On the subject of Bardism

The British Druid Order Forums BDO Public Forum On the subject of Bardism

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  • #10664
    david poole
    Participant

    What is a Bard? by Andy Letcher, 10th Mount Haemus Lecture, date not known. This can be obtained online as a downloadable pdf. Dr. Letcher recites this lecture as part of Druidcast 67, available at Druidcast Episode 67 dated October 19th 2012. This lecture is available in printed form in The Mount Haemus Lectures – Volume II.The lecture is based upon a PHD thesis entitled The Role of the Bard in Contemporary Pagan Movements, which has not itself been published. That thesis sounds pretty interesting from its title, hopefully this paper represents enough of that to reveal some insights into what it means to be a Bard, from reading and listening to it I believe that it does just that.

    If you are interested in finding out what a Bard is then this lecture may provide some helpful definition. This is an important subject as goes some way to defining what modern Druidry is and what it means and provides ideas on how to practice it. This may prove helpful in the face of people who do not know what Druidry is about or who believe that it is mainly a Romantic period fabrication. At regular intervals the name of Professor Ronald Hutton is brought up and we are described as living in a post Hutton world, i.e. within a more sceptical, academic, history based world. Bardism is alive and well, but some kind of defence may sometimes prove necessary, and knowledge like this will help towards that. Dr. Letcher goes through a number of Bardic courses yet does not cover the BDO Bardic course, it must be noted. What he has studied does give a fairly good idea of what Bardism is about. One point which stood out for me straight away is that Welsh lore and Irish lore are two different strands and are not exactly the same; some teachers prefer one strand, some the other. There are similarities between the two, yet also serious differences. Irish lore for example, seems to have more connections with Christianity such as some characters converting or in mentions of Jesus as the White Christ. That is not specifically mentioned within this paper but I am pointing this out as an example.

    Poetry, stories and music are given places of particular importance. Dr. Letcher feels that performance is key to Bardism; this would exclude certain forms such as drawing or painting or writing, for example, raising a point for debate. Surely all of these activities are in themselves manifestations of creative energy? Are they therefore Bardic, or not? I was pleased to see that Kevan Manwaring’s Bardic Handbook was mentioned here, Dr. Letcher considers this book to be a strong resource and I concur with that opinion. One potential criticism is that the book leans heavily towards Welsh lore, which seems to be a trait which some other courses share. The Mabinogion is rich with lore that much is true, but to focus solely on this would be to ignore and overlook the richness of Irish myythology and its many fascinating stories and lessons. Dr. Letcher then goes on to describe what a Bard might be expected to do within his or her role. He makes it clear that Bardism is a role which appears across many different countries and cultures under different names. If you thought that Bards were just Celtic then there is a bit more to it than that.

    Taliesin is presented as the archetypal Bard as you would fully expect. This is an example of what a Bard should be that we each might work towards ourselves. Dr. Letcher brings up the subject of Robert Graves at this point. I am not clear whether imbas and awen are exactly the same thing in terms of inspiration, that point is not explained here. What is made clear, and I have experienced it myself, is that awen is not simply like an AA battery which can be turned on and off but can sometimes run out completely, or just as suddenly come to strike us like a bolt out of the blue which must be responded to. Dr. Letcher, who is part of the band Telling the Bees, describes processes including not writing a song for many years then suddenly waking up one morning to write a song down urgently because it had to be done. Practice, motivation and determination help to realise these moments when they do arrive, so keep working at your craft.

    Dr. Letcher brings up the subject of Irish lore and Arthurian mythology, expanding the definition of Bardic lore beyond Wales and the Mabinogion. I thought that that was necessary and worth bringing up. An example is provided here which demonstrates that Bardism can be set within a very modern context, in this case a fish and chip shop, and still work as an example of the Bardic art. Bardism is flexible and can be applied to any time period and to virtually any subject. Reciting a story originally told by someone else is like following a chain of tradition, with all of those previous people standing behind you. Iolo Morgannwg is revealed as being a flute player and a prolific collector of folk tunes, which I was not aware of before. Dr. Letcher says that he has deconstructed the Celts and has tried to avoid using the C word before this point in his article. The Anglo-Saxon scops, Beowulf, Widsith and other Old English poems are described as being just as Bardic as the Tain or the Mabinogion, with Bardism being more than simply restricted to four particular British cultures.

    The formation of Bardic chairs is mentioned as an important development, inspired in large part by the late Tim Sebastian and the Secular Order of Druids. Kevan Manwaring was one of the Bards of Bath in 1998 and his work encourages the founding of Bardic chairs. Striving is seen ad driving the art of Bardism forward. It may be said that there are differing spirits at work within this craft, which Dr. Letcher speaks of as the Cymraeg words hwyl and hiraeth, or joy and longing/sorrow. I would like to bring up another idea which I have seen relating to Bardism, that the three key emotions which a Bard is supposed to work with are sorrow, joy and sleep. If you know your Irish lore then you will know that these are the three emotions which the Dagda can summon with his harp, as he does so in one of the Irish mythological stories. This makes the Dagda as an important deity who Bards might chose to work with, alongside other deities such as Cerridwen or Brigid.

    Dr. Letcher ends with a brief biography and a short list of reference books which may be worth seeking out for further reading. As well as writing on Bardism Dr. Letcher has also worked on the English Magic Tarot where he appears as The Fool card. If you want to see another very useful article about Bardism then please check out Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire. In this book Dr. Lecther provides advice to people who want to become Bards. This article both describes what a Bard might be and also encourages you to use your imagination. As opposed to performance, the key skill in the Mount Haemus Lecture, here Dr. Letcher emphasises instead the art of listening and the art of storytelling. These are quite distinct from performance, yet appear to be quite essential to Bardism. Once again storytelling is described as a chain of tradition being passed on by previous storytellers, as if they were right there with you while you work. Stories are more than entertainment, they are power. In order to succeed with a story you need to know your story and to know your audience, or else you may well go wrong. Old stories carry more weight behind them than new ones.

    #10668
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    Interesting stuff David. I’m glad you managed to post this, especially since it must have taken you ages to type out such a long post.

    I see awen as something that is all around, something we have to tap into. When it isn’t flowing, it’s because we’re not tapping into it, not because it’s run out. But that’s just my take on it. I’ve read the lecture, I’ll be honest, there are some things I don’t agree with, but there are also some fascinating points and insights too and even things you don’t agree with can be food for thought.

    Bennathow.
    /|\

    #10674
    david poole
    Participant

    Water flows and moves around, it can also rain or it can dry out. I feel that awen is rather like the weather, it can change or it can come or go or even run out at times. I sense that the awen has a certain flow to it, like most elements except for earth. Earth does not flow, it is always there like a bedrock or a foundation. Electricity is also an analogy, electricity can flow like a current and we can tap into it when we need to. I think that some places and some situations are highly charged with awen, others may be barren of awen or even suck it away.

    #10680
    Anonymous

    poetry helps to make us whole. Hoelan,is and anglo Saxon word for poetry, and it means to make whole. There are many things that we can never heal from, but when can learn how to live with them, and this is what a bard does. He or she heals through poetry, and heals others through poetry. Poetry can also heal people from guilt by letting them look at the causes, and see that if they had had more knowledge at the time, they would not have done stupid things, poetry can reframe. having guilt can destroy a person. So, poetry helps us live the best lives we can, and repressed thoughts can cause stress. Being a druid is all about living the best life you can, and writing poems and stories makes our life more meaningful. However, David, the early druids were probably a lot different than the Neo druids, and the early druid bards were probably more like court employees who were responsible for entertainment at the feast and making their chieftain seem like he is some big important guy. But that does not mean that druids who are around today have to be that way. We can write poems that shine light on the hurt, healing the wounds, and share the poems with other people, thus, making us all whole. Plus, I feel druids should practice telling stories and become good story tellers. We need to take the best of the old druidism and make it better. What I like most about the old stories is that as soon as you see a forest mentioned, you know that you are entering the otherworld, an enchanted place with white dogs who have red ears. We can find great inspiration in the old stories, once you know how to read them, for that takes some time. There are some great modern translation of the old poems and stories, more now than ever. And don’t forget the aural experience of poetry, which is part of the whole experience. I encourage to learn all you can about poetry forms, shapes, and sounds. For the most powerful force in the world is stories, and the story you follow will shape the future. And that is why it is important for druids to write new stories that lead us to an ecotopia instead of an Armageddon. Change starts with the stories, not the other way around. the most powerful weapon that a druid has is the ability to tell stories because that is how we will save the world from ecological destruction, and it is the stories and poems that will make us whole and healthy.

    #10681
    Anonymous

    also David, learning Wicca depends on where you want to go with being a druid, I just want to be a druid bard, so I really don’t need to be studying Wicca, Wicca is more of an ovate deal, and if you want to be a druid, you need to study shamanism, which is traveling to the otherworld to learn stuff for the grove. So, it all depends on where you want to take it, and what your image of being a druid is. Is it an old man with a long white beard, or an academic with tenure? Or a skyclad druid with long hair and hippy beads dancing around a bonfire with 30 other druids on Beltain. It is up to you, and you decide which is an illusion. Happy hunting for magic plants in the enchanted forest. But some druids just want ritual because it makes them feel safe, like getting into mom’s station wagon after a long hike in the woods, and knowing that all is well and you will soon be back in civilization and away form those dang blood sucking midges. Ritual gives many people a sense of community and safety. People are druids for all kinds of reasons, and some just are looking for friends and community. So, much of being a druid depends on your intentions and what you want from it. Again, I just want to be a druid bard and write and play my harp and fiddle and guitar and hang with druids and druidesses, who seem to be as weird as I am, and who have had many experiences with the otherworld. In some ways I am like a druid X-man, and like being around others who are also X-men. I guess that is why I like the witches so much, I am half in this world an half in the other, or in both at the same time, depending on the moon. Because it is very hard to explain what the upper world is like to people who have never taken a ride on the spinning spiral stairs, or climbed down the roots of the world tree. But, many druids get it, and understand exactly what I am talking about, and they understand when I am using poetic satirical metaphors to describe things and actions. however there are always druids who need to grow some leaves on their oak tree, and who see being a druid as a competition for magical merit badges, an ego self image, whereas I see it as being a poetic journey to a more creative life where freedom and expression is not pruned and stripped of its imaginative life- giving bark, a breath of fresh air, a faery song, a dance in the moonlight.

    #10695
    Dowrgi
    Participant

    Do you think that our perception of awen may vary according to the elements and our own innate relationship to them? Your insights with rain and water, and also the willow, suggest an affinity with water, perhaps, whereas mine seem more related to air? This got me on to thinking about working with the elements we may have less of an affinity to in order to draw on complete fire-air-earth-water united in spirit awen. I’ve probably not expressed that very well, but I hope you know what I mean.

    Bennathow.
    /|\

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