This is an archive of private e-mails and postings to various Usenet groups, regarding the origins of the Northshield Bardic College, and the philosophies behind it and behind Bardic Madness. Archive courtesy of Owen and Raven. (Slightly edited 12/25/01 by Eliane to remove old e-mail addresses, etc.)

John -- C.M. Joscerlin, called the Raven -- is the one who first
suggested founding the college and was its first speaker (Brendan,
Wyndreth, Nawson, and I were among the people at Mermaids when we held our
first meeting -- consensus made the four of us the first council.  We then
all pointed fingers at Raven and said, "and you're the speaker" -- we then
presented the charter and ourselves before the Stallari that evening at

	Then after feast we went outside to have our inaugural bardic
circle, which ran splendidly until someone came out from the feasthaall
and said "Is there anyone who can help me in the kitchen?  I have all
these dishes to wash and no one to help me." 

	"Right -- Bardic circle reconvenes in the Kitchen in five minutes
-- High ho, High ho to wash dishes we go..."  And thus was born the
"Northshield Bardic College and Dishwashing Society." 

                           )  Who sails  )                 Ben Tucker
Owen Alun             @    )__With me?___)     &    
Wandering Minstrel     \----------|-----------/      
Northshield, Midrealm   \_btuck@minstrel.com_/  Minneapolis, MN 55404

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 13 Dec 2001 01:59:36 -0600
From: "John S. L. Singleton"
Subject: Past posts on Bardic College/Madness

For your files, some of my past Usenet posts about the Bardic College,
taken from the (incomplete) archive at --
_ _ _ _ _

From: Raven
Subject: Encouraging New Bards (was some random thoughts bardic)
Date: 19 JUL 94 17:56:16 EST

In article <2E2BFF1481LDBBHD@-SMF->
Jennifer Lease writes:
>something came to me that really started depressing me.  I was thinking of
>all the bard hopefuls that are afraid to sing, play or tell stories at
>bardic circles.
>Most of the articles I've read recently regarding Bardic Arts, have really
>been geared towards more experienced bards.
>Have we bards become so arrogant that we can afford to become elitists and
>deny people the right to share in and experience our circles just because
>the only song they know really well is "Barretts' Privateers" (a great
>song!!!)???  The Arts need everyone from the newbie bard who started
>singing yesterday to the most experienced bard who's been singing forever.

Unto the fair, kind, and thoughtful lady, Anna MacKenzie:

I have indeed seen the exclusiveness, elitism, and outright snobbery
of which you speak, milady, and I feel about it as you do.

The good news is that, here in the the Crown Principality of Northshield
of the Middle Kingdom, MANY, most or possibly even all, bards share that
feeling... and make it a point to open Bardic Circles to all.

Let me tell you some of the wonderful things that have happened lately.

One of our bards, Owen Alun of Nordskogen (Ben Tucker of MN, btuck on
this very system), spearheaded the periodic event known as a "Bardic
Madness".  This was explicitly founded on the idea that the arts,
including the bardic arts, belong to everyone, and should be encouraged
in anyone who is interested in learning and practicing them.  It also
goes back to the idea that one of the things SCA-folk provide to each
other is an appreciative "boosting" audience.

A Bardic Madness is *NOT* an event where, say, the three or five best
bards compete to be the single winner, while everyone else looks on
from outside.  Oh, no.  There may be a few contests (wide open), but
most of the day is filled with -- challenges.  What is a challenge?
"Compose a poem [or song, or story], using the following..."
Use an odd verse form you've never used before.  Or, draw three topics
from a hat and select two of them, draw two tunes from another hat and
select one -- and write a song (at least two stanzas, one chorus) to
the topics and tune selected; you have five minutes.  Or, tell a boast
in fine heroic style.  Or, tell a history, or a funny story, or....
There are over a dozen different challenges.  Enter in what you will.

What makes these "challenges" rather than "contests"?  Well, anyone who
enters in any of the categories, however well or poorly, has MET that
challenge -- the expert has, and equally so has the rawest newbie.
All are heard out.  All are applauded, at least politely.  And some of
the most moving performances have come from people I never before saw
stand up and open their mouths in public.  Take the boast.  I heard
many good ones, and told a fair one myself, but we were all blown away
by the chap who stood up to talk about, not himself, but his wife.
The sheer sincerity of his love and admiration gave wings to his words.
There is no single "winner" in challenges, but he got riotous applause.

There are also classes at these Madnesses, people who know different
verse forms, or how to set words to music, and so forth, teaching any
who walk into that room.  The trick was finding time to go to all.

The effect of this is that EVERYONE who cared to, participated.
The secondary effect is that EVERYONE listened, with interest.
It is the only kind of event I have seen in many years where silence
reigned during performances, and you could hear every word clearly
-- even during feast.  The air of enthusiasm was highly contagious.

Well.  The trouble is that once the event is over, you have to wait
another year for it to come around.   Mmmmm... perhaps not.
Already I hear from one autocrat that she wants to hold a Madness-type
challenge or set of challenges as part of the St. Bunstable's Feast
in Jararvellir (Madison WI).  And -- we have started a Bardic College,
to keep bards in touch year-round, and encourage Madness-type activity,
without the year-long wait.  Some of the Madness's most active bards,
Nawson ben Mas'ud, Brendan O Corraidhe, Wyndreth Berginsdottir, and
Owen Alun himself, have formed the Council of the College; and I have
the honor to have been selected by them as its first Chief Bard.

We use no titles of rank.  (Chief Bard is merely "Public Speaker",
and implies no arrogance of skill or power.)  No "Apprentice,
Journeyman, Master" of the Guilds.  You earn your own reputation,
for good or ill, and cannot expect any Official Label from the College;
if the raw newbie happens to tell a better story than the old hand,
as it pleases the audience, no College rank exists to contradict that.

We have seen the abuses of rank-driven groups, the scrambling over each
other to get higher titles and greater seniority.  No thank you.
The arts belong to all; let all learn, and practice, and grow thereby.

In next message, I will post our Charter.  Feel free to borrow from it!

In service,

"Raven"  Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA

_ _ _ _ _

(Charter was posted in 19JUL94)
_ _ _ _ _

From: Raven
Subject: RE: Listing of Bardic Contacts
Date: 04 AUG 94 12:17:03 EST

In article [someone] writes:

>I am in need of some information.  I am about to launch
>a quarterly newsletter for bards in the Known World (The Bard's Fire)
>and I would like to list the various Bardic guilds in the Laurel
>Kingdoms and the `Bard in Charge' so to speak.
>If you know the name and contact infomation of the various guilds
>and their representatives would you please e-mail them to me.

*** NOTE:  I tried e-mail; it came back as undeliverable. ***

Organization:  The Northshield College of Bards

History:       chartered April 30, 1994 in the Middle Kingdom
               for the Region (new Crown Principality) of Northshield;
               inspired by the success of previous Bardic Madnesses.

Annual event:  Bardic Madness, bardic arts challenges open to everyone.

Membership:    No restrictions, no fees, no ranks, no honorary titles.
               (We hope, as a result, no glory-hound politics.)
               We plan a subscription-paid newsletter, Real Soon Now.

Structure:     Four-member council elected by the membership at large,
               with overlapping two-year terms; Chief Bard (public
               spokesperson) appointed by the council each year;
               teachers for the Bardic Madness and newsletter.

Chief Bard (through April 1995):

               Raven (Cigfran Myddrael Joserlin)
               mka John S. L. Singleton
               Milwaukee  WI 53208-2938

Bardic Madness organizer (and a Council member):

               Owen Alun, Wandering Minstrel
               mka Ben Tucker
               Minneapolis MN 55404

"Raven"  Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA

_ _ _ _ _

(The archive is missing some posts on alt.religion.druid where I
responded to a question about what to do for Lughnasadh by suggesting
bardic circles and/or madnesses; but the following discussion survives,
about the "non-competitive" aspect.--Raven)
_ _ _ _ _

From: (Raven (J. Singleton))
Subject: Re: Lughnasadh Ideas
Date: 1997/07/26
Newsgroups: alt.religion.druid

Steve wrote:

| Raven,  Some good ideas...I was talking to Ian (ADF) at Brushwood last
| weekend and he and his grove do the same thing! I'm afraid, however, my
| spontaneous bardic nature of this sort would place me last! :-(

Huh what?  The whole point of both those setups is that no-one is "last"
(except in the sense of sequence, the one after whom there is silence).
Everyone who wants to participate gets a turn, and there is no "ranking".

| Given a bit of time...I can, however, tell a good story!

Then that would be your "turn".  Heck, I've used my turn to do stories
as well as songs and poems.  (You should hear my tale of the three brothers,
the Wizard, the Warrior, and the Woodsman.)  Shannachie or storyteller is
an honoured role, always a welcome guest.  It's one of the great oral arts,
continuously practiced in Ireland before, during, and after the English
occupation.  You should not feel one-down, nor let yourself be put down,
if that is the nature of your talent.  Take pride in it.  PERFORM it!

-- Raven                 |         ,    "Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd." (Welsh)
                         |   "An Fhirinne in aghaidh an tSaoil." (Irish)
                         |        "The Truth against the World."
                         |                          -- Bardic Motto

_ _ _ _ _

From: (Raven (J. Singleton))
Subject: Re: Lughnasadh Ideas
Date: 1997/07/27
Newsgroups: alt.religion.druid

Steve wrote:
| On Sat, 26 Jul 1997, Raven wrote:
| ||Huh what?  The whole point of both those setups is that no-one is "last"
| I'm not sure why you have a problem with competition. Is
| competition a bad thing?

Not always.  But it can be.  Did you read my discussion in the side-thread?
(Competition between father and child for mother's affection, etc.)

| Why can't a clever bard be told, by their peers, that they
| are the best - that their magick is potent!? To say that
| everyone is a clever, in fact, a lie and not very
| honourable. To say that everyone is a clever bard may be
| more dangerous than to say they need some more work on their
| bardic skills if you believe there is magick in the word.

Who said anything about everyone being a "clever" bard?  Not I.

| What better day, than on Lughnasadh, to compete to see a
| clever bard spin their magick and then rewarding them for it?

Are you talking from long experience, short, or none?

I had seen the same short list of people "compete", over and over,
doing the same old material (because it's the "best") over and over,
so long that I'd started to lose interest.  No-one else bothered to try,
because they'd be plowed under, and the champions didn't dare play
anything but the "top 40" because then THEY'D be plowed under.

What a perfect demonstration of Voltaire's comment:
          "The _best_ is the enemy of the _good_."

The SCA's Middle Kingdom had a Bardic Guild, with ranks and titles and
competitions, and it died a slow horrible death from boredom and attrition.
The same happened in other "kingdoms", often after a rather nasty set of
viciously backbiting contests for this-or-that title or award.

That isn't bardcraft, it's merely social ambition of the ugliest kind.

The Bardic College of Northshield has no ranks or honorary titles, just
an elected Council and Chief Bard (spokesman and tiebreaker), who retain
no special status outside their duties or after their limited terms.

This is a rarity among SCA guilds and colleges, which tend to follow
the three-rank model of Apprentice, Journeyman, Master.  It follows
more the ideals of that "rank republican and leveller", William Jones
of Llangadfan, also known as the bard "Gwilym Cadfan", researcher and
translator for Edward Jones's "Musical and Poetick Relicks of the
Welsh Bards", adjudicator at eisteddfodau, and participant in the
earliest occasions of Iolo Morgannwg's "Gorsedd", who had contempt
for the rank-hungry court-centered sycophants of his own day.

(This was also the first College of any kind in this new Principality,
and the only Bardic organization I've heard of whose charter is entirely
written in verse.)

| If bardic stories and traditional folklore can be
| believed, the Celts not only believed in competition but
| honoured it...and these competitions continue to this
| day...Welsh National Eisteddfod, Highland Games, etc.

The Welsh National Eisteddfod has had so much rank-chasing crud added
to it by the Tories of past generations... ah, it has about as much to do
with "ancient Celtic culture" as a sewn-pleated kilt in a family tartan.

And most attendees at Highland Games think THAT'S "ancient Celtic", too!

| I think you may be confusing Competition with Winning and
| Losing (Winner or Loser). Last is used in this context as a
| comparison to another...not to say one is a loser. Just the
| fact that one is compared to a clever bard would be an
| honour worth celebrating!

You know, people aren't deaf, most of them, nor ignorant, nor stupid.

A bard who has successfully moved his audience will get loud applause,
one who's done less well will get quieter applause, out of politeness.

Everyone knows who got which, and how often.  More, they remember who
did the most technically difficult, who did the bold crowd-pleasers,
who did the soft and sweetly sentimental... all in more detail than
a title could ever capture.

At that point, a title is merely a distraction from *reputation*.

Do you rank your friends, the people you know, and award them titles
for "most helpful", "most pleasant", "best drinking companion", or
whatever?  What happens as things change, and the helpful one suddenly
withdraws, the pleasant one snarls, the drinking buddy sobers up?
Do you revoke previously given ranks and titles, and re-award them
to the current leading candidates, or are the titles held for life?

Why should the titled ones continue striving, when they already hold
the title?  Why should the UNtitled ones continue striving, when they
know the position is already occupied?  Titles, even such as "best",
both demean, and distract from, simply being "good".

I have seen that happen, over and over and over.  No thank you.  No more.

-- Raven                 |         ,    "Y Gwir yn erbyn y Byd." (Welsh)
                         |   "An Fhirinne in aghaidh an tSaoil." (Irish)
                         |        "The Truth against the World."
                         |                               -- Bardic Motto

Bardic College main page | Charter of the college | History of the college | Photos from Bardic Madness XIV (Feb. 14, 2004)

This page last modified October 18, 2004 by Eliane Halevy.

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