General Bardic Studies 1

1.      Indo-European Culture: Discuss in general terms the bardic arts prevalent within a single (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture; explain how those bardic arts fit into that culture and religion. (300-600 words)

In Celtic culture the role of the Bard was an elevated position in the community. It is believed that this position was but a stepping stone on the training path to becoming a Druid, a process that took many years. The Bard was, depending upon which segment of the Celtic culture one looks at, a composer of praise-poetry, a satirist capable of causing blemish, bad luck, or death to the intended target, a storyteller, and mere rhymers. As is indicated by their role as satirists the Bard was imbued with some magical powers which included the art of prophecy.

It was the Bard who, “…memorized the genealogies, history and lore of his people. The Bard would entertain his audience by singing of the heroic deeds…” (McColman, p65) Because at the time the Celts had no written language and all such data was conveyed in an oral fashion the role of the Brad was important in society. It was not that they memorized everyone’s genealogy but mainly those of the king or the chieftains. Nonetheless, such a feat was incredible as anyone who has memorized a speech or poem can attest. “According to a 10th -Century Irish manuscript, a poet was expected to know 250 primary stories and 100 secondary stories.” (McColman & Hinds, chpt. 24, p3)  Add to this repertoire the lore of the people that explained who and what the gods, goddesses and various Nature spirits were and it gives one and insight into how vital a role the Bard played not just for the upper class nobles, but also for the everyday person in this culture.

It should be noted that the tradition of storytelling in Celtic lands still continues on down to today. The shanachies can still be found telling basically the same stories in small communities today that their predecessors did centuries ago. Although many today know that the words are not exact the story remains the same and the storyteller does not claim to be the composer or author of the tale so that all recognize the antiquity and connection to the ancestral people. J. A. McCulloch in his biased work The Religion of the Ancient Celts, published in 1911 tells us in regard to the ‘secrecy’ required by an oral tradition, “…as is usual wherever the success of hymn or prayer depends upon the right use of words and secrecy observed in imparting them to others…” (Chpt 20 p5 on Kindle) He continues to explain that this was all done in secret and passed along in the oral tradition because they would lose their value and the gods would be offended else wise. Of course McCulloch did not have the benefit of discoveries since he published his work yet the basic fact remains that what evidence he had shows how vital the role of the Bard was in preserving and continuing what was known and believed to be of importance to the Celts of that era.

It seems very clear that the Celtic Bard was a preservationist of history, genealogy, poems, songs and stories. He entertained, he advised, he elucidated and he composed. It is of little wonder then that he was held in high esteem in the community and culture and because of his magical abilities to prophecy and ‘curse’ through his use of satire, he was also feared and revered.

 

2.      Genres: Describe four “genres” of bardic arts, at least one of which must be poetry. For each genre, compare and contrast its appearance and/or use in two single (preferably ancient) Indo-European cultures. The two cultures need not be the same for all four genres. (300 words each)

Story Telling

“Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values.” (Wikipedia, storytelling) When telling a story such requirements as accuracy and veracity are relaxed in the interest of making a symbolic point. One of the most important factors in storytelling is the prerogative of Poetic license but unfortunately this sometimes leads to the distortion of the original story, especially when the story is repeated by more people using Poetic License. Because of this distortion it is often hard to accept a story as being in its original form with the original symbolic meaning attached as each storyteller may be emphasizing a different point.

The Celtic culture made great use of stories to carry on the traditions and tales of their great heroes. As is common amongst all peoples, not everyone was gifted with the ability to compose and recite poetry so the ‘common’ member of the culture would repeat stories and thus keep the knowledge alive. This is especially true among the Celts who did not have a written alphabet until the 5th century B.C.E. as such to record their tales of greatness to a large extent and in fact it was only much later in their history (beginning around the late 11th/early 12th century C.E.) that these tales were documented. The Celtic tradition of storytelling continues even today where in Ireland, Scotland and Wales in particular there can still be found storytellers in the more rural areas who can recount the tales from earlier centuries.

Across most of continental Europe legends, folk tales and myth were preserved in an oral tradition. Each culture retold tales of the gods, monsters and heroes. The Hellenic culture used this format to great extent in individual households where children were instructed, either by parents or individual storytellers, so that they understand the functions of the gods, why sacrifices were made, how to behave with honor like the heroes or avoid the dreaded act of hubris and bring about the wrath of the gods. Unfortunately, unlike the Celtic society, the number of storytellers has diminished greatly over the many years and especially in the most recent times as Greece has fully embraced the technological world and sacrificed many old traditions like storytelling.

 

Poetry

Poets, fili, or báirds were much respected and almost revered in the Celtic culture. The held special prestige with Kings and Chieftains and their patronage was much sought after. Apart from being able to entertain by reciting epic tales in poetic form thus preserving the myths, they preserved genealogies, history and other lore of the people. A good poet could transport his listeners to a state of reverie that was obtained in no other manner. They were also often known to create satires regarding individuals who had in some way offended them. These satires were acknowledged as being extremely powerful and devastating.  It was believed that a well-aimed bardic satire, glam dicenn, could raise boils on the face of its target or according to myth could even cause death.

Poetic bards were steeped in the history and traditions of the clans and their country, as well as in the technical requirements of a verse technique that was syllabic and made great use of such familiar devices as assonance, half rhyme and alliteration, among other conventions. These skills were those which could produce the transportations that are mentioned above.

A good poem with proper application can assist learners in maintaining a large amount of information in a small verse. This skill would enable the clan histories or chieftain genealogies to be memorized and recited with ease by an adept poet. This style is still used in some areas today and most of us are familiar with the value of mnemonics to aid in memorization, yet unaware that this was a skill employed by our ancestors with great expertise.

The Hellenic or Greek culture made, perhaps one of the best if not at least longest lasting use of poetic arts in the history of Pagan Europe. Consider the Iliad and the Odyssey works of Homer which provide so much insight into the culture, gods, goddesses, and beliefs that they are still being used today. What student today has not at least heard of the Trojan War and its associated Trojan Horse? Both of which are part of the epic poems of Homer. That these have  endured for so long and have been used as both plays and even in later days made into movies indicates that the style utilized by Homer in his poetic form provided easy manuscripts for producing and directing such performances.

 

Drama

A prime example for the use of Drama in cultures can be found in both the Hellenic and Roman cultures. As mentioned above the Iliad and Odyssey which are poetic forms transfer easily into plays that can and indeed were acted out on stage. Because of their lengthiness sections were and are taken out and adapted for shorter and important emphasis on a particular action. Many of the legends of great heroes and deities are also acted out for public performance such as Oedipus, Castor and Pollax, Romulus and Remus, The Labors of Hercules, and of course the tragedies and comedies that were developed as such under Roman governance throughout its empire. The greatest of these, from memory, are the nine tragedies of Seneca although if my memory serves me correctly these were adaptations from earlier Greek creations.

While the Romans dealt with strictly Tragedy and Comedy, still represented by the two theatrical masks of one smiling and the other scowling or downcast, the Greek divided their works into three which brings into play the magical number that we all know. The Greeks had Tragedy and Comedy and the third arm if you will was that of Satyr. Greek dramatic writers of note that I remember were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and the comic writer Aristophanes.

These plays, either Greek or Roman, although entertaining all told an important moral that was interwoven within the plot. The Greeks especially brought this to the fore with the main character interacting with a Chorus whose main job seemed to be to bring the audiences focus, through their singing or chanting replies to the main character, on the moral that was intended for emphasis. The Romans did away with the chorus so that the actors had to ensure that the main impact of the work was gotten across by their elaborate actions and dialogue emphasis.

 

Music

This bardic form became very closely associated with the poet and in fact the two blended together quite handily as the words of the poet were put to music by the instrumentalist who was thus able to provide a more entertaining version for the audience. The lyrical quality of music makes it easy (most often) for people to listen to and a very competent piece of music will take on a life of its own almost as people will remember it and hum or sing it to themselves very often.

Combining the music with the words of the poet also enabled people to memorize facts about their culture more readily and could be used to disguise aspects of the religion at different periods of history while still maintaining the integrity of the facts. For the Celtic peoples the bodhrán or drum was used extensively for when the warriors went into battle but one can deduce that because of the accessibility and portability it would also have been used for rituals. Although there is no historical references to this affect it is hard to image that such an instrument would be ignored by a culture that had musical inclinations. The bodhrán can be and is used today in ritual partially for the reasons already enumerated. Drums of various sizes, shapes and timbre have been used by nearly every culture at some point in time, mostly for military uses but also to summon communities, provide warning and even communicate messages. It is a natural instrument for stirring people to action because of the vibratory resonance that can simulate the heartbeat.

In the Hellenic culture the lyre was used for the recitations of the Ancient Greeks as an accompaniment. It is of interest that as the peoples moved westward so too did the variations of the lyre. There are references to lyre like instruments in Teutonic, Celtic, Gallic and Scandinavian cultures over the centuries. This obviously was a very popular instrument and again the portability of it probably had a lot to do with the widespread use among the many cultures.

 

3.      Forms/styles: Describe four forms or styles of bardic arts in either ancient or modern times or a combination of each. Include examples of each form. At least one such description should be for a poetic form; the remainder can be for any bardic form or style. (100 words each [examples not to be included in word count])

Poetic

The poetic form in ancient times did not always have a definitive rhyme scheme as we know it today. Often one has to go with the rhythm of the words instead which can be disconcerting to some individuals. One example of this can be found in a traditional Celtic prayer whose rhyme scheme if it can be called such is a,b,b,b,b,b,b,b,b.

Every day I pray to Brigit that

No fire, no flames shall burn me,

No lake, no sea shall drown me,

No sword, no spear shall wound me,

No king, no chief shall insult me,

All the birds shall sing for me,

All the cattle shall low for me,

All the insects buzz for me,

Gods angels shall protect me.

(Asala, p37)

 

Obviously this is from the Christian era but it is reminiscent of much poetry from earlier times also. Often the total effect is lost when the translation of the Gaelic occurs. Not only is the rhythm of the stanza altered but so also is the intent of the words used distorted. In the case of the above example this does not occur because it was obviously written in English, however anyone who has dealt with languages is aware of the nuances that shift when a quotation is taken from its original language and brought into English.

 

Storytelling

Stories that are told almost always have something to do with the gods or goddesses in their theme. It may just be that they talk of the heroic deeds, or as in the following story, they may talk of the benefits that come from trusting in the words that the gods speak to us.

A Tale of Harvest Time

One brilliant spring morning, a farmer was sowing barley seed in the rich limestone soils of Trevalen Downs in south Wales. As he cast his seed to right and left he noticed a fair young woman, dressed as a milkmaid, watching him.

“What are you doing?” asked the maiden as she made her way toward hime, and behind each of her footsteps sprang tiny white flowers and shamrocks.

“Sowing barley,” replied the farmer.

“Ah,” said the strange woman smiling sadly. “But you must know that this seed which you are sowing will decay in the ground.”

“Yes it will,” nodded the farmer, “But it will burst into life again, and grow, and at harvest time I will gather it.”

The mysterious woman looked the farmer in the eye and challenged him. “Do you believe,” she asked, “that that which is dead can come to life?”

“Of course I do,” said the farmer.

“Then go home,” said the stranger quietly, “and get your sickle and cut your corn. For I am life reborn.”

The farmer thought this very strange, but nonetheless he obeyed the instruction and set off for home in order to fetch his sickle. But as he hurried away the beautiful maiden called to him, “If any should come to this place seeking after me, and should ask if I have passed this way, you shall say to them that you have indeed seen me, but in sowing time.”

Later, when the farmer had come back to his barley field, the young maiden was gone. But to his amazement, the barley field was ripe for harvesting – on the very same day that it had been sown.

The farmer set to work with his sickle, and suddenly noticed an approaching band of men. They were a rough and desperate-looking lot, each with his head shaved in the tonsure worn by monks. They accosted him rudely, and their leader asked, “Have you seen a young milkmaid pass this way? You cannot miss her, for her hair is the darkest ebony, her lips like fresh strawberries, and her skin like new cream.”

“I have seen such a maiden, if memory serves correctly. It was when I was sowing my field.” The farmer had answered truthfully, and the men, looking at the ripe barley growing all around them, gave up the chase in despair. They turned and rode back the way they had come. The farmer knew, then, that he had been visited by the Goddess, and when he had finished harvesting his field, he made an offering to her of the last sheaves of his grain.

(Asala, p85)

In this story we find that true to form the goddess visits in disguise as a milkmaid. She challenges the farmer as to his beliefs and then gives him specific instructions which he truthfully follows. By this method she escapes her pursuers, the monks portrayed in a biased fashion, and the farmer benefits with the knowledge of just who it is that he has assisted. Not exactly a heroic tale but one that stresses the importance of following instructions and being truthful at the same time. The story is one that typical of its kind, stresses the importance of how we must follow that which we are told to do and for young people and old it teaches a moral in an entertaining manner.

 

Lyrical

As is often heard at festivals and in the evenings around campfires, a minstrel will strike up with his instrument and within a short time the folk will be singing along in merriment. Songs though, tell a story and occasionally impart a moral. It is believed among the Celtic peoples that barley was the first grain cultivated by the Indo-Europeans. This song John Barleycorn, which can fairly easily be applied to differing melodies, tells of the transformation from grain to the Waters of Life, whiskey.

John Barleycorn

There came three men from out of the west,

Their fortunes for to try,

As they had sworn a solemn oath,

John Barleycorn must die.

They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,

Throwing clods upon his head,

And these three men made a solemn vow,

John Barleycorn was dead.

 

Then they let him lie for a very long time,

‘Till the rain from heaven did fall,

Then little Sir John sprung up his head,

And soon amazed them all.

They let him stand ‘til midsummer

Till he looked both pale and wan,

And little Sir John he growed a long beard

And so became a man.

 

They hired men with scythes so sharp

To cut him off at the knee.

They rolled him and tied him by the waist

And served him most barbarously.

They hired men with pitchforks

Who pricked him in the heart,

And the loader he served him worse than that,

For he bound him to the cart.

 

They wheeled him round and round the field

‘Till they came unto a barn,

And there they made a solemn mow

Of poor John Barleycorn.

They hired men with crab tree sticks

To cut him skin from bone,

And the miller he served him worse than that,

For he ground him between two stones.

 

Here’s little Sir John in a nut-brown bowl,

And brandy in a glass;

And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl

Proved the stronger man at last.

And the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox,

Nor so loudly blow his horn,

And the tinker he can’t mend his kettles or  pots

Without a little Barleycorn.

(Asala, p36)

This is a charming song that lives on in folklore as most good songs tend to do. It is probably very enjoyable while sipping on some whiskey, but nevertheless provides a contrast that we often forget about, enjoyment is necessary to maintain balance in our lives and this is what song often does for us. Of course we can always find chants for ritual but the song provides an opportunity to let loose and for a short time forget the trials of life, the hard work accomplished and the work still to come, just enjoying the camaraderie of simple folk and friends

 

Oratory

Because we spend so much of our time it seems in reciting formal liturgy we tend to ignore or miss how much oratorical skill is needed in order to create the proper atmosphere and achieve desired results. Good oratorical skills can sway masses of people against their own common sense and decency. One does not have to look very far back in history to find examples of this. One striking negative example would be Adolf Hitler, and look what he was able to do just by speaking well. Any of today’s politicians are able to hold their office by being able to address and convince crowds that they are the better candidate. Such skills were evident even among the ancients. There are many great speeches attributed to leaders historically but one that catches my attention repeatedly is that attributed to Taiesin in the sixth-century C.E.

I have been a blue salmon

I have been a wild dog,

I have been a cautious stag,

I have been a deer on the mountain

And a stump of a tree on a shovel

I have been an axe in the hand

A pin in a pair of tongs

A stallion in stud

A bull in anger

A grain in the growing

I have been dead, I have been alive

I am a composer of songs

For I am Taliesin,

(Ellis, p71)

The very rhythm of these lines picks up naturally until Taliesin proclaims who he is. He tells of what he has been, giving examples of might and weakness but the pitch continues to mount until that final moment which just seems to thunderously echo as he says, “For I am Taliesin.” That is of powerful import and such can only be accomplished by a skilled writer and orator. The power that can be generated loses its potential if the deliverer is not able to up to the standard required by not having the oratory skills necessary to deliver the punch when called for.

4.      Bardic Figure: Describe the life, fame and general techniques of a historical or mythical bardic figure in a (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

Taliesin was a renowned bard who is believed to have sung at the courts of at least three Celtic British kings. He obviously had some great acclaim since one of the works attributed to him has him saying of himself, “I am Taliesin, Chief of the Bards of the West, I am acquainted with every tree-branch in the cave of the arch-diviner.” (Ellis p 224) When he was able to confound Arthur’s bard at age 13 he is reported to according to the Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, “…I am old, I am new, I have been dead, I have been alive…I am Taliesin.” (Ellis, p 205) He is acknowledged quite universally as one of the greatest of the bards, living during the sixth century BCE. Taliesin’s legend and poems survive in the Mabinogion which is a collection of 11 poems by various poets regarding myth and lore.

Little is known about Taliesin’s life beyond what can be gleaned from the poems which are considered genuinely historical. According to a tradition often alluded to in medieval Welsh poetry and in Historia Taliesin (“The Tale of Taliesin”, surviving from the 16th century), Taliesin was the foster-son of Elffin ap Gwyddno,

Taliesin began life known as Gwion Bach, a servant to the enchantress Cerridwen. Cerridwen had a beautiful daughter and an ugly son named Morfran (also called Avagddu), whose appearance no magic could cure. Cerridwen sought to give him the gift of wisdom as compensation and cooked a potion granting inspiration (Awen), which had to be constantly stirred and cooked for a year and a day. A blind man named Morda tended the fire beneath the cauldron, while Gwion Bach stirred. The first three drops of liquid from this cauldron would give wisdom; the rest was a fatal poison. Three hot drops spilled onto Gwion’s thumb as he stirred, and he instinctively put his thumb in his mouth, instantly gaining wisdom and knowledge. The first thought that occurred to him was that Cerridwen would kill him, so he ran away. Exhausted, he turned into a single grain of corn and she became a hen and ate him. She became pregnant. She resolved to kill the child, knowing it was Gwion, but when he was born he was so beautiful that she couldn’t, so she threw him in the ocean in a leather bag

The baby was found by Elffin, the son of Gwyddno Garanhir, ‘Lord of Ceredigion’, while fishing for salmon. Surprised at the whiteness of the boy’s brow, he exclaimed “dyma Dal Iesin“, meaning “this is a radiant brow.” who gave him the name Taliesin, meaning “radiant brow”, and who later became a king in Ceredigion, Wales. The legend states that he was then raised at the court in Aberdyfi and that at the age of 13, he visited King Maelgwn Gwynedd, Elffin’s uncle, where Elffin claimed that Taliesin was a better bard than those of the king and that his wife was a better woman than anyone the king had in his court. Maelgwn’s son Rhun went to Elffin’s house to seduce his wife and prove Elffin’s claims weren’t true. Rhun got her drunk and tried to take off her wedding ring to prove her unfaithfulness. But Elffin was unconvinced. Maelgwn then demanded Taliesin prove the claim that he was a better bard than the ones in his court. Taliesin then prophesied the king’s downfall in a flood of stanzas, while the king’s bards could only play with their lips and make baby noises.

It is a shame that there is so little known about Taliesin but that is typical of the Celtic culture where so much was oral rather than written. He is one of the most interesting and mystical of characters partially because there is such scant information and yet what is available gives clear indication of the renown and personality of this great man.

5.      Role of the Modern Bard: Describe the role of the modern-day, Neopagan bard in the context of ritual (100 words), Ar nDraiocht Fein (100 words) and the greater Neopagan community (100 words).

In today’s world the Modern Bard can utilize their skills by creating works of praise to the god, goddesses, spirits, ancestors or others for use in the ritual, these could be either poetic or musical in nature. Because of their skill with words and specific conventions involving a variety of styles their works can be sought after and they themselves can be called on for performance. One further benefit that can easily be overlooked is providing scripts for chants and leading such musical pieces for entrance, focusing or preparation for sacrifice also. As a purely entertaining facet the Bard can provide lyrical music and song for participants as they prepare for the beginning of a ritual or perhaps as they depart from a ritual to help ease them into and out of the Sacred Center or Ritual Space. The role of the Bard should not be overlooked for their ability to purely entertain at festivals and gatherings of the Neopagan community at large. No matter how devout a person may be there is always a time when a little relaxation and fun must be had else like a tightly wound rubber band the person will snap and lose more than is realized.

To elaborate further regarding the role in the context of ritual the Bard can create an atmosphere that will enable participants to journey to the Otherworld in a more tranquil and quicker manner by using the appropriate verbiage, tonation and rhythm in their works. Even in something which some consider simple such as a poem of gratitude, welcome or invocation can, through the use of clever alliteration, assonance and meter be thought provoking and settling while assisting in producing an almost trancelike state. To use their skills with which they have been blessed by the deities in and of itself is a show of gratitude that will be recognized and appreciated. It may seem a simple thing to those who do not compose works but the beauty involved in such work can be laborious requiring time, patience and practice to achieve the necessary beauty.

It is a good thing to belong to the Bardic Guild in ADF if for nothing else than to be inspired by the works of others. However the Bard in ADF will use that inspiration to push them to provide better works that can be inspirational and utilized in Grove or Solitary ritual. All artists, and Bards are indeed artists, create not for fame and recognition but to enhance the world by their works. Such is true in ADF also; composing usable works is just one more manner in which the Bard is being of service to their Grove, their community and the whole of ADF. Being gifted with the ability to  provide deep expression and meaning to what is felt within is something of beauty and can be inspirational, uplifting, trance provoking, soothing and healing depending upon the intent, the target and the goal of the work.

 

6.      Practical Bardry: Compose or find a bardic piece (of any appropriate genre or form) suitable for ADF ritual. Describe the process you used for discovery and/or composition of the piece and how it was (or could be) used effectively in a ritual context. (100 words [text of piece not to be included in word count])

The following is an invocation that I have been working on directed at more of the Gaelic-Celtic segment since that is more specific to my Hearth Culture. I am finding that there is not a lot out there readily available and because of the deep pull that I sense from my personal Ancestors, I feel as if there is more that I can do to bring a remedy to this situation. At first I felt a little confused by the gravitation to Cernunnos because there is so little about him regarding the Celtic area of Britain but as I delved further into research I found more mention of him being found in representations uncovered by archeologists. It seems that he is more of a Pan-Celtic deity though heavier influence and reference is found in Celtic Gaul. Cernunnos has been described as the god of the earth, of animals, psychic abilities and reincarnation among other attributes. It is these qualities that my mind has been focused on relative to Cernunnos hence the wording that I have chosen and the invocation to be a spiritual guide.

This is an invocation that I can see myself or others using prior to a divination. Because of his psychic attribute I feel that there is a strong connection or bridge if you will between this world and the Otherworld where he can advise as to a good course of action to undertake. I have in the past made my own supplications to Cernunnos and have received very favorable results so moving it up a notch and using this invocation in a more formal ritual I see as being beneficial to all within the community.

Great Horned God of my Ancestors,

Hunter, warrior, and poet, conductor of souls,

Lord of the Forest and all wild things,

Embodiment of masculine energy, fertility and power,

Praise and honor I give to thee,

Acknowledging your hand and power in my life,

You who can walk through the thickets and off-path,

And guide us to the trailhead of new adventures,

Your presence empowers and enervates me.

O’ Consort of the Triple Goddess

Lead as I follow you on the intellectual,

Emotional and experiential expeditions

Where the soul is educated in ancient archetypal legends

Of trial, initiation, endurance and enlightenment.

In admiration and adoration I praise you,

Standing in awe of all your glory and majesty.

I call to you to be my guide in all my spiritual endeavors.

Hear me now Cernunnos!

Come and bless me now with your presence!

 

 

 

Bibliography

Asala, Joanne Celtic Folklore Cooking, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN 2009

Ellis, Peter Beresford The Druids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1995

–           Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, ABC-CLIO Inc, Santa Barbara, California 1992

McColman, Carl The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism, Alpha Books, New York, NY 2002

McColman, Carl & Hinds, Kathryn Magic of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses, New Page Books,  Franklin Lakes, NJ 2005 (on Kindle)

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storytelling

 

 

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