My publisher, Gods & Radicals, are currently having a digital book sale as a celebration of their seventh anniversary. My three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls are all available at a 33% discount reduced from $6.00 to $4.00. Many other Pagan, Polytheist, and anti-capitalist titles are also available at up to 50% discount and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer and All That Is Sacred is Profaned are free. The link is HERE.
I am very happy and excited to announce that my three books, Enchanting the Shadowlands, The Broken Cauldron, and Gatherer of Souls have officially been re-released in print by the Ritona Imprint of Gods & Radicals Press (which specialises in mythic and mystic works).
Enchanting the Shadowlands has been updated with a new cover, layout, and foreword by Rhyd Wildermuth (below).
‘It’s thought human language derived from the songs of the land. The theory goes like this: our early ancestors, who were always walking through a world full of living songs—the caws of birds, the howls of wolves, the tiny buzzing of insects, the rush of streams, the crack and hiss of fire, the oceanic laughter of trees in wind—began to see meaning in those sounds. Playfully they would imitate them; others around them, hearing a familiar sound from an unfamiliar source, suddenly understood “meaning.”
If one of them wanted to tell the others a wolf was nearby, he would make the sound of the wolf, and the others would understand. That there were bees nearby, which meant that sweet dripping gold was also nearby, could be conveyed with a buzzing sound. Then there were also all the clicks and soft explosive noises made with the tongue on teeth or palate, the guttural groans and gulping sounds, the labial pauses played upon the lips: all these tricks of the mouth and throat to bring the world around them into the eventual meaning of words.
It’s easy to fell disconnected to this truth now, when so much that is said has so little reference to the land and all that live within it. It’s all ‘buy this’ and ‘calculate that,’ language of fear, of power, of the human world disconnected from its source.
The earliest priests and shamans—up to and including the bards and druids, and many wise person roles in indigenous societies still—are poets. This is not surprising, because if it is your role to intercede between people and the powers of the land, then you ought to be able to understand—and thus also speak—their language. The birds call in a certain way and snow is coming, the trees creak and bend in a particular fashion and a storm shall soon arrive. The animals of the forest suddenly go silent: there is a wolf. The great herd beasts are uneasy, lowing mournfully: a sickness is coming.
To speak to the land you must sing as it does. To translate for the land, you must understand what it is saying. That’s what poets are for, and that’s what Lorna Smithers is startlingly brilliant at.
She sings the stories not just of the land that is now, but also the stories of its ghosts, the land that once was. This collection, her first, is particularly filled with the songs of ghosts, the chants of ancestors, the wails of lost lives and felled forests, the low roar of the mills poisoning air and river and earth while all that lives there sickens and despairs.
There’s a particular poem in Enchanting The Shadowlands that once made me double over in sorrow, tears that were not mine running down my face. I looked around myself and didn’t know where I was, because I wasn’t where I had been when I started reading the poem. My fingernails caked with dirt, scrabbling through infertile soil for a root that looked like my stillborn child.
Yet I have never had a stillborn child, nor have I ever been in that place, which is the pure magic of her poetry.
The best translators make you forget that you are not hearing the original in its own language; the best poets make you forget you are reading a poem at all. Again, that’s Lorna’s brilliance, and I’m deeply happy you are about to experience this, too.
15 April 2021′
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I’m the broken bird-thing
at her table again
her wizened hand
in my claws
I’m going to mend
our broken vision
and all will be beautiful.
Sometimes you end up in a myth. It’s not the myth you thought you’d end up in or the myth you chose. You’re not who you thought you would be. Nobody else sees the myth the same way you do.
It began when I first started learning about the Bardic Tradition and heard that Ceridwen was the goddess of the cauldron that brews awen, the poetic inspiration that is like mead to the Brythonic bards.
As a poet I thought Ceridwen was a goddess well worth meeting so I drew myself a cauldron, lit a candle, constructed a visualisation. One of those 2D interfaces that sometimes helps you interact with what is. I imagined Ceridwen as a blue-robed, dark-haired, faceless woman stirring a cauldron.
Nothing happened. Then, from nowhere, out leapt a hideous grey-haired hag who put her bony arms around my neck, nearly strangling me. She demanded I go with her to her cottage in her woods. She sat me down at her table in a room with a sun dial and smaller cauldron over the hearth on a wobbly three-legged stool and insisted that I call her ‘grandmother’. Initially I thought she was an ancestor.
I presumed this showed Ceridwen wasn’t interested in me. She already had worthier devotees. Soon afterwards I got found by my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn and guardian of the cauldron.
I met ‘grandmother’ again when I was travelling Annwn in search of inspiration on my flighty white-winged mare. She ditched me and I found myself falling downwards through the air, flapping my arms like wings, steadily acquiring black feathers, but not quickly enough to stop me hitting the ground. When I returned to my senses the hag-like woman was standing over me. With a wrinkly smile she told me I was ‘beginning to get my raven’s wings’ before taking me to her cottage again.
There she told me to look into her cauldron, where I saw in vivid blues and reds a Dark Age battle of clashing spears, crashing swords, broken shields, fallen flags, blood crimsoning the nearby waters, then the shades rising in a sorrowful march to depart. Researching it afterwards I realised it was the Battle of the Region Linuis fought by Arthur against the Saxons and wrote a poem about it*.
After this gift of awen from her cauldron I began to suspect the hag was the real (as opposed to my imagined) Ceridwen. The name ‘grandmother’ came to make sense a couple of years later. Gwyn had shown me a cauldron filled with stars and not long afterwards I went to see my friend, Nick Williams, performing an experimental poetry set in a blacked-out room with strobe lights. I had the sensation of being in a cauldron of poesy and also in the womb of the universe. I recalled that Nick refers to a goddess called Old Mother Universe and realised she is Ceridwen – the oldest mother of all.
I went on to write a book called The Broken Cauldron, focusing on how Ceridwen’s crochan ‘cauldron’ or ‘womb’ is shattered in the Welsh myths and of my task of gathering the stars back into it.
Whereas, in the Bardic Tradition and Druidry, Taliesin and Arthur, those responsible for stealing the awen and the cauldron and the shatterings that have brought devastation to the land are hailed as heroes, I found myself standing in the shoes of Morfran ‘Sea Raven’, Ceridwen’s dark and ugly son, who was later known as Afagddu ‘Utter Darkness’.
He for whom she boils her cauldron in the hope the brew will inspire him and cure his imperfections. He who does not get the awen, who cannot win poetic inspiration the quick way, but must work to find the words to heal the lands poisoned by the contents of the broken cauldron, to repair it piece by piece, story by story, so the stars shine in bright new constellations on a new world.
Gwyn is my guide in this task, and in serving him, I am also serving Ceridwen. She does not appear to me often, but when she does, I am often her awkward black-winged child, the dark imperfect one.
As Afagddu I’m learning imperfection is necessary; an understanding of what others find repulsive, whether it’s darkness, death, decay, plastic, the monstrous creatures of Thisworld or the Otherworld. That these hold their own beauty when the concept is not corrupted by our society’s false ideals.
It’s not the Old Mother’s Universe that needs fixing, but the way we perceive it, the collective vision, which guides our acts. When we learn to see clearly both Creirwy* and Afagddu will be beautiful.
*’The Region Linuis’ was first published in Heroic Fantasy HERE.
**Creirwy means ‘Lively Darling’. She is Afagddu’s beautiful (twin?) sister.
With thanks to Wikipedia Commons for the image ‘A star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud’ by ESA/Hubble.