Last Days of Harvest and Gwyn’s Feast

The Autumn Equinox forms a gateway between the light and dark halves of the year. Balance is always tentative and fragile. A pendulum must swing, the days process, at this time marching from light into darkness, like the summer fay will soon.

Beneath the Harvest Moon sloes, damsons, blackberries and apples have ripened. Unlike the grain harvest this is one we have all had the chance to participate in, whether as makers of jams, liquors, pies and crumbles, or as folk who simply like a handy snack part way through a walk.

The final fruits are now beginning to sour and fall. Most of the wildflowers have gone to seed. Willowherbs are clad in cobwebs and thistles in cotton-down. When the last pink-purple petals has fallen in the meadow in my local valley it will be time to take up the scythes. The scattering of seeds, the cutting of stems, the reaping of the meadow forms a pivotal part of the transition from light to darkness, summer to winter, life to death, thisworld to Annwn.

Around this time I start feeling the presence of Gwyn ap Nudd and the spirits of Annwn within the landscape: in the blood-red hawthorn berries, in the autumn mists, in the fall of gold-brown leaves and the scent of decay rising from damp soil.

In Cornish, September is called Gwynngala*, which is suggestive of a Gwyn link. On the 29th of September, I celebrate a feast day for Gwyn. This corresponds with Michaelmas. The Celtic scholar, John Rhys, argues that Michael ‘supplanted’ Gwyn** and it seems possible Gwyn’s supposed banishment by St Collen from Glastonbury Tor took place during Michaelmas day celebration. Although there is no hard proof Michael’s feast day replaced Gwyn’s, this feels like a good time to affirm his presence. Moreover, when I asked Gwyn whether I could hold a feast for him on September the 29th, he agreed.

I’ve tried a few different formats for Gwyn’s feast. Last year’s worked best. Drawing on his connection with the hunt for Twrch Trwyth, ‘King of Boars’, I served him a pork roast with apple sauce and also offered a piece of meat to his dog, Dormach, and apples to his horses, Carngrwn and Du. Afterward, I read a selection of poems and stories either written for him, about him, or that reminded me of him by a variety of authors living and dead. My focus was on honouring Gwyn and uniting with all those who have venerated him and walked paths of wildness and enchantment. It was a powerful experience, which was followed by a vivid dream in which, like Twrch Trwyth, I was a human transformed into a boar…

*Gwynngala means ‘white or blessed straw’. For more information see Alex Langstone, ‘The Berwyn Mountains of Poetic Adventure’ HERE
**In Studies in the Arthurian Legend (1841), John Rhys notes both Michael and Gwyn act as psychopomps and restrain ‘demons’. He also says the ‘old foundations’ associated with Michael’s name ‘occupy sites of sinister reputation… which were considered dangerous and to form the haunts of evil spirits.’ This is certainly the case with the ruined church of St Michael on Glastonbury Tor. Two churches dedicated to St Michael here in Lancashire, at Beetham and Whitewell, are also connected with fairy sites.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Wonderful and thoughtful post. I like the idea of honouring Gwyn much better at this time of year than the more popular Mabon.

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    1. I didn’t know why Mabon was associated with the Autumn Equinix until I read this post – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/aidankelly/2012/09/mabon-and-the-city-beneath-the-sea-part-ii/ It’s based on the concept of Mabon’s rescue by Gwydion (???) from the underworld which is just not true. He was rescued by Arthur and six of Arthur’s men from a ‘house of stone’ in Caer Loyw (Gloucester). The only argument for connecting Mabon (or Maponus as he was earlier known) with Stonehenge is his identification with Apollo via interpretatio Romana. Hecateaus of Abdera wrote that the Hyperboreans had on their island “a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape”. This may be Stonehenge and Maponus’ worship there may have preceded Apollo’s. I do think Aidan’s correct in identifying Maponus as an underworld god. He’s invoked with the underworld gods on a tablet from Chamalieres ‘I beseech the very divine, the divine Maponos Avernatis by means of the magic tablet: quicken us, i.e. those (named below) by the magic of underworld spirits’. Therefore that makes him quite close to Gwyn as an Annuvian deity. Of course his grandfather, Afallach was a King of Annwn. So there may be an argument for honouring Maponus/Mabon at the this time of year but it ain’t based on Gwydion rescuing him from the underworld. Rant over!

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  2. Lee says:

    I didn’t know the connection between Gwyn and St Michael….very interesting 🙂

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    1. greg says:

      I’ve also often been puzzled by the use of Mabon for the autumn equinox – funny time to celebrate the Divine Youth! Rant endorsed!

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  3. greg says:

    Will also have pork and apples on the 29th to join you in Gwyn’s festival 😀

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    1. 🙂 I’m going to be reading your translation and Gwyn and Gwyddno and Lee’s Charge of Gwyn ap Nudd amongst a few other things. I’d love to hear how it goes.

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