Dragon Bones

River rushing, tumbling streaming

Flowing faster than your dreaming

River runs between the stones

Washing clean the dragon’s bones

Forest crowding round the brink

Will you swim or will you sink

Trees and water, bones of earth

Cross the bridge to find rebirth

Land Song Series © Elen Sentier 2017 all rights reserved
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Dyfrig: Merlin, Demons and Ergyng

shaman-fastener

According to the Christian stories, Merlin’s mother lay with a demon, an otherworldly spirit, who fathered him upon her.

The word demon has largely been dumbed down to mean something evil and out to get us, but it has far older and deeper meanings than that. In modern parlance, it can mean expert, genius, wizard and ace as well; in older terms it comes from the word daemon which means inspiration and muse as well as spirit and even demigod. I’m tempted to misquote Life of Brian … “What have the Christians ever done for us?” … well, a whole lot of bad misinformation for a start! Talk about political spin-doctors! And all to rubbish our old ways and traditions and knowing out of existence, but they’ve not succeeded.

Lying with a demon/daemon is a wonderful thing, known to all old ones throughout the world and the issue of intercourse with otherworld was deeply respected, honoured, revered and valued for most of our human time. This is the fatherless child and Merlin is such a one. Being born of both worlds, spirit and human, enables Merlin (and all the fatherless children through history) to walk between worlds, always in contact with both matter and spirit at the same time. Their stories turn up all over the place and one of those places is the ancient British kingdom where I live. Here Merlin is known as Dyfrig of Ergyng.

I didn’t know this story before we came to live here. I was looking for a place to live, quiet, no near neighbours or roads, its own water and a big garden where I could grow food and help wildlife. Several times, I thought I’d found it but each time I thought I’d got it all together somebody moved the ends and it all fell apart! So, I got a bit cross and then, eventually, started doing the intelligent thing … calling otherworld for help. Immediately, my feet (and the car) began to go in a different direction, an advert for what looked like the ideal place fell into my lap, I came and looked, and fell in love with it. We moved in a month later.

I still knew little about the place but once we’d unpacked most of the boxes I went for a wander around the city of Hereford, our local town. I love maps so my feet took me to the local map shop and while I was ferreting about looking for large-scale walking maps of the area a book fell on my head – literally! I picked it up and the title grabbed me, Arthurian Links with Herefordshire by Mary Andere. Of course, I bought it immediately and began reading it as soon as I got home. Wow! Now all that moving of ends and frustrating my previous plans began to make sense, where I now lived was an ancient spot where Merlin had one of his birthing places. He’d been pushing and shoving to get me here all that time I’d not been listening but, at last, I was here, where he wanted me to be.

Merlin has been with me all my life, since I was a wee kiddie and Dad first told me the stories and introduced me, but Dad had never told me this story, perhaps he’d never known it although there are strong family connections here.

And the story? Well, here it is …

Dyfrig was the son of Princess Efrddyl the daughter of King Peibio Clafrog of Ergyng. A quick aside on pronunciation – you pronounce Dyfrig as Duvrig. You say Efrddyl as Avrthil, but I usually shorten it to Avril. Peibio Clafrog is peebeeo clavrog and clafrog means leprous. So … one day, Peibio came home from the wars and, as is the Celtic custom, Efrddyl washed and combed his hair and beard. As she was doing this he saw that she was heavily pregnant. ‘Who is the father?’ he demanded, ‘I cannot tell,’ she replied. He asked her again, and then a third time, and every time Efrddyl would not tell. So Peibio had her taken down to the River Wye and thrown in to drown, but the river pushed her gently back to the shore. Again Peibio threw her into the river and again the river sent her back again, and a third time she was thrown in but the Wye would not take her but gave her back to her father.

wye-with-swans

Defeated by the river Peibio now had a great pyre built to see what fire would do. He set his daughter upon the bonfire to be burned to death, set light to it and went back to his home on the hill.

The next morning, he sent a servant down to the pyre to see the ashes. The servant took one look and ran straight back. ‘My lord! My lord!’ he panted breathlessly, ‘you must come, yourself, at once.’ So Peibio followed the servant down to the remains of the pyre by the river and there he found his daughter, sat upon a tall standing stone, nursing her new-born son. The place is now called Chilstone which is a contraction of Child’s Stone.

Peibio was dumbfounded. His daughter climbed down from the stone and showed him his grandson. The child reached up to touch his grandfather’s cheek and straightway the leprosy was gone. Needless to say, Peibio was even more astonished, and delighted, for a new-born child that could do such a healing was well worth rearing, whoever his father might have been.

Peibio ceded the whole of the land around Madley (as it’s now called) to Dyfrig. It was then called Ynys Efrddyl, the island of Efrddyl and she was guardian to the waters, priestess of the sacred well and of the river, for water is the lifeblood of the land. Women of that time, who were born into her position as daughter of the ruler, were usually the goddess’ representative. The river Wye, which flows just down in the valley below here, is the mother-water of Ergyng. This story is so much part of the old, ancient, magic, the coming together of fire and water. Efrddyl’s ordeal is an initiation, a rite of passage, a threshold for both her and her son. They go through water and fire in order for him to be born. His name, Dyfrig, means “water baby” for indeed he is.

The story goes on …

wye-faerie-path

Dyfrig became a very wise and well-known teacher and set up his first school down river from Madley, Ynys Effrddyl, at a place called Hentland. They say he was there seven years until the dream came upon him, the dream of a beautiful woman, dressed all in white and with long golden hair. She told him to leave the Hentland and go up-river until he came to the place where a white sow was suckling her piglings, and there to found a second and greater school. Dyfrig did this thing.

The description of the goddess, Ceridwen in her maiden-mother form and the white sow is one of Ceridwen’s tylwyth beasts (tylwyth means the same sort of thing as totem in our tongue).  The place was called Moch Ros which means “pig moor” – moch means pig and ros means moor, in her honour and it lies down the hill from Caer Ergyng, Peibio’s stronghold. It’s now called Moccas, a contraction of the old name.

Dyfrig remained at Moch Ros for the rest of his life but he did travel a lot as well. I soon found yet another connection with him. I was brought up on Exmoor and I remembered that Porlock church, on the southern bank of the Severn and the northern edge of Exmoor, is dedicated to Dyfrig. He had crossed the river and come to the land where I grew up too.

When Dyfrig grew old he left Moch Ros and go to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) where he died and was buried, as the other stories say Merlin did too. It’s one of the sites for the magic land of West-over-the-Sea, one of the Isles of the Faer, where Merlin took the wounded Arthur after the final battle for him to be healed.

bardsey-island

Christianity conflated Dyfrig into their faith although there is no reason to think he was Christian. According to their story, Dyfrig was Bishop of Ergyng, and, later still, Archbishop of Wales, and to have crowned Arthur as High-King at Caer Fudi which is likely Woodchester, in the Nailsworth Valley, in Gloucestershire. It’s possible he was all these things for this was the time was when Christianity was just beginning to work its way into our culture and there was no heavyweight attempt to convert us, as yet. Christians worked alongside us in those early days and we might have grown well together, perhaps, if it hadn’t been for the Augustine mission in 597AD, some sixty-odd years after Dyfrig’s death. But the old ways continued underground, hidden, coming down through families like my own.

He called and pulled and pushed me to come and live in one of his places. Since he succeeded, since I stopped resisting and thinking I knew best (ha!), I’ve been able to write, able to get the old ways out there again now the time is right for them to come out of the closet. And I love it here, it has all the peace and beauty I wanted and needed for the work.

For me and mine, Dyfrig is the son of the servant of the goddess and an otherworldly father, he is the magical child, one of our Merlin-figures, and I live in his land.

 

Journey with Trees

Trees for Life’s Corporate & Trusts Development Officer Joyce Gilbert trades funding application forms for a  ‘Journey of Trees’ – a Gaelic place-naming weekend of tree planting and pony trekking.

Last weekend found me walking beside a couple of ponies on a “Journey with Trees” along an old Military Road between Glenmoriston and Invergarry via Fort Augustus. The journey was the initiation of a project I’ve put together to celebrate the place of trees in the local landscape around Dundreggan, but also to highlight the fascinating links between our natural heritage and the Gaelic language. Look closely at ordinary OS maps and you will see a plethora of Gaelic place-names for just about every loch, peak and stream in this part of Scotland. My interest in this was sparked by the realisation that these names can act as a sort of “ecological memory” where the names of animals and plants, including trees are recorded. Just across the Glen from Dundreggan Conservation Estate is Creag a’ Mhadaidh meaning Wolf Crag while just to the east of this is Coille nam Beithe – the Birch Wood. Amazingly, the birch wood is still there, after who knows how many centuries since the name was given to the place by local people. Of course, there are no wolves in Glenmoriston today, but the fact that a remote corrie in the glen is named after an animal that only disappeared from Scotland sometime in the 17th or early 18th Century, is food for thought. Read more …

Pieces of 8: by Kathryn Byrd

A beautiful poem by Kathryn Byrd … and all the pictures are by Kathryn too 🙂

Fester Frog had left his swamp
That was dying and so ill
He walked to the Bakers House
On top of Highcleare Hill

“Please help” Fester Frog did cry
For I am full of woe
Mankind has polluted my dear home
And I must find a way to heal it so

The Baker“Do not fret” the Baker said
For I have just the ticket
A recipe so pure and strong
To counteract all that’s wicked

For it is a magic cake of eight
Not many know its secret
It holds the key between its layers
For those who choose to eat it

To save my swamp Fester said
And all that I hold dear
I will buy your magic cake
If it can make the illness disappear

“This recipe I will relate”
The Baker cried with glee
To you and all mankind
I will give my knowledge happily

A recipe so old as time
In every pure bred heart
A recipe we all should make
A sum of all 8 parts

In to a great pot he added
Ingredients clear and true
One part Earth one part Air
And a jug of Water blue

And then with a great wooden spoon
To the North and East he cast
And then to South and to the West
Until the pot was full at last

And then the Baker’s spoon stirred round
And then the other way
This will add the energy
That will help you save the day

Then quick as a flash the dough
He did toss into the fire
Dancing round the oven
He shouted “we will save your
swamp from the mire”

The baker threw the cake so high
It broke into pieces 8
And then as they tumbled down to Earth
A perfect star they did make

Swirling StarThe star twirled round this way and that
And eventually it fell
The baker cried in delight
That concludes my magic spell

Do you understand? The Baker asked
The magic of the 8
The harmony of all the bits
Make the special cake

At the centre lies the prize
The secret of black and white
Where good is bad, sad is happy
And where all can be bought back to life

You need to use its power
For the earth and beings like you and Me
A balance it will make
To create more harmony

Your swamp will breathe once more
When the star touches the water
And you will see all connected
Just like those who came before you

Now here’s the test young fester
I need to know you understand
All the special Ingredients
That will heal the dying land

Of course Fester replied
Now I can say to you
Earth, Fire, Air and Water
Then North, East, South, West too

And then with a magic spoon
Clockwise you spin
Then stir anticlockwise
To add the energy in

Well done the Baker said
Slapping Fester on the back
Then you must go and spread the word
As soon as you go back

A recipe book Fester promised
To pass through generations
That explains the secret
Of the 8 magical connections

For Festa never did forget
That all swamp life is precious
And always carried with him
The secret 8 star message

And sometimes if we are lucky
We can find the recipe once more
For we need not search high and low
To open up the magic door

And sometimes when you are Thinking
That all your life is hard
Remember the secret of the 8
For it will remind you why your here on Earth

It’s very simple really
It’s what they don’t teach at school
It’s about growing and life
Magic and the photosynthesis rule

 

 

 

Fairy Stories are Very Ancient

Like I’ve been banging on about all my life :-), now science has found a way to prove it … and thanks to Suzi Crockford for pointing this article out.

Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast can be traced back thousands of years, according to researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon.

Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.

They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.

Read more …

Irish-American Witchcraft: My American Imbolc

Good blog from fellow author Morgan Daimler. It’s really nice to know the traditions are continuing anf growing around the world.

Imbolc  is a pretty big holiday for my family and one of the most involved. It’s also my oldest daughter’s favorite, not only because she has a special devotion to Bríd, but because it’s the holiday that gives her the biggest role to play.

We celebrate Imbolc on February 1st every year, which in my area is right around the same time the sheep are lambing. The town I live in still has sheep farms in it, although not as many as there used to be and I like knowing that as we celebrate Imbolc we are doing so more or less in line with the rhythms of nature that the holiday has always followed. I do realize this isn’t true for people who live in other areas that are not as agriculturally aligned to Ireland and the United Kingdom, nor is mine identical in climate, but it is close enough that we do generally have lambs at Imbolc, blooming Hawthorn around Bealtaine¹, the harvest starting to come in at Lughnasa, and the first hard, killing frost around Samhain.

read more …

Cairns in Britain

From what I know cairns have been built by peoples all over the world for probably hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps as long as humans have been on Planet Earth, after all their not rocket science to build. They are getting well known through the apacheta South American shamanism which is currently popular and the Tibetan cairns which are also well known … but who knows about the cairns all over our own country, Britain, or considers them anything more than modern memorials?

I was born on Dartmoor and brought up on Exmoor from age eight. My dad and relations were country folk and followed our old ways so I learned with mother’s milk too. One of the things I learned about was cairns. Dad and my uncles would take me walking on the moors. You often come to cairns as you’re walking and always they would remind me to pick up a stone as we were coming up to a cairn and must leave a stone, so we did.

But what for, what did we leave a stone for?

Cairns, in Britain, are often on ancient tracks, on hilltops, along ridgeway paths, paths that have been walked by our ancestors for as long as we have been here and current archaeology has found that we ‘ve been here for at least one million years. Those paths may well have been walked all those years. The high tops and the tracks along the ridges are places where the lady, the goddess walks, where she sits, where she is, where you can sense and feel her very strongly if you open yourself up to her.

Britain is well known for stone circles and standing stones but these are Neolithic and that means of the New Stone Age. Neolithic times are very recent even in human history, they run from about 4000 to about 2,500 years ago, a mere spit in time, the time when we began to give up our old hunter-gatherer ways and become farmers. Before the Neolithic we walked the land, travelling from place to place, usually within a terroir (to use the French word for the land) which means region and that takes us to the spirits of place, the guardian spirits of the land who each have their own terroir or region which they are guardian to. The cairns are far older than the stone circles although some have been knocked down and then built up again. Often those knockings-down were done by farmers who felt they were in the way of their “ownership”, they had forgotten the old ways, forgotten the lady … they knocked down her places believing them to be no more than superstition. But they’re not.

So dad taught me to add a stone to the cairns as we passed them, and I still do. And I teach the students who come with me to add a stone too. It’s a form of acknowledgement. You can’t really call it a gift because you take a piece of the goddess’ body, a stone, and give it back to her but, in a way, it is. We take a piece of her and recognise it in our heart and then we put it as part of a cairn that reminds the folk who pass by there that she is there … that She is there. She is our lady, our mother, our teacher, and she is our ancestor too, both body and spirit.

Our bodies, the spacesuits our spirits need to live on Planet Earth, are made from her body. Every atom that makes up us comes from her and it has been all things – raindrop, worm, tree, cat, stone, chicken, fish, ant, butterfly, cloud and river and sea. So those atoms have the knowing of all things and will share that knowing with us if we ask them to – they are our ancestors. When we give a stone to a cairn we are acknowledging all this.

The same goes for spirit too. Every atom, as we know in the old ways, has spirit as well as matter and will share its spirit-knowing with us too. As we add a stone to the cairn we give thanks for this too.

One of our ancient shaman-teachers is called Taliesin (Amergin amongst the Gaels). His song begins, “I am a stag of seven tines” and goes on to sing how he is everything, every rock, tree, animal, drop of water and breath of air. We have many ways of reminding ourselves of this and adding a stone to the cairn as we pass it is one of them.

 

Cairns on Exmoor & Dartmoor

Earthrise …

Earthrise

Earthrise

Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night I find myself floating in space. In front of me hangs a great blue-white jewel, like a huge agate, set on a black velvet back ground and occasionally with a sprinkling of diamonds around it.

In 1948, the year I was born, Fred Hoyle wrote, “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available … a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

And then, on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1968, twenty years later Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit. That evening astronauts Borman, Lovell and Anders held a live broadcast showing pictures of the Earth and moon. Lovell said, ‘The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth.’ Super scientists and astronauts call this idea Overview.

I was there with my Dad, glued to the TV, on that evening of 24 Dec 1968, watching the pictures and hearing the voices from the moon. It was awe-inspiring. To see our homeworld from this perspective, from outside, was truly ecstasy.

To get away from home, hang above the Earth as the astronauts did , is not something most of us can do although it would be wonderful if we could. They were so fortunate. It would show us the overview of “spaceship Earth”. Unfortunately, most of us have our noses stuck up against life so close we can’t see anything clearly, it’s all magnified out of perspective and all coloured with all our personal stuff. But the shaman can go there in journeying and this is what my Dad taught me to do. It’s not the same as going physically in a space ship, in some ways it’s even more intense because you have nothing surrounding you, no container, you are hanging out there, just you, with no protection, you are truly in space. It really does change the way you look at things.

The Earth is just so beautiful and watching beauty has such a terrific effect. Seeing your home, the place where you live, hanging like a great blue jewel set on black velvet is incredible. It really does let loose a whole new way of thinking. And it brings home what one of the astronauts (and Joni Mitchell in her song “Woodstock”) says, “we are stardust” so you absolutely know it to be true … and that makes you feel utterly connected to everything else that lives.

Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night …