Ancestral Thoughts At Llynau Mymbyr: Alternative Perception

20190808 ANCETRAL THOUGHTS AT LLYNNAU MYMBYR ALTERNATIVE PERCEPTION

Not far from Capel Curig in north Wales is the twin lakes of Llynnau Mymbyr (see this article’s header photo). It is a delightful area, full of myth and magic, legend and the feel of a ‘thin place’ about it. It exudes an energy that is both comforting and unnerving, it is an area where you can believe almost anything can happen. That expectancy flows though the very air like the ozone that one senses as a storm approaches.

As a child I used to frequent this area often – wonderful lakes, surrounded by tantalising (lake) beaches (albeit on the small side, but with intriguing rock pools, odd-shaped rocks and small pebbles of curious colours and shapes). And, I’m in that place again. It’s a sunny day, and a few clouds are sprinkled high above me.

Now, as I sit on a log with the water almost lapping at my feet, the view is a wonderful blend of grey-green, of slate rocks and mountains, and fern and lichen. In the very distance (in the photograph’s centre) is Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon, again, full of myth and magic, and though distant it dominates this area by is sheer presence.

The sun and clouds are reflected in the lake’s water, too,  and my thoughts drift. In what ways would those who went before us, our ancestors, think of this place: the pebbles on the lake’s beach, the few high clouds drifting by that I can see, and the sun shining down on me?

We often take if for granted that we know what they thought, and though we might get glimpses, I wonder if we can make that mental adjustment to ‘go back’ a thousand or two years and move about ‘in their shoes’. As a wee lad I used to love the Robin Hood tv series. Robin’s outfit was always clean and well pressed, and maid Marion’s hair was never out of place. I loved the series then, but in looking back now, ofcourse I know Robin Hood’s tunic would be muddy, smelly and probably patched. Maid Marion’s hair would have been devoid of conditioner (that hadn’t been ‘invented’), and if she lived in the forest she might have been missing a few teeth, and so not worry about ragged, dry, dishevelled hair. Apologies for being so graphic.

But we do get glimpses.

Our early ancestors may have had less knowledge of the way the world worked, but they had a greater and deeper appreciation of nature, and earthy wisdom.

With a notebook and pen in hand to take notes in wilderness areas – I don’t use computers in the field – my thoughts are drifting about: How would our ancestors have seen this environment or the world differently to us?

I do believe they would have had a deep(er) understanding of connectedness. As I look around my environment at Llyn Mymbyr I know that I am connected – but is it only a ‘cerebral’ understanding rather than a holistic one? How do I immerse myself in that belief? Or is it a case that understanding it then means I need only ‘surrender’ to that thought to imbibe its wisdom? Wise words about connectedness flow though my mind, words that I read some time ago:

‘Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. [And,] If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow….”. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Yes, we are all connected, ‘inter-are’, but not just with each other now; and in opening up ourselves to less limited thinking, we come to know that we are connected in deeper ways through space and time, and not only to humankind but to the rest of creation. Even the cloud above, we know now,  has an effect far more reaching than we might have realised than when this article began.

I’m still sitting on that log, and gaze at a pebble, just under the water, that has caught my eye. Did you know that this whole area is part of what is known as the Capel Curig Volcanic Formation? If you read the science books it will explain this means that the area comprises some 1400 yards thickness of compacted ash that erupted some four million years ago. This resulted in rhyolites (and igneous, volcanic rock which  rich in silica and sometimes have a glassy texture and appearance). I’m gazing at such a pebble. What an ‘ancestry’ for a small pebble about the size of a kidney bean.

I can’t resist it. I admit it – I’m a ‘feely-feely’ person. If I see an interesting tree, I not only want to look at it, but want to run my fingers over its bark. If there’s a market medieval cross in an ancient English village or a standing-stone in the middle of an expanse, I not only want to take a photograph but also want to touch it. Who knows what that tree has ‘seen’? Who else might have touched that ancient market cross or standing-stone and thought of future generations, like me, who might touch it. There’s connectedness right there!

And, so I pick up the pebble, and another thought flows through my mind, of something that I had read about some time ago. And it’s this:

‘A man, walking on a beach, reaches down and picks up a pebble. Looking at the small stone in his hand, he feels  very powerful and thinks of how with one stroke he has taken control of the stone. ‘How many years have you been here, and now I place you in my hand”. The pebble speaks to him, ‘Though to you, I am only a grain of sand in your hand, you, to me, are but a passing breeze [in comparison]’. Martin Lowenthal and Lar Short, Opening In The Heart of Compassion’.

This small pebble had also ‘spoken’ to me. We are each connected; the same, yet different; but we all ‘inter-are’. But, the story makes us think. We do get glimpses of a different and deeper perception of nature, the universe and our place in it, but there is always more. I placed the pebble back from where I had removed it. And sat there, and wondered.

In thinking of this article, I thought: what about where you are right now? What might someone have done and thought in your location a thousand years ago, what was their view of the universe, and in what way are you connected to them? Some would say that you are separated from them by time and space, but are you? I don’t believe so. We are all connected, but we think we’re not. And the latter is, in my humble opinion, error. We are far more connected than we release – just like paper and the cloud. There is always more to discover.

And, as I stood up, ‘dusted’ myself down, slowly strode back towards the car, another thought came to me:

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40b, The Book

I laughed out loud. Fortunately, no one was about – well no visible entities, at least. In thinking of connectedness and seeing things differently, and with that verse from ancient text flowing through my mind, a word formed deep within me: theosis. But, that awesome theme is for a future article.

 

[The article’s header photograph, cropped and overlaid with text is copyrighted by David Gill, and is used with permission: see here.]

What Are You Missing? Looking Beyond: Physical Metaphors

20190802 WHAT ARE YOU MISSING LOOKING BEYOND PHYSICAL METAPHORS

Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond? Puzzled? Here is an explanation of facts, from imagination, and from my journal of yesteryear and more recently.

’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ William Shakespeare’s Hamlet

We are surrounded by metaphors, physical metaphors, that point to something beyond, above or below. Such metaphors are glimpses that challenge, inspire or instruct if we allow them, but to do that we first need to be aware of them.

There is a mountain not far from Capel Curig, that, like the rest of Wales, is complete with myth and magic, rumour and a whole host of legends that invite the brave, or perhaps repel the timid. Glyder Fawr is just one such place. It is part of several peaks. How many? Well the ‘set’ is called Tryfan (and therein lies the clue, as Tryfan is Welsh for ‘three peaks’). As regards a wonderful and profound climb some time ago – see here.

There are myths in Wales about giants on mountains, dragons in mountains, water-horses in lakes and rivers, and other elementals that live deep in the ground. We all knew they were myths, and many, even in Wales, laugh at such superstitions, but deep in our minds, and I’m thinking of myself and friends of yesteryear, we weren’t so sure that those myths should be disregarded, well at least not totally.

‘I was born with the ability to see in metaphor. This has been my inborn way of relating to the living Oneness of things. From an early age, the world has spoken to me in this way. The analogous relationship of things has called, not in words, but in a silent language that has sow shown me, however briefly, the web of connection [of] everything.’ Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways To Listen

Perhaps, these myths were not to be taken literally, and they were metaphorical, and ‘poetically’ warned passers-by, or perhaps they were to be taken literally? As children we loved the not knowing, and as I and my friends grew older there was always that lurking possibility that maybe there was something ‘behind’ them. Exactly, what physical metaphors purport to ‘show’.

At the base of Glyder Fawr is a rocky crevice – about ten feet wide, thirty feet long, and deep, very deep. As teenagers when would hike and have adventures, this was the place to go. Forever and a day, for as long as I can remember, and certainly as early teenagers, at the base of Glyder Fawr, we called that breach in the ground Uffern.

As young teens we avoided that pit in the ground, but as we grew a little older, a lot braver, more adventurous and somewhat stronger the ‘terror’ of Uffern (which is the Welsh word for hell) grew smaller, until one day a few of us, well-versed in abseiling, and belaying by then, tackled that void.

We climbed down into Uffern, climbed into Hell. With a lot of laughing and some seriousness, we were encountering then, though we didn’t know it at the time, a physical metaphor.

Physical metaphors, which may include outdoor adventure, nature observation, ritual or anything that is challenging and physical (as in tangible, solid, observable) are excellent tools for making change in each of us, and to awaken us to what is beyond.

Physical metaphors can interrupt our habitual patterns of behaviour, place us in an awkward and challenging situation and thereby open us up to new ways of thinking and doing things. In such situations our limitations and objections (of ‘Yes, but….) cease to have any power over us. People discover they must discard old, useless behaviour and replace it with something fresh, empowering and creative. Physical metaphors make us go, ‘wow’ in awe and wonder.

‘Communion is a ceremony based around food and drink…. In the Lord’s Supper, it is as if we are enacting a physical metaphor. The physical act of eating and drinking is very much like the spiritual realities it represents’. Ron Julian, Communion Metaphor, Gutenberg College.

I’m back at Uffern.  I’m older. This time alone, this time as an adult (and a mature, agewise, one at that) and it is probably the hottest day of the year. And I’ve climbed down to the base of the crevice. It’s silent, unusually so, except for the occasional drip of water that hits the small, two inch high pool of water that has collected beneath my feet. I’m alone (or am I?). It’s awesome, its wonderful, it is an amazing place. It’s rocky, damp, deep, cramped and full of jagged rocks, but it is bliss.

I can now ‘unpack’ the meaning of this physical metaphor, which to me ‘speaks’ of overcoming my teenage fears of this pit in the ground, my wariness that it could be a link between ‘our world’ and that of elementals. To be honest, I think it might be a doorway, but I now don’t fear those elementals, but see them as fellow occupants of this wonderful planet. And if I’m wrong and they don’t exist then they will not be present to hear what I’ve just spoken to them, and no one will ever know that I’ve even spoken to them (or tried), except now I’ve confess to you. So, you know. But, I’m amongst friends.

I’ve also discovered that the Earth holds a depth of meaning (no pun intended) that is only discovered if we are bold enough to step out of our comfort zone, to take risks and dare to do. I’ve also found that, perhaps, we are surrounded by a multitude of physical metaphors (in rural places as well as in built-up places) and each of them can be prompts to each one of us from Beyond to encourage to ‘see’ behind the visible.

‘We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.’ Marcel Proust

At the base of Uffern I can relax and reflect on deep spirituality, to look at life that contains physical metaphors which anchor us to the world beyond, just as the gears of a car connect and change our foot actions into chemical-air-petrol formulations of a different order to propel the car. Connectedness.

What we see and do has actions far beyond the physical, and its for that reason I so love and cherish, and encourage liturgy, ritual and prayer and blessings, of observing and doing, of acknowledging that our seemingly small actions may have consequences (of a positive nature) far beyond our reckoning.

At the base of Uffern I have just enough time, before the light fades, to take some photographs of the amazing rocky strata that was formed and dishevelled during the last ice age, knowing that only a few have ventured to the base of Uffern, and so many have missed its beauty, and might otherwise have encountered an elemental. Ofcourse, I can’t tell you that I’ve seen one, by with eyes beyond eyes I believe I have, and from that I know the power of the imagination.

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

And now it’s time to climb out of Uffern. I have to admit the climb up is a lot more arduous that it looks, it takes a lot longer climbing up than scaling down, and I’m not as young as I used to be, but it was worth it.

Take a look around you. What do you see? What do you really see? A burning bush? The voice of the Source of All? An encounter with an angel, the fae, an elemental in the form of a physical metaphor? Take a look around. What is seen that is actually ‘pointing’ to that which is unseen and beyond?

 

 

Drws I Fyd Arall (Revisited): The Voice

20190121 drws i fyd arall revisited the voice poem

The Voice. Since the dawn of time humankind has heard that inner voice. Many tribes of old, the Ancients, Druids, Celts, The Ancient Texts testify to the Voice in the desert or wilderness places, or atop mountains.

There is a clearing in the woods behind my garden in Capel Curig in Wales, where, as a wee lad, my friends and I would play. It was almost as if there was something, or someone that was drawing us to that place. In that clearing there were two bowed, arched, silver birch trees.

My friends and I, then as children, loved sci-fi programs on our old black and white televisions, back then, and so, playfully, we called those two arched trees, Drws i fyd arall (pronounced ‘droo zi fid arrah’). It means ‘door to another world’. And we would run back and forth through the arch, laughing, and giggling and let our imaginations run riot as to where we might have been transported, as if we were in a sci-fi tv program.

With hindsight I think something or someone, the genii loci, the Presence, the Source had prompted us to call it that. The trees are still there, and it is still a special place.

I am back at that place again, and it’s cold, dark, late. And it’s wonderful. The Presence here. A benevolent one. This is, indeed, a ‘thin place’ – where Here and The Other meet.

As I stand here now, memories of yesteryear flood my mind. Wonderful thoughts, great memories, powerful recollections abound.

One night, about three years ago, I woke up from a shallow sleep and went for a walk to this place, and this is what I wrote:

A warm feeling enveloped me. Palpable. And not only an external feeling, but internal too, pervading my whole being. And then, as has happened albeit infrequently in this place in the past, I heard the Voice once again. Some will say that it’s only imagination, but I can only say, to me, it was and is, more, oh much more.

From an interrupted, shallow sleep I awoke early,
and walked into the night, as if called by a Voice deep within.

The Voice?
An elemental? An ancestor? My imagination? The Bat kohl?

The air was cold and damp,
the darkness seemed to envelope me,
the trees ‘closed in’, and all was quiet.

Nothing stirred.
Nothing at all.
And with some trepidation,
into a forest clearing I slowly strode.

A fallen tree provided a seat,
and I sat, and waited.

The air felt ‘electric’ as though something would happen,
like a ‘silent storm’ approaching.

And I waited. And shivered.
Waited. And got damp.
Waited.

And then from within, or without,
almost undetectable, a quiet, loving, voice was heard.

The Voice.
Slowly, unhurriedly, powerfully, the Voice said:

“As above, so below,
there are things you should know.”

“Human words are powerful, they are a door,
your actions are effective, they are pure metaphor.”

“And so I speak of humanity’s cosmic task,
To be revealed, evidenced, enjoyed, without any mask.”

“And so, don’t just sit, but take heed and do,
these are worded-actions-prayers for many, and for you.”

“And so, again I say, as above, so below,
remember these things; they are things you should know.”

“Through prayer, does that which is unseen, unmanifest,
reveal itself and take form in the blessed.”

“And so, I mention,
with your hands at your side, walk humbly,
take seven half-steps forward, its a journey of intention.”

“And now, raise your hands in simple ‘surrender’,
and point both to Heaven, that domain of awesome splendour.”

“Widen your arms, and so scoop, and harvest
pure energy, pure ‘gold’, and be prepared to be feel blessed.”

“Draw in that power, by folding your arms like an ‘x’ on your chest,
and feel its benefits, its warmth; you’re at peace, at one, ‘at home’, at rest.”

“Then stretch forth your arms, and mould with your hands
as if a ball, that ‘globe-like’ power-blessing from the ouranic meadowlands.”

“With one foot leading, and with knees part bent,
sway back and forth, in preparation for that ‘goodness’ to be sent.”

“In your mind, name the loved-one, the recipient, the friend,
and in your heart, see them, imagine them, to that end.”

“‘Push’ with your hands, that power-blessing from you to them,
and sigh the sound of the ages, the ‘so be it’, the ‘amen’.”

“And then, your hands drop to your side,
power has gone out; but there is no lack,
for the power-blessing that went forth, also comes back,
in another way and at another time, and so you, too, are blessed.”

Having done everything as directed,
I stood there in awe.
The air was cold and yet I felt warm,
the night so dark but in my mind’s eye it seemed to glow.

The Voice had gone.
The Voice? An angel? The Deity? The Awen?

You decide.

I do believe The Voice speaks wisdom to us all. I don’t think we need to go to special places – though sometimes that seems to be something that we, as humans, need to do to prompt us, to jog our memories or put us in the right frame of mind of openness. But, I do believe The Voice speaks still, perhaps in the city. Can you hear it?

 

An Encounter At Maen Llia

20180910 ENCOUNTER AT MEAN LLIA

Having inputted the details into the mobile phone’s navigational program – you have to love ‘Waze’ – and put the mobile phone into the car’s dashboard cradle I set off for Maen Llia – an ancient and mysterious standing stone. 

Where would we be without SatNav?

Typically the weather was inclement, but I’m in the car, and on the backseat is my trusty old waterproof jacket, plastic over-trousers, boots and a backpack with assorted food for the day. You can never be too careful.

‘The things you own end up owning you…’ Chuck Palahniuk,

Ah, modern hiking conveniences! What would we do without ‘thinsulate’?

Leaving Hay-On-Wye, the twenty-six mile journey should take about forty minutes. It look me a little bit longer. Driving along the B4350 wasn’t problematic, but joining the A438 and then the A470 was. It seemed the world and his wife was out today. Their were umpteen cars, coaches, even more cars, cement lorries and more, all  travelling at a fast pace. The kind of ‘get me to work fast’ pace, or ‘get me home quick’ speed. I could understand their need for speed, but I was in ‘tourist mode’. I was in ‘Oh, look there’s a cow, let me slow down’ speed.

Ah, modern motoring. Where would I be without my Renault Clio?

And so, not wishing to upset the drivers behind me and not wishing to gather speed and miss the moment – and I promise I wasn’t dawdling – I made plenty of space between me and the huge cement lorry in front so that the dozen motorists behind me could overtake. And they did.

’ I have two speeds. Nothing and full pelt’. André Rieu

And then I turned off onto a minor road running north from Ystradfellte, towards Heol Senni, at a much more leisurely pace. It was as if time itself had slowed. Bliss.

Certainly, the pace had to be slower, as the road was now only ten feet wide, wading, and with only the occasional ‘passing point’ should another car be coming in the opposite direction. And a few did. And, what great manners they had. Each taking time so that they and I could pass, inviting gestures, some ‘thumbs-up’ thankyous and with some reversing, but it was so civilised. Ballet de automobile!

Ah, the rule of the county road? Where would we be without the Highway Code?

And, then I spied it. Pulling over, I got out of the car and walked briskly up a small, grassy, rain-soaked incline toward Maen Llia,  an ancient standing stone. Alone in a rather bleak area. No one was where, except for me.. The people who pulled that hefty rock here – it’s about twelve feet high, nine feet wide, and two feet thick – are unknown, as is the reason for it being here. But, my not knowing, doesn’t detract from the splendour and majesty of this object that has stood here for thousands of years.

Maen Llia is timeless. It is a world away from SatNav, ‘Thinsulate’, motor cars, and the Highway Code. And, as I stood in front of it I couldn’t but bow my head a little, momentarily. This standing stone, indeed the area, is spiritual and alive with energy.

As I thought about the people who erected this standing stone, I couldn’t also but be ‘hit’ by the thought of how much we are all beholden to the modern world. Mechanical time, work routines, shopping trips to the supermarket, servicing cars and more – maybe ‘necessary evils’, but all alien to those who first gazed upon Maen Llia and experienced time differently.

‘Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.’ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

And yet, here I had an opportunity to take time out. Or, to be out of time. Ofcourse, that can happen anywhere, but it seems that humankind usually needs a prompt – isn’t that what ritual, anniversaries and statues do? They act as a focus, pointing to That Which Is Bigger Than Us.

And, as I stood in front on Maen Llia, now getting wet from the light rain caught by wind and blowing into me horizontally, it seemed that perhaps Maen Llia was that unknown people’s focal point. Some think that the standing stone could have been a boundary marker, but it could easily be something incredibly spiritual – a spiritual focal point for those ancients, especially as it looks like a finger pointing heavenward. And to me, that is exactly what it was. An incredibly isolated and spiritual place. A standing stone focal point to cause wonderment. The energy and ritual of the ancestors still reverberates in that place. You can’t see it with physical eyes, nor feel it one your skin, but it is palpable in a way beyond words. Ancestors, elementals, angels?

Interestingly, some paper guides say that Maen Llia is thirty yards/metres from the road, others say it’s sixty yards/metres. How can the two be reconciled? The answer could lay in the myth that when no one is looking the standing stone moves. Some say it occasionally wanders off, to the river, the Afon Llia to drink. Others say it does this one Midsummer’s Eve. 

Where would we be without myth and imagination?

With the rain now pouring, I said a few words and buried the Rainforest Jasper stone as a ritual action for Earth Healing, and then after a few minutes I headed back to the car, energised, and entered the modern world of mechanical time once again.

‘Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.’ Mother Theresa

 

 

 

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.

A Walk In The Rain & More: Deep Thoughts…

201800514 A WALK IN THE RAIN AND MOREThe weather has been unusual of late. Very hot for days and the quite cool, dry for a time and then raining all day. Today started off sunny and then clouds tumbled from the mountains to the valley floor. And yet each valley, here in north Wales (and elsewhere) has its own micro-climate, and it is truly amazing. Unpredictable many times, but amazing.

‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part…For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.’ 1 Corinthians 13.9-13.12 Part, The Book

Balance? For thousands of years before the imprint of humankind was found in these valleys, there was a balance in the weather – slate-grey mountains ‘carpeted’ with lush grass, lichen and a myriad of insect life because of rain.

I weed and steward the small patch of earth called my garden, but nature does a far better, far richer, and far grander job of tending the ‘gardens’ that form vast undulating, majestic valleys, here.

’I’m stunned at how the choreography of fate is exquisitely disguised as chance.’ Mark Nepo

It rained recently, and I got caught out in it. Clearly, even being a native, I only know ‘in part’ what the weather will do, though I do pride myself on ‘reading’ the signs (and usually that is sufficient to predict something of what the weather is about to do).

Who am I to grumble? The Clerk of the Weather knows best, and watered that valley. I’m a cheery soul, but that on that particular occasion, far from home and sopping wet, it didn’t make me chuckle. Was it chance? An Intelligence? Fate? However, as I walked home, now seemingly a few pounds heavier wearing rain-sodden clothes and feeling colder, it reminded me of some awesome words of St Francis of Assisi.

Misreading (of the weather and its purpose)? Perhaps it wasn’t that I’d upset God (as if the Source of All works in that arbitrary way) or annoyed the genii loci or the fae as some here might have told me, that opened the skies; perhaps it was ‘just right’ and in that valley, out walking, I was ‘in the way’.

‘In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.’ John Muir

Nevertheless, the rain was a ‘quiet teacher’ to me on that occasion and I learned that it didn’t really matter who caused it, the result was the same, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Traversing the copse that leads to my garden and house, I couldn’t but help notice how much ‘brighter’ things looked, leaves glistened as if polished, the air seemed lighter, sounds clearer, and there was that lovely smell of rain on otherwise dried earth – petrichor. St Francis’ words continued to echo in the labyrinths of my mind, and a lightness from somewhere in my being bubbled up – but only very gently. Hardly noticeable.

And then my feet were firmly striding the rustic-style paving stones that stretched the length of my lawn, and I had to admit the rain was just what the lawn needed. It was a vivid green, looking great, ‘washed’ and baptised from above, and even those weeds seemed glad – ofcourse they were.

‘A weed is but an unloved flower. Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Perspective? And then into the house, through the kitchen door at the side (as very few use the front door here; and you can tell a friend because they, too use the side door that, here, leads into a small boot room and then into the kitchen. Peeling off my sopping wet clothes, and sitting in the kitchen to finally dry off, that earlier gentle bubbling from deep within became a full laugh. And I laughed heartily.

So I got caught in a downpour, a rain storm. Many people are far worse off than me, and in many parts of the world lots would be extremely grateful for several hours-worth of rain for washing (and now I was feeling washed and great), for drinking and cooking with, and for their fields and crops. In that simple rain shower there was more going on – visibly and invisibly, at the macro level and at the micro, cellular level; and perhaps in other realms unknown to us the rain was having a beneficial effect (even if I (or you) were (or are) unaware of it). I laughed even more. Nature is wonderful. Status? I suddenly felt humbled.

Awareness. And then, St Francis’ words tumbled fully to the front of my mind.

Such love does,
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.

(St Francis of Assisi)

And, as I sat there, drying off, it came to me: that Which Is Bigger Than Us is present in the world, and in nature such power and wisdom is known and the mystery celebrated; that there is pain and suffering, and much inconvenience (in rain showers etc) and that mystery is usually (and eventually) accepted; and that come what may, in some way the Source of All makes all things, ultimately, beautiful and new, and there is much that is beyond our understanding.

‘Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.’ Roger Miller

And then, having dried off and put on a new set of clothes, as happens in the valleys, the sun started to shine and there was not a cloud in the sky. Nature is absolutely wonderful (and has a sense of humour, methinks).

 

The Forest’s ‘Quiet Teachers’ And Time

20180511 THE FORESTS QUIET TEACHERS AND TIMEIt’s a wonderful morning. Sunrise was about an hour ago, and the early morning high and mist-like clouds are slowly being ‘burned off’ by the sun – yes, I’m back in north Wales. Valleys, here, have their own micro-weather system – and it is glorious. It almost seems that time itself has stopped and you can see and hear elementals hopping from one flower or blade of grass to another. Bliss.

’Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow! Grow!”’, Talmud

Timeless, yes.

I am sitting in my garden, sipping a cup of nettle tea, my favourite, and words cannot really do justice to the wonders of nature that I am beholding. Wherever we are, rural or urban landscape, we are part of the wildness and beauty of nature – you are beautiful, and however much we are told we’re separate from nature or feel so, it is an illusion. We swim through nature, breathing it in, breathing in air as a fish swims in water and gulps in that water and ‘exhales’ it to live.

Nature is awesome, even though I can spy a few weeds growing here and there on the lawn.

’ Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’. Albert Einstein

There are different schools of thought about creation, the origin of all that is. And, as I sit here sipping this tea, my mind wanders to consider two of them. Journey with me.

Firstly, there are some who read ancient sacred text and interpret it (because the notion isn’t actually present in the text, so we have to take that information and work with it where we are), and deduce that everything was perfect (or good) on Earth but somehow it ‘went wrong’ [emphasis on the latter]. Many call this ‘the fall’.

And then I got thinking a wee bit deeper.

But, suppose, secondly, the perfection we have in our mythic memory is of Home, before we ‘arrived’ on Earth? And, the Earth didn’t ‘fall’ and ‘go wrong’ (although it may seem so in comparison from our pre-life ‘Home’ – see Jeremiah 1:5a), but that the Source Of All created everything good, and left a just little bit of it for us to do in ‘finishing it off’? Rather like, perhaps, our mum did, when we were wee kids, when she baked a cake, say, and let us stir the mix so we could, with pride, understand that we had a small hand [no pun intended] in baking that cake. Then we can say ‘I did that’, and then our parent (and the Source of All) can say, ‘my child did that’.

This idea, some call tikkun olam.

Tikkun olam has everything to do with ‘finishing off’ or ‘repairing’ the world. It, along with the ‘fall’ idea really is only understood by our own particular viewpoint, whatever it may be: ‘fall’ and in need of ‘repair’; or ‘unfinished’? I prefer the latter.

As I look out at the length of the garden the gardener, who initially worked on the garden some years ago, ensured that about three-quarters of it was a well ‘manicured’ lawn with plants and small trees ‘sprinkled’ throughout and a few paving stones here or there, as I had suggested. And, now there’s a few weeds. But, I digress.

But, the furthest quarter of the garden, the part that leads into a wild copse is wild by every stretch of the imagination, and that’s exactlyhow I asked the gardener to leave it.

The lawn area is different to that wild area, but just as much as nature as anywhere else. That wild area does need a bit of attention from me every so often. Tikkun olam.

Most of my garden is easy to manage, but the wild area needs some extra special care, understanding and management, stewardship from me. It is forever requiring attention so that I can appreciate its wildness and yet walk through it rather than me being ‘crowded out’ by the unbridled growth of plants and trees.

A human presence is needed to ‘repair’ or ‘finish it’ depending on your viewpoint) until, ofcourse, the following year and growing seasons repeat themselves. And so it goes on. I love it. It grows, I tend it, It grows. Tikkun olam.

Perhaps, that ‘finishing off’ applies to every walk of life, and not just to garden weeds. What do you think?

That wild quarter of the garden is a ‘guiet teacher’. It ‘speaks’ words of wisdom to us and all who are attuned to it. The area of my garden is lovely, but it may not be perfect as some people define perfection. If I waited until that part of my garden was perfect in human terms I might have to wait longer than one life span!

Perhaps, nature, the ‘quiet teacher’ is informing us, that life is good, but until we get Home, it won’t be perfect or well ordered – there will be challenges and upsets along the way, weeds. We can do our best, but we will have to wait a long time before everything is orderly in our life (if ever), and if we are waiting to start a project or do something only when that happens, then we will probably wait ‘forever’.

’We carry these [to do] lists near our heart and finger them like worry beads. It doesn’t matter what is on them. They are thieves, and it is the insidious virtue to have everything in order before we live that is the greatest thief’. Mark Nepo.

Life is a wild and sometimes circuitous journey, with challenges along the way but always an adventure, with things to learn along the way as we move through it. Yes, move through it.

As I walk through the wild copse, now having no more nettle tea left in the cup, I look at the contrast in the garden, the lawned area (and the weeds) and the wild part, and though different and not perfect (from a gardeners point of view) I love it just the way it is.

It’s almost as if the forest and garden are saying to us, ‘You will always have a few weeds  here in your life, but embrace them and work with them, but don’t let them bother you and procrastinate or you’ll wait forever’.

For the moment we are in time. Are there things in our life that we’ve put off, and like me, can look back? It’s never too late to start! Maybe it’s an educational course, a new hobby, a project at work or at home, or maybe it’s a long overdue phone call to tell someone you miss them and love them, or something else that you’ve put off? Until now. Tikkun olam. Is there something to start, ‘repair’ or ‘finish’?

’I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren’t getting done quickly’. Freema Agyeman

Finally, ofcourse, there are times when it is right to pause and wait, but invariably we know the difference between honest waiting for a good reason and kicking things time and time again into the long grass.

‘We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’ Dr Who

After all that deep thought, here I am walking back to the house thinking that I deserve a second cup of nettle tea. How about you?

 

Encountering The Òran Mór

20180226 ENCOUNTERING THE ORAN MORI’m sitting cross-legged, in a darkened room. Dark, save for one, small candle with its gentle flickering light projecting barely-seen shadows on the wall. It’s peaceful. I’m at rest.

Tonight my meditation is kataphatic – that is I’m going to use thoughts and ‘pictures’ from my imagination to be my ‘silent teachers’, and then in an unstructured way – that is non-directed, and I aim to be open to the Awen (pronounced by some as ar-wen; though I like the three syllable pronunciation, ah-(w)oo-ern), that Spirit of creativity known to ancient (and latter-day) Celts and Druids, and others (and known by various other names).

As I sit here, eyes closed, there is no sound except for the sound of the wind, outside. I’m back in London, and my small apartment is one of a few, that, like most modern architecture can be prone to ‘funnel’ the wind and create a sound – like that of a long moan. I love it. I can hear it now. The wind is blowing from the east, and it’s cold air. As I begin a time of quietness, it is nature reminding me that, even in the city, nature predominates.

My mind wanders, and I let it.

The mournful sound outside reminds me of a story I once heard when I was a child. The flickering candle light, even with my eyes closed, gently reminds me of the glow of the hearth as that story was told. My mind conjures up pictures of yesteryear, of childhood, of innocence.

My grandmother, would tell me that: In the beginning, and it varies between cultures, nothing existed. But all that is, was brought forth by a sound. Some call it the word or Word, others of a Celtic or Druidic persuasion call it the Òran Mór (some pronounce this Oran-mor, others oh-ran mohr). The words differ, but the wonderfully deep meaning persists.

Òran Mór, the Great Song or Great Music, song of the universe, was (and is) the continual love song of the Source of All, and through it everything that is, was brought into being, and continues because of the Òran Mór, my wise grandmother would say to me.

‘…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy’. Job 38.7 The Book

Everything vibrates, my grandmother would remind me, and so everything is ‘dancing’ to the music of the Òran Mór. Then, the former was a difficult concept to understand as a child, but the latter was understandable. As a child I loved dancing. And so, Òran Mór is nature’s dance, such as a bird chirping, a frog croaking, leaves making a sound in trees when the wind blows, the sound of rain or the waterfall, our breath, a babies cry, our cells, and for those with scientific instruments to measure it, the very rocks and stars oscillate and participate in Òran Mór.

‘As you entered the world, your first independent action was to breathe, and then to make sound – the sound of your creation. Since then, each time you’ve made a sound you’ve re-created yourself’. Stewart Pearce, The Alchemy Of Voice

Oh, she was clever, if not confusing, especially to a wee lad to me, as I was then. I only partly understood then what my grandmother was saying about about the Òran Mór, but in remembering now, I can piece together much of what she said, and now understand it more so.

‘All things emanate from this Great Song of power that is spinning vibrantly through all life, from the microcosmic level of electrons, atoms…to the giant swath of whole galaxies…’, Frank MacEowan, The Mist-Filled Path

My grandmother would often ask me to listen out for the Òran Mór, as for us, it can also be heard as a barely audible whisper of wisdom, heard in nature, those ‘silent teachers’ or on the lips of others. Have you heard the Òran Mór as an audible sound, or as an inner whisper, or a paradoxical unheard ‘sound’ of inclusion that seems palpable, or through nature?

For humankind, we share in the ‘dance’ of the Òran Mór along with nature, but are blessed to acknowledge it – to be both part of it, and to ‘understand’ it (in part), objectively. In that sense our very words and singing can form part of the Òran Mór. Our breath has power. What a blessing to add to it. To be embraced by it. How important it is for us to speak words of ritual or ceremony, to speak positively to others, to utter gratitude, to sing or chant in groups or individually to nature and/or the Source of All. When we do so, we join in with the Song of the Universe, and the latter joins in with us. We become part of a magnificent cosmic symphony.

‘The Òran Mór is already within us waiting silently for the activation of our memory…The human soul enlivened with the Great Song becomes aware that it is a manifestation of the theophany of Creation…’ Frank MacEowan, The Mist-Filled Path

And so, often, my grandmother would send me out into her garden to listen. I have a feeling that it gave her time to attend to other things or to be by herself for a while, but it fascinated me – I was sent on an adventure to discover…who knows what?

When I returned she would ask me what I heard. And like the small child I was I would recite at breakneck speed, and without many pauses for breath, everything – listing the buzz of flies, the sound of birdsong, the bleat of a ragged sheep, the sound of thunder reverberating in nearby mountains, the sound of my footsteps, the sound of a babbling brook, the crack of a tree branch breaking nearby and falling from a great height, and the sound of an aircraft overhead.

‘And which of those was the Òran Mór?’, she would ask. ‘All of them?’, I would answer, hedging my bets and phrasing it as a question. ‘Ofcourse, all!’, she replied, and smiled as only she could.

I’m sitting here now in this darkened room, eyes half open, listening to my breath as those wonderful  ‘picture’ images of yesteryear disperse in my mind. The candle flame dances and splutters, as I realise that’s Òran Mór. The wind outside is howling like a ban-sidhe (pronounced bann-she), that’s Òran Mór, and as I sit here and chant then I, and you too, as you sing or chant or speak now or later, join in with the Òran Mór, and we add something valuable to the fabric of the Universe, and the Source of All joyfully sings with us.

‘And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and the loud rumbling of thunder. And the sound I heard was like harpists strumming their harps. And they sang a new song…’. Revelation 14:2-3a The Book

I blew out the candle flame. Sat cross-legged in the silence of the room, but still  hearing the howling, moaning sound of the wind outside. Yes, wherever we are, rural or urban centres, in a forest or an apartment block, we are reminded that Òran Mór is ubiquitous. It is with us now (though many would say the Òran Mór is personal, and so ‘it’ is not quite the word to use, but such is the limitation of language in dealing with major spiritual themes) . Even as you read this, rest assured that you and I, and all of creation are part of that glorious, ancient, powerful, connection that is the Òran Mór, the Great  Song.

 

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.