Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Druids and Bards: a research paper

The following was written for the Celtic Wicca class at the Magic Circle School. The assignment was to select two areas of Celtic society and write a research paper on them. Well, it was a little more specific then that, but you get the idea!

For this paper, I chose to focus on the Druids and the Bards.

According to Wikipedia, a Druid was “was a member of the priestly and learned class” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Druid). Everything I was able to find about them hinted that very little is actually known, and what people think they know is actually pieced together and extrapolated from the few facts that are available. The term “Druid” probably comes from the Gaelic word “doire,” which means oak tree. The root of the word also means wisdom (http://www.crystalinks.com/druids.html).

According to The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, Druidism can be a spiritual path, a religion, or a cultural activity (http://www.druidry.org/modules.php? op=modload& name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=1&page_id=8).

According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Celtic Wisdom by Carl McColman, a Druid was an intellectual figure, held social prestige, and had political influence (p. 124). Druids probably also had extensive training in magic. McColman went on to say that Druids quite possibly also had training in sciences, law, philosophy, and medicine. The part that fascinated me, though, was the idea that the Druid class was also made up of “Anamcharas,” or soul friends (p. 128). These were the counselors and spiritual guides of the Celtic society. The book The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature by Jean Markale seems to be one of many texts completely devoted to the idea of the Druids being the spiritual leaders of their society.

Following that idea, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids lists an interesting timeline of the Druids and their role in the spiritual health of their society (http://www.druidry.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=PagEd&file=index&topic_id=1&page_id=7). The website states that spirituality existed in Europe more then 25,000 years ago and changed relatively little for the first 20,000 years or so. The spiritual practices of this time focused on the “circle of life” — the rebirth of the God through the Goddess. One of the most common way to show that — at least that have survived — are the mounds. One great example can be found at New Grange in Ireland, where a shaft is oriented to the Winter Solstice sunrise, so that the dawn rays can bathe the initiate in sunlight after his or her vigil through the night.

The site goes on to say that by the 16th Century, “the key text of Druid spirituality, transcribed from the oral tradition by Christian clerics, talks of the spiritual and magical training of a Druid, in which he is eaten by a Goddess, enters her belly, and is reborn as the greatest poet in the land. So from over twenty thousand years ago to the sixteenth century, we see a common theme - which we find again in the training of Druids and poets in Scotland up until the seventeenth century. There, to awaken their creative genius, they were told to lie in darkness for days, and after this period of sensory deprivation, they were released into the brightness of the world.”

McColman states that it was this era of translation that combined many of the Druid beliefs into the Christian tradition. He claims that The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids has held an important role in bring Pagans and Christians together in the name of religious tolerance (p.133). He states, “Druids can fill a unique role as ‘religious ambassadors,’ especially between Christianity and neopagan religions such as Wicca.”

Again, though, this is because of the modern Druid, and not truly historic one of which so little pure information is known. This is in part because modern Druidism is embraced as a philosophy, more than a religion (McColman, p. 133).

In his book, McColman lists nine steps to becoming a modern Druid. They are as follows:
  1. Become environmentally aware.
  2. Read all you can.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Take responsibility for your life.
  5. Make contact with other aspiring druids.
  6. Engage with the spiritual world.
  7. Let go of your cherished illusions.
  8. Become well rounded.
  9. Serve your clan.

In my opinion, though, these combine the steps most members of society should be taking no matter what spiritual path they pursue — changing “Make contact with other aspiring druids” to “Make contact with other aspiring (whatever path you are on).”

The second path I chose to research is that of the Bard. Whereas the Druids were the spiritual leaders and intellectual “workers” of their society, the Bards were the entertainers and intellectual “fun guys.” These were the poets, musicians, and storytellers. Bards were the ones who not only shared the history of the society, but also gave people an escape.

According to one web site I found, “The Bard was a repository of histories, stories, legends, songs and poetry of his people. Wherever the bard travelled, he was honoured and given certain diplomatic impunity. Before the invention of the printing press, books and scribes were very costly, and recently news travelled very slowly and inaccurately. The bard, due to his education in oral tradition, could be relied upon to know the latest news from his court, whether crops had failed to the south, or which roads were safe to travel. For some villages and towns, the bard was the only reliable source of information (http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/2662/bards.html).”

The Bard allowed artistic endeavors to flow and often used those endeavors for spiritual purposes (McColman, p. 94). One reason this resonates so well with me, is that I believe artistic talents —painting, drawing, writing, music — are all gifts from the Divine.
Interestingly, Taliesin, Britain’s chief Bard, believed the same. In the story of Gwion Bach and Cerridwen (which can be found at various websites and books), we learn three things. First, talent is a gift. Gwion Bach didn’t ask for his responsibility in stirring the pot, nor did he ask for shape shifting powers. He received that wisdom because it was his destiny, and the talent to shape shift for the same reason. How different that story would have been where it not for those talents and gifts? The same can be said for OUR talents. How different would art be without Monet? Theater without Shakespeare? Music without Bach?

The second lesson we can learn from the Bard is that if we don’t use our talents, we can die. If you believe that your talents are gifts, then they must be used to better our lives, the lives of those around us, nature, the earth… the list goes on.

Finally, at least as much as if not more than any other, shows us the beautiful relationship between art and magic. In the story of Taliesin, he left listeners “spell bound” with his tale. The same has been said for many artists of all genres.

Those are the Bards. They use their art to change the world. There is a spiritual element to their creation and they show us that.

Just like he did for Druids, McColman lists nine steps to becoming a modern Bard. They are as follows:
  1. Make the pursuit of wisdom and spirituality a priority in your life.
  2. Befriend your inner genius.
  3. Claim your gifts and take them further.
  4. Play at least one kind of musical instrument.
  5. Get to know the history of your people.
  6. Get to know the myths that shape your path.
  7. Master the art of storytelling.
  8. Ask for Divine help.
  9. Put yourself out there.

These are the types of things I personally feel the need and desire to do personally. So where I believe society, as a whole, should follow the steps listed for Druidism, I find myself also drawn to these steps of the Barb because those are the things that bring me inner peace.

2 comments:

Ben said...

I like it. Lessons for life...

Cerridwen said...

Thanks! Wouldn't the world be a better place if we followed some of those rules?