Category Archives: Historical

Chasing the Mabon

Big thanks to Teller who asked me ‘So, when are you putting up the blog?’ And a huge thanks to Cthulhudruid who managed to find my original post after it had been accidentally deleted!

Maponus image from Gettyimages

Ah, yes. Autumn! The season of falling leaves, bounties of fruit and vegetation, bird migration and garden spiders coming out to capture unsuspecting prey (shudder). This season also sees the Equinox as the dramatic increase of the dark overtakes the long summer nights. The balance is struck and the wheel turns once again….

Within the usual modern Pagan circles, the Autumnal Equinox has been given a name…. Mabon. Whom or what does this name come from? What the hell is a Mabon anyway?

The short story is that in the 1970’s Aiden Kelly, Wiccan High Priest, came up with the name for the simple fact that he didn’t like that the Autumnal Equinox celebrations didn’t have a grander name. In his own words, please read this.

The long story…..

Mabon is a now shadowy figure, one who once had a cult all of his own stretching from Wales to Lancashire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Scotland. Mabon means ‘Son’ in Welsh and the most familiar version of this is the character of Mabon ap Modron (Son of Mother), from the tale ‘How Culhwch Won Olwen‘.

In the story, the hero Culhwch falls in love with the beautiful Olwen. Which is great, because she loves him too and it turns out that marrying her will lift the curse that was put on him by his jealous step-mother. Problem solved. However, her Dad is Yspaddaden Bencawr, chief giant and realm owning badass. He is so against the idea of the marriage, he sets Culhwch 40 impossible tasks which must be completed. No victory from the young upstart, then no nuptials. Amongst these tasks was one where Culhwch must obtain the comb and shears from behind the ears of the dreaded supernatural boar, Twrch Trwryth. But this could not be done unless he somehow obtained the mardiest dog in the world, Drudwyn. And even then Drudwyn had to be controlled by Mabon ap Modron, a huntsman who must ride the steed Gwyn Dunmane…. and the snag was: “Mabon ap Modron who had been stolen from his home when he was three nights old, and his whereabouts not known…..

Luckily for Culhwch, his uncle Arthur (yes, THAT Arthur) had given him some of his knights as companions who helped accomplish most of the impossible tasks like some adrenaline charged-Redbull fuelled group from Dungeons & Dragons…. but they could not find Mabon ap Modron.

Anywhere.

Like, nowhere.

It was only after Arthur discovering hint about asking the Oldest Animals in the World the heroes stood a chance. So Culhwch’s band sought out the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhendynfre, the Owl of Cam Cwlwyd, the Eagle of Gwernabwy and the Salmon of Llyn Lliw, to find Mabon’s location: the fortress of Caerloyw. Even then they have to break him out by force. Skipping to the end; Mabon and another hunter, some wild dude called Cynedyr Wyllt manage to corner Twrch Trwryth and grab the comb (Mabon) and shears (Cynedyr) before the Chief of Otherworldly Boars escapes and runs into the sea, prophesying he and Arthur shall fight at the end of the world…… well, a big rumble between them in the far future anyway.

In one version of the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘, Mabon is one of the advisors of Arthur, although this could be a confusion with another, Mabon ap Mellt (Son of Lightening) is described as a huntsman also….. This version hints at either this Mabon was as quick as lightening or was descended from some cthonic sky-god.

Interestingly, the character of Mabon was taken up by Roman occupiers in Britannia. Or perhaps, was taken up by Romanised Celts in the form of Maponus ‘Divine Youth’. Coins and inscriptions show Maponus with his dog (Drudwyn?). It appears that Maponus was equated with Apollo, the god of healing and poetry….. and linked with the bow and arrow, tools of the hunt?

What of Modron? Does the mother give any indication as to who Mabon is? She is of the ‘Washer at the ford’ variety of supernatural women, and is daughter to Afallach, one of the lords of Annwn (Welsh Otherworld), specifically, the ruler of Avalon. If true, then she was a magical being and therefore a woman of Sovereignty (The right to choose and the right to rule) and supposedly bore two sons to Urien Rheged, king of Rheged (supposedly a kingdom in Northern England and Southern Scotland). One of these sons, Owein, plays chess with Arthur in the ‘Dream of Rhonabwy‘…. see how these things always go in cycles?

Bizarrely enough, one of the stanzas of the Graves reads: “The grave in the upland of Nanllau; his story no one knows. Mabon the son of Modron the sincere.” So which is it? Is this the grave of Mabon who was in the quest for Olwen’s hand in marriage? Or was he always a mystery and none knew his details? If so, then why was he so popular? Could it be that Mabon ap Modron was in fact the figure of a mystery tradition? Like a Brythonic version Mythras?

The fact that there are remnants and inscriptions to Mabon/Maponus means there was some kind of reverence to him. What this originally was is sadly lost to time, but things have a very strange way of returning. In Modern Druidry, especially in OBOD, where the role of Mabon is given to the youngest member in the ceremony. When Aiden Kelly chose that name, did he do it because it fitted his aesthetic or was there a whisper from a long forgotten heroic huntsman? Also, how the hell did a babe taken away from his mother’s breast of only three nights old learn to become a hunter in the prison of a fort!? Perhaps….. and this is my interpretation…. perhaps Mabon in the story is meant as a metaphor for the adventurous spirit. He is the youthful part of us that dares to do the impossible once he has broken free of the dark prison of our minds. The Mabon hones it’s skills and when is broken free by bravery and need it can go forward and seize the fierce dog of anger to accomplish great things. For when the sun goes down at the Autumnal Equinox does the night get stronger. And as the nights draw in, it is the perfect time to develop our own skills and look inward until we need to release the adventurous spirit within.

Sources:

The Isles of the Many Gods, David Rankine & Sorita D’Este. Avalonia, London, 2007.

The Mabinogion, a new translation by Sioned Davies, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2007.

The Keys to Avalon, the True Location of Arthur’s Kingdom Revealed, Steve Blake & Scott Lloyd, Element Books Limited, Dorset, 2000.

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Indiana Took and the Wolf Wood

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Despite living in Nottingham, I’m actually a Sheffield lad.  I grew up in a place called Wincobank.  It used to be a village until it got absorbed into Sheffield when, like all cities, she expanded and grew.

Lower Wincobank rests at the roots of Wincobank Hill, one of seven (Although, some would argue eight, or even fewer….) in the Don Valley.  The hill has some remains of a fort that up until recently, everyone thought was Roman.  Turns out they were wrong and it belonged to the defending Britons who used it to mark their territory.

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Wincobank Hill?

Between Wincobank and Ecclesfield, there is a woodland, just over five hundred years old.  Woolley Wood.  It’s a beautiful place and the bluebells and wild garlic are in bloom at this time of year.  There are many species of tree, including Sessile Oak, Holly, Yew, Birch, Ash, Sycamore.

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I have many memories of that wood, of playing there during school lunch breaks, of playing Wide Games when I was in the local Scout Troop.  I especially remember when three boys ran all the way back to the Scout House because they claimed to have seen Wanker Bill, a local urban myth which I’ll write about another time!  There are fond memories of taking my Nan’s Jack Russell (Toby) for walks in there.  And of course, the Tarzan Swings that other kids made.

When me and my brother were little, we used to call it ‘The Haunted Wood’, so I was a bit disappointed to find it already had a name.  And it isn’t haunted.  Not by the dead, anyway.  Woolley Wood is alive, there is a presence that runs through it, I feel it whenever I walk along its paths.

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When I was a fresh starter in Paganism (when I was 19), I’d go there to meditate.  I often found the bivvies that someone keeps making there, and they’re usually where the Yew grows thick and heavy… Leaving nice dark areas for concealment.  So I’d use these as meditation areas.  Not all the time, as often the wood reclaimed them when they fell apart.  But I always found somewhere nice and secluded in the wood’s deep.  It was here I first really touched the Earth, where I spiritually recharge.  It was at this time I felt very close to the spirit of Wolf.  And it turns out there is a reason why.

Woolley Wood takes its name from the medieval Wulfinleghes, Wolveleghes, and Wooleleghes; which all take their names from the Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘Woodland clearing frequented by wolves.’ It was originally part of a farming ground until 1161 when it was awarded to the Abbey of Normandy as part of Woolley Grange in.  1539 saw it confiscated from the Church and awarded to the Earl of Shrewsbury and passed onto the Dukes of Norfolk right up until Sheffield City Council in 1929*.

I doubt it has seen a wolf there in hundreds of years.  But the spirit remains.  During my university years, whenever I’d come home to Sheffield I made sure I’d go into the woods again.  Late at night, I’d lie awake feeling the need to go running under the moon and stars, to be surrounded by trees, naked and panting…. I didn’t of course.  But I so wanted to!

In recent times (at least within the past ten years) there has been an art project that has sought to bring out a connection with the Pagan mythology.  Slabs of rock have been put together to create a sort of shrine to the wolf.  It is covered in images of fish, claw marks and runic script.  I think it’s amazing and I know that if it was there during my childhood, it would have fuelled my imagination to no end!

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Wolf Shrine

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Oh look, runes!
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Werewolf?

I have written before that I feel more connected to the Pre-Roman spirituality of the Land, but I do wonder if when discovering Paganism and the shrine was there, would I have been drawn more towards the Norse or Anglo-Saxon ways?

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Bluebells!

*Sheffield City Council.

Samhain road trip: Stonehenge and Glastonbury!

Being reeeeeeaaaaly busy over the past few weeks, I managed to finally finish my notes on the birthday/Samhain road trip that took place on 29th-31st October 2014

My friends Lumi and Jax were sitting in the car as I was loading some stuff into the back.  “Do you fancy coming to Glastonbury in October?” They asked, it was July at this point.  So that’s how I found myself joining Lumi’s birthday road trip.

So, fast forward to October 29th and this was the day the grey skies came back (my last post? Yeah, well the day after, we had gorgeous golden autumn again!) Drizzle and all.  We even got stuck in traffic for nearly two hours! Sign posts for miles saying ‘Roadworks’ (the bane of British drivers) until we got to the source: fuck all! By this point we’d been entertaining ourselves with listening to T-Rex and eating Cherry Bakewells.  As soon as the roads cleared we cruised to the that all time hit: ‘20th Century Boy’!

Stonehenge
As part of our plan we went to Stonehenge.  It was my third time and the weather was wetter than the first.

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The new tourist centre is open, so you have to take a specially provided bus service to the site, although there is the option for you to get off and walk the rest of the way.  I made eye contact with a Mum of three who returned my friendly smile with a po-faced glare.  So I turned to Lumi, and pulled my snootiest face.  Did the mum see? I hope so, there is no excuse for rudeness.  The Asian family to our right were much friendlier.

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Jax and Lumi

The Henge is fenced off, but at least you can get a bit closer than you could 17 years ago (shudder).  Stonehenge is majestic, it has presence and is a testament to the people, our ancestors, who built it.  Again, I experienced no palpable feeling of spiritual power emanating from it, some people say there is, but I think its more out of a desire to ‘feel’ something.  If anything I’d say it feels…. dead.  Unlike the lone standing Heel Stone we came across, it just sang a long sorrowful song, as though it didn’t want to be apart from its brethren.

It was gift shop time, where I picked up mead and a book on folklore stories (some of which I hadn’t read for years!).  We got back into the car and headed our way to Glastonbury racing into the countryside that was devoured by hungry fog and the inevitable night…. dragon’s breath indeed.

Glastonbury
And here we were! The Pagan and New Age Mecca of Great Britain.  It was a 10 minute walk into town and I was surprised by three things:

Cleanliness: It was totally clean! No rubbish piling up on the streets or anything.  Didn’t even notice any street cleaning going on, but there must’ve been, right?

Quietness: No blaring music or police sirens, being out of Summer season the tourist trade must have trickled off.  Although there were still plenty during the day.

Chain shops: There aren’t any! No BK, no KFC, no GAP, no McDonald’s (thank fuck) the only KFC and Subway we saw were the ones back at our hotel.  Main Street has pubs, butchers, pastry shops and an organic market…. what England high streets SHOULD be.

Glastonbury was a very friendly place (except for when I entered a Hemp shop ran by a woman in what I took to be her Goddess of Avalon dress, her look of disdain gave me the impression that Men weren’t welcome in her shop.  You ladies might be able to feel when a man is checking you out, but we can certainly feel when we’re not welcome- amendment: a source has confirmed that her particular shop has nothing to do with the Goddess movement) and everyone we came across was friendly in an almost Yorkshire way.  My Northern British readers will know what I mean.  There were even hippies hanging around the war memorial and outside the George and Pilgrim.  There are more esoteric shops than you can shake a wand at! Some have an aura of incense before you go in (I love it), some are really expensive, some are what my friend, Dumbledore, calls: Seaside shops for witches.  There is literally something for everyone.  That’s one thing you need to prepare for…. make sure you go with a healthy wallet!

One of the coolest things was the first night there and after exploring the pubs and drinking mead (mine included flies!), we headed back and chilled out.  I got out my Druid Animal Oracle and asked a random question, not even relating to Glastonbury.  I got the Fire Dragon card and couldn’t help notice the Tor in the background.  The morning after, me and Jax got breakfast in Subway and on our way back to the hotel we saw Glastonbury Tor on the hill outside our room!

Note the Tor and Tower on the right hand side
Note the Tor and Tower on the right hand side

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View of Tor and Tower.

The very last day of our visit was October 31st and it was a glorious, windy, golden autumn day! It was hot too!  We decided to visit the Chalice Well.  The gardens had a beautiful serenity that was immediately full of calm.  I even walked around barefoot.  Everyone was chilled out and it was, for me, the most potent spiritual place in Glastonbury.

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Gardens, fountain and Jax in the sun.

We had missed the special Samhain ceremony but got to look and sit by the well once the people had moved.  The well itself didn’t feel that special (has to be said) as I felt more drawn to the waterway that fed the pool we put our feet into.  One question remains, though:  why oh why didn’t I tell the selfish person who was talking very loudly whilst people were trying to meditate by the well to shut the hell up?  Answer: I didn’t want any bother…. really wish I did though!
Eventually, it was time to go and try the Tor.  Word of warning, parking for the Well and Tor is almost impossible, there is nowhere really close, unless you don’t mind a brief walk (I rather enjoyed it).  Well, there is one car park sort of close, but you have to get there early….

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To get to the Tor, you have to go up a steep hill and then make your way up the winding Tor itself until you reach the Tower, which was already decorated with Halloween themed items.  The higher we climbed, the windier it got, I had to take my hat off so it wouldn’t get blown away! And the sky became bluer and bluer, then when at the top, you could see the gorgeous panorama!  I’d sat down on the grass and closed my eyes for a few moments and remembered the Fire Dragon card, so I asked ‘Alright, Fire Dragon: what did you want to show me?’. Jax asked ‘What’s that?’ I opened my eyes and turned to where she was pointing.  There was a bird of prey hovering in the wind eddies, a hawk or kestrel.  It dive bombed so I went to have a closer look and saw a whole bunch of them playing in the wind currents,circling and bombing each other.

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Pics of Tor, tower and us three.

Our drive back took us through Bristol and nearly to London, but we were witness to a gorgeous sunset and beautiful sky.  An alternative Samhain and one I’ll never forget.

Goddess of Another Land…

Wow! Really!? My last blog was back in April!?…..

Well that’s screwed up my attempt at making this blog fortnightly (why do people call this “biweekly” nowadays? Do folks just turn bisexual every two weeks or something?).  Oh well, I’d best get on with it.

Basically, this year a LOT has happened.  Remember my card reading for this year? See here.
Well it looks like the catalyst for my life giving way to destruction in order to build something new has happened:

Me and Pipes parted ways back in the first week of March.  Yep, our marriage has been called to an end.  We are separated but still friends, which is important.  I will not deny Pipes has been a very big influence in my life and she still means much to me.  To some of you, this will be no news whatsoever.  To others, this will be big news indeed, I’m sorry, I haven’t had the chance to tell everyone yet and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it as a Facebook status.

What has this got to do with the title?

Well, in mid May, I had the fortune of going to Cyprus to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday and my parent’s 35th wedding anniversary (2014 would have been mine and Pipe’s 6th) for an entire week.

The sun was hot, the skies blue and the sea aquamarine and refreshing.  The food was gorgeous, especially if you go for a meze where you get dishes and dishes and dishes of different food in many courses.

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A Briton in a Greek land (I know Cypriot is its own culture and language, just bear with me, OK?) What was a follower of the gods of the Isle of Destiny and the Isle of the Mighty to do?

Pay homage of course!

The first night we were there, we saw the gorgeous full moon and all the stars surrounding her.  From the villa, we could see the sea to the south, the mountains to the north, and the air had a welcome coolness.  I saluted Luna on her beauty and asked for the blessings of Earth, Sky and Sea as well as those of Aphrodite herself.  This was her Island and I wanted to pay tribute… all with a cool can of KEO beer!

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Aphrodite’s Bath.  Photo by Locksley2010.

On the Sunday we went to visit the Baths of Aphrodite, where she walked from the mountains to bathe in the rock pool.  It was a lot smaller than I imagined, but it was still beautiful.  There was even a sign to warn you against dipping your feet in it.  Quite right too.
I didn’t know how to approach, so I waited until it was quiet and I removed my hat and sunglasses then knelt on the slabs before the pool.  I called upon Aphrodite; allowing me to come to this wonderful place and to give thanks on any blessings she gave while I was in her land.  I’m not familiar with how Aphrodite should have been honoured, so I did it like I would to the goddesses of home… I spoke to the water.  I then felt compelled to put a hand into the cool water and wipe it all across my face.  So I did.  I got up and gave a bow to the pool only to turn around to a young couple looking at me in total disgust.  I flashed them my “Yeah, I spoke to the water, go fuck yourself” smile and carried on my way.

It was whilst we walked down the mountains on a hike that my Aunt pointed out that Aphrodite must have been one hell of a strong woman to have done the walk every day… she’s a goddess, she probably shape-shifted into a bird perhaps or one of the goats that were stampeding down the path…

On the last few hours of being in that beautiful country, we came upon Aphrodite’s rock. 

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Aphrodite’s Rock, photo by Locksley2010… still think it looks phallic…

This was where she was born, allegedly.  The rock itself is the smallest of three lone standing natural pillars.  I think it looks like the tip of a glans.

I wanted to pay my last respects before saying good bye to the land and its goddess, so I squatted in the surf, letting the sea drift over my boots.  Placing my hands into the flowing sea, I called upon Aphrodite once more, thanking her for the experiences shared and lessons learned.  I then found myself chatting with her.  Telling of my heartbreak and of how I faced it.  I couldn’t help it, it just seemed natural to talk to the goddess of love about what I endured.  I even asked her something personal, for advice, blessings and inspirations… I certainly didn’t expect a response! A voice! A voice in my head and my heart.  It wasn’t my voice, it wasn’t a woman’s voice… it was just there.  What it said took me by surprise and made my joyful and sad all at the same time.
I then gave thanks and took my leave, running the seawater all over my arms.  I took a tissue from my pocket (yes, it was clean and unused!) and tied it to the tree that so many others had done, all asking for Aphrodite to help in some way.  I only asked that I make the right choice.  There were hundreds of clooties, some of tissue paper, some of plastic carriers, some of shirts.

So, what did Aphrodite say? What took me by surprise? That, dear reader is between me and the Goddess of another Land.