1. Indo-European Culture: Discuss in general terms the bardic arts prevalent within a single (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture; explain how those bardic arts fit into that culture and religion. (300-600 words)

The first culture that comes to my mind with regards to the bardic arts is the Celts.  Opposed to what we currently have as bards, being eccentric poets as an example, they were highly respected, and often hereditary.  They were of the learned class of the Celts, and spent many years learning hundred of tales (Rees and Rees 16).  One of their main roles was to entertain the nobles.  We can see an example of this in The Mabinogion where the following transpires:

“Gwydyon was seated to one side of Pryderi, who said, ‘Well, we would enjoy hearing a story from one of these young men.’  ‘Lord,’ answered Gwydyon, ‘it is our custom that, on the first night in the house of a great man, it is the chief bard who begins.  I will gladly tell a story.’  Gwydyon was the best storyteller ever, and that night he entertained the court with pleasant tales and stories until everyone there praised him, and Pryderi was happy to converse with him.” (Gantz 100)

The bards were also king makers and destroyers.  They knew all that a king was supposed to do, and how they were to do it.  They also had the ability to raise a king up with praise in their stories.  There was a second side to that.  They were able to assist in taking a king down through their satire.  Another role was to keep track of the lineage of the kings (Rees and Rees 17).

Traditionally, poets (filid) were judges in the Irish society.  Master poets (ollam) were equal to a king in the eyes of the law.  We also have them sometimes performing divination (Rees and Rees 17).  As you can see, the bards were a powerful group of people.  As we look at what the classical writers have to say about the bards, they put them as part of the priestly class along with Ovates and Druids.  The Celts themselves did not truly have that kind of distinction.  It was more likely that all three of these duties overlapped heavily than the writers would have us believe (Ellis 207).

In the end though, the role of the bard was to keep the history of the people.  They were the ones that knew the tales and lore of their people.  They kept the genealogy of the nobles.  It was them that kept the oral traditions of their culture.  They were also the entertainment for the ruling class, and that was how they earned their living.

  1. Genres: Describe four "genres" of bardic arts, at least one of which must be poetry. For each genre, compare and contrast its appearance and/or use in two single (preferably ancient) Indo-European cultures. The two cultures need not be the same for all four genres. (300 words each)


Poetry is by far the most common “genre” of bardic arts that has survived to the modern day.  We can find many examples of this in both the Norse and Greek cultures, along with all the other IE cultures.

For the Norse, the best known collection is the Poetic (or Elder) Edda which is a collection of poems written down by Snori Sturluson in the late thirteenth century (Larington xi).  These poems were the oral tradition that he had heard in Iceland, and his travels through Scandinavia.  This was their mythology that was passed down through the ages.  These are not the only source of the myths, but they are the most prominent poetic form. 

We also have from Snori the Prose Edda.  While this is not completely poetry, it was written as a textbook of the Norse Eddic style poetry.  The second part of this three part work is Skaldskaparmal or the language of poetry.  This section lays out, including some of the myth behind it, the various kinds of language used in poetry, such as kennings, and can really be looked at as a kind of thesaurus (Sturluson xv).  The third section is the Hattalykil or the key of meters.  This section lists and demonstrates the various poetic forms (Sturluson xiv).  As a result, a lot can be learned of the poetic forms of the Norse.

When we look at the Greeks, two poets pop into my mind, Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod with his Theogony and Works and Days.  These four poems are, like the works of Snorri, major sources for what we know about Greek mythology.  As with the Norse, they give us the mythology that the authors heard throughout their life.  Unlike the Norse though, these poems were written in pre-Christian times.

If we were to also directly compare the works, it is very easy to notice that the poetry form is different in each culture.  With Snorri, we get many relatively short poems, often with repetitive verses.  In contrast, Homer and Hesiod both were epic poets.  Their works were much longer, with Works and Days as an example being 800 verses long (Hesiod).  In either case though, they have survived largely intact and have continued to educate us on the stories of the cultures.


Storytelling is another way that oral history has been passed down generation to generation.  Stories though do not always employ the various memorization techniques that poetry does, such as rhyme or repetition.  As a result, stories did change more through time, although the meaning usually stayed the same.  An example of how this would happen would be through the storyteller embellishing parts of the story (Rees and Rees 15).

The Celts are rather well known for setting down their myths in story form.  We can see this specifically with the Irish and what is used as source material for them.  Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) and Cath Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Mag Tuired) are both stories of the history of the Celts.  The Book of Leinster sets out the various types of stories that the Celtic poets were supposed to memorize.  It also stated that there were “250 Prime Stories” and “100 Secondary Stories” but fewer titles than that were listed. (Rees and Rees 207)

The Germanic people are also known for their stories.  The sagas as a whole are a collection of stories of their history.  Many of these were of legal struggles, such as Hrafenkel's Saga.  The Norse were a people that were interested in the judicial side of things, and as a result, many of those stories were kept.  The sagas also talked of wars, raiding, explorations, and even romance.  Egil’s Saga and Volsung Saga are excellent examples of this.  In many respects though, as pointed out in the introduction to Egil’s Saga, these stories can be looked at as actual history of the people.  (W. C. Green)

Overall, storytelling appears to have been the result of the natural progression of these cultures.  For an oral based culture, poetry was the best and easiest way to transmit the knowledge.  As the cultures gained writing, we start seeing stories being written down.  With the Tain as an example, it’s a mix of poetry and storytelling.  With the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlsuson, we have the same thing, except in this case it was a manual on how to write poetry!  In the end though, storytelling did develop into an important way to pass on the tales of the people.


Music has been around for ages.  It is also something that is commonly referred to as a universal language because non-vocal music can convey what it was written to convey across cultures, without regard for vocal language.  Historically though, music was not always the respected profession that it is today.

For the Celts, musicians were described by Strabo as bards, one of the three learned classes.  Diodorus Siculus goes on further to say that they were not just musicians, but lyrical poets. (M. J. Green 39)  That is only part of the story though.  Throughout Ireland the vocal and instrumental musicians were part of a fourth class that included much of the worker class.  Only the harpists could be raised above this class (Rees and Rees 113, 127).   We also have Cicero saying that there were no musically educated people in the British Isles (Ancient Celtic music). 

To me, it looks like there were differing opinions within the Celtic world as to the importance of music.  For the continental Celts, who had more contact with Greece and Rome, music was more important, whereas the musicians in the British Isles were of the lowest group of people, unless they were harpists.

Music for the Greeks was nearly a polar opposite to that of the Celts.  We have plenty of evidence of music in their culture.  This includes fragments of actual scores of music, records of prizes and fees that musicians earned, vase paintings of musicians, and even the Odeion of Perikles which is a concert hall built in Athens in the latter half of the fifth century BCE (Hemingway and Hemingway).  We also see that the musicians were almost synonymous with the poets. 

Before the fall of Athens in 404 BCE, the musicians often were accompanying the poet with non-harmonious music.  It wasn’t until after the fall of Athens that we started to get professional musicians, and as a result of this we started to get more complicated and diverse music which flourished until Roman times (The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed.).

Overall, when you compare the two cultures we can see that both did have music.  The status of the musician though varied.  To me, it looks like the musician in the Greek world was more respected and of a higher status that that in the Celtic world, although it does seem to depend on where in the Celtic world you were.


When I think of drama, the first culture that comes to my mind is the Greeks.  There were theaters built throughout their lands where various performances were done.  In general, the plays consisted of three parts: an opening monologue, a chorus, and the various acts.  This did combine music and acting.  All the actors were male and their characters had their sex and moods shown through the use of costumes and masks (Dunkle).

Greek drama can be classified into two broad, general types: tragedy and comedy.  Tragedy is thought to have come out of the Athenian spring festival of Dionysos Eleuthereios with Aeschylus’ Persians (472 BCE) being the earliest surviving example (Brown).  These plays tended to be telling of the Greek myths.  Comedy on the other hand was more about making fun of the mythology and the more prominent people of the times.  Over times, this changed from the crude “old comedy” to a more refined “new comedy” (C. Hemingway).

The Roman culture is the next one that comes to mind.  In many respects, the Roman plays were similar to those of the Geeks.  They again featured all male casts, a chorus, and costumes.  Unlike the Greeks though, the masks were optional.  The chorus also took on less of a role than one saw in Greece (Bellinger).

The Romans contributed a few styles of theater to the world, beyond continuing the Greek comedy and tragedy.  These included the mimes, which were short pieces that were spoken, and involved only a couple actors.  These covered most any topic from serious to satire.  This style in later times included women, and was required by Heliogabalus to include real sex if sex was involved.  Pantomime was another style that has survived.  This was a solo dance that often also included music and a chorus.  These actors did wear masks, and told mostly mythological and historic stories. (Trumbull).

For both the Romans and the Greeks, Drama was a respected part of their lives.  This was another way, such as with poetry, for the people to pass on their myths and history.  We also can see, especially from the Greek comedy that poked fun at prominent people in their culture, that these dramas were also entertainment.

  1. Forms/styles: Describe four forms or styles of bardic arts in either ancient or modern times or a combination of each. Include examples of each form. At least one such description should be for a poetic form; the remainder can be for any bardic form or style. (100 words each [examples not to be included in word count])

Eddic Poetry

Voluspa 1

Hljóðs bið ek allar | helgar kindir,
meiri ok minni | mögu Heimdallar;
viltu, at ek, Valföðr! | vel framtelja
forn spjöll fíra, | þau er fremst um man. (Völuspá)

Hearing I ask | from the holy races,
From Heimdall's sons, | both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather, | that well I relate
Old tales I remember | of men long ago. (Bellows)


The eddic form is what was used by Snori in his Poetic Edda.  This form can be split up into three different, but similar, kinds.  We have the “old story measure” which was four quatrains with two accented and two unaccented syllables per hemi-stitch.  A hemi-stitch is a term that is referring to half a poetic line.  We also have “speech measure” which was similar, but now there were two or three unaccented syllables per hemi-stitch.   There is also the “song measure” which contained four and three accented lines with various numbers of unaccented syllables per line.  Throughout all these styles, you have alliteration going on (Turco 175).


Overall, this form was used to tell the myths of the Norse.  It was something that was memorized and told as part of an oral tradition.  It was not until Snorri and his Poetic Edda that the stories were written down.


Rune Poems


Fé er frænda róg

ok flæðar viti
ok grafseiðs gata
aurum fylkir.



source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent. (The Rune Poems)


This is a unique style of the Germanic cultures.  These poems were meant to explain and teach the Runes.  To be considered a rune poem, you need to have the name of the rune, followed by a short explanation of what the rune means.  There are various versions of these poems, with the most common being Icelandic (the one above) and Anglo Saxon.  It is through these poems that we have been able to get the divinatory meanings of the runes that we use today.  This form is relatively dead as there are only so many ways that one can describe a rune.  I have seen some recent examples though, specifically ergi rune poems that were written by West, a friend of mine.


Greek Tragedy


Sophocles’ Antigone

The tragedy was one of the forms of plays the Greeks had.  Tragedy means “the goat song”.  This is a reference to the winning of a goat, or the sacrifice of a goat at festivals of Dionysus (Brown).  Aristotle defined tragedy in his Poetics as the following:


Tragedy, then, is an imitation of a noble and complete action, having the proper magnitude; it employs language that has been artistically enhanced . . . ; it is presented in dramatic, not narrative form, and achieves, through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, the catharsis of such incidents. (Brown)


In the end, the Greek tragedy was a play that told a story, usually out of myth or history.  The lead character usually had some kind of tragic flaw, such as hubris or suffers some kind of tragic event.  The play is about this tragic event, and points out to us the vulnerability of people.  Most tragedies ended with a poor outcome for the lead, but that was not always the case (Dunkle).




Fugue in G minor, J. S. Bach


Aaron Copland describes the fugue as one of the fundamental forms of music.  Stylistically, it’s usually associated with cannons as this is a subject based form, with repetitions of the subject throughout.  More specifically, a fugue normally starts out with one voice playing the subject.  When the subject is complete a second voice plays the subject, while the first voice continues on with what is known as the countersubject.  It is through this method that all the voices are introduced into the piece.  The countersubjects usually are related closely to the subject, but rarely repeat the actual subject (Copland 131).


This form on the surface is a simple.  When you put the various parts together though, you have a very complicated sounding piece because the melody, variations, and transitions are going on at one time.  To fully appreciate the piece, you have to concentrate on each voice separately, then listen to the piece as a whole, taking note on how the parts interact (Copland 81).

  1. Bardic Figure: Describe the life, fame and general techniques of a historical or mythical bardic figure in a (preferably ancient) Indo-European culture. (minimum 300 words)

Hesiod is one of the most important bardic figures of ancient Greece.  Hesiod lived around the time of 700 BCE and grew up as a shepherd.  It was while working as a shepherd that it is said that the muses came to him, and gave him the inspiration to write the epic poetry he did.  When his father died, he came into conflict with his brother over the inheritance, which may be one of the reasons he moved from Ascra to Oenoe where he was murdered.  He also spoke of only traveling across the sea once to compete in a poetry contest. (Encyclopedia of World Biography on Hesiod).

What Hesiod is most known for are his epic poems Theogony and Works and Days.  It is through these two poems that we know a lot of the Greek mythology that we do today.  Theogony is probably one of his most important works because it lays out the mythology of that day.  It starts off with Chaos and Gaia and the creation of the world.  It then goes through the time of the Titans, the birth of the Olympians, and the war between them.  Throughout this over 1000 line poem, we meet all the deities of the Greeks, and are able to piece together a family tree, starting from the beginning of time (Encyclopedia of World Biography on Hesiod) (Hesiod).

Works and Days in contrast is shorter at around 800 lines, and is more personal than the history of the Gods and Goddesses.  It is thought to be directed partly at his brother, who through bribes to judges, got a larger portion of his father’s inheritance.  The general theme of the work is that honest work and labor will be rewarded, while dishonesty will not.  This was laid out as practical advice to farmers and seafarers, among others (Encyclopedia of World Biography on Hesiod).

Overall, Hesiod was important because he organized the myths of the Greeks.  His poetry has survived thousands of years because of this.  While he may have started off as just a farmer and shepherd, he will be remembered as a poet.


  1. Role of the Modern Bard: Describe the role of the modern-day, Neopagan bard in the context of ritual (100 words), Ar nDraiocht Fein (100 words) and the greater Neopagan community (100 words).

Neopagan Bard and Ritual

The role of the modern Neopagan bard really all depends on the group that you are with.  Inside of ritual, the bard can have many responsibilities.  A common one that keeps appearing in the many groups I’m with is they provide music in the ritual.  I’ve seen this where a bardic troupe is playing music and singing during a May Pole dance.  Another example is drumming and leading chants during rituals.  This can set the pace, tempo, and mood of the ritual.

Another role that is common is a dramatic play during the ritual.  A common example I have seen with Wiccan groups has been with the Oak King and Holly King battles each year.  With a group I’ve been a part of, it was common that there was a dramatic telling of the story of the kings, ending with a battle where one wins, and walks of victorious with the Goddess.

Overall, the role of the modern bard is to supplement the ritual, in whatever way those running the ritual feels it would help.

Bards in ADF

The role of the bard in ADF is just as varied as that in rituals.  The ADF bard is often called upon to provide music for rituals, and lead chants throughout rituals.  They are also commonly asked to do prepared readings, stories, poems, etc. for praise offering sections of the rituals.  Another role that I have heard of is that they are the person that controls the praise offerings given during the ritual by the celebrants.  By this I mean that in some of the larger groves, if you want to go up and give an offering, you have to go to the bard, and they approve/deny and tell you when to go.  This is just a way of making the offerings section of the ritual move more smoothly, and quickly.

Outside of the ritual setting, it is common to find Bardic competitions at various festivals.  These may have a theme, or be limited to one skill or another.  This is a public display of the Bard in action.  Another variant of this is entertainment around a fire for pure entertainment purposes.

Bard in the greater Neopagan community

Bards throughout the greater community really encompass all that I have talked about above.  They are often called upon to perform music and lead chants in rituals.  They are almost always asked to perform their art around “Bardic Circles” which are often impromptu bardic competitions around a fire.  Overall, this is the bard entertaining the public.

Some bards though, both in and out of ADF, do work to preserve the old stories.  Some are also creating new stories to tell of our modern times.  This is the continuation and addition to the oral history that those earliest bards started, and hopefully future bards will continue.

  1. Practical Bardry: Compose or find a bardic piece (of any appropriate genre or form) suitable for ADF ritual. Describe the process you used for discovery and/or composition of the piece and how it was (or could be) used effectively in a ritual context. (100 words [text of piece not to be included in word count])

Come Follow Me By John Hilton, 1652


Come follow, follow, follow, follow, follow, follow me!
Whither shall I follow, follow, follow, Whither shall I follow, follow thee?
To the greenwood, to the greenwood, To the greenwood, greenwood tree!


The above piece was brought to ADF by me at the Between the Worlds festival in 2006, and I was surprised to hear it sung at Wellspring 2007 by people I didn’t teach it to.  The way I came across it was through listening to other bards.  This one specifically was sung one Beltane by Billy Bardo as a processional chant for the ritual.  I liked it enough that I brought it into use with an ADF ritual again as a processional chant.

This is an example of oral tradition in practice.  The piece was passed orally from a bard to me, and then from me on to others.  This is how things would have been done in the ancient days where one bard would teach another the various pieces they were expected to be able to tell.  I feel that it is important that as bards we listen to those others that are performing.  Learn from them the pieces that we haven’t heard before, and if asked, teach the pieces that we know.

The way I researched the proper attribution was through a Google web search using the words of the song.   While doing that, I discovered that since 1652 the song has changed.  Originally it was gallows tree instead of greenwood tree.  This is just an example of bardic pieces being modified to fit the current times.

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Copland, Aaron. What to listenf or in music. New York: New American Library, 2002.

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Hemingway, Seán and Colette Hemingway. "Music in Ancient Greece". In Timeline of Art History. 11 2001. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 24 11 2007 <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grmu/hd_grmu.htm&gt;.

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