Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Gwyn ap Nudd, the Dead and the Koryos

This is a tough review to write; the book in question which I briefly mentioned before, is a fat, academic text which covers a metric shit-load of information in a particularly dense manner. There are years of work in here, so to pull it all out and present it is way beyond what I can do in this blog. Particularly as my work is with science texts, which tend to be a bit less dense and shorter than this when in the primary literature, working on humanities monographs like this is a big jump for me.

Everything below is either lifted directly from the text or is paraphrased by myself directly from the text. It captures the core of the thesis put forward; though I need to point out that all the points are well fleshed out with textual evidence and are better supported than my flat out statements here.


Among the Indo-Europeans had a prevailing attitude; their dead are honoured ancestors, but they are more; they are the Immortals, in whom the life-force, the divine spark, is far more potent and efficacious as they are no longer mortal.

At some point before puberty, young boys were taken away from the village and training in fighting skills and the lore of their people and initiated into the world of men. They would be the scouts, the guerilla fighters; highly mobile bands of ecstatic warriors who would fling themselves first into the fray. These bands are the Koryos.  In joining the koryos, he would have been initiated and undergone a ritual death, he would then belong to the dead ancestors, to the Immortals.

At certain festivals associated with the dead, these bands would become the dead; ecstatic or possessed, masked or painted with ash or gypsum. As the dead they care about their descendants and make visitations to guard the order which they themselves established. In every land where the koryos appears; they are responsible for social and civic order. The dead require devotion; they must be fed and offered drink and so when the Koryos come to town they must be propitiated. The ancestors also bring blessings, fertility and as such are welcomed even though their arrival also brings chaos.
There is a strong association of dogs and wolves (indistinguishable in IE cultures and therefore interchangeable) with dead, the dead and with warriors. We find this association in later myths regarding the Wild Hunt. There is also archaeological evidence of midwinter sacrifices of dogs from the IE heartlands; possibly indicating the sacrifice formed part of the initiation rituals of the young men into the Koryos.

In several of the IE daughter peoples we have evidence of ecstatic armed dancers. The origins of these weapon dancers certainly lie in the training-in-arms of the youthful warrior band. Since these were cultic warriors; everything they did was religious.
The Koryos (the youth outsider) is everything the teuta (the man in society) is not; he has no land, no cattle, no wife, no weapon (figuratively speaking), he has no clan; he is a true outsider and lives in the woods, hunting and living off the land in total opposition to those people living as part of the social order in the village. This opposition between wood and village is a very IE thing. The boundary between the two is invested with social and religious significance. Forest, hunting, cattle herding (and rustling) and young men go together all over Indo-Europa.

Ancestor-cult and the cult of the dead are often closely bound up with youth-consecration, and with this, as well, all the magical practices that are supposed to promote rain, sunshine, and growth. The close coherence between worship of the dead and vegetation rites are universally known. The consecrated members of the koryos and immortal and are one with the spirits of the dead.
The connection with wolves and dogs is integral and deeply interwoven with the koryos; this gets stated again and again.


I firmly believe that Gwyn ap Nudd is the god who has taken the mantle of the Koryonos; the god of the Koryos.

Originally the Wild Hunt was an actual religo-magical practice; of the Koryos coming amongst the people of the village from the woods to bring the various blessings and to integrate the forest and town for a time as a single extended family. Over time, this practice was lost and became mythical with the leader remaining, the association with hounds, huntsmen and horses being retained. In Gwyn we also find echoes of his role of ruling or guarding over the dead with the andedion and the later stories of the ‘faeries’.

Because it is such an important condensate of the text, here is the previous blogasm quote again:

When we look for the god of the *koryos we will do well to keep in mind these words of Gernet: "in general, in ancient cults, it is not the personality of the god which is the point of departure, is from the cult itself that the god derives his being." (Gernet 192) In our case, we will be looking for associations with war, death, the wolf and the dog, with ecstatic states, with initiations and the winter solstice, and, where these do not coincide, with the changing year. We will expect him to share the ambiguity of the *koryos itself and to appear sometimes good, sometimes evil, and always at least potentially dangerous.


Monday, 1 June 2015

The Ridgeway

For a few years I  have wanted to walk the Ridgeway; an 87 mile path along the South Downs from Invighoe Beacon in the West of England across to West Kennet in Wiltshire. An 87 mile trek along a ridge of chalk highland into which the White horses have been carved. At Brigantica this year, I promised Epona-Rigantona I would do this as something for Her.

And so it was that last Tuesday morning I set off; rucksack, pop-up tent and as little as I thought I could get by with on my back and I made a start. I took a train just beyond Reading and walked the 4km along the road and up the flank of the Downs to reach the point where the Ridgeway crosses the road and my journey begins. It was a relief to get to the trackway, not only because the hill up to it is a pig to walk up, but also because the feel underfoot was totally different from tarmac; much more comfortable. I had a set of ‘prayer beads’ I had made in the preceding days in my pack so fished them out and hung them from my waistband as something to have to hand, make use of and in somehow mark this journey out as different and not for my own purposes.

I spent the next 3 days in that landscape; flanked by cow parsley, birdsong and for the larger part serenaded by skylarks and awed by views of mile upon mile of Downland and the Vale of the White Horse. I walked as far as the Uffington White Horse that first day and did it way faster than I would have expected, so I got to spend 3 hours before it started to darken sat atop that hill gazing across the reddening land, watching crows fly, red kites circle and just exist in a landscape of sunshine, bird and insect life and do so upon that spot where She was carved into the chalk. I spent the night in Uffington castle; the Iron Age fort atop the hill the horse is carved into. As I was putting up my tent (hurrah for pop-up tents) I saw what I think is the third hare of my life, making its way up to the summit of the hillside – the same hare I also saw the next morning when taking down my tent, as it made the same journey summitward. It wasn't the most comfortable night of sleep and I was up by 5am, pack on my back and again on the Ridgeway track headed towards Wayland’s Smithy.

This long barrow sits in a glade of beech trees and was cool, quiet and peaceful at 6am. It seemed appropriate to walk sun wise circuit of the glade before moving on again. The track from where  I joined the Ridgeway, along to the horse and beyond Wayland’s Smithy that day was the part of the walk that felt the most exhilarating; swathed in cow parsley on either side and with a distinct white spine of chalk to walk upon – like walking along the back of Rigantona herself. At the end of day two the track changes; less chalk and more human activity, I had to cross more roads (admittedly little more than tarmacked lanes). It was on day two that the most unpleasant experience occurred; I had spent a few hours walking along a much more wooded part of the Ridgeway as it eventually meets – and crosses – the M4. Approaching and crossing over 6 lanes was horrific; the noise, the movement, the sudden return to civilisation. It was a blessing to get past it and head up the hill to Liddington castle. From there it was more field side walking  and more chalky downland until Avebury.

I spent the following day at Avebury; walking down to Swallowhead spring and across the field between the stone circle and the monuments just South of it.

It is difficult to say if this journey was a spiritual experience; I had no grand revelations, didn't meet any gods (the only dream I recall from sleeping above the White Horse involved me and my current boss trying to fly a space shuttle and not doing very well). In terms of spending time alone, walking amongst greenery and the frothy white of late spring, being serenaded all day by sky larks or escorted by circling red kites; it was a spectacular experience which makes me want to go back out there and walk other parts of the Ridgeway. Spending time like this away from people and the buzz of life in London – is more important than a fortnight in the sun (although I had splendid weather and caught the sun a bit), it’s a tonic for the mind, body and soul.