The above image is one of the commonest symbols to be found to represent the Awen. The usual explanation for the source of this symbol is that this symbol evolved from the writings of Iolo Morganwg and can be found in his great work ‘The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg Vol. 1 & 2’, a collection of manuscripts surrounded by controversy.
Born the 10th March 1747 in Pen-onn, Glamorgan, Wales he lived a most interesting, some would say infamous, life until his death at the age of 79 on 18th December 1826
But research carried out by a Welsh scholar, Angela Grant, has brought to light the possibility that this symbol significantly predated Iolo conception of the Awen symbol. Angela Grant states the following:
I came across a manuscript in my researches that may have given Iolo the idea, his mind always being unable, under the influence of laudanum, to distinguish between what he found in manuscripts and what came from his own awen. That manuscript (now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford) describes how the historian Nennius, on being challenged by an English scholar that the Welsh had no alphabet of their own, produced for his challenger an alphabet that bears a considerable resemblance to Coelbren, though more complex. It also contains an awen symbol (joined at the top) as one of its letters. This does not represent an individual letter but the Latin word ‘ego’ is ascribed to it : ‘I am that I am …’
I will leave, for another day, the debate regarding Iolo’s manuscripts and how much of the content may have been genuinely sourced from ancient manuscripts and how much was from his own imagination, suffice it to say that I consider this infamous character to have been a man ahead of his time, a true polymath and genius, whose inspired writings have had a profound influence on the development of Welsh culture, Druidry and modern neo-paganism.
Before I explore what was written about the Awen and its symbol in ‘The Barddas’ I feel it is important to remind the reader that Iolo was a man of his time, and a well-known Unitarian and, as such, his writings are couched in Christian terminology. All I ask is that, if you decide to read his works, you take the time to see the sentiments and deeper meanings behind the text. If you approach ‘The Barddas’ with a spirit of openness and willingness to see beyond the Christian terminology you will be rewarded with a glimpse of the deep insights that Iolo had regarding the creation of our Universe.
We can begin our journey to understand Awen by considering how it has been variously defined.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awen gives the following definition:
In the Welsh tradition, awen is the inspiration of the poet bards; or, in its personification, Awen is the inspirational muse of creative artists in general: the inspired individual (often a poet or a soothsayer) is described as an awenydd.
A very well researched article has been written by the British Druid Order BDO and is well worth reading where they write the following:
The feminine noun, Awen, has been variously translated as ‘inspiration’, ‘muse’, ‘genius’, or even ‘poetic frenzy’. According to a 19th century Welsh dictionary, the word itself is formed by combining the two words, aw, meaning ‘a fluid, a flowing’, and en, meaning ‘a living principle, a being, a spirit, essential’. So Awen may be rendered literally as ‘a fluid essence’, or ‘flowing spirit’. However, more recent dictionaries do not support this interpretation.
With regard to the suggestion that Awen was formed by combining aw and en Angela Grant has this to say:
I could say, and be right in doing so, that the ‘flowing spirit’ idea was invented by a contemporary of Iolo’s, William Owen(-Pughe), who decided it came from two ancient words ‘aw’ and ‘en’, one meaning flow and the other spirit. Neither word, of course, ever existed in actuality.
The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru defines Awen as:
a. Poetic inspiration, muse, poetic genius or gift,
b. Disposition, inclination, desire, will, enjoyment, joy, delight, zest, liking; inspiration, genius, ?mind
It can be seen from the above definitions and descriptions that Awen has a wide variety of meanings, from ‘poetic inspiration’ to ‘flowing spirit’. But Iolo, in the Barddas, develops an aspect of Awen that, he suggests, relates to the very creation of our Universe. This supports my use of the symbol in my previous post regarding the Triadic Nature of the Universe.
Iolo Morganwg’s words on the Awen
So, what does Iolo say regarding the Awen? let us examine a few of his preliminary words.
In a section titled ‘SYMBOL’ he does not specifically use the word ‘Awen’ but he does give the symbol he uses for Awen and a description of its meaning, he states the following:
When God pronounced his name, with the word sprang the light and the life; for previously there was no life except God Himself… And Menw the Aged, son of Menwyd, beheld the springing of the light, and its form and appearance, not otherwise than thus, /|\, in three columns; and in the rays of light the vocalization–for one were the hearing and seeing, one unitedly the form and sound; and one unitedly with the form and the sound was life, and one unitedly with these three was power, which power was God the Father.
Later in this paragraph he goes on to write the following:
And it was on hearing the sound of the voice which had in it the kind of utterance of three notes, that he obtained the three letters, and knew the sign that was suitable to one and other of them. thus he made in form and sign the Name of God, after the semblance of rays of light…
How do we make sense of this?
The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (GPC) gives some suggestions for the meaning of Menw and Menwyd and, although I’m not a Welsh Language expert or Scholar, I have gained some insight and understanding from these suggestions which I offer for your contemplation.
GPC suggests that Menw is a re-formation of Menwyd and can mean; intellect, mind. But Menw is also related to Benw and Benyw (Menyw) which indicates female, girl, woman. This reinforces the use of the word Awen, which is a feminine noun, for the description of this symbol. It also gives the following additional meanings for Menwyd; good nature, disposition; joy, delight, pleasure.
Iolo appears to be stating that somehow ‘vibration’ was part of the initiatory process that lead to the creation of the universe. Although he does not limit this to sound but adds light to the sound which lead to the springing forth of form. But it is the third principle of Life which imbues, what I suggest is consciousness, Menw (Mind) into the form of the Universe. My personal take on this particular description given by Iolo is that the ‘Feminine’ principle was that which enabled the manifestation of the Universe in a material form, and that the material universe is the carrier or container of consciousness. This clearly links the symbol of Awen with the creative processes of creation and therefore it is quite understandable that Awen is defined as creativity, muse and inspiration. These ideas will be discussed in-depth in later blogs.
This has been a short excursion into the world of Iolo Morganwg and his elusive and complex style of writing. I intend to delve deeper into his works and demonstrate how his work can be integrated into a number of other fields such as the ‘Flower of Life’, ‘The Kabbalah’ and even modern cosmology!
I hope that this little introduction has demonstrated that there are deeper mysteries to be explored within this very simple symbol /|\ and I hope I’ve wetted your appetite enough that you will enjoy following my future posts.
My next blog post will be looking into the ‘Names of God’ as given in The Barddas, which I have renamed as ‘The Degrees of Consciousness’.