Every year at Samhuinn I review the year’s events in the world of Druidry and OBOD. This year why not join me in this process? Take out your last twelve copies of Touchstone and spend an evening reviewing the year. What a treat will be in store for you if you do this! You’ll see how rich and varied our community is. As each month unfolds there are the familiar landmarks: the gatherings and camps in different countries. But there are new initiatives: tree-planting projects, new groups starting up, new workshops and events, and as you browse the issues you can see the way so many members and groups are contributing to the development of Druidry: with suggestions for daily practices and rituals, for ways of incorporating Druidry into healing work and everyday life, and the proliferation of small, local camps set up by individual Groves for their members and friends. Out of reading all this comes the sense of a world-wide community that is quietly maturing and blossoming.
It is fitting that we should begin our review in this way since this year celebrates the 200th edition of Touchstone. Many congratulations to Penny Billington for her prodigious editorial skills, and to Arthur B. for his lively, quirky illustrations!
If you include last year’s copies of Dryade – the Order magazine for Dutch speakers – and Serpentstar – for Australasian members – your annual review will gain even more colour. Then broaden out and take in the online magazine Aontacht produced quarterly by Druidic Dawn and your review will be complete. Sadly it seems that the other online Druid magazines, Eolas and Awen, are no longer published, which means that Aontacht occupies a unique position in the world.
Incidentally, we have decided not to go online with Touchstone for several reasons: many of us spend so much time looking at screens that it’s good to make contact with solid physical objects, and it’s so easy for online material to remain unread, hidden in your hard-drive or up on the web, and perhaps the demise of Awen and Eolas points to this – if a copy of a magazine is floating around in your kitchen or living room you’re much more likely to pick it up and read it.
We already have a great deal of material up on the web, and this year saw the final transfer of all the articles that were on the Order’s old website, which also contained a doorway into our very first site. The work behind the scenes involved making sure we transferred everything from both these sites across to the new one, while also pruning out redundant material. The Order’s online library, for example, is now full of fantastic contributions by members and friends. If you would like to contribute an article just contact Maria at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Events & Projects section a member has contributed an introductory course on mediation, and we have created a new page to feature the Order’s scholarship for doctoral students.
In that same section look at the Mount Haemus sub-section for the 2013 contribution, Dr. Karen Rall’s splendid ‘Music and the Celtic Otherworld’, and details of the 2014 paper now being researched by Dr. Julia Farley.
In the Community section we have added an updated version of the Treasures of the Tribe guidelines for Seed Groups and Groves, which for many years has only been available as a booklet from the office. This year a team revised the booklet comprehensively. Do have a look at it if you are a member of a group, or are thinking of starting one. In June this year we held a meeting of Seed Group and Grove members and leaders in Glastonbury, just before the Summer Gathering, and you can read all about this in the August edition of Touchstone.
Another new initiative called ‘Grove-Lite’ was started this year: the idea is to foster occasional social but Druidic gatherings for members who would like the companionship of a group but who are not in a position to commit to a Grove or Seed Group. It is proving to be overarching, attracting as many G&S members as solitary students.Watch out for events as they are organised on the website Events Page or in Touchstone.
This year we also finally got round to creating a set of booklets for grove leaders giving details of group initiations in every grade. It’s only taken 25 years to do this, but hopefully this shows how much work has been going on in the Order this year – and that has included complete revisions of the Ovate and Druid Grades: removing typos, correcting occasional errors of etymology etc., and the production of new more complete indexes for each grade. Next year a similar process will be carried out with the Bardic gwersi.
When it comes to the world of publishing, 2013 has probably been the busiest year ever for the appearance of new books on Druidry and related subjects. Here is a list of those we know about that have been published between Samhain 2012 and 2013. If you know of a book we’ve left out, let us know!
As you can see, there are so many it’s impossible to review or even describe them a little here, but do explore them. If you’re reading this online the titles are linked to the books’ sites or reviews.
Druidry & the Ancestors by Nimue Brown
DruidCraft: The Magic of Wicca & Druidry by Philip Carr-Gomm – Also an audiobook!
Where the Hawthorn Grows: An American Druid’s Reflections by Morgan Daimler
So You Want to be a Druid? – First Steps on the Path by Gladys Dinnacombe
The Celtic Philosopher’s Stone by Michael Gorman
Zen Druidry by Joanna Van Der Hoeven
From the Cauldron Born by Kristoffer Hughes
The Camelot Oracle by John Matthews, Illustrated by Will Worthington
The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe by Graham Robb
Walking Down Awen’s Path by David Smith
Diary of a Heretic Priest by Mark Townsend
Facing the Darkness by Cat Treadwell
Wood Wisdom Ogham Cards & booklet by H.Catherine Watling
Magical Places of Britain by Rob Wildwood
The Greening of Man by Sharon Zak & Dave Bradshaw
Sacred Sites Illuminated by Sharon Zak & Judy Adams
Druidry has also reached the world of apps: the Druid Animal and Plant Oracles have been combined in an iphone app called The Druid Oracles and the DruidCraft Tarot has also been produced in a separate app of the same name. The apps are available for iphones, ipads and androids, and they feature the entire books plus a journal, and different spreads and methods of shuffling.
Let’s leave the world of books and the internet now and move out into the countryside. Festivals have become a big part of many peoples’ lives, and it was wonderful to hear how Druids helped to open the Isle of Wight music festival ‘Bestival’ this summer – with chants of ‘We want the Druids!’ rising from the crowd, followed by probably the world record for numbers of people chanting the Awen.
We’ve been holding our own festival-like camps too, and after a full Metonic cycle of nineteen years of taking responsibility for the UK camps we took the decision this year to let the camps team take full responsibility in the same way that teams of members in other countries run their camps. This ‘coming of age’ was a deeply moving event, commemorated at the Imbolc camp at Wildways in Shropshire with a ritual handing over of a symbolic ‘key of freedom’ into the hands of Garth, now in his eightieth year, and still enthusiastic about camps being a great medium for working with the ideals and methods of Druidry.
In the Order we hold to a model of ‘radiance’ – in other words we want the ideas and inspiration that we work with to radiate out into the world. We don’t want to create a monopolistic monolithic culture or organisation – that’s the old way that has led to such destruction of our environment and our heritage. ‘Small is Beautiful’: hiving off, starting new independent initiatives, feels the best way forward, in sympathy with the organic unfolding nature of life, and with the Spirit of the Times which encourages empowerment, community and cooperation. And so it’s wonderful to see all the Orders and groups and courses that OBOD has helped to seed or inspire, and it’s wonderful to see too the number of events, talks and workshops being organised – too many now to mention in each annual review – but at least I can list the camps and gatherings we have heard of:
The OBOD UK camps, now reborn as White Horse Camps, continue to hold four events a year. In Britain there have also been five other shorter Druid camps: the two Anderida camps in Sussex, the Druid Camp in the Forest of Dean, the Spirit of Awen Camp in Herefordshire, and the Cauldron of Inspiration camp by Lake Bala in Wales. On the other side of the world New Zealand members held another successful camp and Californian members held a West Coast camp, while in the Netherlands the Dryade International Camp had a well-earned rest and a group of members in Belgium took up the reins and held their own event in May.
The East Coast Gathering in the USA, now in its fourth year, was such a success this year that over a hundred members attended and they have started a fabulous colourful ezine, Amethyst, to keep in touch. Just before the Solstice in 2012 the Winter Gathering in Glastonbury focussed on Earth Mysteries and included the well-known author Paul Broadhurst and the Icelandic psychiatrist Dr.Harald Erlendsson. We also expanded our traditional mistletoe ceremony with a prayer in four languages. The Summer Glastonbury Gathering welcomed members from many countries as ever.
A One Tree Gathering, connecting members of the Druid and Hindu communities, was hosted by the Cornovii Grove in Worcestershire in May, and in September the grove also organised the opening ritual for the Druid Forum’s event in Wolverhampton: ‘Druid 2013 – A Conference on Modern Druidry for the Third Millennium’ Read a review here. Special Gorsedd weekends for Ovate and Druid Grade members were held in the UK, and the House of Danu, a fellowship of OBOD Groves, Seed Groups and solitaries in California in addition to holding a West Coast Gathering, formed a Chaplaincy Program that organized a Conclave to alert the Pagan community to proposed changes in prison regulations that would have been harmful to religious freedom. They have also started an online management site ‘Pagans in Captivity’ – an organizing tool for Pagan chaplains, volunteer prison visitors, correspondents and Elders.
In August for the fourth year running, the Irish Druid Network organised the Gathering of Celtic Spirituality in County Wicklow, and this year also saw the 20th anniversary of the Gorsedd of Caer Abiri, started by the British Druid Order, that celebrates open Druid rituals. Gathering at noon for each of the festivals outside the National Trust cafe in Avebury, the Gorsedd events often include handfastings and naming ceremonies.
Add in to that wonderful cavalcade of camps and gatherings the many workshops around the world carried out by members and friends, and you can see that hardly a week has gone by without some Druidic activity.
While this year has seen probably the greatest amount of Druidic events and publications ever, a third phenomenon is occurring. As the threats to our environment grow ever more ubiquitous, Druids are rising to the challenge and we are receiving more and more accounts of committed positive work by members to help the environment and the community. Here is just a small selection:
From Australia: “We recently fought and won a battle for our local habitat when a large conglomerate were planning a gold mine less than a mile from out little hamlet and in a State forest to boot. We won because we did our environmental homework and weren’t ‘mad tree huggers’ but elder, sensible people. The company concerned did not do their homework. They didn’t check the fact that there were a number of rare species of both flora and fauna in the site, or that it was the source of three major rivers that flow directly from the Divide and into Melbourne as drinking water. Thank goodness, the Melbourne Water board were a little more perceptive when attention was drawn to this fact but also that the company in question hadn’t even bothered to make a correct survey of the site for this purpose. Needless to say, there was a great celebration of this win for nature.”
From Norway: “During my bardic studies I felt the urge to do some practical work with the environmental issues the world is facing. I have been specifically interested in biodiversity and ecology. I’ve mainly worked on two projects. One of them was about saving salamanders, and the other was to save a whole ecosystem from pollution.”
From New Zealand: “Since doing the final gwers I have come to appreciate that it is not necessarily a big thing that changes the world and everyone notices, but the small things I do and believe that make a difference to people and the earth. And a realisation that everyone can do small things, which overall add up to important contributions. I try to treat the earth with respect – reducing and recycling. After reading about the resources we all use to maintain our lawns, my task for the next year is to turn my front lawn into a low maintenance garden. This will not only reduce my use of petrol but will also allow me to gaze at even more trees and bushes from my second story window. And given the number of birds around my place I will also ensure I plant trees that provide them with food year round. My job, as a forensic scientist, is important to society. I hope my expertise helps make the world a better place, at least for my local communities, and that the work I do assists the victims of crime to gain closure.”
From Scotland: “My work involves a lot of community development and in the Highlands I work with a range of communities and a culture where history, ancestry, the culture are very important to people. Respecting tradition is very important here. My team still struggle to progress ideas in some areas and groups because of something a great, great, great grandparent did to a member of their family! Due to the Bardic tradition, I have successfully funded projects in art, drama, preserving Gaelic language and culture, and supporting community and helping to make them strong. In addition, I have promoted and seeded environmental projects, ranging from species monitoring and impact of climate change to developing biodiversity hubs.”
From the United States: “About the same time that I was doing the elemental work in the course, I reached a point of severe frustration and concern regarding the fate of the native forests in my bio-region. There was a plan to take 2.6 million acres of public land currently under the protection of federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act and turn them over to a politically appointed trust to be managed for maximum yield logging (1.6 million acres) and conservation (1 million acres to be conserved – not preserved). My concern deepened as I realized that none of the environmental organizations I would expect to be leaping in front of this juggernaut seemed to be doing anything about it. The Druid teachings on Peace found in the Gwersi were very helpful to me during this period. I realized that creating a public debate about an issue that seemed to be too big and too nebulous to interest most folks was the next right thing to do. This year, I have written press releases, done radio interviews and public speaking engagements, written tabling material and internal briefings, helped steer and develop the campaign for a public debate, liaised with federal visitors to the White Castle tree sit, thrown benefits, painted banners and planned actions. I also represent a direct action group, Cascadia Forest Defenders, at the table of the Oregon Forest Action Network, a convergence of environmental groups and citizens allied to stop the plan. I have been having a lot of fun and deeply enjoying this community. I am also humbled and grateful to serve a group that values Nature and this macro-organism of which we are a part, Earth. In integrating the work of the Bardic Grade into my life, I have been able to step forward as a bard of a tribe rather than just a paid musician or a whisper on the wind of beauties past.”
I have quoted these reports because it is so easy for us to feel as if we have no power in the face of insurmountable problems, and yet these members have found ways in which to make a positive contribution to the world. Sometimes Druidry is criticised as appealing to people who want to just imagine they are getting closer to nature. These voices show that this simply isn’t true – our Druidry can enhance our love and respect for Nature and can provide us with the inspiration to make a difference.
The level of commitment and enthusiasm amongst members is impressive. Everyone has their own special concerns – and heaven knows there are enough of them to go around, from helping to protect particular species under threat to promoting social justice or ecological responsibility. A cause that many members have taken to heart is the attempt to stop hydraulic fracturing, which has already caused damage in the US, particularly when recent floods in Colorado covered over 2000 wells. In the UK the first attempts are being made to try out this technology but it’s meeting strong resistance. Recently, a group of members decided to combine the power of magic with awareness-raising and public protest, and organised an event on September 28th entitled ‘The Warrior’s Call: Pagans United Against Fracking’. The idea spread widely through the power of social networking. Designed to be open to people of all paths and none, a ritual was planned for Glastonbury Tor, with individuals and groups tuning in and holding rituals or meditations at the same time around the planet.
The idea was to evoke a shield of protection over Albion and wherever fracking threatens. It drew on the tradition of magical rites undertaken to protect the land, from the apocryphal work of Dr Dee to prevent the Armada, to the work of the witches and the Fraternity of the Inner Light to prevent invasion during the Second World War. Given the number of people at Glastonbury and the reports of similar ceremonies around the world I think we can say that this was the biggest magical operation ever carried out on Earth. And how fitting that it should be for the Earth too. One commentator remarked: “Although I think the whole idea of a specific day where everyone gets together and works to stop fracking is great, I also think it’s important to remember that success of any great magnitude comes from persistence over a long period of time. I hope those who stepped in to help yesterday don’t just consider it a one time thing. Dripping water hollows rock. I will be repeating this frequently until the fracking problem really does cease.” If you would like to join in this work to protect the Earth, you can see texts of a suggested ritual and meditation in the Order’s online library.
This year Professor Ronald Hutton was elected a Fellow of the British Academy – a cause for great celebration. Next year we will be celebrating the Order’s Golden Anniversary. When Nuinn founded the Order in 1964 I wonder if he realized how much it would flourish, and how much of a positive effect it would have in the world? This summer a documentary on the Glastonbury Festival was shown on television, and there – for just a few moments – was archive footage of Nuinn in an Order procession as it climbed the Tor. This is the first time I have ever seen Nuinn on film. You can watch the clip below.
The first celebrations of the Golden Anniversary will begin in New Zealand, which feels just right since the New Year arrives first in that part of the world. This will be followed by the Australian Assembly a little later, and in Albion we’ll be holding a special celebration in Glastonbury in June. We’ll be planting Anniversary Groves too. Look out for more details in next year’s Touchstones.
As the Indian summer in Britain gives way to cold nights and autumn colours, may Druidry continue to offer hope and inspiration over the coming year.
With many blessings,
Yours in the Peace of the Grove,
PS. Listen to the Druid’s Prayer below recited in Gaelic by the Skye poet Siusaidh NicNeil on Skye this May.