A BARD'S CREDENTIALS
In The White Goddess, Robert Graves presents an excellent argument that The Song of Amergin is an ancient Celtic calendar-alphabet summarizing the prime poetic myth. It claims to be an incantation by the chief bard of the Milesians as they landed in Ireland around 1268 B.C., which makes me suspect it was intended as a charm against hostile natives. Cast according to what I perceive to be an ancient Celtic formula in which the magician-bard subsumes all the elements, and all the seasons, and all the letters by which anyone could ever name any such elements or seasons, unto himself, it provides, if nothing is left out, invincible armor against any hostile conjurings. Saint Patrick's Lorica seems to me to be a similar spell, although the saint dutifully ascribes creation to the Almighty and invokes Christ, the Son of God, as his armor.
In The Romance of Taliesin, the 13th century poet who called himself Little Gwion, when challenged by the "college" of royal bards, presented his credentials to King Maelgwyn of Gwynedd. "Primary chief bard am I to Elphin," he said and began an impressive catalog of statements of the I am, I was, I know and I shall be variety. Frankly, when I composed "The Fool," a song which I intended for my own performance, it was meant to be just such a list of credentials, hidden in apparent nonsense, but clear enough to those for whom such matters might be important. Like Little Gwion, I have no degree from an "institution of higher education," but I have learned a great deal in my independent studies. My understanding is often unique to me, perhaps because my studies are self disciplined and I have not been exposed to the potential for institutionalized error. The obverse is that I have no one to blame for my errors but myself.
"The Fool" you now confront is that original Fool, new and improved by independent study of Jung, Campbell, and Graves. If you enjoy "The Fool" as a simple nonsense song, read no further, for I am about to reveal its mysteries in some detail. If you do plan to read on, I hope you're comfortable.
In the story, Morgen sips from the Cauldron of Inspiration and collapses, like one dead, to the floor of the cave. He is then suffused with a glow that brings him back to life, even as it transforms his surroundings into an underground realm of barbaric splendor. With no more to guide the audience than these visual clues, the reinvigorated Morgen rises, calls to the dog, and marches out of the Tomb of Every Hope, absolute master of his universe!
I am Truth! I am Reason! I am Magic!
Harmony of the carnal and the mystical,
I am Man!
He claims for himself the three powers the Furies had cited in their challenges, then goes further to claim he represents all of Mankind. This is not simple hubris. If he is to expiate Mankind's crimes against Nature, he must represent all of Mankind. But is he enlightened, or merely a fool? What are the credentials he offers in his song?
I lived in a cave for a year and a day
The cave is the womb of the Earth. The year and the day is the ancient year of 13 months (lunar cycles), of 28 days, which only yields 364 days, one day short of the full solar cycle, to accommodate which, an interlocutory day has to be added to bring it up to the full 365. This day is dedicated to the Lord of Misrule, the fool, and establishes him as born of this Earth, where these particular cycles exist, another reference to the Earth Mother, and may suggest that despite his subsequent claims to immortality, he is a mortal, perhaps annual fool, rather than a perennial one, which, in ancient times, sometimes had tragic consequences for this “king for a day.”
Fathered by a sun ray.
Here we have a clear statement of his lineage, a child of Sky Father and Earth Mother, godling, maybe, but Earthling, certainly!
Once I was a bull. Now I can't say.
Zeus was a bull when he carried off Europa, but the Persian god Mithras slew the bull in his mysteries. "The Fool" doesn't say if he alludes to either of these, so neither shall I, at least, not yet. "The Fool" cannot predict the nature of his manifestation. He is always in whatever form is required by the Muses he serves.
You'll have to find your own way.
He's right, of course, if you are to achieve individual enlightenment, but this particular line does nothing to clear up the mystery at hand.
I was once an eagle, strong and free.
This is more like it. His claim to have been an eagle immediately brings Zeus back to mind, for it was in this guise that the father of the gods carried off Ganymede to be his cup-bearer.
There's nothing that I can't be.
This claim of shape-shifting ability seems to bear out an Olympian association.
Once, I was a word. Now I'm a key.
There is little doubt that here, "The Fool" is invoking the Gospel according to St. John. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." "The Fool" is not so great a fool as to claim to be God, so there must be more to his riddle. Re-examining the Bull and Eagle references, coupled with his claim to be Man, presents us with three of the symbols of the Four Apostles, as depicted on Gothic cathedrals. Matthew is the Man, Mark is the Bull and John is the Eagle, but Luke, the Lion, seems to have been omitted. John has actually been cited twice, once, as an eagle and once by his Gospel of the Word.
And that's only half the line. He also claims to be a key. Perhaps he refers to the Tarot, wherein The Fool is a key in the Major Arcana, variously depicted as a youth at the beginning of his adventure, an old man or a court jester, depending on the deck. This could be the answer, but is there another key that might yield the lion? In fact, there is. Force or Strength is depicted variously by a Hercules overcoming the lion by brute force or by a woman, garlanded with flowers, taming the lion through affection. This latter also displays the cosmic symbol for infinity or eternal life above her head, by which I understand her to be a manifestation of the goddess, perhaps, with her garlands of flowers, the Queen of the May herself. The message of this key is supposed to be that we must learn to create a balance between our spiritual and carnal natures. And there we have our answer. In the opening of the song, "The Fool" claims to embody harmony of the carnal and the mystical.
But there are other answers to the riddle of the key. In "Morningstone," Laura sings "I provide the key. Through me, the path is shown," suggesting that "The Fool,"" is her key, and thus our key to the understanding of her mysteries.
Or does it refer to the key the Fates tossed to Morgen in the Tomb of Every Hope, a key that ultimately unlocked nothing. I take the sense of that mystery to be that there is no key forged by (or for), Mankind that can ever bind Nature to his will. Nature's bounties are only won through cooperation, and never through coercion.
You'll have to learn to trust me.
Trust THE FOOL at your peril!
Chief bard of the ancients am I,
Anointed in the sacred pool.
My ancestral home is the Sacred Grove.
Honor your mentor, "The Fool"!
This chorus owes much to Gwion's Riddle and suggests that the fool may be using the old formula used by Gwion before him, and Saint Patrick before him, and Amergin before either of them, by which he intends to subsume all the mysteries unto himself, even as he claims to embody Truth, Reason and Magic, in order to establish himself as the authentic representative of Man. It is, after all, a credential song, and as such, Graves would have attempted to name each reference. And so shall I, but there are so many possibilities, you should have no trouble finding others on your own.
I've been around the universe several times.
Mercury is an excellent candidate. He "invented" the original 13 consonant alphabet after watching a flock of cranes in flight. In the charm Song of Amergin, I suggested that subsuming all the letters of the alphabet that might form new words and names of power afforded magical protection against the unknown demons of the opposition. Invoking this god, with his early alphabet which contained within it the names of the thirteen months of the ancient lunar calendar, secures protection for all the days of the year, except the one day that already belongs to "The Fool," the day dedicated to the Lord of Misrule.
Wine flows from my grape vines.
The orgiastic mysteries of Dionysus are well documented, as is his association with wine and grape vines. The Romans said "In vino veritas," now generally understood to mean if someone gets drunk enough, he or she will tell you anything you want to know. But there are other, more esoteric truths to be found in the wine and blood of Dionysus.
I've taught your musicians. I've taught your mimes.
Poets learn from my rhymes.
Apollo will assert his claim to being the god of mimes, musicians and poets, but before his ascendency, these gifts were in the care of the Muses. But perhaps we look too far. The fool claims to be a chief bard, and as such it would be his responsibility to teach these skills to future generations.
At home on land, in sea or sky, when I pass the trees sigh.
To be at home on land, in sea or sky, is not just another use of the mystical number three. "The Fool" claims the three most easily understood states of matter — solid, liquid and gas. That this is one correct understanding of the line is made clear by the following line pertaining to fire. It is fire that makes the trees sigh. This poetic phrase conveys a terrible beauty, but it is not really about a forest fire at all. Fire is also symbolic of inspiration. The names of the letters of the Beth-Luis-Nion alphabet correspond to tree names, so the sense of the line refers to ordering of these letters into words and those words into verses, the most important task of an enlightened bard. (Since 1920, science has described plasma as a fourth fundamental state of matter, created by heating gas or subjecting it to a strong electromagnetic field applied with a laser of microwave generator. Since plasma is not observed in Nature, I suggest fire is still an excellent symbol for that process that transforms solids into liquids, liquids into gas, and musings to inspiration.)
You knew me before. Well, I never did die.
I merely transmogrify!
These mysteries were widely known, became lost, but have never perished and are still to be found throughout the world under a variety of names and disguises.
Chief bard to Immortals am I.
O'er fantastic realms do I rule.
There's none to whom I need bend my knee.
Honor your leader, The Fool!
"The Fool" is the poet-priest of the immortals, ruling over fantastic realms — literally realms of fantasy, which is to say his rule is imaginary. He serves the immortal goddesses and gods who populate those magic realms, but does not kneel before them. He orders their days through his compositions. He is honored by them, and they by him, in the works in which he portrays them. There is also reference here to a worldly privilege once accorded a court bard, and later, the fool who served in the house of a king or nobleman, that he need not kneel before his lord.
Multiple mysteries to me are known.
From the earlier examples, it is clear that "The Fool" is acquainted with many mysteries.
Everywhere the wind's blown.
This line refers to the White Goddess, Cardea, who, until the classical period, controlled the winds. In January, she was known to her followers as Postvorta and Antevorta, "She who looks both back and forward." In "The Mystery," which I will describe presently, I call her Janu, for her January ritual and her two-faced attribute, thus reclaiming it from Janus, the two-faced god who took it from her! And do not Fiona's wide-ranging ramblings suggest "everywhere the wind blows?" The lessons brought by these winds fill the story's sails and propel it forward.
Revealed thus in monotonous drone. Lord of the Standing Stone.
Referring to the song as a monotonous drone is a deliberate bit of foolery, by which the self-deprecating fool intends to disguise the true meaning of his song, and especially his claim to be Lord of the Standing Stone. In Morningstone, the Standing Stone refers to the monolith upon which the stag headdress and buckskin cloak was draped during Laura's erotic dance. The enlightened Morgan knows it was venerated in his stead and is now prepared to take his rightful place in the Spring ritual. (Less trusting than Morgen, I have always been quite willing to let the rock be the rock and leave me out of it.)
I am a rock in a stormy sea.
Speaking of rocks, the rock in the stormy sea is "The Fool," unswerving in his devotion. This would be true, even if the stormy sea wears the rock away to nothing.
Goddesses have loved me.
The Muses love "The Fool" and always will.
Some would protect me by royal decree. Others would revile me.
Although New Year's revelries persist into this age, the Feast of Fools is no more, the royal protection, like most of the royalty who offered it, gone. No longer Lord of Misrule, a fool, today, is merely reviled.
Chief bard of the ancients am I.
Wit is my singular tool.
Beloved am I of the Ninefold Muse
And still, you call me "The Fool?""
Neither god, nor king, nor sorcerer, The Fool survives by his wits alone in a world that has little respect for his gifts. The Fool is foolish by definition, but his song is not.
Travis Edward Pike
28 January 2019, Otherworld Cottage