A Celtic Pilgrimage: Becoming a Bard by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

Trelawney at the moment of initiation. (Photo credit Greg Martin/Cornwall Live)

As I gazed up at Grand Bard Mab Stenak Veur, I could feel my eyes shining with joy, my gratitude, awe, love, and reverence for Kernow thrumming through me like the crescendo of a bright, glorious song. My whole world focused in that moment to the feel of his hands clasping mine — as though all Kernow were embracing me and holding me; the sight of his kind eyes and gentle smile— as though Kernow were lighting beacons to greet my homecoming; the sound of his voice proclaiming my new name, “Bleydh Ow Resek,”— as though Kernow herself were naming me to be her own child, come home at long last to my mother, who longs for me even as deeply and powerfully as I have always longed for her.

While I started learning Kernewek only four years ago, my journey to Bardhood started much earlier. I believe it began at birth, when my parents gave me the Christian name Trelawney, after the revered Cornish rebel leader who stood up against English oppression. Though no one in New England had heard of Kernow (Cornwall), my family’s joyful pride in our Cornish identity shaped my life. We were taught how my grandfather Jack left Kernow as a child because his parents responded to the call for more Methodist pastors to come to the United States.

Raised to follow in his parents’ noble footsteps, my grandfather became a progressive, mystical Methodist pastor as well, and a passionate civil rights activist who continually put his life and his job on the line working for racial justice. My siblings and I were gifted a heritage of inspiring Cornish Methodism with its distinctively British Celtic focus on the natural world, mysticism, and progressive social values. For example, whenever my grandfather Jack was asked his religion, he replied, “Druid,” with a hint of twinkle in his eye that made it difficult to know whether he was joking or serious.

Ancient ruin of Tintagel Castle, associated with Arthur Gernow (King Arthur, called Arthur of Cornwall in the medieval plays of Kernow)

So when I journeyed along careers as a biologist, Methodist minister, professor of Conflict Transformation, and feminist writer, my father always said the same thing: “Your grandfather would be so proud of you.” Even when my feminism stepped, ran, or leaped past my father’s comfort zone, he knew that our Cornish Methodist ancestors— pioneers in female preaching, leadership, and fiesty independence— were cheering me on with exuberant approval and heartfelt blessing.

When the internet first arrived in my life, the very first searches I made were all about Cornwall. In 1997, I managed to find a little shop that sold Cornish language materials. I made the expensive long distance call and bought a book with a casette, to learn to speak Cornish.

Medieval ruin of Glasney College, where scribes wrote/copied the ancient religious plays that made possible the revival of Kernewek, the Celtic language of Kernow— the plays survived the genocide the English waged against the Cornish because they were smuggled out of Cornwall. 

“So that’s how my name is actually supposed to be pronounced,” I thought, also reveling in my very first experience of telling someone my name and having them already know how to spell it.

But though I tried a few times over the years, I couldn’t learn Cornish. It was too hard, all alone, with that book and casette. Years passed, and then so did my Cornish father. After his passing, I kept feeling stronger and stronger urges to try to learn Cornish again. Thanks to an old pamphlet handed to me in 2016 by some Cornish bards, I found some Facebook groups, YouTube videos, audio courses, and websites.

“Girls,” I told my daughters, “Let’s learn Cornish.”

After that, it was as though something inside me that had been sleeping woke up with a roar. I became passionately dedicated to absorbing as much Cornish as I possibly could each day. I began translating my poetry and songs into Kernewek (Cornish), but the more Kernewek I learned, the more I realized that Kernewek is a language inherently resonant with songs and poetry. It gradually became much easier to write poems and songs in Kernewek without writing an English version first. I increasingly felt Kernewek flowing through me like a stream, not wanting English to get in the way.

Learning Kernewek was like scratching an itch that had been bothering me my entire life. It felt, more than anything, like a tremendous relief. The language beckoned me home to myself, a part of myself I had always known was there, but had not been able to access. The part that understands perfectly why I stopped the car in that road.

Crying The Neck harvest ceremony in Madron, based on traditional beliefs that the last shock of grain to be harvested has spiritual importance. 

It was July, 2016 – my first trip to Kernow. Driving along the narrow drover lanes of West Cornwall, I suddenly slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt. There was nothing in front of me, only a bend in the two-lane road, beyond which I could not see. My husband and children were startled and concerned.

“What’s wrong?” They asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

I had no idea why I had suddenly stopped. I was quite confident driving on the left, after having lived for a time in Ireland. I had never in my life stopped a car suddenly for no reason, not once in the 27 years I had been driving.

“Are you okay?” Asked my husband. “Do you want me to drive?”

“No…” I replied. “I think I’m okay… I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.”

I felt a bit shaken, so instead of returning to the posted speed limit of 40mph, I drove very slowly, creeping around the bend in the road. Just around the bend, just out of sight of where I had stopped, an out-of-control horse reared on its hind legs in my lane. In the oncoming lane, a lorry (truck) was stopped with a line of several cars behind it, all waiting for the rider to gain control of her horse. After a minute or two, she calmed the horse and got it to return to the oncoming lane in front of the lorry.

Because I stopped the car and then crept around that bend at a snail’s pace rather than going the posted speed, an horrific accident was avoided. Had I gone around the bend at the speed I had been traveling before I stopped, I would have had no way to avoid a terrible crash.

On the north coast cliffs of the Zawns (inlets), where the wind washes you weightless and sets you free.

I will never forget the moment I first learned the Cornish word Awen. All of my hair stood on end, and shivers ran down my spine. “This is it,” I realized, stunned. “This is what I have been looking for.”

Awen, the Source of Love, Justice, and Truth, the same Source I had prayed to and communed with my entire life, an infinite, limitless mystery with many names and faces, was calling to me in a new, powerful, female voice. The mystical, justice-oriented Methodism passed down through generations of my family had prepared my heart and mind for a new journey: The Celtic Pilgrimage, an ancient Christian tradition of seeking the Divine within a sacred journey.

Holy well of St Euny, a “cloutie well” reputed to have healing powers; after bathing the afflicted area with well water, the wet cloth is tied to the nearby cloutie tree as part of a healing ritual during pilgrimage to the well

As I journeyed through the ancient ruins and neolithic sites of Kernow this summer, the sense of homecoming was even more powerful and beautiful than it had been six years before. Seeing my beloved cousins and friends from the language movement, who had encouraged and supported me so much over the past four years, added profundity and joy to every moment of my family’s pilgrimage. And standing before the Grand Bard, filled with humble awe at the tremendous honor I was privileged to receive, I felt the love of my ancestors, family, and friends cradle me, embrace me, lift me, and strengthen me to continue my pilgrimage and go forth in grateful service to Awen, my Guide and Strength, who weaves my heritage and my future into a vision of lifelong ministry dedicated to my home, my love, my Kernow.

5900 year old tor enclosure village ruin of St Euny, named for a beloved 5th century hermit missionary

BIO: 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. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.



Categories: General, Pilgrimage

Tags: , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Wow, your pilgrimage is inspiring and your story about the horse rearing and the “nudge” you were given gave me chills. Congrats on becoming a bard!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bless you! And Congratulations!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a lovely Story of Homecoming!!

    How wonderful!

    Thank -you for all the vivid words in sharing your journey!!!

    Happy Fall blessings to you!

    Pam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Pam! I really struggle to capture just how meaningful all of this is for me, it’s truly astounding. Every blessing to you! I hope this autumn is bringing you joy. <3 Trelawney

      Like

  4. Such an amazing journey and photos! Thank you so much for sharing them with us. I love how learning the Cornish language was so important to you. I think learning the languages of our ancestors is an overlooked part of women’s spirituality and regaining matrifocused elements of ancestral culture because languages express so much of a culture’s worldview. I look forward to hearing more about your ministry as it unfolds!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Carolyn! I appreciate your perspective on language, ancestral culture, and female spiritual power. I hope with all my heart to contribute something worthy to those spheres of meaning. Every blessing to you! <3

      Like

  5. LOVELY HOMECOMING…. amazing how each of us finds her unique way…

    Like

  6. Ogh, meur ras ha pur splann, ow hwor, ha keslowena dhis – bryntin os ta! My deepest congratulations to you, my amazing sister, and thank you for sharing this with us so powerfully.

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: