Morning True Owl,
The subject of nwyfre has come up here before, so I’m recycling a bit of an old post with this, too. In Welsh, nwyfre means sky, atmosphere or ether, and is attested in manuscripts from as early as the 14th century in the poetry of Llywarch ap Llywelyn (1173 – 1220) – (Prydydd y Moch). I really don’t know why Morganwg chose this word to express something so different from its actual meaning, when the Welsh language has nerth (power/energy), ynni (vitality) and various derivations of the word byw (life, vitality); the word nerth is indeed used by Iolo in his Gorsedh prayer, too. Maybe a first-language and/or fluent Welsh-speaker could help us out on this one, but I think byw expresses the idea of life-force, or vitality, better and it is akin to Cornish byw/bew, too. In Cornish, nerth means force or energy, Breton has nerzh and Irish (Gaelic) has neart – it’s an ancient word going right back to Indo-European and has cognates in the Germanic theonyms Njörðr, Njörun and the Nerthus, or “Earth goddess” recorded by the Roman writer Tacitus, so if we’re talking about some kind of “life force” in a more mystical sense, I tend to think nerth is a better word to use.
I must admit, I tend to be a little allergic to all things Iolo Morganwg! It’s a bit of a love-hate relationship in terms of his work and legacy. On the one hand, I do think the man was a genius, and the druid revival and reinvigoration of the Welsh, Cornish and Breton cultural movements definitely owes a lot to him. Nevertheless, when I was much younger and more impressionable, I read the Barddas and remember thinking how great it all was, only to find out later that it was riddled with fabrications and falsehoods, more’s the pity, because it also tarnished the good quality and original work of Iolo, too. Today, I understand more the reasons that Morganwg did this and I can kind of forgive him in a sense, however, I tend to steer clear of anything “Iolo-ish” because, to be quite honest, I often think it is a blight on Celtic scholarship and spirituality, too. What’s your take on it?
Nwyfre is also mentioned in the Mabinogi tale of Culhwch and Olwen as the father of Gwyn, ‘white,’ and Fflam,‘flame.’ That father of Gwyn is usually given as Nudd, the Silver-armed god of warriors and healing. Is Nwyfre, then, an alternative name for Nudd? After all, Nwyfre means ‘sky’ and Nudd is from a root meaning ‘cloud, or mist.’ _Greywolf. (Bard Booklet 8).
It certainly is interesting, however, there are some difficulties with the interpretations of these names; Nudd may go back to the Gaulish/Brittonic Nodens, nevertheless, the etymological derivations are fraught with issues and difficulty. Another possibility is that Nudd>Nodens is connected to the idea of “catching or ensnaring” – tempting to see the allusion to the mist surrounding someone, however, this is just conjecture. Another school of thought is that Gwyn ap Nudd is just another epithet for Arawn; Celtic deities and mythological figures often have numerous names, so often we could actually be dealing with the same figure under a different name or guise.