Tag Archives: Bardic

Not a proper job

Many regularly employed folk view self employment as being somehow less than a proper job. If you’re a stay at home mum, you are even more likely to find people perceive what you do as a ‘hobby job’. (Yes, people have said that to my face.) If your work is creative, you will again find the regularly employed view this as an easy option, not real work at all and a bit of a skive. For anyone whose bardic life is their employment or who works as a Druid in some way, this is going to be an occupational hazard. So, let’s do some mythbusting.

Being self employed is the easy option. No. Not only are you doing the work, you’re selling the work, finding the clients, keeping the books, you’re the receptionist, and the creative director, and you sink or swim entirely on your own efforts. If you are sick or take a holiday, you do not get paid.

Working from home means staying in your pyjamas and not putting in as many hours as everyone else. Not so. Working from home frequently requires you to leave the home. You may have a shorter commute but you have no one to share the coffee break with. Also, at the end of the working day, you do not get to leave it all behind. In practise, self employed people often work longer hours than regularly employed people.

It’s fun, you get it easy. Yes, being creative is fun. Learning songs is fun, writing poems and books is fun, painting pictures is fun. Except, your income depends entirely on your creativity. Most jobs if you have an off day, you’ll still get paid. Creativity depends on inspiration, and that’s tricksy. Many creative people live in fear of block. Also, the creative bit is only part of the job, you still have to research, practice, get it out there, sell it, promote etc. There’s a great deal of graft involved in being professionally creative, and not much certainty. Oh, and mortgage companies eye you with suspicion.

You get to stay home with your kids. You’re so lucky. I wish I could do that. Yes I do, and I am very grateful. I also get to return to work again after the kid has gone to bed, and to work before he goes to school. Stay at home mums often carry the bulk of the housework as well. That can mean working some very long days. It is a choice with many merits, but not a cop-out.

There are many pluses – the freedom to pick when to work (kind of) the being able to fit in around offspring, doing things I love (at least some of the time) being answerable only to me (and the tax man) occasionally being able to work from the duvet (when I am too sick to get up and work properly dressed). You get the idea. I like the fact that I fail or succeed based entirely on the quality and cleverness of what I do. I like that I get to live my own life, take time off when I want it, work when I feel inspired. Sometimes I work until midnight. Sometimes I start at five in the morning. I like being able to care for my home and family around having a job. But what I really, really don’t enjoy are the many people who disparage, devalue and otherwise put me down because I’m not someone else’s wage slave.

The models of working that serve big corporations and the fat cats running them do not serve the people who work there. They seldom serve the environment, or families. The regularly employed have to fight for work life balance, endure their commutes, their lack of control over their own work lives and the stress all of this brings them. At least my stresses are largely my own to manage, and that’s a huge advantage. Smaller, more locally focused business are far better socially and environmentally. That means self employed folk. Self employment and the flexibility it brings is far more realistic for those who are also carers, or unwell themselves. The system we have is biased against it and unsupportive of it. That needs to change.

Druidry in Winter

On Facebook, Bobcat asked everyone, “how do your religious, spiritual or secular beliefs guide you to live through the dark (in the northern hemisphere) months of November and December, to engage (or not) with the festivals of late December and early January, and walk the days to the first whispers of new life?”

It needs a longer answer than facebook wall posts allow, and I thought it worth exploring so, here goes

I’ve never lived with a full selection of modern comforts – critically central heating, so I experience the winter, and the cold, very intensely. Feet are my primary mode of transport, so ice and snow impact heavily upon me. The realities of my life mean I am outside for significant amounts of time on a daily basis, so I experience the changes in light and temperature changes very directly. Those physical experiences contribute to my spiritual understanding of winter in its ongoing effects upon me. I have fell runners’ crampons to help me walk, and every day at the moment I celebrate the wonder of human invention. Those crampons keep me on my feet and give me freedom where before had only fear and difficulty.

My spirituality engenders in me an acceptance of what is. I don’t feel any need to fight against the world or resent what it is currently doing. Instead I try to flow with it. I don’t go out at night much in winter. I wear a lot of jumpers. I can’t hold this house at comfortable heat levels for ‘normal’ living. I have to work with the winter and my own body and all the tools I can muster to deal with the cold. There is also a spiritual underpinning to my seeking the beauty in all things and being intent on perceiving what is around me. So although I’m freezing and walking with chilblains hurts, I’m still being enchanted by the beauty of ice crystals on trees and spiderwebs, the mystery of mist, the wonder of sunlight touching snow dusted hills.

The bardic calling and the call to service tend to combine at this time of year and send me out singing, bringing music and what cheer I can to people who need it. I sang in a prison one year. This year there will be old people’s homes. I’ve sung carols in the street raising money for charity before now. In the darker days, community, human contact, music and storytelling seem more important than ever. The human need for light, warmth and company in response to the cold and dark is a very basic one. Commercialmass celebrations (thank you bish for the perfect term) feed on those needs without, I think, actually answering them. So I feel strongly motivated to honour connections, relationships and community events at this time of year, whilst trying very hard not to get sucked into the commercial thing. I end up singing a lot of songs about the birth of Christ, which feels odd as a Druid, BUT, it’s what the people I’ll be singing to want to hear, it’s what I’m being called upon to do, and answering the need is more important than the religious element. There will be times and places to sing my own songs for this season.

I will celebrate the turning of the year – again because for me that’s primarily a celebration of human contact. I stopped making new year’s resolutions a while ago. I realised it was just a seasonal excuse to beat myself up -I was reliably resolving to become thin and more acceptable to the people around me. I will try harder. Give more. Ask for less. I don’t make that kind of promise any more, not least because I no longer feel obliged to crush and negate myself for the convenience of those around me. Instead I’ll take the opportunity to review my life and contemplate where I am going, which results in dedications. I already know what dedication I’ll be making this year, and will share that when the time comes.

There are signs of spring already – the trees make their leaf buds in winter, the catkins are there ready to open. I’ll watch the slow shift from day to day, welcome the changes, honouring the flows as I experience them, and greeting the return of warmth with relief and gratitude. There will be spring cleaning, and clothes shopping, because this year has stripped flesh from my bones like no other.

The Way of Awen

Early this summer I had the pleasure of reading Kevan Manwaring’s latest work The Way of Awen. It’s a book I very much recommend for anyone on, or drawn to the bardic path. You can read my full review of the book here.

In Druidry, and on the Bardic path (which can be the same thing, but aren’t always!) awen is sacred inspiration. Nothing is more important to a bard that inspiration. For any creative person, the energy that keeps us creating is a most essential thing. How we find it and work with it is highly individual. Druidry as a tradition holds inspiration as sacred and vitally important – not just for bardic work, but for ritual, relationship, and life as a whole.

Kevin has coined the gorgeous term ‘Way of Awen’ to denote a life that is devoted to following the call of inspiration. His book maps out his own personal journeys along this path and is a very heartening read for anyone called in the same direction.

I found the book and the term deeply resonant. About eighteen months ago I took a pledge ‘To love, serve and trust all that I can, as long as I can, wherever the awen takes me.’ It is an oath that has totally changed the shape of my life, taking me to my soul mate in America, and helping me see the aspects of my life that were not serving inspiration, nor were nourishing of my creativity. As I worked with the oath I had taken, I came to understand that where I find inspiration, I have a duty of care and to return something for what I am given, but where there is no inspiration, there is no duty for me. Realising that I am not obliged to do things that do not serve the call of the awen, was a big step onto this path for me. 

I’ve been through some radical upheavals this summer, but it’s put me in a place where I am both more able and more inclined to live creatively. I want to make creativity and inspiration the core of my life. I’m not just talking in the writing and the big, obvious expressions, either. But to have everything I do and every choice consciously informed by the flow of awen. There’s not much I do that isn’t consciously considered, but this is an act of moving deeper into my own values and creativity, and trying to bring that numinious awen light into everything I undertake.

I’ve talked with Kevan about my desire to work with his concept and blog about the process, and he’s been tremendously encouraging. So, this is a topic I shall be dipping into repeatedly, as I examine my life and look at how I work. I end today with a sweeping bow to Kevan, and offer my thanks for his wordcraft, vision and wonderful imagination.

Stories in the Land

There’s a strong relationship between land and story, or at least, there should be. For one, stories happen somewhere, even long, long ago and far, far away is somewhere. Knowing the stories of a landscape you are in enriches the experience of being there, and knowing the landscape enriches the story. From a bardic perspective, this is definitely something to bear in mind. Crafting stories, exploring place and history, and seeking inspiration should all include a sense of land. Everything happens somewhere.

There are stories that exist purely to explain a feature of the land – often supernatural creation stories for notable features. Silbury hill was made by a man who lugged a bag of shoes there as part of a ruse to keep the devil out of Salisbuy. Some stories are born of place names – making Bromsgrove the grave of the giant Brom. Others focus on a feature – as in the story that sitting and Caedr Idris all night will make you into a poet, or a madman. It’s a way of making sense of the world as we find it.

Some land stories come from actual history – battles, heroic ventures, and events that changed things. Bosworth field and Hastings have their stories, and people visit them because of the history. Sometimes those true tales blur into myth. Tintagel becomes part of the Arthur myth, Joseph of Aremathea gets tied up with Glastonbury. We place stories in the land, and in so doing own the myths for our own part of the country. King Arthur crops up just about everywhere in the UK. By placing a story ‘here’ we make it our own. Local history gives colour to where you live, a sense of connection with the past, a way of relating to ancestors of place.

Some tales grow out of misconceptions. There’s a hill near where I am just now, called ‘Smallpox Hill’ because there was an isolation hospital on it. On the side, you can see several distinctive raised mounds. Local legend has it that these are mass graves for all the people who died. More likely these are the remains of early Norman rabbit warrens. People fit features together to make coherent tales.

We make up stories about what we see – I’ve just shown my son how to interpret some of the hills as a pair of sleeping dragons. We’ve done that other places too, improvising our own myths. Where such things catch on, they become part of the narrative of a place.

Modern writers add to the richness of the stories. Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman works with the Long Man of Willmington. Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen works with and adds to older myths. Dr Who has a habit of using iconic UK landmarks as settings, adding in an alien twist, making new legends. There are many more such examples. It’s fun. It adds to the story, helps to draw the audience in.

Some places are richer in stories than others. Folklore can be hunted for. If there’s a shortage, new tales can be made to fill in the gaps. I think, in fact, that new tales should be made. If a land is impoverished, storywise, we ought to create new ones. We can also add in our own stories, taken from our families or our own time in a place. Sharing those tales with others is a sweet thing to do. These days people move round a lot, but it is good to go back, to remember, and to tell the tales.

Telling the stories is an honouring of place, and of ancestors, it connects us with the land and lends extra beauty and resonance to our tales.

Celts and exile

In Celtic cultures, exile was considered a worse punnishment than death, reserved for those who had committed unpardonable offences. For us moderns, exile is less of an issue. If we are thrown out of one community or banished from our families, it is much easier to start over somewhere else. Exile is not the source of shame it once was. However, it still happens. Groups of people can choose to cast out and entirely reject another, for all kinds of reasons. So, these are the concepts I was playing with when I wrote this poem.


You have crossed the line

Breaking relationship with dishonour

Showing no remorse.

Duty is to those who return it,

Loyal to those who remain true,

Trust only where faith is given.

Your speech lacks mindfulness

Actions without heart and compassion

There is a rot in your soul.

We are careful of each other

But you have chosen to be outside

And broken the bonds of tribe.

Cruelty does not beget kindness.

Betrayal will not earn affection

These are laws of nature.

If fear and jealousy give reason

We see no merit in those, no honour.

You had an obligation to do better.

We are not responsible for your fall

For your choice to be unworthy,

We merely release you from sundered ties.

You will go forth an exile.

We will not look upon you again,

Nor shall your name be spoken.

Henceforth you are an irrelevance

The path you chose awaits you,

And we shall see you no more.

Happiness and Sessions

Back to the ‘how to live a good life’ theme. I spent the weekend at Alcester folk festival, which was lovely. My preference at such festivals is to find people to play with – which I duly did. It’s one of the best cures for stress and melancholy (for me) and I got to thinking about why. So, while the ‘sessions’ element may not be applicable to everyone, there might be some theory here that works in other contexts.

A good session involves a bunch of capable musicians who do not usually play together and are not wholly familiar with each other’s repertoires. You need a good mix of singers (ideally with guitars or other solid, underpinning instruments) and a selection of other things to wrap around that – perhaps a double bass, a squeezebox or a fiddle, an extra guitar perhaps or some percussionists. For best effect, small is good – half a dozen or so participants so that everyone can hear each other and one person singing won’t be drowned out.

People take it in turns to lead a song, and everyone else piles in. It’s absolutely in the moment and frequently not everyone will know the song, which is part of what make it exciting. Everyone has to pay close attention to everyone else, improvise, respond. And when it works it is the most incredible rush. I had the pleasure of doing ‘Lady Eleanor’ on Saturday – a lovely couple leading it and doing vocals, Gerry McNiece jamming in with a guitar, Katrina (who plays with him) on mandolin and me (I do not habitually play with any of them) on fiddle. And we sounded like we’d rehearsed that one. It was a real lift the hairs on your arms kind of experience. Music, when it’s like that, is pure magic.

So here are the things I think underpin something like that. It’s undertaken passionately and wholeheartedly by those involved. That creates intensity and a certain kind of energy. Not everyone know what they’re going to do, or what others might do, so it’s always fresh and surprising, even with a familiar song, always new. It takes serious focus on all the other plays and total immersion in the music. Out of that profound sharing, comes something beautiful and unpredictable. Picking up the druid hat for a moment, I can see some definite parallels with unscripted ritual.

Creating something beautiful is always going to lift spirits. That is, I think, very much the nature both of creativity and beauty. Sharing in an intense and open way with other people is another thing that is good for the soul. The incredible degree of concentration involved is also important. In a session, co-operating with other musicians on material that isn’t familiar to everyone, takes every last drop of attention. There is no room to think about anything else. No space to worry, mope or nurse melancholy thoughts. There is only now, this note, this chord, and the shape of the next one already forming, and trying to follow what half a dozen other people might be posted to do. It is total escape from self, and in hard times, that is a very special kind of freedom. Letting go for a while makes it easier to come back with some kind of perspective and the calmness from which to deal with things.

Any total immersion activity has the scope to offer that. Different people will lose themselves in different things. I think where the immersion is in something social, encouraging you to reach out to others, that has added advantages for people who are heart sick and weary. It’s a very healing experience. You don’t have to talk to anyone, or explain. All I need to be in a session, is a musical instrument. “Can I join you” is about all it takes, and just that little bit of nerve to step up and ask. It’s both deeply personal in all the good ways, and entirely impersonal in some very productive ways.

Structure in Poetry

Most people who study poetry a bit are exposed to some of the basic forms – sonnets, haiku, limericks and ballad form are usual. Most popular songs are in something resembling ballad form, where the second line rhymes with the forth and line lengths are about even. Those who ventured further may have encountered meter, iambic pentameters, cinqain and other obscurities.

When it comes to writing poetry, the vast majority of people favour ‘free verse’ – because structure is difficult, often sounds forced and gets dull. Free verse can be incredibly beautiful, where the loose structure is shaped to support meaning and atmosphere.

However, structure does have merits. To say something meaningful within the restraints of haiku is an interesting challenge. Whether you want to use structure in your final pieces or not, I recommend exploring it, because it will teach you to write in different ways, and that’s an asset, however you then deploy it.

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind with poetry structures, is that they are not like laws of nature. Someone made them up, and they have gained credibility and popularity through use. Modern western writing favours syllable beats in rhythmic lines, with rhymes at the ends of lines. Haiku is all about the number of syllables in each line, and should contain a seasonal reference. It’s a totally different way of thinking, and tends to be non-rhythmical. Cinquain is American, and is about the number of words in each line, stanzas consisting of five lines, which gives the name. Again, rhythm plays no part here. Celtic poetry and Norse poetry had radically different structures involving internal rhymes and assonance and alliteration. The best descriptions I’ve found of these forms so far are in Robin Herne’s book ‘Old Gods New Druids’.

Playing with other people’s rules and structures is interesting. However, it is also possible to create your own structure. You can use the number of lines in a verse, rhyme, rhythm, syllables, numbers of words, and alliteration to create all kinds of patterns and structures.

 Why bother?

I could take

The lines of prose I am writing

And lay them out like a poem

Call them a poem

And who is going to argue with me?

But really, aside from the capital letters and line breaks, that’s no different to writing prose. Surely, poetry should be more than prose with an eccentric layout? The poetry I love most makes each word work harder than they would in a sentence. It pares out a lot of the grammar and filler words, focusing on essentials. Doing so makes for more immediate and dramatic writing. The rigours of using a structure give you a tool for cutting down the words. To fit the syllable pattern, the meter or the rhyme, you have to do something other than prose with a funny layout. That’s why structure is useful. It takes you away from other forms of writing and demands a different approach to the words. Then things can get a lot more interesting.