The largest event in Gorsedh Kernow’s calendar is the ceremony in September each year when new bards are admitted and competition prizes and major awards are presented. It is performed, weather permitting, in the open, at a different venue in Cornwall every year.
Gorsedh Kernow relies heavily on the support and co-operation of the local communities and Old Cornwall Societies to organise these ceremonies.
Following robing, bards process to the Gorsedh site and form a large circle, at the North-eastern point of which is a platform (The Rock) on which stand the Grand Bard, the Deputy Grand Bard, the Gorsedh Secretary and delegates from the Welsh and Breton Gorsedhs.
The proceedings open with a welcome from the Town Mayor or Local Dignitary, which is received and returned by the Grand Bard.
The Gorsedh ceremony itself starts with a symbolic call to the four corners of the Nation, this being made by the Horner on the instructions of the Herald Bard. This is followed immediately by the Gorsedh Prayer. The ceremony of peace is then performed by the Grand Bard, who thrice asks, “Is there peace?” On the assembled Bards replying “Peace”, the Gorsedh is declared open.
The “Joining of the Sword” follows now. There is a divided sword for this part of the ceremony. One part is taken to the Rock by a representative of Brittany and the other part by a Bard from Cornwall. The Grand Bard joins the two parts together and gives the sword to the representative from Wales. This is to show the unity between Cornwall,Wales and Brittany.
A dance by the children precedes the “Lady of Cornwall”, who is escorted by the Sword Bearer across the circle, presenting a sheaf of flowers and corn to the Grand Bard, symbolising God’s gifts to Mankind. Then follows the song “He Will Come Again”. “He” is Arthur in this setting, representing the Celtic Spirit. Now the Deputy Grand Bard offers a prayer for those Bards who have passed on during the past year. Their names are read and a commemoration hymn is sung.
Initiate Bards are then escorted to the Grand Bard who gives them their Bardic names and welcomes them into the College of Bards. The delegates from Wales and Brittany give short addresses to the Gorsedh. Then, after any announcements, the song “Hail to the Homeland” is sung.
The ceremony of the Sword follows. The partly-unsheathed sword is held aloft by the sword-bearer and is grasped by the Grand Bard. All on The Rock join the Grand Bard by placing their hands on the Grand Bard’s shoulder. All the Bards break the circle and gather to the sword-bearer. By the same ‘hands on shoulder’ procedure, the whole Gorsedh is connected to the Sword. On being asked by the Grand Bard to swear their loyalty to Cornwall, our Motherland, the Bards shout their fealty.
All the Bards then sing “Land of Our Fathers”, following which they return to re-form the circle.
The Cry of Peace, which preceded the opening of the Gorsedh is repeated before the Gorsedh is declared closed. The Bards and distinguished guests then process off the site.
When we consider Gorsedh Kernow ceremonies we tend to think of the main Bardic ceremony, but in order to build up vitally important awareness and support from local townspeople a Proclamation ceremony is held in the preceding April, announcing the coming of the College of Bards later in the year after receiving an invitation from, usually, the town’s Mayor. Although both the Proclamation and main Bardic ceremonies are held in the same town or village, the actual venue of the two ceremonies can differ depending on the wishes of local people and the number of people likely to attend.
The Gorsedh Kernow Proclamation ceremony is very similar to but much shorter than the main Bardic ceremony but the same elements are present – an official welcome by a representative of the townspeople, the sounding of the Horn to the four parts of Cornwall and the cry of Peace! The Proclamation ceremony is also the first opportunity for everyone present to see who has been chosen to represent the town as the Lady of the Flowers and there is always a welcome to Celts from England and overseas before the Grand Bard of Cornwall closes the ceremony with everyone singing “Old Land Of Our Fathers” , the cry of “Peace!” and the Grand Bard’s final words “Until we meet again.”
The Awen ceremony is a recent development in the life of Gorsedh Kernow and was created to allow it to return to its roots and meet in a less formal way than is the custom with the main Bardic ceremony held in early September. Previous settings for that main ceremony such as the Boscawen Un stone circle in St Buryan, the Hurlers on Bodmin Moor and the Stripple Stones at Blisland have all hosted modern Awen ceremonies.
Awen is a Celtic word meaning “inspiration”, defined by some as a `flowing spirit’, that is the essence of life sustaining essential links between people, cultural life and community. In the Gorsedh Kernow Awen ceremony the 3-rayed Awen symbol, signifying Wisdom, Truth and Love, is a catalyst for a charming and deeply moving part of the proceedings where four members of the local community are welcomed into the Bardic circle.
A hush descends as the waiting Bards come together, walking slowly and quietly as one towards the ceremonial place, turning left or right to form the circle which would welcome and receive the Grand Bard of Cornwall, the banner of Gorsedh Kernow and the special guests, without whom there would be no ceremony. The ceremony is Cornish, now enjoying a genuine revival, with words from the Old Gorseddau or Bardic Assemblies of Wales and Cornwall, followed by the Gorsedh Prayer.
The declaration of Peace moves the focus of the ceremony on to the Horn of Plenty, the Awen banner and eventually to the “centre piece” of the ceremony where two elders of the community, who have lived a full life, hand over to two children of the community the Gorsedh Kernow “Book of Life”, a piece of lime wood beautifully sculpted in the form of an open book, representing the passing of wisdom from one generation to another.
After singing “Old Land Of Our Fathers” the Bards of Gorsedh Kernow withdraw from the circle, their short ceremony completed.