Walking Eleri



Away from the estuary, the long, straight stretch of water channelled along the edge of the bog, draining it into the sea.

Away from this along a winding stream rippling over a stony bed, rushing towards its salty end. 



Back from this through the tunnel of trees, or so it seems in summer when the leaves hang heavy over the water.



But now - in spring - the winding river meandering this way and that between wooded banks is lighter, airier, less mysterious. Leaves are unfurling but not yet luxuriant.



Even so its enchantments are a joy to the heart: anenomes in hollows along the edge, sunlight falling on glittering rapids or glazing deep pools in slow-moving channels with yellow-green light.

Walking upstream into this place is like walking into a dream, a vision of the blessed realm, but here tangible, in space and time, the world we know, enclosing and enduring.

Step by step I pace the river; the river runs on. But the path falters, losing itself in a sea of aromatic wood garlic leaves. I have to leave the river, climb a steep bank away from the flow into a field.

Bereft of the river now. The field is empty but the river rushes on beneath the trees, a hidden mystery.


I cross the field to a lane. Then walk on another way to find her again flowing beneath an old stone bridge. I pause as I cross but cannot recover the sense of travelling to a hidden country. The road home is hard and I tread it heavily. 

Spring










The crescent waxing moon in the west the other night was tinged with red. It was some time after sunset so I didn't expect reflected light from that. Mars was also visible not far off and my star-gazing was done in a magical atmosphere as the sky seemed suffused with a misty light that did not prevent the stars from being seen but put them into soft focus. Orion, which I have marked in the sky through the winter, has now sunk below the horizon, though my star map tells me Betelgeuse should still be visible low on the horizon. Although the Plough will continue to be prominent, pointing to the the North Star, the shorter, lighter nights to come will cause most of the stars to fade into the background even where they are still visible.

Among the things to do in the garden as the weather improves, I have removed the panels from the front of our garage which allow the swallows, when they arrive, to access their usual nesting place in the garage roof space. Unlike the martens who build their nests in the eaves of the main house, swallows like an enclosed space, so we always make sure they can get in by removing the panels which we put back when they have left before the winter.

The cowslips have put on a good show in the wild garden this year and as apple blossom begins to show on the tree Spring seems to be advancing fast in clear bright weather though it remains cold at night. The flowers of Yellow Archangel are also magnificent. Some years there a very few or none at all although the variegated green-white leaves always put on a good show. But every few years, as now, the yellow flowers blossom in profusion. Along with the celandines they turn the garden into a blaze of yellow against the green. Now there are bluebells too and soon they will add their own contribution to the palette.

Trioedd Bae Ceredigion



The Three Deluged Giants of Cardigan Bay

Nodon, who had a well on the great plain of Maes Maichgen, now under the sea.
He would drink from it and bathe in it and guarded it jealously.
So Merid, the well maiden, kept it covered and opened for none but he.

Gwyddno Garanhir of Cantre’r Gwaelod whose long legs bestrode the waters like a crane.
He had a well kept by Mererid on his land which spread at the foot of the mountains in a great plain.
Seithennin betrayed him and Mererid fled so he will not look over this land ever again.

Bendigeidfran who crossed the rivers of Lli and Archen to reach Iwerddon beyond them.
He was a bridge for his people who came to recover the Cauldron and rescue Branwen.
His head led a remnant of his people over the sea to Gwales when the Cauldron was broken.


The Three Violated Maidens of Cardigan Bay

Merid who kept the well of Nodon on the plain of Maichghen far to the West.
She was left bereft by a drunkard who broke the well-head to his cost.
The waters rose behind him and overtook him and the plain now is lost.

Mererid who kept the well of Gwyddno Garanhir and the cup of plenty.
Seithennin would drink from her cup so he drained it until it was empty.
Mererid on a bay mare fled as the flood waters rose and rushed over the land to the sea.

Branwen went with the Cauldron – or it went with her – over the sea to wed.
Her tears for Gwern and the many slain swelled as the blood of conflict was shed.

A sea of sorrow brought her death from a broken heart and the grave is now her bed. 

*

These triads of my own making reflect a reading of local folklore pertaining to Cardigan Bay which I discuss on The Guardian of the Well HERE ~>



Gutuater



They found it in the ground:
A basement shrine beneath
the site of a Roman villa;
Hidden, even then and for
two-thousand years since.
The villa’s Roman owner,
was also a Gaul, descended
to worship his gods, and spirits 
among them dru, a priesthood 
passed by then into the spirit world 
and invoked here with inscriptions 
on an altar and thuribles containing 
traces of cannabis burnt there
to scent the air, and to aid the vision.

Was the rite conducted by a gutuater?
(‘master of voice’, ‘inspirer of song’)
chanting to inspire a modern awenydd
stepping down into the smoke of the chamber,
hearing the uttered syllables, riding the waves
of sound in the torchlight, finding a way back
to that world, re-creating, even as they did,
a rite that is alive in vision, in the presence
of those spirits called upon to officiate
as before, and again when invoked
in that cellar, and so now in this present,
in this voice which calls and shapes a prayer
from out of the Cauldron, out of the depths
of an Otherworld of song here with us.




For ‘Gutuater’, a  word found on inscriptions in Gaul, and for an account of finding the cellar while excavating for a car park in Chartres,  see Miranda Aldhouse-Green Sacred Britannia (2018) pp.29-32.

Half-Term With Osian


February, but the weather is warm
and bright so we go to walk by the sea.
It is high tide & though there's no wind
big waves are breaking (Moon & Sun 
aligning) tall walls of water running 
in to the shore, crashing against the sea 
wall and rising to pillars of spray, some 
catching the bright rays of sunlight and 
flashing sudden rainbows before they fall.
We stand back, just out of range watching
the water running across the stones missing
us by yards, but still feeling the far edge
of spray caressing our cheeks.
A big wave comes now and we retreat
from the cascade and the running stream,
Osian holding hands tightly as we take him
back up out of reach. We go home with a tang
of salt on our faces: why he likes to stay.

Phoenix, Keltoi and Others

Early in my schooldays I did a history project on the Phoenicians. I didn’t question who or what they were. They were just part of history. By the time I was old enough to ask further questions I had left them behind and was thinking of other things. But I recently read a review of a book which seems to question their existence(1). In this view they were a construction of the Greeks who wrote about them, a collective term for a category of ‘others’, traders who operated across North Africa and Lebanon. But in spite of being described by the catch-all term: phoenix, their common identity may be no more certain than that of the mythical bird with whom they share a name. They were not, apparently, a distinct ethnic group, nor even an organised network of trading peoples. For the Greeks who wrote about them ‘Phoenicia’ might well have seemed like a distinct place which these peoples inhabited. But the Phoenicians themselves had other ideas. There is a single surviving example of one of these people describing ‘Phoenicia’ as his home. But it is a bilingual funerary inscription and this is only the case in the Greek text. In his own language the person concerned, someone called Antipatros, describes himself as an ‘Ashkelonite’. So Phoenicia is likely to be a translation into terms Greek readers of the inscription would understand.

 It may be that when people are relating to a dominant culture they will use the terms of that culture’s view of them to describe themselves. To the dominant culture ‘others’ are frequently categorised in general terms rather than specific identifiers which are of no interest to those regarding their own culture as the central focus of their world view. The Greeks similarly categorised the tribes to the north of them as ‘Keltoi’, another catch-all term which these ‘Celts’ sometimes also used to describe themselves. For the Romans, when they had become the dominant European culture, the Carthaginians, with whom they were at war, were thought of as those same Phoenicians the Greeks had described, hence the Latin descriptor ‘Punic’, a word from the same root. If they began to differentiate between the ‘Celts’ it was because they needed to differentiate between those they had conquered, e.g, the ‘Gauls’ and those they had not e.g. the ‘Germans’, tribes occupying one side or the other of the Rhine which was the frontier between territory occupied by the Romans and what was beyond.

 In her most recent work on Roman Britain(2) Miranda Aldhouse Green also deals with the sense of provincial peoples as ‘others’, even when they had become fully Romanised. It is understandable that groups such as the Druids who stood in the way of the conquering army and resisted the spread of Roman values, or the Germanic tribes who remained outside the Roman sphere, should be thought of in this way. But, to the sophisticated citizens of Rome itself, fully Romanised peoples from the provincial areas of the Empire could be similarly patronised. So the satirist Juvenal can jeer at a Gaulish consul called Laterus for worshipping the Goddess Epona rather than native Roman gods:

He swears before Jove’s high altar
By none but his revered
Goddess of horses, and images daubed
On the stinking stalls.

 So much, we might think, for the interpretatio Romana, but Green observes that Juvenal is here representing a not uncommon ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude and a hatred of un-Roman practices among the peoples of Rome in spite of the apparently tolerant attitude to the diverse and multi-ethnic nature of the Empire which sustained the home city. Green makes the comparison with modern intolerance in a number of places in her work. She begins by quoting Herodian, a Roman historian who describes Britain as a barbaric place where the natives happily wade through swamps and do not wear clothing but paint their bodies instead. This was written not before Britain was part of the Empire, but two hundred years after it had become incorporated into it. Green compares Herodian to Donald Trump and his wish to build a wall between America and those strange ‘others’ beyond the southern border of his sovereignty. She reminds us that such attitudes are not new and often coloured the accounts of other peoples of the ancient world by the colonising powers first of Greece and later of Rome. We should not take what they say too seriously. Fake news - then and now - is always with us. But avoiding an identity which mirrors that of the dominant sovereign powers, and instead finding another sovereignty which governs a more elusive sense of who and what we are - as it is suggested was the case with the Phoenicians - may make what we are harder to pin down, and enable a refusal of labels that attempt to categorize ourselves, or anyone else, as 'others'. And that, in a world of dividing walls, hard brexits and rigid nationalities can only be a good thing.

(1) In Search of the Phoenicians by Josephine Quinn (Princeton, 2017), reviewed in The London Review of Books, 3 January 2019 by Robert L Cioffi .
(2) Sacred Britannia by Miranda Aldhouse Green (Thames and Hudson, 2018).