Monday, September 2, 2013

The Eisteddfod

Quick "thank you" to my cousin Gillian for pointing out that the doll in the window is probably a golliwog from the Noddy books. I confess to never having heard of them.

The Eisteddfod big tent - pink because
the Cancer Society asked them to make it pink
- it used to be green

The Eisteddfod is a Welsh cultural gathering that celebrates Celtic history and the Bardic tradition of storytelling. It's a week long and about 150,000 people attend. It involves competitions between poets and prose writers, with the very formal Welsh poetic form being the most important. These competitions began in the 12th century and eventually died out. The tradition was revived in 1816.

Bards in the rain

The ceremonies of the Gorsedd of the Bards take place at the Eisteddfod and are conducted by the Archdruid, who is a woman this year - first time ever. According to one writer, "The gorsedd is a sort of guild of literati" and it provides "the ceremonial aspect, the incantations, the robes of white, blue and green, the dancing elves, the sword of peace, the horn of plenty, the sheaf of corn. All the tribes of the world like ritual, badges, medals, strange hats, parades and archaic nomenclature and language - Wales likes its own pageantry and peacockry."

The call to induct the Bards

The entire event is conducted in Welsh, which, as a language, is very much alive. It was not suppressed to the degree that Gaelic was in Ireland or Scotland. It was wonderful to see a country's writers honored with so much fanfare - though it occasionally felt like watching a Sunday school pageant.

The Archdruid

Christine James is the first female Archdruid, a position that has a 3-year term. She comes from a part of Wales where Welsh was disappearing and she did not originally speak it. She now claims it as her first language.

The horn of plenty

The Eisteddfod also includes lots of tents for businesses, cultural and political organizations, art, etc., much like a large county fair. The first ceremony we went to is usually held outdoors in a stonehenge (once using real stones, but now they are fibreglas or something), but it was raining. It was held to induct poets and writers into the Gorsedd. It was clearly heavily attended by relatives and friends.

 Placing the bardic hood on a new inductee

Everything was in Welsh so we had to infer what was going on.

Cool guy!

We went on a tour of the Eisteddfod grounds and we fell in love with the two young men who were our guides. We were ready to take them home. They were just so Welsh.

Our sweet guides

In between ceremonies, I wandered through the different booths - mostly the political and historical ones. There was a peace booth - I can't believe I didn't take a picture! You could also take lessons to improve your Welsh. Needless to say, I had nothing to improve.

Celebrating the newly-won right to same sex marriage

I introduced myself and told them about the Peace & Justice Center. They then wanted to know if I knew about the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I told them the Center was a member. They told me about their work around drones - yes, they are in Wales - and missile bases and nukes.

Peace groups in one tent and
communist/socialist in another

I had a long talk with a man at the historical society booth about tracking ancestors. Once you start doing that, there is a lot of sharing of stories and discoveries and frustrations. 

"Wales is where our heart is."

He told me that his family was from the southwest of Wales, but in researching family history he found the grave of a great-grandmother beside that of a baby in the north. Between bits of conversation with locals and his bits of family history, they pieced together the story. The great-grandmother was in the north temporarily when her first child was born. It died within a few days and was buried there. She never got over it and insisted upon being buried with it many years later - away from her husband and subsequent children. The people in the town had always wondered why this stranger had been buried in their midst.

Flags in the rain

He then sent me to another booth - to a man who gave me website addresses to check for genealogical information (I haven't done it yet). Everyone was very friendly and eager to help, whether they could or not.

Bardic procession in to the ceremony

I'd like to tell you exactly what the second ceremony was for, but the website says there were no ceremonies - which is certainly not true. Anyway, it was for something like the best blank verse poem of the previous year. They don't announce the winner ahead (Miss America!) and they pan the crowd with a light. The winner was right near us.

The winner! Second time he has won

There is much pageantry, singing (the audience knows the words!), and celebration.

Complete with dancing girls

The sheathed sword

The sword is not a symbol of violence. The speech she gives is about keeping the sword sheathed in peace. I had a headset with the translation so I could follow along. I went back and forth.

Winner in his robe and crown receiving the horn of plenty

The winners get to keep their crown and chair. Every year a new crown is designed by a different artist, so they are all quite different. It's a real celebration and collaboration of the arts.

More ceremony

A lot of people attend these ceremonies, but even more come to the evening musical performances. We were not there for the music.

The horn of plenty again

The sheaf of corn

It really was a lot of fun and we're wondering how we can insert a ceremony like this into the Sonoma County Book Festival!


The bigger ceremony was two days later. We weren't there and we had trouble imagining how they were going to outdo this ceremony!

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