[Note: I found this in my ‘Drafts’ folder today. I’m sure it’s been published somewhere, but I can’t remember where – and I rather like it, brief though it is. Stories have been on my mind a lot lately… so more on this topic may follow.]
Stories are such an intrinsic part of our lives. From tales around a campfire to soap operas, we define ourselves by our tales – whether moral fables to aid the understanding of wider issues, or simply the biography of another to compare ourselves against.
We often speak today of this ‘Age of Entitlement’ in which we currently live. That the wealthy Western world has certain expectations: of a home, family, health, standard of living, basic rights… as if we are, in fact, at the centre of our own story. Perhaps certain children are brought up to believe this, before reacting in fear and anger when they find out it’s not the case. Perhaps it’s just too much to take in, that so much of the world is out of our comprehension or control.
Either way, our stories are confused, uncertain, shouting to be heard. On Facebook, Twitter or in print, conflicting accounts and opinions are reduced to soundbites, muddying the issue even more. We don’t have time to listen to the full story, so we take what we can get and then act… becoming even more confused, scared and reactionary when the consequences reveal what we should have known all along (had we taken that time to listen).
One of the most contentious areas of learning in modern Paganism, I have noticed, is the Druid notion of the Bard. People don’t really know what to make of this idea, or even if it’s relevant in the 21st century. Is he a storyteller or a musician? Should he be contemporary or focusing on the ancient myths? Does the Bard necessarily have to be confined by gender, or even geography?
I’ve heard people say that modern musicians can’t be Bards, because… well… they’re modern! Do they have to be folk singers, like OBOD’s current Pendragon, Damh the Bard? Why not? But I would also ask for consideration of David Bowie with his concept albums, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana or Oasis as they reflect on the cultures in which they lived, or even Lily Allen or Lady Gaga satirisng that same society.
We’re nervous about setting racial boundaries, or ‘stealing’ the cultures of others through their beliefs – so many are cagey about even exploring the myths of their ancestors. The so-called Celtic myths are anathema to some, irrelevant to others. The tales of each land seem almost eager to be forgotten by their own people, from the British to the current Romans and Greeks… except as tourist attractions.
I maintain that while outwardly we may turn up our noses at our heritage, we still reach for the stories that are part of our human ancestry. We haven’t changed all that much over the centuries – Robin Hood is still spoken of as relevant, Merlin and Arthur still struggle on television with issues of love and war, and the Gods of many lands are now being transformed by cinema into superheroes.
We still need the Bards, the storytellers of our people, because we need someone to cut through all that noise of social media – even if just for a moment. 90 minutes of a movie; 4 minutes of a song; 400 pages of a novel. We pause, as our ancestors did, to pay attention. We read reviews, chat amongst ourselves, discuss relevance and deeper meaning. We take certain characters as favourites, then ask ourselves why this is so. Is it not telling that Loki, the ‘Avengers’ villain, is more popular than any of the heroes? Or that tales of fantasy and magic are seeing a surge in sales, from Pratchett back to Tolkien?
As Pagans, we can acknowledge this connection, this need for a Bard, to guide us and inspire us, to kick us and provoke us to think. No ‘X-Factor’ hero – the Bard is wild, unfettered, roaming where he (or she) pleases, uncaring of public opinion. Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Stephen King and Alan Moore carry on writing, through rise or fall, critical success or slate. I’ve no doubt that we can all name smaller, quieter names who perform, write or present their art regardless of ‘fame’ – monetary return helps, but they would still scribble, sing or paint, because they feel that call inside to do so. When the Awen flows, or the Muse calls, the Bard must respond.
I also firmly believe that we have this ability within us all. No matter what our creativity, we need to demonstrate our perception of the world somehow, getting it out onto page, canvas or musical vibration just to express our connection to the world with the world. We may be nervous of showing that innermost secret work… but if truly told, the spirit of the Bard is clear, creating understanding as others see their own thoughts in your creation. They may then even be inspired to make their own.
So, now, I ask you to consider your own story. Are you proud to tell it? Why – or why not? It’s your story, after all. Would you rather truth or a fable? Can the two not merge into something fantastic and memorable? When you take your place among the ancestors, how will your tale be remembered?
Dare to listen more deeply to the stories around you. And then, please, be brave enough to add your own.