2014 Annual Review

"May our memories hold what the eye and ear have gained…" OBOD Ritual wording

Reminiscing is pleasurable. Exercising the faculty of memory rewards us with an experience that is different to the original, less immediate, with elements missing, but with one extraordinary bonus: we can linger over it as long as we like. An enjoyable encounter may only last minutes, but we can savour its memory for the rest of our lives.

And so, in this spirit, let us dive into reminiscences of a remarkable year. For the Order, it was our Golden Anniversary – a time to celebrate the half century since our founding. Festivities began, appropriately, in one of the lands that first sees in the new year: Aotearoa, New Zealand. The absolute first is Kiritimati island, but none of its 5,000 inhabitants have joined the Order as yet. Some way south-west of that tiny island, though, membership is flourishing, and Stephanie and I flew out to join in the ninth annual druid camp organised by the Grove of the Summer Stars, near New Zealand’s capital, Wellington.

First we visited the Prana Festival in the Coromandel, and gave two workshops as the New Year began, then we travelled with members of the Auckland Grove to Waiheke island, where we helped to build a stone circle. Down south then to Pukerua Bay for the Druid Camp: five days of festivities and laughter as we shared our company and stories. Well-known author Juliet Marillier, a member from Australia, joined us and gave a fabulous workshop, and an interview which can be heard on Druidcast episode 83. In 2015, the Grove will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its camps from 15-20 January (see the Events page).

Next stop was the 14th Australian Annual Assembly, which this year was held in the stunning Binna Burra resort in the Lamington National Park in the mountains north of Brisbane. There we were again amidst old and new friends, and it struck me how the few simple ‘tools’ we use in the Order when we are together seem sufficient to create a shared atmosphere of a grounded spirituality that denies neither the earthiness nor the sublime nature of life. These tools are: (a) meeting in circles (b) chanting together (c) the Druid’s vow (d) members facilitating or focusing meetings rather than ‘leading’ them top-down (e) the tradition of the Eisteddfod; and what else? The fact that we are all taking, or have taken, the journey of the Order’s training, helps a great deal, I reckon. Even if we’ve never met, and live thousands of miles apart, we have walked in the same forest – perhaps even walking together at times, in the Otherworld.

In the park we saw black widow spiders, the rabbit-sized wallabies known as Paddymelons, and ancient trees – Antarctic Beeches, with roots over 5,000 years old. And one evening we held a ceremony to attune with, and encourage, the Golden Anniversary grove-planting project. All over the world, members have planted individual trees, and groves of trees, to mark this occasion, and in our ceremony, which was also being held at the same time in different parts of the world, we gradually lit 50 candles, laid out in the Order’s symbol, until we all sat spellbound in the candle-light. When we got back to England we chose one of the charities the Order regularly supports, Trees for Life in Scotland, to launch ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ – the Order’s Golden Anniversary Grove. To date, members have donated almost £3,000 – enough for 561 trees to be planted, with each of their dedications spoken during the planting. You can read these dedications, and, as tree planting time is now upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, there is plenty of time to add a tree/s to the grove here.

The Golden Anniversary celebrations began in Europe with the 6th Dryade International camp in the Netherlands in May, followed by four days of festivities at Glastonbury in June. At the Dryade camp there were 170 members from 8 countries. The event was seamlessly organised, with workshops and initiations, plenty of activities for the children, and a fantastic Eisteddfod evening with the band Fling. At Glastonbury we merged two events: the usual two day Summer Gathering over the Saturday and Sunday, with a ‘Fringe Event’ framing it, on the Friday and Monday. 400 members came and 19 countries were represented – a perfect number for a Druid gathering, reflecting as it does the number of a Metonic cycle. You’ll find accounts of these events in the Dryade magazine and Touchstone, and if you’re looking online, you’ll find a photo album at the foot of the page and a film clip of the gathering. As both events unfolded, there was a fantastic feeling of good will and community spirit.

In Glastonbury, the heavens blessed us with sunshine, and the rituals on the Tor, at Avebury and Stonehenge, were all spectacular. Over the four days we met at different venues around town, and at our art exhibition in a High Street gallery. On Saturday we gathered in a marquee in the Abbey grounds, on Sunday in the Town Hall, with a beautiful new Order banner made by Ruth O’Leary presiding over the gathering. I interviewed as many authors and speakers as I could, and Damh has been adding these recordings month by month to Druidcast, which this year achieved its millionth download! Coming from one of those interviews on the Saturday, I arrived at the Abbey Grounds as the afternoon sun was setting. It reminded me of an event at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, where opera-goers float about drinking champagne in beautiful parkland. The sound of our newest Honorary Bard, Henriëtte de Groot, opening the Eisteddfod with a Puccini aria, drifted across the lawn towards an old oak and the octagonal Abbot’s kitchen. Hawkie’s ‘Nuinn’s Mead’ was being dispensed in one part of the L-shaped marquee. Howard, from Ireland, raised his glass to me and said: “An incredible ceremony on the Tor, a glass of mead, and now my favourite aria! It can’t get any better.” But it did! As the evening continued, one Honorary Bard after another gave of their best until Damh the Bard finished his set, and after we had sang ‘Happy Birthday’, shouted ‘Follow Me!” and we all followed this Pied Piper out to the other side of the Abbot’s kitchen – just in time to watch a firework display over the abbey grounds. As the display ended, there was a hush and then a cascading awen arose from all of us standing there in the moonlight.

The celebrations of the 50th Anniversary continued across the Atlantic in September with the US East Coast Gathering over 4 days in September in Milford, PA. Kris Hughes and Penny, Arthur and Ursula Billington flew over to give talks and workshops and make music together. As ever, ECG was a huge success – and it now has its own online magazine at www.amethystnewsletter.org, and it’s given birth to another US camp: the Gulf Coast Gathering, which will take place near Baton Rouge in March next year, with special guest Brendan Myers.

The final Golden Anniversary celebration will occur at Samhain in the forest of Brocéliande in Brittany. 80 of us will gather to participate in ritual, story-telling, feasting (by Goddess they know how to feast in France!) and walking in that fairy-tale landscape. And so this extraordinary fiftieth year will come to a close, and over the Winter we can rest and dream of the next fifty years…

What might they look like? Perhaps we can already see hints of how the Order’s life and work will unfold in events that have occurred this year. I see at least six themes which will grow and develop in the years to come: an increasing Druidic involvement in activism, celebrancy, and community; a deepening commitment to devotional and contemplative Druidry, and a greater engagement in interfaith work.

As I think about these themes with reference to what has happened in the last year, it is exciting to sense seeds of future activity already starting to germinate. Ronald Hutton, in his Golden Anniversary talk (see Touchstone’s September Issue 212) pointed to the trajectory that previous Druid groups seem to have taken, from the radical to the staid. He then went on to say that he saw no danger of this occurring in OBOD. I think as long as the natural world is under so many threats from political short-sightedness and corporate greed, few of us will revert to an acceptance of the status quo, except perhaps from lapses of fatigue. Thankfully there are many young members of the Order who have plenty of energy to challenge the Goliaths of our age, and never has this been demonstrated more clearly than in the initiative of the Warrior’s Call, which has as its aim the protection of the Earth from fracking. Although not an OBOD organisation, appealing as it does to all Pagans and lovers of the Earth, Warrior’s Call  is driven by a core of OBOD members who staged an ‘Earthweb’ protection ritual at Avebury in October. So many people said they were coming to the previous Warrior’s Call event in September last year, we received worried phone calls from the police, but on the day everything went smoothly, and it was wonderful to see how the years of experience at OBOD camps has come to the fore to create an atmosphere of safety and strength in their rituals, into which all our heartfelt yearnings to protect the Earth can be expressed. Thanks to the internet, individuals and groups all over the world join in with their own rites, and the group has kept up its momentum, with an excellent website, and presentations at the Summer and Winter Gatherings this year.

Fracking isn’t the only environmental issue of concern, of course, and a glance at last year’s Annual Review will show how many other issues are being tackled by members. Spiritual Activism is now a powerful and well-established moving force in Druidry and OBOD today, and long may that flourish. (It is well established, too, on the wider scene, and these books are inspiring: Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In without Going Crazy by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone, and The Hope by Andrew Harvey.)

In 2012 we invited any member who offers their services as a celebrant for handfastings, funerals, naming and coming-of-age rites, to list themselves on a ‘Community’ page of the Order’s website. Once the page was up, we started to receive phone calls from funeral directors and emails from members of the public who had used the service. Clearly here was a way in which members really could make a difference in their community. As a result of this interest, we organised a gathering at the Earthspirit Centre in Compton Dundon for September, and quickly all places were filled. 40 of us from 6 countries met over 5 days, and our discussions were stimulated with presentations by Caitlin Matthews, Peter Owen-Jones, Mark Townsend and JJ Middleway. We explored the challenges of leading a funeral on the first day, naming rites on the second, and weddings on the third day. In the autumn sun we held a handfasting for a couple from Mexico, complete with violin music and an evening eisteddfod drinking ‘Druids’ Delight’ (the perfect wedding drink: 1 part mead to 3 parts Champagne/Prosecco). On the final day we held an Alban Elfed ritual in Earthspirit’s Grove, and discussed what we needed as celebrants and would-be celebrants. We had a fantastic time together, and you can see photos in the gallery below and read a participant’s account of the event here. There was a strong feeling that Druidry, and the Order, can provide helpful and creative ideas for crafting and leading rites of passage – not only for Druids and Pagans, but also for the growing number of people who are ‘Spiritual but not Religious’, and we are now exploring the possibility of offering celebrancy training.

I wrote that I could see six themes that would really start to flourish in the coming years, and we’ve looked at celebrancy and activism. The third theme I mentioned, community, has always been present in Druidry and the Order – at every gathering there is always a strong sense of community, but in the last year we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of seed-groups and groves being formed. The Order now has over 135 groves and seed groups around the world, and in Italy alone there are now ten groups. Once the Spanish course is launched (towards the end of next year) I imagine that in Spain and South America a similar pattern might emerge. The ‘Treasures of the Tribe’ section on the website certainly seems to help new groups find their feet.

I’m not sure how else the theme of community will evolve – perhaps it will be in the dream of a community living close to the land, following Druid principles, or perhaps in other ways we can’t imagine. Interestingly, our relationship to the internet as a fosterer of community is changing – the idealism of the early years seems to have given way to a sense of realism and changes in usage to avoid overwhelm. Activity on ‘Druidspace’, the Ning site is quite low, but still a good place to visit and share photos, blogs, videos and chats. Meanwhile the various official and non-official Facebook pages and the Druid’s Head Pub, the Order’s Message Board, seem to provide enough social networking opportunities for our far-flung community.

What about the last trio of themes: a deepening commitment to devotional and contemplative Druidry, and a greater engagement in interfaith work? Ritual, magical, philosophical, and historical Druidry have all been well developed over the last fifty years, and now perhaps it is time for those other dimensions of spiritual practice to receive more attention. As regards fostering a devotional approach, one of the most powerful methods for opening the heart to the Divine, can be found in singing or chanting together, and JJ and Barry Patterson have been introducing this to the OBOD community. Barry has led ‘Perpetual Awen’ sessions at camps and then at the Golden Anniversary Gathering, which reveal the extraordinary possibilities for consciousness expansion and opening of the heart when the Awen is chanted continuously for up to an hour. It sounds exhausting, but it’s not! You stop whenever you want, to float and bathe on the magic carpet of sound, then come back in whenever you wish.

JJ has been leading chanting groups at camps, in his home town of Stroud, and at the Golden Anniversary Gathering, under the heading ‘Enchanting the Void’. His advice for groups or individuals who want to incorporate them into their practice is to sing chants in our native tongue, which work in the same fashion as the Eastern Kirtan and Bhakti chants, opening up the heart in a deeply meditative way. After each song, sit in silence for a while, opening to its healing power. His groups’ experience is that the singing seems to empower and charge the silence, so that it acts as a receiving and healing vessel – incredibly potent and in touch with the ‘divine’.This ‘Druidic chanting’ feels like a fantastically valuable addition to modern Druid practice, and JJ has taken it on tour to the Rainbow Futures Superspirit and Oak Dragon camps in the UK, and to Holland and Italy at the OBOD camps there. We’ll be having a session of chanting at the Glastonbury Winter Gathering.

Contemplative Druidry is a carefully chosen term that has evolved over the last few years out of an initiative to explore meditation, mindfulness and contemplation from a Druid perspective. It began with a Touchstone article in April 2012, leading to regular meetings in Gloucestershire and the launch of a Facebook Group.  James Nichol, who is part of this initiative, has now published a book, Contemplative Druidry: People Practice and Potential, which looks at the whole subject through 32 voices in all. James will present a session on Contemplative Druidry at the Winter Gathering in Glastonbury, and next year the group will be offering a residential meditation retreat.

When it comes to interfaith work, two events have occurred this year which show the progress that is being made: In February, the Church of England sponsored a weekend at the Ammerdown Centre in Somerset which brought together about 30 Christians and 30 Druids and Pagans who share a concern for the future of the planet and an interest in dialogue. We celebrated Imbolc together, heard talks and presentations from a number of speakers, and forged connections which have now borne fruit in a book that is due to be published next year, with contributions from many of the participants: Celebrating Planet Earth, a Pagan/Christian Conversation: First Steps in Interfaith Dialogue.

Later in the year, the Druid Network achieved a significant breakthrough by being admitted to membership of the UK government-sponsored Inter Faith Network. In 2012 the IFN refused the Druid Network’s application, restricting membership of the group to 9 ‘big’ faiths. But the TDN was not daunted and continued negotiations, and in September this year was admitted, along with the Pagan Federation, the Mormons and the Spiritualists’ National Union. It’s hard to gauge the impact of Interfaith dialogue, but in a world so riven by religious conflict it can only be beneficial to encourage good relations and open debate between different points of view.

Sadly, we lost a wonderful example of someone dedicated to Interfaith work when he died this year. Tim Firth was a Vicar General for the Catholic Church, who contacted me about ten years ago. Still a Christian, he no longer wanted to be confined by dogma and had left the Church, throwing himself instead into interfaith work and writing God’s Favourite Colour is Tartan. He asked if we could arrange a Druid-inspired summer solstice ritual to be held by a great oak in his garden, and that began a yearly meeting which attracted members of several faiths and those, in Tim’s phrase, of ‘No Fixed Address’.

Such connections between faiths is often a strong theme in the world of Druidry. For those interested in the Dharmic religions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, the Order has joined forces with the International Centre for Cultural Studies in the One Tree Gathering project, which held another meeting this October in Warrington that included discussion, shamanic journeying, and cultural exchange of dance and song. It was the third One Tree Gathering and was a great success, and in February 2015 Keith and Fran Southall will continue this alliance by attending on behalf of OBOD the ICCS conference in Mysore India.

For those keen to explore the common ground that Wicca shares with Druidry, the audiobook, ebook and paperback editions of DruidCraft, which came out last year, and whose translation into French came out this year, continue to foster interest in this connection. For those curious about the connections between Christianity and Druidry, and for those who follow a path where the two merge, John Michael Greer of the AODA has formed the Gnostic Celtic Church, which fuses ideas from Druidry with Christian concepts. In 2013 he produced a manual and Book of Liturgy, which includes equinox, solstice and communion ceremonies which draw on both streams of tradition, and this year we have included an essay on the church in the website section devoted to ‘Druidry and Other Paths’.

Another Druid who combined these streams died this July – a friend of Nuinn’s and the founder of the Orthodox Celtic Church, Mgr Mael de Brescia. In his 91 years on Earth he achieved a tremendous amount, and today his church is an extraordinary example of what can be achieved by a group of people who follow their souls’ dreams. In the same month, Margot Adler, National Public Radio broadcaster in New York, famous in Pagan circles for her 1979 seminal work Drawing Down the Moon, died much too soon at the age of 68.

Another elder who recently took the Great Journey, and who, like Mgr Mael, combined different streams of spiritual tradition, was Olivia Robertson who died just after Samhain last year at the grand old age of 93. Olivia founded the Fellowship of Isis and the Druid Clan of Dana, and was also an old friend of Nuinn and the Order. Olivia and Margot appeared together on British television in 1988 in a Channel Four ‘After Dark’ discussion programme.

Remembering our elders and our ancestors is an important feature of Druidry, and this year – being the centenary of the start of the Great War – the Druid Forum organised a ritual of remembrance at

National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on July 5th. About 50 Druids gathered from many different groups, including OBOD, and you can read an account on the Forum’s website here, accounts of it here and the Forum’s website on it here.

The past was honoured in a slightly odder way this Autumn at the Goodwood Revival meeting, where a replica of part of Stonehenge was built, actors were dressed as Druids, and without advising us, a press release was issued announcing ‘50 years of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids honoured.’

The vast trilithons, bigger than life-size, may have looked impressive, but were of little interest, being made of polystyrene. In contrast, the trilithon on the cover of the latest Druid magazine to appear on the scene – Trilithon: The Journal of the Ancient Order of Druids in America – presides over 108 pages packed with interesting articles. Druidic Dawn’s fabulous Aontacht, is still going strong, and Nigel Daly, having started Druidic Dawn with others six years ago, has now handed over the website and magazine to Richard in the US and we can look forward to a new edition of their magazine in December.

Within the Order we have our in-house journals, and Touchstone has reached its 214th edition, Dryade its 65th, Serpentstar has a new editor, Martin Samson (many thanks to Wyvern for her editorship in previous years!) and to this trio we must now add the journal for Italian members Il Calderone – a stunning full-colour quarterly magazine published online. You can read the last four years’ editions of Serpentstar online too. And some breaking news: the US East Coast Gathering’s in-house online magazine Amethyst will be transformed in the Spring into an online OBOD magazine for everyone – member or non-member – called Druid. Its editor Renu Aldrich will be working on the first edition over the Winter.

Two awards have been given this year: the Mt Haemus award for scholarship to Dr Julia Farley, for her paper Almost unmentionable in polite society’? Druidry and Archaeologists in the Twentieth Century, and the artist Jamie Reid will be crowned an Honorary Bard of the Order at the Winter Gathering in Glastonbury in December.

This year has seen a rich array of books on Druidry being published, all by talented members of the Order:
When a Pagan Prays: Exploring Prayer in Druidry and Beyond by Nimue Brown
So You Still Want to be a Druid? – Further Steps on the Path by Gladys Dinnacombe
Shaman Pathways – The Druid Shaman Exploring the Celtic Otherworld by Danu Forest
The Book of Celtic Magic: Transformative Teachings from the Cauldron of Awen and
The Journey into Spirit: A Pagan’s Perspective on Death, Dying, and Bereavement by Kristoffer Hughes
Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton
Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space and
The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid by Joanna van der Hoeven
The Handbook of Urban Druidry by Brendan Howlin

Likewise in the world of fiction, which has seen the publication of these outstanding books:
The Fourth Guenevere by John James, Caitlín Matthews and John Matthews
House of Glass by James Maertens
Radiant Brow: The Epic of Taliesin by H.Catherine Watling

In previous years I would review Druid events too – including comments on Druid camps here and abroad, and the various workshops and talks put on by members and friends of OBOD. But Druidry has come of age, and as a result there are simply too many of these to mention, so let me just close by citing three events that have been organised this year that relate to the three grades: in the Netherlands, a Bardic day of activities has been organised, with another due in January, at Paddington Farm near Glastonbury an Ovate Gorsedd was held in October, and at Sutton Courtenay in Oxfordshire in March we held a Druid Gorsedd, with the next one planned over the Alban Elir weekend in West Yorkshire. Its theme is clear and concise, and offers a fitting way for me to end this review of one of the most exciting years in the life of the Order: Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Service.

May the coming year be filled with joy for you,

Yours in the Deep Peace of the Grove,
Philip /|\