The Harp of Maponos

Bum tant yn telyn
Lletrithawc naw blwydyn

-*-

I was a string in a harp
Enchanted for nine years

 Taliesin : Kat Godeu

In that enchantment I became the awen of a note quivering into music, my string resonating with the others as we were plucked. So I learnt the interactions of sound, the waves we sent rippling through the air and I became one with the awen of sound. All of us, each string, all the notes we made singly and in combination, ringing out into the world from the inspired fingers of Maponos who played on the Harp of Time.

Time – the music of the world – striking the chords that measure the days of limited lives. And alongside this : Not-Time, where the nine years passed in an instant and in that condition, while I was with the God who played the Harp, I was in Time and in Not-Time and knew both the passing of the days, the quivering of the strings, and also the fleeting moment as the silence that gives way to sound stretches unheard into Eternity as each note is played.

So there was music. So there was silence. Between the two the God sat at the harp and I was enchanted for nine years, though no time had passed, no breath had passed my lips, as the God played on and on ….

Was I enchanted? Or was I the Enchantment? I was the note and I was the silence ; between the two the God sat, plucking each string, bringing Time out of Not-Time.

 

Awen and Intuition

 

In one of the poems from the early Welsh sagas, Llywarch says to his son Gwên (Gwyn):

Neut atwen ar vy awen
Yn hanvot o un achen
*
I recognise by my awen
That we spring from one bloodline

The use of awen here is unusual in that it seems to mean something closer to ‘intuiton’ than the usual ‘poetic inspiration’. Although Llywarch may have written the verses in which this conversation occurs, and so his divination could be said to be related to poetic inspiration, this doesn’t appear to be the primary meaning here. There are very few other instances in early Welsh poetry where awen is used to convey some inner quality of an individual, usually military genius, though these may be metaphorical usages by the poets who employ them. But if the common use of awen was to indicate some external power – the muse – with which an individual was, however briefly, possessed, the lines above might suggest that it could also be used for an inner quality which individuals may possess as part of their nature.

If so, each of us has an awen, an innate sense of how things are and what they might become, a facility to intuit and to shape those intuitions in an interaction with divine inspiration: possessing and being possessed by awen. This is to taste the drops from the Cauldron, or the flesh of the divine Salmon, or the sweet hazel nuts that have fallen into the Well of Wisdom. Then awen flows like a stream from the Source, lifts like a crane or a heron from Water to Air, blazes like Fire and settles once more to Earth as a divinely formed thing, an artefact shaped by awen.

~*~

So I affirm:

Inspired by awen I sing
From the deep wells of my being
Springing without and within

The Gods

Earth Sculpture at the Lost Gardens of Heligan

 

In Nature they are presences;
In Culture they have form.

_*_

So we may sense one – a trace of pheremone
along a river bank, or in a clump of trees,
some redolent place where a streamlet sinks
into sodden leaves – and wonder what has touched
a dormant nerve so that it awakens tentatively
and then retreats slowly back into the web
of neural pathways. Beyond sense.

Or we may match one to a name, a story
one can inhabit, a life that can be lived
vibrantly emerging from sense to sensibility
in our world where meanings are embodied
in aspiration, desire, relationship, things
that can be touched, but are in essence
beyond touch, too deep to be contained by us.

So we claim one, or more, for our tribe,
our land, our story of who or what we are,
and they live with us, finding a form
in the life we give them, growing into identities
or sliding between them as we shape their stories:
becoming familiar they dwell alongside us, companions
to our lives and yet strangers in the shadows of perception.

_ _
*

As we re-construct their past mystery
They are ever-present : never history.


A prose argument developed from this verse can be found on the DUNBRYTHON Blog.

Severed Heads and Sovereignty

Three wells of the world – so the Norse myth says
One guarded by Mimir’s head, from which wisdom flows.

Three heads in the well – so the folk tale tells it:

(“Fair maid, white and red,
Comb me smooth and stroke my head;
And every hair a sheave shall be
And every sheave a golden tree.”) *

What they say will be, will be.

Prophetic voices out of wells.
So Febul’s seeress says:
“This sea of grey water was once a fair green land with white flowers.
It was Bran who brought it, the flood that drowns the land”.

It was the Head of Brân who spoke to those who came back across the sea
For bliss to reign until the door is opened – until the seal is broken
Like Branwen’s heart – would that she had spoken and proffered the cup
But she was absent from this company, an echo sundered from a body.

Come back Branwen to our feast, our Otherworld sojourn where you offer
The drink that sustains us from the Cup of Plenty and the Mead of Belonging
So there is no door we must not open, no usurped land we cannot claim
So we may inherit and inhabit the land together in your name.

Notes

According to Ynglinga Saga The Vanir cut off Mimir’s head and sent it back to the Æsir so Odinn preserved it in herbs and placed it by one of the three wells that rise under Yggdrasil. According to Snorri’s Edda “Under the root that goes to the frost giants is the Well of Mimir. Wisdom and intelligence is hidden there”. In the Seeress’s Prophecy in the Poetic Edda, Odinn hid his eye there which he gave in exchange for wisdom.

Severed heads are a recurring theme in Celtic myth, often discussed in terms of a ‘cult of the head’ as in Anne Ross’ Pagan Celtic Britain. But here I see this as a sundering of Brân from Branwen who together embody the sovereignty of Ynys Prydain (see also notes to the previous post).

* Words adapted from by George Peele in his play The Old Wives Tale (1595) ~> from a folk tale ~>

At the end of the second branch of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, Brân’s head is cut off by his own instruction after he is wounded in the foot (in the Welsh tale of Peredur while the lamed King entertained him a severed head on a platter is carried through the room instead of a grail as in the Grail legends). Branwen dies of a broken heart and is buried, so is absent from the sojourn in Gwales over which the head of Brân presides.

Meanwhile the sovereignty of Ynys Prydain has been usurped and cannot be regained, so Manawydan in the Third branch cannot inherit and retreats with Pryderi to Dyfed. There he marries Rhiannon and restores sovereignty – by confronting an Otherworld adversary – on a different plane entirely from that of the secular power usurped by Caswallawn.

Is this now our task?

BRANWEN

Bedd Branwen
Bedd Branwen (Branwen’s Grave) at Aber Alaw.
A Neolithic standing stone here was later covered by a Bronze Age burial mound.

A honno oed tryded prif rieni yn yr ynys hon
(And she was one of the three great progenitors of this Island)

How far back before her story was told
Did she proffer the cup of sovereignty of the Island
Her giant brother – or other self – holding it as a cauldron
Before the spring which pulses beneath Loch Febuil flooded the fair plain
So that the one who plundered and the one who held the treasure became one
Long before the islands of Britain and Ireland were sundered
Before the wolf-grey seas rushed in and so they were separate
Brother and Sister in the legends of the land
(though he would be a bridge between them).
Who then sought sovereignty and where was its source?

Each of them buried deep in the Earth of the Island
Held it in safe keeping : She in a grave at Aber Alaw,
He under the White Mount where Arthur sought him
Taking the sovereignty to hold for his own:
The raid on the White Mount, the raid on Annwfn,
The raid for the Cauldron there and in Ireland
Retelling the story over and over again
(as Culhwch got Olwen and the Giant was vanquished)
Re-living the quest of Bran for the Cauldron
Beneath the spring where Branwen held it.

Notes

In the Welsh of the Second Branch of the Mabinogi Brân – or Bendigeidfran – is a giant and is brother to Branwen and Manawydan, offspring of Llŷr. Brân has a cauldron which came with another giant from under a lake in Ireland and is sent back to Ireland with Matholwch when he marries Branwen.

In the well-known Irish story of Bran Son of Febul he sets off in a ship to sail to the Otherworld and meets Manannan Mac Lir on the sea who directs him on his way.

The lesser known story about Bran Son of Febul is recounted in some verses recording an exchange between Febul’s Prophetess and Bran’s Druid. The druid recounts how he had a vision of treasure hidden under a spring and of Bran’s quest to recover it. The Prophetess tells of how beautiful the plain around the spring was before the treasure was taken and how the land was flooded because Bran’s expedition offended the female guardians of the spring. The resultant flood formed Loch Febuil, now known as Lough Foyle.

Arthur in the Welsh poem Preiddeu Annwn, from The Book of Taliesin, sails in his ship Prydwen to raid the Otherworld in search of treasure, in particular a cauldron. One of his men, Lleawc, thrusts his sword into the Cauldron. In the Welsh tale of Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur sails to Ireland to get a cauldron. One of his men, Llenlleawc, said himself to be an Irishmen, wielding Arthur’s sword, captures the Cauldron.

Brân’s head was buried beneath the White Mount to protect the Island of Britain. In one of the Welsh triads, Arthur is said to have dug up the head because he wanted to be the sole protector of the Island. So the symbol of sovereignty became the Crown.

EPONALIA

 


Awakening from a dream
In the half-light of a winter dawn

The vision of a white horse
Bright against the starkness of the day

The Sun riding low on the saddle
Of a ridge shrouded with mist

 

 

SACRED WATERS

 

 

ffynnon
Is it the well
Where the pool lies still
Beneath the grill cover

 

 Or the nearby falls
Where the stream fills
The air with living water?

dsc00194

 

Meditation for
Mererid
 

I asked about the Broken Well. She said the well is not broken, cannot be broken, for water will flow where the will takes us.

I asked about the flood. She said it was good that there should be flood, that water should flow where the will takes us.

“Look not just at the well where water lies still, but think that it rises, pulses, deep below where strong currents flow that give life to the world.”

“Time taken here to reflect on stillness, the deep mirror of awen, is spirit time out of the flow of worldly time, but time runs freely like water in the world: run with it, go with the streams of waters through the world. Be such a stream as water teaches that you may be.”

“Living water is not still, not a clear pool such as these depths seem that you stare into, but alive deep down. Rising and falling as the will takes us. Do not lose yourself in the stillness, though it is here for you when you need it. Find what is below, what rises to flow through the world which is threaded with living water, beaded with drops on land and in air as well as where the rivers run.”

“My wells are everywhere. I keep each one and guide the waters. Be with me often as you go your ways through the world and I will touch you with a blessing of living water, as the will takes us.”

 

~~>mererid.cymru

BABEL

How many miles to Babylon?

image

Merfyn Peake
Listen to the spirit language
in silence

Is there a voice?
No human voice.

Words?
They are unbidden, uncalled for:

All the words in the world
but that we seek
Unwordly, unworldly, unsounded.

To get there
and back again
no need to count the miles
but kindle the flame
which flickers, falters
for a candle space
a candle time.

Listen! - they are timeless,
the smooth words flowing,

Hardening to roughness:
corrugations
in the runnels
of history.

Reverie in a Museum Gallery

king
Lewis Chessmen – King

 

 

Ranging back —- to origins, finding them
Unfamiliar yet still responsive
Calling across Time from an eternal Present
A chess piece static on a board with shifting squares
Watching movements through the sea passages
Celtic, Norse – distinct identities fusing as the game plays out,
The squares, the circles, the undulant sea roads, the winding pathways of the mountains
All leading on as moves are made
The King waiting expectantly
The Queen taking a long view across the patchwork of the times, the ages, the changes that come through movements that re-arrange even the board, the landscape of the game.

The pieces unrecognisable now but still watching
Dreaming the world we know.

Lewis Chessmen
Lewis Chessmen
Queen

Heronflight

FLIGHT
Photo by Janet Baxter

The bird cried – and her cry called to me over the waters, the cold mere, the flowing brooks, the banks of willows green against the silver-grey of the lake, the iron-grey of the sky.

Would I follow? My bird-self would, went willingly, winging over the waters with feathered arms splayed out, beating slowly. A fine mist of rain drifted on the air, resolved to other-air, brought me silently there into the other-element of water and air: a mist world that made everything within it glow transparently, suffused with a light that flows like water, like mist, like clouded thistledown – crystallised earthlight, waterlight under a crystal sky.

Here in this self I can be still, stare in a quiet quest for wisdom distilled out of the glassy depths of water, mirror-like until you learn to look through the glinting face of it, behind the reflected eyes of a bird’s stare, the beak’s wand of interrogation pointing out resolving images below. So they come, slowly but surely in the depths of the mirror reflecting what is within from what is without, deep into the crystal caverns where the stillness is, where colours drain to their essence : the white light of absence calling to the other pole of being : the many colours of the world.

Far away from me now, but there, unrealised in this crystal whiteness, seen through it : the world of sense, voluptuous in its variety from the starkness of here – the tang of salt dissolving to the sweetness of sugar only to resolve back again to this. I am salt-blind as I stare, but seeing nonetheless.

Quick as a flash! I’m turning back, wings beating out through the mist, bright sun on water as I glide to the willows, walk on dry land, stepping out of feathers, wings ; back to arms and legs, slowly finding my feet; back to familiarity.