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Casting the Coelbren: The Nine Maidens

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Celtic thinking, and the practices of Bards and Druids, are based on threes. This also applies to the system of divination using the Coelbren y Beirdd.

The first group of three make up the Awen, representing the three rays of light which are the source of knowledge and inspiration.

Next comes a group of six: the Council of Voices, which brings together the wisdom of the Gorsedd of Bards, Ovates, and Druids with the guidance of the Three Great Families – the main Gods of the Welsh.

Finally, we have a group of nine: above the Council of Voices are placed the Three Elements of Druidry: the Sea, the Land, and the Sky. In this way, the continuum of the spirit – corporeal to incorporeal – is placed between the breath of inspiration and the great forces of nature. Each of the nine lines has its own virtue and insight to be brought to bear when considering the question.

Nine is also the number of the maidens who blow upon the flames of the Cauldron of Inspiration in several of the Welsh myths. We know little about them, but – drawing upon the common themes of European cultures – we might assign to them separate domains of human experience:

  1. Eloquence. Epic poetry. Assertiveness. Wisdom.
  2. History. The harp. Proclamation of the truth. Glorifier and celebrant of history, great deeds, and wisdom.
  3. Music and rejoicing. The flute. Entertainment.
  4. Comedy. The poetry of nature and the countryside. Joy. The carnyx. Praise that endures and spreads.
  5. Tragedy. Celebration with song and dance. Unexpected cuts and blows.
  6. Delight in dancing. Musical accompaniment to dance.
  7. Love and desire. The harp.
  8. Poetry in praise of the sacred. Eloquence. Agriculture. Pantomime. Contemplation and meditation.
  9. The heavens and astronomy. Universal, constant love. Divination. Philosophy. Raising mens’ souls to the heavens.

We also know their names. Geoffrey of Monmouth names eight of the daughters of Avalon. After discussion with some knowledgable members of OBOD, I’ve accepted the nine names as being:

  • Morgan, Modron, Mazòe;
  • Gliten, Gliton, Glitònea;
  • Thitis, Thetis, Tyronòe.

Can we match the names with the list of virtues? We cannot, other than noting that, according to Geoffrey, Thitis was famed for her zither (perhaps it was a harp?)

In any case, the Nine Maidens pattern for divination using the Coelbren brings together the insights of Gods and Druids, inspired by the breath of Awen, made tangible by the elements of Nature to give guidance in answer to a question.

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