Celtic Awen, Spiritual Homecoming, and Singing with Trees by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


Does your name have a special meaning? Mine does. In fact, in one corner of the world, you would be very hard pressed to find anyone who did not know the significance of the name Trelawney and its history. They could probably even sing you a rousing song about it:

And shall Trelawny live? Or shall Trelawny die?

There’s twenty thousand Cornish here, will know the reason why![1]

But growing up in New England, no one had ever heard the name Trelawney before, or the name “Cornwall,” the land of Trelawney. If I said “Celtic,” they would finally nod.

Then with the internet came affordable communication “across the pond” to Britain, and my earliest internet explorations connected me with Cornwall, where my grandfather came from. I taught myself Cornish folk songs, I found folktales, recipes, and a more richly detailed cultural nourishment than my Cornish grandfather had managed to pass along to us. A lifelong mystic and Methodist minister, but if you ever asked my grandfather his religion, he would reply, “Druid,” with just that hint of mysterious twinkle in his eye.

There’s the story of the tiny village of Mousehole, which was starving due to lack of fish one stormy winter. Old Tom Bawcock braved the terrible storms in his little boat, determined to save his village or die trying. When the villagers realized what Tom had done, they all lined up with lanterns along the storm-swept harbor wall, to guide him safely home.

There’s The White Rose, a poignant love song to an elderly woman:

The years pass so quickly, my darling,

Each makes you more precious to me,

So long may we live close together,

Oh lily white rose, cling to me.

And there is the Cornish language, which was utterly impossible for me to learn twenty years ago, all alone with only a book. But social media, with all its detriments, has incredible blessings as well. When I attempted to start learning Cornish again eight months ago, with the support of the online community, this time… it took. It took with gusto! I was grieving my father’s recent death, and nothing seemed to stick in my foggy brain… except Cornish. Somehow, studying Cornish soothes my grief about my father as well as grief about the coming climate apocalypse, the political cesspit, the misogynist dystopia of rape culture, and more.

Learning a language changes us: it gives us a new lens through which to see the world, life, reality. One of the biggest gifts Cornish has given me is a connection to Awen.

Awen is an old, old word, so its exact meaning is probably forever shrouded in the mists of time. But what we do know, from records in Cornish, Welsh, and Breton, is absolutely marvelous. While it is always hard to capture such concepts in words, Awen was described as a natural, divine source of inspiration both for bardic songs and poetry and for spiritual wisdom or instinctive knowledge.[2] A symbol of Awen is used by the modern Gorsedh Kernow: the meeting of Cornish Bards, people who work to preserve and promote the culture and language of Cornwall.

The first time I encountered the concept of Awen, it resonated through my body and soul with the clarity and energy of a firebolt. I think my hair actually stood up. Perhaps my grandfather passed on more of my cultural heritage than I had realized. As my own mystic-Methodist spiritual, cultural, and linguistic connection to my motherland deepens, my ability to commune with Awen deepens as well. I stand in the forest, and I sing part of a song I wrote, as a meditative chant to Awen and the ancestors:

Awen veurgerys, gwra agan gidya

Enevow meurgerys, gwra agan ledya

Beloved Awen, guide us

Beloved souls, lead us

And then I open myself to Awen, and let her flow, aligning myself with her resonance, allowing her to heal and strengthen me, to guide me and give me peace and courage.

One day a few weeks ago, as part of this process, I found myself apologizing to the Woods (including trees, earth, sky, lake, and the kindred web of animal and plant life therein)… the kind of apology all sensitive humans make to Woods when we feel the the grief and shame of being the destroyers of wild, green places. That day, the Woods spoke back to me. In my heart, they whispered, “Welcome, little sister.” And in their message was a treasure beyond what I could have imagined: a feeling of Grace, of compassion, of tender, wise understanding and embrace. I can’t really put it into words. Maybe you’ve felt it, too? For me, Awen flowed through it all, as gentle and mighty as a supernova and a twinkling star in a velvet sky.

Every time I pause to remember, the message returns, and I weep with gratitude and some sort of mingled relief, joy, and love. The weeping cleanses and heals me, as the best weeping does. What rich, abundant blessings have we American settlers denied ourselves by losing our roots? What healing might come as we rediscover and rebuild our ancestral connections to Wild Places? What profound Life and Divinity will come to us and through us as we remember and realize who we are?

I wrote this song today, in honor of the gift these Woods, this Awen, is giving me. I hope and pray you will be nourished, healed, and blessed with every wellness and joy.

 

Welcome, little sister, lay your burden down

It’s too heavy for you to bear

Lay it down

 

All the nightmares, all the fear

Lay it down, sweet sister,

All the anguish, all the tears

Lay it down

 

Welcome, little sister lay your burden down

On the sweet, dark Earth

Lay it down

 

All the anger, all the pain

Lay it down, dear sister,

All the terror, all the hate

Lay it down

 

Welcome, little sister, lay your burden down

In the sacred Awen flowing

Lay it down

 

All the trauma, all the worry

Lay it down, little sister,

All the memories, all the wounds

Lay it down

 

Welcome, little sister, lay your shame down

Let us rock you gently

Lay it down

 

Welcome, little sister, lay your burden down

Come, let us heal you,

Lay it down

 

Translated into Cornish with generous help from Benjamin Bruch:

Dynnargh, hwor vyghan, gas dha vegh dhe godha dhe’n dor

Re boos yw ragos dh’y dhon

Gas e dhe godha

 

Oll an hunlevow, oll an own

Gorr i dhe’n dor, hwor hweg

Oll an angos, oll an dhagrow

Gas i dhe godha

 

Dynnargh, hwor vyghan, gas dha vegh dhe godha dhe’n dor

Dhe’n dor hweg ha tewl

Gas e dhe godha

 

Oll an sorr, oll an dolor

Gorr i dhe’n dor, hwor ger,

Oll an euth, oll an kas

Gas i dhe godha

 

Dynnargh, hwor vyghan, gas dha vegh dhe godha dhe’n dor

Y’n Awen sans ow frosa

Gas e dhe godha

 

Oll an anken, oll an preder

Gorr i dhe’n dor, hwor vyghan

Oll an kovyow, oll an goliow,

Gas i dhe godha

 

Dynnargh, hwor vyghan, gas dha veth dhe godha dhe’n dor

Gas ni dhe’th leska yn kosel

Gas e dhe godha

 

Dynnargh, hwor vyghan, gas dha vegh dhe godha dhe’n dor

Deus ha gas ni dhe’th sawya

Gas e dhe godha

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir  teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland.  Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

 

[1] The original words, recorded by Robert Stephen Hawker based on older folk songs, say “Here’s twenty thousand Cornishmen” – but my family never left females out of our songs. Besides, Cornish women are known for their feminist courage! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_the_Western_Men

[2] A rough overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awen
A neoDruid interpretation: https://www.druidry.org/library/modern-druidry/awen-0

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Categories: Activism, Ancestors, Art, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Nature

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14 replies

  1. How lucky you are to be able tap more directly into your ancestral wisdom than many of us can. My ancestors left their places more than 150 years ago.

    And what a beautiful revelation: we are accepted by the earth in all of our brokenness and despair. And we are not alone. The earth and its spirits will work with us as we work to save us all.

    Love to you.

    Like

  2. Tears of joy and recognition. Moved by the Awen flowing through your post. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely! Bright blessings to you and your roots. And Awen.

    Until now, just about the only things I knew about Cornwall were (1) that some people believe King Arthur lived there in Tintagel and (2) the famous singing Pirates (Gilbert & Sullivan’s) were (are) based in the Cornish town of Penzance. Now I know more. Many thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Barbara! Bright blessings to you as well! At least you knew two things!!! More than most! I pray every blessing on your journey, friend. <3

      Like

  4. What a lovely post! You’ve brought back memories of Cornwall, enchanted and enchanting. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m so glad! I have been able to visit only once thus far, but it was life changing. Definitely enchanted and enchanting! Bless your journey. <3

      Like

  5. Like, goddessfiction above, I too found Cornwall enchanted and enchanting. It flowed through and through with Awen, “a natural, divine source of inspiration both for bardic songs and poetry and for spiritual wisdom or instinctive knowledge.” I love your poem, Trelawney. It is such a wonderful call to healing. By the way, is awen a part of your name as well?

    I think it’s a wonderful synchronicity that today I’m preparing for a workshop in Brooklyn (at the Daya Yoga Center, 3/10, 2 p.m., if anyone wants to come) called “Tapping Your Creativity” based on my book _The Work is Your Oracle._ Until now, I have led classes and workshops that dealt with the divination techniques I gathered (and in some cases created) in this book in terms of how they help us tap into our inner wisdom. But in this new workshop, I’m making clear the relationship between inner wisdom (“spiritual wisdom and instinctive knowledge”) and creativity (“a natural, divine source of inspiration” for songs, poetry, art, writing, and any other creative act).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nancy, that’s very kind of you. I’m so glad you got the chance to visit Cornwall. A magical place! I don’t know if Awen is a part of my name. The meaning of the name Trelawney is hard to pin down – there is disagreement about it. Tre often means home, place, town, farm, etc, but it can even just mean “clan” in its oldest forms. So it is a very common prefix for Cornish family names. The “lawny” or “lawney” part is the tricky bit. Of all the possibilities I’ve encountered, the one I like best is “forest glades” – which would make “Trelawney” mean “clan of the forest glades” or “home of the forest glades”… so that’s my favorite choice! :)
      That is definitely wonderful synchronicity. How did it go? Sounds like a great book – learning to access our inner wisdom is such an important part of our journeys. I love that you explored that relationship today between inner wisdom and creativity… how wonderful that Cornish defines them together. It truly is a gift to learn another language and another way of seeing the world. Bless your journey! <3

      Like

  6. I love this post of yours SO much! Thank you! Long ago, I heard the Voice of Gaia, of the wild places and the woods … since then, I have chosen to live among the trees in semi-rural to rural places. Whenever I have felt adrift among my own species (which is often), I pause and the Woods welcome me into Belonging, as you say “And in their message was a treasure beyond what I could have imagined: a feeling of Grace, of compassion, of tender, wise understanding and embrace.” YES. Much love and blessings to you.

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Darla!! What a beautiful comment. “welcome me into Belonging” – so beautifully put. “the Voice of Gaia” – yes, indeed!! Much love and blessings to you as well – bless your journey! <3

      Like

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