A Myth To Live By

In the preface to The Red Book, Carl Jung’s account of his ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, there is a quote about how it originated in his drive to find the myth he was living and get to know it:

‘I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: “what is the myth you are living?” I found no answer to this question, and that to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust… So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth.’

Since I read this book a couple of years ago Jung’s question has stuck with me. I’ve had a fascination with myth since as long as I can remember, the mythic world first being presented to me in the fantasy novels I have loved reading since I was young child and then in increasingly older forms as I read the re-workings of the Graeco-Roman and Christian cosmologies in the poetry of Shelley, Blake, Milton, and followed them back to their sources in ancient Greek myth and the Bible.

It was this longing for the depth of a mythic ground that led me from analytical to Continental philosophy, through phenomenology with its focus on lived experience and aesthetics with its focus on art, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy in which the gods Dionysus and Apollo are shown to give birth to myth and its artistic expressions through Dionysian ecstasy and Apollonian vision.

Having discovered ancient Greek polytheism, I posed the questions of whether the gods exist now and whether people worship them. Finding out about modern Paganism I began to seek the gods. The Greek and Roman gods were there, but seemed distant – my connection felt like a broken radio signal.

The gods who found me were the gods of my land, the landscape of Lancashire, of ancient Britain. To my sadness I found that few of them had myths. Bel, Belisama, and Brigantia, were known only by their names on Roman inscriptions, Roman histories, in later place-names. Those who had myths by the names they were known by in medieval Wales: Nodens/Nudd/Lludd and his son, Vindos/Gwyn ap Nudd, Matrona/Modron and her son Maponos/Mabon, were euhemerised. Lludd appears as a ‘human’ king of Britain. Mabon, Gwyn, his rival, Gwythyr, and his beloved, Creiddylad, are incorporated into King Arthur’s court list and Gwyn is demonised as Arthur’s nemesis. And the dragon-goddess I have come to known as Anrhuna isn’t mentioned anywhere at all.

As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, over the past seven years I have been devoted to him, I have been working with his myths, with the myths of his kindred, to pare away the Christian veneer. To get back (or perhaps forward) to an understanding that is animistic and polytheistic. To a myth I can live by.*

In The Broken Cauldron and Gatherer of Souls I gave voice to myths that I felt spoke not only from medieval Wales but a wider Brythonic and pre-Brythonic culture born when people returned to Britain after the Ice Age and began to listen to the gods of this land, who perhaps guided them here.

As a person with a penchant for philosophy, for asking big questions, for desiring a groundwork, coming to Brythonic polytheism I have been frustrated by the absence of a creation myth and by the lack of stories that speak explicitly about how we came to be here and the journey of our souls.

I have found echoes of the Big Bang in the story of how Ceridwen’s cauldron broke with a scream, in the word crochan which means ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’ of how she gave birth to the universe. I’ve long intuited that ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in Welsh mythology (which shares parallels with ‘The Battle of Moytura’ in Irish mythology) contains the remnants of the ancient clash of the culture gods against the gods and monsters of the Otherworld from which our world and civilisation originated. I’ve felt ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ contains broken fragments of the soul’s return to Annwn, to the cauldron, to be reborn.

But I didn’t have the courage, the foolishness, the presumptuousness required to attempt penning new myths, myths that exposed a personal vision of my gods that others might not agree with, that would be open to criticism, that would expose the teachings of my soul, until the coronavirus arrived.

Until the lockdown struck and my internship with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust was postponed indefinitely and my possibility of finding paid work in conservation began to look increasingly shaky due to the threat of the recession and my discovery that having Asperger’s is the source of my difficulty with social interaction, which was always going to make it tough leading volunteers.

Until I was faced with the possibility that I could lose my elderly parents to the coronavirus and, as I live with them, my home. Without my mum and dad, a home, a job, what would I be left with? The small income from blogging about my vocation as an awenydd from my Patreon supporters. My relationship with my gods and with my soul, my imperative of myth-making, with my soul-work.

Thus my book of new myths, working titled ‘The Gods of Peneverdant’, has been born.

*Here I paraphrase the title of a book by Mary Midgely, The Myths We Live By, in which she presents science as our dominant myth.

My Annuvian Path

I’m at liberty to share this because I don’t live in the age of Queen Victoria, King James, or King Arthur. I’m not Orddu, ‘the Very Black Witch’, in her cave waiting for the knife to cut her in twain. I’m not Elizabeth Southerns, Anne Whittle, Isobel Gowdie, or Isabella Rigby. Nobody blinks an eyelid when I say I worship a god of Annwn and speak with otherworldly spirits and in this I am blessed.

Still, my path is a lonely one not many choose to walk. Annwn means ‘the Deep’, ‘the Otherworld’. In this age the reign of superficiality and normalism is stronger than the influence of any monarch. There’s an inner policing – not a hanging or burning at the stake, just dismissal, lack of interest, in the mystical, the magical, the mythic, when they’re not reduced to cosplay or methods of self-development.

Paganism and Druidry have been demystified and the mystical systems that exist (in Druidry) still hinge around Taliesin and Arthur, ‘heroes’ who slaughtered and oppressed the gods and ‘monsters’ of Annwn. I keep returning to these traditions like a restless horse pacing its box, like I’m picking a scab, each time find myself more deeply disappointed; an outsider, a black sheep amongst the white-robed herds.

Perhaps our deepest myths died when Taliesin and Arthur stole the cauldron from the Head of Annwn. Something big must have perished to leave the void, filled for 1500 years by Christianity, now filled instead by the new religion of the self, the selfie, everyone wanting to be a celebrity bard in the virtual otherworlds, in the god-sized holes in their heads, which no longer have room for real gods. I have only a dim intuition what that was. If it is contained in our existing texts, it’s very well concealed. Seeking it out feels important and I can’t do so whilst wrestling with wider disillusionments.

I’ve finally reached the point my box-walking is at an end. A knowing I’ll never feel at home in mainstream Paganism or in Druidry. That my dream of being part of a physical community who get together for devotions, to work with myths, to discuss how such work can change the world, is unlikely to happen. I’ve complained of my disappointments and voiced my criticisms for the last time.

Now for some affirmations: I am an awenydd. I walk an Annuvian path. I will make the most of this opportunity my spiritual ancestors such as Orddu never had. I will reclaim our deepest myths. I will learn to live by them.

Annuvian Awen - Awen Ac Awenydd

Review: Creatures by Greg Hill

Creatures by Greg HillGreg Hill lives in Wales. He was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and contributes regularly to Welsh literary magazines. I’ve followed his blog for a while and was delighted when I heard about the release of his first full length collection of poetry in print; Creatures.

The title alone creates intrigue. What kind of creatures? The epigraph replies; ‘All creaturely things… Plants growing, / Roads running, / Rivers flowing, / Places that sing.’ It is clear from the outset this collection is about an animate landscape where every being is a creature, alive and sentient.

The first ekphrastic poem is based on the picture on the cover; Fidelma Massey’s sculpture, ‘Water Mother,’ who dreams thoughts of water into being. Here, the ‘cosmic ebb and flow’ of thought and water is contained in the poem. Analogies between living water and perception recur throughout the book. In ‘Cwm Eleri’ the poem’s tight structure fails to contain the river, which slips from grasp like time. In ‘Myddleton’s River’ water-ways link London, Wales and the underworld, forming a conduit for complicated alchemical processes of mental and physical transformation.

The contrast between our immediate perception of creatures and those aspects of their being impossible to grasp is central. A jackdaw sitting happily in the hearth becomes ‘an image… a token of wildness… like a jigsaw piece from another puzzle;’ a homely and familiar event made strange. Greg writes that as a heron dips out of sight ‘a part of me fell out of the sky with it,’ lost ‘except that something / settles in the flow of these words.’ We can never completely grasp our perceptions. Only through words can they find permanent representation.

Several poems present roads, paths and boundaries as living entities and how our understanding of them shifts once they are crossed and they slip into memory. If we try to return, the roads are ‘dull,’ ‘dusty,’ ‘empty.’ Our former selves are shadows, unfamiliar reflections. ‘Strange border guards’ usher us ‘from what / we neither know nor recognise.’ These haunting and complex poems demonstrate how choices shape our relationship with the landscape and hence our memories.

The mysteries of the Bardic Tradition and its creatures are explored in novel ways. ‘Awen’ depicts a shepherd lad inspired to speak poetry by a spirit ‘like a forest god’ who is elusive as the words he inspires. Four episodes from the Mabinogion are covered. I was fascinated by ‘A Scaffold for a Mouse,’ which depicts ‘Manawydan living in a dream / landscape with the life / conjured out of it like a flat plane.’ Through his ‘firm grip’ on the mouse, ‘a small thing / for a great purpose,’ he breaks the ‘powerful magic’ of Llwyd, awakening ‘form to its true nature’ thus freeing Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa.

This collection depicts a relationship with the creaturely world that is on the surface simple and direct yet beneath mysterious and disconcerting. Each time I return to these poems I discover new meanings and thematic relationships within the whole. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes poetry with lots of depth and has a love for nature, myth and creatures.

Creatures can be purchased through Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/greghillpoetry

Greg Hill’s poetry site is here: http://greghill.weebly.com/
Greg’s blog, Hill’s Chroicle can be found here: http://hills-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk/