Gorsedd Cymru (Welsh pronunciation: [ˌɡɔrsɛð ˈkəmrɨ, ˌɡɔrsɛð ˈkəmri]), or simply the Gorsedd or the Orsedd (Welsh: yr Orsedd), is a society of Welsh-language poets, writers, musicians and others who have contributed to the Welsh language and to public life in Wales. Its aim is to honour such individuals and help develop and promote their fields in addition to maintaining relationships with other Celtic nations and Y Wladfa in Patagonia. The Gorsedd is most prominent at the National Eisteddfod of Wales where it is responsible for the main ceremonies held.
The word gorsedd (plural gorseddau) means "throne" in Welsh. Equivalent terms exist in Cornish (gorsedh) and Breton (goursez). When the term is used without qualification, it generally refers to the national Gorsedd of Wales, namely Gorsedd Cymru. Note that when referred to as simply "the Gorsedd" in Welsh, the initial g is dropped due to soft mutation, resulting in yr Orsedd. Other gorseddau exist outside of Wales, such as the Cornish Gorsedh Kernow and the Breton Goursez Vreizh.
Until 2019, Gorsedd Cymru was known as Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain ("the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Island of Britain"), or Gorsedd y Beirdd ("the Gorsedd of the bards") for short. At the Chairing Ceremony of 2019 National Eisteddfod, Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd announced that the society was to change its name to Gorsedd Cymru ("the Gorsedd of Wales"). This was deemed more "suitable for the modern Wales" and less "misleading" as the Gorsedd consists of more than just bards. The name change was approved by the Board of the Gorsedd, the Gorsedd membership and the Court of the National Eisteddfod. In spite of this, some felt unhappy with the decision, with academic Simon Brooks declaring that "227 years of history are in the balance", calling for a public enquiry into the change.
According to the Introduction of the Transactions of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Liverpool, 1884:
"The records thus furnished, take us back to a time of Prydain ab Aedd Mawr, who is said to have lived about a thousand years before the Christian era, and who established the Gorsedd as an institution to perpetuate the works of the poets and musicians. But the first Eisteddfod, properly so called, appears to have been held at Conway in the year 540, under the authority and control of Maelgwyn Gwynned Maelgwn Gwynedd. This was followed by a series of meetings held at varying intervals under the auspices of the Welsh Princes, among whom Bleddyn ab Cynfyn and Gruffydd ab Cynan were prominent as patrons and organizers; and the granting of Royal Charters by Edward IV for the holding of an Eisteddfod at Carmarthen in 1451, and by Queen Elizabeth for a similar festival at Caerwys in 1568."
The Gorsedd was revived as Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain in 1792 by Edward Williams commonly known as Iolo Morganwg, supposedly based on the activities of the ancient Celtic Druidry. Nowadays, much of its ritual has Christian influence, and was given further embellishment in the 1930s by Archdruid Cynan (Albert Evans-Jones, 1950–1954 and 1963–1966). The Gorsedd made its first appearance at the Eisteddfod at the Ivy Bush Inn in Carmarthen in 1819, and its close association with the festival has continued since then.
The fictitious origin of these ceremonies was established by Professor G.J. Williams in works touching on Iolo Morganwg.
There are three ranks of membership in the Gorsedd. Until 2012 they were, in ascending order of honour:
- Ovates, who wear green robes (Green signifying a verdant spring)
- Bards, who wear blue robes, and (Blue signifying the season)
- Druids, who wear white robes. (White signifying old age and sanctity)
Since the 1960's onwards, the saturation of the robes, (primarily the green and blue) became more artificial in appearance , although it is not known why this shift occurred.
However, since 2012 all these ranks are treated as equal, with new members all being called 'druids' and with the colour of their robes reflecting the area of their contribution rather than an ascending order of honour. The head of a Gorsedd is known as an Archdderwydd (English: Archdruid), and wears a golden robe, and is elected for a term of three years, and is responsible for conducting the Gorsedd ceremonies during Eisteddfod week. These ceremonies are held to honour literary achievements amongst Welsh poets and prose writers.
In the Welsh Gorsedd, a person may become an ovate or a bard by passing an examination in the Welsh language. Druids may only be nominated by existing druids. Often a new inductee will take a pseudonym, called a "bardic name". To become an Archdruid, an individual must have won one of the Eisteddfod's three highest awards: the Crown, the Chair, or the Literature Medal. In 2003, Robyn Léwis (Robyn Llŷn) became the first winner of the Literature Medal to be elected Archdruid, and the first Archdruid to be elected by a vote of all Gorseddogion. Christine James was the first woman to become Archdruid of Wales and also the first woman to become Cofiadur (Recorder) of the Gorsedd.
People are also made ovates or druids as an honour to reward their contributions to Welsh culture. In 1946, the future Queen Elizabeth II was inducted into the Welsh Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, though in 2019 Archdruid Myrddin ap Dafydd declared that the Queen was now ineligible because she does not speak Welsh (since in 2006 "it was made clear you had to speak Welsh to be a member"). In recent years, Ron Davies, Rowan Williams, Matthew Rhys, Ioan Gruffudd and Rebecca Evans have been honoured in this way.
Three Gorsedd ceremonies are held during the Eisteddfod week:
- The Crowning (Coroni) of the Bard (awarded to the poet judged best in the competitions in free meter)
- The Awarding of the Prose Medal (for the winner of the Prose competitions)
- The Chairing (Cadeirio) of the Bard (for the best long poem in traditional strict metre).
During these ceremonies, the Archdruid and the members of the Gorsedd gather on the Eisteddfod stage in their ceremonial robes. When the Archdruid reveals the identity of the winning poet, the 'Corn Gwlad' (a trumpet) calls the people together and the Gorsedd Prayer is chanted (the Corn Gwlad symbolically calls everyone from the four corners of Wales). The Archdruid partially withdraws a sword from its sheath three times, and cries "A oes heddwch?" ("Is there peace?"), to which the assembly reply "Heddwch" ("Peace"). The sword is then placed fully back into its sheath, and hence is never drawn fully. Then the Horn of Plenty is presented to the Archdruid by a young local married woman, who urges him to drink the 'wine of welcome'. A young girl presents him with a basket of 'flowers from the land and soil of Wales' and a floral dance is performed, based on a pattern of flower gathering from the fields.
The symbol commonly used to represent a Gorsedd is a triple line, the middle line upright and the outer two slanted towards the top of the centre, thus: \. This symbol, called "awen", is often explained as representing the sun. The word "awen" means "muse" or "inspiration" in Welsh.
- Archdruid (includes a chronological list of Archdruids of Wales)
- Gorsedd stones, groups of standing stones constructed for the National Eisteddfod
- List of Celtic festivals
- Hanes Gorsedd y Beirdd Geraint & Zonia Bowen; Barddas 1991
- "Gorsedd Cymru – Gorsedd – Datblygu barddas, llenyddiaeth, cerddoriaeth, a chelfyddyd" (in Welsh). Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- "Byrth Gorseth Kernow – The Gorseth of the Bards of Cornwall". Archived from the original on 17 August 2015. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
- "Amddiffyn newid i enw'r Orsedd". 13 August 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- Brooks, Simon (12 August 2019). "Os ydych chi'n aelod o'r Orsedd, a wnewch chi ymholi ynglŷn â chynnal cyfarfod i wyrdroi penderfyniad ddydd Gwener, os gwelwch yn dda? Mae 227 o flynyddoedd o hanes yn y fantol a thalp go drwchus o hunaniaeth y gymuned Gymraeg. Dylai fod ymgynghoriad â'r cyhoedd cyn unrhyw newid". @SeimonBrooks (in Welsh). Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- [Transactions of the Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales, Liverpool, 1884]
- Gorsedd y Beridd Archived 25 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine – Hanes (History). Accessed 5 December 2009. Welsh language page only.
- Traddodiad Llenyddol Morgannwg, 1948
- "BBC Wales – Eisteddfod – Guide – What is the Gorsedd?". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- Gorsedd y Beirdd Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine – Urddo (Order)
- South Wales Star – Friday 27 January 1893 – https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000909/18930127/029/0006
- Gorsedd Cymru Archived 29 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine – Arholiadau (Exams)
- "Woman archdruid for eisteddfod". BBC News. 23 June 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- Gorsedd of the Bards Archived 10 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- "Queen no longer an ovate in the Gorsedd of the National Eisteddfod of Wales because 'she doesn't speak Welsh'". North Wales Chronicle. 11 August 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2023.
- His bardic name is Ron o FachenBBC News UK Politics | Davies dons druid robes
- BBC NEWS UK | When a druid isn't a druid; his bardic name is Rowan ap Neurin. BBC News NEWYDDION | 'Dim corff paganaidd yw'r Orsedd'
- His bardic name is Matthew Tâf. MATTHEW RHYS TO PERFORM WITH NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA News | About | The National Eisteddfod of Wales Archived 20 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- "Gruffudd made honorary druid". 20 June 2003. Retrieved 18 June 2023 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
- Western Mail[permanent dead link]
- "Find out more about the druids and the gorsedd rituals". BBC Cymru Fyw. 6 July 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
- "Barddas, Vol. I: Symbol: The Sacred Symbol". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
- "Home". Gorsedh Kernow. Retrieved 18 June 2023.