Bards and Bardolatry

Karen gave me this title as a prompt, and it’s been interesting to think about. Idolatry is defined as the worship of idols and tends to imply ‘false gods’. What kind of falseness or misplaced faith might trip a bard up? What might a would-be bard do that couldn’t work or that would dishonour them?

Not caring about your audience – be that human or other. Bardic work is about engagement and exchange, if you’re only doing it for the applause and you haven’t even thought about what your audience might need from you, that’s going to fail in all the ways. Getting grumpy because your audience did not respond as you’d assumed is messing up as a bard.

Punching down. Satire should always be about discomforting the overly comfortable. Joking about the suffering of others is seldom actually funny, and never good. Picking on an audience member also isn’t good.

Appropriation. Particularly if you’re misrepresenting and writing over something you barely understood. If you take material because you think it’s cool, but don’t work with it, or its origins well enough, that’s not respectful. Also anyone in the audience who knows the material better than you do will think you’re an arse. If you haven’t delved deeply, the odds are the material is not as unknown as you were assuming, thus increasing your scope for looking preposterous.

Not putting your heart into it. As an experienced audience member I can usually tell if I’m seeing a newbie giving it their all, or someone who didn’t really try. Passion matters. A wholehearted, everything you’ve got performance is always going to be powerful even when you are young in your craft. Even when nerves trip you up. Nervous and struggling looks very different from complacent. Complacence is disrespectful of your material, your tradition and your audience.

Not being a good audience member. It’s not enough to rock up, do your bit, accept the applause and leave. Community is important. Listening to other people and connecting with what they do is important. If you feel like you’re too important to hang around listening, you urgently need to spend more time as an audience member. This is different from needing to prepare for your bit, or needing to recover afterwards.

Feeling entitled.

Sharing things you haven’t really thought about. Especially popular mainstream things. It’s not enough to have a catchy chorus if the messages in a piece are sexist, racist, ableist, or all about consumerism.

There are probably more, but these struck me as being particularly important.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Bards and Bardolatry

  • karenenneagram

    Excellent and necessary reading for bards! There is another side to the coin: the ‘olatry’ is from a root meaning to worship. We need also to beware of worshipping the bard. (I made my bardic vows at Cor Gawr a long time ago: the leading priest whose name I forget was definitely a tad self-admiring, and there were others there who obviously agreed with him. Not healthy.)
    It is so easy when inspired to come to admire the inspirer; to conflate the two. Let us as bards never forget we are but vehicles. And let us keep reminding those who may take inspiration from us: ‘Please, stop chewing on my finger and look where I’m pointing!’

  • locksley2010

    Excellent post and one I fully agree with!

    I think you covered it in ‘Being a Good Audience Member’ but one thing I definitely learned as a performer is “Know when to drop the mic”. You’ve put the work in, you’ve done your bit, now let someone else have their turn in picking up the microphone. There’s nothing worse than a performer who is so in love with themselves that they try to make the show about them.

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