Scrolls, swords and mystic marks

T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn, the Herald Bard's Order of the Gorsedd of the Bards' Circle of Stones, 1901

Fanfare of the Corn Gwlad

'A oes heddwch?'- 'Is there peace?'. The Grand Sword in use at the Proclamation Ceremony for the 2010 Eisteddfod at Ebbw Vale.

Archdruid Brinli (1972-75); Brinley Richards.

The Gorsedd Banner at the Proclamation Ceremony of the 2011 Eisteddfod at Wrexham.

Gorsedd symbols and regalia

Over the two centuries or more since the first ever Gorsedd, its ceremonies have gathered a variety of iconic symbols and regalia, all of which add to the mystique and colour of eisteddfodic occasions.

In the ceremony to proclaim where the next year's Eisteddfod and Gorsedd are to be held, the Gorsedd Recorder reads from the Proclamation Scroll.

A Proclamation Scroll was used in 1791 before the first ever Gorsedd. Several of the features of later Scrolls can be seen in this first Scroll, namely:

  • noting the year and season;
  • where the Gorsedd is to be held;
  • that there will be no 'naked weapon' against the Bards;
  • some of the mottoes which have become essential elements of Gorsedd ceremonies since, e.g. 'Yn Llygad Haul, wyneb Goleuni' (in the Eye of the Sun and in the face of Light); 'Duw a phob Daioni' (God and all Goodness).

The Mystic Mark was added to the Proclamation Scroll by Taliesin ab Iolo in 1833. In 1946 the artist Meirion Roberts designed a new Scroll which was donated to the Gorsedd by Winifred Coombe-Tennant. In his design in black, red and gold, the artist incorporated the Grand Sword, the Corn Gwlad (trumpet) and the coat of arms of the Princes of Gwynedd in the decorated Celtic capital. Around the text he presented the coats of arms of the thirteen shires (before 1974) of Wales, oak leaves, acorns and a red dragon, but the Mystic Mark does not appear on the Scroll at all.

Y Corn Gwlad

The fanfare of the two Corn Gwlad is an essential element of Gorsedd ceremonies in the Stone Circle and especially as they call the winning poet or author onto the festival stage.

It isn't certain when the fanfare of the Corn Gwlad was first introduced to the ceremonies but by the1860s the 'call of the trumpeter' was a customary part of the Logan Stone rite.

At the Wrexham Eisteddfod in 1888, Edward Jones, Mayor of Pwllheli, presented a silver Corn Gwladfor the Gorsedd's use. Then, in 1900 Alicia Needham, an Irish composer, noted that she had ordered a new silver trumpet with a red dragon banner on it, because, she claimed:

'it will look much more dignified and appropriate than the Cornet which was used at Cardiff, and which seemed altogether too modern.'

The trumpeter's gown and cap were designed by Isaac Williams of the National Museum of Wales in 1923.

Members of the Welsh Guards were regular trumpeters after the Second World War and in 1947 Haydn Morris (Haydn Bencerdd) composed a fanfare for the different ceremonies. Since then several different trumpeters have served the Gorsedd. A pair of trumpets previously used at Queen Elizabeth's Coronation ceremony (1953) was donated through the former-Herald Bard (Sieffre o Gyfarthfa)'s Memorial Fund and the pendant banners on them were embroidered by Miss Iles, Brynsiencyn.

The Grand Sword

One of the Gorsedd's oldest rites is the ceremony of partly unsheathing the Grand Sword. The Archdruid asks the following questions and the audience replies 'Heddwch' (Peace) three times:

'Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd, A oes Heddwch? (The Truth against the World, Is there Peace?) 
Calon wrth Galon, A oes Heddwch? (Heart to Heart, Is there Peace?) 
Gwaedd uwch Adwaedd, A oes Heddwch? (Shout above responding Shout, Is there Peace?)'

Carrying a sword was one of the rites in Iolo Morganwg's first Gorsedd in 1792. As a pacifist Iolo wanted to emphasise that the Bards met in peace and when a naked sword was placed on the Logan Stone they proceeded to sheath it as a symbol of peace in Gorsedd.

The rite of calling out for 'Peace' was originally a separate one and it was first heard in Carmarthen in 1867. Gradually it became linked to the rite of the Grand Sword when admitting new members and yet again the need for 'peace' between contestants in the Chair and Crown competitions.

In 1888, Phillip Yorke of Erddig Hall presented a ceremonial sword to the Gorsedd which was used until the turn of the century. Then, in 1899, Professor Hubert Herkomer designed a Grand Sword for the Gorsedd. He explained its symbolism:

  • the natural crystal in the hilt represents mysticism;
  • the three sacred lines represent the first attempt to write 'Jehovah';
  • the dragon guards them both.
  • On the scabbard the following mottoes were inscribed: 
    'Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd' (The Truth against the World) (motto of the Gorsedd of the Isle of Britain) 
    'Duw a phob Daioni' (God and all Goodness) (the Chair of Glamorgan and Gwent) 
    'Calon wrth Galon' (Heart to Heart) (the Chair of Dyfed) 
    'A Laddo a Leddir' ( He who Kills shall be Killed) (the Chair of Powys) 
    'Iesu na ad gamwaith' (Jesus, let there be no injustice) (the Chair of Gwynedd).

This is the Grand Sword still in use today.

The Mystic Mark

The Mystic Mark or the Mark of the Ray of Light, a symbol /|\ devised by Iolo Morganwg to represent the virtues Love, Justice and Truth.

However Iolo himself did not make much use of the symbol and it was after his death that it became increasingly popular. It was first seen on the Proclamation Scroll in Cardiff, 1833. By 1850 it could be seen on the banners in gorseddau and from around 1860 on new members' certificates.

By the end of the century it was considered the approved symbol of the Gorsedd of the Bards and appeared on its programmes, on the new banner and sometimes even on the Gorsedd Stones.

By the 1950s it was decided that the symbol had to be included on every national Chair and Crown.

The Gorsedd Banner

Some sort of banner seems to have been seen at many Gorsedd ceremonies during the nineteenth century. A simple banner with 'Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain' on it can be seen in a photograph of the Gorsedd at Brecon in 1889.

The first official banner, however, was the one designed by T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn, the Herald Bard, for the Llandudno Gorsedd in 1896. He explains:

'In the upper part is seen the sun symbolising celestial light, bearing upon it the golden dragon, at once a symbol of energy and the badge of Cambrian nationality; from the sun emerge golden rays, three of which are prolonged downwards forming the 'Nod Cyfrin' of the 'Awen'. ... The lower part of the design represents, in symbol, the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain ... Around the 'Maen Llog' are the twelve 'meini gwynion'; ... Upon the 'Maen Llog' may rest a sheathed sword... 
Around the Gorsedd Circle are deposited the plants representing the 'Alban' - trefoil, vervain, corn and mistletoe. The whole design is surrounded by a wide decorative border of oak leaves with acorns from which at parts mistletoe arises.'

These images are on a background of azure-blue silk and the mottoes 'Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd' (the Truth against the World); 'Yn Wyneb Haul Llygad Goleuni' (In the Face of the Sun and in the Eye of Light) and 'Heddwch' (Peace) are embroidered on it in gold. It was embroidered by Miss Lena Evans (Brodes Dâr) and donated by Sir Arthur Stepney, Llanelli.

The Banner has been refurbished several times but remains faithful to this design.

Liverpool 1884 - the gorseddogion in aprons and sashes similar to the Friendly Societies' regalia. In the centre are: Hwfa Môn a Clwydfardd.


A sketch of the new Gorsedd robes and headgear in T.H.Thomas, Arlunydd Pen-y-garn's manuscripts, c. 1895

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