Another Tale From The Heart(h) Remembered: The Nwyfre Is…

20180327 TALES FROM THE HEARTH REMEMBERED THE NWYFREGathered together by the hearth, my granddad would listen, I would watch and listen so intently, and my grandmother, a seanchaí [pronounced ‘shawn-(a)-key’, Gaelic for a story-teller] would tell me a story. To me, she was the best at storytelling, and her stories were profound – so much so that I am learning more through them, now, even as an adult, in the re-telling. Here’s one.

It was many years ago – I’m guessing I must have been six or seven years old – on one of those still-bright August evenings, that I heard her tell another story. The hearth had a small flame flickering in it, as even in this part of Wales the evening temperatures could drop rapidly, depending on the wind direction as it blows through the valleys, even though it was the height of summer.

She told the story of the Nwyfre (pronounced ‘noo-iv-ruh’), and as I drew ever closer and closer to her feet – I always loved sitting on the rug around her rocking-chair – she told one of her ‘question and answer’ stories.

In the beginning, she said, before anything was created, the Nwyfre existed. The Nwyfre is the creative force of life, all life, and is Personal. To describe the Nwyfre at an ‘it’ would be to miss the point she said. The Nwyfre is Personal, both male and female and beyond those limiting ideas. It would be many years before I grasped that concept.

Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way’. Edward de Bono

She continued: The Nwyfre created light and dark for the first time, though I believe the Nwyfre is Light, too, but of a different kind. A life-force light. The Nwyfre created the sky and the air. And then, the Nwyfre being a creative and joyful Spirit, one of a kind, drew the water and the earth together, and made the seas and dry land. But, what was missing, she would ask me? Ofcourse, I would gleefully fill in the ‘blanks’ and answer the question – sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting in wrong. I loved those ‘tests’.

She continued: And the Nwyfre thought into being the sun, moon and stars, but who could see them? ‘No one’. I replied. She smiled and said. ‘Exactly right, little one……no one….except for the Nwyfre. I smiled and nodded that I thought I might have got the question half-right, but to this day I’m still wondering about it.

She digressed somewhat in that story and asked me, ‘So where was the Nwyfre?’ Without thinking I replied, ‘In the light and dark, the sky and air, the sea and land and rocks’, but I would end the answer, that time, with the tone of my voice ascending at the end, to make it more of a question than a statement. She smiled and said, ‘Yn wych’, (which is somewhere between saying ‘marvellous’ and ‘great’, colloquially), and my face beamed. I’m a little bit more reserved and adult now. Honest. But then I was a wee lad.

There was more she said: And then the Nwyfre created all the animals and fish and insects that you can possibly imagine, and many more that we can’t possibly imagine. All of them having the Nwyfre in them. But, still there was something missing, she said. ‘What could it be?’, she said in my direction, and paused expecting an answer from me. After a little thought and a little more, I tentatively said, ‘Us!’. ‘Right’ she said and laughed. Finally, the Nwyfre created men and women, and they too have the Nwyfre within them, even now, although many don’t know that.

My grandmother slumped back in her rocking chair, an indication that she wanted to rest, but I had a question. ‘Where can I find the Nwyfre?, I asked.

The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant. There is nothing as near as the eternal. This is captured in a lovely Celtic phrase: ‘tẚ tír na n-ổg ar chul an ti’, ‘the land of eternal youth is behind the house’….The eternal world and the mortal world are not parallel, rather they are fused’. John O’Donohue

Many years later my grandmother’s story still reverberates in my mind, though I know others have different stories, but most seem to agree that that life-giving Spirit is in everything. And even though her story, then, had been simple, yet profound, only part of it had ‘sunk in’, hence my childlike question (which had, effectively already been answered. But I was a young lad at the time).

‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’ John 3.8a, The Book

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘In the grass on the little hill at the edge of the garden, in the birds and insects, in the air and storm clouds, in the rocks and pebbles, and more places’.

Without hesitation, I ran outside, and for the next hour I went in search of the Nwyfre.

Climbing to the top of the little hill – not that little for a wee lad as I was then, clambering up it on ‘all fours’ – I sat on the grass at the top. Yes, grass. Nwyfre! I felt the cold mountain air blow against my cheeks. Yes, Nwyfre. In the distance I saw Jones the dairyman drive past at some speed I think, and saw birds fly across the sky. Yes, Nwyfre!

And then I headed back to my grandparents’ house with my ‘research’ complete. I sat by my grandmother’s feet, she looked down, and said, Well?’. And then I recited my embellished  list at breakneck speed and without pausing for breath: ‘grass, flowers, trees, birds, Jones the Dairyman, the wind, the rain’.

‘And, there’s more’, she said. As she said that a lump of glowing coal fell from the fire and granddad used the coal-tongs’ to put in back. ‘Ah, I replied, ‘Coal and rocks and Lapis lazuli'(a semi-precious stone my grandmother had recently given me, and probably the longest word that I knew…apart from those lovely Welsh place names and words), and ‘You and granddad, and me’.

I looked up and said, ‘The Nwyfre is everywhere.’ And then after a pause I said, ‘The Nwyfre is everywhere….so I needn’t have gone outside! The Nwyfre is here!’. Her face beamed a most lovely smile.

‘Nwyfre is ‘…this living, energising current of life that flows through all living beings’. Penny Billington

Many years later I was to understand that many people have different names for the Nwyfre – such is the creativity and grace of the Nwyfre – but most acknowledge that Life-Force in all things, in a web of loving connectedness throughout all that is, seen and unseen; and without the Spirit, the Nwyfre, nothing exists and happens. The Nwyfre is so important in what we say and do, not just in our prayers and rituals and ceremonies, but in our very life, in nature, daily life, the nine-to-five job, relationships of all kinds, and more. The Nwyfre is ubiquitous.

I never knew what ubiquitous meant, but now I’m seeing it everywhere!

Although the Nwyfre is everywhere, sometime ago I wrote about an encounter (or perhaps a greater awareness of the Nwyfre in a forest, devoid of distractions), and you can read it here.

Meanwhile, wherever you are, you can encounter the Nwyfre right where you are!

 

Celtic OrthoPraxis: Time To Dive In

20180320 CELTIC ORTHOPRAXIS TIME TO DIVE INToday, the day started off ‘fresh’. Temperature-wise, that was. The snow of a couple of weeks ago returned a couple of day ago, but it too, has almost melted away. A little remains in my little city aparment’s garden.

At one level it’s just snow – great to look at, and I do so love it. My inner child, never far below the surface, erupts with a simple joy. Look deeper and we know that snow is composed of water molecules and intricate crystals and atoms, and even small physical quanta. But, at another level it evokes a deeper response, a deep spiituality – it’s as if nature is reminding us that we dont control the weather, that the circle turns as it pleases and not at our behest, and that we are yet immersed in nature and not the other way around. There is always more.

‘Those who would search for pearls must dive below.’ John Dryden

Today, I greeted the day with a simple liturgy set in a simple ritual. At one level it’s just a prayer and ritual, formed of words and physical actions. Some stop there. At another level the words give voice to an inner intentionality, which is important. More than that, that liturgy and ritual has a deeper, spiritual, and more profound effect in a realm invisible to us, currently. Yes, there is more.

We can look at the surface of something, or go deeper, or go really deep.

Later, I was talking with a good friend. We spoke about calendars. I mentioned that I like nothing better to mark the months using a formala put forward by Graves, and which uses trees names to mark the unfolding year. It was pointed to me that that ‘tree calendar’ was fiction in that ancient Celts and Druids would have been unaware of that particular calendar. I know. But, fortunately we looked deeper.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’ Albert Einstein

At another level we both agreed that that calendar was nature-focussed, and eco-awareness-prompting, and that cannot be such a bad thing. It was also pointed out to me that ‘purists’ would still object, but we worked through that, noting that there seems to be more worth in celebrating months named after trees than ancient Roman gods and emporers as some do without further thought or objection. But, there’s more. At a deeper level, that kind of ‘tree calender’ worked very well (in conjuction with regular named months), does bring us into a deeper awareness and participation of the turning circle of the seasons. Okay, a little imagination is needed. But, there, is always more.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and right doing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

Rumi

We can look at the surface of something, or go deeper, or go really deep. But, we live in a world that is, in many senses, quite, quite shallow. Very dualistic. And arguments, for instance, about particularly interpreting and applying ancient words, ritual and formulae, especially where over the years where ‘gaps’ have appeared, abound.

For instance, many years ago I wrote a prayer that had four verses, one to be recited at each of the compass cardinal points. The problem is part of it is missing. The ‘south’ prayer was missing. Lost somewhere. Now a ‘purist’ might say, ‘Tadhg, to be authentic to your work, you should recite the three verses you have, and remain silent when turning to the south’. I hope it doesnt upset my ‘purist’ friends, but I filled in the gap, by recently writing a ‘south’ prayer in line and in the style of the preceeding verses, and it worked wonderfully. It also occured to me, that we all do similar.

‘I would rather my heart be without words than my words be without heart.’ LaMar Boschman

But, there’s more as regards that prayer. Deeper than just words, there was intentionality, and deeper than that was the threshold opening of ‘touching’ another realm. All of which would be lost if we had just concentred on the challenge of the missing verse and discussing, at a cerebral, contemporary, dualistic, academic level, whether it should have been re-written or not.

‘Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’ The Book, 1 John 3.8

There is an ancient Middle-eastern story that goes something like this:

‘There was once a time when some kind of calamity was threatening a village. The village elder knew what to do. He went a certain ‘Holy Place’ in the forest, lit a ‘Sacred Fire’ and said a ‘Special Prayer’. And, when this was done, calamity was averted.

Years later a similar threat arose, and so the village elder of that day went into the forest and spoke to the Source of All, and said: “I do not know how to light the ‘Sacred Fire’, but I still remember the ‘Holy Place’ in the forest, and I still know that ‘Special Prayer’. Then, he said the special prayer in the holy place. When he returned home, the calamity had been averted.

Some years later, the village found itself in trouble. The village elder of that day went again into that ‘Holy Place’ in the forest and said to the Source Of All: “I don’t know the ‘Holy Place’, in this forest, but I do not know how to light the ‘Sacred Fire’ and I’ve forgotten that ‘Special Prayer’. Yet,  have pity on us and save your people.’ This time, too, the tragedy was averted.

Yes, some years later, again, trouble arose. The village elder of that day wanted to avert tragedy. Sitting at home, he prayed to the Source of All from the depth of his heart: ‘I am so sorry. I do not know that site of the ‘Holy Place’ in the forest. I cannot light the ‘Sacred Fire’, and worst of all, I have even forgotten that ‘Special, Prayer’. Yet, I pray that you would have pity on us and deliver us from danger.’ And the Source of All listened to the elder’s heart and averted the calamity.’

Words, depth, heart. Words, meaning, intentionalty. Surface, go deep, go very deep.

There is always more. Mae mwy as they say in Wales. So, my encouragement to you and myself is to go very deep. And in using of prayer, liturgy, ritual and personal encounters with That Which Is Bigger Than Us, let us not to be hung up on mere ‘surface’ concerns and miss the Encounter and other delights that await us when we leave ‘the shallows’ and when we dive deep. There is always more.

 

 

 

Dragons And Alban Eiler 2018 [Celebrating Spring Equinox]

20180313 DRAGONS AND ALBAN EILER CELEBRATING SPRING EQUINOXWith the Spring equinox, 20 March 2018, still in mind, a time of balance between light and dark (equal night and day lengths), this time of the year is a timely reminder to celebrate the life-energy returning to the earth, of re-birth, of new beginnings, especially with Easter just under three weeks away . In Wales, Spring equinox is known as Alban Eiler, which means ‘the light of the earth’.

In Iran, the festival of ‘No Ruz’ begins just before the Spring equinox. The phrase means ‘new day,’ and this is a time of hope and rebirth. Usually, a lot of cleaning is done, old broken items are repaired, homes are freshly repainted, and bright flowers are gathered and displayed indoors. A spring-clean!

In ancient Rome, a ten day celebration in honour of Attis, son of the great goddess Cybele, around this time. A pine tree, which represented Attis, was chopped down, wrapped in a linen shroud, decorated with violets and placed in a sepulchre in the temple, involving a ceremony with blood. Sacrifice!

And in old England, Wales, and other cultures around the world, the two equinoxes of the year were known as Dragon Days, and these wonderful creatures were celebrated in fairs, processions and in general merriment. Here the dragon, or representations of it (especially, but not only in Chinese and Japanese cultures) were carried through streets,  to carry the Fire energy into the inner realms, to activate the fire within. It is said the dragon goes underground for the winter, but surfaces in the Spring. The dragon, then, is also an ancient energy symbol representing Earth energy, dynamism, fire, will and courage!

And who cannot but be amazed at the intricate dragon designs by (latter-day) Celts and druids.

‘I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind….’. John Lennon.

Yes, dragons are associated with the Spring equinox (and the Autumn equinox).

Dragons also capture the public’s imagination in many fantasy books and films, appearing in the 2010 film ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ to the more adult-oriented ‘Game of Thrones’ books, and to ‘The Hobbit’ book and movies.

Did you know, the ancient Japanese believed quartz was formed from the ‘solidified’ breath of the dragon. To them quartz represented power, perfection and purity.

And, even in God’s own country, Wales, the dragon appears on the national flag. There, the story is told that long ago a Celtic king wanted to build a castle at a particular location, but for a variety of reasons was continually thwarted. He was advised to sacrifice a young boy (who turned out to be Merlin). Merlin warned the king that his chosen site for a castle was above an underground lake where two dragons lay sleeping. The king’s men dug down and did find two dragons (one red, one white) who started to fight fiercely. The red dragon triumphed and was said to represent the king’s people, thereafter. And, ofcourse, a representation of that dragon appears on the flag. A myth? Well, in 1945 in an excavation of that area, Dinas Emrys, the site revealed evidence of a lake and a fortress dating back to that Celtic king’s time. Food for thought, eh?

Yes, dragons are associated with the Spring equinox (and the Autumn equinox).

Did you know that in Chinese and Japanese cultures to have a dragon statue or picture or painting in the house was said to bring immense good fortune.

And, as nature blossoms at this time of the year, what can be more awesome than spending (more) time in sunlight and in forests. Not only, then is the pineal gland stimulated (physical action), leading to well-being; but there is a (greater) spiritual connection (a spiritual action) in and through nature. Some call the interaction and feeling of more vital energy between these two, dragon fire!

If you want to find out more about much-misunderstood dragons, and especially the difference between them and wyverns, do check an earlier article by Tadhg, here.

‘People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.’ Ursula Le Guin,

 

Lessons From The Heart(h) Remembered

20180304 TALES FROM THE HEARTH REMEMBEREDMy grandmother, always having time to tell a good story, passed on some thirty years ago. Times flies. And yet, the legacy of her stories lives on in my memory and life. She was what many would call a seanchaí [pronounced ‘shawn-(a)-key’, and Gaelic for a story-teller], and she was a good one at that.

Even now there are times, in looking back, I can remember myself sitting by her chair, by the hearth, and as her sweet voice told yet another wonderful story, the fire would ‘roast’ one side of my face, making it red for some time after. I’d move to another position by the hearth, but as a small child, I would always ensure that I could hear every word she spoke.

Each of her stories encapsulated some nugget of wisdom, a lesson to be applied. And each was a lesson for an authentic Celtic lifestyle. Here’s three such lessons.

Un

They were a great times of hearing this consummate story-teller tell her stories of myth and ‘magic’. But they were stories, albeit stories that were so memorable and encompassed such deep truth that they were unforgettable. I can remember my grandmother telling me stories of Brigid. One story she told was of Brigid, the saint, who was also known as ‘Mary of the Gael(s)’, and who flourished around AD500. Brigid, then, turned bathwater into beer. Another story was of Brigid who was an ancient and timeless Celtic godess. And yet another story was of Brigid who was nursemaid to the Christ-child and so lived two-thousand years ago.

On one occassion, when I was a little older, I asked my grandmother, ‘But, which Brigid is the true one?’. Always one to answer a question with a question, she replied, ‘What do you think, little one?’.

‘I don’t know’, I replied after some time of thinking about my reply and getting confused in the process.

‘That,’ she said, ‘was the best reply. There’s an element for doubt. Room what ‘what could be’, and so then all the stories will continue to be told and enjoyed’.

‘When a wise man points at the moon the imbecile examines the finger.’ Confucius

It was many years later that I understood what she meant. If we adopt the twenty-first century approach, the Greek dualist approach, the academic way of ‘squaring the equation’ and wanting a definitive answer, and treating ancient writings and stories as though they were science books, then one story must be true and the other two would eventually be forgotten as untrue, and their wisdom would be lost.

If we accept the non-academic approach, the poetic, and I would say that is the ancient Celtic and Druidic approach (as well as that of many other ancient cultures eg Hebrew), then we can accept all three stories, not be overly concerned that they don’t fit neatly into our modern understanding of time and place, and their ancient wisdom can and will benefit us as they get told and retold, as the stories unfold. Oh, but how we fall into the trap of being ‘so sicentific’ that we lose the meaning, the light and love on the journey to understanding.

Lesson: Look for the deeper meaning, and not sentence construction, academia or historicity as ancient wisdom needs a little effort sometimes to get to, and an open-mind. Look to the ancient writings, to the deep words of others, to those ‘silent teachers’ in nature eg the trees, flowers, animals, elementals, the environment etc.

‘…the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’ Matthew 13.45-46 The Book

Dau

On other occasion my grandmother would tell me stories that would ‘make my toes curl’. Scary ones, which as a wee child I would actually love to hear. Stories about the Cailleach (pronounced ‘kie-lich’), that ugly hag that wanted a respectful kiss, the Tylwyth Teg (pronounced ‘ter-loo-ith tehg’) a playful but misunderstood fae, or  The Gwrach y Rhibyn (pronounced ‘goo-rach ee ribb-in’) who was always depicted as an old witch, sometimes with thick leathery wings, but wasn’t so bad.

My grandmother’s stories were usually interactive, and she would insert a question or two throughout the story or at the end. She would say something like, ‘Now the Gwrach y Rhibyn is an awful sight to behold, but do you need to be frightened?’ I would shake my head, guessing that was the right thing to do, and say, ‘No’. And she would smile, and say, ‘Quite right, my dear one. The Gwrach y Rhibyn and others are sorely misunderstood and just want a little bit of respect. Just keep your distance, nod and be courteous to them, go on your way and all will be well’.

Lesson: In life, all is not as it seems. Treat everyone and everything with respect and you will prosper. Never be fearful. Always look for the ‘lesson’ in the event, realising that usually the ‘answer’ is in the ‘challenge’ or event. Be inclusive and welcoming to others, to circumstances etc. Welcome strangers, for by so doing some have entertained elementals unawares.

‘Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat.’ Scottish Proverb

Tri

One another occasion, and I was a little older by then, I asked a question of my grandmother, and she went silent, looked at me, and quite cheerfully said, ‘I don’t know the answer to that one’. Many years later I reminded her of that event, and she explained: sometimes life will be confusing and answers won’t be forthcoming. Sometimes, in this journey of life, we must accept that saying ‘I don’t know’ is the best answer. I pressed her further, and said, ‘Do you still think that’s true now?. She laughed to herself, looked at me, beamed a gorgeous smile and said out loud, ‘I don’t know!’. And we both laughed hilariously.

Lesson: Sometime in the journey of life, answers won’t always be forthcoming until we finish this journey. Until then, be content to enjoy the journey. It’s the journey and not necessary the destination that’s important. Keep forward-looking and not backward-looking. You’re not going in that direction.

‘The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.’ William Arthur Ward

Conclusion, Or Is It?

Thirty years on, and though my grandmother has passed on, her words of story and wisdom still ring in my ears. They are remembered. ‘Mae mwy’, she would always say.  Welsh, for ‘There is more’. And, there always is. Life is an amazing adventure, and the deep truths of the Source of All cannot be comprehended by knowledge, but only ‘glimpsed’ in metaphor, story, myth, poetry, intuition and music. And it’s enough.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. Albert Einstein

Mae mwy. There is more. The Great Story, which also incudes you and I, continues. There is always more!

The Cailleach And You. A Cautionary Celtic Tale For Today

20180214 THE CAILLEACH AND YOU A CELTIC CAUTIONARY TALE FOR TODAYYes, I’m awake so very early in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. On those few occassions this happens I know it’s time to observe something, to be aware of something, to know that there is something to learn and to make time for the experience. And so I headed to the garden.

As I sat there, in the distance I could see the green-grey colour mountains near Capel Curig, north Wales, mainly of slate and usually grass-covered or moss covered, with the latter prevailing at this time of the year. Indistict white clouds, that became mist hung low over the mountains, and the cotton-candy-like mist ‘rolled’ down the mountains’ side onto the low land, part of which, though some few miles distant from those mountains, formed the end of my garden. Mist enncroached. The feeling was quite delightful, very ethereal, other-worldly, and sound was muted. Liminal space.

Sound was muted that is, except in some high gorse bushes about forty feet away. There a noise could be heard, and with the wind now picking up and changing direction, it sounded like someone moving about in the gorse and occassionally letting out a low moan.

‘Only the wind’, or ‘Nothing untoward’ my grandmother would say to me when I was a wee lad.

As I sat there, with the sun just about to rise, but masked by thick cloud, looking at the gorse expectectantly. I remembered how my grandmother would tell me the story of the Gwrach y Rhibyn (pronounced ‘goo-rach ee ribb-in’. But the ‘ch’ in that second syllable is sounded like the ‘ch’ in loch, that is, a back-of-the-throat phlegm-clearing sound). See here for details.

However, this morning as I sat there, pondering how wonderful nature is, and what (or who) might be ambling around in the gorse bushes, another of my late grandmother’s stories sprang to mind.

She would tell the story of the Cailleach (pronounced ‘kie-lich’. But, again. the ‘ch’ in that second syllable is sounded like the ‘ch’ in loch, that is, a back-of-the-throat phlegm-clearing sound ) from Scottish and Irish mythology. And like the Gwrach y Rhibyn, the Cailleach was always described as an ugly old hag. Story-tellers of yesteryear didn’t mince their words. To those that are only partially acquainted with these type of stories, she was usually someone you would want to avoid, or so they would say. My grandmother, however, knew better, and though she always advised caution, she would always says such visitations can be a blessing, and the Cailleach (or Gwrach y Rhibyn as she’s known in Wales) should always be treated with respect.

Here’s the story my grandmother used to tell of the Cailleach:

The was a time when Niall Noigiallach and his brothers were travelling all together. Some time had elapsed, and they were thirsty. The began to search for water, and happenstanced upon a cottage with an ancient spring well in its garden. It was guarded by a hideous hag – the Cailleach. Her only demand for water from the well from these men was…a kiss.

Fergus and Ailil, repelled by the hideous look of the old women refused to kiss her. They returned from the well empty-handed, and still very thirsty.

Fiachra, another of Niall’s brothers, visited the well, and also saw the Cailleach guarding it. A kiss was demanded by her, and slyly Fiachra gave the old crone a mere peck on the cheek of a kiss. Did it suffice? No, the Cailleach wasn’t impressed, declared that that wasn’t a proper kiss, and with a frown sent him away empty-handed.

Niall went last, visiting the well and met the ugly hag. She demanded a kiss, and Niall gave her a kiss…..and a kiss that she wouldn’t ever forget.

While his brothers were thirsty and cold, Niall had his thirst quench with the most delightfully cool and pure spring water, and was warmed after accepting a invitation to the hearth of the ugly hag’s cottage for the night. In the morning the Cailleach  woke Niall, and before his very eyes she slowly transformed into a beautiful maiden. She gave Niall more water and told him that, because of his noble action he would also have the kingship of Ireland.

An old tale, but one that embodies great truth and wisdom. My grandmother was telling me to never despise anyone because of their differences, and to be hospitable to all. We might say, ‘never judge a book by its covers’ or ‘do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat’, as they say in Scotland. Or, ‘Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2 The Book). The ancient Celts, Druids and others of old (and, still today) extended hospitality to all, and in that there is much love, wisdom and truth. Orthopraxis.

And so, I sat there for some time gazing at the high, thick, dense gorse bushes. Was it an animal scurrying about or the Cailleach? Who knows?

I couldn’t help but stand as a mark of respect, move half way to the gorse bushes, stand, bow my head momentarily, and (because no one else was about and would think me mad, because no one else would even know about this experience….well, apart from you, dear friend, and I trust you) I quietly said, ‘Whoever you are, you are most dearly welcome here’. I waited, the scurrying stopped, and then I turned back and walked slowly to the house.

Now inside, I peered at the gorse bushes through the window and wondered. ‘Was it the Cailleach?’ I don’t know, but whoever I meet today I will welcome them as though they were the Cailleach in diguise and who might give a blessing to me today, and I would commend the same to you. Wherever you are, you might encounter the Cailleach in disguise, and if you treat her (or him) well, you, too, might receive a blessing.

 

Everything You Wanted To Know About (The) Gean Cánach

20180209 EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GEAN CANACHI’m back in north Wales, and it’s twilight, that time of the day between daytime and night-time, a liminal time, a state when unusual things can happen and can be witnessed by those who are aware.

Sitting in the garden, mesmerised by the play of sunlight on distant mountains, watching them grow ever darker from the base upwards, as the light fades, it’s easy to enter that blissful, relaxing, ‘magical’ waking-dream state.

In the distance a combination of bird and other animal sounds can be heard, coupled with the sound of the babbling brook nearby, and the intermittent sound of the wind as it changes direction. It howls and almost sounds like music, and with crows cawwing it does seem like the occasional intelligible word can be heard as if spoken by someone unseen.

‘Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.’ Rumi

I’m sitting in the garden, and it’s now quite dark, the wind continues to gust from different directions, it’s getting colder and those music-like, word-like sounds, just below the intelligible level continue, too.

There is an ancient story (originally from Ireland and Scotland but one that has been taken to heart in this part of Wales) about the Gancanagh or Gean Cánach (an ancient Irish term pronounced gann kanna). As this music-like, word-like sound, carried on the wind, draws me into it, it does seem as though it might be the Gean Cánach.

There are two ways of perceiving the Gean Cánach.

To some the Gean Cánach is an elemental, one to wary of. As I sit here, the Gean Cánach, should one be close, is nothing to be feared, at least not by me. In ancient story the Gean Cánach is said to frequent mountains, hills lakes and lonely glens and use his wit, charm and ‘magic’ on women and rob them of their innocence. He was (or should it be, is) the original smooth-talker, and indeed Gean Cánach means ‘love-talker’. This elemental’s exploits have been written about over the centuries….but we move swiftly on. Ofcourse, some exaggeration may have crept into this myth over the years, and so do keep an open mind.

‘Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.’

Mary Oliver

As I sit here, in a dream-like, blissful state, I dwell on another use of the word Gean Cánach. Today, most of us would know what we mean if we described someone as genius. It is ofcourse a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, or excellent creative productivity. That ofcourse is a modern, albeit ‘lighter’ understanding of the word. Go back several thousand years and to be a genius was to be ‘inhabited’ (in a nice way) by a guiding spirit or a (minor) deity who was sharing their knowledge, wisdom or creativity with that person. So, there are two ways of perceiving the word genius.

There is another way, perhaps more acceptable to some, and much more ‘usable’ of perceiving the Gean Cánach.

In this modern sense the Gean Cánach is ‘love-taking’, praise poetry (or other words) that we might use in gratitude of others, or indeed of nature, or life itself. This interpretation I like very much and it is usable on a daily basis, giving us the foundation of a good spiritual practice.

Frank MacEowan in his book ‘The Celtic Way Of Seeing’ writes about this. It is a deep and thoughtful process, a meditation practice of reciting simple ‘love-talking’ or gratitude poetry, and to make it so ‘real’ that we become part of it. We become the poem.

‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’

Psalm 8.2a The Book

And, as I sit here, and it is darker, still, but I can just make out the mountains in the distance, trees nearby, the rustling of animals, birds in trees, and hear the wind howling and see low clouds moving rapidly across the sky overhead, I use that form of ‘love-talking’ or gratitude poetry, an example used in Frank MacEowan’s book (and formulated by Tom Cowan).

‘Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.’
Mary Oliver

You might like to use that kind of ‘love-talking’, praise poetry. It’s simple, profound, and is a spiritual exercise to increase our awareness of nature around us (and which can be used in urban as well as rural environments) and of giving thanks. You don’t have to be an accomplished poet. Just speak from the heart. There is no right or wrong way to do this (because you are speaking from the heart, and you are the poem, too). One formula is to recite:

Beautiful is…beautiful too,….

So, an example of this might be:

Beautiful is the howling wind; beautiful too, are the racing clouds
Beautiful is the babbling book; beautiful too, are the nearby foxes
Beautiful is the mighty oak tree; beautiful too, is the green, lush grass

And so the ‘love-talking’, praise poem goes on, sometimes for many minutes as you and I might add more lines to the proceeding one, using the formula above, in describing what we see around us and give thanks for it.

Beautiful is the city park; beautiful too, are the bright red buses
Beautiful are the trees in the street; beautiful too, are the pigeons and sparrows
Beautiful is the mall music; beautiful too, are the people shopping

I heartily recommend this form of spiritual poetry, this deep poetic meditation, your words (as you perceive more around you) of gratitude to Nature, Life, The Source Of All. It is another ‘tool’ in your spiritual toolkit. Do try it, and let me know how it goes for you.

It’s now late. The weather has turned and it’s beginning to rain. I do love the rain and love walking in it, or even sitting as it falls on me, but, maybe, not tonight.

Beautiful is the soft, refreshing rain; beautiful too, is the roaring hearth fire.

 

Reflections On A Puddle: A Quiet Teacher At Drws I Fyd Arall

20180125 REFLECTION ON A PUDDLE A QUIET TEACHER AT DRWS I FYD ARALLI am back in Capel Curig in north Wales for a while. I’m outside, and have walked the relatively short walk from my little cottage, Tŷ Gwyn (pronounced ‘tee gwin’, meaning White Cottage or White House), to an area that, for years, has been known to me as Drws i fyd arall. It’s raining hard – the ‘gift’ of storm Georgina that is sweeping across the United Kingdom.

Soaked, I sit on a felled log. It’s still about half an hour before sunrise.

‘Drip down, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds pour down…’ Isaiah 45;8a, The Book

And I feel wonderful, expectant, in awe at the two, old, trees in front of me. I sat there looking at these two trees, so different to the others around them, as these two trees had grown in a way that they bowed towards each other to form an arch. As children we noticed this, and I and my friends had called these two arched trees Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’) which means ‘door to another world’. Such was the imagination of us children that we played endless games by jumping through the arched trees, and in our minds eye believed that we found  ourselves in strange new worlds. Star Gate, the tv series, was still many years in the future. We got their first!

For more about Drws I fyd arall in previous articles, see here, and here.

And, now I’m sitting in the middle of this delightful forest, in suitably rain-proofed attire, and though its cold and there’s a great wind – I’m protected from that wind by the high trees around me – but not so from the rain. It’s raining even harder, and I love it.

By my feet, raindrops converge into puddles, multiple puddles and some of them quite deep, and as the puddles fill up with rain some of them join together to form even large puddles around me; and for a moment I am mesmerised by the sight of the rain splashing on the forest floor and into puddles, and by the soothing, continuous, hypnotic patter of fresh, cold, wonderful rain.

‘If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.’ Loren Eiseley

As I gaze at the large puddle in front of me, joining with another, and then being  ‘syphoned off’ into a larger deep depression on the ground inches to one side, I spied that water takes on the shape of that which it fills, and reshapes itself umpteen times, yet it still remains water.

‘I find inspiration in the movement of water. Sometimes I think about the journey the water has travelled, reconnecting me to the larger cycles of nature.’ Janet Echelman

How we could learn from water. If you’re like me, it is oh-so-easy to take on board the opinions of others sometimes; to be caught off guard and to be affected by their bad words and actions, and perhaps want to metaphorically strike back; or be adversely affected by ‘bad’ situations. Water is not changed by what it fills. It changes shape, but remains faithful to its nature. It loses nothing. How we could learn from water.

‘I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.’ John O’Donohue

Mark Nepo talks of this sort of awareness of nature. He calls them ‘quiet teachers’, for that is what they are: nature opening itself up to human awareness for the connection, which surely already exists, to be made understandable (at least in part) to us, in a quiet, authentic manner

And so this puddle, this ‘quiet teacher’, a puddle at Drws i fyd arall taught me that water adapts to fill the ‘shape’ of its surroundings, but remains faithful to itself.

And, in a ‘flash’ as I sat on that felled tree, I realised that, as humans, we are should (or perhaps, are encouraged, is a better way of putting it, to) adapt to situations in our daily life, albeit some tough events, or situations brought on by ‘difficult’ people, and yet remain faithful to our ‘humanness’, our core. It is possible to adapt and not take on board the negative ‘stuff’ around us.

And then, I experienced another ‘flash’ as if lightning had filled the sky: it dawned on me – our body and soul may be seemingly affected, but the lesson of this ‘quiet teacher’ was that that need not be the case, but it came to me that our soul, our being, our very essence is never affected by it at all – we just think it is. There is something in us that ‘higher’, still. And from ‘that place’, a place of Love, we can have compassion on others, and bear tough situations come what may.

I had to sit on the felled log for some time to ‘unpack’ those two ‘flashes’ of thought(s) from Beyond.

‘…the work of compassion: to embrace everything clearly without imposing who we are and without losing who we are.’ Mark Nepouiet

The Curious Incident Of Brigid And The Bathwater: A Profound Story For Today

20180122 THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF ST BRIGID AND THE BATHWATER...The circle continues to turn. Imbolc, St Brigid’s Day, or Candlemas, as some call it, comes ever closer. Spring is in the air.

‘O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’. Percy Bysshe Shelley

If we’re still in the season of winter, and we are (and, it started on 31 October, marked by the festival of Samhain, also called All Saint’s Eve by some, and progressed to its ‘height’ with the winter soltice, we’re now coming to the end of that season). Imbolc, 2 February (or a day earlier than that to some), marks the end of winter, and is the first day of spring.

‘There is a delightful phrase in Gealic, ‘Ag borradh’, meaning that there is a quivering life about to break forth.’ John O’Donohue

And, if today is anything to go by – it was so relatively mild, weatherwise – spring is here, or is ‘just around the corner’. I could detect a slight ambient temperature increase today, a change in the prominent wind direction, you could almost smell it in the air. Something had changed.  The circle continues to turn and this season is coming to an end.

And with 2 February in mind, our thoughts turn to Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is viewed in differing ways, by different people. To some Brigid is an ancient Celtic goddess. The goddess of fire. Indeed, a sacred fire burned in Kildare in ancient time, as was kept burning by priestesses. In this way it was thought herds would be protected and harvests would be plentiful. To others, Brigid is a saint, and at the time of Candlemass, candles are blessed (and lit by some), and Brigid is remembered as one who symbolises motherhood, new birth, the springing forth of seeds and, in the recent past, some would bless (even) agricultural tools on that day. It’s spring (or nearly, so), after all.

‘I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen’. Anne Lamott

Yes, you know I like stories, and here’s another about Brigid.

Brigid was known for her hospitality. For the weary traveller no expense was spared by her.

On one occasion, going about her day, she came across some very tired, hungry and thirsty lepers. The plight of those dear people had already touched Brigid’s heart, and she made them as comfortable as she could. She ensured that they had had some food, but were thirsty.

One of those near to Brigid came to her and broke the bad news news: there was no beer for those thirsty lepers.

Brigid was deeply concerned, and it is said, immediately sprung into action. At the back of some nearby buildings she found an old bath, full of dirty bath water. She put her hand into the bathwater and blessed it. As the attendant drew off pints from that bath they found that it had changed! No longer dirty bath water, but the finest, freshest and coolest beer you could ever imagine, which was served to all.

The lepers and others were delighted, and had more than enough to drink, and there was plenty of beer left over.

You will have to forgive me – flippant only for a moment or two – but isn’t Brigid the kind of person you would like at all your parties?

I know sceptics may ridicule the bathwater-into-beer story, but there are some deep and profound truths ‘buried’ in it, if we take time to discover them. The need to be hospitable, and the joy in being so. The fact that we live in a world of abundance. The ‘power’ that one good person has. The Universe (God, the Elements, The Source of All) is friendly. The power in a blessing etc. All wonderful truths that are ‘unpacked’ in this unusual and delightful story about dear Brigid.

‘Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems’. Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring is close. However, you view Brigid, it may be good to give thanks for her example, for this season of rest, to look forward to the coming season of spring and the springing forth of plants etc, for growth, and perhaps to light a candle. Fire, however, you view dear Brigid, is a worthy symbol of her, and the lighting of a candle on her day a notable action to do.

 

Brigid’s Cloak: A Profound Story For Today

20180118 BRIGIDS CLOAK A PROFOUND STORY FOR TODAYIt’s late. I’m still in London, but now things have settled down somewhat I’m able to slow down (even more). Earlier today, in a huge supermarket nearby I spied jars of Horlicks lined up at eye level, just calling to me, almost. I had never noticed them before. Horlicks, if you’ve never had it, is a delightful malt drink, usually in powder form and was something that many children grew up drinking. So far as I know it’s extremely healthy.

It’s even later, and I’m on an oh-so comfortable sofa, and having added hot milk to that Horlick’s powdered malt drink, it now resides in a cup just a couple of feet from me. Lights are low. And as I sip it, in my mind’s eye I am immediately transported back – memorywise – to my early childhood days. Amazing how a simple taste can remind us of past things and pleasant events.

I’m reminded of a time, about this time of year, but many years ago. I was sitting in my grandparents’ cottage in Wales. I must have been about seven years old. It was late in the evening, then, and I had positioned myself, comfortably, near the hearth. The main living area of the cottage was partially lit and the fire’s orange glow bathed everything in a warm, restful, flickering, other-worldly light.

My grandpa had just given me a hot cup of Horlicks, as my grandmother started to tell another of her wonderful stories.

As I sip from a cup of Horlicks now, I’m reminded of that story from yesteryear – and it’s all the more poingnant as it was then coming up to St Brigid’s Day, and so it will be again in about two weeks from no. Some (myself included) call it Imbolc (pronounced various ways, but I quite like ‘ih-mulk’), and many call it (now) Candlemas.

As I sat there all those years ago, my grandmother told a story about Brigid of Kildare (in Ireland). The story went something like this:

Dear Brigid approached the King of Leinster with a request for some land on which to build her monastery. She thought deeply about the location, and felt led to build it in Kildare. There, it would be near a lake where water was available, and in a forest where firewood would be plentiful, and also near a large, lush area just right for the growing of crops. Self-sufficiency.

However, the King refused her request.

Brigid wasn’t deterred by his refusal. Rather, she thought about it, prayed about it, and made her request again to him, but this time she added, ‘I would respectfully ask the King to grant me as much land as my cloak will cover.’

Seeing her small cloak, the king laughed out loud, and then granted her request.

Brigid then removed the cloak that was on her back, and gave instructions to her four helpers each to take a corner of the cloak and walk in opposite directions – north, south, east and west. They did this. And, as they did this the cloak began to grow, and grow, and grow. It was soon the size of a large table cloth. And, they carried on walking. And soon it was the size of a living room carpet. And, they carried on walking. And, soon dear Brigid’s cloak had spread across many, many acres of land. She now had sufficient land to build her monastery.

The King was greatly dismayed, but also amazed at this seeming miracle. The King realised that this woman was truly blessed, and had great power. The King was impressed and supported Brigid’s work with money, food and gifts.

My grandmother ended the story, summing up that Brigid was indeed a clever woman, one in touch with great power from the Source of All (that which some call God), and that the story tells us that we do, indeed, live in a world of abundance, but sometimes we need to ‘see’ things differently, and trust in the timely provision of what we need.

That story of dear Brigid (St Brigid to some) made a big impression on me then and throughout the years: I believed then and still believe that we do live in a world of natural abundance and blessing, and Brigid and this story about her is one that we can take to heart and draw strength from.

 

Perception And The Llamhigyn Y Dwr: Story

20171204 Perception And The Llamhigyn Dwr A Story From YesteryearYou know I love stories, and here’s one from yesteryear about perception. It’s easy to be fooled into seeing things at face value, but the discerning , and that includes you, know that in many cases there is more going on than meets the eye.

There is always something more to perceive, to see, to understand, even to ‘guess’ at what might happen. Our imaginations are an important ‘tool’ and can come in uderful here, and its a ‘tool’ that many forget to use. Our imagination can allow us to see beyond and consider a realm that might otherwise have been invisible to us.

Yes, I love stories, and here’s one from my childhood, that highlights the necessity of perceiving things differently.

As a child I used to love to fish in one of the nearby local lakes. For those who believe that fishing is a cruel sport. It’s okay. I never caught anything, but I used to love the experience of being there, by a lake, in a forest, and in such a beautiful place.

With a flask of tomato soup, a packed sandwich for later, I was in my element, and could sit there all day, and did.

This lake was about a mile from my grandparents’ cottage. My grandmother was an avid book-reader and an avid storyteller.

She once told me about the story of Llamhigyn Y Dwr – the water leaper – a creature that is said to resemble a frog, but with a stinger on the end of its tail like a scorpion, and it had bat wings instead of front legs. It is said to frequent lakes. The really worrying thing about the water-leaper, and something to bear in mind, was that it was said to be the size of a cow.

And so, there I was fishing one day. The sun was shining on the water and I was mesmerised. Unknown to me, by all accounts, I moved slowly, ever so slowly towards the waters edge. And then the inevitable happened. I fell in with a huge, ‘splash’. I couldn’t get out that quickly as I fell and sat down cross-legged. Thankfully, my granddad was close by, ran towards me at great speed for a portly fellow, and pulled me out. Sopping wet, but still clutching my ‘bought at Woolworths’ fibre/glass fishing rod, I was quickly pulled out.

Of course, that evening my granddad just had to recount the story over and over again. It was so embarrassing for me. Sometime time later, however, my grandmother, sitting by the open fire hearth, beckoned me. And in a subdued voice and a twinkle in her eye, she said, ‘Pay no attention to your granddaddy. You and I know that you didn’t fall in. You were, infact, pulled in by the Llamhigyn Y Dwr which was the size of a cow, and were brave enough to wrestle it and keep hold of your fishing rod. Well done!’.

I think my grandmother had the right idea, used her imagination, and could see things in a new and exicting, deeper way than many people could. At least as a child I could, for a moment, glimpse the world in a different way as she retold that story. And, using imagination you and I can see ‘deeper’ still, today. It is the way to perceive spiritual things and the Divine at work. Eyes beyond eyes.