In ancient Medieval Gaelic culture, there lived traveling ‘keepers of tradition’, custodians of the sacredness of the universe, most commonly known as ‘Bards’.
Masters of story-telling, verse-making, poetry reciting and music composing, they traveled from town to town sharing their stories from far off lands in return for a warm meal, a roof over their head and, if they stumbled on an exceptionally hospitable home, maybe even a warming drink from the cellar.
The excitement of their unexpected presence in a village was aggrandized by the fact that the length of their visit was unknown, often even to the Bard himself, and may only be for one evening. Welcoming him into their home, a host would then send word to nearby neighbors, friends and family inviting them to join in the magic that was to take place that very night.
Instantly, the monotony and routine of everyday life was spontaneously shattered as the darkening of their doorstep by the stranger meant preparations needed to begin immediately. Stoves were kindled, water set to boil, and an calf slaughtered as word began spread to nearby villages and towns. A fire was made and furniture rearranged, every square foot available would be needed.
Later that evening, after a massive feast, the guests would began to squeeze into the main room and fill the mismatched seats all facing the hearth save one. Children sat and played on the ground nearest the fire, the youngest of them confined to their mothers laps, and the head of the home makes his way weaving between chairs and guests with a dusty bottle of whiskey that had been saved for a special occasion like tonight. Absentmindedly smiling and nodding at the gratitude and praises of his neighbors, his focused gaze scans the room for glasses needing a topping off, trying to discern if a second bottle will be needed.
At the perfect moment, carefully chosen, the traveler enters the back of the room and quiet hush falls over the gathering as he makes his way to the last remaining seat. Setting down his pipe in exchange for a lute, the silence is broken by a slightly dissonant cord as he strums his thumb over the strings. A tension is fills the room, children squirm and mothers hold their breath. He tilts his head and effortlessly twits a tuning knob at the the end of the instrument as the sound gently falls into into a pleasant chord that brings oxygen back into the room.
What stories will tonight bring?
Will they be filled with historic battles of long forgotten heroes?
Will there be tales of heartbreak that bring tears to even the most stoic of eyes? Maybe even be laughter, bringing the same effect.
One thing is for sure,
Only the Bard knows the adventures that lay before them this evening.
It’s unfortunate ‘Bards’ no longer exist. I like to think I would have enjoyed traveling the road alongside them, helping to tell their tales and play their songs.
Post Scriptum: "The Bard & The Hearth" was inspired by a house show in Delano, MN on April 20th, 2018. Over the past 20 years, I've stayed in hundreds of host homes helping modern day bards tell their stories. To say the generosity of those welcoming us in has changed my life for the better would be an egregious understatement.