Looking back on this last year in the life of Druidry and the Order, and trying to capture its quality in a few words, the phrase ‘A Year of Flowering’ comes to me.
Not only has the Order experienced its busiest year, with more members joining and more events than ever before, but Druidry itself has seemed to come of age as projects have been born that demonstrate its maturity and its ability to be of use to the wider world.
Put simply, a spiritual way should help us sort ourselves out and be of some use; in other words it should help us find wholeness and encourage us to give to the world. Different paths will express this idea in different ways: Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Hindus, for example, will seek ‘enlightenment’ and perform acts of service known as seva. Christians will seek ‘salvation’ and perform acts of charity.
Although from its rebirth in 1988 the Order has sponsored various service projects, such as the Sacred Grove Planting Programme and the Campaign for Ecological Responsibility, the main focus of our energies has been concentrated on refining and consolidating the spiritual path of Druidry: with the creation and ongoing development of the training programme, and with the fostering of research into the identity and history of Druidry, through the Mount Haemus project and through learning from academics such as Ronald Hutton and Graham Harvey.
As a result of distributing the course in an increasing number of languages (now seven, with an eighth – Spanish – in process), the training programme has given rise to a community which spans the globe, spawning all sorts of events and groups who meet together in various ways, and sometimes spin off to form different groups entirely. Over the years dozens of orders and groups, and a handful of training programmes, have been formed by members or ex-members of the Order, and this seems only natural and healthy. Organic growth of a movement requires hiving off and the flourishing of different species, and none of us would want the Order to be the only expression of Druidry in the world. We might like monoliths of the stone variety, but not of the organizational kind! And ecological diversity trumps monoculture every time.
The current renaissance of interest in Druidry dates from the late 1980’s, around the time of the refounding of OBOD, and that is almost a quarter of a century away. Now that Druidry has had the time to establish itself in the modern world, what evidence do we see of the maturing and flowering I have suggested?
Let’s look first at something symbolic which occurred this year, and then at some more specific and practical examples of this flowering.
Cut to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics in London this September, viewed on television by 750 million people around the world: Rory MacKenzie, who lost a leg in Iraq while serving in the British army as a medical technician, speaks the words of a Druid ritual, taken from a British Druid Order Gorsedd ceremony, written by Philip Shallcrass and Emma Restall Orr, that honours the spirits of the seasons and the ancestors. Standing in the centre of that vast stadium he calls out:
I call upon the spirit of Autumn. The spirit of water, of the ebb and flow of emotion; of open seas and running streams, of cleansing rain; spirit of the evening sun, of twilight and of Autumn.
I call upon the spirit of Winter. The spirit of earth, of the womb of creation; of the night and the snows of winter, deep roots and ancient stones.
I call upon the spirit of Spring. The spirit of air, the breath of life; of sunrise, and of new life and of new growth.
I call upon the Spirit of Summer. The spirit of fire, of energy of passion; spirit of the noonday sun, the heat of summer, vitality and abundance.
My friends, let the festival commence!
And then, a little later:
The circle is unbroken,
The ancestors awoken.
May the songs of the Earth
and of her people ring true.
Hail to the Festival of the flame
of root and branch, tooth and claw,
fur and feather, of earth and sea and sky.
In the online version of this review you can see this moment on the film clip shown at the foot of the page. Although Druidry itself is not mentioned, this event is a tremendous achievement and is indicative of the way Druidry is now flourishing: its outlook and philosophy is now an accepted part of our culture, at least in Britain.
But what of more specific examples of the ways in which Druidry is flowering in the world and is of value to it?
A few months ago we were asked if we would like to help with chaplaincy services in a UK prison, and to offer workshops and events within it. Over the years, subsidised courses (without copies of Touchstone to preserve confidentiality of addresses) have reached over 400 prisoners, and we have now produced a tailor-made course for those in prison, called ‘Beyond the Ninth Wave’, with correspondent support. In the coming years we plan to develop training in a form of chaplaincy that will reflect the natural philosophy of Druidry. Watch out for news of this in Touchstone.
In February we launched the new website, which is a vast improvement on the old one. With the old site there was a mismatch between what the Order was and how it appeared on the screen. Those who attended Order gatherings knew what a vibrant community OBOD represented, but the old website offered little evidence of this – with few photographs of members or events, and no sense of the vitality and colour that is Druidry today.
With the launch of the new website all that has changed. The content is organised around seven topics, including ‘About Us’ with pages on what we are, what we do, who is involved, our journals and annual reviews; ‘The Druid Way’ which looks at beliefs, ethics, teachings, practices, resources, and how Druidry works with other paths; and ‘Community’ with pages for groves and seedgroups, gatherings, camps, other OBOD websites around the world, the Message Board and a Members’ Blog. National flags offer links to the different language sites, and every page also features the beautiful audio introduction to the site spoken by the Skye poet Suisaidh NicNeill accompanied by the harpist Claire Hamilton.
There are photo galleries, videos, and audio files, and we’ve even managed to redesign the Awen symbol of the Order to reflect a freer more natural approach. If you haven’t visited the site since February you’re in for a treat, so do have a look! It impressed the British newspaper The Guardian‘s cartoonist so much, that their Spring Equinox edition of the ‘Another Planet’ cartoon carried the line: “If you look on the OBOD website… I would highly recommend their website as a way of strengthening your faith in British society!! I wish we were all as kind, socially responsible and unselfconscious as modern Druids.”
The new website reflects very much the flowering that has occurred this year: looking at the faces, the colours, hearing the sound files and watching the films, all conveys the feeling – confirmed by Druidry’s ideas being broadcast around the world at the Paralympics – that Druidry has ‘come out’ into the world, and that it is strong and valuable.
With the new website, not only did the Order start to show its face much more to the world, but so did many of its groves and seed-groups. We are now planning to create an occasional e-newsletter in which groups can share their stories – to network and inspire each other. If you want your group to be listed, or would like to start a group, contact Shaun Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org
Soon after the website was launched, we decided to let go of the idea of an individual holding the title of ‘Modron’, which translated means ‘Mother’. Thea Worthington had held this title between 1992 and 2002 and then again from 2006, but we decided that just as we don’t have an individual holding a title of Father or Child, we don’t need to have an individual holding a title of Mother. Instead, we featured Thea’s work on the Teachers page of the website, which we launched in the summer.
Creating this page gave us the ideal opportunity to think about ways in which the more experienced members of the Order could be helped in their work. Since there are now a number of members who have had considerable experience in giving talks on Druidry and running workshops and retreats, we are now able to offer this list of those whose work is known to us. Because of the responsibility involved in this kind of work, we decided to limit those eligible for this listing to recommended Druid Grade members.
A similar initiative has also been born this year, pioneered by Philip Shallcrass. Entitled ‘The Druid Hedge Schools Project’, it is designed to offer teachers in Druidic, Bardic and Ovate skills a way of promoting their work at venues in the UK, and we are joining forces with the British Druid Order to help the project. Its criteria for being a teacher seems less stringent than ours, so this may well offer members a sort of ‘proving ground’ for honing their teaching skills.
OBOD has also launched another new service project – this time for Celebrants, which allows members who facilitate rites of passage, such as weddings and funerals, to announce their services on a dedicated page of the website. Already thirty members have asked to be listed, and we have started to receive feedback from the public, in the UK and abroad, who have been really pleased with their experience of this service. Since members at whatever stage in their training may already be experienced in celebrancy, this listing is open to any member, however new, and if you would like to participate, just send your details to email@example.com
We are planning a weekend next year to explore celebrancy with a number of experts, so look out for an announcement about this in Touchstone and on the website Events page.
Over the years we have come across some wonderful venues for hosting Druid-related events and we’ve also started a listing of these. This now gives event organisers the option of ‘mixing and matching’ to create just the right the kind of experience: they can choose a venue from the page ‘Druid-friendly Venues’, they can then create a programme of speakers from the Teachers page and ritual facilitators from the Celebrants page, before announcing their event on the Events page!
Speaking of events, this year has been the busiest ever. We’ve just held the third Mt.Haemus conference in Salisbury, for the academic exploration of Druidry and related topics, and there have been OBOD camps and gatherings in the UK, the Netherlands, the USA, New Zealand, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Australia. Damh, Stephanie and I have attended gatherings all over the world. Damh has been playing and speaking in Australia, Canada, the USA, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and at numerous venues in Britain. Stephanie and I have been to nine countries in the last nine months, talking about Druidry sometimes in the most unlikely of settings, such as village schools in India.
OBOD camps in Britain have managed to survive some of the wettest weather we’ve seen, with those who got through the Beltane camp deciding to have T-shirts printed with ‘I survived the OBOD Beltane Camp 2012’. Yes, it was that bad! By Lughnasadh it was still wet, and our usual venue near the White Horse was too waterlogged to hold a camp. At the last minute the venue was switched to Wales, and most campers who had booked decided to still attend, and it was a great success, despite the rain continuing to fall almost every day.
In Britain, in addition to OBOD camps, the annual Druid Camp, hosted by Rainbow Futures, took place this summer with many members of OBOD attending or presenting, including Penny and Arthur Billington and Kris Hughes. Kris, and his Anglesey Druid Order, ran their own camp by Lake Bala in Wales, and I’ve heard it was a tremendous success too, with a fabulous ‘rite of Ceridwen’ being carried out by the light of the moon beside the lakeshore.
The Anderida Gorsedd hold two camps a year in the Sussex countryside, in the Spring and Autumn, but this year their Spring camp had to be cancelled due to waterlogged conditions. The Autumn camp took place though, and was enjoyed by all, as were the camps held by the Grove of the Summer Stars in New Zealand, and the Sylvan Grove at a bison sanctuary in the New Forest.
In Germany OBODies have held camps at Beltane and Samhain. In France members held a Samhain gathering at a gîte in Burgundy, and have denied rumours that the location is chosen because of its proximity to a member’s vineyard.
The Ozzies have held their annual gathering at their Beltane (our Samhain) and have created a fabulous website, with stunning photography, for OBOD Australia: http://druidryaustralia.org. Next year they are planning a camp to run alongside what will be their 12th annual assembly.
The International Camp in the Netherlands in June and the East Coast Gathering in the USA in September were both utter magic. There too was that feeling of flowering, perhaps best symbolised by the children at camp. In the Netherlands, the children were having a fabulous time making crafts, enjoying the eisteddfodau and playing in a beautiful setting. In the USA, as the closing ceremony took place, a child tottered towards the centre of the circle in the bright sunshine. About 100 of us stood in awe as the little girl, only 2 yrs old, held up an acorn, the gift of the Druids at the previous day’s Alban Elfed rite. Superman then tottered out to join her. He was older – 3 – and wearing his superhero suit proudly, he stood with her in silence, contemplating the acorn, completely at ease in our ritual circle, banners blowing in the breeze, magic hanging in the air. The International Camp next year will be held in Belgium – expect great chocolate!
In addition to camps, there have been other kinds of gatherings: the One Tree Gathering initiative that we began two years’ ago received more input when Stephanie and I attended the Fourth International Conference and Gathering of the Elders at Haridwar in India in March (video clip of this below); Dutch members held their third annual Members’ Festival, in which they combined creativity, meditation, theatre and storytelling with workshops on the stories and archetypes of the Celtic tradition, and a celebration of the equinox, with over a hundred attending; and the Druid Network held their conference in the West Midlands in November. And OBOD’s ritual and meditation workshops 1&2, led by Matt McCabe and Penny Billington, continued in their regular Glastonbury location and also travelled to Staffordshire for a weekend, at the invitation of the local Grove. The same workshops were led in the Netherlands by Henk Eggink and Marjoree Pennings.
At Glastonbury we held as usual our Winter and Summer Gatherings. At the Winter event we heard talks by Ronald Hutton on ‘Ovates and Shamanism’ and Melanie Cardwell on ‘Celtic Herbcraft’, and watched a screening of Louise Milne’s film ‘The Druids’ (DVDs available from the OBOD store). At the Summer event, we witnessed a fantastic piece of theatre put on by guests from New Zealand, and broke with our usual tradition of holding an early morning ceremony at Stonehenge, visiting Avebury instead. At the end of September we held the third Mt.Haemus conference at the Medieval Hall in Salisbury. If you look in the Mount Haemus section of the website you will find photos of the event in a photo gallery. We hold one of these gatherings every four years, and they are so inspiring we decided to ask Kevin Redpath, who made the short film on the Order for the front page of the website, to make another featuring the conference. You can watch it here on this page (see below).
Another film, in the meditation section of the website, features a simple form of movement meditation inspired by the trees. As those of you taking the course will know, there are many meditation methods offered during the training, but for a long time I have felt we needed a meditation that could be offered to anyone, which would convey the spirit of Druidry simply and directly. While in Italy, a particular technique arrived on the wings of Awen one morning, and I have been sharing this with members around the world. This Summer we made a film about it, and you can watch it here.
In the field of meditation, a group of members have launched a project this year entitled ‘Contemplative Druidry’, created for people who want to develop, and reflect on, contemplative practice within Druidry. Starting with a Facebook page to connect and network, the project has gone on to include its first meeting in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
Recent additions to the website include two Mount Haemus contributions: Magical Transformation in the Book of Taliesin and the Spoils of Annwn by Kristoffer Hughes and From solstice to equinox and back again: The influence of the midpoint on human health and the use of plants to modify such effects by Julian Barker. Julian presented his work on the way our endocrine system is influenced by the solstices and equinoxes at the Mount Haemus conference, and Kris, whose paper also touches upon the endocrine system, will be presenting his work at the next conference in 2016. This seems a long way off, but as a number of participants said to me, time flies, and since they have attended all three conferences over the last 12 years, it no longer seems odd to say “See you again in 2016!” By that time we hope more female scholars will be represented – it hasn’t escaped our attention that most up until now have been male – and I’m delighted to say Dr.Karen Ralls has agreed to accept the 2013 award.
Now that the Mount Haemus project has become so well established, our patroness Dwina has very generously offered to fund a scholarship for postgraduate studies in Druidry. We are currently in discussions with the Open University to sort out the logistics, and already one young member of the Order is considering taking up the scholarship. As many of you will know, Dwina’s husband Robin Gibb passed away this year after a long illness, and the last few years have been very difficult for Dwina. We are so pleased that she still wants to support Druidry and the Order, and hope that the coming years will be easier for her.
In the Spring, a feature film, ‘The Spirit of Albion’, was released that has transformed Damh the Bard’s collection of songs into the world’s first Pagan musical on film. In a fantastic display of the power of community to work together, a cast of young people was assembled, the songs built into a script, and the film was launched at Beltane, with DVDs now available from the OBOD store. The teaser for the film explains: ‘Esther, Annie and George are 3 people whose lives have reached a crisis point. On the night of 31st October, all three find themselves drawn to a clearing in the woods. Secrets are revealed and nothing will ever be the same again as an ancient power emerges from the shadows…’ Not content with this achievement, Damh now has plans to hold a gig in the Albert Hall – see his site www.paganmusic.co.uk for details.
In the Summer, a double CD collection of audio meditations that I put together with music from three composers, entitled ‘Sacred Nature’ was released in an English version as a download-only, and in a German CD version. Along the way, the project that Damh and I had been working on – an audio-book version of DruidCraft – was delayed, but it should be out by Alban Arthan.
In the world of books, a number of excellent ones have emerged: Nimue Brown’s ‘Druidry & Meditation’ featured on our Druidry & Meditation webpage, Cat Treadwell’s ‘A Druid’s Tale’, Robin Herne’s ‘Bard Song’, Luke Eastwood’s ‘The Druid’s Primer’ (all of these titles published by Moon Books) and an extraordinary collection of material on the spiritual psychology of a modern Druid, the psychiatrist E.Graham Howe, entitled ‘The Druid of Harley Street’ (Dharmacafe Books). Penny Billington’s intrepid Druid detective, Gwion Dubh, also appeared in a short story published this year too: ‘The Badger and the Bag’.
A while back, writing a book about Druidry was one of the few ways in which you could express yourself within the field. Now there are a host of avenues, including websites, blogs, and online audio and video presentations. The Order’s monthly podcast, ‘Druidcast’, has now reached its 67th episode, with over 15,000 downloads being played each month, and a total downloaded figure of over 750,000. As I’ve travelled around the world this year it’s been lovely to hear how much the podcast is appreciated for its music, interviews, and other content. A new feature on Druidcast is the ‘Pick of the Blogs’ which focuses on one of the many Druid blogs out in cyberspace. The new Order website also features a post from a different blog each month, together with our own ‘Members’ Blog’.
The indefatigable team of Hagal and Isabel in Italy continue with their online TV and radio station Keltoi Radio, and this year they’ve started broadcasting in English as well as Italian. Check out their archive of video interviews here: www.keltoiradio.org
A similar initiative has now been started in the UK by the Grove of Yews Order led by James ‘Sunbird’ Carrington and Charlotte ‘Nemetona’ Shirvington. It’s called Grove Radio and includes both audio and video material, with interviews and music for Druids.
As you can see, there has been an incredible amount of activity in the world of the Order and of Druidy, and undoubtedly much more has happened that we haven’t heard about at OBOD HQ in Lewes.
Whether or not 2012 turns out to have been as significant as some have prophesied, we have yet to see. In the world of Druidry it certainly seems to have been an extraordinary and auspicious year. Even so, there has been much difficulty in the world, with great stresses on economies and the environment. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of worrying about the future for humanity and the Natural world, but anyone who read the Club of Rome’s report on the state of the planet thirty years ago could well have been worrying for the last three decades. It is surely better by far to be aware of the challenges we face, but at the same time open ourselves to the enormous potential that exists in the present moment for each of us to contribute to a more positive world.
The OBOD course has been developed over the last twenty-four years to help fulfil one requirement of a spiritual way: to help us find wholeness. Now, in this year of 2012, I think we can say that Druidry also offers us plenty of opportunities to fulfil that other requirement of a spiritual way: to be of use in the world.
May the coming year be an empowering one for you – filled with inspiration and blessings,
The videos below, Row 1 from L to R: OBOD Winter Gathering 2011 – Music composed and performed by Tom Goddard, Paralympics Ceremony September 2012, Mt Haemus Day September 2012
Row 2 from L to R: Conference in Haridwar India March 2012, Trailer for Spirit of Albion – The Movie, Deep Peace of the Tree Meditation