|from 'In Search of Wales' by H V Morton (written 1932 and about the Eisteddfod in 1931 in Bangor):
'It is early in the morning on the day of the opening of the Eisteddfod. I am told that I must rise before breakfast to see the ceremony of the Gorsedd. I have already noticed the druidic circle of stones which officials of the Eisteddfod have planted in a meadow near the road on the slope below the University. When I first saw them I thought that they were as old as Stonehenge!
I dress swiftly and am glad to see that the morning is, although misty, fine. On the hotel landing I collide with some one who appears to be either a female druid or bard. She is swathed in green draperies. She is not quite my idea of an ancient Briton because she wears prince-nez. I did not know that women are admitted to the sacred circle, which I always imagined to be one of the last strongholds of the male. I wonder, as some stray memory of a school primer comes to me, whether she is, perhaps, after all, a burnt offering. Possibly the druids are to place her in a wicker basket and sacrifice her to the Eisteddfod.
I discover in the hall downstairs a number of bards, druids and druidesses. I am told that these green-robed women are novates. The druids are elderly or middle-aged men robed in white. They are distinguished by a benevolence which rules out all theories of human sacrifice. The bards are robed in blue. They are younger than the druids. I am slightly worried by the trousers of bard and druid, which are visible for a few inches below their gowns. Father Christmas has this same trouble with his trousers.
I leave them as they chat together and go through the early morning streets of Bangor, which are already awake and excited.
The stone circle rises from the grass, surrounded by a large crowd. The entrance faces the east. In the centre of the large circle is a large altar stone. The waiting moments are enlivened by the expert activities of those young men with a motor-car who broadcast ceremonies to the British Isles. They are just attending to their wires, speaking down telephones to distant colleagues and generally making certain that nothing will go wrong. The wireless van and the druidic circle are an amusing contrast. But something even funnier is to happen. A young man in plus-fours enters the cirlce, bearing in his hand what appears to be an offering for the high altar. It is a bunch of green leaves. He places it reverently before the altar stone, stands back from it and starts to address it. He might be intoning a prayer, but I know that he is speaking into a microphone which is carefully concealed among the leaves. What a touching tribute from the British Broadcasting Corporation to the age when druids walked the earth.
All is now ready....
Soon we see the approaching procession. Men in scarlet gowns bear a litter on which is borne, like the Ark of the Covenant, the enormous Hirlas Horn, or the Horn of Plenty, which is normally to be seen in the National Museum at Cardiff. Behind, two by two, walk the druids in white, the bards in blue and the novates in green. They pause before they enter the circle and form a lane. Between the ranks strides a man in grren bearing a great double-handed sword. Behind him comes the Chief Druid. He wears white robes and on his chest lies a replica of the Irish breastplate which Camden illustrated in his Brittania.
As the Chief Druid takes his place at the high altar, the attendant druids, bards and novates file in and group themselves round the circle. Now and again te irreverent wind blows aside the robes to reveal trousers of serge and tweed and pin-stripe. It is, alas, unfotunate. I spot one bard who has forseen this. He alone of the priesthood wears white stockings and sandals. I, greatly daring, tap a druid on the shoulder and ask the name of this bard. He turns, and, in the most friendly manner, informs me that the sandalled one is a bard named Cynan. He then adds for my better information:
'The Rev. A. E. Jones, you know....'
I conclude that many of the priesthood are Welsh clergymen who are playing at being pagan for a day. But a glance at their trousers reassures me that it is all very respectable!
The ceremony of the Gorsedd begins. The great sword is unsheathed. One by one the druids advacne and place their hands on it. The Chief Druid lifts up his voice and cries in Welsh:
'Is there peace?'
He cries this three times. Three times comes a reassuring shout from the crowd:
'There is peace!'
A lady of beauty, who is not a green novate but a red lady who evidently represents the aristocratic laity, advances over uneven grass bearing the huge Horn of Plenty. SHe kneels before the Chief Druid and offers the relic to him. I expect him to drink from it, or in some way prove its plentifulness, but, as the horn is empty, he merely touches it symbolically and the lady bows and backs gracefully away with her burden.
The Chief Druid, mounted on the altar stone, then delivers a long speech in Welsh. I cannot understand one word of it. But I can tell that it is a good and well-prepared piece of oratory. The crowd love it. The words come rushing out like a stream in flood.
He is followed by other speakers. Some appear to be making epigrams at which the crowd laughs. There are prayers in Welsh. I imagine that the old gods of the Celtic peoples are stirring uneasily in their dim Valhalla. Then one by one, the newly-elected bards are led to the altar stone. These are young men and women singled out during the past year for some work of poetry, music or prose.
The Chief Druid shakes each one by the hand, calls them by their modern names and gives to each one a bardic name by which he, or she, will be for ever after known in the Gorsedd.
The ceremony is over. The procession re-forms. Druid, Bard and Novate go their solemn way. The great Gorsedd Sword moves slowly above the heads of the crowd. The Horn of Plenty shines a moment in a burst of early sun. The Eisteddfod is opened....
A young man in plus-fours enters the sacred circle and steals out again carrying a bunch of leaves in which is hidden a microphone!'
Posted by wysefool
12th May 2007ce
Edited 13th May 2007ce