Nearly fifty of us gathered around the fire in front of the Roundhouse. The sun’s slanting rays shone a golden light into the mossy oak forest. Eric moved slowly around the circle, greeting everyone, subtly intensifying the excitement that was in the air. When the moment was right he blew the horn and silence fell. He welcomed everyone, including some who’d been coming to Cae Mabon for a long time, and spoke about the ceremony.
‘This place as been called Cae Mabon for many years. But this evening, on the thirtieth anniversary of the day it all began – 26th October 1986 – we will be, for the first time, ceremonially bringing the Spirit of Mabon here.’
‘Mabon son of Modron, the Great Son of the Great Mother, was the Divine Youth of Ancient Britain. According to Welsh legend he is buried high in the Nantlle Valley, a few miles southwest of here as the Raven flies. Last year Gwyn Edwards and I tracked down the probable site of Mabon’s grave. We found, to our dismay, that it’s now buried under a huge, dark, brooding slate tip. We felt, as in the story of long ago, that his spirit should be freed from this prison: and that he should be brought here, where he can breathe again and inspire us in the world now.’
‘As part of the ceremony we will process to the sacred places of Cae Mabon telling, as we go, the old story of the Ancient Animals and the Quest for Mabon.’
With that we all moved to the river by the pool before the Faerie Queen. That evening, magically lit with one of Ted’s flares, she’d never looked more beautiful. Eric, taking on the role of storyteller, stepped onto a rock by the water’s edge, blew the horn and began the tale.
‘Culhwch and his companions went to Arthur seeking advice on how to find Mabon son of Modron. Arthur said they must ask the Ancient Animals. So they went to speak to the Blackbird of Cilgwri. Gwrhyr – the one who spoke all the languages of the world including of the animals – said: “We are the messengers of Arthur seeking Mabon son of Modron. Have you ever heard of him?” And the Blackbird said: “I am old, very old. When I was young there was an iron anvil here. Every night I would wipe my beak on that anvil. Now it’s no bigger than a nut. But in all that time I’ve never heard of the man you seek. However there is one older than I and that is the Stag of Rhedynfre, Go to speak to the Stag.”
Following a powerful drumbeat the procession moved to up the track to a great oak by a waterfall in the river – also dramatically lit. The storyteller spoke again.
‘They came to Rhedynfre and Gwrhyr spoke to the Stag, as before. And the Stag said: “I am old, very old.”’
By now everyone was fervently joining in this chorus line.
‘”When I was young there was a tiny sapling here. It grew into a great oak tree with a hundred branches (gesturing upward to the tree’s crown). Then that tree withered with age and fell. Now there is only this red stump. But (chorus) in all that time I’ve never heard of the man you seek. However there is one older than I and that is the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd. Go to speak to the Owl.”’
The procession continued up river to the great, alder shaded stone slab where log seats surrounded a flickering fire. This time it was the turn of the Owl to say: “I am old, very old. When I was young this valley was filled with a forest. A race of men came, men who live such short lives, and they cut down the trees. But the trees grew back and the forest you see before you now is the third forest to fill this valley. But in all that time I’ve never heard of the man you seek. However there is one older than I and that is the Eagle of Gwernabwy. Go to speak to the Eagle.”
This time the procession wound up a narrow lantern lit path to a tiny ‘chapel’ in the rock where there’s a shrine to Modron, the Great Mother. Here it was the turn of the Eagle to speak. When he was young, he said: ‘He would stand on a rocky crag and peck at the stars. Now that crag is no bigger than a fist. But in all that time…” The Eagle advised Arthur’s men to speak to the Salmon of Llyn Llyw. “If the Salmon doesn’t know about the man you seek,” he said, “I don’t know who will.”
And so our ragged band, still following the beat of the drum, made its way up to the blazing fire in the new courtyard outside Trem Eilio, adorned by fairy lights. Here the storyteller told how of how the Salmon helped Arthur’s warriors to free Mabon from his liminal sea fortress on the banks of the Severn River. Mabon was then able to fulfil his destiny of riding with the Goddess, overcoming the Forces of Darkness and releasing the Spirit of Spring.
The story was told but there was one more stop on our processional route. Over the previous few days, as part of a mini-working party, a young Belgian helper had created Mabon’s Crown, a ring of sturdy slate slabs holding pointed uprights leaning out at an angle, modelled on the Bronze Age cairn of Bryn Caner Fader. At its centre was a thick round of wood, the base for a shrine.
The horn blew, the drum continued to beat. By now it was dark so the whole scene was lit only by flares. Then from the darkness below came Angharad with four girls, each carrying sacred objects brought from the area of Mabon’s grave. About ten other children stood within the circle around the shrine as the adults looked on from without. One by one Mabon’s gifts were brought to the shrine by the girls: a large quartz crystal from the Earth; a pair of beautiful rams horns for Animal Life; and a garland woven from the berried boughs from the thorn grove for Plant Life. Then a jug of Water from the spring at the base of Mabon’s slate tip was poured over the shrine. After these offerings were made the children – representing ‘divine youth’ themselves – were asked to think of what they loved about Cae Mabon and what they dreamed for its future. It was a profoundly moving moment. The Spirit of Mabon had been brought to Cae Mabon.
We all then made our way back down the hill to the fire outside the Roundhouse where, in the flare-light, everybody had the chance to say something about what Cae Mabon meant to him or her personally. It was an intensely rich and varied expression of appreciation and gratitude.
Later we repaired to the Barn where, in a rather miraculous self-organising kind of way, a splendid feast had been manifested. Afterwards some sang in the Roundhouse or luxuriated in the hot tub. It had been a most magical day.