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)

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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.

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.

The Blessings of the Wheel

I love the way our Pagan Wheel of the Year works its magic. It lies at the very heart of my spiritual life and I’m sure, like many other Pagans, the more I have worked with it, the more my own life has changed to reflect the turning of the seasons. So now, as the nights have drawn in, and the leaves have fallen once more to the ground to nourish next year’s growth, I too can feel the busy-ness of my own life changing. But just as the birds and animals are still busy searching for food, so I am searching for the Awen to inspire new songs, and to bless me with the insight for the arrangements of the songs I’ve already written.

I’m heading back into the studio to record a new album – the first album of my own songs since The Cauldron Born released in late 2008. I have a couple more concerts this year, and a couple early in 2012, but I have consciously created a space for that Awen to enter. And as I look outside at the late Autumn day I can see and feel that the energy is right.

The origin of some people’s inspiration is action, from friction and intense activity. Some people find their spiritual connections also come from that space, from drumming and dancing, screaming and chanting. I love that too, but I also know that the foundation of my inspiration comes from stillness, from peace. And that is another reason why I love the Wheel of the Year. The Spring and Summer are times of activity, when I am out playing at festivals, dancing around a burning Wickerman, running through a labyrinth, losing myself to the fire and power of the Pagan drummers. So when Autumn and Winter arrive I am ready to welcome their energy too – energies of reflection, and peace. I know that my spiritual life is enhanced by these changes. If all I knew was hot, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never felt cold? If all I knew was light, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never knew darkness? So if all I knew was wildness, how would I fully understand and appreciate it if I didn’t know stillness and peace? 

The Ancestor is standing at the Threshold. The woodland is still, and filled with the aroma of decaying leaves. And I am now ready to approach the Ancestor, to seek entry into the Grove of Reflection, to sit in stillness with eyes open, and to allow the woodland to accept my presence. Only then will the Faerie come out once more to dance, to show themselves to me, and allow me to hear their music.

The Strength of our Roots help hold the Tree

I’ve heard it said that a tree doesn’t benefit from having its roots dug up, and this is true, but every now and again I feel the need to take stock and look back at what brought me to the Path in the beginning. To make sure that my roots are still secure, as sometimes they do need some kind of repair.

So yesterday I stopped looking forward, and placed my gaze firmly on the past, yet from this present moment. I got out my old Grove Books that I wrote during my studies with the Occult Church Society, and then the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. I read what I’d written for the first time in probably 8 years.It was lovely to read my own words as I set out on this path, a time when I had no idea how my life would change. I hadn’t yet written one Pagan song, so all of it lay unknown, in the future.

One beautiful thing that came from this was a great sense of re-connection, of getting back to my own roots, and it was wonderful. During one of the rituals I wrote that I believed I had met Brighid who had told me that the “source of my poetry and song lay in my own Spirit”. When I asked what that meant She just kept on repeating the same words, over and over again. There were other beautiful messages about the future hidden within the text, and a couple of times I couldn’t help but have to dry away a few tears.

There is a lot of sense in working with the Power of Now, especially if we have a tendency to live in a perceived future when we believe all will be better. But every now and then, and particularly as Samhain approaches, I think it does me good to look back and acknowledge the ancestor of my life today. To water the roots that keep my feet on the Path, and to be able to then take a new step forward, held by my life’s experiences.

Spirit of Albion movie film diary day 7

Here’s the latest film diary!

New Lyric – Brighid

A couple of years ago, during an Imbolc ritual, I made a promise to Brighid that I would write a song for her. Last week I made good on that promise and I hope that

She is pleased with her song. I’ll be playing it at my forthcoming concerts over the next few weeks, so I hope you all like it too!

Brighid

(Verse 1)

There’s a tree by the well in the woods that’s covered in garlands,

Clooties and ribbons that drift in the cool morning air,

That’s where I met an old woman who came from a far land,

Holding a flame o’er the well, and singing a prayer.

(Chorus)

Goddess of fire, Goddess of healing,

Goddess of Spring, welcome again.

(Verse 2)

She told me she’d been a prisoner trapped in a mountain,

Taken by the Queen of Winter at Summer’s End,

But in her prison she heard a spell the people were chanting,

Three days of Summer, and snowdrops are flowering again.

(Verse 3)

She spoke of the Cell of the Oak where a fire is still burning,

Nineteen Priestesses tend the eternal flame,

Oh but of you, my Lady, we are still learning,

Brighid, Brigantia, the Goddess of Many Names.

(Bridge)

Then I caught her reflection in the mirrored well,

And looked deep into her face,

The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place.

From my pocket I pulled a ribbon,

And in honour of her maidenhood,

I tied it there to the tree by the well in the wood.

(Chorus)

Goddess of fire, Goddess of healing,

Goddess of Spring, welcome again.

(copyright Damh the Bard 2011)