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/

 

Advertisements

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 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.

dc54003d171f8a4180106e2136fcd588.jpg

 

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!

Towers: A Satire

These are times for satires. Here’s mine. Some of you might perceive an echo of a famous prophetic poem here, among other things. In Celtic lore, satires really do have venom.

 

Towers: A Satire

 

it rose obscenely pink

like a plucked turkey neck,

then it rose more,

slathered and viscous, not from

primeval slime but

from a polluted swamp.

 

it rose, its towers flung

upward into the heaven of circuitry

into money’s pure domain, where it was

sly at manipulating the currents.

forgetful of its place of emergence,

wiped clean of all traces of roots,

leaves, humus in a sterilizing chamber,

simultaneously calcified and virtualized it was.

 

it turned itself into sign

in the eddies of the monetary,

yet, its towers slipped having

lost their foundation, the muck and mire

from which they had emerged,

the fecund perennial glut and rut

of hordes of teeming soil, oblivious

it was to the seismic twisting of restless serpents,

slipping their fetters far beneath,

the lands and waters

growing ever more active.

rapturous with its penetration

of heaven, the phallic thing

now orange and lurid, smirked,

unaware of the scythed ones,

the raven-clawed ones, and

the red-mouthed ones rising in

fury, their cries echoed

by the shadows of the dead—shrieks

shivering the forgotten foundations

of the network of fruiting bodies

now turned putrid, purple flecked,

and blackening with rot.

 

the millennium tilted as

they threw down

sheets of blood, and

cursed with mists of confusion,

their cups of blood emptied.

the scythed ones

with a flick of wrists unseen

slice the lurid orange things.

 

falling back,

falling back

falling down

down down

 

the hitherto weightless circuits

drift down in ashy precipitate,

mad mangled metal work

and tarantellas of glass.

against the tower

a fortress wall of storm

strong as white steel glowers

over this spectacle.

the unleashed torrents lash

a bare fortress now,

crumbling, naked, defenses failing—

the high places that cannot endure

before the packs of wolves, the terrible storm birds,

the outlaws of the woods, the

reivers, the revenants, the enchanters.

 

a ghastly scene lit by

artillery of lightning reveals

corpses bobbing in the wash.

as floodtide washes away the wreck

a rainbow breaks and I see

an old lady with a basket of mushrooms grinning,

making her way through the salvage.

 

 

 

Filidecht Resources

Here are some useful resources.

Breatnach, Liam. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Eriu 32. 1981.

Calder, George. Auraicept na n-Eces: the Scholar’s Primer.https://archive.org/details/auraiceptnancess00calder

Carey, John. “The Waters of Vision and the Gods of Skill”. Art and the Sacred Kairos and the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture. 23 March, 1991. Santa Fe.

Carney, James. Medieval Irish Lyrics with The Irish Bardic Poet.

Chadwick, Nora. Poetry and Prophecy. Good worldwide survey form 1952 (but does contain some racist/colonialist attitudes prevalent in that era).

—, Chadwick. “Imbas forosnai”. Scottish Gaelic Studies, 1935.

Corkery, Daniel. The Hidden Ireland.

Ford, Patrick. “The Blind, the Dumb, and the Ugly”. Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 19.

Guyonvarc’h, Christian J. The Making of a Druid: The Hidden Teachings from The Colloquy of Two Sages (the text with annotations).

Heaney, Seamus. Sweeney Astray: A Version from the Irish. Irish poet’s translation of        Suibhne Geilt, the poetry of “mad Sweeney’, a glimpse into the world of a geilt, outsider poet living in the woods.

Henry, P. L. “The Caldron of Poesy”. Studia Celtica 14/15. 1979/80.

Jones, Mary. Jones Celtic Encyclopedia. 1998-2015. Web.

Laurie, Erynn Rowan. The Well of Five Streams (contains her Cauldron of Poesy article).

Minahane, John. The Christian Druids: on the filid or philosopher-poets of Ireland.

Nagy, Nagy, Joseph Falaky. The Wisdom of the Outlaw: The Boyhood Deeds of Finn in Gaelic Narrative Tradition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1985. The Fenian outsider warriors were poets too.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí The Sacred Isle. A crucial book for understanding pre-Christian practices and believes in Ireland by an Irish Celticist.

Ó hÓgáin, Dáithí. Myth, Legend and Romance: An Encyclopaedia of Irish Folk Tradition. London: Ryan, 1990.

Ó Tuathail, Sean. The Excellence of Ancient Word: Druid Rhetorics from Ancient Irish Tales. Idiosyncratic modern practitioner’s take is worth a read.

Patterson, Nerys. Cattle Lords and Clansmen: The Social Structure of Early Ireland. The historical background.

Skelton, Robin. Samhain and other poems in Irish Metres of the Eighth to the Sixteenth Centuries. Contains an appendix with the different traditional meters.

Thompson, Christopher Scott. A God Who Makes Fire: the Bardic Mysticism of Amergin. A recommended practitioner’s handbook.

Above the Clouds

It’s been quiet around here (it seems with the gloom of the US political situation, prepping for a new job, and my mom being hospitalized my ability to write has been stopped up), but before the newness of the year is gone I want to spill out a few words here. The old year sputtered out with an occasional remaining fit of coughing and spewing. A new one has come in with the energy of a careening freight train, will the rails hold, or if not what might be down there at the end of the line? Some will say years are arbitrary but they are astronomical realities. Sure, it’s a cultural thing where they’re said to start and to end and begin again but we are symbolic animals and psyche is as real as soma.

 

For many in the northern hemisphere it’s winter, but here in the tropics day and night are the antinomies, but the nights have at least cooled off. At the end of the year I had the opportunity to journey up to a high summit (just under 14,000 feet) where winter is reigning. Plenty of snow on the amazing mountain of Maunakea. The effects of high altitude, of low oxygen can easily induce light trance-like states, and the otherworld can more easily communicate with this one at these heights, I have found. Whether via literal heights or those we can reach in our imagination, in “interesting times” it is important to get above the clouds from time to time, above the light pollution of the media (including social media). Of course, one can go underneath too, but that is a different journey.

 

I do have a few announcements to make:

 

I will be at PantheaCon in San Jose in February and presenting a class on filidecht practice on Feb. 17th, “Cauldron Work: The Cauldron of Poesy” (9PM). Here’s from the program:

 

The Three Cauldrons are discussed in the medieval Irish text: “The Cauldron of Poesy”, attributed to the mythical vision poet (fili) Amergin. We will talk about the nature of the whirlpool-like cauldrons and their turning in this wisdom tradition, the importance of our emotions in this tradition (which can turn the cauldrons), and techniques to scan for personal knowledge. To turn the cauldron of wisdom upright, even if momentarily, brings mystical insight. We will discuss the key technique of incubation as well; poetry, art, song, knowledge, wisdom are fruit of this work.

 

The devotional book The Dark Ones, published late last year by Neosalexandria has my poem for the Cailleach, along with a lot of familiar voices. Ordering info here:

https://neosalexandria.org/bibliotheca-alexandrina/current-titles/fiction-anthologies/the-dark-ones-tales-and-poems-of-the-shadow-gods/

 

The new issue of A Beautiful Resistance is available for pre-order and will be out next month. I have an essay there about the left-hand sacred, an important understanding of the sacred earlier developed by Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille and very relevant for 21st century pagans/polytheists. https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/01/left-sacred-presale/

Here’s a lovely meme with a quote from the essay made by Rhyd Wildermuth:

15780861_1834690100140186_2892370927699438496_n

Finally, a quote from an inspiring essay by William Hawes:

“Each of us must find the strength to light their own flame, find their own inner strength and sacred fire, and use their passion and creativity to change the world. By using our collective brilliance, a new space could be opened up for a new kind of Earth. Reviving our communities one-by-one gives us our only chance to confront and defeat the many tentacle monster of international capitalism and US imperialism. There is an alternative: but you won’t find it by watching your TV, or playing on your smartphone.”

https://godsandradicals.org/2017/01/16/lighting-a-flame-in-dark-times/

Imbolc is coming! May Brigid’s flame inspire us.

img_2074

Extinction Remembrance Day

November 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species. I believe commemorations like this can be channels for the grief that any authentic living in this time must confront. Definitely a good day to mark for those with an animist bent.

More information can be found at this website.

https://www.lostspeciesday.org/

I’ve also found valuable thoughts from Lo (Keen) on extinction on this blog: https://rotwork.wordpress.com/

I’ve written a couple of poems and tributes to the lost birds of the Big Island of Hawai’i for this day.

A distinctively human consciousness arose in Paleolithic

linguistics and painted its wrestle with abyssal animal mind,

staving guilt of hunt and anxiety separation

with ritual’s diplomacy:

ochre and feathers

and sorcerers dancing on the edge of worlds,

occasionally falling off into the pit of bones.

now centuries of the rites cast aside,

suppressed volcanoes of grief wait unaddressed

and sedimentary layers of numbness press on our continents—

a society looks for the forgotten

who peek occasionally from sedated dreams,

in pixar and pokemon-alert smartphones

(the children were out in August—I hadn’t known there were any,

but there they’d gathered near where the stream gushes by the supermarket unseen)

while outside barely known

the Sixth Extinction rages on.

We the truly lost species as tectonic plates grind on.

Here on the island of Hawai’i there are at least ten species of bird that have gone extinct since the arrival of whites in the late 18th century. There are many more if the entire archipelago is included. Hawaii has suffered more extinctions and more endangered species than any other US state. The majority of these lost species are of a group of birds called Hawaiian honeycreepers that underwent diverse speciation as they adapted to a multitude of island environments much like the finches that led Darwin to theorizing evolution. In many cases their habitat was destroyed by sugar plantations and cattle ranching; also the introduction of rats, mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit (there were none before the Europeans came), mongooses and cats have led to the demise of others.

The Hawaii mamo, Drepanis pacifica, last seen in 1898.

220px-drepanis_pacifica-keulemans-1

The greater Koa finch, Rhodocanthis palmeri. Last confirmed sighting in 1896.

170px-zzzgreaterkoafinch

The lesser Koa finch, R. flaviceps, 1891.

220px-telespiza_flaviceps3

The Kona grosbeak, Chloridops kona. 1894.

220px-chloridops_kona

The Hawai’i o’o, Moho nobilis, last seen in 1934.

170px-moho_nobilis-keulemans

The ula-‘ai-hawene, Ciridops anna, extinct at the latest by 1937.

220px-ciridops_anna

The greater ‘amakini, Viridonia sagittirostris, last seen in1901. Lost to sugar plantations destroying its habitat.

220px-zzzgreateramakihi

The lesser ‘akialoa, Akialoa obscura. Last seen in 1940.

220px-akialoa_obscura

The Hawaiian rail, Porzana sandwichensis. 1884 or maybe 1893.

250px-hawaiirail

The kioea, Chaetoptila angustipluma, 1859.

250px-chaetoptila_angustipluma

All images Wikipedia, public domain.

 

An Elegy

before the cattle, before the sugar,

before the mosquitoes and rats

brought by whalers’ ships,

before the plantations

how much richer the island life—

when the lost birds could be heard cracking

the naio fruits, flitting in gold epaulettes and black dress

among the ohia trees,

opening the seed pods in the koa groves,

sheltering from fierce noon sun and plundering

nectar with long curved beaks. Your flights

haunt, a lost net of sorrow.

.