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.

Dragons And Alban Eiler 2018 [Celebrating Spring Equinox]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Cailleach And You. A Cautionary Celtic Tale For Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Everything You Wanted To Know About (The) Gean Cánach

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two ways of perceiving the Gean Cánach.

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

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

Mary Oliver

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 8.2a The Book

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

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

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

Beautiful is…beautiful too,….

So, an example of this might be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Full Moon, Spring And Ribin Bhride

20180129 FULL MOON SPRING AND RIBIN BHRIDE

‘Blue moon you saw me standing alone.’ (Billie Holiday)

It’s Spring…..well nearly.

I know different parts of (even) the northern hemisphere may experience Spring in a number of weeks rather than in the next few days – such is the UK’s mild climate compared to other places – but there’s things are never exact, and traditionally on the wheel of the year the season’s change is celebrated as Imbolc or Brigid’s Day. So, whatever the weather, it’s time to celebrate Spring (in the northern hemisphere).

What follows is in two parts. Firstly there’s some awesome information about the upcoming full Moon – a ‘triple whammy!’ and a first since 1866, and secondly, there’s some wonderful ideas and words to assist you to celebrate Spring, Imbolc, Candlemas or Brigid’s Day on the 1 or 2 February.

Ephemera: The Triple Lunar Experience

In the small hours of 31 January, the moon will do something that it hasn’t since 1866. It will be super Moon, a blue moon and lunar eclipse – and all three will coincide for a rare and spectacular astronomical feast. And what a way to celebrate Imbolc, Spring, and Brigid’s Day, albeit a couple of days early – but who’s counting.

moon 18341965_1686669498015885_2704673373144549450_nOn January 31 the Moon will be a super Moon – meaning that, because its orbit around the Earth is not completely circular, but an ellipse, this time around it will be slightly closer to the Earth. If visible from your location, the Moon will appear about 15% bigger (and because of illusion, it will appear bigger still, if it’s low on the horizon) and about 30% brighter. That’s a super Moon.

In addition, this full Moon will be the second one in January, and will therefore as it’s the second full Moon in a month, it’s known as a Blue Moon – but it won’t look blue.

And, if all that wasn’t enough this full Moon will experience a lunar eclipse: those in western US, Australia and much of Canada, Russia and Asia will be able to see a total eclipse, whilst a partial eclipse will be see by those across the eastern part of the US, India, eastern Europe and Scandinavia. The Moon may look red during the eclipse.

A ‘triple lunar experience’, lies in wait for you – a great treat, the likes of which has not been experienced since 1866. More details and timings about this wonderful event can be viewed here.

Celebration Time
Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate)
Celebrate good times, come on! (Let’s celebrate)
It’s time to come together
It’s up to you, what’s your pleasure
Everyone around the world
Come on!

(Kool & The Gang)

Celebrating Spring, Imbolc, Candlemas & Brigid’s Day

So, having outlined one way to celebrate Imbolc, Spring, or Brigid’s Day in an earlier article (see here), below is a practical suggestion to do, and an outline liturgy that you might like to use in part in your celebration (ritual), and adapt as required.

ribbons img_7932-mediumRibín Bhríde: How about participating in Ribín Bhríde (the ribbons of Brigid)?
Brigid was/is renowned as a healer, and this can be used as an enacted prayer. If you need healing or know someone who does, then cut up brightly coloured material (about half inch wide and about six to eight inches long) and tie a few ribbons onto small branches in the evening whilst thinking of the person who needs healing. Left there, the ribbons will catch the morning dew, and can then be lovingly removed over the next day or two.

And/Or…

Because Spring is the season that celebrates the sun climbing higher into the sky, and winter receding, it’s fitting to celebrate with the use of light and candles (hence, Candlemas for some). And so, at various points when using the material, below, you might like to lights a candle at the beginning, during or end of the following (or several candles if you use several of the pieces below).

Blessed be you, Light of Life,
Source of the sacred flame within each of us,
light which the darkness cannot put out.
I rise up with you this day/I rest with you this night.

(The Celtic Wheel Of The Year, Tessa Ward)

And/or…

….because we’re moving into the season of Spring (and the symbol of that is wind or air, and the dominant direction is east) you might like to use:

Still the Breath Divine does move, and the breath Divine is Love.

(William Blake)

And/or…

The secret life of Me breathes in the wind
and holds all things together soulfully.

(Hildegard of Bingen)

And/or…

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
which fans your face on a sultry day,
the air which you breathe deeply, rhythmically,
which impart to you energy. consciousness, life.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

(Celtic prayer)

And/or…

The soul rides on the feathers of the wind.

(Meister Eckhart)

And/or…

Blessings of wind be upon me.
May my sails billow wide,
May I breathe deeply the gift of inspiration,
May I be carried to the place of my resurrection,
May I be fully free.

(Christine Valters Paintner)

And/or…

Turner of the seasons,
Energy of the first flaring forth,
Source of newness and creativity,
Hidden activity in the darkness,
Align us with your budding presence
In this season of Spring.

Heartbeat Of The Seasons: Earth Rituals For The Celtic Year by Kathleen Glennon

Blessings of this season to you and yours, Tadhg.

[Many thanks to Pennie Ley for the use of the moon photo. Coprighted]

20180129 FULL MOON SPRING AND RIBIN BHRIDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brigid’s Cloak: A Profound Story For Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, the King refused her request.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tadhg’s Ephemera: The Harvest Moon & Rhiannon (Poem)

20171004 TADHGS EPHEMERA HARVEST MOON AND RHIANNON POEM

In ancient Welsh stories, myths, Rhiannon  was a personification of the moon – much as we might talk about the man in the moon, or Chinese people might talk about rabbit in the moon.

In Japanese folklore, a fox, a rabbit and a monkey are accosted in the woods one evening by an old man. Hungry, the old man begs the animals for some food. The monkey gathered nuts, the fox stole some fish, but the rabbit — who ate only grass — had nothing to offer. When the other animals teased the rabbit, he offered himself as a meal and hopped onto the old man’s fire. Deeply touched, the old man gave the rabbit immortal life by placing him on the moon.

A quant story, a good myth, and one that makes us look up at the moon, and wonder.

So, this Thursday, 5 October sees the October full moon in the constellation of Pisces (though it’s on the cusp with Cetus). The moon rising above the horizon in the east, from a London aspect, just after 7pm.

‘God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.’ Genesis 1:16, The Book

In medieval England this full moon was known as the Blood moon; and to ancient and latter-day Cherokees (so I’m told), it is known as the Harvest moon, to Celts, Celtic Christians and to many of my Druid brothers and sisters it is known as the Harvest moon.

Some time ago I wrote a poem about the full moon:

Like a silver penny stitched onto the dark fabric of the sky,
placed there by the Friend, she shines and takes no rest.
Smiling upon all, faithfully she rises, and moves oh so slowly from west
to east, undiminished.
Ashen light.

Upon all humanity she gazes, and
upon bowed sheaves of corn in lonely fields.
Upon lowing cattle, and a myriad of creatures,
upon sleeping trees with relaxéd arms, she peers.
And, upon valleys deep and mountains high,
this harvest moon is illumined in all her glory,
this night.

Affecting artists, musicians, lovers and humbled souls,
and those who momentarily upward gaze in awe,
she influences cells and seas alike, and vast ocean tides.
The moon is within us all, bright,
and that inner journey, is the enlightening, exhilarating ride.
Inner light.

Tonight, Rhiannon in all her fullness smiles and dances for the Friend;
and the Friend smiles back, and dances, too.
And, you?

Interestingly, 5 October is the feast day of St Murdoc, known as the last of the ancient bard and who lived as a hermit near a lake in Argyleshire, Scotland – and who was famed for compiling the Scottush Menology (Calendar of Saints) in the 8th century.

And on 5 October, King Alfonso VII recognises Portugal as a Kingdom (1143), Spain declares war on England (1796, but we’re friends now), the Jarrow march sets out to London (1936), and the Beatles released their first record, ‘Love me Do’ (in 1965).

A busy time, then, this Thursday in world affairs, today and in the past. And yet, my encouragement is to find time to pause and look up at the smiling moon, and to give thanks. Maybe our prayer, in a world that might be decribed in many places as fractured with wars, rumours of wars, and many killed and injured in Las Vegas and other places, is that the moon, and the Moon-giver, would spill her beauty and smile on a thousand Earthly races, and for peace to prevail.

Sending blessings to you and yours for peace at this time of the full moon.

Tadhg

 

Twitter Addendum: And, in mentioning busyness, my plans for a pilgrimage to Iona and Skye, in Scotland are gathering pace – I start out on that journey this coming Saturday or Sunday, and would appreciate your well-wishes, light, love and prayers.

If you want to follow my progress do check this page, TadhgTalks (and you’ll find a twitter ‘cartouche’ there with all the latest updates, if you go to the generic page – click large banner photo at the top of the page – rather than an inidivually themed page). Or, you can check my twitter page, direct, daily here. Once there, you’ll also get the opportunity to register to ‘follow’ and receive updates. Let’s stay in touch.

 

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

 

The Tylwyth Teg: Celtic Mythological Creatures

20170829 THE TYLWYTH TEG MYTH AND MEANINGI’m still in London, and though I love the vibrancy of the city and the wonderful mix of people, and yes the cafés , too, I’m missing the wonderful wilderness that is north Wales, especially as today is a somewhat cloudy, yet too-humid-to-be-in-the-city type of day.

But, I’ve located myself in a corner of Bishop’s Park, at the end of a path that leads nowhere and which nestles against a rather fine small lake with a myriad of ‘bullrushes’ and metre-high lake grasses growing along its sides which afford some kind of seclusion. Few venture this way because the path just ends abruptly. But for me, today, it’s wonderful. I’ve been reading for about an hour, and as I sat on a park bench under a willow tree I began to doze a little, and think about the book I was reading.

The book mentioned a creature, the subject of many a story of yesteryear, told by my grandmother, and one that both intrigued me to find out more and yet made me a little apprehenive. I was very young at that time.

It was the story of the Tylwyth Teg (pronounced ‘ter-loo-ith tehg’). It means the ‘fair folk’, and it was the name given to the fae, the fairies of Wales; a name given to them to placate them as they were sometimes responsible for some minor mischief.

Frequenting watering areas, they were said to be small in statue, have golden hair and dress in white. When happy they would spend their time singing and dancing, especially where there was water. Like this lake!

With that book on my lap, and the heat making me sleepy, my eyes half-closed, and I revelled in that half-awake and half-asleep state, not wishing to ‘travel’ too far in either direction. The grasses around the lake end swayed to and fro, some grass strands seemed distrubed by something and bent ,and returned to their almost-upright state. I could detect no animal and I didn’t want to open my eyes fully to be too analytical and come out of that liminal, half-way experience. But, no small insect could make that kind of ‘assualt’ on lake grass, either.

Maybe it was the Tylwyth Teg?

Ofcourse, that’s what they’re called it Wales, but they are ubiquitous and are known by different names. And, they love water – ponds, lakes, puddles and even the water pipes, sinks and showers in your house. You probably have encountered the Tylwyth Teg, or may have one in your house, even without knowing it.

Signs that a Tylwyth Teg is close, according to my late grandmother,  was confusion amongst people, maybe an argument starts for no reason, the loss of keys and spectacles, and just a myriad of odd happenings that are unexplained. Like long, metre-high, pond grass bending for no apprarent reason. It’s their way of having fun.

Each culture in history has its creatures of the unknown, myths and monsters to avoid. To the Greeks it was Scylla and Charybdis – two mythical sea monsters noted by Homer, and to be avoided at all costs. To the ancient Jews it was the Behemoth – a sea monster of gargantuan proportions. And to the Welsh it was, or is, the Tylwyth Teg. Interestingly, have you noticed that water is a common theme throughout?

In that half awake, half asleep daze, and with the heat of the day at it’s hottest, I ‘travelled’ further one way and dozed off completely. The book felt to the stone path with a thud and I woke up with a start. Nothing had changed, and yet something had changed. The  lake grass was still. I had ‘jumped out’ of liminal space and time, and was back in ‘ordinary’ time (as if there is such a thing), and no one or thing was disturbing the lake side now.

As I sat there, having retrieved the book, it occured to me the meaning and value of stories about the Tylwyth Teg. We live in a world, which in many senses is very predictable now that we have a vast amount of scientific data, number-crunching computers and the internet that means I can witnesss things on the other side of the planet in a second (which, when I was a child would have taken hours by wires and radio waves to arrive on the black and white tv set).

And, yet there is a lot we don’t understand. Things seem to go missing around the house, upset or illness or ‘bad’ fortune just seems to come out of the ether, and its as if there’s an invisible hand at work. My grandmother, ofcourse, would say it’s the Tylwyth Teg.

You may not believe in the Tylwyth Teg (or whatever they are called locally) but I draw comfort from those old stories. For they teach that however much we think we know, there is more. However much we plan, some plans will go awry. However much we want always to be happy, life has a habit of ‘kicking us in the solar plexus’ and upsettting us. We always want good news, but sometimes it’s not so good. Ofcourse, life is a mixture of events and emotions, oh but how the tough ones sting. The other lesson the Tylwyth Teg teach us is that mischevoius as they are sometimes, the can be positive and beneficial to – good and sometimes not-so-good, just like some life-events. At the end of the day, we can reason that sometimes we are not at fault. ‘Do you best, and what doesnt work out is the fault of the Tylwyth Teg’, my grandmother would say.

So, who was bending that lake grass and threw my book on the stone path? Ah, a passing Tylwyth Teg, ofcourse.

I’m not sure what is happening in your life right now. But sometimes, just sometimes (and discernment needs to takes place here), sometimes it isn’t our fault but a nearby Tylwyth Teg. And even then, don’t really get upset with the Tylwyth Teg, as its in their nature to be playful or mischiveous, and they’re not always like that, and what seems bad today has a habit of changing…especially when the Tylwyth Teg gets bored of being mischievous or leaves. Take heart. Things change.