minstrel: bardic circles

Heather Rose Jones hrjones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Wed Apr 23 11:33:34 PDT 1997


On Wed, 23 Apr 1997 mn13189 at WCUVAX1.WCU.EDU wrote:
> On Wed, 23 Apr 1997, Muirgheal wrote:
> 
> > Is this true?  Bardic circles are so basic, I've always thought of them as 
> > ancient.  Hasn't mankind always gathered in informal groups to sing or recount 
> > stories?  I would think it's only been in the last few decades, as technology 
> > has started to overshadow this practice that it's fallen into disuse.  The 
> > term "bardic circle" may be un-period, but surely the practice isn't.

The most common manifestation of a similar event that I've found in period
sources is the mutual entertaining done by the guests in a noble hall. In
some cultures, it was strongly expected that every well-bred person would
be able to contribute in some fashion. (For a salient example, check out
the story of the poet Caedmon, who snuck out of the hall because he was
embarassed by his lack of talent, until God inspired him to compose
eloquent religious songs.) In several of the medieval Welsh tales, the
normal ordering of a special feast includes the participants entertaining
each other "with songs and conversation and storytelling" -- and there are
several remarks indicating that this sort of skill was considered highly
praiseworthy in a noble person. These are ordinary people, not
professional bards and storytellers. Consider that the majority of the
troubadour songs that have been preserved for us were written by members
of the nobility (although not necessarily performed by them).

> I suggest a ceilidh as a period example of a bardic circle.  What the term
> signifies today is a consert of Celtic (usually Scottish) music, with a
> line-up of various performers.  What the term *originally* meant was
> something quite different.
> "Ceilidh" is actually the Gaelic term for "visit."  People would gather in
> someone's sheilan, or cottage, all sit around the fire in the middle of
> the room, and stay up late (sometimes until morning) sharing songs and
> stories.  Everyone would participate.  These people were not professional
> performers, just regular folk having a good time.

I'd be very interested in looking further into the historic roots of this
(for some articles I have kicking around in the back of my head). Can you
point me to some period references to the practice -- or sources that
would point me to them? I'm not as familiar with the Scottish and Irish
material as I might be.

Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn


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