Spirit Ship

Two ghosts
come knocking
at your door

knocking knocking
at your door

with a spirit ship.

In the hold is
an empty chest.

In your chest a hole.

“The ship must sail.”

She must be launched
with all her cargo

on the sea that has
always been lapping
outside your door.

Two ghosts
come knocking
at your creaking hull.

“She must be full.”

You are emptying.

The sails are filling.

No more knocking
just the swaying as she
sails to the eternal.

The sea is lapping
lapping at your door.

The chest is full.

With thanks to Bryan Hewitt for use of his image ‘Voyager Passing’. You can view more of Bryan’s photography and his films on his website Mythology Now HERE.

Fragments of Annwn – Depths

No-One Knows

the extent of the marshland of Annwn. Some cross it in a day. For others it goes on forever like the mist that obscures the musical birds, the shriekers of the mournful shrieks, the droners of the ancient drone, the players of the carnyxes that gurgle beneath the waters. You never know what is splashing behind on countless feet until it is too late. Sometimes you get lost following the will-o-wisps like lost hopes to where all hope fails. Sometimes you make sacrifices or become the sacrifice see your bog body your ghost flying free like a lonely bird. You become an inspirer or a guide only to bring doom to the unwary. When you think you know the way you slip. When you think you have found the awen you find it escapes words, that the sigh of its name is already escaping your lungs, that breath is not yours to keep forever and must return to the gods.

Awenydd of the Marsh

“You have not yet crossed the marsh.”

No, I’ve got lost again, led round on splashing circle feet to the village where there is a wooden pole and on it a woman seated cross-legged on the head of a bull a crane with wings spread above her.

When she’s not on the pole she’s in the central hut a cord of light down the centre of her spine surrounded by worlds that flicker in and out of existence whether at her will or not I am uncertain.

I’ve never heard her speak, seen her eyes blink, perhaps she dare not for fear of unseeing the realities she holds within her gaze. She doesn’t even breathe. Without her things would fall apart.

My eyes are tired, I’m out of breath, my worlds are out of reach, and I’m missing something.

An Abandoned Sea-Dragon

A blue watery dragon is snared by a weak rusty-looking metal chain around one leg, like a ship at anchor, like an abandoned boat, where the tides come up and wash over her body then back down again. She is ridden with fleas. She is one of the dragons that have been forgotten. I know I could easily break the chain but am told that it is not the chain that binds the dragon there. She has forgotten how to leave. The knight who chained her has fled from his fear of her death. The people do not feed her. She just lingers. It’s an awful story. A terrible mess. There’s no resolution. It’s embarrassing.

elizabeth-explores-unsplash

With thanks to Elizabeth Explores on Unsplash for the image.

The Riddles of Manawydan

What is the water you cannot drink?
What is the mineral that kills and cures?
What is the ship you cannot sink?
What is the light that warns and lures?
Who sings the song that robs and feeds?
Who are the horses that run without feet?
Where is the cloak that was shaken between?
Why does the sea yearn for the land?
Why is this seafarer land bound?

Sea at Blackpool

The Wizard of the Waves

P1140193 - Copy

I.
Several years ago, I made the mistake of offending Manawydan. I was new to journeying. My guide took me to the otherside of Blackpool and we alighted outside a swimming pool. On the wall was a stereotypical plasticy image of a wizard in starry indigo-blue robes with a wand and bent wizard’s hat. Cartoon letters beside him read: ‘THE WIZARD OF THE WAVES’.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was incredulous. This wasn’t how the otherside appeared in books about shamanism. Turning to my guide I asked affrontedly “why have you brought me to see this tacky wizard?”

The wizard stepped from the wall and raised his wand. The scene dissipated with the dismal crashing of all the waves of the sea. I found myself back in my room immensely disorientated. Later it dawned on me that I’d offended Manawydan. I felt like kicking myself.

II.
Manawydan’s stories contain deep magic. However I struggle to connect with him because he’s humble, practical, wise: all the things I’m not.

After the catastrophic battle against Matholwch, King of Ireland, where Brân was slain, Manawydan and seven survivors returned with his head. They feasted with it for seven years at Harlech then for a potentially interminable period on the island of Gwales.

In the feasting hall in Gwales there were three doors: two open, one closed. Previously Brân told them “so long as you do not open the door… you can remain there and the head will not decay. But as soon as you open that door you can stay no longer.”

Manawydan echoed his brother’s wisdom. ‘”See over there… the door we must not open.”‘

Darned doors. Particularly the closed ones. They’re such a temptation. As soon as someone says “don’t open that door”…

This time the culprit was Heilyn. When he opened the door and looked out all their past sufferings and losses returned. Brân’s head began to decay.

III.
Manawydan should have inherited Brân’s Kingdom but it was usurped during their sojourn in Ireland by Caswallon. To make up for his loss, Pryderi offered him Dyfed and marriage to Rhiannon.

Manawydan and Rhiannon were happily married and became firm friends with Pryderi and his wife, Cigfa. Their life of hunting, feasting and enjoyment was brought to an end when a blanket of mist descended leaving Dyfed devoid of men, domestic beasts and dwellings.

They survived in the wilderness for a year by hunting and fishing and eating honey from wild bees. Tiring of their frugal lifestyle, Manawydan suggested leaving for England to earn a living through craftsmanship.

In Hereford Manawydan took up saddlemaking. There were was more than a hint of magic about his work: he enamelled the pommels with the skill of Llasar Llaesgyngwyd; the gigantic blue smith who forged the Cauldron of Rebirth and delivered it to Brân.

Manawydan was a victim of his own success. The jealous townspeople decided to kill him and his company. Pryderi’s response was to “kill these churls.”

More sensibly Manawydan said “if we were to fight them, we would get a bad reputation and would be imprisoned. It would be better for us to go on to another town and earn our living there.”

Pryderi listened and they moved on. However when Manawydan took up shieldmaking he coloured the shields the same way they coloured the saddles. Again the townspeople were jealous and they were forced to move on.

In the next town Manawydan took up shoemaking. Instead of using enamel he made friends with the goldsmiths who taught him to make golden buckles. He became known as one of Three Golden Shoemakers and again was far too successful for his own good.

IV.
Manawydan and his company decided to return to Dyfed. Out hunting they were led by a white boar to a fortress. Manawydan recognised the work of whoever put the spell on the land and advised them not to enter.

“Don’t enter that enchanted fortress!” A bit like “don’t open that door…”

Pryderi rushed straight in. Enraptured by a golden bowl, upon touching it, he became speechless and well and truly stuck. Rhiannon followed and suffered the same fate. The blanket of mist descended and in a blink of an eye the fortress was gone.

Manawydan saved the day by capturing the pregnant wife of Llywd Cil Coed, the enchanter, in the form of a mouse. Ransoming her at a miniature gallows he persuaded Llywd to remove the magic from Dyfed and release Pryderi and Rhiannon.

V.
Manawydan’s stories are filled with magic. He’s got deep knowledge of the magical arts, those who wield magic, the unfathomable nature of magic itself. He’s a true wizard.

However if I was in his stories I’d indubitably be the one who failed to listen to his advice. Who could not resist the temptation to open the door or storm the fortress. Who’d still be wandering through mist subsisting on wild fruits and honey or staring entranced into a golden bowl.

But I’m not in his stories. He’s started coming into mine. In a memory that’s not my own in which I’m drunk aboard The Manxman: a boat moored at Preston Dock and used as a floating nightclub pulled away in 1991 long before I was old enough to drink.

In dreams of tides and shoes and rollercoasters dropping into the sea. In the call of gulls. In the tidal pull of the sea drawing me further and further up the Ribble estuary to the coast.

VI.
The medieval stories of the Brythonic deities are immensely valuable. However because they were penned by Christian monks nearly a thousand years ago they can impose a filter on direct experience of ‘pagan’ deities in the twenty-first century.

I’ve learnt a lot from Manawydan’s devotee, Angharad Lois, who keeps a blog called From the Edges which features stories from the shorelines and also Muddy Boots and Mistletoe where she’s part way through the Thirty Days of Devotion project for Manawydan. Angharad carefully weaves Manawydan’s lore together with her own experiences and contemporary art and literature presenting a fuller picture of who he is in the modern world.

I found a quotation Angharad picked out by Alison Leigh Lilly, about Manawydan’s Irish cognate, Manannan Mac Lir, resonated with me ”One day I am sweet, another day I am sour,’ says the Irish trickster god Manannan mac Lir in his guise as the traveling buffoon whose hat is full of holes and whose shoes squish with puddle water when he walks.’

I recognised this deity in The Wizard of the Waves and this wooden carving of a wizard at Martin Mere titled ‘The Great Mere Vanishing Act’ where he says ‘Can you find the missing mere?’

Quiz on walkway, Martin Mere

Well I worked out what happened to Martin Mere: fifteen miles of lake drawn out to sea by the pumps at Banks. But I still haven’t fathomed Manawydan. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the Wizard of the Waves is unfathomable as magic and his deep blue starry robes of the sea.

P1140208 - Copy

Anti-Fracking Protests in Blackpool and the Awe of the Sea

P1140162

The twenty day public inquiry into whether fracking will take place at Roseacre and Little Plumpton opened on Tuesday the 8th of February at Blackpool Football Stadium. I travelled from Preston to join local people and protestors from anti-fracking groups to stand against Cuadrilla’s appeal and for democracy.

I don’t feel massively comfortable at protests. I’m not naturally smiley or sociable and am not good in crowds or with loud noise. However I went and literally stood for what I believe in and heard some good speeches from campaigners, students, faith groups, trade unions and a representative from a Lancashire based renewable energy company presenting viable alternatives to fracking.

Surprisingly for the first time I saw a small group of pro-fracking campaigners with signs saying ‘WE’RE BACKING FRACKING’ ‘JOBS JOBS JOBS.’ Following questions about how much they’d been paid they left. Hmm…

P1140170

Feelings about how the hearing will go are mixed. Speakers shared doubts about whether Greg Clark will listen to the views of Lancashire’s people and councillors after his proposal to classify fracking sites as ‘nationally significant infrastructure.’ Yet campaigners are taking heart in their success in preventing fracking over the last four years.

P1140164

Once the demonstration was over I walked from South Pier to North Pier. Nearly everywhere was closed and shuttered down. Instead of walking by forlorn skeletons hanging over abandoned horror houses, occasional shops selling sticks of rock and walking sticks with flashing lights, announcements ghosting from hidden speakers, I chose to walk by the sea.

P1140197

The huge fierce insurmountable sea crashing and crashing against the promenade with the tireless energy of its tidal pull: grey waves riding in and with a smash banking at head height in cascades of foam. After the tension of the protest it was invigorating to stand before the sea, let its saltwater splash over me, safe yet aware of its immense power.

P1140201

Wave by wave to allow the frustrations of politics to be washed away; outrage at Westminster forcing fracking on Lancashire, the futility of the political system, the lies and double-dealing of politicians, the constant need to fight against a world of men in suits, corrupt corporations and political-speak of which I have no comprehension.

To stand before the awe of the sea beneath a silver cloud-lit sky pierced by winter sunshine making rainbows in the spray. To stand before a quicksilver panorama of sky and sea.

P1140218

To see the Big Wheel stopped. The Big Wheel stopped. The Big Wheel stopped on Central Pier. And pray likewise fracking can be stopped, the wheel of industry and the political machine.

Mary of the Marsh

Enduring years of disconnection,
incredulity of stars,
anger beneath the heavens,
she scathed the priests and walked alone,
drifting among chapels, knowing she didn’t belong,
her robes of night fell on soft rushes.

They say she walked along the marsh.
They say she walked out to the river.
They say she looked out to the sea.

In the damp, dark parishes
paradise was never hers,
she walked amongst the outcasts and the sick
healing wounds that should never open,
seeing what shouldn’t be seen,
her robes of night fell on troubled waters.

Mary of the lepers,
Mary of the marsh,
I saw you running to the river,
I saw you running to the sea.
How you longed to sail away…

Fairy Horse

Fairy horse fairy horse
Dancing on the brink
Of a cliff’s sharp edge
Above time’s dark sea.

Fairy horse fairy horse
Horned and winged
In a beam of bright moonlight
Her cold coat gleams.

Fairy horse fairy horse
With hooves of steel
Is quick to the hunt
And quicker to the kill.

Fairy horse fairy horse
Swift as poetry
And deadly as moonshine
Defies reality.

Fairy horse fairy horse
Eternally wick
Will never surrender
To a virgin’s tricks.

Fairy horse fairy horse
Will never be named.
She will never be caught.
She will never be tamed.

Faery Horse

The Black One of the Seas

Castle Hill, on the RibbleThe green hill on the water drifts
Anchorless on high tide.
Wraiths of fog fight the primal mist.
Hoof beats fall from behind.

The splash of marsh brings rounded feet;
Miracle he doesn’t sink,
Approaches like an isle-bound fleet,
The Black One of the Seas.

His mane is waves, his arching crest
Vaunts higher than a mountain.
His tail, a tiller switches, twists,
His nostrils foam black fountains.

His heaving chest rumbles and roars,
Rolls like the tides of the seas.
His long legs, a volley of oars
Beat like a heart possessed.

A troupe of seven rides his back,
The Northern King Elidyr,
Advisors, servants, child behind,
A cook upon his crupper.

Weary party, a doomed portent,
Endlessly blown ferry
Voyages black and breaking straits
From Clyde to Anglesey.

Rhythms of life they drive and smash
Like waves wrecking a jetty.
Then sink back to the ocean’s death
With the Black One of the Seas.

* This poem is based on ‘The Three Horse Burdens’ from The Triads of the Island of Britain, which can be found here: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/texts/llyfr_coch/typ_eng.html

The King of Faery

In woodland damp, a shady dark divine
On aged slope the creeping ivy climbs.
Caressing thorn and dressing ash with vine
A poison maid spreading her locks sublime
Drapes kingdom fair with wanton waxen shine.
The deep earth’s lawless vagabond of joy
Cords heart shaped leaf where eldritch magic lives,
Ascends, protects the glamorous abode
Of fair folk ancient as the darkness of the wood.

Rooted fast at the foot of hallowed hill
In somber silence stands a leaning yew
Ghosts and needles shadowing its boughs
Whispers hanging sorrowful and true,
Of pageant stately passing at full moon.
Yew tree hides the underworld’s feared gateway
Beneath the haunted watching of its roots.
The wise and dead or reckless seek entry
Imploring the illustrious King of Faery.

~

His spectral shine shimmers white as moonlight
His hair floats fair about his phantom limbs
His warrior attire is black as night.
The eyes of the hunter of souls are grim
As the howl of his hounds on Annwn’s winds.
His dread black steed is a beast of the marsh
Dripping like the sea, his whinnying swims
Like a wetland dobbie bridging the worlds
And hurtling his way across the oak covered swamp.

The King’s pale face is black with wrath
For an eldritch dream killed by disbelief.
Souls who crossed to Annwn to be reborn
Stagnate in the gloom of apathy’s reign.
Through a mist of twilight doomed rides the King.
He travels the path of the Ribble’s old course
From the heart of the hill the death knell rings.
Decked in somber garments the fair folk march
Calling souls to the underworld with funeral spells.