Re-Viewing Touchstone

by H. Catherine Watling

After finishing my Druid Grade studies in February, instinctively I found myself looking back through the Gwersi of the three grades, my Grove book of entries and the letters from my tutors — re-living a seven year journey that has been filled with wonder and challenge. I then began to browse through past copies of Touchstone – I’ve kept every issue since the time I joined OBOD – to find that they evoked memories in a similar way to a piece of music or a long-forgotten scent that suddenly makes you feel like you are actually back in the past. They also made me realise just how far, or to be more accurate, how near, I have come in my relationship to OBOD.

I was enchanted by the first issue I ever received (no. 20, March 1997) edited by Maddy Johnson, and immediately had a sense of having found my home, even more so than through the early Gwersi. Through the articles, poetry and stories, I picked up on the atmosphere, the Group Soul, of the Order, and felt deeply in tune with it, knowing it was something I wanted to be part of.

The first time I read issue 20, the inspirational contributors were faceless names, people I knew nothing about, so one of the things that struck me most forcibly when re-reading it was the number of those people I have now met or established a connection with: Pat Mead, the only fellow Glastonbury Ovate at my first Grove, Dave Smith, now known as Damh Smith and familiar to all, Andrew Smith, a member of a local Druid group I later joined, and Julia Day of Capall Bann who published my book in 2002.

Several editions from ‘98 contain material on the first ever Annual Assembly, bringing back great memories of its warmth and simplicity. Everything took place on the Saturday, rather than over two days as it does now; the Assembly itself consisting of a circle of us seated with Philip on the grass in front of St Benedict’s Church hall. It was followed by an Eisteddfod that was both beautiful and intimate – a smallish circle sitting in the hall with performers doing their bit in the centre, only a few feet from the audience. There was no preceding feast, the only refreshment, as far as I remember, being glasses of tap water as it was an exceptionally hot evening. The Eisteddfod concluded with everyone joining hands to say ‘We Swear, by peace and love to stand…’ and chanting the Awen. I felt literally high, further confirmed in my knowledge that I had ‘come home’.

Looking at past editions emphasises how much has changed, as well as how much remains the same within the Order, as with the cycle of the seasons and in our individual lives – an important part of Druidic teaching. There is the sense of continuity, stability, rootedness, but also of dynamism, new people bringing fresh ideas and approaches. An obvious example is the magazine’s three editors and the different flavour each has added to the cauldron of inspiration that is Touchstone. In August ‘97 Maddy passed the mantle on to Damh, the magazine acquiring a new-style title logo at the same time, later replaced by Paul Crabb’s design which currently adorns the front cover. And in September 2000 the editor’s mantle was in turn placed on Penny’s shoulders.

‘The Forging’ by Nicola Player (June ‘97) beautifully sums up the spirit of druidry in its poetic detail, a spirit I was inspired by and just starting to discover at the time this story was printed. Mara Freeman’s evocative and moving account of her bardic ‘Initiation at Penmaenmawr’ in the same issue also captures that spirit. It is always interesting to read about the initiations and experiences of other members as we travel our parallel paths along the same bright road that is Druidry, to be amazed and encouraged by the similarities to our own experiences and to contemplate on the differences. The first paragraph of Steve Hounsome’s article on ‘The Druidic Tarot’ (Oct. ‘02), mentioning the life events attending his transition from Ovate to Druid, was something I could identify with and it made me aware of the tests and triumphs so many of us experience in common with each other.

Reading the stories and articles in Touchstone I was soon gripped by a desire to contribute something myself, but as a new Bard, a Sapling beside established oaks, I found the idea not only exciting but rather daunting. I was unsure what I could offer that would be of general interest, though once I took the plunge, contributing made me feel yet more deeply that I was part of the OBOD tribe – giving me the chance to speak to others across the country and the world whom I would never meet in person.

I have a particular taste for Druidic lifestyle articles such as ‘Personal Space’ (Nov 01) and ‘A Hut I call my Own’ (Jul ‘03) by Elica MacGilp, on her experiences of working in the temple that she created in a shed at the bottom of her garden, and Ana Adnan’s ‘Living in Nature’ (Jan/Feb’01), a description of the highs and lows of everyday life in a tipi. Another excellent article is ‘Urban Druidry’ (Oct ‘03) by Samantha Conway, showing that beauty and meaning can be found anywhere by those who are truly dedicated.

The magazine is a valuable forum for exchanging news on, and firing enthusiasm for, schemes like the sacred groves project which began in ‘98 under the guidance of Clare Slaney. There are many letters and articles over the coming years showing how eagerly many of us took up our spades, planting groves in a variety of locations from small gardens to large public spaces. The latter is described in Dave Smith’s article (Jan ‘98) on the practicalities, initial setbacks and eventual magic of planting a yew grove on the Sussex Downs.

Through the pages of Touchstone, we can share our opinions on events that affect all humanity, Druids and non-Druids alike. The magazine provided an outlet for OBOD members worldwide to express their thoughts in the aftermath of September 11th 2001, giving a sense of mutual strength and unity in a dangerous and fragmented world. In the Chosen Chief’s Bit (Nov 01) Philip responds to the situation by offering wise words on justice and personal values. The same issue contained an insert ‘Druids as Warriors for Peace’, including Philip’s own views on the subject and information on major thinkers throughout history who followed the way of peace. Also included was a poster ‘Druidry and Peace’, describing ancient Druid philosophy with regard to peace and the ways in which we as OBOD members work magically and spiritually towards this end. Amidst terrifying media reports and the often fanatical rhetoric of politicians, I found that reading the material given by OBOD brought a sense of calm, a sense that it formed the hub of a wheel, linking all who felt the same, and offered hope in the knowledge that we can each work towards peace in our own small way.

Articles on subjects that can be broadly described as political, focusing on diverse areas such as war and peace, world poverty, and ecology are a frequent feature, encouraging us to use earthly as well as magico-spiritual means to help our world. ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’ by Theresa Verlaine Robson (Mar ‘02) describes how campaigners have influenced many issues, while Eileen Buchanan’s ‘Politics for Druids’ (April ‘04) offers suggestions against a fascinating background of history and tradition. Julian Vayne’s article ‘Extending the Circle – Practical Tips for Reverencing the EarthSpirit in the Everyday World’ (Dec ‘01/Jan ‘02) is an inspiring challenge to walk our talk, giving numerous ways to live more ecologically. Reading it led me to open an account with the Ecology Building Society, direct proof of the effectiveness of Touchstone.

It is also addictive, and this article has taken far longer to write than anticipated as I keep being side-tracked, finding irresistible gems to re-read as I leaf through the pile of past editions. And I haven’t even mentioned all the reports on OBOD camps, solitary and group ritual, history, mythology, meditation, healing…

May Touchstone go from strength to strength.