I recently met up with a friend, another Welsh Druid, in a local pub. Over the course of a few beers, many topics came up in conversation, but one has stuck with me. We noted that before the year 2000, the Mari Lwyd was not at all well-known, even in Wales. Since then, though, she has become, not exactly mainstream, but quite recognisable and a definite part of contemporary Welsh culture, with new Maris and new groups popping up all over the place. A video which I watched recently shows dozens of Mari Lwyds gathering in one place, and there will of course have been others which didn’t attend. It’s very striking how this element of traditional culture rose from obscurity to a new prominence and vitality. Clearly the Mari is speaking to something in our collective psyche, even if I’m not sure what that is.
I find myself suspecting that the same is happening with Gwyn ap Nudd.
I was recently stunned by a picture I saw promoting a Halloween competition run by the Mentrau Iaith. These are organisations spread around Wales, working to promote and develop the use of the Welsh language in their local communities. This year, they are organising a skull-decorating competition in honour of Gwyn ap Nudd. (I’d love to include the image here, but for copyright reasons I’d better not. Please go and take a quick look, though, it’s worth it).
When this appeared in my social media feed, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The sheer pagan nature of it would surely have been unthinkable even quite recently, and the idea that downloading a template to make a cardboard skull, to be decorated as a family activity – well, just wow. Something has shifted. I really feel a hope that the Welsh are truly beginning to reconnect with their ancient gods.
In particular, they seem to be sensing the imminent return of Gwyn ap Nudd, and this is quite telling because, in all the years I’ve lived in Wales as child and adult, no-one talked about him. The Children of Dôn? Yes. The Children of Annwn? Yes. The Children of Llŷr? Yes. All the characters of the Four Branches, and the main characters of the other tales of the Mabinogion were well-known, and a part of popular culture – but Gwyn ap Nudd? Not at all.
So why is Gwyn now rising in the awareness of the Welsh, and of pagans around the world? I fear the answer to that question is not a comforting one.
As I came into the pagan world, the world of Druidry, I kept hearing people talking about ‘Tower Time’. Prominent amongst them was John Beckett, whose blog I found very informative. He discusses Tower Time here. I don’t agree with him on some of the points he makes, but these are details. Briefly, Tower Time refers to the tarot deck; the card representing the Tower implies the collapse of complex structures; of pride being humbled; of the fall of the mighty.
I think that this time is upon us. This seems clear simply from analysis of political, economic, and environmental news, and seeing clear trends. More than this, astrologers who are regarded as highly credible by practising occultists (which I’m not, I just get news on the fringes) are pointing out that an astrological Grand Mutation occurring in December 2020 will usher in a massive shift in global culture and philosophy, as did previous Grand Mutations in 1425, 1663, and 1842. What does this mean?
Since the end of the Second World War, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, we in the Western, developed, countries have developed a social and economic system that has gradually enveloped the globe. We have enriched ourselves by sucking in the resources of the entire planet, living lives more luxurious than any emperor of the past. Many people reading this will disagree that they are rich. They will compare themselves with the celebrities they see in the media, with the politicians and CEOs whose multi-billion fortunes are behind comprehension, and they will say ‘no, I am not rich at all’. That is the wrong comparison to make. The correct comparison is with the people who live in the shanty towns of Africa, or the impoverished countryside regions of China, where people are truly poor – and there are many more of them. Compared to them – and I have seen these places with my own eyes – we are indeed rich and prosperous.
Worse than this, we have convinced ourselves that we deserve this prosperity because we are virtuous. We perceive ourselves as being the inevitable outcome of Progress. This is the hubris of Francis Fukuyama, and his followers: we represent “the end of history”, because we are the pinnacle of human development.
He was wrong, and we are wrong, and the time of reckoning is approaching. The way we live has spread death and destruction around the world. We have devastated the natural environment, and changed the climate of the planet itself. We have caused the ice caps to melt, and the oceans to rise. Other cultures with different values have lost patience and are now insisting that they will no longer be told how to live by the West – and they have the strength to do this.
This is Gwyn ap Nudd’s time. I’ve written extensively about what Gwyn has communicated to me: that humanity has become too destructive, and that Gwyn must now act to stop us, in order to protect the trees, and the places and interests of the Fair Folk.
Gwyn does not act directly. There will be no Hollywood-style apocalypse with gods walking the earth wreaking destruction. Gwyn works by making us lose our way: by clouding our vision and our minds, and by driving us to terror and madness, so that in the mist and darkness we run to our doom. Can you not see his work around you already?
I want to explore this via a vignette, an article in the news recently which I found very troubling. In this mundane story, we can see larger patterns. It seems that fly-tipping is raging across Britain. This raises a conversation that we, as Druids, urgently need to have with ourselves.
For anyone unfamiliar with the term, the Cambridge English Dictionary defines fly-tipping as:
illegally leaving things that you do not want next to a road, in fields, in rivers, etc.
I’m originally from a small country town and, over the past few years, I’ve seen a growing number of dismayed complaints in the local Facebook group as people discover piles of rubbish dumped in country lanes, in fields, woodland, and so on. What’s being dumped isn’t usually ordinary domestic waste; it’s the contents of houses that are being cleared out, the debris from building and decorating work, and the like.
The reason for this is, of course, to save money. Increasingly, local councils are charging people if they want to dispose of rubbish in bulk. People don’t want to pay the fees, so they dump their rubbish instead, despoiling the natural environment and leaving it to be other people’s problem. Notably, not only is it becoming more common, but the people responsible are becoming more assertive about doing it, and more violent towards those who try to stop them. This says to me that this is a symptom of a deep and growing problem in our society. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed and, if we Druids really believe the things we fondly tell each other that we believe, we Druids need to be up front and in the lead of the response.
We in the developed countries have become accustomed to cheap, disposable products. We don’t want to know where these things come from. We don’t want to know what they were made from. We don’t want to know where they go once they are no longer wanted. The one thing we do know is that we don’t want to deal with the disposal costs. We don’t even know what these costs are. We’ve become accustomed to just sending our waste away, for other people to deal with.
Where has it been going? It’s been going to landfill sites in our own countries, where it’s just buried away, out of sight, a toxic environmental catastrophe we bequeath to our children, and to theirs. We ship it away to poorer countries for ‘disposal’ – which very often means it’s just dumped, while middlemen pocket the money.
Now destination countries such as China are refusing to accept other countries’ waste. More than that, they’re starting to return some of the waste that has already been sent to them; Malaysia, for example, is returning plastic waste to Wales. At the same time, landfill sites in the countries of origin are filling up; it’s no longer possible to just bury the waste out of sight. It needs to be sorted, cleaned, and recycled in fact – not just as a convenient myth. This is very expensive. The cost of sorting and recycling is increasing dramatically but this is a time when local governments are being faced with increasing demands and diminishing resources. They don’t have the funds to pay for recycling waste. Instead, the cost has to be covered by the people who are producing the waste – which most fair-minded people would agree is naturally just.
Unfortunately, too many people can’t afford to pay for their waste to be recycled. Too many of those who can afford it, don’t want to. Hence, the huge increase in fly-tipping, still expecting – demanding, even -that other people should bear the cost. They are becoming violent when people try to stop them.
There is a clear moral here: for the first time, we in the West are being forced to confront the full cost of our way of life, and we are being told we have to bear that full cost ourselves, and we cannot. We are being forced to understand that we are not special, we are not innately entitled to the way we have been living, and that we are going to have to give up our way of life because we cannot pay for it. This is driving people insane. The entire mental model our society has had of its place in the world is crumbling, and people simply cannot cope with this. Worse, we are only in the early days of this process, because once the resources we have been plundering dry up, we are broke, broke, broke. We are going to see a mental breakdown of cataclysmic proportions in our societies. The traumas of Brexit in the UK, and of the Trump Administration in the US are simply the beginning.
What are the implications of this for us as Druids?
On the material, practical level, there are other and better ways to respond. I expect that as the problem grows and continues, we will see a large growth in the number and activities of community protection groups. These are probably going to be autonomous, very local – and to a large extent, unregulated. I would further expect them to become more significant as people realise their effectiveness, to become more organised, and to start to operate in other areas of local life and administration – especially at times when government is in retreat from civil life due to declining funds.
We will, in other words, begin to see a reversion to the kind of small, local groups fulfilling the kind of role that was once played by the clan and the tribe. It’s also the kind of role that gave rise to the Mafia, and that’s why action from Druids is critical at this point.
Gwyn ap Nudd has begun his work to protect nature. The Tower has begun to fall. Across the developed world, societies are fracturing, governments are withdrawing from civil life and public services, and people are losing their bearings as the life they’ve always known seeps away. As they seek to find meaning, and to make sense of what’s happening, what values will guide them? What new belief structure will they cling to?
In mainland Europe, I think that traditional faith structures and community identities remain sufficiently strong to fill this role again. In the English-speaking world, though, traditional faith of Christianity has almost entirely lost its hold. Christian identity has been replaced by consumer identity. Prosperity has fostered an individualism based on satisfaction of material desire, and a worldview that says everything is a matter of our personal narrative. Faith, not only in Christianity but in paganism as well, has become a matter of what’s now being called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism“, in which the divine is understood to exist primarily to help us feel good about ourselves.
Western societies currently have no ‘faith’ beyond this cult of the individual. As the world changes, though, people will seek certainty and meaning. This is a very dangerous time for us Druids. If people seek their answers in a resurgence of strict and intolerant monotheism, be it a resurgent for of Christianity, or Islam, we are in big trouble. If, instead, they seek to maintain their consumption regardless of the cost to others, we will see a Mafia society emerge. Alternatively, the certainties of fascism will seem comforting to many.
None of these options will have a place for Druids.
There is another option, though. As Druids we can become more public, and offer a better alternative. We can promote a worldview of living more simply; of revering and living harmoniously with nature; of finding fulfilment through the Bardic arts rather than material consumption; of finding meaning in a polytheistic world rather than one God, or one Leader. Druidry can offer a moral structure, and a way of life, that provides a positive, constructive, and sustainable way of life.
I’m aware that this will not be welcome to many Druids, who want their Druidry to be a purely personal matter. I think I need to address this in a separate post. For those who agree that if society is to change dramatically, becoming poorer and simpler on the way, it’s better if Druidic values help to shape the change… well, we need to start thinking about the best ways to achieve this. In the meantime, any Druid in the UK, whether solitary or socially engaged, might consider joining the Druid Network, which has achieved legal status for Druidry as a religion, and works to raise the profile of our beliefs.