Skip to content

In the summer of 2010, archaeologists working on the Isle of Skye at a site called High Pasture Cave discovered most of the charred bridge of a lyre in amongst charcoal that had been scraped to one side in a large, stone-lined fire pit situated in the forecourt just outside the narrow entranceway through which the Cave is accessed. The bridge piece has been dated to around 500 BCE, early in the British Iron Age. Reconstructions of the instrument of which the bridge was a part have generally been modelled on a complete one found in a 6th century CE warrior’s grave at a site called Trossingen in Germany in 2002. It’s quite possible that this was indeed the type of lyre the High Pasture bridge came from.

There is, however, an alternative, which is the type of lyre commonly known as the Lyre de Paule after a small stone statue of a late Iron Age bard unearthed in Brittany. This is a very different instrument, more akin to a Greek lyre. Similar lyres are shown on numerous Celtic coins, while the earliest known representations are scribed onto ceramic pots from the Hallstadt region of Germany and date from around 800 BCE.

This type of lyre, the earliest surviving name for which is chrotta, has fascinated me for decades, ever since I first saw an image of the Lyre de Paule. I now have one (left), and it's a beauty, thanks to the superb craft skills of Koth na Fiach of Dark Age Crafts. However, I also have another, made for me in Oak some years ago by Jim, an electric guitar maker. It came without fittings, the idea being that I would provide strings, tuning pegs, etc. myself. Naturally, what with Druid courses to write, and concern as to whether my craft skills were up to the task, I never got around to it. The Oak lyre therefore stayed propped up in my dining room until my Dark Age Crafts lyre arrived, at which point I decided to have a go at completing the Oak one myself, using the one Koth made for me as a reference guide.

The first piece I’ve made for it is a bridge based on the one from the High Pasture Cave. First, I drew out the profile of the piece on a spare piece of well-seasoned Yew that was about the right thickness. The original being apparently for a three or five stringed instrument, I expanded it a little to accommodate seven strings, the number on the Lyre de Paule. Having sawn the bridge roughly to shape with a tenon saw, I cut out the ‘stepped’ shape at the two ends, sawing down from the top, then slicing in from the side with a whittling knife.

I then drilled two holes through the ends. I’m not sure what purpose these serve. It’s possible that it allowed the bridge to be tied in place on the original instrument, although bridges are rarely fixed in place on modern acoustic instruments, so this seems unlikely. They may be either to make the piece lighter, or simply for decoration, or both.

The next step was to cut the notches in which the strings will sit. For this, I used a small fret saw, clamping the piece to the front of my desk with a G-clamp. In order for the strings to all sit at the same height from the soundboard, it’s vital to get the V-shapes all cut to the same depth. This is fiddly, but will make a real difference to the playability of the instrument.

Next came the most fiddly, delicate and time-consuming part of the process, shaping the whole piece using a whittling knife. I started by hollowing out the base of the bridge, leaving just the oval ‘feet’ at either end. I then used the fret saw to cut along the line of all of the notches at the top at an angle, making them into flat-topped pyramid shapes. Using the whittling knife, I then pared down the ends to a rounded shape and hollowed out one side of the bridge. I then used a counter-sink drill on either side of the already-drilled holes.

Once satisfied that I’d got the overall shape as near as I could to the original, the last stage was to sand it down with two different grades of glasspaper, one rough, one smooth.

I have to say, I think the finished piece looks great and I’m really pleased with it. Just as well, as it took me the best part of five hours!

Now I just have to wait for some violin pegs and a hole reamer to arrive, make a tail-piece, find some strings, and put the whole thing together.

My Dark Age Crafts lyre having nine Nylgut strings, the Oak one is going to have seven wire strings. It’s going to be a semi-acoustic too, once the pick-ups I have on order arrive. Why semi-acoustic? Well, I have a hankering to see what a wire-strung Iron Age lyre sounds like when run through an effects unit and amplified. If I was an Iron Age bard, I’d have wanted that...

More pictures and sound files will follow. Meanwhile, here’s a tale of the Irish god of Druidry, the Dagda, and how he summoned his Oaken harp (bearing in mind that the words for ‘harp’ and ‘lyre’ in Celtic languages were interchangeable for several centuries):

Now Lugh and the Dagda and Ogma pursued the Fomorians, for they had carried off the Dagda’s harper, whose name was Uaithne (pronounced Oona). Then they reached the banqueting-house in which were Bres son of Elatha and Elatha son of Delbaeth. There hung the harp on the wall. That is the harp in which Dagda had bound the melodies so that they sounded not until by his call he summoned them forth when he said this below:

Come, Oak of two plains,
Come, four-angled frame of harmony,
Come summer, come winter,
Mouths of harps and bags and pipes!

Now that harp had two names, Daurdabla ‘Oak of two plains’ and Coircetharchuir ‘Four-angled music.’

Then the harp went forth from the wall, and killed nine men, and came to the Dagda. And he played for them the three things whereby harpers are distinguished, to wit, the sleeping-strain and the smiling-strain and the wailing-strain. He played the wailing-strain to them, so that their tearful women wept. He played the smiling-strain to them, so their women and children laughed. He played the sleeping-strain to them, and the company fell asleep. Through that sleep the three of them escaped unhurt from the Fomorians though these desired to slay them.


Greywolf /|\


 Recent discussions on one of the BDO's facebook pages prompted me to think again about the power of words. I say 'again' because, having grown up with a deep love of music, especially of vocal music in which the lyrics convey real depth of meaning and promote thought, and also as a ritual magician, Druid, sometime Witch and practising Druid bard, the power of words is something I've been aware of for most of my life.

Living through the near global revolution of the 1960s, it was clear that much of the fuel that kept the revolutionary flame alive was carried through the lyrics of the songs we heard every day on the radio. Overt 'protest songs' from politically aware singers obviously played their part. 'We Shall Overcome,' particularly as recorded by Pete Seeger, became an anthem for the American Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam War and hippy movements. Bob Dylan's early political/social commentary songs such as 'Blowin' in the Wind,' 'With God on OFlowers vs. Riflesur Side,' and 'It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' were hugely influential, not only on his own fans, but on virtually every subsequent pop and rock performer with anything resembling a social conscience. They inspired the most active minds of an entire generation in countries all around the world to band together under the rainbow banner of peace and love and aspire to put an end to war and bring about a better, saner world.

The later 60s saw a wave of music Jimi Hendrix postertermed psychedelic, exploring the potential for global political change to be brought about by changes in individual and collective consciousness. Prime exponents included Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Misunderstood, The Moody Blues, The Pretty Things, Quintessence and many others. All of them used words and music with the intention of producing heightened states of consciousness in listeners. They inspired my own spiritual journey and those of millions of others, encouraging us to shake off the shackles of the material world, to see and experience worlds of spiritual wonder.

The power of words in combination with music has been explicitly understood by many significant pop and rock musicians. Brian Wilson has stated his intention to use the music of the Beach Boys to increase the amount of joy, love and beauty in the world. The ultimate expression of this is their song, 'Good Vibrations.' John Lennon recognised both his Lena of Baalfolket'clout' as a former Beatle and the potential of music and lyrics to change the world, using them to promote peace through songs like 'Give Peace a Chance' and 'Happy Xmas, War is Over.' His Beatle colleague, George Harrison, inspired by his musical mentor, Ravi Shankar, used music and lyrics to promote a more spiritual world through songs such as 'Within You, Without You,' 'The Inner Light' and 'My Sweet Lord.' Quintessence had the same aim, as did the more recent band, Kula Shaker.

Spiritual paths other than Druidry have long recognised the power of language. Hinduism and Buddhism employ chanting to create spiritually heightened states. 'Shamanic' cultures around the world similarly use chanting, often with music and/or rhythm, to evoke altered states of consciousness. Norwegian band, Baalfolket, are fine exponents of this, as in their the title track from their album, 'Forandring/Change.'

The Hebraic family of religions attribute great power to speech, maintaining that God created the universe wholly or partly by speech and that one of the names of God, if spoken in a certain way, can undo creation and bring the universe to an end. Australian Aboriginal folk have traditionally held that the continued existence of the world and its inhabitants relies on songs, chants and stories being repeated at specific sites to which they relate. The magical Grimoires of medieval Europe employ the power of words in many ways, spoken aloud, written on talismans or engraved around protective circles.

Words do have power, and this is something we really should keep in mind, not least when posting our thoughts online. Despite the old saw that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me," words can and do cause real emotional hurt. They can generate anger and ill-will. Those so affected may carry these hurts with them for days, even years or whole lifetimes. On the other hand, words can also heal, bring joy, build bridges and, of course, enchant.

Words express thoughts, and what we think and say is a potent expression of who we are. There are many ways in which we can use words both to reflect who we are and to bring about change in ourselves, in others and in the world. We may, for example, choose to express positive thoughts and ideas, or alternatively, we may choose to express and, therefore, define ourselves in terms of our opposition to other people, ideas and institutions. If we choose the latter, what we say is most likely to be framed in negative terms. While this may be useful to do in our own minds, when we put it out into the world, such expressions are likely to simply generate more negativity. Stating opposition to, or dislike for, an individual or institution, will obviously lead that individual or institution to see us as being in opposition to their own ideas and beliefs and will increase their opposition to us and our ideas. They will be less willing to engage us in discussion, feeling that it would be pointless since they already know that we are in mutual opposition.

On the other hand, if we use our words to express our own ideas, not framed in terms of opposition to anyone else's but purely in terms of the kind of outcome or world that we would like to see, then we are offering an extra possibility into the world, and doing so without immediately upsetting or angering those we might see as being opposed to our ideas, but who may not actually be so, or who may be open to persuasion. Telling someone that you are opposed to them is an almost guaranteed way of ensuring that they are, and will remain that way, thereby closing off any possibility for constructive dialogue and for the change such dialogue might create. I've seen this happen again and again and it always saddens and frustrates me.

Ovate booklet 9 coverHaving spent the last 6 or 7 years researching, writing and editing courses for the BDO has made me extra-conscious of the power of words. The intention of these courses is to offer a world-view that sees the universe as filled with spirit, wonder, magic and life.

Focusing so intently on words and what they convey over such a long period has caused me to review many things in my life. One result has been my choice to no longer read newspapers or watch TV news bulletins, the reason being that they promote an overwhelmingly negative view of the world and of humanity. The impression given is that virtually all human interactions are ruled by bigotry, anger and violence and that we should, therefore, be perpetually afraid of the world and of each other. This is arrant nonsense. Interacting with actual people on a one-to-one basis, you find that the vast majority of them want exactly what you want, i.e. to create a better life for themselves, their families and friends and, in doing so, to bring about a better world for everyone. This is the exact opposite of what the news media would have us believe. The disjunction between the world as it is and the world as presented on the nightly news was starkly portrayed by Simon and Garfunkel in their 1966 song, 'Silent Night/7 O'clock News.'

Fear & TVBy ceasing to pay attention to the constant drip-feed of negativity through the printed page or TV screen, I resist buying into their false view of the world. Instead, I find myself better able to open up to its inherent beauty and to find joy in a great deal of it. Freed from repeated daily doses of negativity, I find myself more able and willing to try and make my own words, thoughts and actions more positive. What is the point, after all, in increasing the amount of negativity with which we are already bombarded on a daily basis? Is it not much, much healthier for ourselves and for the rest of the world to at least aim to increase the amount of beauty, wonder, joy and creativity in it, even if we don't always succeed? Put like that, the answer seems blindingly obvious, though you'd hardly think so to see and hear some of the garbage fed to us through the media that increasingly swamp our lives and act as a barrier to interaction with the real world, or even with our own thoughts.

I had an idea for a global internet radio station called 'Good Vibrations' after the Beach Boys' song. I wanted to fill it entirely with songs, poetry and stories designed by their creators to increase the sense of joy and wonder we should all experience in being alive on a planet so full of beauty, courage and kindness. It hasn't happened yet through lack of time, expertise and the complexity of copyright laws, but don't you think it's a great idea? If you have the time and know-how, feel free to start it up yourself. I shan't mind, especially if you invite me to DJ on it. I already have a title for my show: Greywolf's Random Radio Hour. The tracks linked to from this blog will give you some idea of what I have in mind. Maybe one day ...

In the meantime, I promise to do my very best to make all my interactions with the world as positive as they can be, not to criticise others, to praise where praise is due, and to make music, poetry, pictures and words that assist, uplift, inform and enlighten. In other words, to use my awen and its magical, transformative power for good. Being a flawed human (at least when I'm not being a wolf, eagle, snake or other creature), I doubt that I'll always succeed, for which I apologise in advance, but the intention is sincere.

As George Harrison said, “with our love, we can change the world.”

Peace, love and blessings to all,

Greywolf /|\

PS. If you got all this way without following any of the links provided, please go back and try some or all of them. A lot of time and thought went into finding them and you're almost guaranteed to find something you like, find interesting, amusing, entertaining and/or just plain weird. Enjoy!