The Serpent’s Egg
A short anthology of poetry by Craig Cartmell
|The Blackthorn Tree|
|The Avenues of Fire|
|The Pilgrim's Lament|
|Feed The Dream|
|Being a Bard|
|The Spiral Path|
|The Eagle Sleeps No More|
|A Prayer for a Friend|
|I Am Alive!|
|Am I Mad?|
|A Bard's Dedication|
|Foreword to the 2nd Edition|
|Making a Cloak of my own.|
|The Summer King|
|Selling Faith by the Pound|
|A Winters' Tale|
|Gone With the Wind|
It has taken me years to build up the courage to do this. To actually expose my ‘dodgy doggerel’ to others. Initially I did it under pseudonyms on the web (variously ‘Matholwch’ and ‘Mochenddu’) testing what others thought of it. For, having read a lot of Kipling, Yeats and many others in my youth, I was not at all confident. However, my friends there, and on the Druid Network List, have been very encouraging. As has Geoff at The Druid’s Voice, who took the risk of publishing some (I owe that man a pint).
So here, for the first time, I bring together eighteen of my poems and ditties for you to peruse. A brief word of explanation for those who are coming across this short pamphlet by accident: I am druid. That is I follow a druidic spiritual path. My bones are oak, my heart is ash and my mind is away with the fairies…. but seriously, this my calling. If this confuses you then there are many resources out there on the web that you can call on that explain what I do far better than I can, and I encourage you to seek them out if it interests you (try OBOD and Druid Network for starters).
Part of the path of the druid involves for many, but not necessarily all, some bardic practice. Many choose to sing or to play, I am called to write. Thus much of what you read here is coloured by my druidic perspective on the world, and some of it is directly inspired by it. And that brings me neatly to inspiration and the Awen. The Awen (often reduced to the symbol /|\) is the flowing spirit of inspiration. It is everywhere and in everyone, and all artists, writers and musicians draw upon it in their creative moments. It does not dictate what you do but gives you the lift, the courage, the vision, the rush to do it.
Well, if you are still reading this, I had better let you get on to the words themselves. I hope that you will find them enjoyable and quite possibly challenging.
Craig Cartmell /|\.
I dedicate this work to Brigidh, also known as Bridey or Brid. She has drawn me along the path of the Bard and has been at my shoulder at every twist and turn. It is also dedicated to my partner Lorna, who has put up with my madness for longer than anyone should rightly have to.
This was the first poem I wrote after nearly twenty long years. It appeared almost fully-formed in my mind as I sat beside the Mawddach estuary in Merionydd. If there was ever a case of the Awen flowing in me it was with this. It required almost no revision whatsoever. The appearance of this poem, so obviously with the blessing of the Awen, reconfirmed my beliefs and set me once more upon the path of the bard and the druid.
hill, beneath the brow,
summers long, and winter’s chills,
in sky, its roots in stone,
man grow from savage child,
upon man’s great endeavour,
Norns’ hands move upon the loom,
come, and peoples go,
knows naught of human pride,
man, in your declining years,
the Blackthorn's tangled feet,
cannot be owned by one,
has seen the dark face,
the hills, beneath the stone,
sturdy Blackthorn stands,
The second of what I have come to call ‘The Mawddach Trilogy’. The others being ‘The Blackthorn Tree’ and ‘Hiraeth’. This one arose in my mind after a day’s contemplation on the meaning and importance of ancestry. How would I explain to my children, who are both Welsh, about their ancestors? The Mabinogion is one such source and once they are both of an age where they can enjoy it I shall read it to them.
I feel a bit of a fraud with this poem as I myself have a strong Norse ancestry and my family only settled in Wales some sixty years ago. I do claim to be Welsh, though my Welsh wife ribs me cruelly about my ‘saesneg roots’.
shore, I sit and feel,
watched the fleet,
last Prince of the free,
began a song of hope,
this shore, the songs go on,
Notes on Welsh Pronunciation: Many learned scholars have written tomes on this subject, and I don’t intend to follow them. However it might be useful to the reader to know a couple of the more common compound consonant sounds. For my Welsh readers please forgive the simplistic approach, but they are poor saesnegs. (Oh yes, ‘saesneg’ means Saxon or Englishman) DD or dd is pronounced ‘dth’ as in ‘breadth’. LL or ll is pronounced ‘thl’ as in ‘athlete’.
The third and final part of the ‘Mawddach Trilogy’. It reflects strongly on my work-imposed exile from my home and the influence of what the Welsh call ‘Hiraeth’. This feeling is more than mere homesickness and represents a real heart-breaking longing.
In the city
I hear her,
factory yard I see her,
the people I can feel her,
market I scent her,
In a thousand
of my distant youth,
my soul can no more be,
hill meets river’s edge,
is upon me now,
sky meets the sea,
Those of you that are on a druid or shamanistic path will recognise the spirit-animal represented here. The boar is a symbol of strength, courage and protection. Mochenddu is my guide and protector when I journey and I dedicate this verse to him.
I am Mochenddu,
leagues I tease them,
the great oak,
and famous are we,
This was originally written as the welcoming message for my first web forum ‘The Isles of the Blessed’ on Delphi. A later adaptation was made as a compliment to the moderators of the Awen list on Yahoo! And thence as a welcome to people on various other lists and forums.
here, beneath the verdant oak,
At the time of the Foot & Mouth crisis I was living deep in rural Powys at the centre of what became a ‘hotspot’. This first poem describes my initial reactions as the disease crept closer to us and MAFF officials bungled their way to an ‘Animal Armageddon’.
barn and past the gate,
field, beneath the hill,
gate, I rise from dreams,
man, foul deeds away,
of your efficient pride,
must now be learnt,
you come to understand,
money, power and glory,
then to my alarum song,
Within weeks of the outbreak of Foot & Mouth it hit a series of farms in the Severn Valley between Welshpool and Newtown simultaneously. In the space of a week the tranquil beauty of this place was transformed into a scene from Dante’s Inferno. Trenches of flame framed both sides of the main road and thick, oily smoke for nearly seven miles. The stench was almost unbearable.
Out in the
fields they call to me,
hills I hear them,
fields do deafen me,
rules this great estate,
does not have to be this way,
reject the paths of greed,
we approach old Beltane’s Eve,
An early work that explored my relationship to my Roman Catholic upbringing. For me Catholicism was defined by just one word ‘guilt’. It was hammered into me from an early age, and it is a hard thing to throw off. Now, as one on a Druid path, I am finally able to see the joy in life without looking over my shoulder…
been a God-fearing man,
paradoxes I do find,
else is there that can explain,
babe in original sin,
of His awful might,
Is it just
to live in fear?
Or is my
faith a fool’s confusion?
I turn my face against the wall?
preachers say, beyond His door,
woman once said unto me,
step then I must take,
tomes and forests wild,
I see the world with open eyes?
to a forest glade,
to throw off childhood’s’ chains,
So I look
outward with jealous eyes,
one day I will find,
into bright sunlight,
This describes a train journey I took from Cardiff to Newtown. As I sat there carrying on a silent conversation with my Goddess I was directed to observe my fellow travellers. This is the result, scribbled hastily in the flysheet of a book I was reading.
sits with me on the train,
my eyes she bites back tears,
Awen flows in fits and starts,
see through tear-frosted glass,
So my friend
reaches out and touches some,
dreams were not bound,
travail of the winter train,
So we walk
on down the path,
you walk in reason's sway,
And this is a prayer-poem I dedicated to the Goddess on the train, my patroness and that of all bards.
In the wind
I hear her, her voice in the crows,
I see her, dancing in the candles flame,
of her mind looses my thoughts,
to the embrace of the earth,
Well you can’t be serious all the time…..
so tough being a Bard,
Bard is quite a lark,
Bard ain’t no prob’,
a Bard is a sacred duty,
I’m really not sure where this came from. At the time I was running a web-forum and fending off a number of personal attacks from American Evangelical Christians. I suppose anger could be the source, and the poem makes me uncomfortable to this day.
upon an empty shore,
distance speaks a golden man,
him is a silver maid,
us on a wind-lashed hill,
us the man and maid do wait,
shall speak of ancient truth,
are many worlds in this way,
not alone upon our lifelong quest,
and women on the spiral path,
I was at home on September 11th, now known as 9-11, and I watched the events unfold with disbelieving eyes. I cried, but not just for those directly affected by the tragedy. In a very rare moment of prescience I saw the conflicts to come and the children that would die in America’s revenge. This poem was written that afternoon.
gate has fallen,
heard the Eagle's cry,
I pray for patience,
exacts a terrible price,
its fury, it shall not know,
good folk of ancient way,
you say to a friend who has done something awful and the regret is eating
them alive? As the Rubaiyet of Omar Khayyam (one of my favourite poems)
says so well:
a coiled serpent.
cares not for now, only for then.
cannot hold onto life, only onto the dead.
not give in to the serpent.
I shall not be the slave of regret.
This really is the follow-on to the Eagle Sleeps No More. In the first poem I exclaimed my fear at what was to come. This poem is a testament to my anger and confusion, and a sad reflection on the fact that I was, like so many others, proved terribly right.
lies in an empty street,
boy moans in a dusty ward,
empty, the people fled,
stares at his burning tank,
cries in a roofless hall,
the Bible and the Koran,
lies buried in the sand,
will die from filthy water,
the sea, Bush basks in glory,
He is a
man well satisfied,
This was a short piece to another friend that was meant to sting and force them to see something they did not want to see. This is the duty of friendship that you would be willing to sacrifice all the joy it brings to save them from themselves.
had a friend who said, "Get over yourself".
It continuously galls me that we people of spirit would rather spend our lives emphasising our differences and fighting over a diminishing constituency, than addressing the many problems that a world without spirit must face. The rationalists are winning the fight to establish their consensus reality, regardless of the cost in human misery, and we are letting them…
Upon a dark,
of sleep have long since fled,
the waves lap round my feet,
deep and benighted place,
at all those who’d try,
we’re Christian, Hindu or Jew,
is plain to see,
do not fight against this lie,
time now not truly right,
Moslem to embrace the Jew,
may greet a golden age,
This one grew from a discussion on the h2g2 message boards about immortality and man’s obsession with death. I seemed to be one of the few who did not regard my eventual demise with deep apprehension. Despite their ironclad faith the many Christians in the discussion were deeply anxious that they may not measure up to their God’s high standards. This poem was an attempt to explain my view – it didn’t work.
Let my joy,
from the sky resound!
the giants of our age,
In my life’s
autumn, I shall reflect,
I am done, and to earth returned,
will carry on my life’s flame,
So as for
the journey, that awaits me ahead,
Not poetry I know, but I have used this short piece of prose repeatedly in many places, especially on Internet message boards and forums. I thought I’d end this anthology with it.
I think it was Lily Tomlin who said: "If you talk to God - you are pious, if he talks to you - you are schizophrenic." She was being sarcastic. However, there are many in our culture that believes this, even amongst the outwardly pious. The realisation of this led me to ask………
I talk to my gods and spirits on a daily, even hourly basis. I carry on silent (admittedly, mostly one-sided) conversations as I drive, type on the PC, work, eat, and look after my children. Am I mad?
I see them in the trees, the rivers, the faces of people, in the light that precedes the dawn, the movement of cats? Am I mad?
I feel their joy within me and their sadness. Am I mad?
I hear their voices in the wind, the babbling of streams, the songs and cries of children. Am I mad?
They surround me as I meditate and as I perform my quiet rituals. Am I mad?
Am I mad to thank Brigidh for the fire in my head, Arawn for his comfort in the face of death, the Green Man for the peace of his forests, Diancecht for the health of my children, and Ceridwen for what little wisdom I possess?
I feel the Awen as I walk in a garden, in a forest glade, by the waters edge, on the hilltop, before my altar. Am I mad? When it is so strong that it makes me gasp and brings me to my knees, am I hysterical?
I wrote this as my dedication piece to the Order of the Yew. This was a druidic order founded by Emma Restall Orr as part of her project – The Druid Network. Uniquely, each person who wishes to join this order writes a short dedication piece describing their commitment to the druidic path and what they intend to do within it. This is then posted on The Order of the Yew page for the acclamation of their peers.
I seek to
stand as a man of honour,
I seek to
walk the path of duty,
to sing in the light of love,
to serve the spirits of the land,
to listen to the songs of my ancestors,
to work in reverence of my gods,
to walk in the company of others,
This song bugged me for weeks! The tune came first, inveigling itself into the corners of my consciousness, and I soon found myself humming it at home and work. The words came later, in little fits and starts, and normally when I had no pen to hand. But in the end my torment was worth it. I hope you think so too.
In the morning
song I hear her,
sunrise she is near me,
oh my Bridey!
I am madden
by her teasing,
day she’ll reward me,
oh my Bridey!
So much has happened since the first part of this Anthology was given to my dear friends in the Druid community. My star has waxed and waned, I have known great friendship and deep loss, and I have come to terms to my small part in the tribe of druidry.
The collection now includes at pieces of prose, including an essay on Honour, Duty and Love. My good friend Stefan of the Albion Conclave has seen fit to include it as additional reading on his excellent course. A fact I still find amazing and for which I am both embarrassed and grateful.
Over the last two years I have begun to explore my place as a feral druid. A term that began as a joke, but I found to have a strange and hidden resonance with some of my fellow ferals. An explanation lies in the pages to come.
Craig Cartmell /|\.
I have walked the path I later came to know as druidry for nearly twenty-five years now. It has been a long journey full of false starts, dead ends and marvellous friendships. During that time I was, for the most part, solitary in my meditations, devotions and small rituals. With no one to guide me I turned almost exclusively to my gods, the spirits of place and of my ancestors. Their inspiration, as you have probably felt yourselves, was frequently both baffling and frustrating.
One thing I have asked many times is “How should I live my life?” I had read reasonably widely the Celtic tales and Norse sagas, noting what chimed true for me and what didn’t, but what they all lacked was the modern context in which I lived. I am a person who finds dogma abhorrent and did not feel comfortable with simply donning someone else’s rules like an old cloak and hoping that where it did not fit well I could just ignore it.
So I chose to make a cloak of my own. I began with a long series of meditations upon the aspects I valued in my friends, my gods, the spirits and others. Over a couple of years I noted these, sorted them and refined them. Then I looked them over and considered which aspects I would like to aspire to.
Well the cloak was made and I have worn it for some years now. I feel that where it does not fit I have strived to grow so that now it is more me and I am more it. There are still places within me that need considerable work and that I may not complete in this life.
I was asked to write this piece as an example of what you can do for yourself if you wish. The key is that it must be your cloak. You can borrow the material and thread, and even parts of the pattern, but you must make it yourself. I suggest that make it roomy to allow yourself to grow and do take care of it, for when the world is raining on your parade it will keep you warm and dry.
The three main parts of my cloak are Honour, Duty and Love. Each one in their turn has three parts and is described below. I chose triads because they seemed right for me and reflect the Celtic love of the number three. They are also easy to remember, which is important for me as I have an appalling memory.
I hope that you find this short essay useful. If you join the Carnyx group (the Albion Conclave’s online forum) I’d be happy to discuss this with you further, or you can pass your comments and questions back through the course organisers.
Honour is an odd concept. Like respect it cannot be taken, only given. You earn it by your actions from the world around you.
Honour has been a cornerstone of the cultures of many of the greatest civilisations in history. To have it was everything, to lose it was to lose everything. Samurai would commit seppuku, Romans would fall upon their swords, and Celts and Vikings would commit acts of suicidal bravery in order to restore their lost 'honour'. In medieval Europe honour became the basis of the notion of 'Chivalry'. A code of fairness and courtesy.
However, I do not feel entirely happy with these interpretations of the concept of honour. To be honourable, in my opinion, takes more than good manners and a fanatical regard for your reputation.
Honour breaks down into three philosophies:
Another odd concept, but this time one that must be accepted, never imposed. Again it is a cornerstone of 'civilised' or social behaviour.
Duty relies on three philosophies:
Love is possibly the most misunderstood of all three concepts. Let me make something clear at the beginning of this essay - love is not an emotion. The reduction of the concept of love to an individual projection of passion is one of the greatest tragedies of western civilisation.
One of the main problems we encounter is the mistaking of 'passion' for 'love'. We are in 'love' with someone, we must be near them, we must own their heart... can you hear the pain? Passion is an overwhelming desire to know that someone else cares for you. It is obsessive, and ultimately self-destructive. We have lost the true meaning of 'love', and are now desperate to have it.
Many relationships founder because of this mistaking of passion for love.. Passion is generated at the beginning of the relationship by desire, both physical and emotional. This bio-chemical reaction overrides all sense and the two people 'fall in love'. Passion, however, is very difficult to maintain for any length of time. It simply consumes too much energy. Soon it begins to fall away to a more easily maintained and much lower level. Then the two people have to maintain their relationship with whatever is left. If they were not friends beforehand, or have not become friends, then there is precious little to work with.
Unfortunately this last century, through the growth of the media and popular culture, this pursuit of 'love' has become an obsession. In earlier times people often married those they knew well. Courtship could take years, and as a result many relationships were founded on the bedrock of friendship and mutual respect. Indeed those that undertook an obsessive quest for 'love' were seen as sick or demented, to be pitied or cured.
Now we live in a society with precious little real love and a surplus of disappointment and bitterness.
Love, in its true form, is (as I said before) not an individual feeling or an emotion. Love is a way of life, a way of presenting your 'self' to the world and the people/beings you interact with. To understand this better we need to examine the three main tenets of Love.
I have practiced my path alone for nearly thirty years, not knowing how wide the path had become. It is only in the last five years that I have reached out and contacted others of my ilk and it was only in 2003 that I actually ‘went public’. This poem was written in gratitude to all the people at that Druid Camp in the Forest of Dean who welcomed me to their firesides and taught me so much in just four days.
I had a
dream, that I once trod,
in grey and black and white,
upturned face it fell,
I sat among
them, an awestruck yokel,
here alone, in the dark,
folk, till we next meet,
This was written in celebration of the Summer Solstice. I expect that as the Awen flows I shall write companion pieces for the Winter Solstice and the two equinoxes. I have used it once so far and it brought a great feeling of joy to my little circle.
the moor you dazzle me,
the day you play with me,
day’s end you gently flow,
the depth of night’s ebon veil,
So I sing
to you my summer king,
My dear friend Judith and others have encouraged me to explore publicly what I have jokingly referred to as 'feral druidry'. This has led me to a lot of reflection as the term feral seems to have taken on a life of its own in my dreams and meditations.
So let's have at it shall we?
What does it mean to be 'feral'?
To me, being
feral is a state of mind and a shift of perspective, not a label, an order
or a path. Many people, who may be well-established in their orders, respected
on their paths or who already bear known and trusted labels, may also
find that they could be considered feral.
is feral is one who has reached out and tapped the savage and primitive
heart of their being and their connection to the ancient and undiscovered
strength of their land.
are full of raw emotion, nature red in tooth and claw, surprising and
frequent perspective changes as the dreamer transforms themself through
many forms, stag to fox to salmon to oak to pool to beetle to woman to
man to wind etc.
To be feral
is to have gone through a perspective shift on the world such that at
a thought you can see the real world overlaid with its wilder self.
Trees move and sing, the land thrums with lines of energy, the sky coruscates with wild light and chaotic intensities. Indeed the difficulty once you experience this perspective shift is drawing your senses back to the mundane reality of now.
Who is feral?
As I said
before, just about anyone.
How does one become feral?
answer is that I do not know. No feral I know has deliberately set out
to achieve what they have been blessed with, and some would genuinely
be happy to lose it, shocking as that may seem.
labels everywhere! I had not named this concept 'feral' until some jokey
conversations on the Druid Network forum inspired it, but it seems to
fit very snugly. So much so that it has had me thinking long and hard
about it (thanks Judith, Ani, Little Raven et al).
how many of you recognise that feral state of mind, that perspective shift?
And I'd be fascinated to hear from you so that we can share tales.
A good while back I was invited to join a Yahoo! group called ‘Chantsudbeafinething’. This bunch of mad bards celebrate the ridiculousness of the pagan condition in odd verse. How could I resist? Below is my first contribution to that group’s collective folly
that sells, the Vicar said,
guilt that sells, the Rabbi said,
the Imam said,
sells, the bald monk said,
sell, the priestess said,
sells, the Yogi said,
sells, said the medicine man,
the wizard said,
sells, the heathen said,
sell, the druid said,
nothing I’d buy, the atheist said,
My first poem of 2006, composed a few days after my father died.
I will go
down to the woods tonight,
that ebon fastness lies,
I listen to that ancient lay,
I shall walk the faerie path,
laid upon damasked tables bright,
the morn I shall awake,
glory lies in man’s great splendour,
out your noisesome solstice bells,
One cold winter solstice at the Rollright Stones a mad old druid begins to wonder why he is there and not in front of a nice warm fire with a large glass of mulled wine…
drips down my neck,
As I stand
before these stones,
most people think me mad,
stones still draw me in,
I could put a finger,
leaves me in the dawn,
age is now at hand,
back home is long,
So I will
sing out loud,