A Story of Pagan

Pagan loved the Sun. No one could doubt that. And she loved the Moon too, and each night she would lie on the grass in a field just outside her house and look up at the stars that shone like tiny pin-pricks in the black velvet of the universe. There she could see her children marked in patterns across the sky. Gods of a land that was caressed by a warm near land-locked sea, and others too, gently moving in the night. Pagan loved the Earth too. She could see the shapes of giants in the rocks, and the Goddess in the rolling chalk hills.

Everyday she would go for a walk across the countryside and into the woods and sometimes, if she was lucky, and in the right place at the right time, she would see a group of deer, or a fox. And sometimes if she was luckier still she would catch the eye of the great stag that lived in the forest nearby and, just for a moment, she would feel its Spirit. And as the stag returned her gaze she could feel that the animal knew and understood her inner being too. These connections reminded her everyday that she was a part of the web that connected all life.

Nobody knew how old Pagan was. She had certainly been here since the first humans painted images of animals and dancing horned figures on darkened cavern walls, creating colour from minerals found within the bones of Mother Earth. And here she was, still looking at the Sun, Moon and Stars, still understanding her connection to all of life. The only person who really knew where she had come from was Pagan, and she was keeping her secret. Sometimes she felt bad about this. She knew that people longed to understand her more. When she occasionally went into the town she could see all of the books that had been written about her. Hundreds of books. All telling the story of her life, what she’d done, and what she believed. And she could see the people reading these books and she felt bad for them too. She wasn’t sure when it had happened but people had begun to look into the mirror of life and believe that what they saw there was the truth. If she could only smash those mirrors! Then people might look at each other more, and see their own reflection in the faces of their kin, not the reflected and reversed image of their own face. Just a face. Just a face. So she watched as people read books to try to understand exactly what it was that she believed.

And some of them argued too – about the right way to do things. About grades, levels of experience, whether the Elements really existed and, if they did, what made them correspond to particular directions. Were the Gods real? That was the one that upset her the most. Were they real? She could still remember the first people who, when hearing the sound of thunder, began to make offerings. She could still remember the hunter whispering words to an unseen power. And as years went on she thought of those days, and watched as those same people, years later, raised mighty earth tombs in honour of their dead, and still those lips moved in prayer. To what? She would never say. She never had to. Ever. But that seemed to be the missing part of the mirror people. She shook her head. The first people had no books, yet they knew. They had eyes, and ears.

Pagan loved to play. She would dance and sing, laugh and run about. She loved her circles, her elements, her patterns in the sky, the Sun, the Moon, the tales she told of ancient gods and heroes. She loved peaceful ritual, and ecstatic trance. She loved the simplicity of prayer and meditation, and the complexity of ceremony. She loved being with groups of people, and with the solitary on the hill. She knew all of the Gods by name, and she knew they were inside, outside, and nowhere. She knew with all of her heart that there were no secrets, but there were mysteries. And she also knew that each revealed mystery would be different for every soul that ever lived. And that is why sometimes she cried when she heard voices that tried to dominate with only one truth.

Pagan sometimes wondered why she was still a child.

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Australia Tour 2012 Part 2

“I don’t want to worry you Damh but I’ve got a scratchy throat,” Adrienne said, peering over the bar in the Kitchen. I was sitting at their table and had just thought the same thing about mine. I looked up.

“I think I’m going down with something too…”

It was Monday morning and me and Cerri were due to run our Sacred Poetry workshop that night. As the day moved on both me and Adrienne started to feel worse. The evening went beautifully as I said in the previous blog post, but when Tuesday morning arrived Adrienne was close to losing her voice. I was not as bad, but with me colds often move onto my chest and cause my asthma to come on.

I think I spent that Tuesday in denial as I was due to play the concert for all of the sponsors who had clubbed together to raise the money to fly me and Cerri all the way our here. There was no way I was not going to play that gig. It was being recorded for a live CD to be given to the sponsors at a later date. Now I was a little concerned about that to be honest. I knew I could play and sing well enough to entertain these lovely people, but I wasn’t sure how that CD would come out. In the end we all had a great evening at the wonderful Wheatsheaf Hotel (The Wheatie) and I think, apart from a couple of places where my voice croaked, the CD will be fine.

However, when the next morning came I could feel that familiar feeling that told me the cold was on the move and irritating my lungs. With the three-cities tour approaching there was no way I could risk it, so I managed to get an appointment with a local Doctor and went straight on the antibiotics. It was the right thing to do. That night me and Cerri were due to go to the Pagan in the Pizza bar moot, but neither Adrienne nor myself thought it would be a good idea for us to go, so Cerri went on her own. I was sad to have missed the night, particularly when I saw the video of William’s poem and the gift of P.Uke (the Pagan Ukelele group) who had practiced a version of my song Noon of the Solstice.

The next morning we were off to Melbourne for the concert at Bar 303. I loved this gig last year. The venue is a back room, painted black, with sofas all around the edge, and amazing modern art posters everywhere. It’s the kind of venue you would find in Brighton to be honest. Bohemian, and, well, groovy. Sadly Adrienne had still problems with her voice so Spiral Dance had to do a tune set for this gig. But they did brilliantly, and everyone had a great time dancing to their music. For me, this year had the same vibe as last year and it was another wonderful night. In fact, during my song The Wheel I invited the audience to add some harmonies to their singing, and what I heard gave me goose bumps. You can hear it in this video from the night, a wonderful moment. After the show I was introduced to Kebabs Aussie style. I made the mistake of opening mine up, a lesson learned for another night… Sleep, then up to get to the airport to fly to Sydney.

We arrived at the Bald Faced Stag Hotel with plenty of time. This was another venue we played last year. Adrienne was feeling a little better this night and took the stage to sing with the band, and it was great to see and hear them all together again. It seemed that over the year a lot of people had heard my music in Sydney, and the response from the audience here was simply magical. I took the stage with Spiral Dance again to sing their version of my song Spirit of Albion (at the two Adelaide gigs I had broken a string when I played Spirit of Albion during my set. I started to think that maybe I should leave this song for Spiral Dance, as this land and this audience knew their version, not mine. So I didn’t play it at Melbourne or Sydney, and I didn’t break a string…) and I really wanted to have a beer to celebrate, but I was still feeling a bit grim, and was on the antibiotics with another gig to play, so I just stuck to the water.

Another kebab, bed, then up to catch a plane to Brisbane.

It had been raining most of the trip. It had been raining when we left the UK (although while we were away Britain had its Summer…apparently) but Brisbane was gorgeous. We were met at the airport and taken to the hotel which was just a short walk from the venue. This was the Brisbane Witches Ball. The venue was a large bar with a good sized dance floor. It was quite a rush to set up the gear and sound check and then pretty much straight away people were arriving. Now on the whole my music isn’t background music. I do play some songs that people can dance to, but for me it’s more about engaging and entertaining an audience, going on a sacred journey together. As people arrived for the Witches Ball I could feel that we might have a mismatch. This event was a social event where people were going to to catch up, talk to each other, have a social drink, and party. I took the stage and although I had the attention of a good number of people, to be honest, most didn’t really take much notice of what was happening on the stage and carried on with their conversations. So I turned my attention to those who had come to sit and listen and we had a lovely evening together. In the future I’d love to return to the Brisbane Pagan community and play a concert for them to enjoy as a concert. Hopefully next year!

The next day the weather was lovely. We took a walk along the river and stopped at a bar for a little drink. We thought we’d only be there for a little while. There were no more concerts, so I decided to have a beer, or a number of beers. I was introduced to the Fat Yak, a lovely Aussie beer, while others were drinking Dirty Grannies (a lovely Aussie cider). Well, we sat down for a drink, the Nick ordered more drinks, I bought a jug of drink, the we all sat down and had a drink… A band turned up and played some classic tunes. We all sang along. And had another drink. It was sunny, warm, with good friends, and good music. The perfect way to end a great tour.

We had a couple of days free before we had to leave to return to the UK, so on the Monday we met up with Louise and little Maddy so I could take Maddie’s cuddly duck D. D Rock on the road with me and pass him, and his travel diary, on to other Pagan musicians in the USA to help raise money for Doctors without Borders (see the video below) .

Then on the Tuesday we went on another tour of some of the South Australian vineyards. Yum.

As I write this I’m returning in my mind to the goodbyes at the airport. I love Australia, and I love the Aussie people. They are a breath of fresh air to this Brit who has a hard time with all of the UK’s health and safety laws, and the way that political correctness has taken some of the soul out of our character. With that Aussies that edginess is still there. Each time I go to Australia I get reminded to chill out, relax and don’t take stuff so personally.

As they say – “No worries, it’s all good!”

I really hope we are back again sometime in 2013.

It’s a boy, no a girl, no – It’s a film!

On the 30th April 2011 the cast and crew gathered in a woodland in Sussex to begin filming Sprit of Albion, the Movie. Before we did anything else we held hands in a circle and asked for the blessings of the Spirits of the Land and of the Old Ones to see the film through to completion. We took some deep breaths, then the filming began – the first shoot being my performance of Pagan Ways, then I watched my song Green and Grey come to life before my eyes. It was an amazing moment I will never forget.

A year on to the day and there are two premiers being held in the UK tonight, one in the north of England which still has a few tickets left, and one in the south at the Hawth in Crawley that is sold out. Then tomorrow the DVDs go on sale. I can barely believe it’s actually finished.

I know that there have been independent films created in the past that have held magic in the hearts. The films of Kenneth Anger spring to mind, and I know that many Pagans (me included) love the old 70s horror film The Wicker Man, but that has really been adopted by us, and the final scene isn’t exactly the best publicity message for the Pagan community. I think with The Wicker Man it’s the magical vibe, and the songs, that we love.

Well, now we have a film that is truly ours, and I hope it will be loved just as much as Anger’s and The Wicker Man. A film that is about magic, and our relationship with the Land and it’s old myths and legends. It will take people on a journey, and there is one message held at the very heart of the film, a message that we don’t get very much from our regular TV, movies, or other media.

The message is one of hope.

Happy Birthday Spirit of Albion – The Movie!

Sacred Sound – The Tale of Oak Broom & Meadowsweet

(I wrote this article some time ago but I thought I would post it here on my blog as, to me, it illustrates some of the ideas of surrendering to my faith I wrote about in my previous blog. I hope you enjoy the tale!)

There was a time when music was seen as a sacred thing. Consider for a moment a deep, reverberating musical note. A constant sound; a vibration that is contained within all life – within the very fabric of the Universe itself. This sound exists. It is the note at which the Universe vibrates. Scientists now have equipment that can tune into this note.

Consider another thing. Why is it that our major scale is made up of 7 notes running from A to G, and once we reach the eighth note of a scale we have reached the same note, eight higher? Why is it that the first, third and fifth notes in a scale sound beautiful to our ears and form the major chords, yet a first, second and fourth are horrible? Why is it that most songs are written around the same first, fourth and fifth chords of a scale? This is the basis of folk music, blues, twelve bar, and most modern pop tunes. To me this science is truly magical, the foundation of the Bard’s Magic. By placing note, next to note, we are weaving a magic that is in tune with the Universe, and with the Gods. I’d like to take you on a journey, to the place and time when I first experienced this power.

I was sitting with my back against the trunk of an old Oak. It was early May and the bluebells carpeted the woodland’s sun-dappled floor. I took a deep breath of air, filling my lungs, a sensation that was as sensual as tasting the best Champagne. It was my lunchbreak, and I was lucky enough to work so close to this special place. My spaniel dog sniffed around, then came and lay down next to me. I was here to commune with the Spirits of Place. One of the things that had attracted me to the Druid path was that it didn’t view this Earth as a place to escape from. The idea that life was something evil was totally alien to me. The thought of reaching a state of enlightenment that meant I no longer had to return to Earth for future lives I found terribly frightening. It was days like these that I lived for.

I know that some people find silence the trigger for their connection to Spirit, and there are many times when I too find this the case. But on this occasion, I had brought my mandolin with me into the woods. I felt totally at peace, with the world, with myself, and with Spirit. I closed my eyes and began to play, not to anyone else but to the Spirit of this mighty Oak, and the nature Spirits whose space I was sharing. I played a D minor chord. Minor chords sound mystical, sometimes sad, and you’ll find that most chants have been written in a minor key. A minor key can shift our consciousness into a place where we are open to the unseen world. I just picked around this chord for a while, listening to the notes as they carried on the wind, occasionally humming along, caught up in the moment. Another magical thing that music does is to bend time. Time becomes something very different whilst in this space. I’m not sure how long I was sitting there, just playing around with sound, but after what seemed like both a couple of seconds, and yet hours, I sang a line.

Gather round people, let me spin you a tale,
Of a Mother’s anger, and a curse doomed to fail.

I didn’t stop playing the mandolin, but I did open my eyes. For a moment less than a second I saw faces looking at me from within the bluebells. Tiny shimmering lights sparkled, then were gone. Yet their impression was still there in my mind. Although I could no longer see them, I knew they were still there. I closed my eyes once more, a sweet sensation within my chest. I sang the line again….

Gather round people, let me spin you a tale,
Of a Mother’s anger, and a curse doomed to fail.
Arianrhod’s baby, whom she did disown,
And Gwydion stole him, to raise as his own.

A song was forming from the moment. The sacred sound of the mandolin was blending with the note of the Universe, and voices were whispering to me, voices that seemed to come from both outside of me, yet I was hearing them inside my mind.
“Tell my story,” She said.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am your muse, I am the Lady of Flowers, the May Queen, the Queen of Death, and the ghostly Owl of the night sky”.
I closed my eyes, and felt the power of the Oak behind me, heard the whisper of the breeze within the branches, and within those whispers I heard Her voice once again.

Now the boy he grew to be strong and brave,
But his Mother cursed him not to be given a name,
When he cast a stone where a Wren it did land,
She said, “The Young Lion has a Steady Hand!”

Then instantly, a chorus sang within my head. A chorus of voices that rang through the woodland, a chorus that I knew must be there.

Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

I had only written two other Pagan songs at this time, one had come to me whilst driving, the other as I walked through the woods like an ancient Bard, playing my mandolin, once again to the Spirits who would listen to the gift I offered them. This one, once more, came as if from nowhere. I knew the story that was being told. It came from the Fourth branch of the ancient Welsh book called the Mabinogion. I had learned the entire Four Branches by heart, to be able to tell them around campfires, under the stars, as part of my Bardic training. Now another aspect of the Bard was emerging, the telling of the myth, in the form of song.

The voices were singing once more. It was a cacophony of sound. I played along to the singing, and tried to listen for words within. A word here and there, but nothing to draw from, then…

So she laid upon him a new destiny,
You shall never have any weapons unless given by me!


A great and powerful man then came into my awareness. “This will not be!” he shouted.

Then a mighty army by Gwydion’s charms,
Forced Arianrhod to give Lleu his arms.

A seething woman’s face, twisted with rage. Turned to face me, her arms outstretched.

Then in rage and torment she laid down this curse,
“He shall never marry a woman of the race of the Earth”.


Two cloaked figures entering the deep forest.


So Gwydion and Math planned to foil her hate,
And with the herbs of the forest, they twisted his fate
.

Again the chorus rang out within the woodland. A thousand ethereal voices singing in total harmony.

Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May, Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

I had to open my eyes once more. I was exhilarated, I felt completely at one with the Spirits of the Woodland. The place felt joyous, the air was electric, it felt like something was changing. I played with the chords, keeping the energy flowing, sensing the dancing figures just outside of my awareness, within their realm. In a place where the sacred sounds of our worlds combine. I closed my eyes once more….

I saw a Grove deep within the woods. It was the dawn of Beltane, and around a vast cauldron, two magicians were chanting, occasionally one would add another herb into the brew.

So they gathered from the forest, from the Grove where they meet,
Flowers of Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet.
And uttering upon them a verse of power,
A figure began to form from the flowers.

From within the cauldron, new life was forming. A woman of such beauty and radiance whose feet would bring life wherever they fell upon the Earth.

Oh rise and wake fairest Lady of Spring,
Come and be wed to the Forest King.
‘Flower Face’ is your name, sweet Blodeuwedd,
You carry life, within your breath!

And she danced within the Grove, feeling the warmth of the dawn’s rays upon her skin, a Goddess within the body of a human, her senses reeling with delight, as the voices chanted the verse of power.

Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Hawthorn, come May!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Blodeuwedd, come wake!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Hawthorn, come May!
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet,
Come Oak Broom and Meadowsweet, come Blodeuwedd, come wake!

Then joining in a chorus of celebration.

Call the May, Call the May Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!
Call the May, Call the May Call the May, Call the May!
Gather round people and Call in the May!

The song was finished. I stopped playing the mandolin and let the final chord ring out into the woods, and fade away. I sat for a little while, eyes closed, just taking in the peace of the moment, as my awareness returned to the outside world, to the calling of the birds, and the smell of the earthy air. I open my eyes, the sun’s glare blinding me for a moment, until I re-adjusted to the brightness that surrounded me. I never wrote down a word of that song, I just knew it, and would write it down later when I got home. I kissed my hand, and placed it upon the earth just at the base of the Oak, giving thanks for the gift of Awen, the gift of Bardic inspiration. Then after a short time, I began to walk back – I had to get back to work.

The Awen isn’t like the Life Force. It isn’t with us all of the time. It comes in flashes of radiance, it is the quest of the Bard to bring more into their lives, to drink from the cauldron that creates the Fire in the Head. I’ve found that to sit and try to write a song is impossible for me. I cannot force inspiration, it simply is there or it isn’t. I have only rarely found it in my home. Most often it is found in the wilder places, on the moors, in the woodland, or upon the Hollow Hills where the Faerie dance on Midsummer’s Eve. And the key I have found is the use of sacred sound, whether that is a drum, mandolin, guitar, or the celtic harp. The Gods gave us music, and when we play in their sacred places, they listen.

Spirit of Albion Fan Music Video

I love it when I see how my music has been used in other peoples’ creativity. Here’s one I was sent recently that I hope you enjoy. I love the sparks coming from Rollo and Arthur in Stonehenge!

Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

Writing and recording an album is quite some undertaking. Each of my albums have taken on their own personality as each note has been played and recorded. During Herne’s Apprentice I was excited and nervous to see how my music would be received by people. Hills they are Hollow was probably the most gentle ride of all, as I’d found my feet and was thoroughly enjoying finding my way around the recording studio. The difficult third album was not so difficult in the end and, on the whole, Spirit of Albion flowed beautifully.

It was my fourth album The Cauldron Born that gave me my biggest challenge. Songs were coming that were deeply personal (Imramma – A Soul Quest), some political (Only Human), some written with an aim of putting the record straight (Green and Grey), whilst others told of a deep inner need to reconnect to the natural world (Land, Sky and Sea). The Cauldron Born lived up to its title as it felt like it was torn from my very soul, as I looked back into the depths of the Cauldron, and saw my own reflection.

I think it might have been this experience that led me to change direction with my next studio album by recording an album of classic traditional folk songs in Tales from the Crow Man. Some people ask why I did that, and the truth is that I really felt the need to give something back. I’d recorded a few folk songs on my previous albums (such as Raggel Taggle Gypsies and John Barleycorn), and each time I played these songs I became aware of a huge pyramid of ancestors stretching back behind me made up of all of the people who had sung these songs over the centuries. Nobody knows who wrote them, and that to me is part of the magic, but they are still being sung. These old folk songs tell of our human experience, and a folk song has to do that otherwise people will stop singing it, and it’ll disappear. So I chose the songs that had moved me the most over the years and went back into the studio.

I quickly realised that I didn’t just want to re-record covers of these songs, I wanted to really get to know them, explore them, feel them, then make my own mark on them, and that’s what I did, and that’s why Tales from the Crow Man was the hardest album of all. There was a pressure and a responsibility there that I wouldn’t deny. So it took a while, and it also took Cerri coming up with the concept of the Crow Man, this mysterious figure in the field outside the village that had seen the events of all of these songs happen. So he told his tales, and in the end I was really pleased with the result.

Last year I released my first live album As Nature Intended, and it is really lovely to have that available for those who simply cannot get to one my shows, and for those that can, but want to relive the experience.

So where next?

I am now halfway through recording my latest album, and it has already taken on a life of its own. It has taken this amount of time to tell me its name – as I’ve recorded the songs I’ve realised that it is a return to my roots. I am writing and singing about our myths, the land, and the Greenwood again, and it feels wonderful. This return to my roots led me to think about what it is that keeps drawing me to these subjects, and it is the mysticism, the spiritual connection to the beliefs and ways of our ancestors. And when I look into the mists of the green I always find the Lord of the Wildwood staring straight back at me.

So this album will be called Antlered Crown and Standing Stone. I said I was aiming at a March release but as usual I’ve been a little optimistic… So I will keep writing, and recording, and when it’s ready, it will be born.

New Lyric – You are Sacred Moon

Yesterday I started recording a song I wrote last year called Silent Moon, but as I worked on it I realised that I just wasn’t happy with the lyrics I’d written. This is one of the reasons that, although I’ve been playing a number of the new songs at concerts, this one never got played. So I went back to the beginning and wrote a new set of lyrics that I am much happier with.

So the song continues, it might even be the one I share with people who have signed up for my monthly newsletter as the demo progresses! If you want to hear the song as it changes, the newsletter signup form is on the front page of my website at www.paganmusic.co.uk.

So, here are the lyrics!

 

You are Sacred Moon

by Damh the Bard

Verse 1:

Silver you fly, a ghost in the sky,

Like a ship on an endless deep sea,

You are a Goddess to this holy novice,

A spiritual refugee.

Bridge:

So to you I dedicated my Rites,

Keeper of the Mysteries of the Night.

Chorus:

You are Sacred Moon

You are Sacred Moon

Verse 2:

My right hand it catches your power as it waxes,

A silver smile in the night,

I feel you growing the seeds I am sowing,

Blessed by the Maiden’s moonlight.

Bridge:

On this night when you are born anew,

Lady I will share my dreams with you.

Verse 3:

When you are waxing and times they are changing,

I offer into your care,

In a world gone insane you heal the pain,

As the Mother you’re always there.

Bridge:

Lady you are Mother of the Tides,

Standing here where land and sea collide.

Verse 4:

I cannot see you but I can feel you,

When the veil has hidden your face,

And as the Crone you lead the dead home,

To the comfort of your embrace.

Bridge:

I know it’s true that everything must die,

But for now I ask you pass me by.

Chorus:

You are Sacred Moon,

You are Sacred Moon.