2008 Annual Review

In the final analysis, Druidry isn't about orders, teachers, and books. It's about each person's experience of living nature, and if the orders and books and teachers get in the way of that, set them aside, go out beneath the open sky, and find the Druidry that works for you. Ultimately, that's what matters. John Michael Greer

As we move towards Samhuinn in the northern hemisphere it is time once again to review the last year in the life of the Order and Druidry in general.

This year has been marked by a growing awareness amongst the general public of the situation that most of us in the ‘alternative’ movement have known about for years. Just before the end of October last year half the newspapers here devoted their front pages to the conclusions of a UN report that questioned humanity’s survival to the end of the century if environmental degradation continues. And now, as I write this, the obvious-to-many-of-us fact that unbridled economic growth and environmental preservation cannot go hand in hand, is now finally being recognised as we start to feel the consequences of governments’ and industry’s failure to confront this reality.

In tandem with a sense of growing dislocation in the world around us, many of us are feeling the need to reinforce our sense of solidarity with those things that really matter – with meaning, purpose, heritage, community, spiritual tradition and the ‘Great Mystery’ – and the urgency of the situation seems to have catalysed a need in many people to do something positive to help the  environment and to connect to a life of meaning. As an example of this it has been heartening to see, for example, the way millions of people have turned to instruction on meditation from teachers like Eckhart Tolle.

In our own small way we have noticed an increase in membership – and if you are a new member this year “Welcome!” – and the year has been marked by a growing use of the Web as a way of networking and communicating. Druidcast, The Order’s podcast, which we started at Alban Hefin last year is now downloaded up to 9,000 times a month, and a dazzling array of music, interviews and talks awaits anyone who wants to access this material (at www.druidcast.libsyn.com). Damh in the office, who puts them together, created two special episodes (13 & 14) to celebrate Druidcast’s First Birthday – and one episode is devoted entirely to music.

The Web has also seen another recent development: three Druidic magazines have made their debut, delivered as downloadable pdfs. At Lughnasadh 2007 the quarterly Eolas, averaging 10 pages an issue, was launched by Ord na Garach Gile – the Order of WhiteOak (see www.whiteoakdruids.org). The Bond of Druids ‘A Druid Journal’ was launched in the summer this year and is more substantial at around 46 pp, and is available both in a printed version or as a pdf at $6 a copy from www.mygrove.us/ bond_of_druids. Druidic Dawn’s quarterly journal Aontacht was launched at the same time and like Eolas is free, but more substantial with 25 pp. I hope they all flourish. What with monthly podcasts, monthly copies of Touchstone, and 3 quarterly journals no-one can complain about not being informed!  Add in the Message Boards and Chat Rooms available online to Druids  and the only risk might be an overload to the nervous system.

Nothing stays still, though, and there are now even more opportunities for Druidic stimulus. This year has seen the arrival of two Facebook meeting places for OBODies: an official one and an ‘OBOD Friends’ – both of them have over 400 members connecting with each other. And my prediction is that by next year the fledgling group of members in the virtual world of Second Life will have developed into a seed-group which holds rituals in a secluded grove on an island.

However much we may decry staring at a screen to learn our Druidry, the reality is that this is the way most people are discovering the fact that it is a valid and meaningful path today. We have made a few You-tube slide-shows to convey key ideas and the first we made on ‘The Seven Gifts of Druidry’ has been viewed over 34,000 times in its two versions (high and low definition).

Holistic TV, based in Eastbourne, are now editing footage they shot at the OBOD Summer Camp, and with Druid groups around the country. They plan to create two documentaries – one for television and one for a DVD for home viewing. I’ve seen a rough-cut of these and they look fantastic – far better than the awful documentary screened recently which trotted out the old ‘Druid Prince’ material mixed up with          evidence of ‘Druidic cannibalism’ derived from the analysis of one broken shin bone found in a cave in the west of England. The programme has been universally derided and deservedly so.

A far more believable and interesting find than the shin bone has been the grave of the ‘Essex Druid’ found at Stanway, near Colchester. Although the dig was started in 1996, the full report on it was only published this year after 12 years of painstaking digging and research. In the grave that was uncovered, archaeologists discovered a board game with the glass counters laid out, medical equipment – the earliest ever found – a tea strainer still containing the remains of a herbal brew, and some mysterious metal poles, which archaeologists believe may have been used for divination.

It now seems that the find may represent the very first Druid grave ever discovered. But it was the traces of Artemisia in the tea strainer that struck our attention, since Stephanie, Will Worthington and I had been working on The Druid Plant Oracle for the past few years, and it was wonderful to see another piece of evidence for the ancient Druids’ use of medicinal herbs. The Plant Oracle was published in December in Britain and in December we held a launch party in Treadwell’s Bookshop – one of London’s most atmospheric magical bookstores.

On the subject of books: in February John Michael Greer’s  ‘The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth’ (Weiser) was published, which offers a way of working magic by combining Druidic symbolism with techniques derived from the Golden-Dawn and other traditional workings. Ellen Evert Hopman’s ‘A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine’ (Destiny) appeared in June, and in May Brendan Myers’  ‘The Mysteries of Druidry: Celtic Mysticism, Theory, and Practice’ (New Page) appeared, followed swiftly by his masterful exploration of Druidic ethics ‘The Other Side of Virtue: Where Our Virtues Come From, What They Really Mean, and Where They Might Be Taking Us’ (O Books). Emma Restall Orr’s eloquent ‘Living With Honour’ (O Books), also on ethics, appeared at the same time, and these two books together with the paper Brendan delivered for the Mount Haemus Lectures this year provide at last a solid basis for contemporary Druid ethics.

In the light of these important three works, a new page on Druid Ethics has been placed on the Order’s website. Go to the website too to read Brendan’s Mt Haemus paper, where you can also see a movie clip of the first Mt Haemus gathering in 2004 and see details of the first volume of 8 lectures the Order published this summer. In August we held the second Mt Haemus Gathering at the Medieval Hall in Salisbury, and it was just one of those perfect days where everything (apart from the powerpoint projector) went smoothly and was deeply satisfying. The sun shone, the medieval hall is impressive but warm and welcoming, the speakers were loudly applauded, as were the musicians who entertained us, including Andy Letcher who is already at work on the Mt Haemus Award for 2009  – comparing and contrasting the six courses in Bardism now available to the 21st century seeker.

It really is remarkable that Bardistry has experienced such a revival, and we’re continuing to encourage this by introducing a system of ‘bardic coaching’ via the Order’s Message Board, and by awarding more ‘Honorary Bardic’ crowns.

On the Mt Haemus day Esme Vincent was crowned for the magnificent artwork she has created over the years  – with calligraphy, painting, drawing and book design……..

And at the Summer Gathering in Glastonbury radical poet Liv Torc received the crown:
At that Summer Gathering, Wendy  Shrubshall & Rob Chapman who have so ably coordinated the grove rituals and Tor  celebration for the last 2 years handed over to Marion Sibbons who managed to help create a deeply moving experience for participants and spectators. The following morning JJ and others coordinated the dawn ceremony, which was blessed with sunshine and a magical hare who led us into the centre of the stones.

Everything about these Glastonbury Gatherings is so impressive – somehow everyone manages to give of their best, with the evening Eisteddfod never ceasing to amaze, and all unobtrusively coordinated by Cerri and Damh’s team of volunteers. At the Winter Gathering storyteller Eric Maddern, creator of the Cae Mabon centre in Wales, was crowned after he entertained us with song and story, and earlier in the evening we were scandalised by Kristoffer Hughes personal account of his Druidic education. His talk was recorded and can be heard in one of the podcasts. A small team of Druid censors had to listen to the recording and edit out some of Kris’ more outrageous jokes! Ronald Hutton followed Kris with a rousing critique of past Druid leaders and a call to emulate their social idealism, and I introduced Mark Townsend, a fascinating writer, priest and mentalist magician who performed magic that left us all wondering ‘How on earth did he do it?!’

While in England highlights for the Order were the camps, the two gatherings in Glastonbury and the Mt Haemus day, in Holland the Order’s magazine Dryade held its tenth birthday celebrations, which turned into the inaugural Dutch OBOD camp. Modron Cairisthea Worthington and I flew over and about 40 of us spent the weekend together in celebration. It was wonderful to see so many children there, and the ‘knowledge transfer’ that had occurred, with ideas we have found successful in the UK camps being put into practice across the channel.

In Holland a memorial pottery chalice was cast to commemorate the event, and Peter who coordinated the event, was able to hand out these cups to everyone at the camp. Soon afterwards, the first Dutch Druid podcast went on air!

In May I went to Portugal and Germany and gave some talks and workshops there. Again there was that warm sense of recognition and common purpose, and a little while later, with the help of web-wizard Brianna a new website www.druidry.eu was created to act as a portal for the Dutch, French, German and Czech Order websites. Brianna has also created a German forum, and a site on DruidCraft in English and German at www.druidcraft.de. In September Stephanie and I went to Italy – I gave some workshops and a talk on Nuinn and Gerald Gardner, looking at the influence Italy had on both of them, and we visited the Damanhur Federation – a spiritual community of over a thousand people who live in the Valchiusella Valley a few hours northwest of Milan. There they have built the most extraordinary underground temples, and follow an initiatic path that places both art  and a commitment to being of value & service in the world  jointly at the centre of human endeavour. I had written about them in ‘Sacred Places’ (which was published in August) and now we were shown the temples, their organic farm, their art centre, their eco-houses and – most amazing of all – their tree-house village where they are experimenting with plant-musicians.

Electrodes are placed on a plant and the  electrical signals picked up are converted via a synthesizer into musical tones. Slowly the plants learn how to make music, and remarkably those who have developed their musical talents seem to be able to pass these on to other plants simply by being placed next to the new plants. We climbed up into a tree-house and sat beside an avocado plant in a pot who is a particularly good musician. It was extraordinarily moving to then witness the music he or she emitted. I hope we can arrange a demonstration at an Order gathering next year.

In the Spring and Summer Damh in the office worked on the Ovate Grade audio version, using the voices of Welsh Annie (who now lives in Glastonbury) Irish Dwina and me, plus lots of new music and stories. It should be ready between Samhuinn and Alban Arthan – we’ll let you know!

Despite the wet summer, the skies once again cleared for us in the west for the Lughnasadh camp which was as magical as ever, as was the New Zealand Lammas camp held in February (and the other UK camps). Meanwhile in the background, stalwarts Kate & Barry Reilly continued their workshops that support the course, using Chalice Well in Glastonbury as a venue. Having  trained with Kate & Barry, Henk & Marjorie recently facilitated the first Level 1 workshop in Holland, while Shaun Hayes became the Order’s representative on PEBBLE – a liaison group that works with government bodies and the Pagan community.

The Message Board with its team of moderators and administrators continued to make ‘The Druid’s Head Pub’ one of the most interesting and lively web environments for Druids, while member Nigel Dailey and his team have managed to develop their ‘Druidic Dawn’ site into another warm and lively environment for networking and learning.

In the field of publishing, in addition to the non-fiction titles mentioned, 2008 must be remembered as the Year of Druidic Fiction: Not only was Penny Billington’s gripping Druid detective story ‘Gwion Dubh; Druid Investigator’ (Appleseed Press) published (and sources tell me she’s busy working on the next volume) but also Elen Hopman’s ‘Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey’ (Llewellyn), Emma Restall-Orr & William Melnyk’s ‘The Apple and the Thorn’ (Thoth) and Christina McCarthy’s ‘Forbidden Magic – A Druid Born’, (Fremantle Press). What a great way to spend the coming evenings – with these books by your side!

And so another year completes itself, and as it does, let me share with you a little ‘miraculous’ event that occurred when I went into the Order’s archive room recently. In 1992 we decided to change the ‘shape’ of the way the Order was run by instituting a new role of ‘Modron’ to complement the existing triad of Chief, Pendragon and Scribe. The Modron would symbolically stand in the West, symbolising connection with the Feminine, the Cauldron, the inner knowledge of the land and the Otherworld. Cairisthea Worthington became the Modron, but in 2002 retired for personal reasons, taking up the reins again in 2006. It became clear recently that not everyone knew of this change, and I had just been talking with Cairis about whether to write about the subject for Touchstone. A few days later I entered the archive and quite spontaneously an entire box tumbled off a filing cabinet in front of me, and one document glided gracefully out of it to land at my feet. Dated 14 Feb 1996, eight years to the day from the Order’s re-founding, it was written by Cairisthea and entitled ‘The Changing Shape of the Order’. As if continuing the conversation we had been having a few days before, it discussed the way in which the introduction of the role of Modron shifted the organisation from one that seemed overly masculine and hierarchical (and the shape of a pyramid) into one that is more balanced and which corresponds to the sacred circle with its four directions that we know so well.

Cairis concluded the document by saying ‘The Order began to change shape with the introduction of the Modron, but I think the seed of change was planted by Nuinn when he incorporated the four fire festivals back into Druidry. Essentially he began the work of healing through the honouring of both the masculine and feminine principles. When I began looking at the changing shape, I saw very clearly the image of the Cauldron. Each member of the Order was a pearl around its rim. The cauldron was the Earth, our humanity, the Fellowship of Druidry and much more. It is filled with knowledge, inspiration and healing; it is the cauldron of plenty, of wisdom and initiation.’

I’m so glad this document appeared in this way – the archive, as you can imagine, is filled with material. Those of us who have ‘official’ roles within the Order see these as supportive and facilitative of all the membership and each of us, whether we fulfil a role within the Order or not, whether we are mentioned in this review or not (my apologies to the many people I haven’t mentioned!) stand as equals in the circle – heart to heart and hand in hand.
May the coming year be a time of knowledge, inspiration and healing for all of us.

With many blessings,

Philip /|\