Caerdroia – Field of Turns

Every now and then, as we navigate life’s twisty turning path, something extraordinary happens to us. If we are lucky and paying attention, we recognise this happening as a defining moment and life is never quite the same again.

Mostly we go to the theatre to be entertained; or maybe educated about some important historical event. But in Caerdroia, the focus has shifted onto oneself. It is far more subtle than smoke and mirrors, it is far more real than magic. The further into the set we process, the more we can suspend our disbelief and leave behind those things that connect us to what we perceive as our daily round. We become immersed in this theatre. It exists solely for us, here and now, in this very moment.

Carrying nothing behind which to hide and with our touchstones gone, we embark on a journey into unknown territory as a child would and although parts may e scary and we may be full of foreboding, we know that Caerdroia will hold us safe whilst we explore this alternative reality. If we travelled through Caerdroia a thousand times, each journey would be different. The forest, the light, the birdsong, the people we meet, our selves – all different, every time. Every journey excites our senses in a new way. And life is more than just a walk in the park.

Caerdroia – Summer 2005

They took me off in a taxi into the forest and I didn’t know where I was. Then I was in a dark room and the door fell down. Red riding Hood came and got me and she was really worried about something but she showed me a path and t was so dark and I was scared but I went into a tunnel anyway ad it got smaller ar maybe I got bigger, I don’t know. And just when I wanted to cry I was in a kind place ad my mum was with me and she loved me.
My mum rocked me and sang to me and I felt better and strong and I was able tro stand strong and greet the world.

My goodness there are some funny people out there. Sometimes they spoke to me sometimes thy just got on with what they were doing before I came along. There was this mad English lady in a mad garden. She gave me a drink and she gave all the flowers a drink too. It was a long path I had to walk. There were birds singing and there were flowers but after a while my feet hurt and I never felt so alone.

Then I was with some people and hey washed my feet. It seemed like they were expecting me. Is life always like this? Sometimes things and people come along just when you need them.

I looked into a cupboard and it went on forever. I sat on a chair, at a table and became a child again. My legs swinging free beneath me. And there was a wise woman far away in a circle of stone. The keeper of our shared stories. Past – Present – Future
I was born here
I lived here
I travelled here

Caerdroia – Summer 2006

This can’t be right. I want candy floss and pony rides. All the normal things I’ve been led to expect. And I’ve just been sold, I think. SOLD! You can’t sell me, I’m not for sale. I’m my own person. I thought I was my own person.
She’s just bought me
I’m really angry
I am so scared

There’s something going on here. This must be some sort of game. I don’t know the rules. But look, she gave me a bag full of things, perhaps I can use this – Oh good.

Look at this beautiful girl. The wide smile as she holds out her gift to me.
Honey, a wafer. Is it her desire to love and serve me that keeps her here by this rock? Or is it the chain attached to her ankle.
Flare of light
Reek of sulphur

A game of cards? With you? No thank you – I’m having no trick with you.
What happened to the –? I see it’s a trick. So I lost anyway.
Always a trick.

Except maybe for this one. No chains, no ties. Dancing to music that winds and wreaths across the late evening light. And somehow, I too can dance. It’s hard to know whom to trust, but there is good. I like this. I will take this with me.

Heuldro Gaeaf

It was a magical, mysterious and demanding adventure to perform in Gwydyr Forest in the middle of winter, but after experiencing the Labyrinth myself in 2005 I knew that I really wanted to be part of Cynefin’s amazing work in bringing human beings into close contact with the beauty of nature.

The weather of the Conwy Valley really challenged us to show what we were made of, for rehearsing and building the cosy shelters to which our audience would come took place during some of the worst floods the valley had suffered.

The first week of performances was wet too, but the people still came – some of them had visited the Labyrinth each time Cynefin appeared there and were eager to return. For others, including many of the children who came, it was a first visit.

For me, too, it was a first; preparing my tipi to create a warm haven for visitors each night by sweeping the slate floor, lighting the brazier and setting my copper kettle to warm the spiced apple tea I offered to each visitor.

Waiting for the first comers to travel round the labyrinth to reach me, which took over an hour, for I was at the most distant curve of the path, I gradually became one with the forest, the sky, the darkness – and my character of Baba Yaga, the mythical witch of the Russian forests, who terrifies but also advises and guides the brave hearts who answer her demands without fear.

To each group of travelers, some nervous, some eager, some loud and brash, others respectful, I offered my hot tea, and spoke with them first in Russian, then in English and Welsh, asking them riddles and telling them the story which felt right for the people, the place and the time, before sending them on their way with a gift, which they were bound not to look at until the right time came.

The last week was a magical time of bright nights, gleaming frost and crunching paths. The starlight alone was bright enough to find one’s way about the Labyrinth. I felt more and more at peace. On Christmas Eve, my fire glowing and the kettle simmering, I went out to walk the wide sweep of the Labyrinth under those brilliant stars, before my first visitors arrived. As I walked I sang, and the bell-like notes of Megan Broadmeadow’s trumpet answered me from her yurt further along the path. Exchanging voice and trumpet notes, we sent Christmas carols back and forth between us, unseen by each other, but connected by sweet sound, and our intention. It was a fitting metaphor for the power of the Labyrinth, and a memory I shall treasure.

The magic of the Labyrinth is there for all who come to walk it, but when the storytellers, poets, dancers and musicians people it, it truly comes alive.

Caerdroia is a Welsh word meaning ‘the Castle of Turning’ or ‘the Labyrinth’. It also has a much more profound meaning, as to walk Caerdroia is to explore the place of one’s soul and the powerful energy of the solstices and the the turning of the sun.

The first Caerdroia took place in 2005 in the heart of Gwydyr Forest near Llanrwst, North Wales. On the East bank of the river Conwy lies an old Tudor Castle, Gwydyr, the Ancestral home of the Wynne family who hosted the balls that the Bishop of the Bath attended at Plas Mawr the town house of the Wynne family in Conwy. Gwydyr means glass in Welsh and can be associated with magic and revolving islands when used with the word Caer, so Caerdroia brought together the magic of both Gwydyr and the Labyrinth. A magical experience where people walked by the light of the sun, moon or stars to find hidden meanings.

Initially I volunteered myself to the organizer Iwan Brioch as a Storyteller. When I arrived at dusk at the Summer Solstice to participate I wondered what I had let myself in for, I parked by the Gwydyr Chapel Uchaf (Gwydyr Upper Chapel) at the bottom of the track and looked up at the dark eerie forest. I was collected from the car park and taken along the cycle track route through the middle of the forest, we drove up narrow avenues between densely planted conifers. The atmosphere was still with a sense of the sounds and smells of long forgotten farms which were demolished to make way for trees.

Eventually we arrived at a wooden hut where we were given ancient black costumes to wear. Iwan Brioch briefed me for the story I was to tell as I sat on a wooden bench by a demolished old farmhouse. I was asked to tell the tale of the people who had lived on the farm, and show the visitors exploring the Labyrinth (Seekers) old photographs of the harvest. As I told the sad tale of how the family was forced out from the land to make way for the forest I felt myself becoming older and wiser, spiritually changing into the Nain (Grandmother) of the family. It struck a sad cord in me as I too had a sense of loss thinking about my own family now gone and although our farm has not been demolished it no longer operates as a working farm.

Although due to work commitments I was unable to participate as a storyteller in the next Caerdroia I did visit it with the Celtic Cauldron group. We paid for our tickets and looked forward with anticipation to walking the mile of the labyrinth. I sensed I was about to go on a very important journey, and wondered what I would experience in the depths of the labyrinth. First we were driven up the mountain to the start of the Labyrinth inside an old wooden hut where we assembled and were asked by Mike (one of the organizers) to map our lives out on a piece of paper. We were not given much time for this as one by one we were called to open a door on the inside of the hut.

When my turn came I felt ready to explore the underworld but was rather taken aback by sliding down a steep shoot into pitch darkness and landing on top of a person who, without speaking, helped me up and led me through a dark tunnel. This experience showed me how important it can be to trust a guide, especially during such disorientating conditions.

Various strange experiences followed, like finding a large bran tub or lucky dip which contained gifts but when I put my hand inside I touched a live human head was shocking and I felt unprepared for such surprises. My mood lifted when I heard the beat of a drum followed by music. I danced in the dark to the music of the labyrinth musicians. The steps came naturally to me it was a though I had been there for many centuries, I felt I was beyond the bounds of time.

I continued my journey alone. Feeling my way along the velvety wall at the side of the path, eventually found a rope which guided me to a clearing. I emerged from the darkness into the dusk and was caressed by the receding light where night and day became one. Two smiling women in long black robes welcomed me and gestured for me to remove my shoes and walk a small grass maze. The ground felt cold and wet and I knew this was part of the experience I would not forget. When I had completed the maze I was taken to sit on a seat and one of the women washed my feet in warm water, this felt extraordinary as we were in the middle of nowhere. I wondered where they had got hot water from and realised that it was better not to think too much but to go with the flow. I felt protected and childlike as I sat and enjoyed being cared for. The next experience was also evocative of childhood as I was taken to a hammock and rocked to and fro, I heard a lullaby and a heart beat creating a sense of being in my Mother’s womb. I felt at peace and had a sense of birth and death being as one.

After a while I was led by one of the ladies in black to beautiful sculptures of giant shirts covered in moss. I continued alone along a path between trees and came to another clearing. This time I was fascinated by seeing and touching huge rush baskets containing sheep’s wool. Further along the path I came to a standing slate circle where a story teller sat and told tales of wonder from welsh mythology. Many childhood memories were evoked. I walked on and experienced a warm, comforting smell of baking. I was offered delicious Welsh cakes by a smiling happy man. I realised that the labyrinth was focussing on separate senses each one delving deep into my soul. Further down the hill I heard the sound of a cello. The Caerdroia was awakening and stimulating all my senses.

My last experience focussed on the sixth sense of intuition when I saw a cloaked figure standing by a pond in the distance in the rapidly fading light. I felt that I had travelled between the worlds and when the time of my death came I would follow the Great Reaper without fear.

GwdihĊµ © 2007