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5

AmmerdownConferencePhotoThe gang's all here in this great group photo. Well, almost, actually a couple of people are missing. One is Bruce Stanley, because he was taking the picture, the other is Phil Ryder of the Druid Network, who mysteriously vanished. Phil's partner, Lynda, commented about being in the presence of so much Pagan royalty. This confused nearby Christian delegates who had, of course, never heard of any of us! This gathering, which took place at the Ammerdown Centre in Somerset, was so densely packed that I'm going to have to spread it over three or four blogs. Here's the first...

Day One, January 31st 2014

This gathering was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends in the Druid, Pagan and Christian communities and, hopefully, make some new ones. What remains to be seen is whether it will prove to be more than that. From the discussions that took place, both formally and informally, the possibilities are certainly there. What was it all about? Well, the letter of invitation from Ammerdown's director, Benedicte Scholefield, explains it as follows:

Our ambition is to bring together a select group of Pagans and Christians who share a concern for the future of the planet and an interest in dialogue. Our feeling is that there are many misunderstandings and fears on both sides that divide us and prevent us from working together on common environmental concerns. Our planned conversation aims to encourage a fresh dialogue that would tackle these misunderstandings and fears, and hopefully open up avenues for continuing dialogue and for joint actions.”

As one of the aforementioned friends, Philip Carr-Gomm, Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), pointed out during his presentation, dialogue between Christians and Druids is by no means new, having been going on for at least 300 years. The 'Celebrating Planet Earth' event is, then, an extension of a long-standing tradition within Druidry. It certainly proved a rewarding way to spend a Gwyl Forwyn weekend. Gwyl Forwyn, 'The Feast of the Maiden,' is the Welsh name for the festival known in Ireland as Imbolc and in England as Candlemas, but more of that later.

Denise CushOur moderator for the talks and the discussions that followed them was Denise Cush (left), Professor of Religion and Education at Bath Spa University. She was also our first speaker, her topic being, 'Setting the Scene: What are the Issues and Challenges that We Face?'

Denise began by saying that she has engaged both practically and academically with Christianity, Paganism and a range of other spiritual paths. As a member of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, she has advocated the inclusion of Paganism in Religious Studies Curricula in schools. She spoke of the use of unhelpful terminology and stereotyping that has often created barriers between Pagans and Christians. The very use of the term, Witch, being an obvious example since its traditional connotations are those of people who use magic to harm others. She then spoke of the often unfortunate history of engagements between the two paths, with Pagan Roman emperors instituting measures to reduce the spread of Christianity, up to and including killing Christians in a variety of unpleasant ways, while, when Christianity became the dominant Roman religion, it then acted in much the same way against Pagans.

She then addressed the issue of mythical histories, such as the widely-held but entirely false burningtimesbelief that 9 million mainly female adherents of a genuinely ancient Witch cult were put to death in Europe during what has become known among modern Pagans as 'The Burning Times,' largely due to an oft-repeated pagan song of that name, which has led to images like the one here being downloadable from Pagan websites. In fact, the numbers put to death during Witch trials across the whole of Europe was somewhere between 13 and 40 thousand, and they were not descendants of an ancient religion with origins in the Neolithic era but mainly people whose neighbours condemned them as Witches in order to get back at or dispose of people they didn't like. We were, incidentally, offered a rendition of 'The Burning Times,' and Christians and Pagans united in declining the offer. Meanwhile, from the Christian side comes the equally prevalent misunderstanding that Paganism is equal to Satanism, missing the point that Satan is an aspect of Christian myth that doesn't really exist in the Bible but is largely a creation of medieval Christianity.

Sally Griffyn, Wiccan WisdomkeepersDenise raised the common habit amongst Pagans of defining themselves in relation to the prevailing Christian culture, often doing so from an understanding of Christianity that is unaware of changes that have happened within it over recent decades. A specific result of this is the oft-repeated Pagan statement that “Western, patriarchal religions do not consider Nature or the environment” (Sally Griffyn, Wiccan Wisdomkeepers: Modern-Day Witches Speak on Environmentalism, Feminism, Motherhood, Wiccan Lore and More, 2002). While Paganism has been referred to as “the Green Party at prayer,” Christianity remains identified by Pagans with the scriptural notion of man being given dominion over the Earth and all its (her) creatures. The Pagan Federation website describes Paganism as “polytheistic or pantheistic, Nature-worshipping religion.” Against which is the archaeological evidence that ancient pagans were just as capable of damaging the Earth as we are, albeit on a more localised scale, being fewer in number and lacking technology. Meanwhile, many modern Christians have embraced the concept of 'Creation spirituality' as a foundation for their own engagement in environmental activism. Her conclusion here was that both Christians and Pagans engage with the environment both theologically and practically, or, of course, don't.

She then raised the contentious question of whether perhaps there are elements in both Paganism and Christianity that actually quite like the idea of being persecuted. Equally controversially, she raised the question of whether the Earth might be better served by humanists.

celtic-knot-heartOn the subject of selective or elective identities, Denise pointed to the adoption of the romantic myth of the spiritual, ecological Celt by both Pagans, especially Druids, and Christians, leading both groups to identify themselves as, in some sense, 'Celtic,' even when they have no obvious, direct blood-lines amongst existing Celtic nations and when the concept of the Celt employed by both groups is often based more on imagination that actuality. This reminded me of another old friend, Marion Bowman, senior lecturer at the Open University, who came up with the tag, 'Cardiac Celt,' to characterise such folk, I myself arguably falling into this category. Similarly romantic notions of other indigenous peoples are also prevalent amongst both Pagans and Christians.

Denise then turned to the commonalities between us, which she characterised as the shared values of love and compassion, a dislike for rules, the immanence of the sacred, the value of ritual or ceremony, the celebration of festival times (often the same festival times), and activism on a range of social and environmental issues inspired by our spiritualities.

She also addressed borrowings between our paths, suggesting that the kind of 'deep Green' ecology that emerged as a part of Paganism during the second half of the 20th century was a source of inspiration behind the Greening of Christianity that led to 'Creation spirituality.' In the other direction, she suggested that there are aspects of Pagan practice and theology that draw on Christian ideas and practices, acknowledging that some of those may have been 'borrowed' from earlier pagans.

Denise concluded by offering as shared values that could inform our discussions those of generosity, humility and wisdom and by asking, when this weekend together reached its end, where do we go next and how do we build on what's been shared?

The Evening Ceremony:

At 9.30pm, our colourful group of Christians, Druids and Pagans trooped out of the main building to celebrate Gwyl Forwyn, Imbolc, Candlemas, or whatever your preferred name is. In Ireland and Scotland, and amongst many Pagans throughout Britain, this seasonal festival is associated with the Gaelic Brighid, widely accepted as a Pagan goddess whose veneration was partially or wholly Ammerdown Chapeldisplaced by reverence for an Irish saint of the same name. In Gaelic regions, she is known as the foster-mother of Christ, traditionally treated with a reverence reserved in other areas for the Virgin Mary, Jesus's mother. As a bridge between Pagan and Christian traditions, and as it was her festival time, Brighid was to be a focus of our ceremony, music and meditation over the weekend, including this one in the chapel at Ammerdown (left), its high, pyramid-shaped timber roof offering excellent acoustics. Druids, Pagans and Christians all tend to celebrate this festival in similar ways, lighting candles, bringing in snowdrops if they're out in time, invoking the spirit of Brighid, all as a way of welcoming the first stirrings of new life emerging from the earth as light begins to return to the land and the days lengthen following Midwinter's long night.

The ceremony was compiled and led by Alison Eve (right) and Paul Cudby, co-founders of the SONY DSCrecently-established Forest Church, a concept derived from Bruce Stanley's observation that almost every fellow Christian he asked said that their first connections with spirit had occurred in response to some aspect of the natural world, most often woodland. Bruce was also present for the weekend. The ceremony included the lighting of a central candle on a low, circular altar decorated with sparkling white, silica-rich stones of a type often found incorporated into megalithic structures, and with emblems of the four elemental quarters; feathers in the East, red wood and stone in the South, a goblet of water at the West and, of course, stones in the North. We were encouraged to join in with Gaelic chants invoking Brighid and aspects of the natural world, led by Alison. A chalice was passed around containing a mix of herbs, grain, milk and whisky, along with baked bannocks. It was well-planned to give those Pagans among us a sense of familiarity. It was also reasonably short and to the point, something Pagan rites sometimes fail to achieve. At the end of the rite, Ali took the remaining food and drink outside to offer it to the Earth.

I was sufficiently impressed with the chapel's acoustics to want to try them out myself later, so I headed across with a yew-wood flute and my drum. I arrived just as one of the Centre's staff was emerging, having turned out the lights and extinguished the candle on the altar, which I had thought was supposed to be left burning throughout the weekend. She put the lights back on for me, relit the candle, and asked me to extinguish it again before I left.

Sure enough, the acoustics were extremely good. The flute sounded wonderful, its sound filling the building. I unpacked my drum bag and, starting in the East, invoked the four quarters using my rawhide rattle, itself having feathers of eagle and buzzard attached to it as well as, inevitably, a piece of wolf fur. South, West, North and back to the East to complete the circle. Then the drum. Having begun with my accustomed heartbeat, I slid into the wolf-chant that had come to me twenty years ago. It was good.Animation_candle_flame2

Afterwards, I put out the candle as instructed. Of course, I later discovered that, as I'd thought, the intention had been to leave it burning, it was just that this message had not got to the Centre's staff. It was relit subsequently, and left burning.

Thence to the bar, where stimulating conversation, much of it related to our purpose in being there, continued until 1.30am. Then to my room, finally calming my racing mind enough to sleep at about 3am. It was a promising first evening, and the next day there were scheduled talks from Graham Harvey (Pagan animist), Steve Hollinghurst (Church Army – a name he finds embarrassing), Philip Carr-Gomm (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids) and Simon Howell (Interfaith Advisor for the Bath and Wells Diocese). It seemed were in for a good day. I'll see you there...

6

Gorsedd of Caer Abiri, September 2013
TheGorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri, September 22nd 2013

On Sunday, September 22nd, 2013, about a hundred people gathered inside the vast bank and ditch earthworks of the Avebury henge in Wiltshire, with its huge sarsen stone circles erected by our ancestors in ages past. We were there to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri. To mark the event, I'm posting a pdf file scanned from the first issue of the Caer Abiri Newsletter, published in the wake of the first ceremony way back in 1993. Among other things, it tells how the Gorsedd came to be, and here's a little more background on how it all began.

During the summer of 1993, Tim Sebastion (below), founder of the Secular Order of Druids (SOD), was putting plans together for a multi-faith conference at Avebury. I'd met Tim two years earlier when my British Druid Order joined the Council of British Druid Orders. We resigned from the Council in 1996, along with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the Ancient Order of Druids, but that's another story. The first Council meeting I attended was at Tim's thatched cottage at Mells in Somerset. In typical Tim fashion, as well as hosting this meeting, he had organised an Irish folk festival over the same weekend, centred around the village pub. So, when my wife and I arrived and got no reply at the cottage, we had a pretty good idea where to look. Sure enough, we found Tim basking in the sunshine of the pub garden, joyfully surrounded by Irish musicians who were regaling him with a spirited rendition of the Irish Rover. It was an auspicious first meeting.

Tim Sebastion at Caer Abiri
Tim Sebastion at Caer Abiri, circa 1994

Tim and I struck up a rapport as a result of which, when organising the Avebury event, he asked me to create a ceremony for it. The brief was to make a fundamentally Druidic ceremony, but one that would feel inclusive to the many and varied folk attending the conference, including Reichian therapists, Earth Mysteries folk, Christian ministers, astronomers from the Royal Observatory and various flavours of Pagans. The resulting ceremony is included in the Newsletter.

Included in it was a handfasting, a Druid wedding, largely for the benefit of myself and my late wife, Ellie, though other couples took advantage of the occasion to be handfasted too, as hundreds more have been since. The handfastings were conducted at the Ring Stone (see the newsletter for the reasons why) by Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and Shan Jayran, founder of the House of the Goddess. Ronald Hutton took the two photos included in monochrome in the newsletter and reproduced here in colour.

Handfasting at the Ring Stone
Handfasting at the Ring Stone, 1st Caer Abiri Gorsedd, September 19th 1993
CaerAbiri1993Handfasting2x800
Tim Sebastion (standing left with staff), Philip Carr-Gomm (white robe, centre), Ellie Shallcrass (in red and blue, holding our son, Joe, then 1 year old), Shan Jayran (in dark robe checking script), Caer Abiri, September 19th 1993.

As you'll see from the list of names at the back of the newsletter, those attending included several who were already Pagan celebrities and others who would become so. Among the former were the aforementioned Philip Carr-Gomm, Shan Jayran, and Ronald Hutton, whose Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, published two years earlier, was already recognised as a definitive work. Also with us was John Michell, author of The View Over Atlantis, the book credited with having kick-started the whole Earth Mysteries movement. Among the latter were Graham Harvey, now one of our most respected Pagan academics, Jacki Paterson, whose highly regarded book, Tree Wisdom, was published three years later, and a young OBOD member named Emma Restall Orr, who went on to become joint chief of the British Druid Order from 1995 to 2002 and is now probably the most famous female Druid in the world.

Celebrities notwithstanding, the reason we were assembling among the stones 20 years on was, as the title of this piece suggests, an accident, if indeed there are such things in Druidry.

The Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri is a name I invented for use during a short bardic initiation that formed part of the original ceremony. The reason for including an initiation is simple. Two members of the British Druid Order, Gary and Debbie Turner, asked for bardic initiations while I was composing the rite and I thought that Avebury would be a beautiful and appropriate place for them to take place. As explained in the newsletter, when the moment for Gary and Debbie's initiation came and I asked those who wished to be initiated as bards of the Gorsedd of Caer Abiri to step forward, I was expecting only Gary and Debbie to do so. They were, after all, the only ones primed in advance to expect this request. Thhe spirits of the place, however, determined otherwise. Gary and Debbie hesitated and the momentary pause was enough for others in the circle to make up their minds to respond to the invitation.

And so it was that more than half those in the circle stepped forward to be initiated as bards of the Gorsedd. Philip Carr-Gomm, standing next to me at the time, leaned over and whispered, “Erm, what do we do now?” and I replied something to the effect of, “Well, er, we carry on I suppose.” Thus were the first thirty-or-so bards of Caer Abiri initiated. During the initiations, I did something ritualists really should not do. I stepped out of the circle with a camera and snapped a couple of shots. I know I shouldn't have, but something prompted me to capture the moment. I'm glad I did, as I believe the pictures I took, reproduced here, are the only photographic record of that part of the ceremony.

Bardic Initiations at the 1st Gorsedd
The first bardic initiations at the first Avebury Gorsedd, September 19th 1993
CaerAbiri1993Initiationx800
The first bardic initiations at the first Avebury Gorsedd, September 19th 1993

The initiation included one of my favourite pieces of ritual of any I've composed and performed either before or since. As shown in the photo, the inner circle of bards turn to face outwards and link hands, those in the outer circle also link hands, and all of them chant the awen, the spirit of inspiration and creativity, directing its flow in to those in the centre. Immediately after this, the following blessing is spoken for the new bards:

Wisdom of serpent be thine,

Wisdom of raven be thine,

Wisdom of the valiant eagle.

Voice of swan be thine,

Voice of honey be thine,

Voice of the son of stars.

Bounty of sea be thine,

Bounty of land be thine,

Bounty of the boundless heavens.

These are beautiful words to hear spoken in ceremony, and I can't claim credit for them. They are from a collection of Scottish folklore called Carmina Gadelica, collected and translated by Alexander Carmichael. They were spoken again during the 20th anniversary rite (below) and I took my place amongst the bards at the centre to receive the awen. It knocked my socks off.

Bardic initiations at Caer Abiri, 2013
Bardic intiation at the 20th anniversary Gorsedd, September 22nd 2013

That the initiation in 1993 had the desired effect was proven a couple of weeks later when I got a letter from Gordon Strachan, the Church of Scotland minister who had addressed the conference. It was written on a hillside in the Lake District and Gordon told me he was writing poetry again for the first time since he'd left university forty years earlier. He soon began work on his book, Jesus the Master Builder: Druid Mysteries & the Dawn of Christianty (Floris Books, 2000), in which he puts forward the theory that Jesus came into friendly contact with Druids during childhood visits to Britain.

It was clear that something very magical happened in that circle twenty years ago, something that came about because the nature of the rite as it had come together resonated powerfully with the spirits of the place and with our ancestors who had constructed Avebury for similar purposes, gathering families together from all over the country to celebrate rites of passage and have those rites witnessed by their community. It was this sense of having connected with the spirits of the place that prompted me to go around with a notebook, collecting contact details from those present with a view to putting together the newsletter.

Subsequent events only increased the sense that we had made a potent connection with the spirits of Caer Abiri. Within two years, our celebrations were being held at each of the eight festivals of modern Paganism and attracting hundreds of people. Ronald Hutton went so far as to describe them as the central event of the New Druidry (Witches, Druids and King Arthur, Hambledon & London, 2003, pages 255-256). The second anniversary Gorsedd remains the largest on record, estimates of numbers attending ranging from 500 to over 1,000. This produced another inspirited moment when those in the circle were asked to link hands and swear the Oath of Peace. The circle began to expand, not stopping until it had spread to the fence line on one side of the field containing the South Circle and to the inner ditch on the other side. I remember having to shout so that those on the far side of the circle would know when to begin.

Caer Abiri circa 1995
Caer Abiri circa 1995, Emma Restall-Orr as Guardian of the Stones, barefoot Greywolf, Mark Graham with antlers...

Around this time I came up with a motto for the Gorsedd: “In the spirit of freedom, and for freedom of the spirit.”

There were many reasons why the Gorsedd proved so successful. We offered many within the Pagan community their first opportunity to celebrate our seasonal festivals in public. Another factor is the multi-faith nature of the ceremonies, strengthened further in subsequent revisions of the ritual text. Followers of any and all traditions felt able to stand together as one and speak from the heart of their own faith within a circle of many faiths. Celebrations attracted not only Druids but Wiccans, Heathens, Buddhists, Bah'ai, Christians, Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals and followers of Japanese Shinto among others. Avebury is also, of course, a place of great beauty and inherent power as well as being reasonably accessible from most parts of the UK, and, because it has a village within it, it is freely open to the public. Its appeal is not confined to the UK though. Some of those attending in the 90s flew in from places as far away as Australia, Japan and the USA specially to attend our celebrations.

 It was always my hope that others would be inspired by the Avebury Gorsedd to set up others elsewhere and this has happened. Similar gatherings now take place at each of the festivals at the Long Man of Wilmington, the Stanton Drew circles south of Bristol and elsewhere, both in Britain and overseas.

 Of course, there are always some who, usually through some deep, personal pain of their own, greet any outpouring of magic, joy and wonder in others with bitterness and resentment. Why this should be, I don't know, but life seems to need to maintain an equilibrium, balancing the helpful and the hurtful, following bliss with dull despair. In the case of Avebury, a few individuals seemed to feel they had some sort of territorial claim over the place. Even as the ceremonies grew bigger and more joyous for most of us, these few voiced objections to everything about them, including where, how, when and why they were held, who was conducting them and who was attending. They spread their bitterness to others whose own resentments left them open to receive it. Ceremonies began to be disrupted by drunks shouting at, and occasionally physically attacking, those taking part. Following on from the increasingly disrupted ceremonies, these same folk would get into drunken fights in the Red Lion pub in the village, often resulting in the police being called. One Lakota visitor from the Pine Ridge Reservation had flown over to be with us following a vision. He was singing a spirit song for us in the circle when the drunks began yelling abuse at him. He commented afterwards, "You get folks like that in all traditions. We get 'em at home too."

 Things came to a head when, during one ceremony, I found myself expending most of my energy keeping a lid on a small group of angry, noisy drunks rather than focusing on the rite itself. As that realisation hit me, I had a vision of a black whirlpool opening up in the centre of the circle and spreading towards its edges, threatening to suck us all down into its gaping maw. This stark warning led us to move our celebrations to other locations, founding new Gorseddau as we did so. These included the Gorsedd of Bards of Cor Gawr at Stonehenge and others at Dragon Hill in Oxfordshire, the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex, various other locations in Britain and as far afield as Seattle in the USA.

 After a year, however, we returned to our spiritual home in Avebury and rites have been regularly celebrated there ever since. For the last nine years, they have been coordinated by Morgan Adams, who also runs a Grove and offers regular celebrations in her home town of Glastonbury.

 The unpleasantness of the mid-1990s led to the formation of a second Gorsedd in Avebury, calling itself the 'Free and Open' Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri. This now meets on the nearest Saturday to each of the eight festivals, while the original Gorsedd continues to meet on the nearest Sunday. Incidentally, it amused me to hear that on the day before our 20th anniversary celebration, the 'Free and Open' Gorsedd had met and claimed to be celebrating their 21st anniversary, despite having been founded in 1996. Hey ho...

 The anger that divided the Gorsedd left me with a certain ambivalence about my role in creating it. It put Avebury on the Pagan map as a ceremonial location, but attracted in the process those whose relationship with the spirits of the place included setting fire to parts of it, scrawling graffiti over others, getting drunk, fighting amongst themselves and behaving aggressively towards those trying to meet there in peace to celebrate their spirituality. For me, the greatest sadness has always been that the loud, angry, disruptive minority drove hundreds of genuinely spiritual people to abandon the Gorsedd and even, in some cases, to turn their backs on any engagement with Druidry and Paganism. This is doubly tragic given the ecumenical spirit that flourished so strongly in the early years.

 The split in the Gorsedd also drove a wedge between Tim Sebastion and I. I never knew until after his death how devastated Tim had been by the split. I learned then, too late, that he had spent whole days wandering the paths around Avebury alone and in tears.

 The role of Guardian of the Stones was taken in the first Gorsedd ceremony by my wife, Ellie, then pregnant with our second son, Michael. Ellie subsequently died from leukaemia, and each time I see another woman in the role it brings back memories, some joyous, others painful.

 On the plus side, the Gorsedd helped broaden public understanding and acceptance of Druidry and other Pagan traditions as the early celebrations attracted a good deal of attention from the media, both nationally and internationally. This led to a spate of favourable newspaper and magazine articles and TV programmes featuring Druids and Druidry. I've posted one short video of the Gorsedd circa 1994, filmed by a TV news crew, on youtube, accompanied by music and poetry. In its early days, the Gorsedd also helped to promote peaceful, helpful connections between the Druid and Pagan communities and bodies such as the National Trust and English Heritage, official custodians of Avebury, Stonehenge, and other ancient sites. However, this further angered those who were already angry and who viewed NT and EH with implacable hostility due to their perceived role in restricting access to Stonehenge during the 1980s.

 As well as inspiring the creation of other open, public celebrations of Pagan faiths, in the twenty years since its creation, the Avebury Gorsedd itself has initiated some 3-4,000 people, maybe more, as bards. Many have found huge inspiration as a result. To quote just a few examples, a leather-clad biker who came to an early Gorsedd rite returned a few months later having learned to play the harp beautifully; an office worker who attended quit his job and now runs the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle; a couple who came to several early rites now run a 12-acre spiritual and woodland crafts centre in Hampshire. Others have had their lives changed in other ways. Following one rite I heard from three people whose partners had recently died, each saying that as a direct result of our ceremony, the atmosphere surrounding them had cleared, their sorrow had lifted, and they now felt able to move on in their lives. When people's lives are transformed in such ways, it's hard to argue that the ceremonies that bring about such changes are anything but good.

 The Gorseddau founded in the 1990s, both in Avebury and elsewhere, have long since passed out of my hands as I always hoped they would. Others have taken up the challenge and are making them work, and all good blessings to each and every one of them for doing so. If the 20th anniversary gathering at Avebury was anything to go by, they are in good hands for the next twenty years.

 Incidentally, three of those who were at the very first Gorsedd were in attendance again for the anniversary: these were Ronald Hutton, a humble Doctor at the time of the first rite, now a full Professor and one of the country's leading historians, myself, and my son, Joe, who was one year old in 1993 and whose baby blessing during the first ceremony paved the way for hundreds of others over the last twenty years.

Three Gorsedd Originals
Ronald Hutton (in glasses, behind redhead), myself (with BDO banner), and Joe (seated on the ground), Caer Abiri, September 22nd 2013

The 20th anniversary celebration was a joyous, magical event, featuring one of the most potent bardic initiations I've ever taken part in, a beautiful moment when we chanted the awen to direct spiritual energy into a beribboned wreath to be used in ceremonies for the protection of our land and her creatures (below), and one of the best eisteddfod sessions ever, during which we were treated to some wonderful poetry, fiery drumming and utterly superb bagpiping.

Blessing with Awen
Raising energy for the protection of our Mother Earth, Caer Abiri, September 22nd 2013

As my own contribution, I sang the same Robin Williamson song I had sung at the end of the very first rite back in 1993, the appropriately titled The Circle Is Unbroken:

Seasons they change, as cold blood is raining,

I have been waiting beyond the years.

Now over the skline I see you travelling,

Brothers from all times 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 islands,

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 you 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 bright morning, converse again.

So may it ever be.

 And here's a date for your diary: the 30th anniversary will be on Sunday, September 24th, 2023. See you there...

 Blessings to all,

 Greywolf /|\

Greywolf at Caer Abiri, 2013
Blissed out at Caer Abiri, 20 years on...

 

1

As a native British Druid for the last forty years, one of my greatest joys has been to make ceremony alongside spirit workers of many other traditions, finding fundamental similarities in how we understand the world and what we do underlying our cultural differences. This is the story of one such ceremony.

After all our travels with The World Drum, it was good to be back at Wild Ways, the spiritual centre in Shropshire created by Elaine Gregory and Garth Reynolds that has been a second home for myself and my sons for about a decade. We've had some great times there, and this weekend looked like being one of those very special ones. We had the launch of the Druid Hedge Schools project on Saturday, followed by a music session featuring Robin Williamson, who I consider the finest exponent of the bardic arts, and my old friend, Andy Letcher, no slouch himself in weaving word and sound, plus other friends. Then, on Sunday, we would bid our very, very fond farewell to the World Drum. Oh, and it would be my 60th birthday. However, before all that, on Friday evening, there was to be another event that had blossomed over the previous few weeks from the seed of an idea into what turned out to be an amazing, magical reality.

Will, Lena & White Cougar in the woods at Wild Ways
Will, Lena & White Cougar in the woods at Wild Ways. Photo by Morten.

On Thursday, we greeted the arrival of the man whose vision had led to the creation of the World Drum, White Cougar. With him were Morten Wolf Storeide, who gently steers the Drum's journeys around the world, and Lena Paalviig Johnsen and Will Rubach of the shamanic band, Baalfolket. I find it hard to get to know people. I spend most of my time writing. It's a solitary profession. But with I felt an instant rapport. They were just so damn happy. It was like sunlight breaking through the moment I met them, like I'd known them forever, like we were family. They had flown over from Norway at their own expense to make music and ceremony with us. The first ceremony was to be a gift White Cougar wanted to share with us, centring around a herbal medicine I had never previously heard of called Chaga.

Chaga growing on Birch
Chaga growing on Birch

Chaga is a hard, woody fungus that grows on birch trees. In Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and much of Asia, it has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, its chief property being that it boosts the body's own healing mechanisms, making it effective for a wide range of conditions. It also has psycho-spiritual properties that may be described as lifting the spirits. I hasten to add, we're not talking psychedelics here. You won't find yourself hallucinating swarms of rainbow butterflies whilst giggling hysterically because your legs have turned to rubber. It's not that kind of mushroom. In some countries it's used as a coffee substitute. White Cougar, however, works with it in a spiritual, ceremonial way. Chaga, like all things in this world, has a spirit, and his name, in Norway, is Nivvsat Olmai. He has appeared to White Cougar in the form of a bird.

Greywolf heading down the Deer Path
Greywolf heading down the Deer Path. Photo by Morten.

On Thursday afternoon then, six of us, White Cougar, Morten, Will, Lena, my old friend, Steve Rumelhart, and I set off along the winding Deer Path that leads to our Iron Age roundhouse. I was keen to introduce our visitors to this place that meant so much to me, the construction of which had been such a transformative experience, not only for me but for others who took part. They were equally keen to see it. Naturally, we took our drums.

We arrived, knocked to wake the spirits, opened the double doors fully to let in the light, stepped over the threshold and found our places, unpacking our drums. It was almost as if planned. Natural, good. I told them about the guardian spirit of the roundhouse and its surrounding grove, an antlered figure who has been with us from the beginning, since my toe stubbed on a deer-skull when we were clearing the ground to build the place.

Lena with her drum
Lena with her drum. Photo by Morten.

Then we began to drum. I know that Steve is a solid, reliable, listening drummer. I assumed our Norwegian friends would be too. How right I was. Since they were bringing us this gift of ceremony, it was they who began the drumming. Each of them has a markedly different drum, each handmade in the Saami manner of their home country, the frames bent by hand so that their shapes are never quite round, but always oval or egg-shaped. The frame of Lena's, being wide but not very deep, had twisted after the skin was stretched over it, creating an off-kilter curvature across the drum. She told me later that her drum-maker had offered to fix it for her. She loved it just as it was, and that's the way it's stayed. As soon as they began to play, I knew we were in safe hands, not that I ever doubted it. They quickly fell into a natural rhythm together, playing off each other, weaving the very different tones of their drums into a single, magical web of sound.

Greywolf & The World Drum in the roundhouse
Greywolf playing The World Drum in the roundhouse. Photo by Morten.

I was sitting in my accustomed place near the altar in the north-east, my 'Thunder-drum' at the ready, beater held lightly in my right hand. I listened to the emerging, subtly shifting rhythm patterns Cougar, Wolf, Lena and Will were playing, and to how they were playing. Many drummers in Britain tend to play quite loudly and, well, sort of aggressively. I've been guilty of this myself at times. These guys played in a way that was gentler, more contemplative and, I found, much easier to trance out to.

Then they began to sing. Wow. Hard to find the right words. They draw inspiration from the spontaneous, improvisatory Saami singing tradition called joiking. Will has quite a deep, resonant singing voice anyway, but also uses throat-singing, producing an eerie kind of deep, rasping growl that sounds barely human and sends shivers down the spine. Lena has a voice of soaring, skylark beauty and clarity. Woven together, the effect is … what word to use? … Awesome? Magical? Inspiring? Uplifting? Entrancing? All of those and more.

It didn't take long for my drum to tell me it was time to join in. Such was the rapport I felt with these folk already that I found it easy and natural to fit the bass of my own drum in with theirs, weaving my patterns into the flow. What surprised me was that I also began to sing. Normally, I don't, unless it's some pre-planned chant for a specific purpose. Now I found myself vocalising strange noises and parts of words in no language I consciously knew. Very strange. And suddenly I knew where these sounds were coming from. I was listening fully to my drum. It's main beat is a low bass note, but it resonates with a full spectrum of overtones up into a very high register like a bird or a bat. Within these overtones, I noticed wave patterns that were generating the songs I was then translating into the sounds I was singing. This was a new way of interacting with my drum, learned in that moment.

Steve drumming in the roundhouse
Steve drumming in the roundhouse. Photo by Morten.

We played on, except I noticed Steve had not yet begun to play. This was weird, as he's usually the first to reach for his drum whenever there's the chance. He sat by the door, listening intently, for a long time. Finally, he began to play. As said, he's a good drummer, so his octagonal skin drum was soon sounding along with ours. The sound revolved around the roundhouse, reverberating from the timber posts, walls and roof in an enchanting cascade. Again, lost for words. Magical will have to suffice.

Finally, the sound wound to a natural conclusion and fell into silence. We were still for a moment, breathing with it, thinking about it. Then we looked around at each other, smiled, and made a chorus of “woos,” “yeahs,” “hms,” and similar sounds in wordless appreciation of what we'd just made together, for that one time, in that special place. It was a profound sense of rightness.

I spoke to Steve later and asked why he'd taken so long to start drumming. He said “Are you kidding? Those guys are GOOD!” I laughed. It was the first time in twenty years I've known Steve to be intimidated by other drummers.

Back at the house that evening, we talked about the ceremony we were to make next day. White Cougar told us that the chaga had to brew for at least two hours, preferably four. The brewing was to be done by our four Norwegian friends and White Cougar asked me to join them. He asked if I would guard the doorway against any unwanted spirit intrusions during the ceremony, keeping the dodgy ones out whilst letting the good ones come and go. Some weeks earlier, as soon as I heard the ceremony might happen, I had seen myself guarding the doors of the roundhouse along with Steve, me on one side, him on the other. I told this to White Cougar who smiled and said, “Ah, I see I have asked you this before.” Again, the easy smiles and laughter that usually comes with long familiarity. So it was settled, the six of us would prepare the chaga and make the ceremony.

At 4 o'clock the next afternoon, we set out again for the roundhouse, taking with us an aluminium cooking pot from the kitchen big enough to brew enough chaga for 45 people and some two-gallon drums of water. Once in the roundhouse, we set the pot on an iron stand over the central hearth and laid our fire underneath it. The ceremony began.

We gathered in a circle around the hearth, crouched down, hands close to the floor, and started vocalising low, growly noises. Then, slowly standing up, hands held out in front, our voices got louder and higher, until we all came fully upright, let out a great whoop and then, inevitably, broke out in laughter. A good way to start a ceremony. There's strong magic in laughter. We poured about a gallon of the water into the big pot and lit the fire under it.

Brewing the Chaga on the Roundhouse fire
Brewing the Chaga on the Roundhouse fire. Photo by Morten.

Then we began to drum. Again, it was easy, natural and joyous to join with these folks in drumming up the spirits we would need to protect, help and guide us through the rite. Again, a natural flow emerged, beginning when one of our drums would speak, ending when all that needed to be said had been said.

White Cougar drumming in the Roundhouse
White Cougar drumming in the Roundhouse. Photo by Morten.

Between drumming, we chatted, shared water, laughed, cracked jokes, and talked about what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. Cougar had brought extra dried chaga and sage with him to burn at either side of the doors so that people would be sained with it as they entered the roundhouse. Saining is our native British version of the Native American practice called smudging i.e. blessing and purifying people, places and things with smoke, usually from smouldering herbs. We had little charcoal blocks to burn it on, plus Steve's ever-ready lighter. Steve and I set them up by the doors. I told Steve which side I'd seen us standing on in my vision and we agreed that those were the sides we'd guard. We also agreed that Steve would be our 'soul guide' when evening came, going back through the woods to gather people for the ceremony, reminding them to bring a cup each but leave their mobile phones, and asking them to maintain silence once they'd reached the gateway to the roundhouse grove.

After a while, the water boiled and White Cougar brought out a bag of chaga, adding handfuls to the pot. He asked the chaga-spirit, Nivvsat Olmai, to be with us, to help and guide us and bring healing. He found a straightish stick and we used it to stir our gently bubbling cauldron of inspiration. The chaga, mostly bright yellow when it went in, quickly turned the water a rich, dark brown and a curious, earthy scent began to blend with the firesmoke. The six of us took turns at stirring the pot. We drummed and sang some more. More jokes and laughter, more drumming, more stirring. For some, breaks outside for cigarettes. It pleased Steve greatly to have others who smoked. Increasingly on Druid events he's felt like a Pariah because of his addiction to the noxious weed.

Oh yes, and we drank chaga. This, Cougar assured us, was necessary for those preparing the ceremony, and I wasn't about to argue. My first uncertain sip introduced me to a taste I can best describe as earthy, a little musty, with a vague hint of weak coffee, and not at all fungus-like. A few sips later, I'd got quite used to it. A few more and I kinda liked it. Now I love the stuff.

And the effects? Well, as said, we're not talking pixie caps or peyote. The effect initially seemed to consist of enhancing the feelings of elation and connectedness that being there doing what we were doing had already engendered. It was, however, a calmer, more controlled exhilaration than coffee's jagged buzz. As said, a lifting of spirits.

Will Rubach with painted drum bag in the Roundhouse
Will Rubach with painted drum bag in the Roundhouse. Photo by Morten.

For four and a half hours, we nurtured the spirits swirling around in that dark, earthy, bubbling brew, in the roundhouse and in the grove around it. Finally, time came for Steve to go and bring people down the Deer Path. People in the UK often don't take the idea of ceremony all that seriously and therefore often don't arrive attuned to the spirit of the rite but will chatter inconsequentially, sometimes even after ceremonies have begun. This is why we'd decided that Steve should stop everyone at the gateway to the grove and get them to stop talking before they came to us. This he did very effectively, as I knew he would.

As the first person arrived at the doors, passing the guardian on the ash post, I realised that I was about to greet forty-plus people with no real idea of what I was going to say. I was, as my friend, Leon Reed says, “wearing my power,” i.e. dressed in my wolfskin cloak and other ritual gear, so I guess I looked the part. Then, words came tumbling out that sounded right, so I used them again for the next person, and again, with variations, for those who came after. It was a short, simple blessing that they would gain from the ceremony what it was they most needed. If you think about that, that is a powerful thing. I asked the first people to go in by the left side of the door, make their way clockwise around the central fire, and find a place against the wall. Elaine had given us a load of Hessian sacks that we'd stuffed with straw and placed in a ring against the wattle-and-daub walls for seating. People needed to follow these instructions as we knew we only just had room for everyone. Bless 'em, they did. Later arrivals sat on log seats closer to the fire. As each person passed through the doors, they were wafted with the combination of chaga and sage incense that Steve and I kept burning throughout the ceremony.

Elaine's drawing of the Chaga Ceremony
Elaine's drawing of the Chaga Ceremony

When everyone was safely inside and settled, Steve and I took our places on either side of the doors. Inside, Cougar, Wolf, Will and Lena began the public part of the ceremony. I glanced behind me at times and saw an amazing sight. The interior of the roundhouse was filled with people and lit by the central fire on which we'd brewed the chaga. My Norwegian friends were illuminated most, moving around the fire, close to it. All around them, the seats by the timber uprights were filled, every one of them, by a golden, glowing figure, men and women, woven into the fabric of time and space we had spent so many hours creating for this night, although those hours had seemed to fly by. Behind them, in flickering shadows, were those seated around the wall. Above them the looming cone of the thatched roof, glowing golden from the firelight or rendered the dark brown of chaga by shadows. It was beautiful. This was what we had built the roundhouse for. It was meant to be exactly as it was in those golden moments, on that hallowed evening. Of course, no photography was allowed during the ceremony, but Elaine later made this drawing from her memories of it.

As said, all this was taken in at a glance, most of my attention being cast around the surrounding woods, looking for any problems that might arise. To be honest, I wasn't expecting any. I've worked with that place for a long time and know its ways and the spirits that come and go pretty well. I know how strong the protection is that we've woven into ever fibre of its construction, as not just our antlered guardian, but other spirits have come to aid and guide us. Nevertheless, I had a job to do and, well, you never know. What I did know was that I could absolutely rely on Steve to pick up and deal with anything I might miss. That's why he had to be there beside me.

Behind us in the golden light, the drumming had begun. As before, the effect of the sound in that already magical space was enchanting and entrancing in the fullest sense of those words. There was singing, of course, and chanting, and spoken prayers. In my occasional glimpses, I saw Cougar, Wolf, Lena and Will moving around the fire, their bodies and drums casting leaping shadows behind them, around them those circles of glowing people. At some point, I guess, chaga was distributed to everyone. I missed that, though Steve and I did get our cups filled somehow. After everyone had received their chaga, Cougar beckoned me to join him in the circle round the fire. Stepping into that gleaming circle was both beautiful and humbling. My drum merged with the beats of the others and I quickly tranced into the rhythm. I didn't stay long though for three reasons. First, I took my role as guardian very seriously. Second, I wanted to allow Steve a chance to step in and drum and knew he wouldn't leave the doors unguarded. Third, in our roundhouse, packed with people, standing so close to a roaring fire, drumming and wearing a thick wolf-skin cloak, it got very hot very quickly.

I stepped back in a few times to join the others, drumming with them for a while before resuming my post at the doors. Each time brought the same surge of energy. Dusk fell as we looked out into the darkening woods while the great thatched beehive of swirling, whirling, driving, growing, glowing magic buzzed and hummed behind us. The 'doctored' picture below was taken earlier, while we were preparing the chaga, but conveys some idea of how the place felt that night. It was … I don't know … words are hopelessly inadequate. I've been involved in a lot of ceremonies, often shared with folk of other traditions than my own Druidry. This was without doubt one of the most extraordinary and powerful I've ever taken part in.

The Roundhouse during the Chaga preparation
The Roundhouse during the Chaga preparation. Photo and psychedelia by Morten.

Eventually, the drums reached a final crescendo and halted, brief words were spoken and the ceremony was declared complete. There was a rush of sound from folk inside that carried a sense of elation out into the night sky. Soon, people began pouring out, glowing gold like honey pouring from a doorway in a hive. Telling the Bees. Joy in their hearts and shining from their faces. It was extraordinary in the truest sense. Cougar, Wolf, Lena and Will stepped out as they felt ready. Our eyes met, we smiled the pure, grateful pleasure of a job well done, guided by our spirit companions, helpers and guides, our ancestors, the spirits of the place and, of course, by Nivvsat Olmai, the blessed spirit of the chaga. We'd been making this ceremony together for eight and a half hours, and it felt better than good.

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

Folk stood around talking. The words 'amazing,' 'fabulous' and 'wonderful' were frequently heard. Subsequent feedback suggests that some of those in the roundhouse that night have had their lives transformed by it, truly receiving the blessings they most needed. I feel privileged to have been a part of it, and to have had the opportunity to work with such wonderful people. I'm delighted that White Cougar, Morten Wolf (that's Morten on the right) and Lena are returning to Wild Ways in May 2014, along with the other two members of Baalfolket, Anita and Bobby. Click here for our Events Page for the weekend event we're calling Norway's Spirit Ways at Wild Ways. They'll also be offering a whole day of workshops plus an evening concert in a reconstructed Saxon Hall in Worcestershire.  I, for one, can't wait. My drum is ready.

As a footnote, I later found a native British equivalent of Nivvsat Olmai in the form of 'the Dark Lad,' or Ghillie Dhu, the Scottish name for the spirit of the chaga-bearing birch tree, translating into Welsh as Hogyn Du. He's said to be shy of human company but very fond of children. He dresses in moss, leaves and birch bark. Here he is, in a drawing by the great Brian Froud.

Ghillie Dhu, 'The Dark Lad,' by Brian Froud.
Ghillie Dhu, 'The Dark Lad,' by Brian Froud.

Blessings of the changing seasons,

Greywolf /|\

 

2

The World DrumThe folk at Wildways are very eco-conscious, so the heating in the house only kicks in at around 7am when people are getting up. The World Drum's skin is of reindeer-hide and is quite sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. This was one of the coldest springtimes on record in the UK. We left the Drum out one night on the table in the hall. In the morning, all was far from well. The Drum's skin had become flaccid, visibly dipping into the frame. It was completely unplayable. I tried warming it by the Rayburn stove in the kitchen. It didn't work. The Drum was still acoustically dead. Even more worrying was that the next day we were due to take the Drum to Cae Mabon for ceremonies there and on the island of Angelsey. We needed to do something, and quickly.

 

I had been worried about the Drum for a while. When it arrived at my house, it was packed with a very thick sheepskin that was lying against the skin of the Drum. When the flight case was strapped shut, the sheepskin was pressing into the reindeer-hide skin of the Drum. Add to this the effects of sending the Drum from hot Hawaii to freezing cold England and the result was not good.

 

At this point, a certain level of controlled panic set in. After all, this is a shamanic tool that has been travelling the world for seven years, played by thousands of people in hundreds of ceremonies on six continents. This is not just a drum, this is The World Drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth, a symbol and sign of the best and brightest hopes of humankind for peace a reverence for our Mother. There was no way I could let anything bad happen to this amazing creation. Not on my watch.

 

I pulled out the printed instruction sheet on caring for the Drum that travels with it. It said that if the Drum failed to respond to normal warming, it should be fully immersed in water and then allowed to dry slowly. What it didn't say was how long it should be immersed for. I contacted Morten Wolf Storeide on facebook and asked for more detailed instructions. He told me to immerse the Drum for about ten minutes, then put it to dry slowly propped up on sticks so that air could circulate around it.

 

So, I filled a bath with water and gently lowered The World Drum into it. I held it under the water for 12 minutes, singing to it whatever songs came to mind and seemed appropriate, or just wordless chants. I was nervous … very nervous … but at the same time, I felt that this strange process was strengthening the connection I already felt with the Drum, and that, with the blessings of the gods, all would be well.

 

I lifted the Drum from the bath, allowing the water to drain and drip from it before carrying it through to the kitchen. Here, rather than sticks, I'd rigged two microphone stands angled towards, but not too close to, the Rayburn stove. The stove ticked over all night, meaning that the kitchen maintained a reasonable room temperature. Having carefully balanced the Drum with its frame on the ends of the two stands, neither of them pressing against the skin, I bid the Drum goodnight and with a whispered prayer, went to bed.

 

I got up a little before 6am, being unable to sleep any longer. I really needed to know if the Drum was all right. I slipped out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen as quietly as I could. Of course, to discover whether the bath had worked I had to play the Drum. I took it off its stands carefully, picked up a beater and tapped gently on the skin close to the frame. Even with such a light tap, the Drum sang beautifully, the overtones ringing in the quiet kitchen for a good length of time. As you can imagine, I was very relieved and very, very happy. I was even happier a little later when Garth and Elaine got up and I was able to give the Drum more of a test. Sure enough, she was fine, healed, whole and singing better than ever.

 

Here's the facebook message I sent to Morten Wolf:

 

“Hey, Brother Wolf,
Up at sunrise, tried the Drum ... she sings! Sounding really beautiful I held her under a bath full of cold water and sang songs to her, then propped her on two microphone stands in the kitchen overnight. Very relieved and happy this morning. We're off to Wales in about an hour and will be offline till we get back on Sunday. Catch up then...
Peace, love and all the good stuff,
Greywolf /|\”

 

And so, on to Cae Mabon!

Gillian at Cae Mabon with TWD

Gillian Kavanagh, who organised our trip to Cae Mabon, playing the World Drum there. Yay!

Cae Mabon is a spiritual retreat centre in North Wales. It nestles on a mountainside, a stream cascading through it from which it gets its water supply. The structures at Cae Mabon are eco-homes in an interesting range of styles, from a Hobbit hole to a reconstructed roundhouse, of which more later. It's a beautiful setting, with a large lake at the bottom of the slope and views across to Mount Snowdon.

 

Llanberis PassWe arrived on Friday, April 12th, following a drive through some of the most beautiful scenery in Wales, most memorably the spectacular Llanberis Pass. The 'we' in question were myself, Elaine and my sons, Joe and Mike. Joe is a fine ritualist while Mike, having studied video production, had accepted the task of recording as many of the World Drum events as possible in HD video. Elaine was our driver and chief events coordinator. Also joining us from previous events would be my good friend and BDO stalwart, Steve Rumelhart, musician, Jake Thomas, and Lorraine Munn, organiser of our ceremony at Ironbridge.

 

The last part of the drive was quite interesting as Elaine negotiated a well-laden Subaru down a very narrow, very winding tarmac track, to one side of which was a precipitous drop down tree-covered slopes towards the lake far below. For one not used to mountain driving, it was … erm … educational. However, we reached the car park safely, as did the rest of our merry band. We unloaded our gear, including, of course, The World Drum, and began the steep trek down to Cae Mabon itself. Slippery from recent rain, one had to watch one's footing, but we made it without mishap and were guided to our accommodation. The brilliant Gillian Kavanagh, organiser of this event, was there to greet us. My sons, Joe and Mike, were to sleep in the roundhouse. Elaine, myself and three other women were to sleep in the Longhouse, which turned out to be basically an extended garden shed but with better insulation, beds and a desk.

 

Jeff, Greywolf & Adam at Cae Mabon roundhouseFriday evening was spent greeting new arrivals as they came, exploring the site and buildings, discovering the kitchen and socialising. The new arrivals included the BDO's web wonder and all-round genius, Adam Sargant (that's him, far right), accompanied by a new BDO friend generally known as Farmer Jeff, because his name's Jeff, and he's a farmer (that's him, near right - and yes, that's me in the middle). The excellent bard, Barry Patterson, arrived with his partner, Anne, and a range of instruments including several flutes, bagpipes and a drum. Welsh bard, Gwyn Edwards, joined us too, a delightful man and a fount of lore, legend and laughter.

 

Eric Maddern, the originator of Cae Mabon and its guiding light, treated us to a talk about the place and its history. This took place in the comfortable dining hall, created from the ruins of a former agricultural building. Here an altar was established, decorated with stones and flowers from the area, on which The World Drum was to be placed when not is use. I have to admit, after the experience of soaking the Drum overnight just before setting out for Cae Mabon, I had become more than a little protective of it. It was still very cold and we were instructed to use heating sparingly, which was fine for us but gave me some concerns for the Drum. Hence I put it back in its case and removed it to the Longhouse for the night, reasoning that five sleeping in a small space would generate enough warmth to keep the Drum's skin from losing tension again. This proved correct. However, there was another problem.

 

I sleep very little anyway and, given the excitement of all the ceremonies and events and the strange surroundings, I found it impossible to sleep at all. Instead, I lay listening to the uncoordinated choir of the differently pitched snores of my companions. Finally, at about 5.30am, I gave up and got up, sneaking out as quietly as possible in the half-light. It was Saturday morning, just about, and we were to travel to Anglesey after lunch for a ceremony at 2pm.

 

Caryl DaileyJoining us for lunch and the afternoon ceremony was Caryl Dailey (left), an OBOD Druid and tutor whom I had not previously met. Caryl duly arrived with her friend, Tracy, both beautifully robed and smiling. Caryl turned out to be a bit of a star. She has Sami blood in her ancestry and treated us to a display of joiking, a type of throat-singing practiced by the Sami of Norway that produces some very strange sounds. While Caryl sang in the roundhouse, I was sitting by the central fire with the World Drum held next to me. Whenever she slipped into joiking, the Drum responded, picking up the sound and singing along with her. When she sang with her normal voice at the same or greater volume, nothing. Only when joiking. The Sami are reindeer-herders. The Drum's skin is reindeer. Interesting.

 

After lunch (the food at Cae Mabon was wonderful), we wended our way back up to the car park and decamped for Anglesey. The significance of Anglesey for Druids is that it was long supposed to have been the site of the Druids' last stand against the Roman legions in 55 CE. The Roman historian, Tacitus, gives a wonderfully vivid description of the event, with the legions formed up on one side of the Menai Strait and the Anglesey side lined with Druids perched on every high point and hurling imprecations into the wind while women clothed in black tatters ran amongst them waving flaming torches and screaming. Eventually, the legions overcome their fears, storm across the Strait, murder everyone on the island and burn down the Druidic shrines they find there. Thus ended Druidry in Britain.

 

Except, of course, it didn't end. For one thing, Anglesey had then, as it still has now, excellent sea-borne links with Ireland. It would be absurd had not at least some of the Anglesey Druids jumped into boats and high-tailed it across the Irish Sea, or in the other direction to Scotland, depending on the prevailing winds. For another thing, it would have been equally absurd for every Druid in the whole of the British Isles to present themselves conveniently in the same place on the same day so that they could all be conveniently massacred. Add to that the fact that there were a number of British tribes who welcomed the Romans' arrival and it seems very unlikely that the Romans would have repaid their welcome by murdering their Druids.

 

Barry piping in Bryn Celli DduOur chosen site for the ceremony on Anglesey was the megalithic chambered tomb-shrine of Bryn Celli Ddu, the 'Mound of the Dark Grove,' pronounced something like Brun Kethly Thee. I was happy with the choice, having last visited the Mound almost thirty years ago. It is an unusual site in many ways. Passage graves of this type are generally earlier in date than stone circles. In this case, however, the passage grave, dated circa 2000 BCE, was constructed inside a pre-existing henge and stone circle constructed around a thousand years earlier. It is also unusual amongst British tomb-shrines in having carved decorations on some of its stones, such decorated stones being mainly found in Irish tomb-shrines where they are relatively common. Bryn Celli Ddu's 27-foot long passage is aligned on the sun at Midsummer. Another extremely unusual feature is the free-standing stone pillar that stands inside the central chamber. There has been speculation that this stone is actually part of a petrified tree, or it may have been chosen for this special placing because of its resemblance to a petrified tree. That's Barry playing his pipes next to that very stone pillar.

 

We crossed the Britannia Bridge onto Anglesey and turned left towards our destination. Parking nearby, we walked along field edges until we reached the site. With its surrounding bank and ditch, it is an impressive site. The obvious place to old the ceremony was the flat area between the henge ditch and the Mound. I took the World Drum in its case and laid it at the approximate centre of what was to be our circle. While waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I stood looking around at the place, my mind idling. My eyes were drawn back to the grassy area where the ceremony would be held and I saw beneath the grass the pattern of a huge serpent. Now snakes are very important in Druidry, which has its own equivalent of the Kundalini serpent of Hindu yoga and also sees earth energies as serpents or dragons, so this vision seemed to bode well.

 

Lorraine and The World Drum at Bryn Celli DduWhen about 50 people had arrived, I joined Caryl, Elaine and others to talk about what we were going to do in the ceremony. I had wondered if Caryl might have some firm plan for the rite. I needn't have worried. As with the other World Drum rites, she was happy to start off and see where spirit took us. Our 'plan,' such as it was, included a short introduction to the World Drum, a reading of Morten Wolf Storeide's 'Speech for Mother Earth,' and then for Lorraine, as she had before, to carry the Drum around the circle for everyone to play. Caryl would open the circle and Elaine might recite the ancient Greek 'Hymn to Gaia,' a beautiful piece of liturgy. Our Welsh bard, Gwyn, would speak a piece of Druid liturgy in its original language and in English. And that's pretty much what happened.

 

Serpentine Conga at Bryn Celli DduThe end of the rite, however, took me by surprise. Caryl gathered everyone together for a hokey-cokey, which was followed by a serpent-dance, beginning just where I'd seen my serpent vision in the grass, snaking away around the Mound and returning to its starting point. Serpent energy. Yes! And the drummers, as drummers will, played on throughout.

 

It was a good, energised and energising rite, lighting up the place literally and metaphorically as the sun broke through and smiles broke out.

 

Another surprise was looking to the top of the Mound and seeing there my old friend, Andy Letcher, and his wife, Nomi. This was slightly surreal, since I had last seen them a couple of weeks earlier when they had unexpectedly appeared at our ceremony at Avebury. At Bryn Celli Ddu, they had at least known that a ceremony was due to take place on Anglesey, though they had not known the venue and had made an educated guess. We arranged to meet up again, making sure we wouldn't miss each other by not telling each other where we'd be.

 

After the ceremony, many of us went into the chamber inside the mound, taking the World Drum and other drums, while Barry took his pipes. I caught the end of the session in the Mound, and it was good.

 

Evening in Cae Mabon roundhouseThat evening, we had an eisteddfod session in the roundhouse. It was good. We enjoyed a mix of music, stories, jokes and songs.

 

Having slept hardly at all the night before, I decided to try spending the night in the roundhouse with my sons. Not having bedding or a sleeping bag with me, I figured I'd be OK in my thick woolly Druid robe with my wolfskin cloak over me. Of course, what I hadn't allowed for was that this was the night North Wales would be hit by storm force winds of up to 75 mph and torrential rain.

 

The doorway of the Cae Mabon roundhouse has a heavy woollen blanket hung across it. As the winds rose, this heavy blanket was, at times, stretched out parallel to the ground. Meanwhile, the flames of the central fire, which I was keeping fed to try and maintain a reasonable temperature, were being swung wildly around, sending sparks flying towards the straw-bales placed near the fire as seating. The Cae Mabon roundhouse has a stone wall. The roof poles are rested on top of that wall, the thatch applied on top of the poles. However, the gap between the top of the wall and the thatch has not been filled, therefore the furious winds were blowing into the roundhouse from all sides. Candle lanterns, fortunately not lit, were blown over. Luckily, the sofas and armchair on which Joe, Mike and I were trying to sleep were below the level of the top of the wall and, therefore, sheltered from the worst of the wind. On the other hand, we were not protected from the sound of the wind which roared around us all night with a noise like an express train passing a few feet away. I had not heard winds like it since the night of the famous hurricane of 1987. Needless to say, I did not sleep.

 

On Sunday morning there were more opportunities to talk. Barry and I, as bards will, fell into comparing our various flutes and talking music. There was a final lunch, followed by a farewell ceremony with the Drum, and then it was back up the path for the long drive back to Wildways, passing once more across the beautiful Llanberis Pass.

 

Cae Mabon rocks and treesBefore we left, Cae Mabon held one last bit of magic for me. As mentioned, Mount Snowdon is visible from Cae Mabon. Mount Snowdon is the home of the four storm-bringing eagles who are depicted on my drum. Just before we left, I stepped off on my own and found a suitable perch from which to view the mountain. I wanted to re-connect with my eagle companions. It had been a while. Facing the mountain across the lake, I raised my arms from my sides and spread them as wings. Without even thinking about it, I found my spirit soaring across the waters of the lake in eagle form and heading for the clouds that wreathed the mountain-top. There I found my eagle companions and greeted them. I took a moment to enjoy wheeling around the mountain with them, then broke away to return to Cae Mabon and my body. I knew that my companions would be anxious to be underway. It was a beautiful, magical moment and I give thanks to the spirits.

 

Barry has written a beautiful poem/song about our time at Cae Mabon and Anglesey, which is available online as a rather lovely sound file on which Barry plays the World Drum and his lilting bagpipes while the sound of the Cae Mabon stream rushes along and he speaks/sings his words. The text is on the same page, and you can find both at http://www.redsandstonehill.net/2013/04/world-drum-at-cae-mabon.html

 

Enjoy!

 

As ever, the photos here are by Elaine Gregory, aka Elaine Wildways.

 

We'd made rituals at Avebury, Stonehenge, Glastonbury Tor and Ironbridge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Iconic places all, each in their own way. Where next? Clee Hill. OK, you may ask, where is Clee Hill and what is it? Clee Hill is an exposed area of high, stony land in Shropshire in the West Midlands of England. It has a number of distinct peaks and archaeology shows it to have been inhabited off and on since the Neolithic period. Suzanne Thomas, her musician husband, Jake, and their kids live there and have a deep affection for the place. Before the World Drum, I knew little of it, only having ever been driven across it on the way to other places. That was about to change. The first event Suzanne had organised for us was on one of the highest peaks, one with the curious name of Titterstone Clee. Elaine, co-ordinator of all the World Drum events, also lives in Shropshire but had never been to the top of Titterstone Clee. As mentioned in an earlier blog, this was one of the coldest springtimes on record, so, with a good deal of snow still lying on the high ground, Elaine though it might be wise to take a drive up to the Clee and see how passable it was. We did this the day before the ceremony was due to take place. Much of the very narrow road leading up onto the Clee was covered in a thick layer of impacted snow and ice. The car did slew about a little, enough to make us turn around well before we reached the car park and head back down the hill. Not very promising, but we had faith in The World Drum. It had been kind to us so far.
The following morning, we headed back to Titterstone Clee, the Drum stowed safely in its flight case in the back of the car and the rest of our drums and assorted robes in with it. Driving carefully in a ragged convoy, we made the upper car park without incident and climbed out of the car as others were doing the same. As at Glastonbury, the sun was shining brightly, the skies were bright blue all around us, and despite the frozen puddles and streams and the quite deep snow in places, it was actually quite warm. Once again, we were blessed.
Hiking up Clee Hill We began to make our way up the hill. It was a long and winding way, taking us past two giant golfball-like structures that are apparently government listening and aircraft tracking centres. They look as surreal perched there on these ancient hills as Dali's lobster telephone. The walk being long, often steep and quite adruous, I took the opportunity to pause for a few moments by one of the giant golfballs and request the spirits of the land and people to bring us to a time when such places will no longer be necessary. This led to an image of the two great white balls tumbling down the hill in winter, gathering snow as they went and, on reaching the bottom, forming the most enormous snowman in history...
Back to the walk, which at times became a climb. Every now and then, I would see a group of people in front of me who had stopped and I would think, "Aha! We've arrived at the ritual site!" Then my hopes would be quickly dashed as they broke off their conversation and continued walking. This seemed to go on for hours. Perhaps the fact that I was carrying both the World Drum Drum Circle on Clee Hilland my own drum and wearing a thick robe and wolfskin cloak may have made it seem longer. Nevertheless, being a determined sort of chap, I carried on ... and on .... and then on a bit more ...
At last, just as I thought we must have left not only the county but probably the country by now, we did arrive at our appointed destination. This was clearly a particularly high point as it had been marked with a concrete plinth at the base of which was an awen symbol.
Here we gathered. The weather was still superb, the views in all directions breathtaking, and I was quite pleased at the number of folk who had made the climb. There were about forty of us on the hilltop. So this was Titterstone Clee. I had to admit, it was impressive.
We formed our circle, spoke our blessings, spoke again the words of Morten Wolf Storeide's 'Speech for Mother Earth,' and then began to drum. The World Drum began the beat, a steady, rhythmic heartbeat. Other drummers picked it up and, as is the way with these things, the rhythm built in strength Drums on Clee Hillas we continued to drum, increasing our energy yet more, so that the power of the drums stepped up again, increasing our energy still further. Despite the surrounding snow, I began to feel quite hot.
At the close of the rite, we were all elated, as I think is apparent from some of these pictures. Once again, I thank Elaine Gregory (known on facebook as Elaine Wildways) for the photographs, including the one below, when Suzanne's husband, Jake, took me to visit the Giant's Chair, a little way over the hill from the site of the ceremony. In this peaceful, beautiful spot, I felt moved to play my flute to honour the spirits of the place.

Blessings to all,Greywolf /|\

Greywolf Fluting on Clee Hill

Unveiling the World Drum After Avebury, Stonehenge and Glastonbury, where next for the World Drum? Why to the town of Ironbridge in Shropshire of course! Why Ironbridge? Well, Ironbridge is widely credited with being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and it was the Industrial Revolution that led to so many of us being divorced from our Mother Earth. In 1760, some 80% of the population of Britain lived and worked on the land. By 1830, 80% of us lived in towns and cities and worked in factories. This process has been repeated across the world in other industrialised nations. As a result, much of the world's population has become cut off from the Earth as our source of food and of spiritual sustenance. Since the message of the World Drum is about re-connecting with our Mother Earth, what better place to bring it than Ironbridge, the very place where the great disconnection began?Lorraine, who lives nearby, offered to co-ordinate this event with us, working with the tireless Elaine Gregory, who cross-coordinated all of the World Drum events. Our profuse thanks and blessings to both and, of course, to everyone else who made our journeys and ceremonies possible and who took part in them.
We tried to contact the local council and the tourist board at Ironbridge to ask if what we were planning was OK with them. They failed to respond to repeated attempts so we assumed everything was OK. And it was.
Beginning the ceremony we call for peaceIronbridge came as a surprise to me. When it's spoken of as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, this instantly conjures images of coal-blackened factories, smoke-belching chimneys and polluted waterways. Ironbridge is beautiful. It nestles in a steep-sloped, wooded valley, the River Severn, sacred to the goddess Sabrina, flowing serenely beneath the bridge from which the town is named. The main street, shops and cafes are decked with flower baskets. It is clearly a place that is loved and cared for by those who live there. It is also a living testament to Mother Earth's ability to revitalise, restore and renew our built environment if we only give her a little help and encouragement and stop doing the things that hurt her and harm her creatures. So, an even more perfect venue for the World Drum to sound out the heartbeat of our Mother Earth.
On our exploratory visit to the town prior to the ceremony, we were struck by the presence of a memorial to the dead of the 1st World War that stands at one end of the bridge. Since the World Drum's secondary message is of peace between all peoples, it seemed right to honour this memorial to the destructive folly that is war.
Taking the World Drum to each of the previous venues, we had at least a sense that there would be other like-minded people ready to join us in our rites. Taking the Drum to Ironbridge, we had no such expectation. Indeed, for all we knew, we might be moved along for giving a public exhibition without a license or some such. In the event, our rite was attended by those we knew would be there with us plus just a few passers-by intrigued by our curious dress and behaviour. One delightful family ended up spending much of the afternoon with us as well as participating in the ceremony and playing the World Drum.
With the World Drum at IronbridgeThe ceremony was quietly energising, blessed once more by glorious sunshine and blue skies as the river flowed peacefully on below us. The goddess Sabrina was honoured, the Speech for Mother Earth spoken once more. We spoke for peace at the foot of the memorial to war. We formed our circle on the bridge the symbolises both the birth of the Industrial Revolution and, nowadays, the Earth's ability to recover from even the worst effects of industrial processes if we allow and encourage her to do so.
With the World Drum at IronbridgeIt was a good day...
Blessings to all,
Greywolf /|\

Photos by Elaine Wildways. Video footage to follow soon /|\

1

St Michael's tower on Glastonbury TorAfter having brought the World Drum to Avebury and Stonehenge, where should we go next? Well, the answer is obvious really, we must, of course, go to Glastonbury. Glastonbury has long had a reputation for myth and magic. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea came there during the lifetime of Jesus and again after his death. Some say he brought the child Jesus with him, others say he brought the Holy Grail and hid it there. Others say he planted a holy thorn tree when he pushed his staff into the ground and it took root. Some say that Merlin was imprisoned beneath the oddly shaped Tor that dominates the skyline for miles around. Some claim that King Arthur and his queen, Guinevere, were buried in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. Local legend has it that a dragon sleeps coiled within the Tor. The Tor is believed to be hollow, with two caverns within it. Some say that Merlin still resides frozen in one of them, while Arthur and his knights are reputed to sleep in the other, awaiting Britain's time of greatest need to arise and aid us once more.Whether you believe any of these tales, they certainly indicate that Glastonbury exercises a powerful pull on the imagination of the people of Britain.
When we first began to talk about taking the World Drum to Glastonbury, there was never any doubt in my mind that we would have to play it on top of the Tor, next to the ruined tower that is all that remains of the church of Saint Michael that used to stand there. Others suggested that, given the very cold spring we were experiencing, an indoor venue would be wise. To me, it had to be the Tor and no other place.
Britannia from a Romano-British coinWe began to consider ritual. Long time BDO supporter and Elder, Morgan, has been holding regular ceremonies in Glastonbury for many years and so we felt we could rely on her to advise and assist, which she was eager to do. I had a notion that we should call upon the Romano-British goddess, Britannia. Now known mainly through the patriotic dirge "Rule Britannia," she is actually a far less warlike and jingoistic figure than one might imagine. From her earliest representations on Roman coins, she has been represented as enthroned, seated, not in a warlike posture but in repose. She holds a large shield at her side, showing that she is protective of her land and people. In her right hand she holds a trident, symbolising that she is a daughter of Neptune, god of the sea that surrounds our islands. She seemed to me a daughter also of our Mother Earth and, therefore, a good local deity to invoke when asking for our people to reconnect with Mother Earth in respect and reverence.
To balance the feminine nature of Britannia, I began to think about also invoking the spirit of the people of our islands through the male figure of Albion (though some say Albion is hermaphrodite). Albion was adopted by the counter-culture of the 1960s and early 70s of which I was a part, and I was pleased to learn that at the first Glastonbury Fayre, the pyramid stage was positioned in relation to the Tor so as to act as a kind of spiritual dynamo to awaken the sleeping giant, Albion. This sacred alignment was suggested by John Michell, author of 'The View Over Atlantis.' I attended that first Glastonbury Fayre. Years later, in 1993, John Michell was among those present at the first gathering of the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri that I inaugurated at Avebury. Synchronicity...
The weather forecast for the day of the rite was not promising. It was supposed to be cloudy, dull and freezing cold. Nevertheless, it looked quite bright as we set off in the car in the morning and, by the time we reached Glastonbury, the sun had emerged and the skies clear. We climbed the steep slopes of the Tor in brilliant sunshine and arrived at the summit to be treated to spectacular views across the surrounding countryside under beautiful blue skies. The World Drum had come through for us again.
The World Drum circles with the sunWe found Morgan on top of the Tor and the accustomed conversation took place. "So, what are we going to do then?" "I don't know, what do you think?" "Well, I guess we could ..." So we chose where we were to conduct the rite and began to exchange ideas. I mentioned Britannia and Albion, Morgan mentioned the sleeping dragon. As we talked, a woman in blue standing close to us suddenly exploded with a cry of "You cannot block Brigit!" She said it so loudly that those of us standing near jumped sideways. I said, "Pardon me?" and she repeated, equally loudly, "You cannot block Brigit!" I ventured to suggest that no one had proposed that we should block Brigit. She proceeded to lecture us on how Brigit is the goddess of these lands, the goddess of the Brigantes. Well, technically speaking the Brigantes were a tribe of Northern Britain, a very long way from Glastonbury, but I had no desire to argue on such a lovely day, so suggested that Brigit should be included in our rite.
Sunshine drummers on the TorWhen we formed our circle, we were still bathed in beautiful sunshine and over a hundred people joined us, many with their own drums. We spoke of the World Drum and its message, reading Morten Wolf Storeide's 'Speech for Mother Earth' once again. We invoked the goddess Britannia, spirit of the land, Albion, spirit of the people, all the people, whatever their creed or colour, our new friend spoke beautifully for Brigit and Morgan for the dragon of the Tor. then we began to Drum. As at Avebury, Lorraine carried the Drum around the circle so that everyone got the chance to play it. The many other drummers joined their drums to the heartbeat of Mother Earth. There were a lot of very good drummers on that holy hill and we raised some really good energy. Walking the circle with my own drum and looking around at the faces, you could see them lighting up with joy and the magic of the place and the rite. It was beautiful and inspiring. You could feel the spirits rising, and the drums continued...
The rite ended with an outbreak of spontaneous cheering. It was a truly joyous event.
With the World Drum on Glastonbury TorAfter the ceremonyAfter the rite, there were many conversations with folk wanting to know more about the World Drum Project, about who we were and what we were doing. Children played the Drum, people took photographs. People introduced themselves. Two women had come all the way from America to be with us. As things began to wind down, I heard drumming coming from inside St. Michael's tower. I was about to put the World Drum back in its case when it called to me and told me that it wanted to be played in the tower. I picked it up and walked into the tower. There was Ginny, leading the drums with her djembe, while my friend Steve was in one corner of the tower and a tall guy called, I think, Ben, was in the opposite corner. The Drum and I took up our place in the one corner that didn't yet have a drummer and joined our voices. Between us drummers were the dancers, including a group of Spanish women who went wild. It was beautiful!
Drumming and dancing in St Michael's towerI have to say, after the rite itself and then the amazing drumming inside the tower, I pretty much flew down off the Tor. My only concern: how are we going to top that?
In conversation with Morgan after the rite, I learned that the theme of the Goddess Conference in Glastonbury in 2012 had been the reclamation of Britannia as a Pagan goddess. Synchronicity...
I love this life, the life of the Druid is the life of the land as I once said in song ...
And so to the next venue ...

PS. Photos by Elaine Wildways. Sound and video to be added soon ... /|\

The Ring Stone at AveburyMy first visit to Avebury was in the very hot summer of 1976, when I arrived by bicycle. I recall sitting with the Ring Stone that stands between the Southern Entrance and the South Inner Circle. It's called the Ring Stone because it was once a lot taller and had a hole right through it. When I leaned my head into the part of the stone that is now missing - as shown in our picture, only a short stump is left - it produced a distinct sensation of weight and solidity, as though the upper part of the stone were still there in spirit. Because a similar ringed stone in Scotland was used to conduct handfastings (Druid weddings) with the couple linking hands through the hole, we adopted Avebury's Ring Stone for the same purpose, inviting each couple to link hands at the point where they felt the hole had been. Hundreds of couples have since been joined there in love. My second spiritual experience of Avebury (I think during that same visit) was a vision of a middle-aged man's body lying on the ground next to one of the stones of the South Inner Circle. He was partly covered by an animal hide (bull I think it was). By his side knelt a grey-haired woman of a similar age who was singing a lament and wafting the man's spirit from his chest towards the sarsen that towered above them. Others stood by, some joining the keening lament. All were dressed in a combination of woven fabrics and animal hides. This convinced me that the stones of Avebury and, by extension, of other megalithic sites, are, among other things, shrines containing the spirits of our ancestors. Many years later, the archaeologist, Mike Parker-Pearson, reached the same conclusion at Stonehenge based on input from a Madagascan 'medicine man' he brought to visit the henge.In The first Avebury Gorsedd, 1993September 1993 (see picture above), I was responsible for founding the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri amongst the great sarsen circles of the Avebury henge. This resulted from an invitation to create a ceremony for a multi-faith gathering organised by the late Tim Sebastion, founder of the Secular Order of Druids. A couple of years later, the Gorsedd had become what Ronald Hutton described as "the central event of the New Druidry."
I live only about 12 miles from Avebury and it remains a very special place for me. Therefore it was a 'no-brainer' that we should take the World Drum there for the first ceremony of this year's UK trip, especially since we had brought the Drum there during its last visit to us in 2008.
With the World Drum at AveburyWhen you put out a call for folk to come to a public ceremony, you never have any idea who, if anyone, will turn up. It is put into the hands of the gods, the spirits and, in this case of course, the spirit of the Drum. To say we had a good result is a whopping understatement. Our circle consisted of about 60-70 people, all of whom were thoroughly tuned in to what we were there for and put beautiful energy into our rite for Mother Earth and for world peace. I also like the fact that we artrived with only the outline of a few ideas, talked them through a few minutes before we started and made a ceremony that seemed to flow naturally and easily. One part of the rite, repeated at each subsequent ceremony, was the Speech for Mother Earth composed by World Drum Project founder, Morten Wolf Stereide for the first World Drum ceremony which took place at the Norwegian Parliament building in 2006. Part of this says: "Mother Earth is crying. Soon she will have no tears left and then it will be too late. The time has come to unite and stand together. Please, I ask you, take each other's hands, lift them high and make a prayer while the World Drum sings her song and we feel her heartbeat. It is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. It is our heartbeat, from each and every one all over the world. It is the heartbeat of life itself. Let us join together as one that this heartbeat may continue."
The World Drum brings out the Sun!I love it when the natural world responds to what we are doing in sacred ceremony. In this case, we were making our ceremony during one of the coldest Springtimes on record and yet, as was to happen elsewhere, when we began to play the World Drum and our other drums along with it, the sun burst through the clouds and blessed us as shown in this picture by Elaine Wildways. For this, as for so much else, we give thanks to the spirits of the place, the people, our ancestors, the gods and the Drum!
The gentle, peaceful, honouring, loving energy of the day reminded me so much of the early days of the Avebury GorsThe Guardian of the Stonesedd in the 1990s. It was a joy to be there once again, singing the awen, the flowing spirit of inspiration and creativity, and swearing the Oath of Peace, "We swear by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark, O spirits, and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow."
Thanks and blessings to all who came, both seen and unseen. What a wonderful event to begin this journey with the World Drum. I have always had an image of Avebury as a great mother, welcoming those who come in peace and reverence with open arms of glistening sarsen stone and green earth banks. The image here shows a woman in the dress of the megalithic era seated in the 'throne' in the outer face of one of the two huge sarsen stones that flank the Southern Entrance to the henge. An unusually short woman in her 30s was buried near the entrance in a circle of small sarsens, curled in a foetal position with her face towards the West Kennet Avenue of stones that reaches the henge bank at this point. In her honour, the Gorsedd has always selected someone, usually a woman, to embody her at the beginning of our ceremonies. We presented the World Drum to the 'throne' before entering to begin our ceremony. What a perfect place to begin this journey with the Drum that calls to us with the heartbeat of our Mother Earth, calling us to honour and respect her and all her children. May we be true to her call!

This was the one we had to keep quiet about ... March 30th, 2013, 5.15pm, the evening we took the World Drum to Stonehenge. Five years ago, the last time we hosted the World Drum, I thought it would be good to take it to the Henge. In the 90s and early 00s, Emma Restall Orr and I had built up a good rapport with Clews Everard, then running Stonehenge for English Heritage. Clews appreciated the approach we brought to negotiations about ritual access to the Henge, which was simply to discuss politely and without anger, prejudice or bitterness. However, by the time the World Drum reached us in 2008, I had not attended the regular Stonehenge access meetings for 7 years and Clews and everyone else we knew at English Heritage, Stonehenge had left. When I telephoned the EH office, I was rudely stone-walled by a man who refused to give his name and lied to me about access, not realising that I had been involved in discussions on the subject for several years and probably knew more about it than he did.So, this time, rather than go through the frustrating process with EH again, I decided to contact the folks who now look after the Gorsedd of Bards of Cor Gawr, the group Emma and I founded nearly 20 years ago to enable peaceful access to the stones for focused ritual. Christine Cleer came up trumps. Having an ongoing relationship with the folks at EH Stonehenge, she was able to arrange a one hour access for us.
Christine Cleere with the World Drum at StonehengeOf course, things are seldom quite as simple as they appear, and this was no exception. When Christine arrived at the office next to the Henge, she was told they had no record of her access request. However, Christine, having encountered similar problems before, had brought with her a copy of the e-mail from EH confirming the access arrangements. We were OK.
We were limited to 12 people, hence not being able to announce the event beforehand ... we didn't want to disappoint all the people who I'm sure would have loved to share the access with us. Ah well, we were pleased to be there at all.
Another slight oddity was that these special accesses to the stones are normally conducted out of public visiting hours. We, however, were ushered through while sight-seers were still strolling the perimieter of the henge on the concrete path that runs around past of the outside of the sarsen circles. I'd never attempted a ceremony surrounded by such a large group of onlookers who were clearly interested but were not allowed to join us. Very strange.
The reason why EH limited us to 12 is that the grass had been trampled to mud by a larger group who had ritual access at the Spring Equinox. EH are a little absessive about their grass. Inside the stone circles the ground is protected by plastic matting through which the grass grows. When I was a kid, the grass between the stones was a little word by generations of visitors, there was only one low fence and no one paid to get in. The stones didn't seem to mind... Unfortunately these days the henge has become a major generator of funds for EH as one of their greatest tourist attractions. Not quite what local resident, Sir Cecil Chubb intended when he gave it to the nation in 1918 with the proviso that it be kept open for public access.
The World Drum being played before one of the trilithon arches at StonehengeThe henge is a strange place, surrounded by much contention. Various Druid groups and others argue over access to it, it sits on Salisbury Plain surrounded by busy main roads and extensive army camps and firing ranges. In its heyday, 4,500 years ago, it was a ritual focus for people from as far afield as the Orkneys and Switzerland, this at a time when almost every other henge and sacred structure in Britain was falling into disuse and decay. The implication is that Stonehenge was run by a powerful elite who ruled the whole of Britain. The very structure of the place speaks of this elite dominance. Unlike Avebury, 20-odd miles to the North, with its openness and massive scale, the centre of Stonehenge is tightly enclosed between four circles of stones, well, OK, two horseshoes and two full circles. Some of the gaps between stones are very narrow and the actual space in the centre of the henge is small. Seeing into the centre from outside the stones would have been very difficult. This was designed to be a hidden sanctum where the priests of the ruling elite conducted rites away from the prying eyes of the populus who gathered outside to await the words of wisdom brought out from within. All this makes it a little strange that it should have been so firmly adopted as a favoured destination for gatherings by the young, the anarchic and the dispossessed, those as far from the ruling elite as one can get. But maybe that's appropriate? Maybe it's a redressing of an ancient balance?
Anyway, the point is, it makes for a very strange place to do ritual. You might wonder then, why did we want to bring the World Drum here? Well, partly for the very reasons the place is strange. The fact that it did once network across the whole of Britain and across deep into Europe means that there is still the possibility to send out messages from it through the network of Earth energies that may still touch the spirits of folk in the Outer Hebrides or Switzerland. Then there is the notion of taking the World Drum, this amazing creation of peace and reverence for our Mother Earth, into the heart of a place with such a troubled past and present. To sound the Drum there, to radiate peace within those ancient stones, felt right. Plus it would be churlish not to mention our other motive, which was simply to get photographs of the World Drum being played in this hugely recognisable temple, surely one of the most recognisable buildings on the face of the planet. After all, part of the World Drum vow is that we will do all we can to promote the presence of the World Drum and its message of reverence for our Mother Earth and peace between all her peoples. We hope that our photographs, and video footage, of the Drum sounding out at this iconic location will help to promote the Drum, the reverence and the peace.
So may it be! And to help us promote the World Drum and its message, please feel free to share this blog and any of the images here.
Blessings to all and thanks to my son, Mike, and Elaine Wildways for the photos,
Greywolf /|\