Now is the time for the Annual Review – looking back at the year that has passed. It’s Samhuinn for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, and Bealteinne for those of us in the Southern. As those of us in the grove at Lewes cast honey, salt, wine and bread into the fire on Sunday, we thought of our friends and fellow-members in Australia and New Zealand (and sprinkled elsewhere – in Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur) – jumping over their Beltane fires to greet the full flood of Spring.
Reviewing this year is going to be hard – it’s been the fullest, most dynamic year in the life of Druidry and the Order so far. For the Order, it’s marked the tenth anniversary of our re-founding, and Druidry in England this year has seen the first re-opening of Stonehenge for Druid ritual at the Summer Solstice in ten years. Tyne Tees television made an inspiring documentary about the Solstice at Stonehenge, using the lives and activities of the Order’s Northumbrian Grove as its focus. At one point, one of the grove members, Matt MacCabe, summed up a central quality of Druidry, when he said “Druidry is for free-thinkers. It’s not for sheep. A lot of people like to be told what to think about and what to pray about. But Druidry is for people who like to ask questions, and who aren’t necessarily satisfied by somebody else’s answers.” The programme ended with Grove Chief Dave Tully making a circle of stones in his workshop and standing within it – saying that you can make a stone circle wherever you are: that all the land is sacred. These two statements conveyed for me the empowering nature of the spirituality we have chosen to follow. The exciting thing is that there aren’t any popes in Druidry, there aren’t dogmas, there aren’t ‘party lines’: instead Druidry invites us to co-create with it. Every time we try to define it too sharply, it slips out of our grasp, yet continues unequivocally to exist as a dynamic living spirituality.
I’ve just returned from two of the most exhilarating and heart-warming months of my life, travelling around the world, visiting Druid groves and members in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, California and New York. And the one thing that struck me forcibly was the way in which we are all so very different, but united by our common love for Nature, for Spirit, and for Druidry. Each member and each group is very different, but what always impresses me is the degree of acceptance and tolerance of differences amongst members: we have young and old members, wild and more conservative members, people who have been following a spiritual path for decades, and people who have only just begun to explore their spirituality. Yet somehow, barring the odd tiff which is inevitable in any grouping, everyone gets along wonderfully, and gravitates to the way of working that they feel comfortable with: some people like gregarious, highly social celebrations, others prefer more contemplative ones. Some people prefer to work solo, others need the support of a group. But what is so heart-warming is to experience at first hand the degree of enthusiasm for Druidry and for the Order’s projects: such as the 2000 Groves Campaign and the Healing Network.
Fabulous plans are afoot for the Network – to be revealed soon! As for the 2000 Groves: I discovered that many more groves have been planted than we have been told about. Druids having their priorities right plant the trees first, then take ages – or forget – to send in the form to Clare to register their grove. In New Zealand I helped to plant a grove on the North Island, near Auckland, and on the South Island, in Nelson. The local city council sponsored the Nelson planting, and when the forty or so participants in the ceremony had planted the trees, and we had chanted and danced together to dedicate the new grove, I asked “Who will care for these trees?” Immediately all the children in the circle shouted, in one voice, “We will!” The songs of our ancestors are indeed the songs of our children.
Something happened at that tree planting in Nelson which speaks volumes about the way Druidry is a living growing tradition that we are all a part of, and to which we can all contribute. Caroline, who had arranged for the council to donate the trees and land, suggested to me that she lead a meditation during the ceremony. During this, she invited us all to close our eyes and imagine that the grove already existed – in the inner world. We spent a while opening to its presence, its guardian spirits and energies. Then we were invited to open our eyes and help manifest this vision on earth by planting the trees. It was a moment of pure magic. And it illustrated for me perfectly the way all of us can help our tradition to grow. It’s easy for us to displace our authority and power on to other people and to institutions: so that the Order, or I, or other people in positions of responsibility, are seen as the sole conveyors of truth or information about Druidry: but in reality we can all help our tradition grow and flourish. The Order is made up of you and I, and of many other people too, and if you feel you have something to contribute feel free to do so: by writing to Touchstone, by sharing your ideas with members, by starting a seed-group, or in any other way you can imagine. Caroline’s idea for the tree-planting ceremony, as an example, can become part of other grove-planting ceremonies in the future.
Let me briefly review the events of last year: at the anniversary of the Order’s re-founding on February 14th we held a party at Primrose Hill, where we crowned the story-teller and singer Robin Williamson as Honoured Bard, and held a brief ceremony atop the hill. As usual the annual retreat at Beltaine on Iona, the four camps in Britain and the US summer camp were all powerful, dynamic events which are now inspiring others to think of camps in other regions – in particular on the West Coast of America. In May we held the annual meeting of Dutch members in a fabulous setting in the forest. And in June we held the first Annual Assembly with grove meetings for all three grades in Glastonbury, followed by a parade up to the Tor where we held a Solstice ceremony in radiant sunshine and a Force 9 gale. We then had an Eisteddfod in town, and the following day about 50 members went to Stonehenge for a noon day Solstice ceremony, while most of the tutors spent the day in Glastonbury at a tutors’ meeting.
June was a busy month, because we also moved the Order’s office from Lewes to a shop in Portslade, and the Order’s new website was unveiled (http://druidry.org). Since then over 27,000 visits have been made to the site, and we’ve even had a few visitors at the shop! The website offers a journey through the forest where the visitor can learn about Druidry through images and text, and even sound. For those in a hurry, they can go straight to a simple text version, but even this includes an extraordinarily complete listing of books and music available on Druidry and related subjects, and direct access to on-line ordering. Also included is a very comprehensive listing of links to many websites that deal with Celtic subjects, ancient sites, Paganism and so on. In the course of creating the site, Bill and Libby have become accomplished webpage builders who now offer their services to others as WebShamans. When I needed to convey a whole set of information to publishers and workshop organisers, I realised that a website was the best way to do this: and Libby and Bill have created a wonderful site for me (http://druidry.org/pcg). The publishing process takes so long (the Taliesin book I’ve been working on for 2 years is still in the pipeline) that I have used the website to share sections of forthcoming books.
Membership from Germany is starting to grow, since this year saw the publication of The Druid Animal Oracle, the Book of Druidry and The Druid Way in German. Likewise in Italy, since the Oracle and The Elements of the Druid Tradition have just appeared in Italian. The Elements book has been published in Dutch for some time, but next year the Oracle will be available in Dutch too. And we also have a small but growing number of members in Bulgaria, thanks to the publication in Bulgarian of the book I wrote with Paco Rabanne – which is also available in French, but not English yet.
The membership of NOBOD – the internet network of OBOD – is growing so fast I believe it’s hard for some members to keep pace with the flow of communication. The challenge there is how to maintain the feeling of community as the size of membership continues to grow so dramatically. The NOBOD website offers an incredible experience: with contributions from members all over the world.
I believe audio-cassettes offer a great medium for conveying a tradition such as Druidry, which was – after all – an oral tradition. By listening to the two cassettes we send out with the Bardic Grade, I believe you can make a connection with the Order and its work which will probably be deeper than if you never received these. So in August, when Marc Hadley who started the audio-cassette company, Talking Myth Publications, told us he was folding the company, we offered to take it over. It will take us a few months to duplicate the cassettes, print the covers and so on, but by next year we should be able to offer all the Talking Myth titles – and some new ones of our own making too.
As regards books on Druidry, the appearance of new titles on Druidry continues, with more promised for next year. Emma Restall-Orr’s Principles of Druidry (Thorsons) has just appeared, and Cairistiona Worthington’s Beginner’s Guide to Druidry (Hodders) will appear next year. This means there will be three introductory guides to Druidry available: my Elements Of book, the Principles Of, and The Beginner’s Guide. A triad of first-step books! Then hopefully John & Caitlin Matthews’ Ovate Source Book will appear, giving us a triad of Source Text guides! This year two vastly different books on Druidry have appeared: Emma’s Spirits of the Sacred Grove (Thorsons) which is an account of the journey round the Druid year weaving personal life stories with Druidic and Pagan ideas, and Gordon Strachan’s Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries and the Dawn of Christianity (Floris). In this book, just out and to be reviewed soon, Gordon expands on the thesis he put forward in The Druid Renaissance, that Jesus came to Britain to learn from the Druids during his Silent Years.
In September the 2nd Annual Australian Assembly was held at Wiseman’s Ferry outside Sydney, and while I was there I witnessed the birth of the Order’s Choir! Like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (Heaven forbid – that’s a joke!) it promises to be an amazing group with new compositions, and a forthcoming CD! With lots of radio and newspaper interviews, talks and workshops, and tons of warm, generous hospitality from members and friends, I made my way back to England in time for Samhuinn. I had taken the Order’s dord with me, sounding it ceremonially in each country. Then, at our Samhuinn ceremony, as we opened the french-windows to greet the ‘wistful legions of the departed’, Sue blew the dord three times as we stood in silence, gazing up at the moon and stars. A few nights before, I had woken during a dream, but the dream continued. In it Nuinn came into our room and he was looking so radiant, and so full of strong, centred, grounded love. “I didn’t know you were still alive!” I said to him – amazed. “Didn’t you? ” He said with a smile.
Have a wonderful Year – whether it’s carrying you towards the depths of mid-Winter, or towards the full tide of Summer,
Yours by oak, ash and thorn,