9. Common mistakes about this deity
10. Offerings – historical and UPG
11. Festivals, days, and times sacred to this deity
Skipping straight over question 7 – because something about the issue of epithets feels like it needs deeper research – this is a post about offerings, celebrations and songs.
A few weeks ago I walked with a group of fellow druids along the southern shores of Anglesey and paused by the water, under Thomas Telford’s Menai Bridge, to pay homage to Manawydan. The head of our order gave a beautiful, meaningful and playful offering: a feather in a pinecone, which spun a graceful arc into the water. Gifts of earth and air, accompanied with a prayer:
Manawydan mab Llŷr
O dwfnau’r donnau pur,
Offrwm i dy anrhydedd di;
Dy bendith ar ein siwrne ni*
Manawydan son of Llŷr
From the depth of pure waves
With offerings we honour you;
Grant your blessings on our journey**
It was a lovely moment, a fitting end to a magical day of shore-walking with like-minded companions.
In an earlier blog post, I mentioned weaving an offering of wildflowers and summer grasses on the solstice. Many, many years ago, I came across a story of the islanders of Man paying ‘rent’ to the mythical king of their island, Manannan, in the form of yellow flag irises, laid on the summit of a mountain on midsummer’s day. I have no idea how or where I heard the story, but it utterly captured my imagination. It was pretty exciting to find out that the tribute to Manannan was, in some small, folkloric way, a real practice.
Inspired by this, and by a strong personal sense that Manawydan loves music, my offerings tend to take the form of a single flower (often windfall or waste flowers, still beautiful but already sacrificed) and a song. As I have mentioned before, my experience of Manawydan and Manannan is that they are different aspects of the same whole, so it makes sense to me that, what one enjoys, the other will appreciate. I make a special effort on the solstice because this turning point of the solar year seems to have been significant in the folk tradition surrounding Manannan. In the spirit of the islanders paying their ‘rent’ in fresh rushes, I weave an offering from any suitable plants I find growing in abundance on the shore, and pause for a moment to consider exactly what it is that I am ‘paying’.
As an aside, it was on the summer solstice, just over 8 years ago, that I consciously dedicated myself to following a pagan path, so this day always has a special resonance for me.
There is no historical basis for making offerings to Manawydan; as far as archaeology attests, no offerings were ever made. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make them. Ours is a new tradition, inspired by and honouring the practice of the past, so much of which is lost to us.
The offerings we made by Menai Bridge were of land (the pinecone) and sky (the feather), and since ours is an order which centres on the three realms of land, sky and sea, this practice symbolically combined them all in one poetic gesture.
On the train home – a beautiful journey which clings to the coast, all the way from Conwy and along the estuary of the Dee – I reflected on my preferred offerings of flowers and song. These, too, are offerings of earth and air to the water, land and sky to the sea.
Singing to the sea has always felt right, but the moment that cemented it for me was a visit to Northumberland last winter. As part of a signing weekend with the Unthanks (which was utterly brilliant, and if you ever get the chance you should definitely go!), we were all taught a song by Alasdair Roberts: I Had A Kiss of the King’s Hand:
I saw him on the strand
he’d been so long at sea
come from the Isle of Man
and none to welcome him but me
Down by the sea, knee-deep in seaweed
I had a kiss of the king’s hand…
Once we were all sure of the lyrics, and our parts in the harmonies, we set out for a windswept walk along Embleton Bay, stopping on the beach to sing beneath the ruins of Dunstanburgh castle. And, my word, it was magnificent. The cold, brilliantly blue North Sea rolled in on bracing breakers, and as we sang I saw a cormorant diving again and again into the water, mere metres away.
Since then, I have noticed cormorants appear almost every time I have made an offering of song to the waters. And, sure, I live in a place where cormorants are common – but, all the same, it is magical to see. I’ve learned sea shanties, Liverpool songs and more modern compositions; sometimes I even take my guitar (or, more likely, ukulele). Everything I learn adds to the sense of being part of a vast, timeless relationship between humans and the realm of sea, expressed in song for countless generations.
As for question 9, ‘common mistakes about this deity’, I’m reminded of a phrase I first read on the druid network social site: “others might know more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know better,” and that works both ways.
On a more personal note, I have taken this project very, very slowly – partly due to illness, partly due to the combined workload of my job and my studies (not to mention the several hiccups of a breaking-down computer…), and partly because I have had the leisure – but now I have a deadline: in 6 weeks’ time I will be moving away from the coast.
So that’s questions 9, 10, 11 and a hint of 21 dispatched with ruthless efficiency and a very sea-deity inspired blurring of the boundaries :)
*from memory, so quite possibly wrong!
**my translation – so quite possibly doubly wrong!