Prayer: A Little Window

Following Anna Applegate’s comment on the lack of discourse on prayer in the Pagan communities I’ve decided to share a little window into my prayer life. I’ve never done this before because, rather than saying set prayers, I simply speak to the gods and spirits from the heart. These are examples of heartfelt words rather than literary masterpieces. I’d be interested to hear from others about their daily prayers.

Altars April 2018 II

Morning

I.
Spirit of this house
Spirits of Greencroft Valley
Spirits of this land on which I stand
I give thanks to you.

Lady of the Marsh
Lady of the sacred hill of Penwortham
Lady of the wells now lost
I give thanks to you.

Belisama, Goddess of the Ribble, flowing
from Gavel Gap through Settle, Clitheroe, Ribchester
bringing your gift of sacred waters
I give thanks to you.

Nodens and the Weather Shapers
cloud-makers, wind-bringers
mist, fog, and rain-bearers
I give thanks to you.

Gwyn ap Nudd
first amongst my gods my forever patron
who leads the dead and living to Annwn
I give thanks to you.

II.

Gwyn ap Nudd,
Lord of Annwn,
Guide of Souls,
Light of the Mist,

God who dwells
in the Otherworld yet
close as my heartbeat
close as my breath*

grant me guidance
from Annwn’s dark heart

and inspiration
from Annwn’s deep depths.

As I walk each step
in service to you.

(Followed by a recital of the Annuvian Awen and a meditation, journey, or divination).

Evening

Gwyn ap Nudd
Gatherer of Souls
Walker Between Worlds

God who guides the dead
God who walks the brink of madness
God who contains the fury
of the spirits of Annwn

I come to you in awe and reverence
I come to you in love and service.

Let us share our journeys…

(Followed by communion with Gwyn)

Bedtime

Nodens Lord of Dreams
God of that deep and absurd world
that I vow to remember the next morning
before it slips from my mind with
the waters of forgetting

I give thanks for the joy of sleeping
I give thanks for the joy of dreaming

and these were last night’s dreams…

Nodens Lord of Dreams
guide me in this night of deep dreaming.

*Phrase borrowed from Greg Hill.

Nodens and the Weather Shapers

I. The Mural Crown

At Lydney overlooking the Severn stands a Romano-British temple dedicated to Nodens. From it was recovered a mural crown. It depicts him riding from the waves on a chariot pulled by four water-horses. Flanking him are wind-spirits and water-spirits.

Plate XIII Bathurst

 

I had used this image on my altar to Nodens for several months before thinking to pose the question of who these mysterious spirits are. Out walking in my locality in the voices of the winds I received the answers: ‘weather-shapers’ and ‘shapers of dream’.

My meditations have led me to the intuition that the spear-bearing wind spirit on the right is the piercing east wind. The spirit on the left with the spiralling rag is the west wind who brings both the warm moist air that keeps our climate temperature and storms and hurricanes.

Both water-spirits have the bodies of men, the frontlegs of horses, and the tails of serpents. The spirit on the right carries two pick axes and the spirit on the left a hammer and chisel. They are the shapers of the cloud formations that arise from evaporating waters approaching from the east (across the Continent and North Sea) and the west (the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea).

One of the translations of ‘Nodens’ is ‘the Cloud Maker’ from the Proto-Celtic stem *snoudo ‘mist, clouds’. He is later known as Nudd ‘Mist’. He and his spirits are the shapers of Britain’s weather.

II. The Cry of the West Wind

Whereas the east wind came across as quick-witted, clear-minded and bold, the west wind struck me as inconsistent and troubled, like a misunderstood youth: smiling, enthusiastic, and eager to please, but also moody, prone to fits of violence, brooding on some kind of trauma.

This reminded me of the words of Nimue Brown in her evocative essay ‘Watching for the winds’. Nimue lives ‘Where the Cotswolds meet the Severn / And the Severn seeks the sea’. She witnessed the tryst of the east and west winds last March on Swift’s Hill and noted their parting was ‘hesitant and regretful’ as if ‘they might not meet again’ or feared the circumstances of their next meeting. After the east wind departed the west wind remained, uneasy, not knowing what to do with himself, and shared ‘a warning, perhaps, or a cry for help.’

To interpret this cry I had to look beyond Britain to the direction from which the west wind blows: across the Irish Ocean (the domain of the sea-god Manawydan) to the Atlantic Ocean (associated with the sea-goddess Iwerydd and her consort the sea-god Llyr – Manawydan’s parents).

III. The North Atlantic Gyre

The warmth of the west wind is connected with the complex system of the North Atlantic Gyre, one of four gyres that form the ‘global conveyor belt’ of oceanic currents that determine the earth’s climate. It begins near the equator off the west coast of Africa where warm water driven by the easterly trade winds becomes the North Atlantic Current.

In the Gulf of Mexico it becomes the Gulf Stream. Joining the Antilles Current in the Straits of Florida it gains strength before the westerly anti-trade winds drive it toward Europe bringing 300,000,000 kWh/s of warm air – equivalent to the heat of a million nuclear power stations.

It then splits into the Irminger Current, which heads toward Greenland, and the North Atlantic Drift, which continues to Europe. The interactions of the west wind and the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift raise Britain’s temperatures 5 – 10 degrees Celsius higher than other continents at the same latitude and play a large role in shaping our mild, wet weather.

When these currents have lost their heat the cold water sinks (in the Denmark Strait it drops dramatically 11,500 feet as the world’s biggest waterfall) and returns as the Labrador Current beneath the Gulf Stream and the Canary Current past Africa.

Lines_of_sargassum_Sargasso_Sea - Copy_By Unknown - Ocean ExplorerNOAA, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid1175629

In the centre of the gyre lies the calm deep blue Sargasso Sea, which is named after its unique sargassum seaweed. The bounding currents deposit the refuse they carry in its midst disturbingly creating the ever-growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch.

IV. The Re-Shaping of the Weather

It’s well known that anthropogenic global warming is having a drastic effect on our climate, which has been relatively stable since the last Ice Age. The rise in sea temperature has led to storms and hurricanes forming further north buffeting Britain’s coast and to more rain and flooding.

Some scientists claim that the melting of the ice caps will lead to the water around Greenland cooling and becoming less saline. Salinity is one of the factors that causes cold currents to sink. If their circulation stops this will shut down the North Atlantic Gyre issuing in a new Ice Age.

Even the gods and spirits are in trouble. The west wind, impelled to bring storms, his nature threatened by the cessation of the warm currents cries out for help, but his voice falls on deaf ears.

Centuries of Christianity and reliance on the predictions of science have cut us off from the weather-shapers. The arguments of our modern aeromancers, ‘weather-diviners’: the meteorologists and climate scientists who strike up a conversation of sorts with the gods through their instruments have not been listened to and now it’s too late to turn back the clock.

V. The Last Salmon? The Last Eel?

Atlantic_salmon_fish_Wikipedia_Commons

On the mural crown beneath Nodens and the weather-shapers is an enigmatic figure with a short tail hooking an enormous salmon. Salmon also appear on the mosaic in the centre of the temple.

The Severn was once renowned for its migrations of salmon leaping upriver to their spawning grounds. Atlantic salmon are now in decline due to the lethal combination of weirs preventing them returning and spawning, damage to habitat, industrial fishing, and global warming.

Changes in the currents of the North Atlantic Gyre due to rising sea temperatures have affected Atlantic salmon who use them to swim to and from their feeding grounds in Greenland.

European_eel__Anguilla_anguilla_clipart_web

Eels, who spend part of their life in the Severn, use the cold currents of the gyre to swim to their breeding grounds in the Sargasso sea. Their larvae utilise the warm currents.

Could the snake-like creature wrapped around Nodens’ arm be an eel?

Both these creatures, sacred to Nodens, whose lives have been intrinsically connected with the Severn for thousands of years, are currently in decline. New fish passes have been placed in the weirs. This might help, but the changes in the North Atlantic Gyre lie beyond human repair.

V. The Broken Crown

The image of Nodens and the weather-shapers provides us with a picture of the ‘beauty and integrity’ of Britain’s climate and the fecundity of its rivers during the Romano-British period.

If the mural crown was crafted again today its vision of wholeness would be broken by the agony of the west wind torn between two fates – stormbringer and bringer of a New Ice Age. The water-spirit in the west would be the crafter of ominous storm or snow-clouds. The salmon would be in distress, the eel wriggling nervously, both on the brink of disappearance. Nodens, ‘the Cloud-Maker’, would be a troubled god, riding far less victoriously on his chariot.

This crown was once worn by a priest of Nodens who had the task of interpreting pilgrims’ dreams. Who would wear it today? Who would interpret the dreams shaped by the beings shaping Britain’s weather – hurricanes of garbage, seas rising over coastal towns, salmon lost in sealanes, stranded elvers wrapped in sargassum? Who could bear the cries of distress?

SOURCES

David Righton, ‘Empirical observations of the spawning migration of European eels’, Science Advances, Vol 2, No. 10, (2016)
D. Freidland, ‘Oceanic changes in the Sargasso sea and declines in recruitment of the European eel’, ICES Journal of Marine Science, Volume 64, Issue 3, (2007)
J. Dadswell, ‘The North Atlantic subpolar gyre and the marine migration of Atlantic salmon Salmo salar: the ‘Merry-Go-Round’ hypothesis’, Journal of Fish Biology, 77, (2010)
Nimue Brown, ‘Watching for the winds’, A Beautiful Resistance, (Gods & Radicals, 2016)
Renee Cho, ‘Could Climate Change Shut Down The Gulf Stream?’, State of the Planet, (2016)
Nodens’, Wikipedia
Scheme to re-open Severn to fish wins almost £20m in funding’, The Guardian
The North Atlantic Gyre’, Eduspace,
The Gulf Stream Explained’, In a Nutshell

Du y Moroedd

Black horse of wonder
Black horse of terror
Black of the seas
Take me under

Du y Moroedd Devotional Art Benllech Beach

Devotional Art for Du y Moroedd on Benllech beach, Anglesey

Du y Moroedd, ‘Black of the Seas’, is a legendary water-horse in Brythonic tradition. His fame is attested by Taliesin in ‘The Song of the Horses’, ‘The Black, from the seas famous, / The steed of Brwyn’.

He is referred to in The Triads of the Islands of Britain in ‘44. Three Horses who carried the Horse Burdens’:

‘Du y Moroedd… horse of Elidyr Mwynfawr, who carried on his back seven and a half people from Benllech in the north to Benllech (Elidir) in Mon. These were the seven people: Elidyr Mwynfawr and Eurgain his wife, daughter of Maelgwn Gwynedd, and Gwyn Good Companion and Gwyn Good Distributor, and Mynach Naoman his counsellor, and Prydelaw the Cupbearer, his butler, and Silver Staff his servant, and Gelbeinifen, his cook who swam with two hands and on the horse’s crupper – and he was the half person.’

This passage shows that Du is not only a sea-going water-horse, as his name suggests, but of supernatural size and strength to be able to carry seven-and-a-half people and swim vast distances. He is intimately associated with the sea-lanes between northern Britain and Wales; perhaps sightings of him off the west coast were once common.

Triad 44 is set in the mid-6th century and has a historical basis. According to The Black Book of Chirk, Elidyr made a voyage from his home in the Old North to Wales to press the claim of his wife, Eurgain, to the throne of Gwynedd following the death of Maelgwn in 547, because Maelgwn’s son, Rhun, was illegitimate. Elidyr was slain at Aber Mewdus in Arfon. An army of northern men, including Clyddno Eiddin, Nudd Hael, Mordaf Hael, and Rhydderch Hael avenged Elidyr by burning Arfon, then were driven back north by Rhun to the river Gweryd.

Morecambe Bay, Lancashire

Morecambe Bay, Lancashire

In Brigantia, Guy Ragland Phillips conjectures that Du might be identified with the Black Horse of Bush Howe in the Howgill Fells in Cumbria. He suggests Elidyr’s northern Benllech was Bush Howe and cites an alignment down Long Rigg Beck valley to Morecambe to Anglesey, saying the horse would be within its line of sight. This might have been the route taken by Du and his riders. ‘Benllech in Mon’ is likely to be present-day Benllech on Anglesey.

Benllech beach, Anglesey

Benllech Beach, Anglesey

Elidyr’s voyage aboard Du with seven-and-a-half or eight people was well known by Welsh poets until the early 16th century. Tudur Aled says ‘Of greater vigour than Du’r Moroedd, such was his strength and daring… for a spree with the cold wind, eight men formerly went upon his back’. Guto’r Glyn speaks of a foal whose ‘mother was a daughter to that horse of Mon who went to carry eight men: Du y Moroedd has grandsons – this one, I know was one of them.’

Another renowned rider of Du is Gwyn ap Nudd, a Brythonic hunter-god and ruler of Annwn. In Culhwch and Olwen it is stated ‘No steed with be of any use to Gwyn in hunting Twrch Trwyth, except Du, the steed of Moro Oerfeddog’ (the latter is a jumbling of Du’s name).

Because he fails to recruit Gwyn, Arthur does not manage to kill Twrch Trwyth, ‘King of Boars’, who finally escapes into the sea. Only the otherworldly Gwyn can ride Du to hunt the Twrch into the ocean, which might also be identified with Annwn, ‘the Deep’, ‘the Otherworld’.

Gwyn’s father, Nudd/Nodens, is pictured in a chariot pulled by four water-horses. At Vindolanda Nodens is equated with Neptune. Both Neptune (as Neptune Equester) and his Greek counterpart, Poseidon (as Poseidon Hippios) were associated with sea-horses (hippocampi).

Intriguingly we find a story in Irish mythology called ‘The Pursuit of Giolla Deacair’ featuring Gwyn’s cognate, Fionn, wherein fifteen-and-half of Fionn’s men are abducted into the sea by a water-horse.

Giolla Deacair, ‘the Troublesome Slave’ and his horse are taken in by Fionn. Both are described as monstrous. Giolla has a ‘twisted mouth with long pointed teeth projected from it at all angles’ and ‘eyes like black holes in the skull of a corpse’. He drags a large iron club leaving ‘a deep trench in the ground’.

His horse is described as ‘dirty, shaggy hair covered its long, spiny back and the ribs were sticking out through its sides. Its legs and feet were crooked and splayed and a leg that seemed too large for his body dangled awkwardly from a scrawny neck.’

The horse causes trouble amongst the other horses. Feargus tells Conan to jump on its back and ride it across country to break its spirit. However, it will not move until it carries the weight of its rider, Giolla Deacair, which is equal to fifteen men. This shows Giolla and his horse are gigantic. The men pummel and kick the horse yet still it won’t move.

Infuriated by his horse’s mistreatment, Giolla leaves. His horse follows with the men ‘welded’ to him ‘like a sword to its hilt’. Fionn and his remaining warriors follow, but no matter how fast they pursue the horse goes even faster, like the wind, over mountains, rivers, and valleys until reaching the sea. As it shoots into the waves one of Fionn’s warriors grabs onto its tail.

We are told that, as it journeys through the sea, ‘The waves did not touch it nor the fifteen Fianna on its back, nor the unfortunate man clinging to its tail. Instead, the water parted before the animal, so that it travelled on a path of dry land.’ We might imagine Du travelling similarly.

Fionn and his men sail after Giolla and his horse to where the riders are imprisoned in Tír fo Thuinn, ‘The Land Under the Wave’. Giolla reveals he is a magician called Abartach. Fionn’s marriage to Taise persuades Abartach to release his men. As retribution Goll claims fourteen of Abartach’s women to return on the horse’s back and his wife to cling onto the horse’s tail.

This tale suggests Du also originates from the watery regions of the Otherworld. I wonder whether, like Giolla’s horse, Du had an earlier otherworldly owner whose name and stories have been forgotten. Perhaps there was once a story about how Gwyn came to ride Du between worlds.

Du also shares resemblances with the Welsh ceffyl dwr, the northern British dobbie, and the Scottish kelpie. The latter are notorious for luring humans onto their backs then drowning them. Once a rider has mounted, their hand sticks to the kelpie’s neck and they cannot let go.

Du’s stories have fascinated me since I heard his splashing hoofbeats approaching whilst meditating on the Ribble estuary. When I travel to the west coast his presence is always on the edges of my mind: his great arched neck, his oar-like legs, the multitude of riders he has carried. My fingers are caught in his mane and he is forever drawing me toward the Otherworld…

Irish Sea from Morecambe

The Irish Sea from Morecambe Bay

Nodens and the Serpents of the Deep

Nodens is in an ancient British god of hunting/fishing, water, the weather, healing, and dreams. ‘Nodens’ has been translated as ‘the Catcher’ and ‘Cloud-Maker’, and ‘Deus Nodens’ as ‘God of the Abyss’ and ‘God of the Deep’. The latter links him with Annwfn, ‘the Deep’, the underworld. The nursery rhyme name for the dreamworld, ‘the Land of Nod’, derives from ‘Nodens’.

Nodens is a god of the subliminal realms beneath the everyday world and their hidden processes. This is suggested by the imagery of his Romano-British dream-temple at Lydney. In the centre was a mosaic depicting two blue and white sea-serpents with intertwined necks and striking red flippers. William Bathurst likens them to the icthyosaurus, ‘fish lizard’, of the late Triassic and early Jurassic whose remains have been found across Europe and Asia.

Mosaic from Nodens' temple

The mosaic also depicts numerous fish, possibly salmon, which would fit with salmon fishing on the river Severn, which the temple overlooks, and the legend of the salmon of Llyn Lliw carrying Arthur’s men up the Severn to Gloucester to rescue Mabon.

An inscription on the mosaic reads: ‘D(eo) N(oenti) T(itus) Flavious Senilis, pr(aepositus) rel(oqiatopmo), ex stipibus possuit o [pus cur]ante Victorio inter[pret]e.’ ‘The god Nodens, Titus Flavious Senilis, officer in charge of the supply-depot of the fleet, laid this pavement out of money offerings; the work being in charge of Victorious, interpreter of the Governor’s staff.’ It has been argued Victorio inter[pret]e, ‘Victorious, interpreter’ was an interpreter of dreams.

Another artefact found in Nodens’ temple was a bronze plaque from a priest’s ceremonial headdress. Nodens rides from the deep on a chariot pulled by four water-horses. He wears a crown, carries a sceptre in his right hand, and a sea-serpent is looped around his left arm. Flanking him are two winged wind-spirits and two icthyocentaurs, ‘fish-centaurs’ or ‘centaur tritons’, with heads and chests of men, front hooves of horses, and tails of fish. They carry hammers and anchors. Beneath is another icthyocentaur with a hammer and chisel and a fisherman with a short tail and gills hooking a fish, which could be a salmon.

Plate XIII Bathurst

All of this imagery is suggestive of the deep: rivers, the sea, and the depths of the dreamworld/underworld where prehistory gives birth to myth and the boundaries between species break down.

Pilgrims came to Lydney for dream-healing. They would arrive at the guesthouse, bathe in the baths, then make offerings to Nodens through a funnel in his temple (which suggests he dwelled below in the deep). They would then retire to a long row of cells to enter a sacred (likely drug-induced) sleep during which they would receive a vision from Nodens. The dream-interpreter would listen to the dream then suggest a method of healing based on Nodens’ message.

Offerings included coins and several beautifully crafted bronze hounds. It is likely dogs were present to lick the wounds of the injured to aid in the healing process. They may also have acted as psychopomps guiding the sleepers through the dreamworld. The son of Nodens/Nudd, Gwyn ap Nudd, had a red-nosed dog called Dormach with two serpents’ tails.

***

Nodens’ temple was built on an iron ore mine and he was known as ‘Lord of the Mines’. This may explain the hammers and chisels carried by the icthyocentaurs. Mines are associated with the chthonic depths of the underworld and its riches, which are often guarded by serpents.

Intriguingly a man called Silvianus vowed half the worth of a 12g golden ring to Nodens in exchange for withholding health from its thief, Senicianus, until it was ‘returned to the Temple of Nodens’. The ring was dug up in a field in Silchester in 1785 with a new inscription: Seniciane vivas in deo, ‘Senicianus, may you live in God’. What was originally inscribed on it remains unknown. It seems possible it served a ritual function in Nodens’ temple.

Ring of Silvianus - Wikipedia Commons

In ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’, Gwyn states ‘I have a carved ring, a white horse gold-adorned’. His ring is an important part of his symbology and  might have been a gift from his father. Angelika Rüdiger links its circularity with the ouroboros.

The ouroboros first appears in ‘The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld’ in the ancient Egyptian Funerary text KV62, which focuses on the union of the sun-god Ra with Osiris, god of the underworld. In an illustration two serpents with their tails in their mouths coil around the unified Ra-Osiris. The image represents the beginning and the end of time.

The ouroboros was passed on to the Phoenicians and ancient Greeks who gave it its name. In Greek oura means ‘tail’ and boros ‘eating’, thus ‘tail eater’. The ouroboros appears in most cultures across the world and throughout history.

A pair of sea-serpents are central to Nodens’ temple. He holds a sea-serpent. It seems possible two ouroboros serpents may have been carved on a ring worn by Nodens and passed on to his son, representing their knowledge of the depths of time where beginning and end meet as they bite their tails. Silvianus’ ring may have been a replica of this powerful mythic artefact.

It’s rumoured that Tolkien based his One Ring on the ring from the temple of Nodens and that Nodens, ‘Lord of the Mines’ was a precursor to Sauron, ‘Lord of the Rings’.*

***

In medieval Welsh literature Nodens appears as Nudd/Lludd Llaw Eraint, ‘Lludd of the Silver Hand’. Their linguistic connection is certified by a bronze arm found in the temple of Nodens.

Nobody knows how Lludd lost his arm or how his silver one was made. Parallels might be found with his Irish cognate, Nuada Airgeadlámh, ‘Nuada Silver Arm’, king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who lost his arm battling against the Fir Bolg. Because of his physical imperfection Nuada was replaced as king by the tyrant, Bres. After Bres was removed Nuada was restored to sovereignty with a new silver arm made by the healer Dian Cecht.

In the story of Lludd and Llefelys, Lludd’s sovereignty is also under threat. Although he is described as ‘a good warrior, and benevolent and bountiful in giving food and drink to all who sought it’ he is unable to defend Britain from three plagues; perhaps this is due to his missing arm.

The first plague is a people called the Coraniaid who cannot be harmed because they can hear all  conversations on the wind. The second is a scream every May eve that causes such terror that men lose their strength, women miscarry, youths go mad, and the land becomes barren. The third is the disappearance of the year’s supply of food and drink from the king’s courts.

This story is set during Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55BC. The Coraniaid are the Caesariad, ‘Romans’ and the other plagues seem linked to the ill effects of their attacks. Lludd, of course, was not a ‘real’ king at that time but a divine ruler of the underworld who may have been called upon by the Britons for aid against the Romans.

Unable to defeat the plagues himself, Lludd is forced to seek the aid of his brother, Llefelys, ‘king of France’. Llefelys instructs Lludd to poison the Coraniaid with insects crushed into water. He then explains the scream: ‘that is a dragon, and a dragon of another foreign people is fighting it and trying to overthrow it, and because of that your dragon gives out a horrible scream.’

Red and white dragons - from 15th C History of the Kings of Britain - Wikipedia Commons

Lludd’s dragon represents the Britons and the other dragon the Romans. Lludd, again, is connected with two dragons/serpents. Will Parker has likened Lludd’s dragon’s scream to ‘the scream over Annwfn’, a ‘mysterious ritual frenzy’ uttered by a person threatened with losing their claim to inherited land. It may have originated as an invocation of the spirits of Annwfn to bring about madness and barrenness. Likewise Lludd’s dragon screams as its land is lost to the Romans, blighting all who live there. Lludd has lost control of these chthonic forces.

Llefelys teaches Lludd to put an end to the second plague by a complex ritual process. He must measure Britain, length and breadth, and locate its centre. This omphalos, ‘navel’, turns out to be Oxford. It is of interest that the Greek omphalos, Delphi, was formerly known as Pytho and its oracle, the Pythian priestess, spoke with the aid of the whispering python coiled beneath.

Could Oxford have been the location of a dragon (or dragons) who whispered prophecies from the navel of Britain? Dragon Hill lies 50 miles outside Oxford. Its connections with Uther Pendragon and a dragon-slaying by Saint George are suggestive of an older and deeper mythos.

Lludd is instructed to dig a hole at the centre of Britain then place in it a vat of mead with a sheet of brocaded silk over the top. Llefelys says, ‘You will see the dragons fighting in the shape of monstrous animals. But eventually they will rise into the air in the shape of dragons; and finally when they are exhausted after the fierce and frightful fighting, they will fall onto the sheet in the shape of two little pigs, and make the sheet sink down with them, and drag it to the bottom of the vat, and they will drink all the mead, and after that they will fall asleep.’

This scene depicts the return of the escapee dragons to the omphalos of Britain and the deep. It is intriguing that they are not just dragons but are capable of taking many different forms. It is possible to perceive a mythic and perhaps evolutionary development in their shapeshifting from ‘monstrous animals’ beyond description to ‘dragons’ to two seemingly innocent ‘little pigs’.

Finally Llefelys tells Lludd to ‘wrap the sheet around them, and in the strongest place you can find in your kingdom, bury them in a stone chest and hide it in the ground, and as long as they are in that secure place, no plague shall come to the island of Britain from anywhere else.’

Lludd buries the dragons at Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia. The next time they cause trouble is during the reign of Vortigern. Every time he attempts to build a fortress on the hill it falls down. Merlin Emrys reveals to him that the cause is two dragons battling. The red one represents the Welsh and the white one the Anglo-Saxons.

Llefelys informs Lludd that the food and drink are stolen from his court by a magician who uses a sleep spell. He suggests Lludd step in a tub of cold water to keep himself roused. Lludd defeats the magician in combat, all that is lost is restored, and the magician becomes his vassal.

All three plagues are defeated. The chthonic forces of Annwfn are brought back under Lludd’s control. Caesar’s invasion of Britain fails. Lludd and Llefelys depicts the mythic processes beneath this historical period, which the Druids and seers who interacted with the deities of the underworld might have been aware of and perhaps instigated with prayers and invocations.

Lludd reigns ‘until the end of his life’ ‘in peace and prosperity’. One wonders whether Llefelys had a role in creating Lludd’s silver arm…

It seems Lludd’s ‘kingdom’, Annwfn, the deep, is passed on to his son, Gwyn ap Nudd, whose role is to contain the spirits of Annwfn to prevent them from bringing about the end of the world.

Does Gwyn’s inheritance include the serpents of the deep: beings who are older than gods, whose ‘battles’ may be less about conflicts between groups of humans than the regenerative processes that shape the earth through the aeons, through the beginnings and endings of each world?

***

*Tolkien advised Sir Mortimer Wheeler on his excavation of Lydney in 1938

SOURCES

Angelika Heike Rüdiger, ‘Gwyn ap Nudd: A First and Frame Deity, Temple 13, (Temple Publications)
Caitlin Matthews and Jane Dagger, ‘Temple of Nodens Incubation’ http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/temple-of-nodens-incubation
Elizabeth A. Grey (transl), The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, (Forgotten Books, 2007)
Greg Hill (transl), ‘Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ https://barddos.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/gwyn-ap-nudd-and-gwyddno-garanhir/
Sioned Davies, The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Sylvia Victor Linsteadt, ‘The Return of the Snake’ http://theindigovat.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-return-of-snake.html
William Hiley Bathurst, Roman Antiquities at Lydney Park, https://archive.org/details/romanantiquitie00bathgoog
‘The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley’s Celts and Romans’ http://www.deanweb.info/history4.html

A Winter of Dreaming the Rain

P1130736 - Copy

For Nodens

I.
I’m working with horses again, putting a saddle and bridle into a tack box outside a stable. The setting feels like a long time ago as at modern yards everything is locked in a tack room, burglar alarm set. The last task is to take the horses to the fields. This must be done quickly because the tides will come in to cover the path.

We lead the horses out in a single line down the narrow raised track: impatient, pulling at their bridles, hooves clomping on the water-logged ground. We take them through the gate and set them free. They spit their bits then buck and leap into the distance. On the return, water washes over our wellingtons. I realise no-one can steal the tack because of the tides.

II.
I’m standing with a friend beside a road. The road is composed of water and leads uphill into an old mill town and. Instead of cars, timber boats move slowly upward on a pulley like a fairground water-ride. I’m kind of glad to see this change. It will slow my friend’s driving down. It will slow everyone down.

We’re standing together again, this time at a roundabout on Penwortham By-Pass. But this time it’s like spaghetti junction but worse and all the roads are rushing water-courses. A Bard on a motorbike appears to show us a secret lane, cutting water with his tyres. We splosh through safely.

III.
I’m in bed. Where my altar usually stands is a dressing table and shoe rack. Water seeps up through cracks in the floor boards and over my shoes. In reality I don’t have lots of shoes and I’m not a shoe-hoarder. However in this dream I have strappy golden stilettos, heels with complex buckles, shiny fat-tongued trainers, studded leather boots. The most important task is to rescue the shoes.

I gather as many as I can and take them to the edge of a lake. The only way to cross is on a duck. Even though the ducks are duck size this is possible and they’re used to it. Lots of ducks are giving rides. When I get halfway across the lake, someone turns the wave machine on. My duck bobs and leaps. We can’t get across and to my horror I start dropping the shoes.

IV.
I’m standing at the top of a tall stone tower. Beneath is a lake. The Keeper of the Tower has given me a missive. I must steal the young of a monstrous cat before they cause trouble. I’m expecting something like Cath Palug. Looking down I see my parents’ house cat; black with a white snip, fast asleep, tail wrapped around yellow tennis balls in which she keeps her kittens.

It looks too easy to be true. Except, how am I going to get down? Suddenly I’m swooshing downward on swift black wings. I can fly! I’m a raven! I can barely believe it. Delighting in my newfound ability I circle and swoop, skate on the water, flap my wings.

“Look! Look! Look at that raven!” children pull on the sleeves of their mothers gathered with prams to feed the ducks at the water’s edge, pointing excitedly.

I’m having so much fun I don’t care until I remember my mission. I swish down and steal one of the tennis balls from the sleeping cat. When I take it from beneath my wing it is nothing but a piece of wood engraved with a number. I’ve been tricked.

V.
Old college friends have moved into my street because it’s one of few places left unflooded. Fish House Brook has become a river. However that isn’t the threat. Water rises from drains with sewer rats. Some are big as dogs. One floats by balloon-like, dead, bloated with disease.

We bag up our belongings and camp beneath the By-Pass. For some reason there are rat-sized portholes in the tents. Volleys of rats pour in, sleek and wet as otters, biting, squealing. We’re forced to leave in a mass exodus with our lives on our backs down a long and watery road knowing nowhere is safe.

What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens

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My article ‘What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens’ has been published on Gods & Radicals HERE.

After heavy rain and floods across northern England, Scotland and Wales my article focuses on addressing Nodens (‘the Catcher’) as a Romano-British rain god. Exploring Nodens’ identification with Neptune as a god of rain it moves onto his role as a dream-god at Lydney and transformation into Lludd of the Silver Hand (a Catcher who cannot catch) and parallels with the Fisher King. It ends by discussing the importance of ‘asking the question’ and being open to answers in a time of uncertainty and climate change.

Invernith

My arrival is slow to wonder
initial disbelief
fading into silver-lined water
the mirror imprint
of Nith’s name a god in glass
becoming grey cloud
in the ether says
BELIEVE BELIEVE.

In the netherworld gloaming birds
shriek BELIEVE BELIEVE:
barnacle geese beat
black and white hearts against Crifell.
As the dark moon starts her slow pull
downward to Invernith
my fingers brush water
and touch a silver hand.

Invernith with Crifell

Nith’s Estuary

After visiting the site of the Battle of Arfderydd, we chose to stay in the Nith Hotel at the mouth of the estuary as it was close to Caerlaverock and because I wondered whether, like Neath, there was a connection with Nudd and his son, Gwyn. I went with no strong expectations or feelings.

When we arrived at the car park I was utterly blown away. Clouds dark blue and dappled silver were reflected perfectly in still quiet waters. Splitting the silence hollering overhead flew drove after drove of barnacle geese following the river’s course then disappearing from sight at the estuary.

Earlier we had accidentally spooked a field filled with these magnificent birds. With barking cries and clamouring wings they took off flashing black and white, ascending into hurtling v’s.Shortly afterward a covey of swans flew over honking deep and resonant calls.

SwansIn the folklore of Wales, northern England (and beyond) ‘the Wild Hunt’ is associated with flights of swans and geese. Gwyn is one of its leaders. The term is usually limited to instances where the birds cannot be seen and those who hear them fear for their lives and souls.

My experience in this case was more of beauty than terror. The estuary of the Nith where sky met river and Criffel displayed its otherside in the lucid water was clearly a liminal place. There was something deeply magical about the passing birds and their wild song.

This reminded me a translation of Annwn (the Brythonic ‘otherworld’ Gwyn rules) is ‘the deep’. Annwn as hidden depth has intriguing resonances with the sound of ‘Nudd’. Onomatopoeically it links not only to Neath and Nith but the concepts beneath, underneath and the netherworld. This evening showed Annwn’s depth is immanent in this-world and can be experienced here.

Later on the brink of sleep I found myself thinking of Nudd / Nodens’ temple on the estuary of the river Severn. People made votive offerings to him as a god of hunting, healing and dream then slept in a designated space and priests interpreted their dreams in the morning.

Recently I discovered Nudd is not only the name of a family of Brythonic gods but also a human family name. Dreon ap Nudd fought on the dyke of Arfderydd not far from the Nith. His father, Nudd Hael, is included in the genealogies of the Men of the North. In the Yarrow valley lies a memorial stone to ‘the illustrious princes Nudus and Dumnogenus. In this tomb lies the son of Liberalis.’ Tim Clarkson says ‘Nudus is a Latinisation of Nud or Nudd.’

It seems possible this ancient northern family derived their name from Nodens / Nudd and that he was their ancestral deity and they may have served him in a similar way to the priests on the Severn. Preparing to slip into the netherworld, ‘the land of Nod,’ I wondered how many other worshippers of Nudd and his kindred had slept on Nith’s estuary.

In the morning when I awoke the barnacle geese were flying back up river to feed on the fields and salt marsh. Several groups landed on the banks and by making a careful approach we managed to draw close enough to photograph them.

Barnacle GeeseBarnacle geese possess some fascinating folklore. It was once believed they grew on driftwood like barnacles hanging down from their beaks until they grew a coat of feathers and were ready to fly away. Their growth from barnacles in summer explained why they only appeared as birds in the winter months.

Visiting the Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust we found out the ‘real’ reason they can only be seen in winter. Barnacle geese incubate their eggs and raise their goslings in Svalbard in Norway between May and September when the Gulf Stream melts the ice. As winter approaches they fly 3000 km south to the Solway Firth.

In the 1940’s there were only 300 birds. Due to the work of the trust there are now over 30,000. However, if global warming continues it is possible that ice melting early in Svalbard will leave their eggs vulnerable to being eaten by polar bears.

As well as finding out more about barnacle geese we got to see whooper swans up close at feeding time. Whooper swans are another over-wintering bird who fly in from Iceland and can be told apart from mute swans by their yellow beaks.

Whooper SwansIt is my growing intuition that Gwyn, as a god of winter, may have a connection with birds over-wintering in Britain and that this would vary from place to place.

Forgotten Arfderydd and the Hearsay of Corvids

Last Saturday I set out north to the site of the Battle of Arfderydd. At the forefront of my mind was the matter of forgetting.

If Arfderydd was significant enough to be recognised as one of Three Futile Battles of Britain, if it was where Gwenddolau, the last pagan Brythonic king of the Old North, made his final stand and one hundred and sixty men lost their lives before he died and three hundred after and where Myrddin Wyllt went mad, why no marker of the site? Why no songs? Why has Arfderydd been forgotten?

Considering Gwyn ap Nudd stated his presence at Gwenddolau’s death and at the deaths of other northern warriors and the episode where he abducts Creiddylad, Gwythyr and his (mainly northern) supporters takes place in the Old North why has his memory faded from the minds of the people of northern Britain?

In search of clues, a friend and I travelled north to Longtown and set off on foot up Netherby Road, consciously following in the footsteps of William Skene and Nikolai Tolstoy. The first place we visited was Netherby Hall, the mansion of the Graham family built on the site of the Roman fort Castra Exploratum. An altar dedicated to a god called Vitris and ram-horned head carved from local red sandstone found nearby suggest it was the location of a Romano-British cult.

Netherby HallAs we approached from the south Netherby Hall’s sandstone walls came into view atop a prominent ridge with polygonal towers, parapets and scaffolding. An encircling wire fence said strictly out of bounds. Following the path round the mansion we passed a woodland carpeted with snowdrops and trees stacked with rooks’ nests filled with noisy, vocal, raucous birds

Never before had I seen many rooks or heard such a racket. Their croaking and cawing see-sawed in my mind like something trying to break through. Unfortunately I don’t speak very good rook. Yet the rooks seemed important. More important than the blank face of the mansion and its ‘Private’ sign.

We rejoined the main road and headed north for Carwinley. When Lailoken (Myrddin Wyllt) told St Kentigern of his guilt at the deaths of the combatants and vision of a host of warriors (who I believe to be Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn) he stated the battle took place ‘in the field between Liddel and Carnwanolow.’ Skene identified Liddel with Liddel Water and Carnwanolow as Caer Gwenddolau and connected this with Carwinley.

Passing Carwinley cottage, farm and water mill we looked down into the sandstone gulley of the burn, steep banks green with ferns, onto shining reddish water. I recalled Andrew Breeze’s interpretation of Arfderydd as ‘burning weapon’ relating to this bloody stream forming the parish of Arthuret’s boundary. Breeze said ‘Car’ need not mark a fort but a defensive stockade. It certainly seemed possible the burn was named after Gwenddolau’s fall.

Carwinley BurnThe Triads of Ancient Britain also mention ‘the retinue of Dreon the Brave at the Dyke of Arfderydd.’ Dreon ap Nudd is the son of Nudd Hael. If this etymological link to Gwyn ap Nudd (and his father Nudd or Nodens) suggests an ancient connection between a northern family and their ancestral deities it is no surprise Gwyn and his host appeared at the battle where Dreon and his retinue met their end.

As I pondered whether the ‘Dyke’ they fought on was above Carwinley Burn I saw crows over the trees who shouted and cawed then pitched their games across a sky of constant silver-grey cloud. A sky of concealing. A sky of protection. A sky of no openings onto crashing visions of warriors.

Fields of Arfderydd

 

As we passed the green and well-tilled-over crow-haunted fields the dead did not rise. There were no whispers, no warnings, only the hearsay of corvids.

 

Upper Moat

 

At Upper Moat where reputedly the three hundred men who fought after Gwenddolau’s death were buried there was no sign of the orchard Skene mentioned but crows filled the trees in the background.

Our final destination was Liddel Strength, a motte and bailey which might have been the location of Gwenddolau’s fort and where his ‘Faithful War Band’ could have made their last stand, fighting for a month and a fortnight after the death of their leader. Unable to find our way we were directed by a local farmer (coincidentally Skene was directed by a farmer from Upper Moat too!) onto a shooter’s path which climbed steeply beside Liddel Water.

On the way we encountered a line of not-dead reeds hauntingly reminiscent of flags or ribboned spears blowing in the wind on an abandoned battlefield. Or of forlorn warriors.

Reeds of ArfderyddThe site of Liddel Strength was badly eroded by the river and appallingly overgrown. Breaching the defensive ditch we scrambled through hat-snatching hawthorns and ankle-snagging brambles up the motte which didn’t feel overly welcoming in its firm return to nature. There were no crows but a bird of prey screeched somewhere out of sight reminding me of Gwenddolau’s birds who fed on the corpses of the Britons.

Looking down from the summit Liddel Water flowed far below at the foot of a slope impossible to ascend. Fields and woodland stretched out before us. The land seemed as determined in swallowing time as it was in absorbing the abandoned railway track Skene arrived on two hundred years ago. On our return journey only the bridge and fragments of the embankment remained.

The dereliction of Liddel Strength contrasted sharply with Caer Laverock Castle (the ‘Lark’s Nest’ Arfderydd was supposedly fought over) which we visited the next day. This splendid medieval stronghold belonging to the Maxwell family was well preserved by the National Trust. Its siege by the English immortalised in the ‘Song of Caerlaverock’ was reconstructed on a video in the display rooms.

Caer Laverock CastleCrows flocked in the trees and played over its terraces. South was an earlier fort closer to the Solway Firth, an artist’s representation showed the higher sea levels and its importance as a strategic location.

Heading north again we climbed Ward Law, a lookout point where the Maxwell Clan gathered shouting their battle cry: “Wardlaw! I bid ye bide Wardlaw!” Beyond was another Roman camp invisible from the ground.

Ward LawLooking south from Ward Law to Solway Firth for the first time the all-encompassing silver-grey clouds broke. Seeing clear light and waters ablaze with cold fire I was reminded of the unendurable brightness Myrddin saw as Gwyn approached with the hosts of Annwn. The otherworld opening only just beyond the sands and tides of this-world.

Solway FirthI left with intuitions but no answers about Gwyn and his kindred, battles, forgetting, clouds and corvids… another part of this story waits to be told about the estuary of the river Nith and I shall be sharing this in my next post…

SOURCES

Breeze, Andrew “The Name and Battle of Arfderydd, near Carlisle,” Journal of Literary Onomastics: Volume 2: Issue 1, Article 1. (2012)
Clarkson, Tim The Men of the North: The Britons of Southern Scotland (John Donald, 2010)
Heron (transl) ‘Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ https://barddos.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/gwyn-ap-nudd-and-gwyddno-garanhir/
Pennar, Meirion (transl.) The Black Book of Carmarthen (Llanerch Enterprises, 1989)
Ross, Anne Pagan Celtic Britain (Cardinal, 1974)
Skene, William F. The Four Ancient Books of Wales (Forgotten Books 2007)
Tolstoy, Nikolai The Quest for Merlin (Sceptre, 1985)

Streets of Dream

Clouds arrive, seasonal and grey,
smothering the town’s jagged edges.
Wrapped in an amniotic haze
I wander streets of dream forgetting
old boundaries between sky and pavement
in the driving rain. Wind spirits
and fierce hounds howl the day down.
I feel the out-breath of a distant king.
The wisdom of Nodens is lost to me.
I wander streets of dream forgetting
all boundaries in the driving rain.

*Nodens is an ancient British god associated with sleep, healing and hunting. In a relief found at his temple in Lydney he is depicted with hounds and putti (wind spirits).