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:
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.
I was recently reading a Substack article by Rod Dreher, a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which led me to this piece by David Bentley Hart. Hart talks about a man called Reuben, who he met many years ago in Lancaster, England. I haven’t read anything by Hart before; Dreher, though devout in his Christian faith, has a mystic aspect to his faith which often overlaps the Druidic worldview. Hart has this to say of Reuben:
Green is the colour of the Ovate, and under the sign of this colour are placed all the sciences of awen and reason and cogency, as distinct from what belongs to the principal sciences of Bardism, and all the improvement of sciences of whatever kind they may be, so that they are good. That is to say, they are assimilated to the green vegetation of the growth of earth, woods, and fields, which delights the heart and eye of those who behold them.
Barddas: The Triads of Privilege and Usage.
Iolo Morganwg was a stonemason. Most people who know anything about him could tell you that – but I suspect very few of them could tell you what it meant. Indeed, I suspect that, if pressed, people would guess it meant something like a bricklayer – a relatively unskilled manual job, of low social status.
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.
I’ve recently been contemplating Gwyn ap Nudd, and my relationship with him. Unlike others such as Lorna Smithers, I have taken no vows and entered into no formal commitment. I am still exploring my relationship with the Gods of the Welsh and different gods, at different times, communicate things to me.
And yet, Gwyn ap Nudd’s voice has been the most insistent. Based on what he has told me, and which I conveyed in a series of posts on this blog, Gwyn is mobilising to restore balance to the world. Humanity has become too damaging to the world of nature, and to the forests – which are a part of his domain. Humanity has become too dangerous, and too damaging, to the Fair Folk, the Tylwyth Teg, who reside in this world as well as in the Otherworld.
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.
In the tradition of Welsh Druidry that I am exploring in this blog, we believe in the reality of the Gods. I’ve explored something of their nature in, for example my series on the Three Great Families, and on Gwyn ap Nudd.
In our tradition, the Otherworld exists, and there are beings – the Tylwyth Teg, or the Fair Folk – who exist both in that world and in ours. There is a world of spirit, overlapping with our world, where dwell spirits which once were incarnate in flesh, and others which have never been incarnate.