Tag Archives: bard

Story Compass – a review

Story Compass offers the reader an interesting and original set of tools for self discovery. You could use it as a workbook, or as the basis of a set of retreats, read it flat out and take what suits you, or dip into it.

I think there are several kinds of people who would particularly benefit from this book. It’s very much aimed at the reader who wants to explore themselves in a contemplative way, and who needs tools and maps for this. It assumes that you’ve not done a deep dive into your ancestry, or the water you swim in, and that you have yet to figure out how your culture, background and life experiences have informed you.

It’s designed for people who are not squaring up to massive trauma legacies. If that’s you, then this probably isn’t the ideal book and you’ll need to find something more trauma informed.

I think this book also has ideas to offer to new bards. If you’re starting out on a creative path and figuring yourself out in relation to the work you want to do, there’s a lot here that’s usable. The relationship between self and creation, history and inspiration, how we draw on experience and work with the material of our own lives is all highly relevant.

Taking control of your own story, and being the teller of your own life can be an incredibly powerful and empowering process. The stories we tell define us, and if that is something you have no idea how to engage with, this is a book, and a process, to consider.

The writing style is easy going and enthusiastic. If you like the idea of taking your inner child on an adventure, then you’re going to love this. There’s a playful, open hearted tone to the whole thing – which isn’t for everyone. If you suspect you might find that patronising rather than engaging, you might well not get along with this book.

The work outlined in Story Compass can be approached in a number of ways. You could be fairly pragmatic about it and go for imaginative journaling and creative thinking. You could use it as a guide for visualisations and journey work and really go for that – depending on your needs and preferences. One of the things I liked is how unprescriptive the author is when it comes to these kinds of inner journeys. You’re given the gist of where to go and what to do, but how that plays out is very much down to you. It made me realise how normal it is to see this kind of practice described in a lot more detail, where you are told what spirits or ancestors are going to say to you. I found it refreshing to see such open ended explorations.

I came to this title as a book reviewer interested in working with story. It’s not come to me at a time when I could personally make much use of the contents – although twenty years ago it would have been a divine gift to encounter something like this. It means that a lot of what’s here is not material I’ve felt moved to test – I’ve already done this sort of work, in my own ways so there’s not much for me to delve into and unravel. However, I think the whole approach is useful and fertile, and likely to be worth exploring for anyone who is setting out on a journey of self discovery.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/story-compass-journey-discovery


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.


When stories are the battleground

How do you know what’s true? Who do you trust for information? It’s become ever more problematic since the start of the covid crisis, but the war of stories and information is far older than that. Most conspiracy theories are bunk, and a very few turn out to be super-important. How do you decide which stories to share and believe in?

For anyone on the bard path, the power of stories is likely already a consideration. For anyone interested in politics, and world politics, the question of how stories have become weapons is an ongoing issue. It’s not easy, when faced with a story, to decide what to do with it.

I want the stories that help me understand other perspectives. I want the stories that open out possibilities and make more room to include more people. I reject the stories that encourage us to hate each other and mistrust each other. I reject any story that is about how a group of people deserve to suffer for being who they are when they are doing no harm at all.

Any story has the potential to become true. If we adopt a story and live by it, and invest in it we may well make it real. Sometimes asking if something is factually accurate isn’t the key thing. It may be much more useful to ask what a story will do, what it will enable, who it supports and who it crushes. I’m here for the stories that uplift people and crush injustice. 

For some years now, stories have been part of an ideas war being fought across the world. Don’t share the stories you don’t want to see come true – not even to argue with them. If you need to talk about stories you consider problematic, work around them, don’t give them direct attention and don’t send people to the places airing the problem stories. If we don’t invest energy in them, stories wither and die, to be replaced by stories that were better able to engage people. We get a say in how that plays out.


Sitting in Silence

Silence is something we often explore in meditation and for spiritual purposes, as in the practice of silent retreat. Without vocalised interactions, we turn inwards, in theory, listening to the quiet inner voice, finding peace and so forth. While I’ve done plenty of sitting in silent meditation, I’ve never entered extended periods of silence for spiritual purposes.

I’ve recently had tonsillitis, and between the sore throat and the swollen tissues, talking has been really uncomfortable. I’ve been obliged to become mostly silent, and it’s been an interesting experience. 

I am of course still communicating, because not communicating would be unbearable to me. I’m relying a lot more on facial expressions, hand gestures, body language – there is a lot I can get done this way. I’m typing and using devices when I need to share things that I can’t gesture. It turns out that if I have my written ‘voice’ I don’t feel too troubled by the loss of my spoken voice. As being ill has kept me at home, it hasn’t caused any great technical problems to have to type rather than speak.

It raises some interesting thoughts for me around the role of communication in life, and in our spiritual lives. Increasingly I see the bard path as the heart of what I do, and that absolutely revolves around communicating. It can tend to prioritise the ability to make sounds with your face, but I feel very strongly that no one should be excluded on the basis of how they are able to communicate. 

For me, spirituality is a conversation. The silence is for listening, but extended silence isn’t a conversation, and the exchange matters. What I do tends to be fairly people-centric because I communicate best with people, but I listen a lot more widely. 

I can learn in silence, but I don’t find my own  spiritual self there. I find more benefit in sharing, in vocalising, in communicating. I’m more my spiritual self when I make sound, or make words, than I am when I turn inwards for extended periods.


Further Adventures with Ominous Folk

At the weekend, we took The Ominous Folk of Hopeless Maine to Stroud Steampunk weekend, with a show called Wrecked on Hopeless. It’s a mix of storytelling, script and song and gives people an introduction to the fictional island of Hopeless, Maine.

It went so well that we’ve had several further bookings as a consequence, which is really exciting. This has led me to thinking about what we might do next year and what I might write for us. 

My creative life depends on having people to create for. It’s one of the reasons I love being in steampunk spaces because there’s always so much warmth and enthusiasm. Making things for steampunks is a deeply rewarding process. I invariably come out of steampunk events full of ideas and feelings about things I want to create. At the moment, I’m giving a lot of thought to what I will take to the Winter Convivial in Gloucester in November – more of that over here – https://www.facebook.com/SteamPunkFestGloucester

When I initiated as a bard, I pledged to use my creativity for the good of the land, and for the good of my tribe. At this point I recognise that ‘tribe’ isn’t a good word to use but it’s now part of the history I have. So, while I won’t claim that word moving forward, I need to acknowledge it in relation to that specific pledge. 

It remains vitally important to me to think about who my people are, and to think about what good I can do with my creative work.


Intuition on the bard path

Intuition is a really important skill for bards. First and foremost it’s about being able to read the room (or grove). Having a feel for your audience that allows you to respond to them is essential for making a connection and communicating effectively. You also have to give yourself space for that – if you’ve carefully planned out every detail of what you will say and do, you’re leaving no space to include what comes up at the time.

Stages feel pretty exposed at the best of times. If you are nervous you may feel like trying to be more open to your audience is a bad thing. This is not something a person is likely to get the hang of at the first go. It’s something to explore once you’re over the worst of the nerves caused by simply trying to perform.

It’s easier to read the room if you start before getting on to the stage. It’s important to check out the space and the audience ahead of time. Flounce up just before your set and you have no idea what you’re walking in to. It’s easier to try and read the mood of the gathering before you start performing. Some crowds respond well to bombast, some will like you more if you come in gently.

Intuition has a role to play at other times as well. Very few bards create in the moment and on the day. It takes time to learn, write, choreograph or otherwise get your creativity to the point where you can share it. What you have to learn to get there, is an issue. The decisions about what to work on happen a fair way ahead of sharing a finished piece. What will be relevant by the time you can share it?

For me, 2021 has been full of intuitive leaps in the dark. I’ve made decisions about what to do and when, creatively, that were at best informed by wild guesses. That’s been going surprisingly well, so far. It’s left me feeling more open to possibility, and perhaps a little more in tune with the tides of existence. Which sounds slightly pretentious, but I can’t think of a more grounded way of saying it!


Ocean Aid Concerts to Help Mother Ocean

A guest blog from Steve Andrews

You will no doubt be familiar with the Band Aid and Live Aid rock/pop concerts of the past, but I think we need new concerts under the banner of Ocean Aid. 

Plastic pollution is everywhere these days and it is becoming widely known that it is killing marine life, including whales, turtles, seals and seabirds that swallow it mistaking it for food, or by getting tangled up in the material. Many people think of this planet as Mother Earth, and whilst this is a wonderful description of our home world, I think we should be referring to all the seas combined as “Mother Ocean.” Science has told us that early life started there, and life on this planet depends on the health of the oceans. 

I have a song entitled Where Does All The Plastic Go?. It was produced by Jayce Lewis, and is included on my album Songs of the Now and Then. Many famous musicians and singers, including Mick Jagger, Cerys Matthews,  Brian May, Chrissie Hynde and Kanye West, have spoken out about plastic pollution but I am leading the way with songs about the subject. Just think if stars like this could be persuaded to take part in a massive Ocean Aid concert in a stadium somewhere!

With the ongoing pandemic causing lockdowns and restrictions, many musicians famous and not so famous, have taken to performing concerts online using livestreaming via Facebook, Zoom and other options. This got me thinking that Ocean Aid concerts could be organised like this, and the more of them the better. Small ones can help inspire the world of music and the media to take enough notice so that a massive concert could be organized, a concert that would attract the internationally famous celebrities. Because plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, the concerts can take place worldwide. 

It is not just the threat of plastic waste that is endangering oceanic life. Overfishing, acidification, seabed mining, military testing, nuclear waste dumping, coral bleaching, agricultural run-off causing dead zones, and climate change, are all taking a heavy toll too.  Ocean Aid concerts could raise awareness about these problems as well. There are organisations like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, already doing what they can to help save the seas and the life in them. Funds raised by the concerts can go to charitable environmental organisations like this. 

As a singer-songwriter I realised that one way I could take action and spread the word was by using music to help me, and after writing my song about plastic pollution I came up with this Ocean Aid idea. Raising awareness about Mother Ocean is my main focus this year. Please think about helping me make Ocean Aid concerts a reality. If you are a musician, think about organising Ocean Aid gigs, if you are not a musician but want to help, you can do so by spreading the word and reaching out to anyone you know that could make Ocean Aid a dream that becomes a reality. Let’s do what we can to help our Mother Ocean!

Find more of Steve’s music here:

https://bardofely.bandcamp.com/track/where-does-all-the-plastic-go

https://soundcloud.com/bardofely/where-does-all-the-plastic-gohttps://open.spotify.com/album/1pboeHP1Fq2G9tsaKywnNF

If you want to get in touch with Steve, leave a comment and I’ll pass it along.


Bardic Magic

In my current re-exploration of magic I’ve also been thinking about what the bard path means to me, and how I relate to it. Bardic work is a big part of what I do – more and less subtly. I use creativity to achieve transformation and I depend on the flow of inspiration, but I’ve not let myself think of this as a magical practice.

Sometimes I write in order to know. With a pen in my hand, I can open doors to insight, intuition and become aware of things that I didn’t previous see or understand. This is something to do quietly, curled up on the sofa. There’s no ritual, no drama, and so I tend to persuade myself there’s also no magic. Those insights come most readily when I’m writing silly things, and the mirth means I have been in the habit of not taking myself seriously. I have no intention of taking myself seriously, but I need to stop seeing mirth as at odds with reverence.

Sometimes I write in order to change things, for myself and other people. Most of my poems are arguably also spells. I write them to explore the changes I want to make, to re-imagine, to commit to things. I write this blog to help other people change as well. I’ve started doing this a bit more deliberately of late.

I also sing as a way of getting things done – to change the atmosphere in places, to comfort and to uplift.

I’m writing this blog post partly to figure out what I do.

One of the things I’m very good at doing is finding reasons why what I do isn’t as valid, shiny, important as what anyone else does. I don’t have visions, I have ideas while writing stuff. The Gods do not talk to me, unless I am making up a story that pertains to them, but that’s me making up a story. I don’t do magic, except with a pen, which I have decided doesn’t count. But if I don’t claim too much for what I do, there’s nothing to take from me.  There’s no inherent invitation to knock me down.

I can’t imagine claiming any great spiritual significance for my own creative work. I’ve seen other people do it and marvelled at their confidence, and at a relationship with the world that is so very different from my own. Obviously what I do isn’t sacredly inspired, isn’t held by a relationship with a divinity… and it comes down to a sense that what I do isn’t good enough. Of course this is just the story I choose to tell. People who choose to tell stories in which they are magical and doing important work get to put that into the world. But, I have no idea what it would take to feel entitled to tell a story in which my work has weight and significance.

This all raises more questions than it answers. I suspect I’m waiting for permission, but I have no idea whose. I guess whatever the answers are, I will discover them by writing about them.


Druidry and Poetry

We tend to think of poetry as a ‘Druid thing’ because of its association with historical bards, and the way in which modern Druidry holds the bard path within it. There’s a lot we don’t know about historical bards and how that related to Druidry, and that’s an issue for another time, perhaps. What I find much more interesting is the way in which a modern Druid can use poetry.

Poetry impacts on the brain in a different way from prose writing. It’s more like how we respond to music. The science is out there if you hit the search engines. What it means for a Druid is that poetry gets in differently. It is a better vehicle sometimes for arousing empathy and engaging people’s emotions. It can get you passed another person’s blocks and defences to touch them in ways they might have resisted had you come in with regular speech or prose.

And if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is!

It raises some interesting questions about the way rhyming verses so often feature in spells. What are we doing to ourselves when we do that? Is that act of making an intention into a verse impacting on our brains in some way? I suspect so, but to the best of my knowledge no one is studying the science of poetry in spells as yet.

Poetry can be a lot easier to remember than regular text. If there are rhymes and rhythms, they prompt us to recall them more readily. There are things about sound and rhythm here that speak to us in deeper ways than the words themselves. There’s something powerful and impressive about recalling from memory, and that poetry can make this easier doesn’t diminish the impact at all. A poem quoted from memory seems more powerful to me than a segment of script or a book quote.

Despite all the research, our brains remain wondrous, mysterious things whose functioning we have barely begun to explore. Poetry seems to be as ancient as civilizations, suggesting that our ancestors knew that approaching language in this way has power. It’s a way of stepping out of regular conversation and exchange and into some other realm of heightened sensibility and sensitivity. We may be taken outside of ourselves, or more fully into ourselves. We may be transformed through metaphor and allusion to other lives, forms, ways of seeing and being.

To read, write or speak poetry is to perform magic on ourselves.


Doing it from memory

We know that the ancient Druids had an oral tradition, and that the bards of old memorised vast amounts of material. However, when it comes to the modern bard path, I think it’s really important not to be dogmatic about doing things from memory.

Firstly, not everyone can. Not all brains are good at storing great swathes of text and music. Brain injuries, cognitive differences, and learning difficulties can all make memorising impossible, or excessively difficult. No one should be excluded from bardic performance for these reasons. If you’re holding a bardic space, it is important not to discriminate and not to demand that people perform from memory. Don’t challenge people who can’t and don’t ask why they can’t – it isn’t your business.

There can also be class, life stage and economic issues around performance from memory as well. Learning takes time. That time may not be available – work, illness, family, and other pressures may mean a person does not have the luxury of time to learn content by heart. It is kinder and more inclusive not to put people under pressure or to exclude them based on how overwhelming their lives are. And again, we do not need to know the details of why a person cannot commit to learning the words.

For someone who is anxious, or inexperienced, doing it without the words can simply be too daunting the first few times. People who could be great may never get started if the entry bar is set to high. None of us benefit from that.

The quality of a performance does not depend on whether you are holding a piece of paper. Certainly a piece of paper can be a barrier between performer and audience, but it doesn’t have to be. No one complains about classical musicians reading from the sheet music. Authors are allowed to read from their books at events, too. It is entirely possible to perform very badly from memory. The best thing to do is focus on quality of performance – in your own work and when you are making space for other people.

If you need the words, or notes, to make that possible, go with whatever allows you to do the best performance you can. Don’t penalise other people for needing to rely on paper or phones for content. You can encourage excellence without making specific demands on what people do. It takes time to develop as a performer and most people start out far less able than they will be with practice. Experience of performing is part of what takes a person towards being a really great performer – most of us don’t get up for the first time at anything like the level of performance we might be capable of.

(And thank you to Clive Oseman for the prompt)