Review – After My Vows by Thornsilver Hollysong

‘After My Vows (Love Songs from a New Godspouse)’ is the second album from Thornsilver Hollysong. Thorn is a fellow awenydd and devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd who I met through the Awen ac Awenydd Facebook group in September 2019. He hosts Gwyn Day Thursdays on Land Sea Sky Travel and we have since worked together on conferences and workshops for Gwyn and his ‘family’.

It has been spiritually affirming to form a friendship with someone else who shares my devotion to Gwyn. Whilst my relationship with Gwyn is primarily devotee to god, Thorn is also a godspouse, thus Gwyn’s lover and husband. Godspousery is an ancient tradition which has probably been around since humans met gods and entered liaisons and marriages with them. Its best-known form is Christian nuns becoming Brides of Christ and it is particularly deeply embedded in the Brythonic tradition, which contains numerous stories of the Fairy King and his people taking humans as lovers. It has been illuminating listening to this album and hearing of experiences familiar and unfamiliar.

‘After My Vows’ was composed by Thorn with his own piano-playing and vocals. There is a rawness and immediacy to this music, a heartfelt passion, an outpouring of devotion. Whereas some songs are waltz-like, others are operatic, some put me in mind of a monk’s voice from a polytheistic cloister.

If there is one line from the album that summarises it for me it is: ‘Come to the ballroom of waltzing shadows’. This is from ‘Won’t You Dance’, a song that, although the tunes differ, put me in mind of David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. Here Thorn relates meeting Gwyn as ‘Black shade, silver mist / In a raven’s mask’ ‘At the Faery Ball / Sparkling shadows darkling as the moonbeams fall.’ It took me back to my own clubbing days, dancing alone, melting into the oneness of Faery. It gives voice to the timeless truth that gods are not only met at the altar or out in nature, but on the dance floor. In other songs this moonlit ballroom becomes Gwyn’s Hall in ‘the Castle of ice and bone’ where Thorn sings before his Fairy King like Gweir in his heavy blue-grey chain.

In ‘Greensleeves (He’s My Heart of Gold)’ Thorn takes the tune and rewrites the lyrics from the traditional English Folk Ballad, replacing Lady Greensleeves with Gwyn in an incredibly catchy chorus that I’ve been singing along to since I heard it. The following lines felt deeply familiar:

He rode with grace and I knew his face
Though I had no reason to know him–
The songs I sing have crowned him King
With a pathway of stars strewn below him.

Another song which stirred this sense of familiarity was ‘Reunion’:

Was I a monk or mystic? Did I meet You?
Was I a cunning man or woman? Did I know You?
Was I a heretic or witch who dared to greet You?
And for me, to put the holy Church below You?

It put me in mind of my own feeling, upon meeting Gwyn, that I’d known him in other lives, since the beginning of time. This is also conveyed in Thorn’s songs and his vows to love him ‘forever’.

‘Light of the Mist’, with its softly song couplet ‘Light of the Mist / Ghost of the Void’, sent shivers down my spine. Here ‘ghosts stars’ burn in ‘Inspired art’ and we find untold stories only hinted at such as the tale of ‘the Star who gave his Wings’ and how ‘He kissed the dead/ To bring me back’.

In other songs, like ‘As I Made My Vows (It Felt Like a Wedding)’ and ‘Just a Life with You’ I found lines that, as someone without a romantic or sexual relationship with Gwyn (or a human partner), it was harder to relate to. However, I appreciated their craftsmanship and aesthetic beauty.

And You take my hand
Saying “Come, lie down
Where the fruit trees stand
Each with blossoming crown–
In the winter sun
Under apples sweet
With our hair undone
And our joy complete.”

The album is filled with instances anyone who has sat with Gwyn in a woodland or the forests of Annwn would ‘get’: ‘You’re taller than a man could be– / Your antlers, like an ancient tree / Branch out and cover up the distant cross.’ ‘I dream of stars in a forest sky / I dream we watch them, You and I.’

I would recommend ‘After My Vows’ to polytheists who have devotional relationships with Gwyn or other gods, to those who are called to godspousery and to those who are not, and to all who appreciate beautiful music.

‘After My Vows’ is available on Bandcamp for $3 HERE.

Thorn also blogs at Starstruck Awenydd HERE.

Maponos

Castle Hill Walk April 2012 007 - CopyMaponos is a god of youth, music and hunting who is known from dedications from the Romano-British period in the North of Britain and Gaul. His name, which is Gallo-Brythonic, means ‘the son.’ Of the five dedications, which occur in Northumbria, Cumberland and here in Lancashire at Ribchester, four equate Maponos with Apollo , a Roman god associated with music, healing, prophecy, archery and the sun. In the Pythagorean tradition, the British Isles were seen as the home of the ‘Hyperborean Apollo,’ a sign of the longevity of Maponos’ worship and reputation here.

The dedication at Ribchester (241CE), which can be found in the museum, reads: ‘To the holy god Apollo Maponus, and for the health of our Lord (i.e. the Emperor) and the unit of the Gordian Sarmartian Horse at Bremetenacum, Aelius Antonius, centurion of the Sixth Legion, the Victrix (Victress) from Melitanis (?) praepositus (provost) of the unit and the region, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow .’

Within Ribchester’s museum stands a pedestal, which is believed to have ‘carried four figures in relief . On one side is Apollo, clad in a cloak and Phrygian cap, wearing a quiver and resting on his lyre. The side which possibly carried a relief of Maponos has been defaced. On another side are two female figures, whose identity and roles have been interpreted differently. Nick Ford interprets the relief to depict the genius loci of Ribchester making an offering to Belisama, the goddess of the Ribble.

Anne Ross believes the figures might be Maponos’ mother Modron and a native hunter goddess equated with Diana (Diana’s Greek counterpart was Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister). Anne’s theory stems from the identification of Maponos with Mabon, son of Modron in Welsh myth. Modron means ‘mother.’ It is likely she was known earlier as Matrona. An altar from Ribchester bears an inscription to ‘all the mother goddesses’ (the deae matrones) and another, similar, has been found in Kirkham .

Mapon0s has strong associations with the village of Lochmaben in Dumfrieshire. A folk tale from this area tells of ‘the harper of Lochmaben’ who ‘goes to London and steals away King Henry’s brown mare’. Close to the village lies the Clochmabenstone, a tribal gathering place near Gretna where runaway lovers were married . It stands beside the Solway, close to the estuary. Anne Ross suggests this may have been Maponos’ ‘fanum’ (shrine or sacred precinct), which features as the ‘locus Maponi’ of the Ravenna cosmology. The promonotory at Lochmaben may have been his temenos . Another place named after him is ‘Ruabon, the Hill of Mabon, below Wrexham’ on the Severn . Guy Ragland Philips identifies ‘Mapon’ with the spirit known as the son of the rocks, at Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire’.

Most of these places are connected with water and / or stone. A relief from Whitley castle in Cumbria of a ‘native radiate god’ suggests that like Apollo Maponus is connected with the sun. The associations of Maponos with stone, water and the sun recur in the story of the rescue of Mabon in ‘How Culwch won Olwen’ in The Mabinogion.

Before moving on, I’d like to pause to address the question of whether Maponos and Mabon are the same god. The historian Ronald Hutton believes there is no proof to identify figures from the Welsh myths with earlier gods known from archaeological evidence. This is the starting point I usually set out from. However through connecting with both Maponos and Mabon, I have found that although my connection with Maponos feels stronger, their presence feels the same. This suggests to me they are the same god / divine figure, seen and named at different times by different cultures (i.e. Romano-British and Medieval Welsh).

In ‘How Culwch won Olwen’ there are several references to ‘the North,’ suggesting some episodes may have originated from ‘The Old North,’ an area which between the 5th and 7th covered Northern Britain and Southern Scotland and was divided between a number of petty kings.

Mabon’s rescue takes place within the context of Culhwch’s task to win Olwen by hunting down the King of Boars, Twrch Trwth. To hunt the boar, Culwch requires Mabon’s aid. However, Mabon was stolen when three nights old from ‘between his mother and the wall… No one knows where he is, nor what state he’s in, whether dead or alive.’ The search for Mabon takes Arthur’s men, via the story of the ‘Oldest Animals’ (a blackbird, stag, owl, eagle and salmon) through the present day Wirral, Cheshire and parts of Wales to Gloucester on the river Severn. Mabon is found imprisoned lamenting in a ‘house of stone.’ Whilst Arthur and his men fight, Cai tears down the walls and rescues Mabon aboard the back of the salmon. With the dog Drudwyn (‘fierce white’) and steed- Gwyn Myngddwn (‘white dark mane’) who is ‘swift as a wave’ Mabon joins the hunt for Twrch Trwth, riding into the Hafren to take the razor from between the boar’s ears . It is possible to read from this traces of an older myth of the rescue of the sun from its house of stone in the earth, at dawn appearing shining in the river.

A number of tales / poems connect Mabon and Modron to the Kingdom of Rheged, which covered Cumbria, Lancashire and northern Cheshire. In one story Urien Rheged travels to ‘the Ford of Barking’ in Llanferes, where he meets Modron, ‘daughter of Avallach’ washing in the ford. He sleeps with her and she conceives his children, Owein and Morfudd . In The Black Book Carmarthen, Mabon appears as ‘the son of Myrdon the servant of Uther Pendragon’ . References to Mabon also appear in The Book of Taliesin (who was Urien Rheged’s Bard). ‘Will greet Mabon from another country / A battle, when Owain defends the cattle of his country.’ ‘Against Mabon without corpses they would not go.’ ‘The country of Mabon is pierced with destructive slaughter.’ ‘When was caused the battle of the king, sovereign, prince / Very wild will be the kine before Mabon . However it is unclear whether Mabon is himself taking part in the battle, whether Mabon is being used as a title for Owain ‘the son,’ or whether Mabon is referred to as a location.

In Brigantia, Guy Ragland Phillips mentions a ‘written charm’ found at a Farmhouse at Oxenhope in 1934 beginning ‘Ominas X Laudet X Mapon.’ He translates this as ‘everybody praises Mapon.’ When Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner invented to the pagan wheel of the year in the 1950’s the autumn equinox was dedicated to Mabon, showing the continuity of his influence into the twenty first century. His largest festival takes place at Thornborough Henge . With the number of pagans in England and Wales increasing from 42K in 2001 to 82K in 2011, my guess is that the following of our native god of youth, music and happiness will grow and continue for many years to come.

(1) Nick Ford, ‘Ribchester (Bremetenacum Veteranorum): Place of the Roaring Water’ Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, ed. Linda Sever, 2010, p87.
(2) Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (1974) p463- 4
(3) Caitlin Matthews, Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain, (2002), p179.
(4) Nick Ford, ‘Ribchester (Bremetenacum Veteranorum): Place of the Roaring Water’ Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, ed. Linda Sever, 2010, p87.
(5) Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (1974) p276
(6) Nick Ford, ‘Ribchester (Bremetenacum Veteranorum): Place of the Roaring Water’ Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, ed. Linda Sever, 2010, p88
(7) Ibid. p277
(8) Nick Ford, ‘Ribchester (Bremetenacum Veteranorum): Place of the Roaring Water’ Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, ed. Linda Sever, 2010, p86.
(9) Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (1974), p270.
(10) Caitlin Matthews, Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain, (2002), p178.
(11) Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, p458
(12) Caitlin Matthews, Mabon and the Guardians of Celtic Britain, (2002), p178.
(13) Guy Ragland Phillips, Brigantia: A Mysteriography, (1976), p128
(14) Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (1974), p477
(15) Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion, p 198 – 212
(16) http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/modron.html
(17) Ed. William F. Skene, ‘The Black Book of Caermarthen XXXI’. ‘Pa Gur. Arthur and the Porter.’ The Four Ancient Books of Wales, (1868), p179.
(18) Ibid. ‘The Book of Taliessin XVIII’ ‘A Rumour had come to from Calchvynd’ p277.
(19) http://www.celebratemabon.co.uk/