From: Ioseph of Locksley To: All Subject: On Bards
ON BARDS, AND BARDIC CIRCLES: -Ioseph of Locksley, OL, Pel, &c. (c) 1989, 1990 W. J. Bethancourt III
In the SCA, in written Fantasy, in too many instances the word "bard" seems to be bandied about in a rather loose manner, being applied indiscriminately to true Bards, trouveres, troubadors, jongleurs, poets, playwrights, actors…in short, anyone who entertains.
I hope to clear up this misconception, though to hope that the usage
of the word will be corrected may be a forlorn hope….
Bards are found in Celtic cultures (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Manx and Brittany) and a rough equivalent can be found in Norse culture, too, where they were known as "scops."
There is no real equivalent to the Celtic Bard in Anglo-Saxon England,
In Ireland and Scotland, the use of the word "Bard" apparently fell
into some disrepute, as the records we have show that the Bard was simply a minor poet, while the "filidh" (seer) or the "ollave" (master poet) occupied the former status and functions of the Bard.
In Wales, the Bard was not so lucky. There, the traditions ossified,
and the Bards, after the advent of Christianity, became Court Poets, known as "Gogynfeirdd," or "Prydydd," limited in subject matter and form, and with rigidly structured rules.
The word that corresponds with the irish "filidh," in Welsh, would be
"derwydd," (oak-seer) the word from which "druid" is derived.
The "hedge-Bards" were the ones that carried on the real traditions of
the Bard. These are the people that gave us the "Cad Goddeu" and the "Hanes Taliesin," and who may have passed the "Matter of Britain" on to the French troubadors and trouveres, thus giving us Arthur and Camelot.
The word "Bard," in Wales, denoted a master-poet. In Ireland it meant
a poet who was not an Ollave, one who had not taken all the formal training. Apparently even the lower-status Irish Bard was on a level with the Welsh Bard in knowledge and poetic education, however, and these were what I have termed "hedge-bards," above.
In the Celtic cultures, the Bard/Filidh/Ollave was inviolate. He could
travel anywhere, say anything, and perform when and where he pleased. The reason for this was, of course, that he was the bearer of news and the carrier of messages, and, if he was harmed, then nobody found out what was happening over the next hill. In addition, he carried the Custom of the country as memorized verses…he could be consulted in cases of Customary (Common) Law. He was, therefore, quite a valuble repository of cultural information, news, and entertainment.
A true Bard must know the following: music (and the playing of a
period instrument, preferably Harp), poetry (original, and other people's), song (original and other people's), the History, Law and Custom of his/her Kingdom and of the SCA, as much knowledge of mundane medieval history, Law, and custom as they can possibly learn, and at least a very basic knowledge of linguistics and alphabet/cyphers. Some training in Folklore, and in the art of Sociology would help, too. See the list of suggested College courses at the end of this article.
The Bard should investigate the "Matter of Britain" very thoroughly,
paying special attention to Sir Gawain, and to Arthur's Queen. Do a little reading in the Robin Hood cycle, too, with special attention to the village festivals in Britain that mention him.
Some Bards are "titled," that is, someone, be it another Bard, or
whoever, or sometimes (very seldom) the Bard himself, has given them a bardic "name" or "title," that serves to identify them. Thusly, I am known as "y bardd Gwyn," "Bard Ban," or "the Whyte Bard." Another was known as "Derwydd Prydain," while even another has no title at all, and does not want one. Be wary of taking such a title yourself. Allow the giving of such to happen on its' own, and do NOT take it from a King of any kind!
Each individual Bard will have certain perogatives that they have
developed over the years. I, myself, tend to interrupt a Coronation court at any time with a poem, or a song, relating to the event. Other Bards will have other perogatives. Don't try to set yourself up with these; let them happen naturally.
ON MUSIC AND SONGWRITING:
Every so often, one hears a self-important "scholar" say something along the lines of: "Well, you have only written new words, or parodied the words, to a common tune….this is NOT real songwriting, but simply "filk" (as termed in the Science Fiction sub-culture) songs."
Tell them to sit on it. This is, and was, an accepted thing to do, is
quite legitimate, and very authentic.
Just try to keep the general "sound" as Medieval/Renaissance as
possible…admittedly a bit difficult when you are stealing er adapting a rock and roll melody, but it CAN be done….and please encourage others to do the same.
ON BARDIC CIRCLES:
A Bardic Circle is, simply, a setting for the listeners to entertain each other. This can be with poetry, song, and stories. All should participate, though it is not necessary for all to contribute to make it a fun thing to do. What IS necessary is that the number of things done by each person at any one time be limited, to keep the inevitable "stage-hog" from monopolizing the evening, and to keep the "Awful No-Talent Stage Hog" from running everyone off.
I recommend that each person be limited to TWO songs, poems or
whatever at a time, and then pass on to the next singer. This keeps it varigated, and interesting, and gives EVERYONE a chance to contribute.
Try to keep discussion to a minimum, but, should it be interesting,
let it go on for a while, as a break in the music. In any event, try to do something different about every hour or so, to allow your listeners to stretch, use the bathroom, get refreshments, and gossip for a while. This will keep them there longer, and add more fun to the occasion.
SUGGESTED COLLEGE LEVEL COURSES
Basic and Advanced Folklore of the Appalachian and Ozark mountains of the USA Basic and Advanced Folklore of the British Isles Music History (100 and 200 levels) Anything else in the Music curriculum that relates to Medieval music Comparative Religions Basic Sociology (100 and 200 levels at least) (watch out here! This is an
"art," not a "science!")
Linguistics Medieval History (100 thru Graduate levels) Medieval Law (100 thru 400 levels) English Writing The Literature of England (Ireland, Wales, Britanny, Scotland etc.) Poetry Fencing or other formal Martial Art Theater And ANYTHING else that might possibly relate and/or help.
OGHAM: THE POET'S SECRET
Sean O Boyle; Gilbert Dalton, Dublin, 1980
THE ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH POPULAR BALLADS
Francis James Child; (five volumes) Dover, 1965
THE SINGING TRADITION OF CHILD'S POPULAR BALLADS
Bertrand Harris Bronson; Princeton University Press 1976
THE VIKING BOOK OF FOLK BALLADS OF THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING WORLD
Albert B. Friedman; Viking, 1956, 1982
TRADITIONAL BALLADS: THE COMPLEAT ANACHRONIST #11
Tsvia bas Tamara v'Amberview (pseud.); Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc, 1984
FOLK SONGS OF ENGLAND, IRELAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES
William Cole; Cornerstone, 1961, 1969
Fred and Irwin Silber; Oak, 1973
101 SCOTTISH SONGS
Norman Buchan; Collins, 1974
RISE UP SINGING
Peter Blood-Patterson; Sing Out! 1988
THE TROUBADORS: THE COMPLEAT ANACHRONIST #44
Leah di Estera (pseud.) Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc, 1989
CAIDAN BARDIC CIRCLE SONGBOOK (5 Vols.)
Caidan Bardic Consortium, 1988
THE WHITE GODDESS
Robert Graves; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY 1966 (LCCCN: 48-8257) Not big on scholarship, but perfect for Bardic lore
THE GOLDEN BOUGH
James G. Frazer; Avenel Books, 1981 The basic text on myth
Zohra Greenhalgh, Ace (paperback) April 1989 0-441-117112-2 *
Permission is given for this paper to be used in publications of the SCA or related groups. If you use it, send a copy of the publication to:
Joe Bethancourt - PO Box 35190 - Phoenix, AZ - 85069
— * Origin: <Deus ex Machina-BBS Free Atenveldt! 602-439-8070> (Opus 1:114/29)