Three Circles of Manifestation

Within my own practice of Hedge Druidry, I subscribe to a worldview of what I have come to call the “Triads of Existence” which is composed of the following theories:

  • Three Circles of Manifestation
  • Three Souls
  • Three Cauldrons

This three part essay will explore a fundamental understanding of each individual part of the 'Triad of Existence' as an aid to assist the reader in a Druidic understanding of one's own nature. We begin this series with an exploration of the “Three Circles of Manifestation.”

Three Circles of Manifestation

Many Druids share the view reported by Philostratus of Tyana and Diodorus Siculus that the Celts believed that to be born in this world, we have to die in the Otherworld, and conversely, that when we die here, we are born into the Otherworld. This belief, known as “metempsychosis” (transmigration at death of the soul of a human being or animal into a new body of the same or a different species) is exemplified by the 'Three Circles of Manifestation' -Abred, Gwynfydd and Ceugant, with the central space representing the 'cauldron of Annwn' are at their core representative of the journey of the Soul from origin to destiny. This triad can be traced back to Edward Williams (Iolo Morganwg) in a book called the "Barddas" now over 200 years old. While the historicity linking this triad back to the ancient Druids is largely void, the contribution to contemporary Druidry is none the less monumental. Let us begin by taking a look at each aspect of the 'Three Circles of Existence' in greater detail.

Annwn (pronounced ANN-oon): In middle Welsh, the term Annwn is translated as “very deep,”1 stemming from the earlier Gallo-Brittonic word “ande-dubnos,” literally meaning "underworld".2 All life has its origin in Annwn. Annwn is the home of the Cauldron of rebirth -the place the extraction of one's Soul from the reservoir of life happens.

In Welsh mythology, the ruler of Annwn is 'Arwan' -god and death-king of the underworld who sends His hounds (Cŵn Annwn) to hunt for wandering souls. His association with the hunt has prompted some scholars to associate Arawn with the Gaulish god Cernunnos. The mythology of Arawn was later Christianized to describe the "capturing of human souls and the chasing of damned souls to Annwn", and Annwn was falsely equated with the "Hell" of Christian tradition.

As the resting place between lives, when the body dies the Soul returns to Annwn with the lessons learned in one's previous experience. One transmigrates back and forth through three states of manifestation and consciousness that allows one to revisit these old lessons until one fully knows and understands the material, weaving through different forms and perspectives leading to a mastered praxis.

In the secular sense, Annwn represents the geosphere – the inanimate matter of the Earth's interior such as rocks, minerals, landforms, and the processes that shape the Earth's surface.

Abred (pronounced Ah-bred): In modern Welsh it refers to the act of letting go or release. In a more Spiritual sense it means ' A state of evil.' Thus, one might say that the very purpose of the experience of Abred is to find deliverance from the state of evil or ego (a false understanding of one's nature). Once born (in any form), the Soul is within the Circle of Abred. Abred is the Circle of the physical, material realm of mineral, plant, insect, animal and human. It is the lowest state of the Soul's journey into illumination and awakening through the four realms of the Three Circles of Existence. According to the Barddas, Abred is probationary and represents the stage of struggle and evolution against chaos and disorder. The avenues one can take during one's life are plentiful. Choices may be of light or darkness. The realm of Abred is our experiential playground on the way to complete awakening to one's true nature. It teaches us that growth derives from death.

The daunting task of the evolutionary process is experienced in the Circle of Abred. Upon the extraction of the Soul from the Cauldron of rebirth, the Soul is given a form -thus being born into the realm of Abred as a single celled organism, learning what it will, dying, and being reborn again in a more complex state, repeating this cyclical process lifetime after lifetime ascending levels of awareness until reaching the highest state of awareness in Abred -the human. This state of higher cognition allows one the greatest ability to grasp the lessons presented before oneself.

Once one has lived with an experiential awareness of all existences within Abred, then the cycle becomes complete, moving one out of the Circle of Abred and into the next (Gwynfydd). Those who have not lived with such an experiential awareness of all existences, upon death, one may slip back into the Cauldron to be reborn again within the countless forms of animals, plants, insect, or even the Spirit of the ocean deep.

To the Druid, this state of metempsychosis is not a result of punishment, but is rather looked upon as a remedial mathematics class. One failed to retain and demonstrate the lessons of the class (which are foundational to one's understanding of more advanced mathematics), and thus is given the class again to better one's understanding of the lessons taught, enabling one to demonstrate the applications of the lessons successfully. One would then be allowed to move to a more advanced course. Likewise, before moving on to the 'Circle of Gwynfydd', one must understand the foundational lessons of Abred (the release or letting go of one's ego).

In secular understanding, Abred represents the biosphere (biological life) -the regions of the surface, atmosphere, and hydrosphere of the earth (or analogous parts of other planets) occupied by living organisms integrating all living beings and their relationships, including their interaction with the elements . In relation to time, Abred represents the past and that which we cannot change.

Gwynfydd (pronounced GWIN-vuth): Once the pilgrimage in Abred is complete and that experiential awareness has been attained, one's journey moves into the Circle of Gwynfydd, a realm of perfect liberty, a blissful sinless state enjoyed by the soul on its reuniting with deity. Its name is derived from Welsh compound word gwyn, meaning: ‘white, blessed’ and 'byd', meaning:‘world’ and recalling the Welsh idiom applied to a worthy person: gwyn ei fyd, ‘blessed’, literally translated as: ‘white his world’. The closest English word to Gwynfydd is ‘Blessedness, or Bliss’. In Gwynfydd one finds the Enlightened Ones who have gone before - Souls who have greatly affected the spiritual direction of Abred with their teachings.

Gwynfydd is not the final resting place of the soul. It is the living out of ones True Nature. It is the place where one experiences the direct unfolding of the reminiscent lessons of Abred, to now develop one's own praxis the expression of the lessons learned. It is here in the realm of Gwynfydd, now existing without the illusionary effects of the ego that one knows the Awen intimately. One comes to full experiential realization that the Awen is all pervasive, all encompassing, in all things and all places at all times, yet simultaneously retaining Its independence and sovereignty. One learns to express this unhindered Awen to one's fullest capabilities, as one is no longer hindered by the constraints of the laws of physics in the material universe of Abred.

With the unfolding of one's perfected experiential awareness, and unique expression of the Awen unhindered, one begins the next stage of ones journey in growth. Just as one passes from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, to college, each advancement has varying grades. So to does each realm or circle. Like Abred, in Gwynfydd one will too begin one's journey at a much lower stage, eventually advancing to the graduate degree of the Enlightened Ones. Upon this stage of Enlightenment one breaks through to the infinite realm of Ceugant.

In secular understanding, Gwynfydd represents the noosphere (human consciousness and its development thereof), a term literally meaning: “mind-sphere” or Earth's mental sheathe (coined by Édouard Le Roy). In relation to time, Gwynfydd represents the present moment and its infinite potentialities.

Ceugant (pronounced KYE-gahnt): An unbound infinite realm said to be of Infinity alone. The original meaning in Welsh is ‘certain, sure, undoubted, true.' It is said to be mistranslated by Iolo Morganwg from the words “cau” meaning: ‘vacant, empty’ and “cant” meaning: ‘periphery, circle’ and thus he concluded its meaning as ‘circle of infinity’, the abode of the Deity alone, of the fullness of Deity - the one governing force of the universe and nature. Thus, in contemporary Druidry, it is seen as the ultimate space of creation from which all came and into which all will return. It is the very infinite well that fills the Cauldron of rebirth.

As one enters into the Circle of Ceugant and grows in illumination, as one seemingly approaches the potential of a horizon, one quickly finds that horizon to be fleeting. This is due to the infinite nature of this realm. It is a place of unending learning, growth, and illumination. It is the never ending mystery of being beyond what one can know. It is the eternal now, ever moving forward.

A secular rendering of Ceugant can be interpreted as the culmination of the evolution of consciousness to only discover its infinite capacity. In relation to time, Ceugant represents the future and its mysteries.

How one views the journey through the Three Circles of Manifestation (rightly called so as it is a journey through the manifestation process of one's True Nature) is up to each Druid to decide. Whether one views them as a process of navigating the psyche through stages of consciousness, in a secular naturalist understanding, or as literal realms of existence is one's own choice, as this concept is not dogmatic. In any case, let it be a tool of understanding aiding one in one's process of growth on the path of Druidry.

In part two of this essay we will explore the concept of the Three Souls.
  • 1 Sims-Williams, Patrick. (1990). "Some Celtic otherworld terms". Celtic Language, Celtic Culture: a Festschrift for Eric P. Hamp, ed. Ann T. E. Matonis and Daniel F. Mela, pp. 57–84. Van Nuys, Ca.: Ford & Bailie.
  • 2 Lambert, Pierre-Yves. (2003). La langue gauloise: description linguistique, commentaire d’inscriptions choisies. Paris: Errance. 2nd ed.