Saturday 2 October 2010

The Berwyn Mountains of Poetic Adventure

I first became interested in the mysteries and folklore of the Welsh borders in 1990 when I was very fortunate to witness an amazing paranormal manifestation at Pistyll Rhaeadr, a spectacular waterfall dramatically sited in the mysterious Berwyn Mountains. This small range of heather clad mountains, virtually unknown outside north-east Wales has a rich and diverse folklore and mythology. The area lies west of Oswestry and is bordered by the Dee valley and Llangollen. It is an area of outstanding beauty, natural history and mythology. Folklore seems to permeate every valley, hill and stream.

The Berwyn Mountains of Poetic Adventure

by Alex Langstone

April 1990.
Psychic questing surreal visualisations of piercing dragons, morphing into a blood-red waking-dream. Awake energy of old, awake! Primordial chaotic raw energy, released from the ancient Post Coch standing stone. Shadowy psychic stories fill my mind as we brave the elemental power of Gwybr of Llanrhaeadr. Twilight red creeps across the land, but no rosy sunset has been seen here. The ancient legend has been re-enacted and darkness has fallen. We seek the healing sanctuary of the Pistyll Rhaeadr.

We arrive at the Pistyll Rhaeadr waters of light. It is a dark night. The roar of the watery cascade is deafening. The white foaming cataract fluctuates between a ghostly white lady and a shimmering gateway beyond time and space. Indistinct creatures move in the darkness and a green dragon unfurls beneath the shadowy fronds growing around the plunge pool. This resplendent delightful place of natural beauty offers us the protective nourishing guardianship that we seek, and we are thankful for sanctuary. The sanctuary of Elen, the white lady of the rhaeadr. As we become accustomed to the dark surroundings and the constant reverberation of the falls several members of the assembly plunge themselves into the cool flowing waters of the Druid's Bowl pool, immediately beneath the ghostly deluge. Strange flickering lights are seen above and amongst the falling water. Many of us witness this simultaneously. Unseen presences are with us and we await with much anticipation as to what may or may not happen. A few stars shine down from a partially clouded night sky and the atmosphere of this beautiful place is powerfully charged and lively with cross-dimensional and mostly unobserved mystical activity. More silver flashing lights are seen at the top of the waterfall and something, possibly an object, is seen to be falling with the water for the briefest of seconds. Intangible and unsure, for whatever it was has disappeared. The ethereal cascade of the rhaeadr a constant mythic soundtrack to our nightime poetic adventure. We ritually wash our faces and hands in the river, purifying energies are released from the fast flowing water. Then three of us all see something dropping from the top of the falls, a small flash of light, like a starburst tumbles down with the water. What is it? What is happening? One of the group is in the water, then two, then me. We are searching for something. I then see a ripple of silver light in the water, then a larger flash of light just below the surface. Then I see a physical object bob up and down. A hand plunges into the water and an object in hurled into the cool night air, as it tumbles back towards the water it is caught. A turquoise Celtic cross. A gift from the waterfall. A gift from the spirit of the place. A meaningful gift for us all. For me it is a sign of the future, a symbolic representation of my esoteric poetic future. Goddess Elen thank you. (1)

Above: The Celtic Cross artefact, which mysteriously appeared
on the
night of 22nd April 1990, at the base of Pistyll Rhaeadr.

April 2009.
After 19 years, my interest in Pistyll Rhaeadr has been renewed. During the first week of April 2009 I had a very vivid dream. I was standing at the base of a huge waterfall. It was twilight and as I looked up I saw a white stag standing above at the edge of the precipice. This powerful image stayed with me for many days until I realised its significance. My sister and her family had recently moved house, leaving the flat fens of Eastern England for the rugged Welsh border country. During a visit to their new house, I quickly realised that Pistyll Rhaeadr was their local beauty spot. I was intrigued and we visited the falls and a few days later, where I was able to re-live the drama of 19 years previously, when I had spent an intensely magical evening at the spot with Andrew Collins and friends whilst on a particularly meaningful part of the seven swords quest. More importantly, I was able to visualise my dream of a white stag peering down from the top of the waterfall. I also spent some time in Oswestry library, researching the area around the waterfall. It was during this library visit that I realised the significance of my dream, and what it meant.

The ancient abode of Gwyn.

The Berwyn (Bre Gwyn) Mountains above Pistyll Rhaeadr are very special. In Welsh mythology they represent the physical and geographical location of Annwn, the Celtic Otherworld, the place where the spirits of the dead reside in the mythology of the ancient Britons. The Otherworld kingdom of Annwn is ruled by the ancient British deity Gwyn ap Nudd - pronounced Gwin ap Neeth, king of the fae folk the Tylwyth Teg and patron of the land of the dead. He and his people live in a wonderful shining white palace beneath the purple Berwyn’s. Travellers on the moors of the Berwyn’s will sometimes suddenly be presented with this wonderful apparition and invited to join in the feasting and dancing. But anyone who chooses to do so remains in the palace of Gwyn. The only way to escape is to try to resist temptation and refuse the wonderful feast.

There are numerous old stories told about local people who went missing after a night on the Berwyn’s. The most famous of which is the tale of St Collen of Llangollen, who walked onto the mountains to confront Gwyn, armed only with a bottle of holy water. Challenged by Gwyn to step into the great halls of the
dead, he accepted. He debated long and hard with Gwyn, refusing all offers of food and drink, and eventually the vision faded away into the mist and he returned safely. A jolly tale of medieval Christian one-up-manship. Gwyn’s powerful presence though has remained and the Berwyn Mountains still provide a stunning backdrop into the living presence of the Celtic Lord of Otherworldly adventures. It is easy to visualise Gwyn’s ghostly wild hunt flying across the night sky here. Indeed flying manifestations of another kind have been seen in these haunted hills. The area has been given the dubious title of Britain’s Roswell, due to the high profile UFO incident of January 1974. (2)

There are many references to the all powerful Gwyn on the Berwyn’s. Just above the waterfall is the summit of Post Gwyn (the great stone of Gwyn) and nearby the pass Bwlchgwyn. Above the stone is Cadair Berwyn,
the seat or throne of Gwyn's glowing white palace . Cadair Berwyn is also the highest peak in the range standing at 830m (2,723 ft). Below the summit can be found Llyn Lluncaws, a lake where, according to folklore, a wise fish lives. This oracular lake sitting below the seat of Gwyn adds even more mystery to the area, and gives us tantalising glimpses into another world, which is truly easy to pass into in these beautiful hills. In Welsh folklore it is common to find the belief that entry into Annwn is through a lake on top of a hill or mountain. The area of land above the waterfall is intriguingly called Rhos y Beddau, the moor of the graves, and the land here is dotted with bronze age cairns. So Gwyn is linked to death and transformation where he guards the otherworld, his divine kingdom and ancestral home.

Gwyn is associated with other areas of Britain, most notably Glastonbury Tor, where an almost identical legend is told of St Collen. Back in Wales he is also identified with the Vale of Neath in the south (3) and with a dramatic hillfort sited by the banks of the River Dee near Corwen. Gwyn may also be associated with Cornwall. Gwynngala, the Cornish language word for September is beautifully poetic and meaningful; translating as white or blessed straw. The cereal harvest completes during September and the white straw stubble is left in the fields. The transformation of grain into food is underway and we are heading straight into autumn's decay. Yuri Leitch has connected Gwyn to North Cornwall at St Nectan's Glen via Gwyn’s father Nudd otherwise known as the ancient river god Neath or Nodens (4). He may also be connected to Carn Marth, a high hill in south west Cornwall which rises to 235 metres. The hill is part of the Carnmenellis plateaux, an area of rough moorland which includes other notable hills such as Carn Brea. The hill lies close to the village of Gwennap, and again Yuri Leitch suggests that this area echoes the ancient cries of Gwyn. So it seems that Gwyn may preside over parts of Cornwall, and I am tempted to link the autumn equinox with Gwyn via Gwynngala. It seems only right to have Gwyn as patron of September and autumn, as the Cornish language name for the month may suggest. It is also interesting to note that the feast of St Michael is celebrated on September 29th. Michael has replaced Gwyn at some of his ancient sites (such as Glastonbury Tor) and in many ways Michael and Gwyn share similar attributes. For example - Michael guards the gates of heaven, whilst Gwyn presides over the Celtic otherworld of Annwn. Both have fiery, glowing energies and both preside over high hills and mysterious places of immense power.

Above: White Stag by Yuri Leitch

The Sacred River Dee.
The importance of the river Dee in the folklore of North Wales is huge. One of the earliest recorded names of the Dee is the Deova, meaning the holy river of the goddess. The river is associated with the legend of the Fisher King, keeper of the Holy Grail and sovereign of the land. Welsh folklore links Castle Corbenic, the ancient domain of the Fisher King, with the site of Castell Dinas Brân, which sits high up on a hilltop overlooking the river Dee at Llangollen. This romantically sited Grail Castle can be seen for miles and dominates the surrounding river valley. Gwyn is also linked to the great river, as mentioned above. By the sacred banks of the Dee close to Corwen we find Caer Drewyn (Gwyn's Fort). Nearby at Cynwyd is the whitewashed church of All Saints at Llangar. The medieval building stands in an idyllic setting overlooking the confluence of the Dee and Alwen rivers. The church retains many ancient features, including extensive 15th century wall paintings, including a deer, a 17th century figure of death (below), old beams and old box pews.

There is a curious legend associated with the founding of the church site. The tradition is that Llangar Church was to have been built near the spot where the Cynwyd Bridge crosses the Dee. Indeed, we are told that the masons set to work, but all the stones they laid in the day were gone during the night and no one knew of their whereabouts. The builders were warned, supernaturally, that they must seek a spot where they found a Carw Gwyn (white stag). The following evening they glimpsed a white stag in a clearing at the rivers edge. The church was originally called Llan-garw-gwyn - the church of the white stag - from whence we get Llangar. Here we have the ancient mystical symbol of Gwyn ap Nudd on the banks of the sacred river Dee and on the edge of the Berwyn Mountains, his ancestral home.

Elen of the Rhaeadr?

I have been intrigued by the appearance of Goddess Elen at Pistyll Rhaeadr. There do not appear to be any legends of white ladies attached to the falls, as are found at numerous other waterfall sites across Britain. Yet Elen poetically appeared to us in 1990, and has appeared to me at the falls again more recently. I feel that this is a powerful portal into the energies that manifest as Elen.
The Welsh word Elen actually means nymphe and Elin in Welsh translates as shining light. The English name Ellen comes from the Greek language and also means bright or shining light. This is similar to the meaning of Gwyn or Gwen meaning fair, bright or white. In old or middle Welsh and in modern Cornish Gwyn also has the meaning of holy, pure, blessed and sacred. The feminine form, Gwen, is the root of Gwenhwyfar, the original Welsh form of Guinevere. Maybe these are tantalising clues as to the true identity of the guardian goddess of Pistyll Rhaeadr?

Whatever the case, the Berwyn Mountains are a poets dream. A thin place, where time slows and the space between the spaces expand to allow us glimpses and experiences from other dimensions. Pistyll Rhaeadr is the luminous liminal gateway to a fantastic realm, where the imagination becomes real and communication between the worlds is significant.

At this time of Samhain, the waterfall can be used as a meditational aid to gain access to the abode of Gwyn, where our ancestors impart their wisdom and give comfort to those who seek it. Allow the White Stag to guide you across the veil to where our ancient ancestors reside. Unlike St Collen, we can now begin to understand the real meaning behind the ancient teachings of Gwyn. May we gain the wisdom and understanding of those whom we have loved who have gone before us.


(1) See chapters 64, 65 and 66 of The Seventh Sword by Andrew Collins.
(2) See for an article by Andy Roberts on the 1974 Berwyn UFO incident.
(3) See chapter 7 of Gwyn by Yuri Leitch.
(4) See page 77 of Gwyn by Yuri Leitch.

Thanks to Yuri Leitch and Dr. Angelika Rüdiger for providing inspiration and for putting me on the correct pathways.

Also published in Samhain 2010 Mirror of Isis here