Working with Inspiration means opening ourselves to our innate creativity. Many of the problems that we suffer from in the developed world result from our suppression and denial of the artistic – in all its forms. Modern brain research shows that for most of us, our primary mode of functioning comes from the dominant cerebral hemisphere, which mediates the function of analytical thinking. The opposite hemisphere has less of a say in our current way of living – it is the hemisphere that mediates the synthesising, non-analytic forms of thought and expression: it is the part of the brain considered responsible for artistic expression. It is generally agreed that to become complete we need to allow both sides of ourselves adequate opportunities for development and expression. This truth was expressed by the Alchemists (and there is a strong tradition of Alchemy within Druidry) and later by Carl Jung (whose work first began to influence modern Druidry through Ross Nichols). Jung developed his theory of the personal animus and anima – male and female aspects of the psyche – which for our development need to relate and periodically conjoin. Alchemists knew of the importance of this conjunction, and they termed it the Mystical Marriage or the Mysterium Coniunctionis.
Our education has, for the most part, concentrated on developing our skills of analytical and mathematical thinking, but when we enter the Bardic Way, we begin a process that develops our less dominant hemisphere. We open ourselves to the artistic, the creative self. This is no simple task, and in a way typical of Druidry, the work is undertaken in an apparently round-about way. Through working with the eightfold festival scheme, and with the power of the four elements that are allocated to the cardinal points in the sacred circle of Druid working, the Bard is brought to a stage where they have acknowledged and worked with the four aspects of their being – represented by Earth, their practicality and sensuality; Water, their receptivity and feelings; Air, their reasoning; and Fire their intuition and enthusiasm. As these four elements and parts of the Self are explored and harmonised, the Bard finds him or herself naturally opening to their inner creativity. Gradually the resources of their body and heart, mind and intuition become more fully available to guide and inspire them.
By working in this way, we learn to by-pass the rational mind, which so loves to create limits to understanding. To be able to operate, the intellect creates distinctions, categories, mental constructions – through which experience can be comprehended and acted upon. This is essential for our survival and progress in the world. The problems arise when this ability to create frames of reference is not counter-balanced by the ability to transcend these frames and open oneself to the trans-rational – the inexplicable-in-words-but-no-less-true. Poetry and music are supremely competent at helping us to go beyond frames and viewpoints. Sound – spoken, sung or played – stretches our boundaries, opens horizons, invokes energies that the intellect alone cannot grasp or categorise with its workings. Here is the power of the Bard – to dissolve our boundaries, our frames of reference – even if only for a moment.
Take this poem, by the modern Bard Jay Ramsay:
Behind and in everything –
Valley – kestrel – celandine:
You nowhere, and in everything –
And being nothing, being silenced,
Being unable to speak
You see everything,
And I see You
And I see I am
The core I am seeing:
The sun closening
To meet the man
Who has crossed the line,
Who has walked out of himself
Stands ahead there,
Naked in the light.
One’s mind cannot fully grasp the power of such a poem – one is impacted by the force of the words and imagery in a way that defies description or explanation. This is the work of poetry – of the bard. To go beyond. To travel. To bring back. Professor Michael Harner, a world authority on shamanism, speaks of the shamanic way as one which is best defined as a method to open a door and enter a different reality . This is precisely what happens with powerful and effective poetry.
The difference between ‘secular’ poetry writing, reading and reciting and the same activities undertaken in the spirit of bardism is that in the latter this shamanic process is consciously acknowledged and worked with. Creativity and inspiration are seen as gifts of the Gods, as powers entering the vessel of the Self through the Superconscious. Appropriate preparation, ritual, visualisation, prayer and meditation create the channels through which such generative, creative power can flow. In Druidry this power is known as Awen, which is Welsh for ‘Inspiration’ or ‘Flowing Spirit’.
The relevance of this work to the contemporary artistic scene is clear: when art became secularised what it gained in freedom of expression, it lost in depth of inspiration. Now we have turned full circle and are able to spiritualise our art once again – freed at last from the limitations of religious dogma. The potential for enhanced creativity is immense when we recontextualise our creativity in terms of the sacred. Previously this involved being bound by Christian themes and dogma. Now it means recognising the sacredness, not only of the Spirit, but of the Earth, and the four elements, and of our body and sexuality too.
The Bardic stream is not simply a body of knowledge we once possessed and which we attempt to regain – it is a spiritualised mode of artistic creative consciousness which is dynamic and living – the future holds as much, if not greater promise than the past.
In addition to reciting poetry and story-telling, the Bards undoubtedly made music and danced. There are intriguing stories of Druid dances remembered in Brittany, and it is possible that traces of this early sacred and celebratory dancing is contained within Morris dancing, the Abbot’s Bromley Horn dance and other folk dances. Our challenge is to rediscover the music, chants and dances of the Druids – by contacting the archetypal sources of inspiration within. These sources are transpersonal and out-of-time. They fed the Druids in the past and they can feed us now. We know some of the instruments they probably would have used: in the early days of animistic proto-Druidry they would most likely have used flutes made from birds’ bones (eagle bone flutes have been found in Scotland). They would probably have banged stones on hollow ringing rocks, which produce a bell-like sound. The Dord, a form of horn, with a sound like the Australian Aborigine’s didgeridoo was clearly a sacred instrument of the Bronze Age, as were almost certainly an animal-skin drum which later evolved into the bodhran, and the claves – two sticks of wood banged together to produce a rhythm alone or counterpoised with that of the drum.
Those who choose to explore Druidry by entering the Bardic course of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids open themselves to what it means to be living on the earth with the ability to be creative. Although this is the first stage of Druid training, its purpose reaches to the very heart of Druidry – which is the development of an intimate knowledge of the powers of generation – at the Bardic level this involves the generation of creative works – of music, song, poetry and art in all its forms.
In common with oral indigenous spiritual traditions the world over, the ancient Druids encoded their teachings in story form. The Bards learnt these stories and were therefore able to preserve the memory of the teachings across the centuries, despite the fact that they were never written down. Fortunately for us, the Christian scribes recorded these tales, and even though some details may have been omitted or distorted, we can still discern the teachings of the Druids encoded within them. one such story is the Tale of Taliesin, which recounts the progress of a young boy who eventually becomes the finest Bard in the land. He does this by drinking three drops of Awen – inspiration – from the cauldron of the Goddess Ceridwen.
In the home-learning programme of the Order, as we enter the Bardic Grade we are told this story and then are invited to explore it in depth over a year, since encoded within the tale is an entire curriculum that shows each of us how we can become the ‘finest bard’. The story of the young person’s journey towards a full flowering of their creativity interacts with our own personal story, gradually helping to release the Bard, the Creative Self, within.
The tree which represents the Bardic Grade is the Birch – appropriately it is the first tree of the Druid’s Ogham tree-alphabet, and the tree which represents new beginnings, pioneering and giving birth. The West is the place of the Bard. It is from the West that we enter the circle in Druid ceremonies, and the West is therefore the place of Entrance, of beginnings – the receptive, feminine West that faces the East of the Dawn Ray. The times associated with the Bardic Grade are the Spring, and Dawn – times when we are fresh and ready to begin a new cycle of learning and experience.
Adapted from Druid Mysteries by Philip Carr-Gomm Discover how to use the skills of the Bard in the modern world