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Since around 2005, the British Druid Order and friends have been holding a blessing ceremony for the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, the largest historical re-enactment event in Europe, which takes place annually on the second weekend in July. This came about because the festival, which has been running since 1984, had always had a blessing from a Christian priest on the Sunday morning, but the organisers had become increasingly aware that a significant proportion of the re-enactors and stall-holders are not Christian, but Pagan. They therefore asked us if we would provide a ceremony on the Saturday morning before the public are admitted to the field. We’ve been doing so ever since. We began with about eight of us. This year there were more than thirty people in our circle, which isn’t bad considering most of the entertainers, stall-holders and re-enactors who would like to come are attending meetings or preparing for the day’s events at the time our ceremony is held.

In essence, we ask the spirits of the place, our ancestors and the old gods of our lands to bless and protect all those taking part in the weekend. Perhaps our greatest success so far came in 2007, the summer during which Britain was hit by unprecedented floods. Large, open-air events were being cancelled all over the country. Tewkesbury was one of the few that went ahead as planned. Yes, it was very muddy underfoot, but the rain held off for most of the weekend and the event was a success.

For the last five years or so, the BDO and our friends from the Wild Ways retreat centre in Shropshire, have rented adjacent stalls at Tewkesbury. We stay over for the whole weekend, arriving on Friday afternoon and leaving on Sunday evening. This means we get to enjoy the bands who play in the beer tent on those two evenings. We have also developed a tradition of drumming the sun down on Friday evening. We meet lots of old friends and make lots of new ones. It’s a joyous event and one we wouldn’t miss.

This year was a particularly good one for me. A little 8-stringed lyre (left) had arrived a couple of days before the festival weekend. For about twenty-five years, I’ve been obsessed with the Iron Age Gaulish lyres called chrotta and this little one was the nearest I’d ever come across to the best existing image of a chrotta, a stone statue dating from the 2nd century BCE, found in Brittany and called the Lyre de Paule (right).

Having arrived and set up our stalls in the marquee, I was standing behind the BDO stall playing my little lyre, when, to my amazement, a guy walked through the door of the marquee carrying a much larger lyre, clearly based on the same Lyre de Paule statue that had always intrigued me. When I’d recovered from the surprise, I went over and introduced myself. The guy with the chrotta turned out to be Koth NaFiach of Dark Age Crafts, and he makes them.

Starting out as a guitarist, he became intrigued by early European stringed instruments, then obsessed by Gaulish lyres to the extent that he had to make one for himself. Then other people starting asking if he could make them one, and so began a new career. He now tours festivals as a bard, telling stories and singing songs to the accompaniment of these beautiful instruments. As a musician, he has learned how to create them so that they not only look great, but sound wonderful. As a spirit worker, he crafts them to bring out the magical qualities of the materials so that to play them, or to hear them played, is to be transported to another world, to have the spirit truly uplifted.

We talked a lot over the course of the weekend, mostly about our shared obsession with these almost unknown instruments. We talked about possible playing styles, how we both concluded that the Gauls probably used something similar to ancient Greek musical modes for tuning, about the paucity of images of them other than tiny ones on coins, about the relative merits of metal, gut or Nylgut strings, about tuning pegs... We also discussed what the chances were that the two people in the UK most obsessed with Gaulish lyres should be allocated stall spaces right opposite each other at an event covering about 20 acres. This is the type of one-in-a-million chance that I refer to as a cosmic coincidence, that happens when the universe wants it to.

Koth loaned us a chrotta and Ariana, Amanda and I played it pretty much all day behind our stalls. Many people asked about it and we pointed them across the way to Koth’s stall. We were happy to do the advertising in exchange for the spiritual and emotional uplift we got from playing the chrotta. We were truly enraptured. Ariana and Amanda both said they had no musical ability, but that they were able to make entrancing sounds with both my little lyre and Koth’s larger ones. With lyres, it’s all in the tuning. All the strings are in the same key, so it’s pretty much impossible to play a wrong note!

In other news, Bernie the Bolt, who’s been supplying quality cloth to the masses at Tewkesbury pretty much since it started, was having a sale this year. For the tiny sum of £30, I am now the proud owner of 10 metres of 60 inch wide, beautifully soft wool and polyester mix tartan. Why so much? Because I’m going to make myself and my son, Joe, Iron Age bardic costumes. Do we know what Iron Age bards wore? Yes, we do, because there’s this beautiful little bronze figurine of one that dates from the 1st century BCE and was found near a sacred shrine at a place called Neuvy-en-Sullias in Western France. His long tunic and trousers are clearly marked with a lozenge or diamond pattern, which is what you get if you turn a tartan through 45 degrees. Why would you do that? Because cutting cloth at such an angle wastes more material, thereby proving the wealth of the lord who provided the bard with his uniform. Other images of bards from centuries earlier and the other side of Europe confirm the universality of this style of bardic dress.

I also think I may have finally found someone who can make bags with the BDO Awen symbol embroidered on them, and can print the Fionn’s Window design on cloth so that I can make Ogham divination sets of the type described in the medieval Irish Scholar’s Primer.

Coming full circle, I picked up a bag of horn offcuts that I can use to make plectrums for lyres. If I can get the manufacturer to make a couple of changes, I’m going to import some of the little lyres I mentioned earlier and offer them for sale at events and on the BDO webshop. Amanda has already said she wants two of them! They are sweet little things and amazingly portable, made from such a light wood that the whole instrument probably weighs less than a pound. They’re a nice starter instrument to learn your way around and try out different tunings. Then, once you’ve got the hang of the lyre, you can graduate to one of Koth’s amazing chrotta reconstructions, like the one he's playing in this video from the Dark Age Crafts website.

So, maybe see you at Tewkesbury next July? I'll be the guy in the twisted tartan Iron Age bardic costume playing the wolfshead lyre 🙂 'Til then...

Peace, magic and music,

Greywolf /|\

1

"It was fifty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught a band to play..."

Today, we're very close to Sgt. Pepper territory. At 7pm on January 4th, 1967, The Beatles returned to Abbey Road studios in London to do more work on a track begun during three sessions in December '66. Work on the track was finally completed on January 17th and it was released in the US and UK not long after. It was called Penny Lane.

The recording technique used on Penny Lane was different from anything the band had done before. Their usual way of working was to play the whole rhythm track through as a group, then, when they had a take they were happy with, they would start instrumental and vocal overdubs. In 1966, however, Paul MacCartney had fallen under the spell of Brian Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys and, specifically, behind MacCartney's favourite album of '66, 'Pet Sounds,' sometimes voted the most perfect album of all time. Macca took the album to the studio with him and used to listen to it during breaks. He told producer, George Martin, and the engineers at Abbey Road that he wanted the sound of that album, which he called, "the American sound." He meant a recording on which all of the instruments appear crisply in the mix, without the sort of fuzziness-producing 'bleed' that happened when recording several instruments at the same time. This presented technical difficulties since the tape machines at Abbey Road gave a maximum of four tracks. The answer was to fill those four tracks, then 'bounce them down' onto a single track on another four-track tape, fill the remaining three tracks on tape two, 'bounce down' again onto a single track, and repeat until the track was finished.

Paul wrote the song on piano, with John helping out on the lyrics for the third verse. This was appropriate since John had referred to Abbey Road in a first draft of his song, 'In My Life,' in 1965. Like Lennon's 'Strawberry Fields Forever,' recorded at the end of 1966, 'Penny Lane' was also a nostalgic trip through a Liverpool childhood and youth, full of references to actual places in or near the titular street. Both 'Strawberry Fields...' and 'Penny Lane' were originally planned to be part of the themed LP, 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.'

Paul's piano was the first instrument to be recorded at Abbey Road in December, followed by Paul overdubbing another piano part, this time played through a guitar amplifier, then a third piano, played in a lower key and at half speed then sped up to give another different sound quality. High notes from a harmonium were then added, along with some percussion.

During the session on January 4th, John overdubbed yet another piano part, George added some guitar, and Paul recorded his lead vocal. The session concluded at 2.45 am.

Subsequent sessions added one more piano part, this time played by George Martin, Paul's bass, John's rhythm guitar, Ringo's drums and hand bells, and John's congas.  George Martin wrote arrangements for flutes, trumpets, piccolo, flugelhorn, oboes, cor Anglais), and bowed double bass, to be played by classical session musicians, as was the signature sound of the track, a solo for piccolo trumpet, played by David Mason of the English Chamber Orchestra. George's arrangements were basically transcribed from parts that MacCartney sang to him.

By the time recording sessions were finished on January 17th, both EMI in the UK and Capitol in the US were putting pressure on The Beatles' managment to come up with a new single. They hadn't released one since 'Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby,' which had topped the charts in both countries in August the previous year. It was therefore decided to pull both 'Penny Lane' and 'Strawberry Fields Forever' from the planned 'Sgt. Pepper' LP. The downside is that these two themed tracks would have fitted really well in the scheme of the album. The upside is that 'Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields...' is widely regarded as one of the finest singles ever produced, perhaps the finest.

The Beatles were only one of many bands at the time competing with each other to be more creative, more imaginative. All were sharing tapes and ideas, all inspiring each other. During the recording of 'Penny Lane,' Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr took time out to go and see The Jimi Hendrix Experience play at the Bag O'Nails club in London. Macca's friend, Donovan, was riding high in the charts with 'Sunshine Superman,' the Kinks with 'Dead End Street,' the Who with 'Happy Jack,' and Cream with 'I Feel Free.' These were heady days, when artistic boundaries were expanding at an unprecedented rate in popular music. This fierce exploration, pushing towards a future that seemed overflowing with possibilities, was mingled with a nostalgia for the personal past and childhood, and for the social and sartorial past, from the late Victorian era through to the 1920s. These trends come together perfectly in The Beatles' paean of praise to the Liverpool of their youth and are perfectly captured in the promotional film (what we would now call a video) they made at the time. Enjoy ...

Blessings of peace, love and inspiration,

Greywolf

4

 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!