Cares y Bwlch published on Dun Brython

Previously on Dun Brython, Robin Herne shared his poem, ‘Gwynn’s Guest’, which retells the story of the supposed banishing of the Fairy King from Glastonbury Tor by St Collen. Robin suggested I retell Collen’s later slaughter of the giantess, Cares y Bwlch (‘Girlfriend of the Gap’). This resulted in my poem, ‘Cares y Bwlch’, which is written from her perspective and can be read HERE.

As a bit of background: after leaving Glastonbury, Collen travelled to North-East Wales, where he learnt that Cares y Bwlch, the flesh-eating giantess of the mountain pass, Bwlch Rhiwfelen, was terrorising local people. Collen commanded Cares to appear to him, battled against her and sliced off her right arm. The dauntless giantess, unfazed, picked it up and beat the ‘saint’ with it. He then sliced off her left arm and slaughtered her. Afterward, he washed his sword in St Collen’s Well, making it holy (Robin pointed out it was holy beforehand…). Collen died in Llangollen, which was named after him.

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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/

Gwynn’s Guest by Robin Herne

This morning I was delighted to find that Robin Herne, a polytheist Druid and crafter of rare and wonderful Bardic verses in complex metres has not only published his reading of one of my favourite poems of all time, ‘Gwynn’s Guest,’ on his personal blog through youtube but dedicated it to me!

On his blog, Robin describes the poem thus: ‘A Welsh poem in tawddgyrch cadwynog metre written originally for a ritual dedicated to Gwynn app Nudd, the Welsh king of the fairies and leader of the Wild Hunt. The poem is inspired the story of St Collen who encounters Gwynn atop Glastonbury Tor (though this version is told from the King’s viewpoint and not the saint’s).’ And says ‘the recording is a small thank-you to Lorna Smithers for her help in publicising this blog and (as a result) my books.’

The opening two stanzas capture Gwyn’s wild nature perfectly and there is a wickedly humorous surprise to listen out for at the end. Enjoy 🙂

‘Round the Herne,’ where Robin records a variety of poems and stories based on mythology and folklore (and you can find out more about his publications) can be found here: http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/

Moon Poets

In February 2013 I responded to a call out for regular poetry submissions to Moon Books blog and my work was accepted. In November 2013 I was asked by Trevor Greenfield, Moon Books’ publisher and publicist, to become a resident poet alongside Tiffany Chaney, Robin Herne, Romany Rivers, Martin Pallot and Beverley Price. In December 2013, Trevor invited us to submit twelve poems each to an anthology.

I’m very excited to announce the official release of Moon Poets is on Friday the 28th of November and it is already available for purchase here: http://www.moon-books.net/books/moon-poets

Moon PoetsIn this anthology you will find Pagan poetry from six authors with different styles and viewpoints.

Tiffany Chaney is a poet and artist residing in North Carolina, USA. I was captivated by ‘My Cailleach,’ which contains fantastic imagery such as a storm collecting ‘a gaggle of old women,’ and this goddess ‘blooming into a frozen dryad’ when she ‘turns to stone on Beltaine.’ Human relationships are echoed in relations between god and goddess and Tiffany explores the life cycles of maiden, mother and crone.

Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid based in Ipswich, UK, who has an impressive knowledge of world mythology. Many of his poems use complex forms drawn from the culture of their subjects. For example, ‘Words for Wuldor,’ an Anglo-Saxon deity, is written in ljodahattr metre, which was used by Heathen skalds and ‘The Ghillie-Du’ is written in ae freislighe, a Gaelic metre. For me his most moving poem is ‘Little Rabbit,’ which is based on the Taoist story of the Rabbit God, ‘Tu-er-shen’. I also love the fierceness of ‘Song of the Wolf Clan,’ which is inspired by the ancient British god, Vindos.

Romany Rivers is a Witch, Reiki Master, artist and mother of two living in Canada, USA. Her poetry explores the changing seasons, motherhood and the nature of the Divine. These themes are interwoven throughout her work. It is clear her experience as a mother permeates her understanding of the myth of the mother goddess giving birth to the son / sun. ‘Autumn Arrives’ describes Romany’s inability to explain to her son why she cannot fix a tree.

Martin Pallot writes poetry inspired by nature and Paganism. His series of Haiku depicts the natural world, its creatures and mythic figures in clear, precise imagery; ‘Fox track in damp earth, / A plethora of Feathers / Where he broke his fast’; ‘Selkie and her seal, / Two souls in a single skin. / Neither can be held.’ Another form he shows mastery of is Tanka.

Beverley Price lives in Ipswich, UK. She describes herself as ‘a weaver of dark prose and poetry’. Several of Beverley’s poems focus on her relationships with ‘dark’ goddesses such as Morgana, Lillith and Hecate. Lines that struck me were the dichotomies in ‘The Lillith Effect’; ‘Under the Hullupu tree we sinned. / The Eve of bones we became saints. / A whiter shade of pale singing dark songs.’ Other poems explore love and a fascination with winter.

I selected poems depicting my relationships with my local landscape and river goddess Belisama and my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd. ‘Proud of Preston,’ is an address to the city written in Belisama’s voice. ‘The Bull of Conflict’ is a glosa based on a medieval Welsh poem depicting an early encounter with Gwyn. ‘Glastonbury Tor’ is a sonnet recording my dedication to him. ‘The Region Linuis’ and ‘Prayer for Netholme’ cover the history and mythology of Martin Mere, Lancashire’s lost lake. Other topics include the disappearance of the bees, the Awen and revenants.

This is the first time I have had a selection of poems published in print. Looking back it is interesting to consider in what ways I have moved on and how these poems and the landscape and deities who inspired them still influence my creativity.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Trevor Greenfield, all the Moon Poets and Lee Nash the cover designer for making the publication of this book possible.

Thank you and Hail! To Gwyn, Belisama and the spirits of my local landscape for all your guidance and inspiration.

And another big thank you to family, friends, fellow poets and bloggers who have read, listened to and commented on my work.

A review of Moon Poets by Druid author, Nimue Brown can be found here: https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/moon-poets-a-review/

The Bibliomancer’s Ball

On Saturday the 14th of November I went to the Bibliomancer’s Ball at Oddfellows Hall in Ipswich. The event was hosted by Robin Herne. Its aim was to celebrate 20 years of the Ipswich Pagan Council and showcase Pagan authors from the region, Moon Books, and other publishing houses. I went along to meet Robin, Trevor Greenfield (the publisher of Moon Books) and authors I know on the web but have never met in person and it was great to put faces to names.

Bibliomancer's Ball 047
Beverley Price

The first author to showcase her work was Beverley Price, a poet from Ipswich. Speaking on the topic of ‘Poetry of Darkness,’ she read from her collection The Flowering of the Black Petal. Beverley considers herself a Romantic poet. The aims of her readings were to show how poetry has formed a means of expression through a dark period in her life, and how although she doesn’t class herself as a Pagan poet, her Pagan beliefs have fed into her work. She read her poems eloquently and a number of evocative phrases stood out, such as ‘graveyard Cinderella.’

Outside in the garden Joanna van der Hoeven hosted a talk on Nemetona, a Gaulish goddess of the nemeton; a sacred grove or space. She gave an account of inscriptions found to Nemetona before going on to say there are no known myths about this goddess. Therefore many of her insights are from personal experience. Joanna relates to Nemetona as a goddess of sanctuary, whether this is a grove, home, an inner space or a moment of privacy in the work loos.

She made a poignant point ‘without her I would go mad.’ This is certainly my experience of personal relationship with a deity, (although contrariwise Gwyn takes me to the edges of madness to stay sane) and I wonder how many other polytheists feel a similar way.

Joanna’s talk was followed by a guided meditation where we went to visit our ‘inner hut,’ a sacred space presided over by Nemetona. Everybody who partook in the meditation spoke afterward of their feelings of peace and relaxation and it was enjoyable hearing about people’s different experiences. I ended up in a run down hut / cave built into a waterfall with a scraggy goblin, so not sure what that means about my conception of inner sanctuary!

Joanna van der Hoeven
Joanna van der Hoeven

Robin’s first talk was ‘Word Weaving and Tale Spinning.’ This centred on storytelling and covered a variety of topics and thought provoking questions. These included contrasts between revealed religion and oral tales, retelling a story as sacred duty, and the reasons some stories grow to become myths and some do not. His main point, which I thought formed the pivotal point of the whole day, was PLACES, GODS AND ANCESTORS WANT STORIES.

After dinner we had entertainment from the Devilwood Drummers. Trevor hosted an informal discussion about getting published for aspiring authors and poets. He talked about the criteria of getting published with Moon Books, and how the publication process works after a book is accepted.

One of the topics raised was that poetry will always be a hard sell. For me this brought up the issue that aside from poets there are very few people who read poetry. I wonder today, is it because poetry is inaccessible? Is it because there are more popular alternatives such as films and soap operas? In terms of the Pagan market, why do people prefer reading depictions of the Pagan paths in prose rather than poetry?

I spoke on ‘Voicing Place.’ After thanking Robin and the spirits of Oddfellows Hall for having me, I talked about ways of connecting with and voicing place before sharing examples of how I have done this through poetry. These included
• How my relationships with the city of Preston, the river Ribble and its goddess Belisama led me to writing ‘Proud of Preston,’ which won the Preston Guild Poetry competition in 2012.
• The legend of Penwortham Fairy Funeral and my search for a poetic form to suit the voices of the fairies.
• My ‘shamanic’ journeys with Gwyn ap Nudd to quest visions of Lancashire’s lost lake, Martin Mere and its forgotten holmes, and their expressions in poetry.
• Penwortham Mill as genius loci and locus of ancestral memory, my research into the effects of industrialisation on the people of the local area and the poem it inspired.

Robin Herne
Robin Herne

My personal highlight was Robin Herne’s storytelling. He began with ‘Gwynn app Nudd and St Collen.’ Collen was provided with a depth of background. Dormath, Gwyn’s dog literally played a much larger role. Afterward Robin recounted Gwyn’s perspective on what happened in regard to his ‘banishing’ and the exact nature of the holy water spilt (you have to hear this in person!) with alacrity and wit, capturing the Fairy King’s awesome presence and sharp sense of humour perfectly.

Robin also told ‘The Birth of Sekhmet.’ This story was less familiar to me, but combined a similar mix of the mythic and humorous; a rampaging lion goddess brought to peace by lapping up a huge pool of red beer. His final story was ‘The Romance of Fionn and Sabh.’ I’ve read this a couple of times. What stood out was Robin’s vivid depiction of how all the characters changed form on crossing to and from the Otherworld, which raised interesting questions about boundaries and transformation.

I also met Sheena Cundy, whose talk on her ‘Nature’s Oracle’ cards I unfortunately missed due to a clash in the timetable. Whilst there wasn’t a massive crowd it was well worth going to see the speakers and meet everybody, including, last but not least, Robin’s lovely dogs, Gwynn and Cafall.

Cafall
Cafall
Gwynn
Gwynn

Personal Religion?

Glastonbury Tor Beltane 2013 102 - CopyA couple of days ago I read write-ups of the OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) 50th anniversary gathering on Glastonbury Tor, on the blogs of Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne.

http://downtheforestpath.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/celebrating-50-years-of-obod/

http://roundtheherne.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-people-of-peace.html

It sounds like they had a grand time. Although one of the things Robin acutely pointed out was the irony that although the main topic was peace, the powers of place, including Gwyn ap Nudd and the Tylwyth Teg (the People of Peace) were not addressed or involved.

Why should that bother me? OBOD aren’t all pagans or polytheists. Hundreds of different religious groups use the Tor for various ceremonies- that’s part of its power and draw, and the eclecticism and chaos that constitutes the spirit of Glastonbury.

It was not until this morning I perceived my vexation was the symptom of an approaching realisation; I awoke with an image of the OBODies on the Tor in my mind combined with an overwhelming gnosis clear as the dawn; THIS ISN’T MY RELIGION.

I know the OBOD doesn’t pretend to be a religious organisation… however my discomfort about the lack of commonality I feel with Druids outside The Druid Network has been growing for a while. I’m beginning to feel the distinctions between my path and those of some other Druids are so huge that there is no meaningful common ground at all.

Plus… I recall Nimue Brown mentioning to be a Druid you must walk your path with conscious intent as a Druid. Looking back, I have done this as a Bard, and now do so as Awenydd. I believed these paths fitted under the umbrella term Druid but now I’m not so sure.

And I’m not so sure I did the right thing in claiming the name Druid for my religion pretty soon after joining TDN, on the ground I was a member of the network and a grove. It was much later I was gifted with the name Awenydd by Gwyn ap Nudd and the spirits of my local landscape.

So I’m beginning to wonder now whether my path as Awenydd, which is based in these relationships and expressing them through poetry, is not the religion of Druidry but a personal spirituality I live religiously?

I also wonder, because my practice focuses more on ‘anthropomorphised’ deities and spirits than most Druids whether I’m more of a polytheist? In answering that I find myself drawn back to the issue of commonality… I once wondered whether I was a Brythonic polytheist but decided I wasn’t as I don’t know enough about all the deities and their lore in depth, haven’t made enough effort to learn Welsh, and don’t follow a joint ritual structure.

So I wonder now…

Can polytheism be religious without commonality?

Must religion have a name?

Is personal religion a contradiction in terms? And is it possible to live a personal religion?

View from Glastonbury Tor Beltane 2013 120

Review: Old Gods, New Druids by Robin Herne

Old Gods, New DruidsI discovered this book a year ago at the same time I discovered Druidry. On a re-read it has been fascinating returning to parts that have inspired and shaped my relationships with the Old Gods and nature spirits of my local area, as well as finding new meanings to fit the present period of my life. The title alone has a magical resonance.

Old Gods. Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid who lives in East Anglia. He runs an Eisteddfod in Suffolk and is part of a long running Clan whose patron deity is Ogmios. He writes about Druidry due to his conviction `of the existence of the Gods.’ This sense of passion and connection flows through the book, affirming and celebrating their existence. My own life has been characterised by a wild desire to hunt for the divine; my restless and insatiable mind and feet leading me through fantasy novels, horses, crazy festivals and the dirtiest rock clubs, Romanticism, Greek and German philosophy and tragedy, more horses, long walks, and at last to the Old Gods of this land, which has been a huge homecoming.

Reading this book for the first time confirmed my developing intuitions and taught me some important lessons. We can build better relationships with the gods if we address them rather than attempting to invoke them. Instead of approaching them with demands we should get to know them. Rather than turning up with an armful of offerings or a page full of verse we should find out what they want us to do for them.

Until Phil and Lynda Ryder introduced me to Druidry my connection with deities had taken place away from home, and in many ways been an escape from the banality of suburban life. After opening my eyes to what was outside my door I became more aware of the nature spirits of my local area. Robin’s book has been really useful as he offers sound advice on how to connect with them. For example before approaching the spirit of a water course learning if it’s artificial or manmade, whether it’s been diverted and what it’s old uses were. This process turned up some interesting research about my local valley and it’s brook as well as deepening my understanding of the spirits.

As a poet I found the following lines inspirational: `in Clan, we wonder at what body of land-stories may have once existed, that saw and celebrated the spirits of the land. We wonder too at what stories we, and others, could create anew to reinvest the spirit in the Sacred Land.’ They played a part in leading to me writing a book of poetry about the valley to raise money for the Friends group I set up there.

An exercise that stuck in my mind was a visualisation where Robin says `you may feel the urge to chant, sing, clap a beat with your hands, or do various other activities. Go with the flow…’ Whilst I’ve found other people’s visualisations don’t work for me these words stuck in my mind, because I knew, frustratingly, this was something I’d never been able to do. Following a prompt to sing one of my poems to Belisama, the goddess of the Ribble, I recalled these words, with my frustration. I decided to try it, an experience which has transformed and deepened our relationship. Building on this I’ve learnt to let go entirely, allowing a song to take me into a trance, strangely and inexplicably met Gwyn ap Nudd, a deity whose wild, terrifying nature connects to my soul, and journeyed with him to the Otherworld.

New Druids. Robin’s values as a young man coalesced `in the mythic image of the Druid.’ The label of `Druid’ has been a sticking point for me. Up until last year my world view was based on Nietzsche’s artist’s metaphysics and William Blake’s visionary excavation of London, combined with my growing intuitions about the local land, its Gods and their myths and stories. This amalgamation made me see myself as some kind of pagan poet-philosopher, my totem mare fleeing tradition, stamping and shaking her head like a horse refusing to go into a box.

For Robin to reject tradition involves dismissing `those ancestors that adhered to polytheism within that time and who might well guide the living from beyond the grave.’ A question I ponder frequently is why am I called to the Gods of ancient Britain and the tribes who lived in relationship with them, and to the divine figures whose tales, hunting horns and battle cries, with the scream of ravens echo from The Mabinogion and The Books of Ancient Wales? Why me? Why now? Why is Druidry returning, or perhaps, why is Druidry being brought into being by those who are called by the land and its Old Gods?

Robin’s suggestion is that `Gods are astounding entities and a new spirituality could be built around them that would enlightening, liberating, awe-inspiring and magnificent. If the world had never had a body of polytheistic naturalists seeking meaning and beauty and sapience in the land around them, then the 21st century would be a fantastic time for it to gain one.’ `Myths inspire the future.’ For Robin the draw of the mystical religions is their capacity to restore wonder, mystery and enchantment to the world. This restoration does not take place solely in ritual and meditation but by working with and sharing the energy and inspiration that are gifts of the land and its deities, a task Robin performs through teaching, storytelling and poetry.