Gathered together by the hearth, my granddad would listen, I would watch and listen so intently, and my grandmother, a seanchaí [pronounced ‘shawn-(a)-key’, Gaelic for a story-teller] would tell me a story. To me, she was the best at storytelling, and her stories were profound – so much so that I am learning more through them, now, even as an adult, in the re-telling. Here’s one.
It was many years ago – I’m guessing I must have been six or seven years old – on one of those still-bright August evenings, that I heard her tell another story. The hearth had a small flame flickering in it, as even in this part of Wales the evening temperatures could drop rapidly, depending on the wind direction as it blows through the valleys, even though it was the height of summer.
She told the story of the Nwyfre (pronounced ‘noo-iv-ruh’), and as I drew ever closer and closer to her feet – I always loved sitting on the rug around her rocking-chair – she told one of her ‘question and answer’ stories.
In the beginning, she said, before anything was created, the Nwyfre existed. The Nwyfre is the creative force of life, all life, and is Personal. To describe the Nwyfre at an ‘it’ would be to miss the point she said. The Nwyfre is Personal, both male and female and beyond those limiting ideas. It would be many years before I grasped that concept.
Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way’. Edward de Bono
She continued: The Nwyfre created light and dark for the first time, though I believe the Nwyfre is Light, too, but of a different kind. A life-force light. The Nwyfre created the sky and the air. And then, the Nwyfre being a creative and joyful Spirit, one of a kind, drew the water and the earth together, and made the seas and dry land. But, what was missing, she would ask me? Ofcourse, I would gleefully fill in the ‘blanks’ and answer the question – sometimes getting it right and sometimes getting in wrong. I loved those ‘tests’.
She continued: And the Nwyfre thought into being the sun, moon and stars, but who could see them? ‘No one’. I replied. She smiled and said. ‘Exactly right, little one……no one….except for the Nwyfre. I smiled and nodded that I thought I might have got the question half-right, but to this day I’m still wondering about it.
She digressed somewhat in that story and asked me, ‘So where was the Nwyfre?’ Without thinking I replied, ‘In the light and dark, the sky and air, the sea and land and rocks’, but I would end the answer, that time, with the tone of my voice ascending at the end, to make it more of a question than a statement. She smiled and said, ‘Yn wych’, (which is somewhere between saying ‘marvellous’ and ‘great’, colloquially), and my face beamed. I’m a little bit more reserved and adult now. Honest. But then I was a wee lad.
There was more she said: And then the Nwyfre created all the animals and fish and insects that you can possibly imagine, and many more that we can’t possibly imagine. All of them having the Nwyfre in them. But, still there was something missing, she said. ‘What could it be?’, she said in my direction, and paused expecting an answer from me. After a little thought and a little more, I tentatively said, ‘Us!’. ‘Right’ she said and laughed. Finally, the Nwyfre created men and women, and they too have the Nwyfre within them, even now, although many don’t know that.
My grandmother slumped back in her rocking chair, an indication that she wanted to rest, but I had a question. ‘Where can I find the Nwyfre?, I asked.
The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant. There is nothing as near as the eternal. This is captured in a lovely Celtic phrase: ‘tẚ tír na n-ổg ar chul an ti’, ‘the land of eternal youth is behind the house’….The eternal world and the mortal world are not parallel, rather they are fused’. John O’Donohue
Many years later my grandmother’s story still reverberates in my mind, though I know others have different stories, but most seem to agree that that life-giving Spirit is in everything. And even though her story, then, had been simple, yet profound, only part of it had ‘sunk in’, hence my childlike question (which had, effectively already been answered. But I was a young lad at the time).
‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’ John 3.8a, The Book
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘In the grass on the little hill at the edge of the garden, in the birds and insects, in the air and storm clouds, in the rocks and pebbles, and more places’.
Without hesitation, I ran outside, and for the next hour I went in search of the Nwyfre.
Climbing to the top of the little hill – not that little for a wee lad as I was then, clambering up it on ‘all fours’ – I sat on the grass at the top. Yes, grass. Nwyfre! I felt the cold mountain air blow against my cheeks. Yes, Nwyfre. In the distance I saw Jones the dairyman drive past at some speed I think, and saw birds fly across the sky. Yes, Nwyfre!
And then I headed back to my grandparents’ house with my ‘research’ complete. I sat by my grandmother’s feet, she looked down, and said, Well?’. And then I recited my embellished list at breakneck speed and without pausing for breath: ‘grass, flowers, trees, birds, Jones the Dairyman, the wind, the rain’.
‘And, there’s more’, she said. As she said that a lump of glowing coal fell from the fire and granddad used the coal-tongs’ to put in back. ‘Ah, I replied, ‘Coal and rocks and Lapis lazuli'(a semi-precious stone my grandmother had recently given me, and probably the longest word that I knew…apart from those lovely Welsh place names and words), and ‘You and granddad, and me’.
I looked up and said, ‘The Nwyfre is everywhere.’ And then after a pause I said, ‘The Nwyfre is everywhere….so I needn’t have gone outside! The Nwyfre is here!’. Her face beamed a most lovely smile.
‘Nwyfre is ‘…this living, energising current of life that flows through all living beings’. Penny Billington
Many years later I was to understand that many people have different names for the Nwyfre – such is the creativity and grace of the Nwyfre – but most acknowledge that Life-Force in all things, in a web of loving connectedness throughout all that is, seen and unseen; and without the Spirit, the Nwyfre, nothing exists and happens. The Nwyfre is so important in what we say and do, not just in our prayers and rituals and ceremonies, but in our very life, in nature, daily life, the nine-to-five job, relationships of all kinds, and more. The Nwyfre is ubiquitous.
I never knew what ubiquitous meant, but now I’m seeing it everywhere!
Although the Nwyfre is everywhere, sometime ago I wrote about an encounter (or perhaps a greater awareness of the Nwyfre in a forest, devoid of distractions), and you can read it here.
Meanwhile, wherever you are, you can encounter the Nwyfre right where you are!