Celtic Lifestyle: Time For Our Souls…

20170518 TIME FOR OUR SOULS CELTIC LIFE4STYLE

‘I know you’re a Type A personality, but right now you really need to slow down, or even stop for a while’, was a phrase I overheard recently. It wasn’t directed at me (as I think I probably qualify as being a Type B personality), but it was well-intended, and in hindsight it was probably exactly what that person needed to hear.

I know we all live in a busy society, but my encouragement to myself and yourself (so far as is possible and practical) is to slow down and find the opportunity to stop for a while. Ofcourse, this is not a reason to do this when we’re working in paid employment clients depend on us, or when it is otherwise inappropriate, but a ‘nudge’ to find time at other times, or even ‘gouge’ out time, then, to slow down and even stop for a while, may be beneficial to each of us.

‘Busy is the enemy of peace. Busy takes us away from our purpose…Busy means life’s joys and surprises can’t find a way into our lives because we’re moving too fast to see and experience them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to move so fast that I miss my life.’  [Lara Casey]

The ancient Celts, Druids, proto-church Christians and other ancient people lived life to a much different timescale to us, and we have many things to (re-)learn from them. Indeed, they even to a different time-measurement than us. Could it be that we really are missing out by being so busy all the time?

‘Faster is fatal, slower is safe.’ [Amit Kalantri]

A half-way decent fictional movie – I do like Robin Hood – was on tv recently, and  it was spoiled for me when one of the protagonists lined people up and gave them orders to see him, privately. Each one was told by him to report to him ‘ten minutes later’, that is ten minutes after the previous one! Would the Sheriff of Nottingham, some six hundred years ago, be using time in that way? I don’t think so. Time measurement may have been in hours, then, or even half hours, but probably not quarters of an hour or so many minutes. It’s only since the advent of clocks and wristwatches (and railway timetables, apparently) that we, as a society, have been obsessed with the measurement of time to the minute, to such a precise scale. And yet, in looking back it ‘feels’ like it may have always been this way. To the film’s script-writers it obviously seemed like a normal thing to do – to schedule visits to the Sheriff of Nottingham down to ten minutes – but it wasn’t always that way. Nor for our society.

‘Stop talking, stop thinking,
and there is nothing you will not understand.’ [Seng Ts’an]

There’s an interesting story, that goes like this: An archaeologist once hired some local  tribesmen to act as bearers  and paid the to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped, put down their cargo they were carrying, and insisted they would go no further. They sat down and waited. The archaeologist grew extremely  impatient, and then  became angry. But no matter how much he cajoled them, or even bribed the tribesmen with more money, they would not go any further. Then, some hours later, and without any prior announcement the local tribesmen changed their attitude, picked up the cargo and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked them why they had stopped earlier, and had refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered in matter-of-fact manner, ‘We had been moving too fast, and had to wait for our souls to catch up.’

‘…life  always seems vacant and diminished when I accelerate beyond my capacity to feel what is before me.’ [Mark Nepo]

Could it be that we’re all too busy? It may not be the case for you, but it’s always worth periodically checking to ascertain if we’re moving to fast, and need to ‘wait for our souls to catch up’. A busy diary is not necessarily the mark of an efficient or important person, though our egos would like us to think that.

Here’s something you might like to consider: Take some time to think of four things that you must do today. Carefully, relinquish three tasks. And then give yourself fully to that one task.

I admit writing the abovementioned is a risk, and I do advocate using ‘sanctified common-sense’ in doing this exercise, as it may need to be adapted, or it may not be feasible to do it today, or because doing it will cause great offense or pain to others. That’s where we may need to adapt, but I’m sure you get the point. But, if not today, what about tomorrow?

What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
and watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.

[W H Davies]

Maybe it’s time to wait for our souls to catch up?

 

Encountering Silent Teachers: That Ancient Oak Tree / Coeden Dderw Hynafol

20170517 ENCOUNTERING SILENT TEACHERS

Go out, go out I beg you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.
{Edna Jaques]

Near the perimeter of my garden in north Wales, before you reach the rivulet which is the unannounced boundary of my garden, just 20 yards/meters short of it is a wonderful, old, somewhat gnarled oak tree, standing slightly apart from other trees. Of all the trees in the garden, it is the oldest and most majestic, commanding respect from all.

My grandmother called it ‘coeden dderw hynafol’ (pronounced ‘goh-dun dare-ooh hin-af-foll’, which is Welsh for ‘ancient oak tree’, and that’s what I’ve always called it.

Interestingly, the word Druid, also comes from that Welsh word, dder, pronounced ‘dare-ooh’, for oak, and shows the high esteem that that tree was, and still is, held by them.

Oh, coeden dderw hynafol is a sight to behold. Even when ‘speaking’ to it in English, I’ve always addressed it, as though by a title, by its name in Welsh. I want to be respectful, after all.

Whether one believes that it has a dryad, an associated elemental, a spirit (or a spirit in the metaphorical or romantic sense), or wishes to personify or anthropomorphise this splendid tree, that is beside the point in many respects. It (still) has a presence, a nobility about it, and as it creaks and ‘moans’ in the wind it seems to ‘smile’ and declare to me and others that it was here long before we were born, and…and, yes, it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

It is a tree that evokes awe and humility in equal measure.

And so, there I was…nothing on tv….slowly walking, barefoot, toward coeden dderw hynafol at some time shortly after 11.30pm. There was hardly any light, the air was damp and cold – such is springtime in north Wales at this time of night – and the faint outline of  coeden dderw hynafol was etched, flat, without three dimensions apparent, against the dark, cloud-filled sky. The clouds seeming somewhat low and moving briskly, caught by an easterly wind.

I sat on the log just under the outstretched arms of the coeden dderw hynafol, and waited. The wind picked up and it started to rain, and the desire to run back indoors and avoid the rain was almost overpowering. Almost.

‘Only when we stop…do the stones begin to speak’. Mark Nepo

I love the rain, and though there was part of me that didn’t relish the thought of getting drenched, the ‘dominant’ inner voice was content just to let nature take its course. Any, why not? And so I sat on that log, gazing at coeden dderw hynafol and got drenched. Fortunately, there was no one around, and neighbours live some distance away,  so no one noticed my apparent foolishness.

Coeden dderw hynafol creaked, and groaned as it swayed in the wind, ‘moaned’ as the wind caught the top of its branches, and it provided only momentary shelter from the rain – its leaves now conveying downward all the rain it had ‘collected’. But, I will let you into a secret: it felt wonderful.

As I sat there with rain running down my forehead, onto my nose and running off the end of it, this ancient oak tree taught me: that regardless of what forces impact upon it, it stands. When buffeted it moves just a little, is pliable, and doesn’t stand so rigid that it breaks. Oh no. It ‘gives’ just a little. The noise it made wasn’t a cry of pain, but a delight that it was ‘dancing’ to the tune of the wind. And the rain it collected and which fell down on me was like the effect of a shaggy dog shaking itself to get dry and soaking everyone else in the process – something which ‘includes’ me, rather than excludes me, and which can bring on a wry smile. It was as though there was some giant, invisible aspergillum ‘flicking’ holy water on me, and blessing me. And it was comforting.

‘For a true contemplative, a green tree works just as well as a golden tabernacle’. Richard Rohr.

Now drenched, I realised that whatever life sends us, we are in control of our reactions and have the ability to come through the storm. As I sat there I could have been angry at being drenched, and angry that that oak had not provided sufficient cover to keep me dry. However, positive thoughts flooded my mind like warm honey. Coeden dderw hynafol had, in its own way ‘instructed’ me that I (and you, so ‘we’) have the resources to face adversity, and though we might ‘bend’ a little and feel the wounds, we will prevail. Coeden dderw hynafol also blessed me with the rain it had collected and which was now falling on me at quite a pace. It was a though this ancient friend was blessing me with holy water and including me. To be befriended by an oak tree is an amazing thing.

‘We inter-breath with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans. They are part of our own body.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Soggy, cold, drenched but feeling blessed, I headed back to the house. I hadn’t gone too far when I stopped. It seemed wrong just to walk away. And so I stopped, and as mud oozed between my toes, I turned, and for just half a minute gave my silent thanks to coeden dderw hynafol, nodded and acknowledged my indebtedness to the lessons it had taught me that night.

Ofcourse, some might say it was crazy and puerile to regard that tree in such a way. A tree is just a tree, they might say. But, it didn’t (and doesn’t) feel like just a tree, in its presence. Ofcourse, if people regard it as just a tree, I would add that something deep still stirred within me, and I learned invaluable lessons.

However, I’d like to add that it is more than just a tree to me. There is more. Mae mwy, as they say in these parts, there is more. Coeden dderw hynafol is a silent teacher, and if you and I give ourselves time to draw aside and be still (wherever we are), each day we can learn something from these (and it may not be an oak tree) silent teachers that cross our life-paths.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair’. Kahlil Gibran

The Telling Place: Ritual And Anamnesis

20170515 THE TELLING PLACE RITUAL AND ANAMNESISI am an avid fan of ritual and liturgy. Not for any ‘spooky, or old-fashioned, and ‘quant’ reasons, but because ritual and liturgy, like a good piece of music, can usher us into a state of deep thought and meditation, waft us into the liminal realm of the imagination and on into sacred time-space; a ‘thin place’ [known as caol áit, pronounced ‘kweel awtch’ in Gaelic]. It has energy. It is status-declaring. It ushers us into (an awareness of) the Presence.

The sun had set. A chill had set in, but the air was still. No birdsong could be heard at all. And so,  a  group of twenty stalwarts sat in a circle, around the open fire, as the bodhrán sounded a slow drumbeat. One person nominated to lead the event, the Guardian, stood and moved in a clockwise direction, pausing at the four cardinal points, before moving to the centre of the circle. He invoked the energy of the Source of All.

It has been said by some modern-day scholars that ritual is outdated, and nothing more than a futile attempt to ensure the safety of an individual, who, when invoking the presence of an overpowering god or God, is fearful. Or, it’s to appease an angry god or God. I’d like to suggest something different. For me, ritual is a reminder that we continually stand in the presence of the Source of All, a wholly benevolent Power, and ritual acts as a reminder to us of that fact, and that this is a special time set aside to draw even closer, and/or to be aware of that fact. Ritual, then, is for our benefit. To (re-)empower and (re-)enable us.

Everyone waited with expectancy. All could perceive the flames from the fire, but little else. Night was drawing in. And, yet what our eyes couldn’t see, was more than made up by our ‘imaginal eyes’, our mind’s eye, the eyes of our hearts, our imaginations. Some saw ancient archetypes of power ‘skip’ from the flames, others elementals that moved in and out of the circle from the surrounding forest trees in a joyful manner, and still others ‘saw’ elusive power-animals at their sides. Some ‘saw’ nothing, but felt an almost over-powering tangible presence of benevolence descend, and embrace them.

There is a physicality to ritual, but it is more. If ritual is just a series of moves and words, and nothing else, then it’s akin to a Harry Potter spell – the kind, in that movie, where one has to be careful to get everything exactly right, otherwise, who knows what might happen? Ritual is a series of actions and words, and to be enjoyed, but it’s more. Left at that level, it is pure ‘theatre’.

It’s physical, but imaginal, too. Perhaps most of the ‘action’ takes place in the realm of the soul, that imaginal realm. It’s ‘in’ the imagination, but no less real (and some of us might say more real!) And, then there’s intentionality. If you didn’t get the ritual right, don’t worry. I do believe our intentions are most important, and that the Source of All honours our intentions.

The Guardian of the circle spoke of the illusion of time and space, and how we view it as linear. The Guardian also spoke of connectedness, of the ‘Great Chain Of Being’, or being ‘at one’ with our forebears, the Ancestors. He raised his hands, momentarily, and declared that the Ancestors were here! The drumming stopped.

You, like me, are probably ‘amphibian’. We, seemingly, live in two realm. We live in a world of dualism, separateness and individuality, and yet, deep within us we each yearn for connectedness and deep spirituality, as though that was our ‘default program’. I do believe it is.

We are connected.

Someone one said that what we do to others, we do to them. Connectedness.

Some say that if a butterfly beats its wings on one side of the planet, it might lead to a tornado elsewhere. Connectedness.

Scientists tell us that each one of us is made of atoms that, at one time, were inside a distant star that exploded – yes, we really are star dust. Astronomically, connected.

And, our ancestors? We wouldn’t be here if it were not for them, and many of our innate characteristics, unbeknownst to us, probably come from them in one glorious time-spanning family tree (of which we’re all part). Connectedness. Our ancestors, are here. If you don’t believe in ghosts, perhaps they’re here in actual spirit or presence, or in essence, or in our DNA (or all of those, and more)?

In this ritual, it felt as though we had been pulled out of physical time, as a group, and  into sacred space-time, and were propelled back in time to engage with the Ancestors in story. Or, was it that they had joined us? Or, was it that space-time does not exist, but the ritual, using metaphors, and using the illusion of pulling us out of physical time had given us an awareness of them in the ‘now’? Already there? Already connected, but unaware? I believe so.

This remembering is called anamnesis: a remembering that makes the original event present to the believer. In a very real sense, ritual negates time and space. The Passover Seder starts with the question, ‘How is  this night  different from all other nights?’ Ritual, then, brings the participant into that timeless realm of the sacred in which the time and space that separates the participant from the original event just disappears. It’s not just remembering. It’s a re-experiencing and a re-connectedness to that former event – in this case story and the Ancestors. Anything less that that, is merely mimesis, an imitation or re-enactment. Sadly as regards the latter, (especially, but not only in organised religion(s)), a lot of mimesis goes on in ritual.

A slight wind blew through the encircled people. In a low voice, the Guardian said that this time-space was a Telling Place, a place of story, myth and ‘magic’. Like a ‘thin place’ as Celts and Druids of old would have known it. For the next twenty minutes he told an ancient story of birth, and death, and re-birth. A story that was as old as the cosmos itself, and full of hope, and evident in the sacred text of many cultures. He went on to say that some know this as Saṃsāra, others know it as Moksha, and yet others know it as the Paschal Mystery. He said it was ‘built into the very fabric of the universe’.

As a Druidic-Christian, an inclusive and sociable person, I enjoy meeting new people, leading events, sharing deep spiritual truth, and listening to others. It’s by listening and then sharing, like iron sharpens iron, that we grow. In many cases, we’re saying the same thing, but using different words, or coming at it from a different perspective.

After twenty minutes the Guardian concluded the story and sat down, and some others from the circle, as they felt led, shared ancient stories, stories of life, and some shared parts of their life-story.

Our stories are as important to the Universe as its story is to us. Could it be that we are the product of the Universe’s wish to be self-aware? If so, there is a wonderful circularity there. Like an electric circuit that is complete and working. The Universe gave birth to us, so that ‘it’ could be aware of itself, and see itself, and did so by (even) including us as part of the Universe. The idea, then, that we’re separate is an error. We’re included in the cosmos, in nature (or as some might say, ‘life, the universe and everything’), but some, sadly, are unaware of this fact.

After a few minutes had elapsed since the last story-sharer had finished and sat down, the Guardian stood. The bodhrán sounded a slow drumbeat as the Guardian moved in an anti-clockwise direction, pausing at the four cardinal points, and ‘closed’ the meeting by moving back to the centre of the circle and raising his hands momentarily. The drumming stopped. Everything was still, and oh-so quiet. He said a short blessing-prayer and sat down. Slowly, ‘normal’ time and interaction resumed.

And so, we re-entered physical time. Ofcourse, we all knew that what we had experienced was still true, and still with us. But, we also knew that as humans, and living in the world we do today, that we need to ‘compartmentalise’ our awareness.  True, we can obtain glimpses of ‘real’ reality as we go about our daily life, but we also acknowledged a different mode of ‘operation’ when working in the office, the factory, when driving, or formulating a shopping list – all necessary activates that ‘pull’ us away from deep awareness. Regrettable, but perhaps understandable in living in this society. Nevertheless, That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves is on your side (so, don’t feel awful about it…but cherish those times when you can fully enter into that liminal space and/or the daily glimpses you might experience). It’s okay to be an ‘amphibian’.

However, you and I know that there’s more. And, the sharing of stories is a great way, an awesome way to exercise liminality, and enter into that Telling Place that transcends time and space. I do believe it’s about time I organised another Telling Place event.

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Willow Tree [15 April-12 May]

20170414 CELTIC MONTH OF THE WILLOW TREE EPHEMERAFriday, 14 April is the last day of the Celtic month of the Alder Tree, and 15 April sees the start of the new month of the Willow Tree (though some like to start that day, in common with ancient cultures, at sunset on the evening of 14 April).

Essential Data
Month: Willow Tree
Dates: 15 April – 12 May
Common Name: Willow
Celic /Gaelic Name: Shellach
Scientific Name: Salix

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and its name features in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. It is also called sallow (from Old English sealh, related to the Latin word “Salix“; Willow).

‘Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.’ Bruce

About The Tree
Willows, also called sallows, and osiers, and come from the genus Salix. Willows have abundant watery bark sap, and soft, usually pliant, tough wood, with slender branches, The roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to life.

The leaves are typically elongated, but may also be round to oval, frequently with serrated edges. Most species are deciduous or semi-evergreen.

Willows are dioecious, that is they have male and female flowers which appear as catkins on separate plants; the catkins are produced early in the spring, and often before the leaves.

Willows are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the mourning cloak butterfly, and ants, such as wood ants, and it is common to find aphids coming to collect honeydew, as sometimes do wasps.

Willow is used to make charcoal (for drawing), willow stems are used to weave baskets and three-dimensional sculptures, such as animals and figures and are also used to create garden features. Willow is grown for biomass or biofuel, in energy forestry systems, and large-scale projects to support willow as an energy crop are already at commercial scale in Sweden.

Willow is one of the ‘Four Species’ used ritually during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. In Buddhism, a willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. And, Christian churches in north-western Europe, Ukraine and Bulgaria often used willow branches as a substitute for palms in the ceremonies on Palm Sunday.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres. Psalm 137:1-2, The Book

Folklore
Because many willows grow close to water, legends, magic and folklore associated with the willow tree include many references to water. The moon, too, is often linked to the willow tree. Indeed, Culpeper says in his Complete Herbal book says, ‘The moon owns the willow’.

Hecate, for instance, the powerful Greek deity was goddess of the moon and of willow. Associated with water, her priestesses used willow in their water divination.

The willow muse, called Heliconian was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus also carried willow branches (wands?) into the Underworld, having received his gift by touching the Willows in a grove sacred to Persephone.

Willow groves have been used by many types of artisans to gain eloquence, inspiration, skills and the gift of prophecy.

There is a wonderful creation myth in Druidic mysteries. Two red snake eggs were hidden within the willow tree, and it was from these eggs that the Universe was hatched. One egg contained the Sun, the other the Earth.

Also, Hildegard, the Christian mystic spoke of creation and the universe as an egg, when she recounted her third vision, and wrote: ‘After this I saw a vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom; outside it, surrounding its circumference, there was bright fire…’

Traditionally, in spring rituals, these red eggs were replaced by hens’ eggs, coloured scarlet for the Sun and eaten at Beltane. This act transferred later to the Christian celebration of Easter.

Interestingly, Greek Orthodox Christians, even today, dye hens eggs red on Holy Thursday to symbolise the Christ’s blood poured out to death on Good Friday, and that egg also symbolises the new life of Easter Sunday. There is also a game called tsougrisma and played in Greece, today, in which two people take one red egg each in their hand, and alternately try to break their opponent’s egg – the winner being the one whose egg doesn’t crack first.

All around my hat I will wear the green willow.
All around my hat for a twelve-month and a day.
And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it
It’s all for my true love who’s far, far away.

Steeleye Span

Healing
The cunning folk used the willow tree, extensively, for healing. It is said (and, please do not try the aforementioned) that they made an infusion from the bitter bark of the willow tree as a remedy for colds, fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. They also chewed young willow twigs to relieve pain.

In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, and from this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin.

Celebration
The willow is known by some for its wisdom-instilling and creativity-giving properties, and so, whatever you do to welcome in the new month, perhaps you could light a candle and meditate for a while and seek a creativity-boost, and/or read a few apt poems about the willow tree or trees in general, or visit an art gallery in person or online, for inspiration. Awen.

Wishing you, and those whom you love, a very blessed new month.

Celtic Mythological Beasts: Bestiary: Y Is For Ysgithyrwyn

20170329 Y IS FOR YSGITHRYWYN MYTHThere is a wonderful story from ancient times, full of pathos and meaning – the legend of the Ysgithyrwyn (pronounced ‘iss-gith-thigh-rin). It means ‘white tusk’.

It was common, once, to tell the story of the Ysgithyrwyn to children. The beast was a monstrous wild boar, with huge, gleaming white tusks, and a body, so it is said, to be the size of a cow. It was a  ferocious creature that roamed the wilds of north Wales, and some said it had magic powers, others said that capturing it would confer a wish, and others said that it was an just old boar that had a ‘charmed’ life. It was a beast, however, that one should not approach.

But, seeing it from afar was much safer, and the story I was told was such that if you saw it from a distance, then it would bring about a marriage between you and the one you were thinking of, your loved-one.

The reason for this is embedded in ancient myth, in that story from another time, beloved by Celts and Druids, and others of old.

The story, recorded in Arthurian legend, tells of a young warrior, Culhwch, who is madly in love with Olwen. The problem was that Olwen’s father, a giant of a king called  Ysbaddaden, would only allow the marriage if Culhwch succeeded in overcoming thirty-nine difficult tasks. A series of quests. The most difficult of these was the  killing Ysgithyrwyn, the wild boar, taking a tusk from it, and then fashioning it into a razor, and then for King Caw to shave the head of Ysbaddaden.

Culhwch succeeded all the tasks except the killing of the boar. After many attempts, Culhwch eventually exhausted the beast, succeeded in capturing the beast, and it was killed by Aedd. The tusk of the boar was fashioned into a razor, Ysbaddaden received his haircut and Culhwch was able to marry his beloved Olwen.

Even today, it is said that if you go out into the wilds of north Wales – not far from where I live – that on the night of the full moon, you might catch sight of the beast from a distance. If you do, you may be as fortunate as Culhwch. Legend says that if you spy the beast at this time – but don’t get too close – then the person you’re thinking of, and love, will indeed by the one that you will marry.

Ofcourse, it’s just an old tale, but you never really know about these old stories. The promise of marriage if you see the beast might just have some power still left in it, and that was exactly so for one couple known to me.

 

 

Creatures Of Myth & Magic: The Old Story Of The Gwyber & What We Can Learn From It.

20170207-the-old-story-of-the-gwyber-story-and-myth-1Last evening was one of those evenings, with nothing on tv, and I’d finished part of reading a book and come to a natural juncture in it, that I found myself at a loose end. What to do? So I reached for one of my grandmother’s old journals. Like me, she journalled a lot, and this particular  old and dusty journal of hers was probably one of a few that I had never really read in depth.

Placing in on the small table in front of the armchair, it fell open, roughly midway, and there was the story about the Gwyber. My grandmother was a prolific story-teller, and used to tell me and my brother amazing stories about some of the forgotten creatures of Wales. Interestingly, there was always a moral attached to the tale. Isn’t that they way with ancient story and myth?

And, so I began to read another of her stories about this area of Wales, a place of myth and ‘magic, a place of ancient Christians meeting in the woods (for safety),  of Druids, Pagans, of Cunning folk, and mythical creatures such as the Gwyber.

Ah, the Gwyber. When reading it, I bore in mind those stories from ancient times. stories about: Angels singing at the dawn of creation; Jonah and the sea creature, the sun standing still, George and the dragon, the ‘Dyfed triangle’ – the latter being very current. Did they really happen? What meaning, morals or wisdom do they impart to us today? And so, in that light, I read on:

My Grandmother wrote: Now, the Gwyber (sometimes spelled ‘Gwiber’) is a most dangerous creature that you would not want to encounter, but if, by happenstance you did come across one, you should slowly back off, never losing eye-contact.

Gwyber is Welsh for viper or adder, and though those are small snakes, the Gwyber is more. It can travel on land or in water, and it can move silently. It eats fish, and when it is really hungry it will slither onto dry land or swoop down from the sky and devour small sheep and other animals.

Actually, although many believe the Gwyber resembles a dragon (and dragons are wonderful and beautiful creatures), the Gwyber is really a much-scaled, scarred wyvern, and some have feathered wings. [If you want to know the difference(s) between a dragon and a wyvern, see my article here].  Now, the Gwyber is really a cross between a long snake and a wyvern, and it stands about 7 feet tall (2 meters), is green or grey in colour, and is easily camouflaged, virtually unseen. Some say they can actually become invisible.

Oh, and you should know, they have long teeth; long, long fangs which drip poisonous venom and which can kill. It can spit that venom, too.

There is a story, that a long time ago local residents of Penmachno [just ten miles south-west from where I live a Capel Curig], the villagers and farmer were being harassed by the Gwyber, a most monstrous beast who devoured the villagers livestock, and so they offered a large sum of money to anyone who could kill the foul beast.

Up stood a young man by the name of Owen Ap Gruffydd. Owen, who lived nearby but in the mountains did his research and visited a local wise man called Rhys Ddewin who told him that his chances of defeating the Gwyber were non-existent, and that he would receive a fatal bite from the creature. Owen left, depressed and greatly worried.

The following day, Own visited Rhys Ddewin for advice, again, but this time Owen was dressed as a vagrant. He told the wise man of his plan, and Rhys Ddewin , again told him, that he would lose the battle, fall, and suffer a broken neck. Owen left, even more depressed, and even more worried.

The day after that, Owen went back to the wise man, enquired about his chances of killing the creature. Owen was dressed, now, like a miller. Rhys Ddewin, freely gave him advice about the Gwyber, and concluded that the young miller would die by drowning.

Owen could bear it no more, and pulled of his miller-worker’s disguise, and became angry with Rhys Ddewin. ‘Three times I’ve visited you, Rhys Ddewin, and each time you’ve given me a different prediction regarding my own demise’, Owen shouted.

Rhys Ddewin just smiled sadly and said, ‘We will see. Time will tell’.

Owen was a young man, fearless, and maybe a wee bit stubborn, and he ran out of Rhys Ddewin’s cottage at Penmachno, and set off down the alley in search of the Gwyber, to kill it.

The valley was steep, indeed, and as Owen was striding across some rocks, the Gwyber struck, swooping down from the sky, flapping its tremendous wings. Without warning, the Gwyber bit poor Own on the neck. Owen fought back bravely, and lashed out wildly with his sword. So wildly that Owen slipped on the rocks. He fell awkwardly, with such a force that he hit his head and he heard the most gruesome snap – like a branch breaking, as his neck broke. Owen rolled on those slippery rocks, and fell into the deep, fast-slowing river at the foot of the valley, and drowned.

When Owen’s lifeless body was discovered by his friends, they set off to kill the Gwyber. After several hours of searching, they found the Gwyber on the bank of the river, wounded, bloodied, exhausted, half-dead thanks to Owen’s battle with it, but not quite dead. With a blood-curdling scream the Gwyber lunged at them. They each let loose a hail of arrows, and the creature fell backwards, plunged into the river and was never, ever seen again.

The people of Penmachno were pleased that Owen and his friends, by working together, had killed the creature, but were saddened that the good fight had had an enormous cost to dear Owen.

Even to this day the people of Penmachno, it is said, rarely venture into the nearby national park at dusk – Gwydir national park – alone, for fear of encountering the Gwyber. Ah, the Gwyber! Ah, in Gwydir!

Celtic Thought: ‘Walking In Dark Times’. Delivered Under The Similitude Of A Dream

20170203-walking-in-dark-times-celtic-thought-jpgAnd in my dream, I dreamed that you and I were on a circuitous journey, sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. Life!

‘Not all those who wander are lost.’  J R R Tolkien

We walked on carefully. And as we walked, we suddenly found ourselves in a valley, but horrors abounded there. On either side of the narrow path was a quagmire of foul-smelling and bubbling mud that would afford no foothold if one fell into it. Putrid was the word that sprang to mind. It is said that many a good person lost his footing in this valley, fell into the swamp, and was never heard of again, having died a slow, painful and miserable death.

The path got narrower, and we had to walk behind each other, but in such a way as to link our arms to give ourselves greater stability. We moved along very slowly now, helping each other for fear of falling into the swamp. Dark, brooding, and menacing clouds hung over the valley, blotting out all sunlight. It seemed like twilight was descending, yet it was midday. If negativity could be felt, then it seemed all around us. Haunting us. We slowed our pace even more, took more care, and worked together.

The wind howled making a deafening noise, and we had to shout to each other even though we were so close. The wind distorted our voices. We could hardly recognise each others voice.

‘All who hate me whisper together against me; Against me they devise my hurt, saying, ‘A wicked thing is poured out upon him…’, Psalm 41:7-8a, The Book

Suddenly I heard a whisper in my ear, a low rasping kind of voice, ‘If you jump, Mr Christian, it will all be over and you won’t feel so miserable’, and then from my left side, as if coming out of the swamp I heard something – for it didn’t sound human – say, ‘You’re going the wrong way, turn back. It’s safer. Only difficulty lies ahead’.  From my right side, another gloating voice seemed to say, ‘Everybody is going the other way, you fool; only you are heading this way, and you’re all alone. Give up!’.

And, then you heard whispers – I could tell from your face. ‘You have to trust me, dear Druid. I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m your best friend, you know’, it said. ‘Now release your hands and go it alone. Your friend will be okay alone. Besides, they might trip and pull you into the swamp’ it continued. And, another guttural voice  said: ‘You’re journey is a waste of time. They won’t even let you in. Even as we speak they’re building a wall – you’ll be separated from your friend, forever’.

We carried on, helping each other, regardless, and holding tightly to each other, and gazing toward the horizon – sometimes seeing the glow of a light just below horizon.

‘Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.’ Henry St. John

After what seemed like several hours, the clouds became lighter, the wind dropped, and the path grew wider. The voices could be heard, but only in the far distance. Almost leaving the valley, tired by the journey so far, upset by the whispers from the quagmire we sat down, exhausted – physically and mentally.

We looked back along the way we had come. In the distance we were grief-stricken to hear those evil whispers engaged in enticing others – such as Mr Worldly, Miss Gullible, and Mrs Easily-Fooled. One by one, and by no fault of their own, they fell into the swamp. But we knew there was nothing we could do at this moment but continue onward – such help for others would come later.

It was time to give thanks. We looked at each other, sat down, and a slight mist seemed to envelope us. A ‘thin place’? We wanted to light the candle to represent our gratitude at coming through that dark valley – which we later found out was aptly named ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. We spoke about who should pay homage first by lighting the candle and who should go second? We only had one candle, and each wanted to perform a ritual of thanks that darkness had been overcome by the Light.

We knew that if we hadn’t worked together, and kept focussed on the way ahead, we would have perished, and so we shared that candle – each of us alternating in giving gratitude to the Christ-Who-Is-All-In-All, and you to the Ubiquitous-Source-Of-All. We also shared a small meal, and laughed at having overcome, together.

‘Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.’ Maya Angelou

In the mist that sounded us, it seemed that we both could hear another whisper – not one of those rasping, evil whispers; but a lighter, melodic, uplifting voice this time, whispering the word ‘love’, ‘love’, ‘love’, over and over again. We laughed even more – realising that in the face of whispering lies from negative places, each person of (any) faith must work together for the good; and love, love, love really does conquer all, difficult though the times might be.

[With apologies to John Bunyan for ‘borrowing’ part of his work ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, and adapting it]

 

The Last Word On The Clackitt’s Wood Mysterious Light: About The Canwyll Corff: Tadhg’s Journal

20170130-canwyll-corff-tadhgs-journal-3You may remember that about a week and a half ago I wrote an article about three encounters one night in Clackitt’s Wood: one encounter was with a stout, aged, farmer-friend of mine; another with a super-fit friend, called Ben who was out jogging; and the third encounter was the oh-so mysterious bright light in the woods. <See here for details>.

Ofcourse, the light was the really mysterious encounter, or near encounter, as it disappeared as I got close. What was it?

I thought, and wrote, that it might have been Mallt-y-Nos (a mythological hag that, it was said, frequented deserted places and who carried a lantern, and rode a horse with the Cŵn Annwn, spectral hounds). I loved those stories as a child, but even as an adult the stories never quite go away – always remembered. In such myths, which many dismiss out of hand, there is always a truth to discern.

Now, after doing even more research and speaking to some older, and wise locals, I think that that mysterious light I witnessed on the night of 19 January could have been a Canwyll Corff.

Ah, the Canwyll Corff.  Only a myth?

‘Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence…’ Italo Calvino

Canwyll Corff [pronounced can-noo-will-korf], is literally the ‘corpse candle’ (sometimes known as death candles) of Welsh legend. I’m told they don’t actually look like candles – more like glowing balls of light which hover above the ground. Today, many might call them orbs, and such mysterious appearances signified an impending death.

Ah, the Canwyll Corff. Only a myth? Consider these two old(er) stories:

In January 1872, it is said that a farm labourer returning home to his farm near Llangynidr saw a light coming towards him, and several yards behind it, a funeral procession. He moved to one side of the country lane to allow the procession past, only to notice that the bearers and mourners made no footprints in the snow. Several days later a neighbour of his died.

Some 80 years ago an elderly lady who had lived in that area all her life, made the claim that she had seen every Canwyll Corff  light going to the churchyard before every funeral procession in her lifetime.

Ah, the Canwyll Corff. Only a myth?

It is said, that one night in Pontfaen, a schoolmaster was walking home, when he saw a Canwyll Corff in the distance. He followed it quite some way, until it reached the graveyard in Llanferch-Llawddog. There, the light disappeared. The following day, he was in his classroom teaching, when an almighty noise from the attic above him, startled teacher and pupils alike. Upon inspection everything in the attic seemed in it’s place – nothing had fallen. Several hours later, sadly, the teacher received news that one of his pupils had died.

Ah, the Canwyll Corff. Only a myth?

There’s just one more story – my recent encounter – about the Canwyll Corff I witnessed – if indeed that is what is was, on 19 January 2017:

On that night I saw a brilliant yellow-green light some 200 feet away from me, through the dense forest of Clackitt’s Wood. I walked toward it. The air was colder than ever, the fog masked the exact location of the light until I got to within about fifty feet of it. At about forty feet from it – and the light source seemed about eight foot wide – it went out!

I’ve written about what it could have been, but I now wonder if it could have been a canwyll corff, a corpse candle apparition? I’ve since discovered that on 22 January, just three days after that mysterious-light encounter, sadly, a man fall to his death while climbing in Snowdonia – not too far away.

Ah, the Canwyll Corff. Only a myth? What do you think?

 

The Mystery Thickens In Clackitt’s Wood: Tadhg’s Journal

20170124-mystery-thickens-2-tadhgs-journal-1Today, prompted by a number of emails in response to my article of a few days ago about a mysterious light I encountered in the night in Clackitt’s Wood, I went back to investigate further.

I wasn’t a coward.  Honest. It’s just that my grandchildren were visiting and so I took them along. [You will be even more loved by me if you tell me I look too young to have grandchildren].

‘It’s the unknown that draws people.’  E A Bucchianeri

They love Clackitts’s Wood, as much as I did when I was a wee lad, and I still love this ancient and mysterious place. This place frequented by Celts and Druids of old, and still is (if you include me, and probably others).

On our ‘hunting’ for the truth – the truth is out there (someone said on tv) – we past  Y Goeden Mellt, lightning tree, see here.

Further on we came to the clearing where I saw that weird light that night, see here.

The grandchildren went even further on, as I pondered, walked around the area to see if anything suspicious was evident. I’ve read the newspapers about UFO in remote parts of the UK and the ‘jury is still out’ as to whether these things exist , but there were no scorch marks on the ground, no crop circle-like marks, nothing odd, nothing there.

The grandchildren were playing on trees, and really enjoying themselves, some two hundred or so feet away – close enough to be heard, but only just seen, and they were gleefully calling out to me, getting a little upset that I seemed to have hung back for no apparent reason. I eventually gave up the evidence-gathering exercise. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, it seems.

‘Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.’ Sherlock Holmes

So I went to rendezvous with the grandchildren, taking the most direct route (whereas, when they had left me minutes before, they had taken a circuitous route). And, here are two mysteries.

The first mystery: It was then that I noticed that on either side of my more direct route to meet up with my grandchildren, that low branches had been broken, and on trees in my path that I had to move around. Broken branches, as though a pack of hounds had run through.

We have foxes in the area, but nothing bigger that I know of.

Some still talk of the Cŵn Annwn [pronounced ‘kuhn an own’], literally, hounds of Annwn, and the latter is the underworld. This story was told when I was a young boy and I loved those stories. The  Cŵn Annwn were spectral hounds, were most fearsome and were to be avoided if your heard them in the distance at night. Ofcourse,  it’s just a myth. Or is it?

Myth serves a useful purpose. Based or encapsulating a truth they can instruct us today for those ready to listen and take it to heart. Living in a ‘scientific’-based culture, as we now do, we have to work ‘overtime’ to sort out the truth from the fiction that surrounds the story. Usually, many people ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’, remove much truth and magic, and what is left is the bare bones. ‘Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember’, said Galdriel in Lord Of The Rings.

‘Myths which are believed in tend to become true.’ George Orwell

But, I couldn’t think how hounds could emit  that mysterious light…but there were spectres, so who knows? As soon as I finished that thought, and remembering the old stories about them, I remembered the story of Mallt-y-Nos [pronounced ‘malty noss’], Matilda of the Night. She was another phantom, an old crone, who would ride with the Cŵn Annwn, and she carried a lantern! So, if you believe ancient myth, the mystery was solved, and it was Mallt-y-Nos and Cŵn Annwn running to and fro’. Ofcourse, it’s just a myth. Or is it?

I carried on walking, to meet up with the grandchildren, not saying a word about Cŵn Annwn or Mallt-y-Nos as I didn’t want to scare them – but I did love those stories when I was there age – and, there they were running through the very same over-arching trees that I used to play on (or maybe their ‘ancestor-trees), and they were calling each other to go the ‘the door’.

‘Children see magic because they look for it.’ Christopher Moore

Now, that’s interesting and this is the second mystery: As  a child, I and my friends saw these two trees as doors to other worlds (and I think we were all fans of Lost in Space and similar sci-fi tc programs and used our childish imaginations a lot). We called these two trees Drws i fyd arall [pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’], meaning the door to other worlds, see here.  And here were my grandchildren, without any prompting, calling the trees Y drws, ‘the door’. Close enough, I thought.

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ Roald Dahl

Do you think locations can have ‘memories’? That the ‘magic’ of an ancient place can linger and be ‘picked up’ by others who are receptive? And if so, was it that that I witnessed when I saw that light? Or was it the spirit of the place, the Awen at play? Or, Mallt-y-Nos and Cŵn Annwn going through that ‘door’ to who knows where? Perhaps the underworld? Or could it be a ‘thin place’, a place, time and/or even where the veil between Heaven and earth is ‘thin’, and the Other is palpable?

‘There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception’. Aldous Huxley.

The mystery thickens. Any thoughts?

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Rowan Tree [21 January – 17 February]

20170120-rowan-tree-month-ephemera-222Today is the last day of the Birch tree month, and tomorrow, Saturday, 21 January 2017  is the first day of the Celtic month of the Rowan tree.

So, here’s some information about the tree, the month, folklore, and some encouragement to do something to celebrate the new month, the month of the Rowan tree.

Name: The name ‘Rowan’ tree is recorded from 1804, and before that it was known as the ‘rountree’, though going further back it is derived from the old Germanic verb ‘raud-inan’, meaning ‘to redden’, in reference to the trees wonderfully red berries.In Old English the tree was known as the cwic-beám, and some, maybe a very few, still refer to the tree as the quicken, or the quicken-tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou’lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,
Thy flow’rs the simmer’s pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a’ the countryside.Oh! Rowan Tree.

Part of a traditional Scottish poem/song, by Carolina Oliphant. She was descended from Clan Oliphant, an old family which had settled in Perthshire in the 12th century.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-800px-rowan_tree_20081002bAbout the tree: Rowan trees occur widely throughout Europe, in western Asia in Russia and the Caucasus region, in north Africa in the mountains of Morocco, and in north America (where they may be called the Mountain Ash).

They are fast-growing trees, a short-lived pioneer tree in the rose family, Rosaceae. They reach a maximum height of about 10-15 metres. The flowers blossom after the leaves have appeared, usually around May or early June. They’re  creamy-white in colour. Individual flowers have a diameter of about 1 cm, and they grow in dense clusters or corymbs, each containing up to 250 flowers, and measuring 8-15 cm. across. The strong, sweet scent attracts pollinating insects, including many species of flies, bees and beetles.

The Rowan tree is a tough tree. It is a strong wood that has been used to make spinning wheels, spindles and walking sticks over the years.

rowan-druidess-alexandre_cabanel_004Celts & Druid views: Held by many of the ancients, Celts and Druids to be sacred, the Rowan tree was often planted in or near places of worship, and so you may find them (still) growing close to stone circles, groves, or where ley lines cross, or near houses.

Imbolc, the festival associated with the Goddess Brigid and known by some as Candlemas falls within the Rowan Tree month (in about ten days time), and is another time for celebration.

Rowan was the prescribed wood on which runes were, and still are, inscribed to make rune staves.

Folklore: The Rowan tree is said to be one of the most protective of all trees, and is first and foremost a protection against negative influences. The Rowan has protected homes for centuries, and many today are delighted to see a Rowan tree (or several) growing nearby houses.

According to folklore, the dragon is the Rowan tree guardian. It appears frequently in Celtic myth often depicted as a snake-like creature or a worm. When the dragon swallows its own tale it symbolizes immortality, which is another attribute of the Rowan tree feature.

The Rowan is yet another tree sacred to Brigid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, patron of crafts and spinning.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-rowanberries_in_late_august_2004_in_helsinkiGreek mythology tells us  how Hebe, the goddess of youth, dispensed rejuvenating ambrosia to the gods from her magical chalice. When, through carelessness, she lost this cup, the gods sent an eagle to recover it. The feathers and drops of blood which the eagle shed in the  fight with the demons, who had the cup, fell to earth, where each of them turned into a Rowan tree. Hence the Rowan trees leaves took on the shape from the eagle’s feathers, and the appearance of its berries from the droplets of blood.

In Norse mythology it is regarded as the tree from which the first woman was made, (the first man being made from the Ash tree). It was also said to have saved the life of Thor by bending over a fast-flowing river in the Underworld which was sweeping him away, and helped him back to the shore.

Celebration: The way in which some celebrate, in ritual, the beginning of each Celtic month is many and varied. Whichever way you celebrate, I would encourage you (particularly if you’ve never set out to celebrate the new months) to, at least:

  • make yourself a drink to sip and enjoy (wine, coffee, hot chocolate, water etc) to get into the mood of peace and calm, and to make this a good, comfortable and blessed time, and
  • with your eyes closed, let your thoughts quieten, and meditate deeply on giving thanks for the month that has ended (and maybe list, mentally, some of the good things), and to think ahead to the new month (and maybe, think (but, don’t worry) about some of the challenges ahead and where energy will be needed – it’s okay to ‘drift’ in and out of meditation, here, and
  • because the Rowan tree is the tree for protection and positive energy, do something relevant, maybe lighting a candle, seeing its energy displayed as light, and imagine/prayer/send protective energy to where it is needed (in your life, in the life of your family or friends, or anywhere in the world or cosmos, and
  • when you come to the end of this time, extinguish the candle, but take a few minutes to contemplate the new month in a positive way.

Happy Rowan tree month to you and yours, Tadhg.

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