The Deep Music (book review)

A review from Adam Sargant on the The British Druid Order blog of ‘The Deep Music’ – an anthology of the writings of contemporary awenyddion edited by Greg Hill, Lia Hunter, and myself.

I was intrigued by Adam’s suggestion that this anthology shows a ‘a third way’ ‘the way of the inspired ones’ of coming to awen alongside the courses of contemporary Druidry and studying medieval Welsh bardic texts. For me this would be further defined as learning directly, experientially, from the gods and spirits of the Brythonic tradition.

British Druid Order Blog

The Deep Music is an anthology of writings, some essays, some creative, some poetry, of contemporary awenyddion (for those of you not familiar with the term, an awenydd is one who is inspired. But, as this collection makes abundantly clear, the form of inspiration is quite specific.) The awen, the “poetic inspiration” as explored through the writings and experiences of these contemporary awenyddion, gives us an insight into the nature not only of this inspiration (which I will go into later) but into the way in which a community can come together and successfully fill a void in tradition with a living, contemporary energy.

The collective from which these writings were originated in a collaboration between the poets and awenyddion Lorna Smithers and Greg Hill who created the Awen ac Awenydd website in 2015 and, in Lorna’s words, “perceived a void in information and discussion about inspiration, spirit work, mysticism…

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Who am I?

I am not Taliesin enthroned in Caer Siddi where bardic words are a fountain of wine and mead and are served like sweet pastries and Turkish Delight on golden platters by a whirl of wisp-like spirits.

I am not Myrddin alone and starving in the Forest of Celyddon amongst the gwyllon with icicles for hair and a lean wolf beside him. By pine and root and name of plant and bone of bird laying to rest the skeletons of Arfderydd, healing rib by rib by the wisdom of awen.

I am not Orddu in her cave listening to the slow drip of water counting down to her preordained death.

I am not Afagddu on the shoreline. I have not swallowed stones. I have never tricked a fisherman.

I am not the Dark Magician in his high tower in the woodland at the back of the world where people come and go like the mists whilst his intentions, like the tower, forever remain concealed.

I am not the Nun in her cloister, the Bride of Christ with wedding bells in her head suffocating in his tomb.

I am not the Priestess of Avalon who serves my god lighting candles at the White Spring.

I am a suburban poet. I am Gwyn’s awenydd. I am not quite a hermit. I am possibly almost a mystic.

I am a between person. I am at home and not at home here in Peneverdant. I am in Creiddylad’s Garden. I like the slowness of the watering can. I like chloroplasts and slipping into them to learn of light and dark reactions, to become part of the Calvin-Benson Cycle. I like garden gnomes.

Perhaps one day I will wear a robe and shave my head or perhaps I will go naked in spite of the neighbours and the gaps in the garden fence or perhaps I will disappear like a mason bee into a bug hotel.

I know that, one day, like everything in this garden, I will be compost. Food for stinging nettles and beetles.

I am the key to the mysteries for which I have not found the lock yet.

I am the book in my hand that is not yet written.

Underground Shrines of the Inspired Ones

Thomas Stephan Unsplash

‘Was the rite conducted by a gutuater?
(‘master of voice’, ‘inspirer of song’)
chanting to inspire a modern awenydd
stepping down into the smoke of the chamber,
hearing the uttered syllables, riding the waves
of sound in the torchlight, finding a way back
to that world, re-creating, even as they did,
a rite that is alive in vision, in the presence
of those spirits called upon to officiate
as before…’
Greg Hill

Greg Hill’s poem ‘Gutuater’ led me to the section on the underground shrine of the Chartres ‘magician’, dated ‘to the second century AD’, in Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s Sacred Britannia (2018). In 2005, during excavations for a car park in the centre of Chartres the construction workers found a ‘basement shrine’ accessed by ‘a wooden ladder and ‘a cache of sacred material, including pottery vessels, oil-lamps and a broad-bladed knife, of the kind used in killing sacrificial animals.’

The pottery vessels were incense burners (thuribula) likely used for burning mind-altering drugs. Inscribed on one of the vessels, on each of the four panels, is a script beginning with names of the cardinal points: ‘oriens (East), meridie (South), occidens (West), and septentrio (North).’ Beneath each directional heading is a prayer to ‘all powerful spirits’ written by their ‘guardian’, ‘Caius Verius Sedatus’ and ‘a long list naming these spirits’ (which, disappointingly, Green does not share). However, she does mention the term ‘dru’ occurs in the list, suggesting Sedatus was invoking the spirits of druids.

What stands out to me firstly is that here we have evidence of a Roman citizen with a Gaulish cognomen – Sedatus – performing a ritual underground to invoke underworld spirits. In Gaul they were known as the Andedion and were invoked on the Tablet of Chamalières (50AD) for aid in battle. Secondly, we find a fascinating combination of Greco-Egyptian magic with invoking native spirits.

Finally, Green provides an interesting interpretation of the role of Sedatus. She mentions that Chartres was ‘the capital of the Iron Age Carnutes tribe’ and this land provides ‘evidence for the survival of specifically native, non-Roman spiritual leaders’. Aulus Hirtius ‘an officer in Caesar’s army and later governor of transalpine Gaul’ speaks of the resistance of ‘a freedom fighter called Gutuatrus’. This means ‘master of voice’ or ‘father of inspiration’. It may have been a title rather than a name as references to gutuatri have been found in the nearby Aeduan territory. An altar from Macon ‘recorded the presence of a gutuater of Mars’ (possibly Nodens under interpretatio Romana?). The word ‘GVTVATER’ is inscribed on the base of an altar to the local god, Anvallus, from Autun. Thus Sedatus may have acted in a religious role as a gutuater for his people.

Intriguing parallels can be found between the Gaulish and British traditions. In The Gods of the Celts (2011), Green records a remarkable example of an underground shrine to an underworld god from a similar period:

‘At the bottom of this shaft, found at Deal in Kent, all some 2.5 metres deep, was an oval chamber containing a complete figurine, composed of a featureless block of dressed chalk from which rises a long slender neck and a head with a well-carved, very Celtic face. This figure may have stood in a niche high up in one wall of the chamber. The presence of footholds in the shaft indicates that access to the shrine was intended but only four or five adults could have sat in the chamber at once and the shrine was perhaps meant for the deity or god and priest alone. Pottery would indicate a first or second century AD date for the structure.’

It seems likely this deity is one of the spirits of Annwn, our British equivalent to the Andedion. It may even be Pen Annwn, the Head of the Otherworld, who is known as Arawn or as Gwyn ‘White’.

The term gutuater may be linked to Talhearn Tad Awen ‘Father of Inspiration’ who is mentioned in Nennius’ History of the Britons (828) and to the awenyddion ‘people inspired’ mentioned by Gerald of Wales in his Description of Wales (1194). They served a prophetic function and were said to ‘speak by the means of fanatic and ignorant spirits’. Gerald notes their speeches are ‘nugatory’, ‘incoherent’, and ‘ornamented’ although an explanation can be ‘conveyed in some term of a word’. Their use of a non-logical and poetic language fits with Green drawing attention to the ‘plosive’ sounds in ‘the list of obscure names’ spoken by Sedatus, which lend them power when recited out loud.

These links have led me to wonder whether the ‘priest’ from Deal was an awenydd who invoked Gwyn and the spirits of Annwn in his underground shrine and whether such practices were wider spread. Could there be continuity between these 2nd century inspired ones and the 12th century awenyddion?


With thanks to Thomas Stephan on Unsplash for the smoke image and to Digital Equine Designs on Deviant Art for ‘Dark Cave’.