Welsh: Bardism



The Bardo-Druidic System


Barddas is a rather notorious book in medieval Welsh and Druidic studies. Like portions of the Myvyrian Archaiology, it relied on manuscripts in the posession of Iolo Morgannwg, and thus must be considered suspect in their authenticity.

That said, Barddas is a two-volume work published by the Welsh Manuscripts Society. The first volume, published in 1862, claims to be a translation of manuscripts demonstrating the bardic system of ancient Britain to the present day:

The promoters of the National Eisteddvod, which was held at Llangollen, in the autumn of 1858, conscious of the increased attention that was being paid by foreign scholars to the literature and usages of our Cymric ancestors, and desirous, at the same time, of facilitating their inquiries in that direction, as well as of effectually rescuing from a precarious existence the traditions of the Bards, offered a prize of 30 pounds, and a Bardic tiara in gold, for "the fullest illustration, from original sources, of the theology, discipline, and usages of the Bardo-druidic system of the Isle of Britain." ..."On this very important and interesting subject only one composition has been received, which bears the feigned signature of PLENNYDD. It is & very extensive collection, for the most part of unpublished MSS., consisting of 287 folio pages, clearly and beautifully written and exhibiting indications of being carefully and accurately copied, for the writer, following herein the example of the late Iolo Morganwg, has suffered even errors, which were obvious in the manuscripts before him, to remain unaltered.

"The compiler has been very diligent, and remarkably successful in obtaining access to such a vast number of ancient MSS bearing Bardism, many of which had seen but little light for several before. With respect to their genuineness, PLENNYDD justly observes,--"though their authors cannot in many instances be named, any more than we can name the authors of the Common Law of England, yet the existence of the peculiar dogmas and usages, which they represent, may be proved from the compositions of the Bards from the era of Taliesin down to the present time."

Of course, it is nothing of the kind. The book--which claims to be the translation of manuscripts originally belonging to one Llewellyn Sion of Glamorgan, which then came into the hands of Iolo Morgannwg who compilied the Sion manuscript with other earlier manuscripts he had copied. If there was an authentic Llewellyn Sion MS--and some scholars do believe there was one, as there was a Llewellyn Sion who was an early antiquarian--then it was no earlier than the late sixteenth century, and can hardly be considered full of authentic ancient traditions.

Instead, the contents of the book show a sort of mystical Christianity, not druidic theology. There are references both the old Welsh heroes and to Jesus, and gives an interesting--though not druidic--cosmology: There are two opposing forces in the universe--God (energy tending towards life) and Cythrawl (energy tending towards destruction, emanating out of Annwn, the Abyss). Now, God spoke his name, and manred--matter--formed into three planes of existence: Abred (the innermost circle where life and Cythrawl battle--this is our plane, apparently), Gwynfyd ("purity" where life exists free from evil), and Ceugant ("infinity" where God alone exists). Now, none of this is to be found in any Welsh or Irish mythology, but only in the writings of Iolo Morgannwg. The book also contains many short poems attributed to various bards (Talhaiarn Tadawen, Peredur, Taliesin, Myrddin), which of course do not exist in any manuscript except for those owned or copied by Morgannwg. (Hmm...) It also contains long series of triads pretaning to the conduct and beliefs of bards--Morgannwg had a fondess for triads, and this was the second time he forged a book of triads and passed them off as ancient (the first is in the Myvyrian Archaiology). It is also the origin of the Coelbren alphabet, which is also of questionable origin.

The second volume, published in 1874, is shorter, and is an "unfinished... volume... found in the Stock of the late Mr. Rees of Llandovery, after it was purchased by Bernard Quaritch, 15 Piccadilly, London." Its manuscript sources are not given; it is probably one of Iolo's forgeries. It reiterates much of the first volume, but is more narrative in its nature, illustrating in stories of how, when Prydain ab Aedd conquered the island, he instituted bardism.

Now, it is interesting to note that the notorious book The 21 Lessons of Merlyn borrows heavily from Barddas--yet another reason why anyone truly interested in Druidism and medieval bardism should not look to anything published by Llewellyn.

Both volumes of Barddas can be seen at The Summerlands; it has also recently been reprinted by the Samuel Weiser company.

Barddas is also the name of the magazine published by the Welsh Language Poetry Society, run by the Arts Council of Wales.

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Mary Jones 2004