The role of the bard in contemporary Pagan movements
This thesis presents a study of Bardism, a genre of performance (of poetry, story,
music, and song) found in contemporary Pagan movements. This research is informed
by three principal theoretical positions: neo-tribal theory, performance theory, and
postmodem critiques of methodologies of participant-observation (the position
adopted here being one of reflexive ethnography).
Research was undertaken within two study groups, contemporary Druidry and EcoPaganism.
Overviews of belief and practice within these groups are presented. The
processes by which individuals within these groups come to be identified as Bards are
analysed. Bards must meet the neo-tribal expectations of performance: they acquire
their skills by trial and error. The function of Bardic performance is analysed: Bards
contribute to the invention and maintenance of tradition, and hence to the maintenance
of neo-tribal identities. Identities are articulated and performed with reference to an
imagined past. The contexts in which performance occurs, and staging arrangements
are discussed. Performance typically occurs at events, festivals and camps, which
disrupt the quotidian: they are camivalesque moments. Staging, within these
moments, requires compliance with tacit codes of behaviour. The meanings signified
by Bardic music, and Bardic choice of instruments, are discussed. Particular emphasis
is given to the sound of the music. Finally an ethnography of practitioners'
experiences of 'inspiration' or 'awen' is presented. The way in which non-ordinary
experiences such as inspiration are legitimated is analysed.
This work describes a previously unstudied aspect of Paganism. Further it
contributes to the 'detraditionalisation' debate, by providing evidence for the
emergence of new traditions, identities, and structurating forces within the neo-tribe.