Category Archives: Bardic

What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.

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Playing with Folklore

One of the things I like to do with the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series, is play with folklore. Here’s an example- the entirely traditional Mari Lwyds in a clearly non-traditional setting.

The Welsh Mari Lwyd tradition involves exactly the kit you see with horses skulls on poles and trailing costumes to cover the person holding the pole. You then go to houses and/or pubs for riddling fights.

When people migrate, they take their culture, folklore and beliefs with them. How that plays out can vary – it can mean that sometimes what the disaspora hold is an older form of the tradition than what develops elsewhere. People away from home can be more focused on keeping their traditions unchanged. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the tradition is influenced by what else is around, or evolves to suit the circumstances. Clearly, both trajectories are equally valid.

Playing with folklore in this way gives me scope to make things up – you can read what happens to Mari Lwyds on Hopeless Maine here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/2019/05/03/the-hopeless-mari-lwyd/

And doing this in turn gives me a chance to talk about folklore as a process without getting too bogged down in the academic side of things, which is not my natural habitat.

More about the latest volume of Hopeless Maine here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/news/hopeless-maine-3-victims-is-released-in-june

Art in this blog mostly by Tom Brown and a bit by me.


Hopeless Victims

A few days ago, copies of Hopeless Maine Victims landed at my door. For those of you who haven’t been following my exploits for long, an explanation… I do a gothic/steampunk graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. I do most of the writing and I now also colour it. The artist and originator of the island setting is my husband – Tom. We got together through working on this.

I admit I was anxious – this is the second graphic I’ve coloured and the first time I’ve worked on all the art for a Hopeless book. I coloured chapters and two pages spreads in Sinners, but that didn’t quite feel the same. On the whole, I’m pleased with it. There’s an inevitable process whereby you know more at the end of a book than you did at the start, but the only thing to do is accept it – if a person tried to re-write, draw or colour a book the same thing would happen at the revision stage and the book would never be finished… Deciding when a thing is good enough is never a comfortable process.

This book represents a significant chunk of my working life last year. I learned a lot – and not just the experience of colouring. I learned what my hands cannot take. For the next book we will be moving at a slower pace so as to put less pressure on my hands and give me options on music and crafting. I have the willpower and discipline to push a hurting body and keep working, but that doesn’t make it a good idea! Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

This weekend we had some of the two page spreads from the new book out at an event – the coloured images are definitely stronger for display than the black and white ones – much as I love Tom’s original pencils. I’ve gone from starting early last autumn anxious about messing up his drawings to feeling reasonably confident that I’m adding something good to the mix.

We’ve got two more books to do to complete the story I first created more than a decade ago. (Tom’s been working on this idea for much longer.) It’s been through a lot of developments since then, and the process of evolving work over that time frame has been interesting. What happens after the final book I’m not sure – the project has expanded with more people coming in to explore it, including music, and a role play game. I’m going to be working more on the role play game soon – which I’m very much looking forward to. I don’t know what happens next, and I’m looking forward to discovering that in the company of fellow explorers.

Hopeless is easy to get in the UK – any bookselling site is likely to carry all three titles – The Gathering, Sinners and Victims. You may see copies of Personal Demons and Inheritance – these are both in The Gathering and we don’t get any money if you buy them as separate titles.

If you are outside the UK, your best bet is Book Depository with its free worldwide delivery…

The Gathering 

Sinners

Victims


Poetry with Adam Horovitz

Adam Horovitz is one of my favourite poets. Some biases may have been created because I get to hear him read his work and I get to hang out with him, so I also know what a lovely human being he is. But even so, he’s a man with some incredible word-crafting skills. He can do things with language that leave me feeling like I’ve been buttered, or as though a stream has flowed over me, or that I have been transported to some other place and time. In terms of landscape writing, I’ve never seen anything else quite like his work for evoking place, and empathy with place.

You can read my review of Adam’s The Soil Never Sleeps here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/the-soil-never-sleeps-a-review/

And here’s Adam reading a poem from that collection

This kind of work does not happen quickly. It’s something I’ve become deeply aware of around my own creativity (and lack thereof) in recent years. The best writing takes time both to imagine and craft, and it is difficult to throw yourself heart and soul into creativity when you’re worrying about how to stay warm through the winter, or how to afford food. And if you’re doing other work to pay the bills, the headspace for the deep work is harder to find. Exhaustion and preoccupation does not make for good writing. Most creative people are struggling, and in that struggle we all lose the beauty that could have been. We lose opportunities for wonder and we limit creativity to those who are financially supported in other ways – for those who have the most privilege.

Adam has started a Patreon account, and if it works, it will mean more poetry videos like the one above. It will buy him time for the deeper levels of thinking and engagement that make this kind of poetry possible. A few dollars here and there will make a great deal of difference – because they always do. You can support Adam here – https://www.patreon.com/AdamHorovitz/posts

If you love what someone does, supporting them on any platform makes worlds of difference. The sums of money floating about may seem (to anyone on a normal wage) so small as to be irrelevant. Fifty dollars a month can be the difference between eating and eating well. I know creators who depend on patreon to pay key bills and who are able to create because of that. People who put a great deal of joy and beauty and worth into the world – much of it moving around online for free.

We tend to assume that quality leads to money and that money is a fair measure of a creator’s worth. According the UK’s Society of Authors, the average full time professional author earns about ten thousand pounds a year. That’s what success looks like in this industry. It looks exactly like poverty.

I also have a Patreon account and for me it has made the difference between giving up, and keeping going. https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


The temple I am building – a poem

The temple I am building

 

There are no temples I can dance in

And while I glimpse in myth the names

Of women who may once have been

Goddesses of land, I can only guess

At whose temple I should dance

And there is no sacred music for me

And the steps are entirely lost

If they ever existed.

 

There are no temples I can dance in

But I will honour the call of music

With passion embodied. I will dance

The imaginary steps for a nameless Goddess

Wherever I can, I will shake my hips,

Open my thighs, raise my arms in salutation

In spiritual offering, make sacrament

Of rhythm, make sacred the energy

Of limbs and loins.

 

I make temples I can dance in

The width of my open arms

Any tune is my holy ground, any beat

Or song so long as there is sweat

And presence, breath and pulse,

Where there is desire I will build my temple

In the shadowed edge of your stage

In your club, your field, your kitchen

Summon ancient magic

And dance what enchantment I can.


People on Pedestals – a poem

People on Pedestals

 

Putting people on pedestals (for the alliteration)

People on pedestals fear falling fatally

Pride puncturing plummets are promised.

Fear finding the fall too easy.

Feet of clay, people on pedestals

Afraid of awkward viewing angles

The upskirt shot, the up nose, up trouser.

Searing spotlights illuminate the people on pedestals

Searching, scathing spotlight scrutiny

Revealing, and the people on pedestals

Want not to be revealed, not really.

Want a little private, unobserved obscurity

Attention an attack and an artifice exposer.

The real risk that in looking up

Unvarnished truth unveiling.

Honest anxiety or narcissist needling?

People on pedestals who perpetrate poses

Market, mythologize, misrepresent to look good

Purchase the pedestal, polish it proudly

Help you put them up there, but then

When they fall off, incompetent, inept and over sold

It is your fault.

Your pedestal putting predilections

Selfishly setting them up for a stumbling

 

I like to look from on a level.


Family Afternoon Out – a poem

This poem is based on observation of many different people over some years. This is what tends to happen within a few hundred yards of the car-park.

 

Family Afternoon Out

 

They emerge from the four by four

In country wear jackets and boots

With matching children and dog.

Stand at the viewing point, and point

Like models in a clothes catalogue.

Little Jemima shouts repeatedly

About who once sat on which rock

Like she owns the place.

Eyes down, they head off

Talking about Priscilla in human resources

And what Gareth said about Antigua

And Little Christopher is bored

And swipes undergrowth with a stick.

Aren’t children so natural, in nature

In their desperately expensive jackets

Just like mummy and daddy wear.

Meanwhile Hugo the hound runs wild

Sniffs everything, and they’ve already passed

Seventeen brightly coloured notices about

Keeping dogs on leads but Hugo is not a dog.

He’s family, and it is different for him.

Because he’s wearing a jacket, too.

And nice, middle class dogs never worry sheep.

Now back to Priscilla, in human resources

The one with the bad botox experience.

This story is so good it requires enough decibels

For every other walker to hear the gruesome details.

Generations of squirrels now know what

Priscilla did about the stains.

Little Jemima is picking orchids, isn’t that pretty?

Never mind if she’s breaking the law, she’s only a child

Enjoying the flowers and her parents don’t know

What these flowers are called or that you aren’t

Supposed to pick them.

Little Christopher throws stones at everything, but

Back to what Gareth said about Cypress,

And Sudan, and you really must try ice skating in Ethiopia.

Hugo flushes out a bird that no one sees

Too busy with Priscilla and Gareth to look or hear

And does the front bedroom need decorating this year?

Little Jemima throws her phone in a pond when no one is looking.

Darling Christopher stamps on beetles. Were they endangered?

Too late now.

And Gareth said New Zealand is a must at this time of year

And how on Earth is anyone supposed to manage

Mud in these boots. You could wreck them, and the cost

Of replacing them and the dirt in the car

And Little Christopher is banging his head against a tree

Because he’d rather die than walk any further and

Jemima is eating leaves and berries but nature is good for us

So it’s probably fine. And Hugo has done a vast

Steaming turd in the middle of the path

So let’s put it in a plastic bag

And hang it from a tree.

Because we love nature.

Nature is lovely.

And we’ve had such a wonderful walk.

 


Bardic Chairs, the final installment

As far as I know, this is the last video in the series Mark Lindsey Earley has made for Druid Life. Huge thanks for this, Mark.


The next installment of The Bardic Chair Tradition Demystified

Another fine video from Mark Lindsey Earley exploring the modern bardic chair movement.


The Bardic Chair Tradition Demystified

Here’s the next Bardic Chair video from Mark Lindsey Earley.