Enchanting the Shadowlands Book Launch

Enchanting the Shadowlands Book CoverOn Wednesday 22nd April I held an evening of poetry, song and story to celebrate the launch of Enchanting the Shadowlands at Korova Arts Cafe in Preston. The night was very special for me because it marked the publication of my first book, the completion of a spiritual journey and brought together friends who have supported me since I took to writing poetry seriously in 2012.

Storyteller Peter Dillon was MC for the night. We opened with a joint performance of ‘The Bull of Conflict’ a glosa recording the moment when my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, gave me the imperative of ‘enchanting the shadowlands’.

Vincent Smith’s ‘Woodland Eulogy’ and reflections on early memories of a close friend made a poignant start to the first half. Mike Cracknell brought the house down with his hilarious poem about lovers with nothing in common except filthy habits. Martin Domleo performed poems tying in with my nature themed work including ‘Thor’s Cave’ and the experience of deceleration linking to his passion for motorbikes. Nina GeorgeSinger Nina George was the first headline act. She started with a haunting piece written by a friend. Her second song, she told us, demanded to be sung at the launch! She got everybody joining in with the chorus:

‘She said this is my church here where I stand
With my hands in the earth and my feet on the ground
She said this is my church here where I stand
With my heart in my mouth and my soul in the land.’

Nina finished with a song by Jodi Mitchell. At the end of the first half I performed poems exploring local history written in voices of the ancestors and spirits of the land. These included a reluctant resident of Penwortham Lake Village, a spinner in her cellar, the spirit of the aquifer beneath Castle Hill and Belisama, goddess of the Ribble. During the break we looked out at a pink-purple sunset against fairy-lit trees and the silhouette of St Walburge’s spire. Preston Sunset from KorovaI opened the second half with  ‘Slugless’ which was written when I had a spate of people confessing to me about their slug problems. All but one…. As we often bump into each other walking beside the Ribble, Terry Quinn performed poems about the river, one set at a crucial time when a campaign run successfully by Jane Brunning saved the area that is now Central Park from a huge development scheme. Dorothy mentioned she also had a slug scene in her novel ‘Shouting Back’. Her poems included the memorable ‘City Rats’.

Nina returned to perform a song about reclaiming Druidry and a controversial tongue-in-cheek ditty called ‘The Day the Nazi Died’ by Chumbawamba. Novelist Katharine Ann Angel read excerpts from ‘Being Forgotten’ and ‘The Froggitt Chain’ and spoke of her inspiration from people, particularly working with difficult teenagers.

Nicolas Guy WilliamsThe second headliner was poet Nicolas Guy Williams. He opened with ‘Ancient by thy Winters’ saying he thought it would be suit my launch as it contains howling: ‘Hear them HOWL! HEAR THEM HOWL! Once no forest was defenceless.’ He also performed ‘Woman of the Sap’ and ‘Oh ratchet walk and seek that scent’ one of my personal favourites based on the local legend of the Gabriel Ratchets.

I ended the second half with a piece dedicated to Gwyn on Nos Galan Gaeaf called ‘When You Hunt for Souls in the Winter Rain’ and poems Lorna Enchanting the Shadowlandsrecording a journey to Annwn (the Brythonic Otherworld) with horse and hound to an audience in his hall. As a finale I performed ‘No Rules’ which summarises my philosophy of life:

‘Break every boundary.
There are no rules.
Only truth and promises
Bind us in the boundless infinite.’

Afterward there was an open-mic where it was great to have Flora Martyr, who is missed as a host of Korova Poetry, back to perform. Following Nina’s protest songs John Dreaming the Hound Winstanley, who is involved with the Wigan Digger’s Festival, sung an old diggers song. I also opened some presents from the generous members of my grove. Nina gave me a bottle of wine (knows me too well!). Phil and Lynda Ryder gave me a book about Boudica, a warrior queen and ruler of the Iceni (horse) tribe, called ‘Dreaming the Hound’ with a wonderful bronze image of a howling hound on the cover.

When we left Korova the crescent moon was high in the sky with a bright and beautiful Venus above the fairy-lit trees. I felt the shadowlands had been enchanted. There is power in a promise… and in the support of friends without whom I wouldn’t have been able to see it through. I’d like end on a note of thanks to Peter as MC, everybody who performed and came to watch and to Sam for providing the venue. Moon, Venus and Fairy Trees

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Review: Bard Song by Robin Herne

Bard SongThis review is long overdue. Coincidentally I was re-reading Bard Song with the intention of reviewing it at the time Robin published his recording of Gwynn’s Guest, dedicating it to me, which has spurred me along.

I’m not sure if I can give this book an objective review as I’ve owned it so long and like it so much. The pages are scored with under-linings. Against many of the poems are pencilled a’s, b’s and c’s from my attempts to decipher complex metres. The spine bends open on my favourite poems, which I return to frequently, have shared with my local Poetry Society and used as examples in Bardic workshops. But I’ll give it a go.

Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid based in Ipswich. Bard Song provides an introduction to reading and writing honorific and seasonal poetry (in English) in mainly Welsh and Irish metres. This fulfils an important role in Brythonic and Gaelic polytheism, giving people like myself who have not yet mastered the language of their gods the tools and inspiration to compose poems based on Celtic metres. It also opens new and exciting vistas for future developments within poetry as a whole.

In his introduction Robin speaks of the Awen, the source of Bardic inspiration as ‘a wild spirit, a passionate and consuming Muse that imparts not just pretty turns of phrase, but a new vision of the world.’ Poetry is a magical art which can be used to commune with and honour gods and ancestors, attain and express a spiritual vision, record history, praise (or deride) a person and for fun. Its ultimate purpose is re-enchantment.

The first four parts of the book are divided in accordance with the Gaelic festivals; Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasadh. In each section Robin introduces the festival with associated myths, traditions, deities and suitable metres before sharing a selection of his poems, many of which have been used by his clan in ritual.

For Samhain, Robin introduces the forsundud, an Irish genealogical poem for the ancestors. We meet the Cailleach holding ‘cold vigil’ in ‘The House of Winter’ and rutting stags. ‘Gwynn’s Guest,’ one of my favourite poems of all time (written in tawddgyrch cadwnog metre) records St Collen’s encounter with the Welsh Fairy King on Glastonbury Tor. The first stanza captures Gwynn’s wild nature so perfectly I can’t resist quoting it;

‘Wind tears the Tor, unravels hair
Bound in plaits fair, wild blood yearning
For thunder’s roar, this hill my Chair,
Blessed wolf’s lair, white fire burning.

Tribes rise and fall…’ And the ending is wickedly humorous.

At Imbolc’s core stands the hearth of Brigit. ‘Sisters of the Hearth’ introduces her triple role as smith, healer and poet. ‘Brigit’s Song’ takes place in her Hall. Robin’s words in ‘Three Flames’ resonate most strongly with my personal experience of her as Brigantia, goddess of northern England and the fires of inspiration which consume and heal;

‘Light of compassion white burning
Thaw the ice that scalds my mind
Stir the flesh from torpor afresh,
Night-blind, scars mesh; pray be kind.’

The section on Beltaine speaks of magical and military poetry. ‘Cu Chulainn at the Ford’ provides a heart-wrenching representation of Cu Chulainn and Ferdiad’s tragic battle in Ae Freisilighe metre. On a more cheerful note we find ‘The Honey-Tongued,’ dedicated to Ogma ‘carpenter of song,’ who is the patron god of Robin’s Clan. Since its publication this poem has fittingly given its name to a new brand of mead.

Lughnasadh introduces the stories of Lugh and Tailtiu, recording Lugh’s arrival ‘At Tara’s Gates’ and Tailtiu’s death and ‘funereal commemoration.’ It covers the story of Gobanos, a god of smithing and brewing and there is also discussion of famed cauldrons in Celtic mythology and the important role of select brews in the arts of inspiration.

I have mentioned only a small selection of poems and themes. In later chapters Robin shares poems devoted to Heathen, Greek and Roman gods and those written for fun. In the appendices he provides guidelines for writing in Irish and Welsh metres. These are clearly introduced with rhythmic and syllabic patterns with examples. For Englyn Penfyr;

‘######a##b
###b##a
######a’

‘The old hunter sought the beast in the night,
Though without might, hope never ceased,
Yet frail, his skill found the feast.’

I have learnt vast amounts from this book about Celtic metres, composed some poems of my own in the Welsh ones and found it to be an excellent resource for use in Bardic workshops. Robin’s dedication to the Old Gods shines throughout his work and this alone has inspired me on my path as an Awenydd and polytheist.

Bard Song is a must read for Bards, Fili and people of Celtic and other polytheistic religions. I’d also recommend it highly to all Pagans and to poets looking for new and exciting metres with origins in the British Isles.

***

Bard Song can be purchased through Moon Books: http://www.moon-books.net/books/bard-song

Robin’s most recent poems, which continue his exploration of world mythology in carefully chosen metres can be found in Moon Poets: http://www.moon-books.net/books/moon-poets

His blog ‘Round the Herne’ is here: http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/

Review: ‘The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens’ by Morgan Daimler

MorriganMorgan Daimler is a Celtic Reconstructionist and dedicant of Macha based in New England. She teaches Irish myth, magic and folklore and has published nine books as well as poetry and prose in a variety of magazines, journals and anthologies.

The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens is a short, introductory book (eighty pages) in the Moon Books Pagan Portals series. By bringing together material from ancient Irish texts and academic sources it aims to provide readers new to the Morrigan with a basic introduction to this goddess, those who share her title, Badb and Macha and other associated goddesses such as Nemain, Be Neit and Grian.

The result is a tightly packed text with an abundance of subject matter to learn from and plenty of references to follow up. Morgan’s research is thorough and she demonstrates a learned understanding of the original texts and scholarly viewpoints. Morgan’s approach is to let the stories of each goddess speak for themselves. Whilst she presents contrasting viewpoints and shares her own, she encourages the reader to seek their own interpretation through further study rather than leading them to her own conclusions.

The benefits are that she provides a holistic picture of the Morrigan and introduces her to newcomers without swaying their opinion. A slight cost is the book doesn’t flow as well as it could. As someone with only a vague knowledge of Irish mythology, I found myself frequently having to pause and look back to check names, associations and references to texts rather than being guided forward by the author’s argument. I also found the APA method of citation where references disrupt the text irritating. These are my only criticisms.

What I liked best about this book is that as well as sharing her academic knowledge of the Morrigan(s), Morgan shares her personal experience of each goddess; what it feels like to be in their presence, their physical appearance and their role in her life. These gnoses permeate her prayers and invocations.

Importantly for newcomers, Morgan astutely points out the differences between ‘working with’ and worshipping a goddess. The former is a temporary arrangement governed by specific guidelines and goals. The latter is based in relationship (she warns that when you invite a deity into your life you never know how it might go!) and interactions, which for her mainly take the form of prayers, meditations and offerings.

Morgan does not shy away from confronting moral questions raised by worshipping a goddess connected with war and death. She presents her own resolutions and also challenges readers who may have been drawn to the Morrigan as a ‘Dark Goddess’ to think what this means to them before applying this category.

A hidden gem of particular interest was Morgan’s description of ‘reconstructing celtic seership with Badb.’ Here she shares her use of the ancient techniques of ‘imbas forosna’ ‘tenm laida’ and ‘dichetal do chenaib’ with Badb’s guidance for divinatory purposes. The latter, which involves the spontaneous recitation of poetry is something I’ve felt compelled to do for a while and, inspired by Morgan, hope to try in my own way in the future.

Overall this is a cracking introduction to the Morrigan(s) and I’m sure there will be plenty of hidden surprises in it for everybody. I would recommend it to anybody new to this goddess who is looking for a trustworthy starting point, devotees of the Morrigan wanting to learn more about others’ experiences and anybody interested in polytheism in general.

The Morrigan: Meeting the Great Queens is officially released tomorrow and is available here: http://amzn.to/1Bh3LCs

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/

Review: Desiring Dragons by Kevan Manwaring

desiring-dragons-compass-books-front-cover Kevan Manwaring is a writer, teacher and storyteller living in Stroud. His publications include seminal works on Bardism, a series of mythic realist novels and collections of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire folk tales. Desiring Dragons: Fantasy and the Writer’s Quest is unique because in contrast to the plethora of ‘how to’ guides it forms a study of the creative process, examining why we write, the act of writing and its benefits to writer and reader.

The first part, ‘Desiring Dragons’ focuses on the theory of writing fantasy. Kevan says the mistake most beginner writers make is copying other writers without understanding the nature of fantasy or the act of creation. He defines fantasy as ‘the means by which we imagine and enter other worlds,’ and discloses its roots in storytelling as a shamanic tradition. The other worlds of fantasy are presented as sources of imaginative possibilities which can provide alternative perspectives on this world. By seeing this world in a different way we perceive new choices and ways of bringing about change.

I found this to be a powerful argument as all too often fantasy and imagination are equated with unreality and seen as lacking in value. By showing that fantasy fulfils the needs of individuals and society Kevan demonstrates its worth. I think this will be a great source of encouragement to other writers, particularly those doubting the value of their work because they have been told fantasy is a form of escapism or disengagement from society.

The second part, ‘The Writer’s Quest’ covers the practicalities of writing fantasy. In a striking display of originality Kevan uses Beowulf as a ‘mythic template’ for exploring the processes of creativity. Grendel’s assailment of Heorot is seen as a metaphor for the writer being haunted by the demons that drive them to write. The lake symbolizes potential and plunging into its waters the point of no return. The message of the dragon’s lair is that a writer shouldn’t sit on the gold of their word hoard because it contains the life force itself, which demands to be passed on.

What I liked most about this part is that it is enthused with Kevan’s personal experience of the exhilarating yet often nightmarish process of writing a novel. I think any writer would recognise these processes and find relief and encouragement in not being alone.

Each chapter is followed by a series of ‘questings’ prompting the writer to examine their creative processes from a different angle. ‘Summoning the Hero’ explores ways of seeing oneself as a writer. ‘The Bloody Limb’ suggests ways of looking at a first draft. ‘Needful Digressions’ calls the writer to consider whether they are harping on like the scolds do about Finnsburgh. I think these exercises will be effective as rather than telling writers what to do they call for reflection on work, creative processes and motivations.

The final part, ‘The Dragon’s Hoard’ is a collection of essays covering an eclectic range of topics ranging from mythic literacy to cultivating a daily writing practice, which is easy to dip in and out of. An essay which currently resonates with me is ‘Writing Magical Fiction.’ Here Kevan suggests good writing in this genre is rooted in experience of real magic- in the Awen (inspiration), forming living relationships with one’s muses, practicing an existing magical system and connecting with the landscape and changing seasons.

As a poet I found this book immensely valuable because rather than just examining the ‘how’ of writing it examines the ‘why’. Any form of writing is a gruelling task. Whilst the ‘how’ provides the tools, ultimately it’s the ‘why’ – our innermost desires and motivations that see us through to the end. Desiring Dragons provides ways of accessing and understanding them. Therefore I would recommend it highly to writers of all genres.