a central idea in early 21st century druidry that no one ever seems to say very much about is ‘nwyfre’. it’s an enchanting little word and no etymology-fiend could leave it alone – least of all me. after many years of patient effort, i have it almost tamed, and willing to be tickled lightly behind the ears and to trickle forth a little of its true meaning to me, which i’d like to share with you.
some people might wonder at the idea of a word having ears, but be assured that they listen, assimilate sense, respond and reply through memic structures subtle and strange; and the whorls and channels through which all this takes place include structures as truly auric as those either side of the human head. ears, but not as we know them.
now when you bail up a word like nwyfre, having ascertained that it is believed by experts to be welsh which it vigorously denies, insisting that it is english no matter how sternly you threaten it with the rack, you start by asking it to separate itself at once into its component parts and promise to be nice to it if it does. promise it its own little wand, made of clear plastic with glitter embedded in it and crystalline faceting molded into its shaft. a silver tip. an enamel serpent spiral around the handle. a tiny azure butterfly in resin for a well. what word could resist.
n at the beginning of words found in england whether from welsh, english, cornish, irish, or scots is immediately suspected of being the remains of an archaic ‘an’, which means or used to mean ‘the’ or ‘an’ in those languages. the n of shakespearean ‘nuncle’, and that of the archaic ‘napron’ are examples. it is still the indefinite article before a vowel in most of the current englishes
‘wyf’ is ‘wife’, which these days means a married woman, but used to mean a weaver – just as unmarried women were called ‘spinsters’ long after they’d stopped spinning, well into the 20th century. (england has always been famed for its mostly woollen but also linen cloth, and in english, people of all trades signal start of work by telling each other to ‘get weaving’.) as far back in time as we’re going it seems likely that wyf still meant weave. (they didn’t have separate letters for f anf v back then, just as now english spelling doesn’t distinguish between the th of this and the th of think.)
the ending –re is found on ogre, which means (one of) the ogs (scholars), and is the same as the –ry of druidry, jewelry and chivalry. so n-wyf-re is an english word (not anglo-saxon), and it means “the weavery”.
not a problem; but why should a word which has come to be understood to mean something like “the magical essence” be derived from a word that originally meant “the weavery”?.
well, if you look at the language of spell-casting, you’ll understand. to ‘weave’ an enchantment, you must first ‘cast your spell’. ‘spell’ = ‘spool’ = ‘spill’ i.e., your spool of thread, spilled from the fleece like a stream of liquid. before spinning wheels replaced them in the 16th century, after this ‘spilling’ process, the rapidly spinning spindles were thrown or dropped, i.e., ‘cast’ to produce a taut, even thread. when you weave a piece of cloth, first you prepare your fleece, which corresponds symbolically to the resources with which the wizard will work – the ‘correspondences’ of a well-wrought magic circle, for example. this is spun on a wand into a spool, which these days is spelt ‘spell’ in its magical sense and spool only in its mundane sense. (thus, ‘spell’ is an example of a poor lost waif of a word which has come adrift of its ancestry and almost forgotten its way home.) the spool is then woven up into an enchantment corresponding to the warping of the loom and the weaving of the weft, and the result – or the process – is the weaving or weavery or – ta-dah ta-dah!!!! – nwyfre.
this is different from what is generally thought, but no one has claimed to know for sure what the old druids meant by the word, so perhaps it’s in the right direction. but does it matter if we go on using it to refer to the magical essence within all things? after all, even if we discover that nwyfre didn’t refer to this magical essence in the past, it certainly does now, at least as used by most of those druids who have taken it up as an active word in their vocabulary. would the channels of power be more fully opened for the flow of metaphysical effects if we had it right than if we had it wrong?
these are interesting questions that are going to need a lot of thought and study before we can reclaim the truly magical vocabulary of the druids we wish our ancestors were! blessed may our paths be!