2005 Annual Review

The value of any transcendent tradition should be found within its liberating qualities. A tradition, of any sort, has no other ultimate value. R.J. Stewart, Underworld Initiation

Autumn is a good time to look back on the year that has passed – there seems to be something in the light, in the air, that encourages reflection. No wonder this quality is related to the west and the direction of autumn in the Druid circle.

Gazing back at the life of Druidry and the Order I sense a wonderful feeling of fertility and freedom this last year– a blossoming in all sorts of directions. New initiatives have abounded. The camps began a new cycle at Imbolc, having had a break over Samhuinn to review the last ten years and to plan for the future. The new cycle began with a planning weekend held at Imbolc in Garth & Elaine’s magical woodland in Shropshire. Marianne guided us in meditation to gain inspiration, and then each of us wrote ideas we had on paper leaves, which we placed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. This sat cooking overnight until the next morning, when the brew was magically stirred and each leaf taken out and read aloud. It was then attached to bare branches standing at the back of the yurt, until it had become a leafy tree. As a result we developed different ways of working, were filled to the brim with dozens of creative new ideas, and at the next camp – Beltane – the difference in atmosphere was tangible. Once again the camps were reborn and it felt fantastic!

The Druid Network hosted another great camp with the Rainbow 2000 group in Wales, and German-speaking members of OBOD held their first camp this summer, which was so successful they are already planning the next. North American, Dutch and New Zealand members will be holding camps next year too! But that’s not all: some members have been starting their own weekend camps, and I’ve heard glowing feedback from participants at the Earthworks Grove camp in Shropshire and the Anderida Gorsedd camp in Sussex. In fact some people are so crazy about druid camps they create one just for their birthdays. Keith Southall’s 50th birthday bash was just like an OBOD camp  – except there was beer on tap, and its ceremony involved Keith submitting to various ordeals that were only rewarded at the very end by a large ribboned box appearing out of Keith’s fake cave (yes he’s got one). OBOD tutors sometimes need to let rip, so the box contained Lorraine in a swimsuit clutching a custard pie. You could see the look on the faces of the non-members at Keith’s party: “So this is what Druidism is about – no wonder Keith is up to his neck in it!”

It’s a tribute to the inspirational power of Druidry that camps are springing up with so little need for formal ‘directions’. Even so, with all these camps going on, we are building a body of skills and experience which we can hand on to others. A good camp looks as if you simply throw together a bunch of Druids, add an open fire and some musical instruments, and the rest takes care of itself, but in reality a lot planning goes on behind the scenes to run a successful camp. Perhaps one day someone will put together not a manual, but a book of tried and tested ideas and suggestions. Perhaps an online book that can grow as each year goes by?

Damh contributed an article toTouchstone recently about the way he and Cerriorganise pub moots, public gorseddau and camps as well as grove meetings, and it’s encouraging to see how if you are involved in a group (or thinking of starting one) you don’t have to limit yourself to just regular group meetings for members.

Despite the absence of limitations on how an OBOD group can be run, members have every so often felt moved to start their own group or order – to emphasize one rather than another aspect of Druidry for example, or to create a local organisation that suits the tastes and needs of local members. The Order has always encouraged members to form their own groups if they feel so inclined – after all diversity is healthy and natural, and the value of a tradition lies in its ability to free people rather than bind them, as R.J. Stewart points out in the quote above. This last year has seen an interesting new crop of such initiatives, with Syd Merle in France and Torc in Holland forming their own orders, and members in Auckland forming the ‘Fellowship of Druids in Aotearoa’. Using the word Fellowship makes an interesting distinction from using the term ‘order’ (as does the Druid Network’s use of the term ‘network’) and I hope we’ll see more new ways of presenting and working with Druidry in the future. This is how the Fellowship describe themselves:  ‘FODA’ is a Grove association of New Zealand based Druids. Our members follow varied Druidic and nature based paths. FODA has an affiliation to the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids although this is only an affiliation and it is not compulsory for members to follow OBOD practices and principles. We follow the Druidic principles of honouring all, supporting and protecting the earth. We believe in: ‘Wisdom, Creativity and Love, bound with a strong reverence for Nature’.  Good luck and blessings to all these new initiatives!

The theme of fertility seems to have been coursing through the virtual Druid world too – there are now about 33 forums on our druidry.org website [ The Druid’s Head Pub ] and in addition any seed group or grove can ask to have their own private forum too. There are now quarterly Eisteddfod competitions on the Message Board, and forums in German, French and Bulgarian, and one specifically for young people. A member runs a web-based  ‘Radio Druid’, broadcasting 24hrs a day – a perfect place to send your recorded talks or music.

I’m one of those people who try not to spend too much time on my computer – perhaps because I’m chained to it anyway for long hours typing away with one finger. But I do recognise that our computers help us link together across a world that is often stressful and difficult, to meet and converse with like-minded souls. And to get a feel for what a fantastic range of people are drawn to the Order and Druidry, have a look in the pub forum and click on one of the 45 pages in the thread marked ‘Introductions’.

One last comment about computers from the point of view of the Annual Review: in February we changed the website, which has made it a lot more manageable, but if you want to see what it looked like before, click on ‘Archive Library’ and you’ll suddenly find yourself in the old world of the previous site. If you haven’t looked at the website for a long time, do have a look at the new site though: the front page has got a beautiful audio message from Skye poet Suisaidh NicNeill, accompanied by Claire Hamilton on the harp, and there are lots of new sections: on Christianity and Druidry, Wicca and Druidry, an Events page brimming with events around the world, and A ‘Quote, Link & Poem of the Month’ page which allows us to share some of the incredible stuff that comes through the office each month.

Last year we held the Mt Haemus Award lectures in Oxfordshire, and this year we managed to create a web section on the award and to publish all five papers. Most are around 7,000 words, but Dr Adam Stout submitted 27,000 words in his paper on George Watson MacGregor Reid, and this – along with the other four papers – is available either as a downloadable pdf or from the Order’s bookshop. The ranks of the Mt Haemus scholars are swelling. Professor Roland Rotherham is already working on his paper on totem animals, and the next few years’ scholars have already been allocated and are no doubt burrowing away in libraries as you read this.

One of these future scholars, Dr James Maertens (known to members by his druid name Alferian) has started a wonderful project together with other members. They want to create a Druid university campus – but realising that achieving such a goal may be some way off, have started the Avalon online college using the latest web-based technology (see www.avaloncollege.org).

Ana Adnan and Ronald Hutton’s workshops continue apace and if you get a chance to go to one of their weekends do grab it. Details are given in the Events pages of Touchstone and druidry.org and their workshops are perfect if you want to stimulate your creative juices or your grey matter (or both!). Dutch members were able to experience Ronald and Ana working together at the Dutch members weekend this summer, and perhaps one day they’ll both make it to the annual Assembly in Australia, which once again is in a different location on that vast continent.

In the summer member Jamie Reid, famous punk artist and great nephew of past Chief George Watson MacGregor Reid, put on an exhibition of his paintings on the theme of the Eightfold Year. The whole exhibition, which included specially printed wallpaper for the gallery based on his designs, was just stunning, and I hope that one day the Order will be able to host the exhibition too.

Developments in the last year specifically within the Order have been the appointment of Gladys Dinnacombe to help Susan Jones as assistant tutor coordinator, and the appointment of Susa Black to take over the running of the Druid College of Healing (have a look at the great new web pages and articles Susa has put up on druidry.org).

Barry & Kate Reilly have given more of their wonderful workshops on Druid meditation and ritual, and I’ve been able to lead retreats at Chalice Well and in Broceliande – the Glastonbury ones with old friends Jay Ramsay and Caitlin Matthews. In Brittany, those of us who came together in that magical forest were from France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Holland, New Zealand and England.

And I haven’t even talked about the assemblies – in the winter we listened to lively and entertaining talks by Andy Norfolk and Ronald Hutton, followed by a musical presentation by Robin and Bina Williamson. That afternoon 150 members went to the Chalice Well Gardens and, despite the rain pouring on them throughout, celebrated the rebirth of the Sun, at the time of greatest darkness. During the summer we found the tor ceremony being filmed by the BBC for a news item which turned out very well. They wanted to film a member in their home afterwards who was a ‘normal person’ and that took a little organising (I asked for volunteers from the 200 or so participants at the Assembly and – heavens knows why – was greeted with hoots of laughter when I said they had to appear reasonably normal). But in the end Fran Southall obliged, locking Keith in his artificial cave until the filming was over.

As I look back on the last year I recognise that in the world of outer events we have been charting a treacherous course: the Asian tsunami, the terrorist bombings in London, the hurricanes that wreaked havoc in the USA, the mudslides in Mexico and now the Pakistan earthquake have added tragedy to the looming worries of the melting North Pole, the threat of a bird flu pandemic, and the problem of running out of oil – which John Michael Greer, Chief of the Ancient Order of Druids in America has recently highlighted in his essay that I have quoted (and linked to) on our website.

Contrasted with this sad picture I see – certainly within the Druid community – seeds of hope. A member from Spain, whom I met at the Broceliande retreat, has planted thousands of trees on her land; the Order has been able to give £1,000 this year to help regenerate the Caledonian forest; a member of the Druid Network organised a charity walk along the route I took when writing The Druid Way over a decade ago; a member in the Czech republic has started a ‘Druid hermitage’ as a place of retreat and for workshops in the countryside, and members in Bulgaria are doing the same thing; Serpentstar and Dryade – the Australasian and Dutch OBOD newsletters are going from strength to strength; Claire Hamilton has come out with another wonderful collection of Bardic tales complete with CD  entitled Tales of the Celtic Bards (UK, US) and Fred Hageneder has produced the most stunning book The Living Wisdom of Trees (Duncan Baird, 2005).

It is these seeds of hope, and more, that are crystallised in this image: a lone Druid at Alban Elfed this year paddling a coracle down the broad, muddy River Thames, carrying an ostrich egg which has received the blessings and prayers of Druids, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists on its journey down the river. He paddles out of the Thames estuary towards the open sea and casts the egg into the dark waters. It carries our hopes and prayers down into the depths…to the Mother.

However small we may feel ourselves to be, however fragile our hopes and dreams may seem when compared to world events, we are an integral and precious part of the fabric of this mysterious universe, in all its fertile wonder.

May the coming Winter (or Summer if you are in the southern hemisphere) bring you much nourishment – spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Yours beneath the starry sky,

Philip /|\

P.S. The lone Druid was Chris Parks (loved by many of us as the multi-talented bard who frequents camps and became known as ‘Iron-Age Chris’ from his participation in the BBC’s Living Iron Age series. There are photos and the story of his Magical Egg Journey on his site: www.acorneducation.com)