Re unwearnum: A Digression

memorial flagstone
riddarholm church stockholm





Man's sense of vulnerability and mortality is entirely occasioned by the anfloga. This page addresses not man's unwearnum --- blissful unawareness --- but the cause of apprehension in those that are apprehensive. I will fatten up this emaciated discussion by kicking off with a few more quotes omitted, for word-count reasons, from Bird, Ship, Sun, Sea. Length in place of depth.

Robert Graves (yes, again) has an essay titled Mother Goose's Lost Goslings in The Crowning Privilege, Cassell 1955. On p.151 he recites;

Grey goose and gander,
Waft your wings together,
And carry the good king's daughter
Over the one-strand river.

He goes on to note that "....the wild geese in British folklore are the Cwm Annwm, or Hounds of Hell, a ghostly pack used by the Wild Hunter --- Arawn, Bran (hence the names 'Brant-goose' and, by metathesis, 'Barnacle-goose'), Herne, Gwyn, Gabriel, or what you will --- when he conducts the souls of kings and heroes (and, in later popular tradition, the souls of unbaptized children or suicides or excommunicated heretics) to the pre-Christian Otherworld at the back of the North Wind ..... The cry of the barnacle-goose is almost indistinguishable from the music of a pack of hounds on a hot scent. To quote the Whitby Glossary (1867):

Gabriel Hounds: the flocks of wild-geese high in the air migrating southward in the twilight evenings of autumn, their cry being more audible than the assemblage is visible. As the foreboders of evil people close their ears and cover their eyes until the phalanx has passed over.

The Hounds of Hell are also variously known as ... 'Yeth Hounds', 'Wish Hounds', 'Yell Hounds', 'Gabriel Hounds', 'Gabriel Ratchets', 'Gobble-ratches' and so on ... The 'ane-strand river' is, in fact, the ocean of Death, across which no traveller can hope to return." (Graves converts "one-strand" to "ane-strand", not unreasonably.)

He had earlier mentioned the Yell Hounds in The White Goddess, Faber 1948, p.88: "The northward migration of wild geese is connected in British legend with the conducting to the icy Northern Hell of the souls of the damned, or of unbaptized infants. In Wales the sound of the geese passing unseen overhead at night is supposed to be made by the Cwm Annwm ("Hounds of Hell" with white bodies and red ears), in England by Yell Hounds, Yeth Hounds, Wish Hounds, Gabriel Hounds, or Gabriel Ratchets."

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 1894, notes: "Gabriel's Hounds, called also Gabble Ratchet". Brewer seems to have been one of Graves' sources. "Gabble" clearly garbles "Gabriel"; and "Yell Hounds" may merely abbreviate the same horn-blower's name, although it is certainly tempting to hear a remote echo of the anfloga which gielleð.

In The White Goddess, Graves goes on to say, p.101: "The Irish 'Banshee' fairy is a Bean-Sidhe ('Woman of the Hill'); as priestess of the great dead she wails in prophetic anticipation whenever anyone of royal blood is about to die." The "hill" in this case is presumably the tumulus of the even earlier ancient dead. While the leader of the ghost riders in the sky is male (first Odin, later the Devil), as is he who must go where the wild goose goes, the fetcher of the dead, whether banshee, valkyrie, fury or siren, Isis or Kali, would seem almost always to be female. True, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Kubla Khan, 1797, published 1816, describes a savage place, "as holy and enchanted/As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted/By woman wailing for her demon lover", but this scenario was presumably somewhat different. On the other hand, John Bright, in 1855, must have thought the angel of death was male, for "you may almost hear the beating of his wings."

Be all that as it may, in a little booklet, The Ancient British Goddess, Ariadne Publications 1991, Kathy Jones remarks on p.28 that: "According to Robert Graves, (Brigit) is connected to the Aegean Goddess Brizo, brizein meaning to enchant, to whom votive ships were offered. Many neolithic ritual mounds are built near to the sea, some in the form of large ships with ritual spaces and burial chambers in the centre. .... Brigit is known as the White Swan .... The outline of a Swan in flight can be seen in the contours of the hills which make up the Isle of Avalon, as it rises out of the flat Summerland meadows ... By following the way of Brigit the White Swan we too may enter the Dream and reach for the stars from which we all come ... Brigit in her death aspect is also associated with ... other Birds of Prey."

The anfloga is, of course, that presence, imaginary or otherwise:

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

William Wordsworth; Tintern Abbey, 1798, ll. 95-102

It is the monstrous crow, that frightened both the heroes [Dee and Dum] so.

And here face down beneath the sun
And here upon earth's noonward height
To feel the always coming on
The always rising of the night

To feel creep up the curving east
The earthy chill of dusk and slow
Upon those under lands the vast
And ever climbing shadow grow

And strange at Ecbatan the trees
Take leaf by leaf the evening strange
The flooding dark about their knees
The mountains over Persia change

And now at Kermanshah the gate
Dark empty and the withered grass
And through the twilight now the late
Few travelers in the westward pass

And Baghdad darken and the bridge
Across the silent river gone
And through Arabia the edge
Of evening widen and steal on

And deepen on Palmyra's street
The wheel rut in the ruined stone
And Lebanon fade out and Crete
High through the clouds and overblown

And over Sicily the air
Still flashing with the landward gulls
And loom and slowly disappear
The sails above the shadowy hulls

And Spain go under and the shore
Of Africa the gilded sand
And evening vanish and no more
The low pale light across that land

Nor now the long light on the sea

And here face downward in the sun
To feel how swift how secretly
The shadow of the night comes on......
Archibald MacLeish
You, Andrew Marvell, 1930



John Bauer

nils holgerson

The Explorer

    day and night repeated --- so:
something hidden --- go and find it
go and look behind the ranges
something lost behind the ranges
over yonder ----- go you there

Rudyard Kipling 1898

John Bauer

I'm still thinking about it. This will take some time.


The Hag sits on the Maiden Swan as She flies over the Isle of Avalon,
by David Dunger
from The Ancient British Goddess, by Kathy Jones

and that's the end of unwearnum
but not of the anfloga: see here.

Anglo-Saxon conversion of the
into St John the Evangelist

St John the Evangelist with an Eagle's Head
Bible of St Bénigne, Bibliothèque Publique, Dijon
from Blake's Composite Art; W.J.T.Mitchell, Princeton 1978

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