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’.
For several months now, I have gotten into the habit practising divination by using two systems in parallel: the I Ching, and the Welsh Coelbren y Beirdd.
As I wrote in my review, I had mixed results using the divination methods in John Michael Greer’s book. I don’t mean any criticism by that; John Michael is an extremely experienced occultist, and he will have used that experience when devising his methods. Nevertheless: they don’t work for me.
After meditating on the problem, I concluded that there’s a major difference in our interpretation of ab Ithel’s material. The Coelbren consists of a set of symbols that represent sounds, and of the sounds of the Welsh language in particular.
In Dosparth Edeyrn Dafod Aur, ab Ithel explains to us how the movement and shape of our speech organs helps us to understand the meaning of each letter. Furthermore, he illustrates how the Coelbren can be linked to words in Welsh; the meaning and associations of the words expand and illustrate the meaning of the sounds.
Thus: it seems to me that the Coelbren, to be used and understood properly, need to be spoken aloud whilst contemplating their meaning. This is appropriate for the repository of the Secret of the Bards of the Island of Britain; the Bards whose primary role is the expression of poetry by means of the voice!
This, it seems to me, is the cause of the problems I was having with the methods in John Michael Greer’s book. Although he is clear that the meaning of the Coelbren lies in their sounds, in his divination methods he treats them as you would the cards of a Tarot pack: once you’ve drawn one, you can’t use it a second time, and the sound plays no direct role.
Of course, this isn’t the way language works. Sounds are repeated, often in the same word. It’s hard to imagine a language in which, once you’ve used (for example) a ‘d’, well, you can’t use another ‘d’ in the rest of your sentence! Perhaps such a language exists, of course, but, if so, I’ve never heard of it.
So, I meditated further on this, and the two divination methods became apparent to me. To these, I add two basic and obvious methods which John Michael also uses. I’m going to discuss each of these in its own post, but all will use the same basic principles which I discuss below.
For my own practice, I bought a set of blank wooden Scrabble tiles, and inscribed the Coelbren on them using a black Sharpie pen, being sure to put a dot on the bottom (ie visible) edge of each tile to indicate which way is up. The Coelbren letters are not reversible: some of them, turned upside down, become a different letter with a different meaning, so it’s very important to know which way is up!
I keep them in a stiff leather pouch, felt-lined, which is voluminous enough to thoroughly shuffle the tiles when the pouch is vigorously shaken.
For each of the methods I’ve been using, the bag should be shaken before withdrawing a tile.
The meaning of the letter should be recorded. Until you know them by heart, the sounds of the letters should also be recorded.
The tile should then be returned it to the bag, and the bag shaken again. This allows for the production of more complex, language-like, sound combinations.
Each of the four methods uses a different number of tiles:
- A Single Sound uses one tile;
- The Awen uses three tiles;
- The Council of Voices uses six tiles;
- The Chorus of the Maidens uses nine tiles.
Whichever method you are using, once you have drawn the appropriate number of tiles, consider the meaning of each tile in the light of whose voice is speaking (as described in separate posts for each method). Now consider the meanings taken together. How do they influence each other?
Finally consider the sounds:
- A Single Sound produces one sound. Make that sound, and extend it. Is it easy to produce, or pleasant to hear?
- The Awen produces three sounds, forming a short word. Is it easy to say, and pleasant to hear?
- The Council of Voices produces six sounds, forming another short word. Is this easy or difficult to say? Is it pleasant to hear?
- The Chorus of the Maidens produces nine sounds to form a chorus. Is it pleasant to listen to, or are there harsh notes?
In each of the last three methods, a given sound may be reproduced more than once, if you happen to draw a particular tile more than once. In this way, the sounds of the letters add to the meaning: if the combination of sounds is easy to produce and pleasant to listen to… that adds to the message you are receiving. If not… that is also part of the message!
The sound and meaning of each of the letters of the Coelbren will be discussed in an individual post.
Those explained in the Dosbarth Edeyrn Dafod Aur:
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.