary’s Church on Friargate was founded in 1605 and closed in 1992 and has been replaced by St Mary’s Car Park. It is memorialised by a statue of St Mary with a one-handed Jesus.

Close to the towering spire of present-day St Walburge’s was a leper hospital and chapel run by the Franciscan Friars. This was an important place of pilgrimage in the 14th C. The chapel and hospital began to fall into disrepair in 1520 and were dissolved in 1548. According to local legend, on Christmas Eve bells can be heard ringing in the sunken chapel.

The story of the Lady of the Marsh in Penwortham and Preston is one of loss and sadness. Her very being has sunk down and dried up in a land that is no longer a marsh and been covered over by industrial developments. However Heather’s visions and the fact she is able to access this old, unknown Brythonic goddess through her bloodline from America provide hope.

More positively Heather said: ‘When you told me about that church and other churches like it, I understood that those are the people she still loves and provides for even though the water has been drained and her name has changed again. She’s been there for so long under so many different names being called Mary doesn’t matter as much as the fact that she is still helping; especially women with issues around motherhood and death.’

As the church bells ring out on Christmas Eve from thisworld and the underworld; Catholics prepare for Midnight Mass, Heathens celebrate Mother’s Night and Roman pagans prepare for the birth of Mithras I will honour the Lady of the Marsh.

Breaking the Silence

Two months ago I decided to take a break from blogging. I’d returned from Wales after climbing mist-ensorcelled hound-haunted Cadair Idris. Standing on the shoulder of a giant dizzied by his mad dreams. Staring down into Llyn Cau and Llyn y Gadair. Finding refuge in the hut of the mountain guide.

In Wales the gods are huge. Their names and stories echo from deep valleys and massive mountains and are carried in streams and rivers to where the immensity of the sky meets the immaculate sea on the western coast. From Pen y Gadair the mists of Gwyn ap Nudd never leave.

On Borth beach I read Heron’s new translation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’. The name Borth derives from Porth Wyddno and is the location of Cantre’r Gwaelod (The Bottom Hundred); Gwyddno’s drowned kingdom. It was my intuition Gwyddno died there and the poem records a conversation between the worlds where Gwyn offers Gwyddno protection and guides him to Annwn (the Brythonic otherworld).

Reading the poem was immensely powerful. I experienced vividly the presence of these two great mythic figures speaking against the backdrop of the pebbled beach and roaring sea. Afterward at sunset I saw the otherland of which Gwyn speaks ‘where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore’ appear on the horizon.

Borth VI returned to Penwortham mind-blown with much to absorb in thought and dream only to experience another immensity. This time a crushing one. Walking the section of the old pilgrim’s path that leads across the A59 from the site of St Mary’s Well to the War Memorial I got trapped in the middle of the road: unable to cross because of the heavy rush of traffic at school pick-up time.

A59 between site of St Mary's Well and Penwortham War MemorialI knew this was the result of the widening of Penwortham By-Pass. A rush which will only increase when a new stretch of by-pass is built leading over the river Ribble to Junction 2 of the M55 (which exists only in name having been planned over 40 years ago). That this was linked to the expansion of BAE, the University of Central Lancashire, to the building of new housing developments and employment sites throughout Preston and South Ribble.

I was struck by the overwhelming gnosis it was beyond me to stop the growth of this monster. I could not stop the City Deal. I’d known for a while the City Deal was something not even the most seasoned campaigners would dare take on as a whole. That each of us must find our own way of protecting what we value within the realms of possibility whether it’s by campaigning against individual developments, fracking (which will not only ruin the landscape and poison our sacred watercourses but fuel the monster), austerity, defending and caring for an area of green space or growing and nurturing a community group.

Acknowledging this insight has taken a lot of readjustment during which I realised attempting not even to save the world but just South Ribble and Preston, Penwortham even, was beyond my capability and making me ill. Not only that, Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ with its aquifer shattered in 1884, its holy wells dry, its banks subsiding with falling trees and gravestones under increasing duress from the By-Pass wanted to close down. Hence the closure of ‘From Peneverdant.’

What did I have left? The Friends group I run in Greencroft Valley with its wildflowers and apple trees. The monthly poetry night I play a lead role in organising at Korova Arts Cafe & Bar which provides a safe and welcoming space for newcomers and established poets to perform. The Oak and Feather Grove.

My relationship with the land and the gods which my recent travels north and to Wales have taught me need not be limited to Penwortham. The inspiration and awe I find in my path as an awenydd devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd. The depth and magic of his known and unknown stories. A growing awareness of other Brythonic gods and goddesses and their myths.

Whilst I’ve had support and companionship from friends and family and other poets and pagans, until the past couple of months my path as an awenydd and Brythonic polytheist has been a lonely one. However, in October I went to Glasgow to a ritual to Epona-Rigantona led by Potia and last week returned to Borth and finally met Heron, whose writing has guided and inspired me for several years.

Together on Borth beach Heron and I read my story ‘The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir’ which I wrote after my previous visit to Borth based on his translation of Gwyn and Gwyddno’s dialogue. It was moving and beautiful reading and listening to the words, born from the place, from an ancient poem passed on from poet to poet, feeling it live on the sea breeze and the rolling tides, honouring Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp, Gwyddno’s passing and the absent cranes (‘garan’ from Garanhir means crane in Welsh) who I gave the role of soul-birds. Afterward we walked across Cors Fochno (Borth Bog), where cranes may have nested, up Cwm Clettwr and to Taliesin’s grave.

I returned nourished with my feeling of the increasing import of the Brythonic myths juxtaposed with my frustration so few people have an interest in them. Of having much to share but no-one to share with. Which led once again to despair until I had a dream which somehow I knew took place ten years in the future.

I was leading a guided tour of one or two disinterested people to ‘Cockersand Fields’ (which I interpreted to be the fields near Cockersand Abbey where a statue to Mars-Nodens was found) and was feeling ready to give up on this task and life altogether. I hadn’t put my heart into it for several years. Then I saw a group of young backpackers approaching from boats on a sunset beach with smiles and eyes filled with hope. They’d come searching for stories about Gwyn, which I’d failed to write: a failure I suddenly regretted and a friend pushed me to rectify.

The dream seemed to be telling me not to lose hope in a vocation that nurtures my soul, brings me joy and could likewise bring meaning and purpose to others because my writing doesn’t provoke immediate responses or recognition. To think of the long term rather than satisfaction in the now.

Thus for the first time since the closure of ‘From Peneverdant’ I break my silence. Whilst I can’t promise my words will save the world or even Penwortham, I hope for others led down strange paths by little-known gods they may provide signposts in the mist that lead to the strength and inspiration to live with joy and depth in this troubled world.

Borth III

Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir

This is a link to Heron’s translation and interpretation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir,’ found in The Black Book of Carmarthen. This dramatic dialogue is one of the earliest pieces of known literature featuring Gwyn ap Nudd, who appears as a divine warrior and gatherer of the battle-dead.

Heron has undertaken an important task, as the only translation currently available to the public on the internet is William Skene’s (1868), which is both dated and considered flawed. His hard work and understanding of this poem on historical and mythic levels is highly appreciated.

THE WAY OF THE AWENYDD

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The beginning of the Exchange Between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir in the manuscript of The Black Book of Carmarthen

An interpretation of the conversation between 
Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir.

 This conversation appears in a manuscript collection known as The Black Book of Carmarthen which is a collection of copies from earlier manuscripts made by a monk in Carmarthen in the Thirteenth Century, some of which are verses which may have originally been embedded in lost prose sagas. As with much early Welsh verse some parts of it are difficult to interpret and the only easily available version in English is that contained in Skene’s Four Ancient Books of Wales, a pioneering translation which is now regarded as flawed. I’ll provide my own attempt to translate it during the course of the ensuing discussion based on consulting modern editions and commentaries in Welsh. There are some…

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The Star-Strewn Pathway

‘Thence rolled down upon him the storm-clouds from the home of the tempest;
thence streamed up the winter sky the flaming banners of the Northern lights;
thence rose through the illimitable darkness on high
the star-strewn pathway of the fairy king.’
-Wirt Sikes

I write this post as a newcomer to the path of the Awenydd, having walked it in earnest little longer than a year and a day. The terms Awen and Awenydd have been familiar since coming to Druidry. In the Awen I found a name for the all-consuming force of inspiration that has burnt forever in my veins with the fire of stars in the iciest reaches of a dark universe. Its furious purpose was revealed by a god after many years of searching.

Restless years. Wilder years. Seeking Blake’s infinite. Throwing my soul into the furthermost abysses of Western European philosophy where reason bites its own tail, curls up and dies and the only way to survive the white hot sun of truth is to burn with and express its creativity.

Trying to find a framework to decipher visions of our native spirit world without knowing if my experiences were ‘real’. Searching Christian mysticism, Graeco-Roman, Saxon and Norse mythologies and finding only analogies. Discovering Britain has its own mythology in The Mabinogion, The Triads of the Island of Britain, The Four Ancient Books of Wales and regional folk and faerie lore.

Finally, Gwyn ap Nudd, my Fairy King finding me and teaching me to walk the Star-Strewn Pathway.

***

The Star-Strewn Pathway begins in one’s local area with the recognition the whole landscape is inspirited. Awen sings from the earth-sun at this world’s core through its molten mantle, sandstone bedrock, layers of clay and harrowed loam. Wonder can be found in backyards of composting earthworms and hatching spiders.

Pathways lead to suburban edgelands. Narrow valleys of trees impossible to build on, brooks shrunken by drainage systems tripping down wooden platforms. Algae-covered stagnant ponds beloved of ducks. Decaying mills pink with Herb Robert housing volleys of pigeons circling above.

These places are inspirited and there are spirits: huge boggarts who once stretched gurgling through mosslands grey and whiskery; undines clasping their last waters; newly planted woodlands arising into forms of consciousness with inherent knowledge of tree, bird and mycelia of mushrooms to the tread of deer.

Inevitably pathways lead abroad. It is necessary to trace local brooks to the river’s crashing heart, find its trickling source and greet rolling tides with the sea at its shining estuary. To meet its Great Goddess who washes her hair by moonlight and stretches watery arms throughout the watershed.

To travel ancient woodlands of oak men, snow-topped mountains of icy blasting and cities of tower blocks, steeples and malls which guard a heritage locked in catacombs and glassy vaults. Every facet of woe and joy, awe and strife, adds to the alchemy of our own sun.

***

In rain or mist, at twilight to the touch of thunder, it is possible to step from known to unknown pathways. Wandering lost in a storm-cloud of emotion I have often found myself on unfamiliar tracks with strange figures, no longer myself. Sometimes it is those dusky shadows who beckon me, footsteps leading into the wildwood’s tangled heart.

In the wildwood all the fay lights are lit by stars. They dance and glimmer, throwing bright shapes and longer shadows across paths which intertwine like roots. These paths have their own lives, untwining and uprooting to walk their own way through the wood. Where the fay strew their lanterns on the ground one might find the Star-Strewn pathway.

There is a long tradition of caves and holes leading to the underworld. Their entryways are utter darkness. Timeless. Illimitable as despair. They lead into a womb of tunnels, the edge of an abyss, to where that age-old creatrix Old Mother Universe gives birth to stars. From thence the Star-Strewn Pathway unfurls through underground heavens.

When the moon is full she lays out her bridge of vibrant stars in the river. The ripples become stepping stones. From the river-moon the Star-Strewn Pathway leads through the catastrophic beauty of falling stars to the star-decked parapets of the Fairy King’s hall.

At his banquet stars burn and freeze. The order of things is undone. In the crux of fairy arts, the Fairy King’s Star Cauldron, the wonder of the universe is reflected and re-made anew.

***

There are other ways to reach Gwyn’s Hall. As many ways as there are souls. Some fly with coveys of hounds or wild geese. Others do not need to fly at all.

This is not the path for everyone. There are many gods, stars and cauldrons.

Any soul flight requires a return to and grounding in the body of this world; dragging backward through hedgerows, screaming and echoing from slanting rock-faces to kiss the earth with bloodied and muddy lips.

Apostasies need voicing in cafes and bars, chain-stores and museums. Launching into the internet’s mirror-void where the dust-mote of a spark of Awen can be multiplied into a million blazing simulacra fading as quickly into black holes.

Following the Star-Strewn Pathway does not lead to catasterism ‘placing amongst the stars,’ but living a full life upon this earth, returning to and from the halls of our deities, knowing only our bones and star-songs will survive for future generations. Until, with our land and gods, we are swallowed by the sun. Perhaps in this manner we will receive our final catasterism.

***

*This article was written for and first published with an introduction by Heron on ‘The Path of the Awenydd‘. This blog aims to explicate and explore this lesser known path. It is also an excellent and growing resource on Bardic, Brythonic and Faerie Lore. Do check it out. Many thanks to Heron for supporting my work.