On Producing Monsters

In May I began work on a new mythic book which developed the working title The Dragon’s Tongue. In it I set out on an ambitious project to weave together a narrative about the formation and ordering of the world from a struggle between the Brythonic culture gods against the deities and monsters of Annwn.

It was woven from my personal intuitions about links between Anrhuna, a Brythonic dragon goddess* and the mother with Nodens/Nudd of Vindos/Gwyn and Kraideti/Creiddylad and Tiamat in Enuma Elish and the slaying of Tiamat and her monster-serpents by the culture hero, Marduk, and the battles between the giants and monsters of the otherworld and the Tuatha Dé Danann/Children of Don in ‘The Battle of Moytura’ and ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in the Irish and Welsh myths.

In the first section ‘Anrhuna and Nodens’ I told the story of the creation of the universe from the crochan – cauldron or womb – of Ceridwen, Old Mother Universe, and of how Anrhuna slipped into Annwn ‘the Deep’ and gave birth to dragon-children who departed to shape worlds including ours.

The Old Mother birthed Bel and Don and from their union came Nodens, Uidianos/Gwydion, Brigantia, Ambactonos/Amaethon, Gobannos/Gofannon, and Aryanrou/Arianrhod. When these deities desired to bring order to the chaos of our world, ruled by dragons, Nodens went to negotiate with them, fell in love with Anrhuna, and this resulted in the birth of Vindos and Kraideti.

When Nodens failed to return his kindred made war against him and the dragons and Lugus/Lleu, who was begotten on Aryanrou by Uidianos by magic, slew Anrhuna, and her nine heads were bound on the Towers of the Wyrms. This resulted in the weakening and binding of the dragons of the world and the imprisonment of the giants (early children of the Old Mother) in their own fortresses.

In the second section ‘Vindos and Kraideti’ the children watched the defeat of their father and slaughter of their mother from the secret place where Nodens had hidden them and Vindos vowed to take vengeance. The pair rescued their mother’s womb from where it had been taken after her death by the winged serpents at the cost of Kraideti sacrificing her own womb in exchange, leaving her infertile.

From her womb Anrhuna was reborn as Matrona and she married Nodens and they brought life to the world. The rest of this section covered how Kraideti came into her power as a fertility goddess and Vindos as a god of the dead and ruler of Annwn and his battle with Graidos/Gwythyr for Kraideti. This resulted in a strange marriage between the three of them. An added twist was that, whilst Kraideti could not give birth to children in this world, in Annwn her womb gave birth to monsters.

In the third section ‘Lugus the Giant Slayer’ I told of release of the giants from imprisonment in their fortresses after the Ice Age and their alliance with Vindos. Uidianos, Lugus, and their kindred came to battle against the giants and Vindos and the monsters of Annwn who were defeated. Yet Vindos finally gained vengeance on Lugus by seducing his wife and mortally wounding him with a poisoned spear, which led to the scene of his epiphany in eagle form on the oak in the Fourth Branch.

I completed the fourth section ‘The Knowledge of Uidianos’ and the fifth section ‘The Black Dragon’ on the first draft but found there were too many problems with the first three sections to make it worth returning to these on the second draft. Plus… I don’t want to give away all my secrets yet…

My main result, to date, is a second draft of the first three sections that is 50,000 words long. I completed this at the beginning of August and have since been reflecting on it – weighing it both against the existing myths and my personal experiences with the deities whose myths I have retold. I also sent it out to my patrons and have had five sets of feedback, which have been invaluable.

My main problem has been with misfits between the story of Lugus, reconstructed from the stories of Lleu in the Welsh myths and Lugh in the Irish myths, and my version of the slaying of Anrhuna and the giants. Having recently returned to re-read the original sources the meaning at the core of the story of Lugus is that the giant he slays is his grandfather, which is an important element missing from my myth. I believe this can be worked, possibly for the better, by having Lugus opposed to Bel. I’m not sure how this would fit with his slaying of Anrhuna or his rivalry with Vindos yet though.

Whilst I have had positive feedback about the primordial power and significance of Anrhuna as a Dragon Mother, who gives birth not only to dragons and monster-serpents the monsters of Annwn, I don’t feel I’ve got her death scene right yet. I not sure she was really slain by Lugus. Or if she was slain at all. For she is very much alive to me in the here and now (something I got round in the book by having the Spirit of Anrhuna tutor Vindos and raise him to the position of King of Annwn).

Another problem I encountered was in my depiction of Anrhuna giving birth to monsters. There is a fundamental difference between viviparity (live birth) and oviparity (egg laying). If she is a dragon, and hence reptilian, would she not be laying eggs rather than giving birth? However I hazarded this could be set aside as I’m working with myth, which contains births from heads and thighs, not biology.

I also wondered whether my story about Kraideti giving up her womb and it birthing monsters in Annwn was a subconscious reflection of my choice not to have real children but to dedicate my life to creativity. In particular to giving voice to the gods and monsters of Annwn whose stories are untold.

Whilst I was reflecting on this Goya’s painting and its title ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters’ kept popping into my head and it felt like a fitting phrase summarising my decision when I set out to write the first draft of eschewing critical reflection and allowing the awen to flow wherever it willed at the outset.

I produced a lot of monsters. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It also fits with stories about monstrous births in the Welsh myths. Some are only hinted at. Goleuddydd gives birth to Culhwch ‘Slender Piglet’. Rhiannon, a Queen of Annwn, is punished for suspected cannibalism of her own son who like his mother, the Mare Goddess, may have taken the form of a foal.

Some are more explicit. The brothers Gwydion and Gilfaethwy are forced to shapeshift into male and female animals and together they give birth to a deer, a boar, and a wolf, ‘three hideous sons’. Henwen, the White Sow, births a grain of wheat, a bee, a wolf, an eaglet and the monstrous Cath Palug.

Whilst I am in no way happy with the second draft and am aware I have a lot more reading and reflection ahead I have experienced a number of gains from the process. Firstly I have proved to myself that when I am immersed in something I am capable of working on it almost every hour of the day from when I get up at 5am until I go to bed 9pm and of producing 50,000 words that fit together by their own internal logic within three months.

Secondly, whilst I set out to write a personal myth due to my fears about being unable to write on the Brythonic tradition due to insecurities caused by the debates around cultural appropriation, I’ve found working through the problems with this approach has taken me back to the original sources and deeper. I’ve experienced feelings of acceptance by the family of Bel and Don as I share their stories, this has enlivened my awenydd path, and I’ve started learning Welsh again after a six month hiatus.

Thirdly, my writing of Creiddylad/Kraideti’s story along with personal experiences with her as a goddess of flowers this year in my garden has filled in a black hole in my personal mythos. For a long time I have been aware of the absence of Rhiannon by that name as a horse goddess who I’ve paradoxically felt is very much with me as my white winged mare and the horses who haunt my dreams.

Creiddylad’s revelation of her epithet ‘First Rose’ and her appearance to me riding a white winged mare in association with the moon have suggested she may be identical with Rhiannon. This would fit with both of them being Queens of Annwn who I have perceived giving monstrous births.

This opens the possibility and perhaps the necessity of incorporating material about Gwyn/Arawn and Creiddylad/Rhiannon and their son from the other branches of The Mabinogi into my book. It is implicit that Arawn is the otherworld father of Pryderi in the First Branch and Pryderi’s slaying by Gwydion would certainly provide added meaning to the conflict between Uidianos/Gwydion and Vindos/Gwyn/Arawn.

So this is where I am right now. On the brink of reason, pondering, if not producing monsters. If you would like to hear more about my creative processes, have access to unseen work from my drafts, and play a part in my creations by giving feedback, please consider becoming a patron HERE.

*Anrhuna is not known from existing sources but she has revealed herself to me within my landscape and in the iconography surrounding Nodens/Nudd/Lludd – in a mosaic of sea serpents with intertwined necks from the temple at Lydney and Lludd’s associations with two dragons.