The Pagan Blog Project: B is for Bards and Books
People often don’t understand how something fictional can be life-altering, let alone hold more truth than the newspaper. The same can be said in a religious setting. I mean really, a person from outside your faith, or an atheist outside of all faiths, views every holy book or story as fiction. And then there are pop culture pagans who very literally have taken more modern icons – characters from books, movies, and video games – and use them in a setting of worship and devotion.
I’m not a historian, so I’m not going to go into elaborate detail about the history of bards and books, but let’s look at them in this context for a moment. Before the written word, you had storytellers (a bard being a specific type of storyteller). Imagine that you have no television to show your family or friends just how incredible the sunset over a foreign land is, or the terror and strain and ever-blessed victory of battle. But you need them to feel what it is like, even if they can’t see it. All you have are your words. The same was true for telling legends of the gods and heroes. Stories aren’t always told for their factuality, but to draw the listener into it, so that in a moment of awe and amazement they may feel that spark of divine insight and inspiration within them.
That spark of inspiration is what I worship, which is entirely why pagan labels don’t suit me. It flickers and flies this way and that, rarely to be found in the same place twice, shifting form and feeling as it goes. At first I found it infuriating, as a fault of my own. Now I chase it in joy. I have stopped trying to name it, but love it all the same.
And that is what I imagine listening to a bard’s tale must be like. Historian as well as storyteller, drinker of the mead of poetry, he was the voice through which that divine inspiration would reach out to the people.
Books carry a similar burden now. In some ways more challenged than the bard, who at least could sing or play an instrument or put on some kind of visual show, the book has only its words to rely on and must trust the reader in good faith to be paying attention. And those who do are often extremely rewarded in a good story. Instead of the detached experience of watching a screen, one can be in the story, feel what the characters are feeling. And sometimes, that spark of inspiration will dance for just a moment on your heart.
I struggle with labels because as I read, I often say, “Ah, yes, this speaks to me,” then turn to another book, and, “Yes, this too.” I find the divine in stories told over and over again, by different titles and with different characters throughout all the ages. And in those stories I find the divine, singular or multiple, within or all-encompassing. As tricky as it is to put a label on myself, I can not begin to try and label that. When I try, by calling it by one deity’s name or another, it’s like trying to put an adult’s foot in a child’s shoe.
This is how I’ve come to a beginning understanding of the Allfather. Wandering, thirsty for knowledge and beautiful words, charming and raging. And just as many others have lifted their faces through so many stories. Sometimes the stories don’t have a face, and I return to that nameless chasing which I so enjoy.
I thank storytellers for bringing us to life.