Tag Archives: Storytelling

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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A Moot Point (or points)

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Image from wizardmagicfantasy.com

At a networking night at the beginning of this month I was in conversation with someone about storytelling.  Something, which in her opinion, seemed to be often done badly (going on and on and on, not engaging your audience and telling tales of sexism are NOT the ways to go.) and are popular with ‘Those Pagans’.

After revealing that I am one of ‘ Those Pagans’ and much talking about Pagans in general, I discovered that not only did this person not like Pagans, she had a general disdain for any type of religion or spirituality at all.  She told me of how (some years ago) she went to a Pagan Moot, here in Notts, to find it was filled with “lecherous old men and damaged young women.” Tried as I did, I couldn’t piece together which moot she could have gone to.  Most of the Moots here certainly have a higher proportion of female members and attendees, it’s not often a Moot here in the East Midlands will have a male majority, rarer still are they ever filled with ‘lecherous old men’.

Although the lady did have a point.  We do attract a lot of damaged people, don’t we?  I suppose it’s because we’re an accepting lot, many of us are rarely mainstream and quite a lot of us are considered ‘outsiders’ to the social norms… Interesting that.
I like to think it’s because Paganism is as open and diverse in its flavours and themes as well as its members.  We are healthy, we are sick, we are entertaining, we are socially awkward, we are wise, we are angry, we are disabled, we have emotional problems, we are every sexuality under the Sun and Moon, we are confident, we are nervous we are…. Everyone.  It’s just that we accept our differences as well as everyone else’s.  Doesn’t mean we all get on though.  Like every group of Human Beings, we have our Dick-heads as well.

I’ve been fortunate to go to quite a few moots in many different places, Hell, I even co-run my own.  Each have their own ways of doing things, but here’s a list of do’s and don’ts of attending, running, hosting and behaving in a Moot.  These are of my own experiences and from what I have observed in others.  And yes, even from some of my own mistakes:

DO be polite and welcoming.
DO consider disabled people coming to your Moot.  Not everyone can do stairs.
DO take the time to talk with everyone.
DO be prepared to be able to take the piss out of yourself if you are going to take the piss out of others.
DO be accepting of others paths and points of view, just because theirs might be different from yours it doesn’t mean that they are an enemy.
DO encourage discussion and friendly debate, much can be learned from each other.
DO talk with your Moot friends about any advice you might need.  Some people gel together really well and might want to share personal information with each other.  And that’s fine, that’s amazing!
DO respect others privacy (see the point above, as some folks might need to separate themselves from the larger group to discuss something private).
DO listen to others.
DO include everyone in any ritual work.
DO explain to first timers what is going on and give them the option of observation if they are not comfortable.
DO call time if a conversation has gone wrong and is getting out of hand.  Also if someone is telling their life story in an exercise where it should just be “Hello, my name is Locksley and I’m a Pagan Druid” “Hello I’m Ronnie and I’m a Wiccan” etc, then steer it back!
DO tell everyone in good time about what is happening, where and when.
DO be prepared to explain to outsiders who ask you what’s going on when they see you do a ritual or a meeting…. They might learn something.
DO stop staring at that rather attractive goth witch girl in her early twenties…

I have had the good fortune of going to moots that are well organised but there are always maybe those few attendees who are questionable.  And again, some of these points are from my own mistakes:

DON’T go to a Moot demanding respect.  Respect is earned.
DON’T go to a Moot thinking it’s ‘all about you’, it really isn’t.
DON’T sit there being ‘mysterious on purpose’ you’ll just come across as a mardy prick.
DON’T try and peddle your wares without permission, especially if your Moot takes place in a shop….
DON’T come out with sarcastic comments after every sentence in a ritual, it might have been funny the first time, but any more after that and you just come across as obnoxious.
DON’T ruin a moment of revelation for a group.  Just because YOU might have been privy to a secret rite or poem in your old Coven; and then a special guest speaker reveals it to the group, the worst thing you can say at that moment is “I’ve already heard that!”
DON’T go to a Moot expecting a sex orgy….
DON’T slag off other traditions, you wouldn’t like it if someone slagged yours off now, would you?
DON’T go to a Moot, not talk to anyone and then go to another Moot and slagging off the previous one as being ‘cliqueish’ as they didn’t include you.  You got there, make the effort!
DON’T be cliqueish, try and include everyone, especially new comers.
DON’T turn up and start telling everyone about your ‘powers’ discussing abilities is fine, as is sharing your experiences.  DON’T start talking about how your Grandmother described how you will be ‘One of the most powerful witches she has ever seen.‘ And even if you are that’s great, wonderful. Terrific! But apart from telling everyone how powerful you are, what have you done to make the world a better place with this power? Yeah.  Didn’t think so.
DON’T just turn up to a Moot and sit there reading your mobile phone.
DON’T throw a tantrum if someone questions what you do, questioning is healthy.
DON’T assume everyone knows what you know, take the time to explain.
DON’T give up on your Moot, be prepared to adapt and change it.  What does your Moot specialise in?
DON’T be that lecherous old man preying on young damaged women!

Wassail!

My friend, Missy Dragon, informed me that the Allotment group of St Ann’s were going to miss out their wassailing because the usual fellow wasn’t there. 

So, in the way of daring me to do it, she asked if I’d be up for it.  What’s this? A British tradition being left out? Not on my watch meladdio!

So I managed to, very last minute, book the day off and get in contact with the organiser for the Children’s Activity Day.  She sent me an email with the wassailing song they normally do:

The Wassail Song

Old Apple tree we wassail the
And hope that thou wilt bear
For the Gods do know where we shall be
Come apples another year
To bloom well and to bear well
So merry let us be
Let everyone take off their hat and shout to the Old Apple Tree.

Spoken:
Old Apple tree we wassail thee
And hope that thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stair.

THREE CHEERS FOR THE OLD APPLE TREE:

Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!
Hip hip hooray!

Erm, did you just say song? I don’t sing, shiiiiiiittttt! So I did my research and found the melody on YouTube:

Wassail – three cheers for the apple tree: http://youtu.be/eFF6ozduQ1A

For those not familiar, Wassailing  comes from the Anglo Saxon ‘Waes-Hael’ or ‘Good Health’.  The practices of it vary from place to place, county to county as does any of its songs.  It is normally practiced in January, in some places, 12th Night.

The one I got involved in had us sing the song, pour Apple juice on the roots, put toast onto the branches via my lovely ‘Toast Maidens’ and make lots of noise with pots and pans.  Yes, very good fun, but what’s it all for? Quite simply: to make the fruit trees give a good yield.
The pouring of juice (traditionally ale or cider with eggs in it, but it was a children’s event, so I used Apple juice instead) gives back nutrients into the ground.  The toast is to encourage birds to come to the tree, so that they’ll stay around and in spring spread the pollen with their wings and droppings, encouraging pollenation and growth. The noise allows the sound vibrations to go into the wood and somehow encourages the branches to become more productive.  At least, that’s as I understand it. I could have got this totally wrong however.

Other versions involve pissing and whacking the tree with sticks, some are done with a fire, the varients go on.

It was a sunny if cold day, but the small crowd of children and parents that followed seemed to enjoy it as we went to the Apple trees and caused lots of noise and joyful hullabaloo.  I only had time to learn the song on the way there, so I was very grateful for my friend, B. Turning up and lending her singing voice.  We all ended up singing the song to the tune of ‘ Oh Christmas Tree…‘ Because we made a joke about it, so we made it so.  We changed the lyrics to incorporate pear and cherry trees until we ran out of toast.  Then I told the local story, recorded by local storyteller Pete Castle, called the Watercress Girl.  This involved a young girl being hired by a witch to clean her house, but the girl ends up stealing from the witch (why? Why would she do that? Was she stupid?) And gets the fruit tree orchard in the Witch’s garden to lie to the witch so she could get away.  I thought it highly appropriate.

For my very first public Wassailing, I’d say it went well, I even got praised for it, but the real praise goes to Missy Dragon for telling me about this event in the first place.  Also to B. And her partner, for my Morris friends for coming along, the folks at STAA and the people who wanted to join in and of course to Pete Castle for the tale he put in his book.

If you fancy making traditional Wassailing drinkies, here’s the link:

http://nourishedkitchen.com/traditional-wassail-recipe/

And Pete Castle’s brilliant book is:

Nottinghamshire Folk Tales, The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2012 p.62.

A discussion on Bardistry

Here’s a discussion that turned into an interview.  Normally, for a talk I’m much better prepared and eloquent, but this was ad hoc and I apologise for a lot of ‘errrmmm’s and mumbling- the latter due to me being sat on the sofa and Kristian being sat on his chair… we wanted to try out his new phone as a recording device and here is the result:

You can also check out Kristian’s podcasts on the YouTube channels.

The Bard Within

I’ve finally got around to forging a tool! Not in the literal sense of molten metal and hammers, but in the metaphorical sense.

I’ve made myself a Facebook page!  The idea being that I can advertise myself as an actor and storyteller and that folks can see me (under my stage name) in action.  Then said folks can contact me to hire or have me perform for them.  Shameless link!

I made the page a bit post-haste as I needed something quick for a gig I’d been asked to this month.  One of my Druid friends has very kindly offered to help me make my own website, so watch this space!

Remember what I wrote in my last blog about taking advantage of offers Life presents?  Well, the week after I wrote that, I was contacted by a friend of mine who I’ve performed for previously and wondered if I’d be up for a spot at Nottingham’s SOBAR (a nonalcoholic bar, the whole weekend festival was for a charity for people recovering from alcoholism).  So I took it up immediately!

Last week, I headed a night of storytelling for my Druid Grove, which you can read here (it’s all about the links today!). It was a good night and it felt right.  I’m not naive or stupid enough to believe that after one night of MCing a story night with some friends of mine, that I can go around doing it professionally.  Truth is I’ve fought this.
Normally, I tell a story to my Grove a little unprofessionally, stumbling here and there.  But at last weeks meeting, it was the first time I did it properly, calmly and not without humour.

I spent seven years in a theatrical tourist attraction telling stories of the Horrible History kind, all in costume and make up.  I gave that up when I moved to Nottingham and lost a part of myself doing it.  It was only when I was challenged (the Best way to get me to do anything) to do a Halloween themed story piece that I realised I missed this!

So I made more! And there is more to come and more to develop on.  I even tend to tell stories when I do ceremony and ritual work with either my Grove or the Moot I co-run.  Its intrinsic to my sense of being, spiritually, holistically.  Even when using the Druid Animal Oracle there is one card I have difficulty remembering the meaning of, but the story behind it… that’s where the meaning comes out (its the Seal, card btw). So when that card comes out, I remember two of the three catchword and tell the story of the Selkie because its more in depth than the card meaning in the booklet.

The what I did on Sunday, was use my Highwayman character, The Scarlet Blade.  I was in this very modern cafe dressed as though I was an 18th Century vagabond.  As soon as I saw the children enter I knew I had to tailor this.  The first time I performed the SB was in a bar filled with merry poets and every filthy joke and bawdy line was used… couldn’t do that here, so I chopped and changed it.  With five minutes left, I pulled a bit of a history lesson out of my tricorn hat and told what Dick Turn was really like.

Ok, so I didn’t have the bawdy, foul mouthed jeering from the first time, what I did have was a dad telling me that through my set, his very young son kept telling him “Dad! Dad! There’s a Pirate over there!” The child gleefully hid away when I pulled my plastic pistol out at him and the dad told me “He’ll remember that for the rest of his life…” That made my day!

It appears that embracing my performing self, the actor, the storyteller has all come about after admitting who and what my Bardic self is.  Its just that I had to forget in order to find myself again. 

Me as The Scarlet Blade on Sunday 17th August 2014.  Photo by Amy Hills.

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