The Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue

A red dragon crawls through the ashes of a dead world. Her eye is a black void. It is like an oil slick. She crawls on her belly. She crawls on broken claws. She crawls with raspy breath, a small strand of smoke wavering from her nostril like a broken signal, not quite forming a question mark.

Above her fireworks flash in hallucinatory patterns with the rainbow pain and beauty of an LSD trip. The essences of the dead world, its eidetic memories, which only the eyes of the void can read. She does not look up because her optic nerves are frayed and jangled and her neck is stiff from gazing.

As the lights fade she lies down, lays her heavy head in the dust. The final images flash in her scales. As she disintegrates they fall with the pictures contained within them like monads – if only they survived those in the present might have glimpsed their errors in this future but with her they crumble.

As the cavern of her skull caves in the last thing left is her lower jaw and her long red tongue. On its tip is a spark of fire. Spitting, hissing, crackling, it refuses to give over this meaty muscle to the death winds, who are already arriving with their steeds, their chariots, their hounds, their whips to drive her remnants across the plains of dust so that she and her world are well and truly forever gone.

It spits, hisses, crackles against the attacks of the death winds. It glows, it grows, a fiery orb, hardens into a dragon’s egg. After nine nights and nine days it cracks, each split like dark lightning, and from it bursts a female figure black as the void with a multitude of wings and a serpent’s tail.

She puts the tongue into her mouth and her voice is heard in every mote of the dead world.

*The Prophet with the Dragon’s Tongue is going to be the narrator of some or all of the new mythic book I am working on.

The Other Side of the Door

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

Porth Annwn ‘Door of the Otherworld’. Porth so easily rolling into ‘portal’. The type of door that not only forms both a barrier and an entranceway between here-and-there but transports elsewhere.

Doors are usually boundaries between rooms in a building or its inside and outside and gates serve a similar function in walls, fences, and hedges. Doors and gates that are portals transport between worlds.

Most famously, in the Brythonic tradition, in the poem ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ we find the lines ‘A rac drws porth Vffern, llugyrn lloscit’ ‘And in front of Hell’s gate lamps were burned.’ This suggests there is a gateway through which Arthur and his warriors travelled from Thisworld to the Otherworld and that lamps were burned in the course of a vigil until he and only seven of his men returned. Annwn, ‘the Deep’, was equated with Uffern ‘Inferno’ or ‘Hell’ by Christians in medieval Wales.

Although there a number of places known as ‘Hell’s Gate’ across the world I’ve never found one in Britain. Although, at liminal times, in liminal places, I have been transported to the Otherworld. I have no control over such events.

Finally, I was guided by the Witches of Pennant Gofid, who I believe were similarly devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd, my Lord of Annwn, to create my own doorway. They guided my hand in drawing it and decorating it with the head of Gwyn as bull-of-battle, shapeshifting horses and hounds, and two new guides – a bird man and antlered woman. The teeth symbolise it being the maw of Dormach, Gwyn’s Death Hound. the Jaws of Death.

When I step out of the door it is always into a misty hinterland. Occasionally I’m standing on solid ground, but often it’s marsh, and more often I’m on my winged horse treading mist with my hounds beside me. It’s said of Gwyn and Dormach that they travel ar wybir ‘on the clouds that haunt the mountaintops’ and that wybir or nuden ‘condensed floating white cloud’ ‘serves as a garment for Gwyn’.

And so we travel ar wybir, like Gwyn, until the mist clears, or someone appears to guide us out. Setting off right or left, or North, East, South, or West never works as the directions don’t function the same in Annwn (if they exist at all). I often end up in the same places, but never by the same routes. In contrast to other followers of shamanistic paths I haven’t managed to form a stable map of Annwn.

I’ve been told by numerous teachers one should always return by the same route. Some days I manage this, but other days the routes undo themselves as if Annwn is innately resistant to memory. I search instead for the mist, wait for it to come, like my god, to sweep me up, place me back at the portal.

The door is always shrouded by mist and I have only just realised, after two years of constant use, that I have never seen the other side of the door. That I drew only my entryway, on my side, in my room, in Thisworld. That the origin and location of the exit, on Gwyn’s side, in the Otherworld, is a mystery.

All I know is that as I approach through the mist I have a feeling of increasing solidity. There is ground beneath my feet and the door is set within a wall. This creates the impression the door may once have been part of a fortress, shattered, fragmented, still able to float in the mist like Gwyn’s castle.

Could it be a cast-off door from the Fort of Pen Annwn rendered disposable by Arthur’s despoiling? A relic of Hell’s Gate? Or something older, or newer, but nonetheless no less mysterious? No burning of lanterns will shift the mist and again I must trust a gift of Gwyn’s that is incomprehensible.

Fragments of Annwn – Fallings

The Broken Harp

I.
My nerves are timbres.

Taut and tense the ganglia
no longer relay the music.

Weak, worn, frayed, spent,
the tendrils torn and stretched
from the strings of a harp.

Like broken bowstrings
they sting and twitch.

II.
On the empty frame
the ‘devils’ of Annwn sit
and mock and chatter.

I cannot take my eyes
from their neat little fangs
and paper-like origami wings.

I cannot shut out their voices,
low, high, squeaking in the wind,
fat with my stolen melodies,

for I am strangely in love
with my distractions.

I court them feed them daily.

I have become their instrument.

And so I lie broken beneath their claws…

III.
And where is my god? Not the harpist
or the one who taught him but the one who
listens for the song in his eternal hall

where the harp played with no player at all?

Is he still listening? Waiting? For the bow
to be restrung? For the song to be sung? For
the arrow that will pierce his heart fine and true?

~

The Place Where the Sky is Falling

In the place where the sky is falling and the winged and the wingless ones with it I am galloping. The faster I gallop the faster it falls and the faster they chase me, swishing, swooping, on wings and not on wings (yet still sounding torn and leathery and creaky-jointed), with and without teeth and claws.

As a little experiment I touch a rein, a brief half-halt, steady from a flat-out to a slower gallop. The sky-fall slows, the flight of the ‘devils’ of Annwn who pursue me, the winds of the abyss that drive us all. I slow to a canter, to a trot, to a walk, pull up. The sky is still. The winged and wingless ones hang before me like puppets on strings, immobile in the air, without a single wing-beat. I frown. They frown. I move my left hand. They move to the left. I move my right hand. They move to the right.

“Is this some game?”

An eruption of laughter flows through them, breaking the strange spell. They shift, flap, nudge, jest. Some fly away and others descend to look on this strange phenomenon of an awenydd in Annwn.

“What are you?” I ask. “Are you devils?” For that is what Christians have called them for hundreds of years and they do look like something out of Doré’s woodcuts for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Yet I have a feeling they have existed in the Otherworld before the Christian imposition of Heaven and Hell.

They laugh and shriek and pull their grins wider with their foreclaws like demonic Cheshire cats.

“Seriously…”

“Fliers,” squeaks one. “Fliers, fliers,” the others echo. “Fliers.” “Clawers.” “Takers.” “We take…” “We take what you feed us.” “We feed.” “We bring the takings.” “We bring what you feed us to the abyss.”

“Cursed, cursed.” “We cannot set down our feet.” “We have no feet.” “We fly between the worlds knowing nothing but taking.” “We even sleep on the wing.” “Ours is the dream-storm over the abyss.”

“What have you taken from me?” I have no wounds but no teeth and no claws leave no mark…

They cackle, grin, smack their lips. “What you fed us.” Their mouths purse like secrets.

“Then you are welcome to it,” I incline my head in acknowledgement, “add it your storm of dreams.”

I depart at a slow walk knowing gratefully in Thisworld I will dismount onto the ground onto two feet.

~

It’s Easy to Fall

and keep on falling
when there is nothing
to hold on to – no can,
no bottle and its easy

soon empty comfort.

Its gentle guidance
down into oblivion.

(It is an illusion the
abyss has a bottom).

It’s easy to fall
and keep on falling
when you don’t know
how to do anything else.
Because no-one taught you
how to tread empty air.
How to breathe when
there is no oxygen.
How to balance when
there is nothing between
your two empty ears.

How to hear what
when there is nothing
beyond the abyss?

It’s easy to fall
and keep on falling
unless some unexpected
hand reaches out to
shake you from

that free fall before
you wake with a jolt –
upright in your bed.

It’s easy to fall
and keep on falling
before some person
or some god gives

you a task only you
can do. HERE. NOW.
Where there is land to
stand on air to breathe.
Hope on the horizon.

~

Why These Worries

I do not need unlike the wind that moves the washing?

Why the fear that if they stop I will be nothing
like a lump of a coal in the toe
of a Christmas stocking?

Why do I feel worthless
when I am wanted by a god?

Why do I feel like a failure
when I’ve written three books?

Why does it feel more heroic
to be battling on against these thoughts
when I could let them go to the graveyards
of the winds beneath the towers
from which they were born?

How big a grave for a thought?

How great the work of the gravedigger?

How to engrave the gravestones
with suitable death’s heads?

And if I should let them slip away…
If I should carry them like childhood toys
gifted on Christmas morning then broken by bullies
in cardboard boxes like little coffins (each has a face like my own
like in the fairy funeral and the Fairy King sings
a mournful chant as I lower them in)…

how do I know I will let them rest

and not dig them up like a restless hound?

Come, come, a blast on his horn, come away
from my graveyards and away from mourning.
Spring is here and flowers and hares to chase.
In these sunrise mists a new hunt dawning.


~

*These poems are based on journeys to Annwn undertaken during the process of giving up alcohol as self-medication for my anxiety (which I began on New Year’s Day). This forced me to stop falling, face my worries, and see them for what they are – distractions from my work as an awenydd devoted to Gwyn.
**The image is Doré’s ‘The Fall of Lucifer’ (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons).

Not Getting to Caer Siddi: Sea Fortresses, Warships and Prisoners of War

Last year I attempted some journeywork with the otherworldly sea fortress Caer Siddi which did not go to plan. Setting out from the beach and swimming out to sea aboard my white mare, I noticed the waves becoming increasingly turbulent.

A horn blew and I saw a white sleek-prowed warship cutting through the water ahead. I recognised this as Prydwen (‘Fair Form’) the vessel of Arthur and his warriors. The horizon turned red and flashed with explosions. I saw the dark forms of other warships.

The waters rocked. At this point I knew I wasn’t getting to Caer Siddi. I turned my mare back to the beach and slipped from the otherworld dumbfounded. Reading medieval Welsh stories about Caer Siddi hadn’t prepared me for modern warships and warfare.

***

What did this mean? I started looking for clues in the world around me. In an entirely unrelated e-mail, a friend mentioned the sinking of the Lancastria off the French Port of St Nazaire on the 17th of July, 1940, whilst evacuating British nationals and troops from France.

At least 6,000 people (9,000 has been estimated) were aboard the Lancastria when she was bombed by a German aircraft. Three hits to the hold caused the spillage of 300 tons of oil. Twenty minutes later the ship capsized and sank. As the passengers struggled for their lives in the oily water they were strafed by machine gun fire from German planes and tracer bullets fired to set light to the oil.

The_Sinking_of_the_Cunard_Liner_Ss_Lancastria_Off_St_Nazaire_HU3325

Sinking of the Lancastria, Wikipedia Commons

2447 survivors were rescued, many of whom were shipped to Plymouth. Twice that number perished, making the sinking of the Lancastria Britain’s worst maritime disaster and the largest loss of British forces in a single engagement in World War II.

Great controversy surrounds Winston Churchill’s cover-up of this tragedy. A D-Notice prevented newspapers and broadcasters reporting it because two weeks after the Dunkirk Evacuation, British people ‘had had enough bad news’.

Since then the British government have refused to acknowledge the site of the wreck as a war grave. As the result of an extended campaign, the sinking of the Lancastria was finally marked by the government in July last year: 75 years on.

There seems to be some meaning in my vision of warships in the year the Lancastria’s sinking was acknowledged. Lines from ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ stating that of ‘three full loads of Prydwen’ that went into Caer Siddi only seven came back recall the terrible death toll of seaborne warfare.

***

At the same time I was led to re-reading Eternity by the Stars by Louis Auguste Blanqui. This was written in 1871 whilst he was imprisoned in the Fort Du Taureau ‘Castle of the Bull’ (a sea-fortress off the north of Morlaix in France) for his radical political beliefs during the reign of the transitional government of Adolphe Thiers.

1280px-Chateau_du_Taureau

Chateaux du Taureau, Wikipedia Commons

Kept in solitary confinement as the only prisoner of the island and banned from approaching his window on pain of death, Blanqui penned a philosophical treatise that would inspire Nietzsche’s eternal return and Walter Benjamin’s critique of progress.

Some of Blanqui’s insights are hauntingly Taliesin-like. The consensus amongst scholars is that Taliesin’s time in the prison of Arianrhod and acquisition of his chair in Caer Siddi are metaphors for Bardic initiation. Taliesin’s omnipresence is connected with his imprisonment.

Blanqui’s claims are equally profound. However the voice of a lonely 19thC radical in his sea-dungeon possesses none of the bravado of the Taliesin persona:

‘The universe is eternal, the stars are perishable, and since they form all matter, every one of them has passed through billions of existences. Gravity, thanks to its resurrecting shocks, divides, blends and kneeds them incessantly to the point that every one is a compound of the dust of others. Every inch of the ground that we walk has been part of the whole universe.’

‘Every human being is eternal at every second of its existence. That which I am writing in this moment, in a dungeon of the Fort de Taureau, I have written and shall write forever, on a table, with a quill, under clothes and in entirely similar circumstances. And so it is for all of us.’

‘At heart, man’s eternity by the stars is melancholic, and even sadder this estrangement of brother-worlds caused by the inexorable barrier of space. So many identical populations come to pass without having suspected each other’s existence! Well, not really: this shared existence is discovered at last in the 19th century but who shall believe it?’

Is it mere coincidence that I’m led to Eternity by the Stars as I’m trying to work out why I didn’t get to Caer Siddi: The Fortress of the Zodiac?

***

My insights have led me to believe that the medieval Welsh material about Caer Siddi is not only a metaphor for the initiatory journey of bards but may have a basis in the realities of seaborne warfare and prisoners of war.

If it does not refer to historical events it perhaps originated from the efforts of people to make sense of disastrous military expeditions from which only a handful of friends and kinsmen returned and what they endured whilst imprisoned by their enemies.

The stories of Brân’s battle in Ireland, Cunedda driving the Irish out of Wales and Arthur’s theft of the cauldron of Diwrnarch Wyddel (‘the Irishman’) refer to hostilities between the Welsh and Irish that no doubt had maritime dimensions.

Initiatory experiences during periods of imprisonment are rare but the number of existing testimonies (others include Aneirin, Jean Genet and Nicholas R. Mann) demonstrate their reality and provide hope and inspiration for prisoners of today.

I didn’t get to Caer Siddi yet, blown off course, I discovered valuable stories from the modern era which sadly continue to echo the ancient themes of sea-fortresses, warships and prisoners of war.