The Spirit of the Depths and the Service of the Soul

My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned. I am here again.’
Carl Jung

In his Red Book Carl Jung speaks of refinding his soul and rebuilding his relationship with her after a period of soul loss. He was called to do this by ‘the spirit of the depths’ who is opposed to ‘the spirit of this time’:

‘The spirit of this time would like to hear of use and value… that other spirit forces me nevertheless to speak beyond justification, use, and meaning… He took away my belief in science… my understanding and all my knowledge and placed them at the service of the inexplicable and the paradoxical. He robbed me of speaking and writing for everything that was not in his service.’

Jung records how the spirit of the depths opened his eyes to vision – to his soul, the things of the soul, and the soul world. This spirit forced Jung to stop treating his soul as a ‘scientific object’ and told him to ‘call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul.’

Once he reached that awareness Jung called out to his soul and encountered her as a person and as a living landscape. She appeared to him in a number of guises (all female) – as Salome, as the spirit of a dead girl (who forced him to eat her liver!), as a serpent, and as a ‘small white bird’. She showed him a variety of visions, some of which predicted the First World War, some beautiful, most Hellish. She appeared to him as a desert, and, it may be argued, as the many places in Hell he explored.

Jung learnt that he is merely the ‘symbol and expression’ of his soul. She taught him that everything he does and says ‘comes from and belongs to me’. Ultimately he entered ‘the service of the soul’.

***

Jung’s words are of interest not only because they contain a great deal of mystical depth and wisdom but because they remind me of my own calling to serve Gwyn ap Nudd, a god of Annwn (‘the Deep’ – the soul world in the Brythonic tradition) and to restore my relationship with my own soul.

Like Jung I was called away from service to ‘the spirit of the times’ by ‘the spirit of the depths’.

From doing something ‘of use and value’ to the ‘inexplicable’ and ‘paradoxical’ – to ‘the service of the soul’. This happened when I decided to write my PhD thesis on ‘Imagination’ in William Blake’s prophetic books rather than trending topics and in my choice to write books based on personal visions that challenge the grounds of already obscure Brythonic/Welsh myths rather than a ‘how to’.

It’s only since I’ve accepted I’m never going to be able to make a living from such work and stopped using social media to publicise it I’ve managed to make space to journey and write more deeply.

Over the past month I’ve begun a quest, like Jung’s, for ‘a myth to live by’, that has been calling me even further away from the myths that others recognise from the medieval Welsh texts. To visions of my gods that are more direct, unfiltered by Christianised narratives, but less recognisable and hence relatable (unless, as I hope, I ultimately succeed on touching, through the personal, on the universal…).

In this space, as a way of repairing my own soul loss, I have been reconsidering my relationship with my soul. This began the day I met Gwyn leading the fairy funeral procession on Fairy Lane in my home town of Penwortham. Unlike in the original legend in which the fairies were tiny black-clad men clad with red caps they were taller than me and dressed in Victorian funeral garments. Gwyn, who I didn’t recognise, was wearing a black hat and leaning on a walking cane, his only recognisable feature being his long, silky white hair. As in the original the ‘fairies’ carried a coffin. And, like the hapless protagonist, I looked into the coffin and saw my own corpse. Only she looked ‘other’. Gwyn told me “a part of your soul is trapped in Annwn” before revealing his identity.

When I started journeying to Annwn with Gwyn I was reunited with this lost part of my soul. She appears as a warrior-huntress (who I am and/or watch) aboard my white winged mare with hounds. She’s everything I’m not – practical, courageous, able to fight, hunt her own food, survive in the forest.

At first I wondered whether this is simply facile wish fulfilment. Shouldn’t I, a suburban muppet, be more like my usual bumbling, clumsy, scatter-brained self? To this Gwyn replied with a resounding “No!” and told me this is the exact form my soul needs to take to get work done in his world.

I wasn’t completely certain she was my soul at first and I’m still not sure she’s the whole of my soul. Yet I haven’t found any other parts yet. I’ve has inklings in intuitions and dreams of past lives as a soldier and a nun but they feel like past selves my soul has inhabited rather than soul parts.

There is also the dark magician who sometimes shows up in my dreams and who I’ve chased through a number of books and who I’ve always kind of wanted to be if only I was good at magic. I spent a while wondering if he is my animus* but have reached the conclusion he has his own enigmatic existence, that dark magicians don’t give away their secrets, and accepted him as a guide of sorts.

In contrast to Jung I’ve found that my soul rarely speaks to me. For the past eight years since I’ve journeyed with/as her she hasn’t said a word and it’s only since reading Jung I’ve tried to speak to her. This resulted in her telling me to ‘be silent’ and ‘to come’ (to see what she had to show me). This demonstrates it’s not that she can’t speak but she’s not very talkative. I’m guessing this may be because I’m so full of words and chatter and her silence compensates like with our other qualities.

I think it’s possible that my white winged mare and perhaps my hounds are also parts of my soul. I believe my mare has been with me since birth and am tentatively referring to her as ‘my soul animal’ or ‘my spirit animal’ (as opposed to ‘a spirit animal’) to avoid terms from other cultures such as power animal’ or ‘totem animal’. This manifested early on in me galloping round and round the playground on my own pretending to be a horse when the other children were playing games. Eventually I started horse riding and spending all my time at a local riding school working for rides, training as a riding instructor, and later returning to a career in horses after finishing my PhD.

And with horses there were always yard dogs – labradors, terriers, the crazy cocker spaniel I shared a mobile home with. Unlike with horses I’ve never had my own dog (my parents are cat people) so I’ve never got to know dogs that intimately. Whilst I generally feel at one with my horse I often feel like I’m full of yappy excitable hounds jumping up and down inside me that refuse to calm down. Like the dogs that come and shake all over me or out me when I’m meditating I find them annoying. Whilst I’ve only got one horse** my first hound guide was an old shaggy wolf hound and he was replaced by two young Hounds of Annwn when I decided to make my lifelong dedication to Gwyn.

So my current view contrasts with Jung’s in that my soul appears as many parts at once. Also my soul is both male and female – my huntress is female, my mare is female, and both my hounds are male.

My main challenge in this deepening ‘service of the soul’ is learning to trust my soul. Putting aside my feelings of bitterness and resentment that my soul will never earn me any money and my fears that by following my soul away from known Brythonic mythology I may lose my already small audience.

But what are these fears compared to losing one’s soul?

*Mainly because Jung states that that men have a female anima and women have a male animus – a gendered binary logic that doesn’t ring true to me.
**Ok there’s ‘the dark horse’ but I think he’s a water-horse, a land spirit, rather than a part of my soul.

The Scarecrow in the Storm

On the 2nd of July I attended Pagancon and participated in a shamanic workshop with Nicola Smalley from Way of the Buzzard. Nicola opened with an introduction to shamanism then told us she had been advised by her guides to lead a journey to find out ‘how to weather the storm’.

This interested me as a number of pagans have recently received communications from the gods and spirits about ‘the storm’. This could be our environmental and political situation and/or something more…

After the journey several of the other participants shared their experiences. I didn’t share mine as I didn’t know what to make of it. Beneath a storm-dark sky in a field of wind-blasted wheat I met a scarecrow clothed in black rags with a burlap sack for a head.

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“Are you the guide who can help me weather the storm?”

No reply from the featureless sack-face as wind tore at the scarecrow’s ragged clothing and he swayed on his stick.

I rode on. And the scarecrow took flight and rode the horseless wind beside me.

“So you are my guide…”

We rode to a cliff edge to look down on a city encased in stone where the people hunkered down, cowering, gnome-like, senses closed to hope and beauty.

“What’s an awenydd to do in such a place?”

Silent the scarecrow. I’m the one with the words it seems… then the drumbeat changed and it was time to return to thisworld.

***

That’s not the first time a scarecrow has appeared in my life. Since I studied a poetry module as part of my degree they’ve been showing up. I’ve written about scarecrows at summer’s end, scarecrow arguments, humans reduced to a scarecrow-like existence. I’ve written in the voice of a bird-scarer.

When I looked up the history of scarecrows I found out they were not used in Britain until many of the children who worked as bird-scarers (armed with a clacker from dusk to dawn to scare away the birds) died during the plague in the 13thC. It was only then that farmers started creating straw men with gourd faces and propping them on poles.

I also discovered they had an abundance of names. In Devon ‘Murmet’, Somerset ‘Mommet’, here in Lancashire and in Yorkshire ‘Mammet’. ‘Mawkin’ in Sussex and ‘Hodmedod’ in Berkshire. ‘Hayman’ across England. ‘Bwbach’ in Wales. On the Isle of Skye ‘Gallybagger’ and on the Isle of Wight ‘Tattie Bogal’. In Scotland ‘Bodach-rocais’ ‘Old man of the rooks’.

Names such as ‘Bwbach’ and ‘bogal’ are synonymous with bogies and ‘Mammet’ was used from the 13th-17thCs to denote a ‘false god or idol’ and later applied to ‘a doll or puppet, a lifeless figure, an effigy, a scarecrow’. All hold an otherworldly resonance. It’s no wonder in many of our stories scarecrows come to life.

***

In relation to weathering the storm it struck me that scarecrows stand strong in all weathers. This is exemplified by Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘The Scarecrow’.

The Scarecrow

All winter through I bow my head
beneath the driving rain;
the North Wind powders me with snow
and blows me black again;
at midnight ‘neath a maze of stars
I flame with glittering rime,
and stand above the stubble, stiff
as mail at morning-prime.
But when that child called Spring, and all
his host of children come,
scattering their buds and dew upon
these acres of my home,
some rapture in my rags awakes;
I lift void eyes and scan
the sky for crows, those ravening foes,
of my strange master, Man.
I watch him striding lank behind
his clashing team, and know
soon will the wheat swish body high
where once lay a sterile snow;
soon I shall gaze across a sea
of sun-begotten grain,
which my unflinching watch hath sealed
for harvest once again.

Made from the leftovers of thisworld yet imbued with the spirit of the otherworld, undignified yet strangely maintaining dignity, the scarecrow is a liminal figure who stands as an unspeaking guardian to the changing seasons and cycles of the crops.

He knows how to weather the storm.

What he lacks is a voice and expression on his burlap face. Perhaps we can work together: the awenydd and the scarecrow in the storm.

Black Dog

He lies beneath my bed
and skrikes through the night,
plummeting the suburb into blackness.

Dampening floodlit windows,
putting out the streetlights,
he licks my hand when I am lonely.

When I fear I cannot live he takes me
to the otherside where we enter
the secret commonwealth of Middleforth

padding along the causey past the windmill’s
constant throb, cows with swaying udders
and hens clucking in the tithe barn.

Yet on communal ground
we are still invisible outcasts
with insatiable hunger and baleful breath.

Bound here by an obscure debt we pace the causey,
sniffing for dog-bones buried by the wayside
in a ritual that once had meaning on a lightless night.

Middleforth BrowMiddleforth Green, Spring Mist 007 - CopyMiddleforth Green

Honouring Gwyn ap Nudd

Glastonbury Tor, January 2013On the Winter Solstice a post for Winter’s King.

Samhain has passed. We’re in the dead season. The wild hunt rides the passageways of time and spirit paths lie open. Communities gather and ancestors draw close. Here I feel called to honour Gwyn ap Nudd by telling the story of how he became my muse and patron and made my life whole.

My first meeting with Gwyn took place at the nadir of a crisis. At the end of August 2012 I reached a point of conflict between my spiritual path and ambition to become a professional writer. After two years work completing a fantasy novel I realised its world was too complex and the language too heavy, it held little relevance or hope for a contemporary audience and was at odds with my developing relationship with the land and its myths.

His first appearance was at the head of a fairy procession at a local sacred site. Although I knew of the legend of the fairy funeral I didn’t think I’d encounter it directly nor did I suspect it would be led by a Welsh Fairy King. Yet Gwyn made his name and message clear. The myths of this land are real and he could help me access them. He challenged me to journey with him to the Otherworld, the condition of his guidance being that I lay aside my personal ambitions.

I spent several days considering- could I truly give up my ambition to become a professional writer? How would this change my life? How did I know I could trust him? What if I didn’t come back? Yet this experience, although it was confusing and terrifying felt more powerful and real than anything that had ever happened to me. I knew it was a once in a life time opportunity and I’d only get one chance. I returned to the fairy site and agreed.

Gwyn opened the gates to the past of this land and its myths. With his guidance I learnt how to ride the skies and ancestral pathways on my white mare, viewing the landscape’s lineaments from contemporary suburbia to medieval farmland, oak wood and peat bog to tundra and the age of ice. I met with ancestral people, the ghosts of trees and stampeding aurochs. I entered Faery and descended to Annwn.

Yet I still questioned what a deity associated with Wales and Glastonbury was doing in Lancashire. Reading his myths I realised two of Gwyn’s main stories- the abduction of Creiddylad and Arthur’s slaying of Orddu take place in the North. In the conversation with Gwyddno Garanhir, which depicts his role gathering the souls of the battle dead Gwyn says:

‘I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain,
From the East to the North;
I am alive, they in their graves!
I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain,
From the East to the South
I am alive, they in death!’

Gwyn is not only a king of Annwn and the fairies but a traveller between the worlds and across the landscape of Britain, maintaining the bonds between nature and humanity, the living and the dead. As a ruler and guide of this isle’s ancestral people his turning up at the head of a local fairy procession was not out of place.

Reassessing my past experiences I realised this wasn’t the first time I’d felt his influence. At Glastonbury festival in my late teens the veil had been lifted to reveal a vision of the Otherworld, a place I now recognise as Gwynfyd, which was coupled with a feeling of truth and ecstatic unity. Thirteen years later he had finally made his presence known, leading me from the cycle of aspiration, failure and frustration caused by my ambition to be a writer back to this magical unison with the land and its myths. He had made my life whole. In January I returned to Glastonbury and made my vow to him at the White Spring.

Since then my relationship with Gwyn has been a constant source of support and inspiration. Whilst the only piece of literature I know of that might link him with the Bardic Tradition is a reference in ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ to the Chief of Annwn possessing a cauldron warmed by the breath of nine maidens, I see him as a god of primal poetry- the wild Awen that thunders like the hunt through space and time and exists in the magic of nature, the songs of the fay and wisdom of the ancestors.

With his guidance I have discovered ways of connecting more deeply with the land and its spirits, its known myths and some unknown ones (a couple of which correspond with factual evidence!). In return I strive to communicate what I have learnt through written and spoken words to maintain the bonds between nature and humanity, this world and the Otherworlds.

And so, as we gather in the dead season, the wild hunt rides and spirit paths lie open I choose this time to tell this story to thank and honour Gwyn ap Nudd.

Spirit of the Aquifer

In eighteen eighty four
a monolithic feat of engineering
shifts the Ribble’s course:
no water to the springs.

From the hill’s abyssal deep
a rumbling of the bowels,
a vexed aquatic shriek:
no water to the wells.

Breached within the chasm
a dragon lies gasping
with a pain she cannot fathom:
no water to the springs.

Water table reft
her giving womb unswells,
surging through the clefts:
no water to the wells.

Unravelling inside
her serpent magic streams
to join the angry tides:
no water to the springs.

Culverted and banked
her serpent powers fail,
leaking dry and cracked:
no water to the wells.

The spinning dragon-girl
tumbles from her swing
and slips to the underworld:
no water to the springs.

Her spirit will not rise
through the dead and empty tunnels,
disconsolate we cry:
no water to the wells.

The hill, no longer healing
stands broken of its spell,
no water to the springs,
no water to the wells.

Birch Wood

Birch trees. Carr Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a land of ash with no future.
Out of the ice age they came, colonizers
Silver-black and delicately snake skinned,
Shedding white edged leaves on the ash-clad winds

And singing do you remember, remember
The ice age and peat and lost Vindolanda,
Sentinel cities and burying oaths
Enstyled on bright birch to placate the world?

And singing do you remember, remember
The strange black peal of the blacksmith’s hammer,
Street lights of amber and echoing roads,
Cities estranged by the gathering smoke?

And singing do you remember, remember
How empire fell that fatal November,
Civilized monuments crashing to dust,
Swaying white fields and the soft song of ghosts?

Silver-black and delicately snake skinned,
Shedding white edged leaves on the ash-clad winds
Out of the ice age they came, colonizers.
Their land was ash, with an unknown future.

Birch trees, Carr Wood

Englyns on Auroch Skulls

Auroch Skull, the Harris Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staring from the museum
eye pits glare beneath fierce horns,
haunted wells of atrophy,
gazes flee their blind prisons

back to Taurean eras
of thunder down the river,
reeking ride of reddish hides
steaming wild to the water,

skidding sudden to a halt,
thick bones trembling, muscles taut,
bullish courage killed by fear
of men’s spears and swift assault.

Seeing skies alive with darts
herd wheels, swings and departs.
Knees buckle and hocks collapse
at the agony of barbs.

Most escape, some are slaughtered,
five stagger, tidal water
rises as they struggle and sink.
Its cold brink claims their corpses.

Tides turn. Sediments heap.
Silt and till on layered peat
bury bones in sunken sands,
erred, abandoned for centuries

until wrested from repose
five bovine skulls are disclosed
by dockland’s excavation,
shivering blind and exposed.

Breezes trace visages bared.
Tongueless trophies taste the air.
Denied thunder impaled rage
hangs displayed, an endless stare.

Skull songs lie trapped in the eyes.
Visions burst where times collide.
Bones cry for wind-swept stampede,
aurochs released to the wild.

Auroch Skulls, Harris Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

* This poem is based on a simplified variation of Englyn Cyrch, which I learnt from Robin Herne’s Bard Song.

Porth Annwn

Porth-Annwfyn. Some numinous, arcane agnomen, but which to my dream cognition was livid as moonshine and did plainly signify: Gate of Elysium.’
– David Jones The Dream of Private Clitus

I.
Where is the door?
The shadowy portal exists
In the thickness of the veil
In the heart of mist
Where life divides
And fateful cataracts meet.
There are as many doors
As you have eyes that open.

II.
And who is the porter?
It is never who you thought it would be.
It is always who secretly you knew
From the world’s beginning.

III.
There are many doors
And I can speak of but a few.

Trees keep doors.
They are not in the front or back
But in the spiralling melt
Into arboreal existence.
This is the forest path.

Look into a river
To find yourself on the mirror side.
Remember to be returned
With the turning of the tide.

To reach the summer stars
Seek out a silver space ship.
Beware for Elysium’s bliss
Is more deadly than Annwn’s darkness.

Beside the door of death
A spectral hound sits.
He’s black or white-
Depends on the way
You’re looking.
He swallows whole souls.
The lucky ones hit the ground running.

Winter Ride

Preston

 

 

 

 

 

Fay bells chime. You ride a pale horse tonight.
My white mare pines for infinite horizons.

From this false security’s plastic peace
I breathe a prayer for ecstatic release.

Wrenched like tendons, reality is severed.
You open a snow storm, marvel and terror,

suburb stripped bare, hung trees and glittering ice,
a spectral host bathed in sweeping starlight.

Some people don’t see them. The rest run scared.
With my reckless steed I join the nightmare.

Our heart beats quicken to Annwn’s dread trance.
Street lamps flicker. Roofs slip into the distance.

Fairy lights and festive chants spread the county
from Blackpool Tower to Winter Hill, bright fountains

dissolve to torch parades. The present falters
revealing a past of village and bonfire,

chill chapped hands, hungry gatherings at cauldrons,
a labyrinth of padways mazed across Pilling

buried by snow fall, entombed beneath glaciers.
A cold unbearable sets in to kill.

And I fear I’m trapped in the Age of Ice
on the day of doom at the end of time

I cannot move my frozen mind. I scream
“Why? Winter King, bear me to these extremes?”

Your look commands; survey this fragile land,
ice crafting the mythos you toil to grasp,

reshaping the hills, renaming the towns,
creating the isle you know as Britain.

Wild laughter rings from the hollow landscape.
The fate of worlds tilts on a teetering brink.

I see your task, unruly guardian
of streaming vast ancestral tradition.

History rushes back and my course is clear,
My return to Penwortham swiftly steered,

shaking off snow, flexing my cold fingers,
I whisper thanks for your winter visions.