The Power of Bardic Poetry
In the early 1990′s I taught a workshop called Into the West: A Course in Celtic Shamanism, that included ritual work centered around an ancient poem by the great Welsh bard, Taliesin called The Spoils of Annwn. It is probably one of the most powerful initiatory poems ever created. If you work with it, image by image, you will be taken on a journey to Otherworld, by ship, to capture the Holy Grail. Many teachings and gifts come from contact with the Grail; gifts of wisdom, healing, and artistic creativity, especially the power of poetry, and the ability to bring forth Tales from the deep mind of the Collective Unconscious.
I am printing a translation I have never seen before. It would take ages to unearth the one I used to use found in the works of John and Caitlin Matthews that is much more traditional.
This one is very well done! The keys are not in the words themselves, though they must sing to be effective. What you must focus on with any of the Arthurian stuff particularly, are the IMAGES. the more clearly you form images in your mind, the more you bring them to life. When you get really good, you can enter into them and the journey becomes a reality in the Otherworld of Faery.
A Small Interpretation
It is in Annwn ( pronounced An-ah-oon) that you will find the Mabon, here called Gwair. He is imprisoned, held by a chain, in the Spiral Castle, by Awrawn, (Awr-ah-oon) King of Annwn who is also Lord of the Underworld or the Dead.
In the poem below, King Arthur brings his men to release the Divine Child from the Annwn, and to seize the Grail, or, Cauldron of Rebirth. The symbolism of the Cauldron is that of the Great Mother. Gwair is divine because he is the son of the Goddess. Gwair was captured and held in the Underworld by Awrawn, thus depriving the earth of his vital force, the lack of which contributes to the desolation of the Wasteland.
I believe this poem contains the vestiges of an ancient ritual in which Gwair is released and returned to the land of the living by Arthur, who also brings the great Goddess back in the form of the Grail. This ritual was done to insure the harvest and to protect the fertility of the land.
Demeter and Persephone / Mabon and Modron
There are parallels between the Mabon and Modron story and that of Demeter and Persephone, but whereas the Mother/Daughter myth is fully Pagan and untainted by Christianity, the story of Mabon and Modron has come under its influence. Keys to the understanding of this dynamic, and that of the Grail Legend generally, are these:
1. The Grail legends describe a spiritual and social battle between Faery and encroaching Christianity.
2. The need to heal the Wasteland is implied when it is not spelled out.
3. There is a conflict between the old ways of honoring the Goddess Sovereignty and respecting her rites so as to insure the fertility of the land, and the deliberate destruction of the ways of the Goddess by the Christian ecclesiastics who are determined to spread their influence into Her territory to redeem the land, in their terms, under the rule of Christ as God.
With these underlying concepts in mind, it is easy to see that the Goddess is symbolized by the Cauldron of the Grail, and her Divine Son is the pre-Christian Son who must bring life back to the land through some kind of rite of scared marriage or, as is most likely in the Arthurian saga, to replace the aging and enfeebled King, wounded by a Christian relic — the Spear of Longinus.
So, here is the great shamanic poem — the first work of literature that mentions King Arthur, as he attempts to steal the Cauldron of Annwn.
The Spoils of Annwn
I will praise the Lord, the Sovereign, the King of the land,
who has extended his rule over the strand of the world.
Well equipped was the prison of Gwair in Caer Siddi
according to the story of Pwyll and Pryderi.
None before him went to it,
to the heavy blue chain’ it was faithful servant whom it restrained,
and before the spoils of Annwn sadly he sang.
And until Judgement Day our bardic song will last.
Three shiploads of Prydwen we went to it;
except for seven, none returned from Caer Siddi.
I am honored in praise, song is heard
In Caer Pedryfan, four-sided,
my eulogy, from the cauldron it was spoken.
By the breath of nine maidens it was kindled.
The cauldron of the Head of Annwn, what is its custom,
dark about its edge with pearl?
It does not boil a coward’s food; it had not been so destined.
The sword of Lluch Lleawg was raised to it,
and in the hand of Lleminawg it was left.
And before the door of the gate of hell, lanterns burned.
And when we went with Arthur, renowned conflict
except for seven, none returned from Caer Feddwid.
I am honored in praise, song will be heard.
In Caer Pedryfan, island of the strong door,
noon and jet-black are mixed.
Bright wine their drink before their warband.
Three shiploads of Prydwen we went to the sea;
except for seven, non returned from Caer Rigor.
I, lord of learning, do not deserve lowly men.
Beyond Caer Wydr they had not seen Arthur’s valor.
Three score hundred men stood on the wall;
it was difficult to speak with their watchman.
Three shiploads of Prydwen wen went with Arthur;
except for seven, none returned from Caer Goludd.
I do not deserve lowly men, slack their defense.
They do not know what day…,
what hour of the midday God was born,
They do not know the Speckled Ox, thick his headring,
seven score links in his collar.
And when we went with Arthur, disastrous visit,
except for seven, none returned from Caer Fanddwy.
I do not deserve lowly men, slack their attack.
They do not know what day…,
what hour of the midday the lord was born,
what animal they keep, silver its head.
When we went with Arthur, disastrous strife,
except for seven, none returned from Caer Ochren.
Monks crowd together like a choir of whelps
from the battle of lords who will be known.
Is the wind of one path? Is the sea of one water?
Is fire, irresistible tumult, of one spark?
Monks crowd together like a pack of wolves
from the battle of lords who will be known.
They do not know when darkness and dawn separate
or the wind, what is its path, is its onrush,
what does it destroy, what land does it strike?
How many lost saints and how many others?
I will praise the Lord, the Great Prince.
May I not be sad, Christ will endow me.
My Mabon Mystery
Today I gave Her blackbirds. To me She gave a dark heart.
She is Binah, the Sorrowful Mother. She points to the earth.
Her tears fall on the earth and go down under the ground
bringing with them Her pain and sorrow.
The Child is in my heart
radiant and crowned
But below me is a starry cave in the dark center
of the earth. Down there
is a radiant child wrapped in a strong blue chain.
Gwair! Mabon! The Divine Son of the Goddess.
I follow a mischievous child
down a dark, L shaped corridor.
I sense mirrors, shimmering.
We enter a wide cavern. Along the walls
are the effigies of dead heroes.
Light comes through a crevice in the ceiling
and shines on a beautiful Goddess
bathed in blue and starry light
with the Child upon her lap.
“I am the Divine Mother at the center of the earth.
I am the Mother of the Wild Beasts.”
Antlers flicker on her head to be
replaced by a large gold crown.
“I am Lady Sovereignty.”
She hands me a golden vessel
filled with rose-gold light.
I pour its contents over me.
A vista opens in the wall —
all green and lovely. Tinkling sounds
A sweep of stairway –
a tower in the distance
high upon a hill — Glastonbury Tor.
I go up the winding stairway.
The tower shifts and then revolves.
It flickers. Stars begin to spiral around its top.
Day has turned to night.
I enter a vast lit hall with a
checkerboard tiled floor.
I sense a host of beings
at the far end of the vast room.
I must walk very slowly.
Above the chandeliers tinkle
and give off a radiant, holy light.
I walk against a force — laboriously I move forward.
the room begins to spin widdershins –
I feel swept away by its motion.
It stops and I am moving toward a Faery Host.
Suddenly my steps are swift.
The Faeries part and then I see
a Queen upon a high throne
of such radiance and beauty I cannot speak or move.
A huge shaft of light goes
up from her body to the top
of the tower and out to the
spiral of stars.
This is the Triune Goddess in Her
“Where is the child?” i ask.
I am beckoned to come close to her.
The light is almost blinding.
I am lifted up the shaft of light
like an elevator
and find myself at the top of the tower
looking out over the silent, peaceful world.
The top of the tower becomes a great basin
in which I float.
A silver ladder falls from the sky.
I grab it and moved into Oneness…
Oh the power of the Faery Magic! May the Green Light of Faery fill Your Life with Abundance!
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