Restriction and the centre

The controversial 18th-19th century Revival Druid, mystic, visionary and poet Iolo Morganwg described in his Barddas  a cosmology that was based on three “circles of creation“.

These circles are popularly known as Abred, Gwynfyd, and Ceugant, and they can be seen as each spiralling outwards and upwards from each other; from the physical realm of Abred towards Ceugant, which is the limitless and infinite. At the centre and foundation of this whole cosmology is the deep realm of Annwn. The soul was thought to originate in Annwn, the Cauldron of Birth and Rebirth, and then travel through these circles to the infinite over the course of multiple reincarnations.

Philip Carr-Gomm spoke in his weekly Tea With a Druid about the different circles of our lives before and after quarantine. Our lives have in a sense shrunk from a wider circle to a smaller one, and we can feel this shrinking as restriction or frustration, or we can see it as a time to turn inward and develop a greater connection with ourselves.

This got me thinking naturally about Morganwg’s circles of creation and how that schema might be in some metaphorical or analogous sense be a helpful way of looking at our situation now.

Philip spoke about how creative people often embrace the restrictions of their medium in order to focus their creativity – poets choose forms that have certain constraints and rules, sculptors and painters choose certain mediums that dictate what you can and can’t do, and suchlike. Restriction can then be a way of narrowing your focus, honing in on that which is important.

To an extent, then, this can be seen as our own personal Annwn, our own Cauldron of Rebirth. Like descending into the underworld (which is not to be equated with the Christian view of Hell, but which is the realm of the ancestors and otherworldly beings), we turn inward during quarantine, spending more time in our homes and in our own company or the company of our immediate families.

This smallness, this intimate inner world, can be a prison cell or it can be a monastic cell, depending on what we each bring to it. It can (and for all of us at times is) be a place of frustration as we want to expand, to emerge from Annwn and explore the other circles of creation, or it can be a place of rest, of recovery, of healing.

The cauldron of Annwn is one which in Welsh mythology brings dead warriors back to life, healed and renewed to fight again.

Can we use this time for self-care? Can we find a safe and peaceful place from which to allow ourselves to slowly, gently heal and grow? Of course this depends on having a safe and healthy home, and I am not unaware of my privilege in having such an environment. For those who do not, my heart goes out to you: do whatever you need to survive and know that you are valued and loved.

Thoreau is not an unproblematic figure, but his decision to “live deliberately” through simplifying his life is one that can be a source of inspiration for living through a time of quarantine.

Here in our own cauldrons of Annwn, maybe we can find the stillness at the centre of our beings, that point which connects us to the Sacred, however you percieve it, and from that point of stillness radiate peace to ourselves and to the world.

This is not to say we should be untouched by emotion, without fear or stress – to live a spiritual life is not to transcend or escape the human (indeed, one issue I have with Morganwg’s circles of creation is the sense that they are a vertical hierarchy leading away from embodied existence), but it is to fully and deeply live.

There are days of calm, and days of rage.

Days of grief, and days of fear.

Days of tears, and days of hope.

But through it all, there is the “still small voice” within, that knows that all things will pass.

May this time be a time of healing, renewal, focus and rebirth, so that when we do emerge like animals after hibernation or new growth after winter, or the sunrise at Alban Arthan, we can grow and flourish and thrive.

5 Comments

  1. Very interesting post. I too watched Philip’s video and thought about what he said. I found my creativity burst through at the beginning of lockdown, then waned, and now the awen is trying to flow again. I do have a comfortable home life but we are a big family, so that comes with its own frustrations. There is a definite urge though to push through the restrictions and be creative.
    I enjoyed the fact that I first read Barddas as Badass!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Likewise, there are definite ebbs and flows. I think there’s value in recognising where the Awen flows and where you need times of stillness, and listening to ourselves more. And yes, I almost always type Badass first then have to correct it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m fortunate enough to use the time during lockdown to both explore my creativity and look more inward. I know everyone is not as lucky and so I mean the above quite humbly. I find your issue with Iolo’s model interesting as my own issue comes from this being different from what the Celts were supposed to believe: when you did in this world, you are born in the next, so on and so on. It’s thought Iolo, although wanting to be the Welsh Robert Burns couldn’t quite break away from his Unitarian Church leanings.

    Although Iolo’s spiral system apparently does work with other systems of belief, at least according to a good friend of mine, I’ll have to ask him!

    Either way, I love that you compared it with the cauldron of rebirth and that makes perfect sense in the cosmology.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting point about Iolo’s Unitarian Church background, a lot of his works do seem to be concerned with making Druidry fit with an (albeit unorthodox) esoteric Christianity. I take him with a pinch of salt, but he is inspiring too.

      Liked by 1 person

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