The Flowing River and the Book of Life

Druidry encourage a positive engagement with the Bardic Arts. it recognises that our urge to express ourselves through our creativity is, at heart, a spiritual act: when we create we share, in some small way, in the vast and mysterious act of creation. Not only that, our creativity can illustrate just what it means to be human. How often have we read a poem or piece of prose and got that ‘me too’ feeling, or when listening to music felt something beyond words open up inside us? When we create, we share something fundamental and vital about ourselves and our experience of living; when we are exposed to the creativity of others, we are given the potential to gain a deeper understand of life and self. The path of the Bard is a transformative one – it can change us, dissolving the boundaries of our small and limited selves to reveal something bigger, richer.

In Druidry, the concept of Awen is intimately linked to our creativity. We seek to open ourselves to this vibrant energy, allowing it to move through us and animate our creations. We feel its touch when our awareness is heightened, when a grey world is cracked open and flooded by colour. An encounter with Awen is essentially a sudden change of perception that – although transitory in our experience of it – can have a lasting impact through our creative efforts. A little Awen takes up residence in the things we create and through the sharing of these, touches others – at least, this is the always the potential when we offer our art to the world.

The word Awen is often translated as ‘flowing spirit’ and it is no surprise how many deities traditionally associated with inspiration and the creative arts are connected not only to flowing water but to knowledge. If we think of the Goddess Brighid, there is always a sense that her inspiration brings with it the gift of a deeper knowing – the fires of her forge melt us down, change our shape, toughen us on the anvil of experience in order to deepen our wisdom. Her waters nourish and sustain; her springs suggest to us that deep within there is a place we can draw from that will feed us; that this quiet place – when we follow its course – can expand and swell, spilling over the brim of our inertia into movement, and that if we step into this current, we will be carried by its powerful momentum back to the Source.

I am drawn to the Hindu Goddess Sarasvati, who in many ways shares a good deal with Brighid and the gifts of Awen. She is the Lady of all creative arts and sciences – musicians, artists, writers, students, teachers and philosophers call upon her for her blessings and guidance. She was originally a river Goddess and is strongly associated with flowing water in her role as goddess of knowledge and creativity. What I find particularly interesting is that her name translates as ‘Sara’: essence/essential knowledge of ‘Sva’: the self. Her name suggests this link between creativity and a deeper knowledge and understanding of ourselves and life.

In her iconography, she is often portrayed with four arms, one carrying a book or scroll, another a crystal mala, the remaining two playing a Veena (a lute-like instrument). She possesses a pot of sacred water, so reminiscent of the grail and is often seated upon a white swan (note that Brighid is also associated with swans) or a lotus. Here we see references to her connections to Divine knowledge, truth and wisdom; of how the spiritual life is intimately connected to the powerfully expressive and purifying nature of our creativity and that these are made manifest through music, words, the arts and sciences – through our actual creations: Awen made manifest. In this act of shaping spirit into form, a little more of life is revealed to us and shared with others.

A couple or so years back, I went to the OBOD 50th Gathering in Glastonbury. After an evening of celebration, music and poetry, 400 Druids stood in the dark watching a glorious firework display. In the magical silence that followed, a spontaneous chanting of the Awen began. It rippled out, swelling and cascading over and through ever soul there. It was an extraordinary moment. The evening had been a celebration of sharing not only creativity but our community and the sense of spiritual connection that these inspire when the sacred relationship between them is honoured.  The power of chanting the Awen is that it symbolises the magical shift that occurs when our individual creative voices join in with and enrich the whole. The Bardic arts have the potential to change things for the better; to add to the collective wisdom for the good of all, which is why Druidry’s focus on them is such an important part of our spiritual path.

Through our creativity, we are each a drop of inspiration in Sarasvati’s river, flowing out into the world and sustaining life; adding knowledge to the sacred book she holds in her hands, for the future benefit of all who come after us.

(First posted on Philip Carr-Gomm’s Blog June 25th 2014)

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