The Wyrm and the Wyrd: The hidden valley

Tiny roads, miles from nowhere and barely wide enough for a car, wound between hills and hedgerows before finally opening out into the valley. And there, we became a traffic jam. The road was occupied by a horse that had evidently let itself out of its home and wandered down the lane to see the youngsters. Mare or stallion, it was impossible to tell from the last car, but the impression was that the king had come to see his subjects. When we arrived on the scene, all the foals were at the fence, nuzzling their visitor and prancing with excitement. It was, you could tell, a real ‘moment’ for them… and a lovely sight to see. It took me a while to even think of getting the camera as we watched and waited, not wishing to spook the horse.

“Before the gods that made the gods…” A few words of an old poem kept running through my mind… it was completely inappropriate. This was not a white horse, let alone the White Horse. It was Wales, not England…and King Alfred had never set foot here to my knowledge. On top of that, it was the solar symbolism of horses that long predated Alfred’s Christianity, that I was feeling as I watched the horse regally greet the foals. There was something majestic in his mien, and, with the emerald and blue of the mountains around him, there was no doubting his sovereignty.

“Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.”

“For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgement day.”

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

Passing glimpses of church towers and villages lost in the trees, significant stones and possible burial sites… we were kept well occupied until we arrived at a  bridge over a crystal clear stream. The stream is the Afon Dwyfor which rises in the mountains that enclose the valley. Its name means ‘big holy river’ and, watching it sparkle in purity, you need no other explanation of its name. It is so clear that the depth is hard to gauge unless a small fish swims by and casts a shadow on the gravel, yet in places, it is easily deep enough for swimming… and had I been alone, there is nothing that would have kept me out of there.

Instead, we gathered beneath the trees of the riverbank for our final readings, before setting out into the morning heat to walk at least part of the valley. It is an incredibly beautiful place and we were grateful to our companion for sharing it with us, allowing us to get out into the mountains, albeit on an easy path.

We had the morning pretty much to ourselves apart from the birds and sheep. They are obviously used to walkers, so showed no more than mild curiosity and reasonable caution as we passed. The sheer scale of the valley is impossible to capture with a standard camera, but it is equally impossible to ignore as the hills tower around you. An American friend once spoke to us about Yosemite National Park, telling us how the landscape was too vast for the human mind to encompass. The British landscape, old and hoary as it is, is smaller… ‘human sized’ and intimate enough that we can feel the vastness as it lifts the heart and mind towards the infinite. Geologists call the ancient landmass that formed this part of Wales ‘Avalonia’. It is certainly a magical place.

We followed the sheep, passing the occasional cottage or farmhouse, past tumbling cascades and wildflowers, deep into the heart of the valley. The silence is complete. The sounds of nature that break the quiet serve only to bring the unheard silence into greater relief. And relief it is. We do not, I think, realise, how noise-assailed most of us are, most of the time and how much unconscious stress that causes.

But as we walked, mechanical sound found us once more with the whirring of a distant generator drowned by the baa-ing of a thousand sheep. It is shearing time and the flocks which normally roam the hills have been gathered into  a closed field.  Even though nothing worse than the shearing shed awaited them, their distress was palpable as they crowded together at the edges of the field.

We turned back at the shearing shed, although there was another corner ahead, another mountain, another vista… There always is. There was still a fair walk back to the river and the noon sun was sweltering. For all their panic, the removal of the dense wool must provide the sheep with a certain amount of satisfaction in summer.

The official Silent Eye weekend was over… though we all still had a long way to go to get home and there were still places we intended to visit along the way. Hot and sticky, the thought of the isolated, mountain-cold river drew me onwards. If everyone else was leaving… it was tempting. But by the time we arrived, several families had taken up position with radios and deck-chairs, we had arrived and were leaving at the perfect time. Bidding our friends farewell, we took a final look at the mountains.

“Do we know where we are?”

“We do not…”

“Do we know where we are going?”

“No…”

“Cool!”

With thanks to Steve and Barbara, and to our companions, for sharing a wonderful weekend.

This was the end of the official Silent Eye weekend, but not the end of our adventures or the places we were to visit, which I will continue to share on my personal blog.

 

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Stations of the sun

We were up and away early again, this time well supplied with munchables on which to break our fast. We may have missed the dawn, but we still caught the echoes of its gilding on the mountains. We wanted to take a look at a stone circle we had noticed at the end of the road, catching a meagre glimpse of the stones as we had driven back to the hotel Even from such a brief encounter, you could tell it was not a ‘real’ stone circle, but a modern reconstruction. However, in Wales, these are still a significant part of the culture.

This one, just outside Tremadog, was built for the National Eisteddfod when it visited the area in 1987. The Eisteddfod is a traditional festival: a celebration and competition of music and poetry. It is held under the auspices of the Archdruid and the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain, the Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain. ‘Gorsedd’ comes from the Welsh, meaning ‘throne’ and Eisteddfod comes from the Welsh words for ‘sit’ and ‘be’. Circles are often constructed as memorials of these important events and are completed a year in advance so that the Archdruid may proclaim the themes and details for the coming year.  The stones are still placed with ritual care. The Archdruid will stand upon the Logan Stone. To the east and facing him, will be the Stone of the Covenant, that station of the Herald Bard. Behind this are the Portal Stones and of these, the one to the right of the entrance to the circle is aligned with  the midsummer sunrise, while the stone to the left is aligned with the midwinter sunrise. Whilst they lack the powerful presence of the ancient circles, there is still something about these places that mark the stations of the year.

As for us, we had a more mundane station awaiting us. We were still way too early, though, and wandered back to Borth y Gest on a fruitless search for coffee before heading for Porthmadog. By this time, the mist had cleared on yet another splendid morning and we watched the swans in the harbour perform their morning ablutions as we waited.

One white vessel caught my eye for its name. Branwen was the sister of Brân the Blessed, he whose severed head had entertained and informed his companions for so long on the mound at Harlech, before being taken to the White Hill to protect the land. They were children of a marriage between the dark house of Llyr and the ‘Bran’ means ‘raven’ and ‘wen’ means ‘white’, ‘blessed’ or ‘fair’.  I have a personal interest in the name since ‘Wen Weston’ came into being as ‘Don’s‘ partner in The Initiate and the ancient tales have run alongside the adventures of Don and Wen.

It occurred to me that, as the raven and the swan are both traditional psychopomps, as Morgana had illustrated during the Feathered Seer weekend…and as we had unconsciously cast them for one of the rituals… then perhaps the ‘white raven’ refers to the swan. It would certainly fit with the tales of the brother and sister from the Mabinogion. I wondered about the significance of that in symbolic terms too, Brân and Branwen were children of a marriage between the Houses of Dôn and Llŷr, light and shadow. Dôn was the mother goddess, while Llŷr was associated with the sea…two states of being. Death, the realm of the psychopomp, could also be said to be the point where two states of being meet, like a wave upon the shore…

But it was not the time for such musings. We were meeting our companions to take the first of the mountain trains up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The station in Porthmadog has been beautifully restored and the trains bring back many childhood memories.The views from the tracks are spectacular, by all accounts and the old slate-mining town sits within the heart of Snowdonia…

… except that, when everyone had arrived and the timetable had been checked, we found that we would either have too little or too much time to spend at the terminus. Fifteen minutes was never going to be enough and the alternative would have made everyone far too late for the long drive home. Alternatives were discussed, but the question was settled when one of our companions said that he would like to share a very special place with us. It was not far away and would be well worth the drive….

The drive alone was ‘worth it’… passing through some incredibly beautiful places as we headed towards Cwm Pennant, a hidden valley often cited as one of the most beautiful in Wales…

An Eye full of Reflections (7 of 7)

Amidst the seemingly pristine field of stones, the old oak tree usually went unnoticed…

Like this group of happy but somewhat weary pilgrims, newly entered via the gate at the top of the narrow, fern-lined path, most visitors stood in amazed silence at the large oval of twin-chambered stonework in front of them, conscious of the oak within the oval of stones but seeing it as out of place and not part of the sacred grove where the revered ones had met… and some had died.

The act of dying-in-place had pervaded the ground so deeply that the oak as seed, some thousands of rounds later, had felt the guiding presence in its infancy; urging it to grow strong and be the most it could be, reaching for the sky and creating a four-dimensional picture of time-meeting-life.

The Oak watched, speeding up its vertically-flowing heart to synchronise with theirs, seeing something unusual, something lacking in triviality in the tired but intent expressions. The act would have cost it dearly, but the nearing of the Fullness filled the sky with energy, and it, like them, fed from the gold-flecked deep blue, above.

Those with the knowing in their eyes sometimes came at the Fullness. Not understanding, perhaps–but seeking to, at least. Few looked at the Oak. Most were captured by the pureness of the field of stones with the twin nipples.

So many stones? said their thoughts. Why were they not taken away for the making of dwellings? Another: What a perfect oval... then the Oak would place into their minds the picture of the great oval of the above, with all the great children, laughing with the evening breeze in its hissing leaves and showing them the wonderful ‘accident’ that time had wrought in a place that should no longer look like this… as though it had been protected, thus.

Which it had, of course. On a hillside which contained the fresh and lovely minds of the schoolchildren and the church a minister who was strangely sympathetic; and whose neighbouring roads included one named Bro Arthur.

As though it had been protected…

An Eye full of Reflections 6 - 63

The Oak pulled its climbing life back from the outer edges of the canopy and reached back into the pilgrims’ afternoon. They were spread around its base, but not seeing it, taking their photographs. The Oak read their own history of the afternoon. The salty moisture still on their sandy ankles, their heads alive with snippets of wisdom, their eyes full of sun… solstice sun, Sun of the Fullness.

The Oak liked them, it decided. They knew it not, but revered the place. That was enough. The Oak, the alive one, would always help those that loved the place, its home. They that loved the stones always helped it to protect them, like the children and the minister and the great names etched into the landscape.

The Watcher Oak whispered its name to the one who had first seen the aberrations of the light, now avidly trying to capture their images in his machine… and smiling, as she, his companion had done, moments before.

There were two others, two who stood back and studied the joy of the group. Two with a sense of almost mischief in their eyes, delighting in the wonderful feeling of discovery that always greeted those who came here near the Fullness. The Oak, the Watcher Oak whispered to them, the hissing of summer leaves, the story of the great oval in the sky and the small oval of the pristine stones with the twin chambers, below.

One of the two began pacing the oval, while the other watched. With delight, the Watcher Oak read their intent, sending the inner breeze to clear their minds of doubt. Yes, the leaves hissed, that will do wonderfully…

And so it was that the two asked the rest to align themselves in the North, at a place where the radial from the centre of the oval projected. They were greeted, in turn, by the woman of the North, who spoke softly of their journey around the oval to the south, the reflection of her radial, then bade them make pace it in silence and in reverence.

Around the small oval, below – and around the great oval, above – they walked, individually, slowly and with reverence. He – the other, the man of the South, the place of the sun’s Fullness – stepped from the Watcher Oak’s shadows to intersect each one, bidding them hold the beauty and the energy of the Fullness and take it into the darkness of the West – and the greater darkness of the North. Oval meeting great tilting oval, life in its roundness recognised and honoured.

They had come with a phrase in their heads: Authority. The Watcher Oak took it and replaced it with another: Inclusion in Life; then the rustling leaves kissed them farewell, for now.

But it did not loose its eye on the thread of their immediate lives. Drawing from the golden energy above it, followed their moves as they returned, sated, to their temporary dwellings, and later, replete and happy, as the sun set on the mellow waters.

The rose. At the limits of its perception into space-time, the Watcher Oak smiled as the morning’s plans were changed and one – the memory man – took them on a journey to the landscape of his childhood, within the glory of a green, tree-lined valley named Pennant.

There, they sat and carried out the last of their readings, by a river that was crystal clear and full of the blue sky.

The Watcher Oak strained to follow them into the valley, losing contact at the bend in the road where the sheep were herded for shearing; the woman of the great heart weeping for their fear.


And then the long curve to the next part of the valley took them from its golden sight. The Watcher Oak could follow no more. Just before the seeing was lost it passed their keeping to a child oak growing on the side of the valley.

With distant leaves hissing, it held them, briefly, one last time. Then, they were gone…

Across the miles, it gathered its strength, returning to the guardian task for which it had been born, rejoicing in its inclusion in the glory of outer life on this new and most beautiful day.

In the returning Fullness it was embraced and loved. Its roots reached deep into the ground… and it was good… In the ancient place the Watcher Oak watched.

——- End ——-

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   Part Two,   Part Three,

Part Four,

Part Five

Part Six

©Stephen Tanham

All right reserved, text and pictures.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Solstice stones

We had no idea where we would be taken for the final visit of the day. We suspected an ancient site as the area is just strewn with them. A brief glance at a map of prehistoric sites had left me wishing we were going to be in the region for at least the whole summer… you would need it to have any chance at all of seeing  surviving remnants of our ancestors. We were not disappointed. A short drive and a shorter walk and we found ourselves at the neolithic burial chambers of Dyffryn Ardudwy.

It is immediately impressive and unusual, though the brilliant sunlight reflecting on white stone and the deep shadows cast by a stand of oaks made it difficult, at first, to take in the full scope of what we were seeing. Small rocks cover an area around a hundred feet long by fifty feet wide. It is roughly trapezoidal in shape and, once again, reminiscent of the ceremonial stone axes that played such an important part in the culture of our ancestors.

Aerial image showing the shape of the enclosure, half hidden beneath the trees. Image: Google Earth

These axes, particularly those made in the most renowned ‘factories’ were traded across the country and even through Europe.  So many have been found unused, buried as grave goods or offerings, that they seem to have been much more than a mere practical tool. These ‘axe factories’ where the stone was quarried and crafted all seem to be in areas where the stone itself has special beauty of properties…and they are always in areas where major stone circles and monuments remain.

You have to wonder why. Was the stone itself prized for its qualities, or was it more to do with the location from whence it came? What did the shape represent, a mere stylising of a more practical form or did it hark back to early and symbolic representations of the womb of the goddess? That we will never know… but the shape itself crops up far too often at these sites to be ignored.

There are two burial chambers set within the field of stones. The smallest, set to the west and facing east, is the oldest. In fact, it is amongst the earliest of such tombs in the country, dating back possibly six thousand years. To put that in perspective, it was already ancient before the Great Pyramid was conceived.

There are many dolmens and traces of the ancient past around the village and a glance at the map shows some startling alignments across the landscape. The church of St Dwywe within the parish was built upon one ancient mound. A straight track from the church runs past the cairn of Cors-y-gedol to another cairn on Moelfre that aligns with the summer solstice. On the hills above Dyffryn Ardudwy, a line of standing stones tracks across the mountains. There can be no question of the importance of the area to our ancestors.

The smaller, older chamber is a classic shape, with tall pillars at the eastern entrance. They support a massive, sloped capstone and between them, a blocking stone still stands, closing the chamber. In front of the blocked entrance is a shallow ‘V’ shaped  ‘pit’. Excavations in the 1960s found no bones within the chamber, but fragments of deliberately broken shouldered urns and polished stone plaques were found in the pit.

When it was first constructed, the smaller chamber was enclosed within a round barrow. Almost all dolmens were so enclosed, the shape of the barrow changing over time. Most had a passage or forecourt that gave entrance to the tomb which was often used for multiple burials, with bones being added and removed over the years. It would seem that to our ancestors, their ancestors still had a part to play in the life of their communities.

The most curious feature of the western tomb, though, is the enigmatic carving that adorns the stones… stones that would have been buried and out of sight. Except, perhaps, to the dead. We have come across this too in many places and it suggests that these were not ‘just’ burial places, but houses of the dead, where the dead were seen to have a life after their own fashion.

The larger chamber also faces the east, but is in a slightly more battered state. Local stone has been used to shore up the slowly sighing uprights and though the stonework of the repair is obvious, it has been done with some sympathy.

In front of the entrance, you can still see the line of larger boulders and a single standing stone that would have formed part of the forecourt. When the second chamber was constructed, the covering mound grew to include and encompass the earlier round barrow. When you consider how much stone remains that has not been robbed over the centuries and how much more it would take to build a hill of that height and area, enough to cover both the chambers and the twenty five feet in between, you begin to get some idea of the scale of these constructions. To see the sunlight gleaming on white stone, even today, is a striking sight. Especially as it turns the white stones blue… echoing the sea and sky… and the blue light we found at the start of our adventures.

Light seems to play an important role at all these sites, even though many of them would never have seen the sun once construction was complete. Did our forefathers deliberately include the light within their houses of the dead? We know that they did;  famously at Newgrange and we have found evidence at other sites we have visited too. The play of light in the larger chamber, though, can only have been a fortuitous gift when it cast a hawk at my feet, flying into the east.

We explored…. not to our heart’s content, but as time allowed. Then, to honour the place and the solstice, we shared a simple ritual of light and darkness, passing, appropriately enough, through the brilliant sunshine and the velvet shadows cast by the trees. As we prepared to depart, something was nagging  from the stones and a persistent black and gold dragonfly convinced us to linger when the rest of our companions had left. The dragonfly seemed to approve…. and what better approval than that of a dragon could you have in Wales?

You always know when it is time to leave these sites. There is an indefinable shift in the feel of the place. Leave too soon and you may miss the gifts. Linger too long and you spoil the magic. You can only listen to the land and the moment… and wait to see what the next moment brings. And that means every minute is fraught with possibility.

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Beached

In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
Tolkien.

I know very little about seagulls. We do get them here where I live, far inland, raiding the landfills… but they seldom cry. There is something heart-aching about that sound that pulls at the soul with an indelible longing. And always, when I hear them, those lines from Tolkien wander through my mind. It is not a discontent with what is, but rather a yearning for the possibilities of what might be; a feeling very similar to that of childhood and the first sight of a summer sea. That too was carried on the cry of the gull. And we were heading for the beach…

The plan had been to take the train into Harlech and walk back, a couple of miles along the beach. The heat, however, was intense, so we settled on a more gentle perambulation, seeking out a quiet corner on the sands. It is our custom to invite our companions to share readings at these events. Some choose pieces that fit the theme of the weekend, others choose readings that speak to heart and mind. They always seem to fit the moment and the environment somehow, even when we have not given a detailed itinerary or when we have changed our plans to suit the day. This time, we had added the bibliomantic readings into the mix too and the randomly chosen quotations had a special relevance and nowhere more so than on the beach.

“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.” 
Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

We found a spot where someone had been balancing rocks. There were a number of these ephemeral sculptures around the place where we rested. It is not as easy as it looks to get even these fairly regular pebbles to retain their place. Michael Grab is an master of the art and his gravity-defying sculptures are something else entirely. He describes the meditative state of awareness that is both required and engendered by the stones as ‘finding a zero point or silence within yourself’ where awareness can be brought to understanding the form and the stone. It seemed the perfect place for the readings and subsequent discussions. It seemed, too, as if the readings were already answering those discussions, even before they arose.

As we sat on the sand, children ran along the beach, destroying most of the balanced art, except those pieces closest to us. It was a small sadness, knowing that the wind and tides would have taken them anyway. The children had no concept of what was involved in their creation. Their parents did not seek to stop them, and that brought the role of authority back into play. There is a place for it, when it teaches values, but how often are those values skewed or blinded, I wonder, by those authority itself has learned?

Those who gaze at you in joy will find your face joyfully reflected back at them.  
Nicolas of Cusa

Yet, it was as children that we waded out into the cool of the sea. Typically British and unprepared, shoes and socks were removed, trousers and skirts were tucked up…all that was missing was the proverbial knotted handkerchief. My one regret was the lack of swimwear… though I went out farther than was safe for my dignity, at least the sun was hot enough to dry the sodden skirt. Such moments, when the years fall away into unimportance are reminders of who we are behind the authority of our own outer personalities. The child remains within us and just as we would not confine a child in life, so should we offer the inner child its freedom.

The day was drawing to its close as we left the beach. Flowers as joyous as the sunshine lined the paths and birds, well-used to bounty seemed unflustered by our presence. There was, we were told, one more place to visit before heading back to Porthmadog for dinner. It was to prove, in its way, as stunning a site as any we have seen…

The Wyrm and the Wyrd: Harlech

Leaving Portmeirion and its mysteries behind, we drove across the estuary to Harlech in search of lunch. Stuart and I had parked beneath the Norman castle that morning when we were in search of breakfast. The imposing bulk of the walls, towering high upon the castle mound, still makes a powerful statement today. I was glad we had seen it from beneath in the grey morning mist, with the remnants of its curtain wall enclosing the rock, as it allowed us to get a true impression of its scale and erstwhile might.

We had lunch in its shadow, looking back across the estuary to the mountains. Snowdon dominates the skyline here, almost everywhere you go, and I was torn between the desire to wander those hills and a need to get close to the sea. The hills make my heart sing…they always  do, no matter where they are. There is something about the high places that calls and always will. I can understand that; the hills were my first love, a place where I first learned the stories of the old ones from my grandfather and mother …and where I learned a sense of wonder that is with me still.

The sea is a different thing. I have always lived far from the shore yet the waves have always whispered in my veins. I suppose it comes of being island-born… although we tend to forget that our country is, after all, no more than a small island in a big world. The song of the waves touches something primal in most people.  Life arose in the oceans and so the waves sing of home. Although most of the ancient gods of the sea are male, they live within her ever-changing body and, like to like, she calls to us.

For the moment, though, we were poised between the hills and the sea, looking out at both and yet our attention was drawn, inevitably, by the vast stone presence of the castle. It was built by Edward I towards the end of the thirteenth century when he invaded Wales. There had been an impromptu Shakespearian theme running through the morning, though, and so, for me, it was the figure of Owain Glyndŵr, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, who caught my imagination. Glyndŵr had taken the castle in 1404 and it ecame his base thereafter. I had first come across him when reading Shakespeare’s Henry IV and, although I knew little about the man, the power of the name and character had stuck in memory and imagination. He could ‘summon spirits from the vasty deep’ and was described as ‘profited in strange concealments; valiant as a lion, and wondrous affable; and as bountiful as mines of India. ‘

There were those who were for knocking the castle down and restoring the hillside to its natural and more appropriate state as a holy place. It was here, so tells the Mabinogion,  that Bran the Blessed, high king of the Island of the Mighty, was petitioned for the hand of his sister, Branwen. When the marriage ended in tragedy, betrayal and war and Bran was mortally wounded, he instructed his companions to cut off his head and carry it home. It was here too that the severed head of the king entertained his court with stories for many years before being finally buried beneath the Tower of London on White Hill…. but that is another story.

Even though I was glad to have seen Glyndŵr’s castle, I had no real desire to walk its walls. To be honest, I would have struggled to climb its turrets… especially in the noon heat. I was fine on the flat, but slopes were still knocking me for six and the thought of the inevitable spiral staircase to the top of the tower was just too much. While most of our party explored the castle, a symbol of armed might and power, Stuart and I wandered off to the house of a Higher Authority… the parish church of St Tanwg.

St Tanwg is the patron saint and founder of the little church of Llandanwg, whose beach we would later visit. It is thought that the medieval church that remains there is built on the site of the original church dating back to the 5th or 6th century, when Tanwg, son of Ithel the Generous, came over from Armorica to assist King Vortigern in re-establishing Christianity in the area. There are several unusual carved stones in Llandanwg church dating back at least fifteen hundred years.

The church in Harlech, however, is not particularly old, nor does its architecture bear the marks of grandiosity. It sits on a hill at the centre of Harlech and was built in 1840 to replace the older church on the beach. It is a simple, peaceful building, cool in the heat of the day and with the colours of bare stone the only adornment on its walls.

It does, however, have some beautiful stained glass and a medieval font dating back to the 1400s. The font was probably once in use at Llandanwg church, but was found abandoned in the sand dunes before being moved to its current location. Around it are the toys and drawings of the children of the community, many of whom will have been baptised with the waters of the font, as their forefathers were.

In fact, the whole building has an air of being ‘lived in’ and used by the community. Plans for its modernisation are on show along with people’s comments and ideas. Evidence of meetings and events are everywhere. The nave of the church is very much alive with the life of the community it serves, while the sanctuary is set apart in simplicity, with an elegant cross bearing the risen and crowned Christ and the Four Holy Creatures marking the separation between the mundane and the sacred.

It is an odd and obvious contrast with the temporal power exhibited by the castle. The  display of secular power was designed to cow and coerce; there is strength and a violent authority built into the very fabric of its walls. Yet, just a few hundred years after it was built, it fell from use and into ruin when that power shifted, as it always does. The little church represents another authority, and while opinions of any organised religion may be polarised, there can be no denying that humankind has always sought a higher source of direction. The spiritual journey has taken many forms over the millennia, from the earliest stone circles and sacred groves, through the temples and great medieval cathedrals to the aspiration of the individual. No matter what shape it takes or Name it wears, the quest for Light remains at the heart of Man.

A Bibliomantic Tale IX…

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Our encounter with Dyffryn Ardudwy on the previous day had whetted our prehistoric appetite.

The challenge now was to find a suitable site on our journey back en-route to Llandudno.

There was no shortage of possible contenders although many of them involved steep climbs and the hot June weather was becoming a reckoning factor.

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The sensible thing would have been to keep driving.

The flow of air at high speed was proving an effective enough coolant.

But legend reached us of a disturbed and reconstructed cairn not far from Betws-y-Coed.

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Capel Garmon Burial-Chamber

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No 8 (Light)

God is nearer to us than our own soul and God is the means whereby our Substance and our Sensuality are kept together so as never to be apart.’

– Julian of Norwich

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No 9 (Dark)

‘I saw that God never began to love us… We have always been in God’s foreknowledge, known and loved from without beginning… We were made for love.

– Julian of Norwich

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“That’s the reverse of the reading we got at the summit of the Great Orme.”

“I thought I recognised it.”

“The same story holds good both on a height and in a tomb.”

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“That’s probably a fitting enough conclusion to the readings.”

“Until the next time.”

“You’ll need a different book.”

“Undoubtedly, but I’ll leave it to them to furnish me with one.”

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‘Be seeing you.’

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With thanks to Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh, event organisers, and the Companions of the Silent Eye who joined us for the event and contributed their own readings.

Readings taken from ‘Christian Mystics’ by Matthew Fox.

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The Wyrm and the Wyrd: In search of breakfast

We were surprised to find that breakfast would not be forthcoming. While we could, undoubtedly, have booked it separately, it was almost a matter of principle not to do so. I consider it cheating to neither include the meal in the price, nor to signal its omission in big bold letters where you can’t fail to see it when you book. In fact, although their advertisement mentions that they do provide a cooked breakfast, I have yet to find where it says that it is not included… Which all meant that we got a very early start on the day as we did not have to hang around waiting for service. We downed a banana and a coffee apiece, then headed out into the mist instead…and were very glad we had.

We pulled over at the first lay-by to get a picture of the mountains, wreathed in cloud and looking none too promising. I caught the colour as I pulled in and grabbed the camera while we debated whether or not the buzzard would allow us to get out of the car without flying away, seeing as he was right bedside us and watching the idiots in the green tin can. We watched and snapped through open windows then decided to risk it. He let us get out and snap again… then flew off slowly, taking up a perch on the other side of the road.

As we and the bird were all hunting for our breakfast in the Welsh landscape, there was a sense of shared purpose; an understanding of a common quest. It is an entirely different feeling when wild creatures permit you to come so close without fear… far different from the undoubted joy of being able to get closer still to a trained or captive creature. It is as if they are inviting you in to their world… a place of deeper wonders and heightened senses… and it is always both a gift and an honour. So our day began with beauty, joy and excitement.

We took a while to pick out what we could see of the distant mountains, using the identification panel by which we had inadvertently stopped. Snowdon, Yr Wyddfa, was lost behind the veiling mists. Snowdon stands three and a half thousand feet above sea level and means simply ‘snow hill’, but its true name, Yr Wyddfa, means ‘the tumulus’ or ‘the barrow’. Legend has it that a cairn was built over the giant, Rhudda Gawr, after he was defeated by King Arthur. It is a good tale. The giant had defeated two warring armies and had cut off the beards of their kings, Nyniaw and Peibaw, to make himself a cap. Twenty six kings brought their armies against him, but he defeated them all and took their beards as trophies with which to make himself a cloak. He sent a message to Arthur, demanding his beard too, so he could patch a hole in the cloak. Arthur, incensed, sent his refusal and the giant marched against the King intent on victory and the acquisition of another and more prestigious beard. Rhudda Gawr was defeated by the king, who smote him with such a mighty blow that his sword passed straight through the giant’s armour and clove his crown in two. King Arthur ordered that a cairn be raised over the body of the giant that was known as Gwyddfa Rhudda, Rhudda’s Cairn… and centuries later, when the giant’s name was forgotten, Yr Wyddfa.

Pools of pale sunlight were already bathing some of the slopes of the hills. Perhaps, we thought, the mist would dissipate and the clouds lift. It was forecast to be a nice day, for all the moist grisaille with which we were surrounded. We could only wait and see, accepting the moment and the gifts that it brought; knowing too that the magical watercolour landscape before us was changing, minute by minute with the dance of light and shade. Once the sun broke through it would be a place of brighter hues and harder edges…and had we stayed from breakfast, we would never have seen this transient beauty or the wings of the morning.

We were not meeting our companions until ten o’clock when, we were told, our first stop of the day would open. We found the place by accident as we followed our noses, noting that in fact, it opened earlier than that. Still, we were after food and, early as it was, somewhere had to be open… We continued along the main road, certain of success, until we realised that anything that would be doing food, wasn’t yet. Not that we minded too much. Turning away from the main road, we headed up to Ffestiniog through some glorious countryside, trying to ignore the ugly scarring of the quarries and mines that have given the area its difficult, underpaid and often dangerous livelihood for so long. There seemed such a stark contrast though, between the modern and the ancient mines, where we had looked in wonder at how man can work with Nature to harvest her wealth. Efficiency and productivity have long since erased respect for the earth from those who seek only profit, but as many of my own family were once miners, I know that the men who work the stones and tunnels still have a healthy respect for the earth.

Abandoning our search for sustenance in the hills and villages, we crossed the estuary and headed towards the town’s most prominent landmark, Harlech Castle. We would be seeing it again later… but for now, our quest had at last been successful. Between biscuits and chocolate bars, the little shop beneath the Norman walls had provided for our immediate needs. We turned the car around, heading back towards our ten o’clock rendezvous. We would be early…very early… but that was okay. Maybe we would be able to grab a coffee in Portmeirion…

A Bibliomantic Tale VIII…

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Pennant Valley

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A slight change to the Sunday Morning plans means that there are two readings for one location this time.

Escape

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Pages Two-One-One and Two-One-Two

No 4 (Light)

‘The profoundest disclosure in the religious experience is the awareness that the individual is not alone. What he discovers as being true and valid for himself must at last be a universal experience or else it ultimately loses all of its personal significance. His experience is personal, private, but in no sense exclusive. All of the vision of God and holiness which he experiences, he must achieve in the context of the social situation by which his day-by-day life is defined. What is disclosed in this religious experience, he must define in his community.’

– Howard Thurman

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No 5 (Dark)

‘Jesus rests his case for the ultimate significance of his life on the love ethic. Love is the intelligent, kindly, but stern expression of kinship of one individual for another having as its purpose the maintenance and furtherance of life at its highest level… If we accept the basic proposition that life is one, arising out of a common centre – all expressions of love are acts of God. Hate, then, becomes a form of annihilation of self and others; in short – suicide.’

– Howard Thurman

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But that we could escape to such an idyllic green world.

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No 9 (Light)

‘The strictly scientific view of the universe needs this dimension of love and play, which it sorely lacks. That is one thing I like about space flights: at last there is something of cosmic play getting into the sombre, unimaginative, and super serious world of science. But what is a little play of astronauts against the great, gloomy, dogmatic seriousness of the death game, nuclear war? Can we recover from the titanic humourless of our civilisation?

– Thomas Merton

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No 8 (Dark)

‘The contemplative life should liberate and purify the imagination which passively absorbs all kinds of things without our realising it: liberate and purify it from the influence of so much violence done by the bombardment of social images. There is a kind of contagion that affects the imagination unconsciously much more than we realise. It emanates from things like advertisements and from all the spurious fantasies that are thrown at us by our commercial society. These fantasies are deliberately intended to exercise a powerful effect on our conscious and subconscious minds. They are directed right at our instincts and appetites and there is no question but that they exercise a real transforming power on our whole psychic structures. The contemplative life should liberate us from that kind of pressure which is really a form of tyranny.’

– Thomas Merton

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We concluded our reading reveries with a walk along the valley in an an attempt to draw closer to this green idyll and, perchance, enter in, beyond its sacred veil.

What we discovered was ‘Big Farmer’.

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to be continued…