I just finished listening to Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead today. I feel it was important for me to listen to this first installment of the King Raven trilogy to fully absorb through the ears the bardic transmission it embodies. Lawhead is a true bard, and in this retelling of the classic tale, he peels back through layers of historical accumulation to reveal the mighty power at the heart of the greenwood.
One of the things that I love about Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle was that he was adept at mixing in tales from the Mabinogion, as told by a bard in the story as often as not, into the larger tale he was telling. It’s a great way to encounter the stories for the first time or again if you are already familiar with them. It is also simply an excellent practice in storytelling, to weave the tale-within-a-tale. Embroidering his novels with these tales of the Otherworld gives the retelling of the stories, whether of Taliesin, Merlin and King Arthur, or Robin Hood added heft.
The main character of Hood, Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne of Elfael, becomes something of an avatar of Bran the Blessed, swooping down on unsuspecting Norman invaders in his cloak of raven black feathers after he is driven into hiding, taken for dead. The first volume of the series shows his transformation from a king unwilling to take on
the responsibility of ruling his Land, of someone who wants to flee because the invaders are out for his life, into a person who ultimately gives himself over to being of service to the people of the cantref he was heir to. This transformation begins within himself but is brought to fruition through the sometimes gentle, sometimes stern and blunt ministrations of Angharad, an old crone of the forest whom we later learn is the Banfaith of Elfael or True Bard of Britain. It is when she sings to him the story of Bran the Blessed, while he recovers from a serious injury in her cave, that the stirrings in his soul eventually make the lead of his unformed nature into a torc of gold fit to inspire and uphold the people so that they may work together to reclaim their usurped land. And for the person who is open to the power of this book it can exact a change in them as well. Not only do I feel a renewed connection to the wonder and beauty of Welsh lore, but a deepening sense of commitment in connecting to the Land and kindred.
The next book in the trilogy, Scarlet, seems like it will up the ante of long bow guerilla warfare action, and I can’t wait to get into it. There is a lot of good information about archery and the long bow encoded into this book. It speaks to me now on many levels as I’ve been working with the images of the Wildwood Tarot. (The suits of Swords and Wands have been replaced with Bows and Arrows.)
While listening to this book I couldn’t help but recall with fondness a recent post by Gordon about the Folk Saint Dwynwen. She isn’t mentioned in the book, but the story does unfold in a time when as Gordon wrote in his post describing this period in Wales, “stories of elves and sunken cities, pagan pantheism and otherworlds mixed with the pre-hellfire civilising mission of early Christianity like milk into coffee… when Jesus’s mission was still radical and civilising on an individual level, when it slipped into an indigenous cosmology of magic, reincarnation and wandering rune masters.”
Over the course of listening to this while at work for a week and a half, an hour or two here, an hour or two there, I had a dream visitation from an ancient Welsh monk. It got me thinking about the concept of an Ecostery again. Two quotes from the website of The Ecostery Foundation suggest what this form of monastic life might become. “Ecosteries are loved places where ecological values, knowledge and wisdom are learned, practiced and shared. They are sacred, respected and honored dwelling places.” & “The ecostery and land trust are two examples of social organizations worth investments of time, energy and contributions. Both…empower participants in their daily lives…. The ecostery concept derives its origin from monastic forms of land based communities…. Monastic form has possibilities for decentralized, more or less self-sustaining communities, committed to work on bioregional restoration over long periods of time, without demand for profits or centralized power.”
Having read of Welsh monks in the work of Lawhead -as well as in the lovable Brother Cadfael series of whodunnits- I can foresee the development of Ecosteries working to rebuild distraught bioregions -informed by the magic of the Druid Revival, the awakening of Witchblood, and other esoteric knowledge. The work of the Bard is to help quicken us into action, inspire noble deeds, and heal severed connections through the power of story.