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Mari Lwyd

To celebrate Old New Year (13 January) the Mari Lwyd came to the Prom in Aberystwyth.

Sang the songs in the traditional dialect versions:

Wel dyma ni’n dwad

Gyfeillion diniwad

I ofyn cawn gennad i ganu …

(Here we come, innocent friends, to ask if we can sing …)

Then watched the starlings settling under the pier at sunset,

Before a disorderly parade through the town

Culminating at the Clock Tower for more music and song

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

YULETIDE

epona-beasts

Eponalia: 18 Dec. in the Roman  Calendar
Epona on the shadow paths as dwindling daylight
fades to longest nights before and after Solstice.
These are the paths of transformation, of renewal
Solstice =
‘Still Sun’

as light shifts slowly from the stillness;
Epona opens the way along the paths
to another cycle of time, another year
Day length hardly moves at solstices, for light to grow, for green leaves to burst
from buds on every bough, from seeds
yet to break through sodden soil and spring

but changes quickly at equinoxes. brightly into life again –
Bidden out of the dark below
by the light of the risen sun.

 

Elenydd and Cwm Eleri

Eleri through the woodlands

Eleri

Elenydd is the name given to an area of Mid Wales including the Cambrian Mountains and surrounding landscapes and seascapes. The part of it I know most intimately, both physically and spiritually, is its western edge, but I have also explored further east along the ancient trackway of Ceri to Arwystli. In the Fourth of the Four Mabinogi tales, Gwydion is returning to North Wales after tricking Pryderi into giving him the pigs that were sent to him from Annwn:

“And that night they journeyed as far as the uplands of Ceredigion to a place which is still called Mochdref (‘Pigtown’). The next day onwards over Elenid to stay overnight between Ceri and Arwystli in another town which is now called Mochdref.”

No-one knows exactly where these towns are now, but a stream which gives its name to a large reservoir below the mountain of Pumlummon is called ‘Nant-y-Moch’ (Stream of the Pigs) and this fits the general location of this part of Gwydion’s journey.

In their book Celtic Heritage, Alwyn and Brinley Rees compare Elenydd to Uisnech in Ireland where the Stone of Divisions stands. It is the centre which symbolises the whole. By no means as high or as spectacular as the mountains of Snowdonia or the Brecon Beacons, its central position between these gives it a symbolic significance, better appreciated by the medieval mapmakers such as Gough who, in his map of 1360, shows it as if it is higher than the mountains to the north and the south, through to Speed’s map of 1612 which gives it similar prominence. Many rivers have their sources in Elenydd and the whole area is a place of water, held in the peaty earth as in a sponge. The mountain of Pumlummon (‘five peaks’), is known as the ‘Mother of Rivers’ , including the River Severn and the River Wye. Up on the summit of Pumlummon, Cei and Bedwyr stood in “the highest wind in the world” in their search for the things required by the giant Ysbadadden Pencawr for Culhwch to wed Olwen. So it is a place of great significance both in legend and its importance as the source of great rivers. Further east waters run off this range to fill the reservoirs of Claerwen and Elan to supply drinking water to towns across the border in England.

The valley of the river Leri (as it is named on maps) – or Eleri, to those who know her – begins on the western edge of this area, where the river waters fall from a lake into the narrow gorge of Craig y Pistyll. They run for twenty miles or so to reach the sea through the salt marsh between Borth Bog (Cors Fochno) and the sand dunes of Ynys-Las. The source is a lonely place amid the wild splendour of the open mountain and moorland that stretches as far as the eye can see even on a clear day when there is no mist. The nearby reservoir of Nant-y-Moch regulates the flow into the river Rheidol to a small hydro-electric power station miles downstream before it joins the River Ystwyth in the harbour of the town of Aberystwyth. But Eleri is a quiet stream running a short distance to the sea and supplying sweet water to the local population.

Running westwards, away from the great watersheds Eleri once meandered to the sea through the remnants of a sunken forest, the semi-petrified remains of trees that can still be seen in the sand at low tide on the beach at Borth on the shores of Cardigan Bay. It is possible to trace the previous course of this mile or so of the river over the fields created by draining the bog, (as I do HERE~>). But now the last stretch runs in a straight line to meet the estuary of the River Dyfi and functions as a drainage channel separating the green water meadows from the brown lands of the bog. This sudden transformation from a sinuous bubbling stream to something more resembling a canal seems like an insult to Eleri in human terms, but her lost course to the sea is symbolic of the lost lands of Gwyddno Garanhir. For this in legend was the drowned land of Cantre’r Gwaelod, to which the sunken remains of the forest on the nearby beach bear witness. Walking through the stumps when the tide is out it is possible to imagine the forest alive with birds in the green leaves, though the present reality is rock pools and oyster catchers foraging at the tide line. Along the estuary geese overwinter and in summer sand martens build nests in the banks. Once the bog stretched north along the River Dyfi nearly to Machynlleth, though most of the northern part of it has long since been drained for farm land (as is detailed HERE~>). The small hills that rise from the flat plain all have ‘Ynys’ (‘island’) in their names, an indication that they once stood above wetlands. It was the realm of ‘Yr Hen Wrach’ (the Old Witch) who, if she visited you in your bed at night, would cause you to wake with the shakes.

Between these two ends of the river, Eleri runs through wooded valleys, only really touching any significant place of human habitation when crossed by the main road north from Aberystwyth at the village of Talybont where, joined by the River Ceulan, the combined rushing waters once powered a woollen mill. Along the ridges of the valleys around here are a series of hill forts built to watch the approaches from the sea. Though I have walked from source to estuary, it is in these middle stretches that I came to know and love Eleri. There are places where it is possible to sit watching the flow for hours without seeing another person. These, to me, are sacred waters, the well of life flows through me when I sit here and I am part of the flow. And it is here, in the woodlands along and above the valley, that I come to meditate and to commune with the spirits of the valley. The map of it I have in my mind is populated with sacred places to which I can go, on foot or in imagination, whenever world space or mind space allows. There is a place where the river swirls around a bend and runs over rocks making a music that I have sat and listened to, entranced and responded with a blessing and a kiss, which she took, laughing, and tumbled it away.

Here, often, I have felt close to the OtherWorld. There are times when the trees enclose me and the ground shifts beneath my feet and the wind blowing through that place is a spirit wind at once swift as an arrow and as still as a pond of clear water. Then, when I emerge from the woodland onto the forestry road, it’s as if I have arrived there suddenly from I know not where. So I come often to these places and follow Eleri from her source in the mountains to her meeting with the sea. And if she is always running to the legendary realm of Cantre’r Gwaelod, so too am I always walking the paths to another world when I follow her winding way through the woods.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
(Adapted from an earlier piece on the heritage Sacred Waters site).

Landscape of Colours : GLYN CUCH

DulasFalls

“ … yn ieungtit y dydd kyuodi a oruc a dyuot y Lynn Cuch”

“ … when the day was still young he arose and went to Glyn Cuch”

Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed

A borderland, a place
where counties meet and merge:
Caerfyrddin’s bright fields of green,
Preseli’s blue-brown intensities of light
Afon Cuch’s silver-blue stream
(call it ‘glas’ for blue, green, crystal)
running north to Teifi’s thrice-bordered flow
Somewhere here Dulas – ‘Blackwater’ –
(so many of these with variant names)
falls down to Cuch through a rocky crevice,
a meeting of waters from different domains.

Rivulets of enchantment flow
running across and between
parcels of land of different hues
from streams that spring and bound
scattering reflected light, blue, green,
flickering in forests on dappled tracks
where white-pelted, red-eared hounds
run with a ripple of light on their backs;
where Rhiannon might ride on another day
to Pwyll at Gorsedd Arberth, revealed
like a rainbow out of air: here, not-here, there.

The Well and The Stream

Ffynnon Sanctaidd, Llanfihangel Genau’r Glyn

Every time I look into the well the level is the same placid equilibrium: it never rises nor falls. No water is drawn from it these days, not for drinking nor for healing. Little rain runs in around the slate cover over the grill that tops the shaft. Around the edges a shiver might be seen on the flat surface beneath, the dark water inscrutably responsive to enquiry, keeping an elusive counsel. 


This is a tranquility that comes from a remembered past, dwelling on an interaction with the human world that is commemorated but no longer practised, though I bring it to my visits and ask a blessing still.

Yards away from the well the stream that has tumbled down through the woodland above rushes over the bank and crashes noisily to its channel below when in full spate, or ebbs back to a trickle after a dry spell. It is not constant like the well and demands human attention, so has to be actively taken account of, especially in times of flood.

~~~

In the well
the pool lies still
beneath the grill cover

At the falls
the stream fills
the air with living water

~~~

YEW

 

 

Yew Tree, Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn

Bringing darkness from the Deep into the World, this Yew above ground reaches for the sky, silhouetting tangible darkness against the light, its green needles black against the blue : Not-World reaching into World, Not Yew becoming Yew.  Ancestral presence alive in the World.  Sticky red aril taken by birds, sweetening their Otherworld song, surrounding seeds carrying their poison through on the way to ground, rooting where the dead lie still, quick as they rise in the sap of Yew. 

ƴ

For another expression of this insight see the poem on Cronicl Yr Awen
 HERE

Gorsedd Arberth

Gorsedd-Arberth-from-below copy

Camp Hill Field, Narberth

There are two suggested locations for Gorsedd Arberth, where Pwyll watched Rhiannon riding across the landscape from the hill top and declared “there is some magic meaning here”, and from where Manawydan and Rhiannon saw the enchantment fall across the land of Dyfed, and where Manawydan met the Otherworld emissaries and succeeded in releasing Rhiannon and Pryderi from captivity. One of these locations is Crug Mawr near the estuary of the River Teifi. ‘Crug’ often signifies a mound or tumulus of prehistoric origin. This particular tumulus is also mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis, writing at about the same time as the manuscripts of Y Mabinogi. He says that “A tumulus is to be seen on the summit of the aforesaid hill, and the inhabitants affirm that it will adapt itself to persons of all stature and that if any armour is left there entire in the evening, it will be found, according to vulgar tradition, broken to pieces in the morning.” Gerald uses the name Cruc Mawr and makes no mention of Gorsedd Arberth or any of the events described in the Mabinogi tale.

The other, more likely, location is at Camp Hill near the small town of Narberth, the site of an Iron Age enclosed hill fort now completely buried. On a quest to find it I was not hopeful. It is located on private land with no apparent access but I thought it might at least be possible to view it from a distance. But no view was possible from the main road below and I began to think that we should have attempted the view from farther away, perhaps from the ramparts of Narberth Castle overlooking it from a distance.  Then we came across a lane running up to a farm in what looked like the right direction. Not a public road, but we ventured up to see if we could get a view from there. We met a car coming down from the farmhouse . The driver stopped and asked what we wanted. At this point my partner inexplicably fell into the thorn hedge and gave a cry. The woman in the car suddenly changed her challenging attitude and looked concerned. Recovered, we explained what we were looking for. The woman visibly hesitated for a minute and then told us we could continue up the lane and take the gate through the farmyard and go on into the field. After she had driven off we did this and on the way I asked my partner what had happened to make her fall. She said she didn’t know but it felt like she was gently pushed.

The result was that we were able to spend some time alone in the field and absorb the atmosphere without fear of being challenged for trespassing. The photograph above is one I took after taking in the shape of the land, the low hill and the woodland beyond, where I imagined Rhiannon riding at her stately pace though no-one could catch her until she allowed Pwyll to do so. There is no visible trace of the Iron Age fort which has long since been covered in earth, though aerial photographs taken by archaeologists¤ show the outline of it. That such a place might still have been visible in medieval times when the Mabinogi story was set down, and that it would have had magical associations, is quite possible. That it could also have been a sidh, or place of transit to and from the Otherworld, would also explain it as the location of the events that the tale says occurred there. Certainly for me it is an epiphanic place both in the memory of my visit there and in the way I have been haunted by it ever since. So the photograph I took is like an ikon for religious contemplation. The visit was one of a number of exploratory pilgrimages I have undertaken, including a suggested location for the place in Glyn Cuch where Pwyll met Arawn, which was also a significant experience. But the visit to Camp Hill still retains its devotional focus after many years.

ˉĞÃ̶

¤ Referenced at : https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/304260

Devotional Places

GORSEDD ARBERTH The likely site at Camp Hill (a buried Iron Age fort) near Narberth, Pembrokeshire.
Summer Altar
Winter Altar
Ffynnon Sanctaidd/Sacred Well Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn
Ancient Yew Tree – Ivy Mound
Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn
Ancient Yew – three boles from one root Llanfihangel Geneu’r Glyn
Cup of Rosmerta in Mererid’s Well