Brân and the Revolt of Annwn

Last night I found myself crying in fear and terror and anger at a death that wasn’t mine, or anyone’s I’d have reason to know.

I mentioned earlier this year, after Wales, that I’d done some work and supplications in Gwynedd for help restoring the cult of Brân.  Lots of giants, by which I mean actual giants, but also not actual giants.  I don’t know how that works, how they work, except I know I talked to very large things of human-ish personality and asked them for help and got a yes.

One day I’ll learn quite how to explain precisely what is meant by giant.  Certainly the same thing others meant by giant, but if one’s to go around looking for the bones of giants one’s to fail miserably, unless one’s collecting large stones off the side of a mountain.  I don’t, of course, mean that they’re those stones, or those stones are the bones of giants, but I also mean that.

This is why we’ve got poetry, and the minds to comprehend it.

(p.s.–if anyone’s ever wondered ’bout the crazy awesome Dionysian altar gifted to me by Dver, that’s it on the left).

Anyway–this week’s been awfully hard because of this thing:

It’s a shield, made of Alder and Elk, from my friend Grant, and it’s for Brân.

Sometime last year, it was made known to me I’d need to procure and enchant several items as divine relics, none of which I knew how to make or even knew who to ask.  This shield was the first of the items.

I’d had some conversation with a friend I didn’t know well and found myself asking off-handedly, on a ‘whim,’ if he knew anyone who might be able to make such a thing.  Obviously, buying one on-line wouldn’t work–not only had it to be Alder, but it’d have to be crafted by someone who had at least some sense of an obscure Welsh god for whom there’s been no record of worship pretty much ever.  It seemed kinda impossible, but then he answered–“oh.  I can.”

And so he did, and so it arrived last week, delivered to me by two friends devoted to The Morrígan.   I hadn’t been expecting it for several more months, so there was actually a bit of panic when they handed it to me (mixed with utter awe–the things gorgeous).  Mostly, it meant I had no excuse to proceed with all the other things I needed to do with it, much of it involving the Dead.

I don’t know why this is yet, but Brân has some relation to what I’m calling the ‘revolutionary dead.’  There’s the War Dead, and they’re the province of The Morrígan, for obvious reasons.  But there’s nothing in the lore regarding people who died on behalf of a revolt relating to Brân or any other god except perhaps Dionysos.

I’ve been trying to parse out why he wanted me to deal with them and why they’d been hanging around, doubting often enough that it had anything really to with him at all–perhaps it was just all my anti-capitalism and historical readings about the early revolts in Britain that had made me mix up the two.

But then the shield arrived, I did a few divinations (with help from Sannion on one of them), and I started the work of the first of the dead I needed to address and yes, she was a dead revolutionary. Not a glamorous one, nor one we’d even have heard of, which I think was precisely the point.  Revolutionaries and rebels who die for failed causes are somewhat similar to the war dead, and of course, they often overlap.

For instance, the Croppies, the dead rebels buried in mass graves in Ireland–are they war dead or revolutionary dead?  Both, it would seem.  Likewise, those who died in the Spanish ‘Civil’ War, all those slaughtered Anarchists and Communists–they’re a different sort of war dead than the soldier of an imperialist state doing ‘his duty’ or trying to get money for college.

And a failed insurrectionist is who identified herself to me last weekend, and quite frankly–I’ve been an utter mess.  The dead cling to you, ride you when you invite them in.  I could have ignored her, except I needed to hear her story and ask for her help, and that miasmal weight is kinda awful.  Last night I went drinking and then sat on the sidewalk for an hour along the street, crying, shouting, screaming in terror, feeling the full weight of her death and the most horrific thing of all–the events she fought against  coming to pass anyway, human centuries later.

The one thing I’ve been able to find in the lore around Brân that may point to more about their relationship with them is the really odd thing that happens in the Battle of the Trees.  If you know the Mabinogi a bit, you might remember that 7 warriors survived the battle with the Irish after Brân’s fatal wound and beheading, including his brother and half-brothers (minus Efnisien, who kills himself to destroy the Cauldron).

But in the Battle of Trees, Brân’s on the ‘wrong’ side…that is, he’s fighting for Arawn, King of Annwn, against Manawydan and others (including Taliesin); and there’s that bit about Arthur digging up his head.  Why’s Brân taking the side of the Dead against his former allies?

There’s the bit about Annwn being the old gods, the old powers, the old contracts and laws, displaced by new regents and new powers and forsaken contracts.  And of course, that’s a bit of disenchantment there, and look where ignoring the Dead has gotten us in the last 300 years.  So rather than being traitorous, I’m suspecting there’s some older law he’s fighting on behalf of, which is ultimately also what all those Diggers and Levelers and Whiteboys and Molly Maguires and Luddites were doing.

Which would explain why Brân had me sitting on the side of the street crying over a dead woman’s demise.

I got home eventually when it was over, oathed to her, and wrote that poem (still blind drunk) in a couple of minutes.

Timing, though, is kinda awesome.  This morning, the other two organizers of Many Gods West and I went to a Shinto shrine for a purification ceremony and a blessing for the conference.  Have you been to one?Tsubaki_Grand_Shrine_of_America_2007b

If you’re a Druid, get yourself to one as fucking soon as you can.  It’s a garden of gods and land spirits, the Kami everywhere.  This one’s along a river and, as one of my companions mentioned, it sang, it was singing, or her soul responded as one responds to singing; I saw vast worlds beyond the stone cliffs, and this was only outside.  Inside, a cedar tree grew from my spine, or I was a cedar tree, and we were all cedar as the priest prayed for blessings from the spirits.

I don’t know what else to say about the place, except everything you’re on about makes sense when you see how another culture formalized such things over millennia.  You see a grandmother Maple who’s obviously awakened and then you notice there’s a yellow rope around her waist denoting that she’s Kami; what you’ve been seeing from one cultural lens and what they see from another intersects not in a sort of Jungian mono-myth, but rather in a moment of pure Other.

And the purification ceremony performed is quite powerful.  Different from the cleansing you get in other traditions, more a clearing-away or a sweeping-out than a washing-away or ‘cleansing.’    If it makes sense, it’s the difference between raking up leaves from a stone-pathway into the grass (Shinto), pressure-washing pavement (Pagan Ritual Magic) and or removing all the trees and putting down more pavement (Modernity, Christianity).

So…perfect timing.  Fucking needed that.

Have more work to do, and will need help as I go on. If you told me you were having experiences with Brân at some point and are interested in helping, please let me know.

Other Stuff

Many Gods West is coming up oh-so-soon.  Have you registered yet?  There’s gonna be some awesome people there, and also, according to the divination we had performed at the Shinto shrine today, it shall be a very fortunate event.

Also, there’s several people trying to raise money to go.  Connor Warren is still a few hundred dollars behind what he needs as minimum for travel there and back from Texas.

Also, Backeion’s group fundraiser is still going on.  Dver has donated some hand-crafted incense as a perk, and I’m going to be reducing the price of Your Face Is a Forest to $12.50 in June and donating half the sales to them as well.

I know it’s not a big community-capital project–no awesome book or tarot set or album will come out of it.  Those are awesome fund-raising projects too, and excellent ways to support artists and get really awesome stuff.  Speaking at a conference or doing a ritual there is a lot less glamorous, so it takes poor folks trying to do those things a little longer to raise the money, and it’s harder for them to ask because they’re not promising a product (I know this from my own experience raising money for such things).

So if you can help either of them, thank you!  And if not, could you spread the word for them?

And yeah, be always damn well.

20 thoughts on “Brân and the Revolt of Annwn

  1. Going with your notion of Bendigeidfran and the dead; he was fighting on their side. The dead, the ancestors, the things beyond the edge of civilisation where the gods lie and live and kill. The role of the dead is to put us in our tidy towns in our place and remind us where we came from and where we will return, and we we start forgetting that we will get a damn fucking kicking. It sounds as if Bendigeidfran is your Koryonos

    1. I’ve read Kershaw’s book (and many others), and have studied this subject rather extensively as part of my Ph.D.

      I think your assessment of Gwyn as the (medieval Brythonic) candidate for the Koryonos is quite accurate; his Irish cognate is, of course, Finn mac Cumhaill, who is the leader of the most famous Fíanna of that culture, and that institution is exactly the Mánnerbúnde reflex there that Kershaw is describing. I suspect both Finn and Gwyn are likewise (at least linguistically, partially) cognate to the Romano-British deity, sometimes syncretized with Silvanus, called Vinotonus–rather than being a possible “wine-god” (which makes no sense in the Yorkshire dales!), his name would be close to certain by-forms of Finn, like Fintan, etc.; and given that Silvanus is a hunter/warrior and deity of liminality, that’s well within the range we’re talking about here.

      1. Ok, you’ve got me interested now – what was your Ph.D thesis on?

        I cant recall coming across Vintonus before; I had always worked on Vindonnus being the earlier Brythonic equivalent (at least I think is what my linguist mate said it would have been) If Vintonus was a slightly later Romano-British rendering it means there are a few inscriptions that need some research as they might be informative 🙂


      2. I’m familiar with the Vinotonus inscriptions although I haven’t visited the site yet and have also wondered if there’s a Gwyn connection.

  2. This is all quite fascinating to me…but I have nothing useful to say in response at present.

    Your Shinto-related observations make a lot of sense. Also: I’m trying to place where that torii you have a photo of in this entry is located out there, and I’m getting nothing. Perhaps it is one I simply cannot see…?!?

  3. Everything that I read and hear about Shinto shrines and Hindu temples gets me itching to find a way to breathe life into a real Pagan temple practice. *sigh*

    Also, I just finished reading the book “The Matter of the Gods” by Clifford Ando, and he spends the entire book grappling with (and failing to come to terms with) the “problem” of the materiality of the Gods in Roman religion. It’s sort of entertaining seeing an academic grapple with a mystery that I just get because I’ve experienced what’s going on first-hand in ritual and worship. So often ancient people simply understood when giant rocks were also “giant’s bones” because of their lived experience with the numinous Others becoming present and dwelling everywhere in the world around them.

    1. Academics can sometimes be awfully silly. 🙂 There’s a few who get it, mostly from India where secularism never became fully the norm, despite the British attempts to make it so….

  4. Reblogged this on The Gargarean and commented:
    Apart from his beautiful post, Rhyd is offering his book Your Face Is a Forest at a discount price with some proceeds going towards the Backeion fundraiser! This is a great deal! I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about the book.

  5. Your words about Bran ending up on the wrong side are fascinating, considering the time the party who escaped from Ireland spent on the otherside enchanted by Rhiannon’s birds. Because Bran was already dead and they just had his head, he stayed on the otherside – he was dead? Is in some sense still dead, a giant ancestral deity? Maybe the revolutionary dead have been drawn to him and he’s trying to get their word out into the world?

    I personally feel there is quite alot of opposition between the powers of this-world and the otherworld at the moment… particularly the deities of Annwn vs the likes of Taliesin and Arthur. I recently wrote this article, which I think bears some relation to the piece you sent me on Bran, which re-reads the story of Taliesin, the broken cauldron and poisoning of Gwyddno’s horses as an analogy of environmental disaster and critiques Taliesin’s mis-use of his skills to praise the rich etc. before some words on Gwyn’s cauldron in Annwn…

  6. Your words on Shinto really resonate. I have been living in Japan and (sporadically) engaging in solitary druidic practice for nearly 20 years, and Shinto shrines, ceremonies, and traditions feel very welcoming to me. Many of the traditions are still very powerful, despite the seemingly casual way people perform them – like the off-hand way Christmas and Easter are handled by many Christians in the West. I have participated in several ceremonies that even most Japanese would have no experience with these days, and each time the priest has commented that although he worried I would be clumsy or out of place I seemed right at home – sometimes moreso than the Japanese participants (the advantages of ceremonial experience I guess! Some things just translate very well!)

    Anyway, the point is that – for me anyway – there is a strong synergy between Shinto and druidry, and I have to agree with your recommendation that others experience it. Get thee to a jinja!

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