An Ever Narrowing Stage

A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1970
A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1968
A Family Goes to Pleasure Faire, 1968

I unearthed a lot of photos last weekend. The long look back over forty-plus years of Faire was useful. It gave me perspective on the current situation. I had forgotten just how big Faire used to be. I’m not just talking about size, though there was a lot more space, and there were a lot more of us. No, the quality of the spell we cast collectively created an energetic container that we filled with a place that never was, and always will be. Back then we were a community, trusted to play our part in the act of creation. There were fewer rules and more magic.

I was told by a dear friend “If you’re not having fun, it’s on you.” It was meant well, more the Zen master with the rod than Bill Sykes with a bludgeon, and I did try seriously to follow the core of truth in that advice. Maybe it is me. I’m older, and perhaps not as easily amused. My old friends are fewer, and there are new faces among them, but that isn’t it either. I  play on the streets, but with the determination of the lone salmon fighting its way to the source instead of the player grabbing an outstretched hand, leaping effortlessly in the dance, trusting the magic will be there to catch me. I even tried creating a new character and going back to busking to see what would happen. There are bright spots. Singing choruses in the afternoons with great and generous people in an environmental area that is open for the public to join us is tasting the past. It’s good to see the friends that are left. It is still possible to catch the edge of magic, and just for a moment lose oneself in Faire. Spirits still move between worlds. I can’t expect things to be the same as they were years ago and they shouldn’t be. Time marches on, change is part of life, but the river flows from the same source.

The magic has been squeezed into such a tiny space! The eyes are always on us. What are we wearing? What are we doing? Must be sure not to step out of line, to draw focus from a performance or break a rule. Above all, if you do, don’t get caught!  Now we sit in neat rows in  Mad Sal’s, singing along at the right times to prompt the crowd and create the proper soundscape. We take our gigs and conversations outside, the designated place for background color and noise. Living your character all day long is the exception, not the rule, and enough people drop character at the curtain to make it the boundary of the lovely illusion that is only half there as it is. We work Faire, instead of play. Disney has replaced Dickens. Our passes must be shown without exception to pass back and forth past the guards hired for the event. There is no more security and crew, people who knew us, were part of us.

Safety is an issue, I understand that. Trust has long ago been broken. Space is at a premium in a venue we have long outgrown. There have always been broken stairs and differential treatment that mirror the society we live in, but the sharp separation between customer and Faire folk was never so stark, and we looked after each other far more than we do now. The constant carding at the door and in the venue by strangers jerks us back into the present we are supposed to be casting a temporary spell on and we can’t pull the willing visitor into the dance any more.

Faire was always a dance on the edge. We played with time, with language, with the energy. It was never safe, and things have always happened that shouldn’t. Yes, it is past time to change some of those things, but never before were we ever so powerless that our only real option was to strike. We let union be, a song instead of a movement. We were a community, that family that management–for they have become management–keeps talking about.

Faire was a dance on the edge, but it wasn’t just physical. For a few short weeks we were part of another time and place, and the people who paid to get in came to taste it, and sometimes become part of it. You could get in free of charge if you did the thing Faire asked of you that day. Perhaps it was wearing a specific costume or the reciting of a Shakespeare sonnet. You played Faire and were let through the magic door to play your part. There were more participants and more room. Every inch was not sharply delineated for stage and booth and alestand. The village or London Town had twists and turns and places where magic could happen. The streets did not run in straight lines. There wasn’t a microphone to be found on the site and silence was not required at the sharp barrier where street now becomes stage. Players did not demand absolute attention because they knew how to take and hold stage, and when to release it. Our allegiance was to the illusion, not the script. Mad Sal’s roared with laughter and song, and you could play skittles inside, drink and converse in what was for a brief moment a real dockside alehouse, not a stage set with a bar outside.

Faire was always trying to rein us in, but back then they never succeeded. Danse Macabre could get away with tiptoeing across Main Stage and the players adapted instead of objected. A whole procession could disappear into a magic privy because the crew built the privies and one of them had doors on both sides. It was years ago before rented plastic boxes became the norm, before people of color were hired to clean the bathrooms and pick up the trash, no longer part of the crew, part of us. Yes, times have changed, the books balance much better than they did back then, but where is the magic that flowed like water and carried us halfway to Faerie? The ragged heroes have long disappeared around the last bend. The day has died like a rose. The Faire has come to a close.

Times change and so do we, the spirit of Faire a sleeping Beauty lying somnolent in the bed of Procrustes. Black Point has become Patterson Abbey. We are more concerned with the distance between plate and cutlery than we are with the people who spin a continuous reality out of the whole cloth of history. It is more important to have a costume, pattern carefully selected from an ever-dwindling range of years that matches the palette of the show than to wear clothes that suit our characters and their stories. We will be measured and photographed, the garb we provide at our own expense cleared in every detail before it can even be made. A tart may not wear a tattered ball gown she purchased at the old clothes market no matter how careful the research the participant has done to build the backstory. Like goes with like, the regimented sections of the stage will be respected. We will have Fagin and Oliver Twist, but Sikes must not kill Nancy. It’s a family show, after all.

How Big Is The Cauldron?

CauldronLake

     The Wild Druids have been meeting on Zoom every Saturday since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s been good enough to get a quorum, so to speak, each week. We’ve been batting the idea of reading Kristoffer Hughes’s book From The Cauldron Born around for a while now, and last week, we decided to go for it. We all read the first twenty pages or so and talked about how it went for each of us, and whether we wanted to continue. Some very interesting things came up, and it all was intriguing enough by the end of the session for us to decide to come back for more next week.
     Highlights included the nature of Awen—is it like art, something you know when you see? How do you know it? How do you connect with it, and can it be made?
     By what paths do we each approach the cauldron?
     In meditation I thought on this. I stumbled into a year-long brewing of the Awen back in 2013, on the shores of Llyn Tegid, in Wales. At another camp, a month prior, I’d met Kristoffer Hughes and he invited me to come to his Order’s camp. It was the last weekend of my first trip to the UK, and I had not planned past Dublin, the week before the camp. So I bought a ticket. I had no idea, really what was going to be happening, which was perfect Gwion headspace, I realized later. The friends who kindly picked me up from the railway station and took me to camp told me where we were going on the way. That was how I found myself on the beach next to Llyn Tegid, the place where Cerridwen brewed the Awen, and transformation for one clueless kid ensued.
     That is one path to Cerridwen’s Cauldron. What might yours look like? Kristoffer Hughes’s book is what I would term an instant classic. While it does contain the method of brewing Awen, the book itself is a study of the Tale of Cerridwen and Taliesin, and we have not decided how far down this path we will be going.
     What is the nature of the Cauldron?
     At the end of the story, the cauldron cracks. All but three drops become poison, and the cauldron becomes unusable. The spell can only be done once, and Cerridwen is furious. The sudden sage flees as they are transformed. In my case, the container the work was done in was no more. It will never be again, for each brewing is different, each group shapes and is shaped by it. A single person may do this ritual and will also be changed. So should we choose as a group to do this, our experience and presumably our product, will be different.
     What is the Awen? Is the spell singular, for one person only? Kristoffer Hughes has often said that Taliesin is a title, something to be aspired to, not simply a single person. I know what my experience was, and I still feel transformed, but every person in that camp had their own, singular experience. We can all close our eyes and focus on our own foreheads and feel the drop of Awen there already. It is waiting to see what we will do with it whether we stand before the cauldron or not.
     It’s early days yet, and if you want to come and join us, here is the link to the Facebook event. You can also message me in the comments if you can’t find it. The Wild Druid format won’t change a whit. Show up for whatever sessions suit you, grab on to the discussion as it moves you. You can read the material or not, as you choose. We will be discussing the book, but the Tale is well known, as is the concept of Awen. We went some strange places today, from science fiction to an altar built on a stump whose roots still clutch the Earth. Who knows where we might go next week?

Don’t Expect Your Art To Support You

This blog post resonates with me. But it also makes me wonder a bit. Since when does the world owe us artists and clergy a living? Haven’t we learned anything from observing our professional priests and celebrities?

Elizabeth Gilbert said this best in Big Magic, when she was talking about day jobs and the importance of having one: “I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”

I, too, long for the time to pursue my vocation, to live from my connection to the Awen and the Art that comes from it. But I know that in this world where the robber barons are stealing our time and our effort, it will only happen if I go after the most butts in the most seats—and my music and writing ain’t about that. I refuse to make it all about the fashion of the day, so I have to support it, not the other way around.

I, too, know what it is to serve a deity. I am Gaia’s, body and soul and every day I do as she has bid me, even though it is difficult. I, too, know the searing touch of Awen. I’ve knelt on the deck of a ship, a deadblow hammer in one hand, a brick chisel in the other, a piece of paper pinned to the deck beside me with a pen on top of it, scribbling out the verses as they come to me, humming like a person demented. I know that if I can’t snatch a minute or two between tasks, that music will be gone forever. I’m doing it now to tap out the words of this post. This is my life, right now, and hard as it is, I would not trade it for any other.

The problem with wishing for patronage, for some bygone era when Fili were paid to pursue their vocations, is that, like that Golden Age that the politicians are currently trying to sell us, when life was easy and understandable, and our countries were strong and perfect, it doesn’t exist. It never did. Yes, there have always been rock stars, people who are talented enough and lucky enough to find a way to write their own ticket, but most of us will be spending a good part of our lives working to make our art, and serve our gods, not making art as a means of making a living. It is a great and wonderful ideal, a utopia to strive towards, but we have yet to create it. I hope we do. I want to be Jake Sisko, citizen of the Federation, spending his life in service to his art. Maybe someday we will all be doing that one thing we were born to do, but if humanity gets to that point, it will be because those of us who think this future is possible and necessary put in the hard work to make it happen.

As I scribbled the disjointed beginnings of this post, before dawn, as I struggled into my uniform, I was once again faced with the truth of this age: if we want a world where we can stop whenever the Awen demands it and can follow that flow to the end of the piece of art, we need to bring it into being. We need to stop the Captains of Industry from robbing us of the only thing that is truly ours: our time as embodied beings with supple fingers and clever minds. Until we do that, we will be faced with two choices: scribbling in the corners of time left to us or shivering in the garret.

I was lucky enough to spend a year brewing the Awen, and to receive it at the end of that process. If I learned anything in that time, it’s that Inspiration must be paid for, one way or another. It is distilled from our experiences as much as it is from anything that happens within that Cauldron, and if we can’t fill it with the sum of our lives, the substance of Song will come from nowhere else.

So while I, too, long for leisure, for a Patreon to take care of my earthly needs, I know that in this time, in this age, it is not likely to happen for a good long time, until I’ve earned the experiences that will earth my work, and created enough of it to be able to write my own ticket. I will be guided by the twin poles of what is beautiful, and what is well received, and that is a good thing. For if we don’t create art that is understandable as well as beautiful, if we don’t channel the fruits of Inspiration into this world in a way that touches people as it touches us, that art is worthless. A bit of unverified personal gnosis that I received from Taliesin was to “Create a container, strong and beautiful, and fill it with Inspiration.” I know when I have done that when I see the light go on behind the eyes of a listener, or in a more crass example, when a person, tears streaming down their face, throws a twenty into my busking bowl.

So I spend my days serving goddesses. Not just Gaia, though my service to her is shot through everything I do, from my walk to work in the morning, where I sing the world we need into being, from the OPT (Other Peoples Trash) I pick up every day in service to the spirits of Oakland and San Francisco, to the sailing ships BALCLUTHA and THAYER, whose careers I use as a vehicle for the stories of oppression, overfishing and deforestation that they can tell, as well as the lives of the men and women who served in vessels like them during the Age of Sail. I tell stories, now that I can no longer bump down seams or use a chipping hammer. My Ladies disabled me in their service—but the stories I tell have a beauty and a truth that they would not have had I not done these things. Saturn and Chiron have also had their way with me, as well as Brighid and Cerridwen. My broken body and dreams, the words and music that reside in my Soundcloud and my blog were purchased with those experiences, and when I lay this body down, I will leave them behind so that people remember what it was like to live in these wonderful, terrible, pivotal times.

I don’t want a living. I’m happy to have lived a life in service.

Llyn Tegid #writephoto

Green river

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt

Green river
AnyRiver, Planet Earth

I’m standing on the shores of Llyn Tegid, where Cerridwen brewed the Awen. I, too, did that task, with a pack of Druids I’d never met. One of them was sent down to Sussex, where I was Called, though I didn’t know it. On his shopping list was a Gwion, to stir her cauldron, and I, bumbling my way across England, Scotland, and Ireland, heard the summons and altered my trek to Wales. It was a picaresque journey, I was teased and scared, and ultimately invited in by Scathach, ferried over to Ireland, my supposed destination, to sing of Macha on the mound at Emain. A few precious minutes in the chamber at Brugh na Boinne, and a lovely session in Dublin. I busked the price of a couple of pints at Temple Bar and laid my head in the quietest hostel I’d ever stayed at.

Cerridwen made me prove my resolve. I found out why the Sail Rail fare was so cheap. Six hours on the train station floor at Holyhead, and there was no hostel to be had at Bath. I would have been better off staying on Anglesey. Eventually I found myself on the shore of the Lake. I hadn’t even known where I was going! A chill ripped through me as I realized what I’d gotten myself into. A weekend of beginning the brew and tending the Cauldron, then a year of full moons spent stirring. I knew I’d be returning to finish the brew when the ogam wreath Cerridwen had been offered washed ashore where I was camping.

In my mind is a Grove. In the apparent world it grows at the top of Mount Tamalpais in California. Over the year the circle of stones within it became a Well, spring-fed, in my mind. The stream that ran from it tumbled down the hill and I chose one day to follow it, to see where it led. It grew, fed by other freshets and I found myself on the path to the Lake. I came to the bridge that I’d crossed during that weekend of brewing in Wales. I climbed over the stile and found myself beside Llyn Tegid once more. The green, the rocks in the streambed, all led me back to that place where I can journey any time I wish, in my mind’s eye.

Centenary

A woman in a white dress pushes a gaudy lion's mouth closed.

I know you’re angry.
So am I.
How could we not be?
Children ripped from their parents,
Concentration camps in Texas.
“I can’t breathe”
“I remember their laughter”
A child-man throwing ugly decrees from his high chair.

But from a high shelf in Europe come watercolor images a century on.
French families fleeing destruction.
Children starving in Yemen.
Corpses of trees standing witness as men follow orders into death.
As we follow our leaders.

They know who we need to hate.
In front of City Hall we are led in chants.
We know the story.
Our indignation gives us the right to hate.
We have worked so hard, but They stole our votes, our climate, our lives.
We will make them pay!
We will come here every night if necessary!
Bearing placards, twisted pictures of an uncrowned King.
A piñata we can beat to death
Until we get our hands on him.

Where is the line? When do We become Them?

Wind back time, another protest.
The First Peoples told us,
“Rise in peace, in prayer when you do this work”
I remember as I raise an electric candle.
I see a woman of amber gently closing the lion’s mouth
Pushing peacefully, inexorably,
In the direction where the muscles of hate have no choice but to obey.

Yes. I will witness.
Every night if necessary.
I will shine a light, but I will not hate.
I see the skeletal trees.
The skeletal children.
I see Armstrong’s footprints.
Earth rising above the lunar landscape.
The green children of Glen Affric.
Forests hiding trenches, life returning.

The bell is tolling, a century later.
Can we hear the words of Harry Patch?
Can we hear The Green Fields of France?
The ghosts gather round, asking “Have you ended war yet?”

Only a fool fights when the world is burning.
Peace begins with me.
The truth against the world.
Peace begins with all of us.

A woman in a white dress pushes a gaudy lion's mouth closed.
Strength, from the Morgan-Greer Tarot

Cauldron’s Rim

Spiral blood red rose
The Blood Red Rose –Artist Thea Ruoho

Cauldron’s Rim

My cauldron is rimmed, not with pearls, but with Blood Red Roses.
Spirals graven there over the year we stirred the Awen together.
Scored by the stirring stick, colored by the brew,
One for each one of us together in the task.

Black the Cauldron’s rim.
Once it stretched from Wales to California.
Here on the Shore of the Western Sea,
Where Cerridwen called me, and I followed, not knowing,
Until I stood on the shores of Llyn Tegid,
A wreath of ogham floating at my feet.

Is it still there? I feel it, black but unmarked,
Like the flight path of the plane that carried me full circle.
I hold it in my hands, weightless, black and thick,
As I sit in the shallows of the lake.

A paradox, the rim was gone, the rim returns.
The cauldron is 5,000 miles across, then the width of my spread hands.
My tasks are not known to me, but I do as Cerridwen asks.
I ask the Maidens to warm it with their breath.
We each must make the journey our own.

Like the GPS in a tallship,
The trackline tells me where I have been, not what course to steer.
As it did at the huge tiller, I hope this will orient me,
Allow me to learn to steer by compass and the wind.
Full and by,
Bala is Calling.