The animals of Turtle Island, the Guardians of the Order…and a few extras. Credit: Bruce L’huillier
This is the tale that Mystic River Grove presented at the opening ritual for the 2017 OBOD East Coast Gathering. Instead of meeting the traditional guardians of the order, the Mabon carries out her (yes, her–our Mabon was a woman) quest for the Awen among the creatures of Turtle Island.
Many know the tale of Mabon ap Modron, how Arthur and his knights rescued the youth with the aid of the oldest animals in Albion, and how the Mabon in turn helped the High King slay the great boar Twrch Trwyth. Now, Mabon’s tale does not end there, for she was a great hunter and wandered throughout the land in search of game. Eventually, she grew bored as there was nothing left to challenge her.
So, as many youths do, she complained to her mother, Modron, about how bored she was. And as many mothers do, Modron told her to go outside and quit pestering her. And so Mabon did as she bid. She walked and walked, and eventually came to the sea, where she met her old friend, the Salmon. She complained to the Salmon of her woes and the Salmon said, “Swim far–far beyond the ninth wave. Swim until you reach a new land, and there you must seek the Awen. It is the ultimate prize for poet, king, and hunter alike. Once you have caught it, you will understand.”
And so Mabon, daughter of Modron, heeded the Salmon’s counsel and swam beyond the ninth wave, until she came to that new land. So much was strange about this place, different birds, and trees that looked as if they were on fire.
As she made her way to the southeast she came upon a sun-drenched glade, with a creature that looked much like a badger, with black and white stripes, but with a full bushy tail. Thinking it might make a fine meal, she stole up behind it, but the creature lifted its tail and began to stomp its hind feet in an odd sort of dance. Mabon heard it say, “Keep back, or I’ll spray you!”
“So?” said Mabon.
“You’ll smell worse than a decaying carcass. And you’ll smell that way for WEEKS.”
Mabon sheathed her knife and backed away. “I guess you won’t make a very good meal. What is your name? Do you know where the Awen resides?”
Skunk sniffed, sizing up the youth. “I am Skunk, if you must know. Searching for the Awen are we? I don’t know where you’ll find it, it’s different for every person. You’ll need to find your own dance and know your own worth to court the Awen.” Again the skunk stamped its feet and raised its tail. “The other animals are always making fun of my dance, but I don’t care–it’s fabulous and it’s all mine. Good luck and make your journey a tale worth telling!”
And so Mabon set out to the northwest, finding the forest growing darker and damper. Before long, she heard a soft chuffing noise and following it, came to an enormous creature. It had to be the largest beast she had ever seen, even larger than the wild aurochs, with a great rack of antlers and noble bearing. Again she drew her knife, though this time her heart fluttered with fear and uncertainty.
“Put away your knife, little Mabon. Though I am sure you could slay me, it would not further you in your quest for the Awen.”
“How do you know of my quest?” asked Mabon, still refusing to sheath her blade.
“Stories of adventure travel quickly–and wise Salmon swims far. Her waters connect us all,” replied the beast.
“Well then, what manner of creature are you? Do you know where I can find the Awen?” she challenged.
“I am Moose, little Mabon. It seems to me–in our short acquaintance–you are used to hunting alone, making your own way. I think, if I may be so bold, that you must seek help from others, learn to listen before you draw your blade. The Awen is fostered in peace and humility. Know when to ask for help and you may find yourself closer than ever. Might I suggest a visit to the Turkey Vulture? She holds the secrets to many things.”
Thus Mabon set off to the northeast, heeding the wise Moose’s advice. The land became rocky and steep. Circling above her were wide-winged birds, marked out in black and white. When one alighted in front of her to tear at the corpse of some unfortunate animal, she recoiled in disgust.
“Oh?” said the bird. “Moose thought you had some potential. I can clearly see you don’t have the guts to attain the Awen.” Again the bird buried her head in the rotting flesh.
“Ugh!” said Mabon, holding her nose. “You must be Turkey Vulture. What can such an ugly creature possibly know about the Awen?”
“More than you, that’s for certain! I know that you have to be hungry for it–hungry beyond measure. You must feast upon your failures, choke them down until Awen itself bursts forth from your wounds. You have to court madness, perhaps death, for the slim chance that you’ll be one of the lucky ones who wakes with a fire in their head.”
“That…doesn’t sound so pleasant,” muttered Mabon. “But I’m hungry. I’m the hungriest I’ve ever been!”
“Indeed,” replied the Turkey Vulture. Before returning to her feast, she cocked her head to the side and said, “If you find you have the stomach to continue your hunt, seek out the Snapping Turtle. But I doubt you’ll get that far.”
Leaving Turkey Vulture to her meal, and having quite lost her own appetite, the Mabon set off to the southwest. Soon she came to a swamp, dark and humid and steamy. Insects bit and strung, and she futilely tried to swat them away. Before long, something that looked like a large turtle was shuffling its way across the path.
“Are you Snapping Turtle then?” called out Mabon. “Do you know where the Awen lies? And,” she added sheepishly, “do you have anything to eat?”
The turtle turned slowly. “I know how it comes to me,” he replied. “It flashes before me when I’m sitting in the depths of the swamp, surrounded by the silence of the water. Whether your quarry is fish or Awen, you need patience and tenacity. Come, I will show you.”
The Snapping Turtle handed Mabon a hollow reed to breathe through and the two of them sank into the dark, warm waters of the swamp. The sat, and sat, and sat some more, the turtle completely still with his mouth wide open, Mabon barely able to see or hear anything in the dim waters. The youth soon lost all track of time. Had mere moments passed? Or was dusk going to be upon them? Suddenly, she saw a glimmer of three lines through the water–the Awen, was that it?
And just as suddenly, the turtle’s jaws snapped shut around a wriggling fish.
“You see?” the Snapping Turtle asked around a mouthful of fish. “THAT is how you catch the Awen. Still all your senses and you will begin to see it shining before you.”
“That’s the closest I’ve been yet,” murmured Mabon, gratefully taking a portion of fish from the turtle. “I think I’m finally beginning to understand. All of you, Skunk and Moose, Vulture and Turtle, have given me pieces of your maps to Awen. But now I have to seek out the mystery for myself and chart my own way.”
And so, Mabon turned within, and with the blessings of the animals of Turtle Island, she began to write her own tale, and seek her own inspiration.
Now that you have heard this story, we pose to you a question…and a challenge: Will you dare to taste the Awen? Not by accident, but as conscious seekers?
This quest is not safe, it is not tame. Yet with the aid of your tribe and the blessings of the spirits, that risk can be lessened–that’s a fancy way of saying no permanent death, dismemberment, or insanity allowed this weekend, yes?
But here, in this circle and at this camp, we will each court the Awen in our own way. Some will dance. Some will sing. Some will retreat deep within the forest of their souls and return with untold treasure. And when we meet again here, in three days time, we will share that creative wealth with our brothers and sisters in the Grove.