Opening to the Awen

February 27th, 2011

What distinguishes a Bardic event from similar evenings of entertainment is how we open and close the night.  After a certain amount of kafuffle as we gather ourselves, everyone is invited to form a circle. We stand hand-in-hand. Together we sound the Awen and invoke peace. Ah, how I love the moment when we are sounding the Awen together, inviting in the spirit of creativity we are honouring into this gathering. And I love the ritual of affirming peace and opening the evening with the phrase “Since there is peace, then let us begin”. At the end of the night we once more affirm peace that we may take it out into our worlds, our lives, then sound the Awen in gratitude to the creative flame. Sometimes we finish with “Merrily meet, merrily part, merrily meet again”.

As an Elder Bard of the Order of Ynys Witrin, I am sometimes responsible for the opening and closing of the circle, for sounding the Awen and affirming peace. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years working out what I think the Awen is; what it means to open to the Awen; what I think the difference is between a Bard and a poet.

What is the Awen?

“I would know the nature of Awen,
flowing of spirit,
essence of life in motion.”
(from The Power of Nine)

This was my first attempt to describe the Awen and I said it then as clearly as I’ve ever managed to express it since. Awen is a Welsh word derived from the Indo-European root ‘uel’ meaning ‘to blow’. It has the same root as ‘Awel’ the Welsh word for breath. There is a related word in Irish ‘ai’ which also means ‘poetic inspiration’.

Ultimately the word Awen is as untranslatable as Aum and is often said to be its Celtic equivalent. In true Celtic spirit, there are disputes about how it should be sounded. There is a major division between those who sound the Awen as Ah-oo-when and those who sound it as i-a-o.  If you are interested in Bardism, you are going to encounter variations and hotly-held preferences for one or the other.

I find that the i-a-o variation has more resonance but it is entirely a matter of individual taste. As I was myself introduced to this, the ‘i is not the name we give the letter but ‘i’ as it appears in words such as ‘it’ (so it’s more of an eh sound) and this represents the masculine, the creative force, which moves into ‘a’ the feminine, the receptive, and the ‘o’ represents the ecstatic union of male and female, of God and Goddess, that gives rise to manifestation. I have moved away from this understanding to some extent in experimenting with sounding the Awen.

Sounding the Awen

So I begin by ‘grounding’, becoming aware of how the Earth supports me. To stand comfortably in a ‘tai chi’ stance ie loose knees and feet a comfortable width apart, a stance that gives a sense of solidity and balance. Then with each out-breath imagine that there are roots pushing into the earth from the soles of your feet. It is great to do this outside, particularly near trees, a few times as it is easier to get this sense of connection with the Earth. On the in-breath draw into yourself the nurturing that comes from the Earth. So once that feels well established, with the next in-breath draw in the inspiration of the heavens. Because this is what we truly are, us humans, conduits for the will of Spirit, we who can ground the dreams of God/Goddess or however you conceive the Divine. And as you breathe out, feel this breath flow through you right down into the depth of the roots you have experienced. With the next in-breath draw up the nurturing of the Earth and offer it to the Heavens. The idea is that you alternate the breath between drawing up energy from the Earth and drawing down energy from the Above. It can get a bit confusing but don’t worry about it.  What’s important is that you feel the meeting of heaven and earth in yourself. Grounded in reality and open to inspiration, the power of dreams, of imagination.

Now you’re ready to sound the Awen. On the next in-breath draw up your arms in a wide arc until they are right over your head a short distance apart. Visualise the creative flame as you start to sound the ‘i’ on the out-breath and as this moves into the ‘a’ sound, move your hands over your heart and imagine yourself accepting this gift of creativity right into your heart, your centre, your being. Then as you move into the ‘o’ sound, your palms end up parallel to the ground as you focus on releasing this divine energy as creative expression.  You repeat this three times, drawing up your arms in an arch on the in-breath and sounding the Awen on the out-breath. I quite often find my hands are tingling by the end of this. I also feel fresh and clear and ready to begin writing.

At any gathering, I still prefer to hold hands, to honour the circle and the way energy flows in circles. But in invoking the Awen, when I’m alone, if inside I light a candle and follow the above ritual, or outside I check I really am on my own before I go for it!

Affirming peace is important both when seeking to work with the Awen in the privacy of ourselves and within any circle. Again there are conflicting messages about how to do this.  As I see it, the first time the question is addressed to the circle “Is there peace?” we look within to affirm peace within ourselves “Yes, there is peace.” The second time it refers to peace within this particular circle, within this room and if working individually peace within our relationships. And the third time we ask “Is there peace?” and respond “Yes, there is peace.” we are affirming peace within the world in the spirit of “May all Beings be at peace” and send the peace we know in ourselves out into the world. There is something fitting about the idea that the creative spirit can only flow when there is peace.

Well that’s my thousand words up and then some. I know there is much more to say but this is a subject I will return to many times this year. During the last Awen circle, one of the participants shared a story that if I hadn’t set the exercise and watched it being written, I never would have believed anyone could produce in ten minutes. It was a piece of lyrical perfection, a real gem of a story. That’s the magic of Awen.

How have I elevated the word in the last two weeks? Well I’m performing as part of the St. David’s Day celebration on Tuesday in the Assembly Rooms and as soon as I’ve finished this, I have two poems I need to finish and ‘polish up’ as best I can before then. I’m working with Kevin Redpath on producing a video of my work and I’ve a most unsatisfactory first draft of an article on the healing power of gratitude. But whatever its shortcomings as a piece of writing, it has done me the world of good to write it! So the world has something of rosy glow again.

I hope your worlds are all glowing rosily.

Love and light,

Dearbhaile

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