The wheel of the year has turned full circle, and it is time to look back on the world of Druidry and the life of the Order over the last year. But it’s impossible to separate these from the wider issues that concern and surround us. Here in Britain we are going through an extraordinary process of change. It began with the election of a new government in the Spring, which brought a wave of positive change and a real sense of new hope. This was followed in the Autumn by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Some people felt that the public reaction to her passing was hysterical and inordinate – but they were in the minority, and I believe they failed to appreciate the significance of the moment historically, culturally and spiritually. The fact was that peoples’ feelings were genuine – they were not being hyped by the media, and they were not acting hysterically. Instead they were responding, not only to the shock and sadness of the event, but to a story that opened their hearts as the elements of myth and fairy-tale combined with the very contemporary concerns that touch so many of us: failed relationships, divorce, single parenthood, and womens’ attempts to find identities and roles in their own right. When you combine the archetypes of myth and fairy-tale with the concerns of every woman and man, you have a powerful combination. And the combination in Britain this Autumn resulted in what one commentator described as a ‘floral revolution’.A Revolution of Flowers and Trees – and Hearts
Thirty years after walking in Kensington Gardens at the height of Flower Power, Stephanie and I made our way there again on the Sunday after Diana’s funeral. The atmosphere was quite extraordinary – a million miles from hysteria or delusion. The late afternoon sun was shining across a sea of flowers, and everywhere there were tree-shrines, with photos and poems attached to the trunks and branches of dozens trees, with votive candles burning. Thousands of people walked in silence and in reverence, placing flowers, lighting candles. Children attached their drawings to park railings or lay them by the trees. In the paper that day there was a photograph of Diana’s brother walking through a carpet of flowers on the island where she had been buried.
The established institutions are changing. The Church is losing its power – as Diana’s burial on an island rather than in a chapel symbolically demonstrates. A few days after the funeral Scotland elected to have its own parliament. Wales will probably follow soon. The peace process in Ireland moves forward. The monarchy is having to change. The House of Lords will change. The Press is planning changes. The last vestiges of the British stiff upper lip were chipped away when Diana’s brother stood up at her funeral and talked openly of her virtues and her weaknesses. At last we can stop hiding our pain and our vulnerability, in the belief that it is ‘vulgar’ to talk about these things.
In essence, you could say that the revolution that is occurring here is a revolution of the heart – an opening to the Divine Feminine, the Goddess, that will lead Britain out of decades of clinging on to its identifications with the old ‘masculine’ values that were cultivated in the public schools and civil service in the days of Empire to assist our project of governing the world.
Druidry’s place in the Revolution
What has all this got to do with Druidry and the Order? Druidry is intimately linked to the soul and psyche of these islands. What is happening here in the historical and cultural field is bound to affect Druidry. The two central impulses that have occurred in Britain this year have been an opening to the Feminine and the redefinition of institutions. Caitlin Matthews letter in last month’s Open Forum about the Order reflected perfectly the urge that is afoot to question our institutions – to discover how we can reforge them so they are lighter, freer, more flexible, more honouring of individual differences, and more capable of service. I hope that as a result we will be able to grow in ways that truly empower people and encourage diversity – the last thing I am sure any of us wants is a vast monolithic organisation that in future decades mimics the ‘established’ religions. Every few months now it seems as if a new Druid group is formed – with new websites appearing on the Internet, and important books being published that help to show people the immense richness encompassed by our tradition. Some members, usually when they finish their Gwersu studies through the three grades, decide that they would like to form their own group – a completely separate organisation. They often write to me, concerned that I might be upset or offended. But I’m not – it seems the most natural thing in the world for other groups to form that cater to different needs, in different countries or regions, that reflect the varied interests of its new founders. The growth of Druidry then becomes organic. And this growth is dependent not only on the fact that the Order’s training reaches so many people, but on the appearance each year (for the last six years now) of books which help to articulate a tradition that has been forgotten and repressed for centuries.
This year three new books contributed to this process: John Matthews Bardic Source Book (Cassell – November 97) continues the task of presenting important source material, begun with John’s Druid Source Book (now out in paperback). John and Caitlin feel that their Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom (Element 94) contains much of the material they would have used for an Ovate Source Book, so have no plans for one at present, but I hope they’ll change their minds – only a triad of source books will satisfy us!
Dr Miranda Green’s Exploring the World of the Druids was published by Thames and Hudson in May (£18 in the shops, 99p through book club special offers). A beautifully produced volume, filled with colour photographs, Dr Green manages to combine archaeology and history with an account of Revival and modern Druidry. It has a few bizarre elements: Matt McCabe of OBOD has the Druid’s Prayer attributed to him (because he sent it to Dr Green) there are photos of Witches, and not enough clarification given to help the reader understand the difference between Druids and Witches, but the overall effect of the book is to show the richness and breadth of Druidry as something which has a valid contribution to today’s world, yet which is firmly rooted in the past.
A number of friends are busy writing books on Druidry that I imagine will appear in 1999 (the publishing process takes so long). Of the books that I know will be appearing in 1998 there is Emma Restall-Orr’s Spirits of the Sacred Grove (HarperCollins) a new book by Caitlin Matthews with the title yet to be decided.
In November last year a French book with a mouthful of a title appeared: The Power of the Celts – The Druidic Heritage -Conversations with Philip Carr-Gomm by Paco Rabanne. I had spent two days with Mr Rabanne’s team and a tape-recorder, and the result is a lively conversational-style book which will hopefully appear in English one day. As a result of this, we have received hundreds of letters from France, and The Druid Animal Oracle was taken up by a French publisher and launched in September. The language barrier has meant most enquirers have not joined, but slowly our membership in France is growing, and I have been invited to give a workshop in Paris next year. A new French member managed to get to the Lughnasadh camp, and is still recovering from the experience back at his vineyard. He played a wicked king in the production of Perseus, helped the Druids almost beat the Kids at football (Druids 10 Kids 11). He also experienced our first Druid sweat-house initiation.Camps, Assemblies, Weekends, a Retreat and a SONG The first full cycle of four camps completed itself at the ten-day Lughnasadh camp, which I can say from first-hand experience, was the best ever. We had more children and more fun than ever before. There were talks by Bill Worthington, Ronald Hutton, Graham Harvey and Caitlin Matthews, two Druid sweat-house ceremonies, firewalking, a fire labyrinth, a play that involved most of the children and many adults, a dance to the live music of medieval funk band Jabberwocky, a concert with three harpists, blues musicians, flautists, singers, and more… there was an auction for the tree fund (now at £4,300) which ended in frenzied bidding for items like a giant bubble-maker and a carved wand, and a mud-pit and hot tub for the times when only mud or hot water would do. We built a huge green man, then lit him and danced around him to the tune of bagpipes. We celebrated Lughnasadh, and played a ‘wide game’ across two fields on an Arthurian theme, with people hiding in trees dressed as the Oldest animals – with knights and wise hermits ready to help or trick us, and mud-caked monsters with water pistols lurking to squirt anyone who went astray.
As I walked across the camp field one night with all the stars out, I had one of those peak experiences when the rightness of everything comes together in a feeling of utter joy and contentment. “What a way of life we are creating for ourselves and our children!” I found myself thinking as I climbed into our tent to see the family fast asleep – when I was a kid my holidays weren’t anything like this! Earlier that month I had flown with my 12 yr old son to the US Summer camp near Niagara Falls in New York state. We’d spent a week camping by a lake in the woods, swimming every day, sitting in the hot tub in the evening sun, talking and dancing round bonfires, holding ceremonies in the forest. And earlier still I’d spent a week on Iona on our Annual Retreat, drinking in the silence and the beauty of that magical place. In the Spring, we held the annual assembly for members of the Druid Grade at Avebury – under the eye of the Hale Bop comet. At dawn one morning we joined together in ceremony at Stonehenge. Later, Dutch members held their annual weekend, and we all went swimming in a lake formed in the ice age, danced a new Druid dance, held a naming ceremony…In Australia there was the first Annual Druid Assembly with reports yet to come in…In Derbyshire there was the first weekend of the Spirit of the North Gathering – which abbreviates beautifully to SONG. There members from America and all over Britain gathered to meet and meditate together, to visit Sherwood Forest and the moors, to celebrate a wedding…
In the wider world of Druidry, this Summer there was the annual New England Druid Summit; the first Eisteddfod to be funded by a local council in Portsmouth; and the annual academic conference on Paganism, featuring five days of papers, including a number on Druidry. America’s largest Pagan magazine, Green Egg, devoted a whole issue to Druidry, and BBC’s Everyman series is due to screen a programme on the growth of Paganism and Druidry in Britain this Autumn.
Meanwhile, back in the quiet world of the Order and its workings, Touchstone entered a new phase of its life as Madeleine Johnson, after years of skilful editorship, handed the task on to Dave Smith, and Julie Britton after a year of Ovate Tutor Co-ordinating, handed her job over to Susan Henssler, who will now co-ordinate both tutor teams.
At the beginning of last year, the Afro-Celts Sound System album was launched. The Afro-Celts, founded by Order member, record producer and musician Simon Emmerson, includes Irish and Senegalese musicians, and the Breton Druid harpist Myrrdhin. Their music celebrates the rich musical heritage of both the Celtic and African worlds.
At Samhuinn, on a stage in central London, two Druids stood together with two Africans. The Druid raised a sword, the Druidess a chalice. The Africans raised a spear and a calabash. The audience roared. The music began. Since then, the album has been a huge success. A year has passed, the wheel has turned again, and so much has happened in that time…
With best wishes for the coming silent, snow-hushed time of Winter
Yours beneath a starry sky,
Philip Carr-Gomm /|\