Most groups meet for the eight seasonal festivals. Additionally, there may be regular meetings between the festivals. Some larger groups often hold separate meetings for Bard, Ovate and Druid grade members.
Most groups find that it is best to pick a day convenient to everyone and stick to it – for example, the Saturday before the festival. Decide on a start and finishing time so that everyone knows what to expect. Keep the arrangement constant and simple so that no-one gets left out. Of course, it can be changed. Meeting at the full moon is one option but difficult to arrange as the moon goes through her phases on different days each month.
What happens at meetings?
The Order encourages freedom, creativity and individual responsibility, and for this reason we do not advocate any specific or set format for a meeting. It really is up to the members of a group to decide how they wish to spend their time together.
In working out how you would like to spend the time, remember that you need focus and boundaries as well as freedom and creativity.
A tried and tested format is to have a time for a combination of these elements:
· Arriving, welcoming, stating the purpose of the meeting
· Exchanging news and ideas
· Discussion and debate on a chosen subject
There is more about all of these below.
Those who have taken responsibility for the meeting should ensure that everyone is made welcome, particularly any newcomers. Prior to newcomers attending their first meeting it’s a good idea for an established member of the group to talk to them in person or via phone or video to let them know what to expect and what is expected of them. If you are the newcomer, a chat with the host before the meeting will ensure you know what to expect and have brought anything you might need or want to contribute. The meeting should begin with a few words of welcome and a brief outline as to its purpose. This would also be an appropriate time to introduce any new members.
This could include any of these elements: standing together hand in hand, lighting a candle, three breaths, a simple reminder of the journey that brought all together, a reminder to be here now, an invitation to listen to the wind outside… any short and simple witnessing of time, place and people.
Exchanging news and ideas
Some groups use a ‘talking stick’. A beautiful, sometimes decorated, stick is passed around the circle from person to person. Only the person holding the talking stick can speak, and while they do, everyone else listens. Everyone has a turn to speak, but knows they mustn’t ‘hog’ the stick. As the talking stick moves
around the circle each contribution becomes woven into a whole. If you do not want to speak, that is fine, just take the talking stick, hold it silently for a moment, then pass it to your neighbour. The purpose of having this talking circle is not for therapy, but to make sure everyone gets a chance to be heard. Sometimes this kind of sharing circle is only used when there is a specific matter to be discussed, or a decision to be made.
It is often surprising how a shy person will have the confidence and feel moved to speak once they have the talking stick in their hand. It is important to explain the simple talking stick rules before commencement, otherwise it won’t work. To avoid problems, many groups reiterate the simple rules before each talking stick circle:
• Only the person holding the talking stick can speak, and while they do, everyone else listens.
• The speaker should focus on the subject matter, speak from their point of view and not direct their comments towards other contributors.
• The facilitator may interject if they feel that these rules are not being followed, if someone is speaking inappropriately, or is blatantly taking too much time.
After the talking stick has gone round it might then be appropriate to have an open discussion.
Subjects could be about any of the topics covered in the broad sweep of Druidry and spirituality, such as Earth Mysteries, sacred sites, stone, tree or animal lore, storytelling, alternative medicine – the list is endless. There can be practical evenings or even weekends. And it’s good to find out about the specialties and interests of each group member and for them to have the opportunity to share their experience and expertise with the group. There are lots of approaches to this and it is best not to get too set in any one. So there might be a short series of discussion meetings on a particular subject area, or members with special interests or knowledge could be invited to host one. In the early days, having time to discuss the development of the group may well pay dividends later.
Should we study the Gwersi in meetings? Since the members of a group will not be following the course at exactly the same pace, and because of the uniqueness of the journey through the gwersi for each individual, it is not recommended, and not at all practical, to try to study the gwersi together in a group. As you work through the gwersi you will realize how very subjective the experiences can be, and also that the course is carefully structured so that the experience of each gwers leads to the next or subtly suggests what is to happen in a few gwersi’s time. It would be a shame to spoil another’s journey by working with a gwers that they have not yet reached, and it could also change their experience of the meditation or practicum because they have pre-conceived ideas of what will happen. The magic of the exercises and meditations in the gwersi is that they act spontaneously upon the subconscious and trigger responses from the person’s own inner world or psyche, as a continuing and ever-developing journey. There are so many wonderful subjects to choose for discussion that there is no need to treat meetings as ‘Gwers Reading and Study Groups’.
However, it is best not to stray too far from the topics and themes covered in the gwersi because one important role of seed groups and groves is to encourage and support members on their paths through the OBOD grades, leaving room for their own work. This support can happen most simply by the occasional reference to the gwersi that relate to the discussion. Members should be reminded strongly that being involved in groups does not replace the course lessons. It’s very easy to get caught up in group think, group talk, and group ‘do’, and forget about personal practice. Personal practice is primary and paramount.
Most meetings will include a meditation. This can be a treasured time. But if you don’t want to participate, you may prefer to just enjoy sitting quietly. Remember there is no right or wrong way to experience a meditation. You might visualize vividly or ‘see’ nothing but can sense the surroundings, scents and sounds very keenly. No-one should try to analyse your experience, and often the images or words may take some time to reveal their meaning to you. You won’t necessarily ‘get’ anything in a meditation, you may simply feel relaxed by it. Working together in guided meditation and pathworking can be a very rewarding experience and can help to bring the group closer together. It may also enable the voice of the group, or group awareness, to become clearer over time.
Since members of a group are often at different stages on their journey, with some very familiar with meditation and others completely new to it, whoever is leading the meditation should be aware of this, and should use tried and tested meditation journeys. Try not to use the meditations in the gwersi, apart from the basic Light Body and Sacred Grove meditations, unless it is one the whole group has done already as part of the course, so as not to spoil it for others. Feedback from the group will help the person leading the meditation to make improvements, so do not feel shy about commenting on the meditation if you felt it too long, too short, or have some other constructive comments to make about it.
The group may find it best if the same opening and closing to meditations and pathworkings is followed. This repetition and familiarity enable people to more easily reconnect with the altered state of consciousness associated with this form of practice. If you lead an inner journey it is important to lead people back along the same route that they took on the outward journey, to enable people to be fully grounded more easily. Often a break for tea, coffee or similar will also help in this grounding, and a sharing using the talking stick might then follow. Beware, though, of lengthy ‘picking over’ of meditation experiences which to some may feel intensely private. In a large group this can be time-consuming and energy-draining. It may be better to suggest sharing in groups of two or three for ten minutes, or simply for everyone to sit quietly to process what they’ve experienced whilst the kettle is boiling.
This is sacred time, this is sacred space.
The OBOD scripts
Meeting together regularly for ceremony/ritual is a way of establishing the spiritual foundations of a group. It is a time when differences of opinion are laid aside and individuals can begin to experience the unique energy or group soul of their Seed Group or Grove. For this reason, there is no insistence that groups should slavishly follow scripted ceremonies, but conversely, those creating the ritual, in considering the expectations of the group, do not have the option of being experimental in the way they might be when working on their own. Any changes should be made thoughtfully, for reasons that can be discussed, understood and agreed by the group. As is said in the opening section of OBOD rituals, ‘We gather as equals …’ This is profound and powerful and has to be true if the circle is going to flow with energy. Every person in the group contributes with their inner and outer awareness, regardless of whether or not they have an active role to play, and this should be made clear to them.
When OBOD members come to a group they will expect the rituals to reflect what they have learned in the coursework. This is especially true when celebrating the seasonal festivals. The Order ceremonies are fundamental to the work of OBOD: many members consider them part of an OBOD heritage, as magical templates to be cherished, and this must be respected. Groups that decide to share the seasonal celebrations between scripted and more free-flowing seasonal expressions should regularly refer back to the scripts and the Book of Ritual to keep the group ‘on track’.
If a group wants to make a change, it is often best to focus on changing the central section of a rite, while continuing to use the ‘standard’ OBOD opening and closing – itself a powerful holding structure for what might happen within the ceremony. By always using the OBOD forms of opening and closing we not only reinforce the energy of our group but we also connect with the Spirit of the Order itself. Knowing that this is happening in groves and groups throughout the world engenders a strong sense of spiritual community.
In considering possible changes, some questions to consider would be:
· What does the proposed change add to the ceremony and group experience, and in what way?
· Is this harmonious with and in the spirit of the Order?
· How will this appear to and support the newest Bard of OBOD on their journey?
· Would a visitor find our group identifiably OBOD?
Where should we perform ceremonies?
Our Druid path connects us to nature and the elements, so ceremonies are often best held outside, although you may choose to work indoors if warmth, dryness, privacy or access for the physically challenged is needed. If you live near a wood or forest then there might be a grove of trees that is suitable. On private land, ensure you have the owner’s permission for the whole group, to prevent misunderstandings (or breaking the law). Even if you are on public land, access to that area might not be automatic, it is best to be discreet, to not prevent others from their enjoyment of the area and to obey bye-laws and regulations. Some people are fortunate enough to have a secluded garden and understanding neighbours. Some groups have been fortunate enough to be able to plant a grove of trees that they then use for their rituals.
Working outside may mean a trek before your ceremony can begin, so come prepared. But the journey together, which may begin with a car ride and then a silent walk across the land, is as much a part of the ceremony as the circle itself. When you leave the grove or circle clear up any litter that others might have left before you.
In an ideal world we would all have a perfect grove in a beautiful setting. In reality this isn’t always possible or practical. The important thing is to begin meeting regularly whether this is in someone’s back yard or indoors. The group is the people first, and the location second, and it is often found that the right location somehow presents itself once a commitment is made.
Should ceremonies be public?
The four solar festivals can be public ceremonies, although it is usually only the more seasoned groups who feel equal to performing in full daylight before casual observers. The four fire festivals tend to be more intimate events (particularly Samhuinn) with perhaps some invited guests.
Celebrating the festivals together is a great way to begin to meet. As time goes on, missing one can feel like a wheel without a spoke. Journeying together around the wheel of the year is a wonderful experience, building up your group rapport from one festival to the next, and then finding that suddenly you have done a whole year’s worth and are stepping out onto the second spiral of another round together. Most groups find that they develop their festivals together, refining and re-working them from year to year, so that they never become static, but grow as the group grows in experience and wisdom.
OBOD Groves may provide initiations. Bards, Ovates and Druids wishing to be initiated in a Grove ceremony must have received the OBOD gwers containing the relevant initiation ceremony. It is not enough to have been accepted by the Order for the next grade or to have just the introductory gwers of the next grade. Some Groves insist that the member perform their personal initiation before a group one, while some hold the opposite view, believing that an initiation can occur only once, and offering instead a Welcoming ceremony if a member has already performed a self-initiation. OBOD Groves use ceremonies that differ from the self-initiations sent in the distance-learning course. The Groups Co-ordinator can send copies of these to Groves who ask for them. During an initiation ceremony, the only people present should be those members who have themselves been initiated into the relevant grade.
Seed Groups are not expected to offer initiations. However, some long-standing Seed Groups, which have just one Druid grade member, do want to offer initiations, and if this is relevant to your Seed Group, please contact email@example.com
The eisteddfod offers an opportunity to shed the more formal aspects of the ceremony for a while, to exchange stories, songs, music and poetry. Everyone is free to contribute or not. In order to encourage contributions, and make a respectful space for those who may be nervous about singing/speaking in public, it is helpful to have a firm rule about respectful listening during performances, with no talking, entering or leaving the space or otherwise causing distractions.
A ‘pot-luck’ (bring and share) picnic following the ceremony is a lovely way to bring people together and to ensure that everyone is grounded before setting off home. Some Druids drink wine, beer and mead but being alcohol-free is part of a spiritual path for many people so alternatives to alcohol should be available.
A group that meets in person eight months of the year might choose to have their meetings online for four months of the year. Just as some groups will have all their meetings outdoors except maybe the winter solstice. It is up to the group to decide. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many seed groups and groves turned to online meetings. Online meetings make it easier to invite guests from afar.
With all that being said, we also need to stress that we are a nature-based, physical, world-embracing spiritual community. Whilst watching talks online about aspects of Druidry, or using social media to connect with other Order members, is certainly nourishing and informative, we should take care to also nourish and inform our Druidry with regular contact with the natural world. When hosting ceremonies online we should also anchor ourselves in our physical bodies, and find ways to incorporate our connection with the natural world around us. This could include bringing something physical and tangible to the ceremony that you collected in nature, and connecting with the directions from where you stand. An article by Liluri in the Lughnasagh 2021 edition of Serpentstar, a newsletter by southern hemisphere OBOD members, offers some tips. http://serpentstar.druidryaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/SerpentStar-Lughnasadh-2021.pdf
What else do groups do?
As well as meeting for the seasonal festivals, many groups also facilitate additional events which may include camps, workshops, local moots and other activities. Additional activities will depend upon local needs and opportunities, and offer the possibility to serve as druids whilst developing the group’s identity. Groups should consider outreach in the community at large. Interacting with other faith groups, environmental advocacy groups, and the general public in constructive ways not only cements goodwill but brings the expertise and dedication of the group to a broader world. Activities such as tree planting, interacting with naturalist or garden groups, or developing and presenting meaningful content programs can be beneficial. A powerful and simple way for Druids to be of service is for the group to agree to take care of a specific spot in their locality, perhaps where they meet for ceremonies. Members can agree to visit the site to remove litter, etc., in between or before meetings.
Staying in touch
Groups may need to decide how to stay in touch and that that means should be as accessible to all as possible. That might be an SMS broadcast, a WhatsApp group, Facebook Group, email etc. Each method has its opportunities and drawbacks. It’s a choice.
We gather as equals, in our physical form here upon the earth.