Tag Archives: ceremony

Wild Hearts and Wellingtons

4-7 May

Merlin didn't wear wellingtons

Over the May Day Bank Holiday weekend I took part in two seasonally-themed events. The first was the Wildheart Gathering, over in West Sussex – this small festival, run by the Spirit Horse Foundation, is the ‘first of the season’ and we hoped it would be a chance to ‘raise the May’. It turned out to be a be a complete mud-fest, as the rain did not let up, but still there was a warmth there – in the instant community created around the ‘village green’, a kind of ‘fellowship of the mud’. The taking off and putting on of wellies became a ritual practice over the weekend (the sound of one leg hopping), as we boldly went on our yurt-trek. The daytimes were dominated by the many interesting workshops (we were offering our own respective ones – mine on ‘Writing the Land’); the evenings, by lovely music from a range of talented people. On Sunday a big Beltane Ceremony took place – celebrating the ‘start of the summer’ (which begins on the 1st of May, in theory…). The Jack was crowned alongside his May Queen and together they blessed everyone there – a great finale to the weekend, for us at least – for we set off straight after, keen to get back to hot baths and soft beds!

The second was on Monday – the annual Hawkwood Open Day – where Jenni and I were also running workshops. After a quick turnaround we ‘rebooted’ ourselves back out of the door and up the hill, to the lovely grounds of Hawkwood College (originally a Jacobean House called the Grove until renamed after the English military hero Sir John Hawkwood in the 30s). Various talks and workshops were in full swing, as well as an assortment of stalls to peruse. I set up for my storytelling workshop in the ‘sitting room’ – and this co-created tale (in embryonic form) was the quirky, spontaneous result:

The Legend of Hawkwood

A long time ago, so long ago it seems unlikely to have happened at all – but the land remembers and there you are – there was a big pile of fresh hills, waiting to be named and told what to do. These were divided into two by Sabrina, goddess of the river – who liked things to be tidy. One side became England, the other Wales. The edge of the hills on the English side were garlanded with springs. Ten of these bubbled up in a wood frequented by hawks. One in particular stood out from her sisters – protected by a grove of old, old trees. This was the Spring of Summer and the nymph who lived in it was particularly lovely. Her hair was like sunshine on a summer’s day, her eyes as blue as cornflowers, her skin as smooth and pale as cream – you get the general idea. All the animals of the forest loved to drink at her spring – for the water had a special magic to it, making you feel good inside. Not wanting the animals to have all the fun, the two-legged ones cottoned in on the act and were soon making pilgrimage to it from far and wide.

Following it so far? Good.

Well, there was a Lord, scarred by wars, who decided he wanted to keep it for himself – so he caught the nymph and locked her up in a stone tower next to the spring. Here, he made his home and his name was Lord Hawkwood. He invited his sister to move in – she was to winter what the nymph was to summer. The place became chilly and gloomy – which suited Lord Hawkwood’s mood. They were happy in their misery – keeping summer under lock and key.

You can boo at this point.

Well, everything has a knock on a effect. Around these parts they say when Lord Hawkwood sneezes, the rest of the West Country catches cold. The villagers of Warmley were in the frontline of this blast. It became very chilly there. Nobody could get warm and everyone wondered where summer had gone – for the year was taking too long to warm up, and poor Old Grannie – well, it wasn’t doing her chillblains any good. There was a meeting – in the draughty village hall – and everyone added their coughs and sneezes to the proceedings. Mutters and grumbles rubbed shoulders with one another. No one seemed to know what to do but everyone enjoyed a cathartic moan.

Then Willow – Grannie’s grand-daughter – piped up. She had an idea. ‘Sshhh!’ they said. This was serious adult business. But Willow was wilful and wouldn’t pipe down. ‘Why don’t we just go to the Spring of Summer and bring some of its water back here?’ Silence descended and everyone stared. Why had no one thought of that? Well, who was going to go? Everyone found an excuse – it’s my knees; it’s the cat; it’s the this, it’s the that. ‘I’ll go,’ said Willow, much to their relief. They showered her with advice and sandwiches and blankets, flasks and kisses.

And off she set – on a motorcycle fuelled by lemonade: pop – pop – pop, it went… all the way up the Severn Valley, along Sabrina’s flanks, who was pretending to sleep but was secretly enjoying the whole thing. Willow started at dawn and rode through the whole day and night. At noon she stopped and let the sun warm her bones – it was not so chilly once she left Warmley. The meadow she lay in was covered in yellow flowers which looked like a cloth of gold. She decided it was and picked it up, wrapping it around her shoulders. ‘That’s nice,’ she thought. ‘I’ll keep hold of it – just in case.’ And she carried on her way, until dusk – when the sun set and the moon rose, lacing the trees with silver thread. Willow stopped again and gathered some of this up – ‘That’s nice too – and it might come in handy.’ And she carried on her way, cheered by the sight of the moon. But the moon leapt over the sky and slipped down the edge of the land, like a coin down a drain, leaving only starlight to light her way. The stars glittered like buttons in the sky and so Willow stopped and reached up – picking some – for everything she took a shine to was in risk of ending up in her pockets. The stars glittered in her palm. ‘Pretty – and who knows, they might come in useful.’

And so laden with her useful things she carried on her way.

But by now it was very dark – no moon or stars shone her path. She was a bit lost, and then a lot. She pulled up and chewed her lip. What was she going to do?

Suddenly, there was a shuffling and a snuffling and a badger shambled into view. ‘Hello,’ he grunted, ‘I’m Bertie, how do you do?’ The badger, as you can gather, was friendly and offered to show her the way through the wood. He seemed a kindly sort and so Willow leapt back on her motorbike and followed him – which took some doing, as Bertie scurried off pretty sharpish.

Soon, they had arrived at another bunch of trees. ‘Here we are,’ said Bertie.

‘Where are we?’

‘The wood of the three hawks. You can ask them for help – if you can find them. Good Luck!’

Hawkwood! Willow thanked the badger with a kiss on his wet nose, who went on his way rather pleased with himself at receiving this fine treasure.

Now all she needed was find the hawks… Willow peered up into the dark branches – black against a blacker sky.

She was in the dark.

Suddenly, a figure appeared in a cagoule, wielding binoculars. ‘Hello, little girl,’ she twitched. Blinking through her field glasses she added: ‘Are you lost?’

‘Yes, who are you?’

‘I’m an orni …’ Twitch. ‘An orni…’ Twitch. ‘A bird-watcher. Can I help?’

Indeed she could – with the watcher’s help they soon spotted the three hawks. Willow thanked her new friend, giving her a sandwich and a flask of tea.

‘Be polite to them. They are old and wise. Support the RSPB! Goodbye!’

Willow paused for effect and then stepped up to the first. ‘Hello. I am looking for the Spring of Summer. Can you help?’

‘The Lord of Winter wants to feel the sun,’ said the first mysteriously.

‘The Lord of Winter wants to dream the moon,’ said the second with equal clarity.

‘The Lord of Winter wants to hear the stars,’ added the third, just to confuse matters further.

Willow pondered these odd statements for a moment – they didn’t seem to be directions … or perhaps they were! All three birds were staring in one direction … Willow followed their keen gaze … to a tower on the brow of the hill, it’s windows glowing like … well, hawk eyes.

Thanking the three hawks, she set to work – she took the cloth of gold and sewed on the bright buttons with the silver thread. By the time she had finished she was rather impressed with her handiwork. With this splendid cloak she walked up to the Manor of Lord Hawkwood and knocked on the door.

Heavy footsteps came down the echoing corridor; there was the sliding of bolts and the rattling of chains, and finally the door opened. ‘What is it?’ Before her stood Lord Hawkwood – tall, pale and wintry, a sour look in his dark eyes.

‘Please, your Lordship – my village is feeling the cold and missing the sun. Could you spare some water from your magic spring?’

Lord Hawkwood curled a lip in contempt. ‘My child, why on Earth would I want to do that?’

‘Because I have made you this nice cloak – why don’t you try it on?’

And so he did. He didn’t get many presents. And, you know what? It suited him fine – in fact, he was rather taken by it. ‘How do I look?’

‘Dazzling,’ said Willow, and he was. It brightened him up no end. Death, with a makeover.

Lord Hawkwood’s gaunt face broke into a smile. ‘My child, you are a wonder. I feel … lighter some how. Here, let me open the spring.’

Lord Hawkwood took the cold iron key from around his neck and led the girl down to the big tree which grew by the spring. He bent down and unlocked the strong wooden lid that covered the spring – to stop anyone just coming up and helping themselves.

Up burst the nymph – delighted to be released. She showered her blessing on them both and the world seemed brighter. Indeed it was a new day and warmth returned to the land.

‘Take as much as you like,’ said the Lord, and so Willow did, filling up several five litre containers with the special spring water. These were lashed to her bike and, waving her thanks, off she set back to Warmley – bringing the summer home.

To celebrate there was a big party – May Pole dancing (for it was the start of summer), stalls, music, fine food and revelry. The people wore their brightest clothes and light returned to their eyes. Neighbours practised their smiles on one another. Beaming became a popular past-time.

Willow was praised by everyone for her courageous act – and was given a year’s supply of lemonade, enabling her to go on further adventures.

Lord Hawkwood continued to live at the spring – letting any who needed it take the waters, for healing and inspiration. His wintry sister thawed out and kept him company. When he finally passed on, she looked after the place by herself – it got a bit much, and so she asked for the help of the nymph and together they created a holistic college, which stands there to this day.

The End

Created with participants of ‘The Legend of Hawkwood’ workshop, Hawkwood Open Day.

Kevan Manwaring 7 May 2012

This workshop proved to be a pleasant taster of the full-day one I’m running there on Sunday 20th May: Climbing the Beanstalk – storytelling in easy stages; and the longer course I’m scheduled to run in the Autumn – the Storyteller’s Journey.

A bit of nonsense? Perhaps the honouring of place is worthwhile, as is creating a space for creativity and imagination to flourish – honouring our own personal genius loci. Thomas Moore, in his classic Care of the Soul said: ‘Storytelling is an excellent way of caring for the soul. It helps us see the themes that circle in our lives, the deep themes that tell the myths we live.’

 

Gadzooks!

Thirsty knights refreshing themselves at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

Gadzooks!

11th July

Early on Sunday I made my way northwards along the Cotswold Edge to the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, now in its 27th year. I had been meaning to go for a number of years, hearing good things about it – what, I couldn’t quite say, but there was a general consensus it was ‘a good one’. It had started, in the words of the introduction to this year’s programme:’an idea thought up over a pint by some of the ‘Companions of the Black Bear’…’

at the sign of the glove...

I raced through the sunshine to be there in time for the opening ceremony performed by druid friends, including Elaine and Greywolf. Apparently, they had a countdown for me to arrive. I might have made it if not for the army maidens demanding a parking fee at the entrance – and me clumsily dropping my gloves several times. I parked up by a mobile home and raced in, over the tilting field and over the little wooden bridge that provides a threshold into the festival’s medieval timewarp. They said to meet my by the beer tent – typical druids. I saw a suspicious looking circle in the distance and headed towards them. Sure enough, the druids were in a circle outside the Drunken Monk Inn. I arrived and joined them just as they chanted ‘And may peace prevail throughout the whole world!’ They finished casting the circle with air – in the form of Greywolf’s flute; fire – with incense; and water – scattered before us. I pulled on my bardic cloak. Phew – I had made it! Elaine asked people to speak on behalf of whomever they wished to. Immediately, the PA kicked in, which made everyone laugh. The ceremony was good-humoured, especially with Greywolf’s light touch, and such disturbances didn’t derail things (indeed the success of any good ceremony is about being full present in the moment and opening to all). Heartfelt words were said about those fallen at the Battle of Tewkesbury – one of the decisive battles of the War of the Roses – that took place on the site, on 4th May, 1471.

Death waits in the wings - at Bloody Meadow, Tewkesbury

Around two thousand five hundred souls met their end that day – on what became known as the Bloody Meadow – more than the two thousand re-enactors that would recreate the battle later in the main arena. Fortunately, the festival was a far more peaceful affair, even though many of the stalls sold armour and weaponry. Strange how so much creativity and culture has thrived off the back of a slaughter. Warfare seems a peculiar thing to celebrate – but for many I imagine it just a chance to escape from the mundanity of their daily lives with a bit of dressing up and role-playing. Yet some take it very seriously – the cost of the costumes and equipment isn’t cheap. I wonder what draws people to certain periods – why do people re-enact? Is it a past life thing? a way of connecting with and honouring ancestors? or a form of OCD (as my friend Jay suggested later when we discussed it over a pint in the Woolpack in Slad, Laurie Lee’s local in the Five Valleys near Stroud)? It is easy to mock the likes of the ‘Sealed Knutters’ (members of the Sealed Knot Civil War re-enactment society, The Sealed Knot). I used to know one in Northampton who was a bona fide eccentric clearly born in the wrong century – a complete obsessive, with tankards and armour cluttering up his bedsit in a tower block – his great-great… grandfather had fought in the battle of Naseby and he still took it personally. But I can see how it gives those who participate a sense of tribe, of community.

Simple life - Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

A reassuring idyll where everyone has a clearly defined role, and life is simplified to a village green arcadia – with all your needs met by individuals like the blacksmith, the baker, the brewer, etc. It is healthily low-tech but highly skilled – craftsmanship is highly prized. Things aren’t mass-produced by hand-made, often bespoke. When I had a chance to wander around the market – rows of stalls (offering a wonderful assortment of medieval wares and skills including alchemy; leech-craft; clayware for daily use; beautiful things in leather, velvet, ring mail; shiny feudal bling; wimples and snoods, doublet and hoseries, and the like) I was impressed by the sheer creativity and craft. It also occurred to me that alot of this is Peak Oil proof – and might be a glimpse of how society could be in the future (as imagined by Richard Jefferies in his post-apocalyptic novel, ‘After London’). However, I can imagine it not being so picturesque and bucolic.

bucolic charm - minstrels at Tewkesbury Medieval Festival

Folk lolled about in the sweltering sun (one of the hottest days of the year), enjoying a flagon of cider while watching ‘knight combat’ or listening to a band of prancing loons in the beer tent. There were a couple of guys were ‘pet dragons’ on their arms – but these were trumped by a man with a python wrapped around his neck, which he was letting small children stroke. I had to have a go as well. ‘Some pythons can be mean, but he likes people’, the owner reassured. There were lots of panting dogs around, tongues lolling (imagine sweating through your tongue – and then giving someone a sloppy kiss – eeeuww) including several large, shaggy wolf-like varieties. One husky pulled a small boy along in a cart – ‘it’ll all end in tears’, I said, seeing it running along. Next thing, it jack-knifed on a tussock, throwing the boy out. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt – indeed, seemed to enjoy the experience. Health and Safety seemed marvellously absent from the whole affair – although St John’s paramedics were there in force, especially for the final battle – where there services were required after one particularly rough skirmish resulted in an ambulance arriving. I watched an archery demonstration – just for a chance to lie back on a grassy bank in the sun. Far more impressive was the archery-on-horseback demo later, where Korean-style horsemanship/archery was shown in dramatic fashion by three folk dressed up like Mongols.

Battle of Tewkesbury

The grand finale was spectacular – two thousands re-enactors marching onto the field of battle in all their armour and colours, waving their banners, shouting insults at the opposition. The crowds were encouraged to join in with this good-humoured ribbing. I ended up on the Yorkist side – not by choice, by chance – so I suddenly found myself a Royalist for the first time in my life. When the King and the Young Pretender finally met for parlez in the middle of the field, there was a certain frisson about the whole thing – enhanced by the commentary from the PA tower. It reminded me, visually, of Arthur and Mordred at the  fatal Battle of Camlan – it seems this ‘script’ has been played out through time. The young will always try to overthrow the old and perhaps that’s healthy, as one generation must make way for the next.

a brutal battle for survival - medieval warfare

Yet there is something Darwinian and brutal about how the upstart, eager to prove himself, will try his luck against the established pro with his reputation (like an old stag – the alpha male – with his hinds, having to defend himself against a young rival). The battle slowly got under way – large armies don’t move fast: an unwieldly behemoth, once it gets lumbering in one direction, it’s almost impossible to stop. The chain of consequences led to the inevitable endgame, the slaughter of Bloody Meadow – men bashing the crap out of each other, rather than talking it out (a display of relentless stupidity – all violence is an insult to evolution, to the sacredness of life – I witnessed in microcosm with my friend later, as we sat on a bench in the churchyard where Laurie Lee is buried, opposite his favourite local, The Woolpack in Slad. A booze-fuelled altercation broke out, complete with screaming girlfriends, shattering the peace of a quiet Cotswold village on a Sunday afternoon). After watching about an hour of the ‘carnage’ – albeit with the Tewkesbury miracle of battlefield resurrection – swathes of arrows darkening the skies, the report of cannon and rifle fire, the shouts of men – I grew weary of it all. It’s sad that so much energy and talent is put into recreating death and destruction rather than the arts of peace. I’d had enough – it had been a full on weekend and I needed to rest, but there was still the ride home, via Stroud, where I met up with my dear friend Jay, for a heart-to-heart over a pint. We do not need to use our fists. We can be better than that. Jay shouted over to the brawling boozers ‘Stupid! Stupid!’ and there is something Neantherdal about such behaviour. Yet, despite such reflections, it had been a worthwhile endeavour – the medieval festival in Tewkesbury is worth seeing. It makes for a colourful and interesting day out. It certainly brings history alive, which has got to be a good thing (for if we learn from the past there’s a chance we don’t make the same mistakes). We can take the best of it – the value of craftsmanship, of ‘human scale’ social structure and interaction, of etiquette, of community-belonging – and leave the rest.

Awen in the Mountains

Way of Awen weekend

Cae Mabon 22-25 April

View from the main hall at Cae Mabon - a place of inspiration and beauty

Way back in 2004 I ran a series of ‘bardic development weekends’ at picturesque settings around the country – these led to The Bardic Handbook. Now, as its follow-up, The Way of Awen, is due to come out (in June from O Books) I decided to run a new event, partly based upon its contents. And so I organised a weekend up in North Wales in an inspiring location, Cae Mabon, an eco-retreat centre, which I first visited last Spring (though I had known about it for a number of years).

I have enjoyed visiting Wales around this time of year for a while – a chance to reconnect with ‘the Source’, which although is I believe ‘all around us’, it seems closer to the surface in the mountains. Blake as ever, put it best: ‘Great things are done when Men & Mountains meet/ This is not Done by Jostling in the Street.’

After 10 days of storytelling workshops in NE Italy I knew my cauldron would need replenishing – but I hadn’t counted on the difficulty of getting back! The volcano in Iceland erupted, closing all UK and many Continental airports – this made getting home a feat of Odyssian proportions (many are still struggling). I did not want to accept the consensus that it might not be feasible getting back until the weekend – for it would have meant my long-planned weekend in the mountains would have been cancelled. I managed, with the priceless help of my native-speaking hostess Silvana, to secure what seemed like the last train ticket out of Italy – all the trains from Milan had been booked until mid-week at least. I had to go via Austria and Switzerland, but would at least make it to Paris by Tuesday teatime, then I reckoned the train to Calais, and crossing over on the ferry as a foot passenger would be my best bet. Finding out anything was impossible – as websites had crashed, phonelines were jammed. Fortunately, I had a friend in Paris who was able to get me the ticket to Calais, so at least I knew I could reach the coast. I had been stuck in Paris he had a friend who could’ve put me up for 10 Euros a night (the cheapest bed in Paris!) which was nice to know. Thank goodness for friends. But I kept going, despite being in sore need of a bed after an 18hr train journey across Europe. I figured it would be better to queue up at Calais, even if it meant a dreary night at the terminal, then get there late the following day and risk not getting home until Wed evening. I was meant to leave for N Wales the next day and desperately needed a day to recover – a day of stillness! The gods of travel were with me and I got on a ferry at 00:25hrs Wed am (GMT+1), back in Blighty 01:00am, losing an hour on the way. Caught a bus to London – arriving, bleary-eyed, at 3.30am. No coaches or trains… shared a taxi to London Paddington and caught the first train out, though it was over-priced. It got me back to Bath by 7am – which was beautiful to behold in the early morning Sunday. Finally I stepped through my front door and collapsed – 33 hrs constant travelling, but it had been worth it. A day to recover – the weekend had been salvaged.

The next morning I prepared my handouts and finished packing, then set off at 1pm – arriving just after 6pm (couple of stops for petrol). It had been a lovely run up in the sun on my Triumph Legend. It felt good to be travelling under my own steam again – master of my destiny once more! Nothing worse than hanging around – feeling trapped. It had been, nevertheless, a powerful lesson – that I am still processing, not having had much chance to ‘catch up with my self’, for now I had a weekend of workshops to run. No rest for the bardic!

As I passed the dramatic threshold of Pen-y-Pass, at the apex of Llanberis Pass – the awesome glacial scar through the flanks of Snowdon – I felt a certain elation. Against all odds I had made it. I snaked carefully down the mountain road into Llanberis, taking care to take the right turning to Fachwen (last time I was here I took the wrong one, and ended up half-way up Snowdon, passing bemused walkers!). Llyn Padarn was on my right and I followed it around, crossing a small stone bridge and then the narrow lane that wound up into the foothills through massive Symplegades of granite. It feels like one long wrong-turning, but eventually the entrance to Cae Mabon is found – down steep hairpin bends, along a pot-holed track. I pulled into the ‘car park’, glad to see the smiling face of Mabon, beaming over the wooden gateway. Made it!

I amused myself with the theory that the place had been given its name, because that’s what you feel like saying when you finally find it: ‘Fachwen!’ It actually means ‘little, white’, after the stream that runs along the side of it – cascading down from a series of waterfalls.

I unloaded the bike and lugged my kit down to the ‘hobbit village’. In the hall four of the participants had arrived – five, with our special guest, baby Lily, who was to charm us all weekend with her cheekiness and amazing ability to pick up new words. Someone made me a mug of tea and I slumped into a chair. That night we took it easy – a couple of women from Glastonbury didn’t make it until late. They had the groceries. Fortunately, there was some stuff left over from the last group, complemented by some of Eric’s veggies, so we got a curry on the go and settled in. It was getting close to 9pm (arrival was 4-6pm) and we were getting worried. I managed to find the mobile number of one of them on an old email and we called them – they were just coming down the track. They were grateful for a plate of hot food when they arrived. By now it was about ten and I was certainly flagging. Eric asked me about the nature of Awen and I explained it as best I could in my semi-comatose state. After clearing up, some of us jumped in the hot tub, which Julia had fired up earlier, with the help of Ken – a Kiwi resident. It was wonderfully soothing – apart from gashing my finger as I leapt into the icy mountain stream, shouting ‘Fachwen!’ Eric joined us, soaking like some Celtic king in a cauldron. The stars glittered and the waxing moon shone through the tangled trees. The heated water and sound of the stream helped smooth away the rigours of the journey. It was time for bed and a good night’s sleep.

My home for the weekend - the lovely cob house.

In the morning, after breakfast, I outlined the day and asked for any suggestions/contributions. I left some space in the programme for either free time or extra workshops offered by members of the group. Ola kicked things off with an African dance workshop. This got us warmed up for my Poetry in Motion workshop – working through the animals of the Taliesin story, which I told – we used movement to inspire poetry. Before each ‘dance’ I got someone to read out one of the animal poems from The Taliesin Soliloquies I wrote as part of The Way of Awen book. This triggered individual responses – as each participant imagined themselves inhabiting respective animal’s consciousness. They moved around the site, between the standing stones and trees, or around the stream – communing with different elements. The exercise seemed to work very well and produced some excellent poetry – fresh and sinuous, visceral and full of vitality.

After lunch I took people on a walk up to the waterfall and viewpoint. It was a lovely sunny afternoon. We napped in site of Snowdon, overlooking Llanberis and Llyn Padarn. Alas, on the way back Wayland felt weak and had to be helped every step of the way. I had to carry Lily for Liz – she fell asleep on my shoulders, her snoring becoming ‘bubbling’, as she dripped snot on me! Together, we eventually got back – Liz coming to pick us up in the car after we had to do a large detour to avoid the stone steps Wayland struggled with. It was a relief to get back and have a cup of tea! I finished off my poetry workshop with a session on remembering and performing poetry, which seemed to go down well. Folk spent some time learning poems while dinner was being prepared. I ran through Dragon Dance – my epic Praise Song to Albion – but I was so tired I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Even though I hadn’t done it for many months – since last summer? – most of the 14 pages came back to me. I was going to have another go after dinner, but decided to do a classic poem closer to where I was ‘at’: CP Cavafy’s ‘Ithaka’.

I got the fire going in the roundhouse and we gathered there around nine. I started things with the awen, then my poem Ithaka. We took turns to share a poem, song or story. It went well, but I was very tired – and despite being able to do WB Yeats’ ‘The Celtic Twilight’ off the top of my head, I suffered bardic droop when it came to doing my flower maiden poem, which is linguistically tricky. By then the wine and fatigue had taken its toll and I retired.

Saturday we were blessed with even better weather. Today I ran my ‘Climbing the Beanstalk’ workshop in the morning – it culminated in some excellent performances. My participants managing to learn and perform (well) a Greek Myth in 2 hrs. After lunch there was a faerie card talk/workshop from Amanda; a fascinating talk on Iron Age archaeology from Julia, a phD student; then I led a brief brainstorming discussion on what kind of celebration/ceremony we wanted to end the weekend with. After dinner, we had another session in the roundhouse, ending early so we could enjoy the hot-tub again.

Way of Awen weekend participants in front of round-house - with face paint!

Sunday we prepared for the ceremony after breakfast – practising chants, movements, songs, getting face-painted – it was a great team effort. I suggested a structure based on the 3 Cauldrons we had been working with over the weekend – connected to the body, heart and spirit. We would process between the three circles of the roundhouse, labyrinth and fire circle with percussion and singing, honouring the divine masculine, the divine feminine and the divine child on the way. It flowed beautifully and ‘felt right’ – in the moment, responding to the spirit of place and the awen. Everyone had a chance to contribute something, to shine, and we did – as Eric pointed out – in our lovely facepaint from Amanda, seeming ‘more’ ourselves somehow. We ended in good spirits, sharing a final lunch – a much-welcome carrot and coriander soup thawing us out and bringing us back into our bodies. We had self-catered over the weekend – everyone had pitched in – and we enjoyed some lovely meals. This was part of the spirit of the weekend – a team effort. Everybody contributing ‘ingredients’ to the cauldron… Everyone had a talent, a gift, knowledge and skills to share. We all contributed to the bigger pattern.

The aim of the weekend was for participants to untap their creativity – to express the awen in whatever way it manifested – and through dance, poetry, storytelling, singing, cookery, face-painting, friendship, ceremony and speaking from the heart – it certainly did that.

After, we tidied up and had a few team photos before folk scattered to the wind. The atmosphere was positive. It seems the weekend was a success – phew! – although it took its toll on me… Coming after ten days’ of storytelling workshops in Italy, followed by five days getting home, then a long ride here, I was not going to be at my best (if the volcano hadn’t shut down the airports I would have had a week between the two to recover). I spent most of the weekend trying to keep up my energy levels and positivity, but inevitably the exhaustion manifested in a certain crabbiness and eventually, a short fuse. The intention of the weekend was (for me) to ‘replenish the cauldron’ but it felt like it had ‘depleted the cauldron’, in my case, anyway. This is the price, I guess, for running events – I had to hold the space and carry the group for the weekend, attending to their needs, personalities and peccadilloes (and they mine). It’s hard to fully relax in such circumstances, even though the place is beautiful and I did have ‘moments’ (like sitting by the lake, simply watching the glittering water) but I wasn’t able to relax sufficiently to get into the creative space I was helping people to all weekend. Ironically, I was the only one for whom the awen didn’t flow over the weekend – but, I am only human. I had burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, after my intense few days (3 weeks – I left for Italy on 6th April). I needed to stop, to be still, to be silent – for several days (after many days of talking and teaching I was ‘worded’ out). I was glad to hit the road and its solitude for a while.  As a left Cae Mabon I paused by Llyn Padarn, reading the poem plaque by Gillian Clarke about Snowdon (‘But for how long?’) and taking in the view. It is an awe-inspiring place. I hoped to take a little bit of its awen back with me. ‘Holding the dream’ I set off. The ride home wasn’t as pleasant – dodgy dense fog crossing the hairy roads of Snowdonia, then driving rain along the Welsh Marches – but it was good to be finally going home.

By Llyn Padarn – on my way home

Inklings of Spring

Imbolc, 1st February

Today celebrated what is in the Celtic Calendar the beginnings of Spring – although it feels like long way off yet – the Fire Festival of Imbolc, sacred to the goddess Bridghid, patroness of poetry, smithcraft and healing. We could have done with her sacred flame (which was tended by priestesses and later nuns at her sanctuary in Kildare) today as we held a ceremony outside on a bitterly cold winter’s day – the pre-snow (infintesimal flakes  like fairy tears) as delicate as the snowdrops pushing through the slumbering earth. Sue Cawthorne, current holder of the Ovate Chair of Caer Badon, called it to take place at the Beazer Garden Maze with its mosaic of Bladud and six Greek Myths by Pulteney Weir. A raggle taggle circle gathered – many canal folk – huddling together like penguins in the Antarctic. After Sue started the proceedings, followed by a song for Imbolc by priestess of Sulis and Nemetona, Sheila Broun, I asked people to remember Tim Sebastion Woodman, the founder of the Gorsedd – who died two years ago on this very day – crossing over, with impeccable druid timing on Imbolc (as though consciously choosing the day of his death): the first time he’d ever been on time for anything, I joked. And Tim was, among other things, a joker. His irreverently wise spirit is missed. He has a way of puncturing the pomposity of much of the ‘oaky machoness’ as he put it you can get at such ceremonies. The posturing and publicity-seeking. Last year I held an Imbolc Bardic Showcase in his memory in Glastonbury. For me, the festival will always be associated with him – and I think of it, with some amusement, as ‘Timbolc’! Yet the festival for me has been for a long time the one I associate with Taliesin and Ceridwen. It is a poet’s festival and the ideal time to rededicate oneself to one’s path – which for me is the Way of Awen, the way of the Bard. And yet this year there is an extra sadness – locally we are mourning the recent loss from cancer of Dave Angus, who was a great poet and singer/guitarist. He set up a popular open mic event called What a Performance! On Friday there was one scheduled which became an emotive tribute night, following close on his passing. I performed my ‘Last Rites to John Barleycorn’ there – because Dave was something of a Barleycorn figure, as a merry soul who gave of himself freely to his community. Today we made him an honorary Bard of Caer Badon – a gesture to acknowledge his contribution and talent.  During the gorsedd I performed my Imbolc poem, Bride of Spring (below) above the roar of the weir. It was a nice visual fix to have swans swimming close by in the Avon.

Things were quickly wrapped up, for it was seriously cold, and I headed back home to prepare for my wee Imbolc ‘poetry tea poetry’ – a gentle Sunday afternoon affair. The sharing of poems over tea, cake and other tasties. Folk turned up from about 3pm and it was pleasant chilled out occasion, with contributions of song, verse and tale from some of my talented friends.  This is my ideal way to celebrate such times – I’m not one for ‘High Church’ paganism, preferring bardic sharing around the hearth or campfire to the pomp and ceremony. I like to simply gather in a circle and share. As a bard this is how I engage with the deeper meaning of the festivals – by the reciting and listening the traditional tales and songs. And  by the physical experience of visiting appropriate sites – as I did this morning, making a modest pilgrimage to my local woodland spring: a simple Sunday morning stroll on the surface, but for me, a way of reconnecting with the Source.

The Bride of Spring

In darkest hour of the year

she arises.

Casting off her shadowy gown

as she steps over the horizon –

by sun king kissed,

borne by his golden down.

A dress of frosted cobwebs

veils maiden skin.

Within a seasons turning

the crone has become virgin.

Snowdrops touch her and turn into flowers,

as the slumbering land stirs

in these formative hours.

The earth softens at her feet

where buds shake free their winter bed.

Newborn lambs begin to bleat –

insistent mouths by ewes milk fed.

Rooster heralds her on the ground.

Above, the feathered chorus

make naked trees resound.

We awake to a changing world.

Her white magic revealed –

a petal uncurled.

Stone bound man

let your proud bells ring,

for we are welcomed into her garden

as she stand at the gates of spring.

 

The infant year she presents,

placing the future in our hands.

A gift of renewed innocence,

restoring the egg timer sands…

Kevan Manwaring (from Green Fire: magical verse for the wheel of the year)