What Ails Me?

Hail is cold grain
and showers of sleet
and sickness of serpents
.’
– Hagalaz (rune)

I.
I come to You
my mind a wasteland,
the poles, the solstices of my world
out of kilter and something awakening beneath the ice

to ask the somewhat selfish question – “What ails me, my Lord?”

It echoes down through the centuries reminding You of Your father’s wound
and the wound You suffer every year battling against Your rival,

the wound to my navel after my dedication to You,
the pit of snakes in my belly button,

the heroes flung into it,
sucked dry. 

II.
“What ails me, my Lord?”

I’m back at high school again
with serpents twining around my chair legs,

staring down into the depths of the ink well I never used.

I’m chewing my pen, ink is dripping from the side of my mouth,
from my finger tips and I’m raising my hand
to ask for more paper, bleeding words,

rising to the challenge of the exam,

exulting in the quiet of the other pupils,
this scratching of pens the one thing I can succeed in.

III.
“What ails me, my Lord?”

I think of the serpents who twist around my arms
and sit deep in my belly and I wish I could tie around my ankles
to hang like You over the Abyss to gain the wisdom that explains this…

the way by lack of courage or confidence I am always climbing
the first three rungs on my ladder and then falling
back down into my pit of snakes.

IV.
“What ails me, my Lord?”

I’m back at the surgery again
and the nurse is wondering if I’m dead,
tapping my veins, trying to awaken them to life.

I’m explaining the junctions and showing which ones work.

Where blue flows to red and is tested then
incinerated by the fiery serpents.

V.
“What ails me, my Lord?”

My beast looks too much like an ink spodge test,

then I see my father splattered on the settee like a murder victim
from a third rate horror movie doing nothing as always.

I cannot find his wound or his serpents.

Instead I sink into mine and awaken them again,
the wounds made by all the surgeons, all the psychiatrists

by all the snakes fighting back, by all the horror movies and I hear

Your laughter, Your divine laughter, in my veins like poetry,
not the canned laughter of the television
he sits in front of.

VI.
“By asking the question you have opened the door.

Although all our blood and poetic truths
cannot save the world or heal
our ailments

by this opening
your serpents might return
to health and an answer might come through.”

*This poem is addressed to my patron God, Gwyn ap Nudd.

I wrote this poem last year. It is based on drawing the Hagalaz rune at one of the Way of the Buzzard journey circles over four years ago. I had a powerful experience that led me to investigating ‘the sickness of serpents’ not only in the Norse but the Brythonic traditions. It lies behind my series of books in which I explore the relationship between Vindos/Gwyn and the serpents of Annwn. The poem references gnosis received whilst writing these stories.

There is also an allusion to a series of blood tests I had last year relating to slightly raised liver function levels. Two ended up as four as on one occasion they did the wrong test and on another my blood coagulated in transit. It made me start wondering ‘does something want my blood?’ 

At the time I was writing about the conflicts in Annwn between the red and white serpents. As an answer, when I was sitting in the waiting room, on the white board a young girl had drawn a tower block with a huge winged serpent towering over it, which she was colouring it in red. I found out, after testing, blood gets incinerated and received the answer ‘the fiery serpents’. 

One of the results of the blood tests was that I have low iron levels. I have felt a lot better since eating more red meat particulary liver (sympathetic magic?) and believe this was behind me feeling tired and low most afternoons.

The final check relating to my raised liver functions is an ultrasound this Thursday so I will finally find out ‘what ails me’ (physically at least). If I do have minor liver damage it likely relates to having used alcohol to self-medicate the anxiety that comes from my autism since my late teens. I only started addressing this after making my lifelong dedication to Gwyn in 2019.

In the Deep progress update and planning The Forgotten Gods

Since my last update around the Winter Solstice I have been making good progress with the second draft of In the Deep. Having got nearly half way through and added another 20,000 words to the existing 127,000 by expanding and deepening the plot and character development without yet adding more detailed descriptions of the places and characters I have realised it is going to be too long. However, this works out great, as it means I will be able to make two books from this one!

The place I have reached a halt forms a natural ending to a book titled In the Deep and it now forms a self-contained whole for which I have written the following blurb as an exercise. 

‘Vindos and Kraideti are ripped from the womb of their Dragon Mother at birth. She is taken to the stars. He is flung into the Abyss. 

Vindos crawls out and must fulfil his destiny to become King of Annwn by building his kingdom from the bones of dead dragons and find his lost sister. Not easy. For warring serpents lie beneath, furious ghosts, and ancient monsters.

Kraideti is held captive by the Children of Don and partakes in the creation of the perfect world and the bringing of life and will forever be far away.

This is a story of descent and forbidden love.’

The next book will be called The King and Queen of Annwn. It will cover the battle between Vindos and Victor/Lugus (Lleu) for Kraideti and the turning of the seasons and the Battle of the Trees in which the Children of Don and the forces of Annwn clash and the rule of the culture gods is asserted over Britain. 

I am now envisioning a series of six books reimagining the origin story of Vindos and Kraideti and the other Gods and Goddesses of ancient Britain, telling how they were forgotten, of their return, and of future things.

In the Deep – the creation of the world and building of the Kingdom of Annwn.
The King and Queen of Annwn – the seasons, humans, conflict with the culture Gods.
The Spirits of Annwn – the Roman invasions.
The Gates of Annwn – Christianity and Arthur’s despoiling of Annwn.
The Silver Wheel – the Industrial Revolution.
The Black Dragon – nuclear war, the return of the Gods, the apocalyptic finale.

*In my books Victor son of Scorcher (Gwythyr ap Greidol) and Lugus (Lleu) are different names/titles for the same God.

You can support my writing of In the Deep in return for exclusive excerpts through Patreon HERE.

Winter hellebores evoke the presence of Gwyn and Creiddylad as Winter King and Queen for me.

In the Deep Excerpt – Nodens and the Deep

In this excerpt from my book in progress, In the Deep, the boy (Vindos/Gwyn) continues to dream as he falls into the Abyss and witnesses his conception by his Dragon Mother, Anrhuna, and Nodens, a god who is one of the Children of Don.

The boy dreamt of a blue god falling from the stars like a comet with an icy tail and plummeting head first into the waters of the Deep.

He surfaced, the strokes of his powerful arms making wide ripples, muscular legs kicking, silver hair flaying out behind him. He pulled himself onto the shore, gasping for breath, crouched, paused.

As he surveyed his surroundings the boy noticed, although he was only in early maturity, his face was etched with lines of stress and strain and his grey eyes were cloudy with regret and a depth of pain.

His breathing at ease, he climbed the cliffs, set out across the hills, a tiny figure, alone and naked, before the curious eyes of the dragons, who watched from their cave mouths and from their summits.

Why do they not eat him? The boy wondered. Curiosity? Respect?

To the Dragon Mother, towering over all like a mountain, he went.

Slowly, she raised her nine heads, regal and grey, as if sculpted from stone. They spoke in unison: “God from the stars what is your name?”

“My name is Nodens and I am the son of Bel, the greatest of the fire giants, and Don, the goddess of the primordial waters. I was once King of the Gods, of the Kingdom of the Stars, but am no longer.”

“Why is that?”

“I was cast down as I dreamed of forbidden depths, of dragons, of you… Tell me what is your name?”

“I am Anrhuna.”

“And where do you come from?”

“I come from the Deep and I am its Mother.”

“You speak in paradoxes.”

“That is the nature of the wisdom which comes from the Abyss.”

“Can you teach me?”

“The Abyss does not give up its secrets easily – what will you give?”

“I would give my sword arm.”

“And so you will, but not yet, for it may be needed.”

The Dragon Mother took Nodens in her coils and in them he hung upside down over the whirling darkness of the Abyss.

Many times the boy slept and woke before his next dream vision.

“Everything my father, Bel, told me is wrong!” Nodens exclaimed. “The Heavens were not created before the Deep, may be above, but are not superior. There is no up, no down, no before or after. Everything meets here, in you, the Dragon Mother.”

“Yours is the wisdom of the Abyss,” said Anrhuna. 

Easing him from her coils she took him in her arms as a goddess  with a crown of nine jewels, dark hair, full breasts, grey skin and serpent tails.

Nodens is my father, thought the boy, that’s why I’m not a dragon.

In the waters he saw both parents in his face – grey skin, sharp cheekbones, a pointed chin, the whitest hair, the white jewel in his forehead. He glanced down at hands and feet with seven claw-like nails.

*You can support my writing of In the Deep in return for exclusive excerpts through Patreon HERE.

In the Deep excerpt – The Dragon Mother

I
The boy dreamt
of a deep place that had never
known light until the birth of the stars.
Of the coils, the folds, of the Dragon Mother
stirring to life from the infinite waters.
Of her raising nine heads in each
beset a sparkling jewel.

II
The boy dreamt
of the birth of dragons from 
caves in her coils, cracks in her folds.
Of monstrous serpents winged and wingless.
Of primordial monsters crawling forth.
Of her nine dragon heads with 
pride surveying all.

III
The boy dreamt
of battles between dragons.
Of wingless serpents rising from
the depths to snatch the winged ones down.
Of a great scaled beast who ate the stars.
Of nine dragon jewels glittering
upon his mother’s brows.

IV
The boy dreamt
of the deaths of dragons.
Of the light fading from their jewels.
Of the kindred of the dead eating their hearts,
taking their jewels to the treasuries
where glittered the memories
of the departed.

V
The boy dreamt
of the ghosts of dragons
breaking free of invisible threads
to flock in the skies before departing
to fly on the winds of the Abyss.
Of their foreheads pale
and jewelless.

VI
The boy dreamt
of a speckled crested snake
emerging periodically from the depths
to swallow the souls who escaped the Abyss.
Of a black forked toad in his napes
capturing and torturing
the remiss.

VII
The boy dreamt
of his mother’s sadness
as the backs of dead dragons
formed her hills, their wings her cliffs.
Of her nine heads admiring her land.
He awoke knowing it should
have been his.

This is the second poem in the first part of my book in progress ‘In the Deep’. It is written from the perspective of Vindos/Gwyn after he has been torn from the womb of Anrhuna, his Dragon Mother, and flung into the Abyss. Here he dreams of her emergence from the Deep, the birth of her children, and the becoming of her land, which will later become Annwn.

The monsters of Annwn – the great scaled beast, the speckled crested snake, and black forked toad appear in the medieval Welsh poem ‘Cad Godeu’ ‘the Battle of the Trees’ and will make further appearances in my rewrite of this story later.

In the Deep Excerpt – The Abyss (revised)

The boy fell,
the boy fell,
the boy fell

down into
the darkness
of the Abyss.

Since his birth
he had been
falling.

He didn’t
have a name. 
Long ago

he had left
his stomach
up above him

with his only
memories
and their pain.

*

The safe warmth of his mother’s womb
and his sister there beside him
sharing an umbilical.

The flash
of a golden spearhead,
the golden gauntlets that tore them out.

His shining foe and a circle of bright gods.
A backdrop of dead dragons
and a starless sky.

The snapping
of the cord – their separation –
she carried up whilst he was cast down.

Then the endless falling their hearts
no longer beating 
as one.

*

The boy fell,
the boy fell, 
the boy fell

down into
the darkness
of despair.

Before he lost
his voice he
ceased screaming,

reaching out,
clinging onto
the thread.

Accepting
his life was
nothing but

one long fall,
as the boy fell
he dreamt.

This is a revised version of the opening poem in the first part of my book in progress ‘In the Deep’. It gives voice to Vindos/Gwyn, the future King of Annwn, after his Dragon Mother has been killed and he has been ripped from her womb and cast into the Abyss.

Since the original I have decided that the book will take the form of a combination of poetry and short stories rather than prose as this fits better with the transmission of myth.

New Life

It’s been a few days now since I left my ecology job behind along with my somewhat misguided dream of finding a suitable career in the environmental sector. 

Returning to my vocation, to being a good awenydd, ‘person inspired’, after a time during which my path had lost its meaning, invigorated with new life. I’d turned away because I thought I’d lost my inspiration after several years of writing nothing of note without realising even unworthy notes fuel the Cauldron.

I didn’t realise my research into the British and Irish and wider myths along with my first attempt to bring them together in The Dragon’s Tongue would eventually lead to the trilogy of books which I am near-certain will be right.

It’s going to be called ‘The Forgotten Gods’ trilogy. The impetus behind it is a long-standing sadness that people in Britain know the names of the Greek, Roman and Norse Gods but nothing of the ancient British Gods and Goddesses. Zeus, Athena, Hermes, Mars, Venus, Pluto, Thor, Odin, Loki are all well known but no-one knows of Nodens, Vindos, Rigantona, Brigantia, Bel, Belisama, Lugus, Ambactonos, or Gobannos.

The first book, In the Deep, is an attempt to re-imagine an ancient British creation myth based on the stories about a primordial conflict between the deities of Annwn (the Otherworld) and the Children of Don in British and Irish mythology.

The second book, The Gates of Annwn, tells of how the Roman Invasions and the coming of Christianity led to the ancient British Gods becoming overwritten by new Gods, demonised, and forgotten, of how the people of Britain turned to Christianity, believing their souls went to Heaven or Hell rather than to Annwn.

The third book, The Black Dragon, which I haven’t written yet and will be the apocalyptic finale will tell of the return of the Gods and provide a vision of the future.

I’ve never felt more alive, since I finished Gatherer of Souls at least, as I have whilst I’ve been writing these books, becoming the Cauldron and in it walking with my Gods in their stories, with Vindos/Gwyn through His Dreams as He sleeps through the Summer.

There’s such excitement and magic in writing a story, not knowing where it’s going, being somehow in control and somehow not. Learning when a plot choice is right, when it is not, divining the guidance of the Gods. Being one with Them in the act of co-creating.

On a more mundane level I’ve had some ideas about how I might reach a wider audience with Their stories and make a little income to support myself whilst I devote my time to writing them by making some videos of excerpts from my books.

I’m looking into how to use Photo Booth on my Mac and planning on re-opening my Patreon with the aim of sharing video excerpts of readings from my books and poetry read around my local landscape along with general news and views.

Vindolanda: The Land of White Springs

29 miles east along Hadrian’s Wall from Carlisle lies the ruins of the Roman village of Vindolanda. I was drawn there because the name Vindolanda, usually translated ‘White Fields’ or ‘White Lands’, derives from *Windo ‘fair, white, blessed’ and this is the root of Gwyn ap Nudd’s name. Gwyn may have been known as Vindos in Iron Age Britian. There are no known dedications to Vindos but it seems possible he was venerated at Vindolanda and Vindogladia.

Evidence for the place-name Vindolanda comes from the Vindolanda Altar, which was found at the edge of the settlement. It reads, ‘Pro domu divina et Numinibus Augustorum Volcano sacrum vicani Vindolandesses curam agente…V S L…’ ‘For the Divine House and the Deities of the Emperors, the villagers of Vindolanda (set up) this sacred offering to Volcanus, willingly and deservedly fulfilling their vow, under the charge of…’

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Here we find the name Vindolandesses ‘villagers of Vindolanda’. The altar was set up for Volcanus, Roman god of volcanoes and blacksmithing. As there isn’t any evidence of volcanic activity in the area, I assume the villagers chose Volcanus because iron smelting and forging took place at Vindolanda.

Surprisingly there is no information on display about what was there before the Roman invasion. When I asked a member of staff, she said it was farmland and told me the name Vindolanda derives from the land being coloured white by natural springs running from above the village and Barcombe Hill.

Near the wells and water tanks above the ruins is a notice which mentions ‘many springs and good steams’ and states ‘the most powerful source lay near here’. The stone aqueduct which carried the water into the village is still visible, but its source appears to have run dry.

Adjacent to the wells and tanks stands the remains of a Romano-Celtic temple ‘used by soldiers to celebrate both local and Roman gods’. No individual deities are named. Gwyn is associated with the White Spring beneath Glastonbury Tor and I’ve experienced his presence at Whitewell here in Lancashire.

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It’s my intuition he could have been worshipped as Vindos in this temple beside the source of the white springs. My excitement at potentially discovering one of Vindos/Gwyn’s most ancient sacred sites was tempered with sadness that the springs had run dry.

Below the village near to Chainley Burn is a reconstructed shrine with the painted inscription, ‘NYMPHIS SACRUM VICANI VINDOLANDENSES’ ‘The villagers of Vindolanda (dedicated this temple) sacred to the Nymphs’. This is based on an ornate temple still standing in the 18th century. There is plenty of evidence Vindolanda was a place of water worship.

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*

 Nine forts have existed at Vindolanda, built between 85AD and 370AD. Archaeological evidence suggests it was occupied long into the Dark Ages. It has been the home of soldiers from many different cultures; the 9th cohort of Batavians (Netherlands), the 1st cohort of Tungrians (Belgium), the 4th cohort of Gauls (France), the 2nd cohort of Nervians (Belgium) and Vardullian Cavalry (Spain). These men were removed from their homelands and stationed across the Empire. Defeated Britons were sent to fight for Rome in other countries.

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Rows of houses, storehouses, a tavern and mausoleums lie outside the walls of the fort which, when they were built in 211AD, were two storeys high with impressive guard towers (much of the stone has since been stolen). Inside are more houses and stores, bathhouses, workshops, horrea ‘granaries’, the principia ‘headquarters’ (where regimental officers and clerks maintained records) and the praetorium ‘house of the commanding officer’.

One of the buildings was a temple to Jupiter Dolichenus, an ancient weather god from the south-east of modern Turkey, who is depicted holding bolts of lightning whilst standing on a goat. His temple was destroyed then set on fire in 370AD when paganism was replaced with Christianity and a Christian church built within the fort. This is significant as it provides an exact date for the conversion of the people of Vindolanda to Christianity. It seems likely other Roman-ruled populaces on Hadrian’s Wall were converted around the same time.

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Within the museum are a large variety of finds perfectly preserved by the peaty soil. 6,000 shoes (but only one pair!) of all shapes and sizes were found in the ditches surrounding the fort, along with armour, weaponry, tents, a drawstring bag, cavalry standard and equipment for horses.

I was particularly impressed by the chamfron; a horse’s ceremonial face-mask made from leather with bronze fittings and protection for the eyes. Gwyn speaks of Carngrwn as a ‘white horse gold-adorned’. I could imagine Carngrwn wearing similar headgear. Could his depiction in The Black Book of Carmarthen have originated from the Land of White Springs and its tradition of elaborately decorated saddlery?

*

Most famous of all are the Vindolanda tablets. These inscriptions on wood date back to 121AD and provide some fascinating insights into the lives and viewpoints of the soldiers of Vindolanda.

‘…the Britons are unprotected by armour. There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords, nor do the wretched Britons (Brittonculi) mount in order to throw their javelins.’

‘…order (accommodation) to be given to…, but also a lodging where horses are well (looked after). Farewell, brother dearest to me’

‘Tomorrow nice and early in the morning come to Vindolanda, so that (you can join the counting of the census)’

Pieces of writing not on display are summarised on the surrounding walls:

Tranquilius ‘Who supplied some undergarments to the Cerialis household’

Claudius Super ‘A centurion, apologising to Cerialis for failing to attend Sulpicia Lepidina’s birthday celebrations’

Flavius Genialis ‘A predecessor prefect to Cerialis, who appears to have had a nervous breakdown at some point’

Lucius ‘A cavalry troop commander (decurion), receives a letter from a friend reporting on a gift of 50 oysters from a place called Cordonovi

Virrilus ‘A veterinary surgeon (veterinarius), who is reminded by Chrauttius that he hasn’t yet sent the castrating shears that he promised’

There is a small collection of statues and altars of gods and goddesses. These include statues of Priapus, Maponus and statuettes of Venus and Dea Nutrices and altars to the Veteres and an unknown god which frustratingly simply reads ‘Deo’.

They represent only a small portion of the dedications found at Vindolanda. I hoped to find an altar to Mogons ‘great one’ inscribed ‘Mogonti et Genio Loci’, as Vindos may have been viewed as the genius of the place. However, it was not on display.

That’s only a small complaint. The people who work at Vindolanda have done a superb job in their excavations of the Roman forts and preservation of the objects and remains of the people who lived there. No inscriptions to Vindos have been found, but their work is ongoing and no-one knows what might be recovered next…

*

Vindos god of the Land of White Springs
where the springs flow no longer
yet memories flow from
Annwn’s wells

soldiers from a thousand distant lands
have whispered your name

water holds their peaty memories

I do not wield a stylus on birch
nor chisel on altar

to engrave your greatness here forever

I let my words fall on the wind
spiralling downward
to join
the well-springs

Gwyn ap Nudd and the Spirits of Annwn: Remembering the Underworld Gods

I recently came across an article through the Caer Feddwyd Forum (1) called ‘The Underworld Gods’ by medieval scholar, Will Parker. It brought to my awareness the existence of an inscription in Chamalieres in central France, which took the form of a prayer or invocation addressed to an entity or group of entities known in Ancient Gaul as the andedion, ‘the Under-world God(s)’ or ‘Infernal One(s)’ (2).

Parker links the andedion to the Irish andee ‘non-gods’ and suggests a similar group of deities would have been worshipped in Iron Age Britain. Through etymological links between the ‘elements Clt. dio(n) (Ir. dé) ‘god(s)’ and ‘the suffix ande-/an-‘ he connects them to Annwn ‘not world’, Britain’s indigenous otherworld or underworld. Parker goes on to identify the andedion and andee with the spirits of Annwn and their ruler, Gwyn ap Nudd.

This is of interest to me because Gwyn is my patron god. Parker’s insights make it possible to trace a trajectory from Iron Age beliefs concerning underworld gods, through Gwyn’s appearances in medieval literature and later folklore to those who worship him today.

Gwyn ap Nudd ‘White Son of Mist’ is a Brythonic deity. His veneration dates back, at least, to the Iron Age, where he appears as Vindonnus ‘White or Clear Light,’ in a trio of Gallo-Brythonic inscriptions in Essarois. Here he is equated with Apollo, another hunter deity (3). It is likely he was worshipped across Britain as Vindos ‘White’ (4). It has also been conjectured that Gwyn and his hunting dog, Dormarth ‘Death’s Door’ occupied the astrological positions of Orion and Sirius to the ancient Britons.

Cave, SilverdaleParker suggests Late Bronze Age ‘ritual shafts’ and ‘offering pits’ containing depositions including human and animal bones, grain, pottery and metalwork express a ‘quid-pro-quo’ relationship between the ancient Britons and the underworld gods. If he is correct, it is possible that Vindos / Gwyn, Dormarth and other kindred spirits were involved in these rites.

Gwyn’s first literary appearances are in medieval Welsh texts; ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen’ (11th C) in The Mabinogion and ‘The Dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd’ (13th C) in The Four Ancient Books of Wales. These texts have roots in an older, oral tradition and contain fragments of tales from across Britain that predate Christianity. A significant number of these, including two featuring Gwyn, are from ‘The Old North’ (5). This is important to me because I connect with Gwyn in Lancashire.

Parker argues that superstitions about the underworld gods carry over into The Mabinogion. This is evidenced in the disappearance of livestock, children and crops. Pwyll’s encounter with Arawn, a King of Annwn, is the catalyst for the unfolding drama of the first four Mabinogi. Parker says these stories show the spirits of Annwn could not ‘be simply dismissed or ignored. Instead, a complex narrative had to be constructed in which, through a series of symbolic ritual manoeuvres, their power was drawn out, confronted and finally neutralised.’ The attempts of medieval scholars to disempower these deities can be seen at work in the development of Gwyn’s mythology.

In ‘The Dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd,’ (6) Gwyn is presented as a divine warrior returning from battle to the Tawe near the vale of Neath. Gwyddno, ruler of Cantre’r Gwaelod, speaks of and addresses him with reverence and respect. ‘Bull of conflict was he, active in dispersing an arrayed army, / The ruler of hosts, indisposed to anger, / Blameless and pure was his conduct in protecting life.’ Other epithets Gwyddno uses include ‘hope of armies’ and ‘hero of hosts.’ ‘Host’ may refer to the spirits of Annwn.

Gwyn introduces himself as ‘Gwyn, the son of Nud, / The lover of Creurdilad, the daughter of Lud.’ He names his horse as ‘the torment of battle’ and refers to Dormarth as ‘truly the best of dogs,’ ‘handsome,’ ‘round bodied’ and ‘ruddy nosed.’ References to his possession of a ‘polished ring’ and ‘golden saddle’ are also suggestive of his status.

The title ‘Bull of Conflict’ refers to Gwyn’s role as a psychopomp. At the end of the poem he describes his travels across Britain gathering the souls of fallen soldiers. He appears to be berating this task. ‘I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain, / From the East to the North; / I am alive, they in their graves! / I have been where the soldiers of Prydain were slain / From the East to the South / I am alive, they in death!’

This poem contains important clues about Gwyn’s identity as a divine warrior and huntsman, whose role was to gather the souls of the dead and take them to Annwn.

In ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen’ in The Mabinogion, Gwyn is depicted as a huntsman and advisor to King Arthur. His place in Arthur’s court list and apparent subjection to both Arthur and God may be read as attempts by medieval scholars’ to explain and downgrade his position.

That ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn son of Nudd is found’ (7) hints at his role as leader of the hunt, and knowledge of otherworldly beings. The Twrch was a king reputedly turned into a swine by God. When Gwyn does not reveal his location it is possible he is defending his own.

The advice of Gwyn and Gwythyr ap Greidol ‘Victor Son of Scorcher’ is also needed by Arthur to find Pennant Gofid in the ‘uplands of hell,’ which Evans and Bromwich say is ‘clearly situated in North Britain’ (8). When they reach this location, Gwyn and Gwythyr advise Arthur in his defeat of the ‘The Hag of Pennant Gofid,’ another otherworldly entity. The parcity of their advice, which leads to several failed attempts by Arthur’s men before the Christian King is forced to step in to slay her, may also suggest that Gwyn and Gwythyr are acting as tricksters.

A pair of lines fundamental to understanding Gwyn’s mythos, and which continue to intrigue and perplex me, are the following; ‘God has put the spirit of the demons of Annwfn in him, lest the world be destroyed. He will not be spared from there’ (9).

Taken literally, this seems to mean that at some point during the period of Christianisation God put the spirit of the demons of Annwn ‘in’ Gwyn’s person to prevent the world’s destruction. Or it may mean that he granted Gwyn rulership of them for this purpose. However, it is probable that the agency of God was brought in as a cover to excuse the prevalent belief in the existence of these spirits and their ruler.

Even if we assume God’s agency is a cover for existing beliefs, the notion that Gwyn somehow contains ‘the spirit of the demons of Annwn’ is a fascinating one. In a conversation via e-mail, Heron (10) told me the word ‘spirit,’ in Welsh, is ‘aryal,’ which can mean ‘ferocity,’ ‘essence’ or ‘nature’. He referred me to Evans and Bromwich, who say ‘Gwyn’s partaking of the ‘nature of the devils of Annwfn’ indicates a recognition on the part of the redactor of the tale that Gwyn ap Nudd belonged to a sinister and forbidden mythology’ (11). Within this mythology he may already be seen to embody the nature of these entities, or to hold power over them.

That the destruction of the world is at stake suggests Gwyn’s role was extremely significant. If it is assumed this notion has older roots, some of the offerings of the ancient Britons may be explained as attempts to placate these spirits and their ruler due to their destructive capacity. It is also possible Gwyn was invoked as the only being who could hold them in check.

Fears and superstitions surrounding Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn may lie behind the story of his abduction of Creiddylad. After Creiddylad, who is both Gwyn’s lover and sister, elopes with Gwythyr, Gwyn seizes her back. It might be assumed he takes her to Annwn, and that this suggests an underlying fear of being abducted by Gwyn and his forces.

Gwythyr amasses his armies and attacks Gwyn. Gwyn triumphs and captures a number of Gwythyr’s allies, who are mainly rulers of the Old North. During their captivity Gwyn slaughters Nwython, cuts out his heart and feeds it to his son, Cyledr, who goes mad. This could be read as a clear example of Gwyn’s ferocity and hints at existing superstitions about what goes on in Annwn.

Evans and Bromwich say the concentration of the names of people Gwyn kidnaps suggest ‘that north Britain was the ultimate place of origin for the Creiddylad episode, and that this incident was one of the surviving fragments of tradition emanating from there’ (12). It is therefore likely it originates in earlier beliefs held about Gwyn and his host by the Northern Britons.

Arthur eventually comes North to Gwythyr’s aid and frees his noblemen. Afterward he makes peace between Gwyn and Gwythyr by placing a dihenydd ‘fate’ on them. This dictates that they must fight for Creiddylad’s hand every Calan Mai ‘May Day’. An added condition, which seems particularly unfair, is that Creiddylad must remain in her father’s house, and no matter who wins neither can take her until Judgement Day. It is likely Arthur’s agency was brought in to explain an earlier myth, which was already prevalent in the Old North.

Whilst, on one level, this myth may be about fears of abduction to the underworld, it is more frequently interpreted as a seasonal drama comparable with Hades’ capture of Persephone. In this reading, Creiddylad is a maiden goddess who embodies the powers of spring and fertility. Creiddylad’s abduction by Gwyn may explain the failure of these powers at Calan Gaeaf, the first day of winter. Gwythyr and Arthur’s rescue of her at Calan Mai, the first day of summer, may explain their resurgence.

Winter Hill

Winter Hill

Gwyn is also seen as the Winter King. It is possible his white, shining qualities relate to snow and cold, associations which could date back to the Ice Age. Elen Sentier links Gwyn with the reindeer goddess Elen of the Ways (13) and the Boreal forest. He may also be connected with the North wind. The 14th C Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilim refers to ‘Tylwyth Gwyn, talaith y gwynt’ ‘the family of Gwyn, the province of the wind’ (14). The pervasiveness of a myth featuring Gwyn in Northern Britain could have a basis in its harsh winters.

In a later text, The Life of St Collen (14th C), Gwyn is referred to as ‘the King of Annwn and the Fairies’ and is supposedly banished by the saint from Glastonbury Tor (15). The transition from belief in Gwyn as a King of Annwn to King of the ‘Tylwyth Teg’ or ‘Fair Folk’ is a significant one. The original natures of Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn are covered over by their reduction to diminutive form. However, hints at their mythos can still be found in the majority of folktales.

Gwyn retains his status as leader of the Wild Hunt in the folklore of Wales and Somerset. There he is seen to appear on horse back with a pack of white, red-eared hounds, riding out on Nos Calan Gaeaf and through the winter months, chasing down the souls of the dead. To hear his hounds is an omen of death. The other riders are seen often seen as captive souls and may represent the spirits of Annwn.

In the North West of England, however, the hunt is assigned either to the Norse god Odin, or to Christian angels. In Cumbria it is Michael, and in Lancashire and Yorkshire Gabriel is said to lead a pack of black, red-eyed dogs, the Gabriel Ratchetts.

Coincidentally, Preston born writer Francis Thompson is famous for a poem called ‘The Hound of Heaven.’ Anybody who has felt like Gwyn’s hounds are on their tail might find these lines hauntingly familiar; ‘I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears / I hid from him, and under running laughter.’ (16)

More recently, Gwyn’s significance as an ancient god has been attested by contemporary scholars such as Geoffrey Ashe, in King Arthur’s Avalon (2007) and Nicholas R. Mann in The Isle of Avalon (1996) and Glastonbury Tor (2012). He is also the subject of a full length book called Gwyn: Ancient God of Glastonbury and Key to the Glastonbury Zodiac (2007) by Yuri Leitch.

This increase in interest suggests we are approaching a time when Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn are taken seriously as Brythonic deities again. However, the main focus of these books is Gwyn’s role at Glastonbury, with only a small mention of his place in Wales and other areas of Britain. Disappointingly there is no mention of Gwyn’s activities in the North. In this respect I have only my own experiences and conjectures to go on.

Fairy Lane

Fairy Lane

I first met Gwyn on Fairy Lane in my hometown of Penwortham, where he challenged me to journey with him to Annwn. Since then I have worked with him as a guide to the otherside of my local landscape and its hidden myths. His interest in my locality surprised me at first. However, it seems less surprising when looked at in the context of his role as an ancient underworld god of Britain, particularly in relation to the history and folklore surrounding this site.

Penwortham has been inhabited since 4000BC. The Riversway Dockfinds, a collection of animal bones, 30 human skulls, two dug out canoes and the remains of a timber structure suggest the existence of a lake village on Penwortham Marsh. Nearby is Castle Hill, a point of military and religious importance. There is a church dedicated to St Mary on the summit of Castle Hill, which means it was likely to have been a pre-Christian sacred site.

That the church is dedicated to St Mary and she was also the patron saint of a healing well at the foot of Castle Hill suggest the presence of an earlier female deity with healing powers, who has been Christianised as Mary. Three human skulls found in the wall of the church (17), which may have served an apotraic function suggest superstitious beliefs in chthonic spirits were also once popular but not openly acknowledged.

The survival of the legend of Penwortham Fairy Funeral attests to these superstitions. In the earliest version in Bowker’s Goblin Tales of Lancashire (1878), it is set on Church Avenue on Castle Hill. Two men walking home to Longton encounter a procession of fairies carrying a coffin. Robin, one of the men, looks into the coffin and sees his own miniature corpse. Frightened by the sight, they follow the fairies into St Mary’s graveyard. Robin attempts to prevent the burial by reaching out to grab the leader of the fairies. The procession vanishes and Robin, driven mad, topples to his death from a haystack a couple of months later (18). In later versions, this story takes place on Fairy Lane, which runs through Penwortham Wood at the foot of Castle Hill.

This legend may be interpreted to hint at older beliefs in underworld gods. Church ways are often identified with spirit paths. It is possible that prior to Christianity people believed chthonic spirits to have been actively involved in bearing the deceased to the underworld. The ringing of bells to drive them away and superstitions surrounding lych gates are testaments to fear of such entities. The movement of the legend to Fairy Lane may be seen as an attempt to sever their connection with the church. It is also possible it represents a shift in the energy of the area.

Gwyn ap Nudd and the spirits of Annwn (more frequently referred to as fairies today) are frightening beings. However, they play an essential role in maintaining the relationships between the worlds, the seasons, and the living and the dead. Like death itself and the cold dark of winter they will never go away. Their roles and identities, covered over or ignored for many centuries, can be recovered and understood.

Like Pwyll’s meeting with Arawn, my relationship with Gwyn has changed my life. He guides me to visions in Annwn and the physical world I would not be able to access without him. He teaches me to walk the spirit paths and inspires me to learn the song lines of this land’s ancestral heritage.

As late summer arrives, harvesters take to the fields and leaves begin to fall I sense the spirits of Annwn stirring, the first hint of the breath of winter on the wind. Monday is the date of the commemoration of the beginning of the First World War. When I help lay candles in front of Preston cenotaph for each of the 1956 soldiers who lost their lives I will remember that care of the souls of the battle dead was once believed to be Gwyn’s role.

(1) http://www.caerfeddwyd.co.uk/
(2) http://www.mabinogi.net/sections/Appendix/The_Underworld_Gods.pdf
(3) James MacKilliop, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, (1998), p375
(4) Robin Herne, Old Gods, New Druids, (2009), p48
(5) A collection of Kingdoms in the North of England and Southern Scotland from 500AD and 800AD.
(6) Transl. William F. Skene, ‘The Dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd,’ The Four Ancient Books of Wales, (2007), p210-211
(7) Transl. Sioned Davies, ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen,’ The Mabinogion, (2007), p199
(8) Ed. Rachel Bromwich and Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen, (1992), p169
(9) Transl. Sioned Davies, ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen,’ The Mabinogion, (2007), p199
(10) https://www.blogger.com/profile/02055792516386371373
(11) Ed. Rachel Bromwich and Simon Evans, Culhwch and Olwen, (1992), p133
(12) Ibid. p150
(13) Elen Sentier, Elen of the Ways, (2013), p26-28
(14) Dafydd ap Gwilim, Poems, (1982), p132 – 133
(15) http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/collen.html
(16) Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven and Other Poems, (2000), p11
(17) Rev C. Nelson, St Mary’s Church, Penwortham, Lancashire, Archaeological Watching Brief and Explanation, (2011), p48
(18) http://www.gutenberg.org/files/39712/39712-h/39712-h.htm#THE_FAIRY_FUNERAL

Many thanks to Heron and Lee at Caer Feddwyd for bringing Will Parker’s article to my attention.