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The Bardic Handbook

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This complete manual for the Twenty-First Century Bard contains all you need to know to start you on the path of the bard. With experienced bard Kevan Manwaring as your reliable guide, you will find inspiration, enchant an audience with your words, learn the skills of storytelling and how to use magical words to bless, honour, heal and celebrate.

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  The Bardic Handbook - click to read the Introduction

The Bardic Handbook

The Complete Manual for the 21st Century Bard

Kevan Manwaring

Foreword by Emma Restall-Orr (Bobcat)

Click to read the Introduction


This complete manual for the Twenty-First Century Bard contains all you need to know to start you on the path of the bard. With experienced bard Kevan Manwaring as your reliable guide, you will find inspiration, enchant an audience with your words, learn the skills of storytelling and how to use magical words to bless, honour, heal and celebrate.

With an easy-to-follow twelve month self-study programme and week-by-week exercises and mini-lessons about bardic lore, this book will lead you along the Way of Awen. For ease of understanding as well as invoking inspiration, the book is divided into five parts corresponding to the elements of the Western Magical Tradition: Spirit, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

This twelve month Bardic study programme is divided as follows:


Month One  

Awakening to Bardic Awareness



Month Two  

Threshold Guardians


Month Three  

Twice Born


Month Four  

Finding the Fire Within


Month Five  

Encountering Faerie


Month Six  

Entering the Land of Story


Month Seven  

Connecting with the Animal Kingdom


Month Eight  

Calling the Inner Bard


Month Nine  

Awenyddion - Becoming an Inspired One


Month Ten  

Your Bardic Debut


Month Eleven  

The Tongue that Cannot Lie


Month Twelve  

A Bardic Life


Also included are:
- A Bardic glossary
- The Shining Word
- British and Irish Gods and Goddesses
- Eco-Bardic Principles
- Eisteddfod
- Setting up and Running a Bardic Chair
- The Ancient List of British Bardic Chairs
- Running a Bardic Circle
- and The Silver Branch Network

Through the ancient Celtic myths and legends, you will learn about Spirit, the Cauldron, the Crane Skin Bag, techniques and traditions, the light of foresight, the storehouse of memory, word magic and the uses of Gramarye, the illumination of song, invoking the Gods and using archetypes.

You will hear the voice of the Trees and how to use words of power through runes and Ogham.

Kevan Manwaring

You will learn about the Voice of the Ancestors and the Voice of the Stars all by moving around the wheel of the year and using the Bardic calendar. Being a Twenty-First Century Bard, you will also hear the Voice of the World and use brainstorming, mind-mapping, visualisation, sound effects and how to use movement and structure in performance.

Kevan Manwaring, whose Bardic name is Tal!yessin, is a novelist, poet, storyteller and teacher. He has been performing his poetry for over a decade in venues across Britain as well as Rhode Island Sacred Arts Festival. In 1998 he was awarded the Bardic Chair of Caer Badon in Bath. In 1999 he won the Writers' New Ghost Story Competition. He runs Silver Branch Bardic Training and teaches fiction writing for the Open University. He lives in the city of Bath.

  The Bardic Handbook - click to read the Introduction


Foreword by Emma Restall Orr


Using The Bardic Handbook: a Guide
A Bardic Year: a month-by-month guide
Orientation: The Circle of Elements
Where to Begin
The Leaves of Life
Starting Out: a personal journey
Declaring your Chair
The Bardic Learning Cycle: Year One
A Bardic A-Z


Month 1: Awakening to Bardic Awareness
The Nature of a Bard: Past and Present
The Nature of Awen
Creating a Bardic Space
The Celtic Diaspora
The Cauldron-Born
The Story of Taliesin
The Training of a Bard
The Crane Bag: Bardic Techniques & Exercises
The Three Illuminations: Imbas Forosnai – the light of foresight
Imbolc: the Poet's Festival
Brighid: Goddess of the Bards
Praise Poems
End of Month Review


Spirits of Air
Month 2: Threshold Guardians
The Harp
Perpetual Songs of Choir
The Crane Bag: Senchus – Bardic Memory
The House of the Storyteller

Month 3: Twice Born
Anruth Ceremony
Voice of the Wind
The Voice: Word Magic & the Uses of Gramarye
Solar Festivals: The Equinoxes
Quarterly review


Spirits of Fire
The Fire Festivals

Month 4: Finding the Fire Within
Voice of the Fire
Using Passion
The Crane Bag: The Three Illuminations – Teinm Laida

Month 5: Encountering Faerie.
Fire in the Head: inspiration and composition in poetry
Tips for Writing Poetry
Tips for Performing Poetry
Voice of the Sun
The Shining Ones

Month 6: Entering the Land of Story
The Lore of the Storyteller
Climbing the Beanstalk: storytelling in easy stages
The Crane Bag: Using Archetypes
Quarterly Review


Spirits of Water

Month 7: Connecting with the Animal Kingdom
The Hawk of Achill
Fionn & the Salmon
The Weir of the Twice Born
Voice of the Sea
The Crane Bag: Tipping the Cauldron

Month 8: Calling The Inner Bard
The Crane Bag: The Inward Spiral – the joy of solitude
Bard and Community
Marking Rites of Passage
Voice of the Trees
The Silver Branch
The Crane Bag: The Three Illuminations – Dichetal do Chennaib
Ogham: the Celtic Tree Alphabet
The Crane Bag: Walking

Month 9: Awenyddion – becoming an inspired one
Quarterly review


Spirits of Earth

Month 10: Your Bardic Debut
The Bladder Stick: humour
The Crane Bag: Briamech Smetrach – the uses and misuses of satire
Voice of the Earth
Sitting Out: A Night on Bard Mountain
The Crane Bag: Dindsenchas – stories of place

Month 11: The Tongue That Cannot Lie
Voice of the Ancestors
The Crane Bag: Stone upon the Belly
Voice of the Stars
On Being a Twenty First Century Bard
Voice of the World – relevance and motivation
Finding Material
Brainstorming and Mindmapping
Breaking down the Bones
Inhabiting the Story
Using Music and Sound Effects
Using Movement
Promotion and Marketing
Selecting your Set and Pitching it Right
Working with the Space
Working Solo
Working in a Group
The Warm-Up
The Walk Through and Warming up the Space
Audience Participation
Working with Interruptions
Reciprocation and Remuneration
Closure and Follow-up

Month 12: A Bardic Life
A Year and a Day: Accepting your Chair
Quarterly Review; Final Review; Final Feedback Form
Certificate of Bardic Initiation


The Wheel of the Year – diagram
Bardic Reading List
A Brief Bardic Glossary
The Shining Word – diagram
British and Irish Gods and Goddesses
Eco-Bardic Principle
Setting up and Running a Bardic Chair
The Ancient List of British Bardic Chairs
Case Study of a Modern Bardic Chair
The Role of a Chaired Bard
Running a Bardic Circle
The Dialogue of the Two Sages, Version by Robin Williamson


Bardic Chair


I believe in the power of words to transform, heal and inspire. It is immensely satisfying to communicate what one believes in an eloquent and entertaining way. Taking an audience on a magical journey, creating an enchanting atmosphere, making sacred the air – this is the joy of being a Bard. I love helping people express themselves, hone their talent and shine. I wish there had been a book like this when I started out (it would have improved my learning curve dramatically!) but I think The Bardic Handbook will make the road easier for you. Allow me to share my 15 plus years of experience and expertise, so that you do not have to reinvent the wheel, hit dead-ends or learn the harder way.

The Bardic Handbook is designed to awaken the Bard within. It will teach you essential Bardic skills, and support your development as a Bard: either as poet, storyteller, musician, or all three. Whether you take the craft further and begin to remember, record and recite, use your words in a ceremonial way, or simply improve your oral communication skills – that's up to you. The Bardic Handbook can only give you the tools and show you the way, describing what you need to learn and how to go about honing your craft – but it is only through practise, dedication and passion that you'll truly become a Bard.

Modern Bards can be male or female, so when I use the word 'Bard' I am referring to both. However, in the text it is sometimes necessary to use a personal pronoun, in which case I will ascribe a particular gender as the Muse takes me, to avoid the tedious and awkward 'he/she, his/her'. If I veer towards the masculine, then it is simply the fault of my sex.

Although I draw upon the Celtic Tradition, I believe Bardic skills can be of benefit to you whatever belief system or background you have. There are equivalents to the Bard all around the world, in cultures equally as valid. I suggest using The Bardic Handbook to celebrate your own identity, community and heritage.

May we always remember,
Kevan Manwaring
Bath, Samhain 2005



The Spring Bride

The skills and wisdom of the Bard are as relevant today as they have ever been, in fact, in a world of communication breakdown and collective amnesia – where we fail to honour our geo-cultural heritage, and forget again and again the lessons of the past – possibly more so. The Bard was far more than 'just' a teller of tales or singer of songs: he or she was the remembrancer and chronicler for the tribe – of ancient lore, bloodlines, land rites, battles, geasa, great events, important details... In short, their living memory. And furthermore, a celebrant, in an official or unofficial capacity – whose tales and tunes would mark the cycles of life within the circle of the community: the wooings, the weddings, the nativities, comings-of-age, and other thresholds of change. With their words they could bless or blight. Warriors would vie for the honour of being immortalised through their elegies, kings and chiefs would take care to avoid their satire, lords and enemies feared their curses. The system of patronage may no longer be viable, but that also means the Bard is no longer at the behest of a liege. In a world where most forms of communication are monitored, perhaps only the Bard is truly free to speak his or her mind without having to kowtow to so-called 'political correctness', corporate values or media fads. In the age of spin, we need more than ever a re-enchantment of language, where people actually mean what they say, free of Post-Modern irony, and a man is as good as his word. It is not a return to spurious 'old values' but a re-imagining and renewing of what those values are, by learning from the lessons of the past and acknowledging the perspective which history affords. The wisdom of the past is ever-present, if we but listen. It is an insult to our collective ancestors to do otherwise, for it is their countless sacrifices which have enabled us to have come thus far: to be in this relatively privileged, but precarious, position on the cusp of a new millennia.

In an age of Climate Change and global turmoil, the importance of community, of common people helping one another, having a voice, being heard, validating personal 'narratives' outside the hegemony of a grander one, drawing upon their own resources and talents, wealth of experience and motherwit, could never be more imperative. The Bard's ability to express the inexpressible, to celebrate the lives of all that live and have lived, and preserve for posterity the little epiphanies, personal triumphs and tragedies, heroics and hard-won wisdom from extinction, or from being drowned out in the white noise of endless trivia, enables excellence of expression and freedom of information at a grassroots level beyond webs and nets, dishes and boxes. It offers a folk democracy of the tongue and the limitless possibilities of the imagination.The Bard helps us to celebrate being human and enables us to appreciate other cultures, other perspectives, at the same time as being more fully in our own. It praises the universal through the particular: the local and microcosmic, the parts that make up the whole, which make something bigger than their sum – the biodiversity of humanity.

So, I have written this book in the belief that everyone can benefit from Bardic skills: either as a listener or performer, whether you only wish to improve your public speaking, entertain your family and friends, or aspire to be a fully-fledged professional Bard, with 'harp on back', fire in the head and hundreds of stories at your fingertips. I can claim with complete conviction that you will benefit, however far down the path of the Bard you wish to go, because I certainly have. It has transformed my life: improving not just my communication skills (I never had the 'gift of the gab', although I always had a good imagination), but social ones as well (at school I was the introvert wallflower and now, it seems, I can keep most audiences entertained, although everyone has bad days). Becoming a Bard has given me, and is still giving me, so much: it has given me a community and a role to play in it and, perhaps most importantly of all, it has given me a way to live – a true and reliable guide for life.

A disclaimer: this book does not claim to be able to make you a Bard – only you can make yourself one, through your belief, dedication and skill. However, this book will provide you will all the tools needed to set you on your way, through a structured learning programme, a comprehensive manual of techniques and an essential reference guide.

To summarise: the overall aim of this book is to empower people to find and use their true voice for the good of all. Its objectives are to:

• offer initiation for the budding Bard
• provide a practical 12 month training programme
• teach the art of storytelling
• teach techniques of poetic inspiration, composition and performance
• develop the power of the memory
• widen understanding of Awen
• develop awareness of the Bardic Tradition
• explore what it means to be a Bard in the 21st Century
• provide resources, such as a reading list, contacts, etc.
• connect with the wider community
• encourage respect for diverse global traditions and cultures
• foster 'mythic literacy' and an understanding of mythic levels in modern life
• act as a catalyst for new Bardic circles and the re-establishing of Bardic Chairs

I hope you enjoy working with this book as much as I have writing it, especially in revisiting the sources of my inspiration. It has made me take stock of what I know, and what there is still to know – for truly, one never stops learning. I am still on the journey. I hope to see you along the way.

Using The Bardic Handbook

Bladud and the Oak

This handbook offers a twelve month self-study programme of Bardic development, which aims to be practical, contemporary, user-friendly and inspiring. The book is divided into five parts, corresponding to the elements of the Western Mystery Tradition: Air, Fire, Water and Earth – with Spirit at the centre. This is in effect casting a circle deosil, sunwise, and since it is important to work with, rather than against, Nature, I suggest that you follow the programme in sequential order. You can commence it at any time of the year, as long as you dedicate a full year to completing it (see A Bardic Year). At whatever point you join the circle you can benefit from fulfilling this circular path of development. The Bardic Handbook's learning cycle is also a holistic one of healing – by working with and balancing these elements within yourself you will find wholeness. It is based on the Wheel of the Year, consisting of the Eight Festivals: the four Celtic fire festivals (Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh), and four solar festivals – the equinoxes and solstices, which I have used as way-markers for the Bard's initiatory journey.

The Celtic Bards traditionally spent twelve years mastering their craft. As previously stated, this book does not claim to be able to magically turn you into a fully-fledged Bard in twelve months – there's no quick route, alas – instead it offers an introduction to the Bardic Tradition and the Way of Awen. By following this year-long programme you will become an Anruth – a Bardic initiate (in an initiation where you make a vow to what you consider sacred, and a commitment that you are prepared to make). By dedication and determination, humility and respect, you may build upon this foundation to become a fully-qualified Bard over the next twelve years, if you choose to make such a commitment.

If you have already been pursuing the path of the Bard through music, storytelling, poetry, teaching, or writing, for a numbers of years then this process will serve to consolidate and honour that effort; thus, if you began on your path eleven years ago then by the end of this book, and its twelve months of training, you will have become a full Bard of the Taliesin grade (see The Training of a Bard). This may seem like a long apprenticeship, but it is based upon the traditional length of study required by the Bardic Colleges. The surviving curriculum (ibid) offer a useful guide to the extent and depth of commitment required to master such a craft. A guide to professional practice it may be, but The Bardic Handbook is not seeking to set itself up as the 'voice of authority' (although some kind of peer adjudication system is useful – and the Eisteddfod system offers this). However some may rail against any such system, the simple truth is you cannot in all honesty start to call yourself a Bard until others do so: this is the ultimately benchmark – the acknowledgment of your community (see Bard and Community). You may wish to avoid the long training, but you cannot avoid this fact.

To become an ollamh (a doctor of verse) takes twenty years training (the equivalent to becoming a fully-fledged druid, which traditionally required the same number of years of study); and to become a true Master Bard (Penbeirdd), a lifetime. However, you need not have to be willing to make such a long-term commitment to reap benefit from this book. It will be of use to any who wish to express themselves, celebrate their identity, community and heritage. How far you wish to take it is up to you.

The Bardic Tradition has many national variations (e.g. African griot, Anglo-Saxon scop), all with their rich lineages and lore. Essentially, it is about connecting with it in your way, with your voice. Although the material we will be working with is predominantly Celtic, most of it is transferable to other traditions, or has cultural equivalents. Yet it is equally respectful to honour the Bard's roots in a pan-European Celtic culture, which has lived on largely through the skills of those very same Bards over the centuries. Thanks to the tradition-bearers and scholars we have tantalising glimpses of ancient techniques, and a rigorous framework for training: all of which can be applied or updated as appropriate.

Each of the five sections has material associated with its respective element, and offers monthly topics, thematic essays, stories, techniques, exercises, examples and review. To complete the course you will need to dedicate at least a couple of hours a week to the readings and activities, although a daily commitment is encouraged, through a simple personal ritual – a prayer and journal entry (see Praise Poems and The Leaves of Life). Every time you work with the Way of Awen, you open a doorway to the Otherworld.

Step through and enter in peace.


A Bardic Year: a Month-by-Month Guide

The Wheel of the Year, as the round of festivals and seasons is known, has its own tides, like the 29.5 day lunar cycle, as the energy ebbs and flows, waxing and waning with the inception, acceleration, culmination, and withdrawal of each 'node' of elemental, spiritual and secular activity. It is wise to work with, rather than against, these currents, like a surfer riding the waves. In Spring begin to manifest projects visioned in the darkness of winter. In summer be expansive, travel and socialise at the festival time. From the start of harvest, work hard to gather in what you have sown, and enjoy the fruits of your toil. Then in winter take stock, reflect and begin to dream again... Of course, we revisit these 'stations' each year – time is not a line but a spiral, as we look over the shoulders of our former selves, slightly higher up the loop... overlapping with the ghosts of the past, walking in the footsteps of ancestors – seeing how far, or little, we've come – how much or how little we have learnt or forgotten. The Wheel of the Year is a seasonal mnemonic, reminding us constantly of our own 'seasons', our own seed-times and harvests, our growing and withdrawing – synchronising with the cycle of life, harmonising with the Earth and all that lives and dies upon it.

* Spring Quickening (February – April)
* Summer Shining (May – July)
* Autumn Gathering (August – October)
* Winter Dreaming (November – January)

The Bardic learning cycle: year one

1. Declaring your Chair.
Beginning Your Training
Month 1 & 2 (all of Spirit)

2. Bardic Vow & Naming
Month 3 Anruth Ceremony (Air)
Quarterly review. Month 4 & 5 (Fire)

3. Six month Review
Month 6 (Fire).
Months 7-9 (Water).
Quarterly review.

4. Your Bardic Debut
Month 10 & 11 (Earth)

5. Accepting your Chair after a year and a day.
Month 12 (Earth, 21st Century Bard & Appendices)

A Bardic Alphabet

A  Awen /|\ Bardic Inspiration

B  Bard - Remembrancer & wordsmith

C  Community - The circle of the Bard

D  Druid - Priest/ess and MC

E  Eloquence - What a Bard aspires to

F  Filidh - Seer-poets, Gaelic

G  Gorsedd - A gathering of Bards

H  Harp - Stringed instrument

I  Imbas - Inspiration, Gaelic

J  Jokes - Sense of humour!

K  Kerridwen - Initiatorix of Taliesin

L  Light - Share it, become it

M  Music - Universal language

N  Names - Essential identity

O  Ogham - Celtic tree alphabet

P  Poetry - Word magic

Q  Questions - Colloquies & riddles

R  Repertoire - The Bard's 'word-hoard'

S  Storytelling - The oldest art

T  Triads - Welsh wisdom in threes

U  Utterance - It's the way you say it

V  Voice - Most essential instrument

W  Women ... are Bards too!

X  Excellence - Be the best, & better!

Y  Yell! Stand up & be heard

Z  Zeitgeist - The spirit of the age


Starting Out: a Personal Journey

As a child I found paganism in the fields and oak woods near my family's home in Far Cotton, the beginning of my thread. I would take my dog for a walk every day to the nearby ruined abbey, with its rambling wilderness gardens, permeated with the odour of sanctity when nuns paced its grounds in devout contemplation. There I found sanctuary from the difficulties of growing up in a rundown market town, a peace and healing beyond words – to begin with. Yet it was there that I discovered the poetry of nature, in my personal Arcadia: for it was seldom visited, except by the ghosts of my imagination. I would make up names for trees, see gypsy lights in the gloaming, and a witch in a ramshackle hut. There I dreamed the summers away, more comfortable with the invisible than with crowds.

My parents are salt-of-the-earth and non-dogmatic, and I have them to thank for not indoctrinating me. Given free rein, I groped my own way towards dialogue with the Divine – finding an outlet initially through the visual arts. Developing a knack for sketching, I began to worship the beauty of the world in silent meditation, finding peace in a pencil, inkpen or paintbrush. I was encouraged to go to Art College and there I began to 'find myself ' and come out of my shell.

One day, in my eighteenth year, I walked into a bookshop and the first book I picked up was on the Arthurian Tradition. I opened and read a little about Lancelot, and received a flash of – what, déjà vu? After reading obsessively about the Matter of Britain I made a pilgrimage with friends to Glastonbury Tor, which was haunting me like the Devil's Tower in the Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had passed by it earlier that summer on the way to my first Glastonbury Festival – the strange-shaped hill intrigued me, but my lift did not stop. Similarly, I remember the shock of recognition as we drove through Avebury on the way home. A couple of years before I had drawn Stonehenge, on a Sixth Form field trip: unaware of its significance to me later in life. At Glastonbury, over a number of visits, I was initiated into the mystery tradition of this land.

Back home I set up Zeitgeist Forum with my friend, as a showcase for different faiths – for we could find no guidance for those starting out on the path. But this creative act summoned to us kindred spirits, and we found our first pagan community, on our doorstep, but hidden to us until now. We had called, and they had come. We were adopted by two unconventional 'mentors': one, a pipe-carrier for the Native American path; the other, a runemaster and novelist. They challenged our arrogant, precocious perceptions, in true Don Juan style, until suddenly terminating our informal apprenticeship. We were on our own. The initiation had been brief, but it had worked: I had found my natural spirituality, connected to the native tradition of Britain. I had been practising it all along before I knew what it was – Paganism. Nature was my first and foremost teacher and healer – and I began to write praise poems to the wonder I saw around me.

On a trip to the West of Ireland I discovered my Celtic Muse, in the flesh to begin with, until I realised it was within me. Poetry poured out of me, as though a long-capped spring had been unblocked. I had to share this 'treasure' and began to perform my work – painfully improving through trial and error. This was when the Green Man burst out of my subconscious, and provided me with a male face to these mysteries. I have honoured him, and the Goddess he serves, ever since.

For the next few years I was preoccupied with the business of growing up and finding my place in the world. After much experimentation, I finally did, in the city of Bath. Having been drawn down to the 'Summer Country' for the last seven years, I finally moved there, and much to my delight met Druids, a King, minstrels and Celts, becoming Bard of Bath in 1998. I had found my raison d'être. Since then I have been heavily involved with the Bardic Chair of Caer Badon, with the Gorsedd and the annual Eisteddfod, the Bardic Festival of Bath.

Over the last few years I have honed my craft, becoming an author and teacher of creative writing. With friends from the Bath Storytelling Circle, which began in late 1999, Fire Springs was formed, and together we have devised and toured shows about King Arthur, Robin Hood, and other legends from world cultures.

As a solo performer, I appear as Tallyessin – to honour the greatest Bard of Albion and the Bardic Tradition he epitomises. This is my path – the Way of Awen. Through it I celebrate the mysteries, bringing alive the ancient tales and creating new material, to enchant and entertain.

After several collections of poetry I have turned to fiction to preserve my tales. In my novels I explore the interface of time, memory, landscape and imagination (as in my third, The Long Woman).

Through my workshops I help people express themselves and awaken the Bard within. A course I ran in 2003 led to the publication of Writing the Land – an anthology of natural words, in aid of Friends of the Earth. The Natural Words writers' circle that came out of it is still going. In 2004 I set up the first series of Way of Awen weekends at various locations around the country, where a lot of the material in this current book was 'fieldtested', quite literally!

At a local woodland campsite on the borders of Somerset, Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire, I have organised several eco-arts events raising money for green charities, annual bardic gatherings, Spring dressing, the creation of a poetry trail, and the planting of a Celtic Tree Wheel, joining with others to celebrate our sacred land, and finding the Divine beneath my feet – full circle from the green abbey where I began.