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.
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:
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.
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’ve been thinking recently about humans and our capacity for evil, provoked in part by a post by Nimue Brown: What Does It Mean to Unpeel a Monster?
There are, perhaps, two kinds of evil people. There are those who are driven by their animal nature; this is the evil caused by lust, anger, desire, and the like. Then there are those whose higher nature has become corrupt. They have come to believe that they know how to make the world perfect. Unfortunately, this usually means eliminating those of their fellow humans – and elements of nature – who fail to be perfect.
I am delighted to say: I’m home. I have left China, and have moved back to Wales. I’m not in my native Glamorgan, rather in the old lands of Pwyll and Pryderi, the lands of the Demetae. I’ve bought an old house, which is very much a fixer-upper – I hope I can fix it up before funds run out, but we’ll see. It has a garden of a reasonable size, much plagued at the moment by bramble and bindweed, but even in my first few days here I’ve made some progress on that front. I have lots of plans for that garden.