The Hardcore Bard

“Do you know yourself, do you know the others? Can you pull the weight that rides on another’s shoulders? Once you’ve lost yourself to the acceptance mask, well could you find yourself, it’s not a simple task. Self-inherence, freedom. Comes from within.  Take a different track. It’s time to see what you are made of. Can you expose yourself? Can you peel away another  layer? Will you make the time, the time to take control? Because only you can save yourself, only you can save your soul….come on, can you let go, can you, be you?”

Caboose by Snapcase (1997 Victory Records)

One of the criticisms that I often hear levelled at Druidry as a path is that it’s a bit polite! Having spent a fair amount of time hanging out with Chaos magicians, Thelemites and Left-Hand Path folks, when I discuss my connection to the Druid path, the question is often asked about what it has to offer in terms of methodology beyond its very public rituals and solar orientated aesthetics. In circles where darkness, intensity and the spilling of bodily fluids are potential measures of commitment, it could be easy to dismiss Druidry as being overly ordered and lacking in changed focused techniques. In my view such a reading is superficial and fails to account for subtle currents of inspiration that allow for a slower more sustainable form of personal evolution.

bard

A Hardcore Bard at Work

While works such as Ronald Hutton’s excellent The Druids highlight the struggle that modern Druids might have in uncovering what their ancient forebears actually did, we still have a rich body of both Celtic lore and the last two to three hundred years of reconstruction to draw from. While some may look down on the pseudo-masonic and Christian influence on the Druid revival, I personally feel that it holds some truly rich examples of the human spirit seeking to explore Mystery beyond the confines of the prevailing religious orthodoxies.

One of the aspects that I love in most forms of reconstituted modern Druidry is the way in which the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid are seen as interacting with each other. While most contemporary Druids view these roles as being a progressive hierarchy, it is important to acknowledge that some present-day adherents elect to remain as a Bard or Seer (Ovate) if they feel that this best captures their calling. For me the adoption of this three-fold scheme is less about moving through a stage in order to reach the next level, and more about an essential group of experiences that make the stage of the journey possible.

The work of the Bard often involves a reconnection to the spirit of creativity. The three drops of inspiration (Awen) that Gwion Bach ingested from Cerridwen’s cauldron, catalysed a process of alchemical change in which he eventually became the great poet Taliesin. Gwion’s transformation was far from easy as he was forced to adopt multiple animal and even vegetable forms in order to escape the pursuit of the dark Goddess in the form of Cerridwen.

The process of re-contacting our inspiration and creativity often involves a descent into the roots of our unconscious. Without this journey into the rich loam of our dark dimensions, our art and creativity risks a thinness that robs our work of its true magical potential. As I considered in my last post, we need to utilize the mirror as a tool for self-examination in meeting the challenge to “Know Thyself!” Our dreams need to be attended to and I have gained much benefit in revisiting old magical journals in order to comprehend the repeating patterns and ideas that revealed the deep drives that were shaping my magic.

In thinking about Bardic inspiration one could easily lapse into the stereotype of a harp-strumming longhair wandering through sun-dappled forests. As awesome and evocative as such images are, my own reconnection to Awen took a far noisier form. Dear reader I confess that I was a childhood metal head and that my own desire for increasing musical heaviness drove me into the sweaty tattooed arms of hardcore punk.

Any attempt to define musical genres will always be fraught with purism and border skirmishes, but broadly speaking, hardcore Punk (especially in its North American form) tends to integrate the rebellion and aesthetics of Punk while also capturing the heaviness and speed of more extreme Metal. Alongside its distinctive musical style, Hardcore often sought to convey a message of positivity, self-actualization and a desire to question societal norms regarding the food we eat, the drugs that we take and the things we consume.

Within the world of Hardcore, themes connected to the spiritual search are rarely far below the surface. Whether in the Heathen brutality of bands such as Neurosis or the Krishna-based longings of Shelter or 108, the desire to find both discipline and vision have driven artists down some intriguing by-roads.

As with any musical movement advocating change, there is often a distance between these ideals and the actual scene that espoused these goals. Although Queercore and the Riot Grrrl movements have gone some way in challenging the homophobia and misogyny within the Hardcore scene, it would be naïve to deny their presence. At it’s best however bands such as Fugazi, Quicksand and Neurosis have been able to maintain integrity and the evolution of their musical sound.

Each of us will have our own aesthetic styles and artistic media from which we can draw the waters’ of inspiration. As much as I love musical heaviness, regular readers of this blog will also be aware of my passion for both dance and Surrealist visual art. What feels important is that we give ourselves permission to embrace a holism in which the sacredness of all things is allowed to disrupt any secular/spiritual dualism. For me as a Postmodern Bard, my own journey to find inspiration, vision and discipline has enabled me to appreciate the way in which Hardcore at its best embodies these qualities and plays an important role in sustaining the flame of alchemical transformation.

I’ll end with some with some great lyrics from the Neurosis’ track “Burn”:

“You lie in the snow, cold but not dead
Stare into the sun, long since its last heat

Feel the freeze burn skin
Salt your open wounds
A burning desire clears your eyes
A willful air fills your lungs

You choke your first breath of wildfire and oceans depth
Climb out of your hole, see your spirit take form

This world of cold stone gives nothing in return
To those who sleep while the restless burn
There are those few driven to flame
Most are content to drown in the wake of dreams

The trail lies overgrown
Across the years fade out of light
Ever growing dim to an age in the dark
Grasp from your soul and don’t let them steal your eyes”

From The Eye of Every Storm  Neurot Recordings 2004

Steve Dee

The Tendrils of Sacred Time and Space

In the course of deepening my own engagement with the Druid tradition, I have recently been thinking further about the way in which stone circles and standing stones shape the way in which I think about sacred time and space. For me, my own use of the self-descriptor “Pagan” is innately connected to my pursuit of a spiritual path that consciously embraces the limitations of time, context and place. Whatever weird dimensions that I seek to ascend to or access, the pagan orientation of my pursuit of Gnosis necessitates an ongoing connection to the earth and the animal.

Magical acts often begin with the practitioner demarking a space and time so that their ritual practice might become more effective. Whether we journey to a location associated with power or we cast a circle in our front room, these acts and intentions become a psychic funnel via which our longings (both conscious and unconscious) can be focused more directly.

When, as a Chaos magician, I started exploring the wide variety of techniques that could be used for creating or entering sacred space I quickly became aware of the way in which my chosen paradigm profoundly affected my expectation of what such demarcation needed to achieve. If for instance I wanted to engage in a piece of Goetic magic my desire for protection and banishing might be profoundly different from a Puja dedicated to a deity with whom I have a deep and ongoing connection. What I started noticing through these explorations were the varying degrees of permeability that these approaches represented, and also the potential naivety in viewing any approach as entirely protective.

To undertake an act of magic is to invite change at both external and intra-psychic levels. As much as I might imagine that my banishing of a spirit or a great old one cleanses my spiritual palate, it clearly doesn’t negate the spiritual or psychological drives that caused me to do that work in the first place! If, for example, I choose to enter the realm of Red magick it is likely that the combative aspects of myself have been activated with all the adrenal, “fight” based responses innate to such territory. Whatever spell, sigil or servitor I use to express these impulses, I still have to contend with the reality that they arose from me in the first place. These desires and longings extend tendrils deep within our personality structures and as magicians we cannot dismiss them lightly.

strands

Cosmic Connections

The marking of sacred space via beginning and ending rituals allows a process of punctuation where we are trying to contain those events and energies that are potentially more risky. As magicians, we often make use of this approach to create a sense of control and agency in relation to life’s chaos. While such an approach is understandable, it is also susceptible to our all too human delusions of omnipotence. Our magic can be key in shifting our consciousness so that it can become more congruent with our goals, but I would also argue that the nature of such transformation can be as much about the need to accept things and to relinquish “the lust for results”.

The creation of magical space often provides us with a way of externalizing those aspects of self that we find problematic or challenging. I have previously considered some of the parallels between the Circle and the therapy room as environments in which we can explore ideas or qualities in more personified form,  and I continue to believe that this recognition and naming of parts is critical to our initiatory work. While I think that sacred space provides a helpful lab-like environment for such exploration to take place, I believe that our banishing and attempts at separation can only ever be partial. Yes banishing can be vital to prevent us becoming swamped and destabilized. but we must also recognize the ongoing web of connection that enables a slower, less conscious process of alchemical change.

Whatever perception we have of our magic enabling probability enhancement, we are still contending with a mysterious realm in which our intentions must interact with the complex dimensions of causality. For me, part of the genius of the sigil-based approach of Austin Osman Spare is that he recognises the importance of surrendering our longings to the ocean of the Unconscious. As much as our needs and longings need to be valued, we also need to acknowledge that the exertion of magical will through gritted teeth will only get us so far.

As we enter sacred space via our intentions, our magic often asks us to attend to a profound paradox that often lies at the heart of the Great Work that we undertake. Often we bring to our endeavours a desire to activate profound change to either aspects of ourselves or, the circumstances that surround us. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough for magic to happen through us, we can begin to understand our own motivations more fully and perhaps experience a greater acceptance of who we actually are. When we embrace the maxim “to dare” and turn to truly face our deepest drives, so we can begin to understand the next challenges in our initiatory journey. This can be difficult work, but for me it goes some way in unpacking what it means to engage with the challenge found at the temple of Apollo at Delphi:  “Know Thyself!”

Steve Dee