The British Druid Order › Forums › BDO Public Forum › Revisiting Druidry, A practical and inspirational guide, by Philip Shallcrass › Reply To: Revisiting Druidry, A practical and inspirational guide, by Philip Shallcrass
The Chapter ends with Chief talking about The Cell of Song, and I always wonder where this idea came from. I mean, who said that druids sat around in dark caves with stones on their chests composing poetry.
Well, whether it was an ancient druidic practice is open to debate, especially seeing as it’s more connected with bardism, yet it was certainly ascribed to bards/poets in the Gaelic Highlands of Scotland as late as the 18th century if I’m not mistaken. Moreover in Ireland, as late as the 17th century, we find a poem Cuimseach sin, a Fhearghail Óig by a hereditary bard to the O’Neills, Fear Flatha Ó Gnímh, in which he seems to rebuke another bard for composing outside in the open air – a poem without darkness! A source for the poem in Irish is here: https://celt.ucc.ie/published/G402226/text001.html
Of course, you could also look at this metaphorically: the poet has a weight on their chest, the stone, i.e. something weighing down on them and which they feel the need to express poetically, they’re in the dark until they have that flash of inspiration that allows them to come out with their verses, and, in that way, they indeed get it (the stone) off their chest.
On awen, well, inspiration may mean many things to many people, so I doubt any two artists, musicians, poets or bards – ancient or modern, would have exactly the same ideas. Nevertheless, the etymological root of the word awenseems to be from a word meaning breath, similar to the thought behind the English word inspiration, from Latin – to breathe in – in + spirare and in the past it seems to have had a more divine sense to it than today. Greek also has similar ideas connecting poetic inspiration with breath, going right back to Homer and the idea of the divine breath of life is also found in Judaeo-Christian tradition. So, this idea of connecting air, breath and breathing with inspiration has long roots back into the misty past. Now, if we take this a step further, you could argue that since air is all around us and we have to breathe air to stay alive, it is air that animates us; by analogy, therefore poetic inspiration is all around us too – animating our artistic endeavours. To this you could also add that the arts, be they literary, plastic, musical or whatever else, have been inspired throughout history by just about anything and everything in our world.
I have my own musing, if you pardon the pun, on awen – albeit purely my own idea: in Welsh, the word awen can also mean a rein or leash of some kind, as you would use for horses. The 2nd century CE Greek writer Lucian of Samosata records an image he claimed to have seen in Gaul of the Gaulish god Ogmios pulling men behind him who are attached by cords (reins) to their ears, the cords themselves are attached to Ogmios’s tongue. Given that Ogmios may well be cognate to the Irish Ogma, the deity of eloquence and mythological inventor of Ogham (maybe Welsh Eufydd fab Dôn too), coupled with the fact that the name Ogmios might possibly derive from an ancient root word meaning stone, there’s plenty of food for thought there in terms of bardic ideas about awen, inspiration and so forth. I hasten to add again, these are just thoughts of my own.
To sum up, the way I see it is that awen, like the air we breathe, is all around, it’s not something you can measure or acquire an amount of at a time, it’s not a “magical power”, it’s something you have to learn how to let flow through you, like learning to swim and diving into a beautiful river or stream. Just as an aside, it’s also interesting to note that many spiritual/meditation practices from diverse cultures around the world place great importance on breathing.