“This is the year 2019.
This is not the time and place for dreams. This is the time to wake up.
This is a moment in history when we need to be wide awake.”
This last year has been dominated by the rising awareness of the environmental crisis. Many of us have seen this coming for decades – after all the warnings were there way back in the 60s with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and the 70s when Neil Young sung ‘Look at Mother Nature on the Run in the 1970s’, and the Club of Rome’s 1972 ‘The Limits to Growth’ report warned us of what would happen if we did nothing to change our ways.
In fact you can trace this concern way back to the first stirrings of the Life Reform Movements in Germany when Goethe warned us of the consequences of destroying the forests – and that was back in the 19th century!
I think we can all be justifiably proud to be involved in a movement that places a love of Nature, a desire to protect and restore it, at the heart of its concerns, right alongside an interest in spiritual understanding and development. In these difficult times, we need Druidry more than ever. It is a spiritual path, a way of life, whose very name unites these two concerns – the idea of wisdom with the idea of trees – and as Tacitus said all those centuries ago ‘the grove is the centre of their whole religion’.
As I write this review we are a few weeks away from Samhain, the deadline that the European commission chose to give Britain to negotiate its exit. In typical Samhain fashion we are approaching this date in a state of High Confusion and the following weeks promise to be dramatic and unpredictable. Looking back to last Samhain, from the time I closed last year’s review, it seems a very long way away. But standing out in my memory I can see clearly our Winter Gathering: our circle amongst the yews at Chalice Well, the ritual later that morning in the Town Hall with its incredible pile of mistletoe that was cut down in ceremony a few days earlier…
By Imbolc Stephanie, Eimear and I were at SHOBODA – the Southern Hemisphere OBOD Assembly. Over a hundred of us gathered amongst the kauri and pohoutakawa trees to celebrate, meditate, grow and change together. It was a magical time, and although here at OBOD HQ we are reducing the number of flights we take to minimise our carbon footprint, we also know that these gatherings build bridges and form valuable bonds between individuals and groups, and for the 2020 summer gathering we plan to fund the planting of 4,000 trees to compensate for the footprint created by members travelling to the event. This year we have again, as we have done for many years, made substantial donations to Trees for Life in Scotland, The Woodland Trust, and Tree Aid.
By Alban Eilir it was time once again for the US Gulf Coast Gathering, and just recently at the other equinox, Alban Elfed in September, two new events took place: the East Coast Gathering reimagined as DOOR – the ‘Dragon Oak OBOD Retreat’ in Pennsylvania – and the BAM (Becoming, Awakening, Manifesting) Gathering in Massachusetts. Members in the States are lucky – there are quite a few events to attend: there’s the MAGUS Gathering, which stands for Mid-Atlantic Gathering US, which took place this year just after Beltane, and then a number of not specifically OBOD events, but ones which many OBOD members attend, such as Pantheacon in California in February, and Paganicon in Minnesota in March. Local OBOD groups often host hospitality suites at these conferences.
From Australasia and North America we can look now to Europe, and as ever there’s been tremendous activity in Portugal, where OBOD members have created a lovely temple in Sintra, in a valley reached through a garden of tangerine trees, with a Celtic pub and a magical supply shop on hand, and a comfortable back-packers next door, ready to welcome weary travellers. A number of members have come across this magical spot by accident when on holiday in Sintra. Do pay a visit if you are ever there!
The Order’s first Scandinavian camp was held at Alban Hefin this summer in southern Sweden – amongst sparkling lakes and soaring pines. Canoes and a traditional sauna completed this idyllic picture and everyone hopes this marks the beginning of a tradition.
While some members were diving into Swedish lakes or chanting in circles, other members were attending the summer solstice gathering held in Germany. Italian members held a seminar at Molise at Alban Elfed, and at Beltane I led a retreat group to Brittany and we met with French members of the Order amongst the extraordinary stones of Carnac, and in the exquisitely carved chamber of the Gavrinis tumulus. In August, OBOD members organised Éigse Spiorad Cheilteach in Ireland ‘a weekend of connection and friendship for all interested in nature spirituality’. French members are gathering in Burgundy soon, and I’m sorry I can’t be with them. Meanwhile, another successful One Tree Gathering was held just outside Leicester, with shared meals, meditations and talks that bring together members of the Hindu and Druid communities.
Alongside all these gatherings through the year, the Druid and Ovate grade weekends are also regular annual events, and Touchstone carries reports on the many successful workshops organised by small groups of members and Groves worldwide. Meanwhile, in virtual space, our Facebook Live Monday meetings bring together members and friends from all over the globe. I can’t quite believe it, but we are up to Episode 92 already. In addition to myself, we’ve had many guest presenters: Eimear Burke, Penny Billington, Cerri Lee, Jonathan Woolley, Julie Brett, JJ Middleway, Steve Hounsome, Matt McCabe, Paul Corcoran, Pamela Meekings-Stewart, and Adrian Rooke.
It’s tremendous fun doing a broadcast – this wonderful sense of connection with a world-wide community – and a number of broadcasters have found it so enjoyable they’ve started their own regular Facebook live broadcasts: Julie Brett in Australia has started DDUDE – Druids Down Under Discuss Everything, which broadcasts every Tuesday at 8.30pm Sydney time (find DDUDE with google) and JJ Middleway here in the UK, who also broadcasts on a Tuesday at 8pm UK time, on his facebook page Enchanting the Void.
Much of what we do as an Order is a constant – the training programme; the Message Board – a safe haven far away from Facebook, where members can discuss topics of mutual interest in threads that don’t keep disappearing up the page; the summer and winter gatherings in Glastonbury run by dedicated teams who host the event and organise its rituals; the Ritual and Meditation workshops run by Penny Billington and Matt McCabe, liaison with the media carried out by Adrian Rooke, the celebrancy courses run so ably by River Jones, which leads to a steady stream of students graduating as celebrants qualified to carry out weddings, handfastings, namings and funerals.
The Mt Haemus award is in its nineteenth year, with the publication of Dr Susan Jones’ study of the influence of the Order’s course on thousands of people across the world.
Order members engage in all sorts of initiatives and often don’t tell us at HQ what they are up to – they are too busy just getting on with it, so I can’t review these here, but many members do let us know about them, and let me single out three to act as examples of the sorts of projects members undertake. The first is the blog Animamonday started by members last October. It’s been going a year now, with excellent interviews with authors and ‘animism exercises’ to engage readers in changing their lives. Read it here: animamonday.wordpress.com
The second example reveals an aspect of the Order’s work you may not be aware of. Every year, we get approached by members and non-members, to help with their projects, environmental or creative, and for their academic dissertations, or school homework. Sometimes we simply encourage them to explore links and books we recommend (the school essay writers particularly!) . Often our help lies in simply knowing who to hook them up with. At other times we suggest they turn to the resources of Touchstone or one of the Facebook groups or Message Board. Often we publish in the online library the papers that result from our interactions with enquirers. This collection grows every year, so do take a look if you haven’t looked for a while. Here is one example of such an interaction: we were approached by a member studying for his MSc in Ethnobotany. We suggested he contact members via Touchstone, and as a result he was able to develop a research project he describes here: “My interest in Druidry lies in the spiritual relationship between Druids and plants, with a focus on the influence that this spirituality has on their home gardens. Over the course of two months, ten Druids’ home gardens were visited. Plant inventories were recorded to look for possible key plants, while interviews focused on the influence of their spirituality and the relationship each informant had with their gardens.” Read the paper in the library here: URL.
The third example is the Missa Druidica, a choral work created by Joseph Nemeth, and this winter he has trained a choir to give performances in Ukiah, California Nov 21-24, and again on Dec 9. The work is beautiful. You can hear some of it here: https://youtu.be/lR4xcX6GhgE
As always, the year has produced a good crop of books on Druidry and related subjects, and here I list those we have been told about. If you know of more, do tell us!
The Sacred Herbs of Samhain by Elen Evert Hopman
Druidry for Today by John Harding
The Ritual of Writing: Writing as Spiritual Practice by Andrew Anderson
Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions by Philip Carr-Gomm
The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker by Joanna van der Hoeven
Druidry & the Future by Nimue Brown
If Trees Could Talk by Holly Worton
As well as these works being published, three very creative projects have been produced by members this year. Nickomo and Rasullah Clarke have released their fourth book and CD of chants and dances celebrating nature and the seasons within a modern Druid framework: Wisdom of Serpent – songs and dances in the Druid tradition.
And from members Down Under, we have two fantastic oracles. Pamela Meekings-Stewart has published the Wheel of Segais, which is both a divination system and a tool for working with groups as a growth and development tool, based on the Wheel of the Year. Pamela is training teachers in this, and you can get a reading and explore the system and its training here: wheelofsegais.com
And Sandra Greenhalgh has published her Druid Wisdom Oracle – a collection of 33 cards and a booklet which weave myths and Druidic lore to reveal gentle yet powerful insights to reconnect you with your own inner wisdom. You can find out more about it, or order a deck, from the Order’s store.
While all these gatherings, all this publishing, researching and environmental activism has been going on, I’ve been trying to impart all I can to the Chief-to-be Eimear Burke, who will take up her role on June 6th next year after an installation ceremony in Glastonbury. Preparations are underway for this event, which will take place over two days – Saturday 6th & Sunday 7th June 2020. On the Saturday there will be the installation ceremony, and an Eisteddfod Extravaganza. On Sunday there will be the Mt Haemus Conference, with four speakers and musical entertainment. Either side of this event – on Friday 5th, Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th June – there will be a free Fringe Festival with workshops, talks, walks, music, ritual and dance.
Details as they are finalised will be published in Touchstone. Tickets will be on sale online at the website on November 25th.
It’s been a fantastic year. A difficult year. A full year. A challenging year. But always there has been the inspiration of Druidry, the inspiration of a spiritual current that bubbles up like a spring of clear fresh water to cleanse and to energise, to refresh our desire to make the world a better place, to grow as individuals and as a community.
May the coming year bring peace and healing, joy to our hearts and inspiration to our souls,
Yours in the peace of the Grove,