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With the merry ring, adieu the merry spring,
For summer is a-come unto day,
How happy is the little bird that merrily doth sing,
In the merry morning of May.”

Verse from the ‘Day Song’ sung on May 1st at Padstow in Cornwall.

Green Man maskAt this time of year in the UK, we’re peculiarly blessed with opportunities to publicly celebrate our Druid spirituality. May Day is one of our ancient festivals that has maintained a rich tradition of celebrations throughout the four nations, though often now celebrated on the first Monday in May, which was designated a bank holiday in 1978, rather than on May 1st. It survived a 1993 attempt by John Major’s Conservative government to remove it as a bank holiday and replace it with Trafalgar Day in October. David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition revived the idea in 2011, again without success. The reason for these attempts to suppress May Day is that it had become linked with International Workers Day, which grew out of a resolution passed by the 1904 Sixth Conference of the Second International which called on “all Social Democratic Party organisations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on the First of May for the legal establishment of the eight-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.” This was enthusiastically taken up by the Trade Union movement in the UK who organised colourful and well-attended marches across the UK on the day.

May blossomMay Day’s origins are, however, far older, stemming from a pagan celebration of the arrival of the year’s summer half, just as Hallowe’en marks the arrival of its winter half. May Day marks winter’s last gasp, the onset of warmer weather, the return of green growth to the vegetable realm, the birth of wild and domestic animals and birds and thus fertility in general. It has always been one of the most widely and enthusiastically celebrated of traditional festivals throughout Europe.

May Day Morris dancer at Ham HillMay Day traditions include bathing one’s face in May morning dew to restore or retain a youthful appearance; young people cutting twigs from flowering May (i.e. Hawthorn) trees and using them as ‘May gads’ to lightly whip other young persons, particularly those they are attracted to; lighting pairs of fires between which domestic animals are driven to purify and protect them through the coming year; dancing, especially Morris dancing; dressing as animals or other non-human beings, a practice known in the UK as ‘guising’; electing a young woman to act as ‘May Queen,’ and often a young man as her consort; staging mock battles between the forces of summer, led by the May Queen and her consort, and the forces of winter, often led by an old woman who is often a man in drag; and decorating the home with seasonal flowers.

Many parts of the British Isles continue to hold May festivities in which members of the public may take part. Beltaine fires are still kindled in some parts of Ireland. Peebles in the Scottish Borders holds an annual celebration and a massive, and gloriously Pagan, Beltane Fire Festival takes place on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. In Wales, celebrations traditionally began with the lighting of a May Eve bonfire on Nos Galan Haf, the ‘Night of the Calends of Summer,’ followed the next day by dancing and the singing of May carols. If you fancy making a joyful noise, Cornwall has the May Horns celebration in Penzance, featuring a giant Crow and high-pitched whistles made from Sycamore; the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss festival; and assorted giants; Shropshire has the Clun Green Man Festival and other events at Shifnal and elsewhere; Sussex has its Jack-in-the-Green Festival centred around Hastings Castle but taking over the whole town; Morris dancers greet the May morning sunrise on the ridge above the Long Man of Wilmington.

Edinburgh: Beltane Fire FestivalMythago Morris dance maskMost of these events are happy to have Druids simply turn up and take part as spectators. If you’d like to be more actively involved, you could contact the organisers and see if they’re amenable to having some Druidic input. Personally, I’ve been happy just to join in with the other drummers who attend the Jack-in-the-Green Festival in Hastings. In the 1990s, Tim Sebastion, late founder of the Secular Order of Druids, researched a local celebration in Frome that had died out and revived it with support from the town council, mayor and local traders. It’s still running as an annual event. Or you could join a Morris team. There are now a number of Pagan Morris sides in the UK. Many of them dress and dance in the ‘Border Morris’ style. Some weave dances into folk dramas depicting historical and/or legendary events. All are hugely entertaining and fun to hang out with. All eagerly welcome new recruits, whether dancers, musicians, or both.

The plethora of public May Day events throughout the British Isles mean that it’s not necessary to seek out a dedicated Druid grove in order to ceremonially celebrate the end of winter and beginning of summer.

Long Man of Wilmington, SussexIf you want something with a more specifically Druidic focus, there are groups who hold open rites at various sacred sites including the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, the Stanton Drew stone circles south of Bristol and the Avebury henge in Wiltshire. Many of these were inspired by the open Gorsedd founded by the British Druid Order at Avebury in 1993. Some use the original rite I composed for Avebury as a template. You can find a copy HERE.

An online search or a visit to your local library or museum may, as Tim Sebastion found, reveal specific local celebrations you might like to revive in whole or in part. The same may also reveal little-known local sacred sites that might provide a magical venue for your celebrations. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent-sized garden, a May Eve bonfire makes a great focus for celebrating the joy of summer’s return.

However you choose to celebrate, may your celebrations be truly blessed.
So may it be!

Greywolf /|\

And now, for your delectation and delight, here's Steeleye Span performing their excellent rendition of the Padstow May Day Song....

[Bob Dylan, from ‘The Gates of Eden,’ on Bringing it All Back Home (1965)]

Here we are then, 24 years into the 21st century and once again teetering on the brink of a Third World War. As a child during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the fear of nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union was so real that I took a spade from my father’s tool shed and dug a fall-out shelter in the sand dunes near my parents’ bungalow. I’m not sure why. There were concrete 'pillboxes' left over from the Second World War among the dunes that had walls three feet thick and would have provided more protection than a few feet of sand. I think I just wanted to feel like I was doing something rather than just sitting waiting for the world to end.

I have never been a big fan of war. Observing playground fights in my first year at my primary school showed me that the only thing fighting ever achieved was someone getting hurt, thus fuelling anger and a desire for revenge. Even at four years old, I realised that what applied to little children also applied to the bigger playground fights of grown-ups, the ones called wars. I therefore became a pacifist.

And yet, despite the overwhelming negativity of war, it is frequently lauded as a heroic enterprise to be applauded. I have never fathomed why we heap praise on those who kill others in wars. In peacetime, murder is seen as a bad thing. According to the Bible, the Christian God said we should not kill. Yet we pin medals on those who do and hold parades to honour them. This seemed like madness when I was four years old and it still does.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I did not want America to give in to the USSR, or vice versa. I just wanted both sides to grow up and behave decently and sensibly towards each other.

In my teens, the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia. I knew a Czech refugee, Piotr, who had left shortly before the tanks rolled in. He ended up in England, studying chemistry at the University of Sussex. He was warm, friendly, fiercely intelligent and funny. It seemed an obscenity that anyone should want to invade a country that had such people in it.

In 2022, refugees fled from Ukraine as Russian tanks rolled across its borders and bombs and cruise missiles struck military and civilian targets. The Ukrainian president called on every male between the ages of 18 and 60 to take up arms and fight the invaders. The people of Ukraine have tough choices to make, literal life and death choices. The Russian people and the soldiers in the invasion force also have choices to make. Do they want war? Why on earth would anyone in their right minds want war?

As a lifelong pacifist, I wonder what my response would be if it happened here in the UK. I like to think I would remain true to my principles, perhaps displaying the sort of courage of the young people who placed flowers in the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen in the USA in the 1960s or the young men in white shirts who stood in front of tanks as they rolled into Tienanmen Square in Beijing in the 1980s.

Western condemnations of Russian aggression would ring less hollow if the US and UK hadn’t led the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, lied through their teeth about the reasons for it, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens and destroyed the infrastructure of the country to such an extent that much of it is still not functioning more than two decades later. That invasion also created the Islamic State movement that has since destabilised countries in Asia and Africa and placed those in Europe and North America on perpetual terrorist alert. The law of unintended consequences and further proof that violence breeds violence.

Vladimir Putin justifies his invasion partly on the grounds that Ukraine has invested in a Westernised form of democracy that he feels threatened by. Since the First World War, successive US governments have undermined, destabilised and invaded countries in South America, Asia and Africa whenever they have looked like adopting anything resembling socialism. Is that any better?

Then, in October 2023, fanatical Hamas militants murdered nearly 1,200 unarmed men, women and children in Southern Israel, kidnapped 250 and raped, tortured and wounded many more. The Israeli government has responded by killing more than 30,000 unarmed Palestinian men, women and children in the Gaza Strip. How either of these actions is supposed to benefit anyone is beyond me. Again, I wonder what my response would be if it were my family being shot at, bombed, raped, tortured or kidnapped. That would be the ultimate test of my pacifist ideals. Many of those living in the Be’eri Kibbutz when it was attacked on October 7th were pacifists. I’m sure many of those subsequently killed in the Gaza Strip also held pacifist views. 12,000 of them were children. I’m sure the vast majority of people in both communities would rather live in peace with their neighbours than live with the perpetual threat of death. A substantial majority of people in the UK opposed the invasion of Iraq. It was our government, led by Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that pressed ahead with it. A substantial part of the Israeli population does not want war. Israel's right-wing government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, is driving it forward.

Since invading the Gaza Strip, Israel is now also involved in conflict with its neighbours in Syria and with Iran. The Middle East is once again, as so often in the past, often as a direct result of Western interference, a powder keg that runs the risk of initiating a Third World War. My fervent hope is that, as happened after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the prospect of such a devastating global conflict will re-energise the global peace movement. In the early 1960s it took just just five years for it to grow from a few people marching against nuclear weapons to a global mass movement that came close to toppling governments around the world. Those governments responded to the threat of peace with violence. Our mistake was that some of us reacted to their violence with violence of our own. From that moment, the peace movement was doomed. In 1968, it was beaten into submission. Russia crushing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was paralleled by police and soldiers clubbing and shooting protestors in Paris, London, Tokyo, Chicago and many other cities worldwide. Up until then, it really looked and felt as though we might win. I still think we could have done had we continued to meet state violence with pacifist solidarity and courage. Doubtless many will feel I am a hopeless idealist. In fact, despite it all, I remain an idealist with hope.

I believe that if people remain free in their hearts and minds, nothing any external or internal force tries to impose upon them will have any long term effect. I wish them well. I fervently hope that world leaders finally come to agree upon with the majority of their people, learn the lesson I learnt in the school playground when I was four years old, that violence simply hurts people and breeds more violence, admit the futility of war and put an end to it. If the human race is to survive, prosper and live well, the cycle of violence must be broken. More violence is not the answer. Ultimately, the only rational response to violence is peace.

In the Spring that preceded 1967’s ‘Summer of Love,’ Martin Luther King wrote:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967), page 67.

A year later, Dr. King was assassinated. His truth and his dream live on.

As we say at the beginning of many Druid ceremonies,
“May there be peace throughout all the world,”

Greywolf /|\

by Frank Olding
Green Magic, 2024
224 pages, Paperback, £12.99

Buy it HERE!

I love this book! Had it existed 50 years ago, it would have saved me decades of rooting around in second-hand book shops and having friends search university libraries. It is the first book to bring together clear English translations of all the existing early material by or about Taliesin, the semi-mythical 6th century poet known as the primary chief bard of Britain. The 54 poems attributed to him are all here, including such well-known, mysterious and much-debated gems as Kat Godeu, ‘The Battle of the Trees,’ and Preideu Annwfyn, ‘The Spoils of Annwn.’

As well as the author’s superb new translations of these poems, verses by other hands referring to the bard are included. Plus there are four by the late 12th-early 13th century poet, Lywarch ap Llewellyn, also known (for reasons unknown) as ‘The Poet of the Pigs,’ who is the prime candidate to be the author of several of the ‘legendary’ poems attributed to Taliesin. Not only that but we also have translations of the earliest literary reference to Taliesin, from the 9th century ‘History of the Britons’; relevant sections from two medieval prose tales, ‘Culhwch and Olwen’ and ‘Branwen, daughter of Llyr’; and four different 16th and 17th century versions of the Story of Taliesin that detail his involvement with the witch-like, shape-shifting ‘ruler of bards,’ Ceridwen, brewer of the magical cauldron of inspiration, imbibing three drops from which gives Taliesin the gifts of poetry, seership and shape-shifting.

On top of all this, the author’s introduction is among the best concise introductions to medieval Welsh verse in general, and the history and legend of Taliesin in particular, that I’ve come across, conveying in 15 pages more than most writers manage in 50 or more. His introductions to the individual poems and prose pieces are equally informative, setting out briefly and clearly what is known of their authorship, historical background, characters and geographical locations referenced in them, and their overall significance. Particularly for some of the lesser-known historical poems, these introductions are invaluable. For those wishing to pursue further, the author provides footnotes linked to a very thorough, 7-page bibliography.

Frank Olding is a scholar by training, an archaeologist by profession and a poet by inclination. The last of these shines through in his wonderfully clear translations. Translating poetry is always difficult, doubly so when the originals were composed centuries ago in verse forms that rely heavily on alliteration, repetition, internal rhyme, strict syllable length and multiple meanings. Given these problems, the author’s achievement here is all the more remarkable. Here’s a small sample, from Buarth Beird, ‘The Meeting-place of Bards’:

I’m a craftsman; I’m a singer fine and clear;
I am steel, I am a Druid, seer, craftsman;
I’m a viper, I am lust, I gorge myself on learning;
I am no dumbfounded poet, I do not stammer:
when the singers sing their songs by rote,
they weave no wonder greater than myself.

Beautiful, fluent, and with no sacrifice of accuracy.

Whether your interests are in poetry, the development of verse forms, Welsh literature, British history, mythology and folklore, the bardic tradition or contemporary Druidry, you’ll find a world of wonder in these pages. As the great bard himself says:

I am Taliesin, the ardent one,
I endow the world with song:
praise-songs to the abundant wonders of the world.

Rishi Sunak, the UK's first Hindu Prime Minister, has warned of the dangers of polarisation and hatred in politics. This follows MP and former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson's claim that “Islamists” have “got control of London” and of its Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, despite the fact that Khan has frequently spoken out against anti-Semitism and in support of Jewish communities in the UK and been praised by Jewish groups for doing so. Former Conservative Home Secretary and Buddhist, Suella Braverman, ramped up the divisive, anti-Islamic rhetoric still further when she wrote that "Islamists, the extremists and the antisemites are in charge now" in the UK. It seems that the Conservative Party may have a problem with Islamophobia.
All this comes at a time when Sunak's Minister for Communities, the "proud Christian", Michael Gove, has chosen to withdraw funding from the Interfaith Network, a group that has spent the last 37 years working against polarisation and hatred by bringing together representatives of different faith groups across the UK. His reason is that one of the 18 appointed trustees of the Network is a representative of the Muslim Council of Britain, a body that represents tens of thousands of British Muslims and supports hundreds of charities, including numerous schools and community groups.
Michael Gove's problem with the Muslim Council of Britain seemingly stems from an incident in 2009 when the then Labour government suspended links with the MCB after a former leading member of it is said to have signed a statement in support of the Palestinian group, Hamas, and opposing the actions of the Israeli State. The leadership of the MCB has changed several times since and no longer includes that individual and the Labour party has subsequently renewed its links with the MCB. Is a problematic statement made 15 years ago by an individual member of one organisation sufficient reason to now withdraw funding from an entirely different organisation of which that individual has never been a member and which works to promote peace and understanding between faith communities? Clearly it is not.
Since the UK Government had been the main source of funding for the Interfaith Network, the Network now has no option but to close. Well, OK, it did have the option to remove the representative of the MCB from its board of trustees. Since he has been a valued member of that board for some years and has done absolutely nothing whatsoever to warrant dismissal from it, the Network took the principled decision not to do so. To do otherwise would be to betray the fundamental principles on which the Network is founded.
Given recent events, bringing people of different faiths together has seldom been more important. Attacks on Jews and Muslims in the UK have rocketed since the terrible Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7th and the subsequent Israeli Defence Force invasion of the Gaza Strip.  This despite the fact that Jews and Muslims in the UK are clearly not responsible for either event. Is this really an appropriate time for the UK government to force the closure of the main group who have successfully worked for peace and understanding between faith groups for the last 37 years? The answer must surely be a resounding NO!
I should declare an interest, having organised and taken part in interfaith gatherings and ceremonies since the early 1990s and seen first-hand the good relationships that are forged through them.
As founder of the British Druid Order, I therefore call upon the UK government to immediately restore funding to the Interfaith Network and invite you to do the same through your local MP whose contact details can easily be found online. Write to them today and help get Michael Gove's absurd, unwarranted and divisive decision reversed. Thank you.
Yours in peace,
Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf) /|\

If this tune sounds familiar, it could be that you’re a fan of The Incredible String Band. The band's co-founder, Robin Williamson, used it for the closing track, ‘The Circle Is Unbroken,’ on their 1968 double LP, ‘Wee Tam & the Big Huge.’ I’ve loved this song since first hearing it back in the day. It's the first tune I learned to play on the penny whistle and I’ve often played and sung it during ceremonies. Some years ago Robin told me he got the tune from an Irish lament by the blind bard, Antoine Ó Raifteiri (1779-1835), who wrote it for twenty people from Annaghdown (Eanach Dhúin) who were drowned on September 4th 1828 when their boat went down while carrying them to a fair in Galway. Ó Raifteiri probably repurposed a traditional tune to make his poem into a song. Robin did the same 140 years later and these are the words Robin put to it, turning a lament of loss to an inspiring song of hope:

Seasons they change while cold blood is raining
I have been waiting beyond the years
Now over the skyline I see you’re travelling
Brothers from all time gathering here
Come let us build the ship of the future
In an ancient pattern that journeys far
Come let us set sail for the always island
Through seas of leaving to the summer stars

Seasons they change but with gaze unchanging
O deep eyed sisters is it you I see?
Seeds of beauty ye bear within you
Of unborn children glad and free
Within your fingers the fates are spinning
The sacred binding of the yellow grain
Scattered we were when the long night was breaking
But in the bright morning converse again

Why do I call it ‘The Roundhouse Tune?’ Thereby hangs a tale...

I wanted to build an Iron Age roundhouse for decades. I mentioned this whilst walking through the woods at Wild Ways with Elaine, who co-runs a retreat and crafts centre there with partner, Garth. She said, “Well why don’t you then?” Next thing I know, we’ve found a good spot, cleared away the undergrowth, felled some Ash trees for timber and started to build. We also planted and harvested an acre of long-straw wheat for thatching material.

The build took about a year and a half, working during school holidays. Many folk came to help, from visiting individuals to entire Druid camps. John Letts, who pointed me to the one remaining source for long-straw wheat seed in the UK, turned out to be an expert in medieval thatching techniques. With wonderful generosity, he taught us how to thatch.

During the build I kept playing and singing ‘The Circle is Unbroken.’ The lyrics seem so appropriate for what we were doing, which felt so much like building a “ship of the future in an ancient pattern,” using “the sacred binding of the yellow grain” for our thatch with the intention of bringing “scattered” folk together for ceremonies, celebrations and music sessions, and to “converse again.” The other-than-human population of the area seemed to appreciate the tune as well. A Wren built her nest on top of the wattle wall and raised three chicks while we rattled around, daubing the walls and thatching the roof. During breaks I would sit near the nest and play ‘The Roundhouse Tune.’ The chicks would invariably join in, twittering an uplifting chorus.

For those who like the technical stuff, the basic recording was made at Wild Ways on December 1st, 2023 using a Zoom H4n Pro Handy Recorder. I’m playing a B flat ‘Generation’ penny whistle. I added reverb and, on the second and third rounds, echo, using the Audacity audio editing suite, one of the finest examples of free, open source software on the planet. The idea for the echo came from another track I’ve loved for decades; ‘Prisms,' from the self-titled 1970 LP by the band, Quintessence, a soaringly beautiful, echo-enhanced flute solo by founder member, Raja Ram. The video was put together using another great piece of open source software, the excellent OpenShot video editor.

The still photos featured in the video date from 2008, when we started building the roundhouse, through to the present. A couple of folk who appear in them have since departed for the Otherworld. May their onward journeys be blessed. I play the tune three times. On the first round, the photos are mainly of the structure as it was being built. The second round has shots of the roof being thatched and re-thatched. The third has stills from a few of the ceremonies we've held in the roundhouse. These are from the preparatory ceremonies we make to ready the roundhouse and the lead ritualists before the later arrival of larger groups for the main ceremony. If you're intrigued by these small ceremonial snippets, check out the British Druid Order website for more on our unique, 'shamanistic' take on Druidry, Britain's oldest native religion whose name we know.

Over the years, the roundhouse has been the scene of many amazing, powerful, transformative ceremonies. One of my favourite memories is of the day we invited Robin Williamson to play there for us. Of course, he played ‘The Circle Is Unbroken’ (right). I hope my rendition of the tune does it justice and that the tune and accompanying film give a little flavour of what the roundhouse is like. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet there one day?

Many blessings,
Greywolf /|\


A few years ago, a group of BDO members revived a lost ceremony of Toad blessing I’d learned about while researching for the British Druid Order’s distance learning courses. A reference to it appears in Cotton MS Claudius B VII, a manuscript in the British Library that was assembled from earlier materials for Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504 - 1575, right). Its contents include (1) legal proceedings; (2) Roger of Howden, Chronicle, (3) Pseudo-Turpin, De gestis Karoli magni; ‘Prester John,’ Epistola ad Manuelem imperatorem, etc.; (4) extracts made in the time of Matthew Parker; (5) Pseudo-Dares Phrygius, De excidio Troie historia; Geoffrey of Monmouth, Prophetiae Merlini; (6) legal proceedings. It runs to 242 pages, the first half on paper (ff. 2–113), the second on parchment (ff. 1, 114–242).
In 1574, Matthew Parker left a large collection of manuscripts, mainly rescued from former monastic libraries, to his college at Cambridge. The Parker Library at Corpus Christi bears his name and houses most of his collection, with some volumes in the Cambridge University Library. Parker was the college’s Master between 1544 and 1553. He also served as chaplain to Anne Boleyn, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559–1575. He was particularly interested in collecting and preserving manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England as evidence of an ancient English-speaking church independent of Rome. His bequest to the college consisted of about 480 manuscripts and around 1000 printed books spanning the 6th to the16th centuries.
Section 4 of the MS Claudius B, ‘extracts made in the time of Matthew Parker,’ includes the following:

“In Oxfordshire on the first day of December each year is celebrated a Feast called the Blessing of the Toad, in which libations are offered to the spirit of that ill-favoured creature which, at that season, does burrow into holes in the earth, there to remain until the sun’s increasing light stirs all Nature back to life in springtime. This barbarous custom is of uncertain origin and antiquity but is said by those partaking of it to bring good fortune not only to the toads but also to those humans who engage in this antique revel in their honour. In drinking health to the beast they do cry ‘Wassail!’ and ‘Hail to the Toad!’ and other such heathen things as though the words of scripture are to them entirely unknown. In former times it is said that all orders of society, from the wealthiest lords to the lowliest peasant, observed this pagan rite. In latter years, however, it seems confined to the scholars of the colleges of Oxford town itself. Some colleges preserve the dried body of a Toad that is passed from hand to hand around the table while its health is drunk. That otherwise learned men should engage in such an idolatrous practice must surely inflame the sensibilities of all good Christian men.”

As a dedicated Cambridge man, Parker perhaps included this passage, the original source of which is not identified, in his ‘extracts’ because of the poor light he perceived it as casting on the rival scholars of Oxford.
The existence of the feast itself should not come as a surprise since Toad people have figured so strongly and persistently in British and European folklore, belief and practice. There is, for example, the existence in Wales of ‘Toad Men,’ which I first heard about in a documentary on BBC Radio 4 in the 1980s. As described in the program, the prospective Toad Man had to bury a dead Toad person in a hidden place until only the bare bones were left. Gathering those together and keeping them tightly in his hand, he sat atop a prehistoric burial mound for a whole day and night. At sunrise, he took the bones to a fast-flowing river or stream into which they were cast. All but one would be drawn downstream by the current. The one that floated against the current was caught and kept about the person. Its possession gave the owner power over all animals and entitled him to be known as a Toad Man. I subsequently found an almost identical rite existing in Germany.
Toads regularly feature as ‘familiars’ in the Witch trials of the early modern era. Mummified Toad people are sometimes found secreted in old buildings where they presumably acted as spirit guardians. The Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft has a number of them in its collection, though some were sadly lost in the flood of 2004. Then there’s the Toadstone, a jewel supposedly found in the skull of the Toad that offered protection to its owner.
Since the 16th century, Toads have been reported found alive encased in flint nodules, lumps of coal or other stones, some millions of years old. Experiments have shown that Toads can survive in small cavities inside plaster or limestone blocks for up to three years.
A ceremonial celebration of these remarkable creatures seemed well worth reviving and so we did, at Wild Ways in Shropshire during a feast held on December 1st, 2018. Elaine, our host, had a mummified Toad which was reverently passed around the table as we drank toasts to the Toad and bid it Wassail.
Our ceremony was evidently effective as several of those present, myself included, saw toads in the days immediately following. First was Adam who, while driving home that night, was amazed to see a huge Toad person, the largest he’d ever seen, leap across the road in the beam of his headlights. I saw a Toad the following day outside the front of the house where the feast was held. Three other celebrants had Toad encounters either that day or the next.
So, Hail the Toad! Wassail!
Greywolf /|\

How was everyone’s Calan Mai? My big news for May Day this year is the completion of the three-year-long revision of the British Druid Order’s bardic course. It took that long because there are big changes from the first version, which went online in 2011. One major improvement is that we now include brilliant new translations of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, both versions of the Story of Taliesin and many of the poems from the Book of Taliesin, including ‘The Battle of the Trees’ and ‘The Spoils of Annwn,’ plus my own new translations of some key Irish texts, along with extensive new introductions, commentaries and notes that clarify the background to all of them, the meanings embedded in them, weaving them into the fabric of modern Druidry. We've also retired the 12th century font we were using for the medieval material. It may have been period-appropriate, but too many people found it hard to read. We've therefore replaced it with good old Times New Roman, the same font as the rest of the course material.
Having continued researching for the 12 years since the course first went online, a lot of new information has come to light that has been incorporated into the courses. Many new books on relevant areas have been published too, all of which I’ve tried to get hold of. I’ve been expanding my craft skills too, so there’s lots more on bardic music and medieval instrument-making. The section on bardic poetry has been significantly expanded too, with assistance from Derwydd Newydd, who also created our new Taliesin translations.
There’s a lot of new material about Welsh and Irish bardic schools too, a subject that’s been curiously neglected in mainstream scholarship although the ruins of a few survive as do many copies of bardic teaching materials, most of which seem to be unpublished and untranslated. I’ve done my best to bring together as many scraps as I could find.
As well as a great deal of new material, a lot of the existing sections have been updated and expanded. The booklet on seasonal folk customs, festivals and celebrations, for example, contains vastly more material. Courtesy of Derwydd, we also now offer an entire ceremony bilingually in Welsh and English. The booklets on ancestry are also hugely expanded.
Despite 12 years having passed and the revised course have doubled the amount of content, we are still charging the same for our courses that we were changing in 2011.
We had a good bardic course before the update, some saying it was the best available. The new version should convince any remaining doubters. I’m quite proud of it, and I don’t really do pride. I think it’s streets ahead of any other course available on the modern bardic tradition in its range, depth of scholarship, respect for its source material, and its practicality. And I’m not just saying that as the editor and main contributor, I genuinely believe it’s true.
As ever, my heartfelt thanks go out to my fellow contributors, Derwydd Newydd, Sioned Davies, Emma Restall Orr, Andy Letcher, Adam Sargant, Elaine Gregory et al, first magnitude stars one and all!
You can see a free 20-page sample of the course if you CLICK HERE
Blessings of Calan Mai,
Greywolf /|\

I love books. It's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to see my name on the spine of a really nicely produced hardback book. Well, it took a while, but I finally made it! The first edition of Druidry: A Practical & Inspirational Guide was a modest little paperback that came out in 2000 (above left). Despite being written as an introductory book, I was delighted to hear that even old hands in the Pagan and Druid worlds had found inspiration in it. It's also been a joy to run into those for whom it was their first introduction to Druidry and who were inspired to follow it as a path ever since.

A completely unexpected consequence of its publication came in 2011 when I was contacted by the organisers of the London 2012 Paralympics with a request to use parts of a ceremony included in the book in their closing ceremony. This put BDO Druidry on the same bill as Coldplay and Rhianna, broadcast to a worldwide audience of millions. See the Druid bits on

23 years on, the new edition is more than twice the length of the first and is a rather beautiful 6 x 9 inch hardback, bound in dark blue cloth with gold lettering on the spine, enclosed in a tough wraparound jacket bearing a gorgeous photo of yours truly on the front, courtesy of ace Druid photographer, Elaine Gregory. It's illustrated, which the first edition wasn't, including photos of modern Druids, sketches and etchings of earlier ones, a Romano-Celtic bronze of an even earlier one and some of my own artwork and that of Druid friends. It's beautifully laid out, printed in a lovely clear typeface and has an index. All made possible by the decision to self-publish.

The contents follow the same pattern as the first edition, beginning with a general introduction to Druidry and how the modern tradition came to exist in its current form. Subsequent sections cover the bardic, ovate and Druid paths in more detail, covering (among other things) myths, legends and poetry, seership and divination, seasonal celebrations, ritual and shape-shifting.

While retaining much from the earlier edition, this new one benefits greatly from 23 years more experience of living Druidry and 17 years of research and writing done for the British Druid Order's distance learning courses. Among other things, it features new and more accurate translations of the names of the letters of the Ogham alphabet, insights into the origins of various pieces of Druidic liturgy and the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year, new translations from Taliesin poems by Welsh poet, Frank Olding, and my own new translations of some key Irish texts, including the Song of Amergin.

Published on Alban Eilir, March 20th, it's doing pretty well even though, for reasons unknown, Amazon seem to be either listing it as unavailable or selling it with a huge mark-up for postage. Fortunately, other online booksellers are doing better. It's also available from the British Druid Order webshop at the published price of £25.99 and at a reduced postage rate, which seems like a good idea given how ridiculously expensive postage is these days.

Publishing a book is a strange business, like nailing your soul to a wooden door in a busy market place and inviting strangers to hurl dung at it, particularly since the proliferation of social media platforms that thrive on abuse. I can't pretend it's not worrying but went ahead and published anyway largely because of the positive effect the first edition had on so many people's lives and the belief that the new edition improves on it in so many ways and might therefore also have a positive impact on at least some readers. I commend it to your tender mercies.

Many blessings,
Greywolf /|\

Writing on music for the British Druid Order's bardic course rekindled a long-standing love of medieval instruments and the enchanting sounds they create. I’ve written previously about my recreation of a ‘lost’ stringed instrument played in medieval Ireland and Wales called the timpan, or tiompan. Encouraged by that reconstruction turning out reasonably playable, thoughts turned to the type of harp that might have accompanied bardic performances of the tales that make up the Mabinogi, or recitals of the songs of Taliesin, in 12th century Wales.

Here we’re on more certain ground than with the timpan, which is variously suggested to have been a hand-drum, a bowed lyre, a strummed lyre, a hammered dulcimer, a banjo and (by me) a long-necked lute. Everyone agrees that the 12th century Welsh harp was a triangular instrument of a type recognisably the ancestor of the modern harp. Its most common form was the telyn rawn, ‘horse-hair harp.’ The word telyn may actually be Irish in origin, from Gaelic teilinn, ‘the buzzing of bees.’ The story goes that the ruler of Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Cynan (circa 1055-1137), brought Irish harpers over to North Wales who disparagingly referred to Welsh harps as teilinn, ‘buzzing.’ Irish harps were commonly strung with brass not horse-hair. This in itself could account for the difference in sound noted by Gruffudd’s Irish harpers, but I wonder if Welsh makers might have fitted bray pins to their instruments. Bray pins are little flag-shaped pegs inserted into the soundboard next to strings in such a way that they can be moved to almost touch the strings, producing a distinct buzzing sound. As you’ll hear from this video, the sound of the bray harp is quite unlike the dulcet tones of modern harps:

Discussing telyn rawn with Ian Pittaway on his excellent early music blog led me to wonder if, rather than bray pins fitted to the soundboard, medieval Welsh harp-makers might have inserted or attached something to the instrument’s neck that produced a similar buzzing effect.

On the bray sound, Ian cites the very early example of the ‘bull-headed lyres’ of Ur, Sumerian instruments dating from around 2500 BCE, of which complete examples have been found. Their bray-like effect is produced by the strings vibrating against the upper part of the bridge, as in this video where a reconstructed instrument is played:

For those sufficiently interested, here’s a longer video in which historical musicologist, Richard Dumbrill, talks about the discovery, reconstruction, tuning and spiritual and cosmological significance of the lyres of Ur:

Also mentioned by Ian is an instrument that looks and sounds as though it’s ancestors were modelled on the lyres of Ur; the Ethiopian begena or bèguèna, whose extraordinary sound can be heard in this video:

This next video shows a begena being made as well as played:

The lack of a bridge is one of the key things that differentiates a harp from a lyre. On harps, the strings go directly into the soundbox without passing over a bridge. There is no evidence that the telyn rawn was anything other than a harp, in which case we can rule out a bridge. Which doesn’t mean there wasn’t something else on it that produced a sound similar to the lyres of Ur or the begena. Once I’ve completed my telyn rawn, I’ll try a few options to see what works best. One possibility, since the soundboard was traditionally made from horse hide, is that strips of rawhide could have been attached to the neck, perhaps to the tuning pegs, so as to vibrate against the strings.

It’ll take a while to get that far though. This is where I’ve got to to date:

Following medieval harp-makers, I’m using a single block of wood. In this case, it’s from a 600-year-old oak who fell a while ago in woodland owned by my friend, Elaine. Elaine’s partner, Garth, has been a cabinet-maker for about 70 years, has a generous nature and a well-stocked workshop. It’s largely down to his expertise that we managed to render a very rough-hewn lump of oak into what is now starting to look quite like a harp. If we were following ancient techniques, we’d have burnt out the hollow for the soundbox then finished it with hand tools. Lacking the time and unwilling to risk our sole piece of oak to fire, we used a circular saw supplemented by hand sawing and electric drills. We took a slice off the back and another off the base to be glued back on later. Not quite a single block technique then, but close-ish.

Yesterday, I finished drilling out the soundholes. On medieval harps, these were invariably down the sides of the instrument, not on the back as in modern harps. Noting that the sides of the soundbox are warping and cracking in places, I clamped everything together apart from the base to try and prevent any further warping that might damage the chances of gluing everything back together again.

There’s still a lot to do. The upper insides of the soundbox need reducing in thickness, the shoulders where the soundbox joins the neck need shaping, a forepillar needs making and jointing into place, as does a pin strip. I need to decide what kind of tuning pegs to use and drill and shape holes through the neck to hold them. The front of the soundbox will then be covered with a rawhide soundboard made from a Red Deer hide. I’ll then make the strings by twisting horse hairs together. Only after fitting them will I finally hear what it sounds like and be able start experimenting to produce the desired buzzing sound.

Meanwhile, here’s a video of Rhodri Davies playing a reconstructed telyn rawn without brays or other buzz-producing fittings.

Sounds great, and beautifully played, but lacks the buzzing quality of the Sumerian or Ethiopian instruments, or of later medieval bray harps. That this was a feature of Welsh harps in which bards took particular pride is suggested by Andrew Borde (c. 1490-1549), who wrote in The First Boke of the Introduction of Knowledge,

“If I have my harp I care for no more.
It is my treasure, I keep it in store;
For my harp is made of a good mare’s skin;
The strings be of horsehair, it maketh a good din.
My song, and my voice, and my harp doth agree,
Much like the buzzing of a humble bee.”

Now that’s what I’m after!

Many blessings,

Greywolf /|\


I published a book with the above title back in 2000. That's it on the left. The circumstances under which it was written were, to say the least, unusual. Ellie, my wife of 15 years, was suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. At the time of publication, she was in a London teaching hospital, recovering from the second time her medical team told me she had less than 48 hours to live. She died some months later. Between caring for Ellie and looking after our two children, then aged 5 and 7, I had neither the time nor the inclination to do publicity for the book. It therefore failed to sell in the numbers the publishers required and they pulped most of the print run. This gave it rarity value so that used copies have subsequently changed hands online for between £20 and £1000.

Friends have often urged me to bring out a new edition. For the last 16 years, however, my writing has been almost entirely for the British Druid Order's distance learning courses. With all three courses now complete and online, work on them now consists of revising and updating, leaving more time for other things, hence the new edition taking shape on my hard drive.

The first edition was well received despite the word limit set by the original publisher meaning it wasn't possible to go into the sort of depth I wanted. Even so, I've heard from folk who discovered Druidry through my little book and have pursued it as a spiritual path ever since. I've also heard from Pagans with decades of experience who tell me it gave them new perspectives on the Druid tradition.

My experience with the first edition persuaded me to self-publish this time, so no word limit and the choice of what to include is entirely my own. Yay! I also have complete control over how the book will look, from choosing the typeface to designing the cover (right click and select 'open in new tab' to enlarge it). Running the new cover past BDO course students, it met with overwhelming approval. I chose the photo, by Elaine Gregory, for several reasons. First, it's good. Second, it captures something of what the BDO is about, emphasizing what's often called our 'shamanic' approach to Druidry. Third, it is diametrically opposite to the common public perception of Druids wearing white robes and bathed in early morning sunlight at Stonehenge. The chosen image is much more in keeping with the lived experience of modern Druidry, which is of a solitary practitioner communing directly with the spirits of place, the natural world, the ancestors and the old gods of our lands. Fourth, the picture was taken in our Iron Age roundhouse, an incredibly powerful place in which to make such communion.

I hope to have the new edition available this summer. It is almost twice the length of the first and, while retaining the same title, basic structure, chapter headings and practical exercises, the text has been largely re-written as well as greatly expanded. As with the first edition, the intention is to bring the BDO vision of Druidry to the wider world because we believe it has a part to play in making our world a better place in which to live. In this time of threatening war and global warming, Druidry's long traditions of pacifism and deep green spirituality have seldom been more relevant or more vital.

Many blessings,

Greywolf /|\