If you know anything about Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Brythonic Otherworld, and its Gods you may think that a monastery of Annwn is a contradiction in terms.
So did I, for a long, long while, in spite of my own monastic leanings. For it was Christians who seized and converted the pre-Christian sacred sites, the holy hills and springs, destroyed the temples, re-dedicated them to their saints. Replaced the many Gods of the native polytheistic religion with one God.
More complicatedly, it was Christian monks who adopted and maintained the lore of the bards. Took an oral tradition and, for the first time, put it to the pen. Kept the old stories in an altered, Christianised form, in which the Gods appear, at best, as magical figures and, at worst, as the ‘devils of Annwn’.
I, an awenydd*, of Gwyn ap Nudd, a ruler of Annwn, who is depicted by Christian monks as a devilish figure defeated by Arthur, His world shut out, its door slammed closed, battled against my own monastic tendencies for a long while.
Was my relationship with my God, with His kin, my local spirits, lived in my visits to hill, brook, wood, river, meadow, in my garden, at my altars not enough?
Perhaps not… on the night of my lifelong dedication to Gwyn, when I undertook an all night vigil, sitting alone, feeling lonely, wishing I had a religious community to support me through this making of my vows, I saw myself as part of a long line of monks and nuns stretching towards a candlelit altar. Although I couldn’t divine the faith(s) of these robed shadows, I knew that in our decision to take religious vows, dedicate to a religious life, we were united and bound.
And what does ‘monastery’ mean? ‘A building or buildings in which a religious community of monks or nuns live together under religious vows.’ Interestingly, this evolved from its etymological origins in the Greek monos ‘alone’, to monazein ‘live alone’, to monastērion, to ‘monastery’. Out of an initial and initiatory loneliness came the impetus to live together under vows.
Thus came my desire to form a monastery for those avowed to the Gods of Annwn.
Finally, I received my nun’s name, Sister Patience, at first as a joke, from my God.
For now, the monastery will take the form of a virtual space and place of sanctuary for those who serve the deities of Annwn, living lives of inspiration and devotion, carrying the wisdom of the Brythonic Otherworld into Thisworld.
Its representation in the likeness of a Christian monastery, I think, was an unconscious act of stealing back and I am not sure whether I will retain this image.
For now, I plan to fill it with Annuvian devotions, drumming, old and new chants.
If anybody is interested in being part of this and co-creating, please get in touch.
*The existence of awenyddion ‘people inspired’ was recorded by Christian archdeacon Gerald of Wales in 1194, who he said were possessed by ‘ignorant spirits’ and prophesied in ‘incoherent’ and ‘ornamented’ words.