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The Role of the Bard

The bards of the Fair Folk and human bards are quite different. The bards of the Fair Folk are singers and artists, full of dramatic flair. They are often shape shifters, and able to enter into the forms and identities of the people they describe. When they give histories, their stories become vivid before their audience.

Human bards were also entertainers, but this was only a secondary job, a side job as it were. They were really record keepers, and lineage holders, for the bards could determine a king's legitimacy. To satirize a king was to declare his access to the throne suspect. The role of the bard was that of historian and social commentator. They taught about the past and glorified heroes while insulting cowards and villains. They were both the newspaper and the opinion page. In cultures without written media, people had to learn through living sources. As such, events were not simply words on a page but dramas of vice and virtue.

Bards spoke mostly of human events with harps and staffs, and occasionally drums. They sometimes described relationships between the generations with the dead or the Fair Folk having revenge upon or giving blessings to descendents. The subject of their songs were ancestors of kings, heroes, owners of property, rights to natural resources, and the ownership of objects. The real owners knew the other owners, and bards were like lawyers with the memories of the exchanges in a time when few people wrote things down. They were specialized libraries of status and property. The bards knew who inherited from whom. This was the function for which they were paid, and falsification of records was considered a great evil. For commercial transactions, bards were the truth-tellers.

As truth-tellers, the bards were feared because they were taken seriously when they called people heroes or villains. Bards were commonly believed to be able to look into a person's soul, and discover if there was any villainy there. And how could a person combat such a charge? Killing a bard would be like burning down a newspaper office. It would only support the charge and confirm the villainy of the accused.

This role of bards has been submerged in history, and they are remembered as a sort of wandering folk singer. Certainly they entertained people on cold winter nights before fires at inns, and before bonfires at holidays, and indeed for bards at the minor levels, this was all they knew how to do. But there were classes and levels of bards, and the more advanced ones went through years of memory training. In cultures without writing, memory became extremely important, and those with the best memories rose to political heights. Ordinary bards, on the other hand, would simply remember hundreds of songs and act them out.

Now the bards of the Fair Folk were more than singers. They were experts in transformation. If they sang about the hero Taliesin, they would take on his forms playing different roles. They could also project mental images so if they sang, for instance, about the salmon of wisdom, all could see it splashing to climb to its heights. They became the heroes of the Fair Folk, took on the joy and modesty of princesses, and taught the secrets of sorcery by demonstrating self-transformation.

A favorite topic of bards has been Oisin, a lost and wandering prince. The lord of the forest, Cernumos, had many different adventures with animals. Lugh had many problems being accepted, and that created many dramas, as did Aengus and his romances. All were the subject of bardic dramas.

The bardic schools would train their singers in many skills. For human bards, there were many issues of ancestry and affiliation before entrance into a school. For less formal bards, there was simply apprenticeship, and no requirements of blood or lineage. Successful bards were charismatic and could draw a crowd.

For the bards of the Fair Folk, there were skills in visualization and projection of mental imagery required. Bards needed a sense of harmony, of beauty, of flowing melodies, of control of the winds of change and ideas. The goal was not to draw a crowd, but to entertain and educate those interested in the course of events over time, and give a sense of direction for the future.

For Celtic people, bards and druids were mostly separate. Bards were librarians reading out loud to audiences, but the priestly group of druids was tied to gods, to nature, to magical control of the environment, and to fighting competing priests. When groups fought each other, the names of the gods of the losers were erased and forgotten. Memory of magic and nature stayed. This is why today there has been a fusion of the ancient gods with nature and magic. Their separate categories have been forgotten. Indeed, how many people remember Lir or Danu today? Their names were erased, first by warring tribes, and then by outsider religions. Their stories are gone.

What has come to substitute is a conglomeration of nature worship and magical spells, an assumption that the Fair Folk have no world of their own, and a belief that they must dwell in the invisible world of others- those of humans and animals. In the stories passed down by the Fair Folk's former Celtic neighbors, the Fair Folk became cowards hiding underground, and weakened beings subject to their spells and invocations.

This is the result of forgetting, and of no longer having bards. The few written records were burned by invaders who accused the Fair Folk of murder, sacrifice, strange sexuality, and other accusations that they routinely flung at each other. The Fair Folk were no longer there to deny the charges. The silence of the bards and the loss of the bardic tradition has ruined the reputation of the Fair Folk.

Introduction | History | Manannan Mac Lir | Merlin | Taliesin | Building the Realms of the Fair Folk | Lir and Danu | Lugh and the Morrigan | Anya, Daughter of Manannan | Manannan's Ocean Kingdom | Aengus, The Poet God of Love and Romance | The Ancient Roads to the Fair Folk | Manannan's Horses | The Society of the Fair Folk | The Place of Transformation | Traveling Between the Worlds | Research Methodology | Conclusion


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