The so-called Dark Ages fascinate me.
My major work is a series of partly fictional narratives interspersed with ballads and sonnets about the people of this land (the South West of England) from the end of the Roman Empire in Britain to the year 1065. I love narrative verse.
The people who emerged as dominant, in what became known as Wessex, were originally called the Gewissae. They claimed descent from a legendary figure named Gewis. Their first recorded king, Cerdic (possibly a short form of the Welsh name Caradoc) was crowned in Winchester in the year 519.
My first narrative covers the mythical characters of their past. The second starts with Cerdic, King of the Gewissae.
As an aside the English royal family and all but three English Monarchs claim descent from the royal line of Cerdic. These were once known as the Cerdicingas.
The story starts after a defeat and their struggle just to survive as they sought aid from their Goddess.
Cerdic and the Soothsayer
Deep in the wood beneath a sacred ash
Lit by the moonlight of a waxing moon,,
As from the east there came a lightning flash
Thor’s booming thunder followed there and soon
There came a roaring squall a raging gale.
The soothsayer and the earl would face this night.
The mystic clad in furs the earl in mail,
When visions came then one of them felt fright.
Cerdic could face an army charging down
On horse, though he’d stand firm and mostly win the day.
This man of war and courage and renown
Stood terrified of gods and of the fey.
Yeoster the goddess of his kin was near;
‘Twas Cerdic not the sayer who felt fear!
Aelfwine feared not this goddess whom he knew,
But Cerdic faced what to him was unknown.
His faith in all the gods was firm and true,
Without their help he could not gain a throne.
That hill near Bath had seen a great defeat ,
Their army riven through they’d lost the day.
Though he could kill a foe in battle’s heat
When ransom’s paid then men increase their pay.
But Dux Bellorum’s men killed all they caught,
Their throats cut like a sacrificial beast.
For those who got away life had been fraught.
In time though all that harassing decreased.
So, this night in the woods by Frillford Heath
He stood here with this strange slime on his teeth.
Fly agaric may open doors ajar
And new perceptions may be seen
And opened minds may wander wide, afar,
And then may know what mysteries may mean
In time the door will firmly swing back shut
And then the body writhe in pain
Convulsing through the limbs, the chest, the gut
True visions may well help but cause such strain
He’d chewed that stuff that Aelfwine gave to him
Mid ruins of some temples to the gods .
It made him retch; its cloying taste was grim,
He did this now to even up the odds.
Without divine support their cause was done .
But none of his folk cared to be a slave
And Britons would enslave them when they won.
Now all of them would sooner face the grave
Than be the trophy of some oafish chief.
But Britons now engaged in fratricide;
Now was the time and Britons would know grief.
In time he hoped they could be forced aside,
So, here this night within this holy glade
He prayed the Goddess come now to his aid!
The gods sometimes they may toy with a man.
Whole nations may be used and thrown aside.
But there’s much to be done in one short span
And Faith told him his Goddess was his guide.
Then Aelfwine started some strange mythic hymn
But Cerdic did not know what these words meant.,
His vision blurred and all about seemed dim
The strength within his limbs now all was spent.
The ground there seemed to roll like waves at sea,
That rhythmic chant now echoed through his head.
He seemed to leave his body and float free.
The Goddess must be here, he was not dead,
As Aelfwine’s voice then dwindled to a hush,
Then phantoms swarmed about him in a rush.
Aelfwine’s Hymn to Yeoster
“Oh, Yeoster goddess of the earth
Eternal you must be.
Goddess of Death and all Rebirth
All seasons are in thee.
The spring, the summer and the fall
Winter with icy breath,
They are all at your beck and call
For you are life and death.
Dead things they go back to the earth,
So life may thrive and grow.
You bring all sadness and all mirth
On Midgard here below.
The fall, the winter and the spring
The summer, warm as well,
Are all the seasons that you bring
In this land where we dwell.
In cycles of the moon you showed
The holy females worth.
With them alone there is bestowed
The joy and pain of birth.
All things that grow from out the earth
They must all come from you
And all you give is of great worth,
Beneath the sky so blue.
All men who come from out the womb
They too have come from you.
Tween birth pangs and the dismal tomb
We give to you all due.
Goddess of life bring love and joy
Pray let us all live long.
Oh, let your gifts your folk enjoy,
Let none here do you wrong.
Oh, Yeoster goddess of the earth
Eternal you must be.
Goddess of Death and all Rebirth
Pray Goddess come to me”
And then it was the sky and moon were gone
And both of them were in a lofty hall
And he could see his Goddess and she shone;
Her sensual form smelled sweet and she was tall.
In turns she then seemed girl child, wife and crone;
All phases of the life of womankind.
He wondered in what ways he could atone
For having had such limits to his mind.
When Yeoster spoke to Aelfwine then at last
He knew that here it’s he that must be mute.
He listened as she spoke of things long past
Yet Aelfwine here would be calm and astute
And Aelfwine asked of Yeoster that they see;
Not just things past but what was yet to be…
A mist it swirled around about them there
As Yeoster took the two men by the hand.
It was as though at once they were elsewhere
There to the south on Cerdic’s own sweet land.
His son stood there beside an open grave
His weapons and his shield lay on the ground.
Some old man spoke some words, said “…he was brave”,
And all about there was a wailing sound.
That mist it swirled about them there once more.
He saw his son’s shield burning on a pyre,
A man somewhat like him stood to the fore
Intoning prayers before that funeral fire.
“Your third king is the one who’ll win this fight
And bring an end to Britons and their spite”
“You tried hard to fit in and to belong
Your only use here was to fight and die.
These Britons though they know not right from wrong
They offered you good pay – that was a lie.
There’s no way that they’ll let you integrate,
It seems they feel they are more gods than men
And you were used as tools for their proud state,
And now you’re stuck here in their demon’s den.
Your homeland is long lost beneath the sea,
The gods of water drove you to this land
And Fate has blown you here like some ash key
Windblown it has no need to understand.
Like ash that puts down roots in this damp earth
This land will be your folks – they are of worth”
“For now, your task here is to stay alive
Until your foe completes their fratricide.
There is no shame in those who just survive,
There’s folly in a fight that’s suicide!
Behold a Grandson stands at your son’s pyre,
Some ten miles from Mount Badon he will win,
And kill three kings and put three towns to fire
And cleanse this foe of all their foulest sin.
Enlarging then a realm ruled by your line,
Three hundred years will pass ‘til ravens feed
As hungry serpents gorge and then entwine
And hybrid forms across this land will breed.
Now you may see no more of what’ to come
The dawn will kiss the east – this night is done!”
Confused awhile he felt as though quite lost,
As hoar frost formed upon the morning ground
And yet a crocus flowered here in the frost.
So now it seemed those answers he had found.
A giddy swirling sense possessed them now
As each sank back into their worldly flesh.
It seemed the goddess was this mist, somehow
The air about was cold and damp but fresh
And bore the faintest hint of Yeoster’s scent.
He knew now that she was here everywhere.
He knew too that his foe would soon relent
And also that he must now tread with care;
Impetuous men find circumspection hard,
When Death’s about all must be on their guard!
The storm was gone this mist hung limp about,
Two men lay still in vomit on the ground.
Quite close they heard some foreign horsemen shout;
Both prayed to Yeoster that they be not found.
While mist is soft and all know it must yield,
It filled that woodland and the morning air
And so, two heathen men now lay concealed
From Britons who would calmly kill them there.
Both lay there then quite still throughout that day.
That night the moon was full and shone on high,
Two canny men then softly slipped away
Beneath a starry, lovely springtime sky.
The Dragon may well be a ravening beast
But Cerdic’s folk survived and then increased!
From: Cerdic and the Soothsayer
The defeat near Bath was the battle of Mons Badonicus.
The fungus, Fly Ageric is common locally and a hallucinogen.
I situate this in Woods near Frilford Heath the site of ruined Roman Temples and the place of my birth.