Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Celtic songs of shapeshifting

Mosswood Hollow, Duvall, Washington

A great and distinctive mode of Celtic poetry is the song of shapeshifting. A famous example is the Song of Amergin, in which the bard of the Milesians lays claim to the land of Ireland by singing of his many selves and his identity with many forms of animate life.  In Robert Graves' version in The White Goddess, it begins

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall.

    In this spirit, I felt that the best way to honor and gather the deep experiences we shared in a recent group journey into Celtic Dreaming would be to give everyone the creative assignment of writing a personal song of shapeshifting. The offerings came after we had traveled deep and far together on the borders of Faerie, in the realms of the ancestors, on the track of the Antlered Goddess, in the flow of Sequana, to Merlin's enchanted apple orchard.
    In our closing session, a superior ceilidh in a great yurt in the greenwoods of the Cascades, I asked everyone to write their poems on index cards. The cards were then shuffled and then dealt at random. Each person read the poem that they drew, before the author was identified. In this way, we were able to take in another's imagination deeply, while all of us grew a deepening awareness of our connection with the whole web of life, with the hawk on the hill, with the cherry blossom, with the bones of the earth, with the dragon.

Susan wrote:

I am the child who plays in the branches of the oak tree
I am the woman the gray whale sees
I am she the Sea Kings sought to teach me their song
I am the motherless daughter whose love heals and protects
When I dance, cherry blossoms trickle from my fingertips.

Nancy Eister wrote:

I am the white mare rolling on my back
in a grassy field gleaming in the hot sun

I am the blades of green grass bearing the mare's weight
then springing back, with the joy of her steamy breath

I am the white bones beneath the soil:
ancestors, animals, antlers.

And the white stones on the hill, stacked just so
five thousand years ago to capture the winter sun's illumination

I am the Sun behind the sun, whose rays transmute
bone and stone into liquid light

I lift the eagle aloft, and the gull
I warm the seed's dream of springing up
through the soil as grass for the white mare.

I am the moon goddess casting a silver net over this night
I am the brooding black raven asleep in the dark wood
I am the dreamer and the fox who guards the dreamer 
I am the windswept plain where lost dreams can be found
I am the bone songs of my ancestors playing on the wind
I am the heart of the ancient sycamore crumbling into dust
I am green leaves capturing rays of sunlight as they fall
I am the lone crane, standing watch near the shore
I am the jumping salmon crane silently waits for
I am the dance of flickering flame consuming it all
I am Phoenix reborn from the ash of what came before.

My workshop "Return of the Ancient Deer: A Journey into Celtic Dreaming" will be held again in Madison, Wisconsin, over the weekend of April 5-6, 2014. Expect poetry, and dragons (of course).
"The King's Dolmen", oil crayons (c) Robert Moss

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