The Hall of Prayer

I finish the first draft of an essay on prayer. Following my devotions I go to bed. I wake in the night knowing I have stumbled into something far bigger than I could have imagined. I stand in utter darkness in what I sense is a vast hall filled with people I cannot see, hear, or touch. The door I stumbled through has slammed shut and I know I will never be able to find it again.

I feel like a ghost. I feel like a part of the formless material before creation. If I have limbs I cannot tell where they begin or end or what differentiates me from the muffled blindfold others. I imagine it as an immense dancefloor where all bodies coagulate into one. A part of me wants to chant a spell of illumination, but I know that would be wrong – destroy the mystery.

We are gathered in the hall of a Great God – where each of the prayers of our lives begins and ends. Prayer can bring us together and when we cease to pray we depart into fixed forms we cannot recognise and forget the gods who hold us in the vastness of the otherness that holds nature.

It’s dark here too but we cannot see the darkness or the ghosts or hear the lonely voices raised in prayer.

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If Someone Came Back From Time

Test of the Twins

In The Test of the Twins by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman (*spoilers ahead*) there is a frightening scene where Caramon Majere and Tasslehoff Burrfoot accidentally travel forward two years ahead of their own time. They arrive in a landscape of ‘slick ash-gray mud’, ‘ragged boulders’, and ‘fire-blackened stumps’. The sky is ‘a strange violet colour, boiling with weird luminescent clouds laced with lightning of brilliant blue’. Rain falls ‘like molten lead’, thunder rolls, and fire sweeps across the mountains. Nothing is alive.

To their horror Caramon and Tasslehoff recognise the stumps of the great Vallenwood trees of the valley where Caramon’s home town of Solace lay. They discover a mass grave and a monument commemorating Caramon’s wife: ‘Tika Waylan Majere’ ‘Your life’s tree felled too soon. / I fear, lest in my hands the axe be found’. Beside it lies Caramon’s corpse with a chisel in its hand.

When night falls the companions see the three moons of magic and constellations of the gods have fallen and been replaced by a single new constellation: an hourglass.

***

This desolate future was created by Raistlin Majere, Caramon’s twin brother, a black-robed mage cursed with hourglass eyes that see all things dying by a wizard called Fistandantilus. In a desperate bid to prevent Fistandantilus from claiming his body as a vessel for his soul, Raistlin went back in time, becoming his foe and walking in his footsteps to a certain point.

Raistlin and Fistandantilus shared the same hubristic ambition: to slay Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, become gods themselves by claiming her power and killing all the other gods. Whereas  Fistandantilus failed to open the portal to the Abyss where Takhisis dwells, Raistlin succeeded.

Previously Caramon and Tasslehoff went back in time to save Raistlin from himself. Throughout his life Caramon had supported his twin in spite of him committing increasingly ruthless deeds including attempting to kill him. Only when Raistlin said he would abandon Crysania, a cleric of Paladine, God of Light, once she was useless to him, did Caramon realise he was irredeemable.

Caramon left Raistlin in the distant past and, whilst trying to return to his own time, accidentally visited the future. Having seen what will happen he realises he must go through the portal into the Abyss and do something he should have done long ago: kill his brother.

***

The portal stands in the laboratory in the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. It takes the form of a door on a platform surrounded by the five heads of a dragon: black, white, blue, red, and green.

It is guarded by Raistlin’s dark elf apprentice, Dalamar. Dalamar is the sole witness to the wonders and horrors of his master’s magical experiments, his creation of the Live Ones and the Dead Ones, the withered things and staring eyes in the glass jars. Surprisingly he is not on Raistlin’s side. He is a spy for the Wizard’s Conclave who paid for his treachery when Raistlin burned five holes in his chest and has guessed what the world will be like if Raistlin succeeds.

When Caramon arrives in Raistlin’s laboratory Dalamar has been mortally wounded by Caramon and Raistlin’s half-sister, the Dragon High Lord Kitiara, who intended to support Raistlin. It is now up to Caramon to prevent Raistlin from returning through the portal.

***

Caramon enters and finds Crysania on the brink of death before confronting Raistlin. When Raistlin realises Caramon has not come to help him but to prevent him leaving he determines once again to kill his brother. Yet Caramon bears news of the future that Raistlin is, at first, hungry to hear:

‘You will win… You will be victorious, not only over the Queen of Darkness, but over all the gods. Your constellation alone will shine in the skies… over a dead world, Raistlin – a world of grey ash and smouldering ruin and bloated corpses. You are alone in the heavens, Raistlin. You try to create, but there is nothing left within you to draw upon, and so you suck life from the stars themselves until they finally burst and die. And then there is nothing around you and nothing inside you.’

Refusing to believe Caramon, Raistlin uses his magic to drag Caramon’s visions into his own mind. He sees ‘the bones of the world’ and ‘himself, suspended in the cold void, emptiness around him, emptiness within. It pressed down upon him, squeezed him. It gnawed at him, ate at him. He twisted in upon himself, desperately seeking nourishment – a drop of blood, a scrap of pain. But there was nothing there.’ Raistlin recognises the emptiness within himself and can ‘almost see his soul, frightened, lonely, crouched in a dark, empty corner.’

As Raistlin looks upon Crysania’s blackened body he imagines her eyes staring into his emptiness and realising there is nothing. Yet there is ‘something, not much, but something. His soul stretched forth its hand.’ He touches her blistered skin and realises she is not yet dead.

Raistlin gives up his plan and orders Caramon to take Crysania back through the portal whilst he fends off Takhisis to prevent her following, in spite of his knowledge of his fate: ‘You will be tortured in mind and body. At the end of each day, you will die from the pain. At the beginning of each night I will bring you back to life. You will not be able to sleep, but will lie awake in shivering anticipation of the day to come. In the morning my face will be the first sight you see.’

However, when Takhisis sinks her claws into Raistlin he is touched by a hand, a voice telling him it’s just a dream and he can wake up. A strong arm encircles him, a hand ‘forms childish pictures in the night’, “look, Raist, bunnies,” he hears Caramon’s voice.

Caramon takes Crysania through the portal and Raistlin closes it. Caramon’s love saves his brother and the world. The warrior returns to the Vallenwoods of Solace and his happy marriage with Tika to become the father of five children.

When Dalamar has recovered he pulls the curtain across the portal, shuts the staring eyes, locks the laboratory door ‘with a lock that has not been made by any locksmith on Krynn’ and gives the key to one of the spectral guardians to keep for ‘all eternity’.

***

The Test of the Twins is the third book of the Dragonlance ‘Legends’ trilogy and was published in 1986. I first read it when I was at high school. This ending has always stuck with me and is just as powerful and pertinent reading it twenty years on.

As hurricanes and wildfires imperil our world I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone came back from time with a report of ashen lands, barren rocks, blackened trees; the moon and stars falling from the sky to be replaced by a single constellation overlooking this age of the Anthropocene: Man

Only we cannot travel through a portal to prevent a black-robed mage from killing the gods. Beginning with our dragon-headed goddesses they were slaughtered by warriors and priests and the portals closed many centuries ago.

The powers who govern us are deaf to reports, visions, the pleas of their brothers. They cannot see their shrivelled souls cringing in the corners of their million pound penthouses, would never reach out to their victims, turn back to the gods, face their fates.

Luckily gods don’t stay dead forever and now they’re returning to our world. Our portals weren’t locked by dark elves although we might find them as guardians and surprisingly on our side. Caramon and Tasslehoff’s journey through time to save Raistlin and the world succeeded. The undoing of the Anthropocene is a magical quest we must likewise embark upon.

Thy time is thy own
Though across it you travel
Its expanses you see
Whirling through forever
Obstruct not its flow
Grasp firmly the end and the beginning
Turn them back upon themselves
All that is loose shall be secure
Destiny be over your head.’

– Instructions for a time travel device
from Time of the Twins

The Bottomless Well

Chalice Well, Glastonbury

I recently discovered an article titled ‘Deep Polytheism’ by Morpheus Ravenna. I particularly liked what she has to say about religion done right feeling like a bottomless well and her suggestion that when we touch those depths we become part of the stories of our deities creating a shared story and future.

Beneath is an excerpt and the full piece can be read HERE.

‘When we recognize the Gods as beings with identities rather than as symbols, expansion happens. When we recognize Them as agents within their own stories, expansion happens. Greater vistas for learning, and greater opportunities for connection and relationship are opening up. New and deeper questions come up faster than we can learn answers. That expansion, that deepening, is an indicator that we are on the track of something important. I often say that if you’re doing your religion right, it should feel like a bottomless well – the deeper you go, the deeper you discover that you can go. That is what happens when we start to recognize the agency and sovereignty of the Gods.

It’s expansive. It goes even deeper. We can look at the story arcs of the Gods engaging with history, but we can simultaneously recognize that They Themselves may not be bound by time – may exist in a non-linear relationship to these historical journeys we are looking at. Thus, it is conceivable that every form and habit and identity that a God may have undergone throughout history could be simultaneously reachable within devotional relationships.

Imagine if you could contact and talk to and get to know someone you love at every age of their life, in every one of the identities they have occupied. Once we recognize evolution and change as possibilities within the stories of the Gods, it becomes possible for us to engage with any part of Them along that story arc…

And there’s something more that arises from that orientation. Because the Gods are alive within Their stories, we ourselves participate in the unfolding of those stories. We participate in the stories of the Gods in our studies of Them. In our asking and our researching where They came from and where They have been, we add to what is known of Them, and we help to shape those narratives. In our devotional cultus, in the knowledge of the Gods that comes through oracular and revelatory work, we contribute to Their stories. In being another of the peoples that have worshiped, fed and sung songs to Them, we become part of Their stories.

This is what comes from engaging with the Gods on this level. This is true relationship. When someone begins to matter to us as a real person within Their own story, we move beyond seeking what we can get from Them. They cease to be a symbol for something or a source of something and instead They become part of our story. We begin seeking to create a story together, a shared future.’

The Forestalment of the Ice Age and the Awen of this year

Then the Ice Age came again and when it
retreated, even the shapes of the
hills and the names of the towns
in the valleys changed.’
Joseph Delaney

It’s Imbolc today and I’m struggling to emerge from winter. It feels like being pulled too early out of bed. Amidst the restlessness of wind and heavy rain we’ve only had one cold snap of still and ice. One flash of snow falling at night melting away the next day.

Just afterward I found out scientists had announced our entry into the Anthropocene: the ‘era of human driven climate change.’ One of the consequences is the forestalment of the next Ice Age. Although I don’t understand the charts and equations I can see human prevention of an Ice Age is an act of cosmic proportions.

Professor John Schellnhuber says ‘Humankind is a stronger force on Earth now than, you know, the orbital forces and all things like that. It is fascinating but also very scary!’ Scary indeed, especially for someone who venerates a god of winter and sees the fragile balance between winter and summer as analogous to the transitions between glacial and interglacial periods.

I’m not proud to be alive at the dawn of the Anthropocene; boiling a kettle, switching on a light, plugging into the web. As a part of my soul harks back to a cave fire and murals dancing on a wall I realise we haven’t changed much in our need for light and warmth and art.

But we have lost our awe and respect for the powers of winter: cold, darkness, sleep and death. Hunted to death the elk, aurochs and wolf. Ploughed up and built over the graves of our ancestors and lost the ability to commune with their ghosts.

The thought of a one-way ride into Endless Summer on the driverless train of the Anthropocene without direction from the ‘orbital forces’ we’ve dismissed or dispatched one by one terrifies me.

Yet today is Imbolc and I’m not on that train. I go hunting for flowers. I go hunting for gods.

There’s been none of that excitement of watching the first few green shoots break through cold ground. They’ve been here since mid-winter. Snowdrops and crocuses are flowering, celandines too, I even see green and generous leaves of lords and ladies. Pink and early cherry trees blossom on Avenham Park and blackthorns are already near enveloped in white.

 

Signs of Creiddylad’s departure from Annwn. Of Brigantia’s touch stirring the land into life.

Imbolc is a Gaelic festival dedicated to Brigid whilst in Wales Gwyl Ffraid ‘Brigit’s Feast’ is celebrated. In northern England I know her best as Brigantia: a fiery warrior-protectress of this land and its people; of the fire in the head and spark of poetry; of the fires of the forge; of mineral-rich springs.

Yesterday I partook in a lovely Imbolc celebration with the Oak and Feather grove singing ‘Welcome Bride’ whilst we blessed healing candles then making Bride’s Dolls from wheat which Lynda had collected from a crop circle in Avebury. There was also an Irish snake rite which I can’t fully divulge here… but there was laughter and the day brought us closer in devotion to Brigantia and the rising energy of the land.

Flowers of Awen are also pushing through the questionable evanescent dreaming of the internet. When I met Heron in Wales last year we spoke about developing a website dedicated to the path of the awenydd. Awen and Awenydd is now live and shares information on historical sources, bardic heritage and modern testimonies from contemporary awenyddion defining their paths and sharing encounters with deities and spirits of place.

Awen

Contributors include Gwilym Morus-Baird, Rhyd Wildermuth, Catriona McDonald and Elen Sentier. We’re open to submissions from awenyddion worldwide and through our forum hope to develop a space for conversation on spirit-work in the Brythonic tradition and the deeper mysteries of the bardic arts.

With Heron and web-manager Lee Davies and others I’ve also been helping develop the Dun Brython site to make it more attractive and accessible to newcomers to Brythonic polytheism. In contrast to Heathenry and Roman, Greek and Gaelic polytheisms there is little information about Brythonic polytheism and the Brythonic gods in print or on-line. We’re working to remedy that and are looking for contributions to the site and a new blog which will open in April.

I’m enjoying my role as editor of A Beautiful Resistance #2 and am excited about several of the pieces I’ve received and looking forward to more. My prose piece ‘Castle Hill: An Alternative Story’ was recently published in Pagan Planet which is edited by Nimue Brown who says:

‘This is a Moon Books community project, sharing the energy and inspiration of people who are making a difference at whatever level makes sense to them. This is a book of grass-roots energy, of walking your talk and the tales of people who are, by a vast array of means, engaged with being the change they wish to see in the world.’

Pagan Planet

The Awen is flowing. Whilst the internet plays an undeniable role in driving the Anthropocene it also brings people across the world together to dream, create and act in mutual support and re-establish bonds with the ‘orbital forces’.

I don’t know if the Anthropocene can be stopped but I believe we have more chance of slowing or redirecting it with the help of the gods and ancestors and the wisdom in our souls. Winter is not gone yet nor memories of the Ice Age crying out with increasing resonance in the Awen of this year.

What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens

P1130621 - Copy

My article ‘What Ails You, Father? The Rain of Nodens’ has been published on Gods & Radicals HERE.

After heavy rain and floods across northern England, Scotland and Wales my article focuses on addressing Nodens (‘the Catcher’) as a Romano-British rain god. Exploring Nodens’ identification with Neptune as a god of rain it moves onto his role as a dream-god at Lydney and transformation into Lludd of the Silver Hand (a Catcher who cannot catch) and parallels with the Fisher King. It ends by discussing the importance of ‘asking the question’ and being open to answers in a time of uncertainty and climate change.

Apples

For Epona

The blood moon:
an apple in a goddess’ eye
drops and I think of the windfall
crisp autumn mornings when we released
the horses slipping from their halters
twisting away in leaps and bucks
with piquant glint-eyed excitement
to the trees where they’d drop their heads
whuffle up the crispy moons of green and red.

Some days before we turned them out
we whispered to them “apples”
and they knew exactly what we meant…

The blood moon has passed.
The horses are staying out late this year.
Yet the sun has gone down on my stable-yard:
baling freshly-cut hay, stacking barns
with hard-shouldered labour,
stuffing stretching nets
for hungry mouths.

As I cut the meadow and gather orchard fruits
I reminisce about the rural life that didn’t last.

When the horses are tied behind bar and bolt
tugging at hay with meadow-sweet muzzles
I will feed them apple-moons
from my open palm.

*This poem was written after watching September’s lunar eclipse from Greencroft Valley, where we planted apple trees two years ago, and is based on my experience of working with horses. I read it for Epona at a ritual in Glasgow led by Potia at the beginning of October.

Breaking the Silence

Two months ago I decided to take a break from blogging. I’d returned from Wales after climbing mist-ensorcelled hound-haunted Cadair Idris. Standing on the shoulder of a giant dizzied by his mad dreams. Staring down into Llyn Cau and Llyn y Gadair. Finding refuge in the hut of the mountain guide.

In Wales the gods are huge. Their names and stories echo from deep valleys and massive mountains and are carried in streams and rivers to where the immensity of the sky meets the immaculate sea on the western coast. From Pen y Gadair the mists of Gwyn ap Nudd never leave.

On Borth beach I read Heron’s new translation of ‘The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’. The name Borth derives from Porth Wyddno and is the location of Cantre’r Gwaelod (The Bottom Hundred); Gwyddno’s drowned kingdom. It was my intuition Gwyddno died there and the poem records a conversation between the worlds where Gwyn offers Gwyddno protection and guides him to Annwn (the Brythonic otherworld).

Reading the poem was immensely powerful. I experienced vividly the presence of these two great mythic figures speaking against the backdrop of the pebbled beach and roaring sea. Afterward at sunset I saw the otherland of which Gwyn speaks ‘where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore’ appear on the horizon.

Borth VI returned to Penwortham mind-blown with much to absorb in thought and dream only to experience another immensity. This time a crushing one. Walking the section of the old pilgrim’s path that leads across the A59 from the site of St Mary’s Well to the War Memorial I got trapped in the middle of the road: unable to cross because of the heavy rush of traffic at school pick-up time.

A59 between site of St Mary's Well and Penwortham War MemorialI knew this was the result of the widening of Penwortham By-Pass. A rush which will only increase when a new stretch of by-pass is built leading over the river Ribble to Junction 2 of the M55 (which exists only in name having been planned over 40 years ago). That this was linked to the expansion of BAE, the University of Central Lancashire, to the building of new housing developments and employment sites throughout Preston and South Ribble.

I was struck by the overwhelming gnosis it was beyond me to stop the growth of this monster. I could not stop the City Deal. I’d known for a while the City Deal was something not even the most seasoned campaigners would dare take on as a whole. That each of us must find our own way of protecting what we value within the realms of possibility whether it’s by campaigning against individual developments, fracking (which will not only ruin the landscape and poison our sacred watercourses but fuel the monster), austerity, defending and caring for an area of green space or growing and nurturing a community group.

Acknowledging this insight has taken a lot of readjustment during which I realised attempting not even to save the world but just South Ribble and Preston, Penwortham even, was beyond my capability and making me ill. Not only that, Peneverdant ‘the green hill on the water’ with its aquifer shattered in 1884, its holy wells dry, its banks subsiding with falling trees and gravestones under increasing duress from the By-Pass wanted to close down. Hence the closure of ‘From Peneverdant.’

What did I have left? The Friends group I run in Greencroft Valley with its wildflowers and apple trees. The monthly poetry night I play a lead role in organising at Korova Arts Cafe & Bar which provides a safe and welcoming space for newcomers and established poets to perform. The Oak and Feather Grove.

My relationship with the land and the gods which my recent travels north and to Wales have taught me need not be limited to Penwortham. The inspiration and awe I find in my path as an awenydd devoted to Gwyn ap Nudd. The depth and magic of his known and unknown stories. A growing awareness of other Brythonic gods and goddesses and their myths.

Whilst I’ve had support and companionship from friends and family and other poets and pagans, until the past couple of months my path as an awenydd and Brythonic polytheist has been a lonely one. However, in October I went to Glasgow to a ritual to Epona-Rigantona led by Potia and last week returned to Borth and finally met Heron, whose writing has guided and inspired me for several years.

Together on Borth beach Heron and I read my story ‘The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir’ which I wrote after my previous visit to Borth based on his translation of Gwyn and Gwyddno’s dialogue. It was moving and beautiful reading and listening to the words, born from the place, from an ancient poem passed on from poet to poet, feeling it live on the sea breeze and the rolling tides, honouring Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp, Gwyddno’s passing and the absent cranes (‘garan’ from Garanhir means crane in Welsh) who I gave the role of soul-birds. Afterward we walked across Cors Fochno (Borth Bog), where cranes may have nested, up Cwm Clettwr and to Taliesin’s grave.

I returned nourished with my feeling of the increasing import of the Brythonic myths juxtaposed with my frustration so few people have an interest in them. Of having much to share but no-one to share with. Which led once again to despair until I had a dream which somehow I knew took place ten years in the future.

I was leading a guided tour of one or two disinterested people to ‘Cockersand Fields’ (which I interpreted to be the fields near Cockersand Abbey where a statue to Mars-Nodens was found) and was feeling ready to give up on this task and life altogether. I hadn’t put my heart into it for several years. Then I saw a group of young backpackers approaching from boats on a sunset beach with smiles and eyes filled with hope. They’d come searching for stories about Gwyn, which I’d failed to write: a failure I suddenly regretted and a friend pushed me to rectify.

The dream seemed to be telling me not to lose hope in a vocation that nurtures my soul, brings me joy and could likewise bring meaning and purpose to others because my writing doesn’t provoke immediate responses or recognition. To think of the long term rather than satisfaction in the now.

Thus for the first time since the closure of ‘From Peneverdant’ I break my silence. Whilst I can’t promise my words will save the world or even Penwortham, I hope for others led down strange paths by little-known gods they may provide signposts in the mist that lead to the strength and inspiration to live with joy and depth in this troubled world.

Borth III