As Samhuinn approaches in the northern hemisphere and gales and rains start to sweep across the land, let me tell you a little of what has happened in the world of Druidry and the Order during the last year.
I’ve been writing these annual reviews since 1993, and you can read them on www.druidry.org in the section entitled ‘Our Journals’. As you will see if you browse through these, some themes remain constant, while others are new and unexpected. This feels good – we need a sense of familiarity and continuity, but we also need the excitement of the fresh and the different.
First let’s review the familiar: the summer and winter gatherings at Glastonbury, the camps in the Vale of the White Horse, the Australian Assembly, the Dutch members’ weekend, Touchstone, the website, the Message Board, many of the groves and seed-groups, the office – all of these have continued in much the same way as they have in previous years. Some groves and groups have become defunct, new ones have sprung up, the Message Board has grown, the Beltane camp has found a new location beside Dragon hill, but the prevailing feeling with all these aspects of the Order’s work is one of stability, continuity, familiarity and a strong sense of community.
What has grown from these aspects of a structure that is by now so well established? In the office the big change this year has been the introduction of the audio version of the Bardic grade in the Spring, and the revised version of the Ovate grade in the Summer. This has necessitated all sorts of changes: new storage space being rented, new systems being introduced, changes to the database and website and so on.
Another big change has been the introduction of new recycled cardboard storage boxes for the course. Originally the binders were made in Sofia Bulgaria, and on my annual pilgrimage there I used to pick up a hundred or so of these hand-made cardboard and linen binders and bring them back in my luggage. When communism collapsed this became impossible, and we sourced them locally, but they were made of plastic.
This year we finally located a local firm who runs an environmentally friendly factory that rescues ducks as well as making boxes. After several meetings at the office where we brainstormed ways in which the Gwsersu and CDs could be stored, and where Ken from the factory played cardboard origami to show us what could and couldn’t be done, we hit upon the boxes which now go out with the course and which – thanks to various different inner sheets – hold either CD wallets or Gwersu.
The world of druid camps has continued to grow, with camps this year in Germany, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, an informal one in Spain, and two in Sussex, organised by the Anderida grove. Ronald Hutton opened his talk at the UK summer camp this year by mentioning that this was his 50th talk for camps, and again this brought home that feeling of stability and continuity.
At the camp this summer, as well as talks from Ronald and Caitlin Matthews, we were lucky to have the well-known Tarot author Mary Greer over from America, who gave a workshop, which we followed later in the week with tarot workshops by myself and the author of The Intuitive Tarot Cilla Conway.
The DruidCraft Tarot is now in various foreign editions, including Taiwanese, and I’ve spent much of the summer working on a DVD film about it, which should be ready next year.
A DruidCraft Tarot study group has also been formed on the website Message Board together with some fascinating new forums including an Ogham study group, Celtic language groups, and even a ‘Social Dreaming’ forum where we can share our dreams.
On the website too you can find the latest Mt Haemus lecture – Roland Rotherham’s study of the role of animals in spiritual traditions. His combination of personal anecdote and research which roams across the earth makes for fascinating reading.
Speaking of reading, 2006 has been an extraordinarily fruitful year for books on Druidry – probably more than any other year. As a testament to Druidry’s depth and power to inspire, each of these books is radically different: John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook takes a fresh look at Revival Druidry and transforms it into a highly contemporary approach that can form the basis of a magical practice; Brendan Cathbad Myers The Mysteries of Druidry is inspired by Irish sources and again seeks to present a contemporary way of practice; Graeme Talboys’ Way of the Druid takes a more philosophical and expository approach, while my What do Druids Believe? was written to explore that elusive question.
As if the world needed more than these four tomes, the presses were soon at work producing more works to educate, and hopefully entertain us. By the summer Kevan Manwaring’s The Bardic Handbook was out – 320 pages packed with material for the aspiring storyteller and poet. This was soon followed by Isaac Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism, which manages to combine history with a survey of modern groups (including a nicely provocative chapter entitled ‘Cultists and Con Artists’). Then in October my The Druid Way was published in a new edition (it was first published 13 years ago), with revised material, a new appendix on sacred sites in Sussex, and an introduction by CairistheaWorthington, who now I’m delighted to say has resumed her role as Modron of the Order.
Apart from these seven books about Druidry, a number of other titles have emerged that have been penned by Druids. Sandra Kynes, a member who lives in New Jersey, has written a wide-ranging guide to the world of trees in Whispers from the Woods, and member Adele Nozedar, who lives in the stunning setting of Twin Peaks studio in the Welsh Brecon Beacons, has had her first book published: The Secret Language of Birds – a Treasury of Myths, Folklore and Inspirational True Stories. To research her book Adele asked her friends what bird they identified with, and has woven this research into a wide-ranging and fascinating survey of bird-lore that fills 534 pages. Another ground-breaking book by a member that has been published this year is Andy Letcher’s Shroom – a Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom. With wit and academic precision Andy convincingly argues that the ancient Druids were unlikely to have ever used hallucinogenic mushrooms.
At least three well-known authors of fiction are members of the Order – Barbara Erskine, Juliet Marillier and Liz Williams. Barbara’s Daughters of Fire was published this summer, and Juliet’s Marillier’s novel for young adults Wildwood Dancing is being published in the UK this December. I can’t extract either of these from our daughter Charlie’s bedroom. Liz Williams is one of the new wave of British science fiction writers who came to prominence in the late 1990s. Her novel Banner of Souls was nominated for the Philip K. Dick award last year, and this year saw the publication of her new novel Darkland. All three writers are refreshingly open about their Druidry – there is an interview with Liz on the Druid Network site, Barbara has contributed her thoughts on Druidry and Christianity to the OBOD website and What do Druids Believe? and you can read interesting discussions on Juliet’s interest in Druidry if you google her name + Druid.
Another novelist who is not a member as far as I know, but who has written about Druids often in fiction is Morgan Llewellyn. Her 1991 novel Druids inspired many readers, and she too has had a book published this year: The Greener Shore: A Novel of the Druids of Hibernia.
This flowering in the world of books has not occurred to the same extent in the world of radio and television, but an interview with me and our daughter Sophie about Druidry is available on a podcast at www.radiochildren.com (look for programme 2, part 2). Great photos of the summer camp are on the page accessed by clicking ‘The Stars – Prog 2’. Radio Druid continues to broadcast over the internet, and now www.druid.tv has begun to offer video clips on druid topics online. The 60 second Lughnasadh ritual (also viewable on youtube.com) is hilarious!
Radio Druid, Druid TV, and the e-Druid Press (www.edruid.com) which started in 2004 but which I’ve only just discovered, are all examples of interesting ideas which have not yet ‘lifted off’ but which hold promise in years to come. They just need more people to access them and use them.
Each of the Order events that I have described (and of course the many Druid events not organised by the Order but by other Druid groups and individuals) deserves description, but space here prevents this. The gatherings in Australia, Canada, America, New Zealand, Holland, Germany, Britain (not only the camps and assemblies but also the Druid Gorsedd and the ‘Earthwise’ gathering that brought 30 members together to explore earth mysteries) have all been filled with colour and laughter and music – and in the end that’s the important thing – that the Order provides a vehicle, a structure, the support and inspiration that can enable individuals and groups to express themselves and be of value in a whole range of different ways.
And that inspiration can be as intangible as an impetus, a seed, an idea that comes into our minds and that we manage to realise. Here’s just one example of what I mean that for reasons of space must serve as a symbol for many of these sorts of initiatives around the world: Matt McCabe, who for many years was the Order’s Press officer, told me the other day of a community-based initiative he is involved with in London: creating a public-access orchard that grows many of those rare apple species that are no longer commercially grown and that are in danger of ceasing to be cultivated altogether. What a fantastic project! A little corner of Avalon in London…the fact that it is not overtly ‘Druidic’ or ‘spiritual’ is not important. What is important is the fact that it will help in a small local way to preserve species and uplift spirits.
As we move into an era where climate change is finally being taken seriously I believe that more and more people will be drawn to a spirituality that places environmental concerns at the heart of their approach to life. Who would have believed a few years ago that the Conservative party would change their logo to that of an oak tree? The two big themes that dominate the news these days are the threat to the environment and the problem of religious fundamentalism, so a spirituality that avoids dogmatism and which makes caring for the Earth central is seen as increasingly sensible. We’ve experienced this in a very local way this year during our battle to save the trees outside Lewes prison. The local council and media have enthusiastically supported us, and we recently sponsored a prize for the best depiction of the trees. In addition we started a website www.saveourtrees.org to act as a resource for anyone needing information on saving their local trees.
Next week Stephanie and I are helping our current Press officer, Adrian Rooke, in a project that started in New Zealand. The musician Tim Finn (well known for being in Crowded House and Split ENZ) is launching his new album, Imaginary Kingdom, and wants a Druid blessing. The album is being launched in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and London and in each location a Druid is conducting an opening ceremony before Tim starts to play. So we’re off to a London club to support Adrian as he strides on stage wreathed in dry ice smoke, to listen to some music, and perhaps kick off our shoes!
May the coming year be filled with inspiration and joy for you,
Yours in the Peace of the Grove,