I’ve recently been working on a project covering how language and culture emerge, and their relationship with the brain. It’s led me to understand, in a new way, the brilliance of Iolo Morganwg, and just how much he was ahead of his time. Here, I want to briefly discuss how Barddas anticipates the work of Alfred Korzybski, whose dictum “the map is not the territory” is pretty well-known these days.
As I’ve made clear, this blog is my process of exploring the writings of Iolo Morganwg in Barddas, the source of contemporary Revival Druidry, and trying to put it into modern terms as a system firmly rooted in the authentic Welsh cultural tradition.
That means going beyond Barddas itself: recognising that the Four Branches of the Mabinogi contain a pantheon of ancient Brythonic deities, for example. My experience is that they exist; they are real, and represent real powers. Barddas, however, comes from Iolo’s spiritual insights, rooted in a Christian background, and his writings are full of references to God. Can these things be reconciled? I believe that they can.
It’s New Year’s Day, and I haven’t written anything here for months. The key word there is “here”: I’ve been writing a lot elsewhere. I would like to say “I have been writing a book”, but that isn’t how it’s been working out. Rather, I can only say “A book has been using me to get itself written”.
As recent posts have suggested, I’ve been thinking about the topic of suffering – and how Druidry deals with suffering. It’s something we all need to be thinking about, to be honest. We’re entering a time of major change. We’ve known for decades that climate change, resource depletion, and debt posed catastrophic threats to our way of life, and we have completely failed to prepare. Life is already hard for too many people; the unpalatable truth is that it will soon get much worse.
‘Pareidolia’ is the trait humans have for seeing patterns which aren’t really there – such as seeing a rabbit on the moon, or Elvis in an oddly shaped carrot. In my case, it’s seeing the end of the world in a patch of damp plaster on the wall.
Still, one of the key tenets of Iolo Morganwg’s Bardism is “Y Gwir yn Erbyn y Byd” – The Truth Against the World. As Druids, we need to find out what is true – and we need to champion it even when it is unpopular or unpalatable.
A Celt and a Saxon would agree that of the colour of the sea, the colour of ivy leaves, and the colour of an Ovate’s robe, two belong together and one is different. They would, however, disagree on what the two are.
In Welsh Druidry, we believe in reincarnation, and the gradual journey of the soul from Annwn, through untold incarnations in our own world of Abred, until it has become sufficiently wise to leave material incarnation behind and progress to Gwynfyd, the existence of purely spiritual life:
Iolo Morganwg was known in his own day as ‘The Bard of Liberty’. There were very good reasons for this, and I want to explore some of those reasons because they will help us to understand why he and his system are so important to us today.
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.
It will come as a surprise to many people to learn that Iolo Morganwg was a farmer; and not just a farmer but a competent one.
The myth that has grown up around Iolo, slanted and misleading, reflects his poetic and antiquarian talents. It over-emphasises his literary forgeries, misunderstanding and misrepresenting what he was doing. It pays lip service to his career as a stonemason, while not recognising that this undermines the myth itself: as we saw in the last post, no drug-addled dreamer could have cut and carved stone as well as Iolo Morganwg.
But a farmer? Who knew about that? In fact, this is an important aspect of Iolo’s life, and one which would have informed his vision of the world.