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Druidry and The Druids
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Brief History of Druidism and the Bards of England and Wales
First, understand something. To be absolutely honest, there is very little evidence as to the actual philosophies and beliefs of the ancient Druids. Except for a few ancient written sources, very little is known about the Druids. Anyone who claims otherwise is mistaken or engaged in disseminating untruths. So what you will read here is speculation that is offered by one organization only: Dynion Mwyn.
Sources for the below article are:
On Bards and Bardic Circles - Copyright Joe Bethancourt - PO Box 35190 - Phoenix, AZ - 85069 http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/articles/onbards.html
Locksleys EZ Harp Method http://www.illusions.com/rowanhold/ezharp3.htm
Boudiccas Bard http://www.boudicca.de/celtor-e.htm
Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/reviews/cunliffe.html
Diodorus Siculus, Celtic Ethnography: excerpt http://www.ncl.ac.uk/english/undergrad/ELL254/diodorus.htm
The Celtic Fallacy http://www.indigogroup.co.uk/edge/celtic.htm
Books about Druidism (see box below)
Druidism is one of the pagan families of religion, which include Wicca, Witchcraft, Norse Asatru, Shamanism, and adaptions of other various pagan religions such as Welsh, Pictish, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and Roman. Modern Druidism is a reconstruction of beliefs and practices attributed to the ancient Celtic priesthood. The ancient Druids, first known to exist in approximately 4,000 BCE, are believed to have their origins previous to the written history of Europe. The ancient Druids are most widely connected with the British Isles. However, history shows evidence that the British Isles were only the last strong hold of the Druids. Most commonly referenced are the islands of Iona and Mona, (Anglesey as it is called today). Ancient writings claim that The Druids were the Priests, Doctors, Poets and Minstrels of ancient Celtia. These writings also claimed that they were also the teachers who retained the sacred knowledge of ancient times.
The words Druid and Bard conjure up many different images. The title Bard has been used to describe Shakespeare and Robert Burns, and also has been given to the impressively costumed gentleman who heads the National Welsh Poetry Festival called the Eisteddfod.
The Druid was mentioned in Caesar's Gallic Wars as priests and Leaders, as well as blood thirsty savages who burned sacrifices in Wicker containers. What is the truth about these mysterious figures?
(Click on the following Books on Druids - DRUID BOOKS )
First although religion was a pre-eminent force in the Celtic culture, the Celtic people were never an actual nation. They were at best a loosely knit confederation of tribes with only token similarities: language, religion and culture.
Their religion was codified in oral dogma and administered by a priestly caste, the Druids, who were a major power within the Celtic empire. it is said that all public and private affairs were subject to their authority. The Celts were extremely religious, and regarded it as the worst punishment to be excommunicated.
There seemed to be three classes of Druids in ancient Wales: Bards, Ovates and Druids. Bards were the Historians and Teachers, Ovates were the Herbalist and doctors, and Druids were the Shamans and Priests.
The immense power of the Druids was also the weakness of the Celtic people. No culture that is ruled by priests drawing their authority from spiritual sanctions is capable of true progress. The Celts fanatic adherence to their religion inevitably helped bring down their empire.
There is evidence that a priesthood ruled the megalithic pre-Celtic peoples of Western Europe. During the Celtic expansion this priesthood was adopted by the highly religious Celts and the numerous Celtic deities and beliefs were adopted by what is now called the Druids.
After the invasion of the Romans and advent of Christianity, the Druids were not allowed to practice their religion or induct students. They began to mingle their lore and knowledge with that of the Bards.
Bards were found in all Celtic cultures (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Manx and Gaul) and a rough equivalent can be found in Norse culture, too, where they were known as skald. They were also found in Anglo-Saxon England, and in many other cultures.
In Wales, after the Roman Invasions, the Bards, became Court Poets, known as "Gogynfeirdd," or "Prydydd," and were limited by highly structured rules. The true Magickal and Spiritual knowledge dwelt with a secret order of Bards called "derwydds," (oak-seers). These "oak-seers" were the ones that carried on the real traditions of the Druid. These are the people that gave us the "Cad Goddeu" and the "Hanes Taliesin," and who passed the "Matter of Britain" onto the French troubadours and trouveres, thus giving us Arthur and Camelot.
So what is a real Bard? In the Celtic cultures, the Bard was pretty much inviolate. He could travel anywhere, say anything, and perform when and where he pleased. The reason for this was, of course, that he was the bearer of news and the carrier of messages, and, if he was harmed, then nobody found out what was happening over the next hill. In addition, he carried the Custom of the country as memorized verses...he could be consulted in cases of Customary (Common) Law. He was, therefore, a valuable repository of cultural information, news, and entertainment.
The Ollamh, the highest degree of Bard in ancient Gaelic society, belongs to the Druid class. As such, the nature of his poetry is predominantly religious, being mainly used in ritual, or certainly in a spiritual context. His main preoccupation is the perception of what he calls "poetic truth" and its subsequent translation and refinement into an exact statement. The "poetic truth" being, of course, that mysterious and elusive gift of the OtherWorld Goddess, the feminine archetype - inspiration.
The ability to tame that raw, chaotic force into poetry comes from the God, the male archetype. Here we see the eternal principal of creation at work, this time on a mental/spiritual level, as the inspirational Muse and the fire of discipline unite to give birth to poetry and music. If the Bard is male, he "woos the Muse" to use a well-worn phrase. If she is female, she invokes the Muse from without or within. In essence, the process is the same.
One of the main functions of the Bard became to promote and maintain the twilight state so favored by the Celts - a sort of Dream Time. A particular outlook on life that, indeed, marks one as a Celt. Namely, a belief in the dualistic OtherWorld that, although not often seen, is always felt - inside oneself with the heart and outside with a prickling of hair on the nape of the neck or a tingling of the spine. The duty of the Bard became to convey with words and music an ideal which the mind can understand at one level, but only the spirit will perceive at another. For the former understanding comes from this world - and the Gods...and the latter from the emotive OtherWorld - whose essence belongs to the Goddess. The Bard, therefore, must be more than a musician and storyteller - She or he must be a messenger from the OtherWorld.
We can see this process working beautifully in the old legends. Rather like the skins of an onion, the layers of a Celtic legend are infinite - and so they should be! But for our purposes, however, they can be broadly split into three levels- Body, Mind and Spirit.
The Body of the Legend is the basic story it tells. But, be it of love, heroism or death, it always includes a part of the Universal Theme - the one great tale of the seasonal, cyclic relationship between the God and the Goddess.
The Mind of the Legend is in code, understandable only to those people who possess the key. Hidden within this code is the whole Faerie Faith system and how to understand it. But, as Robert Graves says in his book, The White Goddess, it is....well hidden, guarded and disguised.
The Spirit of the Legend belongs not to this world, for it affects us on a more subtle level than the words or their musical accompaniment. This level is an unconscious communing between Bard, listener and the Divine. The Bard is the unifying, linking factor between men and Gods...
On a further level, the Bard attributes certain magical qualities to certain musical notes, and thus it is believed that a particular musical accompaniment will affect the listener in a certain way. In the legends, it is said that a Bard must be able to play three (that number again) magical strains on his instrument - the Sleep Strain, the Laughter Strain and the Weeping Strain.
All this, of course, is the intellectual aspect of the Faerie Faith. A Bard never forgets that ultimately he answers to the Goddess who reaches far beyond the knowable. And along that path lies the never-ending, sometimes painful, quest for inspiration and the overwhelming need to convey the ideal of truth and the spirit of beauty...To enchant and lead the listener to the OtherWorld...
The religious leader of these early tribes was a priest, shaman, herbalist, astrology, poet and bard. The early shaman was the wise man or wise woman of the tribe, the healer and priest or priestess. The wise ones knew about the seasons, weather and crops and were, therefore, very important members of the early culture. Over the years, a priestess became more than a wise woman; she became powerful through consolidating her knowledge and keeping it secret. It was only she who knew the Gods' and Goddesses' true names, it was only she who knew the secret of conception.
At first, the religion was simple Nature worship: worship of the Earth mother and the Sky Father. But it began to grow in complexity as the people rediscovered the old sources of power and obtained new knowledge by experimentation and meditation. The religion taught of male and female deities which, together, created the Great Spirit. The female deity evolved into the Goddess represented by the earth and moon, ruling over birth, life, love, death and rebirth. The male deity evolved into the God represented by the sun, ruling over the seasons. These precepts are fundamental to our faith and belief today. From this early religion Druidism developed
SECRET DOCTRINE OF THE DRUIDS
The following information is offered for your evaluation, and can not be proven, so read it, think about it and hopefully it will add to your knowledge of that time.
The Druids and Celtic Picts have left few decipherable written records of their history and philosophies. The Druids chose not to put their knowledge in written form and the Pict's knowledge was destroyed by their conquerors. But, we can extrapolate what took place during the pre-historical period of their existence through legends, archaeological finds and informed hypothesis.
We know from archeological studies that the early Druids were pre-Brythonic with a highly organized philosophy and religion by the time the Celts arrived. This philosophy was all that remained of the early Hyperborean migration to Great Britain. These Ancients built sacred sites out of stone and these stone formations and monuments have been found all over the world. The ancient Druids were also abundant in areas of Brittany and France, where their monuments are still scattered across acres of land in geometric formations.The Celtic Druids of Europe, believed that their religion originated in Britain, and it was their practice to send their students across the English Channel, to Britain, from Gaul (modern day France and Germany) to learn the Druid doctrines at their purest source.
The doctrines of the Druids were much the same as those of the Brahmins of India, the Magi of Persia, and the priests of Egypt. Like them, the Druids had two sets of religious doctrines, exoteric and esoteric. They practiced their rituals in Britain and Gaul, but their religion was brought to much greater perfection in the former country, where the Isle of Anglesey was the center and heart of their religious practice. The ancient Druids were the most learned of men in their time and are known to perform the functions of modern day priests, teachers, legislators, astronomers, chemists, musicians, poets, theologians, philosophers, and judges. They were also specialists in healing, herbalism and divination. They were revered by all to the point that kings and social hierarchy would send their children to them to be schooled. In matters of religion, law, and scholastics, their authority was absolute. The Driuds main focus was, "The Belief in Supreme Power of the Universe, and the Belief of Immortality of the Soul." The Druids underwent a lengthy three phase scholastic, artisan, and spiritual training, which is mentioned in Romantic text to have been as long as 20 years.
The word Druid is generally considered to be derived from DRU which means Oak Tree, which is sacred, although its etymology may also be found in the Gaelic word Druidh, "a wise man" or "magician."
Their temples, wherein the sacred fire was preserved, were generally situated on the tops of hills and mountains, and in dense groves of oaks. The adytum or cave of the mysteries was called a Cromlech, and was used as the sacred altar of regeneration. It consisted of three upright stones on which a broad, flat stone rested, making a small cell. This construction was used during initiation.
The Caer Sidi, where the mysteries of Druidism were performed, consisted of a range of buildings. Adjoining the temple were apartments of all sizes, cells, vaults, baths, and long and artfully contrived passages. Most frequently these places were underground.
Druidism embraced certain religious and philosophical ideas with particular reverence for astronomical calculations. Their chief deities are reducible to two, a great father and a great mother, Hu and Donn, distinguished by similar characteristics as those of Osiris and Isis, Bacchus and Ceres, or other supreme gods and goddesses representing the two principles of all being. These two principles were seen as personifications of the one source of all life, the Great Spirit of all.
The grand periods of initiation were quarterly, and determined by the course of the sun, and its arrival at the equinoctial and solstitial points. But the two main celebrations were at May-eve and November-eve, Beltaine and Samhain. At these times, fires were kindled on all the cairns and Cromlechs throughout the land, which burned all night to introduce the Festivals. Round these fires choral dances were performed in honor of the Goddess and the God who were said to be rising from their tomb - the Goddess at Beltaine and the God at Samhain. The festivals were also a time of peace and joy and continued from sundown on the eve of the festival and continued to the next evening when the priests and priestesses retired to the forests where lovemaking was the order of the hour.
Initiations were performed at midnight and consisted of three major degrees. The first was the Ovate, the second the Bard, and the third the Druid. The candidate was placed in a tomb, where his symbolic death represented the death of Hu, the sun; and his restoration in the third degree symbolized the resurrection of the sun. He or she had to undergo trials and tests of courage similar to those practiced in the mysteries of Orpheus.
The Druids taught the doctrine of one supreme creative force which was personified as a mother Goddess and father God. They believed in the immortality of the soul through a form of reincarnation. Their authority in many cases exceeded that of the monarch. They were of course the sole interpreters of religion, and consequently supervised all rituals; for no private person was allowed to perform a ritual without their sanction. They possessed the power of excommunication, which was the most horrible punishment that could be inflicted next to death. They determined all disputes by a final and unalterable decision, and had the power of inflicting the punishment of death. Priestesses clothed in white, wearing a metal girdle, foretold the future from the observation of natural phenomena.
Druids were both men and women and were held in the highest esteem prior to the invasions of the Romans. According to Tacitus, in the first century A.D. the object of worship was a Great Goddess whose shrine was a grove of Oaks upon an island in the Sea.
They knew of sciences that the rest of the world at that time could only dream about. Their knowledge of astronomy and physics, and their ideas of the immortality of the soul were far too elaborate to have been invented by barbarians.
The evidence supporting these statements is contained in parchment and vellum manuscripts long preserved from destruction in mansions and monasteries in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as certain historical records of the tribe of Dynion Mwyn and Llewelyn family descendants.
Of the Irish manuscripts, the earliest and most important is "The Book of Dun Cow" which is in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy. It preserves the romances relating to the Old Gods and heroes of Ireland, and has protected the source of ancient Irish prehistory. Far thicker is the "Book of Leinster" which supplements the "Book of the Dun Cow" and is about the same age. Other sources include the "Book of Invasions," "The Book of Ballymote," "The Yellow Book of Lecan," and "Books of Lecan and Lismore." Unfortunately, many of these books are now only fragmented manuscripts.
The Advocate library in Edinburgh contains the Scottish manuscripts, which corroborate the Irish documents, add to the Cuchulainn saga, and describe the wonderful deeds of Finn, Ossian and the Fenians. They contain stories of other characters more ancient than Finn or Cuchulainn -- the Tuatha De Danaan, the goddess tribe of the ancient Gaels.
The Welsh manuscripts cover the same time period as the Irish and Scottish. Four of these are the most important, "The Black Book of Caermarthen," "The Book of Aneurin," "The Book of Taliesin," and "The Red Book of Hergest". Other books complete the basic Welsh sources: "Barddas" or a collection of original documents illustrative of the theology, wisdom, and usage's of the bardo-druidic system of the Isle of Prydain in two volumes by John ab Ithel Williams; "The Iolo Manuscripts," by E. Taliesin Williams; "The Myvyrian Archaeology of Wales", printed in the Welsh language and edited by Owain Jones, Edward Williams and [Pughe] William Owen; and "The Mabinogion" translated by Lady Charlotte Guest.
Private and unpublished works include "The Thirteen Treasures, and The Twelve Keys" which are the written and oral teachings of Y Dynion Mwyn and the historical "Llewelyn Family Manuscripts" which are still being used to teach the ancient Bardic philosophy. Within these sources are most of the Mythology, Triads, and ancient mystery teachings of the ancient Bardic tradition, Welsh Witchcraft, and the Cymry people.
To uncover the Bardic philosophy, one must read the classical texts available which clarify and add to the above works, and their sources. Posidonius, a Stoic philosopher who lived in the first century B.C., provides us with the deepest insights into Celtic Druidism. In Book twenty-three of his "History" he presents a detailed description of Druidism. Since it is known that he lived in southern Gaul for some period of time, we may reasonably suppose that he collected his material by firsthand account.
Unfortunately his "Celtic Ethnography" no longer survives intact but comes to us in summaries provided by three main writers who seem to have borrowed, quoted from, or adapted Posidonius.
These classic scholars include Strabo (63 B.C. to 21 B.C.) who had known Posidonius personally; Diodorus Siculus (writing 60-30 B.C.) was also a contemporary; and Athenaeus (flourishing around 20 B.C.) who acknowledged him as a source. Although they naturally made additions of their own, their basic source is clearly Posidonius.
In addition, we have the writings of Julius Caesar, general, politician and polymath, who between 58 and 51 B.C., fought a series of bitter campaigns against the Celts of Gaul and Britain. Caesar, writing his account of the Gaulish campaigns in 52-51 B.C. seems to have based his account of the Druids on Posidonius, but with non-Posidonian additions, the authenticity and reliability of which have been the subject of much discussion.
The viewpoint presented by the above four writers is for the most part factual and the general picture of Druidism which emerges from their writings is consistent with that contained in the writings of Polybius who wrote before Posidonius. In addition, Pomponius Mela, Lucan and Tacitus were later authors who drew heavily from these previous efforts. It is also consistent with the Welsh and Irish sources discussed above and with the inferences made from archeological evidence. In addition to these primary sources, there is also a group of writers of less importance for their general comments on the Celts, but important to us because they talk about the Druids.
Ammianus Marcellinus, a historian of the fourth century B.C. used earlier sources, including Timagenes, who wrote in the first century B.C., and who is quoted as speaking of the Druids by Diodorus. Lucan, in the first century B.C., was a poet who described the strangeness of the Druid religion. The elder Pliny wrote a discourse on natural history in which he mentions Druid magic, folk-medicine, oak trees, and mistletoe.
Finally Tacitus in his "Annals," gives us our only Historical glimpse of British Druids as he describes their ritually cursing the Roman soldiers across the Menai Straits.
Hecataeus of Miletus, a celebrated writer and geographer of the 5th century BC wrote:
There is evidence to suggest that the Hyperborean civilization lasted until approximately three thousand (3,000) B.C. when it was torn asunder by earthquakes, flooding and tidal waves.
Strabo, the Greek geographer who lived in Rome and Alexandria, traveled widely in the first century B.C. and early first century B.C. His seventeen books on Geography, most of which survive, contain a valuable compilation of data from the Roman world and beyond. For his information on the Celts he used Posidonius as a primary source. Strabo wrote:
Diodorus Siculus in 44 B.C., describing Druidism:
Caesar, speaking of Druidism said:
Caesar also recorded the scope of Druid teachings:
This extract has been taken from the accounts of Julius Caesar on the Druids. He had encountered the group between 58 and 49BC whilst engaging in his conquest of Gaul. Caesar was a master of rhetoric and it has been argued that the sparseness of his accounts and the emphasis placed in his tales only goes to display with greater verocity the barbarity with which he was faced. But given Caesars ability as an orator and his need for support from Rome, it is more likely that instead of Barbarians, Caesar was embelishing on what he knew of the Druids in order to gain support for his exploits.
But, the classical accounts are our only real early source for the true goings on of the Druids. As Caesar himself points out, they disliked making their religion made known to the general public and so any account can only be a perception of the truth.
It was at Stonehenge that the British Apollo was seen harping and dancing. Although Stonehenge was a Druid religious center, equally revered by and belonging to ALL British tribes, it had been constructed by Pre-Druidic peoples. Pythagoras, whose philosophy was very similar to the Druids, is said to have visited the Hyperboreans in search of Truth, and to have received the Arrow of Abaris, which had been carried around the world. Aristotle affirms that a mystical philosophy did not pass from Greece to Gaul (the Celtic Druids) but was received FROM them.
In India, Hyperborea was spoken of in ancient times as "The Sacred Isles of the West, calling one of them "Bretashtan" or "The Seat and Place of Religious Duty. These sacred western islands were claimed by the Hindus to be the "Abode of Petries" or "Fathers of the Human Race, and they sent their priesthood there to be trained.
While the above classical sources of historical information about the Celts and Druids are not totally reliable, they are the only sources that modern scholars have been able to find to this date.
The Druids were the teachers, professors, philosophers, lawyers and poets of the Celtic peoples. In all public and private quarrels, the Druid settled all disputes. They passed on knowledge by word of mouth. The Druid Priesthood ruled the Cymry (which means "The People" in the Welsh language) from approximately 3800 B.C. to 61 B.C.. Druids led all public rituals, which were normally held within sacred groves of trees. Due to the intellect of the Druids, the Romans feared them. It was the common folks reverence towards the Druids that interfered with Ceasars attempt to overcome the Britons in 55 BCE. Druidism was the prevailing philosophy in Briton at the time. Caesar found the Druids to be a threat to his authority and he ordered their demise. He nearly accomplished completely exterminating the Druids at the Isle of Mona, now Anglesey. After the invasions by Rome, what Druids were left converted to Christianity through persuasion or genocide.
In Caesars time Druidism was not considered as pure and as well understood in Gaul as it was in the British Isle, its genuine home. By 59 A.D., the Celtic civilization and the Druids had reached the final stage of destruction. Suetonius Paulinus who was battling the Silures, crushed and massacred the Druids on the Isle of Anglesey. This was the Druid's greatest stronghold, and a beautiful and fertile island.
Meanwhile, to the east, the Incenti, under their warrior queen, Boadicea (also spelled Boudicca), and her two daughters, suddenly revolted against the cruelty, greed, and conceit of their conquerors. Thousands of Romans were massacred.
Suetonius was hastily recalled from Wales. The Roman general crossed the island by forced marches and decided to stake all on one battle. Facing ten times his number, but of poorly equipped and trained tribesman, he won a resounding victory, and Boadicea committed suicide.
Because Suetonis left Wales so quickly, he did not totally destroy the Druid religion as he had hoped. Many Druid teachers, priests, and priestesses escaped to the isle of Iona, the mountains near Snowdonia and elsewhere. But, this was the beginning of the end for the Druids in Wales. Over the next thirty years, the Romans completely conquered this land, driving the Druid Priesthood further into the mountains, as well as to Ireland and Scotland.
From 59 A.D. to 383 A.D., the Romans ruled Britain with an iron fist, repressing the people and attempting to destroy all vestiges of Druidism. They succeeded in the former but failed in the latter. Druidism survived in the Welsh mountains, Ireland and Scotland well into the eleventh century A.D.
The indigenous tribes of Roman Wales included both divisions of the Celtic race. The Silures in the northern half of present day Wales and the Demetae in the extreme southern portion (still called Dyfed) were Goidelic, or Gaelic-speaking. They were smaller in stature and darker skinned than their Brythonic or British-speaking counterparts, the Ordovices. These latter were closely related to the Gauls and were fairer in complexion. They occupied the north-central portion of Wales and are the major ancestral component of the modern Welsh.
The native religion of the Britons so closely resembled those in the Mediterranean area that the Romans could identify the native gods and goddesses with their own. However, the Britons placed a stronger emphasis on the Holy Family. Different tribes and different areas of Britain had their own tribal deities, such as Brigantia (Brigid) for the Brigantes, but the manner of worship and overall theology was fairly uniform throughout the southern half of the island.
The role of Druids and Druidism has been heavily debated and discussed among Celtic scholars. Druids were widespread among the Gaelic and Britonic Celts, and their power within the tribal unit was very great. But by the end of the fourth century A.D. only Ireland and Scotland could boast of public Druid seers and priests. The Welsh Druids had all either been killed, had hidden in secret enclaves or had renamed their titles as Bards. But, they had preserved the traditional oral literature of the country. In fact, there was such a large volume of oral tradition that in 100 A.D., the knowledge began to be transcribed by Welsh bardic scribes into Ogham Runes. The Christian Church adsorbed much of Celtic religion. Pagan Gods and Goddesses became Christian saints, sacred springs and wells were preserved and associated with saints and used for baptism. Many sites of spiritual antiquity became the location of cathedrals. There are those who believe that the Christian Monks erased those things of religious conflict during the early Celtic Christian Era.
By the 7th Century CE, Druidism was destroyed throughout most of the formerly Celtic lands or hidden deeply underground for fear of persecution. Druidism reemerged in the 17th century in London England as the re-emergence of the Mount Haemus Grove. In 1858, the California Grove No.1 was instituted in what is now known as Placerville. There is some evidence that traditional Paganism did survive in isolated areas of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, Russia, France, Spain, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania well into the 20th Century
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