As the year draws to a close with unseasonably warm weather here in Britain, let’s look back at this last year in the life of the Order and Druidry.
Since the gwersi began to be issued 23 years ago, the speed of growth and new scholarship in the world of Druidry meant that by the end of the last century the original gwersi needed updating, and this was done for the Bardic grade in 2001, the Ovate Grade in 2007, and at Imbolc this year the final sequence of revision of the course – for the Druid Grade – was completed.
In making these new editions, I’ve tried to work with the advice of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead when he wrote ‘the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order,’ hopefully retaining that which is valuable, and changing that which no longer seemed to serve.
This same need for both continuity and change can be seen in other aspects of the Order’s work. While features such as Touchstone, the Glastonbury Gatherings and the Mount Haemus Award have remained virtually unchanged over the last two decades, changes have occurred in other aspects of the Order community in response to the needs of the times.
This year new developments have included the One Tree Gathering, designed to bring together followers of the Dharmic and Druid ways, the first International OBOD camp, and the first Druid Healing Retreat.
This year, as in previous years, there have been camps on the east coast of the USA, in New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Britain, and the UK camps team have created a fabulous new website with photos and descriptions of each camp in Britain. Do have a look at it here: www.obodcamps.moonfruit.com.
The very first International Camp was held in Holland with a sell-out attendance and an atmosphere that was apparently phenomenal! A beautiful website in four languages presented the camp and there were dozens of workshops and activities. Watch out for details of the second international camp, to be held 31 May to 3 June 2012 at www.obod.nl/dryade/camp.
Some of the magic that all OBOD camps convey is shown in a little film we had made about the Order early this year and which now sits on the Order website’s front page. After two decades we thought it was time to show the world what we do. It has also taken us this length of time to start organising some form of liaison between groups, with Shaun Hayes taking on the task of contacting all seed groups, groves and other types of group within OBOD with a view to creating a special section on the new website that is being built now and will be launched early next year. If you have any queries about groups or want help in starting one, email Shaun at email@example.com
The Order’s first Healing Retreat took place at Nuinn’s retreat-place – the naturist resort of Spielplatz in Hertfordshire, and was extraordinarily successful. Members from Britain, Holland, Italy and Finland came together and enjoyed the atmosphere of this special place while following a de-tox diet, complementary therapies, and swimming and relaxing in the sauna. For me the highlight of the week came when after our closing ceremony we emerged from the yurt (erected by a gallant camps crew) to the sight of our chef Jade dancing with flaming hula hoops under a full moon. Professor David Peters, who holds Britain’s only chair of Integrated Health Care, talked to us one evening and told me how impressed he was by the model for the retreat we had developed, since it worked at every level of the human being, from physical to spiritual.
These reviews cover the year starting each Samhain, and so an event that occurred at Samhain 2010 needs mentioning. Like the healing retreat, it was a new departure for the Order, and was the result of months of planning with the International Centre for Cultural Studies. At England’s biggest Hindu temple in Birmingham, fifty followers of Druidry and the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism met together over a weekend to share their rituals and knowledge. Since we were exploring ways that might have a common ancestry, it was fitting that we met at Samhain (and held the OBOD rite there) since for Hindus it also represents the time of reverence for the ancestors. Everyone came away from the weekend feeling inspired and enriched, and the ICCS warmly invites members to their conference in Haridwar in India in March 2012. See www.iccsus.org
Closer to home, for many years we have been holding workshops for members on ritual and meditation, usually at Chalice Well in Glastonbury. Kate and Barry Reilly have done a marvellous job guiding participants through these workshops, but have now decided to opt for a peaceful life in Cornwall, and have handed on the torch to Penny Billington and Matt McCabe who have already held their first workshop this year – with more planned.
One of Druidry’s great strengths is its ability to build bridges and bring together people with diverse beliefs: at an order ceremony you might find yourself sharing the circle with Pagans, Hindus, Wiccans and Christians, all of whom are fellow seekers sharing a love of the land and a desire for peace in the world.
In addition to fostering our connections with the Dharmic traditions, other links have been deepened too. Our connections with Paganism were reinforced this year when the Order was invited to give presentations at the Pagan Federation’s 40th Anniversary celebrations in London, and in addition we have contributed to their planting of 40 trees on Clapham Common, where coincidentally the old chief George Watson McGregor Reid used to hold his Universalist meetings and give speeches as a Labour campaigner.
Our connections with Wicca have been strengthened over the years, particularly through the publication of the DruidCraft Tarot, and this year Damh and I have recorded an audio version of my book DruidCraft, which has been out of print for some time. We hope to launch it as an audio-book with music and meditations next year.
Our connections with Christianity have been deepened this year by our contacts with the Orthodox Celtic Church in Brittany, into which Nuinn was ordained as a deacon in 1963. Stephanie and I attended a conference there recently on the environmental crisis and it was heart-warming to be there with Bishop Mael, who was a friend of Nuinn and fellow Druid. Tucked into woodland, their eco-monastery was host to about a hundred participants who explored together how we can respond to the current crisis.
There is no doubt that adversity brings people closer together. This became clear early in the year when the UK government threatened to sell all of England’s public forests. The outcry this provoked brought together every kind of group, and immediately we heard the news Damh began compiling an album of tree-related music from different bands to help raise funds for the body that seemed the best placed to be of help: 38 degrees. OBOD member and artist Jamie Reid created artwork, and we were about to launch the album when the government decided to back down.
When we gathered at Glastonbury for the Winter Gathering last December, something had just occurred which was symbolic of the government’s proposed action. We arrived at our place of pilgrimage to discover that someone had vandalised the Holy Thorn on Wearyall Hill. Only the heavy iron guard around the trunk of the tree had stopped it from being totally felled.
By March, however, the news travelled fast that the tree had re-sprouted on the feast day of Joseph of Arimathea. Sadly, as I write this I have learned that once again it has been vandalised, this time by people taking the new shoots for cuttings.
It is only too easy to take this as symbolic of our struggle to preserve the environment: we take one step forward, only to take two back. But we have to hope that the damage caused to the earth can be redressed in some way. This year has seen a great deal of devastation occurring – from the Tsunami in Japan, and the nuclear disaster that followed in its wake, to the fighting in the Middle East and now the flooding in Thailand and Central America. To redress the problems of mass species extinction, the human population explosion and climate change seems an impossible task, but one of the goals of a spiritual movement is to foster hope and inspiration in difficult times. A story which cuts to the heart of this recounts how a man sees a young girl throwing starfish, which have been stranded by the tide, back into the sea. He says to her: “There are hundreds of these stranded creatures here. You can’t possibly throw them all back in. Why are you bothering? You can’t possibly make a difference.” As she throws another back into the sea, she just says to him: “Well it certainly makes a difference to this one!” Every positive initiative is of value, and this year – just to give a few examples – one member has created a flock of rare sheep, another an orchard of rare trees – there’s even a thread on the message board about managing without shampoo!
Modern Druidry is characterised by its love of Nature, as well as with inner and ritual practices, but it is also marked by its interest in scholarship. Many members have contributed wonderful articles and research projects over the years, and this year we have been working on a new website, which will include a library section to share members’ contributions. If you have any material you would like to share please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Shallcrass and friends have completed their revision of the British Druid Order’s course, which is now available online, and this year our Mt Haemus scholar Thomas Daffern completed his paper on Transpersonal History and Druidry, and herbalist Julian Barker has been working on his paper that traces the connections between the human endocrinal system and the solar festivals. Both Thomas and Julian, along with Andy Letcher and James Maertens (Alferian) will be presenting their papers at the third Mt Haemus gathering in the medieval hall in Salisbury next September, while Kris Hughes, author of Natural Druidry, has been awarded the scholarship for 2012.
In the world of publishing, Alferian’s book Wandlore, a handsome edition complete with colour photographs, has been released by Llewellyn, who have also published Penny Billington’s fantastic The Path of Druidry. Both deserve pride of place on members’ shelves as does Earth Alchemy: Aligning Your Home with Nature’s Energies by Anne Z.Parker and Dominique Susani, published by Findhorn Press. These three books each provide deep insights into areas that no other book has adequately covered so far. Earth Alchemy gets to grips with exactly what we mean by earth energies and offers detailed advice on how to work with them. Wandlore does the same with that magical implement par excellence, and is required reading for those in the Druid grade. And Penny’s book takes Dion Fortune’s concept of the three rays and applies it skilfully to working within Druidry. Kevan Manwaring’s Awen Books continues to do great work and published Soul of the Earth – a collection of poetry to celebrate World Poetry Day, while Kevan (the ‘bard on a bike’) had two books out this year: Turning the Wheel (O Books) and his fourth novel in his Windsmith series – The Burning Path (See www.windsmithelegy.com). Member Denise Moon has also published two books, one is fiction – Merlin’s Message: The Journey Home – the other autobiographical, recounting her painful journey to recovery – For One More Day. Graeme Talboys’ The Druid Way Made Easy, published by O Books in May, has received good reviews, and if you want to read a brief novel that some loathe and some love, see Bricks by Leon Jenner, about a builder who remembers a past life as a druid. Finally, if you’d like an irreverent, hilarious account of an order gathering in Glastonbury see Karma Chameleons by Tom Fordyce and Ben Dirs.
In the world of films a beautiful documentary called ‘The Druids – Travels in Deep England’ has been made by Louise Milne, which we will be showing at the Winter Gathering, and hoping to offer it online too. Part art-film, part documentary, Louise’s film was premiered at the Maine Film Festival in July.
In the world of online magazines, Druidic Dawn’s Aontacht feels the most flourishing, with articles from members of different orders from around the world. Meanwhile Eolas from the Druid Order of Whiteoak continues into its fourth year and welcomes contributions at EOLAS@whiteoakdruids.org. Magazines tend to come and go, and although Awen, a promising new Druid magazine, made its debut in May, no further issues have appeared (
http://the-awen.blogspot.com/). In a similar way, Druid podcasts seem thin on the ground, with some appearing for a few episodes before fading away. Druidcast, however, is still going strong with 55 episodes under its belt, and many listeners faithfully ploughing through back episodes, which are all up on the net (follow the link from druidry.org).
It’s in the world of blogging that one can perhaps best gauge online the health of the Druid movement. Since blogs empower the individual and since Druids are often highly individual and creative, they offer the ideal medium. There are far too many excellent ones to mention here, but once the new website is up (watch out for its wonderful new design!) we will create a feature on the best Druid blogs.
In the 60s when the Order was founded, there was a growing movement for liberation on many levels. In the 80s when it was re-founded, there was a similar movement towards liberation at the time of Harmonic Convergence and the collapse of communism, and now as the desire for freedom sweeps the Middle East we see another movement of the Collective towards both independence and unity.
As an order we are not isolated from the events that are occurring in the wider world, and our task is to be sensitive to the ‘Spirit of the Times’, so that we can be open to change when it is needed. But we also need to be sensitive to the need for conservation and the preservation of our heritage. There are times when we should stick with the old, with tradition, and times when we should let go, so that the new can be born. Those of us who have experienced the life of camps in the UK know vividly how these two apparently conflicting, but in actuality wedded, dynamics can bring both suffering and immense creativity as the Changing and the Changeless meet head on in our lives and in the life of the world or our community.
Over the last 20 years or so we have seen aspects of the Order change or fall away, while new initiatives have been born. And all the while Druidry has grown from the fringes of the alternative movement towards its centre, from a membership counted in the dozens to the thousands. And over this time, as an Order we have focussed on developing a community and a teaching programme that is as excellent as we can make it. We have encouraged environmental initiatives and tree-planting projects, and have built connections between the different faith groups that exist both within and outside the Druid movement, while we have deepened our understanding and articulation of our own tradition. Long may that continue!
Yours at this turning point of the year, of history, of our journeys through life,
With many blessings,