In Nature they are presences;
In Culture they have form.
Though we re-construct their past mystery
They are ever-present, never history.
We may sense a god in the landscape, in a woodland, along a river; perhaps even catch a voice on the wind. But how will we know who (s)he is? Is there a story that matches this experience, perhaps a folk tale, a legend, a myth? – perhaps an image, a tune, a poem. Some human thing that hints at the experience, resonates with it , contains something of its numinosity, but something created with the god’s help that can be shared, recognised, shaped in human terms and so belonging to our world: otherworldly, liminal, elusive and yet something we can feel, touch hear, or see. So the Otherworld and our world interleave, overlap, flow together in the stream of time while the god is with us, though that time might pass differently from our time, and when our time returns, though the human artefact that contained the god is still there, the god may not be, or will be but in that otherworld where time passes differently.
Yet we have the image, the story, the tune and may recover its significance or re-create it from the elements that compose it, or once again from direct experience if the god is with us. If not, well … if we have made a place for the gods in our lives so they live among us, as their time passes to ours we pass the time in their presence. So those presences in nature are given form and come alive in our culture. If ‘our’ culture is Brythonic Polytheism, and if were live in the 21st century, we will find that they take shape for us in gods that, in the Ancient World, have names like Lugus, Vindos, Rosmerta, Maponos, Rigantona. Some of these we find present in medieval literature, here called Lleu, Gwyn, Mabon, Rhiannon where the numinosity of the gods finds form in the enchantment of story.
So the Horse Goddess (who we may also know as Epona) comes alive as Rhiannon in the imagery of tales in medieval Welsh: a woman on a horse passing a ‘gorsedd’ – a mound or or sitting place – at which enchantments may (and do) occur. She appears to maintain an even pace, though no-one can catch up with her however hard they ride, until the one she wishes to speak with approaches her. So she comes out of the Otherworld and her story is woven into the narrative of the tale : The Divine Mother (Matrona) gives birth to the Divine Son (Maponos) snatched away from her at just a few days old, though eventually returned to her, and to our world. The story told as the narrative of Rhiannon and Pryderi in the Mabinogi, or as Mabon in Culhwch and Olwen. Here the gods, taking different forms in the folklore tradition, have been rediscovered in literature, their names shifting but the identities remaining so they are alive for us in the narratives, in verbal imagery, in the voices of the characters in these tales.
In reading stories, in re-telling them, in making visual images, or in re-enacting the myths they embody, the gods can come alive for us not just in our private dealings with them but publicly. They can be ‘re-presented’ in our lives and in our recognition of them, bringing the Otherworld into manifest presence in our world. So we conjure them by story telling; so they conjure us by coming alive in the stories just as they come alive as presences in the [super]natural world. What stories can we tell today and how else can we make a place for the gods in our cultural lives in our present multi-cultural age? Brython members have written stories, poems and accounts of engagements with the gods as they appear to us today. Some of these are on the Brython website, some on our blogs, some in our books; we have a discussion forum at Caerfeddwyd where we can share our experiences. We also strive to re-create a place for the gods in our landscapes, to re-discover those natural presences and give them cultural form. This is a task some of us have set for ourselves, for present-day Brythonic culture and in service of our gods.
As re-constructionists we seek to recover what we can of the cultural life and the ways the Brythonic peoples of the ancient world shared that world with their gods. We also seek to engage with the landscapes of the modern Brythonic lands, with ways these have been imaginatively inhabited by the peoples who have lived on them through the ages and the mythic life they shared and may continue to share with us. But we do not seek to live in the past so much as bring the past alive in the present and ensure that it continues to have a life in the future. To do that the gods must have a mythic life; they must have identities, stories, rites and a place in our social calendar so that their natural presences can come alive for us even when they may not appear to be manifestly present. So too we must re-claim the landscape -: the wells, the mountains, the woodland glades where the gods have always been met with, where the sources of their stories are, just as they are within us, deep in our psychic DNA. We must find them too in the newer landscapes of our industrialised world, or find ways that we can relate to them in such landscapes, in their traditional forms, or in new forms for new places with perhaps different names for their different aspects. If we do these things together we may find them. And they will find us. So the Otherworld will be manifest in Thisworld, and the Brythonic lands will be whole again.
Some of the content of this article is based on a verse evocation of the nature of the gods which can be found at : The Way of the Awenydd