The Deep Music: Offerings for the Awen

An Introduction

Nine years of enchantment the awen sang,
Rang from the string of the harp I became
Or which became me as I heeded the song
The harp, the harpist and the harp-string as one
.’
Greg Hill, ‘Telyn Mabon’

A child is stolen from his mother at three nights old. No-one knows where he is or whether he is alive or dead. His sorrowful lament, echoing from a house of stone beneath Caer Loyw, is known only to one being. This is the Salmon of Llyn Llyw, the oldest of the Ancients of the World, and the wisest.

If you speak with the Blackbird of Cilgwri, the Stag of Rhedynfre, the Owl of Cwm Cawlwyd, and the Eagle of Gwernabwy they might lead you to the Hafren where the salmon swims the bore each year. Past the Temple of Nodens (or Nudd/Lludd Llaw Eraint ‘Silver Hand’) to Mabon’s stony prison.

If you sit on the back of the salmon, traverse the rivers of time, you may be taken back to when the Hafren was a shiny glittering gauntlet of silver fish and an invisible hand placed the Son in his prison.

You might sit with him in the darkness without end punctuated only by Teulu, his wet nurse, coming, leaving. You might taste her milk on your lips, hear her humming and the chords on her harp.

When she is gone you may hear her harp playing on without a player. Such deep music – it evokes the birth of the universe, stars tumbling from the the cauldron, starry figures and their fortresses. Gods and animals swimming across the sea of stars to find their home. You may join their hunt.

When you can stand this heart-pounding beauty no longer, when you feel your heart might break, you might reach for the harp but realise it is not there. It was never there. Just another illusion of Annwn.

Yet a soft voice will whisper “it is always there – the music is within you – you are the harp”.

~*~

This is but one retelling of the story of the initiation of Mabon. His time in the darkness of Annwn, ‘the Deep’, the Brythonic Otherworld, allows him to hear the Song of the Universe. To receive his awen.

The Brythonic/Welsh term awen is rooted in the Proto-Indo-European *uel ‘to blow’. It is translated into English as ‘inspiration’, which derives from the Latin inspirare ‘to breathe or blow into’.

After Mabon has been rescued from the house of stone he becomes a formidable huntsman. A rider, I believe, on the wild hunt of Gwyn ap Nudd which rides across the night skies gathering the souls of the dead. In Ribchester, in North West England, he is depicted on a Romano-British altar dedicated to him as Apollo-Maponus, carrying a quiver (his bow is missing), and resting on his harp.

In a letter to John Aubrey, written in 1694, Henry Vaughan shares a story from the Welsh bardic tradition. He speaks of a shepherd boy who falls asleep and dreams of ‘a beautifull young man with a garland of green leafs upon his head, & an hawk upon his fist: with a quiver full of Arrows att his back’. The hawk flies into the lad’s mouth and possesses him with ‘the gift of poetrie’ ‘they called Awen’. Afterwards he becomes ‘the most famous Bard in all the Countrey in his time’.

It is my belief this is Mabon, breathing his gift of awen into the young man, who gifts it to his countrymen. Through this sharing of the divine breath the shepherd lad becomes an awenydd ‘person inspired’.

~*~

This anthology is a collection of the writings of contemporary awenyddion. Those who have heard the deep music, followed its call to Annwn, where the awen is breathed into them by the gods, and returned with their own songs.

Its origins lie in the creation of the ‘Awen ac Awenydd’ website in 2015 by Greg Hill and myself (Lorna Smithers). Brought together by our calling as awenyddion we perceived a void in information and discussion about inspiration, spirit work, mysticism, initiatory experiences, and relationships with the gods in the Brythonic tradition. The site began as a repository of information on the terms ‘awen’ and ‘awenydd’ in the historical sources and grew to become a collaborative project documenting the experiences of awenyddion and providing a home for awenyddau ‘inspired works’.

In 2018 Lia Hunter suggested the creation of an anthology featuring the works of awenyddion. Before we put the call out we thought it would be helpful to provide a definition of our use of the term ‘awenydd’. Collectively, drawing on its usage both in the past when present-day England, Wales, and southern Scotland were united by a shared Brythonic culture and in Wales today, we defined the path as follows: ‘an awenydd is a spirit worker and inspired poet in the Brythonic tradition’.

We decided that we would invite contributors to share a personal definition of the awenydd path and an inspired work. We had submissions from eleven awenyddion and from a druid and a bard who have been inspired by the awen and whose work we feel is of value to the anthology. These have come from Wales, England, France, the United States, and Canada. Some of our contributors are Welsh speakers, whilst others, such as myself, are striving to learn Welsh.

What we share, at this time of climate crisis, is a commitment to seeking the deeper wisdom of the Brythonic tradition and bringing it back to share in our communities to inspire, to lend strength, to heal.

Within these pages you will find the testimonies of awenyddion to a calling from the gods and spirits. To hauntings and experiences of the numinous which can be terrifying until understood, until we have learned to walk again the shadowy ways through the wild wood to Annwn and, most importantly, to perceive our deities alongside us in the here-and-now of our urban and suburban homes.

Join us and walk the deer trods of Elen, shiver at the horn of Gwyn ap Nudd, take your turn at the harp of Mabon, enter the faerie mounds; stand before the cauldron of Ceridwen and be transformed.

The Deep Music: Offerings for the Awen can be purchased HERE.

7 thoughts on “The Deep Music: Offerings for the Awen

  1. Tiege McCian says:

    Congrats on your collaborative endeavor! Does the anthology include speculative essays like what we find on this blog? Those are always great reads!

    Let me stress that I know very little about Awen and Welsh tradition! But for a project I did find the John Aubrey folktale you quote and it reminded me of an episode from the Irish text Fingen’s Nightwatch about Fintan. Like the Welsh shepherd boy, the wiseman Fintan is asleep in total isolation when a ‘spirit of prophecy’ in the shape of a ‘youth’ appears before him. This spirit bears, instead of a hawk, a ‘spear of the sun’ , which the youth casts into Fintan’s mouth and down into him. Fintan then has gets seven chains ( secht slabraid) upon his tongue (for a t[h]engaid iar sin) and receives inspired wisdom. I thought that it was similar to the Welsh tale, and also is reminiscent of Lucian’s description of Gaulish Ogmios.

    Thank you for the consistently good output, I enjoy going through your back catalogue!

    • lornasmithers says:

      Ooh I hadn’t heard that story. Love the image of ‘the spear of the sun’ and the ‘seven chains’. Recalls to me the chain-like structures of the strict Welsh metres and the Irish too. Yes, the speech of Ogmios, with the chains coming from his mouth.

      The collection is mainly modern definitions and inspired writings based on personal experiences rather than speculative essays although there is some speculation on the origins and development of the awenydd path and how it’s lived today.

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