Guest blog by Lancashire poet Lorna Smithers, first posted on http://uclanpagsoc.weebly.com/1/post/2014/04/writing-between-the-worlds.html
On Saturday the 12th of April Pagan Soc hosted a full day event called Writing Between the Worlds, which was led by Kevan Manwaring, a writer, storyteller and teacher living in Stroud. Kevan sees all these skills as part of the Bardic path of Druidry, which he refers to as ‘The Way of Awen.’
The first half of the day was a creative workshop based in Bardic / Shamanic theory and practice. Kevan began with introductions and invited us all to choose a card from a Celtic Wisdom tarot deck for inspiration and guidance. He then gave a twenty minute paper called ‘Borderlands’. The focus was on the lower regions of Scotland, tales of the border reivers, border ballads, encounters with Faerie such as Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, transgression and crossing to the Otherworld.For the first exercise we were instructed to write a piece with the fourfold structure of encounter, crossing, gift and return. We began by chanting the Awen three times, from belly, heart and crown then immediately set pen to paper. Following the structure worked for me as it directed thoughts gleaned from Borderlands combined with ideas I’m already working with in a new and interesting direction. When we shared our experiences I found it enlivening to hear the vast differences between people’s guides and journeys. A couple of participants commented that they feared they wouldn’t be able to write anything but managed a whole story.
The second exercise was called ‘Dreaming the Land.’ It began with a shamanic journey to meet Nodens, a British god associated with dreams, healing, dogs and hunting. Kevan led us down the river Severn to Nodens’ temple at Lydney where we laid down in a cell with our totem animal. Falling into sleep we went to the world tree and were invited to choose a path through woodland to meet with Nodens at a stone archway carved with hieroglyphs and receive a gift from his silver hand. Afterward we wrote up our journeys. Again, this core narrative yielded many varied stories.
The second half was an evening of Bardic performances headlined by Kevan. All the workshop participants had the chance to perform. All the work was hot off the press and unedited and I was impressed by the consistently high standard and performance skills of everybody involved. The recurrent image that stood out was Nodens, a giant figure with a silver hand imparting his gifts, seen differently from various viewpoints, a presence felt throughout.
The Bardic performances were supplemented with acts from local poets, storytellers and singers. Peter Dillon began with a rousing Robin Hood tale called ‘In the Greenwood’ from Hugh Lupton’s ‘Liberty Tree.’ Martin Domleo read a trio of personal and compelling poems about his relationship with the Derbyshire landscape. Amy Hardy captivated the crowd with the beauty of her voice, singing of werewolves and Sleeping Beauty before finishing with Pagan Soc’s Mead Song.
Vincent Smith read his evocative poem about the tradition of barrel rolling in Devon. Nicolas Guy Williams read a sequence of visionary poems, making an impression with his performance skills and musical voice. Nina George sang a trio of songs encouraging the audience to join in with the sounds of fire and water, finger clicking and singing, and the memorable refrain “we are the dead,” during which the presence of the ancestors was strongly felt.
In his main performance slots, Kevan recited a number of poems. These included a reworking of Tam Lin and an introduction and hail as the famous Bard, Taliesin. Another picked up on the recurrent lupine theme and featured a werewolf with mandatory howling. His first story was about a girl’s encounter with an old man on a motorbike who carried with him a fold-up garden gate, a portable gateway to the Otherworld. Thinking creatively Kevan set this on the main road outside the Black Horse opposite St George’s in Preston. The girl stepped through to perceive a vision of a brighter and more sustainable future. On her return she was handed down the responsibility of carrying the gate.
Kevan’s second story was ‘The White Horse of Uffington.’ At a septennial festival a fourteen year old girl walks to the white horse carved on the Cotswolds to take part in clearing the undergrowth. She meets a sixteen year old boy and they work together and enjoy the festival. In the evening they camp on the horse and she falls asleep in his arms. During the night she sinks into the earth and becomes one with the white mare, galloping across the hills as the Roman mare goddess Epona to be greeted by an ancient tribe. After settling back into the land as the mare, the girl knows that she will return to the festival in seven years time accompanied by her husband. This story was magical and for many people formed the highlight of the night.
Afterward Kevan was interviewed by Mike Cracknell from Preston FM, who had kindly made the effort to come out and watch the Bardic performances on his 70th birthday. At the end of the interview Kevan recited a poem about Maid Marian and Robin Hood, which was awesome. The interview will be well worth listening to when it is broadcast.
The workshop and performances brought together many talented people from across Lancashire. I hope that everybody got something out of it and left inspired.
The day afterward Kevan, Peter and I visited Cockersand Abbey, on the Lancashire coast. It was formerly a hospital dedicated to St Mary of the Marsh and became an abbey in 1192. Nearby two silver statuettes of Romano-British origin were found in 1718. One of these was dedicated to Mars-Nodontis, Nodens in his Romanized form. It has been suggested there may have been a Romano-British shrine in the area, which could have preceded the hospital. A possible Nodens connection is signalled by mosaics of a stag and a dog. Here we gave thanks to the spirits of place- the sea, the wind, the people who inhabited this once liminal island, Mary, and to Nodens for his guidance in bringing Kevan to Lancashire and the richness of the dreaming land to all the people who experienced a remarkable day.
Blog post by Lorna Smithers