Category Archives: People and Places
- Five years ago about this time of year I went home to visit my parents in my childhood home a few miles north of Swansea in South Wales. I decided that while there I would like to spend a few days walking and camping alone in the bleakly-beautiful hills and mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
- I spent the first day hiking through thick fog and endless drizzle, carrying my heavy pack and carefully picking my way through the bogs and rocky cliffs of the barren hills. I had not seen another soul all day except for the ubiquitous Welsh mountain sheep. Wet, cold, exhausted and slightly lost; as dusk fell I decided to camp above the bank of a small stream, below the ridge of a dramatic series of hills known as the Carmarthen Fans. I set up my tent whilst fighting the gusty winds and worsening rain. I started cooking a modest dinner on my little gas stove, the tent whipping about, the soft patting of rain all around and the trickle of the nearby stream. This is when I first heard it. The faint sound of beautiful choral singing, intermittent but distinct and prolonged. Wales is renowned for its male voice choirs and at first I thought I must be hearing a choir practice in a nearby village. However, thinking about it the nearest village was 5 km away the other side of the mountain and a thousand feet below where I was camped. I thought for a while it may be an auditory hallucination, if that was the case it has not happened before or since. The singing lasted on and off for about half an hour, I got up out of my tent to have a look around, all I could see through the growing darkness was the mist. Curious though I was I had no intention of risking injury wandering around the mountains in the gloom and so returned to my tent. Shortly after that the singing ceased and I went to sleep.
- At the time of this event I was not very spiritually inclined and quite dismissive of any concept of the supernatural. I did not dwell on the event and simply filed it in my mind as curious and unexplained. It was not until a couple of years later I was having a conversation with friends regarding supernatural and strange happening where I related my experience. One of my friends, a long-standing pagan excitedly explained that it was the “sidhe” who are known for their choral singing. It is not until recently that I have looked into this; the “aes sidhe”, pronounced “ays sheeth-uh” is the old Irish Gaelic name for the faerie folk, literally meaning ‘people of the [burial] mounds’. In Irish mythology the aes sidhe were the remnant of the Tuatha De Danann “People of the Goddess Dana” a semi-divine race who retreated to the Otherworld following their defeat by the invading Milesians.
- In Welsh mythology the faerie folk are called the Tylwyth Teg meaning “the fair folk”, they are said to be the people of Gwyn ap Nudd their king, who is a Welsh god of the dead and the wild hunt equivalent to the Horned God. Unlike the popular image of faeries as tiny and winged the Tylwyth Teg are the size of adults and invariably described as extremely beautiful.
- Wales abounds with folk tales about faeries and many other magical creatures, however it was not until I started researching this article that I discovered that perhaps the most famous tale of the Tylwyth Teg took place at the spot I camped that night.
- A few hundred meters from my camp site, at the bottom of the hill is a small lake called “Llyn y Fan Fach”, which in English roughly translates as “Lake of the Small Peak”. According to legend one night (possibly New Years Eve – in pagan times this would be Samhain [Halloween]) a local farmer saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen emerge from the lake. She was a faerie maiden, and upon seeing her the farmer set about trying to woo her with bread and cheese! She was a bit picky regarding the bread but eventually he succeeded and the faerie maiden agreed to marry him, one the condition that if he hit her three times she would leave. She provided a dowry of herds of cattle and sheep which also emerged from the lake. They lived happily until for various reasons he hit her on three separate occasions (in most versions of the tale at a christening, a marriage and a funeral), whence she and her herds returned to the lake never to be seen again. It is said that the children she bore him, who remained with their father grew up to be legendary healers.
- The imagery is somewhat reminiscent of to the Arthurian legend of the lady of the lake. As is often the case with Welsh legends, which were not recorded until late into the Christian era it is possible that the Faerie Maiden was originally a Welsh Goddess.
- I cannot rationally explain what I heard that night on the mountains, though I will always remember it. Perhaps I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and to hear the song of Fay.
- Blessings Be )O(
Reikiheidi and I are very fortunate to live in Norwich, it is a wonderful city and positively seething with history, much of which can still be seen in the architecture and place names. I regret that I take it somewhat for granted and don’t know nearly as much of our local history as I would like. Many waves of history have left their mark on the area, but there is one time period in the history of Norwich which holds a fascination for both reikiheidi and myself.
At the time of the Roman conquests of Britain the Iceni tribe inhabited an area roughly corresponding with the modern county of Norfolk. The ancient capital of the Iceni Venta Icenorum (meaning ‘Marketplace of the Iceni’) lies close to Norwich, in the village of Caistor St Edmund. It has long been my intention to visit the place, and being free of the children this Tuesday reikiheidi and I did just that.
Our reason for the visit was primarily to make a small pilgrimage to connect with our ancestors, those people who walked the land we call our home before us, fellow pagans and a people whose culture has provided inspiration for the way we personally relate to the divine.
Neither reikiheidi or I hold much affection the culture and history of the Romans and tend to view them as being responsible for the destruction of much of Britain’s indigenous religions, traditions and mythology, although I concede this may be somewhat inaccurate and unfair. As such, to me Venta Icenorum represents a sad chapter of our history, more so because this land was once the home of a personal heroine of mine.
Boudica the queen of the Iceni is remembered for instigating and leading perhaps the most ferocious British rebellion against Roman rule. In AD 61 after her public beating and the rape of her daughters Boudica incited and led her own people and neighbouring tribes in a rebellion which led to the sacking of the Roman towns of Colchester, London and St Albans and the destruction of a Roman Legion, before her eventual defeat and massacre of tens of thousands of her followers.
In view of these events and my feelings about them I had expected the place to have a solemn, melancholy atmosphere, and was surprised to find that despite the bitter cold, the bare trees and ruined walls the place emanated a sense of vibrancy even cheerfulness. The wounds I had expected to encounter had healed and life had long ago moved on.
As soon as reikiheidi and I entered the gate to the place, we heard the crying of an animal and to our astonishment saw a weasel attacking a rabbit not 30 feet away from us. The rabbit struggled free from its attacker and ran towards us before stopping and huddling in the grass in front of us. The weasel sat watching the scene a little further away. I slowly moved towards the rabbit to see if it was injured. It lay still until I got close then bolted away into a burrow apparently unhurt. The most curious thing about this event is that I was half expecting we would see rabbits or hares, Boudica was reputed to have released a hare from her dress as a method of divination, with augury being determined by the direction of the hare’s flight. Hare’s are rare in the UK today, I have yet to see one, was this a sign from Boudica? If there is a divinatory or symbolic meaning to this event I am unsure of its interpretation.
At the south-west corner of the walls we found a hollowed tree stump nestled below a Hawthorne tree, this seemed to be the perfect place to make our offering to the ancestors. We lit an incense stick and buried a coin in the ground at the heart of the tree stump, thanked those who came before us for their gifts, sacrifices and contributions and assured them they were not forgotten.
At the far west end of the site is the Tar, a beautiful little river narrow, clear and fast running. Here we made an offering (of catkins! – the only thing to hand) to the Goddess and Horned God in thanks for nature’s bounty.
We spent the next two hours exploring the ruins and a church built within the ancient walls, before returning home grounded, calmed and at peace. I feel we succeeded in our aim of touching both the past and land, closing the distance both spiritual and emotional with our ancestors and bringing something of that beautiful place into our hearts and minds. If the very land itself has memory then it is worth listening to what it has to teach.
Blessings be )O(