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.


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