The Dance of Sea and Symbol

Sunset over Caer Arianrhod
Sunset over Caer Arianrhod

I’ve said this before: I’m kinda slow on some stuff. A god can make something repeatedly obvious and yet I miss the message; like Eliot’s “had the experience/but missed the meaning,” the point of something will slip past me until much later.

In this case, years later.   It was one of the first things I was shown, one of the things that’s been shown to be repeatedly, and yet…

When I stood on the beach just south of Dinas Dinlle, on the shore across from the sunken reef known as Caer Arianrhod, a mass of symbols danced before me, each incomprehensible. I felt the idiot, unable to weave those symbols into meaning. Something stood out of grasp, too far for me to reach but not so far that I could gaze upon its whole being.

Since I’ve been back from Wales and Ireland, Brân’s been heavy at my neck. I’ll be writing much more on this for a piece I’ll submit for the “Building Regional Cultus” of Walking the Worlds, but a few things are worth noting now. On the shores of Llyn Dinas I encountered beings, giants and something else I’m reluctant to name yet, all deep spirits of the land there, all much bigger than I, each, again, speaking in incomprehensible symbols.

And since Pantheacon and the announcing of Gods & Radicals, Arianrhod’s been all over, seemingly waiting for my mind to break open enough to allow some greater knowledge room in my thick skull. It’s seemed odd, surprising, but I think I’m finally starting to get it.

Arianrhod’s in the dance of sea and symbol. I don’t know how to explain this yet–it may take quite some time. But since I learned to do something I hadn’t learned to do yet, layers of symbols dance upon themselves in a knotted threading, each existing in-itself, not derived from but reliant upon each other symbol.

Not a hierarchy of symbols, but a tapestry of them. There is Ivy; the sight of Ivy, the embodiment of Ivy, the space and presence and spirit each of Ivy. There is also Ivy as thought, Ivy as meaning, Ivy as the seed of Ivy that we know (similar to Platonic Ivy but also different). “Ivy” as sound is mere approximation, but also the human inception of Ivy into the world of humans (that is, the ‘Worlding’ of Ivy).

Still following?

We tend to make a distinction between “Ivy” as our name for the thing (or material existence) of a specific type of plant and our experience of it, as if the word/sound/symbol of “Ivy” is distinct from the thing. Older forms of knowing, however, suggested that the plant itself generated or gifted the sound by which it was to be known.

Consider the linguistic differences inherent in English’s question ‘What’s your name?” versus the French “Comment t’appelle tu?” (How do you call yourself?) and you’ll get an idea of this rift. Does a thing have a concrete name, is it named, or does it name itself?

Perhaps all three are true, and this is where Arianrhod is, or dwells, in the dance between those symbolic representations and the ‘real’ of a thing. And in Modern, materialist thought, we separate dualistically the ‘thing’ of Ivy from the ‘experience’ and ‘representation’ of Ivy. This, I am suspecting, is the source of Disenchantment, as applicable to our understanding of gods and trees as it is to the land and Animistic understandings of nature.  Also, I think, why Arianrhod seems to have ‘withdrawn’ from the world into the sea like an ebbing tide (and, remember–ebbing prefigures another movement…)

The material of Ivy, the touch and feel and molecular structure of the plant we know as Ivy, therefore, exists interdependently with all the experiences and representations of Ivy.  The plant doesn’t come first, doesn’t sit at the bottom or the top of a hierarchy–it is itself-and-also, becoming more-than-self in the way that we become more-than-self in love.  Ivy and the word ‘Ivy’ dwell in each other, which is how we can know what a Hydra is without a material existence or a god is without a physical body.  It is also how a nameless thing does not exist to us, seems to be ‘soul-less’ despite physically blocking us (like a wall in the dark) or killing us (like an unidentified disease).

Which, too, is why the first thing Arianrhod takes from Lleu, and the first thing she takes from any initiate, is also the very first thing she gives–a name.



Gods & Radicals is coming oh-so-soon!  We’ve got some damn awesome folks lined up for the site, and I’m stupidly excited.

The site’s set to private as it’s being built and everyone’s getting used to the layout.  In the meantime, you can follow Gods & Radicals on Facebook or Twitter or both.

More soon!

And be damn amazingly well.


15 thoughts on “The Dance of Sea and Symbol

  1. I find it really intriguing that what you’re touching on here (and are quite effectively explaining in a damn fine fashion!) has been dealt with as well recently by Galina and also in another form (far less sophisticated!) by me.

    Something in the air, perhaps? Or just that we’re all involved in Walking the Worlds? 😉

  2. “Had the experience but missed the meaning?”

    No such animal.

    All experience simply gestates and waits for meaning to be applied to it. Particular trees take longer to grow some nuts than others. 🙂

    A couple of poems to go with your wine….

    On my velvet couch reclining
    Ivy leaves my brow entwining,
    While my soul expands with glee,
    What are kings and crowns to me?

    ~ Sir Thomas Moore [1779-1852]

    How closely he twineth, how tight he clings
    To his friend the huge oak tree.
    And slyly he traileth along the ground,
    And his leaves he gently waves,
    As he joyously hugs and crawleth round
    The rich mould of dead men’s graves.

    Whole ages have fled, and their works decay’d
    And nations have scatter’d been;
    But the stout old ivy shall never fade
    From its hale and hearty gree:
    The brave old plant in its lonely days
    Shall fatten upon the past;
    For the stateliest building man can raise
    Is the ivy’s food at last.

    Creeping where no life is seen.
    A rare old plant is the ivy green.
    Oh! creeping where no life is seen.

    ~ Anon.

  3. Have you read Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram? I am still part of the way through it but I reckon it ties in nicely with what you are describing

  4. Good thoughts on your part, two of mine in response:
    1) in Irish Gaelic, the statement is ‘the name on me is……’
    2) Ivy is one of the Ogham trees meaning (for me) ‘internal search for self’, ‘the labyrinth’, ‘the Sow Who eats Her own young’ (sometimes).

  5. And in Modern, materialist thought, we separate dualistically the ‘thing’ of Ivy from the ‘experience’ and ‘representation’ of Ivy. This, I am suspecting, is the source of Disenchantment, as applicable to our understanding of gods and trees as it is to the land and Animistic understandings of nature.

    Well, any good Christian apology would point out that those flavors of materialism get their methods and ontology from Christianity and just erase spirit or recast it as intellect.

    Which is where my objections for most of the past year come from. Either Ivy is inherently Goddesses* or They’re a commodity that can be abused or conserved in the service of a higher spiritual calling. Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I don’t see a middle ground as viable.

    (* Making the most of the absence of a fractal-complex gender in Modern English.)

    1. You mention Christian apology repeatedly; why?

      Likewise, spiritual commodification is a strange concept; I think you are perhaps meaning ‘abstraction,’ which is an aspect–but hardly the full mechanism–of commodity fetishism. In fact, to become Commodity, a presence needs to be reduced, rather than expanded. I’m speaking of infinite expansion–Ivy is itself and also everything else it is; Ivy, extracted and commodified, is Ivy without the ‘messy’ presence/existence of Ivy.

      Gods, too, are the same. They are in themselfs and also, as are we. Gods in some witch/mage orders are reduced to forces to be controlled/used (which is how Capitalism has fucked up magic and religion), but I’ve yet to meet a polytheist who would try to reduce a god, any more than a druid would try to reduce Ivy. Reducing a god to what can be extracted from them relies on the same mechanistic principle used to extract labor (value) from humans-reduced-to-workers.

      1. I’ve mentioned it all of twice because you keep scapegoating Materialism, which for most of Europe and America has been a politically trivial counterculture in comparison to colonialist ideas such as Manifest Destiny. I see Capitalism and mainstream science as constructed in the service of a primarily religious worldview that considered economic relations as less significant than moral ones. You can enslave entire nations as long as you save their soul. You can extinguish entire species as long as they don’t have one.

        Maybe I’m a dim bulb in this discussion because I’m just a guy who struggles through daily offerings and conversations. My sense is that it’s not enough to say that Ivy has a soul. You have to reject the Matter/Spirit dualism and say that it is Goddesses. (That’s not a personal accusation, that’s a theoretical one.) Otherwise Capitalism can say that we can commodify the material Ivy since spirit is one step removed and is likely just sentiment anyway.

      2. I see!

        So, Catholic christianity maintained the in-itself conception of Nature for over a millennium, which is why I cannot fully blame Christianity for Capital. One can blame Calvin (and to a lesser extent Luther), however; but not for their Christianity, but rather their philosophical and social reforms which informed their Theology. You’ve read Zizek, yes? He considers St. Paul a philosopher and ideologue; we should see Calvin the same.

        Secondly, Communism uses all the same mechanisms of reduction and abstraction as Capitalism does but in utterly different religious frameworks (and is as-bad at denying the sacredness and in-itselfness of the world).

        I think it’s essential to attack the engine of Capital itself, which is extraction of use-value from the world -through- the exploitation of human labor. Ivy cannot be exploited without human labor (even a machine that mows ivy is built/operated/maintained by humans). Ivy as Goddesses or Ivy as-itself both work to keep Ivy off-limits except when human survival is concerned; liberate humans from that chain of exploitation-from-survival and, in the end, it actually wouldn’t matter how we saw Ivy (it’s always going to be in-itself anyway, regardless of our conceptions).

      3. I’m afraid I’m never going to be as well-read as you, and much of my reading inquiry is going into a different direction. (There’s no subtext behind that statement, which shouldn’t need to be said but does.) But mostly I’m a product of my culture and relations, where the strongest voices against consideration of Ivy (not a Being I have a strong relationship with) claim both Religious and Capitalist justifications. I am a child of the Reagan era, and events in Alabama and Florida this month are starting to feel terribly familiar, making me a bit prickly this month, so I apologize if some of this comes out a bit rough.

        I think it’s kind of curious how our roles in this discussion have flipped over the course of a year with you using “as-itself” language, and myself using explicitly theistic language to argue that plants have an inherent something that entails some sort of moral interest or obligation. Do we have a consensus on that point?

  6. I have nothing to add to this conversation. I think I glimpse what you are using words to illustrate, but I can’t say as I understand it.

    What I came here specifically to tell you is I just heard a crow perched above me make a vocalization my cat makes. I’d read they were masterful mimics, but this perfect mimicry *of my cat* enchanted me and made me want to share it with you. (They dig the peanuts. And one particular corvid left me a stone that is a perfect simulacrum of a human heart in black. Again, enchanted.)

  7. Absolutely beautiful picture there and fits with the very little I know of Arianrhod, as does the ebbing and between-ness between things-in-themselves and their names… and names have a magical relationship with what they represent… but aren’t utterly inseparable…

    Ivy for me has always been an opener of ways and a teacher of survival… whilst I’m aware of the Welsh name ‘eiddew’ I also really like the Latin ‘Hedera Helix’ as in my mind the words invoke how it climbs and journeys through both worlds…

  8. While I usually want to know what a person calls e-selves (have I got that right?), I don’t always use that wording. I don’t want to know what butchered form of their name, I don’t want to know what others call e, I want to know the name by which e thinks belongs to e. I don’t want to define someone by my ideas, but by theirs. There’re reasons why I changed my legal name at 30.

    Iam a language nerd. Because you brought up the different between French (and at least a few other Romance languages) & English, I looked up the etymology of the Spanish word for “pregnant”, embarazada, which has been driving me nuts. Turns out “embarrassed” is a faux ami, a false friend. It does not imply shame at all. Wikipedia has an interesting article on it.

    Oddly enough, I love the iconography of ivy, but most of the larger-leafed ivy I see, often used for ground cover, is good for harboring rats, which, well, ick. I love the smaller leaved ivies, though.

    So, pardon my ignorance, but is Ivy associated with Arianrhod? I’m not certain, otherwise, why you pulled up this entity to discuss.

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