The Awen (Part Two)

This is a continuation from my previous post on the awen, which you can read HERE.

So where does the flowing inspiration of modern Druidry come from then? And what is the difference between awen and the energy that is in all life?

In Welsh, we can trace it back to the 19th century, where aw means flowing or fluidity, and wen is spirit, or a being. We can more easily trace the concept and word back to medieval texts retelling the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

The goddess Ceridwen was brewing a special potion for her son, Afagddu, tended by Gwion Bach. Some of the brew bubbled over and three drops scalded Gwion as he stirred the pot, and he put his thumb into his mouth to ease the soreness, taking in the magic of the brew meant for Afagddu. Ceridwen was enraged, and chased him, eventually eating him and then giving birth to him again. After she gives birth to him, she sets him on a boat and he was discovered alive and well later, and renamed Taliesin for his radiant brow. He becomes the most famous Bard of Britain.

The awen can be seen as being achieved through a deep connection to every aspect of the land, in whatever shape or form.  We can undergo a kind of initiation into the awen much as Gwion Bach did, through the goddess Ceridwen and her special brew. We can drink from the cauldron of inspiration, but with that comes great trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with awareness and enlightenment.

The awen is also related to water and rivers, and not just the liquid brewed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. In the medieval poem “Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, it states:

“The Awen I sing,

From the deep I bring it,

A river while it flows,

I know its extent;

I know when it disappears;

I know when it fills;

I know when it overflows;

I know when it shrinks;

I know what base

There is beneath the sea. [1]

The awen relates to water on so many levels. The flowing spirit of water and the flowing spirit of awen share many similarities. Both are fluid, able to be contained and yet have their own freedom in their inherent sense of being. They follow their own currents, and can be beneficial when used with respect. When we follow the currents of life, the inter-connectedness of all things, we share that flow of awen and then come to know the fathomless depths that it can bring.

We also have the shamanic diviners in the Welsh tradition known as Awenyddion.  There is also awen involved in divination and the quest for relationship with the divine.  The awen is a vast subject that requires much study, but more to the point is requires experience. We can research the similarities between awen and the Hindu aspects of shakti, for example, or the Dao in Chinese philosophy. But we must feel the awen with every atom of our being in order the truly understand it.

But what is the difference between awen and the energy of life, or the life force? I would say that awen is the thread that connects us to that life force. When we connect in good relationship to the world around us, those threads shimmer with awen, with inspiration. We know that we are a part of the web, wholly and utterly connected. When we feel that connection with other beings, soul to soul, and our sense of self lessens, we are inspired by that connection. We then think of ourselves less, and our perception opens out to a wider perspective on the world, one that is more inclusive rather than just our own self-centred point of view. We become a thread in the web.

Awen helps us to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps paradoxically to allow us to see ourselves in everything. The poet Amergin described this beautifully what is now known as the “Song of Amergin”.  When we see that we are a part of a whole, then we are inspired. When we lessen the sense of self, we are able to perceive so much more. When we have expanded our worlds to include everything within it, we become the awen.

I am the wind on the sea;

I am the wave of the sea;

I am the bull of seven battles;

I am the eagle on the rock

I am a flash from the sun;

I am the most beautiful of plants;

I am a strong wild boar;

I am a salmon in the water;

I am a lake in the plain;

I am the word of knowledge;

I am the head of the spear in battle;

I am the god that puts fire in the head;

Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”[2]

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, which opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it; we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches. The possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.

We are never born, and we can never die: we are simply manifest for a while in one form, and then we manifest again in another when the conditions are right. For me, this represents reincarnation, the nitty gritty basics of it and the science behind reincarnation. The threads that bind this together are the awen.

[1] Mary Jones, “The Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, The Celtic Literature Collective, accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t07.html

[2] Lady Gregory, The Essential Lady Gregory Collection, Google Books, accessed January 13, 2018.  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fx0tOGYDZXQC&dq

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

The Awen (Part One)

The Awen

awenThe awen symbol is based on an original design by the 18th-19th century Druid revivalist, Iolo Morganwg. It consists of three lines falling to the right, centre and left. Modern Druidry incorporates the original source point of three dots, which can either be seen as points of light or drops from the cauldron of the goddess Ceridwen. The awen symbol represents, among other things, the triple nature of the Druid path, incorporating the paths of Bard, Ovate and Druid. It is not an ancient symbol, but a modern Druid symbol, used widely by Druids the world over, regardless of their opinion on Iolo and his work.

The first recorded reference to Awen occurs in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, a Latin text of circa 796 CE.  “Talhearn Tad Awen won renown in poetry” is where we first see the word, and it tells us that Talhearn is the ‘father of Awen” in this instance. Sadly, this source tells us nothing more about Talhearn as being the “father of awen”, but perhaps later research may discover more clues about this reference.

A common translation of the Welsh word awen is “flowing inspiration” or “flowing poetry/poetic insight”. Awake to our own energy, and stretching out towards the energy of nature around us, we begin to see just what is the awen.  It is an opening of one’s self, of one’s spirit or soul, in order to truly and very deeply see and connect to all life around us.  When we are open, we can receive that divine gift, the inspiration that flows, whether it is from deity, nature, or whatever it is that you choose to focus on.

For awen to exist, there must be relationship.  We cannot be inspired unless we are open, and we cannot be open unless we have established a relationship, whether that is with the thunder, the blackbird or a god.  It is cyclical in nature; we open and give of ourselves and in doing so we receive, and vice versa.  Letting go, releasing into that flow of awen allows it to flow ever more freely, and we find ourselves inspired not only in fits and bursts of enlightenment or inspiration, but all the time, carrying that essence of connection and wonder with us at all times.  There is, of course, a line to be drawn, for we can’t be off our heads in ecstatic relationship with everything all the time. As with all language, a literal translation can be far too limiting.  It’s good to have a context and some sort of description to relate the concept, but when confined to literalism we get stuck and are unable to see the bigger picture. Awen does mean flowing inspiration, but what is inspiration?

A really good idea, a bolt from the blue is one interpretation. However, there are many others.  Inspiration is not just something that happens to us. It is something that we can cultivate, in true relationship. We are not subject to the whims of inspiration, but rather can access that inspiration on a daily basis through deep relationship. Indeed, awen is all about relationship, more than it being “a really good idea”. When we literally translate awen into inspiration, we can lose that context of relationship. With good relationship, we will have good ideas.

When soul touches soul, there is an energy; a source of inspiration.  When we are aware of our soul interacting with other souls, we can harness that inspiration and see it in everything that we do. It doesn’t just happen every now and then, like a bolt out of the blue, but rather is in everything that we do. It requires a willingness for deep relationship, and a desire to be mindful in all our relationships.

This may sound a lot like Eastern philosophy; being very mindful. Mindfulness has become a large part of many Eastern philosophies, but I am sure that it has been around as long as human self-awareness has been around. Indeed, it may have been a large part of ancient Druidry, now lost to the mists of time. Taking inspiration from Eastern traditions with regards to our way of thinking is not much different to reading the works of Nietzsche or Plato. There is no monopoly on wisdom.

Mindfulness relates to awen in that when we are aware of our relationship to the world, when we see how we fit in the world then we can work in harmony with the world. We become an integral and integrated part of an ecosystem, where we know that everything that we do matters to the system in its entirety. The discipline gained from such mindfulness as practiced in the Eastern traditions and philosophies can be a great teacher in expanding our minds and helping us to learn more about ourselves. That also goes for other religions and philosophies as well. I’m sure the ancient Druids, just as much as Modern Druids today, loved reading about world religions and discussing philosophy.

There is a lot of talk about cultural misappropriation, however, in modern Paganism and it’s something that needs to be carefully considered. We do have to be aware of when we are taking something from another culture without its proper context and permission. Nevertheless, with religions or traditions such as Buddhism, for example, the Buddha said that enlightenment was for anyone to achieve, available to all, regardless of where they came from, whatever their background.  It’s why we see so many different forms of Buddha being represented in sculpture. We have fat Buddhas from China, giant slim standing Buddhas in India, reclining Buddhas in Burma, sitting Buddhas carved straight out of the rock temples in Sri Lanka, elegant bronze-plated Buddhas in Japan and so on. In each country the Buddha looks different, as Buddha is within each and every person as well as having been a person in his own right. There is even a female Buddha known as Tara in Vajrayana Buddhism.

You will find that Druidry has much in common with many other Earth-based religions the world over, as well as many philosophies, both ancient and modern. We can be inspired by these and let them help us to change our perception, our way of seeing the world, from a self-centred point of view to a more holistic worldview, from a less human-centred perspective to one that is more integrated. In that, we are living the awen.

Awen is that spark set off by interaction, by integration.  We do not exist in a bubble. We are surrounded by the world at all times, by the seen and the unseen.  When we live integrated, we see the meaning that each relationship has, and that inspires us to live our lives accordingly. That inspiration is the heart and soul of Druidry.

Inspiration: to inspire, from the Latin inspirare, the act of breathing.

Indeed, it has many connotations to the breath and breathing. Awen can connect us to the world through the very act of breathing. All living things breathe in some form on this planet. The human species shares this breath, breathing in the oxygen created on this planet and exhaling it into the twilight. The air that we breathe has been recycled by plants and creatures for billions of years. The breath is the gateway to the ancestors, and to a deep understanding of the nature of awen.  Awen is also shared inspiration, for we share this planet with everything else on it. Everything that we do has an impact, every breath we take, every action that we make. Breath links us to everything else.

When we remember that deep connection to everything else, we cannot help but be inspired. And we hope to inspire in return, much as our own exhalation is valuable to trees and plants who take in the carbon dioxide, turning it to oxygen for our own breath. Inspiration and expiration, inhalation and exhalation are all words for the act of breathing. Remembering the shared breath of the world, we come home to ourselves and rediscover the wonder and awe of existence. Then, we are truly inspired.

More about the awen in Part Two, coming up…

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

The Queen of the May

 

She calls

And now you know you must answer

Softly at first

At Spring Equinox

She was all innocence

All light-voiced song

And you know She calls

The Queen of the May

The virgin voice now lusty and deep

Full in the belly and full in the throat

Her song caresses you

Like her fingertips caress the belly of Experience

And you answer her call

 

She calls

And you are faery-led

Into the wild haunts

To lay yourself down

As sacrifice

Upon the altar of ecstasy

To dance free around the faery tree

To let your heart be filled

With the songs of sparrows

And swifts

As they scream overhead

To touch the grace of the deer in the shadows

To feel the heartbeat of the earth

Pulsing beneath your feet

As you set you roots down

Even as you reach towards the skies

The Beltane time is nigh

 

You hear a cry

And it is your own soulsong

Escaping your cherry-red lips

Filled with laughter

And grief

Freedom

 

You dance the circle round

Whispering secrets to the trees

The eyes of the hidden folk following

You know who you are

You know who you were meant to be

And in your breathless dance

You sweat your prayers

 

And She hears them

And with crystalline clarity you know

In the blood that runs through your veins

And the thoughts that course through your mind

In the lives and loves of your ancestors

You know you are not the only one

 

And you revel in your witchdom

 

The music slows

The eyes of the does drop to the ground

As they lower their heads in reverence

For here She comes

Sovereignty

And you look into Her in the eyes

And you see the May Queen

 

You see all that you were

And all that has been

And you nod and you smile

She takes your hand

She knows every crack in your heart

She knows your inner land

 

And as the bright sun fades

And the stars begin to shine

You honour your past

Your future is bright

And the magic never ends

As day turns into night

She blesses you

With your own inner sight

There is starshine in your hair

There is elphame in your soul

 

And you remember

All you have been

All you have seen and been told

And you have come home

 

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(Photo by Graham Haynes)

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Spring Equinox – Riding the Energies

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the time when the days become longer than the nights, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. It’s a tipping point in the cycle, where new energies come into play. This crossover, this shifting of energies happens over and over again, in a never-ending cycle of the seasons, the play and dance of the sun across our planet’s sphere. How do we work with these energies?

Right now our world is in imbalance, and we see that reflected in everything around us. It can be devastating when one follows an earth-based tradition. The rampant destruction of nature, our capitalistic, over-consumption culture and the degradation of cohesive and compassionate communities is at an all-time high. We are seeing the effects each and every day, on the news and social media, an influx of information 24/7 that our brains aren’t wired to handle, which only leads to more stress and fear.

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As followers of an earth-based tradition, how do we cope with all this? We watch our consumption, we give back, we do the ecologically and socially responsible things. But we still have to cope with the stress, the fear, the despair sometimes. When it all gets too much, what can we do? For me, there are two answers. Watching funny David Bowie interviews (really, that man was not only a genius, but exceptionally funny!) and getting out in nature.

Getting outdoors is perhaps the best medicine we have, if we are able to get outside into the fresh air and sunlight, feeling the wind on our faces or looking at the vast expanse of stars overhead. For those who are not mobile, I know that this can present a problem, and we have to work with this as best we can, even if it is to sit by an open window for five minutes (close the doors to the room so you don’t lose all the heat in your home). If you live in a city, try to get out to a park (if you aren’t in quarantine). Any way you can, try to commune with nature, to refresh those bonds in our hearts and minds, to remind us of the beauty, power and strength that lies all around us, all the time. If you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, so much the better.

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We can also work for ourselves, to strengthen our hearts and bodies, to connect with nature, our gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place, the fey folk. We can use the inspiration of nature. There is magic all around us, in the water that comes from our taps, in the air that we breathe, in the candle’s flame and in the earth beneath our feet. We can work with these energies to help us physically, mentally and spiritually. We are a creative bunch. There are no limits for the work that we can do with nature all around us. If we use the energies of the Spring Equinox on top of all these other energies, we are making good use of the time and tides of our lives.

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Tap into the energies of the growing light if you live in the northern hemisphere (or the energies of the growing darkness in the southern hemisphere) for your work. Pray, do magic, meditate, commune, establish your own personal connection to these energies. Work with the flow, not against it. Listen to the voices of the gods and goddesses, the ancestors, the Fair Folk. What do they have to tell you about right now? What advice can they give, and what can you do, for yourself and the world around you, to make it a better place? How can you be a better functioning part of your ecosystem? How can you ride the tide of this very special time, to do the work that you need to do?

As a suggestion, in the northern hemisphere, at the equinox we can do work to increase health, compassion, love, holistic living,  and peace using these energies. In the southern hemisphere, we can work with the energies to decrease panic, war, anger, ill-health and so on. It can be difficult to ride these incredible waves of energy at this time of year. Everything is thrown up in the air, and it only settles come the next holiday, whether that be Beltane or Samhain, depending on where you live. That is the time when we begin to see the manifestation of the energies, the reality of the situation. At the equinoxes, the energy is ethereal and wild, like the wind. But we can harness that energy, with a little imagination, courage and determination. We are the practitioners of the magical arts. We are the Dreamweavers and the Shamans, the Druids, the Witches, the Wiccans and everything else. We are the earth itself, she is us and we are Her. We only have to remember that, in order to live in balance and right relationship.

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Let’s use our hearts, our minds, our imagination. Let’s work for the benefit of all. Let’s take care of each other, and be the example that we want to see in the world. Things are difficult for most, yes, but we can help each other. We are not alone, we live with everything else on this planet. Our interconnectedness is what makes us strong, and our forgetfulness of this relationship is our downfall. Do what you can to make your environment strong and healthy, for everyone concerned, human and hon-human. Work your magic, pray by the moon, use the energies of the equinox to bring about change. Remember the Old Ways and the Old Ones, use the brilliance of current technology combined with the magic of herbs and stones. Use the gifts that lie all around us, and give back to the earth and each other. Take great care of each other.

Blessings of the equinox to you all.

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Imbolc Protection Ritual

Snowdrops ButleyThis rite uses what is commonly known as “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica. This rite specifically calls upon the powers of the goddess Brighid, and cannot be used interchangeably with another goddess. If you honour or work with other deities, you might consider using the poem as an example to write your own spell or charm of protection. Alternatively, you might just leave out all the references to deity. At the end of the poem, we find the term luatha-luis, whose meaning is not wholly clear, and which is open to interpretation. It may mean a fast-acting, possibly poisonous plant. Luis is the rowan or mountain ash, a powerful and magical tree, whose berries are poisonous when raw, but delicious and nutritious when cooked.
You can perform this ritual every Imbolc, especially if you are a follower or would like to honour Brighid. Or you can simply use it as a rite of protection. You can perform this rite after undergoing a purification such as smudging or saining yourself with smoke from mugwort or vervain.
For this ritual, I would strongly encourage the entire formality of designating sacred space. This will lend focus to your intention, as well as inviting the powers of the ancestors, the three realms, the spirits of place and more to your rite. Choose something that symbolises protection for you, a talisman if you will: something strong and durable, something that will “shield” you physically, spiritually and psychically. You can make a shield yourself, using whatever materials you prefer. This doesn’t have to be a full-body protecting hunk of steel, but again can be symbolic; you can make one out of papier maché to keep near your altar, should you so wish. You might wish to use something natural that you can carry with you, such as a stone or crystal, or even say the poem over a pendant bearing the triskele or triquetra symbol, reflecting the triple nature of Brighid. There are many ways you can use this; be creative!

Rite of Protection Using the Shield of Brighid

Set up and designate your sacred space. Once you have done so, sit or stand for a moment and breathe, focusing your intention on what is to come. Visualise a glowing light beginning to emanate from within, centred on your chest. This light reflects the light of the moon, or the light upon water, or the light of a flame. The energy from this light is not hot, but cool, flowing through you and filling you with strength and confidence, as well as compassion and love. Raise your arms to the sky, drawing down the power of the sky and the full moon. Then hold your hands out in front of you, and draw in the power of the sea, and the highest tide. Finally, hold your hands to the ground, and draw the power of the land into yourself, the serpent energy that courses and connects everything to each other. Stand fully upright once more, noting how the light emanating from within you is even brighter now. Take that light within your mind, and form it into a circle or sphere of light around you. Visualise that light encompassing you, shielding you. If you have a talisman to represent the shield, hold this aloft and still visualise the circle around you. Then say the following words, from “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica, feeling free to adapt or leave out the Christian influence:

Brigit daughter of Dugall the Brown
Son of Aodh son of Art son of Conn
Son of Criara son of Cairbre son of Cas
Son of Cormac son of Cartach son of Conn.

Brigit of the mantles,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit of the twining hair,
Brigit of the augury.

Brigit of the white feet,

Brigit of calmness,
Brigit of the white palms,
Brigit of the kine.

Brigit, woman-comrade,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit, woman-helper,
Brigit, woman mild.

Brigit, own tress of Mary,
Brigit, Nurse of Christ, —
Each day and each night
That I say the Descent of Brigit,
I shall not be slain,
I shall not be wounded,
I shall not be put in cell,
I shall not be gashed,
I shall not be torn in sunder,
I shall not be despoiled,
I shall not be down-trodden,
I shall not be made naked,
I shall not be rent,
Nor will Christ
Leave me forgotten.

Nor sun shall burn me,
Nor fire shall burn me.
Nor beam shall burn me.
Nor moon shall burn me.

Nor river shall drown me.
Nor brine shall drown me.
Nor flood shall drown me.
Nor water shall drown me.

Nightmare shall not lie on me,
Black-sleep shall not lie on me.
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me,
‘ Luatha-luis ‘ shall not lie on me.

I am under the keeping
Of my Saint Mary;
My companion beloved
Is Brigit.

Let the words sink into the air around you. Let them suffuse the light that encircles you with their power. When you are ready, draw the circle of light that surrounds you back into yourself, centred on your chest. If you have a special talisman that you’d like to infuse with this energy instead, draw the circle of light that surrounds you into your talisman. When all the light has gone where it should, stand for a moment and see how this makes you feel. You can test the circle of light, by holding up your dominant hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) and immediately bring the circle of light back around your being. See it spring back up with ease, to surround you and protect you. If you are using a talisman, see it coming forth from the talisman. You can call and release this power as you wish, as you need. It is not something to be played with, but something real, an energy being focused around you. You are connecting with the power of Brighid.
When you are satisfied that you have the protection you need, it is time to reciprocate and leave an offering for what you have been given. As the lady of poetry, smithcraft and of healing, an offering related of one or all of these would be suitable.
Close down your ritual, and renew this rite of protection whenever you feel it necessary.

This ritual is an excerpt from my latest work, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker, published by Llewellyn Worldwide.

(c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019