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!

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?

 

Celtic Mythological Beasts: Bestiary: B Is For Bwg Or Boggart. What You Need To Know About Your Invisible House Guest(s).

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Bestiary: B Is For Bwg Or Boggart: In a couple of weeks, an author whose names escapes me, has a movie prequel opening, about fantastic beasts, and it got me thinking about creatures that abound in the imaginal realm. Creatures which  may benefit you to know about – a bit of background about Celtic and Druid mythology, the Celtic world viewpoint, and ofcourse pertinent information to you. After all,  you never know who else is living in your house.

The ancient Celts and Druids lived in a time of myth and ‘magic’, and that world has receded and we now know better. Or, do we? More scientifically-orientated, ,many might view such myths as irrelevant or quant, unbelievable and, some might say nonsense. But, lift the veneer of our scientific understanding, take time to pause, and maybe there’s a whole realm of the imagination, of myth and ‘magic’ and power, bubbling away just beneath the surface, and interacting with us in ways we cannot possibly understand. After all, who doesn’t like a fairy story?

So, today, what can we learn from the Bwg or Boggart

So, here’s an outline of one Celtic mythological creature that is well-known to some in the UK, and I dare say in regions beyond. Perhaps, wherever you are, the following may apply to your locale.

Mythological Creature: The Bwg or Boggart

boggart-2-untitledName: In Wales it’s known as The Bwg (pronounced ‘boh-g’ to rhyme with rogue), but elsewhere its known as The Boggart, or as ‘Brownies’

Location: They will be found, mainly, in your house. They’ll find you. They are also throught to frequent pasture, marshes, swamps, and various watery places.

Appearance: If you’ve ever experienced light-flashes or ‘shadows’ dancing momentarily in your peripheral vision at home, that’ll probably be the Bwg  of Boggart that resides with you. Yes, it’s an interesting thought, that as you read this very page – right now – there is probably a Bwg or a Boggart, invisibly, looking over your shoulder, or maybe positioned on your desk or table, looking at you and/or the computer screen. But, don’t be alarmed.

Bwgs or Boggarts may alter from one person to the next – and your experience of them may be different to someone else’s experience – just cherish the encounter (in your minds eye).

As with anything in the imaginal realm, human perception isn’t so refined and exact. Some have described them as the size of humans, others have said palm-size. Some say they look shaggy, hairy and unkempt human-like creature, others say they can take the form of an animal (full size or in miniature). Without a doubt, your Bwg or Boggart will have a form it likes, and which it will use to relate to you. It will make itself known. It’s a shape-shifter.

Activity: The Bwg or Boggart gets ‘bad press’ in many modern-day books, and is sorely misunderstood. For instance, some authors have said the Bwg or Boggart is malevolent, and prone to making mischief around the house, such as pulling bedsheets off you during the night, hiding things, pulling your ear, or turning milk sour etc. Could it be that bedsheets are prone to fall due to the effect of gravity, sometimes we misplace things around the house, occassionally we might get an itch, and milk doesnt stay fresh forever? Yes, the Bwg or Boggart gets ‘bad press’.

In reality, the Bwg or Boggart can be regarded as something of an energetic and over-eager child. Playful. Lots of energy, eager to please, and sometimes too eager, so much so that it seems to border on the mischievous. Yes, essentially, they can be helpful around the house but can be easily annoyed. You don’t really want to do that.

Ofcourse, like a child, if you upset one, or ignore it, then it may ‘act up’, seem naughty to get your attention and make its self known, but it’s usually little ‘clumps’ of mischief around the house, and generally, nothing too serious. So, enjoy there company.

So, if things do go missing around the house it could be generally absent-mindedness on your part, but it could be that you’ve ignored or upset the Bwg or Boggart that resides with you. ‘Oh, you have ignored one, haven’t you? It’s easy to do, but don’t worry, the remedy is just as easy.

At the very least do your best to acknowledge your  resident Bwg or Boggart – speak to them but don’t give it or them a name. And, leave it a little treat around the house – maybe, a small glass of water at night (and you’ll be surprised at how much has been consumed by it during the night. Ah, you might say ‘evaporation’! But, we know better).

Popular Fiction: Bwgs or Boggarts have appeared in the writings of C S Lewis, and (misrepresented) in the works of J K Rowling and the movies of the books, and in other places.

Learning Points: What can learn from the our Bwg or Boggart? Whether we take their existence as literal, historical, fantastical, ‘romantically’ or imaginably (and therefore real), in general, I think they remind us that there is more to life than we can visibly see, and that mystery is just around the corner, metaphorically. Or, maybe it’s right under our nose, if we have noses to smell, ears to hear, and eyes to see (ie using our God-imagination and creatvity etc). And, specifically, The Bwg or Boggart enables us to ‘count to ten’, to have patience if things have gone missing around the house, to take such occurrences (and similar ones…like the milk going off etc) in our stride, and to actively enlist their support when thing seem to go awry. Love your Bwg, today!

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The Elements: In Praise Of Water

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Water.

The vast oceans, that which sustains life on Earth,
which move at the behest of the moon,
the rolling tides that contains a myriad of sea-life, from plankton to the behemoth,
that which quenches the world’s need,
and from which all nourishment is assured,
acknowledgement is given.

From clouds you pour out rain upon the Earth, and enrich it.
Mighty lakes appear from which  ancient forests of growing trees are fed,
and daily bread is produced for our table.
An abundance for many,
and a veritable gift from the Great Water-Giver.
Bountiful.

It soothes and it heals.
For when an angel’s wing sweeps
across the surface of the Pool,
then healing takes place, and there is restoration.
Health-giving.

It’s cleansing power, daily, washes the body,
and restores vitality.
A clean start. A refreshing start. A new start.
All is washed away.
And, in it celebration commences,
in appreciation, in sport, in swimming and in children’s’ play.
Joyfulness.

It quenches the soul, it nurtures the spirit;
and from those who are aware,
springs of sanctifying water flow,
and outward pour,
to friends, to enemies,
to those near, and to those far away.
To all.

Water.
Whether we have much, or little,
may the words, “Come, all. Drink. Share”, be on our lips.
Praise to the Great Water-Giver.

 

A Story For Alban Elfed: Autumn Equinox. Yeha Noha [‘Give It Back’]

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I love stories. For millennia people would have huddled around the camp fire, collectively, and heard stories of old being told by Elders; and even today, we love our stories,  albeit they’re told mainly in movies on tv or in cinemas etc, and we then lose that interactivity.

But, sometimes, just sometimes I like to get a few people together, and over a meal, tell (and listen to) metaphysical stories and myth. In 1990, when a few of us did this, we used to call these gatherings ‘Dead Poet Society’ meals, named after the movie at that time. Today, we call them ‘Telling Places’, which is much closer to what they would have been called in ancient times. Continuity.

I love stories, especially ones that are unfamiliar – as sometimes with the familiar stories, we can become complacent and miss something. For instance, in my ‘tribe’ the Creation story can seem relatively ‘simple’ – six days to create everything. But, are there two creation accounts, was there some ‘stuff’ that was pre-existing, where did the light on Day 1 come from if the sun wasn’t created until midweek, and why does it record the first man being put into a deep sleep but never woken up? And what about ‘tohu wa bohu’ found in Genesis 1:2? (It’s a great poetical, descriptive phrase, pronounced toe-hoo vah boe-hoo. You can award yourself a point if you know what it means). I have my own views on all of these – but in one sense, to answer any of these misses the point that the creation story, or, rather, creation itself is an awesome (ongoing) event, that nature is to be enjoyed and also respected; and also, it points us to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves, if we look ‘behind’ the story at its meaning.

But, by listening to unfamiliar stories we can learn about other cultures, and also our own!

So, as a mythical story (much the same as a parable) which has something at its heart that I believe we can benefit from, here’s one of my favourite creation stories. This is from the Navajo tribe. Okay, it’s not Celtic, not Christian, nor Druidic, but it does contain a truth – and truth wherever it is found is the truth, and it is relevant to us, I believe; and it does come from a people that, like the ancient Celts, Christians and Druids who were/are nature-based, and nature-respectful.

The following, then,  is a creation story, a myth, a tale about night and day, their changing lengths due to the seasons, and it is about balance – which from the Celtic, Druid point of view is very significant as we draw closer to the Alban Elfed, the Autumn equinox; that time of night/day balance, and as we ponder on balance in the wider world and our individual lives. It’s a story I will use this coming Autumn equinox.

The story:

A long time ago, when the world was only just being created, the animals separated into ‘Day animals (those that would forage and be active during the day eg dogs, lions, monkeys etc) and Night animals (those that would forage and be active at night eg owls, bears etc).

It was a time when animals could talk, and they would often play games together taught to them by the Giant who had then gone away on a journey. The animals would play the moccasin game (of hiding several moccasins in the soil, and the opposing team would guess which one contained the small ball hidden within the moccasins). It was a favourite game. Each team, the Day animals and Night animals would play, alternating games of guessing. And so it went on.

Each side would up the stakes. One side would say, if we win, then we control the river. The other side would then say, if we win, we control the weather. Until eventually, the Night animals suggested that if they win, then the world would forever experience night-time and never day-time, and so the Day animals said that if they won if would be forever day.

And, so that game started – perhaps it’s still being played today: as days grow shorter in the winter, and then night grows shorter in the summer, as each side scores more winning points. A balance of sorts?

However, the owl started to cheat. When the owl buried the moccasins, he kept the ball hidden under his wing, and so the Day animals could never guess where the ball was hidden, because it wasn’t hidden in a moccasin. The Day animals were doomed to lose.

Imbalance entered the world.

And so, the Day animals, realising what the Night animals were doing, cried out in lament to the Giant to return and restore order. Their cry was ‘Give it back, give it back’. A plea for the Night animals to return the hidden ball, to play fair, and not cheat, and for order to be restored.

Even today, that cry, is sung by the Navajo, and has been turned into a modern song.

Night and day vie for supremacy, still, throughout the changing seasons, and yet there is still some order and balance in night and day, and the changing seasons.

For us, it is a timely story for the impending Autumn equinox. A time of balance.

[If you would like to hear that Navajo traditional tribal song on this theme of the Day Animals/Night animals’ story, called Yeha Noha, which means ‘Give it back’, to a fairly modern tune – please click: here] or here.]

 

Tadhg’s Journal: Third Heaven At Y Goeden Mellt…In The Similitude Of A Dream

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Having walked through this much-loved, familiar, dense forest in wild and rugged north Wales, at about midnight, I sat on a felled log in a small clearing, in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree. And waited. Random thoughts ‘bubbled up’ from the sea of unconsciousness within me, like spiritual flotsam and jetsam.

The air was cooling, the sky was pitch black, and animals of unknown species and quantity scurried around in the undergrowth nearby or in the tree branches above me, oblivious to my presence, or maybe aware but unconcerned about it.

And, random thoughts just flowed all the more.

Mundane thoughts arose, about what’s in the freezer, what to buy at the shop the next day, and questions such as, ‘Did I turn the tap off before leaving the cottage?’ vied for prime place. Not the kind of thoughts that would be of interest to anyone, really. Except, that every now and then a thought would arise from some unknown place and stay around, and would be of a different order.

‘You cannot keep birds from flying over your head
but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.’

Thoughts come and go, and some unwelcome thoughts are best allowed to return to the place of their origin.

But, some of these random thoughts caught my attention, peaked my interest, and in the relative silence of this place – in front of Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree – this place of mystery, and to me a sacred place, I had time to let them ruminate. I wanted to let them grow and mature to ‘see’ what these half-thoughts would be when ‘fully grown’.

John Bunyan, a sincere and noble man was thrown, unjustly, into Bedford gaol in England, at least twice in his life for his religious beliefs in the 1670’s, even though he was careful with his major work, to try to create some ‘safe’, artistic space by prefacing his book with the words: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress, in the similitude of a dream.’

‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I came upon a certain place where there was a den; and I lay down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream…’ John Bunyan

There I was sitting on that felled log, in the forest clearing at midnight, alone, and it was as if I had fallen asleep, and random thoughts ‘visited’ me from afar. [Thank you, John Bunyan for that ‘safe’ space of creativity, and way of writing].

So, I dreamed a dream. In my mind’s eye, in this dream, it was if all those who had gone before me, my dear and departed family and friends were assembling before me, and around me, as though I was in the middle of some fantastic, other-worldly party.

‘After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.’ Arthur Schopenhauer

I could make out my two grandmothers, and saw my dear mother (not with a body so worn by the world, but looking so young, so lovely,  and so full of life) laughing as she chatted to two unknown men – who, though I had never seen them before, I knew then that they were my grandfathers who had died before I was born. Indeed, all those at this party seemed some young, so alive, so peaceful. They exuded peace. A peace that I could ‘feel’. And, still more of them entered the clearing.

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

I thought of my Christian friends from whom I had learned so much, and wished they were here to experience this, but deep down wondered if they would accept this, or shun me as being ‘unorthodox’ or worse, as a heretic?

I thought of my co-Druid friends and their respect and love for nature, and of honouring the ancestors – I truly admire them for that – and how good it would be if only they were here with me to observe this assembly.

I thought of other friends and family, and wondered. What would they think?

There were now somewhere in the region of forty ‘gone ahead’ people around me – interacting with each other as though I wasn’t there.

Though I hadn’t seen many of these people in ‘real life’, I could point out my Aunt Sarah who died as a result of injuries sustained by a ‘Doodlebug’ in the London bombings of the Second World War when she was about 22 years old, and others, such as my great-grandfathers…and, still more entered the clearing.

It was quite uplifting to see them all. All so young-looking. All, so vibrant. All, so alive. All, so joyful. And then, others arrived to join in the party and interact, but not with me – I was seemingly quite invisible to them. Just an observer. A mystified, intrigued, observer.

Now, this is where this strange party becomes an even-stranger party: I could see my dad talking with my mother, and my brother too, and I could see recent friends talking to unknown people who were family and friends of theirs, and yet my dad and brother and these recent friends were very much alive and yet there! And, much to my amazement, and to add to my confusion, there I was in that party, talking to my long-deceased Aunt Sarah. As I sat on that log, I was looking at myself! The observer observed?

The party began to fade, and the colour of the dream seemed to drain away all too quickly; changing from vivid to pastel shades; the colours ‘melting’ into the forest background, and party noise fading.

‘Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. … The past seems to be gone and absent. Yet the grooves in the mind hold the traces and vestiges of everything that has ever happened to us. Nothing is ever lost or forgotten.’ John O’Donohue

As I looked on, questions arose in my mind. How can, what is obviously a glimpse of Bliss, contain those that had gone before me and contain family and friends that were still very much alive to me?

Still oblivious to them, a couple near me spoke to each other and as if speaking to me, said, ‘In this place of ‘no-time’, all who have gone before meet those yet to ‘depart’ the world of time. Leaving at different times in the world of time, we all arrive here in this place of ‘no-time’, together. It’s a ‘side-ways step’ out of time, into ‘no time’. Assured. It seemed to make sense. We always were there! We never left! We just thought we did, perhaps? I laughed to myself.

‘We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to untie.’ Michael Ondaatje

Oh, if only I had done things a bit differently, had spoken more to that person when they were alive, I thought. The things I wanted to do for another party-goer ‘gone ahead’ person that I had just spied, was a matter of much regret from me, of what could have been.

And yet, as if to answer that deep sadness that resided at the pit of my soul, a couple moved nearer to me. It was  me-in-Bliss and that person in question, talking together, and they were laughing and joking, and I knew that prior deficiencies and regrets were all ‘solved’ in this place of ‘no-time’. Cancelled out. As a calmness ‘cocooned’ me, I realised, too, that I should stop being so concerned about what might have been between me and that person, and live life to the full. For in that place of ‘no-time’, there were no regrets, nor memories of regrets. Just the communion of all. ‘All things are made new in this place’, a voice from somewhere said. Comforted, I wept for joy and relief as the crust of many years of sadness dissipated.

How do I tell my friends this?

A voice behind me spoke. ‘Then I said, Don’t’. Tell those who will understand it, and don’t tell those who wont, is what I said’, a person said in talking to another person, and not me.

I remembered John Bunyan’s preface. And, I remembered reading the words of St Paul, ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know. God knows’. (2 Corinthians 12:2). I could empathise with these men and their concern at how their accounts would be received. Inspired by them, I would call my account, a dream. I smiled. No one will know.

I stood, and paused for a moment, as if to assimilate all that had just occurred, before starting to walk back to the cottage. The air was now quite cold. I started to shiver. Walking away from that clearing I looked back, and just for one second, out of the corner of my eye I thought I could see these other-worldly loved-ones trailing away. But, for a moment one of them stopped, smiled, and waved. And, was gone.

‘Remember tonight…for it is the beginning of always’. Dante Alighieri.

 

 

Mea Culpa & Sweet Bean

160823 mea culpa sweet bean STANDARD THOUGHTS

With biscuits in one hand – do they still call them ‘cookies’ in America? How quaint – and a coke in the other, I watched a subtitled, Japanese video last evening, loaned to me by a barista. We’re a friendly lot, here!

Dear Tokue – an elderly lady, like everyone’s favourite aunt – loves nature, and the video has some awesome clips of cherry blossom in full bloom in the city, the full moon in all its glory shyly peaking through the trees with its eternal gaze, and wonderful lush, verdant forest views as seen through Tokue’s eyes. Awesome!

Truly, the forest is my church.

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? Job 12:7-9, The Book

Seeking work, she starts working for a man who bakes dorayaki – small pancakes which are filled with a sweet bean spread – and she dotes over the beans she cooks. Listening to them, she describes them as an engaged couple who need time, in the pot, to get to know each other. Unhurried!

Tokue has a mother-and-son-like relationship toward the baker, and she’s employed by him because she makes the best sweet bean spread he’s ever tasted. She endears herself to all that see her, and if you watch the movie – highly recommended – you will want to adopt her. Lovely!

The movie unfolds in surprising and deep ways, and centres on friendship, life’s toughness, simple pleasures and the wonderfulness of nature. I forgot to tell you that Tokue had, or had had, Hansen’s Disease – Leprosy.  And she is suddenly shunned! Lonely!

The video is about many things: a metaphorical birth, a  death, and ‘resurrection’….and prejudice! The latter is the ‘whispered soundtrack’ that runs throughout the video, that subliminally works away, unknown, and so you will be both settled and unsettled.

And, that’s where this wonderful movie will challenge you? Prejudice. What prejudices do we have to others?

I once attended a sermon at which the preacher said the reason the Celts saw the Holy Spirit as a wild goose/grey goose (and not as a dove) was because of how little they understood theology. I gasped at how wrong he was! Saddened that he was missing out. Concerned that those listening were being misinformed, and the prejudice would produce ‘offspring’ in them.

I read and online, one evangelical website was describing how well Christians behaved of old (really?), and how Wicca people had kidnapped and burned victims in the most appalling circumstances (all of them, any of them?), and he went on to describe scenes that I knew took place in that wonderful , old movie, The Wicker Man. That wonderful, old, fictitious movie. Fiction. I gasped at how wrong he was, and the impact it might have on others in the community.

Prejudice.

But, if we’ve lived only a few short years we will have been on the receiving end of unjust and downright nasty prejudice, and probably wept inwardly at being subjected to it, if not outwardly.

But, if we’re really honest (and I’m sure you are), then we know that we, too, carry within us the ‘seeds’ of prejudice that pour out and scandalise others, if we’re not careful.

I confess, somewhat embarrassedly, that there have been times in the past when, like the pastor, I’ve been prejudiced against those who think differently to me, those from another ‘tribe’. There have been circumstances when I’ve interpreted facts badly, on mere hear-say, and said things that I now know to be wrong.  I confess – hoping that I’ve made amends, and knowingly don’t continue in such prejudice; but do so knowing that you might think less of me, or even ‘unfriend’ me.

But, there is part of me that hopes you wont ‘unfriend’ me, if only because you’re honest enough to admit that, at one time, you have also been guilty of the same spiritual misdemeanour of prejudice, as me.

‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ Matthew 7:12, The Book.

I once got a group of people together once, and as an exercise, asked them to write their own obituary. Oh, how shocked they were! But, what a good challenge it presented them with, and what an open, honest, authentic and tearful (in a good way) plenary session we had.

So, are you sitting comfortably? How will people remember you? You might like to try the exercise yourself. It’s a good way to note (and change) as-yet imperceptible prejudices we might have.

I wont tell you what happens to Tokue at the end of the video, except that this dear, little lady has an impact far and wide, and her beautiful, love-borne legacy lives on. She is remembered.

— oOo–
Video: Sweet Bean
PG. 1hr 53mins
Director: Naomi Kawase
Writers: Durian Sukegawa (based on the novel by), Naomi Kawase (screenplay)
Stars: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida

 

Acornology: The Story Of The Acorn

AcornYou know I love stories. Well, here’s one that was told to me and a small group some time ago, around a camp fire, late one evening when on a retreat at Penmaenmawr in Wales. Like all good stories, you have to use your imagination and put yourself in it.

Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns – a myriad of acorns nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree.

Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, and fully Westernised acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were midlife, babyboomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were retreats and spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, who apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was odd: capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a strange and wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he spoke to all that would listen to him, and said, “We…are…that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded.

But, one or two of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground…and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore!”

In an age when we’re encouraged to grow and mature, and then maybe consider the next stage of enlightenment, and then, after that, to aim for transformation (or achieve however many stages there are), this story is poignant.

I’m sure we all identified with the cynics in the story. Ofcourse, we could read that story, put ourselves ‘in it’, and breathe a sigh of relief that we were cynics at one point in time, but have got past that stage alluded to in the story – we’re now oak trees – and look back, smiling.

The challenge here, is that the story always applies to us.

Regardless of the stage of development we’re at, there is always more. The transformation of acorn to oak tree, as a metaphor, speaks of the need to change, and not just once!

Once, we’re at a mature stage (however we define that), if we really are at that stage, we’ll realise that there’s still more growing and change to be done, whilst we’re in this form.

If at any stage we think we’ve ‘achieved it’, if at any stage we look down on others or look askew at them because of their understanding, if at any stage we think our ‘maturing’ or ‘change’was a ‘one off’ growth-spurt and we can rest on our laurels, then we’ve missed the point (of the story, and are still at the stage of the cynics in the story). There is always more.

It’s continual. I believe the sacred text word for this is hagiasmos (saints), but the ‘mos’ signifies an ongoing process, rather like we would tack ‘ing’ on the end of a word to show that it’s continual. That word hagiasmos shows that we are ‘saints-and-being-made-into-saints. In that sense, maybe we are encouraged to be born again, and again, and again? Having a beginners mind?

Good story, eh?

I’m informed that this story originated with Maurice Nicoll in the 1950s, and Jacob Needleman popularised this metaphor in Lost Christianity and named it “acornology”, and it was retold by Cynthia Bourgeault in her book, The Wisdom Way of Knowing.

Ephemera: New Month And The ‘Salmon Of Knowledge’ Story

04 ephemera 6

Tomorrow is the start of the new month. Ancient Celts, prior to Roman occupation, operated a calendar consisting of  thirteen months, named after trees. Tomorrow, 5 august is the first day of the month of the Hazel, and that will run for about three weeks and end on 1 September.

It was the month when, towards the end of it, the nights grew longer and so it was the time when (even more) stories would be told around the fire to inform the tribe and entertain. Something I think we have lost, today.

The Hazel (Corylus avellana) is one of the very oldest of  British native trees, and hazel nut shells and hazel pollen have been discovered by scientists in cave settlements, dating from around ten millennia ago.

Traditionally, to the Celts the Hazel tree was/is associated with God-given wisdom. And, as regards wisdom, here’s an old Celtic fable, for entertainment only, about how one person obtained wisdom, for you to read, imagine, and dwell upon, say, one evening – if not around a camp fire, maybe huddled in your favourite chair, sipping hot chocolate.

The story goes, that:

…a young boy called Fionn, after his father died, was brought by his mother to a poet named Finnegas to be tutored and learn all he could so that Fionn could eventually join a group of well-renowned Irish warriors.

But, in order to join that mighty band of warriors, a man needed to have wisdom and a knowledge of poetry. Finnegas the poet taught Fionn all he knew, and Fionn grew to be a fine young man.

The poet often talked wistfully about the myth of the salmon of knowledge. The salmon of knowledge was a fish that swam through the rivers of Ireland and nibbled at hazelnuts that dropped into the river (hence the ‘knowledge’ connection), but it was elusive, and so very difficult to catch. Anyone who caught it, however, and ate the salmon would gain all the wisdom of the world.

Many months later as Fionn was studying, he heard Finnegas calling him frantically from outside. Running to the river, Fionn saw that the poet had, indeed, caught the salmon of knowledge!

Finnegas the poet instructed the young man to cook the salmon for him to eat, but warned him not to taste the fish at all – Finnegas wanted that knowledge for himself and not for the young man.

The young. Fionn did as he was told and began cooking the fish over a crude fire. He watched it carefully so as not to burn it, and occasionally turned the fish, which was on a skewer, so it could be rotated and cooked evenly,

Some time later, Fionn saw that the fish was about to fall into the fire and ash. Immediately, reaching out, he grabbed the fish to push it back, and in the process burned his thumb.

Without thinking, Fionn stuck his thumb in his mouth and sucked it to soothe the burn. Guess what?

When Finnegas the poet saw what Fionn had done, he grew very sad. Knoweldge! He knew that he would never gain all the wisdom of the world, but was happy  at the thought that Fionn would gain that wisdom and be the greatest warrior the Fianna, that band of Irish warriors, had ever known.

And, indeed that was the case. Fionn grew to be leader of that mighty band of warriors, and became a great leader in Ireland. That’s how Fionn obtained wisdom.

Ofcourse, its just a story, but I think a good one at that; a story to make you think. It’s for that reason that I like to tell people about the Celtic months, too. It’s easy just to accept things the way they are. Some friends – a very few of my friends, for instance – will raise an eyebrow or two, as I mention the names of the Celtic months, but not bat an eyelid as they recite the current months of the year named after Roman gods and fanatical Roman leaders, or that the days of the week are named after Norse gods or the like.

No, the information here is to challenge and inform – a Celtic virtue, I think. And one that I hope you find informative, and in some way accept that it links us, here in the twenty-first century, to the Celts of old using ancient knowledge and story.