Shattering the Nunnery

Somewhere between here and Annwn

a part of me is cloistered

thinking already
about the spring flowers

as she paints another saintly visage.

In another life she has been drinking
the truth from a forbidden cup.

The saints no longer look the same:

their hands are red with blood and filled
with splinters and chips of stone
from shattered pagan idols.

The stained glass is blood stained.

Her voice catches on the songs and tears
as if upon nails – she SCREAMS

and the stained glass shatters.
The nunnery falls down.


This poem, which is based on a spirit-journey, signals my release from a malaise I have been calling ‘nun envy’. Although I realised Christianity was not for me when I experienced its dull and stuffy sermons and the patriarchal presence of the Christian God in my local C of E church as a Brownie at church parade a part of me has longed for learning and ritual and shared devotion in a religious community.

I have been deeply jealous of Christians because they have a system of support for people who have a sense of vocation. For those who are called to serve God there are ways of living by this calling. Vicars and priests receive an education and a salary for their work and nuns and monks lead lives of dedication to God based around prayer, manual labour, and artistic and intellectual pursuits without worrying how to pay for housing or food. When I hit thirty-five I realised that was the last chance I would have of becoming a Christian nun and living what looked the ideal life except for… the Christianity.

Of course, I decided against, because I did not want to betray my god to the God and saints of the religion that destroyed the pagan traditions and, in particular, demonised him and the Otherworld he rules.

Yet, still I kept yearning for what Christian monastics have. Researching local monasteries and abbeys. Finding myself drawn to Preston’s Carmelite monastery.


Visiting the Tabor Retreat Centre, which was once a Carmelite nunnery but is now run by the Xaverian Missionaries (this provides regular meditation classes, Lectio Divina, short courses and even a book club as well as retreats which I’d have loved to go to … if only I was Christian!).


Wanting to go back to the ruins of Fountains Abbey (which I visited every weekend when I worked at the Yorkshire Riding School) to sit and mourn something I will never have.

Fountains Abbey II
A strange impulse I believe may be rooted in a past life as a nun. A few years ago when I read in a biography about the ritual burial of Julian of Norwich – entombed like Christ to become his bride and an anchoress who would never see the outside world again I felt like I was being buried alive. As if I’d experienced something similar before. I flung the book into my wardrobe, slammed the door, and went for a walk feeling immensely grateful for my freedom to see trees and taste the fresh air.

I’ve always had a push-pull relationship with Christian mysticism, art, literature, and song. A yearning for its richness and beauty but a dislike of its unhealthy obsession with suffering and punishment.

As a consequence of years of learning about how nearly every splendid church and cathedral is based on the takeover (violent or non-violent) of a pagan sacred site; how nearly every haloed saint is associated with the defeat of a pagan mythic figure or with the slaughter or conversion of pagans; how the Christian tradition is founded on the death of paganism, it has finally lost its fusty-fingered hold on me.

Being an awenydd attempting to reweave the ways between Annwn and This-modern-world isn’t easy. But I think I will be able to do it better and more happily now my yearning for what Christians have and my nun envy is gone. From the ruins of the shattered nunnery may new shoots and tendrils grow.

Fountains Abbey



The Cloud Seeders: Part One

My latest post for Gods & Radicals: The first part of an essay exploring the roots of the coercive technology of cloud seeding and its war upon the sky gods. This focuses on the destruction of ancient animistic and polytheistic cultures in Britain and Europe.


“The shooting of aerosols into the skies with hail cannons or dropping them from planes like bombs provides a disturbing image of war with the sky gods that runs contrary to the pagan principle of respectful relationship.”

From Lorna Smithers

Clouds over Penwortham Sept 2018

To you alone it is given to know the gods
And spirits of the sky, or perhaps not at all


I. The Seeding of the Skies

Cloud seeding is a magical art worked by the land, the sea, the sky, the gods and spirits, humans too.

Clouds form when water vapour condenses on cloud seeds – tiny particles of dust. This happens when the land is heated by the sun, when air is forced to rise over hills and mountains, at weather fronts, and over rainforests and peat bogs where water evaporates from leaves and mosses seeding clouds. When the air cools and the tiny droplets of…

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Of Sojourning in Other Worlds


It’s an old shamanistic art, the art of the fay, taking people away through a story to sojourn in Other Worlds and (unlike some fairies) bringing them back, bedraggled, teary, but safe, to Thisworld.

My first teachers were fantasy writers – C. S. Lewis, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, Ursula Le Guin, Robin Hobb. Reading the visionary poets Blake, Shelley, Coleridge, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud, provided intimations otherworldly visions might be real and imagination was a channel to the Divine.

Studying philosophy and literature, not just reading but practicing Husserl’s epoché and Rimbaud’s ‘systematised disorganisation of the senses’, I experimented with intoxicants at festivals, night clubs, parties on the tops, beaches, local woodlands. I gained my own visions of the Otherworld. Some hair-raisingly beautiful, others confusing, odd, downright uncomfortable, some terrifying, mortifying.

The day I ended up on a rock at the end of the world staring into the abyss, unable to decide whether to live or die (I might have died or gone mad if three beings I now know were fay hadn’t brought me back), I decided my journey was at an end and tried to slam the doors of perception shut.

The result was a year of anxiety and panic attacks – terror of the world(s) I’d shut out intruding on this one. I managed to scrape through the third year of my degree, saved by writing a dissertation on the Sublime, which was based on my experience of sublimities undoing my mind and gained me a first.

Studying for my MA in European Philosophy I caught a glimpse of a way of understanding my experiences. In Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy I came across the notion of Dionysian ecstasy giving birth to Apollonian visions, only I hadn’t been seeing  dancing satyrs…

Searching for a deeper understanding of how we envision and imagine Other Worlds I started studying Blake’s conception of the Imagination at PhD level. My lack of funds and growing intuition Imagination cannot be conceptualised led me to abandon my studies and return to working with horses.

I loved the horses, but the force that led me to Other Worlds would not leave me alone. Whilst working as a groom in Hertfordshire I started writing stories about otherworldly encounters. I conceived an idea for a fantasy novel and eventually gave up my equine career, moving back in with my parents and taking a less demanding job in a supermarket to make this my focus.

During this period I discovered polytheism – that people worshipped the old gods and worked with spirits. Failing to connect with the Graeco-Roman deities I discovered Britain has its own. Finally I met Brigantia, goddess of the North, Belisama, goddess of the Ribble, Maponos, ‘the Son’ and Matrona, ‘the Mother’, who have altars at Ribchester. Yet it wasn’t until I met Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn/Faery, our ancient British Otherworld, read the fairylore that my experiences made sense.

Gwyn taught me how to journey to Annwn/Faery with intent and come back with stories of my own. He became my patron and I his awenydd and I have served him ever since. When we first met, his condition of traveling with him to the Otherworld was that I give up my ambition to become a professional fantasy writer. This was tough at the time but worth it for the wonders he’s shown me, which lie beyond the limited stretches of my own mind and the pastiche of the fantasy world I created.

For nearly five years I didn’t dare to so much as open a fantasy book. Then my mum told me about some new novels by Robin Hobb about dragonkeepers and I was soon stuck in, reading them and the final trilogy about Fitz and the Fool, before returning to the whole series again. Then re-reading Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea quartet, then all the Dragonlance books by Weiss and Hickman.

When I consulted Gwyn about whether he minded I received the gnosis he’d led me to those Other Worlds.

Why, then, did he ban me from becoming a professional fantasy writer? I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot over the past year. I think one of the reasons was that when I was writing fantasy I was locked in a world that was a projection of my thoughts rather than truly engaging with Other Worlds.

Also, there are differences between the Otherworld(s) of our world myths and the Other Worlds of fantasy. The Otherworld(s) of our many traditions, such as Annwn, Helheim, Hades, even Heaven and Hell, are intrinsically connected with our lives in Thisworld, on this Earth, and are places where our gods, spirits, and ancestors reside. Fantasy worlds are Secondary Worlds with their own Otherworlds. They are not where we live, their laws differ, and our souls won’t go there when we die.

That is not to say those Other Worlds are not real and do not have lessons to teach us. I’ve had dreams and visions where persons from novels have appeared as real as gods. I’ve learnt more about the nature of magic from the wizards of Earthsea and Krynn than from any modern grimoire; of devotion, sacrifice, the undoing of time and space, the sundering and making of worlds.

In contrast the magic of Thisworld and our Otherworld(s) is subtle. Centuries of Christianity have cut us off from the gods and spirits of the land beneath of our feet and our immanent Otherworld(s), denying them as devils, and rationalism and science have denied their existence entirely. Thus it’s become easier to sojourn in Other Worlds comforted by the premise they are only fantasy.

The popularity of the fantasy genre is evidence for the intrinsic yearning of our souls to visit the Otherworld. How many people long to meet with gods and experience magic but don’t dare take that first step because they’re afraid of stepping outside the limits of reality imposed by rationalism?

I’m slowly beginning to perceive why Gwyn banned me from becoming a professional fantasy writer. He wants me instead to open people’s eyes to the magic of this land and of Annwn – the Deep, its hidden depths; to the voices of the gods, dragons, giants, witches, who reside there. I’m being led to fantasy writers again as visionary teachers because of their mastery of the craft of storytelling.

It is my task to create a vision of Thisworld and Annwn as beautiful, enticing, and heart-rending as theirs to entice people away from the restrictions of rationalism and the lies of capitalism to encountering the magic within the land and the Otherworld and to living lives enriched by myth.

It’s a big task. And not one I’m certain I’m able to achieve. But, like the persons in the books who continue to haunt me, I’d rather die trying to fulfil a near-impossible task than surrender to the powers who deny our gods, steal our magic, suck out our souls, thrive on us being mythless and lost.

The Bottomless Well

Chalice Well, Glastonbury

I recently discovered an article titled ‘Deep Polytheism’ by Morpheus Ravenna. I particularly liked what she has to say about religion done right feeling like a bottomless well and her suggestion that when we touch those depths we become part of the stories of our deities creating a shared story and future.

Beneath is an excerpt and the full piece can be read HERE.

‘When we recognize the Gods as beings with identities rather than as symbols, expansion happens. When we recognize Them as agents within their own stories, expansion happens. Greater vistas for learning, and greater opportunities for connection and relationship are opening up. New and deeper questions come up faster than we can learn answers. That expansion, that deepening, is an indicator that we are on the track of something important. I often say that if you’re doing your religion right, it should feel like a bottomless well – the deeper you go, the deeper you discover that you can go. That is what happens when we start to recognize the agency and sovereignty of the Gods.

It’s expansive. It goes even deeper. We can look at the story arcs of the Gods engaging with history, but we can simultaneously recognize that They Themselves may not be bound by time – may exist in a non-linear relationship to these historical journeys we are looking at. Thus, it is conceivable that every form and habit and identity that a God may have undergone throughout history could be simultaneously reachable within devotional relationships.

Imagine if you could contact and talk to and get to know someone you love at every age of their life, in every one of the identities they have occupied. Once we recognize evolution and change as possibilities within the stories of the Gods, it becomes possible for us to engage with any part of Them along that story arc…

And there’s something more that arises from that orientation. Because the Gods are alive within Their stories, we ourselves participate in the unfolding of those stories. We participate in the stories of the Gods in our studies of Them. In our asking and our researching where They came from and where They have been, we add to what is known of Them, and we help to shape those narratives. In our devotional cultus, in the knowledge of the Gods that comes through oracular and revelatory work, we contribute to Their stories. In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories.

This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. When someone begins to matter to us as a real person within Their own story, we move beyond seeking what we can get from Them. They cease to be a symbol for something or a source of something and instead They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.’

Notes from a Polytheist’s Dictionary


1. Love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person or activity.

1.1 Religious worship or observance.

This knot in my mouth, this tie in my tongue, tying me to you is this religious observance? Love? Something not in the dictionary? I have trawled the history books as they are eaten like bread by ravens and crumpled by their claws like crumbs and in their dust found nothing to describe this. Are there no words for the tongue-tied? Is there no bread?


1. Call on (a deity or spirit) in prayer, as a witness, or for inspiration.

To invoke is to call on who is already present and make their presence manifest in this heartbeat of time. To invoke a deity you must have travelled into their labyrinth, taken all the wrong turnings, made your mistakes, fallen from sliding stepping stones into their abyss, climbed out spiderlike on the silken ropes that bind you to them. You must have found your voice screaming on the eagle-winds of their parapets and your silence in their most secret gardens. You must have met their dragons and their worms in death-masks, learnt to wriggle like the most humble thing before emerging from the wormholes of the stars to see your deity in another light.


1. A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.

How do we know that we are praying when we do not set aside enough time beside the waterfalls to hear the flute players whose music is pure prayer and floats like a dragonfly to its bittersweet end? If only we could pray like flutists, like waters, rather than casting our boomerangs like throwing axes into the night skies with our iron demands. Is it enough when moths are drawn to our candles and beasts on misericords crowd around bending their ears? Last night I prayed to the horses of the otherworld and they came with indigo skins of twilight. I had a friend who prayed to a pterodactyl and she came from millions of years ago to help with a project she did not understand, that her wings eclipsed, her primal call dismissed. When I prayed to a god I was a minnow swimming amongst other minnows then I was his.

Review: A Kindness of Ravens by Rhyd Wildermuth

product_thumbnail.phpRhyd Wildermuth is a writer, anarchist, theorist, bard, and the co-founder of Gods&Radicals. A Kindness of Ravens is his second book. At its core lie Rhyd’s struggles to re-establish the cultus of Brân ‘the Raven King’ and bring an end to capitalism. These quests go hand-in-hand.

The book’s based around a haunting vision of ‘The City At The Gates Of The Dead’ where Rhyd stands beside a dead bard of Brân’s and sees a settlement, a town, a city, built and destroyed then a ‘last city… encompassing the world… And I saw what was coming.’

The cause of this destructive cycle is disenchantment which ‘follows disinheritance, displacement from the land into factories and mills and offices.’ Capitalism cuts us off from the land and creates cities where there is no place for gods, spirits, the dead, poets or the poor.

Rhyd’s work is inspirational because it not only elucidates the problem but offers solutions: ‘a change of place consciousness and a resurrection of class-consciousness, a solidarity between peoples and the spirits of place, a new treaty with the land and its inhabitants (living and dead, seen and unseen)…. we must see every place our home and a site of beautiful resistance.’

One of my favourite pieces, which has been a continuing influence on my thought and work, is ‘Awakening the Land: Madness and the Return of the Welsh Gods’. Narrated from a cliff-face in Snowdonia (which Rhyd climbed to ask advice from giants!) it seamlessly interweaves the stories of Brân with the personal and political.

Rhyd says ‘to know a god you must go mad’ and contrasts the divine madness of the awenyddion with the ‘sanity’ of waging out time for work and waging war. Against ‘the desolation of disenchantment’ he evokes Brân as a revolutionary figure who ‘embodies the land and its power’.

A problem Rhyd draws attention to is ‘trying to world in a god most don’t know’. Elsewhere Rhyd speaks of worlding the gods into existence: a process by which the gods come into the world through us. This can be beautiful and awe-inspiring but also frightening and disruptive.

Unlike members of older religions, contemporary polytheists have few scriptures or predecessors to turn to. It’s even more difficult when communications come from gods only a handful of people have written about from a polytheistic perspective. In the Welsh myths, Brân acts as a bridge for his people. In A Kindness of Ravens, Rhyd acts as a bridge for Brân and the revolutionary potency of his mythos.

Much of this book is intense: written with the raw, uncensored force of the untrammelled Awen. Rhyd’s masterful at taking you into his world to see through his eyes vast seams of injustice, the anger of his gods and the dead, the sorrow of ‘the Singers in the Dark.’

There are plenty of ravens and examples of kindness and care for others too. Rhyd writes ‘As long as we’re happy to enjoy the safety and protection of systems-of-meaning which devalue forests and Black bodies, our gods will be our own personal secret story.’

Rhyd advocates a polytheism wherein the land, gods, ancestors, our communities, the personal and political are intrinsically linked. The fates of all are bound up with the hegemony of capitalism and the imperative to resist it and build a better world.

A Kindness of Ravens is a revolutionary book: an inspiration for artists and activists and a way-marker for polytheists. I return it to my shelf with the firm belief it will be influential for many years to come.

Available through Lulu HERE.

Sandham Memorial Chapel, Manchester Art Gallery

Snowdrops in Sandbags outside Manchester Art GalleryWhite the snowdrops in garden and park.
White for peace and white for hope.

White on the bunker in sandbags they grow
to whiten the way to Sandham Chapel.

White the walls (though the windows are dark).
White the intent to paint a memorial

of white sheets and white wash, soap and suds:
daily regimes bring us closer to God.

White the scrubbing. White the baking.
White the endless sleeping and waking.

White the buzz in the back of the head.
White the cocoons of mosquito nets.

White the devotion. White the will
to wipe the mind with the daily drill.

Not-white the wounds. Not-white the skin.
Not-white the war and the world we live in.

White the eruptions of angel wings.
White the colour of crucifixes

borne through a salient of fire and blood
and offered up to a not-white God.

White the high altar. White the bread.
White the magic of resurrection.

Not-white the pain of a broken nation.
Not-white the sigh and the scream unexpressed.

White the pardons. White the excuses.
White this March too late for white rabbits.

White my forgotten god of the dead.
White my need to honour them.


I wrote this poem after visiting Manchester for the first time in a long while and being struck by its transformation into Snowdrop City (in September 2014 snowdrops were planted across the city in commemoration of the First World War) and by the effect of visiting the ‘Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War’ exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery.

The latter was a temporary installation from Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire. The chapel was built to honour the forgotten dead of the First World War. The murals inside it were painted by Stanley Spencer and depict his experiences working on the Salonika Front as a medical orderly and soldier.

The murals depict scenes of everyday life; getting up, eating, washing, collecting water, the treatment of wounds, making beds. They are adorned with intriguing paradisal details; glimpses of angel’s wings, a man sprouting wings likes colinders, flowers growing from flesh. Each scene is framed within a heavenly archway. The pure horror of war is expressed only by Spencer’s strange distortions of human forms and features.

As I walked around the gallery-made-chapel a video played over and again on a loop every two minutes. Each time, a particular sentence about Spencer seeing these daily routines as bringing him closer to God kept echoing in my head. It jarred. Whilst I felt respect for Spencer’s wish to honour the forgotten people who had worked behind the scenes in the First World War, I struggled to comprehend his depictions of their work as heavenly and of soldiers offering their lives to Christ or God, leading to eventual resurrection.

The Resurrection of the Soldiers by Sir Stanley Spencer, CBE,RA (Cookham 1891¿ Cliveden 1959)

‘The Resurrection of the Soldiers’

As my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White son of Mist’ is associated with the otherworld and the war-dead in ancient British mythology, I was also led to ponder when, why and how he and his mythos were replaced by the Christian paradigm and the ways our relationships with the gods and understanding of the afterlife affect our attitudes towards war and peace, life and death. This poem was written as a knee-jerk response to my thoughts and feelings.