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A group of aspirants came to Cae Mabon to work with Iwan Brioc (see in April and again in August 2022. He guided us through a practice he has developed called Sensory Labyrinth Theatre. April was a three day training. In August we prepared together for a week. Then for four days we put on two performances a day. After booking audience members were asked to arrive at particular time slot. Then they walked alone, as ‘travellers’, through a series of ‘portals’ meeting different characters and catching fragments of story from Welsh myth and legend. Each portal lasted about five minutes. Sometimes it seemed like an eternity.

Come through the Sixteen Portals...

1 Belle Tent

I am in an elegant tent.

A handful of people are also waiting to begin.

Around the tent are questions on coloured paper.

‘What’s the best idea you ever had?

What makes your heart skip a beat?

What sight do you wish you’d never seen?

What sound sends shivers down your spine?’

And more.

We write a poem based on our answers to these questions.

We read our poems to strangers.

They are surprisingly good.

2 Mabon’s Arch

It is my turn.

I’m led to a chair where I sit in facing a timber arch.

A bright-eyed, smiling wooden face is looking at me.

His hair is of jasmine and honeysuckle. A bird peaks out.

I’m told he is Mabon.

I must wait until I am summoned.

A stream babbles beneath a footbridge beyond the arch.

The sun dapples through the oak trees.

3 Two Dragons

A woman rises into view.

She smiles and beckons me forward.

Beneath the arch I am smudged with sage and mugwort.

I follow her down steps.

Suddenly there are dragons, one huge, languid, be-spiralled.

One made of slate and moss, its mirrored eyes reflecting trees and sky.

‘The dragons are awake,’ she says, ‘there is a disturbance in the land.’

I’m told that long ago they fought over the centre of the land,

their screams withering all who heard them.

They were captured and brought to these mountains for safekeeping.

For centuries they slept.

Then the young Merlin released them to resume their eternal combat.

‘Have you heard of Merlin’s Prophecy,’ she asks? ‘You will.’

‘Now the dragons are together, for the first time seeing eye to eye,

their powers harnessed to the work of collaboration.’

I am given a staff to help me on my way.

4 Amphitheatre

I go through a creaky gate.

Down the path is an amphitheatre between two great oak trees.

A play is being enacted by two masked figures, Merlin and Nimue.

It’s knockabout comedy: ‘Nimue, what are you doing?’

‘I’m riding the dragons!’ ‘Put them to bed, it’s showtime!’

‘Where’s Arthur?’ ‘Didn’t you text him?’ ‘He must be in the pub’.

‘We need someone to be Arthur.’

They are looking at me. ‘Will you be Arthur?’

I go to the stage, am cloaked and kneel to be knighted.

‘By the power invested in us by the gods and goddesses of Eryri,

We declare you King (or Queen) Arthur!’

I’m bonked on the head and tickled under the arm with a rubber sword.

On my feet I am blindfolded and spun round three times.

A rising cacophony of sound culminates in one word: ‘Invisibility!’

All is silence and black.

5 Darkness

Hands take my hands firmly

and lead me down steps and a grassy slope to a level path.

I can see nothing but feel my feet, seeing.

I hear birds, the air breathing, strange languages…

Have I been kidnapped? Am I in a foreign land?

Perhaps, yet I trust the ever-so-tender touch.

A voice sings to me the contours of the path I cannot see.

I am led to bench, asked to sit and remove my blindfold.

6 Grandmother’s Grave

Ahead is a shapely peak.

Below a green valley, a silver lake, slate tips…

Once slate quarrying made this great valley a site of industry –

watermills creaking, steam trains clattering, quarries exploding.

Now the scene is serene.

I sit on Pilgrim’s Bench by the grandmother’s, mamgu’s, grave.

‘Think of the ones who came before you, your ancestors,’ she says.

‘Your mother, your father; her mother and father, his father and mother. Keep going.’

‘If you go back ten generations there are one thousand people standing behind you…

All leading up to this moment, here, now.’

‘Turn around and face them… embrace them… Journey well.’

7 Apothecary

Who’s this?

A mountain girl with pigtails, skipping from side to side along the path.

Light-footed and wayward, like Pippi Longstocking,

she gathers herbs and berries as she goes.

‘Come,’ she seems to say, but in another tongue.

I follow her down the path,

through moss green curtains into an elegant room.

There are jars of herbs and drying flowers. An apothecary?

She opens lids and bids me smell.

I sniff and am knocked back by the pungent aromas

of sage, calendula, elderberry, hibiscus, nettle…

She picks a small dry flower and presses it into my hand.

‘Take it, go!’ I somehow understand.

She ushers me out through rose red curtains.

8 Ceridwen’s Cauldron

I am in an ancient alchemical chamber

where a flame-haired, witchy woman is tending a fire.

She gently touches the cracked lid of a cauldron.

‘Be not afeard,’ she says. ‘The isle is full of noises…’

She’s brewing an elixir of transformation, she says.

She gestures for me to make an offering… the scrunched up flower…

‘Stir three times and look within…’

I see my reflection beyond the swirling flowers and feathers.

‘You must stir for a year and a day.’

She strikes a bowl and sings an enchantment.

My image spins beneath the water. Time passes quickly.

In the final moment she anoints my forehead with ashes from the sacred fire.

‘Awen’ she says, and sends me on my way.

Could that have been… Ceridwen?

9 Sleeping Goddess

I come to a huge, pregnant goddess asleep on the ground.

Her priestess invites me to lie on a bed of straw and fern

and rest my head on a pillow of moss.

‘Would you like a lullaby or a bedtime story?’ she asks.

I ask for a song and she sings of Modron, the Great Mother, dreaming of this Earth.

Then she tells of the quest for Mabon,

taken from his mother when only three days old.

‘You must ask the Ancient Animals,’ said Arthur.

They go from Blackbird to Stag, Owl, Eagle and Salmon.

I am drawn into the story, very comfortable on Nature’s bed.

All too soon I must rise from my dreamy slumber and continue on.

10 Double Helix Bridge

I walk down the track to a bridge over the river.

I’m greeted by a wizened, elf-like figure who invites me

to sit on a bench beside him and contemplate Afon Fachwen, the little white river.

‘This is the end of the road,’ he says, ‘where farmland meets the wild wood.

It is a crossing place, a meeting place. It’s where the world goes by.

This water tumbles from the heavens and flows around the Earth.

It’s like my mind, always moving, often chaotic, rarely still.

Do you see the double helix fence?’ he asks.

‘The DNA in every cell of our body determines who and what we are.

Who are we? Who are you? Not an easy question to answer.

‘Do you know of Bendigeidfran, Bran the Blessed, the giant king?

He lay his body over a river so his people could cross.

Hence the proverb: “A fo ben, bid bont.” “To lead you must be a bridge”.

Come, let’s cross the bridge… Built by quarrymen, helped by giants!’

11 Poetry Tree

I hear whistling, but from where?

A voice calls out: ‘Welcome weary traveller. Come join my watch!’

I’m lured into the boughs of a holly tree, woven like the nest of a bower bird.

High in the branches a young man, with long copper hair, is speaking… poetry!

‘Listen deep,’ he says, ‘hear the knowledge in which this place is steeped.’

Then he leaps across branches and shouts:

‘Look, there they go, a hare with hound in hot pursuit.

Oh, Gwion Bach, run fast and true.

It was an accident but Ceridwen won’t believe you…!’

Then I am urged to ‘feel the leafy holly prickles, hear the gentle song,

the windblown wooden tapping, Nature’s mighty drum…!’

‘There they go again, otter and blue salmon, up Afon Fachwen…’

‘Be still restless traveller, let the river wash you clean…

Hear the birds trill their never-ending songs,

feel the vast ecstatic joy of which they sing …’

‘And there! A sparrow and a hawk, one final time they fly…

and now the red-black hen swallows the solitary grain.

So, patient traveller, on your way you be,

I’ll wait here a little longer for Merlin’s Prophecy.’

And so I leave this Taliesin, the poet in the poetry tree.

12 Slate Mill, Waterwheel

I walk a long stony path, through a gap,

down steps into the overgrown ruins of a slate woollen mill.

A small fire is burning. A man, the ghost of a quarryman, sits beside it.

Nearby a woman is playing an ancient crwth-like instrument.

He’s holding a school slate tablet with a waterwheel depicted on it.

‘They made these here,’ he says. ‘And look at it now. Ruins.

Is it better… or worse? Or different?’

‘Man marks the mountain and the mountain marks the man.

But the wheel keeps turning.’

I’m invited to write something on the slate wall with chalk.

Many have already written: ‘We are Nature… Appreciate beauty…

Make way for the more than human… Looming Dark… Leave it better…

Rest awhile… The longevity of stone… Move forward gently with love…’

With a stub of chalk I write ‘spinning in wonder’

then follow him through the waterwheel’s way.

He mutters ‘mae rod yn troi’, the wheel keeps turning.

Then he points. ‘To the Lake.’

13 Lady of the Lake

A barefooted flute player entices me along the path,

guides me round obstacles, over gnarly roots, under branches.

I come to the railway line running along the edge of the lake.

On the other side a lady in blue says ‘Come’ and leads me to the water.

It’s a hot summer’s day and nearby holiday makers are noisily enjoying the beach.

Undeterred she thanks me for coming and asks me to offer my love to the lake.

A shining bronze chalice is at the water’s edge holding flowers. The holy grail?

On the far shore I see a giant sword sticking out of a stone. Excalibur?

And high above, Yr Wyddfa, the sacred mountain, looks down on its domain.

She picks up the chalice and, using a swan’s feather, flicks me with water from the lake.

‘May you be blessed with love. May you receive all you need. May you walk in beauty.’

She takes me to a place where I can look west to the very end of the lake.

‘Thank you for your presence.’ And farewell.

14 Foot Washing at the Faerie Queen

A flower maiden greets me with a warm smile

and bids me sit on a mossy rock. She removes my sandals,

helps me up and leads me barefooted to the river.

I step into a basin of rock and feel the cool water flowing over my feet.

She holds my hand, keeping me steady, imparting calm.

From the river she leads me round the oak tree to the Faerie Queen.

There she is, the Healing Maiden, adorned with flowers.

She asks me to add my own offering.

Then, humming a Welsh air, she leads me to the bridge and offers a seat.

I put my feet in a porcelain bowl and she pours warm water over them.

She washes my feet, a pleasure after a long journey.

She hands me back my sandals and I continue on my way.

15 Merlin’s Prophecy

He invites me to the knot-work carved threshold of the roundhouse

then asks: ‘Have you heard of Merlin in your travels?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Aah…’

‘Merlin blazed into world consciousness on the other side of this great mountain.

A child of destiny he catalysed the release of two mighty dragons

then, infused with dragon power, uttered a prophecy that is remembered still.

It’s about you so I’ll tell you the last few lines now…’

‘Merlin had predicted that the Goddess would be forgotten. But later he said:

“The Healing Maiden will return, her footsteps turning into flame (this is the Goddess).

She’ll weep tears of compassion for people and land (that’s where it starts, in tears),

dry up polluted rivers with her breath (her speech, poem, prayer…),

carry the city in her left hand, the forest in her right (nicely balanced),

and nourish the creatures of the deep (the invisible ones).

With her blessing man will become like God, waking as if from a dream…”

16 Temple of the Ancient Ones

In the porch he gives me

the ‘Blessing of the Wing and a Prayer’,

swishing down a swan’s wing, brushing me with feather wind.

Then he holds my hand and we enter the Roundhouse.

A fire is flickering within eight great stones.

‘This is the Temple of the Ancient Ones,’ he whispers.

‘Look! The masked faces of the demigods and goddesses of Eryri:

Modron, Mabon, Math, Goewin, Lleu, Blodeuwedd, Ceridwen, Taliesin…

They are here. Our ancestors are here’.

He goes around the fire and sits.

On a low walnut table is a giant teapot and tiny shot glasses.

‘This is an elixir of the Earth,’ he says.

‘Apples, plums, berries freshly picked. Herbs and spices. It’s a tonic.’

He hands me a glass. ‘Your three sips of inspiration.’

‘This is the end of your journey. You may stay as long as you like.

Leave when you’re ready.’

I swallow my inspiration and, after a moments rest, rise up renewed…


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