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.

Mabon Learns to Play the Harp

It was Mabon who played then in the youth of the world
Greg Hill

Take the hand of the invisible
and make it visible.

Pluck a chord of light
like a string from the ball of the sun.

Imagine spiders spinning their webs

between the constellations;
the songs of the stars,

make them audible.

Fashion the nine chords
of my harp – the harp of Teirtu –

do not think of how it will play alone
as you in this House of Stone

in the hall of Pen Annwn.
Think not of the turning of his fortress

‘in Annwn below the earth’
or ‘in the air above’.

Do not ponder the reason
for your imprisonment – why

you must become an awenydd or bard.

Reach into the darkness with the audacity
of youth and imagine the discovery

of the wealthy realms of Pluto.

Ask not why the sun does not shine there,
why a dog’s jaws are the doors

and questions remain unanswered.
Reach deep within for the chord that moves

the hearts of planets – underworld gods.

In the river of tears consume the hazel nut
unknowing if it contains the awen

or countless meteoric souls.

Escape down the trail of a meteor
on the salmon of Llyn Llyw.

Take the hand of the visible
and make it invisible.

Forget this story –
you have always been the harper
and my harp has always played on…

Mabon's Harp

Annuvian Awen

Annuvian Awen

Allan o dywyllwch caf fy ngeni
Allan o waed caf fy ngeni
Allan o ysbryd caf fy ngeni

Yn canu o Annwn

Tri phelydryn golau
Tri phelydryn llais
Tri phelydryn wirionedd

I oleuo â rhyfeddod
Ac yn torri’r galon wytnaf

Yn canu o Annwn

~

Out of darkness I am born
Out of blood I am born
Out of spirit I am born

Singing from Annwn

Three rays of light
Three rays of voice
Three rays of truth

To illuminate with wonder
And break the hardest heart

Singing from Annwn

~

About a month ago I awoke with the symbol above in my mind with the name ‘Annuvian Awen’. Awen derives from the Indo-European *-uel ‘to blow’ and has the same root as the Welsh awel ‘breeze’. It is the primordial breath that binds all things, as Kristoffer Hughes says, ‘the voice of the universe speaking to itself’.

The Awen symbol was popularised by Iolo Morganwg in the 1860s. He claimed it was derived from a Welsh alphabet recorded by Nennius in the ninth century and that its meaning was ‘I am that I am’. It has been used by Neo-Druids since.

In medieval Welsh poetry ‘the ogyrven of threefold inspiration’ originate from the cauldron of Ceridwen. Crochan means both ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’. It is the place from which all beings of the universe are born and to where they return at death.

The cauldron of Ceridwen lies in Annwn, ‘Very Deep’, the ancient British Otherworld. It is guarded by the Head of Annwn: a god with many names who I know as Gwyn ap Nudd. Gwyn guides the souls of the dead and of living initiates to the cauldron.

The black background of the Annuvian Awen represents the origin of Awen from the darkness of Ceridwen’s cauldron in the depths of Annwn. The red stands for the blood of the dead (human and non-human) whose sacrifices have made it possible the living can have Awen. The white is spirit: the breath, the voice of truth, the misty otherlight of the ogyrven ‘spirits’ contained in the person of Gwyn ‘White’ who is also known as the giant Ogyrven.

When I had created the design I received the gnosis I must write a poem to accompany it in English and Welsh. My Welsh is very basic. Having written the English version with an eye to how it looked and sounded in Welsh, translating as I went, I contacted fellow awenydd and Welsh-speaker Greg Hill for help with the translation.

Greg corrected my grammatical errors and helped me with choices of individual words. Interestingly this led to changing the tense of the English poem from past to present which was a big improvement. This fortuitous exchange of Awen between awenyddion gave birth to the poem in its present form. We decided to use it with the symbol on the front page of ‘Awen ac Awenydd’: a website providing a repository of information on the awenydd path.

For me the Annuvian Awen forms an expression of the path of the awenydd that acknowledges the importance of depth in our increasingly superficial world; the need to recover the inspiration that lies in the deeps of Annwn and in the deep places of our souls to combat the soullessness that allows the destructive systems that are wrecking Thisworld to thrive.

The ways to Annwn are dark, misty, uncertain, steeped in blood, for the most part forgotten. Yet there are gods and guides who offer to walk with us and share our quest. So we go with them through the darkness, across the river of blood, to return with the otherlight to illuminate the beauty of Thisworld because not only our lives but the lives of our souls depend on it.

SOURCES

Angela Grant, ‘A Short History of the Awen’, The Druid Network
Greg Hill, ‘Awen’, Awen ac Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘Taliesin, the Bardic Tradition and the Awen’, The Way of the Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall’
Kristoffer Hughes, Natural Druidry, (Thoth Publications, 2007)
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Awen’, Wikipedia

Dôn and Returning to the Source

Creatures by Greg Hill

On the cover of Greg Hill’s poetry collection, Creatures, is an image of a sculpture by Fidelma Massey called ‘Water Mother’. The first ekphrastic poem bears the same name. Rivers flow through the book with rain and turning tides.

When I reviewed Creatures in November 2014 I didn’t think I’d ever meet a mother goddess; I decided not to have children at an early age and don’t have a nurturing bone in my body.

However I’ve long been drawn to local rivers, streams and wells, above ground and those unseen, been haunted by the songs of their spirits whether rippling in sunshine, hurtling through darkness, rattling against culverts or running free.

I’ve seen a water dragon shrink and die because we shattered her aquifer, heard the screams of her daughters, stood before the empty greyness of her ghost.

In retrospect it’s not that surprising I should meet a water mother: the primal source from whom every river flows and returns. The fountainhead of all water. She who gives and draws back into the abyss.

***

Her name is Dôn. I met her last October in a vision where I was surrounded by hills filled with people. Somehow the hills became the folds of my coat and I was privileged with custodianship of these people whilst together we witnessed a primordial creation scene.

A dark orb appeared, then pupil-like, placenta-like, emerged the diaphanous form of a goddess. After her appearance the orb came to life: amoeba, green moving swards of vegetation, trees, people, marching through a labyrinthine kingdom back into the void carrying houses and entire civilisations.

Sometimes people get stuck, I heard them knocking, felt they wanted to shout out through me. From a huge crow watching above I received the gnosis my patron, Gwyn, carries the lost ones under his wings, that I too bear some responsibility for them; albeit by carrying their stories.

At the end the goddess’s name rang through the hills, from the spiralling abyss of the deep, echoing in the minds of her people, in the vow I’d made to Gwyn who flies between them: Dôn Dôn Dôn. I had the feeling of being part of her family.

***

Little is known about Dôn from Brythonic tradition. The rivers Don in south Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire bear her name suggesting she is a water goddess. In The Mabinogion we find her children: Gwydion, Gilfaethwy, Arianrhod, Gofannon, Amaethon, Eufydd and Elestron.

To learn more it is necessary to turn to Irish parallels and Danu, mother goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danaan (‘Tribe of the Goddess Danu’). Danu derives from proto-Celtic *Dānu ‘fluvial water’ and is associated with the ‘Indo-European heartland’ of the river Danube. Liz Greene says her ‘dark face was Domnu, which means “abyss” or “deep sea”.

The Tuatha Dé Danaan arrived in dark clouds from islands in the north and took the kingship of Ireland from the Fir Bolg. In turn they were defeated by the sons of Míl Espáne who took the surface whereas the Tuatha were forced underground into the sídhe (‘mounds’) becoming the aos sí (‘people of the mounds’).

Will Parker suggests the Tuatha’s arrival from the north is based on a migratory route from Greece via Scandinavia and says Neolithic Grooved Ware and Bronze Age Bell Beaker cultures show Indo-European influence.

There are no records of how the Children of Don arrived. In the Fourth Branch, Dôn has fallen into the background and her son, Gwydion, is lord of Gwynedd. Similarly we find out little about Beli, grandfather of Brân and father of Caswallon and Lludd, who become rulers of Britain.

In contrast with the Irish myths, the sons of Beli do not defeat the children of Dôn. Instead, Dôn and Beli marry and their children are seen as one family belonging to the House of Dôn.

After the death of Nudd / Lludd Llaw Eraint (‘Lludd of the Silver Arm’), like the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the Children of Dôn retreat into the Brythonic ‘underworld’ Annwn (‘not-world’ ‘the deep’). Gwyn ap Nudd appears as Annwn’s ruler and later as a Fairy King.

***

I’ve been devoted to Gwyn for three years and have gradually been getting to know him and Annwn. My explorations have led me through the deep memories of the landscape to his realm where history and myth blur and are never wholly separate

My initial work (which remains important) involved recovering the memories of my locality. Now I am being led deeper into the underworld where Nudd / Nodens, keeps the matter of dream and Dôn presides over the waters of creation and destruction.

Although earlier worlds and their children have sunk into Annwn they remain in our sacred landscape: in the hollow hills, in deep lakes and the sea, in our flowing rivers and their names.

Although barrow mounds have been ploughed over, rivers culverted, lakes drained, they are still with us in Annwn’s memory which will not let us forget their presence and what we’ve done.

Old bonds split and severed by centuries of Christianity, industrialisation, commodification, hyper-rationalism can be reknit and renewed by swimming back down the labyrinthine ways to where we’re unified with our ancestors, the old gods, their primal source: the water mother Dôn.

SOURCES

Liz Greene, The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption, (Weiser, 1996)
Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister, Lebor Gabála Érenn, (Dublin University Press, 1937)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Will Parker, The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, (Bardic Press, 2005)

Review: Creatures by Greg Hill

Creatures by Greg HillGreg Hill lives in Wales. He was editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review and contributes regularly to Welsh literary magazines. I’ve followed his blog for a while and was delighted when I heard about the release of his first full length collection of poetry in print; Creatures.

The title alone creates intrigue. What kind of creatures? The epigraph replies; ‘All creaturely things… Plants growing, / Roads running, / Rivers flowing, / Places that sing.’ It is clear from the outset this collection is about an animate landscape where every being is a creature, alive and sentient.

The first ekphrastic poem is based on the picture on the cover; Fidelma Massey’s sculpture, ‘Water Mother,’ who dreams thoughts of water into being. Here, the ‘cosmic ebb and flow’ of thought and water is contained in the poem. Analogies between living water and perception recur throughout the book. In ‘Cwm Eleri’ the poem’s tight structure fails to contain the river, which slips from grasp like time. In ‘Myddleton’s River’ water-ways link London, Wales and the underworld, forming a conduit for complicated alchemical processes of mental and physical transformation.

The contrast between our immediate perception of creatures and those aspects of their being impossible to grasp is central. A jackdaw sitting happily in the hearth becomes ‘an image… a token of wildness… like a jigsaw piece from another puzzle;’ a homely and familiar event made strange. Greg writes that as a heron dips out of sight ‘a part of me fell out of the sky with it,’ lost ‘except that something / settles in the flow of these words.’ We can never completely grasp our perceptions. Only through words can they find permanent representation.

Several poems present roads, paths and boundaries as living entities and how our understanding of them shifts once they are crossed and they slip into memory. If we try to return, the roads are ‘dull,’ ‘dusty,’ ‘empty.’ Our former selves are shadows, unfamiliar reflections. ‘Strange border guards’ usher us ‘from what / we neither know nor recognise.’ These haunting and complex poems demonstrate how choices shape our relationship with the landscape and hence our memories.

The mysteries of the Bardic Tradition and its creatures are explored in novel ways. ‘Awen’ depicts a shepherd lad inspired to speak poetry by a spirit ‘like a forest god’ who is elusive as the words he inspires. Four episodes from the Mabinogion are covered. I was fascinated by ‘A Scaffold for a Mouse,’ which depicts ‘Manawydan living in a dream / landscape with the life / conjured out of it like a flat plane.’ Through his ‘firm grip’ on the mouse, ‘a small thing / for a great purpose,’ he breaks the ‘powerful magic’ of Llwyd, awakening ‘form to its true nature’ thus freeing Rhiannon, Pryderi and Cigfa.

This collection depicts a relationship with the creaturely world that is on the surface simple and direct yet beneath mysterious and disconcerting. Each time I return to these poems I discover new meanings and thematic relationships within the whole. I’d recommend this book to anybody who likes poetry with lots of depth and has a love for nature, myth and creatures.

Creatures can be purchased through Lulu here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/greghillpoetry

Greg Hill’s poetry site is here: http://greghill.weebly.com/
Greg’s blog, Hill’s Chroicle can be found here: http://hills-chronicle.blogspot.co.uk/