The Washer at the Ford

beannighe{Arthur Rackham}

Of all the lore concerning the coming of Winter and the transitions (both personal and mythological) which shape the deeper significances of the dark months at the the year’s end, the image of the Washer at the Ford, the Cailleach, the Shadow Woman – call her what you will – is most deeply embedded in my responses to Winterfall. I have written of her elsewhere but I recently came across this interleaving of deep mythos, local folklore and Brythonic legend in a folklore record from North Wales:

“… there is a parish called Llanferrys and Rhyd y Gyfarthfa, ‘Ford of the Barking’, is there, and in olden times the dogs of the country would come there to bark, and no-one would venture to go to see what was there until Urien of Rheged came. He saw nought but a woman washing. And then the dogs stopped barking, and Urien took hold of the woman and had possession of her.”
from T. Gwynn Jones Welsh Folkore and Custom (1930)

The story continues that she is the daughter of the King of Annwn but is destined to have a child fathered by a christian man. She tells him to return at the end of the year and when he returns she presents him with a son and a daughter: Owain and Morfudd.

This is interesting in itself because of the conflation of historical and legendary material from the ‘Old North’ of Welsh tradition with a local tale which itself contains elements of both mythological and folkloric provenance. The coupling of Urien, the sixth century king of the Brythonic territory of Rheged in what is now southern Scotland and north-western England, with the daughter of the King of of the Otherworld (Gwyn ap Nudd) suggests a union between Thisworld and the Otherworld intricate with a sovereignty theme in that a king in Thisworld has to marry and Otherworld woman to validate his power (consider the marriage of Pwyll to Rhiannon in the first of the four Mabinogi tales). At its worse, the tale as related here however portrays the union as little more than a casual rape by a powerful lord of a woman washing her clothes in the river. But identifying the woman as an Otherworld princess shifts the tale to another level. Would such a woman be washing her clothes in the river and would she permit herself to be raped? It seems unlikely on both counts, but Otherworld women are rarely what they seem. The story appears to rationalise her compliance with Urien in that it is her ‘destiny’ to bear his children. But the image of the Washer at the Ford is far too profoundly embedded in the mythos for its appearance here to be taken, as the wording above has it, as “nought but a woman washing”.

In some occurrences of the sovereignty theme in folklore and myth, the king has to be prepared to couple with the goddess of the land both in her winter and her summer aspects, or he has to take her as an old hag so that she may become a young woman again. This is often also a variant in stories about dalliances with Otherworld women who are able to change their form from beautiful to hideous and there is sometimes a suggestion of initiatory processes in this being accepted by the would-be lover. Such an initiatory journey may itself be portrayed in disguised form in story and so find its way into the folklore record. A man may have to be prepared to marry an old crone who becomes a beautiful young woman after he has slept with her, as in stories that made their way into mainstream literature such as Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tale. A young woman might equally have to become subject to an ogre or, in the classic fairy story, to kiss a frog. It is the confrontation with otherness that is enacted here, being prepared to be tested or to step out of the comfort zone of everyday life. When such stories are embedded in the folk or faërie lore record they tend to reflect in a generalised way personal journeys of quest, change or psychological discovery. At the religious level they are reflective of initiation into the mysteries. Mythologically they embody the personas of the gods through the changing seasons, the changes of history, geology, cosmology. The Washer at the Ford is not to be ‘possessed’ at a whim and it is significant that it has to wait for a great figure like the legendary Urien to approach her.

We have here, then, an impacted record of change. A change of season from Autumn to Winter where the Washer sits at the threshold of the two seasons wailing for the fate of the God of Summer as the leaves fall from the trees all about her. A change of status for one who dares to cross the ford and confront her. A change that also reflects here shifting historical, cultural and religious patterns across the Island of Britain as a momentous leader of an old kingdom in the North turns up in Wales in a story about a place people fear to go to and the barking of the dogs ceases as he appeases the spirit of the place. In such ways are different traditions and older mythologies overlaid, one on the other, interwoven and re-synthesised into stories the significance of which may not always be clear, or even fully discernible, but through which the gods still speak to us as they always have.

Anrhegion yr Awen

mist
A day of dreaming: daydreaming of nightdreams, visions, visits and experiences, things glimpsed, things seen: perceptions in the landscape, in the mindscape, in the sensescape, coalescing in the not-dream, the half-dream, the suspended waking state of stillness, stasis, when nothing moves for an instant but everything flows like an endless welling-up from the springs of Annwn.

So it was, it all came though nothing moved, nothing changed in time but all was flux in not-time, coming not in a sequence or continuous line but flowing together as one wave from an endless sea ebbing back from the high tide of now to the low tide of forever and turning to flow again all in a moment of rhythmic grace occupying no space but the one glimpsed in a glint of light in a single drop from the splash of water over the rocks.

The way through was clear; the way through was dark. But the memories came out of the not-space between: the owl, the horse, the heron’s wingbeat all in a weave of light and not-light. Birds called out over the sea; the wingbeat sounded over the land, the big wing, the widewing of the long-beaked bird – a sound that was no-sound so faint on the still air, so slight on the breeze, rippling like a river through the sentient world, silent as a salve on the soul.

Is there a way back, and from where? I am here, now; yet still there, then. Time still drifts sideways though less widely as the flow is glimpsed again, moving on, sequencing the world and bidding me join in again. Things run once more in a line. It is time.

The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir

In an earlier post on this blog I published a translation of the conversation between Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir from the medieval Welsh manuscript of The Black Book of Carmarthen. I was impelled to do this as part of my own exploration of the relationship between Gwyn and Gwyddno in terms of the mythical significance of the landscape in which I live. But my intention in publishing it was to make the text available to others who might be inspired by it. One that I thought would be interested was Lorna Smithers who has since made her own use of the translation the result of which is published below. Lorna has taken this material under the mantle of an awenydd in re-imagining it and interweaving the translation with her account of the passing of Gwyddno in her own words. Her researches into the meaning of Gwyddno’s cognomen ‘Garanhir’ (usually translated ‘longshanks’ but literally indicating long legs like a crane, from the Welsh word garan=crane) are put to inspired use in her portrayal of Gwyddno’s re-adoption of his crane nature as he is guided to the halls of the dead by Gwyn ap Nudd as psychopomp.

Lorna showed me an earlier draft of this piece and I spoke of my feeling of the background of Borth Bog as a place that might have been haunted by cranes. The bog stretches down to the beach where the remains of a sunken forest can be seen at low tide, often taken to be the location the drowned land of Cantre’r Gwaelod where the legendary Gwyddno lived in his fort now beneath the waves at the end of a lost road under the sea. I have since been able to share the experience of walking along the bog with Lorna on her recent visit when we also undertook a powerful joint reading of ’The Crossing of Gwyddno Garanhir’ by the sea’s edge at Borth. It was a privilege to be able to work with Lorna on this and for her to be contributing her tale of Gwyddno’s crossing here:

Borth beach

Mist drowns the beach at Borth. Not this-Borth or the other-Borth but somewhere inbetween. An old man, grey-skinned, crane-legged, picks his way along the pebbled edge of his drowned land, spumes of tidal foam spilling over his feet.

He recalls days of watching cranes from the estuary; wide white winged, red and black masked, knowing every step of their dancing legs and its meaning. Words and letters are now slipping away like the patterns of that intricate black-legged dance.

Images wash against him: a drunken sloth, a dishevelled maid, between them a broken cup. Breached floodgates and the sea washing in scarred by lightning bolts beneath a sky of storm.

The madness of a leaping coracle. A face white as sea-foam. A cold hand sliding from his grasp as with a swirl of blonde she was gone.

A youth stirring a cauldron spilling three careless drops. Cracking black iron. A deluge of poison. His beloved horses drinking, rolling, burning, searing, tossing their necks, lips spuming froth.

His son finding that youth sewn into a weathered crane-skin bag instead of salmon in the abundant weir. Unpicking the stitches. The flashing needle speaking its letters. The immortal speech of the radiant-browed one stepping uncanny from the dark unfolding womb.

How that child-bard freed his son from the dragon’s castle. His grey-eyed worry and irregular beating of his heart.

Cors FochnoThe old man can no longer remember any names. He believes this is because the cranes are gone. They upped on white wings on the day of the storm, dark legs carving ominous signs across the skies. Settled in new wetlands. Visited estuaries until the poison spilled, their trembling legs gave way and their wings sunk under the boiling muddy brew (as she sunk years ago).

He will never see each red and black face he knew by name. She will never don her mask. They will never dance, elegant, long-legged at court or knee-deep wading through wetlands.

He will never match faces to names. He will never remember his kinsmen who died fighting in the north as he lay in his chamber afloat on despair and old age lifted only by imagined cries of cranes returning. He can no longer remember his name.

He picks his way along the edge of his drowned land, white tidal spumes tugging at his feet, face grey and weathered like a bag of crane-skin on tall and unsteady legs. His twitching shoulders remind him of wings carrying him to this beach where he drowns in mist and nameless sorrow.

Borth Beach IIBeginning to fear he cannot bear his sadness anymore, he looks west. The sky is lit by a mysterious brightness. Breaking the pall like lightning, a white warrior steps from the mist with a horned helmet, upright shield and spear, leading a white horse streaming from its bridle followed by a white dog with a tail of clouds whose red nose is the setting sun.

The old man sees a thousand battles; shattered shields, broken helmets, heads pierced by spears, in his furious gaze. His ears fill with battle-cries; death-cries.

He sways in awe and terror before this fierce bull of battle, who seems to carry the very dead within his person, yet addresses him in the traditional manner and asks with dignity for protection.

“You who ask shall have protection.” The warrior’s kindness is disarming.

The old man trembles with relief. “Who are you? Where do you come from?”

“I come from many battles. Many deaths.”

Death-scenes flash before the old man’s eyes. Blood drenched armour. Men bent on spears. Words wrenched from agony. Flesh torn by ravens. He sees faces but cannot remember their names although he shares their pain and tears drench his cheeks. A wild whinny shakes him.

“My horse is Carngrwn; terror of the field,” says the warrior. “My name is Gwyn ap Nudd, lover of Creiddylad, daughter of Lludd.”

When the old man hears those names his inner crane-knowing awakens. He remembers his mother’s stories about Gwyn ap Nudd: the warrior-huntsman who haunts wildernesses and places of the dead and may be invoked or placated for love of his partner, Creiddylad. He remembers her crane-tales. How she lifted him from a crane-bag and gifted him with a name.

“My name is… garan…” he stumbles in reply… “Gwyddno… Garanhir.” As he recalls being taken into his mother’s white, feathery wings, other memories flood back to him: the names of his wife Ystradwen, his son Elffin, the child-bard Taliesin, Seithenin and Mererid who broke the flood gates.

Gwyddno speaks his rush of memories to Gwyn, who listens patiently until Carngrwn paws the tides and pulls away from the bridle, chomping foam from his golden bit.

“The white horse calls this talk to an end,” Gwyn speaks abruptly. “We must depart to further bloodshed in Tawe and Nedd, not this Tawe but the one far away where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore. To my sorrow I attended a battle at Caer Fanddwy…”

Gwyddno shivers at Gwyn’s words of another Tawe and the name of a fortress that is not of thisworld. He recalls stories about Gwyn riding forth from the otherworld to gather the souls of the dead. An awful knowing washes over him like tidal waters, beginning from his toes.

The white hound draws closer ruddy-nosed. “His name is Dormach,” says Gwyn. “Do not fear him. He was with Maelgwn and has accompanied many of the other men of your lineage to protection within my realm.”

Gwyddno’s vision swims. Dormach shifts into mist to dog again his nose to sun to nose. The death-hound’s gaze remains constant, inescapable.

“I was there at the deaths of Gwenddolau son of Ceidio,” Gwyn says, “Bran son of Ywerydd, Llachau son of Arthur, Meurig son of Careian and Gwallog son of Llenog. I helped them cross. They will be waiting for you on the otherside.”

As the names of long forgotten kinsmen return to match their war-torn faces, Gwyddno yearns to be re-united. His crane-wings stir.

Yet the gatherer of souls has not finished his speech. Gwyn cries:

“I was there when the warriors of Britain were slain,
from the east to the north;
I live on; they are in the grave.

I was there when the warriors of Britain were slain,
from the east to the south;
I live on; they are dead.”

Gwyn mounts his rearing white horse and they depart in a fury of sea foam into clouds of unendurable brightness.

Borth Beach IVThe mist lifts and Gwyddno sees his lost land illuminated within a boat’s reach by the light of the setting sun. Yet he does not need a boat and oars to follow where Dormach leads.

Gwyddno Garanhir hears the call of cranes bellowing, aching, sees their white wings, recognises every face, knows it is time to return to the flock. He spreads his wings. Puts on his red-black mask. His legs spell his crossing in black letters across blue-bright skies as he joins his kindred, finally touching feathers with his wife, promising later they will dance their names.

This crossing was not his final one. He may be found at Borth when the mist descends, white winged, crane-legged, a wise old man unsewing a crane bag, speaking of salmon, whispering to horses of sea-foam, a teacher of words and letters, telling often (as his mother did) the stories of Gwyn ap Nudd.

Lengthening Shadows

The woods this afternoon
The woods this afternoon

The shadows lengthen. But it is not yet dark. On the traditional date for Samhain kids are about in ghoul masks and the like but the seasons have shifted. It feels distinctly autumnal, but not yet the beginning of winter. In the woods the leaves have turned from green to gold. Though many have begun to fall, many are still on the trees. The way into the woods is blocked ; the ways are not yet open!

No way through?
No way through?

So I’ll wait another week until the Dark of the Moon before I mark the passing from light to dark. Today I placed what will very likely be the last rose of the season on my garden altar for Rigantona. Not yet does my focus move from the white horse to the brown whose wooden shape is slowly rotting into the roots of another rose bush.

Below the woods I visited the yew tree and here, in its deep shade, there was indeed a premonition of what is to come. And so a pledge was made to return as the Moon wanes away, to dwell a while in the dark place at the heart of this ancient tree.

yew sillouette 2

The Name of the Well Maiden

John Rhys, in his study Celtic Foklore (1901), discussing a poem in The Black Book of Carmarthen , dealing with the inundation of Cantre’r Gwaelod on the shores of Cardigan Bay, says this:
“The name … Mererid, Margarita, ‘a pearl’ … but what does it here mean? …. the name given to some negligent guardian of a fairy well. It cannot very well be, however, the name belonging to the original form of the legend.”

My own meditation on this question follows, based on my experience of this landscape and its resonant features.

BorthForestThe remains of trees on the beach at Borth, Cardigan Bay

What is the name of the well maiden?
– the one who wept
tears of grief when the seal was broken
so the engulfing waters swept
over the land , drowning the forest that watched the sea?

Was it ‘Pearl’
– a hidden bud
of moisture in the enclosing earth
and stone, its pulse swelling to a flood
rushing down the cairn-strewn hill?

If not Mererid,
then to what hidden name will she answer
to those who seek the source?
Is she kin to Sulis or Coventina,
or to some sea nymph, say Morgana

Dwelling now in Gwyddno’s fort out under
the crashing waves
where the old road runs into the sea
her hair laved by the ebb and flow of the tides,
her wail echoed in the seabird’s plaintive cries.

The Worm of Whispermere

P270609_15.04

There was a fearsome serpent known as The Worm of Whispermere and no-one ever knew when it would appear and everyone went in fear of it whenever they took one of the paths through the wood or over the desolate hill. But it was part of the life of the land and the soul of the territory that everyone knew they belonged to. Then one day a brave knight came on a quest to slay the serpent and he rode through the wood and out onto the desolate hill with a fearsome spear and a sword and it was said that the serpent was no match for his terrible weapons. The knight rode back to the town and announced that the serpent was dead and drowned in the mere on the desolate hill. The knight decreed that his deed should be recorded in the annals to ensure his fame and then he rode off in quest of further adventures.

As for those left behind, for a while they felt safe to walk across the wild places without fear. But something was missing. Those places no longer felt so wild; in fact they felt ….. empty. Something had gone out of the world and the world had shrunk, become shallow. So it seemed. It wasn’t just that the serpent had gone into the deep mere. The mere itself was no longer deep, no more in fact than a shallow pool with not a whisper of mystery about it. The very deeps of the world had re-adjusted themselves. The shadows at the woodland eaves no longer beckoned or repelled. They were just ….. a bit of shade under the leaves. The path into the wood had been enticing with a bit of the spice of danger attached to it. Now it was just a muddy track that didn’t go anywhere particularly – only across that bare hill with nothing much to be said for it. So it seemed. Some remembered old stories, but less as time went on until there was nothing much to remember except some old tale about a knight, though no-one knew his name.

But if you take the muddy track through the wood and go onto the hill and find the pond, you may also find, looking into it, that the waters hold a secret and if you listen to the whispers in the ripples on the surface they might carry that secret to you so that, somehow, you might hear it. But if the deeps of the world with all their attendant fears and fascinations were then to tilt back out of the empty waters, and the shadows creep back through the eaves of the wood, might you discover the world to be a place where you could find yourself facing the knight, or whoever he would be nowadays, come to slay a serpent? And would you refuse his offer as an unwanted imposition, or would you accept his promise of security?

The Solace of Rhiannon’s Birds

Labyrinth

I sought some solace in Rhiannon’s birds
that I might come to life again
or be lulled into a gentle sleep from which
a new life might begin. So birds came:

A blue tit hopped in through the window
and flew back to the wild from a cupped hand;
the swallows in the garage had four chicks
which came and went through an open door;

A young heron stepped slowly along a streamlet
intent on prey – these birds moved through the world
to bring me back to it, taking me with them
as they flew into the light of the Sun.

Then at Full Moon I awoke long before dawn
to go out under stars bright in the Moon’s eclipse
which was not an eclipse because there, smoke-red
she was visible in the sky and yet not visible.

From this deep mystery I went back
to the otherworld of sleep, it seemed
that I still walked the path of the dead
and so another day passed, another night

when the the Moon was bright, so bright
that as I watched her rise I flew
like a bird through the world, and still
next morning she was there in the western sky,

A daylight Moon remaining big and round
before she faded as the Sun broke through
and a bright day grew and something of Summer
still wreathed itself through coming Autumn.

Soon the swallows will fly south for the Winter
and we’ll hang food for blue tits on the apple tree
which now bears fruit for a sweet harvest
as Rhiannon’s birds sing their song for me.

Contemplations by a Holy Well

Ffynnon Sanctaidd Geneu'r Glyn
Ffynnon Sanctaidd Geneu’r Glyn

There is a well in my village, simply know as the “Ffynnon Sanctaidd” (Sacred Well). Though just outside the bounds of a church dedicated to Mihangel (Michael), the well itself does not have a particular dedicatee and would, of course, have been here, like the nearby ancient yew tree, before the church was built. There are some springs a mile or so along the valley in an area associated with Ffraid (Bride or Brigit) and a story that the church was originally to have been built there and dedicated to her. This, I know, is a story told of other churches: that attempts to build in one place are thwarted by the structure falling down each night until a voice from the heavens tells the builders to build elsewhere and/or to a different saint. These stories clearly reflect conflict in the past as much about who would be honoured rather, I suspect, than where the church should be built.

Wells are older than churches, their springs of water carrying the blessings of saints or deities variously named back to prehistory when the Earth last shifted to the shape she has now in each particular place. So when I sat by this well, as I often do to contemplate the changing seasons and dwell upon the pulse of water beneath me, I did not feel that I had to be bound by a name to embody the sacred space I inhabited – and yet the identity of she who brings sacred water into our world could not be denied for this season, this time, this point of correlation between myself and a goddess.

How does this work? The gods reveal themselves to us at different times, in different places and at different stages of our lives. It’s as if their identity can shine through a dedicated space or one in which we find ourselves ready to receive them, or shine through, even, the identity of another god’s dedicated space or persona. Or is it the same god? People may assert that their god is the only god, that their saint is the one to whom the church should be dedicated, or argue that one space is special not for others but only for them (consider Jerusalem). The god who calls to us is one identity at that moment of experience; the goddess who whispers her secrets is the only voice that matters in that moment which is forever.

Here the pronoun breaks down. It needs to change from plural to singular. I’ve spoken of ‘we’ and ‘us’ because I’ve tried to communicate a common experience. But, for each of us, it is ‘I’ that finds the god and ‘me’ that the goddess finds with words whispered on the winds. Although we may seek communal affirmation and desire to share our experiences, although we may congregate to honour the gods, the experience is not congregational but individual. Dedications to the gods in the ancient world were usually from individuals rather than social expressions of devotion. I can think of a few examples of community dedications such as the one to Epona by the burgesses of Trier, but these seem to be political or commercial rather than purely devotional inscriptions.

So now, as I sit by the well savouring the last of summer before autumn, watching bees go from flower to flower in the fuchsia bush, my experience of grace from the water of the well is a personal one, though by no means regarded by me as exclusive. I think of Odysseus and his personal devotion to, and relationship with, Athene, a goddess who was also acknowledged across the world that Odysseus inhabited. His covenant with her was intensely personal; her concern for him unquestioned. So my own relationship with the water of the well here where the church was built, and the springs there, further down the valley, where it wasn’t built, can centre on my developing relationship with Coventina whom I honoured with a visit to her well by Hadrian’s Wall over two hundred miles away. Nor does this detract from my acknowledgement of Bride of the Springs, or of any other deity which this well by the church of Michael may have embodied, or whose nature it may have expressed, or of other devotees with whom I share a love of this land and the springs that flow into and across it from the abode of the gods.

Coventina’s Well

Coventina2

Beside the minor road that runs beneath Hadrian’s Wall at Carrawburgh is the site of a fort. The only visible excavated feature is the remains of a Mithraeum or temple of Mithras used by soldiers stationed on the Wall. There is also an area designated the Nymphaeum, or place where devotions were made to the spirits of the place. On the edge of the fort is the site of a well. This was dug out in the nineteenth century by the land owner in a search for deposits of lead ore. But large numbers of coins were found in the well along with incense burners and votive stones with inscriptions which are now housed in the nearby museum at Chester’s Fort. The inscriptions make it clear that the well was sacred to Coventina and her depiction holding the leaf of a water lily, and others where she pours water from a container makes it clear that she is a water goddess. Two of these featuring carved depictions are well-known and have been much reproduced. They appear at the head and foot of this post and are often cited as the chief evidence of the worship of Coventina. But there are other stones with inscriptions also dedicated to her and made especially for placing by the well in her honour. Here is a selection from the nearby museum.

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What now of her spring of sacred water? When I visited the site I knew that the well had been neglected and uncared for by comparison with the carefully excavated and preserved Mithraeum that most visitors stop here to view. But I did not expect there to be no visible trace of it. I have an area in my garden at home dedicated to her and visited her well to bring her a gift and possibly to bring back a stone or small token from the well site for my altar. My own personal devotions apart, I wonder what can be done to bring such neglected deities to wider attention? They live in their own parallel world of course, and if we have no need of them they may never trouble us. But we are poorer without them and their presence in the land is never quite gone, especially as there are those of us who remember them. The site at Carrawburgh (once known as Bricolita) is the only identified site for Coventina in Britain and there are only two other possible sites in Gaul. Her neglected well, then, seems symptomatic of her liminal status. Stories of the ill-treatment of wells or their guardians, often with dire consequences, are common enough in myth and folklore to suggest that such neglect serves as an icon for the abandonment of the world of the gods and of a life lived alongside them.

I walked around the site for a couple of hours looking for the well. Eventually I decided to go to the fully excavated Chester’s Fort a few miles away to view the items that had been removed from the well and to ask for the precise location. There is a case full of objects in the small museum there in addition to the stone inscriptions. These include clay incense burners especially made with inscription for placing by the well:

imageimage

And these small bronze horse figures.

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Many of the coins that were found in the well were later stolen.

An English Heritage official there explained to me that the well site was not on land administered by them so no signs indicating its position could be displayed and there was anyway nothing left to see as the original excavation of the site had destroyed it. But he did indicate to me more or less where it was. So I went back to the site, my gift still ungiven, to look for it again. The ground in the area area indicated between the fort and the open moor beyond is fenced off and very boggy. Bright yellow king cups, a flower of very wet ground, adorned the miry place where I guessed the well must have been. But in spite of their beauty I could not feel the presence of Coventina there. A narrow brook seems to emerge from or mix with these waters and flows away from the site. In one place this piece of fenced-off bog is traversed by the long distance footpath which follows Hadrian’s Wall. I climbed the stile to walk across using the large stone slabs that make this possible. Beside one of them I found this pool

image
In spite of appearing to be part of the sequence of wet places fed by the waters of the brook it has the feel of a well-spring about it. The water is clear to the bottom where a number of small creatures including some fresh-water shrimps scurried around in the soft sediment. Here was Coventina! This was the place to leave my gift and the small geode with a precious stone in it sank through the water and into the sediment out of sight.

For Coventina
Who brings us otherworld water
Budding through earth and stone
Into our world of dry words:
Liquid whispers of something deeper.

I went on a quest to discover a particular place. Did I discover it? Or did I discover that it is not the one site that is important so much as the journey to find it. But she is there wherever water flows. So each time I stop at a well, a spring or a stream of rushing water I think of Coventina and the water world and the deep well of memory of the gods and the world they inhabit. When I touch a drop of water from a spring to my skin I make a dedication to that world of sacred water as I did at that pool at Brocolita where Coventina was once acknowledged as I acknowledge her now and bring the memory of that place to my own dedicated space for her.

Coventina

The Last Witch of Pennant Gofid

I’m re-blogging Lorna Smither’s post ‘The Last Witch of Pennant Gofid’ – it’s an inspired response to an episode in Culhwch and Olwen and deserves the widest possible circulation.

From Peneverdant

I journeyed for weeks
through mist and hunger
to find the split rack of her bones,
bones stripped, flesh burnt
and boiled in the cauldron,
blood drained and bottled in two jars.

I plundered the ashes where the cauldron stood,
sniffed for blood where the jars were filled.
Played maracas with her bones,
made intricate arrangements,
chanted and sung
but could not raise her ghost.

“She is amongst the spirits of Annwn now,”
spoke the god I called instead.

“Lay her bones to rest. In the fire of poetry
console her burning spirit.”

***

I’m laying her bones to rest. The Last Witch of Pennant Gofid. Her name was Orddu. It meant ‘the Very Black Witch’. Whether she had black skin, black hair or used black magic seem irrelevant now. All that is left is her scapula split in twain, her shattered pelvis, two arms, two legs, her broken skull…

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