For the last two weeks I’ve been writing about how reading fiction affects my sense of a place. From that side of things, I see this as an extension of folklore and the way that we use mythology and legends as guides that hold hidden messages for us on our path. The messages may be about a place, behavior, or the ways in which we might interact with the deities and other spirits. But there’s another side to this experience. Creating stories is a way to process those things that you “know” internally through personal experience. As such, this bardic work is a deep practice of personal development as well as a practice which can support the community.
Among the Druid orders, the practice of the bardic arts is generally the first level of study one undertakes. The ability to learn the stories of the past and to shape ones of your own, through stories, poetry, song and art is a path to deeper connection with the experiences that a new student is discovering. For some, the practice of creating bardic works falls aside as they begin to study other areas such as herbal medicine or environmental protection or law. Few would lose site of the fact, however, that knowledge in each of these areas can come from the rich traditions of stories, rhymes and song that our ancestors have left behind. I would like to put forward that the bardic arts are to Druidic studies — perhaps all Pagan studies — what essay writing is to the modern mainstream educational system.
You can learn a thing, but until you have fully processed it in such a way that it can be shared with others, you have not yet fully owned that knowledge. In many cases you can share knowledge in a clinical manner with non-fiction, but the bardic arts give you the ability to share experience. Often, telling the story exactly as it happened cannot be done, because of matters which must be kept private for one reason or another. Carefully crafting fiction so that it shares the experience without sharing those things which must not be shared is an art. The constraints push you to contemplate what the most important experiences are.
For me, personally, this process of experience flowing into stories is almost uncontrollable. The feelings that stir in my heart make their ways to my hands almost without my will intervening. It’s in the re-experiencing of the sensations, placing them in a fictional context that can capture the vital parts without losing sight that I integrate the learning from a momentary experience into deeper knowledge. The process is one that I absolutely recommend.