The subject of the next song in Y Mabinogi is Annwn. Pwyll steps through the portal into that Otherworld, in the guise of Arawn, a King of that land. This is the point when the next song is sung. As with the first song I’ll be opening to the Spirit of that Place, asking permission to tell its story – and part of that will be stepping through myself.
Annwn, Annwfn, is the name given to the Realm of Faerie, but no gossamer-winged Tinkerbells are the beings that live there. No, this is the Place of the Cauldron, a place of magic and mystery. A place when poets have always cast their eyes, and it exists all around us, in the same space, just beside. Doorways can be a stone circle, a burial mound of the Old People, the space between two trees, a cave, the peak of the mountain, the shadowy space under the thorn bush. Sometimes people have stepped through by mistake, at other times they are invited. The stories of Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin tell of two such encounters.
Taliesin went there and tells of his experience in the Book of Taliesin, particularly in the poem Preiddeu Annwn (The Spoils of Annwn), when he travelled on the great ship Prydwen with King Arthur to seek the Cauldron of Annwn. This poem is doubtlessly one of the very first written tales of the Grail Quest.
Some tell of a vast landscape, others of islands in a deep ocean (usually to the west). Like our world it doubtlessly has both of these.
Being a land of magic, the act of magic can also open a doorway. When we cast our circles we are delineating a space that is between. A space that exists both within our world of matter, but also exists in the world of Spirit. Some circles are cast to keep stuff out, others are cast to keep stuff in, often it can be both. I remember once going to a local woodland at lunchtime and feeling compelled to cast a circle and simply sit in it for an hour. I sat against the trunk of a large Silver Birch tree. These trees are often quite small in comparison with the larger Oaks and Ashes of the woods, but this one was a giant. I’d cast my circle, inviting the Spirits of the Four Directions to be with me. Spoken words into the air, and then sat down to be still.
If you do this for more than about 20-25 minutes the woodland forgets you are there. Life that hid because it saw the shape of one of nature’s greatest predators begins to return. Try it. You’ll be amazed. The birdsong settles as the sentinels that were calling of your presence, warning other birds to fly away, quieten down. I closed my eyes and just listened. The stillness was palpable. The peace flowing through me. I stayed there for a while, eyes shut. When I opened them there was a moment where the air was what can only be described as silver. Leaves were moving outside the circle but everything else within was still. I looked down and saw two Kestrel feathers were lying on my lap. There was movement, just at the edges of my vision, but when I turned to look I saw nothing unusual.
Over the years there have been many moments like this. Some of it whilst solitary, other times in a small group, and a few times in a large group at one of our camps. It’s these moments I’ll be remembering and thinking of as I work on the song. I think it’s time to take my harp to the forest again. The harp was given to us by those in the Otherworld, and when we play the harp in their places, they still listen.