I’ll Show You Something To Make You Change Your Mind: Perception

20181211 ILL SHOW YOU SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND PERCEPTION

I’m still in London and it looks as though I’ll be here until after Christmas, when I’ll then journey back to Wales for a while. It’s easy to understand Wales as the land of ‘myth and magic’, for that is was it is, but what of London?

The world exists as you perceive it.
It is not what you see, it is how you see it.
It is not what you hear, but how you hear it.
It is not what you feel, but how you feel it.

Rumi

London is a bustling modern city of more than eight million people, a ‘powerhouse’ of activity and trade and modern buildings that reach to the sky. But, there’s more.

Look deeper, and it too is a place of ‘myth and magic’, and I do believe wherever you are, if you scratch below the surface (metaphorically) there is more there than meets the eye.

Look at it one way, here, and you see a twenty-first century, modern city, perceive it afresh and you also see, almost seemingly superimposed onto it, a place that is altogether otherworldly of which many people only get glimpses that are fleeting and easily ‘drowned out’ by modern life. But, not you.

Let me take you by the hand and
Lead you through the streets of London
I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.

‘Streets of London’, song, 1969, Ralph McTell

‘Myth and magic’ all around us, around me, around you wherever you are? Take for instance, the story of Bran. Bran the Blessed, sometimes called Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, which means ‘ Blessed Raven’ in Welsh). He was a giant, a king of renown in Britain as recorded in the Mabinogion.

In one of the many battles mentioned in the Mabinogion, only seven men survived the battle, and they are told by a mortally wounded Bran to cut off his head. The story goes that they did this and (as sometimes happens in these ancient stories) Bran’s head continued to speak for some considerable time. Once silent, and some time later, the seven men take Bran’s head to (what is thought to be Grasshold Island, near Dyded in Wales).

There, they and the head remain for eighty years without perceiving the passage of time. They are later instructed to take Bran’s head to London, to White Hill where it is to be buried. Once there, they buried Bran’s head, and the thought was then, that because of that act the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. This is a wonderful story full of great meaning, imagery, ‘myth and magic’.

‘We are not makers of history. We are made by history’. Martin Luther King Jr

But, what of modern London?

Nearby is Subways (food), the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (food), and Wagamama’s (always my favourite food places, but I really don’t always have food on my mind) and there are many offices, tower blocks, businesses; and nestling along the bank of the River Thames on one side, the approach to Tower Bridge, Petty Wales, and the A3211 road and Tower Hill underground station on the other sides is the site of the Tower of London. This is one of my favourite historical sites in London.

That site, surrounded by ancient buildings and with other notable places within such as the Executioner’s Mound, the Torture Room and Traitors Gate, has, at its centre the actual Tower of London complex. The significant building there, built on a small hill (or mound) is the White Tower, built is the early 1080’s.

Could the White Tower be built on White Hill as mentioned in the Mabinogion? I like to think so, that there is a connection.

There is a long superstition, and if you’ve visited the Tower of London then the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower will also tell you, that the ravens that hop around the grounds are important. Whilst they remain within the grounds of the Tower of London the Kingdom would be protected against all foreign invasions and the country would remain and not fall. Does that sound familiar?

Could the promise of protection for the realm be connected to Bran’s head and that ancient story, and the promise made when it was buried? I like to think so, especially as Bran’s proper name of Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd, means ‘Blessed Raven’ in Welsh.

There is a connection.

Brans head, I believe is buried there, the promise was given then, and still operates, perhaps conditional on the ravens, a reminder of Bran, remaining in the grounds of the Tower of London. Fortunately, the ravens have never left the Tower of London by their on accord and never will! Thus,  the realm is safe. There is some irony here.

Again, those who have visited the Tower of London and have heard the Yeoman Warders recite the myth will know that the wings of the ravens are ‘clipped’. The birds can hop, but not fly, and because of that the promise of the country’s safety is guaranteed against any foreign invasion.

‘It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope’. Ursula. Le Guin

And, so I’m still in London, a place of unbridled myth and magic, a place where another realm seems to operate unknown the many business workers that travel in daily, and I suspect that that is the same wherever you are, if you ‘scratch below the surface’, perceive afresh and suspend that twenty-first materialism that so easily clings to us and blinds us. If we don’t look anew we will only see the same mundane view; but if we look anew, perhaps using our imagination, then a whole new world, a world of both the physical and spiritual opens up, for, there is really more, oh so much more around us than meets the eye.

‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Matthew 7.7, The Book

Look around your locality. What do you see? Now take another look. Use your imagination. Take your time. Pause. Relax. Look deeper, and then deeper still. What do you really see?

 

Tales From The Heart(h): The Fae. Mystery & Meaning

20180930 THE FAE MYSTERY & MEANING TALES FROM THE HEARTH

We all love stories. The Ancients, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others also loved to tell stories and parables, and within them, and sometimes they can be the simplest of stories, we can find unspoken secrets and deep truths that benefit and enrich us. Buried treasure awaits the discerning reader.

My grandmother loved to tell me stories. One day, and I must have been about five of six years old, after a long day of playing with friends in the Welsh countryside, after the evening meal, I sat close to the hearth, nestled against her rocking-chair and got comfortable, ready for another story of hers that would transport me who knows where.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…’. Albert Einstein.

She said: There was once a young man who lived by himself in a cottage. It had a thatched roof, a big grandfather clock in the hall, a huge hearth, and in the garden there were so many roses near the house and so many trees at the far end of the garden. Just like this house.

I wondered. Could this be the very house in the story? My childhood imagination ran riot.

She continued. One night, on a night just like this one, the young man heard a noise outside the kitchen door. It was a well-known fact that for country-folk the usual entrance to a house was through the kitchen door and not the front door. The young man opened the kitchen door.

He couldn’t see anyone in the dark, and called out, ‘Who’s there?’. Was he startled?

Oh yes. From the ground, yes the ground a melodic voice replied, ‘It is room that we need to dress our children.’ The young man opened the door fully, and in walked a dozen fae (fairies), incredibly small – about five inches high – and each carried a tiny baby in their arms.

They began to search for an earthen pitcher with water and settled by the hearth with its roaring fire; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing their infants and adorning themselves. Just before dawn they went away, leaving some money for the young man on the hearth as a reward for his kindness.

After this the young man used to keep the hearth burning all night long, left a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, each day. He knew he should remove everything made of iron before going to bed, and he knew that these visitations were a secret between him and the fae.

I wondered: would there be any money on the hearth tomorrow morning?

‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Oscar Wild

My grandmother said, the fae would often visit the young man’s cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. It happened so often that he was able to give up working, and he lived quite comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Folk.

Some years later he took a lovely young lady from the village to be his wife. Once she had married him she became concerned that the money he seemed to have in abundance was from foul means. But he refused to tell her, and, ofcourse, this made her more inquisitive.

‘I’m worried that you don’t get it honestly,’ she said to him. The young man tried to convince her that there was nothing dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace. ‘If I tell you, they’ll never come back and I’ll never get any more money’, he said.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘then it’s the fairies.’ He admitted that it was the fae, and being somewhat annoyed at revealing the fact, he promptly took himself off the pub for a pint of the finest beer and a smoke of tobacco.

When he returned home that evening, he tended the fire, put out a vessel of water and left bread on the table, but the next morning the water and bread was still there. And, there was no money.

His wife was sitting in the garden, and called to him as she had spied the fae leaving, but by the time he arrived they had gone – never to be seen again.

Sometimes, my grandmother said to me that it shows that hospitality is important, the good deeds are rewarded, and that it is best to keep a secret (unless it is a harmful one).

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Book, Hebrews 13:2

Ofcourse, to many people the fae are just make-belief stories. But, perhaps they live on in the just-as-real imaginal realm, and perhaps cross-over into this realm when someone truly believes in them. Or, perhaps the real meaning is in the story about the fae. A moral? What do you think?

Interestingly, in a few day’s time one (or more) of the Cottingley fairy photographs is to be auctioned.

About five photographs were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. And the photographs showed the girls in the company of the fae. Sir Arthus Conan Doyle and others were convinced the photographs were real and used the photographs at various public events. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

I wonder? Fake photographs or not?

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table. Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’ Diane Ackerman

Many years later the girls, now much older, admitted the photographs were fake, and were cut-outs propped-up with hatpins. However, there’s a twist, as one of the women then changed her mind and said that at least one of the photographs were real evidence of fairy visitation. You can read more about that here.

There is an ancient belief in the fae, especially in Wales and Ireland, but also elsewhere. The ancients Celts and Druids believed in them (or similar) though descriptions and their names may have changed. But, it seems to me that many people believed in the fae because of the Cottingley photographs and many more wanted to believe. There is a real spiritual hunger and a desire to look behind what we think is real to see the realm beyond. Real or not, the photographs point to a longing for them to be real. I do believe my grandmother believed fervently in the fae. And, what of the meaning behind the story of the fae? Wise men and women, sages throughout the years have told stories and parables to illustrate a truth. It makes you wonder. Doesn’t it?

Could it also be that the photograph(s) about to be auctioned in the UK are part of the same (or similar)  story  that my grandmother told, or just a co-incidence?

‘Never stop wandering into wonder.’ Suzy Kassem

I wonder.

 

‘Tis Mystery All’. Living With The Unknown In An Age Of ‘Must Know’

20180804 TIS MYSTERY ALL LIVING WITH THE UNKOWN IN AN AGE OF MUST KNOW

I’m in London and it’s still hot – heatwave weather. Earlier I took myself off to the local park and that’s where I am now. In the bustle of a busy city, I’m sitting in the shade of a mighty oak tree, with a coffee nearby, a good book, and eyes that are half closing in the heat of the day, as my mind begin to wander. I wonder…

‘Hamlet: And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ William Shakespeare

It is on hot, balmy days that much musing takes place. Have you noticed how, in ancient text, in those hot lands of old that Divine contact usually took place near or under trees, where men and women were resting from the day’s heat and perhaps were more ‘open’ to the numinous.

‘Then God appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent. And Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw three men standing nearby…’ Genesis 18:1-2a, The Book

It was many years ago, and I suppose I was six or seven years old at that time, that my grandmother told a story to me one evening. We were at the far end of her garden, sitting in the shade of an old, mature, gnarled oak tree, an oak tree unlike the many others in her garden. Quite similar to this oak tree in this city park. It, too, was a hot August evening. My eyes were half-closed, then, and my imagination ran riot.

She told the story of ‘the lights’ in the wood, which she described like fire-flies, but as she would say, ‘there’s more to it than that’, or just ‘there’s more’. She said that several years ago she had been walking in the nearby woods once evening and out the corner of her eyes she spied several lights in the distance, gaily dancing. Luminous green orbs they were. She said she wasn’t afraid as she seemed enveloped in an almost palpable peace. As she drew near, she said, the lights just disappeared. I was enthralled. Even at that young age it got me wondering.

She went on to say that they might have been the spirits of the place, or tree spirits, and as she said that she winked at me. Was that a ‘knowing wink’ meaning that I should take what she had said to heart? Or was it a ‘make your own mind up’, kind of wink?

‘One day you might find out…but then you might not’, she said enigmatically. ‘It’s the journey that counts…’. Perhaps, nature or the One behind it all gives us a periodic ‘wake up’ call?

’Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ Hebrews 1:1, The Book

That was then.

Now, I know that the ancient Celts, Druids and Romans did have a belief in the spirits of the place, protectives spirit, the genii loci as they called them. They had a deep and abiding belief in such a spirit in each location with its own perspective and mannerism. Today, we might laugh at such a notion, but admit that, at times, we do ‘feel’ at home in certain places, but then dismiss it as nothing more than an emotional feeling. A shallow view of the genii loci when compared to our ancestors.

But suppose the Celts, Druids, Romans, and not forgetting my grandmother, suppose they were right, and our disbelief is nothing more than twenty-first century ‘distancing’ and scepticism?

I also remembered, at that time, her saying that the lights might, indeed, be the Will-O-The-Wisp. And as I look back now I wonder if that was what I saw, once.

’Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.’ Neil Armstrong

About eighteen months ago I wrote that a few years ago I went for a night stroll in the local woods. I can’t remember now if it was a problem getting to sleep or being woken up in the early hours and unable to get back to sleep. But I went for a walk. Then I wrote: My thoughts were then interrupted by a brilliant bright yellow-green light, visible some 200 feet away through dense forest. The mysterious light had piqued my interest, and once again my heart rate quickened. I sat there watching it. It made no noise. It never seemed to move. After about fifteen minutes of sitting there, wondering what it could be and not drawing any logical conclusion, I got to my feet and slowly moved towards the direction of the light.

Then, 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! No sound! No light. I stopped. After a few minutes I carried on walking, gauging my steps so that I’d have a rough idea of walking some forty feet. After forty feet, I stopped. I must have been right on top of the light source, and for the next few minutes looked around for evidence of what had caused the bright light – but I could see nothing untoward. A mystery.

So, now I’m wondering: Will-O-The-Wisp or dryads?

’It is the dim haze of mystery that adds enchantment to pursuit.’ Antoine Rivarol

Years ago, under that oak tree, my grandmother pondered if it could have been the Will-O-The-Wisp or a dryad, that is, a tree spirit, or the spirit of the place. Who knows?

Perhaps somethings are just too mysterious. Interestingly (as I was then sitting under an oak tree, as I am now), there is much to say that trees, and especially Oak trees have a spirit associated with them. When you think oak, think dryad or a similar term, drys. And, as regards the oak tree, think Druid. Drys signifies ‘oak’ in Greek, and dryads are specifically the spirits of oak trees, whilst the dryads of ash trees were called the Meliae.

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

So, as I open my eyes fully on this still-oh-so-hot London day I am now no nearer solving the challenge: Did I witness a dryad, the Will-O-The-Wisp, the Canwyll Corff [pronounced can-noo-will-korf] that is, the ‘corpse candle’ (see here), or something else? Was it in this physical realm or in the imaginal? Did it have a specific meaning or was it a ‘nudge’ just to prompt me into a state of awareness?

Maybe, the ‘message for me and perhaps you, is that we might need to wonder (more)?  To have a beginner mind as Buddhists say, to be born again and again and again, to see through the eyes of a child maybe needed? It’s the journey that is important, and as we journey onward it is perception, wonder, mystery and awe that, perhaps, we can open ourselves to, and profit from (more).

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ William Blake

My grandmother, always ready to listen (as well as tell stories), would often conclude her stories by saying to me, ‘Now, what do you think, dear one?’

 

An Encounter With Vulpes Vulpes In London: Nature In An Urban Environment

20180619 AN ENCOUNTER WITH VULPES VULPES

Last night was one of those evenings where it occurred to me that I had been sedentary for far to long.

It was approaching midnight, and I had emailed a few urgent emails, completed a liturgy for an upcoming handfasting of two wonderful people, had watched the football on tv, and had just picked up a book to read. Sedentary, that the thought that occurred to me. It was if my whole body was experiencing restless leg syndrome and not just my legs, and it yearned for movement.

The best option seemed to be to go for a walk, and that’s what I did.

I’m back in the city, in my small ground floor maisonette in a central London borough, which nestles very close to the River Thames. I am surrounded by city parks, an abundance of wonderful cafes, and densely packed housing, And so, with the thought of movement in mind, I strode manfully out of the door at midnight.

’Solvitur ambulando.’ A Latin phrase meaning, ‘It is solved by walking.’

The streets, well at least the side streets, here, and not the main road in the distance, were deserted, empty of people and devoid of moving cars. It felt great to be in the city and yet have space to myself. Surrounded by thousands of people and yet no one in sight. Oh the people were there. Inside their houses, curtains drawn, and in some the light from the tv flickering away was perceptible, but only just, as I walked by.

I thought I might walk towards Parsons Green, and to get there I’d have to walk down a long, well-lit side street. It had now just gone midnight, and I was half way along that street, and it felt, unnervingly, as if I was being watched. I purposely stopped, looked around, expecting to see a stalker or some ne’er-do-well, but saw nothing. No one.

’Being a nocturnal creature myself, I often find myself in dark alleys or strange places late at night. If there were werewolves around, I’d be likely to run into them, being the night owl that I am.’ Dean Ambrose

I continued walking, and still the feeling of being watched persisted. I carried on walking and the line of cars parked either side of the road ended. I was passing by a school and the road marking prohibited parking at that point. I walked on about thirty paces further on, giving enough time for my stalker to be denied the shelter of parked cars, and I stopped, turned around in the most untimid manner I could muster, and faced my stalker. And, there he was.

Vulpes Vulpes.

Yes, my stalker, my ‘watcher in the night’, was a rather splendid, well-fed red fox. Fulham has many urban foxes on its street, and most can be heard, or seen, or smelled when they move about at night.

My companion was about twenty (human) paces behind me, and he too, stopped, and just looked at me. I didn’t move a muscle. Not afraid, but I didn’t want to scare this little chap away. I stopped for some time. He remained still.
Looking at me, his little head cocked to one side as if trying to solve a mystery of what I was doing. I felt the urge to do the same, but resisted it.

It is thought that there are about 150,000 foxes in the England. Here in London they scavenge their food from litter bins and so their food is usually an unhealthy diet of human food scraps, consisting of curry, chips, fish fingers and bacon butties, and as were near the Thames, maybe the odd water rat or two. Considered by man to be a nuisance, I have to admit that I am in awe of nature as it pushes back to reclaim, in part, the domain that was once solely its world. And, the fox is a particular favourite. I admit crows come a close second and they can be seen early morning and throughout the day in Fulham, but I love foxes, especially city foxes. And, this particular fox was still looking at me, and had sat down.

Did you know: The red fox is the most common type of fox, but there are about 47 different subspecies of red fox; Foxes belong to the dog family and use similar facial expressions and body postures to pet dogs, such as wagging their tails when greeting family members; Foxes have strong family ties. Young foxes often stay with their parents for a few years and help raise future cubs.

Having watched this wonderful beast for sometime I turned away and carried on walking. But only for a few paces. I stopped and deliberately turned. He had moved, about the same distance I had covered and had stopped when I had stopped, and was still twenty paces behind me. I laughed, and walked on and stopped. I turned and there he was. Twenty paces behind. I was nearing Parsons Green, and so stopped one last time, turned, and…he was gone. I felt a little loneliness creep in, having lost my companion and that feeling of being watched.

There are some who say that when humankind was in its infancy and we lived in peace with all animals, that communication between humans and animals, and vice versa, was possible. Others say that in that world of blurred boundaries, even shape-shifting was possible. Are these ideas true, or metaphorical or romantic? That’s a rhetorical question, as I don’t need an answer as I love mystery, and however we interpret those ancient-world notions, there is always something to learn.

There are some others who believe that animals that appear ‘out of nowhere’ and come unusually close to us are attracted by our inner being, our soul. Have you ever been somewhere and an animal or insect has come close, perhaps too close, and unexpectedly so, to surprise you?

Or, perhaps, they say, the animal companion (for a while) is a manifestation of our soul.

In Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy ‘His Dark Material’, Lyra Belacqua has an (external) animal representation of her (inner) soul which manifests itself as a red moth when she’s a child, but as a red-gold pine marten when she’s an adult.

Or perhaps an unexpected animal, the red fox in this case, is a messenger from That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves (and who cannot but remember those old Sunday School stories of Balaam’s donkey and its urgent spoken message?).

’We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form far below ourselves. And therein we err, and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost…living by voices we shall never hear.’ Henry Beston

Being a man in this age, ofcourse I wanted to know. And so, I researched something about the red fox, and sadly discovered that they are generally hated as a terrible nuisance on city streets. Okay, I accept in January, or thereabouts, the cry of the vixen, can sound like a baby’s cry, and can be somewhat unnerving or alarming on city streets, and the result of all those curries they eat does make a mess on the pavement – and what an awful smell! But, they are wonderful creatures.

They have lost much of their habitat to humankind (and if truth be known it is us who are a nuisance to them, as they were her first), are they are sorely misunderstood, and present no real danger. I like the idea of nature ‘pushing back’ in the city, as if to say, ‘I’m still here, and I don’t mind sharing, but just share with me, too, please’.

Understanding wild creatures is one thing, but there’s more. There is a point where we can so draw near to them that we can sense them – and I do believe that being ’watched’ feeling I had, or the surprise you might have had when an animal or inset came unusually close to you, is part of an intuitive sensing and connectedness with that animal that we might experience in short bursts, but our ancient ancestors, druids, celts and others would have experienced it much more or perhaps all the time. Lucien Levy-Bruhl, a French philosopher, calls this ‘participation mystique’ (mystical participation) and it occurs beyond our logical, rational thought processes. It is like a ‘sense’ that we have but seldom use now , but it can be increased by usage, like a muscle, if we choose to exercise it.

Foxes, I believe, are a gift from the Universe, from That Which Is Bigger Than Us, and are a reminder that nature is abundant and beneficent, ubiquitous (even in the city) and to be enjoyed, and can be understood at a cerebral and knowledge-level, but also by that ‘sensing’, by taking hold of that mystical participation of deep connectedness at a soul level that our ancestors possessed.

And so, I’m almost back home, having completed my walk. I’ve walked for almost an hour, my fox-companion is nowhere to be seen, the streets are still deserted, but I am left wondering: just a chance encounter, a shape-shifter, an outward reflection of my inner soul, or a guardian of some kind who kept me safe from an otherwise dangerous event, or a messenger from Beyond? Thank God for Vulpes Vulpes.

What was the meaning of that encounter? No, don’t answer it. I want to revel in the mystery of not knowing cerebrally, as it brings me (and us) closer to the Mystery.

 

 

Cantre’r Gwaelod, The Welsh Atlantis?: Stories From The Heart(h)

island CANTRER GWAELOD THE WELSH ATLANTIS STORIES FROM THE HEARThWe live in a mysterious universe, and on an even more mysterious planet. That mystery opens up and yields its treasure to those who are fortunate to have eyes that see and ears that hear, as it says in ancient sacred text. Mystery is ‘shy’ and only the respectful may gaze upon her.

Hy Braesil, as mentioned recently in an article, is a mysterious island that appears and disappears, allegedly, off the coast of north-west Scotland. Rather like an oceanic Brigadoon – a Scottish village that is supposed to appear for one day per century in Scotland, and which was the theme of a 1947 musical and a movie some seven years later – it is an elusive place and is yet another mystery to encourage you to visit these ancient Celtic kingdoms.

And so, as I sit here in London, in my small ‘town garden’ (a backyard?) with a glass of cold mineral water in my hand (I really like the effervescent kind), and with my eyes half closing, I begin to relax even more.

My mind ‘circles’ around the idea of water, and my imagination starts to ‘dance’, and it’s as though I’m transported back in time to grandmother Rhianwen’s cottage. There, as a wee lad,  I would sit beside the hearth in the evening, and she would tell another story. She was a seanchie, a Celtic story-teller, and a good one at that. I loved hearing her timeless, mysterious and deep stories. Stories full of meaning. And, the memory of them, even today, is pure gold.

‘There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.’ G K Chesterton

‘There was a time’, my grandmother said, ‘when there was a great city off the western coast of Wales, an island-city, but it had sunk beneath the waves some time ago’. Perhaps seeing my alarm at this she added, that it all took place in the seventh century, and so allayed my fears.  Something like that, she assured me, wouldn’t happen to Capel Curig as we’re inland, and the sea is some twenty-eight miles away. That relieved my childhood concerns, and she continued.

Her rocking chair creaked as she gently rocked back and forth, the fire in the hearth was ‘baking’ one side of my face, and so I moved from the side of the rocking chair to face her. ‘The great city’s name was Cantre’r Gwaelod’, she said. ‘It was a good mile off the mainland coast, and could be reached on foot at low tide. Then it’s gates would open, only to close as high tide approached’.

O dan y môr â’i donnau
Mae llawer dinas dlôs

Beneath the sea and its waves
Are many cities fair

But, on that particular evening one of the watchmen, whose task it was to close one of the sluice gates as the tide came up, got careless’, she said. ‘His name was Seithennin. He was madly in love with the King’s daughter, and when she got married to someone else he couldn’t bear the thought, and spent too much time in a tavern, got even more careless, and got drunk.’

‘A storm arose that night, the sea crept higher and higher, and lapped at the city wall of Cantre’r Gwaelod, but Seithennin was unaware. All the other city sluice gates had been closed, except for one – the one that Seithinnin was in charge of. He was in a deep, drunken stupor in the tavern.’

‘He was awoken abruptly by screams, and staggering out into the street, he could see water rushing toward him at great force. Sadly, Seithinnin lost his life that night. Some of the city people made it to the mainland, but the city was flooded and sank beneath the waves.’

Aeth clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
Ô’r golwg dan y dwr.

The bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
Vanished beneath the water.

My grandmother could obviously see that such an unhappy ending was perhaps too much for me, and added, ‘But, the city of Cantre’r Gwaelod was, and is, a special place. And some say a magical place. Even now, especially when a storm arises off the western coast, there are some who say they have heard music and singing, much merriment, and churchbell sounds coming from Cantre’r Gwaelod, miles out to sea.

A chlychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
Yn canu dan y dwr.

And the bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
Ringing beneath the water.

It seems’, she said and smiled, ‘that life goes on there and is eternal now, even though many on the mainland can’t see it or hear it. But some can! Yes, Cantre’r Gwaelod is a place of mystery, and some would say magic.’

Hyd fedd mi gofia’r tywod
Ar lawer nos ddi-stwr,
A chlychau Cantre’r Gwaelod
Yn canu dan y dwr.

On sand till the grave I’ll remember
Many a peaceful night
And the bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod
Ringing beneath the water.

Did Cantre’r Gwaelod actually exist? Was it a myth full of meaning? Does it matter if was a tangible place or is a spiritual place only? Sometimes, isn’t it enough to just accept mystery?

There is no solid, reliable evidence of the physical kind of this Welsh Atlantis ever having existed. But, we’re talking about Wales, and the whole of that realm is liminal, a place of mystery where anything can happen to those who look gently upon the landscape. Sometimes, the most we can hope for are imaginal-prompts, peripheral fleeting glances  or spiritual ‘glimpses’.

In 1770, a Welsh antiquarian scholar William Owen Pughe said that he witnessed sunken dwelling places about four miles off the coast of Ceredigion. And in 1846 The Topographical Dictionary of Wales described a feature of stone walls and causeways beneath the shallow waters off Cardigan Bay. Even today there are those who will tell you that they have heard the sound of many conversations on the wind that blows from that part of the sea, or have heard the bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod.

Years later, as I sit here, now, in my little garden on a balmy London evening, with my eyes now wide open and with a now empty glass in my hand, that story heartens me. It tells us that that life goes on, seen or unseen, it goes on in another realm – a place of eternal peace. Okay, Seithennin was distraught and got careless in that story, and perhaps one moral from it is that we should not neglect the day of small things (tasks), as it says in ancient sacred text, for such tasks may have the biggest effects.

‘Sin is behovely’. The Lady Julian of Norwich

But the story also assures us that we are altogether very human and that’s not a bad thing, and as humans we will sometimes make mistakes, but through them the Universe, the Source of All is able to turn them around to the benefit of all, and they become blessings.

Yes, the voice of grandmother Rhianwen, who ‘borrowed’ the words of Julian of Norwich on many occasions and reiterated them in a north Welsh accent, continues to echo in my mind, even now, and even here in London: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.

 

[The poem extracts in Welsh with an English translation, above, are from Clychau Cantre’r Gwaelod (The Bells of Cantre’r Gwaelod), a poem by John James Williams (1869-1954) who was a pastor and a poet. J. J. is his bardic name.

The Telling Place In The Age Of Binary

20170921 THE TELLING PLAE IN AN AGE OF BINARYThere was a time when I was a child, when my friends and I would take a short walk to Clackitt’s wood, stay out as late as we could – dependant on our ages and parents’ wishes – and tell each other wild stories. We would scare ourselves, and we loved it. As we sat on felled trees, someone would start the story.

‘Memory… is the diary that we all carry about with us.’ Oscar Wilde

It might be the story of the Llamhigyn Y Dwr, a creature that is said to resemble a giant frog, but with a stinger on the end of its tail, and bat wings instead of front legs. Another might remind us that it would part-fly and part-jump across lakes and land, hence its name (in English), the Water Leaper. Someone would start the story, and someone would add to that fragment of information, and sometimes someone would go back in the story to add or correct someone’s memory about the story. For instance, someone might remind the person who had just spoken that the Llamhigyn Y Dwr was, infact, said to be the size of a cow. Oh, how we scared ourselves, and became more alert to the noises and scuffles in the undergrowth. Could it be that the Llamhigyn Y Dwr was lurking nearby, watching us? As children, we loved it.

‘The imagination of early childhood has no limits. This is why children are fascinated by stories. A story has permission to go anywhere….The child rarely experiences the story as an observer. The child enters the story, it experiences the drama from within.’ John O’Donohue

Now much older, I’m sitting around a garden table in my ever-so-small, but greatly appreciated garden in London, with a few friends. This evening we’ve already shared stories of myth and magic, sometimes fragments of memories of a friends’ childhood, and sometimes more recent events, events that actually happened to someone we knew, and other stories that were fictional.

Stories are important. And more so in our electronic, computerised, fast-paced age.

The ancients, those Celts and Druids of old, knew of the benefits of stories. They would regularly meet around the village fire, in the evenings and tell stories that were, perhaps sometimes of individuals around the fire, or of ancient heroes and their ancestors, or of stories of cosmic proportions eg creation stories and/or of the tribe’s origin.

‘Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.’ Elie Wiesel

‘Do you remember when we all went fishing, and Tadhg fell in?’, one of my friends around the garden table said. They described a snapshot in time of yesteryear. I’m beyond being embarrassed by that event – yes it did happen, and I was only eight years old at the time, and I was, and still am surrounded by friends. And then another would share another fragment of memory. ‘And, yes,’ they remarked, ‘and when he was pulled him out he wouldn’t let go of the fishing rod. What a great fisherman!’.

And, bit by bit, these fragments of memory would be put together by individuals in the group to make a kind of cine film of activity, if you can imagine the old days when a movie was a long length of celluloid made up of individual frames of still pictures.

The ancients new the value of story-telling, when they met together at Telling Places. There, fragments of memory were woven together, and ‘bits’ become ‘whole’, and all added to the complete story, and all listeners were included. Fragments of memory, separate and ‘isolated’ were re-membered. The opposite of dismembered. ‘Re-joined’. Put back together again. And in community, too.

‘We keep stories alive because to re-member is to put broken pieces back together. We keep learning from stories how to make things whole.’ Mark Nepo

Telling our individual stories, or of those of our ancestors, and such stories can take the form of sharing the mundane (as if anything is mundane), of what happened a few days ago. Ofcourse, if something unusual happened, that would make a wonderful story to share with friends. But, every aspect of your life is important, and able to be shared, as your story minute by minute becomes part of the fabric of the universe and transcends time itself. Your story matters.

‘You didn’t think I would let go of a fishing rod that took me five months
pocket money to buy? I retorted to my friends. We all laughed. ‘And, I still have that rod!’

‘Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.’ Joel 1:3, The Book

Story forms community, it brings individuals into the group, it enables us to see the ‘whole picture’, very essential in an age that likes to fragmentise information eg three-point sermons all beginning with the letter Q! Stories heal, bind, enable depth, encourage laughter and other deep emotions, they alter and clear our perception, challenge and can comfort us, and cause us to wonder at The Source of All.

‘It is not by accident that the Native American medicine men put the questions to the sick who were brought to them: When was the last time you sang? When was the last time you danced? When was the last time you told your story? When was the last time you listened to the story of others?’ Mark Nepo.

And so, one of the things on my list to consider on my imminent visit to Iona, is to think deeply about story, our society, and how, as latter-day Celts and Druids we can give more weight and opportunity to the telling of stories, and encourage groups, faith groups and others to have periodic Telling places, and reap immense benefits.

It’s now late. My friends and I are still around the garden table, wine bottles empty, and we’re still telling stories, and eating the last of the cheese and biscuits. I couldn’t let my watery encounter go without adding, ‘And besides, I didn’t fall in,’ I quipped, ‘I was pulled in by the Llamhigyn Y Dwr, the Water Leaper, which was the size of a cow’. I laughed. They laughed. And as our Telling Place impromptu evening came to an end, it felt that as a group we were closer than ever to each other. Sharing. Laughing. Joy. Affirmation. Inclusion. Community. Love.

‘Every human is an artist. And this is the main art that we have: the creation of our story.’ Don Miguel Ruiz

 

An Encounter With The Voice At Drws I Fyd Arall

20170803 AN ENCOUNTER AT DRWYS I FYD ARALLThe Voice. Since the dawn of time humankind has heard that inner voice.

Some call it the voice of the imagination, self-reflection, or conscience. Others call it the whisper of an elemental or dryad, the higher self, or even the ancestors. And yet still others, particularly amongst the tribes of the middle-east today and especially so in ancient times call it the bat kohl, that is the voice of the Unseen One, and yet, interestingly, it means the ‘voice of the daughter’. Ah, The Voice. Think of the young Samuel being woken up at night by the voice (as recorded in the Book) for example, or Joan of Arc with her waking visions, or others who have been alerted to danger by a ‘whisper’. Such is the Voice.

It’s 11pm and I’m out and about in the nearby forest, not far from Capel Curig in north Wales where I live. I continued walking in the darkness and passed Y goeden mellt, the Lightning Tree (see here). As children we would all avoid Y goeden mellt – that’s the name we gave it – all would avoid it, except for me. I loved the power and mystery that both seemed to repel and invite, in equal measure.

And tonight I carried on walking through the dark forest, with flashlight in hand. It was all quiet, the sky somewhat cloudy, but dry and with only just the faint murmur of wind in the tall tree tops.

And then there they were: the bowed, arched, silver birch trees that I also remembered as a child and had frequently visited over the years: there was Drws i fyd arall.

As children we played here, imagining the arch of the trees were a portal to another place. We had all grown up with the tv program ‘Lost in Space’ and our imaginations were primed. ‘Drws i fyd arall’ was our name for that arch. It means ‘door to another world’.

Now in the presence of Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’), I remembered past times of play and awe. (See here), and now as an adult I revelled in its mystery and awe.

If places can be special, places of power, if they can be ‘thin-places’ of liminality where the veil is ‘thin’ between Here and The Other, The Source of All, then this is such a place. Yes, even as a child, without the words to describe it I was drawn to this place, and tonight I have the same feeling, but some words – but, only a few.

I sat on a moss-covered rock and looked at Drws i fyd arall  lit up in the flashlight light, and then turned the light off. It seemed disrectful to bathe such a natural beauty and ‘object’ of power in articificial white light. And so I sat there in the darkness.

A warm feeling enveloped me. Palpable. And not only an external feeling, but internal too, pervading my whole being. And then, as has happened albeit infrequently in this place in the past, I head the Voice once again (see here).

Some will say it’s only imagination, but I can only say, to me, it was and is, more, oh much more.

For this record the Voice is typed in Italics. My response is in ordinary type.

‘Sacred place. Dear one, remove your shoes and socks. Let your feet connect with the earth.’

Who are you?

‘You know me well. I’m no stranger to you and many, and I never stop speaking words of wisdom, though many do not listen.’

‘Are you the Companion, an ancestor, or some of my friends might say that you’re just my imagination?’

‘You already know the answer. You already know that I am not going to reveal more about myself. If you knew more, you would concentrate on that, rather than my words which are to follow.’

‘I understand. What is it that you want to tell me?’

‘This is for both of you?’

‘But, I’m alone here. There’s only me here’.

‘ You write online and some read. My words and for you and for those reading this. As they read it they will now that I am with them too, closer to them than their jugular vein, and like you, they will sense my presence and peace.’

‘I understand.’

‘Sacred time. You are low in your spirit, knowing both the joy of acclamation of the crowd and the distress caused by others’ correction for no good reason or their disapproval even when you do good. The latter seems to last longer and saps your energy. It doesn’t have to be this way. Your status is not governed by what you do, what others think, and not even  by what you think about yourself. Your status, and of those that will read this, is governed by the Source of All, and the opinion of the Source of All does not vary. You all are much-loved and are of infinite worth.’

‘It doesn’t feel like that sometimes, though I try to have faith and…’

‘Your feelings will change. But you are not your feelings. You all are much more. There is a life beyond ‘feelings’, where you stand, now, in your spirit if you want to ‘see’ it that way. You are correct: Faith is important. But don’t think that it’s your faith in the Source of All that keeps the world spinning or that is all important. Rather, faith does, indeed, matter, but it is the Source of All’s faith in you that matters, and that faith is total, immediate and unswerving for you all. Nothing you can do or say can diminish that faith in you, and nothing can increase it. It is already infinite, and you and those that will read this, take heart. 

‘…what is the next step?’

The path to growth is like a labyrinth. Unlike a maze, there is only one route towards the centre of a labyrinth, but seen from the centre, sometimes you will be walking away from dead centre and sometimes walking closer to dead centre. In reality each step does, indeed, take you to where you are heading, closer to the centre, though it may not ‘feel’ like it. Yes, each day you will receive ‘nudges’ to spur you and those reading this, onward, though sometimes you won’t detect them and sometimes you may feel that you have slipped, and feel down in your spirits, as you do now. Do what you believe is correct and appropriate, in love, for each situation you find yourselves in. Intentionality is important, and love always empowers and triumphs. Take heart. That is all.

‘So, who are you?’

[Silence]

Some ten minutes after this, and still sitting on the rock the ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling left me, and the sound of animals scurrying around me, and the sound of wind in the trees became evident, seemingly for the first time that night. That portal, the Presence of Drws i fyd arall had left – rather ‘it’ never really does leave us, but in (only) felt like it. The Voice is with you now.

Was it pure imagination, an elemental, an ancestor or the bat kolh, that which some call the voice of God, was it a waking-dream or tiredness getting the better of me? Does God still speak? In the stillness and silence? I make no assertions here and now, but leave it to you to decide and to ‘test the spirits’ as ancient sacred text recommends. You decide. After all, it is clear that this message was not only for me, but you as reader of this, too.

I put my socks and shoes back on, and headed home.