So, I didn’t really know where to start this series… Was I going to give an introduction to the Otherworlds and Underworld? Was I going to talk about trance and altering consciousness? Was I just going to jump on in, where I felt like and go from there? I posted an introduction to these series’ I’m writing a while ago, so when I woke up this morning thinking about the Wetlands of England I decided that this is where I wanted to begin this series; talking about The Power of the Wetlands – Fen, Bog & Marsh!
I’ve always had a thing for water… Whether that be the sea, lakes & lochs, wells & streams, the river I grew up next to, or the wetlands that are found throughout my Homeland. With such an affinity for water, this seems the best place for me to begin our journey, as this was one of the first places I began my travels…
When accessing the Otherworld or Underworld, or working with the denizens who abide there, there are places that are more susceptible to your efforts, places where the Veil is thinnest. What occurs in this world, can echo into the Unseen, there are places that this echo makes louder and more powerful ripples in the Unseen places beyond the border…
Places such as the Crossroads, ancient stone, hills & burial mounds, certain trees & rings of certain plants, Cemeteries and of course Water! The edges of river, lake or the sea… Wells with their source being deep underground, springing forth from that Unseen place… And then we come to the Wetlands…
Wetlands have been seen as both sinister places of evil & danger, and places of unparalleled natural beauty…
Historically, the wetlands have been seen as a link between the mundane world of daily life and Otherworlds, a place where it is possible to come closer to the Gods and spirits, a place where some of those other beings could not only be contacted through, but also lived.
“Dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers.“
Passage of the Marshes, The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien.
The close association between people and wetlands has an ancient history. The artifacts that have been found in waterlogged soils from all over the world document the extensive use of wetlands. Many votive offerings, gifts to the Gods, were left in wet places – including the Llyn Cerrig Bach hoard on Anglesey, the magnificent bronze shield of Rhos Rydd and enigmatic figurine of a man from Strata Florida in Ceredigion.
The dead have also be offered. ‘Bog Bodies’ have been found throughout the British Isles and North-western Europe, these bodies were either the victim of a ritualistic sacrificial killing, or that the already dead were ‘offered’ to the bog in the light of the link between the wetlands & the Otherworlds, and used as a burial ground.
In Greece and Asia Minor more than 3000 years ago, the stories of the Greek gods and their deeds became Greek mythology and a rich source of literature, poetry and art. Wetlands in Greek mythology were often sacred places associated with deities, and several Greek gods chose rivers such as the Acheloos and Alfiós as their “bodies”. The River Styx (probably the River Acheron today) was particularly significant as it separated the world of the living from Hades, the world of the dead.
The spirits of the bog and marsh are known throughout folklore as Will-o’-the-Wisps or Corpse Candles, which are ghostly lights seen at night or twilight over bogs, swamps, and marshes throughout the world, but I will chiefly concentrate on British folklore here.
In Gaelic and Slavic folk cultures, the Will-o’-the-Wisps are mischievous spirits of the dead, or the land, attempting to lead travelers astray. The stories of Welsh folklore are very similar as the lights are said to be the ‘fairy fire’ held by the Pwca (of the Tylwyth Teg), a small goblin-like Faerie that mischievously leads lonely travelers off the beaten path. Which is where the expression ‘Pixie-led’ comes from, as in Devon and Cornish folklore the lights are a Pixy-light, which is not unlike the Norse ‘lambent light’ which could be seen guarding the tombs of the dead.
These spirits do not always lead the poor, hopeless traveler further into the wildness. It’s all a matter of how said traveler treats the spirits of the marsh. If you show respect and reverence to these spirits, they will lead you where you desire to go, if not… Then you are done for my friends! Though if you are brave enough to follow, and show a little respect along the way, following these spirits may bring you more good fortune than you thought possible, as the Will-o’-the-Wisps are said to be guardians of treasure hidden deep beneath the swampy waters.
So when going to the bog, swamp, marsh or fen… Be weary! Go prepared with offerings to the spirits, and show them respect. As they will then take you on a journey that will feed your soul, and you will gain many treasures, in the form of knowledge and experience, from the Otherworld with their guidance.
When approaching unknown locations and spirits, it is best to harbour no expectations of what you will see or experience. Go and spend time in your chosen location, getting to know the area, getting a feel for the lay of the land and be passive & open to what will happen…
“…He, leading, swiftly rolled
In tangles, and made intricate seem straight,
To mischief swift. Hope elevates, and joy
Brightens his crest; as when a wandering fire,
Compact of unctuous vapour, which the night
Condenses, and the cold environs round,
Kindled through agitation to a flame,
Which oft, they say, some evil Spirit attends,
Hovering and blazing with delusive light,
Misleads the amazed night-wanderer from his way
To bogs and mires, and oft through pond or pool;
There swallowed up and lost, from succour far”
Paradise Lost ~ John Milton