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October 29th - 30th 2016

1-IMGA0012A crazy idea came to me on the train taking me to the 2016 White Horse Samhain (Hallowe'en) Camp, held at the Wild Ways crafts and retreat centre in Shropshire, UK. Having seen the already full schedule of events planned for the camp, I had felt there might not be anything I could add to it. For years, however, I had pondered the possibility of holding an all-night ceremony in the Iron Age roundhouse (right) we had built in nearby woods. I thought perhaps this might fit in as it wouldn’t start until everything else had finished, running through until sunrise the following morning, Sunday, November 30th. People would be welcome to come and go whenever they chose to or needed to. Even so, it was a bit of a cheek to arrive out of the blue with this crazy notion without having discussed it with any of the organisers beforehand. However, one of the great things about White Horse camps is the openness of the organisers to the unexpected and strange and their willingness to make room for them.

Gundestrup CernunnosThe idea had three main sources of inspiration; one was the observation that there seems to be an unusual amount of what might be termed ‘weird shit’ going on in the world at the moment; next was the way in which the stand being taken by the Lakota people against a polluting oil pipeline being driven across their sacred land has inspired so many others all around the world to stand up and be counted against ‘big oil’ and compliant governments; third was my own recent journey to deepen my understanding of how our Druid ancestors worked with serpent power. I have no doubt that they did, as evidenced by several representations from around 2,000 years ago Ovate booklet 9 coverportraying native European deities accompanied by serpents. The most famous is that on the Gundestrup cauldron (upper left). Another well-known image from the period overlooks the hot springs in Roman Bath and portrays a bearded god with snakes growing out of his head (lower left). I had worked out some ways in which serpent power was approached, but felt I still lacked a vital key to understanding why it was that British Druids were sometimes called Nadredd, i.e. 'Serpents.'

These threads all came together through a Lakota prophecy that a Black Snake would come to devastate their land, causing people and animals sicken and die. Many Lakota dapl-protesters-arizonasee the DAPL oil pipeline as that Black Snake and, therefore, see opposition to it as both a vital necessity and a sacred duty. I had already been led to the conclusion that individual healing in our Druid tradition comes about partly through invoking the power of a White Serpent of Healing to set against the power of a Black Serpent that brings disease. My thinking for this roundhouse ceremony was to try to harness the power of the White Serpent to oppose the DAPL Black Snake and as many other manifestations of its destructive force in the world as we could fit into one long night.

The ceremony was duly announced to the camp at the first morning meeting, for which I particularly thank Richard and his fellow organisers, Ariane and Hilde. As we wouldn’t be starting until around 11pm at the end of a full day, and would continue until sunrise at 6.50am, I had no idea whether anyone would want to come at all, let alone how many. However, a few friends immediately expressed not only interest but excitement, so there were willing helpers to join me in transporting things to the roundhouse and preparing it. Thanks to Becky, who wields a fine besom, to Amanda, Daru, and Elaine, who not only runs the centre but loaned us two large reindeer hides, some saining sticks and a couple of warm woollen blankets from her house.

When I mentioned our intentions for the ceremony on the BDO Facebook page, people in countries around the world said they would join us in ceremonies timed to coincide with ours. This was a wonderful gift and a further inspiration to us. Thank you friends, heart to heart, spirit to spirit.

Morten Wolf Storeide with The World Drum
Morten Wolf Storeide with The World Drum

Adding to an already potentially rich mix, Elaine also donated a bag of Chaga, a remarkable medicinal plant, a hard, woody fungus that grows on Birch trees in Northern climes. This had been given to her by a remarkable couple, Morten Wolf Storeide and Louise Degotte. Morten organises the global travels of The World Drum, a powerful healing Drum made by a Sami drum-maker following the vision of Kyrre Franck White Cougar. Morten and Kyrre, with their friends, LeNa Paalvig Johnson and Will Rubach, brought us the gift of an amazing ceremony centred around Chaga when we hosted The World Drum at Wild Ways in 2013.

DSC_0015For use in ceremony, Chaga needs to be brewed for at least four hours. This meant that a few of us had to miss the Saturday evening eisteddfod and go to the roundhouse shortly after 7pm to begin the brewing process. Amanda, who had taken part in an initiation in the roundhouse, stayed on to set up the tripods over the central fire to support the two pots in which we would brew the Chaga. The water was already heating when I arrived. We sat and talked for a while as we waited for it to boil. Then we began adding Chaga, taking it in turns to put a handful into the two pots and stir them. We talked through ideas about what we might do during the ceremony and the Chaga crew came up with several ideas while helping my sketchy ones to take shape. For the rest, I was relying on the spirits to guide us, and on all those who came, both seen and unseen, to bring their own inspiration and ideas to the mix.

A few more people drifted in after a while, followed by quite a crowd once the eisteddfod ended. Having doubted whether anyone would come, we found the 20 log seats we’d set out were not enough. Of the 55 people on the camp, about 25 joined us.

wolves-pack2As well as making prayers for the protectors at Standing Rock, we had been asked to pray for those standing against another oil pipeline in Florida, which we did. I also wanted to send some energy and protection to the Wolves of Norway, under threat from a decision by the Norwegian government to allow 47 out of the 68 Wolves in the country to be shot. Elaine, recently back from Ireland, asked that we also pray for the Deer over there who are to be shot because there is a remote and unproven possibility that they might be responsible for some cases of TB in domestic cattle. Also present at the camp were several people who have protested against Badger culls in the UK, carried out for the same dubious reason. We added them to our list. I assumed that other things to work for would emerge during the night. They did...

As for how we were going to work, I thought we might do some personal healing, using a technique I developed, or rediscovered, while researching for the British Druid Order ovate course. I felt we should drum and chant for the animals. I already have a Wolf chant (naturally), and a Deer chant, and thought we could come up with something for the Badgers. I also knew we had to work with the power of the White Serpent, though I wasn’t sure how. Again, I trusted the spirits to show us the way.

The fact that we were working through Saturday night into Sunday morning, and that Sunday 30th was the day of the New Moon of Samhain, helped. Samhain (‘Summer’s End’) is the old Irish name for the seasonal festival known in Wales as Nos Galan Gaeaf (‘Nights of Winter Calends’) and in England as Hallowe’en (‘Hallowed, i.e. Sacred, Evening’). Originally held over three nights, it marks the end of summer and the beginning of winter.

RhiannonCardx800The Moon has its own serpentine associations, its nightly waning from the full being likened to a snake shedding its skin. A snake within a Moon appears on many Celtic coins, as in the top left corner of this image from our Druid Tarot deck, taken from one of those coins.

During the ceremony, I remembered a widespread folk custom carried out in Scotland until the early 20th century, in which the White Serpent of Bride (i.e. the goddess, Bridget) is said to emerge from beneath the earth at Imbolc (Gwyl Fair, Candlemas) at the beginning of February, restoring life to the world after the long months of winter. The spoken charm that accompanies the re-emergence of the Serpent translates as follows: Today is the day of Bride; the serpent shall come from its hole, I will not molest the serpent, nor will the serpent molest me.

It struck me very strongly that the New Moon of Samhain would be exactly the time at which the White Serpent would go down into the earth, as the leaves were falling from the trees and the last of the wild plants dying back into dormancy.

badgergrovefrontisThis phase of the year’s cycle is reflected in, among others, the Greek myth of Persephone, and the ancient Middle Eastern legend of Inanna’s descent into the underworld. In native British lore, the goddess who possesses the serpent power appears as Olwen of the White Track, daughter of the giant, Ysbaddaden (‘Hawthorn’), as Creiddylad, daughter of Lludd (or Nudd) of the Silver Hand, and as Arthur’s queen Gwenhwyfar, whose name means ‘White Enchantress.’ All of these three feature in the archaic tale of Culhwch and Olwen, as preserved in the 12th century collection of tales known as the Mabinogi.

The night of our working, then, was the last during which our Serpent Goddess’s power would remain above the earth prior to its descent into the underworld where it would spend the winter. This seemed the perfect time to invoke her aid. In our ceremony, then, we invoked the healing power of the White Serpent against the destructive power of the Black Snake.

I think it was Ariane who drew our attention to the fact that Ineos, one of the companies involved in fracking in the UK are calling their fleet of huge, Chinese-built oil tankers ‘Dragon ships.’ Is this a deliberate invocation of Black Snake energy on their part? Who knows?

The insidious way in which oil companies and governments are conspiring together to force the unwanted, unnecessary and polluting technology of fracking on unwilling populations around the world is symptomatic of a wider malaise in which democracy has long ceased to be what it was in pagan Greece, i.e. ‘people power,’ becoming instead a means by which wealthy and powerful elites retain dominance over increasingly powerless populations. Polls show that 81% of the UK population would like to see more investment in renewable energy sources, while only 19% favour fracking. In Norway, there is an identical split between the majority who want to see Wolf numbers remain the same or increase and the minority who want them killed. Meanwhile, polls in the USA show that 86% of the population are with the protectors at Standing Rock and against the DAPL pipeline. Fortunately for us, this huge public support for what we were trying to achieve through our ceremony meant that there was a huge impetus behind us. Trying to work magic against opposition is hard. It's easier if the vast majority of the people of the world are with you in spirit. Knowing that they are is encouraging, to say the least.

warriors-sigilOne of our group brought a flag bearing the symbol of the Pagan anti-fracking movement in the UK and we lodged it into the rafters of the roundhouse, where it stayed throughout our ceremony. I'm not sure what it was originally designed to represent, but to me it looks like a Dragon's head!

We drummed to raise energy for ourselves and the groups and causes we had been asked to pray for and send power and healing to. As with the people at Standing Rock, we directed some of those prayers towards those causing the harm, asking that they realise that what they are doing is destructive and wrong, and that it is in their long-term interests to change.

Long ago, in talking with spirit workers from other cultures and traditions, there emerged a strong sense that we should be working together for our shared Great Mother Earth and all her children. Subsequent meetings with healers and fellow spirit workers have strengthened this sense that now is the time for us to set aside the surface differences that divide us and recognise the commonalities that we share. As spirit workers, we regularly work with altered states of consciousness, and so are ideally placed to work towards changing the consciousness of those who seek to despoil and pollute our planet, bringing them to the light of realisation and understanding that will lead them to change what they are doing for the benefit of all.

gwdrumx600 We cast our circle with sound and saining herbs, we invoked into it all those powers for good that we work with, the spirits of place, the elemental spirits and guardians of the four directions, of our ancestors of blood and spirit, of the old gods of our lands, and of the White Serpent of healing (as painted on my drum, right) and the Dragon power through which it also manifests. We chanted the Awen, the holy spirit of inspiration and creativity. We shared Chaga brewed on our sacred fire. We drummed and chanted long into the night. From around 2am, people began to drift away, thanking our ancestors as they passed across the threshold and went in search of sleep.

By around 3.30am, our numbers were reduced to around nine, of whom eight were lying on the piles of furs we had provided or on the bare earth floor, most under blankets. While they drifted in and out of sleep, I continued to quietly drum and chant. I had thought to go into trance with the drum, but this didn’t happen. I realised that my role was to drum for the others, both seen and unseen, in the roundhouse and around the world. Between drumming, I made sure the central fire was kept fed with logs.

1-DSC_0053My lone drumming vigil continued until around 6.30am, at which time, without prompting from me, the others began to stir, wake up, and reach for their drums. We formed a circle around the central fire, linked hands and chanted the Awen again. Then we began to drum the sunrise, beginning quietly and building to a thundering crescendo that carried us across the moment of dawn and into the light of a new day, the day of the New Moon, blessed by the White Serpent of Healing.

I shared a gift of insight the Awen had given me during the night; the reason why our ancestors were called Nadredd. As Druids, we are the Serpent, we are the Power, we are the Dragon. Our role is to embody the Serpent Power, to carry it within us at all times, to use it for the benefit of our communities, our Great Mother Earth and all her children. When the White Serpent Power of the Goddess of Life, Light and Healing goes down into the earth for the long Winter months, we, as Druids, continue to embody it in the world so that the light of life never dies.

Our ancestors knew this, and that knowledge was either passed down directly, or rediscovered, in the bardic colleges that flourished in Wales, Ireland and Scotland during the medieval era. Hence, in the probably 12th century CE poem, ‘The Cattle-Fold of the Bards,’ attributed to the semi-legendary 5th century CE bard, Taliesin, he is able to say with absolute conviction and perfect truth:

I am song to the last; I am clear and bright;
I am hard; I am a Druid;
I am a wright; I am well-wrought;
I am a serpent; I am reverence, that is an open receptacle..."

and:

Wyf sarff, wyf serch... (pronouned ooeev sarff, ooeev serch [‘e’ as in bet, ‘ch’ as in Scottish loch])

...which means:

I am serpent, I am love…”

Profound thanks to all who made our ceremony possible and took part in, both seen and unseen, in the roundhouse and around the world. Thanks to the spirits of place, spirit animals, ancestors and old gods of our lands for their gifts of Awen, and thanks to the Serpent Power of Life, Light and Healing. May that power be with all who need it in these strange and troubled times. May the Light shine strong within you.

We are Nadredd and we offer this Awen and these blessings to all in need,

Greywolf /|\
the Chaga Crew /|\
Wildways /|\
and White Horse Camps /|\

PS. If I've got anything wrong or forgotten to credit anyone who should be credited, please let me know 🙂

MuseumofWelshLifeRoundhousesx800Since October 20th, I've been helping to thatch a pair of Iron Age roundhouses at the Museum of Welsh Life in St. Fagans, not far from Cardiff in South Wales. The Museum has a 100 acres of grounds, in which are buildings from many parts of Wales and many eras of Welsh history, including a church, a water mill, stone cottages and Victorian shops. The roundhouses I'm working on are based on the archaeology of a site on Angelsey, that legendary Druidic isle.
MWLRoundhouseDay2John&Gorsex800I'm sharing a cottage nearby with two friends, Ken and John, both of whom helped build my roundhouse in Shropshire. John is an expert in ancient thatching methods and taught me to thatch. Both the roundhouses we're working on are bigger than mine. One is 38 feet in diameter, the other 45. Mine's just 22 internally, 28 to the outside of the eaves. The larger of the two at St. Fagans is over 28 feet tall, ten feet taller than mine. We have just eight weeks to thatch them both.
MWLJohn&Ianx800Since no one knows how Iron Age roofs were constructed, we're using a method that has historical precedent in the medieval period. Working on a base of hazel and willow wattle, we're weaving in a thick layer of gorse. Over this, we'll lay a thin coat of heather, pressing down on it to compact the gorse. Then we'll stuff straw into this base coat in a process called, appropriately, stuff-thatching.
Day6Endx800 I've been meeting lots of interesting folk here. We have groups of volunteers helping out, including archaeology students and guys on probation. Then there are the archaeological consultants on the project and Ian, the resident Iron Age reenactor, who's building an 18 foot wicker man this week to be burned at Hallowe'en. It's a public event here at the Museum and you're welcome to come along. It starts at 4pm on the 31st.
23GwydionI love thatching, and roundhouses. I hope to bring some Druidry to these two when they're complete, giving talks and maybe workshops and ceremonies. I'm weaving Druidry into it as we work. A time-lapse camera is set up to photograph the site every 30 minutes. This morning it caught me invoking gods, including Arianrhod of the starry skies and Gwydion, antlered lord of forests. Appropriate, I think, to the setting of a Museum of Welsh Life.
Blessings to all, and have a wondrous Hallowe'en (or Nos Galan Gaeaf as it's called in Wales, 'Nights of Winter Calends')!
Greywolf /|\

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Sun & MoonWith the liminal time of Hallowe'en almost upon us, a time when the veil between the realms of the living and the ancestral dead is at its thinnest, I've been pondering the ways between the worlds. Since early childhood I've been fascinated by shifts in consciousness, including that surreal space between waking and sleeping that psychologists call the hypnogogic state. In this state strange things can happen. You may find yourself able to see through closed eyelids and note that the world you are seeing is not quite the one you see when you open your eyes. You may hear voices or see people or other animals that seem fleetingly very real even though the still waking part of your mind knows that they are not there at all. Or are they?

This childhood fascination was an important factor in guiding me towards the visionary form of Druidry that has been my path for the last forty years. One of the primary attributes of this style of Druidry is the ability to shift between worlds or states of awareness. One of the primary ways of doing this is through music, often that of the drum, though it may be argued that the bardic harp is the more traditional native instrument to initiate shifts in consciousness, while I've found that an acoustic guitar works just as well.

DragonbreathThe other night I was very tired, but had said I would drum in the roundhouse with my friend, Elaine, and I like to be true to my word if at all possible. So, wellies on, we plodded through the mud 'neath the full moon's light. It had been weeks since anyone restocked the wood supply in the roundhouse with other than a few bits of kindling, so the fire we lit was very smoky. We threw both doors open wide to the night and smoke rolled out in great clouds. It took about half an hour to encourage the fire to produce more flame than smoke, by which time I was even more tired. As a gentle opener then, I played my flute. When we finally brought out our drums, I began with the gentle heartbeat I usually start with these days, but it quickly morphed into a much stronger, much faster beat that was needed to try and wake myself up. It kind of worked, but was hardly cooking.

I tried initiating another rhythm, one that might encourage me to sing with the drum. The idea is that you listen to the overtones the drum produces, find words or sounds within them and then try to reproduce them or harmonise with them with your voice. I tried but it wasn't really working. I was almost ready to give up, only I had promised to send healing vibes across the ocean to friends in the Pacific Northwest, so I felt I had to make one last effort.

Greywolf drummingThere's something about being pushed to one's limit that aids the process of transition. Sweat lodges work on this principle. Pushing through tiredness can sometimes have the same result. About a minute into that last drum session, I felt something give, almost as though a door opened in my head through which I began to see another world beyond the physical. I recognised when it happened because I began to smile broadly. I sang into the drum, the taut skin bouncing the sound back to me, resonating with the overtones produced by the beater. Now I could send out those good vibes across the great Atlantic, my lightness of being lending them wings.

I began to howl, weaving the rise and fall of my howling with the voice of the drum. It was working and it was beautiful. The contrast with the earlier listless efforts was amazing. Finally, the howls died away, replaced by wind sounds that I blew across the surface of the drum as the beats on it grew softer and softer, fading into silence.

As drum and voice fell silent, sounds from the night outside came through the open doors to fill the silence. They sounded remarkably like the last few moments of singing and drumming.

I looked towards the doors. The roundhouse on either side of them was illuminated by the fire and candles. I looked with other eyes and it seemed to exist in another realm. Part of me knew the physical reality of dirt under my fingernails, the cuts and bruises from having built this structure of timber, mud and straw. Now, however, this place I had designed and knew so well seemed no more real than a dream, and less real than many of those. I sat back in my mind and saw my surroundings as though watching a film or looking at a painting. It was not a solid world any more but an imaginary one, a realm of insubstantial ghosts and shadows.

Suddenly the fire collapsed and sparky pieces of glowing red wood spilled beyond its circle of enclosing stones to roll across the earthen floor. Reality was trying to reassert itself and snap me back. It didn't work. I just smiled all the more at the trick it was trying to play on me. A spirit walked in through the doors. I checked that our protection was still in place. It was. Nothing to worry about.

Realising there was no more we could do and no more to be done, we packed away our drums, bedded down the fire, extinguished the candles, closed the doors and made our way back through the woods, the full moon illuminating our path. It was beautiful.

Thinking about it back at the house, I realised the importance of that signifier that let me know I had Holwing Wolf Moonreached the crossing point: smiling. There was a genuine and spontaneous joy at having reached that point, at being once again reminded that the concrete jungles we have built for ourselves, even the roundhouses we have built, are not the only reality we inhabit. There are potentially endless Otherworlds beyond, worlds of magic and wonder where we may converse with other animals, with tree people, the ancestral dead, the Faery Folk, the old gods of our lands, or mythical creatures such as dragons and unicorns. On entering these worlds, we find that they have a reality that goes far beyond that of what we think of as solid matter. Of course, matter is nowhere near solid, the spaces between atoms being vastly bigger than the atoms themselves, comparable to the distances between planets or galaxies. No wonder Eastern religions refer to the material world as Maya, 'Illusion.' It may indeed be more permeable than dreams.

The world of matter is a world full of worries, concerns, fears, while accessing Otherworlds releases a spontaneous burst of joy. Entering them, we are freed from the weight of the material world, while in them we may soar on eagle wings or lope through forests on padded paws, seeing through other eyes. They are our true home.

Some may see these words as further evidence that we modern Pagans are engaged in mere escapism resulting from our unwillingness or inability to engage with the 'real' world. I would argue that, far from escaping reality, we are actually learning to access realities that are deeper, broader, more filled with possibility and more 'real' than the familiar, made in China, plastic, CGI world of car adverts, media overload, political posturing and quantitative easing. Give me the Faery Realms any day.

Blessings of Summer's end,

Greywolf /|\

The pictures:

The one at the top is a mixed media piece I made about 40 years ago, the photos of me blowing the fire and drumming in the roundhouse are by Elaine Gregory and the wolf image is one I found online.