What’s In A Word? A Personal Perspective

hinds, Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.

by Kevin O’Reilly

Awen is a complicated concept and hard to understand. Teaching its meaning is often not clear and imprecise. I can only offer my sense of feeling and, as sure as the wind drifts sand, my own perspective may shift slightly as time moves on. I only know what I feel but only arrogance sets opinions in stone, may I be preserved some such folly.
Every object in the physical realm holds a share of this spiritual phenomenon. Every tree, bird, animal, reptile, fish, every blade of grass and every other thing imaginable (or beyond imagination) possesses its own precious share of Awen. The spirit of man, if openly appearing different in form and life to these things is still, in truth, a tiny part of this greater whole. Awen is never born and never dies.
Distinguishing human and non-human as separate existences is incomprehensible as Awen is the universal power behind all life, even beyond boundaries we can only imagine. In the physical realm we recognize Awen as nature, and humankind exists as a part of nature, not as an outside (nor superior) entity.
Our physical world can therefore be characterized by this oneness of spirit, a unity where all things are related, and where all things connect. As humankind is one with the natural world, we can see that we are all spiritually forged together forever with all natural existence. Distinction between the natural and the supernatural also becomes meaningless, as both are the personification of Awen. The modern western ethos has manufactured a false division of the two states of existence up to the point where many deny one altogether. This is rather like trying to prevent the devastation of a hurricane by ignoring it.
To our most ancient ancestors the universe must have been an incomprehensible and frightening place yet we know that Awen (by any other name) was recognised early as the key to understanding our place in existence. Ritual and respect quickly found extensive use as a gateway to our proper place in this existence and as an emissary to our creator. Awen then is a force or energy forged from an indivisible source that is the power behind physical and non-physical existence. When the balance between these two existences is distorted or lost the effects are evident within both realms and can be devastating. Yet even left to it’s own devices, the balance is never perfect and does shift.
In Native American culture the physical world is seen as the reflection of the spiritual realm viewed as scenery is on a lake. Such a reflection can never be perfect and always has some distortion just as the physical world can only be an inferior ramification of the spirit world. On a calm day the view can be easily distinguished among the slight ripples on the surface but the harsher the weather the less recognizable the view is. The harsh weather is indicative of imbalance, a frequent visitor now in many parts of the world.
The more the balance is lost then, the less representative the physical world is of the spiritual one. The natural world is nearest to the spirit and it has no concrete or chemical pollutants. Everything, every existence, must care for everything else or the balance remains lost. Awen is torn.
When all that was sacred to our ancestors is lost in modern arrogance we no longer look in awe on things that are inexplicable or mysterious. Instead we scientifically analyse them and seek a physical explanation that blinkers the truth of the power within. Science refuses the truth of Awen where all things in both realms are connected because it can’t see this physically. Is it coincidence that the word awe is a large part of the word Awen?
As humans we must see that we ourselves are our only source to rediscovering this link and healing the rift in the spirit, hence restoring Awen via respect and honest acknowledgement that all things are connected.
Every stone, root, insect, every fibre of this earth is purer than the most gifted or goodly human. These things have not lost the truth, they haven’t contaminated and decimated at will for personal gain. Balance can never be perfect if it is to blossom but it needs a natural level and until mankind stops trying to control and redirect nature, this balance, ever fickle, may be lost forever in our world. Restoring this balance can only be achieved when mankind perceives once more that each of us is not merely alive but that we are a small part of all life.
Awen, an ancient concept of truth is almost forgotten but will endure as it has always endured, further back than our most ancient ancestors and beyond the last descendants to walk this earth.
But why is it simplified to the expression ‘inspiration ‘?
To examine this we must look at our most ancient predecessors in Celtic Druidry. The very culture was centred on a core element, oral continuance.
The Druids were recorded as using a written language often referred to as Greek by scholars from their time; we also know that Ogham was extensively used. For the masses however, writing was unused and society thrived around the spoken word. And this condemned them.
The legacy of Rome haunts western society to this day. The prejudice that judged a people by concrete and writing blights us still. Civilisation, in its thinnest veneer, judged those whose culture is different as barbarians with nothing worth writing down. But was this true?
The empire of Rome hid behind its prejudice as a means of propaganda to promote its military greed. In truth though, Rome always feared the power of the Bardic word. Quite right it was too.
Spoken communication involves so much more than words. Emotion is important as a tool to strike the words home. Animated story telling can never be matched by written words, even though today we see great novelists whose descriptive prose is powerful. Even an average storyteller can capture an audience who would never have the patience to read a book.
Voice tone, gesture and expression can move a listener, and the teller too is sensitive to their audience. The story can be told to its greater understanding via this two-way reverence.
Spoken words can convey encoded and perceived messages that are lost by the author who never knows if the reader has taken a point in as the mood or interest of the recipient is never known and the story lies stagnant, never adjusted to instil these important factors.
Presence cannot be felt like it is from oral rendition.
Most books are read once and forgotten. At best they are used occasionally for reference. Unwritten wisdom though, often impinges on a person’s consciousness, on a person’s soul. Retold, such stories bond people socially and spiritually. It is a shame really that you are reading this and not hearing me.
American poet Robert Bly has said, “The letter killeth – the Spirit giveth life”.
In her 1973 book ‘The Celts’, the late Nora Chadwick observed that in civilisations where knowledge is not written down but passed on by oral expression, all knowledge is regarded as a spiritual possession and is acquired by a spiritual means that can be expressed as Inspiration.


Learn more about Druidry and how to join the order

The practice of Druidry used to be confined to those who could learn from a Druid in person. But now you can take an experience-based course wherever you live, and when you enrol on this course, you join the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, and begin an adventure that thousands of people all over the world have taken. It works with the ideas and practices of Druidry in a thoroughly practical, yet also deeply spiritual way.