When seeking a model for divination using the Coelbren, it is natural to turn to the Awen: the three rays of knowledge introduced to us by Iolo Morganwg, and the symbol of Druids ever since.
In Barddas, Iolo Morganwg devotes a section to his theological views. There is quite a lot more on this theme in Barddas, but I think this excerpt covers the key points. Not all contemporary Druids believe this, but I do. I want to post Iolo’s words here to set the tone for a discussion of the soul’s journey, and of reincarnation, in Druidry as I understand it.
The Plant Dôn: the Children of Dôn, are introduced in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. Who is Dôn, though? I have heard prominent people in contemporary Druidry describe Dôn as an earth goddess; I believe that they are mistaken, and that she is something quite different.
Modern Druidry is hugely influenced by Iolo Morganwg, the eighteenth-century genius: poet, religious reformer, and political radical.
Iolo’s Barddas forms the core of religious Druidry, rather than the psychotherapy-influenced Druidry of OBOD, for example.
In Barddas, Iolo sets out the concept of the soul’s journey from Annwn, through Abred, to Gwynfyd; from the least, barely sentient, form of life, through endless reincarnations, to the world of spirit (where the soul continues to change and move towards greater enlightenment).
The second of the primitive Bards is the Ovate, and it is incumbent upon him to be acquainted with literature, that is, to read and write, and to know the kinds of arts which may be beneficial to Bards and to the world, and to exhibit them in their authenticity before a Gorsedd or Chair, or a Bard of presidency. It is incumbent upon him, also, to collect and to search for knowledge, and to impart instruction in it, after it shall have obtained the judgment and privilege of Gorsedd; he is not bound to do more, except in virtue of a degree and grant. The dress of an Ovate is to be green, being of the same colour as knowledge and learning, which grow like the green vegetation of spring; and in the attainment of knowledge the Ovate is the chief of the Bards.
Barddas: The Voice of Gorsedd
4. There are three Bards of equality, namely: the Primitive Bard; the Druid; and the Ovate; for there should not, and cannot be supremacy to one over another of those three, though each has a privilege over the other, according to the privilege and speciality of office and obligation.
The function of an Ovate is to amplify and to improve good sciences in virtue of awen, reason, and circumstance, that is, inevitable obligation; on this account, the Gorsedd does not enquire concerning his teacher, when he is privileged a Bard, but merely concerning his sciences, his art, and his life. Those particulars are enquired after; and, it is in virtue of what he has of them, that he is privileged by the judgment and verdict of Chair or Gorsedd of vocal song. Two memorials and records appertain to him, namely, the memorial of vocal song, and the memorial of letters. And when his memorial and record are imposed upon a Primitive Bard by the verdict of Gorsedd, then those sciences will depend systematically upon the voice of Gorsedd, which cannot take place before an efficient judgment is pronounced upon what is so imposed.
Barddas: The Triads of Privilege and Usage
The second is an Ovate, according to awen, exertion, and circumstance; and his function is to poetize according to imagination, circumstance, and art, and to defer to the judgment of Gorsedd, until it becomes efficient.
The third is Ovatism; and it is incumbent upon an Ovate to endeavour after learning and knowledge, as he can, by means of hearing, seeing, and devising. That is, a poet ought to maintain all learning and knowledge which may be privileged by an efficient Gorsedd; an Ovate ought to improve and amplify learning and knowledge, and to submit them to the judgment of Gorsedd, until it becomes efficient; and a Druid ought to teach, according to the original usage and privilege of an efficient Gorsedd, and according to any new discovery, in respect of reason, nature, and cogency.
Ovatism; and it is incumbent upon an Ovate to endeavour and seek after learning, as far as he can, by means of the hearing and voice of the world, of sight and contingency, and of attempt, awen, and imagination.
98. The three sorts of the primitive Bards of the Isle of Britain: a Bard of privilege, or poet, to rule, and to record; a Druid, to teach; and an Ovate, to improve learning and knowledge.
an Ovate, on whom it is incumbent to genialize and to improve learning and sciences;
the Ovate, being a Bard according to sciences derived from imagination and circumstance.
It was in those days that the three primary Ovates, Cadog, son of Myl, the Wall of Greatness, Trysin, son of Erbal, and Rhuawn of the Silver Song, were instituted and privileged. The Ovates were appointed and enjoined to collect Bardic and good sciences, from whatever incident, and from whatever awen and imagination, to submit them to the judgment of Chair and Gorsedd, and to regulate them according to the sense, judgment, and system of art.
Barddas: The Triads of the Bards of the Isle of Britain
The Bards speak of the the bond between the living and the dead, and of the bonds between the living.
They praise the deeds of the ancestors: deeds mighty and, perhaps, not so mighty, but all of the tales, nevertheless, that will keep alive the name of a man or a woman so that their descendants may rejoice in the telling of the tales.
From Barddas Vol II (my emphasis):
1. There are three Banded Bards.
The first is the Primitive Bard, or Poet, whose function and art are to poetize, and to preserve the memorial of every thing that is commendable in man or deed–to celebrate in song every thing that is commendable and good, as would be fitting in respect of what is meritorious and deserving–to teach in song every thing that is good in respect of doctrine and usages, and to maintain the memorial and teaching of the art of song, and all the privileges and usages which have been conferred upon the Bards of the Isle of Britain, and to teach them in methodical song, according to the proper art of vocal song of the Bards of the Ancient Cymry; And it is his duty to arrange and systematize matters, according to the privileges and usages of the Ancient Cymry, in every Chair and Eisteddvod, and Gorsedd of vocal song; it is incumbent upon him also to preserve and maintain the Cymric language free from degeneracy and corruption, and to teach it correctly, according to its quality and original and proper arrangement.
The second is the Herald-bard, whose office and art are memorial, instruction, and history–to symbolize good and laudable deeds, and to record in book and writing the genealogies and descent of the nation of the Cymry, their privileges and usages, so that they may be known, lest there should happen to the nation of the Cymry that degeneracy and ignobleness which impoverish the descent and privileges of a nation, and hence ensue non privilege and false privilege, and every lack of system, as has been the case with those unlearned nations, among which neither Awen from God, nor Bards, nor Bardism proceeding from that Awen, have been found. It is his duty to learn to read and to write the Cymric language, and to commit it to book and song properly and correctly, and to know the privileges and usages of the Bards of the nation of the Cymry, with their nature and essence. He ought also to impugn all ignobleness, all lack of privilege, all false privilege, and all illegality and disusage, lest the nation of the Cymry, their privileges and laudable usages, their language, innateness, and celebrated antiquity should suffer corruption.
The third is the Post-bard, whose art is vocal song according to the inventive instruction and skilful art of the later Bards, and to impart instruction in every science, wisdom, arts, and good and laudable usages, and to systematize new sciences according to kind, number, time, place, occasion, and dignity.
And this is the distinction between the Primitive Bard and the Post-bard: the Primitive Bard ought to bring with him what has been behind him from old ages, and the Post-bard ought to call to him what he sees before him; whilst the Herald-bard arranges these things according as the advantage, requirement, nature, essence, time, and dignity of them may demand; and to bestow instruction, sciences, wisdom, art, dignity, and honour out of them upon the nation and country of the Cymry, as befits what is good and praiseworthy.
I’ve been reading John Michael Greer’s blogs for over a decade now, and he has been a huge influence on my thinking, in terms of ecology, economy, society and spirituality. If it hadn’t been for his writings, I may well not have decided to take a leap of faith and join OBOD. So, when he announced that he had a book coming out explaining Iolo Morganwg’s Coelbren alphabet, and its use as a divination tool, I knew that I would be getting a copy! And so I did, a year ago now, and it’s been a worthwhile purchase. It’s not without its flaws, and I do have criticisms. It’s still a book I would recommend, though.