A Bard’s Oath

Before I get into the meat of the post, protocol indicates I should introduce myself as this is my first post. My name is Heather. I am a geologist and storyteller. I first considered putting up this blog because various people asked me questions and this is the most efficient way I have found to answer them in groups. Also note, today’s post aside, most of the questions revolve around rocks and how they work and how that is useful to an author so there will be a lot of ‘rocks in your world’ kinds of posts (though I don’t guarantee they will all rock your world, I’ll save that for the earthquakes.) Now… an intro to why I am here at all in places where fellow storytellers and writers can ask me about rocks and other world building things.

Why do I write? Why do I write this blog (which is something I have only recently become convinced is actually a worthwhile and even necessary endeavor.) Why do I write stories at all? I could say that ‘I must write’ but that is not, strictly true. I have tales to tell, and I could ignore them, yet my life would be less for doing so. So there is one reason. The tales are there and I choose to tell them. I could say the tales are my purpose and my passion, but that also would be an incomplete answer, though for a long time I thought it was a complete answer. The complete answer came when I realized that I was not a minstrel, simply telling tales for the sake of tales and entertaining for the sake of entertaining (a worthy pursuit, but an incomplete answer for me.)  I am a Bard, and a Bard’s duty runs deeper than entertainment. For this post we shall ignore the various different cultural interpretations of the word Bard. In Ireland Poet would have been the more proper term, the Bard being the entertainer. In Scandanavian countries the word would have been Skald. There are as many words for this kind of performer as there are cultures. In Russia I have, as of yet, found no word for it, but the old women who had out lived their families told the tales of great importance, while the younger generations told the tales of pure enjoyment (which implies the word is there, I just haven’t located the correct term yet).   For now, we shall use the word ‘Bard’ simply to avoid confusion with the modern understandings of such things as poets and minstrels etc., and because it was the first differentiation that stuck in my own head, even if it is linguistically inaccurate to some cultures.

So how, explicitly, am I defining a Bard? A bard is a storyteller with a duty. Storytellers tell tales, not necessarily in the verbal medium though that is the most ancient of the methods. Storytellers tell stories in words, in songs, in verse, in images, in plays, in whatever way resonates with them. A storyteller that tells tales dominantly in poetry is a poet.   A storyteller that writes music is a songwriter. A storyteller that tells stories through the written word is a writer or an author, whichever word you prefer. So what is the duty of a Bard? What makes a Bard different? A Bard understands that tales serve a purpose beyond simply entertainment. Now, those of you who have had lectures thinly disguised as stories foisted on them just groaned.   But I would argue those individuals writing those stories failed in their duties as Bards. They have failed to measure up against the likes of Amregin, who stopped murder at court with just his harp. They fail in the pointed wit of Kipling. They fail in the beauty and insight of Lao Tsu, though he is, in concept, closest to how they’re trying to present themselves, but in China philosophy itself was something people discussed the way we do fiction, rather like several of Sheherezade’s 1001 tales more resemble philosophical treatises. They were tailored to the people of the time. A Bard’s work is an act of communication between the bard and the audience.

The old Bards, under any title, understood this. They understood the power of the tale, not just of words, but the story itself… and they understood that for the kernel of truth to be swallowed it had to be wrapped in a tale that stirred the souls of their listeners. Often in those days the two went hand in hand (which I will elaborate upon below). But here I should finish with what is the duty of a Bard. The following sums up, to me, the duties of a Bard. I wrote it in response to a facebook thread turned snarky about ‘oaths’ that authors should make to their readers. Some of the oaths were seriously intended. Some shallow and others were petty and pithy… but none touched on the purpose of the tale (though some approached the contract between the tale teller and the audience.)  This is my bard’s Oath.

I will tell the tales that are needed to the people who need them.
I will tell the tales of truth, for it is often in myth and legend that Truth is most easily seen.
I will tell the tales of others with respect, for it is given to me to see they are remembered.
I will tell tales of light in times of darkness.
I will tell tales of joy in times of sorrow.
I will tell tales of warning in times of decadence.
I will tell tales of wisdom in times of folly.
I will tell tales of humility in times of arrogance.
I will tell tales of courage in times of danger.
I will tell tales of remembrance in times of grief.
I will tell tales of hope in times of despair.
Where people are down cast I will lift them up.
Where people are forgetful I will remind them of who they are.
I will remember that my duty is to the tale, the truth, and the people.
I will pray daily for the strength, the wisdom, and the skill to do my duty as a bard.

So what does this oath mean? People don’t read to be preached at, there is a time and place for lectures and sermons but that is not what bards are for.  That is what priests and scholars are for.  Bards reach for more fundamental things, then wrap those things in wonder.  Evil wizards, dragons, demons, devils, villains, heroes, farm boys, princes, princesses, kings, cats, wolves, and dogs all have a place in the tales of our history… the tales that shaped us for they both reflected and shaped the culture from whence we come. Fantastic tales. Tales about the ordinary farm boy, often half witted rising to be a good and just king through simple sense. Tales of the destitute coming to prosperity and their proud adversaries being cast down through their pride. Tales of hope and heroism. Tales that are becoming lost. These tales are not trite, as many in the ‘literary’ world would have everyone believe. They cut to the heart of the human spirit. They are universal. You can find them in every culture from whom we have record. I suspect they existed in every human culture that has ever existed since language was first invented and a mother or a father or an old man in the tribe raised his hand around the warmth of the new fire and told of the great discovery… the hero that brought fire to the people. Tales of the courage of those who hunted and provided the tribe with meat and fur. Tales of the wise woman whose herbs ended a great disease. Tales of hope. Tales of courage. Tales that told people they could be more and better than they were. Tales that lived the message rather than expounding on it.

Once more faerie tales are considered trite and cliché (I have watched more than one group of writers trying desperately to avoid being ‘cliché’ and killing their story in the process), but they fill a role that no one has ever found a substitute for and I find myself looking at stories where the good guys are as vile as the bad. Where there is no one worth rooting for. Where life sucks and then everyone dies if they’re lucky. Where hope and courage are considered passe and it is considered dangerous to talk to children of dragons for fear they might take such nonsense seriously. To those with that fear I cannot say it better than GK Chesterton: Faerie Tales do not tell children Dragons exist. Children already know Dragons exit. Faerie tales tell children Dragons can be killed.

These days everyone seems to want to be the dragon, without first redeeming the dragon, and the prize giving establishments are flabbergasted when stories of hope such as Frozen grab the hearts of adults and children alike. They scratch their heads in puzzlement when things like Phantom of the Opera (a tale of redemption from horror) have been running for decades and still sell out. When stories with refined messages that are ‘good for’ the audience tank in the box office and book stores and tales of accountants who slay monsters and boys who learn magic in school and military officers who just won’t quit until the job is done and farmboys who become heroes and hobbits who destroy evil rings all attract attention and pull in the audiences, sometimes for decades and generations, and the ‘worthy’ stories of great causes are forgotten or never read, or more rarely do only modestly well. The stories that do well resonate with people, even the ones that get denigrated for poor writing or two dimensional characters… there is something in each of them that calls to the human spirit. Yes, even in Twilight.   And that is what my oath is about.

It is about an act of communication between the Bard and the Audience. They agree to sit starry eyed and listen, to step outside of themselves for a moment and the Bard agrees to give them something worth listening to, and worth remembering. It is no light task. Some tales will spark the spirit of the audience then fade. Others will smolder in their souls and be told from Bard to Bard, parent to child for generations. It is these tales that define and change the world. No Bard can predict if their work will be one that endures, we can only tell the tales given to us to tell to the best our skill allows and leave the rest in the hands of powers far greater than we.   I hope that in this blog you will find bits and pieces of things worth remember either prosaic or inspiring.

It won’t all be tales.  Actually, currently very little is about tale telling, though Fridays are set aside for speaking of writing, or posting writing, or any other such writing related things.  Mundanely I am a geologist and one of the things that got me thinking about a blog were the requests I had for information about rocks.  So for the moment I’m focusing on that.  Fridays for writerly things.  Sundays for spiritual things.  The rest of the time for rocks, a little Russian (mostly historical, as I do medieval recreation in the SCA), and some musings about the state of the world and my own thoughts.  Some will be related to writing (most of my rock articles will have something for non-geologist writers… like attacking a fortress undercover of a volcanic eruption is likely to kill your army pretty horribly.)

My rules are simple.  By and large be polite.  This does not mean ‘don’t argue’, but if you must use the invective at least be inventive about it.  There are a variety of people who have asked for information.  You’re going to disagree with someone at some point.  I don’t, by and large, ban people, but I reserve the right to do so.  Spambots will be banned along with egregious trolls (I have a specific one in mind who has cyber stalked various blogs which I have frequented.  Stay out of that level of nutty and avoid death threats, that sort of thing and you should be fine.)  Most other trolls will be critiqued rather than banned.

Formalities and introductions out of the way… Welcome to the Dream.  There are snickerdoodles next to the tea on the table over there.  Welcome.


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