2015 Annual Review

"In the end, the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration. " Thomas Berry

Last year – our fiftieth anniversary year – was so busy and exciting, I thought 2015 might be quiet – possibly even bringing with it a feeling of anti-climax, a sort of extended hang-over after the celebrations of 2014.  How wrong I was!

The Order’s year began in the magical forest of Brocéliande at Samhain, with over 100 people present at the ceremony, which we carried out in Abbé Gillard’s garden, on the side of the rectory in Tréhorenteuc. A few nights’ before, the group had been above the village amongst the stones of the ‘Monks’ Garden’, to witness a ritual carried out by only women in the Order – a magical treat in the lantern-light.

By December it was time for the Winter Gathering in Glastonbury, with its ritual at Chalice Well followed by the mistletoe rite in the Town Hall. The Grove of the Summer Stars in Wellington, New Zealand, held its annual camp in February. In March, members in the southern United States held the first Gulf Coast Gathering, and in April Stephanie and I were invited to a ‘Best of British’ party at the Ritz hotel in London to represent Druidry. In May about 100 members gathered in a castle in Germany for a ‘Gathering Around the Linden Tree’,  for talks, workshops and Eisteddfodau. There was an Order retreat at Cae Mabon in Wales that month too, and by June it was time for another Summer Gathering at Glastonbury. Here we had a special guest, the harpist Myrddhin, accompanied by his friend Elisa. After the weekend I, alongside Susan Jones and Penny Billington, held a workshop on giving talks and workshops, a training programme we’ll be repeating after each Glastonbury gathering for a while, to encourage a new generation of teachers and speakers on Druidry. At Lughnasadh, White Horse Camps held their last camp at Westmill farm in Wiltshire. OBOD started holding camps here in 1994, and I will never forget standing in the field this year, 21 years later, a giant harvest moon rising behind the stage as the newly-created CelticVedic band started to play its first concert. The following month, two members – Jonathan Woolley and Elizabeth Cruze – convened a conference in Cambrige entitled Generation Hex: the Politics of Contemporary Paganism, while Damh the Bard and Cerri, along with Kris Hughes, flew over to attend the East Coast Gathering held at the Autumn equinox in Milford, PA.

At Alban Elfed on this side of the Pond, the British Museum launched its Celts: Art & Identity exhibition in spectacular style. A carnyx, a Celtic battle-horn, was blown in the atrium of the museum at the launch party; guests gathered round as the director of the museum and Jeremy Paxman spoke of the exhibition. Then Mt Haemus scholar Julia Farley led us to see the displays – the fabulous Gunderstrup cauldron, the Battersea shield, amazing treasures from the Welsh Eisteddfod – a great sword and dragon-supported hirlas horn that would have astonished even Gandalf. To cap it all, the work of our past-Pendragon Will Worthington fills the final display cabinet of the exhibition, with a copy of The DruidCraft Tarot and sample cards arranged alongside cards from The Druid Animal Oracle. What a tribute to Will’s depiction of Celtic artefacts!

I’ve run through the major events that have occurred in the world of OBOD since last Samhain, but this is not a comprehensive list. Groves and groups of members have organised various activities, there were Druid and Ovate gorsedds in Britain, Bardic days in the Netherlands, and there must have been events that I haven’t heard about.

In the field of publishing, this year saw a steady stream of books by members and Druid friends:

Celts: Art and Identity – by Julia Farley and Fraser HunterThis is the large illustrated book produced by the British Museum to accompany their exhibition of the same name. If you’ve been to the exhibition you’ll want it. If you can’t get there, this is the next best thing.
Celebrating Planet Earth: a Pagan/Christian Conversation – the book that has come out of the Ammerdown conference that brought together Druids, Pagans and Christians last year.  Edited by Denise Cush.
The Wisdom of Birch, Oak, and Yew: Connect to the Magic of Trees for Guidance & Transformation – by Touchstone editor Penny Billington, this book focuses on the way three trees, Oak, Birch and Yew, can transform your life.
This Ancient Heart: Landscape, Ancestor, Self – eds. Paul Davies & Caitlin Matthews, Foreword by Graham Harvey, Afterword by Ronald Hutton – a fantastic collection of essays, all enriching, including those by Emma Restall Orr, Philip Shallcrass, Jenny Blain and Penny Billington.
Tarot Therapy (deck and book) – by Steve Hounsome, deputy Mentor Co-ordinator for the Order and long-time Tarot author and trainer, who has produced a beautiful deck created with photographs from nature, together with a book that focuses on working with Tarot as a therapeutic tool.
Celtic Tree Magic – by Danu Forest, who takes a fresh look at Ogham lore and ways in which we can work magically with trees.
Sacred Falls: St Nectan and the Lagacy of the Dragon– by Roland Rotherham. A beautifully illustrated hardback whose author has discussed this topic in detail over two Druidcast podcasts recently.
Pagan Dreaming: The Magic of Altered Consciousness – by OBOD mentor Nimue Brown – a guide to making dreaming a meaningful part of your spiritual life.
Book of Keltria: Druidism for the 21st Century– ed Tony Taylor, who has gathered together interesting essays on ritual, mythology, meditation, theology and Druid history.
The Well of Five Streams– by Erynn Rowan Laurie, who describes herself as a Celtic polytheist theologian. Includes essays on non-Celtic paths, examinations of Gaelic poetic traditions, musings on sacred madness, community, entheogens, the role of gender in Brigidine flamekeeping, and more.
Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods – by Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of ADF, explores the development of personal relationships with Gods and Spirits.
Dreaming with Freya and Just Add Blood – both by Kennan Elkman Taylor, a long-term OBOD member in Australia, they explore sexuality and the paranormal, and rune-lore respectively.
Snowdonia Folk Tales – by Eric Maddern, Honorary Bard of the Order, storyteller and singer, who has gathered the old tales of Bran the Blessed, Taliesin and Merlin here and breathed fresh life into them.
Mountain Magic: Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps – by Christian F.Brunner. When the Hallstatt Celts expanded over Europe and the Isles, their culture had already set roots in the Alps. In his book, Austrian OBOD member Christian Brunner brushes off the dust of time from Alpine traditions and lore and uncovers the traces our ancestors left for us to explore.

And because we’re biased, let’s give pride of place to a book that was published this year by Slippery Jacks Press for OBOD. Featuring the extraordinary graphic genius of Sharon Zak, this book, called The Golden Seed – Celebrating 50 Years of OBOD, was the initiative of Sharon, who invited members from around the world to contribute artwork, prose and poetry. It’s a stunning, large and colourful collection of joy and inspiration. At the Order’s HQ our contribution was to add a DVD to a sleeve on the inside cover, which features three films about the Order, including a 25 minute documentary of the Golden Anniversary celebrations made by Kevin Redpath. You can also watch the film online at the bottom of this page. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to the planting of a sacred grove of trees dedicated to the Order’s founder, Nuinn. With other donations, to date we have collectively managed to fund 1,000 trees for Nuinn’s grove! See the grove site here.

While books seem to have proliferated this year, so have magazines. Druidic Dawn’s Aontacht have issued two excellent editions, and an amazing new magazine has been launched this year – Druid: On Being an American Druid. Produced by a team of members in the US it really is remarkable. The Fall edition has just come out – it’s free, it’s online and in full colour, has embedded video, and this edition is packed – with 97 pages of great contributions from around the world. Just go to druidmagazine.com

2015 has been the best year ever for magazines produced by members: Serpentstar from Australia, Menhir for French-speaking readers, Druidenstein for German-speaking readers, Il Calderone for Italian speakers – they’re all fabulous, and you can find them easily online.

Speaking of the online world, this year we closed down the Ning site Druidspace – it was clear that members’ needs were already well served by the various OBOD Facebook sites alongside the ‘Message Board’ of The Druid’s Head on druidry.org, which is in the process of being revamped.

Let’s look now at the progress of three of the Order’s projects: The One Tree Gatheringthe Mt Haemus Award, and celebrancy training.

In February, members of the Cornovii Grove, Keith & Fran Southall, flew off to Mysore to represent the Order and the One Tree Project at the ‘Gathering of Elders’ held in India every three years, and an article on their trip was published in the Pagan Federation’s ‘Pagan Dawn’. Then in August they hosted a One Tree gathering at their home in Worcestershire. In a big marquee, about thirty members from the Hindu community and 30 from the Druid community met to discuss topics of mutual interest, to participate in Hindu and Druid rituals, and to hear two members of the new CelticVedic band play. A new page on the project is now online.

Just after Beltane, the sixteenth Mount Haemus Lecture was published: Gathering Mistletoe – an approach to the Work of E.Graham Howe by Ian Rees, and in the summer two Mt Haemus scholars were nominated: for the 2016 award, Mike Darton, who is researching the Ogam alphabet, and for the 2017 award Jonathan Woolley who is researching Druidry from an anthropological perspective. The award is given annually, and the paper produced is published online. Every eight years we gather the papers together to publish as a book. Volume II is due out next year, and we will release it on 3rd September 2016 at the fourth Mt Haemus Day conference, this time to be held at an eco-conference centre on an organic farm in Berkshire.

Two years ago we began a section on the Order’s website for members to announce their services as celebrants. Then last year we held a five day retreat for celebrants, or those interested in becoming celebrants, which was a huge success. With their training in ritual, OBOD members are ideally placed to fulfil the role of celebrant, and this year we began a training programme. JJ and I led a workshop on this in the Netherlands, and next year we will go to Germany. Meanwhile we have started a six-session online course on leading a funeral, led by River Jones. Later next year we will launch a similar course for those wishing to run wedding and naming ceremonies, and in October we’ll be holding another celebrants retreat at Crowborough in Sussex. See here for more details.

What else has happened in the last year? Some fantastic new articles have been contributed by members to the Order’s online library, and an exhibition on the Kibbo Kift has just opened at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. There are interesting historical connections between the Kibbo Kift and OBOD – Nuinn knew its founder John Hargrave. So now there are two great exhibitions of interest in London – at the British Museum and the Whitechapel Gallery.

Meanwhile,The Warrior’s Call – Pagans United Against Fracking initiative, started by OBOD members, has been growing. They have a fabulous new website, and many of us participated in their 26th September initiative ‘Beacons in the Dark’, when groups united around a beacon to send a wave of protective energy around the earth. It now looks like fracking is dead in the UK, but we must continue to be vigilant, and the Warrior’s Call will be standing guard for some time yet I suspect.

A number of us have been travelling a great deal, giving talks, or in our Pendragon Damh’s case talking, singing and playing. Damh’s been to Australia, Germany and the USA, I’m off there next week, and in July I gave a talk to a group of members and friends in Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney islands. One of these days we’re going to have to organise a retreat in that windswept magical place!

To finish, let me tell you about an extraordinary place Stephanie and I visited last weekend – Talliston House, whose owner John has created an utterly beautiful world out of an ordinary semi-detached house in Essex. As a Druid, John knows his symbolism and every corner of the house and garden is suffused with spiritual meaning. It took 25 years to complete the project, and John wanted it to receive a Druid blessing.

On arriving at the house, we found ourselves, like Alice, being led into another world. Emerging three hours later, I was asked to stand by a giant stone John had placed in the front garden, and it was there that I gave the blessing:

In all of our hearts is a dream waiting to be born, waiting to be realised in the world. And every time someone realises a dream and manifests it in the world, it acts as a beacon of hope to those of us who have not yet made our dreams come true. Talliston is such a beacon – a place of magic and beauty – and we are here today to celebrate the completion of a story that has taken 25 years to unfold. And now that this story – formed in the Otherworld of fantasy and imagination – has been fully born, it can act as a gateway for all of us to enter that magical realm – that realm of the True, the Good and the Beautiful.
And so, in my role as Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, I ask that Talliston – this house, this garden, this home, be blessed by all the beneficent powers of Earth and Sky, of the Ancestors and of the Guardian Spirits of this land.
O Spirit of All, may this house be blessed from site to stay, from beam to wall, from end to end, from ridge to basement, from balk to roof-tree, from found to summit, from found to summit.
And a blessing on all who visit Talliston and live within its walls!
Awen! Awen! Awen!”

I mention Talliston, because it offers a perfect illustration of how long it can sometimes take for us to realise our dreams. But every step of the way is meaningful, and everyone who realises their dream can inspire us to hold true to our vision.

I hope this last year has been kind to you and has brought joy and learning, and may the coming year be blessed with more joy and perhaps even the fruition of your dreams!

With many blessings,

Philip  /|\