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186: Imbolc - Spring Equinox 2013The Beltaine issue of Pagan Dawn will be out soon and will feature an article I was asked to write; a short overview of modern Druidry. This was not easy to write as there are just so many different Druidries around these days. There are at least a couple of dozen Druid groups in the UK, a similar number in America, several in Australia, others in France and elsewhere. Between them they represent a very wide spectrum of practice and belief, from the strictly cultural, Christian Druids of the Welsh Gorsedd to American Celtic Reconstructionists via Masonic-style friendly societies and even an insurance company. I did my best to be as inclusive as possible in the given space, but am aware that I was only really able to scratch the surface. In order to make some kind of sense, I focussed mainly on the groups who represent what Ronald Hutton has called the New Druidry, i.e. those that have come into being since the formation of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in 1964. The article is illustrated with photos from Elaine Wildways. The graphic shows the current Winter issue.My good friend and long-time BDO stalwart, Steve Rumelhart, has an article coming out in the next issue of Pentacle, also due out next month, so watch out for that too. Again, the graphic here is from the Winter issue.
Meanwhile, my latest piece for the BDO ovate course has been a rumination on the role of group ritual and how to inject meaning into it. This was brought about by re-watching a video called Shamans of the Blind Country, a brilliant 1981 documentary on shamanism amongst the Magar people of central Nepal. Their rituals often involve the whole village, much dressing up, a fair bit of ribaldry and silliness and quite a lot of laughter. This contrasted strongly with what I remembered of Christian church services in my youth which were invariably deadly serious and deadly dull. Some Druid rites I've attended have unfortunately been more C of E than Magar. Pagan festivals to Dionysus were definitely more along the Magar lines, beginning with processions of youths William S. Burroughsbearing long poles with bronze or wooden penises attached to the ends towing a cart with a very big penis in it. It's hard to be solemn when you're decked in greenery and waving a big willy in the air. Sometimes we forget that spirituality can be fun. In fact, I believe it should be fun. Incidentally, a curious aspect of the Shamans of the Blind Country is that it is narrated by William S. Burroughs, author of Junkie, The Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine.
My current writing task is another magazine article, this time for Dreampunk, a magazine put together by long-time BDO friend, Allegra Hawksmoor. Dreampunk brings together the worlds of Steampunk, alternative spirituality and ecology. To quote from the homepage, Dreampunk aims "To build a world of equality, liberty and community that reaches for wonder, invention, and a more balanced relationship with ourselves, one another, and with the wild world around us." My article is about consciousness-changing in contemporary Druidry, and I should get back to writing it. It'll appear later in the year.
Peace and love,
Greywolf /|\

2

A quick look at the Events section on the British Druid Order website will show that the next month is going to be quite busy.The World DrumWe are hosting the World Drum, a remarkable instrument made by Sami shaman, Birger Mikkelsen, that we last worked with in May 2008 at rituals on Dragon Hill below the Uffington White Horse and at the Avebury henge in Wiltshire. During its seven-year journey, the World Drum has been played at 500 locations on six continents. This year we are returning with the Drum to Avebury at noon on Saturday March 30th. This in the year that marks the 20th anniversary of the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri, a little idea I came up with in 1993 after being invited to create a ritual for a multi-faith conference at Avebury organised by the late Tim Sebastion, founder of the Secular Order of Druids (SOD).
After Avebury, we bring the World Drum to Glastonbury Tor on Sunday, March 31st. The weather in the UK has been bitterly cold this Spring, with many parts of the country blanketed in snow. The forecast for the weekend is for a continuation of the unseasonal chill. Given that Glastonbury Tor is one of the most exposed places in the whole of Somerset, it should be interesting.
Britannia on a Roman coinPlans for the Glastonbury rite include connecting with the spirit of the goddess Britannia, seen here on a Roman coin. While often pressed into the service of narrow nationalism, she is actually a pagan goddess of the land. We shall also call upon the spirit of Albion, described by the bard, William Blake, as a sleeping giant awaiting the call to save our island in their time of need. He is the spirit of the people of the land. Some say he sleeps beneath Glastonbury Tor. By calling on these two deities, we hope to trigger a re-connection between land and people in the inhabitants of Britain. We shall ride this call into the earth on the beat of the World Drum and the other drummers we hope will join us. Given the cold, we may even dance, if only to keep warm 🙂
IronbridgeThe following Wednesday, April 3rd, we bring the World Drum to Ironbridge in Shropshire. Ironbridge is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, a process that led to many benefits for humanity but also had its downside, a downside that includes pumping huge amounts of pollution into the water we drink, the air we breathe and the earth in which we grow our food. Since the World Drum is a call to reinstate a spiritual relationship of respect and care for our Mother Earth, Ironbridge seems like the right place to take it.
On the weekend of April 5th-7th, the World Drum will be on and around Titterstone Clee, one of the highest points in Shropshire with extraordinary views across a large part of the British Midlands. From here we shall be sending cascades of energy from the Drum and chanted awens to flow through the veins of the Earth, carrying the Drum's messages of global peace and reverence for Mother Earth.
Cae Mabon's roundhouseThe following weekend, April 12th-14th, we shall be at Cae Mabon in North Wales, a remarkable spiritual retreat centre. From there, we shall carry the Drum across to the ancient Druidical isle of Anglesey, specifically to the chambered tomb-shrine of Bryn Celli Ddu (the Mound of the Dark Grove). Here we shall call upon the spirits of our ancestors to aid us in spreading the Drum's message of re-awakening spiritual connections.
From there we return to Wildways in Shropshire for what promises to be an even more amazing weekend on April 19th to 21st. For one thing, we have two of the World Drum founders joining us, White Cougar, whose original vision inspired the Drum's creation, and Morten Wolf Storeide, who has overseen its travels around the world for the past seven years. They will be performing a rite for us that centres around the World Drum and chaga, a plant widely used throughout Eastern Europe and Asia for its healing properties. They are also bringing two musician friends, Lena and Will, and together they will be performing shamanic music for us as part of our Saturday might concert as The Northern Lights Shamanic Band.
During the day on Saturday we have sample sessions to launch the Druid Hedge Schools Project. This is a joint project between the British Druid Order, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and the Druid Network. For this launch weekend we have eight teachers coming from all over the country to give workshops on daily Druidry, meditation, healing and many other subjects. Further Hedge Schools sessions will be on Sunday morning.
Robin WilliamsonThe Saturday night music session will be more than a little special. Not only do we have the above-mentioned Northern Lights Shamanic Band, we also have musical legend, Robin Williamson. Robin (left) was co-founder of the Incredible String Band in the mid-60s, formed the Merry Band in the 70s and has since pursued a solo career that has seen him collaborate with fellow folk legends such as John Renbourn, with brass bands and jazz ensembles. He's also made award-winning albums of harp music and has recorded versions of traditional Celtic tales. Many Druids regard him as the successor of Taliesin to the title, Primary Chief Bard of the Isles of Britain. And as if that weren't enough, we also have Andy Letcher performing for us. Andy is lead singer, song-writer and mandolin player (and Northumbrian piper, as our picture shows) with 'darkly crafted folk' band, Telling the Bees, whose albums have been winning critical praise and enthusiastic fans all over the country. I'll be doing a set myself, featuring songs from my own album, The Sign of the Rose, and new tracks from its long-awaited follow-up, The Lord of the Wildwood. Rounding off the evening, we'll have a set from talented guitarist, Jake Thomas.
On Sunday, after the morning's Hedge Schools sessions, there will be a buffet lunch accompanied by more live music and a bring-and-buy market. Then, in the afternoon, we have our farewell ceremony with the World Drum before we send it on its way with our blessings to its next destination.
After all that activity and travelling, it'll be good to get home again and take a rest. Well, get back to finalising our ovate course anyway.
During these rites, I hope that my youngest son, Mike, currently studying documentary video production at Bournemouth University, will be filming. Results will be posted here and elsewhere. Eventually I hope that Mike will put together a documentary on modern Druidry. It would be great to have a documentary about Druids made by Druids. We'll keep you posted on that too.
Meanwhile, I hope we'll see you at some of these events over the next month or so. The World Drum is a wake-up call to bring ourselves back into good relationship with the spirits of our lands and the peoples of all nations. The beat of the Drum is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. May the sound of her heartbeat reach all peoples, wherever they may be.
Many blessings,
Greywolf /|\

1

When we finished putting together our bardic course in the middle of 2011, we'd put so much into it that I seriously wondered if we'd have enough material left to create either an ovate or a Druid course. I needn't have worried. Our ovate course is almost twice the length of the bardic, running to about 400,000 words, with most of the 24 booklets being 52 pages long, the most I've found it possible to get a staple through.

Ovate booklet 17: The Way of the GodsIt's now shortly after the Spring Equinox, 2013, and the ovate course is nearing completion. The first 16 booklets are complete, the next 4 just in need of minor editing and 2 out of the last 4 almost complete. That leaves something like 30,000 words or 100 pages to go, about half of which needs to be written, while the rest just needs formatting and editing. I hope to have the whole course completed at the end of May.

As to the content, I couldn't be more happy with it. We have wonderful contributions from Elen Hawke, author of In the Circle: Crafting the Witches' Path (2001), Praise to the Moon: Myth & Magic of the Lunar Cycle (2002), The Sacred Round: A Witches' Guide to Magical Practice (2002) and others. For our course, Elen has written on the lunar cycle and on astrology. We also have a unique compendium of traditional astrological lore from Seattle-based Pagan priest, Leon Reed. Leon, a magical and medical herbalist for more than 30 years, Ovate booklet 2: The Path of the Seerhas also given us the herbal he compiled for use in his practice. Elaine Wildways has written a cycle of seasonal festival rites for us, and also a cycle of rites of passage. We include a funeral rite composed by myself and Emma Restall Orr. Nina Milton and her OBOD group helped us put together a series of tree-based exercises in movement and meditation. Blue Fox has provided several pieces, including a wonderfully-accessible Ogham oracle with a card set designed by your humble author. We also have more words and art from Robin Williamson, as we did in our bardic course. It's been a real pleasure to edit such a wide range of well-researched, well-written pieces and I thank all our contributors.

I'm even pleased with my own contributions and usually I am extremely critical of my own work. Part of the process of writing these courses has been to go back to basics. I've stripped down every belief I've developed since early childhood and re-examined each one in detail to see if it still makes sense and if it can be fitted into context with others. This process has been both educational and cathartic. I've also re-explored the medieval literature of Britain and Ireland. While I'd been familiar with it for years, looking at it afresh for the purposes of the course led me to understand sections of it in entirely new ways. One result of this has been the re-construction of a remarkable healing technique and a set of spiritual exercises and meditations, both based on Irish manuscript sources, though there is evidence that both were also known in Britain and have parallels in cultures much further afield.

Thomas the Rhymer and the Queen of ElfhameI'm also pleased with the range of illustrations in the booklets, many created specially for the courses, others sourced from all over the place. One of the great advantages of delivering our courses as pdf files is that we do not have the cost of reproducing so many colour illustrations in print and can therefore include lots of them. Sourcing illustrations for writings on Druidry is by no means easy, particularly if you don't want to just keep using the same ones that everyone else uses. We've out almost as much work into sourcing interesting and information pictures as we have into writing the text that goes with them.

The range of subjects covered in the course is very wide, from the creation of the universe and the myths of creation, through birth to death via health and healing, nature spirits, philosophy, astrology, divination, seership, herbalism, group ritual and more, including the ways of the gods.

With this course, following on from the bardic course, I think we've achieved a turning point in the history of modern Druidry, raising it to a new level of vibrancy and understanding. And I no longer worry about having anything left to put in the Druid course. I'm pretty sure we'll be OK.

2

There are some questions I get asked quite a lot, and at the top of the list is this one:
What's the difference between the BDO and OBOD (the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids)?

It's not the easiest of questions to answer. In terms of our courses, for example, I can only compare ours with what the OBOD Bardic Grade and the first half of the OBOD Ovate Grade were like in the early 1990s when I did them. They have since been completely rewritten. I have a copy of the current OBOD Bardic Grade on CD, given to me by OBOD chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, because I contributed a song and some other bits and pieces to it. However, I have only listened to a few clips from it. Why? Not hard. Because I didn't want to be influenced by it in putting together our own courses.

So, personally, I don't know what's in the current OBOD courses. However, those who are familiar with other courses, including OBOD's, tell us that ours are very different in both style and content. If they weren't substantially different, there would, after all, have been little point in us spending five years putting ours together. I'm told that, compared to OBOD's, our courses are more overtly Pagan. They are also, I gather, more than twice as long by word count. They are densely packed for a reason. When we undertake any course, we only fully absorb and regularly work with a percentage of the material we're given. By putting so much into our courses, the idea is that more will be recalled and used. Professor Ronald Hutton has suggested that those who have taken OBOD's courses could benefit from then moving on to ours, as GCSE students move on to A levels.

More than most other groups, we see Druidry as the native shamanism of Britain and much of Europe, and that vision is reflected in our courses.

We place more emphasis on the traditional areas of study and practice associated with bards, ovates and Druids, i.e. music, poetry, myths, storytelling, history and genealogy for bards; divination, seership, natural philosophy and healing for ovates; constructing and conducting ritual, shape-shifting, weather-working, counselling and moral philosophy for Druids.

Unlike other groups, we do not offer set initiations at the beginning of our courses. Instead, we recommend personal rites of passage to be undertaken at the end of each course to mark their completion and to prepare for moving on to a new level of understanding based on what has been learned.

Our Druidry draws more direct inspiration for our practice from history, archaeology and surviving medieval literature than others we have seen. We have, for example, reconstructed systems of meditation, spiritual development and healing based on medieval Irish texts. We are not, however, Celtic Reconstructionists. We adapt ancient inspirations for the modern world. We do not claim to be reconstructing Druidry as it was, 5,000, 2,000 or a 100 years ago. We use 21st century methods such as incorporating links to web-based resources into our course booklets and delivering those booklets as pdf files. We believe that Druidry is a way to connect more deeply with our own times, not to escape to some mythical other time.

We freely acknowledge that Druidry is a broken tradition and are open about the fact that we can only successfully recreate it for our modern world by looking to other, similar traditions, that are either better recorded or, in some cases, still extant. We do not try to hide our debt to these other traditions by pretending access to unknown manuscripts or secret oral teachings.

Several of these things differentiate the BDO from other groups but are things we have in common with OBOD. In knowledge of the history of the Druid tradition, for example, Philip Carr-Gomm and I are pretty evenly matched, though we may use our knowledge in different ways or emphasise different aspects of it.

Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm have been friends since I first met them in about 1990. Many members of the BDO are also members of OBOD, myself included. Our takes on Druidry are different but compatible. Along with The Druid Network, the American ADF and others, we represent a spiritual Druidry that differentiates all of us from the cultural Druids of the Welsh Gorsedd or the social Druids of the Ancient Order of Druids and its offshoots. But within that overall sense of Druidry as a viable spiritual path there are variations in understanding and presentation, differences in style and emphasis. These often derive from the different personalities of the groups' founders. I my own case, my background in Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Ritual Magic, the Hebrew Kabalah and Wicca all feed into my understanding of Druidry. So do the visionary experiences I've had since childhood that eventually drew me into a practice of Druidry that has been described as 'shamanic.' Ronald Hutton once described me as "a shaman quite convincingly disguised as a Druid."

One of the remarkable things about Druidry is that although (perhaps because) we know very little about what Druids did in their heyday 2,000 and more years ago, we have been recreating Druidry almost ever since, re-moulding it every time in line with the needs and aspirations of our own times. The type of Druidry we recreate, adopt or associate with depends very much on our own needs and aspirations within our changing times. There will, therefore, always be room for many Druidries, appealing to different needs. Each group represents one band within the great rainbow that is contemporary Druidry.

The picture below shows a joint ritual with members of the BDO and OBOD on Dragon Hill by the Uffington White Horse, during the visit of The World Drum in May, 2008.BDO & OBOD Joint Ritual