It is a glorious autumn day in Lewes. Outside the office we have a tall sycamore and soaring Scot’s pine, amongst other trees, and the sycamore is golden now and the sky behind it a deep blue.
Every year at this time I begin the task of reviewing the previous year in the life of the Order and Druidry generally. This last year has been the nineteenth in the present cycle of activity for the Order, and 19 represents a Metonic cycle, which is of significance for us as Druids. So I see this year as very much the completion of a cycle in some ways, and I look forward to the next. Already I have a sense of what that new cycle can bring, but I’ll write about that in January’s edition – hopefully reviewing the last 19 years and looking forward to the next.
Normally I try to make these reviews as objective as I can, but this time I’d like to offer some personal highlights of the year before moving on to look at a more general picture. Last year’s review ended as we were about to set off to a London club to give a Druidic blessing to Tim Finn’s new album. So this year’s review begins at this Samhuinn time last year ….
The lights dim. Dry ice clouds emerge as a drone is played over the speakers. Adrian Rooke, the Order’s Press Officer, strides on to the stage with full regalia and asks for blessings from the quarters and the Ancestors on Tim’s work. A roar from the crowd and the band comes on. As Adrian leaves back-stage to join us, a huge security guard comes up to him, and says ‘Man, that touched me,’ and gestures to his heart. Druidry 21st century style.
December we are in Glastonbury for the Winter Gathering. This time we meet at Chalice Well Garden early in the morning for the ceremony. At first it seems strange – we are usually here in the dark with lanterns. But the magic works and it is a stirring time. And then through the afternoon we follow an ecological theme. Julian Vayne talks on Druidry and Permaculture in his witty way. Then a presentation from a French friend, Patrick Baronnet, about the ‘Maison Autonome’ – an autonomous eco-friendly house. With a powerpoint display he shows us just how much we can do to change the impact of our living on the planet. Even if you can’t read French look at this website that gives photos: http://www.passerelleco.info/article.php3?id_article=432
Then we have a director from the Centre for Alternative Technology telling us about CAT’s plans for the future. See www.cat.org.uk and www.zerocarbonbritain.com. This feast of eco-ideas is followed by the feast of food, song, poetry, music and dance that is the now legendary Eisteddfod.
A week or so later. The leader of Lewes District Council phones and invites us to watch the Winter solstice dawn with members of the local council, and then to have breakfast with them all. I am so surprised I ask a little more and she tells me she is a Wiccan and wants to educate others in the council about the pre-Christian heritage of Lewes. I google her name – Marina Baker – and find her in Wikipedia. She’s had a very interesting life! Lewes has the HQ of the world’s largest Druid Order, the council leader was (last year) an ex-Playboy model and a witch, and our Mayor is called Merlin Milner!
We watch the sunrise from the Lewes tump, I talk a little about the site and the solstice, pipes are played, there is dancing and ritual, and the BBC film an interview. We then all have breakfast at the rate-payers expense.
February I fly to New Zealand to greet the arrival of two grandsons – and arrive just in time for Druid Camp. And here – on the other side of the world – I am at home right away in that relaxed open grounded spiritual way that seems to be the OBOD style. Then in March a whole coach-load of Kiwi OBODies and friends drive over to Stonehenge Aotearoa to conduct the Autumn Equinox in this extraordinary setting. Again with the miracle of the internet you can learn about this project at www.astronomynz.org.nz/stonehenge.
After the ceremony the coach takes us to a pizza restaurant in the little township of Foxton, and the place is buzzing! What a day!
April and a flying visit to the Beltane camp snuggled in under the hooves of the Uffington White Horse. The warmth of the campfire and a tale that reminds us that magic is still alive: Dr Graham Harvey, Druid, university lecturer and author of books on Paganism, is trekking along the Ridgeway and it is getting dark. He needs to get somewhere to spend the night. He spots smoke curling from a camp beside Dragon Hill. He walks down to investigate. It is the OBOD camp, and he is welcomed, fed and given a bed for the night. In the morning he moves on…
May and here I am in the green and – this week – often wet world of Cae Mabon, with Melanie Cardwell doing a course on ‘Druid Herbcraft’. We live in hobbit structures, and live on fantastic meals created by Jade – with no meat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, sugar or wheat. The result? Loads of energy! The sun comes out and Eric Maddern leads us on an adventure to Dinas Affaraon with story-telling en-route. We try to make a film out of it all and learn how darn difficult that is!
June – it’s Glastonbury again. And this time with the Eisteddfod it’s as if the whole evening has been ratcheted up a notch. Something that is utterly fabulous becomes even more so. And we have opera for the first time with sublime singing from Henriette XXX.
July – We complete the filming of a DVD we are trying to create on working with the DruidCraft Tarot. Fellow members Pamela Meekings-Stewart directs and Deon Cotgrove films with his buddy Franco Bartiromo. Stephanie dresses the set with props provided by the opera house Glyndebourne. I’m looking forward to seeing the edited footage. And then it’s Lammas camp. All summer it’s poured with rain and thank heavens it stops a day or so before camp and the sun comes out. This time we have a chicken living on camp too. It survives all week. Because I have a book deadline I can only do one night. Sensible people do the whole camp, which everyone tells me was marvellous.
August. Olivia Robertson, who started the Fellowship of Isis, has what I think is a 90th birthday party at Glastonbury. Olivia was a friend of Nuinn’s and when I lived at her family’s castle in Ireland over 30 years ago she taught me so much about meditation and the Western Mysteries. We travel to the party and find it is an impromptu play that Olivia directs and we’re the actors. Afterwards we reminisce on life with Nuinn and at the castle. Later that month we have our annual ‘team meeting’ at Spielplatz and reaching across the Atlantic we connect by phone with everyone at the summer-camp in upstate New York, passing the phone from one to another.
September. The Druidcon in Glasgow. A bright sunny weekend with the city full of exuberance over the rugby. I managed to interview all the speakers and Potia who has organised all of the Druicons, and we edited these together for the fifth episode of the Order’s podcast. Then we were at the Crypt Gallery in Seaford, Sussex. Last year we sponsored, with a small sum, a prize for art that would raise awareness about the trees under threat in Lewes. It was so well received we were asked to make our sponsorship annual, so now OBOD is listed as a sponsor of the Sussex ‘Artwave’ competition, along with local brewery Harveys and other bigwigs in town. This year we set the theme as ‘The Sacred Landscape of Sussex’ and were lucky enough to have our dear friend and Modron of the Order Cairisthea Worthington staying with us. Since she and Stephanie are both artists I asked them to choose the winner from the 32 entries of paintings, drawings, installation art and photography. I then disagreed with them and we had to step outside the gallery for a punch-up. In the end I saw reason – they were right, the prize was awarded and we ended up in the artist’s studio around the corner, and left with 2 bottles of her mulberry wine.
October – Samhuinn approaches. Some Autumn fires as the cold starts to bite. Clear bright days and I finish the book I’ve been working on – ‘Sacred Places’, coming out in April with Borders Books. Next week Jarka comes over from the Czech Republic to visit us and the camp. She has translated and printed the whole of the Bardic grade into Czech. As if that weren’t enough, she’s set up a website, and translated Druidcraft and Druid Mysteries, and is now working on the Ovate grade. We’ve never met, and I think she’s never met a fellow member. Such is the strength of the connection, for many of us, to the spirit of Druidry and the Order, that even if we are working on our own we can feel it strongly. Maybe sometimes even more so if we are working on our own and are not distracted by the complexity of interpersonal dynamics!
And so the wheel has come around again, but so far I have only recounted the highlights of the year from a personal perspective. Let me now try to review what else has been happening in the Order and Druidry in general.
Interpersonal dynamics seem to be our testing ground in this world. After all life is pretty simple. It rains – put up your umbrella or dance in it. The sun shines, take off your clothes. Eat. Sleep. As soon as other people enter the scene it gets complicated. But we learn and grow! Sometime last Autumn Mercury went into retrograde and the world of Druidry wobbled with dissension. As some of us rocked in a club in London a disagreement developed in The Druid’s Head Pub, the Order’s message Board – which is the biggest, liveliest and best of all Druidic message boards in the world. Bar stools started to fly and in the end we started a special board called ‘The Cauldron’ to try to resolve the situation. It started with a prayer, then for several weeks there were no rules as opinions and feelings were expressed sometimes vociferously, often very eloquently and with great feeling. It was fascinating, humbling, shocking, educational, and I hope therapeutic. I had said we would offer the posts up as if in a Samhuinn fire, and after participating in a very powerful ceremony with just Stephanie and Zil, our Druid harpist friend from Brittany, I went upstairs and ritually pressed the delete button. Some closing prayers on the board, and that was it.
While conflict is never easy I hope we handled it in a way that was as true to our Druidic values as possible. A new Message Board, In the Trees, was created by some members who wanted an unmoderated board and The Druids’ Head Pub has continued to grow and develop with a fantastic team of administrators and moderators ably led by Selene. Recently Bill, who started the message board way back in the mists of time, upgraded the whole board – a huge job. And we did the same thing with the main OBOD website.
By the Spring or early summer things seemed to have settled down, even though the untimely death of Tim Sebastion, Chief of the Secular Order of Druids, in February had brought great sadness. Here at the office we became excited by the idea of synergising ideas from Myspace, Youtube and the Message Board to create ‘Druidspace’ – an online Druid community. We brainstormed with members, and were even kindly given a template site by the new (and interesting) Foundation for Engaged Druidism, but after months of struggle realised that the technology was beyond our capacity. The idea has now been taken up by Nigel Dailey who has teamed up with others for an independent enterprise – Druidic Dawn. Have a look at the site at www.druidicdawn.org.
Druidry recognises that death is a part of life and not everything can flourish. This year Druid TV which was an attempt to create an online TV channel for Druids seems to have died, as has the Druid News online blog and edruid.com publishing, which are both still up there in cyberspace but with no additions in more than a year. Meanwhile Alferian’s splendid initiative to create an online Druid university programme, Avalon College, has gone into hibernation.
In the world of publishing, however, books on Druidry or Druid themes are continuing to appear. Ronald Hutton’s long-awaited ‘The Druids’ is incisive, inclusive, and very complimentary to the Order (calling the course ‘arguably… one of the major documents of British spirituality from the late twentieth century.’) Next year we will see a more detailed study which I would imagine is destined to become the standard academic reference work on the history of the Druids for many years to come, while this year’s ‘The Druids’ is written to appeal to a wider audience, though it loses none of its depth or scholarly rigour in the process.
Two books by Druids that explore the subject from a personal experiential perspective have also appeared to help us deepen our experience of the path: Rob Wilson’s ‘Trees, Stones & Bones’ and Kristoffer Hughes’ ‘Natural Druidry.’
Two other books by friends of the Order have been published. They are not directly about Druids, but are highly relevant. The first, Fred Hageneder’s ‘Yew – A History’ is impeccably researched and illustrated, with plentiful references to Druids. Fred’s book, like Ronald’s, conveys a sense of setting a new ‘gold standard’ for books on their themes. Finally, Erynn Rowan Laurie’s ‘Ogam – Weaving Word Wisdom’ has just appeared this week. Erynn combines scholarly research into Ogam with a magical understanding, and seems one of the best books on the subject to emerge so far.
For those of us who write books and are environmentally conscious, the fact that trees have to be cut down to print them is something that upsets us. But I’m delighted to find that there is one publisher at least who is trying to change this state of affairs – O Books. I have discovered this in a round-about way. I was asked to contribute my account of Nuinn appearing to me after his death to a collection of accounts by different contributors to the theme of connections with otherworldly companions. The book is called ‘Soul Companions’ edited by Karen Sawyer, and you can find a website on it at www.soulcompanions.org. On the ‘mechanical details’ page I found this notice: ‘O Books operates a distinctive and ethical publishing philosophy in all areas of its business, from its global network of authors to production and worldwide distribution. No trees were cut down to print this particular book. The paper is 100% recycled, with 50% of that being post-consumer. It’s processed chlorine-free, and has no fibre from ancient or endangered forests. This production method on this print run saved approximately thirteen trees, 4,000 gallons of water, 600 pounds of solid waste, 990 pounds of greenhouse gases and 8 million BTU of energy. On its publication a tree was planted in a new forest that O Books is sponsoring at The Village www.thefourgates.com. Fantastic – Bravo O Books! I’m going to badger every publisher I work with to try to emulate them.
On the Order’s publishing front, the French and Dutch Ovate courses have started to be distributed, as has the Bardic course in Czech. We’ve finally got around to creating an e-newsletter, which already has almost 1,000 subscribers. It goes out at each of the 8 festivals, and if you’d like to receive it, just go to the www.druidry.org front page and fill in your name and email address.
Some developments in life are planned or foreseen, but sometimes something just appears out of the blue. In May Damh suggested we start a podcast, and the first show was ready for June 1st. As soon as that first one went out it felt like a great leap forward. It was a step in the same direction as the audio course – returning to our roots as an oral tradition in a thoroughly modern way. It’s become an important part of our work now – with over 2,000 monthly subscribers we’ve ‘entered the charts’ on i-tunes ratings of ‘spiritual podcasts’. I never would have imagined this development at the beginning of the year, but what a wonderful way to showcase some of the talent and creativity that exists amongst members. Damh has taken to this like a duck to water, revealing a new persona as a natural radio presenter. And in fact podcasts are even better than radio shows because you can listen to episodes whenever you like. If you haven’t heard any, you’re really missing out! If you have broadband just go to www.druidry.org and follow the signs.
What’s going to happen next year? I can foresee some events – the publication of the Druid Plant Oracle in December, the four-yearly Mount Haemus conference, a book of the first 8 Mt Haemus lectures, a biography of Nuinn with a selection from his travel diaries, three new works of Druid-inspired fiction – one from our esteemed editor Penny Billington, another from Elen Hopman, and one from Emma Restall Orr and Oakwyse… But who knows what else will arrive just seemingly ‘out of the blue’?
Looking to the wider world, the most obvious challenge that finally everyone seems to have woken up to is climate change and environmental degradation. Funny how we all knew this was happening 20 years ago isn’t it?
The indefatigable John Michael Greer, Chief of the AODA, runs a blog on the fate of industrial society at http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com and the AODA have come up with a valuable idea – discussions on sustainable lifestyles in the Druid Sustainability Forum at http://forum.cyberdragons.org/aoda/index.php.
The Order of Whiteoak has begun a new online magazine, Eolas, at www.whiteoakdruids.org/eolas_magazine.cfm and they are particularly concerned about the possibility of war with Iran, and have issued a statement that they would like all Druids to support. See their website for details.
One of the great pleasures of receiving mail from members all over the world lies in reading their sign-offs and the quotes they use at the beginning or end of their letters. One of the tutors wrote to me recently with the following quote as her email signature.
It’s a good one to read whenever we are worried about the state of the world – about war or famine or the state of Mother Earth:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.” Howard Zinn.
With many many blessings for a peaceful and joyous year to come