The Calling of Creiddylad

Creiddylad,
strings of birdsong
pull your hair.

Creiddylad,
they turn your head
towards the sun.

Creiddylad,
your face is a gently
opening petal.

Creiddylad,
your footsteps call
the flowers from sleep
in hill and mound
and dun.

Creiddylad,
you are unstoppable
in your majesty

although a part of you is weeping inside
for the love of winter
who will soon
be gone.

Creiddylad,
do not turn back,
do not turn
back

to the darkness
of Annwn.

Creiddylad,
step into the light
of the spring sun.

Crane-Dance and Sunshine

P1130306A card which keeps recurring in my readings (I mainly use The Wildwood Tarot) is ‘The Three of Vessels: Joy’. It features two common cranes dancing and a third spreading its wings, rising into flight with three vessels; white, green and gold. Its meaning is welcoming ‘new life or good fortune’, ‘celebration within a communal group or family’ and ‘successful return after migration’. The reading points state it’s about being able to give ourselves permission to experience ‘authentic joy’ as a ‘gift from the universe’.

At the beginning of the year after completing my first publication: Enchanting the Shadowlands and dedicating it to him, Gwyn ap Nudd advised me to ‘find my sun’. Interpreting this as finding a calling I enjoyed, I balked. Although intuitively I knew continuing to serve Gwyn as an awenydd by recovering his neglected stories and their associations with the British landscape was a source of joy, I couldn’t believe in it.

There were too many awful things happening in the world. Too many other people stuck in meaningless jobs for me to deserve the liberty to follow my joy. So I ignored Gwyn’s advice, took an admin job and tried to force myself into the political sphere: areas antithetical to my natural disposition as an intuitive thinker and poet. Unsurprisingly, I had a thoroughly miserable time.

The event that broke my misery was a holiday to Wales where I experienced the enormity of Cadair Idris and, after reading Heron’s translation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ on Borth beach, witnessed the otherworld appearing across the sea at sunset: a gift from Gwyddno’s lands and from Gwyn, a King of Annwn. This led me to write a story based on the ancient Welsh poem called ‘The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir.’

During my research I found out whilst Garanhir is usually translated as ‘longshanks’, ‘garan’ means ‘crane’ in Welsh and could refer to ‘crane-legs’. That’s how Gwyddno appeared to me: an old man, grey-faced, crane-legged, picking his way along the misted edge of Borth Beach. He had lost his memory. This was because the cranes were gone with their elegant black legs whose dancing alphabet spelled the forgotten names of his kindred.

Cranes became extinct in Britain during the 17th C due to shooting and the draining of wetlands. I’m not sure when the last crane was sighted in the precincts of Maes Gwyddno ‘The Land of Gwyddno’. According to local legend, Cantre’r Gwaelod ‘the Bottom Hundred’ was drowned after the flood gates of Gwyddno’s fort were left open after Seithenin’s seduction of Mererid.

Boddi Maes Gwyddno ‘The Drowning of the Land of Gwyddno’ is set in the 6th century but could have its roots in sightings of an ancient, submerged forest on Borth beach. Whenever it happened, it seems a flood devastated lowland plains, areas of woodland and the homes of a human community. A haunting story tells of church bells ringing beneath the sea. I imagine the flood-waters drowned coastal wetlands and the nesting places of numerous wildfowl too.

Another tale linked with the area is Hanes Taliesin ‘The Story of Taliesin’. After Gwion Bach spilled three drops of Ceridwen’s brew on his finger and imbibed the Awen, the cauldron shattered and its toxic contents spilled across the land and poisoned Gwyddno’s horses. Today this conjures images of large-scale industrial tragedies such as the Gold King Mine Disaster in Colorado in August this year where three millions gallons of waste water flooded into the Animas.

This may not be far from the ‘truth’ as lead mining took place in the hills close to Cors Fochno ‘Borth Bog’ and lead smelting at Taliesin, Llangynfelyn and Ynys Capel during the Roman period. A medieval wooden walkway connecting these sites has recently been discovered. Perhaps an industrial disaster poisoning streams and wildlife gave rise to this tale? (On a happier note, wild ponies can be seen grazing safely near Cors Fochno in the present-day.)

P1120640

Both ‘Dark Age’ tales may be related to the disappearance of cranes from Maes Gwyddno. A story which has not made its way into legend is the draining and enclosure of Cors Fochno. This began in 1813 and reduced its area of 24 square kilometres to 7 square kilometres (now protected as an SSSI). Whilst this took place too late to be cited as a cause of the disappearance of cranes from Cors Fochno it would have decimated other wetland species.

***

Common_crane_grus_grus

Wikipedia Commons

The extinction of common cranes forms an incredibly sad marker in British history. These striking birds with their grey body- feathers, black and white necks and unique red crowns are renowned for the choreography of their elaborate ballet-like courtship-dance which involves a complex sequence of bobs, bows, crouches, coils, spins, leaps, pirouettes and calls.

After mating, both parents care for and fiercely protect their eggs which are laid in May and hatch 30 days later. After 5-6 weeks the parents go through a post-breeding molt which renders them unable to fly. Their offspring are ready to fly at 9 weeks. It seems possible the precarious 3 week period when none of the family can take off played a part in the demise of common cranes.

As well as being an irreplaceable part of the natural world, cranes are deeply embedded in Celtic and Romano-Celtic culture and mythology. The most famous example is Tarvostrigaranus ‘the Bull with Three Cranes’ from a 1st C Parisian monument. In Dorset, a statue of a three-horned bull with three female figures on his back was found in a 4th C shrine. These seem related through lore about women shapeshifting into cranes. In Risingham, Northumberland, a Gaulish slab depicts Victory with a crane beneath her and Mars accompanied by a goose.

Whilst crane stories in Brythonic tradition seem lacking, I found cranes play a central role in Irish mythology. In light of my devotion to Gwyn I was delighted to find several stories connecting his Irish counterpart, Finn, with cranes. In ‘Bairne Mor’ whilst Finn is a young child, his father, Cumhall, is slain in battle. Finn is thrown over a cliff and caught by his grandmother in the form of a crane.

In ‘Cailleach an Teampuill’, Finn encounters the Cailleach as ‘the Hag of the Temple’ with four sons who appear as cranes. They are associated with death and will only ’emerge as warriors’ if they receive a drop of blood from the skull of the Connra Bull (who is owned by the Cailleach).

Finn also comes into custodianship of a crane-bag which belonged to his father. The story of its origin is fascinating. The crane-bag first belonged to Manannan Mac Lir and contained his treasures. It is made from the skin of a crane who was originally a woman called Aoife. Aoife was transformed into a crane by Iuchra; a jealous female rival for the love of a man. In modern Druidry, the crane-bag is associated with the ogham alphabet and used to carry magical tools.

When I wrote my story, the only part of this complex web of correspondences I knew of was the connection of the crane-bag with letters. Considering the relationship between cranes and female shapeshifters, looking back, it’s intriguing I was guided by an impulse to relate Gwyddno’s regaining of his crane-knowledge to memories of his mother.

Gwyddno’s recollections of his identity and ancestry took place under the auspices of Gwyn’s protection as a psychopomp. It is my belief the dialogue is set between worlds after Gwyddno’s death. Because Gwyddno lost his memory before he died he was unable to find his way to Annwn. Thus Gwyn appeared with his dog, Dormach, to help him regain his memory and ancestral connections and aid his crossing.

In my story, after Gwyn helped Gwyddno re-gain his ‘inner crane-knowing’, Gwyddno saw the arrival of his family, including his grandmother and his wife Ystradwen as a flock of cranes. Finally he took crane-form, was united with them and flew to Annwn as it appeared across the sea by the light of the setting sun.

Thus, for me, the three cranes on ‘The Three of Vessels: Joy’ could represent Gwyddno and Ystradwen dancing watched over by Gwyddno’s mother with Gwyn’s presence represented by the misty background. The three vessels seem linked to the three drops of Awen, which had led to the poisoning of the landscape, recovered and contained.

Another interesting coincidence is that Gwyn appears to Gwyddno as a ‘bull of battle’: a sacred title referring to his status as a psychopomp. In the dialogue I picture him as a white warrior wearing a bull-horned helmet. Could there be a link to the magical power of Tarvostrigaranus and / or the Cailleach’s bull? If so my story inverts the transformation of the Cailleach’s sons as Gwyddno shifts from king and warrior into crane-form.

Another piece of Irish lore worth mentioning is that three cranes guard the sidh (mound and otherworld entrance) of Midir. Their calls have the capacity to ‘unman’ warriors and if a crane is seen before battle this is taken as an ill omen. I’ve also read three cranes act as guardians of Annwn. Although I haven’t found a scholarly reference for this yet, it would fit with my suggested crane-trio and Gwyn as a King of Annwn.

***

Whilst writing my story, I was excited to find out common cranes are returning from ‘extinction’ in Britain. In 1979 common cranes arrived at Horsey on the Norfolk Broads. Their survival was made possible by the custodianship and management of ‘Crane Country’ by John Buxton and his team of wardens.

In 2010 ‘The Great Crane Project’ was established and is ongoing. At the WWT Centre in Slimbridge, crane eggs from Germany are incubated and hatched then the chicks are hand-reared and released; mainly on the Somerset levels and also in South Wales, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and East Somerset.

Although over a dozen pairs have established territories and bred, this is the first year chicks have matured to the age of taking flight. In August not only one or two but three young cranes (two in Somerset and one at Slimbridge) took flight for the first time. The trio have all been named Peter after the RSPB’s Peter Newbery who was a driving force behind the project and sadly passed away before he saw the young cranes fly.

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Taylor (who I have been conversing with for a while about soul-birds amongst other topics) mentioned a pair of Eurasian cranes in the ‘wildfowl garden’ of the WWT Centre at Martin Mere. I’d been planning to go to see the Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans so visited with my friend, Peter Dillon.

From a distance, I was struck by the Eurasian cranes’ presence and the dramatic change in their appearance from when they crouched and raised themselves to full height. After spending a short while with them, I walked to the other side of their pen. Both turned from a crouched, coiled, position in synchrony, pirouetted then approached. Seeing them perform a simple movement with such grace in captivity I can only imagine their courtship dance in the wild.

Seeing cranes face to face was a source of joy as was re-imagining the dialogue of Gwyn and Gwyddno. During the process I had an overwhelming gnosis of the significance of Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp, the great service he performs for the dead and his promise of blissful re-union with the depths of nature (Annwn) and one’s ancestors in the afterlife.

In Welsh folklore the hounds who help Gwyn gather the souls of the dead are called Cwn Annwn: ‘Hounds of the Otherworld’. Their barking is identified with noisy nocturnal flights of geese. The hounds in Lancashire folklore who perform this role are Gabriel Ratchets and their baying is also connected with droves of geese and wild swans.

In Wales and Lancashire to hear swans or geese flying over at night is a portent of death. During the day at Martin Mere hearing the calls of Whooper and Bewick’s Swans, Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese on the lakes and overhead filled me with great joy: in their presence and a sense of knowing like them one day I would be going ‘home’ to a land far away.

Looking out from the Ron Barker Hide across wetlands lit by magical rays of sunshine as flights of geese and swans arrived and departed I realised in Gwyn, his stories and their revelation within this remarkable landscape I had found my joy, my Awen: my sun.

P1130233 - Copy

I perceive parallels between the return of cranes and the re-emergence of the stories of the old gods and ancestral animals of Britain. Such returns don’t happen on their own or without people dedicated to making them happen. Thus I see my vocation as an awenydd to Gwyn and the spirits of the land not only as a source of joy for myself but hope for future generations. I’ve found my sun and finally accept its gifts.

***

SOURCES

AlainaFae and Cliareach Filleadh, ‘Crane’s Cauldron / Brigid’s Cross
AlainaFae and Cliareach Filleadh ‘Artistic Creation Exploration: Corr Teanga
Anne Ross, Pagan Celtic Britain, (Cardinal, 1974)
Miranda Green, Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, (Routledge, 1992)
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Waterlife, 194, Oct / Dec 2015
The Great Crane Project
The Norfolk Cranes’ Story

Birkacre Rioters

‘They went in about 2 o’clock and before 4 destroy’d all the machinery, the Great Wheel, and set fire to the broken frames’
Home Office Papers, October 1799

They had the loudest drums. The boldest banners. The brightest beating hearts. They approached the mill multicoloured; axes, hatchets, guns raised high.

Afternoon sun who has seen many histories made and forgotten gazed on and off the mish-mash of blades as they smashed in the doors.

Unafraid of battle powder and swan shot they fought black-faced against veterans who were no match for their shouting thousands.

Then they took on the frames. Monsters who guillotined their craft. Spinning engines, carding engines, roving engines, twisting wheels, cotton wheels, cotton reels they axed and trampled.

Then they took on the Great Wheel. Tore it off its axis. Brought it down in splinters. Struck the matches. A giant flaming wheel blazed where workers toiled.

And the fire blazed. And the fire blazed. And the fire blazed. And lit the heart of General Ludd and his wives and daughters. All the Luddite sons.

And the fire of Birkacre lit the hearts of the Chartists. Non-conformists. Suffragettes. Forgotten rebels.

And we remember their fire in times of trouble. Hold it close to our hearts.

***

Birkacre was a cotton mill in the Yarrow Valley in Chorley, which Richard Arkwright leased from 1777. It was one of the first mills to make use of his water frame (the first was in Cromford). In 1779 following riots by stocking workers in Nottingham and a slump in the cotton industry, cotton workers turned against the new machines. On Sunday 4th October a mob descended on Birkacre, smashed all the machinery and used it to set fire to the the mill, which they burnt to the ground. Arkwright withdrew his lease shortly afterward. It was rebuilt two years later and used for calico printing, dying and bleaching. The works in the Birkacre area were closed down in 1939. In the 1980’s the derelict land was reclaimed as Yarrow Valley Park. More about the park and its history can be found in this leaflet. It’s a beautiful area and a visit is highly recommended.

Site of Birkacre Mill

Site of Birkacre Mill

Big Lodge

Big Lodge

Mill Leat?

Mill Leat?

Devil’s Bagpipes on Stoneygate

Arkwright HouseWhen Richard Arkwright played the devil’s bagpipes on Stoneygate a giant hush came over the town. The blistering whirring sound against the pink horizon of a sun that would not set over clear sights for two centuries of soot and smog was damnable. Yes damnable! Gathering in storm clouds over Snape Fell.

You who have seen a premonition might have heard the village seers tell of smoke for flesh charry knees and the squalor of shanty towns. Red brick mills turning satanic faces to the coin of their heliotropic sun: Empire.

Piecers running between generations bent legged beggers, tongue in cheek defiant. Weavers watching shuttles slipping through fingers like untamed flies. Luddites sweeping across greens with armaments and gritted teeth. The new need-fires of burnt-out mills. Staggerings of Chorley.

How he rubbed gristly chubby jaws and did not see the unfairness of profit or tightly curled hair when hair-pin thin people laboured in his thrall. How he played the devil’s bagpipes over breached bones of the dead then one day toppled pot-bellied splay-legged from his cushy stool.

In bugle layers of this town decided long ago I long to rush through industrial rain, knock and knock on his front door and beg him to stop. But know he will not listen. Only play on and on laughing his demonic laugh. So we dance the hurly-burly on the ruins of Horrocks’ back yard in a splash of flowers and cement as if it is our last.

Site of Horrocks' Yardworks

Dudey Hound Grffiti, Horrocks' Yardworks

Brigantia Stone

Brigantia Stone Earlier in January I dreamt the Oak and Feather Grove were holding a celebration on the West Pennine Moors around a sandstone monument carved with a goddess figure rooted in the earth drawing up its energy to combine with shining rays of sunshine. I knew this was a ‘Brigantia Stone.’

Today is the Gaelic festival of Imbolc, which is connected to the goddess Brighid or Bride. In Scottish mythology she is imprisoned in a mountain by the Cailleach throughout winter and escapes her prison in spring, bringing new growth and regeneration. In Wales she is known as Ffraid and this festival is Gwyl Ffraid.

Here in Northern England she is known as Brigantia. Her name is Brythonic and means ‘High One.’ She was the warrior goddess of the Brigantes tribe, whose tribal confederation dominated the North until the Roman Invasions. I associate Brigantia with high places, locally with the West Pennine Moors and in particular Great Hill.

Great Hill from Brindle

Great Hill viewed from Brindle

In contrast to Brighid, whose stories and roles as a poet, smith and healer are well documented, we know comparatively less about Brigantia. Seven inscriptions exist to her across Northern England and Southern Scotland. She is equated with Victory, and on a statue with Minerva in warrior form, holding a spear and a globe of Victory and wearing a Gorgon’s head.

In my experience, Brigantia is a goddess of the wild harshness of the high hills. A warrior for certain and a goddess of the all-consuming fire of the Awen, the hammer beat of creation and a forger of souls. She’s the first goddess I met. Because she’s a poet and we share a fiery irascible temperament I thought she would become my patroness.

I was wrong and the reason behind this was a difficult one to learn. I worked very closely with Brigantia for two years whilst completing a fantasy novel. It was about a fire magician who, in order to bring down capitalism, made a pact with fire elementals which resulted in his near destruction of the world and death in the flames by which he made his pact. With my anti-hero a part of me burnt and was consumed.

After completing the novel I realised it was too dark and incomprehensible to publish. I’d wasted two years, wasn’t cut out to be a fantasy writer and and I’d lost my trust in Brigantia.

The death of my novel left a void. And into it stepped my true god. Perhaps this was Brigantia’s plan. I needed to learn the dangers of working with the untrammelled Awen; fire in the head, pure imagining, without relation to this world or the realities of the Otherworld, to which Gwyn ap Nudd opened the gates.

Afterward I resented her. Because I’d sold my car and could no longer drive to the Pennines we also became physically distanced. In spite of this, looking down on my valley from the surrounding hills, in the fire of the Awen, she has continued to be a presence in my life. I still honour her as the warrior goddess of the North. But we rarely speak in person.

My dream of the Brigantia Stone came as a surprise, even though Brigantia is in many ways a patroness of the Oak and Feather grove. I experienced the calling to redraw the stone for our Imbolc celebration (which I’d sketched in my diary) in colour, as a Bardic contribution to the grove and for Brigantia as an offering on her festival day. It came out perfectly first time, so well I decided to make copies for each member of the grove.

Lynda has suggested we take a grove walk to find the stone on the West Pennine Moors. Whether it ‘really’ exists on the moors, or in their dreamscape, I’m not certain. However, I do know it is the time to acknowledge and accept Brigantia’s role and place in my life.

Brigantia Altar

Solstice Sun Down from Preston Bus Station

Old sun sinks
into the bowels of the city
which holds me in its windows,
in panes of light golden as mead.

Dusk arrives in a purple cloak,
dresser of towers and spires,
not softening the concrete brutal curves
of this maligned iconic genius

whose rawness of might is like a clenched fist,
whose vulnerable underbelly knows the hope
of arrivals and vast pain of final departures,
busking, shrieks and the reek of piss.

Yellow and pink the city lights up,
etching its electronic dream on a moving backdrop;
the palimpsest of museums, mills and stadiums
that have fired our consciousness

and kept us small and discrete,
a match box car and two tiny figures
lost within a car park’s cosmic changes,
sole witnesses to its theophanies

until the arrival of the suicide watch.

Solstice SunsetView from Preston Bus Station

White Mare Waking

Cow Parseley, Greencroft ValleyGreen grows white tipped
cow parsleys a head high,
citadels of intrigue
to a wild cavorting eye.

Daisies peek. Curiosity paws.
Garlic stinks time bomb shards
expanding a quivering nostril.

In green freedom she rolls
turning sun over grass,
cloud over bough,
kicking her heels up.
Spring is here!

Shaking off the old,
treading invisible horse paths
of a lost long maned herd,
her restlessness ripples
through green tips and white flowers.

Trip, Splash the Celandine

Celandine Greencroft Valley 2012

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy:

Trip, splash
The celandine
A radiant flash
A widening sequin.

Skip, pour
A dazzling shower
Bottled sunshine
Painting with flowers.

Flick, hold
The centre of gold
Globe in beauty
Shine like sunlight.

Flip, pelt,
Explode to my spell
Spreading the valley
With bountiful yellow.

The Other Side

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide
– Pink Floyd High Hopes

Glastonbury 2000

The world was ours, the moment all that mattered.
Our hopes were high in the mist of dawn.
We flung our friendship over the wildest horizons
riding rainbow lights and drums to distant haunts
that never satisfied the fire in our souls
nor the loneliness that lay its pall between us.
Strung out on stars, burning everything of value
we reached the ravaged borderlands and paused
so far gone even astronomers couldn’t find us.
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us

they saw the stone circle and distant Tor,
the penumbra of a festival vanished to the night.
At last we staggered home lost and nearly blind,
dazzled by the sun we couldn’t find to tiny houses
with stiff front doors surrendering hope for certainty.
The return was hard, obeying the constant grind
of re-learning how to put one foot in front
of the other one. Re-mastering the system, unseeing
starry skies. Yet on the odd occasion reality elides
to a glimpse of how green it was on the other side.

I fought onward, eventually alone
as the division bell began to toll, making happy
families with freshly ironed clothes, polished homes
and forced smiles. From a dusty library I looked out
across the hills- a glimpse of green and beacon fire.
My feet trod through cotton grass to broken remains
of tribal ruins drawn by chants on the west wind.
The other side returned to life in the vestibules of trees.
I saw a river goddess wash her hair in the rain.
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again

the fragments stayed broken, my vision incomplete.
Stunned by the Tor redrawing itself on the backdrop
of my mind I relit the embers on the Ribble’s bank
and recalled the last hint of paradise before everything
went black and time took our dreams away. Guided
by the voice of an otherworldy king I reclaimed my pride
at the Tor’s white spring. Time performed its circle,
gave back my starlit dream. The world is mine again.
To the other side and spiralling back I ride
dragged by the force of some inner tide.

Glastonbury Tor 2013

Maponus Chant

Sun set over Penwortham, December 2012From a night of long sleep
In the dark of the womb
Maponus Maponus
Awaken the dawn

With a beam of bright youth
From a wild shy horse
Maponus Maponus
Illumine the morn

In a smiling ascent
To a shining throne
Maponus Maponus
Rise high at noon

Emblazoning clouds
And falling through leaves
Maponus Maponus
Colour the eve

With a sinking yawn
To the arms of trust
Maponus Maponus
Descend at dusk