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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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!

New Lyric – Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

I found the tune for this song when I was ‘noodling’ on my guitar in the most beautiful chalet overlooking Loch Ness whilst Cerri and I were on holiday in Scotland last April. It was a cracking anthemic tune and it needed lyrics to back that up. So over this and last year, a few sets of lyrics for this song bypassed the blog, straight into the bin. For the past two days I’ve been writing these, and I knew that finally I’d hooked the right words and the Awen was flowing.

This is a devotional song, an anthem to the Pagan Horned God. Yes, I know, I’ve written about him a few times before, but to me he is the male principle of Nature, and deserving of praise and reverence many, many times.

I hope you enjoy the lyrics, and the song, when it is released later this year on my new studio album.

 

Antlered Crown and Standing Stone – Damh the Bard

Verse 1

I am the face within the leaves,

I am the voice within the trees,

I am boy, I am man,

The face of the changing land,

And I have been your constant guide,

From your caves on the mountainside,

We have walked hand in hand.

Verse 2

Everywhere that I have been,

My passing turns the grey to green,

The birds sing to the dawn,

And the land has awoken.

Now my Lady lays with me,

Our love weaves its tapestry,

Eternal threads, unbroken.

Chorus

I am lover, I am father,

I am Horned God and King,

I’m the life in all of Nature,

That is reborn every Spring,

Call of stag and cry of eagle,

I am Child of Barleycorn,

And I am the Antlered Crown and Standing Stone!

Verse 3

I am the oats, the corn and grain,

A bearded man with a crooked cane,

Cut me down, I must die,

For the land to be born again,

But don’t you cry and don’t you grieve,

For soon the Wild Hunt I will lead,

On the night of Samhain.

Verse 4

The air is cold,

The sky is grey,

Where am I this Winter’s day,

Bones of trees, fallen leaves,

The time of the Winter Queen,

But through the wind and snow and rain,

Know a part of me remains,

The Holly stands, evergreen.

(Copyright Damh the Bard 2012)

Respect for our Ancestors is Respect for Ourselves

At the beginning of the week I watched the documentary Standing with Stones. It’s a wonderful journey through many of Albion’s ancient sacred sites that took 8 years to film and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in archaeology, Paganism and the ancient ways of our ancestors. At the end of the film the presenter gave a wonderful speech that asked where are these people now? His answer is they are still here. It is us. I think that can be quite a hard thing to accept, living in a country that has been invaded a number of times, with it’s own boundaries and human-constructed barriers that keep people apart. But then you have the story of the archaeological dig in Cheddar caves where they checked the DNA of prehistoric bones found in the legendary cave system in the village with school children and teachers who lived there today. Remarkably one of the teachers had similar DNA as some of those bones, and two schoolchildren had exact matches! Their families had lived in or near Cheddar for over 12,000 years! Cheddar on the political map of Britain is in England, a place supposedly over run with not only Romans, but also Anglo Saxons and then the Normans. Some would have it that all of the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Britain migrated to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, but obviously they didn’t.

Now I’m a Gemini. An air sign, so when I get thinking I really get thinking. And I got thinking… and where these thoughts led me was to the way we treat ancient remains at archaeological digs.

There is currently discussion about bones that were re-dug up from the grounds of Stonehenge. I say re-dug up because they were dug up in the early 20th century, then reburied, then dug up again more recently so people can explore them again using our current advances in science. There are two arguments concerning these bones. Obviously we want to understand our ancient roots so this research is extremely valuable, but some say we should keep them in a box in a museum for further research. Then there are others who say that these were living people and that their remains should be returned to the ground once the research has finished. Being a typical Gemini I could see both sides, and found it hard to have an actual opinion. However, after hearing the speech of the presenter of Standing with Stones it made things clear to me.

I’ve heard people say about their own bodies, and I have agreed with them in the past, that once we die it doesn’t matter what happens to my our bodies. We have gone, it’s just an empty shell. It doesn’t matter. But what does that say about my relationship to my body? What does that really say about how I feel about this wonderful city of cells, of blood and bone, that has been my home in this lifetime? Of the brain that has imagined music, the voice that has sung, and the fingers that have played their music? Of the arms that have held my children and the people I have loved? Of the tears shed in pain and joy? Have I become so disassociated with my body that I just see it as a vehicle to carry the real me around until I die and then I’ll get a new one, like a new car? When I realised this I also realised how wrong these thoughts were.

For thousands of years when a loved one passed away those who remembered them wanted to say goodbye and the body is what represented the remains of that loved one. Now if we apply that to our ancient ancestors they not only loved these people, but they built massive Long Barrows and Chambered Tombs to hold their remains. Sometimes the bones would be taken out, but then they would be replaced. Some of these tombs were in use for nearly 1000 years. Since ancient times humans have respected the remains of the dead through burial or cremation. So how long have human remains got to be in the ground before it’s alright to dig them up and keep them in a box in a museum, or even put them on show as a exhibit? Would we dig up a Victorian grave? Further back? You see I think it’s our disassociation from these people that makes it ok. Many of us look at Stonehenge and don’t see a monument built by our direct ancestors. But why?

I recently joined ancestry.co.uk to look into my ancestry and managed to trace my family tree on both my parent’s lines right the way back to the early 1600s. Just 10 generations, but in those 10 generations are 882 ancestors. Take that back to the Neolithic and we are talking crazy numbers. Without doubt some of those will have been living here on this island. So the bones in that box in the museum could be our direct ancestors. So for me this disassociation between myself and the bones from these ancient graves has dissolved completely.

So I am of the same people who built these sites. They are our ancestral sites. This brings them even closer. And the people who built them, the people who lived there on Mount Caburn, Cadbury, Cissbury, some of them are probably my ancestors. They are a part of me, and you. So what to do about the bones?

Most of us will agree that it is important to learn more about the ways of our ancient ancestors, and a part of that is learning through remains. But when we have finished, I do believe we should return them to their resting place. In the same way as Native Americans holds dear to their hearts the spiritual homes of their dead, I think we should honour them in the same way. At some point, way too far back for many to care, these bones were placed in the earth, in the tomb, by a community that loved them. They were human and had the same emotions we have now. Those seemingly empty shells held the spirit of a human being who laughed, cried, ate, drank, loved, just as we do. And although I once didn’t really care what happened to my body after I die, I realise how crazy that way of thinking was. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, so I will ask those who I leave behind to honour this body. Give it to fire, and place half of me on the Long Man of Wilmington, and half on the cliffs of Boscastle – my two spiritual homes. And there a part of me will remain. That is my wish, so if you are reading this in 5000 years time – DON’T DIG ME UP!

New Lyric – Branwen’s Lament

I was ‘noodling’ on my guitar and found a sequence of notes that I knew were going somewhere but couldn’t quite find my way into their meaning. I played them to Cerri and we both agreed that it sounded like a lullaby. But then in one of those special moments when the Gods just open their mouths and whisper into our ears Cerri said, “It’s Branwen’s tale.” We sat in silence for a while as it sank in, and both of us found our eyes welling with tears.

Branwen’s story from the Mabinogion is one of the saddest tales we have within the mythology of the British Isles and I felt I had to give her voice the respect and honour she deserved, but sadly did not receive in life.

I wrote these lyrics yesterday and just played the song to Cerri. I didn’t make it all of the way through without tears.

Branwen, White Raven, I offer you this song,  so you know that the Bards still tell your story.

So mote it be.

Branwen’s Lament – Damh the Bard

(Branwen sings)

Dearest Brother hold me here,

Safe in your embrace,

For I feel, death is near,

Her breath upon my face,

Across the Irish sea, you came to rescue me,

Leading an army to avenge my shame,

Two islands torn apart, like my broken heart,

From your army just seven remain.

(Bran Sings)

Sister I heard you calling to me,

O’er the Irish sea,

I brought a war to those foreign shores,

For to set you free,

Now I feel I’m dying poison in my veins,

But for you my dear Sister I’d do it again.

(Branwen Sings)

I can hear as I close my eyes,

The screams of my young Son,

Cast into the burning fire,

By Efnysien,

After death I’ll find  peace, all of my pain will cease,

Brother you are my dearest friend,

Now I will welcome death, I will draw my last breath,

And this Raven will fly again.

(Bran sings)

Lay her body within the Earth,

In this four-cornered tomb,

So her Spirit will know rebirth,

From our Mother’s womb,

And though you lie in the earth so cold,

Know that your story will forever be told,

Bury my head facing over the sea,

And while it remains this land will be free.

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.

Proof and Faith

Yesterday I read with interest a blog post by my friend and Druid author Kristoffer Hughes and it got me pondering my own relationship with Celtica and Druidry. The original blog post is here. 

I too was originally drawn to Druidry through its connection with the ‘Celtic’ world. It seems to me these days that it’s so hard to say things like ‘Celtic’ because there is always the person waiting on the sidelines to ask exactly what you mean by Celtic, that there was no Celtic race, that it was a culture, that the perception that the Welsh, Irish, Breton, and Cornish are the inheritors of this Celticity is wrong, and that there is just as much ‘Celtic’ DNA in the English as there is anywhere else. In fact I’ve recently read an article that suggests that the Irish are more Spanish than ‘Celtic’… That the Druids never wrote anything down so how can I call myself a Druid? Etc etc. So open your mouth and say the word Celtic at your peril! But I’m going to say it anyway, as it was this that was a big contributing factor that drew me to Druidry in the beginning.

It is also the Brythonic Deities that have always made my blood pump harder. Another historical hot potato that one. Mention the Mabinogion and the Gods from that wonderful book of tales, or the themes from the poetry of Myrddin or Taliesin, and once more you may find yourself being cornered to produce evidence that the ancient Druids even knew the name of Gwydion, Blodeuwedd, Rhiannon, and that is as difficult as proving that Jesus actually existed.

So already if I say something like ‘I am a modern day Druid who seeks to follow in the footsteps of my ancient ancestors and revere the Gods of this magnificent and magical island in the form of Rhiannon of the Horses, Blodeuwedd the Lady of the Night Sky and the Spring Meadow, Mryddin of the Druid Way’, there are many ready to question that, as much as they might question how someone can be a Christian Druid, or A Buddhist Druid, they ask how I can be a modern Pagan Druid.

My answer? I can’t prove it, nobody can, but I don’t need a history book to confirm my inner connection has that validity – I guess the person asking the question might but not me. See I have something that I’ve noticed some people find quite hard to say let alone admit. I have a faith. At some point I had to let go of searching for an accurate history of Druidry, and begin a deeper, less intellectual but more intuitive, quest.

I have never wished, nor needed, to find my personal spiritual connection to my Path through history books. If I did there are far easier options for a Pagan to follow than Druidry! My connection comes from our songs, our stories, our folklore. When I hear these old myths spoken by a master storyteller, they draw me into an inner experience, and it is there that I meet my Gods. Then, when I return, I find their same faces in the trees, in the mounds of the Hollow Hills, in the cry of the Owl, or the thunderous pounding of hoofs.

I love archaeology and history, and if I wanted to know the history of a site these would be the people I would ask, but if I wanted to know the local folklore, the stories and myths that were told about a certain hill or woodland copse, I wouldn’t necessarily go to a historian, for those I would seek a local Bard, a storyteller, a poet. No proof necessary, just take me on that journey.