Tag Archives: bard

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)


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.


The ritual of writing

There are a great many small joys and privileges that come from working at a Pagan publishing house. I get to read all sorts of books ahead of release. I get to help new authors break in, and more established authors reach further. I get to help. There’s an immense joy in seeing a writer winning – a first time author with a breakthrough title, an author whose been slogging away at it for years finally getting the attention they deserve. This is not always the work I am paid to do, this is sometimes stuff I do in my own time, because I can.

A few years ago, Andrew Anderson submitted a manuscript to Moon Books. It wasn’t something we could publish – it was simply too short. I liked his ideas and his writing style, so I dropped him an email with some pointers about what might work and get picked up – I’m not the person making those decisions, but I know how publishers operate. To my immense joy, he came back with a new book, and it clearly was one that we could put out. This month it is released.

The ritual of writing is a book for bards, and for anyone else using the written word as part of their creative spiritual life. Anyone inclined to write rituals, spells, prayers or meditations will find something they can use in this book. For anyone who wants to use writing as a focus for their spiritual journey, this book is resplendent with tools and ideas. It’s an ideal read for anyone on the Druid path and a natural companion book if you’re doing the OBOD Bardic grade. That Andrew is studying in the Ovate grade with OBOD should come as no surprise!

I’m personally delighted to see a book exploring creativity as ritual process in this way. I’m excited to see a new and innovative addition to contemporary Druid thinking. I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew does next. I feel honoured to have had the chance to be part of his story.

The ritual of writing is available anywhere that sells books. here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ritual-Writing-Spiritual-Practice/dp/1789041538 


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.


Mark Lindsey Earley on Bardic Chairs

Today I have a guest vlog rather than a blog!

I met Mark Earley Lindsey online some years ago through our shared interest in the bard path. He’s been developing a youtube channel and I asked if he wanted to share anything via this blog. Amazingly, he’s started recording a series, which I’m rather excited about. Here’s the first one which is as much an introduction to Mark as to bardic chairs.

 

 

Mark’s Youtube channel is here – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJDe9uAqfePlcc0s8iEB82g – where you can find a wealth of videos on bardic and other issues.

 

While I tend to be writing orientated, I’m always open to guest content in any form.


Inhabiting the song

If you have a decent memory, it’s possibly to learn songs, tunes, poems and stories at a fair speed, and thus to perform them from memory. For some purposes, that’s enough. Storyteller Martin Shaw in his various books talks about a much more involved process. Sitting with the story, living with the story for a year or two, telling it to the landscape it came from, telling it to wildlife and working up to sharing it with a human audience. In this approach, it isn’t enough to know the surface of a tale, you have to climb inside it and enter the heart.

Something changes when you undertake to make a piece part of yourself. I’ve found it with tunes and songs, and I’ve found it with the stories I’ve carried with me though my life. They become points of reference, they develop new meanings, and carry with them the resonance of where I’ve sung or played them, who I was with, and so forth.

I have a whole set of seasonal songs, some of which I’ve been singing at their proper time of year for more than a decade now. The process of singing them year on year builds associations and insights that go beyond what a single year of singing can do. This isn’t necessarily a clever and thinky process, it is more often a body knowledge of song and season, memory and place. Sometimes I come up with new interpretations of songs I’ve known for a long time because life experience shows me something that gives the song a different sense.

Singing with other people changes my experience of a song. This may be practical – different versions of tunes and words, different pacing, unfamiliar harmonies. Another singer may bring new meanings to the song simply by how they use their voice. Sometimes, a different voice changes the feel or even the meaning of a song. There’s also a thing whereby if someone nails a powerful harmony line, a song can come alive for me in an entirely new way.

For me, an important part of the bard path is this process of forming a deeper relationship with the material. It is in part the process of being shaped by the material. The O’Carolan tunes I’ve played since my early teens have settled into me, in ways it is difficult to describe. The songs I’ve sung since childhood are part of my sense of who I am. The occasional songs I write are partly a consequence of what I’ve internalised, and what I need to express that I can’t express with existing material.