Nwyfre & The Force


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    Josh Williams

      Hi all!

      I was searching around the forums for any discussion on nwyfre but haven’t found anything. I know the term was brought into magical meaning by the infamous Mr. Morgawg and that he’s a sort of love/hate character for most, but I’m wondering if anyone does use this term, how they use it, or if not what terms you use that have a similar ‘life energy’ (Qi, Prana, to co-opt words from other trads).

      Thanks in advance for any inspo!


      david poole

        I have just searched on nwyfre and it brings up a whole list of results. It is not something which I hear often, certainly not as often as awen or imbas, which is surprising. It basically means life force or vital energy.


          I understand nwyfre to mean life force, which I take as similar in meaning to prana or qi or chi. Awen or Imbas is more a divine inspiration or creative flow: I read a description that was along the lines writing or painting or singing and being right in the moment and thinking ‘where did that come from?’


            I stand to be corrected by a fluent Welsh-speaker, but nwyfre means sky, atmosphere or ether and is attested in manuscripts from as early as the 14th century – the poetry of Llywarch ap Llywelyn (1173 – 1220), a medieval Welsh bard who went by the name of Prydydd y Moch. To be honest, I don’t know why Iolo chose this word to express something so different from the meaning of the word when the Welsh language has nerth (power/energy), ynni (vitality) and various derivations of the word byw (life). Indeed, the word nerth is indeed used by Iolo in his Gorsedd prayer. Again, perhaps a first-language and/or fluent Welsh-speaker could help out on this one.

            The Cornish language, Kernewek, also has the word nerth meaning force or energy, Breton has nerzh and Irish/Gaelic has neart – it’s an ancient word going right back to Indo-European and with cognates in the Germanic theonyms Njörðr, Njörun and the Nerthus, or “Earth goddess” recorded by the Roman writer Tacitus.

            I tend to steer clear of Iolo Morganwg and Robert Graves when it comes to anything that professes to be ancient and “druidic” because most of the time it’s flights of their own fancy and, in some cases, based on very flimsy grounds or poor scholarship. Unfortunately, the influence of these two figures on Celtic studies is so far-reaching that you can find their ideas being stated as facts in many materials right up to the present day. This is not to cast aspersions on their poetic abilities or other qualities, but I do think that some kind of historical rigour is needed.



              Hi Josh,
              As ever I’m a bit late to the fray on this one having been offline revising the bardic course for the last year or so. While doing that, Nwyfre cropped up and here are my conclusions, mostly from a footnote in bardic booklet 8 which you should have access to either now or shortly:
              As Dowgri says, the Welsh word, nwyfre, does mean ‘sky.’ Despite the paucity of evidence in the early literature, much has been made of Nwyfre by Druid revivalists. There is a possibility that Nwyfre is an alternate name for Nudd, meaning ‘cloud.’ An internet search reveals entire websites devoted to him, including one headed “Nwyfre – ‘Noo-if-rey’ Intuitive healing, yoga and celebrancy.” The actual pronunciation is more like NooIV-ruh, the Welsh single ‘f’ being pronounced as ‘v.’ The site’s owners confidently assert that “Nwyfre is the energy that binds all life together, it is the force that we feel coursing through us when we are in nature, or feeling great joy. It is that which connects us all. Nwyfre has many other names in other cultures: prana, chi, spirit to name just three.” Another website likens it to ‘The Force’ in Star Wars! This interpretation originated with our old friend, the renowned 18th century bard and forger of medieval manuscripts, Iolo Morgannwg. In a posthumous collection of his writings, Iolo refers to “nwyvre, which is God, from Whom proceeds every life, strength, and intellect, and every perception and sense” (J. Williams ap Ithel (ed.), Barddas: A Collection of Original Documents Illustrative of the Theology, Wisdom and Usages of the Bardo-Druidic System of the Isle of Britain, 1862, page 373). Iolo’s interpretation was taken up by the Ancient Druid Order, from which it was inherited by their offshoot, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, who popularised the ‘prana’ interpretation via their courses.
              In talks with Philip Carr-Gomm, I’ve said that OBOD seems to use nwyfre to mean the sort of creative energy that I see as being part and parcel of what awen is. In terms of energies that course within the body, we tend to to use the Welsh anadl, which means ‘breath,’ from a root with the combined meaning of ‘breath’ and ‘soul.’
              Many blessings,
              Greywolf /|\

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