In Pum Llyfr Cerddwriaeth (1570) Simwnt Fychan lists three main stages of poet-hood; disgybl ysbâs heb radd, ‘unqualified apprentice’, disgybl disgyblaidd ‘qualified apprentice’, and pencerdd ‘master poet’.
In January 2013 I took vows to Gwyn ap Nudd, a Brythonic god of the dead and ruler of Annwn, embarking on an apprenticeship to him that would lead me to becoming a disgybl disgyblaidd and his awenydd.
Undertaking an apprenticeship to a god is little known or spoken about in the Western world. In English schools the myths of ancient Britain contained in medieval Welsh literature are not taught. The names of the gods and spirits associated with our localities are not told. Nobody speaks of Annwn, the Brythonic Otherworld, as a place of initiation. An apprenticeship is a route to a secular career rather than to a vocation, a word stemming from vocātiō, a call or summons by the divine.
Because of this I did not recognise the first intimations of my calling. I did not understand the impulse that led me to read, walk, dance, drink myself to the heights of ecstatic visions, to the depths of abyssal despair. Lacking the framework of religion or knowledge of shamanistic experience I did not know whether my visions or the beings I saw were real or symptoms of madness.
Not knowing that it was possible to communicate with them (speaking back would mean I was surely mad!), to walk the Otherworld with will and intention, I could neither embrace or shrug off my calling. I stumbled through life like a drunken teenager, failing in my ambitions to become a philosophy lecturer, a riding instructor, or a fantasy writer because none fulfilled this inexplicable urge.
It was only after learning about the revival of animism and polytheism in the West that I realised my experiences were real and meaningful. That it was possible to communicate with gods and spirits. When Gwyn showed up when I was thirty years old I finally put a face to that calling and understood that my visions were of his realm, Annwn/Faerie, and his people, the spirits of Annwn/fairies.
My life suddenly made sense. Following a haunting vision of a satyr-like spirit in my local woodland in the depths of winter who spoke the words ‘a sadness is coming this land – you must become Gwyn’s apprentice’ I knew for sure what was already in my heart and the depths of my soul; that I must devote myself to Gwyn.
So I made three vows to Gwyn at the White Spring beneath Glastonbury Tor: to honour him daily, to stand in my truth, and to walk between the worlds with reverence. I chose this place not only because it is Gwyn’s best known sacred site, but because of powerful experiences at Glastonbury Festival I believe were associated with this enigmatic god and his bright spirits.
Soon afterwards the name of the vocation I was working towards as an apprentice was revealed. I was to become Gwyn’s awenydd – a spirit worker and inspired poet who travels between the worlds questing the awen, the divine breath of inspiration, from the land and the depths of Annwn.
During my apprenticeship to Gwyn I have learnt and done far more than I ever did at university. Gwyn has taught me how to journey back into the land’s deep memories to retrieve stories from distant times, those of ancestors who have left little or no trace, or have been erased by the victors.
Gwyn has taken me deeper into Annwn, where history fades into myth, to reveal the extent of the atrocities committed against his people by Christian warriors such as Arthur and his warband and by ‘saints’ and the effect on our psyche of our violent separation from our ancient deities and the Otherworld. To me he gave the task of revealing and thus beginning the process of healing these wounds.
Gwyn finally called upon me to recover his forgotten mythos from the mists of time, from the pens of Christian scribes bent on portraying him and his spirits as demons; to give voice to the inspired ones who have served him, whose souls he has gathered, since the last of the ice departed from this land.
I have recorded my personal journey since its beginning along with my research and creative writing on my blog and now have nearly a thousand followers and several patrons who support my work. I have shared my poems and stories in individual and group performances in my local area. At Pagan events in the North West of England and beyond I have spoken on the lore of the land and the Brythonic gods.
With the launch of Gatherer of Souls, my devotional book for Gwyn and Annuvian counter-narrative to Arthurian mythology, my apprenticeship is complete. I am now a disgybl disgyblaidd and his awenydd. Whether I will ever reach, or want to reach, the Taliesinic heights of pencerdd is doubtful.
I am currently happy knowing that I am one of the first of a new generation of awenyddion to complete something ancient and profound, with knowing the joy of being devoted to this terrible beautiful god whose mists shroud the mysteries of the Otherworld; that the well of learning is infinite.
I am planning to take new lifelong vows to Gwyn as his awenydd here in Penwortham, where he first appeared to me in person and where most of my work for him takes place, on this January’s full moon.