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 Flag Fen Eisteddfod

Lifestyle | Article

Flag Fen, Britain’s Bronze Age Centre will be hosting their first Eisteddfod, to celebrate the opening of the Flag Fen Bardic seat in a community festival of storytelling, music and poetry on the 14th and 15th June 2008.

The competition is part of a national revival of Bardic Chairs taking the country by storm.

The Eisteddfod as a cultural event has its roots embedded deep in the ancient past of the Celts and Druids and the Bards who were considered part of the Druidical hierarchy were the oral historians and genealogists.

Flag Fen Eisteddfod 2008

The word itself is derived from Welsh, meaning ‘to sit’ and refers to a sitting of bards. The seating aspect is also a connotation of the Bardic Chair which traditionally is awarded to the best Bard of that particular locality.

Bards of times long past held great influence over their people as they were the keepers of history adept in reciting stories, poetry, legends and songs of heroes and their deeds. Wherever the Bard traveled they were greatly received and given the best hospitality.

Before printed materials existed the people of towns and villages relied upon the Bards to bring them the latest news from their courts and for some this was the only reliable source of information the people could rely on. It was also thought that the Bards safeguarded the ancient mystery traditions and practices of the Druids whose teachings were kept safe in the minds of initiates.

Through ancient times the Kings, Princes and Chieftains maintained their Bards, presenting them with gifts for their services and in return the Bards would put on great displays of performance through stories, poetry and harp-led song. However, during the 12th and 13th century Bards no longer were appointed to a particular Kingdom as native rule ceased and their position significantly changed as it soon became apparent that competition was the deciding factor in whom should be ‘Chief Bard’.

One of the earliest documentations of such competitions can be traced right back to the 12th century at Christmas time in 1176 when a ‘sitting’ of Bards took place when Lord Rhys assembled the people of Wales to Cardigan. Rhys (Rhys ap Grufffudd) had been appointed justice of South Wales by Henry II, and his rights to the territories he controlled were recognised by the king. The purpose of this meeting, apart from demonstrating the position of authority he held among the Welsh princes, was to control the business of the Bardic orders. T

he Bards were organised into various grades and required to serve long apprenticeships and acquire skills before they were granted a license to serve professionally. Two types of contests were held at Cardigan, one for the storytellers and poets and another between musicians in which two chairs were held for the victors.

Other Eisteddfods were documented periodically through-out Wales as the Bards competed for ‘Chief Bard’ status and legend hints that 31 English cities were also once Bardic Seats. However, with the growing influence of the English Monarchy the encouragement of independence from the Bards to their people was taken the wrong way and seen to be encouragement of rebellion. In consequence laws were enacted to put the Bards down and some suffered great cruelty as Thomas Gray reflects in his Poem ‘The Bard’.

Centuries later in 1772 Edward Williams who came to be known as Druid Iolo Morgannwg introduced the idea of a Gorsedd (a community of Bard’s and Druids). Iolo was infamous for inventing a colourful past in which he sought to protect the future of the Welsh language and Bardic craft through convincing his peers of his unbroken ancestry of ancient druidry. Iolo held the first ritual of the Gorsedd of Bards in 1772 upon London’s Primrose Hill with an Eisteddfod.

The ritual began with the laying of the twelve portable stones of the great circle with a central altar stone. The Goddess of liberty was then honoured as Iolo called an end to slavery. It is here a sword was placed upon the alter and later sheathed by the Bards. The Gorsedd eventually brought order to the Welsh Eisteddfod which was adopted by the Gorsedd in 1819 when Iolo lay out the same stones initiating more people into the Bardic Crafts. The Gorsedd have served the opening rites for the Welsh Eisteddfod ever since, a tradition over a century old.

In time Iolo was branded a fraud and fabricator of truth but none the less he was a genius and his book ‘ The Barddas’ still causes controversy as to which parts were forged and exaggerated to this day.

When we refer to an Eisteddfod in the modern sense we are talking of the festival that prides itself on the Welsh Language and Culture however we cannot ignore the fact that its cultural foundations are grounded in Celtic and Druid history. In the now we take structure and inspiration from the Welsh Eisteddfod Tradition by keeping the oral tradition alive and by bringing about a deeper sense of community and spirituality to our creativity and artistic expression.

The Flag Fen Eisteddfod is not about historical accuracy or re-enactment but it’s about strengthening community, deepening the connection to the muse within, sparking the imagination of adult and child and allowing us to view the sacred in life whether deity, family or place.

It’s also about encouraging and supporting those with talent to further their skills and create a deeper understanding of different cultures and faiths so we feel a more profound sense of belonging in such a diverse multi-cultural place. May the ancient muse that our ancestors found through poem and prayer, verse and story seek out your imagination once again and bring the fires of creativity to illuminate your mind.

May your fire burn bright within,
In truth,
The Ancient Muse

June 2007




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