Sure, you know about bardic lore, or as they call it nowadays, bardic knowledge. Everyone knows that bards, especially lore bards, steep themselves in the lore of any region they happen to be spending a good deal of time in, or sometimes even when just passing through. Many will also be steeped in the lore of places they’ve never been and people they’ve never seen, if they’re the book-loving kind.
But bards also have their own lore, to go with their colourful history. The lore of bards is a tangled web to be sure, but it includes useful bits of knowledge, myths and legends from all over the world, and of course, a plethora of songs and tales every bard should know. For the most part this lore is not written down but rather passed on from bard to bard by word of mouth, as in the old days, for the bard’s deepest roots are in an oral tradition.
Bards are the world’s memory, and a lore bard is a walking library. But ask any bard about the greatest bards in the history of their homeland and you’ll never get them to shut up. Even the least lore-inclined bards will know at least half of these famed adventuring artists, performers, scribes, historians, ambassadors, and sages by name.
Some bards believe the world was brought into being by a song, though not all agree upon the identity of the singer. Many say it was the god Ogma, who they also say invented writing. Others say it was Thoth, who they also say invented writing. A few maintain that these two are one and the same. Still others name lesser deities or even animals, usually birds, a popular one being the lark.
But long before the invention of writing, and certainly for some time afterward, bards were tasked with the preservation of tradition, history, and of course, entertainment. Their treasury was as rich as their capacity to remember such things, and as varied as their ability to extemporise.
Once there was a bard they say spent a lifetime collecting all the variations of all the world’s songs, poems, and tales. When old age impaired her memory, she invented both shorthand and musical notation in order to continue her work.
Most tales of bards from long ago are not set in any particular time or place. This makes them consistently relatable. Some of the characters don’t even have names that are still remembered, so it’s a common thing for their tales to be ascribed to any legendary name, sometimes even those not commonly associated with bards. Most of these works are credited to the legendary primordial bard known as Anon.
Perhaps the best thing about the lore of bards is that it’s forever changing, despite staying essentially the same. In fact, any time any piece of lore changes hands–or mouths, as the case may well be–there’s a good chance it will change, even if only somewhat. Every artist has something to say.
Some are not always careful what they say, however, and this can often get them into trouble. There are many rollicking tales surrounding famous fools and clowns and court jesters, the most popular ones being those satirical rogues who can tell the truth in a humorous fashion and get away with it. Some of these tales they only appear in briefly, for comic relief. But the most popular ones are the ones they star in.
There are a few bards, usually nobles, who look down on this sort of entertainment. Indeed many of these tales are rather vulgar, and there seems to be a competition between certain bards to make them still bawdier. But they’re a favourite of the common crowd.
Of course, not all bards enjoy a crowd, but when two or more bards get together it’s almost always a party. Unless, of course, they happen to be enemies. Alas, there are evil bards… but I digress. The meeting and greeting of fellow bards, whether they know each other or not, is so important to the bardic tradition that there are official events dedicated to this purpose. Most people just call them music festivals… or fairs, depending on the region.
Inns and taverns, of course, are also great places for bards to meet up. Some might form a band after having performed together for a night. They might even go on tour together. Travel is an important part of the bard business, as are welcoming hearths along the road where ale is served and locals and travellers alike gather to exchange news and pleasantries and… other things.
It is not unusual for bards at such gatherings to challenge one another to a performative duel, known colloquially as battling. These are usually fun for all, but every now and then things can get ugly. Such scuffles are rarely fatal, but have on many occasions sparked a full-on barroom brawl, or even a ballroom blitz.
From the time I could talk I was taught by my elders that after God destroyed nearly all life on earth with the Deluge (Great Flood) he sent his boy Noah a rainbow as a sign that he would never do anything like that again.
And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
Genesis 9:12-13 (AKJV)
But the tale told by my box of magically delicious frosted Lucky Charms cereal proved far more interesting. As a budding folklorist and eventual heathen, the idea that treasure can be found at the end of the rainbow, or that you can fly somewhere over it to another land where witches rule, or that it’s a bridge that leads to the halls of the gods, captured my young imagination more. Yet now I see no contradiction, really. Divinity foresaw how badly we would mess up this world and said: Let us put this arc of light displaying all the colours of the spectrum in the sky as a symbol of hope and promise, that the children of the earth will know that no matter how bad things get, they can always get the fuck up out of their pit of despair and ascend to better circumstances in life because positivity works and magic is real.
The rainbow is one of the most powerful positive symbols we’ve been given in this life and I’m glad it has become a worldwide banner of the LGBTQIA+ movement. Happy Pride everyone. Below are some other instances in which the rainbow has been used as a force for good in this world, at least during my lifetime.
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
While The Wizard of Oz was filmed well before my time, through the magic of television I was able to enjoy it over and over again as a child, and then later, through the magic of books, to rediscover L. Frank Baum’s distinctly American fairy tale fantasy world as a young adult with a growing fascination with folkore. There’s a profoundly positive and some would say even a spiritual message reverberating throughout both if anyone cares to discover it, and perhaps that’s why it has endured for so long.
Of course, Judy Garland, who sang the signature song “Over the Rainbow“, had already become a gay icon by the time I saw this movie, and it has been surmised that this very song at least partly influenced the adoption of the rainbow flag by the early Pride movement. But I think that the song, if not the entire film, is something people all over the world can identify with, regardless of their sexual orientation.
As a side note, I also find it interesting and perhaps somewhat apropos that the movie itself became associated in the early nineties with the groundbreaking 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, which it just so happens features a rainbow on its cover, emanating from a single beam of white light shining through a prism.
THE RAINBOW BRIDGE
Long before I discovered comic books, and through them Marvel’s Thor, I had a teacher who taught us about Norse mythology. I had already learned a lot about Greek and Roman mythology by then, but this was an entirely new kind of world that deeply resonated with me, perhaps because of my early love of fairy tales, and in particular those collected by the Brothers Grimm.
The Rainbow Bridge, known as Bifröst, is just that: “a burning rainbow bridge that reaches between Midgard (Earth) and Asgard, the realm of the gods” [Wikipedia]. It is guarded by the god Heimdallr against the jötnar (frost giants) who would destroy Asgard if given half the chance. Some scholars are of the opinion that the bridge represented the Milky Way, an interesting notion given Marvel’s take on Norse mythology.
As a heathen, I feel it important to add that the vast majority of those who practice the Norse religion of Asatru and its variants are both welcoming of diversity and vehemently against racism, Nazis, and others who have misappropriated the symbols of the faith. For more info on this, please direct your browser to HeathensAgainstHate.org.
This 80s/90s PBS show was one of my faves growing up. I’d already fallen in love with reading (and writing) long before it aired, but something about LeVar Burton with his cheerful manner, comforting smile, and soothing voice made my hellish preteen life somewhat bearable, reminding me that no matter how shitty things got I could always escape to another world through a book. I can’t even imagine how much more this show must have inspired kids even younger!
In school I was forced to read a lot of depressing shit and that in itself could have potentially put me off reading forever, so I credit Reading Rainbow for keeping me excited about books despite all that. And of course, I’m not alone in loving this show by any means. It was adored by many. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In 2014 Mr. Burton launched a Kickstarter to revive the show for libraries and the Internet. With over a hundred thousand backers, it raised $6,478,916 all told. I think that speaks for itself.
First off let me just say to all the other Black Sabbath fans that I’ve always been a fan of both Ozzy Sabbath and Dio Sabbath. In fact, my first introduction to the music of this legendary band was through a double album featuring Paranoid on one side and Heaven and Hell on the other. But metal bard Ronnie James Dio’s use of the rainbow in his lyrics and imagery is what’s relevant here so I’ll be talking about him this time around.
It all started in 1975 with a band called Rainbow which included not only singer/songwriter Dio but also famed Deep Purple songwriter/guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, who formed this fantasy-themed rock group (apparently naming it after a bar & grill of all things). Back in those days “the word ‘rainbow’ signified peace and freedom” [ibid], and while rainbow flags existed, they wouldn’t come to symbolize the LGBT movement until 1978. Eventually however, “Blackmore decided that he wanted to take the band in a new commercial direction away from the ‘sword and sorcery’ theme. Dio did not agree with this change and left Rainbow” [Wikipedia] .
But the iconic metal vocalist would continue to use the rainbow as a symbol in his overwhelmingly positive lyrics throughout his career as lead singer of Black Sabbath and then his own band, Dio, eventually releasing what is probably one of the most recognized hard rock classics of the 80’s. I don’t really understand everything he’s trying to say to us through the enigmatic poetry of his songs (does anyone?) but who doesn’t sometimes feel they’ve been left on their own, like a rainbow in the dark?
Well, I’m sure there are many other examples, but the important thing is that the rainbow can be, has been, and is universally seen as a powerful positive symbol. It has not only been viewed variously throughout the ages as a bridge to heaven and a sign of God’s love, but also of our love for each other, which must include the concept of diversity. The very notion of a single white light being refracted into a beam of many colours speaks to that: the many are one.
May it continue to guide us and inspire hope and unity through dark times.