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Annwn Arianrhod Barddas Bards Druidry Eisteddfod Iolo Morganwg Plant Dôn Three Branches Tylwyth Teg Welsh Triads Y Gymraeg - The Welsh Language

The Voice of the Bards

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.

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Divination Dosparth Edeyrn Dafod Aur John Michael Greer John Williams ab Ithel The Chorus of Maidens The Coelbren The Coelbren Alphabet The Council of Voices The Rays of the Hidden Mark The Source of All Things

Basic Principles of the Coelbren

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:

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:

  1. A
  2. E
  3. I
  4. O
  5. B
  6. C
  7. D
  8. G
  9. L
  10. M
  11. N
  12. P
  13. R
  14. S
  15. T

The remainder:

  1. U
  2. W
  3. Y
  4. Ch
  5. Dd
  6. F
  7. Ff
  8. H
  9. Ll

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Annwn Culhwch and Olwen Gwyn ap Nudd Llefelys Lludd and Llefelys Lludd Llaw Eraint Plant Annwfn The Coraniaid The Mabinogion Tylwyth Teg Welsh Triads

Why Gwyn ap Nudd rules the Tylwyth Teg

In ancient times, according to the tale of Lludd and Llefelys, Britain suffered from three tribulations. One of these was an invasion of the island by the Coraniaid – a race of dwarves who could not be defeated, because they could hear any word that the wind could carry. The Welsh Triads add that the Coraniaid originally came from Asia (which in those days meant anything east of Greece, including what we call today “The Middle East”). Some versions of the Triads are more specific, and say that the Coraniaid came from Arabia. This is significant, but that’s for another post.

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Barddas Bards Cymru - Wales Iolo Morganwg Y Gymraeg - The Welsh Language

Excerpts from the Triads of the Bards of Cymru: Bards

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.

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Barddas Cymru - Wales Divination Dosparth Edeyrn Dafod Aur Iolo Morganwg John Michael Greer John Williams ab Ithel The Coelbren The Coelbren Alphabet Y Gymraeg - The Welsh Language

The Coelbren Alphabet: The Forgotten Oracle of the Welsh Bards

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.

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Blodeuwedd Fourth Branch Owl The Mabinogion

Blodeuwedd

I really liked this owl painting when I saw in an art gallery south of Tiananmen Square. The price I was quoted when I first saw it was equal to a month’s rent, but I decided it was worth it. So, yesterday afternoon, I went back, pockets filled with red 100-Rmb notes. When I walked in, the manager remembered me. “Have you come back for the painting? I told you 5,000 RMB, didn’t I? You can have it for 3,800”.

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Druids

The historical Druids

The Druids were once an elite, spread across the British Isles and Gaul. They did not directly rule. However, they were responsible for laws, culture, medicine, and interactions with the Gods; they could and did exclude transgressors from these areas, and so they were listened to and respected by all levels of society, exempt from taxes and military service, and able to intervene to stop all conflicts. Their greatest centre of education and learning was on Anglesey, but there must have been other schools in other places. We don’t know where their revenues came from but they must have been substantial to support this kind of system.



After the Roman conquests of Gaul and Britain, druids entered a new phase. The Romans had destroyed their power structure, as well as their ‘university’ on Anglesey (though probably incompletely). Many of the druids were killed (though many must have fled to northern Britain, and to Ireland, or gone underground). Rome commanded the areas of  law, and commerce, and its military might compelled the loyalty of all levels of society in the area under their rule. Druids were proscribed throughout the empire.

During this period, and during the post-Roman period in Britain, druids continued to exist, and teach. However, instead of being a separate, independent, super-tribal elite, they were now dependent on individual tribes and kings for their support, and so became counsellors to their patrons – who existed in the Old North, the Welsh-speaking kingdoms north of Hadrian’s Wall, where tribes were Romanised, but still politically and militarily independent. Bards were probably still free to wander where they liked, being less committed to one king or the other. Also, it seems likely that there would have been less opportunity to pursue astronomical observations, discuss philosophy, etc in this context, so it may be that the “druids” of this period were more like the “ovates” of the pre-Roman golden age.

In Gaul during this period, the proscription of Druids seems to have fallen into disuse; it seems that Druids also continued to exist on the continent. However, in this very different socio-economic environment, there were no independent kings to support them, so they must have had to support themselves – hence the record of a future Roman emperor taking advice from a druidess who ran a tavern.

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Afagddu Arthur Ceridwen Creirwy Hanes Taliesin Morfran eil Tegid

Thoughts on Ceridwen and Afagddu

Some random thoughts that came up in meditation today:

If Creirwy is the Child, and Ceridwen is the Mother, who is the Crone to complete the triad?

In adulthood, Morfran eil Tegid is one of three to survive the battle of Camlan, because of his ugliness. He has hair on his face like a stag, it is said. I wonder… did he – did the child, Afagddu – have horns like a stag? What would it mean if he did?

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Afagddu Ceridwen Elffin Gwion Bach Gwyddno Garanhir Hanes Taliesin Taliesin

Thoughts on Ceridwen and Gwion Bach

  • The cauldron was heated for a year and a day. It distilled all wisdom into three drops: the rest of the liquid was a bitter poison.

Takeaway: wisdom does not come easily or without cost. Wisdom comes from bitter experience. Those who never suffer setbacks do not acquire wisdom. There is always a price: and sometimes that price is not always paid by the person who acquires the wisdom. We can probably all think of occasions when we hurt other people, inadvertently or  otherwise. We may have reflected upon our actions, and regretted them, immediately or later. We may well have learned from them, and become a wiser and better person for the experience. But: the other persons still got hurt, and we often can’t remedy that. The three drops contained all knowledge and all wisdom: how much hurt, and upset, would have been needed to provide that?

  • Where was Afagddu during the year and a day?

Ceridwen seems to have decided that Afagddu should receive the benefit of the cauldron, without contributing. Had he received the distilled wisdom, he would not have worked for it. Presumably, Ceridwen would have guided him and mentored him. What might he have become? And how hurt and disappointed must he have been, to see his path to acceptance and a place of honour taken by another? A question with a complex answer: why did Ceridwen not obtain another cauldron, and more herbs, and tried again? Perhaps because Llyn Tegid was poisoned, and no other water would do (why not?). His chance came, and he lost it, and neither was any doing of his. Is this a lesson that we should not shelter others or, through our love for them, stifle their opportunities to learn and do for themselves?

  • Gwion was a random beneficiary of a lot of planning and hard work that was intended for someone else. He received a great gift – and it killed him.

For all his sudden insight… he was not able to escape Ceridwen’s wrath. He had all the knowledge in the world: but it wasn’t gained from his own efforts and practice, so he was unable to apply it effectively.  He was swallowed as a seed, and that seed impregnated Ceridwen so that he was reborn – but it was Ceridwen’s love, not his knowledge, that saved him.

  • Ceridwen puts the reborn Gwion into a coracle, and sends him to the sea. He floats there (for forty years?) before returning to land.

Perhaps this is Ceridwen returning things to balance. Having borne a son, she has given him all she has to give – a sets him free to shape his own future, according to what the world sends him and where the sea takes him. He returns to the lands of Gwyddno Garanhir, whose horses were poisoned by the broken cauldron, and restores his family’s fortunes.

 

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Ceridwen Druid Journal Druidry Hanes Taliesin Tegid Foel

Tegid Foel

Tegid Foel was lord of Bala, and husband to Ceridwen.

‘Foel’ means ‘bald’, and this tells us a lot.

The first possible meaning is that it was a nickname. Nicknames are derived from something unusual or noteworthy about the person concerned. An old man being bald is neither unusual nor noteworthy; we can infer that Tegid was not old, and his baldness was unusual. This reinforces my belief that Ceridwen is no hag: she’s a woman in her prime, loving mother to two young children,  a witch-queen.

The second possible meaning comes from a Llewellyn Encyclopaedia article on Druid Vestments:

Druids were often described as bald (many had the nickname Mael—Old Irish for “bald”). The bald head was probably a Druidic tonsure, presumably the same kind of partially-shaven head used by later Irish clerics and condemned by the Roman church as non-conformist. This kind of tonsure is made by shaving the hair from ear to ear, along to the front hairline. This gives the appearance of a receding hairline or of a very high forehead. It is interesting to note that Indian Brahmans have a very similar tonsure!

Perhaps, then, this is subtly telling us that Tegid was a Druid!