I wrote this as a contribution to a discussion that’s ongoing in the members’ forums of the Druid Network. Those are private, so I thought I might post it here so that a broader audience can read it and contribute their thoughts.
History is a jigsaw puzzle. To gain a view of the past, we need to put together pieces gleaned from archaeology and from surviving records. Increasingly, it seems clear that we can also learn from myths, passed down through generations via the oral tradition to the point when they were recorded in writing.
There has been a flurry of articles recently about a paper published by Professor Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues from a number of British Universities: The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales:
I first read The Crow Goddess decades ago, when I was an undergraduate. I must have found it in a second-hand bookshop somewhere – I have no recollection of where – because I’m pretty sure that it was long out of print even then. Still, if you can find a copy, it’s very much worth snapping it up as it’s the best work I’ve read of life in the ancient world of the Celts.
The Gorsedd of the Bards of the Island of Britain, in public procession with banners:
In contemporary Druidry, we often find a number of Welsh words being used. Examples are Awen, Nwyfre, and Eisteddfod. They aren’t always used correctly, or properly understood. I’m getting ready to start writing a new series of posts about Iolo Morganwg’s achievements, Iolo the Ovate (I’ve already written a series on Iolo the Bard, and will eventually move on to Iolo the Druid). Before I can, though, I want to cover the difference between Gorsedd and Eisteddfod.
I recently met up with a friend, another Welsh Druid, in a local pub. Over the course of a few beers, many topics came up in conversation, but one has stuck with me. We noted that before the year 2000, the Mari Lwyd was not at all well-known, even in Wales. Since then, though, she has become, not exactly mainstream, but quite recognisable and a definite part of contemporary Welsh culture, with new Maris and new groups popping up all over the place. A video which I watched recently shows dozens of Mari Lwyds gathering in one place, and there will of course have been others which didn’t attend. It’s very striking how this element of traditional culture rose from obscurity to a new prominence and vitality. Clearly the Mari is speaking to something in our collective psyche, even if I’m not sure what that is.
Periodically, the OBOD forums I participate in see discussions arise about cultural appropriation.
I’ve already made my position clear on this: it annoys the heck out of me, and I get really angry at people who take elements of Welsh language and culture and casually try to redefine them turn them into something they are not – which most often seems to be a rebranded version of common pagan themes. For example, there are currently a number of people trying to treat Gwyn ap Nudd as a rebranded, touchy-feely, Cernunnos, when the extant body of myth clearly depicts him as quite different.
Every year in May, for nearly a century, a message of peace has been sent to the children of the World by the members of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (The League of the Hope of Wales, aka Welsh League of Youth), the Welsh-speaking youth organisation founded in 1922 by Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards.
The photo shows two letters from the Coelbren y Beirdd alphabet: ‘d’, and ‘dd’. The first is pronounced in the same way as in English; the second is pronounced like the English ‘th’ in ‘this’, ‘that’, or ‘there’.
In the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Brân the Blessed, the giant and King of Britain, is mortally wounded whilst rescuing his sister Branwen from her abusive husband, the King of Ireland. He tells his companions, the seven survivors of that brutal expedition, to cut off his head.
The English word ‘Druid’ is derived from the Gallo-Brythonic word which has come down to modern Welsh as ‘Derwydd’. In turn, this is a compound word, drawing on ‘derw-‘, relating to the oak, and ‘-wydd’ (root word ‘Gwydd’), relating to ‘seer’ or ‘knowledge’.
An alternative word – ‘Gwŷdd’ – however, is also the Welsh word for a loom. This connection is worth exploring further.