Saturday, May 28, 2011

The dream secret of Celtic inspiration


Awen - inspiration - was, as Caitlin Matthews reminds us, "the supreme preoccupation of Celtic poets, especially among those who had inherited the ancient prophetic and visionary arts of the ovate or faith - probably the earliest form of Celtic shaman." [1] The word awen derives from the Indo-European root -uel, meaning 'to blow', and is kissing cousin with the Welsh, awel meaning "breeze". In contemporary druidism, awen is depicted as three rays emanating from three points of light.

We have a precious twelfth-century account of the importance of dreaming in the access to awen for the ancient Celtic poets and prophets. The source is Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in his Itinerary of Wales. Gerald describes the practice of the awenyddion, or "inspired ones". In a key passage, he writes:

Their gifts are usually conferred upon them in dreams, Some seem to have sweet milk or honey poured on their lips; to others [it seems] that a written document is applied to their mouths, and immediately on rising up from sleep, after completing their chant, they publicly declare that they have received this gift. [2]

1. Caitlin Matthews, "The Three Cauldrons of Inspiration" in Caitlin & John Matthews, The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom. Shaftesbury, Dorset and Rockport MA: Element, 1994, p. 219.
2. Translation from Gerald of Wales in Nikolai Tolstoy, The Quest for Merlin. : Little, Brown, 1985, p. 140.

20 comments:

Amy Brucker said...

Interesting, especially considering a dream I had in January.

In the dream there is a bar of soap in front of me. I am told about a Welsh myth that details how men use this soap to capture their own power. When the soap is nearly spent the small remains are incorporated into a new bar of soap. This soap is passed along to the next man who will use it to connect with the previous owners' power in order to integrate it more strongly into the lineage so he can in pass it along to the next man.

Although milk and honey are more palatable, there is a curious similarity between your discovery and my dream. (I have Welsh ancestors, so this felt like an ancestral dream, but perhaps it has a greater and truer "myth-historical" counterpart.)

Robert Moss said...

Amy - this feels like a wonderful adventure in what I have termed "dream archeology", an authentic and personal window into ancestral ways of transmitting soul energy and ensuring the continuity of knowledge and tradition. It makes me want to investigate the etymology and significance of "soap". My etymology dictionary tells me that the Old English "sape" (soap) referred to "a reddish hair dye used by Germanic warriors to give a frightening appearance". Talk about power!

Then, as I recall, ingredients for the earliest soap included ashes. Could there be a reference here to ingesting the ashes of great ancestors, literally or symbolically?

And of course we use soap for cleansing. So there could be something here, too, about the need to cleanse in order to retain a tradition intact. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for sharing!

Astrea said...
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Astrea said...

Continued from FB. Interesting connections... I encountered Gerald of Wales in a vision journey recently, led by the drum, and he gave me some advice concerning my writing. I asked his name and googled his background. I should read some of his work... this reference to dreams is very interesting, shows that he is-was active on these levels.
I did some drumming and was led to a path up the side of a mountain, where I found a cave. A man emerged from it, identifying himself as Gerald of Wales. He had dark hair, tallish, in his 40s or early 50s I suppose. He had set up the cave as a comfortable home, with rugs, table, desk, chairs, candles, books and parchment. He was dressed in a black clerical robe. He said that most of the pagans when he was alive had been focused in the moment and hadnt bothered to record much, (unlike him, who had endevoured to record as much as he could). He said that if I wanted to keep my bardic edge as a writer, I had to attune regularly to the land in Wales and he could help with that. (Last year when I went to Wales, it ignited my writing ability also in the context of druidry and shamanism, but as time went by it seemed to dull again.) Since he came out of the cave in the mountain, could reveal him to be a kind of ancestral contact (I do have some Welsh ancestry, and certainly felt that while there.)
I should probably visit him again.

Joanne Allison

Robert Moss said...

Joanne - What a fascinating encounter. As you have probably learned by now, Gerald (de Barry) was a man of mixed origins - Norman and Welsh - and conflicted loyalties, often caught up in church-political intrigues that finally caused him to flee Britain and live as a scholarly recluse. But his best writing was about Wales, and he showed deep appreciation for the poetry, singing and music of the Welsh. So I would take his counsel to heart. There are places that call us and lift our souls to sing.

Astrea said...

GoW seemed to be something of a social critic, and perhaps a bit jaded due to the various political intrigues that he experienced while alive - but definitely a skilled and committed writer. He's still reclusive apparently, but a good communicator anyway.
Thanks for your comments ... :)

Justin Patrick Moore said...

Robert,
It's always good to have some Awen floating down from your blog. This is a synchronistic posting to me, as I've been reading from the Matthew's "Encyclopedia" this past week, more from the section on Mog Roith ...which is a lead in to the part about the three Cauldrons of Inspiration. I guess I've been hearing the call of Cerridwen's cauldron a lot lately -and consider myself one of the cauldron born.

And as far as my "druidic" practice goes, I've been making a conscious effort to learn more trees, be able to identify them etc. One of the cool things about the regular walks my wife and I have been taking, in a goal to visit and hike all the large woods around Cincinnati, is getting to know on a more intimate level the trees in the immediate neighborhood. Seeing them on a regular basis, I get to know their moods, and they become like family.

And, I've also been looking into the two volumes of the Matthew's book "The Western Way". What I like so much about these volumes, is how they tie together the native traditions of the land, the folk beliefs and religions, with the Hermetic arts traced back to Egypt. It is a useful model for syncretizing work in these different modes.

As a dreamer I am called to work and develop myself in certain traditions, and particularly for me the Celtic is one of them. By the same dream token I am also reminded of the richness available to us from cultures all over the world. Early this week I had a dream of an Elephant headed man in a suit outside of an Eastern temple, clearly a Ganesh figure. And on the morning of May 27th I woke from a dream where someone was offering me warm milk and honey laced with hashish. In this instance I felt the milk and honey were more of a Middle-Eastern nature, because of the hashish. You have demonstrated here that milk and honey can also have Druidic connotations.

Happy Dreaming, Justin

wyrd said...

On a journey quest for inspiration I was taken to a Library of all writers that wrote, are writing and will write. They feed me words. The first word was red. Delicious and strong tasting. My associations: wine, blood,the setting and the rising of the sun and on and on... Then they showed me books that one could eat, for writers are nourished by words! There were romances, adventures, comedies. A banquet of books to dine on. And dine we did!

wyrd said...
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wyrd said...

Hilarious, I did not pick the moniker "wyrd" ! The bling data base selected it for me! Just wanted you to know, I am definitely weird, and most likely I am wyrd as well! My real name is Sue...

Robert Moss said...

Sue - There is definitely a meaningful trickster in play with the selection of the monicker "wyrd". Just after I posted this blog article, I had my hand on two books in my personal library by Brian Bates titled "Wyrd" and "The Way of Wyrd", which take us into the shamanic and magical practices of the Anglo-Saxons. I guess I'll now have to look at those again.

I am quite excited by your delicious account of the library of edible books. This is exactly the kind of library a seeker of "awen" would want to frequent! You remind me of other traditions in which poets and prophets are FED the material they will bring through. As I recall, blind Milton wrote of waking each day feeling he had been suckled with the milk of inspiration. I have had dreams of being fed books and scrolls, but I don't remember them tasting as succulent as your red word...

Robert Moss said...

Justin - John and Caitlin Matthews (good friends of mine) are always excellent value, and their meld of scholarship and shamanic practice is a model for reclaiming ancient traditions in ways that are helpful in our own times.

Talking to trees is always a good idea. Your dream reports remind us that, in dreaming, we discover our spiritual kin and the traditions we most need to connect with.

Amy Brucker said...

Thanks for sharing about soap. The tradition of drinking ash to retain ancestral memory is something I am familiar with, but I never would have made the connection. I plan to do more research on this to see what I can find. Perhaps my ancestors were soap makers! By the way, in April I dyed my hair auburn!

wyrd said...

Robert, many thanks for your response, you create a vital community of dreamers online. We all benefit! I often rest in the idea that what we do is not about our personal success so much as adding our drop to to the living ocean of creation.
with gratitude,
Sue

Robert Moss said...

Amy - And I dreamed last night of receiving the blessing of an auburn-haired goddess (who seemed to be the screen goddess Ava Gardner).

Katie said...

Interesting,I was just pondering the etymology of the word dream when I came across an old anglo-saxon dictionary where it listed:

drymann m. sorcerer, magician, IE

dryman wv. to sing aloud, rejoice.
[dream]

and was suprised that noisyness/singing was also one of the original meanings of the word dream.

dream meant only "joy, mirth," also "music." "noisy merriment" Words for "sleeping vision" in O.E. were mæting and swefn.

Is there maybe some shamanic reason behind the connections of dreaming with music? Perhaps youve already written abt this in one of your books.

Robert Moss said...

Katie - Thanks so much for these old and pregnant words. When I last researched the etymology of the word "dream", I found that it entered the language at two points, from quite different origins, and with quite distinct meanings. One had to do (as you say) with merriment, the kind that was experienced in a mead-hall. The other was related to the Old Germanic "draugr", meaning an encounter with the dead. There may well be more digging to be done here.

DavidInSeattle said...

Need advice about not wanting to remember one's dreams. My problem is not about remembering my dreams it's about not liking the feelings and the content of the dreams. Don't want to write them down. Don't want to remember them. Must be a common problem for dreamers. Your thoughts?

Robert Moss said...

David - There are dreams we just want to spit out; I wrote about that here - http://blog.beliefnet.com/dreamgates/?s=spitting+out+bad+dreams. However, dreams whose content is deeply disturbing and arouse really bad feelings - especially when we run from them and leave them broken and uncomplete - need to be scanned and worked with. Issues we leave unresolved in dreams tend to pursue us in physical life.

DavidInSeattle said...

Robert, Thanks for your thoughts. From your referred posting I also noticed comments from Colleen & another about "who owns dreams?" since many of us are very psychic and tuned into others and the mass consciousness; it is often hard to take ownership for one's own dreams or to say other's consciousnes may be affecting us. I have been spitting out a lot lately physically. Maybe this is a good thing. Thanks! wish I could make your seminar in Seattle.