For Mabon: The Spoils of Annwn

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.

Underworld by Eric Kincaid

Underworld by Eric Kincaid

My Mabon Mystery

September, 1995

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

and birdsong.

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

Heavenly aspect.

“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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Witches Familiars: Witchery of the White Sow

Witchery of the White Sow

The pig shares its symbolic value with the boar. In Mesopotamia, at Catal Huyuk, in shrine EVI8, rows of breasts molded over jaws and tusks of boars express the idea that life comes from death.- Buffie Johnson

But, I hear you say, “Isn’t the White Sow the beast of Cerridwen, and is she not a Lammas Goddess, a Goddess of sacrifice? Why bring her to darken the door of Springtime? What has she got to do with flowering  Beltane?”

Let me tell you a little story.

As the trees are reflected in a mirror lake, their branches reaching across the water from their roots into the underwater sky, so do I climb the branches of the Underworld Tree from roots to branches that plunge deep into the earth. Before me is light for which I aim — a green sky shining between the leaves. Out in the light, I reach the topmost twigs, and drop down to the green grass below. Lifted by a wind, I float to the low hills glimmering on the horizon. Inside the door of the hill the Watcher,cloaked in scarlet and black, waits. A penny for your thoughts? I drop a coin into box and find the opening that leads into the Palace of the Faery Queen.

The Faery Hall at Beltane

The dome of the Faery Hall is supported by pillars of trees. Its floor is composed of black and white stones filed flat as tiles set out in squares like a chess board. On a green terrace are two carved and ancient thrones where sit the Horned God, and the Lady with Antlers, the Faery Queen. When they see me enter, their gray eyes glitter, they stir. The low bells toll, and the drums roll under the earth.

The Faery Court surrounds me, full of focused intent. They wear the clothes of Medieval France. Their movements are graceful, coy, unpredictable. Do not be fooled. The Faery, though beautiful, are one with nature and, like nature, they are wild.

A horn sounds  near and far away. A huge white sow enters the Hall. Waving black steamers float around her head. She sniffs the air when she sees me and next thing I know, I am under her feet. As she tramples me with her cloven hoofs, I hear a great drum beating, but it is not a drum. It is the unified breathing of the Faery Court, keeping time to her stomping and grinding me into the black and white stones of the floor. Soon, I am nothing but a smudge of darkness on the white square, and a spray of gray dust on the black ones.

There is silence, and then a blare of trumpets coming from somewhere between the pillar-trees.  Suddenly I see myself, the way all dreamers do, sitting sideways, and unladylike, on the back of the great white sow. I am dressed in a green gown, my waving golden hair is encircled with flowers. Hawthorn flowers entwine the Sow, who is also crowned May Queen, She Who is Reborn in Spring. Smiling, the Sow Goddess dances on the black and white floor, taking me with her. I raise my hands, palm up, as if to catch the rays of the sun. The Faery Court claps and laughs. Soon we are dancing in the bright green light as the Sow carries me around the Faery Hall.

This vision was prophetic. Literally. For when the long seven years in the dark forest of the Horned God’s initiation was over, I went out to a May Day celebration at the Deveraux Pub in London, and was made May Queen by a drawing of lots.

Here is what remains of my hawthorn crown. It has traveled many miles with me. They were elder witches that gave it to me.

Beltane and the Underworld Goddess

Beltane comes to pass in the sun sign of Taurus. At mid tide, the Sacred Cow sees her self in the mirror of a Full Scorpio Moon. As Taurus is birth and the nurturing of life, Scorpio is the sting of death whose weapon is the blade of sacrifice.

Because they were less expensive to feed and care for than bulls, sows appear as lesser sacrificial animals in vegitative festivities. Afterward they were eaten by worshippers who thus partook of the essence of the divinity. In Crete the pig was a favorite sacrificial animal at the Peak Sanctuary on Mount Juktas and other mountaintop shrines consecrated to the Lady of the Beasts. In Crete the Crone, as Goddess of Wisdom, takes the form of a Sow... Buffie Johnson, Lady of the Beasts


Fertility, death, resurrection are the threefold cycle of Earth. The pig with her litter of piglets, sucking her to the bones. The Sow that eats her young. The sacrificed pig who fertilizes the grain, whose death is the promise of life to come.

The Sow is the creature of the Underworld — she lies under the Earth, one with the soil seeded with grain. Divinized, the pig’s blood is given to the soil from which the Goddess springs up in the long days of May. All  spiral into, and out of each other, feeding on each other as life feeds on itself. Close to the forces of nature, the ancients lived these cycles day after day, night after night, season after season. The Full Moon in Scorpio reminded them, that in the fullness of Spring, the darkness of Death was waiting.

Sow and Reap

As early as the seventh millenium B.C.E., the sow was involved in vegetation rituals. The pig’s habit of rooting in the soil with its tusks is a primal image of the plowing of the soil. the sow’s fast growth, and wealth of piglets, made her a creature of plenty. The existence of an ancient Sow Oracle attests to her transformative nature, and intimacy with the powers of fertility — the main concern of agrarian cultures worldwide. Ancient votive figures of pigs have grains pressed into their bodies, making them one with the crops. Neolithic Priestesses wore sow masks to represent the Goddess as they copulated in the fields during Beltane.

The association of sowing and reaping with iconography of Old Man, Death, are well known.

The Sow Goddess acts as an epiphany of the Lady of the Plants. The Greek Goddess, Demeter carries a pig and a torch into Hades when she searches for Persephone. It is no accident that the only witness to Hades’ abduction of Persephone is a swine herd, and that the swineherd reports the rape to Hecate, Goddess of the dark side of the Moon.

As the pig is sacrificed to the Goddess to make the crops grow, the boar is often the agency of death. Set takes the form of a boar to kill Osiris. The Irish God Diarmid is killed by a boar — in fact many Grail Knights are wounded in the thigh by boars to be rescued by Faery Queens. The rites of Tammuz follow the same boar slain pattern as all the dying and resurrecting Gods of the Grain.


The Welsh Goddess, Cerridwen, has long associations with the White Sow, magic, and poetry. She is a Goddess of doorways between death and rebirth. A shape shifter, Inspiratrice, and witch, it was she that trampled me in the Faery Hall to initiate me into her Mysteries. It was she who dogged my steps for nine years.

Nine: Number of the months of human gestation. Sacred number of the Moon.

The  Black Book of Carmarthen  contains two poems by the bard Cuhelyn that associate Cerridwen with seeds, and therefore fertility and growth in the darkness of the Underworld. As she seeds the Earth, she seeds the imagination of poet, becoming his dark Muse:

A successful song of fruitful praise, relating to the bustling course of the host,

According to the sacred ode of Cyridwen, the goddess of various seeds,

The various seeds of poetic harmony, the exalted speech of the graduated minstrel–BBC III

Her Name

Scottish, Welsh) [KARE-id-ooín or KARE-id-win] Moon Goddess; Great Mother; Grain Goddess; Goddess of Nature. The white-corpse eating sow representing the Moon. Her symbol was a white sow. Death, fertility, regeneration, inspiration, magic, astrology, herbs, science, poetry, spells, knowledge.

Cerridwen is the goddess of dark prophetic powers. She is the keeper of the cauldron of the underworld, in which inspiration and divine knowledge are brewed. She is often equated with the famous Greek crone, Hecate, and to the Irish Badb. She is also sometimes related to the Greek Muses, only in a more violent and dark form.

Cerridwen’s name has many meanings that signify Moon, Sickle, Sow.

Cerid-wen: fair, beloved

Cerit: hooked, crooked Hook, sickle, ben: woman Crooked Backed Woman ( Sounds like the moon to me.)

Ceritwen: crooked white one

One can see that the round shape of the pig suggests pregnancy, the Moon. The cyclical swelling of her belly with unborn piglets decreasing to bone thinness after birth, mimics the phases of the Moon. While in Mexico, I saw a mother pig almost devoured by her suckling piglets who were almost the same size as she. The connotations of the life feeding on darkness as the sow almost dies to feed her young, are resonant. The crooked back of the Sow mirrors the crooked sickle moon, whose belly is in darkness.

The Moon, as has been discussed before, is the vessel of fertility, the place from whence the souls of the unborn descend to earthly incarnation.

Full Moon in Scorpio

Give me more death. — Pablo Neruda

The Poet and his Muse.

The artist must be taken sometimes against his or her will. The Muse possesses the artist, for the artist is the instrument through which the Goddess speaks. The creative process is a fire. It brings illumination, radiation, and sometimes pain, when one comes to close to the flames. The Goddess, Cerridwen, kept the Cauldron of Poetry and Rebirth. As Gwion’s fingers are spattered by the Witch’s brew, he gains the gift of prophetic speech. If he enters the cauldron he will be twice born, divinized, springing up like the grain from the soil of death. He becomes Taliesin, poet, prophet, divine son of the Goddess.

Beltane, your flowers spring from the death of winter. When the sun and moon are joined in the sign of the solar Bull and the lunar Cow, they procreate in the dark. The grass grows, the flowers bloom, the birds feast on buds, and worms that make the gardens fertile.

Merciless, the moon soon rises, and like a mirror, shines back to the joyous Great Mother Goddess her other face: Scorpion Queen of Samhain.

The cycles moves around and around, eternally, or as long as there is life on Earth. Sacrifice, Purification, Divination, and Rebirth. The transfigured Sow Goddess rules Beltane.

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