Swyn

Swyn – charm or incantation; magic
Kristoffer Hughes

This woodland will not be felled by the axe of man or god. I drift with the souls through the mist of blood. It is damp on my cheeks and eyelashes. This is not the time for weeping, but undoing what Gwydion has done. When the featherless wings brush my face I push them away lightly and set to work.

It must begin and end with a snake biting her tail.

It takes me weeks (in this place the weeks are counted by the dripping of the blood) to ease the snakeskin down from the trees, to sew up the tears, to stick the scales back on with super glue, then stretch it out in a circle around the woodland. Lastly I retrieve the skull, prop open the jaws with a strong branch, slip the end of the tail between them, give my instructions to those who will bring the end.

The toadstone with its antidote must form the centre.

With ropes I drag it out of the bloody pool of bones and feel like Sisyphus as I push it into the central grove. A lapwing calls “pee-wit, pee-wit” circling overhead, a red-eared hound sits at my side, and a doe watches fractiously from between the trees as I sponge off the blood and polish it with a yellow duster, beginning to hum a tune as the bufonite sparkles green as emerald beneath my touch.

In the jaws of the hundred-headed beast the gateways must be opened.

I leave the woodland and climb the hill to where the heads of the beast are piled up like a totem. Stepping inside each set of cavernous jaws I light a candle to illuminate each cave and redraw the gateways around each throat with a glow-in-the-dark marker pen and somewhere hear a belly rumble.

The eagle-feathered staff of the swynydd to reverse the swyn.

Slithering on damp bone I climb my way up slowly, a candle, a gateway, in every skull, to the very top. I wrest Gwydion’s staff from between two skulls and shake his presence from it. Gently I untie the eagle feathers and watch them drift slowly to the ground like Lleu sung from the oak in Nant Lleu.

With a smile I tie on the feathers of the owl and speak a prayer to Blodeuwedd and all her kind. I call to my Lord of Annwn, Brân with his alder shield, Pryderi the swineherd dead before his time.

Beneath the stars of promise, seated on the top skull of the beast, one leg crossed over the other, I sing:

Blood drenched trees
beyond Caer Nefenhyr
souls amongst the trees
will you ever be free?

As I sing I see the trees awakening as if from a long sleep, staring about in horror, shaking off the blood. Birch is abashed by his blood-stained armour whereas Ash is proud of his splashes and scars. Golden Rod, afraid her beauty will be forever be marred, lays down her rods of golden flowers like swords.

From their bloody death-spots the souls unattach themselves, ease themselves out of the mist, the rain.

Blood drenched trees
enchanted into warriors
woodland of lost souls
will you ever be free?

A bending of the boughs, a turning and circling in confusion, the deep rumbling voice of Oak as he argues with Holly again, the silvery tongue of Birch calming them, the dream-wisdom of Willow, the fire of Rowan, prickly Blackthorn playing devil’s advocate, the squeak of clover demanding a say.

Souls fly like moths to the flame to the jaws of the beast. The green light of the toadstone begins to glow.

Blood drenched trees
will you return to Annwn
with souls of mist and feather?
Will you accept freedom?

The green light soothes them and, as a woodland, as a whole, united by blood and mycelium they agree.

The souls step into the caverns, to the gateways, and the beast shudders to life. The snakeskin begins to twitch. I sense the end approaching like the snap of countless jaws as the snake bites her tail.

Speckled Crested Snake Ouroboros Med

*This piece follows on Caer Nefenhyr and is based upon a spirit journey into the otherworldly landscape where ‘the Battle of the Trees’ took place.

A Great Scaled Beast

Gweint mil mawren
arnaw yd oed canpen
a chat erdygnawt
dan von y tauawt
a chat arall yssyd
yn y wegilyd

I pierced a great-scaled beast:
there were a hundred heads on him,
and a fierce battalion
beneath the roof of his tongue;
and another battalion is
in (each of) his napes
The Battle of the Trees

A great scaled beast sees
wars across the worlds: these
last days of Empire’s fall
beautiful, terrible…
Heads burn East, West, North, South.
Everywhere a Hell Mouth.

On the howl of Dormach
fierce battalions march
forth from beneath the rooves
of his tongues sent to prove
the world’s end to itself
and lead each frightened self

into the great beast’s maw.
Entering his gaping jaws
every step is further
down his throat – surrender
would be bliss if it weren’t
for regret, guilt, the hurt

of leaving all we loved.
Our work was not enough.
This is a night of tears.
This is a night of fear.
This tongue a road we must
walk – perfect faith and trust

keep us strong as we go
where only the gods know
splitting East, West, North, South –
all into the Hell Mouths.
In the maw of the beast
will we relearn to speak?

Will we each be reborn?

A Great Scaled Beast Black, White, Red Final Sml

‘A great scaled beast / there were a hundred heads on him’

A Black Forked Toad

Llyffan du gaflaw
cant ewin arnaw

A black forked toad:
a hundred claws upon him
The Battle of the Trees

As dusk darkens the skies
a black forked toad will rise

from his underworld throne
beneath a cold dark stone,

slow, ponderous, alone,
napes filled with poison,

his long and roving tongue
seeking souls old and young.

His hundred trailing claws
with shrieks like owls will score

the black and tarmaced roads
that killed a hundred toads –

green, brown, grey, mottled, black,
males riding piggy-back

in a sacred parade
plodding to pools to mate.

He will trawl the cracked roads
where cars crash and explode,

movement drawing the lick
of his lips before the flick

of that forked tongue lashes
whip-like, savage, catches

the fleeing souls. No-one
will escape his mouth – run

hide, stand, fight, parry, miss.
One gulp they will be his.

When falls the last swallow
toothless he will swallow

everything that moves.

A Black Forked Toad Med II

‘He will trawl the cracked roads / where cars crash and explode’

A Speckled Crested Snake

Neidyr vreith gribawc:
cant eneit trwy bechawt
a boenir yn y cnawt.’

A speckled crested snake:
a hundred souls, on account of (their) sin,
are tortured in its flesh.’
The Battle of the Trees

A speckled crested snake
rises, falls, slips, like heartache
through ashes in the wake

of worlds that rise and fall.
Handless, legless, she crawls
writhed by agonised calls

of a hundred doomed souls
that hang like birdsong – whole
legions swallowed in halls

where the live can’t follow
where they’re pierced by sorrows –
sins lined in endless rows.

They drown in her venom
which sears, abrades, strips them
of skin, flesh, bone, wisdom

of pain making them one
with her: scaled, speckled. None
escapes as she writhes on.

She seeks a hundred more.
Feeds, grows, fattens, on war.
No-one can stop her maw

devouring what we’ve left.
No spear can bring her death.
No word can end her breath.

We’ll be inside her soon.

A Speckled Crested Snake Large

‘A speckled crested snake / rises, falls, slips like heartache / through ashes in the wake / of worlds that rise and fall.’