Gwyn’s Apprenticeship and the Role of the Awenydd

Moon over Castle HillAfter two years studying Druidry (and many years prior to this of searching) on the morning of the winter solstice I received a name for my spiritual path- Awenydd. It was a gift, bestowed by Gwyn ap Nudd (1) and the spirits of my local landscape.

Over the past year my path has grown to centre on my apprenticeship to Gwyn, which began when I made a vow to him as my patron at Glastonbury’s White Spring last January. This role has involved learning more deeply the life cycles of the trees, plants and wildlife of my local area, journeying to meet their spirits and travelling into the land’s past to learn its history. With Gwyn’s guidance I have journeyed the Otherworld, gaining direct experience of realms such as Annwn and Faery, met their inhabitants and borne witness to mythic events.

In exchange I have strived to share this magic through poetry with the aim of revealing my local landscape as inspirited and communicating my vision of the Otherworld. I believe this serves Gwyn for it his task as a king of the Otherworld and leader of the Wild Hunt to maintain the dynamic between the worlds lest this one be destroyed (2). Being gifted with the role of the Awenydd seems to be a natural development of this relationship.

An early description of the Awenyddion can be found in Giraldus Cambrensis’ 12th century manuscript, Description of Wales.

‘There are certain persons in Cambria, whom you will find nowhere else, called Awenyddion, or people inspired; when consulted upon any doubtful event, they roar out violently, are rendered beside themselves, and become, as it were, possessed by a spirit. They do not deliver the answer to what is required in a connected manner; but the person who skilfully observes them, will find, after many preambles, and many nugatory and incoherent, though ornamented speeches, the desired explanation conveyed in some turn of a word: they are then roused from their ecstasy, as from a deep sleep, and, as it were, by violence compelled to return to their proper senses. After having answered the questions, they do not recover till violently shaken by other people; nor can they remember the replies they have given. If consulted a second or third time upon the same point, they will make use of expressions totally different; perhaps they speak by the means of fanatic and ignorant spirits. These gifts are usually conferred upon them in dreams: some seem to have sweet milk or honey poured on their lips; others fancy that a written schedule is applied to their mouths and on awaking they publicly declare that they have received this gift.’ (3)

When I first read this passage a couple of years back I found little I could relate to. Returning to consider it now I find the ideas more resonant.

A phrase which immediately stands out is that the Awenyddion are people inspired. Within the Bardic Tradition I have found the predominance of structured courses of training and people’s preconceptions about the role of the Bard problematic. Experience has taught me I cannot learn stories or poems by rote. Myths and the deities within them have a life of their own, calling through Bardic, folkloric and contemporary texts, or revealing themselves in the landscapes of either world to impart the gifts of inspiration and transformation when the time is right.

Following a conversation with a visiting speaker at my local pagan society, who when I named my path as “Druid Bard” assumed I was of the ‘Bardic Grade’ and completing a ‘gwers’ within OBOD I began to question (and not for the first time) whether this name was a true fit with my spirituality.

During this period I asked Gwyn how my apprenticeship related to Druidry. He told me my role is bound up with the primal Awen, which flows before thought through all things. This supported my suspicion that true inspiration can only speak when systems, concepts and fear of other people’s opinions are set aside. Only by listening directly to the Awen and my own intuition could I become a person inspired and create works worthy of sharing with others.

Another point of resonance is that inspiration is a gift from the spirits, through possession, dreams, milk or honey or a ‘written schedule.’

I’ve never been possessed in the sense of losing my senses and being unable to recall what happened afterward. However I have channelled the voices of spirits and deities whilst writing poetry. During a writing trance visions have appeared where they have revealed themselves in new ways and I’ve recognised their guiding hand even when making finishing touches, in the gift of a completing image or right feeling of a word.

I’ve also been gifted with inspiration in dreams. One of my most significant dreams was when I learnt the identity of my white totem mare. She appeared to me winged and I joined consciousness with her to fly to the top of Castle Hill, a local sacred site. Another important dream occurred the night before my birthday. After seeing a moon bridge in the river Ribble I dreamt of questioning a series of gnarled fay in a cave in Castle Hill. When I realised the process was futile Gwyn appeared and inquired why I hadn’t asked him. By this time I had forgotten the question. The dream conveyed a powerful message about the ethos of questioning in the realms of Faery and dream.

The mention of milk or honey puts me in mind of mead, which in my experience certainly inspires connection with the spirits, writing processes, performances and rituals. The image of the ‘written schedule’ touching an Awenydd’s lips seems to symbolize direct inspiration through the written word.

In the modern world the role of the Awenydd is not limited to ecstatic prophets. Kristoffer Hughes places ‘becoming Awenydd’ – ‘becoming the inspirer’ at the core of Druidry. He says ‘they were the enlightened ones, those who serve, those who inspire to bring others into the mystery of spirit and the great song… by inspiration.’ (4)

Elen Sentier is an ‘awenydd, a spirit keeper and taleweaver from a long family lineage.’ She describes this path as ‘British native shamanism.’ (5) Alongside her reindeer goddess, Elen of the Ways she works with Gwyn as ‘the goddess’ guardian.’ Part of her work involves tracing Elen’s Deer Trods which are also the ‘energy roads’ down which Gwyn leads the Wild Hunt. Many of these are ‘spirit paths’ taking souls to the Otherworld (6) and correspond with corpse roads such as Church Avenue on Castle Hill.

For me the name Awenydd has a magic born of its direct connection with the spiritual source which flows through the land defying all systems and can only be spoken in poetry. My role as an Awenydd is one that I only have intimations of at present- small clues to the potential of learning with the leader of the wild chase and king of the Otherworld to travel the spirit paths and experience the mysteries of the primal Awen in order to return as the inspirer.

(1) Gwyn ap Nudd is a Brythonic deity. His name means White Son of Mist. He is a king of the Otherworld, leader of the wild hunt and guide of souls.
(2) Evidence of this role is found in The Mabinogion, ‘Twrch Trwyth will not be hunted until Gwyn son of Nudd is found- God has put the spirit of the demons of Annwfn in him, lest the world be destroyed. He will not be spared from there.’ Sioned Davies, ‘How Culhwch won Olwen,’ The Mabinogion, (2007), p199
(4) Kristoffer Hughes, Natural Druidry, (2007), p67
(5) Elen Sentier, Elen of the Ways, (2013), pvii
(6) Ibid. p26-28

11 thoughts on “Gwyn’s Apprenticeship and the Role of the Awenydd

  1. Greg says:

    It’s good to think things through clearly enough to set them out in this way and you have marked out a path for yourself that can only benefit from such clear thinking about where you are going and how you will beth there.

    May the AWEN lead you and inspire you as you walk your path.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’m guessing that the ancient Awenyddion would have played a similar role. I believe possession’s a part of some voodoo traditions and even part of some Heathen seidr ceremonies. Can’t say I’ve encountered it in Druidry. What about Wicca?

      I watched the introduction to the video. I think it looked interesting but don’t like the freak show feel. I think they could have created a more sensitive representation.

      • Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge says:

        There was one coven’s All Hallows ritual i went to where people attempted to be oracles, but i did not like how what they said to people could be heard by others. Yea the video probably had a weird feel because it was the first time the Nechung oracle had ever been filmed, and in man ways it is an embarrassment to the normal conservative Buddhist path. As the film goes on the Dalai Lama takes a middle view and gives it some credence but not feed the practice as much as it was fed in old Tibet.

      • Lee says:

        With Wicca – yep, trance possession forms a central part of ritual. Drawing down the Moon is a full on attempt at possession. Doesn’t always happen so you have the ‘charge of the goddess’ there if it doesn’t. If it does you get something all-together entirely unplanned and unexpected.

    • Khi Armand says:

      Interestingly, I have found that the spirits in African Traditional Religions (and other traditions I’m familiar with) – when in possession – don’t seem to care whether or not others can hear. I’ve never seen them quietly take someone aside. I think this is because there’s a sense of accountability within community, especially if the person they’re speaking to belongs to the house or congregation that is hosting the ritual. I’ve absolutely seen people be embarrassed and publicly scolded by the “spirits in possession” – but they had every choice to leave the room or not be there if they knew they were not being in right relationship with the spirits or others around them. Yeah – the gods / spirits don’t play. I don’t think we have time for them to.

  2. adruidway says:

    Lorna, exciting to have a name and a clarifying vision of your path. You’re right — the OBOD course, like any other person’s sense of what we actually need, can be restrictive of our own growth and the direction it needs to take. May the new year be filled with awenydd as you continue to walk and discern your path — and write it about it so movingly. — ADW

  3. nicolasguywilliams says:

    those that have eyes to see and mouths to hear with speak what the eye hears and the ear sees dwell in divergant place where they are gateways themselves … this is from an ancient branch of shamanic experience (I know you don’t associate shamanism with druidic tradition but it is there in such traditions)

  4. Aurora J Stone says:

    I realise I am responding to this ‘testimony’ rather late, but one discovers such things when one needs to/is meant to. I find this a compelling statement, a clarification for you and others of the limitation and liberation that can be found in a name, attached to a tag. I too am not good at memorising others poems, or myths or legends, I am called to write my own from what I KNOW and what I feel/perceive in the landscape and from the spirits/deities/ancestors that dwell therein and/or preside there over. I am making a slower start at this than I would like to do, but I am aware that I must respond, even if only small ways at the moment. I commend your dedication to and willingness to follow the path of Awen.

  5. Pingback: Elen Sentier

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