Dawn arrives yet You are gone. The birds are singing yet You are gone. The flowers are turning their petalled heads towards the sun yet You are gone.
Your absence is like the spinning of the Void.
You are gone to its bottommost depths with Your castle of cold stone.
You are gone but Your haunting is everywhere with Your promise of return.
You died but You are not dead but only sleeping.
We share a heartbeat and a breath and every one brings us a little closer together. I remember this when You are gone.
This is a gifted song that I have been singing for Gwyn at His altar in my morning and evening devotions since His death in His seasonal battle against Gwythyr on Calan Mai after which He sleeps over the summer months in His castle of cold stone. (At night I replace ‘dawn’ with ‘dusk’ and ‘towards’ with ‘from’).
This is the first time I have sung on video and I’ve only sung in public once before in a performance group. I was put off when a friend jestingly told me I ‘sing like a nun’ in the sense I am not rock ‘n’ roll enough. Well I am a nun now so I can sing like a nun!
The image on my altar is a visionary painting by Meg Falconer of Caer Ochren ‘the cold castle under the stone’ from King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld.
For the first time this year I will be giving a talk at the Touta Galation Gaulish Polytheist Conference. It is on a topic very close to my heart – ‘Building the Monastery of Annwn: A Journey in Devotion to Gwyn ap Nudd’.
The conference will take place online on the 27th and 28th of May and runs from approximately 6.30pm until 10.30pm WEST. You can register HERE.
My talk is at 9.15pm and will be pre-recorded as I’m usually in bed for 8pm. I am planning to attend the first hour of the conference and am looking forward to hearing other speakers and hopefully seeing some old and new faces.
This is a video I made about why I write to encourage support for my work on Patreon.
My name is Lorna Smithers and I am a poet and author based in Penwortham, Lancashire, North West England, in the UK. I am also a polytheist nun dedicated to Vindos, later known as Gwyn ap Nudd, one of the Old Gods of Britain. Gwyn is a ruler of Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Otherworld.
I had experiences of Annwn in my late teens but it wasn’t until I hit thirty I discovered their source and my religion, Brythonic polytheism. This is because when I was at school I was taught only the Greek and Roman myths and not the British ones, and of the religions of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism but nothing of our ancient British religion.
It was only when I discovered Paganism and Druidry in 2011 that I found out we have our own Gods, who are known from Romano-British archaeology, Roman records, and medieval Welsh texts which relate not only to Wales but much of Britain (as England and southern Scotland shared a Brythonic culture with Wales until the Anglo-Saxon invasions).
When I finally met Gwyn at the head of a local fairy funeral procession I realised He was behind my initiatory visions. I had been seeing His world, Annwn. I soon afterwards dedicated myself to Him as my patron and since then have been serving Him as an awenydd ‘person inspired’ by bringing His myths and those of other Brythonic Gods and Goddesses back to the world.
I write because I believe these stories can not only help us reconnect with the land and Gods of Britain but are of importance to our souls. They contain deep mysteries, the wisdom of Annwn, which can guide us in navigating the environmental and spiritual crises of our modern world. They can provide us with a deeper understanding of our psyches, including their darker sides, and aid those of us who are struggling with mental health problems.
Not all people need religion but everyone needs stories. Thus I am currently working on a series of novels called ‘The King of Annwn Cycle’ reimagining the story of Vindos/Gwyn from His birth and creation of His kingdom through His conflicts with the Children of Don and oppression and demonisation during the Roman invasions and Christianity into the modern era to the end of the world. I am hoping they will be accessible to polytheists and non-polytheists alike.
You can support my writing and help me work towards making a living from my vocation by signing up to Patreon HERE in return for a quarterly newsletter, exclusive excerpts from my novel-in-progress, In the Deep, and other rewards.
*I struggled with making this video as I felt I needed to look at the camera and it didn’t come naturally. I was very tense and couldn’t stop blinking! I’m not sure if this is an autistic trait. I know some autistic people struggle to make eye contact. I’m not too bad at that but eying a camera feels very awkward and unnatural to me.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been blogging about my problematic relationship with technology as a source of distractions and my unhealthy habits surrounding compulsions to check emails and keep up with what is happening online.
After writing last Sunday about considering the possibility I might be able to check my emails once a day or even take a day off I realised what a huge hold this habit has over me and something within me said, “Enough. I’m not going to be ruled by this any more.” I made the decision to cut my email checking down to just twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and have managed it.
As part of the process I have spent some time reflecting on where it is coming from. As mentioned in a previous post I believe it to be caused by a combination of pernicious influences without and anxieties within.
I haven’t always had this habit. I didn’t have it when I was at university when I only had email traffic from tutors. I certainly didn’t have it at all when I was working with horses (when I worked in Hertfordshire and lived in a mobile home on the yard I could only check once a week on my employer’s computer!).
I believe it began around around 2011 when I started getting involved in local community groups such as South Ribble Transition Towns and a number of local poetry groups and in the latter took up a co-ordinating role. It got worse when I was also acting as editor for Gods & Radicals, so dealing with a lot of email submissions, then on top of that took a part time admin job at UCLan which involved a lot of emails and multi-tasking and left me very burnt out.
I had some time out after that and recovered a bit but didn’t address the problem of my anxiety as I was using alcohol several times a week to blank it out.
When I was volunteering in conservation and during this period gave up alcohol I began feeling better, but when I got paid work it involved more admin. When I was a trainee with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust I was doing my admin, including dealing with emails, 7 – 9am before my drive to the Manchester Mosslands to be onsite for 10am then driving back at 3pm to deal with the last of my admin 4 – 5pm. Having two hours of unpaid driving made for long days and I got very anxious about missing emails or not answering them correctly particularly in relation to plans for contract work.
Then, when I worked in ecology, I had to multitask a lot when I was in the office. Organising surveys often took as much work as doing them. Surveys for great crested newts and bats needed at least two and up to eight to ten people, with maps to be printed, meeting times and places arranged, all the equipment got together (there is a lot of equipment for bats!) and we were constantly having to rearrange with the weather and it was very stressful.
When I was writing an ecological report I had to keep my emails open to co-ordinate surveys and in case my employer sent me quotes to send out to clients and then to reply to clients about quotes as well and it was overwhelming.
After I resigned from that job, which left me very burnt out, instead of taking time to process what had happened I poured all my energy into my writing and escaped my feelings of failure by exercising and weekend drinking.
Since I came to Paganism and through it Polytheism I have been good at serving the land and my Gods through outdoor work and creativity but no good at looking after my mental health or working on my spiritual development.
That has begun to change as I have been drawn to Polytheist Monasticism, taken vows as a nun of Annwn, committed to becoming Sister Patience and been spending more time in meditation and contemplation.
I have come to believe that, if the mind is a whole, and is more than a thinking thing (the origin of the concept of ‘mind’ comes from the Greek psyche and means a lot more – ‘animating spirit’, ‘soul’,’ and comes from the root psykhein ‘to blow, breathe’*) then forcing it to do more than one thing at once is in opposition to its nature.
It’s common to see the mind referred to as a muscle. I believe it’s more than that, but let’s take that analogy. Trying to work a muscle in more than one direction at once is going to result in weakness and tears and an ineffective muscle.
I think that’s what’s happened to my mind. The last few years of doing a lot of both paid and voluntary admin work along with being part of the blogosphere and engaging with social media for short periods have weakened my mind, left me scatty, scattered, and far more prone to being dominated by my anxieties and prey to compulsions from within and without.
Identifying what ails me has helped me to see my solution lies with monasticism. The origin of this term is in the Greek monos, ‘one’, ‘single’, ‘alone’**. It might be seen as the practice of spending time alone, apart from secular society, off the Internet in order to recover the lost wholeness of our scattered pysches.
When I speak of alone I mean away from other humans – at least noisy ones – to better hear the voices of the land and the Gods and one’s own soul. Shifting our focus from the barrage of human noise on and offline to one thing – this might be praying to a God, meditating on a myth, spending time in nature, working on a novel, perfecting a poem, crafting a necklace or a shawl.
These practices feel very important to me at the moment as an antidote to the effect our increasingly technologised jobs have on our minds. I am currently in the privileged position of being to live as a nun until my savings run out with minimal online commitments such as running the monastery, sending material to my patrons, and maintaining this blog.
I feel like I’m well on my way to conquering my email and blog checking habits, having got them down to twice a week and having countered my fears of critcisms for not responding sooner with the knowledge that the people who matter to me respect I am a monastic and need to spend time offline.
Already I have seen improvements in my ability to focus in meditation, maintain the flow of my writing and be my more mindful when working in the garden. Small changes, I know, but steps towards healing my scattered psyche.
In the first two of his essays, ‘Four Questions Concerning the Internet’ (1) Paul Kingsnorth identifies the force behind the Machine (technology/the internet) as Ahriman, an evil and destructive spirit in the Zoroastrian religion (2).
He argues that ‘the sacred and the digital not only don’t mix, but are fatal to each other. That they are in metaphysical opposition.’ ‘The digital revolution represents a spiritual crisis’ and ‘a spiritual response is needed.’ As an aid to living through ‘the age of Ahriman’ he suggests the practice of ‘technological askesis.’ He notes that the Greek word ‘askesis’ has been translated as ‘self-discipline’ and ‘self denial’ and that asceticism forms the ‘foundation stone of all spiritual practices’. Its literal translation is ‘exercise’. ‘Asceticism, then, is a series of spiritual exercises designed to train the body, the mind and the soul.’
As a nun of Annwn in the making I can relate to much of what Kingsnorth is saying. As an animist and polytheist I perceive technology and the internet to be a living being with a will of its own although I’m not sure it can be reduced to one supposedly evil spirit. I tend to see it as the co-creation of many humans and many Gods, some more benevolent, some more malevolent. Unfortunately as the hunting ground of many malicious humans and non-human entities including the one I identified as the King of Distractions last week.
I personally do not agree with the statement that ‘the sacred and the digital don’t mix’ are ‘fatal to each other’ ‘in metaphysical opposition.’ I think their relationship is more complex and ambiguous. The internet can certainly steer us away from the sacred if we’re mindlessly scrolling or using it merely for entertainment. Yet it can help us deepen our relationship with the sacred if used mindfully to view content and engage in dialogue that is thoughtful and meaningful.
Without the internet I would not have managed to reach the small but much appreciated audience I have today through my blogging and my books. The Monastery of Annwn would not exist as a virtual space of sanctuary where members feel safe to converse on the deeper aspects of spiritual practice and we wouldn’t be able to hold on-line meditations and events.
Although I didn’t have a name for it ‘technological askesis’ is something I have been practicing for a while. Firstly by leaving social media. More recently by blocking off my time on week days from when I get up at 4am until around 3pm to focus on my spiritual practice and writing and only when I have done my deeper work answering emails and using the internet.
This has helped me to be more focused and less scattered. It hasn’t been easy – not being able to check my emails has been like an itch I can’t scratch and I’ll admit I’ve given in to checking them again at around 6pm ‘just in case there’s anything I need to deal with so I can relax for the evening.’ It’s possible next week I will set them back to 6pm so I only need to check them once and I might even try a day without checking them at all (!).
As I write this I see that going to such lengths and the amount of restraint I am having to use shows that I am under the sway of forces difficult to control within and without. I have an addiction to checking my emails and my blog and much of it comes from anxiety so might be labelled ‘email/blog anxiety’. I get anxious about ‘missing something’ or having one or more email or blog comment that is long or difficult to answer and getting overwhelmed. My checking is for reassurance – making sure ‘there are none there.’
Of course this is a bit silly as I have placed strict limitations on what I subscribe to and my communications and correspondences are usually from friends and thus friendly and encouraging and usually quite positive.
I think when tackling the internet the best way forward is being mindful of how we are relating to it in terms both of our inner impulses and the forces without. Of how we are using it and how it is using us. Of the complex net of relationships it has brought us into, friendly and unfriendly, human and non-human.
Ahriman’s nature is described by John R. Hinnel: ‘He is the demon of demons, and dwells in an abyss of endless darkness in the north, the traditional home of the demons. Ignorance, harmfulness, and disorder are the characteristics of Ahriman. He can change his outward form and appear as a lizard, a snake, or a youth. His aim is always to destroy the creation of [Ahura Mazda] and to this end he follows behind the creator’s work, seeking to spoil it. As Ahura Mazda creates life, Ahriman creates death; for health, he produces disease; for beauty, ugliness. All man’s ills are due entirely to Ahriman.’ HERE
‘The first time I saw an Athonite monk pull a smartphone out from the pocket of his long black robes, I nearly fell over backwards… the pit that appeared in my stomach when I first saw a monk on the Holy Mountain with one of those black mirrors in his hand came from an instinct I’ve long had: that the sacred and the digital not only don’t mix, but are fatal to each other. That they are in metaphysical opposition.’ ~ Paul Kingsnorth, ‘The Neon God‘
He sees a monk on mount Athos take a smart phone from his black robes and nearly faints in horror
whereas I run on – a nun of Annwn with an Apple watch on my wrist telling me when I have completed split one, split two, split three, the exact mileage I have done, my pace, how many calories burned, congratulating me when I close my move ring and exercise ring, teaching me to breathe by mimicking my breath with a cool blue cloud.
When I look into the black mirror I wonder whether it is a parasite or a companion,
a trustworthy advisor or a replacement for my body’s knowing.
I pose the question – IS TECHNOLOGY HOLY?
The black plastic reminds me of the primordial material, the dark matter of the womb from which the universe was birthed,
the cauldron from which spilled the elements that would make ion-x glass, liquid crystalline, an aluminium case, a polyester with titanium strap,
the lithium ion rechargeable battery
(from cobalt mined by children in the Congo).
By age, height, weight, gender, heart beat movement, workout type it measures whether my day has been a success.
Like counting the fall of apple, cherry or orange blossoms I wonder if it is beyond good and evil?
It keeps my horarium for now and warns me when the sun will be too hot and when my heartrate is too high
Maiden, You’re chilled to the bone, You see Crawling in between the dueling Kings’ gaze (It’s said their battle lasts for several days) Entrenched in mud and slushy mustard tea Maiden, Your nails scratch ev’ry growing tree Sap bleeds, bark cracking from a longsword’s graze As You bid a fond farewell to winter’s ways Eyes budding silver-green as springtide’s plea. Maiden, do You hear Gwythyr’s golden charms? His rival’s roots now rot in fertile soil Till the wheel spins forth autumn’s rusted gold. Maiden, lost in mourning with branchlike arms Your breath descends on frozen grassy spoil And brings new life to last year’s deadly cold.
The illustration of Creiddylad is from 2021, but I never had writing to accompany it. I composed this sonnet after taking a walk outside and noticing that where I live in Canada, spring has barely begun. The ground is muddy…
As I have been writing my novel-in-progress ‘In the Deep’ and going through the process of drafting and re-drafting I have shifted from a third person omniscient perspective telling the stories of a number of the Brythonic Gods to focusing more and more closely, from a third person limited perspective, to the story of Vindos/Gwyn.
This is probably no surprise. Gwyn is my patron God. He is my Deity, He is my inspiration, He is my truth. He is the reason I get up in the morning – to worship Him and do His work whether that is writing His stories or running the Monastery of Annwn.
The realisation has finally struck me that the book I am writing and the entire series although featuring Gwyn’s family, His sister Kraideti/Creiddylad, His father, Nodens/Nudd, and His mother Anrhuna, and His enemies, the Children of Don (primarily Lugus/Lleu/Gwythyr and Uidianos/Gwydion) He is the central character. The title and my vision for the series should reflect that so I am now calling what was formerly ‘The Forgotten Gods’ ‘The King of Annwn’ cycle.’
This is a synopsis of where I am at and how I am envisaging the series at this current time.
‘I am currently writing a book called ‘In the Deep’ which reimagines how Vindos/Gwyn became King of Annwn from Welsh and Irish and wider Western European sources and envisage this as the beginning of ‘The King of Annwn’ cycle. This will tell His story through ‘the British foretime’*, the Roman invasions, Christianity, industrialisation, science and capitalism. The final book will provide a vision of an apocalyptic future exploring Gwyn’s associations with the Day of Doom and His appearance to me as a black dragon**.’
You can support my work in return for exclusive excerpts, a quarterly newsletter, and more through Patreon HERE.
*A term used by Will Parker to describe our equivalent of the mythic time preceding human history that might be seen as an equivalent to the Aboriginal dreamtime. I also know it as ‘the Time of the Gods’. **When I made my first vows to Gwyn as His apprentice at the White Spring at Glastonbury Tor in January 2013 He appeared to me as a black dragon. I have been exploring the question of how Gwyn ‘White’ becomes a black dragon since.