Gatherer of Souls by Lorna Smithers, a Review

 

These are poems and stories that probe, lifting tissues of (mis)remembered pasts. Ghastly misdeeds of King Arthur and his ‘knights’ are here. Smithers gives voice to those that were decapitated & slaughtered, mutilated like the Very Black Witch of Orddu, the giants of the land whose beards were pulled out bloody and nasty. Gatherer of Souls on one hand is a work of disassembly, but through such it is prophetically freeing of those who were buried, covered up, cast out as monsters from a developing, eventually imperial narrative.

 

Essentially, this book is a retrieval of Annwn, the Brythonic underworld, and of Gwyn ap Nudd to whom it is dedicated, a psychopomp and leader of the wild host who has gathered multitudes over the millennia, and is associated with Glastonbury Tor among other places. She shares her experience in a way that is accessible to the reader and also intensely poetic. “I met him on the tear-drenched edgelands between madness and reason, dreaming and waking, life and death. Gwynn ap Nudd opened the doors of Annwyn and called me to ride with him into the mists through the war-torn centuries to recover his forgotten mythos.” The book continues the courageous charting of Annwyn in her previous and recommended book The Broken Cauldron.

 

“Across Prydain giants lay headless and beardless, stony limb scattered in fragments on their hilltops. I helped them pull themselves together, fixed their broken fingers, stuck on their peeled-odd fingernails, guided their sprits into Annwyn’s craggy beds and chairs.

Their anger gathered into a muttering beneath the land that sounded like grinding rocks as Arthur and his men set forth to capture my hounds with leashes woven from their blood beards.”

 

The book is a mix of poetry and prose, but all filled with the prophetic vision of the anywyddyn. That the dead will rise again is foretold. That Gwyn has strengthened. She turns Procopius, the early Byzantine historian (who described a terrible wilderness of serpents and wolves north of the Roman walls) on his head: “From North of the Wall I return/cloaked in feather and claw./To breach the gap/and bring down the divide”.

 

Many voices speak through Lorna: a young girl living in a Celtic village who comes to know a Chalk God whom she first hates for taking her sister; there is Snow who lives at the time of the reinhabitation of Britain after the Ice Age, and who lives on plains of blizzard in the comfort of a “little tent made from willow saplings and reindeer-skins.” She tells us that it was like living in a “reindeer’s womb.” Wind Singer lives at the time of the Roman conquest and gives birth to dragons. In time of despair she flies as a dragon with the Winter Lord. Then there’s the raven that tells us of the downfall of the House of Rheged, that once-fierce kingdom in the north, of Urien blinded by the bible-bearers who forgot what his shield was all about. The oldest creatures share their stories here in a new way: the blackbirdsmith whose “black feathered cloak was sewn by the tailor who dressed the earth”, the wood stag, “when he sprouts back to life, no prison of brick can contain him; the wingless owl; the eagle who ate the stars, she who was taken to the depths by a salmon whom she healed from the wounds of the tridents; and that salmon of wisdom who now has to wear armor: “His wisdom has become a submarine to sink beneath visions of witches, eyes on the radar, launch missiles at Mabon’s prison…” and so many more…

 

As a child, I grew up with the King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table like so many Americans of my generation, went on to the shimmering artifice of Malory and later saw Arthur (whose name has a bear root) as a Celtic hero fighting off the Saxon invaders. At times this is a discomforting vision, almost a #metoo of the ‘once and future king’ on one level. The reveals of the voices of those abused feels so timely, the voices of Annwyn and the giants, witches and the rest of the ‘othered’. Smithers work is one of deconstruction but most importantly offering new vision and insight, the work of a true poet. I will be rereading this one. It could well be read alongside “Chulwych and Olwen” from the Mabinogi.

 

It can be obtained here:

https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/gatherer-of-souls/

 

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Afaggdu’s Eclipse

This rosc-like poem wanted to come out here as we move into Winter. It was written during the January lunar eclipse.

 

Afaggdu’s Eclipse

a pig snores

in the eclipse

 

in the shadows Affagdu

had long remained

 

now

steps out slowly

under

burgundy-stained

moon

 

 

Some Eclipse Thoughts

 

As Whiteness shows its lethal qualities more and more nakedly (I don’t mean that it hasn’t always been lethal, but it’s now parading undisguised once again) Heathen Chinese has some very interesting thoughts on whiteness as an ‘egregore’.

http://wildhunt.org/2017/07/column-whiteness-is-dead.html

 

As a person who is constructed as white in terms of racial privilege and has long attempted deconstructing that I found it very chewy and insightful. I say this as a person of Irish and British descent, two of whose grandparents immigrated to the US and one other one whose lineage stretches back to a Welsh boy abducted into indentured servitude in the colonial era.

I have long navigated Celtic practices/customs as one path out of some of this, within the limits of being a US citizen brought up with English as mother tongue.

To be blunt I don’t see Celtic anything having anything whatsoever to do with being ‘white’. White is something that was born in the US colonies of Britain and was a result of creating divisions among the peoples of said colonies. There were no white people in Europe before early modern times. No concept. It shouldn’t be that hard to see but I know for many people just can’t get it. Pagans in general need to fight this egregore of whiteness.

 

 

Also, I have some thoughts up on Boann, and the visions from the Well at paganbloggers.

http://paganbloggers.com/finnchuillstrack/2017/08/18/thinking-on-boann/

Some New Publications

I’ve got an essay on filidecht “The Well, the Sea, the Dead: the Poet in Irish Lore” in the latest issue of Air n-Aithesc, Volume 4, Issue 2. http://ciannai2.wixsite.com/air-n-aithesc

And a poem: “Fleet as Deer” for Flidais.

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I’ve also got some poems in the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina book,

Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus:

“A Grammar for Aphrodite”, “Venus and Felix Roma”, “Eros Unloosed”, and Hermes’ and Aphrodite’s Child”.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Roses-Devotional-Aphrodite-Venus/dp/1973810816/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1501828200&sr=1-3&keywords=Blood+and+Roses

 

 

 

And a new post over at paganbloggers: Slipping Out Into the Mythic:

http://paganbloggers.com/blog/2017/07/29/slipping-out-into-the-mythic-by-finnchuill/

 

 

 

And happy Lughnasadh–and Imbolc for southern readers!

Sea Whispers

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When I found this staircase into the sea, I thought what a good place to offer to Manannán. So I came back on St. John’ Eve and ‘paid rent’. The water was lukewarm and murky. Perhaps you can tell.

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A few days before on solstice I did a ritual invoking of Nechtan’s well. I had recently found out (thanks to Brian Walsh) about St. Nechtan’s day, observed on the 19th. I was a day or two late but it was the summer solstice. At a tidal pool walled by black lava on the northern coast forming a large cauldron, I first plucked out litter–even these remote islands have lots of plastic floating in these days. I made offering to the spirits of place, and then offered water to the well, calling on Nechtan. IMG_0479.jpg

An excellent place to chant: am fuaim mara…..

The ocean is wild and fierce here!

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How the waves laugh

the memory of death lingers

told in the wind

 

the sea giveth

the sea taketh away

it will again

the bells of Lyonnaise

travel through world’s ocean

 

the sound of the sea

resounds in my cochlea

the most beautiful herb

a border

 

the face of the deep

waits in the black

still waters

far below the whale

and the dugong

 

Somewhere a meadow

with read & white mushrooms

speckled, a dappled

horse, waiting

for a rider on

an otherworld isle

 

–will you join me?

she whispers.

 

Written under the ironwoods, June 20th.

In 1946 a tsunami took out a village here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May Update

Another post at paganbloggers:

I’m sitting on a bench, happy that the stream that has been dry lately, except for a few diminishing pools, the last hideout for the frogs, has water again.

I met this stream last year, just about a year ago, and since walk along the ‘streamside trail’ frequently. Walking is a druidic practice for me. The land by the stream slowly opens itself to me. Small naio trees form an open grove about me.

http://paganbloggers.com/blog/2017/05/16/the-stream-by-finnchuill/

 

And a few photos form Bealtaine:

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