How I came to the British Mysteries

Rod writes about the Owl Service by Alan Garner, a book which many people remember with a frisson.

Singing Head

One of the reasons I am so pleased that The Dancing Floor film is being made is that my first contact with the mysteries was through something similar. Looking back, I see that contact as the start of a path that I have walked all my life. I hope that The Dancing Floor will become a doorway into the mysteries for a new generation.

I’m talking about way back in the 1960s when I was a teenager, avidly reading books and watching anything on TV that fed my curiosity for the mysterious side of life. I remember quite clearly watching the first episode of a children’s TV programme called The Owl Service,  based on Alan Garner’s book of the same name.

In the story three modern-day teenagers are caught up in the legend of Blodeuwedd, playing out a tale of betrayal, revenge and forgiveness against a background of class conflict and sexually-charged…

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The Dancing Floor

The Dancing Floor

MY friend Rod’s interesting blog about the film

Singing Head

My friend Lyn Webster Wilde is making a film with its roots in the mythology of ancient Britain, which promises to be a magical experience! As she says on her fundraising site:

The Dancing Floor is suffused with images from one of the most enigmatic stories in the Mabinogion, which tells how the virgin Arianrhod bears a child, how men can be turned into animals – and back again, and how the virgin’s child becomes a miracle boy who is transformed into an eagle, eaten by a pig and finally restored by his uncle’s love!

The film is set in the present day, and at its core is a riddle: how do we find ‘what is lost’? In the film we see this through the heroine Sita’s eyes. Sita is half Indian and half Welsh, half scientist and half mystic, and she is pushed right to the edge of herself, and…

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The Children of Don and the Four Hallows of Britain

The Children of Don and the Four Hallows of Britain

With all the news about refugees at the moment, I have been thinking: why would anyone want to donate to our film crowdfunding campaign when there are so many other more urgent humanitarian causes? One answer might be that hanging behind the Dancing Floor film is the tradition of the Children of Don, the race who, the Irish sources tell us, brought magic to these islands. They brought the ‘Four Hallows’ to Britain, that’s the Stone (of Fal), the Cauldron (of the Dagda), the Sword (of Nuadu) and the Spear (of Lugh).

The Sword in the Stone
The Sword in the Stone

These arise in all sorts of moments and combinations in our national life and mythology, for instance in the Stone of Sovereignty which the monarch sits on to get crowned, the sword which is pulled out of the stone by the rightful monarch, Arthur, and the spear which with which Lleu (Welsh form of Lugh) slays his rival, which then flies on to pierce a stone right through. The cauldron turned up on Welsh TV on Saturday night as part of the ten year celebration of the Millennium Centre – in a magnicently over-the-top enactment of the story of the birth of Taliesin a gigantic golden cauldron was propelled round the centre by beaked giants while Ceridwen (Sian Cothi) shrieked from a lightning-struck tree! This cauldron was that of inspiration, but in other forms its known as the ‘cauldron of regeneration’ which I prefer.

The giant cauldron where Taliesin gets his inspiration
The giant cauldron at the Millennium Centre on Saturday. where Taliesin gets his inspiration

Which all shows that the Welsh are particularly at home with myth – though the stunning opening ceremony for the Olympic games shows that its actually British national talent too.

You could say the Four Hallows create a magical foundation for the British psyche, from which is built the integrity of our state and our democratic system. Certainly Corbyn and Cameron can fight but inside the cauldron of parliament they are held safe and we can believe that Britain will not soon be riven and decimated by civil war, unlike Syria.

It is this foundation, this solidity which makes Syrians, Somalians and other war-torn people want to come and live here. And makes us value our freedoms. And maybe sometimes this foundation needs reinforcing, not by politicians but by creative workers like artists, writers, film-makers, to make sure the legacy of the ‘Children of Don’ continues and their stories and symbols stay embedded in our consciousness.  This is what magic really does, good magic.

Swept away by an old tale!

Swept away by an old tale!
Wayland Boulanger tells Lleu's tale, accompanied by Gill Stevens  and Dyland Fowler
Wayland Boulanger tells Lleu’s tale, accompanied by Gill Stevens and Dyland Fowler at our film fund launch in Hay Castle

At the launch event for our film funding campaign I told this story, as an illustration of the galvanising power of the tales in the Mabinogion once you start interacting with them.

Years ago I had come to Wales with a group of friends, also researchers into our native tradition. We were staying in North Wales, near the sites where many of the events of the fourth branch tale ‘Math’ are set, and this day we were acting out the moment when Lleu Llaw Gyffes is slain by his rival Gronw, having been betrayed by his wife, Blodeuwedd, the ‘woman of flowers’.  It was December, around the winter solstice, and we’d gone to the actual river Cynfael where, it’s said Lleu stood on the back of a goat, under a makeshift thatch,with one foot on a cauldron and  naked as the dawn, to demonstrate to his wife the obscure conditions under which he could be killed.

Mark, a young actor of daredevil temperament, was playing Lleu and he jumped across the fast-flowing river to a stone in the middle to act out his part.  Mike stood on the bank, as Gronw, with a pretend spear ready to throw.   He threw it and Mark made the required shriek which presages Lleu’s change into an eagle, then threw his arms in the air and was swallowed by the swollen river.  As he was swept downstream I was visualising the newspaper headlines and the ruin of our fascinating project, never mind the drowning of our reckless friend.

A hundred yards downstream, we fished him out and made a fire to dry his clothes.  He was cocky as ever and none the worse for wear. But the lesson was, and I have never forgotten it: these tales are about the Children of Don, the Plant Don, the Tuatha de Danaan, the race who are said to have ‘brought magic to these islands’.  Don’t mess with their tales, they are powerful stuff and they can sweep you away to shores you never dreamed of.

The tale mentioned above is the fourth story in the Mabinogion and is the inspiration behind the Dancing Floor Film.  Have a look at our crowdfunding site and support us if you can.  We want to spread the magic of the Plant Don around the world!