Category Archives: General

By the Great Pumpkin.

I’m going to have to have a little rant. Because to be frank it’s been bugging me. I love Halloween as much as the next person, but please by all that is orange and pumpkin like don’t confuse the modern holiday of Halloween with the festival of Samhain, or Nos Calan Gaeaf for that matter.

Please don’t go round running rituals where everyone dresses up as the Worst Witch, or a reject from Twilight or Potter world. It actually cheapens many peoples beliefs and practises. By all means have a party, invite me along I love a bloody good knees up. But don’t pretend that what you are doing is pagan. Particularly if you then plaster pictures of yourself all over Facebook. It totally misses the point of guising, which was to be unrecognisable.

If you want to combine reverence and mirth, how about a dumb supper eaten in silence, food brought to share, an empty space laid out for those that have gone before. Each person lighting a tea light for their ancestors. After the solemn meal songs and laughter may ensue, and when the last tealight burns out then the last ancestor has departed and the party is over. Another excellent practise is a vigil, take time to process to your local cemetery. Find the oldest graves there, for quite truthfully they represent the ancestors of the community. Take time to clear their graves, light a votive candle and thank them, sit vigil for a while before departing silently, not looking back.

If you aren’t squeamish about mixing a bit of ancient Christian lore you could even make soul cakes. A medieval tradition. Sweet biscuit like cakes made with cinnamon and nutmeg, which would have been almost prohibitively expensive and therefore a true sacrifice of time and resources. They were set out on All Hallows’ Eve, sometime with an alcohol libation as well. Very reminiscent of the Hekate’s suppers practised on New Moons. You can find a nice recipe for souls cakes here it’s a recipe from the Welsh borders so quite authentic.

I love Samhain, it’s possibly one of the most important festivals of the year for me. I genuinely feel the Magick in the air. The light has an eerie quality. Your skin prickles. You can almost smell the feral musk of the creatures of the hunt slowly waking from their summer slumber. Leaves skitter along the paths leaving you feeling like something is just a few steps behind. Whispered voices travel on the wind and you can almost hear small scampering feet. Waiting for the moment when the final shift happens. When, for another cycle Gwyn ap Nudd gains the upper hand in his eternal battle with Gwythyr ap Greidawl. The hounds of Annwfn bray and the hunt rides forth. Ready to sweep the unsuspecting human with eyes to see along, helter skelter into the night.

A sight both fearsome and truly wondrous to behold. A feeling that brings you to tears of awe and fear and love. And worth far more respect than some parody in black lipstick and a nylon costume bought from a superstore.

In the search of the Mabon.

It’s that time of year when the whole, “Why is the Equinox called Mabon?” debate rears it’s ugly head. Like many Gardnerians I’m fairly unimpressed by the name thanks to a whole bunch politics. There are other names for the festival, however, my personal preference is Equinox. It’s a good sturdy name that even those who do not follow my path understand. But On the whole I’m pretty happy to state that it’s each to their own.

I thought about writing a nice long academic post about the historical evidence and the modern justifications for calling this festival by certain names. But it’s been done to death by many very eloquent people. So if you are looking for that kind of article may I suggest you start HERE with Jason Mankey’s blog on the subject.

For the last few years I’ve been very much about the experiential being balanced with the academic. And that wondrous synergy that can occur when the historical and factual meets the new imaginings of dedicated practitioners of the craft. So this year I thought I’d approach the whole event in a different and innovative manner.

Last Winter Solstice I took part in an excellent read along on Twitter #thedarkisreading. In which participants read the enchanting Susan Cooper book “The Dark is rising”. Not only was it lovely to have a reason to sit and read for a short while each evening. It really made me focus on certain seasonal themes. Which gave me an idea.

One of the primary sources for the existence of Mabon ap Modron (Great Son, son of the Mother) is the Welsh Medieval tale “How Culhwch won Olwen”. The story is included in the misnamed collection of tales known by most as the Mabinogion. On the surface it’s a rip roaring tale of adventure, knights and valiant kings, brave young men and giants. This epic quest for true love sees the erstwhile hero and his amazing companions travel from the very South of Wales all the way to Cumbria. Performing seemingly impossible feats. Meeting the oldest animals and battling formidable creatures using all the powers and Magick sat their command.

It can of course be read just as that, an amazing tale of daring-do, but its a tale of layers. Embedded within are mysteries for those who care to look. Initiations of the body and mind, for those who would immerse themselves ritually into the very tale itself. So this year I resolved to take time reading it to see what wisdom it could impart for me during this season. A touch of meditative bibliomancy if you will.

I’ve studied this story many times, as an Awenydd of the The Anglesey Druid Order it comes up a fair amount in the orders amazing annual training course. So I wasn’t really sure what I might get from this exercise being so familiar with the text. But the gods of Land, Sea and Sky never fail me.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer quantity of shape shifting that occurs during the tale. Culhwch’s mother Goleuddydd (quite literally daylight) losing her mind in an echo of Rhiannon’s story and seemingly reverting to a zoomorphic state to give birth. Poor Pryderi is linked with a stable in the first branch, Culhwch a pig sty. Perhaps his mother is the very same sow that led Gwydion to the Ash tree from which the young Sun God Lleu Llaw Gyffes hangs between the worlds.

In fact pigs feature very heavily in many of the tales, from the very first branch it is the swine of Arawn slipping into this world that starts the whole story arch moving. Not a mare of sovereignty at all. Is this then an indicator of an older or parallel belief/initiatory system hidden within all the tales? Certainly food for deep thought. And now undoubtedly the focus of experiential ritual in my future.

I find this idea particularly poignant as the whole tale hangs on the hero’s relationship to sovereignty. In his case his relationship with Arthur. The kings willingness to trim the youths hair in recognition of kinship is echoed in the demands of the Giant Ysbaddaden. Reading between the lines his only real desire is to ensure an appropriate wedding feast for his Goddess like daughter and to have his hair trimmed using the comb and scissors held between the ears of the great Boar Twrch Trwyth (another pig). Thus effectively regaining his own sovereignty. Interesting huh?

Secondly the textual notes to the tale (if you get a good translation) reveals that one of the companions Teyrnon Twrf Liant ( Great Lord, Roar of the flood tide) whose kingdom in Gwent is often associated with the Severn bore. Now I’ve known this for a while, but I’ve never really put much consideration into it. My ritual landscape is primarily that of North Wales. But the Mabon of whom we seek it is claimed was held somewhere along the Severn estuary. He was discovered by the Salmon of Lyn Lliw who travelled the bore every flood tide. So here we have our divine child of the season, in his prison in Caerloyw (Gloucester) but held apparently by the bore. Just as Pryderi was kept by Teyrnon in his youth. And when is the bore at his strongest. At the equinoxes.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad name for the festival after all. I rather like it in-fact especially if we were to pair the autumnal equinox of Mabon with a vernal equinox of Modron…..oooo now there’s a thought?

Manawydan – A Pilgrimage

It must be close to a decade now since I made my first conscious pilgrimage. A journey to the Norfolk village of Walsingham. At that point I didn’t even know that pilgrimage was still a ‘thing’. I had read Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath at college. And we had debated the purpose for people making pilgrimages in the middle ages. But by the time I took those tentative steps. Barefoot towards the Slipper Chapel. I was about as far removed from mainstream religion as you could get. So, I was unaware of any modern practise and was surprised to find a thriving tradition.

In fact the purpose for that entire journey was about as far away from Christianity as you could get. So the destination raised more than a few eyebrows. It was the culmination of a prolonged and often confusing contact with a particular spirit. I am not entirely sure what her motivations were in asking me to light very specific numbers of candles in each of the shrines I came across. Other than perhaps to bankrupt me, because votive candles aren’t cheap. But in my heart I suspect it was to install into me what now appears to be a life long fascination with ‘the journey’. And how it is both an act of magick and of devotion that transcends religion.

Artists house on the Camino, a stop for pilgrims

Since then I have marvelled at the very beginnings of humanity. At the Cradle of Humankind in the Sterkfontein caves in South Africa I took time to honour my ancestors. I have fallen in love with Lugo a wonderful ancient city on the Camino Primitivo (the original way) heading towards Santiago. There I felt the power of the Great Mother Isis. I have travelled alone from the very Northern tip of France to the Sierra Nevadas in Spain in a personal journey of enlightenment. Left offerings to the Goddess Minerva in an ancient thermal spring. Performed rites to Hekate, Asteria and Perses under a meteor filled sky by a crystal mountain lake. I have followed my nose and communed with the spirits of place in Carnac. Rested on the nearby tumulus St Michel. Stretching my mind far out to sense Glastonbury Tor and St Michael’s Mount far away along the serpentine line.

In recent years the focus of my pilgrimages has been almost singular. The Isle of Yns Môn. I travel along the North Wales costal route, and key points along that journey have become like a mantra. The droning of my engine. The sound of my car tyres on the Tarmac beneath me. Acting like the Buddhist prayer wheels. Rumbling out to the universe my devotion to the landscape around me. And an Island that always feels like home.

So this weekend saw me rise early on a cold and positively wintry morning. With parts of the country caught in the grip of the ‘Beast from the East’ I was uncertain how many would join us in a Pilgrimage to meet the God Manawydan. An event which I helped to organise for members of The Anglesey Druid Order as one of their “Deity Days”. Manawydan is particularly close to my heart as he was the first male deity I ever felt a true connection with.  He reminds me of my own foibles, fragilities and sometimes downright bloody mindedness. He also ensure that I never forget to claim my sovereignty. Nor does he fail me when I have a need for certain types of Magic. But that is another post for another day.

We live in a results based world, where everybody talks in terms of where they went. What they achieved. What they hope to achieve. Always aiming for the final destination. Impatient to be anywhere but where they are right now. Of course I am not perfect and there are many ways in which I still live a thoroughly modern life. But when it comes to my Magick, my Spirituality, I try very hard to take time to enjoy the process. Therefore, my purpose of this day was not to ask him for anything for myself. Just to honour him with each step I took. To facilitate others coming to know him. And hopefully kindle a deeper connection with him.

His location in the Anglesey landscape is without dispute. His story, as we know it, starts with the marriage of Branwen in the 2nd Branch of the Mabinogi. The festivities taking place in the village of Aberffraw. Situated on the south western coastline of the Island. So it was pretty much a no brainer then to walk part of the famous costal path.

View on the Coast Path

We started from Llyn Coron (Crown Lake), through the village and along the costal path to the ancient city on the headland at the mouth of the estuary. Along the route we contemplated his nature and how it might inform our own actions. We left offerings to him and to the house of Llŷr. And we ritualistically left behind us, in small cairns, representations of that which we felt stopped us embracing Manawydan’s qualities of Humility, Justice and Magic. Particularly in relation to claiming our own sovereignty.

My offering in the humility cairn was a handful of pure white dog whelk and cowrie shells which I always covet when I walk along the sea shore. I had been systematically ferreting them away as we walked. For that stretch of coast line is particularly rich. Treasures to bring home and add to my collection. It pained me greatly when I realised that I couldn’t get more humble than to give away a thing I prized in honour and recognition .

The Scallop, A Symbol of Pilgrimage

So imagine my joy later as we were clearing the beach of plastic when I was rewarded with the most beautiful, almost perfect Queen Scallop shell. A symbol which has become almost universally associated with the act of Pilgrimage thanks to the Camino de Santiago. In my mind a clear sign that Manawydan was pleased with our endeavours.

If you would like to know more about The Anglesey Druid Order and what they do you can find them here and here.

Of Oak Ash and Thorn, with the focus on Thorn

As I mentioned earlier this year, I am spending much of the next year studying the Ogham and by default the lore and uses of the trees in the Ogham sets. As May has come around it became very obvious as the sultry scent of Mayflower assaulted my nostrils each time I went walking that my tree for this month had to be The Hawthorn. It’s latin name is Crataegeus Monogyna and It is a member of the Rose family. It normally flowers between May and June. However, there are several different varieties including ones that flower twice a year (Summer and Winter) and one with pink flowers. Other names include the following:

  • Whitethorn
  • Mayflower
  • May Tree
  • Thorn Apple

Fruits are known as ‘Haws’ and are edible and make a reasonable fruit ‘leather’ and a great chutney, however care must be taken to de-seed them as they are quite toxic.

Medicinally the Haws are also considered good for the heart. Although caution should be taken to consult a medical practitioner. Strung as beads on a red thread the berries are considered to be a powerful protection amulet. The bark can be used to make a black dye. [1. Discovering the Folklore of Plants by Margaret Baker]

Associated with Beltane and all May Day celebrations. It is sacred to both Pagans and Christians. Folklore says that the Glastonbury Thorn sprang from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea and in Staffordshire an old folk rhyme claims that “Under a thorn, Our saviour was born” as well as it being believed that the Crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the way to the Cross was made from Hawthorn.

In Ireland even to this day it is believed to be Fairy tree if stood alone. However if part of a hedgerow it is thought to ward off malicious fairies. The connection with the Fae seems to be very important during Beltane, Summer Solstice and Samhain. It is considered very bad luck to interfere with a ‘Fairy Thorn’.

These trees are considered very liminal in nature. And the locations in which they grow are thought not only to be great places of power but also spaces where the veil between this world and the other is the thinnest. Therefore performing divination, energy healing, communing with the Genius Loci are all great activities to carry out under the watchful presence of a Hawthorn tree. [2. Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest]

Finally Hawthorn trees that stand guardian at ‘Holy Wells” are often hung with Clooties, these are strips of cloth either charged with a prayer or dipped in the sacred water and used to bathe the sick person before being hung out upon the tree. In Appleton in Cheshire there is a tradition of bawming (decorating) the tree. The following song known as “The Bawming song” has some interesting tree attributions which reinforces the commonly held belief that lone Hawthorn trees are places where both the Fae and Humans meet for lovers trysts.

The Bawming Song


The Maypole in spring merry maidens adorn,
Our midsummer May-Day means Bawming the Thorn.
On her garlanded throne sits the May Queen alone,
Here each Appleton lad has a Queen of his own

Chorus:

Up with fresh garlands this Midsummer morn,
Up with red ribbons on Appleton Thorn.
Come lasses and lads to the Thorn Tree today
To Bawm it and shout as ye Bawm it, Hooray!

The oak in its strength is the pride of the wood,
The birch bears a twig that made naughty boys good,
But there grows not a tree which in splendour can vie
With our thorn tree when Bawmed in the month of July.

Chorus

Kissing under the rose is when nobody sees,
You may under the mistletoe kiss when you please;
But no kiss can be sweet as that stolen one be
Which is snatched from a sweetheart when Bawming the Tree.

Chorus

Ye Appleton Lads I can promise you this;
When her lips you have pressed with a true lover’s kiss,
Woo’ed her and won her and made her your bride
Thenceforth shall she ne’er be a thorn in your side.

Chorus

So long as this Thorn Tree o’ershadows the ground
May sweethearts to Bawm it in plenty be found.
And a thousand years hence when tis gone and is dead
May there stand here a Thorn to be Bawmed in its stead.

Chorus

Sung to the tune of “Bonnie Dundee” [3. http://www.appletonthorn.org.uk/]

 

I think I could turn and live with animals

Today I wrote the following statement:

One of humanity’s biggest problems is that we believe ourselves to be better than animals and less than the Gods

This is not a new thought for me. Probably one of the earliest realisations I had that my world view did not fit with most of civilised society was the revelation that most people do not believe that animals have souls. That there is no after life (heaven if you will) for animals. I knew then and there I wanted no part of any religion that placed me in an afterlife without animals. Despite my apparently outgoing and gregarious nature my natural state of being is introverted. At parties and gatherings you will find me with the pets and the children (those wonderful humans who have as yet not forgotten how it is to be animal). I am quite animalistic in my nature I trust slowly, love fiercely and have unwavering loyalty. And because of this I truly struggle with many aspects of civilised society, the delicate nuances we are supposed to perceive, the intricate games we are supposed to play.  

I am loathe to use certain vocabulary as it has been abused by the new age community and the cultural misappropriation of  such paths as the indigenous American population and their belief in totem and power animals make it even more difficult to express myself adequately. But I truly believe that connecting with the animal natures with yourself can make for a richer life both in the magickal and mundane realms. It is something our old Gods knew all about. Our Gods and Goddesses were often zoomorphic. Ceridwen knew how to change into a greyhound, an otter, a hawk and a hen. Dylan son of Aranrhod became a seal and returned to the waters. Rhiannon is made to take the form of a horse (or is it her natural form) as part of her punishment for the alleged murder of her son Pryderi. It is such a common phenomena that it might be argued that to be divine you have to access the animals within. Isn’t that an interesting thought, to become Godlike we must understand our animals. But how?

We can of course pay a small fortune to be taken on some Shamanistic journey to find our inner beasts. And I’m not going to decry that. It can work. But often our  journeys to find our “divine animal nature” can be far more mundane and internal. For example after a week long retreat many years ago I was informed that my “totem” was a frog, a liminal creature capable of existing between the worlds of earth and water, a psychopomp and wise one. The Druid animal Oracle has a wonderful image of a frog, the like of which you could find in any garden pond. It states that the frog brings medicine and can help develop “sensitivity to others, to healing and to sound through your skin and your whole body and aura”. To be frank I pretty much snorted at this description, the only thing I had in common with a frog was that when I sang I croaked. And yet I couldn’t shake a certain feeling of kinship. 

When it happened it wasn’t some fabulous realisation of some wonderful aspect of my being that made the connection. It was a realisation of a darker aspect of my nature, an understanding and acceptance of my shadow shelf that finally allowed me to make that bond. The animal Oracle also says about the frog that “There is a hidden beauty and a hidden power in all of nature”. And there as I was quite a few years later, meditating on the idea that a frog had a “hidden power” when ‘pop’ sat on a rock in my interior landscape was a South American red eyed tree frog. Although not poisonous this frog is brightly coloured to shock it’s predators into thinking twice about whether or not it is a tasty snack. Giving it a superlative glamour. And although small it is a fearsome predator in its own right. In addition many of its cousins are poisonous, you squeeze one of them too tight, or hurt them in any way and there is at best a good chance you’ll have hallucinations, paralysis and seizures and worse case, if you try and eat one of these little fellows, well if they are going down they’ll take you with them in the most excruciating way possible. Now that I could relate to. 

You see connecting with any animal aspect isn’t always about the nice things, let’s face it nature just isn’t nice and neither are we. I am very distrusting of anybody who comes across as too nice, too smiley, too spiritual, they are the ones who normally have the most to hide and so far Ive never been proved wrong. My lovely friend Kath told me over a decade ago that I had an instinct second to none. Something I used to dismiss. But it is a divine animal trait in its own right, for after all why is it that a perfectly placid dog can suddenly take umbrage at a specific human being? We’ve all seen it. They sense something that apparently we can’t. Or maybe we can, if we learn to embrace our divine animals. 

Sometimes the animals we are drawn to on the mundane are also teachers for us. My friends know of my passion for Otters. I call them my favourite water borne terrorists. Liminal like the frog existing between earth and water they are often associated with shape shifting and their almost immoral behaviour makes them tricksters of the highest order. They are mustelids meaning they belong to the same family as badgers, weasels, minks and Pole-cats. They are often social and playful, knowing the joy of play for the sake of play, expecting nothing more in life than what they have. Yet they can often kill for fun, not for hunger. They can be vicious and nip and bite, they can fight to the death. But all tricksters pretty much without exception are catalysts for change even if that is by viscous means.

Tricksters are highly intelligent, often seeing a bigger picture or path unavailable to others because they are blinded by dogma and social conventions. Hermes invented lying, and nearly all tricksters have an ability to be economical with the truth, as such the Otter is very good at letting you know when someone is lying to you, because if you’ve embraced that inner divine animal, you know a big whopper when you see one because you’ve considered telling the odd one yourself. Loki, another of the zoomorphic Gods plays a pivotal role in Ragnarok resulting in the death of the Gods. Again, if you’ve embraced that destructive side of your nature then it’s really easy to see when the walls are about to come toppling down. And of course sometimes you realise it’s necessary that you bring the walls down yourself. Anansi, Coyote, Kitsune, Gwydion, Efnysien, Reynard and Puck are all tricksters worth investigating, more than a few of them have a connection to an animal or a zoomorphic aspect. They can be the hero, the bad guy, the fool and the wise man all wrapped up into one. Yet you cannot deny their divinity, their connection to the sacred.

So here is a thought, perhaps the way to fix the world is to start behaving as if we are better than Gods and less than animals and work towards integrating those two aspects of our nature.