Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit

Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature. His is known to have lived between 1568 and 1630 and his house – Cynfal fawr still stands in the Cynfal valley near Llan Ffestiniog.
Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature.

Huw Llwyd is a legendary figure in Welsh history and literature. He is is known to have lived between 1568 and 1630. His house – Cynfal fawr still stands in the Cynfal valley near Llan Ffestiniog.

He lived through the reign of James 1st, Charles 1st and the first decade of Elizabeth 1st. He was apparently the 7th son of a 7th son and feasted on eagle meat to ensure his descendants had powers for a further 9 generations. He was renowned as a mercenary soldier, a bard, harpist, writer, magician, alchemist, healer and for his ability to see into the future.

People travelled from far afield to hear him preaching and to seek his help. He served in France and Holland in a Welsh regiment in the role as chaplain and doctor. As a self -styled preacher he convinced local Christian clerics that sorcery was invaluable in the battle against evil and witchcraft.

He was visited by John Dee (alchemist and mathematician of the Elizabethan court) and they exchanged ideas and knowledge of magic.

On New Years Day 2018 Lama Shenpen and residents at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart, undertook a Buddhist pilgrimage to his natural pulpit.

Within the deep and narrow Cynfal gorge ( Grid reference: SH705412) a fast-flowing river plunges around a tall pillar of rock. It was on this rock pillar in the middle of the river that Huw meditated, gave discourses and used his magic to cast out evil spirits.

Buddhist pilgrimage to Huw Llwyd's Pulpit
Lama Shenpen and gang on Buddhist pilgrimage

His sermons were powerful and miraculously could be heard above the sound of the rushing water. He only used his powers to combat evil and to punish those who misbehaved.

In Welsh the word to describe his meditation is synfyfyrio which literally means sudden or startled meditation. He would dress in a long cape with magical symbols, wear a special sheepskin crown with a pigeon feather in it and hold a whip made of eel skin with a bone handle.

A powerful wizard, he would heal through exorcism and the demons would be cast as dark shadows into the ravine below. The waterfall downstream from his pulpit is called Rhaeadr Ddu, the Black Falls.

Rhaeadr Ddu - the Black Falls - a Buddhist pilgrimage
Rhaeadr Ddu – the Black Falls

He was called upon to deal with anything weird and “witchy” and there are many stories of his taming of local negative forces and bandits.

In one tale Huw is called in to solve a case of serial theft at an inn in Betws y Coed. The inn is run by 2 beautiful sisters who are also witches and can transform themselves into cats at night to then steal from their customers. Huw rests that night with his magic sword by his side and when he notices the 2 cats stealthily sneak into his room and to his pockets he strikes one a blow on their paw.

The next morning one of the sisters has a bandaged hand and he knows for sure they are the criminals. He warns them and they deeply apologise for their actions. Instead of reporting them to the witch-finder for trial he tells them the inn is now under his protection and there will be no more stealing. The inn thrives and the sisters earn a good virtuous living.

The River Cynfal - scared site of Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit
The River Cynfal – scared site of Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit

In another story Huw mesmerises a group of bandits at a tavern in Pentrefoelas who were planning to kill him. He causes the table they are sitting at to grow antlers which they are unable to look away from. He gets a good nights sleep and in the morning they are arrested by the sheriff. In another story Huw leaves a spell on an unscrupulous and extortionate innkeeper by causing everyone to dance and sing until they are nearing terminal exhaustion. He then sends instructions for how to find the spell and throw it into the fire thus releasing everyone. These three tales show how he was just, effective and humorous!

He was married with children and on his death bed he told one of his daughters to throw all his books on the ‘black arts’ into a lake where they were received by a pair of ethereal hands. There is no record of his death, no will was ever executed or probate granted for his estate… some say he lives on!

His grandson (or perhaps nephew) Morgan Llwyd (1619 – 1659) was a Christian mystic and renowned welsh bard with numerous works still in print. He was a puritan preacher in Wrexham but his views were unorthodox being influenced by the German mystic Jacob Bohme. For some people he is considered a Welsh Nation builder.

The river Cynfal - rich in fish and eels
The River Cynfal

The water of the river Cynfal is rich in fish and eels. Elfyn’s grandfather caught a snake once while fishing in the river. It has a powerful feel to it – a Guru Rinpoche place and a home to nagas?

By Tara Dew

Cwm Pennant (16/9/17)

Our annual Discovering the Heart of Buddhism study and meditation retreat ended with a pilgrimage to the beautiful valley of Cwm Pennant, Gwynedd, not far from where our Buddhist Retreat centre is based in Ynys, near Criccieth. Members of the Sangha have visited Cwm Pennant many times before and we love the beauty of the sacred landscape here. Tibetan Buddhist teacher H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche told us this was very special place.

Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Wales Cwm Pennant

It was a cold morning and it felt like Autumn/Winter had arrived as we walked up the hillside to a more sheltered spot, but we were very lucky as there was no rain despite the overcast skies.

Cwm Pennant holy pilgrimage Sacred Sites Wales

We stopped next to a very interesting looking tree, where the ground naturally flattens out a little, next to a large stone that’s perfect for our outdoor shrine.

Smoke Puja Buddhist rituals sacred sites North Wales

We set out the shrine with Guru Rinpoche at the centre, with our offerings, while Jayasiddhi built the small, self-contained fire from wood we brought with us as well as sacred ash from our previous smoke puja rituals to continue the connection (read more about Smoke Puja ritual here.)

Buddhist Practice of Pilgrimage to sacred sites in Snowdonia North Wales

While we made the offering of smoke to the sacred landscape of North Wales, we read Guru Rinpoche prayers, recited the mantra OM AH HUM and sang songs.

Tibetan Buddhist Sangha in Gwynedd, North Wales

The Awakened Heart Sangha is part of a yogic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism of singing songs of realisation, as taught by Khenpo RinpocheLama Shenpen‘s teacher. Khenpo Rinpoche was a wandering yogin in his youth and in later years would often sing profound extemporaneous songs, so is likened to the great yogin Milarepa.

We regularly sing songs composed by Milarepa and Khenpo Rinpoche as part of our practice, and on a pilgrimage in the beautiful sacred Welsh countryside is no exception!

By Jo.

Llandudwen – St. Tudwen’s Church (25/8/17)

Following on from our successful pilgrimage to Carn Fadryn, Lama Shenpen and the Hermitage team took our German guests on to the nearby church dedicated to St. Tudwen.

St. Tudwen's church Gwynedd, pilgrimage site with holy well
Llandudwen Church built as pilgrimage site to St. Tudwen,

This beautiful little chapel is located off of a farm track about one mile south of Morfa Nefyn. Take a good map, the turning is easy to miss. There is parking near the entrance to church, just outside of the farmyard.

There was a legend of a Holy Well being associated with this site, although it had been lost for many years. This was recently rediscovered in one of the fields adjoining the Church grounds.

The entrance to the church begins with a narrow pathway encompassed by two traditional welsh stone walls. These walls inspired Lama Shenpen to build our walled entrance leading up to the Stupa of Enlightenment at the Hermitage.

Buddhist retreat centre, Gwynedd Wales - traditional stone walls
Stone walls leading to the Buddhist Stupa at the Hermitage Retreat in Criccieth.

At the end of the pathway is a traditional covered stone gateway (lych gate) leading into the graveyard. Traditionally, coffins would have been left overnight in this gateway before burial the next morning. I had not heard of this tradition before and wonder at its meaning and origin. Perhaps something to do with purification at the boundary to sacred ground – reminiscent of entering a mandala boundary in the Buddhist tradition.

Tradition records St. Tudwen as being an Irish Saint, and sister to the grandmother of St David. She fled to the Llyn Peninsula to avoid persecution and abuse. Later began to teach the local people about her love of God.

A church was built over her grave on this site in the 5th Century. This was rebuilt in in 1595 – the current church – in the “hammer head” shape is a Grade II listed building.

St Tudwens church, stained glass window through door
View of stain glass window through doorway

The church is very beautiful and extremely well preserved. The stained glass windows are very modest and include the alpha and omega symbols. On the day we visited the doorway was surrounded with mistletoe, giving a somewhat pagan feel.

Church door with mistletoe, St. Tudwens, Gwynedd
Mistletoe around doorway, St Tudwens, Gwynedd

We spent some time sitting inside the church in silence, absorbing the atmosphere and meditating. As we had the church to ourselves we chanted the Green Tara mantra and our retreatants sang some of their Dharma songs in German. We had been enjoying these all week, the sweet melodies and wonderfully tuneful voices!   By Jayasiddhi

 

 

 

Carn Fadryn “Mother Mountain” 25/8/2017

Carn Fadryn (Garnfadryn) was the sacred destination for the second group of German retreatants on our Discovering the Heart of Buddhism retreat this August. We could not have chosen a better day to explore the Welsh sacred landscape, the skies were clear and the sun was hot – an auspicious day to initiate out ten German guests to the practice Welsh Pilgrimage.

Carn Fadryn Mother Mountain

Lama Shenpen and Rigdzin Shikpo had once asked H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche about the possibility of finding holy places in Britain. He asked for a map of the area and identified a number of sacred places in North Wales. The one he felt stood out as  being particularly special was Carn Fadryn.

Khyentse Rinpoche was one of the foremost Tibetan Buddhist teachers of his generation and was highly respected as a Terton – or Treasure Finder. He had found many sacred objects and Buddhist texts (Termas) hidden in the landscape of Tibet and the surrounding Himalayas. His naming of Carn Fadryn as a place of strong spiritual significance should therefore be taken very seriously.

Dilgo_Khyentse Rinpoche

H.H Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Carn Fadryn translates as something like “mother mountain” and has strong feminine associations, a fitting destination for an all female retreat from the German Sangha (Buddhist community) Tara Libre. Some sources link the mountain with Modrun, the grand daughter of Vortigen, the Welsh hero and famous Celtic King.

There is also a legend linking the mountain to King Arthur.  There is a cromlech (a standing stone burial site) named “Coetan Arthur” (Arthur’s Quoit) at Trefgwm. It consists of a great stone resting on three smaller stones. The legend states that Arthur “the Giant” threw the largest stone from Carn Fadryn – a distance of several miles. His wife then picked it up and propped it on three smaller stones from her apron!

We parked at the handy lay-by at the foot of the mountain in the village of Garnfadryn and began our ascent under the glorious sunshine. The mountain has a height of 371 metres, but has a well trod track through heather slopes and is a relatively easy walk (approx. 45 minutes) with a few high steps in places.

Garnfadryn village

The summit marked by ancient cairns and a modern trig point, was the sight of at least three ancient hill forts. The earliest dates from around 300 BC.  The most recent was recorded in 1188 as “newly built” and referred to as “the castle of the sons of Owain”.

Buddhist Puja Wales

We performed our Smoke Offering Puja (ritual) with chants and mudras (ritual hand gestures) before tucking in to our well deserved feast. The feast was accompanied by many yogic songs – in both German and English. Afterwards, we enjoyed a spot of sun-bathing – almost unheard of on our Welsh pilgrimage outings!

Buddhist Feast Practice

The views from the summit were amazing. We had a complete panoramic view of the whole of the Llyn Peninsula from one coast to the other. Nearby, we could see the two small twin islands of Ynys Gwylan-fawr and Ynys Gwylan-bach; further out we could see the popular pilgrimage destination of Bardsey Island and the Isle of Angelsey (Ynys Mon) with its Druidic associations. The mountains of Snowdonia could be seen brooding in the far distance. Although a fine day, we were unable to see the Wicklow mountains of Ireland, which can sometimes be spotted.

Llyn Peninsula Garnfadyn  Carn Fadyn View

As we made our descent back to the cars our minds slipped from holy sites and legends of old to the more mundane – beaches and ice cream! A great way to end a pilgrimage.     By Jayasiddhi

 

 

Summer Solstice in Sacred Wales

Welsh Summer Solstice Ritual

The solstice is regarded as a special time in many spiritual traditions. At the Hermitage, a Buddhist retreat centre in historic Gwynedd, Wales, we marked the occasion this week with a celebratory smoke puja, called a Lhasang.

Welsh Buddhist Lhasang

Solstice Lhasang in full swing

Our Buddhist summer solstice ritual was attended by Lama Shenpen Hookham, the Hermitage staff and a bevy of local Sangha (Sanskrit: Buddhist Community) members.

Solstice Ritual

Some members of our Gwynedd, Welsh Buddhist Community

Tara Dew was master of ceremonies and produced a beautiful shrine and some wonderful offerings to be consumed by our Lhasang fire. Jayasiddhi built the fire and piled on heaps of dampened juniper to produce large clouds of white smoke.

Welsh Buddhist shrine

Summer Solstice Buddhist Shrine

The Lhasang litrugy was chanted during the solstice offerings. This is a text produced by Rigdzin Shikpo and was originally written for the Longchen Foundation.

The afternoon had started wonderfully sunny and hot. As our chanting reached its crescendo, accompanied by Garuda Mudras (Garuda = an Indo/Tibetan mythical bird/person, Mudra = ritual hand gesture), the skies clouded over and we enjoyed a wonderful purification in the form of large drops of warm rain! The rain stopped as soon as the chanting finished!

Welsh Solstice

Lama Shenpen and friends with Buddhist Liturgy at the ready

Tibetan Buddhist Smoke Offering

The smoke from the Lhasang is thought to provide a ritual purification for the local environment, local beings (human and non-human) and for the participants. Pure substances such as torma ( a kind of Tibetan ritual cake), herbs, oils and flowers are added to the fire as an offering and therefore incorporated in the clouds of white smoke which rise up to the heavens. It is normal to wear the smoke infused clothes worn at a Lhasang for a number of days as a blessing.

Buddhist flower offering

Flower Petals Offered into the Fire

Thin Places and Liminal Times

Certain places are thought to be liminal, a “thin place” in the ancient spiritual traditions of Wales and the British Isles. They behave as boundaries between two realities or ways of being. Similarly, In Tibetan Buddhism, certain times of day and year are also thought to be liminal or “thin”.

At these times of transition there is a greater opportunity for forces to manifest in the world – for good or for ill. For this reason, Tibetan monasteries chant liturgies invoking the wrathful protective Buddhist deities as the day transitions into night. Changes of moon, season and New Year, also have their own special Buddhist rituals to mark these phase changes.