I must have been about eight when Dad first read Alan Garner’s ‘The Owl Service’ to me. Enchanted by the story, and finding it well and truly under my skin, I gobbled up the Kevin Crossley Holland Mabinogian, and from that point, owls and Blodeuwedd were very much with me.
For those not familiar with the stories, Blodeuwedd is made out of flowers by two magicians, for a man who’s mother cursed him such that he would have no wife of mortal race. She falls in love with someone else, arranges her husband’s murder and is punished by being turned into an owl. (It’s a long, complex, magical story and worth reading properly.) I found her story resonant and it travelled with me through the challenges of my teenage years. The traditional interpretation of Blodeuwedd is of betrayer, corrupter, cheat. To me, she was a wronged creature, made to serve another but not made to love him, neglected, seeking love elsewhere and betrayed by her lover. For me, turning from flower maiden into owl always seemed like freedom and escape. Blodeuwedd might also be seen as representing humanity’s desire to shape, control and direct nature, and the ultimate futility of so doing. It’s a story that resonates on many levels.
There have been several defining moments in my relationship with Blodeuwedd and owls. The first came at Clun Green Man day, quite some years ago, when I opted to sit in on a concert from some bloke I’d never heard of, and he proceeded to sing about Blodeuwedd in a way that echoed my own thoughts about her. I was stunned, brought close to tears, and filled with the realisation that it wasn’t just me. ‘Some bloke’ turned out to be Damh the Bard – who has been a significant influence on my journey down the bardic and druidic paths. Here’s one of his songs, telling the story
Event number two, happened at Birmingham museum, when an ancient figure from a country that would now be part of Iraq was brought there. We were at war with Iraq, and Bobcat and Honouring the Ancient Dead arranged a gathering at the museum. (More here – http://www.honour.org.uk/node/256) The goddess depicted on the tablet, had owl wings. A different owl goddess from my own, but a figure I felt moved to encounter. It was the first time I looked into the darkness, before a plunging down into some devastatingly hard times. In that moment of encounter, I had a sense of the challenges to come, although not the specific form they would take. I sang. I have a song from my teens about Blodeuwedd, which was wholly inappropriate. I rewrote it as I sang it in honour of The Queen of The Night. I have no idea how, or what I sang, but it felt right. It was the first time that kind of wild improvising had happened to me in ritual, but by no means the last.
Event number three came as part of the OBOD druid course – www.druidry.org The visualisation that sparked it was a simple one, inviting us to reach out to an animal guide. Although there are many creatures that inspire me, owls retain a special place in my heart. So, there I was, meditating quietly, contemplating owls, when a profound sense of owlness came to me. Shortly followed by an even more profound sense of being swallowed whole by it. Now, meditation can just be a brain workout or a way of being calm, but sometimes it’s a much deeper, more affecting experience. This was one such occasion. I was inside the owl. I stayed inside the owl for several days, stumbling through my regular life in a state of bewilderment and disorientation, until eventually it coughed me up. An experience that taught me to take these things seriously, and that marked me in far deeper way.
I’ll post the song tomorrow.