20th Mount Haemus Lecture : What Druidry does – a perspective on the spiritual dynamics of the OBOD course

Dr Susan Jones, MBA, has a professional background in science, higher education, business and government, alongside 30 years’ psycho-spiritual involvement including 17 years as OBOD’s Mentor Co-ordinator. Most that is written about Druidry by academics, commentators and leaders focuses on what Druids believe and do – what they practice and their rituals, what ideas they share. It is based on evidence that can be seen. But Druidry develops in the hearts and minds of individuals and may be unexposed to the outside world. This paper offers a different perspective: what Druidry does. As OBOD’s Mentor Co-ordinator, Susan had a unique position from which to view the spiritual dynamics of Druidry, through the lens of the OBOD course. What does Druidry do? How does it do it? Is it of value? Does it have limits? Her new research will also seek to answer a puzzle – whatever happened to those who enrolled as OBOD members but didn’t follow the course through? Do they still find a benefit in Druidry? How could what we know so far influence what Druidry will do next? This paper will be a celebration of over 7,000 students who have shared something of their spiritual journeys, with some truly remarkable insights that add to the general discourse about Druidry and the life spiritual.

by Susan Jones PhD MBA

Introduction

Seventeen years as Mentor Co-ordinator for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids placed me in a unique position to watch and wonder at the impact of the OBOD course [1] on those working with the gwers. Therefore when I retired in 2017, I jumped at the opportunity given by Philip Carr-Gomm, head of OBOD, and Dwina Murphy-Gibb, our Patron, for this Mount Haemus Scholarship.
Most studies of Druidry by scholars, historians and commentators focus on what Druids do – what they believe, the concepts that are important to Druids, Druid attitudes, the outward practice of Druidry, especially of rituals, and the perennial question: what defines Druidry.
Recent examples include Jennifer Susan Uzzell’s PhD on death-related rituals and associated attitudes and beliefs [2] and books such as John Beckett’s An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice [3]. The 2021 Mt Haemus scholarship will be Larisa White’s ambitious worldwide study of modern Druidry [4]. Jonathan Woolley’s 2017 Mt Haemus paper and Suzanne Owen’s new book [5] both grapple with defining and categorising Druidry.
The published history of Druidry tends to focus on individuals – those seen as the leaders, who have written the most influential books and papers and those who have been prominent in what they have done to lead the movements and organisations that bring Druidry to where it is today.
I am addressing something different, asking not what Druids do, but what does Druidry do? Blessed with contact with members of OBOD who, through their experiences of the OBOD course, for over twenty years have been telling me what Druidry does to them, or for them, I wanted to pay tribute to these remarkable people.
In all I’ve worked with over 7000 members of OBOD, about half of them in the Americas, about their experiences of Druidry and of the OBOD course in particular. And to give some idea of scale, only about half of us would fit in London’s largest theatre, the Hammersmith Odeon [6]. The relationships between us may be long and therefore close. It was a little unusual to recently attend the initiation of someone moving on after being in one grade for twenty-seven years, but it does happen.
The job of Mentor Co-ordinator is to recruit, train and manage about fifty Mentors, allocate OBOD members to Mentors, and oversee transitions through the OBOD grades. My daily routine would be to get up, have breakfast, then make my way to my office to do the OBOD work. My late mother’s morning routine was tea and a cigarette. Mine was breakfast and OBOD, even when there was other work to do. Most days would take to about lunchtime, sometimes revisiting the office during the afternoon and evening. Every other day or so I’d see a member move from one grade to the next. So, contact with OBOD members – or OBODies as we tend to call ourselves – really has been, to borrow from the poet Auden, “…my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest, my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.” [7]
I loved hearing about journeys to and through the OBOD course. It was remarkable to be able to share with such amazing people. I’m grateful beyond words to those OBOD members who’ve shared something of themselves, their experiences and preoccupations, their world of ideas and dreams.
There have been few empirical studies, as Dana Driscoll demonstrated in the 19th Mount Haemus scholarship. Nearly all are small-scale or rely on an element of self-selection by the subjects, for example through questionnaires. I wanted to do what only I could do, which was some post-hoc analysis of 7,000 subjects, the largest sample size to date.
The research would not be an evaluation, or an impact assessment, or a formal review or a comparison with other Druid courses, but would address the question: what does Druidry do? What effects does the OBOD course have on those who follow it – what does it do?
I also wanted to address another question that all Mentors ask. What about those people who enrol and from whom we never hear again? We never chase. We reckon there is enough chivvying in everyday life. But we were curious and even a little worried. Anecdotally, we knew that ‘Life Got in the Way’ for many. Perhaps some people felt that Druidry didn’t do much for them. Perhaps some had started the OBOD course then then found something better – greener grass on the other side of a different fence. Here was the opportunity to find out.

Read the Lecture

This lecture will be published in printed form in 2024 in The Mount Haemus Lectures – Volume Three  available through our bookshop.

About the Author

Dr Susan Jones is an OBOD Mentor, and for 17 years was OBOD’s Mentor Co-ordinator for the English course. After gaining a PhD in the evolutionary taxonomy of trees, she developed a professional life in communications and management. While studying at London Business School for an MBA, she was inspired by one of her teachers, the author and philosopher Charles Handy, to develop a ‘portfolio’ career. Susan combined her time as OBOD Mentor Co-ordinator with being one of the UK’s top Government speechwriters – she is the author of Speechmaking (Methuen, 2nd edition 2008) – and a consultant in the science, business, education and heritage sectors. She has an enduring fascination for how the exploration of nature, of the inner self and of otherworld can be transformational or, at the very least, can add to life’s richness. She lives in the English Lake District, with an organic garden, and a micro-business of willow growing and basket-making.