bard

Bardic Song of the Month

April, 2016

This month’s Bardic Song is called “Wheel of the Year Turns”.

In our Coven, we have a 24″ diameter Circle made of plywood. It has all eight Sabbats listed on it as pieces of pie. When we celebrate a Sabbat, we experience the changes in the year. We turn the Wheel to acknowledge the changes. As we turn the Wheel one turn Deosil, we remember the path we walked and the new path ahead.
Somebody gets to turn the Wheel as the rest of the participants chant the poem. This year, I put the chant to a song.
As much as possible, all songs are created as a single page in pdf format for easier printing and reading. If you play the piano, these songs are simple enough to pick up right away.
 Wheel_Of_The_Year_Turns
If you don’t have the musical inclination, an MP3 file is attached for easier listening and learning.

Bardic Song of the Month – “Triple Moon Song”

December, 2015

This month’s Bardic Song is called “Triple Moon Song”. It is a simple tune that has 4 lines for easier repetition and the melody line is rather easy.

When I initially created this song, I wanted a song the represented all three of the common Moon phases, but you only need to sing the one line during its phase. Thus, during a New Moon, you only need to sing that one line repeatedly – likewise with the other lines.
As much as possible, all songs are created as a single page in pdf format for easier printing and reading. If you play the piano, these songs are simple enough to pick up right away.
If you don’t have the musical inclination, an mp3 file is attached for easier listening and learning.
All songs for this and future monthly article are published by the Blue Ridge Mountain Clan by Lord Fairy Bottom Educifer aka Wayne Minich, II. Any similarities to other songs is coincidental and not intentional.

Bardic Song of the Month

April, 2015

This month’s Bardic Song is called “Spirit Song”. It is a simple tune that has 4 lines for easier repetition and the melody line is rather easy. It can be used to call Spirit as you see fit – replacing the word “Spirit” with the name of a Deity will also work. You might have play with syllables and timing, though.
This song came to me initially in a dream. I used to hum it all the time and never had words for it. Several years went by (and I was still humming it), and the words just came to me in a flash. When you read the words, there is poetic justice for Spirit coming to you, entering you, flowing thru you and staying with you for Eternity. 
As much as possible, all songs are created as a single page in pdf format for easier printing and reading. If you play the piano, these songs are simple enough to pick up right away. If you don’t have the musical inclination, an MP3 file is attached for easier listening and learning.
All songs for this and future monthly articles are published by the Blue Ridge Mountain Clan by Lord Fairy Bottom Educifer aka Wayne Minich, II. Any similarities to other songs is coincidental and not intentional.

Song of a Daily Druid

October, 2009

All poetry begins in the dark. In the cave of memory, the new poet lies awake, wrapped in the simple, loose-fitting shift of a sleeper, listening to the echoes of her own breathing and the whine of her own blood in her ears, the only sounds. The close stone walls are damp with her exhalations, sighs of longing or uncertainty, muffled sobs or murmured joys. She can see nothing in the darkness, not even the low ceiling above, but in that senseless obscurity her memory moves, conjuring up fleeting images of apricots, water spigots and firelight, half-heard sounds of bare running feet or the rubbing of tree branches against brick. Sometimes the dank, unmoving air of the cave seems to bring her scents of autumn leaves rotting in the riverbed, or tangled woolen yarn, or muddy earth turned over and mixed with the smell of blossoms. These memories are in her, and they are the beginning of her art. She must seek out the language—its rhythms and articulations, the shapes of its vowels, the teeth and tongue of its consonant stops—seek out the words that evoke and mirror sensation.

In the unlit recesses of the cave, her mind works as her body lies still, remembering. The small round stone rests heavy on her belly—she can feel its weight through the soft fabric and the way it rocks gently as each breath lifts it and lets it drop again. Her mind travels the stumbling, sometimes frantic pathways of the past, aflame with inspiration; she brings it back again, turns it over and over to the weight and solidity of the stone. Fire in the head, anchored in the earth. When the night is over, the waking world will come for her. She must find a way to bring poetry into being, to carry it forward, to bring it from the empty depths of the cave into the morning sunlight. To carry it like the stone: concrete, real, substantive in her hands. Light moves behind her eyes, and the stone wobbles on her solar plexus. All poetry begins this way: an image in the mind, a feeling in the gut, a moment in the dark.

Bardic Practice, Then & Now

Those walking the path of Druidry today can learn a great deal from the practice of poetry, both ancient and modern. The two central aspects of poetic (and indeed all artistic) work, imagination and creativity, hold a significance far deeper than they are usually attributed by our contemporary society concerned primarily with the zero-sum equations of producing and consuming. Far from the mere fanciful cleverness of a child or the amusing eccentricity of a starving artist, they have a potency and power that moves deeply through every person and can unlock our sacred relationship to the larger world. Creativity and imagination—often mistaken as one and the same, but each with its own unique role to play—are the means by which we engage with and shape our world. As a spiritual tradition grounded in the sacredness of nature, the physicality of its movements and moods, Druidry locates a sense of the poetic at the very heart of its worldview. We learn this poetic sense partly from the study of ancient bardic tradition, but just as importantly from our endeavors to create meaningful work of our own.

In poetry, value is both more substantial, and more elusive, than the kind of material wealth we are taught to cultivate by modern Western society. It cannot be counted up and traded away, and yet it springs again and again from the most mundane spaces and experiences. This is an expression of the inherent creativity of life, the continuous coming-into-being that is always occurring around us and can always be rediscovered at any moment. Part of our own creative capacity is the ability to experience the present moment fully and freely, giving ourselves permission to feel passion, fury, fear and joy like tides of energy washing through us, but also allowing ourselves the silence and space we need to listen, to notice the small details hidden within the larger picture. When we engage deeply with the world, the world responds with new diversity and variation, and we in turn cultivate new ways of experiencing the world in a creative, engaged exchange. Both intense feeling and quiet observation find a place in the well-crafted verse, held together in a tension that lifts the piece beyond the literalness of prose and creates ever-new meanings for itself as a poetic work.

Because of this tension between intimacy and distance, between intensity and calm, William Wordsworth once said that poetry was “the outcome of emotions recollected in tranquility.” The ancient bards of Celtic tradition may have had a similar insight. Records of shamanic-like “caves of initiation” preserve the memory of a time when poets and storytellers learned their arts through long hours of intense study, followed by a retreat into silence and darkness. For these students, learning and memorizing the familiar lore of the tribe provided countless opportunities for creativity, as each retelling and recollection reverberated and evolved into ever more meaningful understanding. Some of these verses held within their lines unique insights into the interconnection of life and spirit; others recorded and passed on the knowledge of bloodlines, or the praise or mockery of those in power. In the dark and silent caves, students had to learn how to engage with their art creatively, allowing these meanings to develop and flow into new forms.

To do this, however, they also had to develop the strength and flexibility of their imaginative faculty. Laying quietly as they rehearsed the stories and songs they had been taught, they strived to provoke the sensations and emotions of these events and relationships, learning the patterns and limits of language and how these can be worked to stir the senses and invoke the sacred. Eventually, they would compose their own poetry in that noiseless night, working with their memories of the world, of nature and of the past (and sometimes their premonitions of the future as well). In a non-literate culture that prized oral performance and passed down tales of heroism and records of lineage through song and story, bards carried the knowledge and history of their tribes forward for future generations in a great corpus of learned verse. But a truly skilled bard was also expected to possess a mastery of language and a sharpened mind that enabled him to compose and recite new pieces without setting the sacred work to writing. Sometimes the bard retreated to the dark cave of initiation and memory to compose these. On other occasions, he would try his skills in contests against other poets, improvising as he drew spontaneously on both his experience with composition and the energies of the gathered audience and the present moment.

When we delve deeply into story and song ourselves, we too discover their vital meaingfulness: they communicate, carried across the borders between past and present, between the poet and the reader or listener, without being diminished or lost. This is part of poetry’s imaginative quality, too. An effective poem gives itself as freely as the scent of apple blossoms or the sight of a sunset to anyone willing to listen. In poetry, we capture the fleeting abstraction of thought and ideas in the concrete forms of imagery and sensory details, things that the imagination can grasp with strength and to which it responds with enthusiasm and mutual emotion. A poet who understands the nature of her own mind, the rhythms and weather of her own inner landscape, can work with this knowledge to fire the imagination of others, sharing a sensual experience through language that augments the awareness of the listener and the bond that forms between them. The meaning of poetry expands and evolves as it is shared.

Poetics of Spiritual Living

On the Druid path, we find echoes of poetry in every aspect of our spiritual lives. Imagination and creativity work together to lend vitality and relevance to our work as we seek the meaningful and sacred in everyday experiences as well as those precious moments of ritual and meditation.

When we understand the power of poetry to connect us to the universal, the realm of ideas and ideals through small particular details and carefully chosen words, we also begin to understand the role that imagination plays in our grasp of sacred Spirit dwelling within the physical, natural world. Our imagination allows us to remember and relive the experiences of our senses: the blessed fragrance of fresh cider being poured, or the color of light glinting off old grass as it bends in a wind we too can feel pressing and slipping around our bodies, or the sound of a screech owl in a dark wood. These memories are always available to us, and so we use our imaginations not only to evoke such experiences within meditation and during ritual—as we might recall them within the lines of a poem to paint a scene or provoke a certain feeling—but also to remind ourselves to watch and listen, to value our physical senses as a way of connecting to numinous spirit. Through imagination, and poetry, we learn to always anchor ourselves deeply in the present moment.

Creativity must also play a role in our spiritual lives, however, for the Druid path is not merely one of passive appreciation. In Druidry, it is not enough simply to sit quietly and lose ourselves in our own reveries. Like the poet in the cave of memory and initiation, we must find a way to bring our understanding and reverence from the darkness of dream and desire into the light of conscious day where it can be fully realized, made manifest and shared with others. We recognize this creative process occurring everywhere in the natural world, where the life-energy of the three elements expresses itself in diverse ways. We can’t help but long to participate ourselves in the active process of creativity, moving and shaping our world guided by our imaginations and our gratitude. We write poems, sing stories to each other, play our hands and breath over musical instruments, or take up the paintbrush, the knitting needle or the cook’s measuring cups and paring knives.

Sometimes we spend time in meditation, attending to the patterns of creativity and destruction in the world around us, and these teach us new ways of understanding the universe. When we struggle to express our knowledge through words or evoke a sense of sacred presence through spoken or written language, this too is an act of creativity and not one of restriction or disrespect. We do not damage or restrict the reality of Spirit when we try to speak of it through poetry and story, even if we feel we have only touched one small part of an ineffable whole. All forms of creativity are inherently limited because they require a medium, a material for their expression; yet when creativity is paired with imagination, these limits become the very means of expressing and experiencing the sacredness inherent in nature.

Just as a single shaft of sunlight may be an experience of deity, our poetry and music, our art and ritual, and our lives themselves are unique particulars, beautiful and evocative in their limits, which hold within them the expression and experience of the numinous divine. Druidry recognizes and celebrates the individual, and the unique ways each of us experiences the world and responds creatively to bring life and meaning to our imaginings. No two love poems will ever be exactly alike, and no two Druids will choose to engage in the life of spirit in exactly the same way. Practicing poetry as part of our spiritual journey encourages us to explore our individuality, to value the uniqueness in ourselves and others, to seek out ways we can participate freely and fully in the world—in short, to listen closely to our own soul-song and discover how we might sing it with a voice that is sweet and true.

Song of a Daily Druid

September, 2009

Song of a Daily Druid: How I Found a Home in Druidry

In the beginning, I was a wild child, a woodsy child, a child who could concentrate all of my attention on holding perfectly still so as not to startle the robin in the grass. I could disappear into the tense air of rapt attention, forget my own little body completely as my eyes widened and my breath stilled. Once, the robin’s twitching eyes turned towards me, and I thought I heard it whisper… Cheer-up. Cheer-up, calmly, almost with amusement, you know, I can see you.

That was when I was a very little girl. As sometimes happens, eventually I grew up and stopped listening so closely to the world, to the landscape and the wilderness. It would be years before I rediscovered the rapture of stilled breath or the ecstasy, the going-out-ness, of listening closely and attending with reverence to sacred nature. Druidry would restore my sense of connection and intimacy with the natural world; it would open me to new ways of living with creativity and wisdom, playfulness and respect; it would bring me home to myself, to this person dwelling in my own particular body in my own particular place in a vast landscape infused with Spirit. Druidry was a home-coming for me, as so many Pagans and Witches before me have described their own rediscoveries. One day, I would look into the eyes of the world and discover–like some startled scullery maid or the only daughter of a widower–my real destiny wearing a strange new face, a face of beauty and dignity, but smiling at me with the same old familiar affection.

But first, I had to learn about poetry.

Way of the Bard

As an angst-ridden teenage girl, I began to write. A lot. Falling in love for the first time, the tension of the unnoticed witness–the tension I had first learned from the robin–returned in full force as I gazed longingly after my latest crush. Details became sacred; the color of an iris beneath eyelashes, the upward twitch of a sardonic smile, warm sunlight accentuating the heat of a blush, the smell of newly-washed clothes and teenage-boy-smell lurking underneath. Relationships, not just romantic love but connections of all kinds, became things of mystery and awe. How things were in themselves, and how they fit together. The world took on a new vitality and importance. Teenage love made it hard to figure out, difficult to navigate. I read poetry the way someone drowning grasps at complex molecular equations about the buoyancy of water. I was learning about the nature of the unexpected, the curious and the strange. Juxtaposition and concrete details revealed the power of words fitting next to each other on the page, evoking memory and sensation separated by space and pause and breath.

I read Mark Strand’s poem, “Keeping Things Whole,” the first lines: In a field, I am the absence of field. There was the field, and there was myself; I thought I knew, as a child, what that was like. I thought that was all there was to it. Then suddenly, there was something else that was neither the field, nor me as I had known myself up until then. There was absence. Absence was a thing, too, a kind of presence. poetry taught me about the invisible, the barely-there spirit that filtered through all things, the life-force that bound up all our edges and clung like spittle, sweat and mud to our beings. Druidry has words for this: animism, and pantheism. The belief that divinity is imminent within the material world, that spirit is like water and breath that pervades all of reality from the highest reaches lost in cloud to the mundane vulgarity of homework and screaming matches with parents. One day Druidry would teach me these words, but first I learned from experience: Wherever I am, I am what is missing.

And from the writing I’ve learned about metaphor: how one thing can embrace both is and is not, how two things held in tension create a third that is not either, not both, but something new. I was becoming something new then, too, holding a past and a future in suspension within the present, within my own adolescent presence of mind and body. Druidry would teach me about triads, the sacredness and mystery of the third. I would learn to recognize the dualism so prevalent in our culture, where spirit and matter were always divided and distinct, kept in isolation as though belonging to two different realms. From out of an either/or situation, a war between opposites, I would learn to find a third that could unite and transcend them.

But long before I’d heard of these things in Druidry, I worked my way through poetry, studying carefully, creating new poems from familiar words, new worlds from common images and everyday details. I didn’t know it then, but I had already begun along the Druid Way. I was learning what the bards and poets of my ancestors had learned. I was learning to value the individual, the particular, and to find in it a path to the community, and a glimpse of the universal. In Druidry, the first phase of training is that of the Bard–the keeper of history, the story-teller, the verse-maker of praise and satire. The Bard holds past and future in tension, bringing both powerfully and fully into the present, the sacred here-now of story and song. Out of memory and anticipation, loss and hope, something new is created. The Bard embodies the magic of imagination–working with words and images, working with matter as a blessed medium. And the Bard embodies the power of creativity–engaging with the here-now with playfulness and freedom to make something new in the world.

Way of the Ovate

The deeper I sank into the practice of poetry, the more often I found myself stumbling again and again across a sense of vastness and openness. If poetry taught me first about triads, triads soon taught me about space and the sacred sense of place. As any mathematician can tell you, two points make a line, but three define a plane. Discovering that third point, the point of divergence and difference, is the discovery of landscape.

In his poem Mark Strand wrote, we all have reasons for moving. Within space, movement becomes possible. Dance becomes possible. Without space, we are stuck, trudging back and forth along the same dull old line. Without a sense of space, we know only what logic can tell us, the conclusions all bound up and inevitable within the premises. We know only what cause gives rise to what effect along the line of controllable variables and repeatable experimentation. Without room to move–around, over, under, through–every limit of the material world feels like a restriction or imposition, an impediment to freedom. Without a sacred sense of space, I marched along my life-line from past to present into the receding future, never glancing around, excelling in grade school to place well in high school honors classes, excelling in high school to boost my college applications. When I finally made it to college, I made a mistake, I faltered along the line: I chose to major in a subject that, people joked nervously, had no practical future. I studied religion and philosophy.

I could have lost my footing, then, if it hadn’t been for my grounding in poetry. I could have slipped away into abstraction, the expansive mental landscape of exacting rational thought, where I might run myself ragged from one fascinating theory to another until I was left only with the exhausted Cartesian formula: cogito ergo sum. I could have agreed with the dualists who insisted that the only real freedom was freedom of the mind, cut loose from the restrictions of the material world. Instead, I grew very quiet while the storm of thought and knowledge raged thrillingly around me. And as I grew quiet, things around me began to happen. One day, I sat on a blanket in a field, mourning my well-adjusted-middle-class-white-girl state of being, a status that defined me as “normal,” as having no unique insight to contribute to the world unless I came down with cancer or backpacked across Europe. Why doesn’t crap ever happen to me? I was thinking–when it did. Out of the vast space of open sky, a robin let a perfect globule of white-speckled excrement fall; let it fall through a hundred yards of still air to land, thick and gooey, in the middle of my forehead on my third eye, dripping down my temples like a blessing. My spirit leapt up along the line of that fall and there high above, my still little body far below on the blanket in the grass, I discovered space, and began to laugh.

Space gives us room to move, room to dance, room to navigate life’s difficulties. Without space, limit is wretched. But without limit, space would be overcome, would be bloated and useless. Without limit, we would all be pressed flat against the ideals of heaven, or reason, all the time. But landscape is full of limit–for limit is just the natural expression of form, of matter, which is sacred. Druidry would teach me this sacredness explicitly, celebrating the uniqueness and individuality of all life, the inspiration of physical being. From Druidry, I would learn of the three realms–the realms of land, sea and sky–and the three elements–nwyfer, gwyar, calas; wind, water, stone; breath, blood, and bone. I would learn how these elements moved and worked creatively, dancing through one another, creating the realms of earth, ocean and atmosphere, and giving birth to the liminal spaces, the in-between places of mist and stream, cliff and cave. I would learn my own reasons for moving, oddly enough, through practices of stillness such as meditation and prayer. From Druidry, I would learn the art of journeying through dream and other inner landscapes–the art of the shaman and the oracle.

In Druidry, the second phase of training is that of the Ovate. The Ovate stills the chattering linear mind, and centers deeply in the immediacy of place: this very place and this very body in this very moment of time. Centered this way, space opens up into a vastness through which possibility and potential dance and weave. The Ovate studies landscape and how the beings of landscape live together, and live off one another. She learns the ecology of spirit as well as of physical life. She searches the shadows for the Shining Folk, and reaches her hands out to touch the hem of the Gods’ veils as they pass. She sees the future not as something solid but as the coalescing of patterns and potentials. The Ovate knows the currents and eddies of energy, and learns to navigate them gracefully, following a path that spirals in and out of simple causality, leaping from plane to plane through the joyful splendor of space and void. And because the Ovate has a sacred sense of place–because she knows the bounds of her own self and her own landscape intimately–her insight into the liminal places can sometimes seem uncanny.

Way of the Druid

But before the mysteries of the shamanic Ovate or the poetic Bard, I had to discover Druidry itself, the path that would connect it all. In my scholarly studies, I had learned about modern Witchcraft and, to some small extent, the greater community of Paganism with its many diverse and sometimes befuddling groups and labels. Nature spirituality appealed to me, but Wicca didn’t seem to fit quite right. It didn’t feel like home.

First of all, I was no agriculturalist. I was a poet, a philosopher, perhaps a bit of a mystic. Born in the suburbs on the edge of a wooded park, I was drawn to wild spaces more than gardens and farms, to the bluffs overlooking a rhythm of ocean waves, to old trees growing gnarled among ferns and mossy stones. I had learned, as I’d learned about landscape, the cycles of the seasons. But the summer storms and winter snows, the bursting colors of autumn and muddy fingerprints of spring–these did not leave me with a sense of fertility and harvest, so much as changing harmonies echoing through the great halls of hills and valleys unfurling beneath a weathered sky. Echoes of wild things growling in my marrow and tendons. When after college I moved to the city, I tried to grow window boxes of herbs, but the heat reflecting off tall apartment buildings soon baked them to brown dust. Meanwhile, through cracks in the pavement, weeds reasserted themselves and the sycamores loomed over every broad boulevard, rabbits left footprints in the snow on sidewalks overnight and crows picked through the garbage.

Here again was juxtaposition, the kind of tension between urbanity and wilderness that might make a poem, or a dreamscape. Within this landscape, I finally found this odd way called Druidry. The ancient Druids, as some imagined them, were not only priests, but scholars, judges, advisors, poets, historians, and mystics in their communities. They lived integrated lives devoted to wild wisdom, truth and peace. And they were political creatures, not living in social isolation; they were respected and accepted, rather than rejected or feared for their thriving spiritual lives. These were not domestic elders spinning yarns and brewing herbal remedies for foot fungus, or cast to the edges of town for being too outrageous or seductive. These were inspired lovers trembling in adoration of the world, who felt deeply not only the music of the mountains and trees, but the piercing harmonies of the celestial spheres. These were warrior-bards and philosopher-poets, who understood landscape as space and movement as vibration, who saw in the refraction of light and the migration patterns of geese myriad reverberating melodies. These were the peace-makers standing calmly declaring truce between two armies, those who saw the weaving interconnection at the core of each being which makes trust and mercy possible, for whom justice was a kind of balance and harmony, never to be mistaken for condemnation or rejection.

In Druidry, I learned that everything has a Song, and that the world, too, has a soul-song. The Song of the World might be called a Divine or True Will; we join with it our own voices, the music of our bodies humming, pumping blood, inhaling and exhaling, neurons and nerves buzzing and vibrating: the songs we cannot help but murmur to ourselves as we go along our way, same as the heron and the oak and the rain and the stars. The air we move through shifts around us with every stride, and our laughing and crying shape it, too. When we sing and move and live in harmony with the World Song, our own songs are amplified, modulated and carried along. Mark Strand wrote, we all have reasons for moving. I move to keep things whole. The Druid listens for the song her soul is singing, and she attends with reverence to the part her soul-song has to play in the greater whole.