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.

Ribble Rising

After a month’s heavy rain across northern England, rivers have risen to record levels. Following 100mm of downpour in one night in Lancashire, the river Ribble (from Gallo-Brythonic Riga Belisama ‘Most Shining’ or ‘Most Mighty Queen’) burst her banks at Ribchester and Whalley, forcing people from their homes.

Yesterday the Ribble ran high between Penwortham and Preston swelling under Penwortham Bridge carrying trees, branches, tyres and other debris out to the sea with an urgent roar.

A playground in Middleforth with an overflowing storm drain was underwater.

Several riverside footpaths were submerged.

The Ribble had flooded the bottom of Miller Park completely, almost covering the fountain and pagoda.

The Pavillion Cafe was cut off like a stranded lake dwelling.

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As dusk approached, Victorian lamps illuminated the submerged pathway.

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Luckily at the most dangerous point: high tide at around 11pm, the Ribble did not break over the flood walls. Avenham and Miller Parks and the flood plains of Central Park managed the rest and no-one was evacuated.

It would have been a very different story if the Riverworks project, which intended to create a barrage on the Ribble and build on its floodplains had gone ahead. We have Jane Brunning and other ‘Save the Ribble‘ campaigners to thank that we have Central Park instead.

This morning, I walked along the old railway track to see Central Park’s flooded fields.

The floods had receded from Avenham and Miller Park and the Ribble sunk back to her normal course.

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Last night Belisama heard our apologies, songs and prayers. Today she received gratitude and thanks. This was the highest I have ever seen the Ribble rise. It was really quite terrifying and gave me a fuller understanding of why, before flood-walls, our ancestors revered and feared her as a Mighty Queen.

With temperatures increasing ten times faster than in known history and water levels rising globally I fear this will not be the last time the Ribble bursts her banks. It is a clear message everything possible must be done to slow climate change and adjustments must be made to accomodate rising rivers and returning wetlands.

Having Central Park saved us here. My thoughts are with those not so lucky in Ribchester, Whalley and in York from where 2,200 people have been evacuated.

After the late-night meeting

my head was pale and flashing
a tawdry halo a broken circuit
a worn out lighthouse
behind my eyes.

I went to a hollow tree
and sat myself within it.
In the slow drip of mulch
and closeness of fungus
a full moon overhead.

The ants came inexorably
shiny-black shivering over
my skin. When I clamped
my mouth they lanced
my ears. Clambered in.

Tiny mouths chewing
like an orchestra of saws
they ate the nil-light
and came out glowing.
Pouring from my mouth

in an illuminated stream
crackling legs growing distant.
A million bright footprints
teeming from my head:
an empty mulch, a hollow tree.

Beech Tree, Carr Wood

Fairy Lights and The Strangeness, Fishergate

Last night I dreamt I was watching a television programme in my living room. Somehow I entered it and became an active participant. With a group of friends I was preparing to stage a protest. For it to succeed, a special light on a tree needed to be changed. I ran with a blonde, sporty woman (who I did not know) across a car park to the tree, which stood on the end of a busy city street I identified as Fishergate in Preston.

The lights were off. The one we had to change looked more like a silver Christmas decoration and stood out as markedly special and ‘other.’ As the woman started taking it down, chatting easily, she paused. Her expression froze into uncanny wistfulness and her gaze grew distant. Speaking in a voice from far away, she told me “it belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd.”

I knew at this point (somehow being outside the programme and within it) the words and memory that possessed her were not her own. Like in a film there was powerful, beautiful music. A strange wind blew, stripping away the façade of the city streets. I had a profound sense of another landscape stirring and awaking at the sound of Gwyn’s name. Once the strangeness had blown over, the woman began chatting normally as if nothing had happened and traffic started driving past again.

Throughout the preparations there were rumours about the massing of an army of otherworldly beings. As someone in the programme with an audience member’s knowledge I knew they were the fay / Gwyn’s hunt and could sense them gathering in clouds and forests somewhere behind. I had the feeling they might disrupt the clash between the two sides in the protest. As audience, I was aware this was the part I was looking forward to.

This awareness brought me back to my living room to see the credits rolling down the screen…

***

The dream inspired me to walk into Preston at dusk tonight. Several months ago, Fishergate (the high street) was pedestrianised. The road was narrowed to make way for wider pavements and as a final touch, trees. Delighted when I saw first saw them, I walked the street, greeting them in turn and welcoming them to the city.

Since the Christmas lights went off, the trees have been lit by fairy lights. Following rain and hail, the pavements gleamed. Reflected in windscreens the lights shone like cold stars, miniscule glances leaping from fragments of hail.

Fishergate, PrestonIdentifying the tree from my dream, I noticed all the lights were working.

Tree, FishergateI stood with the tree for a short while. Crossing the road and looking back, I saw huge dark ominous clouds gathering over the County Hall, which is where the anti-fracking protests will take place on the 28th and 29th of January.

Fishergate, County HallThe music of hail came down. An immense strangeness like none I had known before came over the city. I felt as if I stood in another Preston where the landscape was more than it was by the strange life of those lights against winter’s silver-grey sky. Everything seemed more profound and enthused with meaning, although I couldn’t divine what the exact meaning was.

Fairy LightWhat happened to the silvery light, which belonged to Gwyn ap Nudd and led me to the strangeness remains uncertain.

Expanding the By-Pass

Daffodils leap like shots of fire.
Primroses curse in white-yellow stains.
Blackthorn’s eldritch stars explode
As chainsaws rip aside the bright spring day.

Mock cairns of woodchip
Spat from hawthorn’s frame
Line the road of death
I will drive down
I will drive down to avoid the rain.

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*Technically I won’t be driving down the by-pass because I swapped my car for a bicycle. However I’m not adverse to getting a lift and still feel responsible for the death of the hawthorns who have been companions on the path beside the by-pass for many years.

Forest

Faery Lane, May 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I.

A forest
holds a very small possibility
in the sigla of trees
and in a ruddock’s song.

Raindrops lace the ivy,
in a cinema of shade
fairytales catch hands
with desperate grace.

II.

For in my nightmare
the leaning yew fell down.
The door to Annwn closed,
although the wolves still howl.

The people were dead,
the gods were gone
and the ghosts no longer mourned
their shadowed passing.

III.

Yet the forest
kept alive the possibility
of hope emerging
from its bowers

like a white stag bounding
from Annwn’s mounds
with red-eared hounds
and antlered huntsmen.

IV.

Now we read
the sigla from the trees
and listen out
for a ruddock’s song.

In the cinema of ivy
our myths still dance
a forest of possibility
in a raindrop’s glance.

Faery Lane, May 2013

Lady of the Oak

I leave the shelter of the grove ducking beneath twisted hawthorn branches. The trees weave the entrance closed behind me. Rain hits my face, falling from a heaven of relentless grey. Reading the sky’s grimace I wonder what has been seen.

A crow caws his warning. Sprinting toward me up the hollow way I see a young man, legs a blur of blue white checkers and feet a splash of mud and leather. Hair slicked to his head, his dark eyes flicker with awe and wariness. The first dapples of a beard play across his chin like leafy shadows.

“M-my Lady of the Oak,” he stammers pulling up.

His breathless chest heaves beneath a sodden tunic. It is rare for youths to approach me without an elder. Looking more closely at my gnarled face his eyes widen in dawning horror. “Bad news travels from up river. A Man of the Oak wishes to speak with you.” He runs away in a flurry of muddy feet.

I follow down the hollow way heedless of the downpour weighing my cloak for the damp of the air already resides deep within my bones. Looking east, rain drenches the green hill, our sacred headland, and the greener barrow housing our ancestors. The torrent’s drumming beat strikes bubbles across the marsh land. As I walk onto the wooden pad way the reeds hiss like snakes. Decay bites my throat. The steely cast of the river of shining water reflects the glumness of the sky.

In a canoe roped to the jetty my cousin Drust sits hunched in his robes. I question what he is doing here, alone.

The river’s song answers. Her visions flood my mind. I see the battle at the ford of roaring water. Broken chariots, tribesmen slaughtered, the hero light vanishing from their eyes like fleeing stars. The eagle standard flies high, reflected in the crimson river. Seeing the pale flicker of their separating ghosts I speak a prayer for the souls doomed to return to a land where they no longer belong.

Sorrow chokes me like bile. I vomit it in anger at Drust, “what are you doing here, when your clan are dead?”

Drust looks up, yet his face remains hidden by his cowl. “I am taking the remnants of our traditions and our gods to the island across the sea.”

I laugh, a throaty brittle sound like twigs twisting and snapping. “Gods are not like saplings, to be taken away and re-rooted and traditions are not nurtured by foreign soils. It seems the ideas of the invaders have penetrated more deeply than I imagined.”

Drust tenses. Drawing my knife from its leather sheath I lean down and slice the rope tying his canoe to the jetty. The river sluices him west and out to sea.

The wind carries enemy voices. Reflected in the falling droplets I see swords and plumed helms. Slipping on the wood and slithering up the hollow way I reach the grove and beg the hawthorns for passage. A peace of ancient green breaks over me, like I’m sinking into a bed of moss. Beneath the canopy’s protective shadow I believe myself safe until tumult disturbs the roots. Crows caw, anticipating carrion.

I cross a sea of acorns and approach the grove’s mighty king. Putting my arms around his trunk, I press my face to the rough bark. “Brother Oak, let me see into the future.”

My heartbeat merges with the pulse of rising sap. My feet become roots reaching downward through damp soil to the outer edges of the grove. My arms stretch into branches and split, bearing bunches of lobed leaves nourished by the hidden sun, washed by the rain, flourishing green.

The ground shudders at the march of soldiers, galloping hooves and chariot wheels. Battle cries are hollered. Bows hum to the crash of metal. Screams and groans rock me. I taste blood and its bitterness fills me.

Earth and water shift as ditches are cut, fields plundered to feed the enemy. Ancestral ghosts clutch my twigs shrieking of their barrow torn down and a temple built to a foreign god. I moan at the ache of rot softening my flesh, bowing and creaking as my branches snap and innards hollow. I beg for lightning’s merciful release but there is no answer from the clouds of sorrow.

“Brother, let me return,” I speak. “The tribe need my support in their defeat.”

I ease back from the oak as the hawthorns scream and turn to see branches broken, shredded leaves and burst haws at the sandaled feet of a man dressed in a plumed helmet, iron breast plate and red woollen tunic. His eyes are blue, skin tanned by the sun of a hotter land. Brandishing a sword stained with blood and sap he accuses me of witchcraft, of sacrificing innocents to divine the future from their death throes.

I smile. The man freezes in horror. I draw my knife and mustering all my oaken might I drive it between the iron plates and slice open his stomach, spilling his guts upon the grass. Attempting to gather them in like rope he drops twitching and groaning to his knees.

I read the future of his people and their empire from his pulsing entrails.

Kneeling, I pick up a handful of blood soaked acorns and address my brother, “do not fear. Whilst tribes and empires rise and fall, the steady strength of oak will conquer all.”

Oak, St Mary's graveyard, Castle Hill

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).

On Frenchwood Knoll

City drenched.
We bend against the rain.
Sandstone soaked,
Corporate faces are too pinched to sob.
The rain drops laugh tearfully,
Drip down red.
The bricks outlive the factories.
Vacant shops are hollowed out.
The ectoplasm of capitalism recedes
Like the spectre of Marxism.

On Frenchwood knoll
I met a tribesman who pointed
To the hills across the river,
Turbulent sky and spiralling stars,
I touched the earth and felt her rhythm,
Dark pulse caught
Between the supermarket and spire.
Sold off, covered over, offered up,
Remembered only by the weather.