In The Beginning…
Reposted from Damh the Bard’s Blog June 14 2023
It was Lughnasadh/Lammas 1995 and I was at a Wiccan camp. I wasn’t initiated into a Coven but had been invited to help by the organisers and I jumped at the chance. It was a fabulous opportunity to meet a whole lot of Witches and absorb the energy of the camp and community.
The week was hot as grain-harvest time can be. There was a trip out to the Long Man of Wilmington, some wonderful and deep conversations and magical moments. The rest of the crew (who were nicknamed The A Team by attendees of the camp) were all friends, and we were all fairly new to Paganism. I only began to explore the Paths in 1992 after emerging from a Ceremonial Magic Order who I had been with since my teens. It was an exciting time. I’m sure some of you will remember that first flush of Pagan magic. Cerri often quotes Terry Pratchett who wrote about opening your eyes, then opening them again, and that is truly how it felt. As if my eyes had been open for years, but had only now opened again to see the magic that was all around me. Swimming Grass snakes, magical gnarled trees, the sound of drumming through the woods.
Silver on the Tree and The Dolmen played. I’d been in charge of the music entertainment and had been delighted to have booked two of my favourite Pagan bands. The Dolmen played in a huge barn to an almost entirely skyclad audience – that was about the closest I’d felt to being at an ecstatic Witches Sabbat. And Silver on the Tree played under an old oak tree in a space lit only by a campfire.
Each night we would gather around a fire in a clearing in the woods. The first night as I walked out under the stars having finished chip-cooking duties for the night I heard the sound of chanting. Harmonious voices singing those Wiccan chants that are so familiar to so many. Lady Spin your Circle Bright, We are the Old People, We all come from the Goddess. Sang with love and accompanied by drums. As I walked to the fire I thought I’ve found my people. It was truly life-changing and wonderful.
It was a week-long camp. As night fell the next night so the chanting began again. Beautiful. Sacred. Connecting. But by the 5th night as I joined the campfire I began to think to myself – man, we need some songs. The chants were wonderful, don’t get me wrong, they really were, and chants can act as a beast on which to ride away on Journeys through Otherworlds. Songs do that too, but they can also bring a community together in different ways. It’s something we’ve been doing around campfires for thousands of years. I didn’t know or realise at the time but it was the Bardic tradition that was calling out to me. The Bard/Skald with one foot in the realm of entertainment, and the other in the realm of the Sacred/Otherworld. Who bring songs, stories, and myths to life.
A week later I was at my first Druid camp. Again in Sussex, and this one held by the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. It too felt like a sacred space, and as the first night fell I listened out for those chants, and I heard some. But I also heard bagpipes being played to call us to ceremony, and as I lay under the stars I heard the sound of harps around other fires, of singing, and of storytelling. I heard a Bard sing and hold the energy of the campfire. And I knew from that moment what I wanted to do – who and what I wanted to be. I was right. We did need some songs. So I got writing. I bought a harp, a mandolin, and opened to the Awen.
And that’s how all of this began. I just thought I’d write some songs Pagans, Witches, and Druids, might like to sing around campfires. The Awen flowed and the words and music followed. I had no idea of the Journey that lay ahead. That the songs people loved here in the UK would be enjoyed by Pagans all over the world. That sitting at those Wiccan and Druid campfires in 1995, and the decision I made, would lead me to stand in front of Sydney Opera House, Niagara Falls, or the Statue of Liberty. That I would hear the songs I’d written being sung along by people all over the world.
I never saw any of that coming at all.
Music is magic. It speaks directly to our soul. Every one of us knows a song that has brought us back to ourselves, that has had exactly the right words and melody we needed to hear at that exact moment. That might just have saved our lives. And logically it doesn’t make sense. They are only sounds. But instinctively somehow we know they are so much more than that. Music is indeed magic, and I think I realised that at two campfires in 1995, and I am eternally thankful I did.