Of Awen and Imbas – My Perspective

As I sit here on a Monday night, pondering what to write, I have put a favorite album of mine into the shuffle slot on my iTunes. “Misplaced Childhood” by Marillion was one of those albums that really touched me. The music is the perfect backdrop to some of the most evocative lyrics I have ever heard. It was this album that led me to find the poet buried deep inside of me. To dip my hands into the thick, sweet liquid of the river of creativity, what I would later in my life come to know as the “Awen” of my life, and the “Imbas” of my life.

For those not familiar to Druidry, its probably a good idea to do some explaining here. Awen, as noted by Penny Billington in her book The Path of Druidry, is “…understood as the flowing spirit of inspiration…” For me, this comes in the form of serpentine river of an unknown type of liquid that is nearly gel-like and has a distinct hue of reddish-gold. Now, that’s my mind’s eye creating an image I can work directly with, I’m quite sure your mileage will definitely vary. This is where I tend to put my hands when I meditate and seek inspiration, usually to solve some coding issue I have run across, or even to write an occasional poem. The point is not what it looks like or the consistency I find it to be in my mind’s eye, but finding it and utilizing it to help my mind find solutions or words I had not thought of before. Sometimes it is a full river of liquid, and sometimes I have to search hard just to find the slightest trickle. Even inspiration can run dry from time to time and force you to dig further and deeper than you thought was necessary.

Imbas or Imbas Forosnai, sometimes know as the “Fire in the Head” is somewhat the same, but its also not. I hope I can do a good job explaining this concept. Imbas forosnai is an odl Irish term that translates to “inspiration” according to Wikipedia. I’ll accept that for the moment, and include that this inspiration was gathered through a means of sensory deprivation, which I have never red or heard of an exact manner of doing so. Once the poet was in this particular state, it is stated that the poet would have the gift of prophecy, stating things without being aware that he or she was doing so. Now, my perception of this is a little different…its the point where the poet, the writer, the musician, the orater plies their craft without knowledge of what they say, write or play until the geas is removed from them. It can last for any period of time. The results can be jumbled or deeply inspirational, depending on the individual hearing or reading the work(s) in question.

Now, my meaning may be different than what is accepted and I absolutely understand that. I still stick to my understanding of what “fire in the head” is – that state of being the tool through which wording, music, or whatever is channeled through you into the physical world. It is a state where you have one foot in this world and one foot in the Other World and you serve as the conduit between the two. And yes, the danger of doing this is that the prolonged connection (whatever time frame that might be) could drive the individual, serving as the conduit, mad. One might even describe this state as a form of possession, but regardless of all that – it certainly does exist, and can be induced in many different manners (or even using no method at all).

Do I strive to find these two states? I seek Awen constantly. When I need to see things from a different perspective, seek a different direction, or even to change a prolonged mood – I reach for Awen. A momentary surge or push towards what I am seeking. That nudge that I need, no more.

Do I seek Imbas forosnai? Not really. I have experienced this state twice in my life. Once, while writing a research paper for a college class. The results were unusable, though I did find bits of information in what I did manage to write. The other time was around an ADF fire during a ritual. There was a moment where individuals were invited to step towards the fire and say something, anything. Most were offerings and thanks to the Gods. I had already mentioned to someone else that I probably did not have anything to say. Yet, I still strode to the fire and offered a statement, asking the Gods to protect the water-protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline site. I knew nothing of what I said, only that I had said something. I asked several people what it was that I said…and I felt so stupid asking that question. I’m sure someone thought I was high on something. Except that I don’t do drugs, and had not a sip of whiskey to that point in the night.

Most folks will say “yeah, sure” in regards to all of this. I’m happy to end the conversation there and push off to a discussion on how their favorite baseball team is going to do this coming season. I don’t need to argue with people over what I experience. If someone is unwilling to be open to the idea, its far better to move on to another topic than to try and dissuade them from knowing what I did or did not experience. I don’t need to prove myself right or wrong – I am aware of what I experienced. I have no desire to argue the merit of what I had tried to convey.

As I finish this and try to find some way to close this post, I am confronted with my favorite lyrics from “Misplaced Childhood”:

A penny for your thoughts my dear
A penny for your thoughts my dear

“Lavender”, Misplaced Childhood, Marillion

Essentially I share this to convey some of my own experience with the “Fire in the Head”, and the manner in which I hold Awen within my life. Indeed, a penny for your thoughts, but I certainly hope you will pull back and ask for more. Its worth that…

  1. The Path of Druidry, Penny Billington. p205.

My Imbas. My Awen. My Inspiration…

Rainbow near Divide, ColoradoMy morning routine has been fairly consistent over the past year. Up around thirty minutes prior to the dawn, make a cup of coffee and some breakfast (typically a bowl of oatmeal). Then outside to be near the stone circle and watch the sun peek over the rooftops here in Suburbia in north Texas. I do not always get the chance to be outside though – sometimes there’s rain – and believe it or not, sometimes there’s snow. Sometimes its just too bloody cold to be outside as well. On those days, I stand at the patio door, peering outside of the glass waiting for my daily companion to start that ascent to the heights of the sky. Sunrise has always been a fascination of mine. I love watching the sky change hues just before the Sun peeks beyond the horizon. The soft blues, oranges, and the egg-shell whites that permeate the sky remind me of an artist’s palette with little blobs of paint dotted all over it, just before the artist starts to mix colors to get the correct hue for their visual moment.

For me, artistry is everywhere. The beauty and color of the skies, the landscape in its natural formations, the people that dot the entire day in their chosen hues and style of dress, even the cars that we drive. Everything has a tinge of inspiration behind its creation, a hint of Imbas just vaguely perceived but there nonetheless. I am reminded of the lyrics to the song “Mission” by the band Rush from their 1987 album “Hold Your Fire”:

Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame ’til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I hear their passionate music
Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct
I wish I had that drive

Spirits fly on dangerous missions
Imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions
Consumed in a single desire

In the grip of a nameless possession
A slave to the drive of obsession
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I watch their images flicker
Bringing light to a lifeless screen
I walk through their beautiful buildings
And I wish I had their dreams

But dreams don’t need to have motion
To keep their spark alive
Obsession has to have action
Pride turns on the drive

It’s cold comfort
To the ones without it
To know how they struggled
How they suffered about it

If their lives were exotic and strange
They would likely have gladly exchanged them
For something a little more plain
Maybe something a little more sane

We each pay a fabulous price
For our visions of paradise
But a spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I used to be quite envious of painters, graphic artists and musicians – each have a talent I only wish I had. When I was younger, I doodled around the Bass Guitar. I never was very good at it. I could replicate a handful of bass lines from Chris Squire of Yes, but when the complicated riffs and runs started – I was out of my element very quickly. I have always been envious of the gorgeous pieces of work that people can create with a little color and a set of tools. Pencil, pen, water colors, oils – the medium did not matter – its the glorious creation that they brought about that mystified me. Like the song implies, I could feel the Imbas of their creation – I could sense the creative juices flowing through me as well, but would be unable to create anything remotely on a scale of anything beyond “amateur”.

I turned to poetry as an outlet. I have always been fairly good with the written word. In high school, I took the song “Black Sabbath by the band Black Sabbath from their self-titled album (odd how that all worked out), and turned that into a short story of my own for an English assignment. My teacher loved it, even though I was too lazy to put it into the appropriate format. In my senior year of high school, I discovered the joy of writing poetry. That carried over into the next seven years of my life – where I shared my work on a local Bulletin Board Service┬ácalled “Renaissance BBS”. Sadly, much of that work is no longer in my possession, and I have no idea where else it might be.

Then, for a few years, I wrote nothing at all. I had just left the US military, and life was not an enjoyable one as I struggled to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism and greed I found myself dropped into. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my head above water. Eventually, I went back to school for a degree. Soon enough, I re-embraced my love of writing and have never let go.

I have always had the dream of being a writer. Being able to make a meager living out of my words and inspiration. And yet, I am an adjunct professor at my local junior college. I may not be able to bring my words to the classroom, but I do try and bring my inspiration and love of technology to the classroom. I try to show the students that creativity is not limited to the musicians, artists, and writers. That the computer that we use are also works of inspiration. That each piece of software originated as someone’s quest to quench the mad fire within their spirit. Admittedly, not everyone wants to “hear” what I have to say. In three-plus years of teaching students, I have encountered more than my fair share of students that see the class as a hurdle that they have to jump. A topic that they have to finish to get a credit of some sort towards their graduation. Not everyone enjoys the madness of what Imbas can bring to them.

As I said, I love to write. My many journals (I keep three and am about to add a fourth one today) are a testament to this. I still have the dream about making my writing earn me a meager living. I realized long ago that having millions and millions of dollars may solve some of the issues of living, but all of the responsibility that comes with such large sums of money can also snuff out the joy of living. I merely want enough money to live comfortably and not worry day-to-day about my bills or where my next meal may come from. As I sit here writing this, I find myself seeing my feet stepping on to that Path, for the first time. Where that will take me, I have no idea – but this looks like the possible start of an interesting journey. I am looking forward to the adventures, pitfalls, and lessons that are likely to come my way.

My Imbas. My fire in the head. My inspiration. My Awen. May the Muses be kind, but firm in the lessons they will provide….