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Four days of sacred ceremony, workshops, drum-making, shamanism and Druidry, new friends, chaga, and a psychedelic duck!

Just from a week in Norway during which Elaine Gregory and I spent four days representing the British Druid Order (BDO) at the Annual Shamanic gathering, organised, as ever, by Sjamanistisk Forbund (the Shamanic Foundation). This year’s event was called Naturfest and was amazing. So many wonderful, lovely people. Little kids and dogs of varying sizes wandering and playing in the sunshine, fantastic music, magical ceremonies, and a beautiful new venue, almost an island, connected only by a narrow isthmus with a road across it, surrounded by a clear blue lake and blessed with the characteristic Norwegian trees, tall pines and graceful birches. For us Druids, there was the added bonus of a young oak tree.

Friends old and new at Naturfest: Greywolf, Louise Degotte, Morten Wolf Storeide, István Zsolt Barát (see below) & Christoffer Skauge Eid, current head of Sjamanistisk Forbund.

When we go to Norway, one of the greatest pleasures is staying with our friends, Morten and Louise, two of the nicest, warmest, most generous human beings I’ve ever known. We also share a silly sense of humour, which always helps. Their house is surrounded by a wild flower meadow in the middle of a forest and is so soothing to the soul. There’s a lake within easy walking distance, Elk (aka Moose) wander past the back window, Deer graze at the front.

Edwin the Moose. Photo by Elaine.

The venue for the gathering is about a two hour drive from their house. To stock up on supplies for it we crossed over into Sweden to a huge shopping complex. Kyrre had asked us to bring a British Druid Order flag to the event. We didn’t have one, so I designed one and ordered it online. Unfortunately, it hadn’t arrived by the time we left England. Wandering around the Swedish shopping centre, however, we passed a store where I saw a large psychedelic duck suspended from the ceiling. I pointed it out to the others and we went in to get a closer look. It was so weird, we just had to buy it, deciding it would make a good substitute for the missing BDO flag. We called it PD, short for psychedelic duck.

We arrived, unpacked and settled into our tiny attic room in time for the opening ceremony which began up by the barn that was being used as office space, market and healing centre for the weekend. From there, we made our way to the central ceremonial fire. Two ceremonies then celebrated the feminine and the masculine before a sharing circle brought the first evening to a close.

Opening ceremony, Naturfest 2019. Photo by Morten.

Next day there were traditional games, a workshop on Sami healing led by Robert Vars Gaup, a nature walk and the first part of a drum-making workshop, among other things. It was a very crowded schedule, with events running right through Friday and Saturday nights as well as all day.

After 45 years as a Druid, it is my life and I know no other. Living in the British Isles, I forget that there are places where Druidry is little known. Norway is one of those places. When organiser, Kyrre Franck, asked if there was anything Elaine and I wanted to do other than the chaga ceremony we were helping out with, we couldn’t think of anything in particular, so he suggested a sharing circle about ceremony. I was a little concerned that the sharing circle was booked for 11 o’clock at night, the chaga ceremony for 2 o’clock in the morning! I had forgotten that, at Midsummer in Norway, it doesn’t actually get dark. However, once word got around that there were two Druids on the camp, people started asking if there was going to be a workshop on Druidry, so I asked Kyrre if we could fit one into the already very packed schedule. He said he’d see what he could do and, 10 minutes later, a handwritten poster in big blue letters was pinned up above the printed timetable announcing a Druidry workshop in the Lavo (a sort of wooden tipi) at 12 noon on Sunday. We’d suddenly got star billing and had to figure out how to live up to it!

We go to the top of the bill!

Our sharing circle was fun, though I’m never all that comfortable with the format. The chaga ceremony was very good, as they always are. On this occasion, we had to contend with a plague of midges and the fact that an amplified open mike night was being held as part of the gathering not far away from where we were doing our preparation for the ceremony. In making a chaga ceremony, it’s necessary to spend about four hours preparing the chaga, boiling the water, adding the chaga a small handful at a time, stirring the pot, chanting, singing, drumming, making prayers and offerings to the spirits, in particular to Nivvsat Olmai, the chaga and birch tree spirit. Chaga (a woody fungus that grows on Birch trees) is already blessed with many healing properties. By adding this ceremonial element to the brewing, we seek to enhance those existing properties and maybe add a few more.

Our set-up for brewing chaga in the Lavo. Photo by Greywolf.

When the brew was ready, we carried it down to the open air ceremonial circle on the site, with its central fire pit surrounded by stones. Elaine welcomed folk into the circle via the eastern entrance and then remained to guard it. Yes, although it was 2am, people still came! Morten and Louise conducted the ceremony. I prowled around the outside of the circle sunwise with my drum. One particularly memorable part of it was when Morten set up a heartbeat rhythm with his drum as he circled the ring of people sitting on the ground while I drummed the same heartbeat rhythm from the outside. For the people between the two drums, the vibrations must have been quite strong. During the ceremony, the Moon rose from the forest treetops across the lake. Not long after we finished the ceremony, the Sun rose to join it.

Morten, Elaine, Louise, Greywolf: the 3am Chaga crew. Photo by ?

We finished at 3 am. At 4 am there was to be a men’s sweat lodge, which I was booked into. In the event, I helped a little with the building of the fire but then had to make my apologies and leave, realising that, having been up all night, I was simply too tired.

Among the many events across the weekend, I was intrigued by a series of workshops being given by a Tuvan shaman called Dimitrij Markov. Dimitrij, turned out to be a really nice guy with a dry sense of humour. In his first session, he showed us how to build a spirit house. This consisted of sticks of firewood arranged in tipi shape, modelled around slabs of butter and cheese and set on a strong cardboard base. The whole thing was then placed on the central fire as an offering to the ancestors. Dimitrij conducted the workshop in Norwegian. I know hardly any Norwegian, but was able to follow what was going on by the few words I could pick up and Dimitrij’s actions. I noted that he always went sunwise around the fire, just as we do in Druidry.

Dimitrij placing the Spirit House on the fire. Photo by Elaine.

An outstanding feature of Dimitrij’s ceremonial creation is his costume, hung with colourful plaited cords, bells, signs and symbols, topped off with an extraordinary headdress comprised mainly of Eagle feathers. These he dons immediately before ceremony begins and takes off as soon as it is finished. His ceremonies often end with him standing quietly for a few seconds, then saying, “That’s it,” walking out of the circle and disrobing.

Dimitrij in ceremonial costume. As my friend, Leon Reed, says, "Wear your power." Photo by Morten.

One of the things I love about these gatherings is that you get to see both the surface differences in the ways we work and the underlying similarities that make it so easy to understand and communicate with each other across cultures.

Saturday night was the Sami Midsummer ceremony, which I’d been part of on our last visit two years ago. This year’s was conducted by Kyrre, Robert and Elin Kåven, a noted Sami musician. Offerings of seasonal flowers from everyone were placed around the central fire with prayers made for those in need. There was much drumming and dancing. Central to the rite was the raising aloft and honouring of a wreath of greenery tied with coloured ribbons, raised in honour of the gods of earth and sky.

Sami Midsummer Ceremony. Photo by Elaine.

Later that evening, Rotha (it means Roots) treated us to a fabulous musical set. They are a three-piece consisting of guitar/bazouki, Elin on vocals, and percussion, the latter including the biggest frame drum I’ve ever seen. The sound blended traditional and modern really well, while several lyrics were drawn from the Icelandic Eddas. Morten tells me that although the musicians are Sami, they draw much of their inspiration from Norse mythology. They are very, very good.

The band having done their encores, having been up until at least 3am the night before, we were all prepared to go to bed when Kyrre announced an addition to the program: a Wolf healing ceremony with Dimitrij, due to take place around the ceremonial fire at 1am. Had it been anything other than a Wolf ceremony, I would have gone to bed. As it was, Morten, Louise, Elaine and I all went down to the ceremony site. Dimitrij donned his costume, pulled on his headpiece and picked up his drum. Having promised my own drum a rest after the exertions of the Sami Midsummer ceremony earlier, I had left her hanging on the wall of our room, so was unable to join in the drumming. Dimitrij made up for it. His drumming began fairly quietly but quickly gained pace and volume. He began waving his drum back and forth. He started behaving as Wolf, lowering his body. At one point, he fell over and rolled on his back, kicking his legs in the air. Rising again, he stood still for a while, lifting his drum towards the sky, which was as dark as it gets, though still not dark enough for stars to be visible. He began to howl. I began to howl. Some of the others began to howl. After drumming vigorously for about half an hour, during which Dimitrij continued to move and I continued to rock from one foot to the other, we stopped. Dimitrij stood still for a few moments, facing the central fire, then said “That’s it.”

Dimitrij making milk offering. Photo by Morten.

During the ceremony, I felt a kind of expansion from my primary place of power, located near my solar plexus. The following day, I woke up feeling better than I had for ages, emotionally, physically and psychologically. Further proof that, as I said during our sharing circle about ceremony, “This shit works.” Thank you again, Dimitrij.

After a few hours’ sleep, at midday on Sunday it was time for our Druidry workshop. Elaine and I had discussed a brief outline which we followed, allowing space for whatever the awen dictated to happen. We opened our circle as usual with calls for peace at the four quarters, wove the circle, invoked the powers of the four directions, honoured the spirits of place, the ancestors and the old gods of our lands, in all of which Elaine took the lead. I then spoke of the survival of Druidry for many centuries after the Roman invasion of Britain in 55 CE, through to the time when the great Welsh and Irish legendary tales were written down. I told the story of Ceridwen and Taliesin and the brewing of the cauldron of inspiration. We then chanted the awen, filling the tall wooden structure with our voices so that they rolled and echoed in tumbling cascades of sound. It was beautiful. Then, having started late due to the previous workshop overrunning, we hurriedly closed our circle and left to allow the next workshop to begin. Afterwards, we were told of overflowing emotions and of visions occurring during our session. These things are always reassuring that we have done our job well. Many thanks to all who came and made ceremony with us, both seen and unseen.

Also at the camp, and another great guy, was István Zsolt Barát, founder and head of the Four Elements School, ceremonial leader, healer, singer, artist, drummer and a traditional bearer of Hungarian Shamanism, which he studied in Carpathian region. He has worked as co-organizer of Kurultai, the largest gathering of Central Asian tribes, a biannual festival that gathers up to 300,000 people.

Greywolf and István. Photo by Elaine.

A remarkable woman we had made ceremony with two years ago in Sweden, Inger Lise Nervik, was also there. She’s one of the organisers of Sjamanistisk Forbund and co-founder of the Beaivi Shamanic School. So many other great people it would take a book to name them all. What characterises them all, apart from our shared spiritual vision, seems to be a wonderful, off-the-wall sense of humour. This, I think, is one of the most important tools we have in our line of work.

Greywolf chatting with Inger Lise, Elaine in background, Louise in foreground, back to camera. Photo by Morten.

Speaking of which, back to the duck. Sunday morning, I got up early and decided if we were going to introduce the camp to the duck, it would have to be today. Fetching the foot-pump, I set to work and PD grew and grew and was a magnificent sight to behold. He proved a considerable hit with the campers, especially the smaller children, who were soon climbing all over him. Then, at the end of the day, the moment came to launch PD on the lake. It had to be done. Two of the younger campers came with us, including new friend, Jorgen, whose first shamanic camp it was. PD was duly launched onto the water, carefully roped to shore as we had no idea of the currents or of PD’s manoeverability. Stripping to my underpants, I climbed onto PD’s back and set sail. It was the most wonderful fun I’ve had for ages. PD was very comfortable and I could happily have floated off on his back to who knows where, but time being pressing, after much splashing, giggling and ill-advised photographs, I clambered back onto the jetty. Our two young friends then took their turns, Jorgen attempting running dives, the second of which sent PD onto his side and Jorgen into the very cold water. Fortunately, he’s a good swimmer and after a little reassurance, PD was happy too. Thus, amidst much laughter, our time at Naturfest came to an end.

Greywolf enjoys the first voyage of PD, the Psychedelic Duck. Photo by Elaine.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that very early on the morning after our chaga ceremony, I was fetching a few things from the car when a tiny just fledged bird landed on my arm. I think he was a Goldcrest. Having latched his little talons into my coat, he started preening his feathers, shaking himself and looking around, then doing a bit more preening. After a while, it became obvious that he wasn’t going to leave without some encouragement. I moved towards what looked like a good perch for a small bird, shook my sleeve gently and he fluttered off. It was a small, magical encounter, adding one more joyous element to a wonderful weekend.

After a couple of days back at Morten and Louise’s house, it was time to head home. Before we did, however, Morten had one more surprise for us. Bringing out a familiar flight case, he opened it to reveal The World Drum. This extraordinary shamanic instrument was created by Sami shaman, Birger Mikkelsen, following a vision that Kyrre Franck had. The Drum has spent many years travelling all over the world, crossing cultural, linguistic and political boundaries, uniting people with its message of care for our Mother Earth and peace between her children. The British Druid Order first hosted the Drum in the UK in 2008, visiting Dragon Hill and Avebury. In 2013, we journeyed with her to Glastonbury Tor, Anglesey and many other places. It was so good to see her again. A wonderful close to a beautiful trip...

Elaine and Morten with The World Drum and the many messages she carries between groups, cultures and traditions around the world. Photo by Greywolf.

I’m already looking forward to next year!

Oh, yes, and that BDO flag I ordered arrived while we were away. And here it is:

Elaine and Greywolf modelling this year's most essential accessory, a British Druid Order flag! Photo by Garth.

10

Commenting on a recent post on the BDO facebook page, someone described the Mabinogion stories and Taliesin poems included in our courses as ‘filler.’ I was somewhat taken aback by this. To me, this is equivalent to a Jew, Christian or Muslim describing the Torah, Bible or Koran as ‘filler.’ How is it that people in other traditions and cultures first learn about the gods and heroes of their ancestors? Through stories. Always through stories. And next come poems. Why poems? Because rhyme and rhythm are wonderful aids to memory.

In the British branch of Druidry, we are blessed to have a whole library of ancestral stories and poems, mostly gathered together and committed to writing in the 12th century. There has been much argument as to whether, and to what extent, this medieval literature retains enough of the pagan past to be of interest to us as modern pagans.

Brief diversion: Yes, pagans. I know a lot of modern Druidry, taking its cue from 18th century revivalists, is not pagan. I have always been a pagan Druid and the British Druid Order is openly and proudly pagan. It’s hard to argue that classical Druidry was anything but pagan, and it’s the archaic forms of the tradition that interest me more than the recent revivals.

As for the tales and poems containing anything that survives from the pagan past, it seems blindingly obvious to me that they do. Take the deity from which the whole Mabinogion may well take its name, the Mabon. In the tale of Culhwch and Olwen, the Mabon must be found in order to hunt the Twrch Trwyth, a gigantic wild Boar person who is ravaging the land. Why the Mabon? Because he is recognised as the greatest of hunters, and the only one capable of handling two magical hunting hounds. Mabon means ‘Son,’ and he is the son of Modron, meaning ‘Mother.’ Roll back in time a thousand years and an altar is erected and dedicated to the god Maponus near one of the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall. A badly worn scene on one side of it represents Maponus as a hunter, armed with a bow and accompanied by a hunting dog, and an adjacent side shows two Deer. Maponus is the Romanised form of the native British Maponos, which evolved into modern Welsh Mabon and retains the same meaning. Five dedications to him occur in the same area, as also does a large boulder called the Mabenstane, formerly a meeting place for the local population. It is impossible to compare what we know of the native deity with the medieval tale and not conclude that Maponus and the Mabon are the same figure.

Likewise, Gwydion, the foremost enchanter and magician of the Mabinogion, is recorded in a much earlier genealogy as Guidgen, and in Roman-British inscriptions as Mercury Uiducus. Comparing the classical character of Mercury with Gwydion as portrayed in the Mabinogion, their natures are so similar that the native deity, Uidicus, can only be the same being as Gwydion. The Horse goddess of the Mabinogion, Rhiannon, was earlier Rigantona, ‘the Great Queen,’ Manawydan is the same as the Irish sea god, Manannan, and so it goes on. These are pagan gods, of this I have not the slightest doubt, and if we are pagans, surely we need to know the nature of our gods and should revel in their tales?

While editing our courses, it became increasingly clear to me that the bardic colleges of the 12th century were spurred into what amounted to a pagan revival by the same events that led them to gather together the oral literature of our ancestors and cause it to be written down. The events in question were Norman attempts to conquer Wales. This 12th century pagan revival caused the bardic colleges to adopt the extremely witchy goddess, Ceridwen, as patroness of the bardic order.

My own Druid path began in 1974, a time when there were no courses or how-to books, indeed precious little available at all from which to construct a walkable path. That first summer, I had Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, Stuart Piggott’s The Druids, Alwyn and Brinley Rees’ Celtic Heritage (borrowed from Hastings Library), and a slightly battered copy of Lady Charlotte Guest’s Victorian translation of The Mabinogion, found in a second-hand book shop. Graves is justifiably criticised for his wild flights of fancy, but his book propelled me onto this path, so I retain a great affection for it. He quotes liberally from The Mabinogion and the poems of Taliesin, hence my delight at finding that pocket Mabinogion. Unlike most modern translations, it includes the Story of Taliesin in which, on first reading, I recognised a threefold cycle of death and rebirth by which the child, Gwion Bach, ‘Little Innocent,’ is reborn as the ultimate enlightened Druid sage, Taliesin, ‘Radiant Brow.’ This story is central to our understanding of British Druidry, which is why it is the first to appear in our bardic course.

In the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, that of Math, Son of Mathonwy, I found a mythic cycle dealing with the birth, growth, life, death and rebirth of a young sun god, Lleu Llaw Gyffes. On subsequently joining a Wiccan coven, I used this cycle as the basis for the eight seasonal festivals we celebrated. That coven became the basis of the British Druid Order. That same cycle of myth forms the basis of the festival cycle introduced in our bardic course and greatly expanded upon in the ovate.

The whole edifice of the BDO is, therefore, built on the foundations of the Mabinogion and the poems of Taliesin, the weirder of which expand our understanding of the Story of Taliesin and his strange relationship with Ceridwen, brewer of the cauldron of inspiration. ‘Inspiration’ is the common English translation of the Welsh word, ‘Awen,’ and Awen is, as I describe it in our bardic course, the Holy Spirit of Druidry, that spirit of creativity and inspiration that flows from the tales and poems of our ancestors, through us, and, from us and our stories, poems and songs, to future generations. Awen ultimately lifts us from the mire and gives us the potential to dance with the gods.

I am constantly finding new levels of meaning in this literature. One of the best known of the Taliesin poems is the Cad Goddeu, the ‘Battle of the Trees.’ I’ve known it for about 40 years, but it wasn’t until preparing a version of it to be performed with harp accompaniment in our Iron Age roundhouse that I realised the whole poem is actually about healing. It has distinct parallels with the Anglo-Saxon ‘Nine Herbs Charm.’ This realisation confirmed another I’d had while putting together the material on native healing techniques healing for our ovate course. Thus, again, these ancestral poems and songs continually work to increase my understanding of our tradition.

‘Filler,’ then, is not a term I recognise.

Having been a Druid for 44 years, it’s often puzzled and, I confess, bothered me, that so many British Druids give so little heed to this extraordinary treasure trove that has come down to us from our ancestors. In putting our courses together, then, I hoped to correct this by presenting it in a visually pleasing form that might help persuade people to read it. I know the gorgeous period font I found has proven a pain for folk who are dyslexic, but we do provide plain text versions as an alternative.

In the bardic course, we offer some indications as to why we see specific poems and stories as of particular importance. In the ovate and Druid courses, we continually refer back to them to enhance our understanding of the nature of the gods and of how our ancestors walked the Druid path, understandings I believe we need if we are to fully immerse ourselves in the path and live it as central to our lives. They are the heart of the British Druid tradition.

Having said all that, even if you skip all the medieval texts in our course material, you’ll still be left with a word count higher than that of any comparable course, so you needn’t feel you’re being short changed. And, in terms of quality rather than quantity, you have Ronald Hutton’s stated view that our bardic course is “the most intelligent and erudite sequential introduction to Druidry available.” Given that Ronald has a thorough knowledge of more Druid courses than anyone else I know, and probably anyone else alive, I’m happy to take his word for it!

I’ll leave you with a short quotation from the Taliesin poem, ‘The Cattle-fold of the Bards:’

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

And if that’s not convinced you, go and read the piece I wrote some time ago on Awen, the Holy Spirit of Druidry. It’s full of quotations from the writings of our ancestors, writings we are blessed to have access to and that, to return to an analogy I used earlier, are the nearest thing British Druidry has to a Bible, in that they are a collection of ancient, sacred writings intended to provide an introduction to the pagan gods of our lands.

Many blessings,

Greywolf /|\

4

The roundhouse, May 2010

When the first thatch layer on our reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse in Shropshire was finished, we stood with John Letts, the expert on medieval thatching techniques who had taught us how to thatch, and he told us that a thatched roof has been described as “a managed compost heap.” Over the years, the truth of this has become clear. Our roundhouse is built in a wood, meaning that the roof doesn’t get as much sunlight as it should to dry the thatch after rain, therefore it rots more quickly than it otherwise would. Because of this, we have to renew the thatch more often than we would like. We completed the roundhouse in the spring of 2009. Eight and a half years later, we have just completed our third thatch layer.

The first spar coat, October 2011

Rather than stripping off existing thatch and staring again, renewing a thatched roof usually entails putting a fresh layer of thatch on top of what’s already there. Our latest layer is a spar coat, meaning that the thatch is fixed with long hazel ‘sways’ held in place by twisted hazel ‘spars’ pushed and hammered into the existing thatch.

Jo and Adrian making yealms, me and Koth thatching, September 2017.

The roundhouse is thatched with long straw as being more period authentic than the now far more common ‘combed wheat reed.’ Long straw thatching requires considerable preparation. The straw must first be layered into ‘beds,’ each layer being thoroughly wetted. The beds are then ‘drawn’ or ‘pulled.’ You grab a few ends of straw from somewhere near the bottom of the bed and tug firmly. As the straw slips out of the bed, it is straightened out and most of the leafy bits that will prevent rain from running smoothly down the thatch are left behind in the bed. More handfuls of straw are then pulled with the left hand and transferred to the right. When the bundle in the right hand is thick enough, you grab it firmly at one end and give it a shake. Then you run your fingers through it like a comb, stripping out more of the leafy bits. Then turn it over 180 degrees and do the same again, shake and comb. The cleaned straw is then laid across a length of string on the ground. Then you pull some more.

Me throwing a yealm up to Joe, September 2017. Photo by Elaine Gregory.

When your bundle of straw on the ground has reached a size where you can just about get two hands around the end of it, you tie the string around it. This bundle is called a ‘yealm.’ This preparation is hard, time-consuming work, and we were very glad to have such a great group of people arrive to lend a hand.

At John’s advice, the lower three layers of thatch were stitched in with tarred twine, tarred so that, in theory, mice won’t chew through it. In practice, they must have a hardier breed of mice in Shropshire, and we’ve had to replace some of the stitches with spars. Ah well…

Myself and son, Joe, ascending to the heights, September 2017. Photo by Elaine Gregory.

Ideally, you need a ladder with nice, wide rungs for thatching. This is because the ladder lies flat against the roof and you need a wide rung to give your toes something to stand on. One of our ladders had rungs only half an inch across. Ah well, all along the line, since 2006, when we planted the seed for the straw with which to do our first thatch, we’ve had to make do with whatever tools we can find or make, and whatever time we can spare from other work. Under the circumstances, we’ve done pretty well.

The other-than-human inhabitants of the grove in which we built the roundhouse have been open to us from the start, when I found a deer skull on the first day we started clearing the ground.

Gerald, September 2017. Photo by Elaine Gregory.

We had wrens nest inside during the build, and there are still wrens who nest under the eaves. Buzzards have circled overhead, deer visited at twilight and, during this last thatch session, we were entertained one day by a group of wood mice who were remarkable friendly, strolling around our feet while we ate lunch and posing for Elaine’s camera.

We completed all the thatch we could on Sunday morning. We had used almost all the last batch of straw Elaine had bought in. We didn’t go right to the top of the cone, because, in the spring, we’re going to remove this part of the thatch, exposing the roof timbers again. Then we’re going to erect a new timber structure consisting of a downward-bending roof pole at either end of which will be a triangular opening to let out the smoke from the central fire.

Smoke filtering through the thatch (but not enough), January 2011.

Roundhouse reconstructions have, until now, followed Peter Reynolds, who built the first such reconstructions at the Butser Hill Farm in Sussex. Reynolds copied African roundhouses, but decided not to include a smoke hole in the belief that the smoke would permeate out through the roof. If the thatch is thin enough, a lot of it does, but a lot more doesn’t. It then depends how big your roundhouse is and how high its roof as to whether the resulting smoke layer is above or below head height. Our roundhouse is only 22 feet internal diameter, and that’s not quite big enough, so the smoke layer comes down to chest height, which means that unless you build the fire with very dry wood and keep it burning strongly, you’re breathing smoke whenever you stand up. Having had pleurisy a few years ago, I’m reluctant to expose my lungs to too much more smoke.

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Villanovan hut urn.

Fortunately, I don’t have to. It turns out that roundhouses had not one, but two smoke holes. Our evidence for this comes from little clay or metal models of roundhouses dating from the late Bronze age and early Iron Age and known as Villanovan hut urns. They seem to have been used as incense burners. Their roofs clearly show two triangular vents at either end of a downward-curving ridge pole. The same style of roof is being used in the Baltic region to this day. Given that it has been in use for 3,000 years or more, my assumption is that it works. In the spring, we’ll find out. Many thanks to Corwen Broch for drawing my attention to this hopefully elegant solution to our smoke problem in this excellent blog post.

A bonus in this year's thatching session was that Amanda, Ariana and Pete re-whitewashed the roundhouse and added spiral decorations on either side of the doors (see photo below).

Chaga ceremony, May Eve 2013. Photo by Elaine Gregory.

Huge thanks to everyone who has worked on the roundhouse over the years. Between us, we have created an amazing, magical place, filled with ancestral voices, woven with music, poetry and ritual, a perfect venue for ceremony, journeying between worlds and communing with the spirits of the place and of the old gods of these lands.

Amanda, me, Joe and Ariana at the end of a long week's thatching, September 2017. Photo by Elaine Gregory.

The re-thatched, re-whitewashed roundhouse, September 2017. Photo by me.

5

Archaeoacoustics is a fairly new branch of archaeology that studies the acoustic qualities of caves inhabited, or used ritually, during prehistory and ancient buildings such as the Newgrange tomb-shrine and Stonehenge. Studies sometimes include the use of instruments contemporary with the sites themselves.

The 'Devil's Chair'

I visited Avebury last weekend with my friends, Amanda and Pete, taking with me the newest of my Celtic lyres, wire strung and made from Oak. Towards the end of the day, we arrived at the huge southern entrance stone known in local folklore as ‘the Devil’s Chair’ due to a natural cleft, the base of which forms a comfortable seat in the southern face of the stone, the face that greets people arriving into the henge from the processional route along the West Kennett Avenue. At Amanda’s request, I broke my usual protocol against sitting in the seat so that she could photograph me with the lyre. It was then that we made a remarkable and surprising discovery.

Sitting in the 'Devil's Chair' playing the lyre. Photo by Amanda.

Sitting in the notch in this enormous sarsen stone, I began to play the lyre. As I played, I moved the instrument across my lap until it was facing into a hollow depression in the stone beside my right thigh. I don't know what prompted me to do this, presumably the spirits of the place, but I noticed as I did so that the volume of the lyre increased dramatically when the soundhole was aligned with the hollow and pointing at it. The amount of amplification was quite startling. So much so that I decided to explore it further. Standing up, I held the lyre as far away from the stone as I could lean and still manage to play it, then, continuing to play, moved it towards the stone. From about a foot and a half in front of the stone’s face, the increase in volume was very marked indeed, maximum amplification being achieved when the soundboard of the lyre was almost inside the hollow ‘seat.’ Such was the acoustic feedback coming off the sarsen stone that the last note played on the lyre sustained for much longer than the instrument was normally capable of, continuing to ‘ring’ for several seconds. I didn't count, but I'd guess a good ten seconds longer than usual, probably more.

My wire-strung Oak lyre

I thought the effect might be extremely localised and that you’d need to be right on top of the instrument, as I was, in order to appreciate it. Thanks to Amanda and Pete, I quickly learned that this was not the case. They were standing five or six yards away, between the sarsen and the busy main road that runs through the henge. When the lyre was facing away from the stone, any passing traffic drowned it out completely. When it was played facing into the stone, it was clearly audible, even over the sound of large lorries going by. We found that the effect varied depending on where you were standing in relation to the face of the stone, with particularly strong effects heard when standing at a shallow angle to it and at some distance to the side.

West Kennett Avenue as it approaches the henge

I tried calling into the ‘seat’ hollow and found the same effect, my voice being considerably amplified and thrown back at me. This led me to wonder if the effect might have been used to project sound towards the gap between the banks where the West Kennet Avenue reaches the henge. I would imagine that an instrument like a bull horn would have had considerable impact on anyone entering the henge at that point. The fact that the sound was being thrown from the entrance stone would have made its source hard to identify. I’ll have to try it on my next visit.

It’s amazing that I’ve been visiting Avebury for more than forty years, have taken part in ceremonies that have included the southern entrance stone for more than twenty years, but had never previously noticed this acoustic effect.

Pete made some recordings, and if they came out OK, I'll add them to this post.

Incidentally, I don't mean to suggest that an Iron Age lyre, played in Europe from at least 800 BCE, was contemporary with a Neolithic henge constructed between 2800 and 2200 BCE. Clearly it wasn't. The lyre just happened to be the only instrument I had with me. Next time, I'll take a bull horn and a clay drum...

Blessings of Caer Abiri,
Greywolf /|\

1

Today’s recollection from the first Summer of Love comes in the form of a talk given on January 18th, 1967, by Dr. Timothy Leary at UCLA, the University of California, Los Angeles.

Born in 1920, the clinical psychologist, Timothy Leary, was one of the leading voices of the hippy era, a proponent of consciousness expansion through the use of psychedelic drugs, combined with more conventional spiritual techniques. He drew on Tibetan mysticism, Hinduism, Yoga, Meditation and other techniques and traditions, merging them into a form of spirituality suited to the young people he taught at Harvard University and talked to elsewhere.

In 1960, he and Richard Alpert began the Harvard Psilocybin Project to research the effects of that natural hallucinogen on prisoners and on students. This was continued in the Concord Prison Experiment. They found, among other things, that recidivism rates among prisoners dropped dramatically once they had undergone psilocybin ‘trips’ in controlled conditions that encouraged them to have revelatory spiritual experiences. Leary and Alpert were both fired from Harvard in 1963. This began a long period during which various American authorities, including the CIA and the FBI, worked extremely hard to shut Leary up. He spent time in prison, escaped, fled the country, returned, got arrested some more. His life and philosophy, not surprisingly, appealed strongly to young people in the 1960s.

Personally, I found that hallucinogens can help people to, as Jim Morrison put it, “break on through to the other side.” I was, however, delighted to discover techniques such as rhythmic drumming, by which it is possible to achieve states of altered consciousness without drugs. Why? Simple. Because, as Leary admits in this talk, hallucinogens confuse the mind and the non-drug techniques don’t.

In this talk, Leary speaks engagingly, often amusingly, and in some depth about his personal history and philosophy, including his famous exhortation to young people to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” He explains that “Dropping out means gently, invisibly, beautifully finding what’s inside and expressing it slowly in a cellular fashion around you.” I like the way he addresses his audience as “Beloved robots.” I love his advice on how to start a new religion. His is a voice that still has relevance and resonance today and it’s good that, although Timothy Leary is dead, through the magic of virtual life, he is still on the outside looking in.

Peace and love,

Greywolf /|\

2

WorldTreeGWx800I always find it hard to sleep when the moon is full, so was up and out very early this morning. As the sun rose over the village, I crossed the road and the brook, sacred to the goddess, Sulis, lined with springs. The nearest of these was revered by Anglo-Saxon ancestors as a local manifestation of the Bubbling Cauldron (Hvergelmir) at the roots of the World Tree, around which coils the serpent/dragon, Nidhoggr. Here's my drawing of the World Tree from the BDO Bardic Course. Click the picture to expand it.
By the spring, I met an early dog-walker. Her dog, an old black and white collie, adopted me for a while as she went on ahead and he padded along at my heels. Our ways parted and I walked up the Green Path to a space between the trees where I could see out across the fields and the edge of the village, with a clear view of the sun.
GWDrumPaintedx800Took out my drum, held it to the newly risen sun, played and sang. With frost on the grass in the dips, I wondered if the drum would sound. I needn't have worried, the Red Deer's golden skin immediately absorbed and responded to the light and warmth of the golden fireball in the East and the lightest tap of my fingers brought forth a clear, ringing tone.
I added another goddess to the list of deities and spirit beings called upon in my morning salutations. Having been with the White Horse Camp until yesterday afternoon, we had discussed honouring this goddess in a ceremony there this morning, and I wanted to connect with my friends at the camp from my quiet corner of North Wiltshire.
Uffington White Horsex800I live just off the Northern edge of Salisbury Plain, within the territory of the Bronze Age people who created the beautiful chalk hill figure, the Uffington White Horse, etched into the greensward beside a rectangular earthwork on White Horse Hill in South Oxfordshire. Just above the Horse runs the Ridgeway, one of Britain's oldest prehistoric trackways, sections of which are still walkable. The Ridgeway once wound from the Norfolk coast to reach the sea again in Dorset, passing by many ancient sacred sites along the way, including Wayland's Smithy, Avebury and Wodnesbeorg. One of the White Horse's tasks, I believe, was to guide and assist walkers along that ancient track. My area of North Wiltshire is known to have had at least fourteen other chalk hill figures of horses etched into its hillsides.
Short digression: In 1996, I led a Midsummer ceremony among the great stone circles of Avebury. Part of its purpose was to honour World Peace and Prayer Day, an idea inspired by the birth of a White Buffalo Calf in Wisconsin two years earlier. This event was seen as being of great spiritual significance by many Native Americans, who greeted it as a sign that their ancestral ways would be returning to them with renewed power. This is because, long ago, it was White Buffalo Calf Woman who brought the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples their seven sacred ceremonies and taught them how to conduct them for the benefit of the tribes and of all beings.
Bear ButteJoining us at that ceremony in 1996 was a young Lakota who came because he had a vision of a White Horse while he fasted in a cave on Bear Butte, a sacred, holy place for many Native Americans. His vision led him to Avebury and to us, since our ceremony was being held at a place sacred to the ancient people of the White Horse. He brought with him a song he had been gifted during his vision and sang it for us in the circle. I am ashamed to say that a few drunken members of the Loyal Arthurian Warband shouted abuse at him as he sang. He didn't let them phase him though. His voice, his spirit and his song remained strong and true.
After the ceremony, we talked. He asked if folk in England always yelled insults at people during sacred ceremonies. I explained the behaviour of the drunks as best I could and apologised for it. He said with a sigh, "Yeah, we get 'em back home too." We talked about Wannabee Indians and he said, "If people over here think it's so damn great being an Indian they should try living on the Res for a couple of years."
We also discussed his vision. He said he had come to us because he felt there was a link between the birth of the White Buffalo Calf, White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught the sacred ways to his people, and our native British White Horse spirit. I've been thinking about this again recently and am more than ever convinced that he is right. I believe we have our own teacher of sacred ceremonies and spirit ways, centred on this area of rolling downland where the most famous of them all, the Uffington Horse, bestrides the hillside above Dragon Hill.
RhiannonCardx800So, who is our native White Horse Woman? I believe she is Rhiannon, 'the Great Queen,' who features in the First Branch of the Mabinogi, where she first appears riding a magical horse and later acts as a horse herself, carrying travellers on her back. Here she is, from the Druid Tarot I designed many years ago (available from the BDO webshop). If I'm right about this image derived from a Gaulish coin representing the same horse goddess (perhaps under a different name), then the spirit of the White Horse reaches far beyond the area where I live.
I believe that she is one of the prime movers behind both the White Horse Camps (formerly OBOD Camps) and the Avebury Gorsedd. An interfaith conference organised by Tim Sebastion in 1993 featured the first ever ceremony of the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri, a ceremony I created for the event and which is still conducted at Avebury today. During the same weekend OBOD's chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, and Dr. (now Prof.) Ronald Hutton went for a walk around the stones and Ronald suggested that Philip should organise a Druid camp. The first camp took place at Lammas 1994 and included a trip down to Avebury to join the Gorsedd celebration there, again conducted by me, still flying from having encountered my spirit Wolf in a sweat lodge on the camp the night before.

Beating the bounds with garth on Gate, OBOD Lammas camp, 2006. Photo by Elaine.
Beating the bounds with garth on Gate, OBOD Lammas camp, 2006. Photo by Elaine.

That first camp became a template for many others and similar camps are now held throughout the year by five different Druid group in the UK and by OBOD and others in the Europe, the USA, Australia and elsewhere. The Avebury Gorsedd also became a template for similar festival celebrations at Stonehenge, the Long Man of Wilmington, Stanton Drew and elsewhere in the UK and, as with camps, at many other sites around the world. Part of the Gorsedd ceremony even featured in the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics, broadcast live to a global audience of millions.

1st century Gaulish coin from which my Druid Tarot card was derived.
1st century Gaulish coin from which my Druid Tarot card was derived.

When things have such power, that power must have a source, or several sources. In the case of White Horse Camps and the Avebury Gorsedd, linked by the Ridgeway, the power came from a combination of time, place and people, but also from Rhiannon, our White Horse Woman. I believe that our presence and our intention to revitalise the ways of our ancestors called her forth in the 1990s to teach, inspire and empower us, just as she had our ancestors in the distant past. Long may she continue to guide us in the recreation of our ancestral ways. I trust that many of us will honour her, and give thanks for her gifts, in our ceremonies as we celebrate the first fruits of the harvest this Lammastide.
Hail Rhiannon!
Hail and blessed be!
and a blessed and inspiring Lammas/Lughnasad/Gwyl Awst to one and all!
Greywolf /|\

It's good to start the day in a focused, spiritual way. My days begin with a yoga-based series of exercises - called Surya Namaskar (Salutation of the Sun God), though mine vary from the pattern given in the link (and many thanks to Anita Dreyer for introducing me to this). These are followed by an address to various spirits and deities who are important to me. This has grown with my travels through life, in Britain and elsewhere. The current version goes like this:

"Hail to Q'wati, the Transformer.
Hail to T'istilal, the Thunderbird,
Hail to Woden, wisest of wights,
Howls of wolves and ravens' cries,
Be sig-runes writ on this bright day.
Hail to Freya, fiery love queen,
Witchwife, healer, warrior of trance.
Hail to Gwydion, antlered lord of forests,
Hail to Arianrhod of the starry skies,
Hail to Beli Mawr, father of all,
and hail to Dôn, the great mother,
Hail to Sulis and Sarasvati of the flowing waters,
and hail to the white serpent of healing.
Hail to the gods and goddesses all,
Hail to the ancient ones, spirits most wise.
May your blessings of strength, guidance, wisdom and healing
Be with us this day, this day and all days.
So may it be."

Q'wati and T'istilal are powerful spirit beings among the Quileute people of the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest of America. Powerful spirits brought us together and I look upon the Quileute as an extension of my family and wolf clan. Honouring the Transformer and the Thunderbird each day confirms this connection. Woden and Freya came to me on an ancient chambered tomb-shrine during a pilgrimage many years ago, and part of my ancestral line is Anglo-Saxon, traceable back to Woden. Gwydion and Arianrhod have become increasingly important to my spiritual life as I've learned and understood more about them over the last few years. Beli (Brightness) and Dôn (Flowing) are a divine couple in British mythology, parents of a line of gods, the Children of Dôn, and of humans. I trace my ancestry back to them through the royal house of North Wales that includes Rhodri Mawr.

Sulis is the local water goddess of the area where I live. She is patroness of the hot springs in Bath and, I believe, the goddess after whom the city of Salisbury and Silbury Hill are named. I live within the triangle formed by these three places. A stream runs past my house that flows into the River Avon, past Stonehenge and through Salisbury. A beautiful ebony statue of Sarasvati has adorned my home altars for about thirty years. She is a Hindu goddess of rivers, and also of music, literature, the arts and inspiration. I think of her as a relative of our own Ceridwen, only less harsh. If I'm in Shropshire, staying with my friends there, I substitute Sabrina for Sulis. A brook runs through their land and flows into the River Severn, sacred to the goddess Sabrina.

The white serpent of healing is an almost universal spirit with whom I've been working increasingly over the last few years.

The whole thing, excercises and address, only takes ten to fifteen minutes to perform and is well worth it, especially if, like me, you spend much of your day sitting indoors working. The excercises help keep me healthy, the address links me with the natural world through the spirits that inhabit parts of it, while linking me with my family, clans and tribes whose lives are enhanced and inspired by the same spirits. It also acts as a daily reminder of spiritual blessings already received, helping to maintain the connections that enhance and inspire my path through life.

Well, that's how I start my days. How about you?

Peace, love and blessings,
Greywolf /|\

Shingles is a painful skin rash around the area of a nerve infected with a virus called varicella-zoster. It is very unpleasant for sufferers, usually lasts from 2-4 weeks, and can be treated with anti-viral medication. About 1 in 4 UK citizens will suffer from it at some time in their lives. In Welsh Folk-Lore: a Collection of the Folk-Tales and Legends of North Wales (1888), Elias Owen gives the following curious, Eagle-related cure for shingles:

"The manner of proceeding can be seen from the following quotation taken from 'The History of Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant,' by Mr. T. W. Hancock, which appears in vol. vi., pp. 327-8 of the Montgomeryshire Collections.

“This custom (charming for the shingles) was more prevalent in this parish than in any other in Montgomeryshire. A certain amount of penance was to be done by the sufferer, who was to go to the charmer in the morning fasting, and he was also to be fasting. The mode of cure was simple - the charmer breathed gently on the inflamed part, and then followed a series of little spittings upon and around it. A few visits to the charmer, or sometimes a single one, was sufficient to effect a cure.
“The power of charming for the 'Ryri' is now lost, or in any event has not been practised in this parish, for several years past. The possession of this remarkable healing power by the charmer was said to have been derived from the circumstance of either the charmer himself, or one of his ancestors within the ninth degree, having eaten of the flesh of the Eagle, the virtue being, it was alleged, transmitted from the person who had so partaken to his descendants for nine generations. The tradition is that the disorder was introduced into the country by a malevolent Eagle.
“Some charmers before the operation of spitting, muttered to themselves the following incantation:-

Yr Eryr EryresEarly 12th cent Irish MS Eagle crop
Mi a'th ddanfonais
Dros naw mor a thros naw mynydd,
A thros naw erw o dir anghelfydd;
Lle na chyfartho ci, ac na frefo fuwch,
Ac na ddelo yr eryr byth yn uwch.”

Male Eagle, female Eagle,
I send you (by the operation of blowing, we presume)
Over nine seas, and over nine mountains,
And over nine acres of unprofitable land,
Where no dog shall bark, and no cow shall low,
And where no Eagle shall higher rise.”

The charmer spat first on the rash and rubbed it with his finger over the affected parts, and then breathed nine times on it.”

W. Jenkyn Thomas, writing in The Welsh Fairy Book (1908), tells us that:

"Huw Llwyd of Cynfael was the seventh son of a family of sons, and therefore he was a conjurer by nature. He increased his knowledge of the black art by the study of magical books, and he ate Eagle's flesh, so that his descendants could for nine generations charm for the shingles."

Golden_Eagle_flying-whiteLet me make it absolutely clear that I am in no way encouraging anyone to eat Eagle flesh. Eagles are a beautiful and endangered species and should not be harmed in any way at all. I should also remind readers that Eagles are legally protected and damaging them or their nests is a criminal offence. I'm posting this for its historical interest, and its interest in linking Eagles with healing. As to the form of the healing, note the repetition of the number nine in the incantation, reminiscent of similar repetition in the Anglo-Saxon 'Nine Herbs Charm.' The 'Nine Herbs Charm' also includes blowing the poison out from the afflicted person. I have yet to try the shingles charm, but it may be that it works without the necessity for you, or one of your ancestors, to have eaten Eagle flesh. I suspect that, as with many unconventional healing methods, the real key lies in the strength of belief of both the charmer and the charmed. Indeed, the same applies to conventional medicine more than some doctors care to admit.
The idea that Eagles offer a cure for shingles may owe its origins to the similarity between the Welsh words eryr, 'Eagle,' and (swyno'r) ryri, 'shingles,' but no doubt also relates to an archaic belief encountered elsewhere, including in the 'Nine Herbs Charm,' that disease can be caused by the attack of malignant serpent spirits. In native British tradition, shingles was referred to as a serpent wrapped around the body. There is a long and widespread tradition that Eagles will attack and kill snakes. Put the two together, and the idea that an Eagle could attack and kill the disease makes mythical sense. William Elliott Griffis, in his Welsh Fairy Tales (1921), says that shingles -

“... is called also by a Latin name, which means a snake, because, as it gets worse, it coils itself around the body. Now the Eagle can attack the serpent and conquer and kill this poisonous creature.”

Sadly, Eagles have long been persecuted by farmers and game-keepers. Golden Eagles were driven to extinction two centuries ago in England and Wales, though one or two have recently been seen again and there are said to be one or two breeding pairs in the Lake District. In Scotland, they're doing better, with estimates of up to 450 pairs. There are, however, still instances of game-keepers poisoning them. Ironically, much of their diet consists of rabbits, which farmers view as pests.

There is a legend that thunderstorms are created by the beating of the wings of great Eagles who circle in the clouds that shroud the high peaks of Snowdonia, called Eryri in Welsh, 'the Place of Eagles.' I have flown with them, and know it to be true. One day, I trust that physical Eagles will return to Eryri. Until then, here is a picture created digitally to show how magnificent they will look when they do. They are big, with a wing span up to 8 feet. They are also fierce, intelligent, powerful and beautiful. Long may they continue to soar the skies!SnowdonEagles
This piece is extracted from a booklet in the forthcoming British Druid Order Druid course. The drawing accompanying the charm is from a 12th century Irish manuscript.

5

maltaspiralplatebackThe concept of serpents as spirit beings of immense power is an extremely widespread and very ancient one. Three serpents are etched into this 24,000 year old mammoth bone plaque from an Upper Palaeolithic site at Mal'ta in Siberia. Asian, European, and Native American traditions all equate earthquakes and volcanic activity with underworld serpents, while winged serpents are linked with celestial phenomena from thunderstorms to eclipses. Serpents are creatures of great power and, therefore, of great danger. In many traditions, it is only those marked out to be spirit workers who should attempt to approach serpents, let alone have one as a spirit animal. Others risk severe illness or death should they encounter one.
23GwydionSerpents, of course, are important to us Druids. In British folk tradition, we are sometimes referred to as Nadredd, 'Serpents.' One of the most famous depictions of a spirit being from the European Iron Age is the 'Druid/shaman/god' on the Gundestrup cauldron (shown here in the version from the British Druid Order's Druid Tarot deck). In his left hand, he holds a ram-horned serpent by the throat, indicating that the antlered figure has control over the serpent. It is this control that marks him out as either a powerful spirit such as a god, or as a powerful spirit worker, i.e. a Druid.
One of the things that we have largely lost from Druidry over centuries of oppression and ignorance is the star lore of our ancestors. However, as joint inheritors of Indo-European traditions, we feel justified in looking to Vedic Astrology to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. Vedic Astrology is a sidereal system, i.e. based on the actual position of the stars, as opposed to classical western astrology, which is based on the positions of the stars about 4,000 years ago. Here's some Vedic astrology relating to tomorrow's eclipse:
The Eclipse of March 20th 2015
rahu&ketuThe first Solar eclipse of 2015 happens with the New Moon in Pisces, joined by Mars and Ketu. Ketu is the tail of the celestial serpent, Rahu its head. Astrologically, they are the south and north nodes of the Moon. Eclipses occur when the serpent swallows the sun. This eclipse / New Moon will clarify and challenge our beliefs and spirituality, both Pisces themes. When Sun and Moon come together near the Node an eclipse results, producing a momentary disconnection and darkening our power source, the Sun. This literally leaves us feeling in the dark, and we may tempted to pursue the shadow side, or quick fix spiritual solutions, escaping into drug abuse or New Age fantasies. Be careful of such lazy, cynical options during the next 30 days. This eclipse happens in Uttara Bhadra Nakshatra, ruled by the God Ahi Bhudnya, the celestial serpent. This divine cosmic force is associated with clearing the last bits of dirt that are blocking the soul’s liberation.
A 16th century Irish text often called 'The Cauldron of Poesy' speaks of:
“...two chief divisions of joy that turn [the cauldron of motion, located at the solar plexus] into the cauldron of wisdom [located in the head]: divine joy and human joy, [one of which is] joy at the onset of imbas[divinely gifted inspiration] by grinding away at the nuts of the nine hazels of fair fruitfulness that grow by the Well of Segais in the land of the Sidhe [Faery Folk, pronounced shee]. They hurtle upstream in a ram’s-head bore along the river Boyne, swifter than a three-year-old racehorse, at midsummer every seventh year.”
Horned-Serpent-SanRafaelSwell-Utah-100_1933Here we see the ram-horned serpent power of our Gundestrup figure represented as a 'ram's-head bore' that surges along the sacred river Boyne, bringing with it the surge of divinely-inspired joy that awakens the cauldron of wisdom, the seat of spiritual enlightenment, located in the head. Our picture shows a horned serpent depicted in cave art from Utah, USA.
The god, Ahi Budhnya, mentioned in the Rig Veda, is the snake of the deep world or underworld. Some suggest he is the serpent of the atmospheric ocean. Ahi Budhnya is symbolically represented as a water snake or reptile that may have harmed people, although he is invoked to gain blessings and not to be harmful. Vishnu Purana mentions that he was the son of Vishwakarma, the divine architect. In the Mahabharata, Ahi Budhnya is one of eleven Rudras and is also one of the eleven Maruts. By the Mahabharat period the deity is related to Rudra or Shiva. In the Rig Veda, his name is only mentioned in the hymns dedicated to Viswedevas.
In the British Druid Order's courses, we work with serpent energy in various ways, from encountering it in the earth as we make pilgrimages across the land to invoking it for healing. In our ovate course, there is a meditation that we developed for a previous eclipse. The essence of it is a chant, perhaps accompanied by the beat of a drum. Here it is in Welsh and English:
Wyf sarff, wyf serch, wyf Gwydion/Arianrhod
'I am serpent, I am love, I am Gwydion/Arianrhod.'
The first four words are part of a poem called 'The Fold of the Bards,' attributed to the archetypal bard, Taliesin. To this we have added invocations to the deities Gwydion and Arianrhod.
Gwydion is the British equivalent of the classical gods Hermes or Mercury. Mercury is the planetary power associated with the Moon's North Node, characterised in Vedic tradition as Rahu, the Head of the Serpent. The ram's-head reference is supported in Vedic astrology where the Serpent's Head rules the sign of Capricorn, the Ram. I believe that Gwydion is the British manifestation of the unnamed serpent-taming deity portrayed on the Gundestrup cauldron. Some have identified this figure with the Hindu deity, Shiva.
CoronaBorealeArianrhod is the sister and/or lover of Gwydion. In Hindu terms, we may identify her as the Shakti of Gwydion, that is the feminine manifestation of the power through which the god (and we as Druids) acts in the world. In the starry heavens, Caer Wydion, 'Gwydion's Castle,' is the Milky Way, while Arianhod, whose name means 'Silver Wheel,' is represented by the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, known to British tradition as Caer Arianrhod. As shown in the graphic (left), the Northern Crown is located just above the head of the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. Given that the Crown is an incomplete ring of seven stars, the conjunction of Crown and Serpent is very reminiscent of the torc and serpent held by our antlered Gundestrup god.
We suggest this chant as a means of connecting with the potentially harmful serpent energy manifested through the eclipse in a good, healing, helpful way, using it to unblock those blockages that are keeping us from attaining out true goals of the spirit, from turning our cauldron of motion into the cauldron of wisdom, the full manifestation of which produces:
“Divine joy [that] brings special grace to turn the cauldron of wisdom, so that there are sacred and secular prophets, commentators upon both holy and practical matters, speaking words of grace and performing miracles, whose pronouncements are precedents and judgements, becoming the pattern of all speech. Although the source of this joy is without, its cause comes from within."
For the chant to be fully effective, it may need to be repeated for a considerable period. The seven years of tradition should not be considered too long given the potential benefits. Given the depth and power of this meditation, it is advisable to perform it within your sacred circle or within existing sacred space.
OvateBooklet10_12DoorwaysSit cross-legged but comfortable, breathing steadily and easily. You may wish to replicate the cross-legged, orans posture of the figure on the Gundestrup cauldron. However, if you find sitting cross-legged uncomfortable, then find another, more comfortable posture. This meditation may be assisted by the steady beat of a drum or drums.
Begin by focusing energy into the base of the spine and lower groin, between the genitals and anus. Build a bright, hot fire there, drawing on the internal heat of the coiled serpent/dragon to heat the lunar liquid awen contained in the upright Cauldron of Devotion, which is also the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
When the heat is sufficient, feel the three hot droplets of inspiration burst upwards from the Cauldron of Devotion to ignite the flashing solar fire beneath the Cauldron of Motion, located at the solar plexus and lower central chest cavity. As we have seen, this Cauldron will normally, though not always, be on its side to begin with. As the heat builds here, the Cauldron of Motion will begin to turn upright. When there is a fiery ball of radiant solar heat churning away at the solar plexus, use it to drive the Cauldron of Motion up into the head, flipping it fully upright as it goes.
At the head, it becomes the Cauldron of Wisdom in which the contents of the lunar Cauldron of Devotion combine with those of the solar Cauldron of Motion. This merging of Sun and Moon represents the blending of all being into unity, that unity creating the brilliant white light of pure bliss, pure being and full spiritual awakening.
If you are having difficulty making the ascent through focusing on the cauldrons, focus instead on the image of the ram-headed serpent surging up the spine to fill the head with light, creating a circlet of stars around the crown of the head.

Chants to evoke the Serpent-power – Men chant as Gwydion, Women as Arianrhod (unless one's guides or gender preferences/alignments suggest otherwise):

Chant: Wyf sarff, wyf serch, wyf Gwydion (or wyf Arianrhod)
Pronounced: ooiv sarf, ooiv serkh, ooiv Gwid-eon (ooiv Arry-ann-hrod)
Translation: I am serpent, I am love, I am Gwydion (I am Arianrhod)

Continue for as long as it takes.

Alternatively, you may choose to simply chant the name of the god or goddess, or use the Awen chant or another you create yourself.

The Return:
AwenBadgeBDOIn order to focus and ground the energy raised during this exercise, we conclude it with an Awen chant (i.e. chanting aaaah-ooooh-eeeeh-nnnn repeatedly, awen meaning 'inspiration, or flowing spirit' is the creative spirit in Druid tradition, symbolised by three rays of light - right), flowing the energy from the rite either into oneself for healing, change, creativity, etc., or directing it out to someone beyond the circle.
It is suggested that you further ground yourself by physically touching the earth and by eating something afterwards.
It is extremely difficult, probably impossible, to continue to exist in this world while maintaining the level of heightened awareness that fully awakening the serpent should bring. There are difficulties involved in opening ourselves to the universe. To maintain our ability to relate to consensus reality, we must consciously step back into the mundane world of washing up, car troubles, family concerns, etc. Our aim is to step back in such a way that we retain the ability to access the gifts of the upright Cauldron of Wisdom so that we may use them to help us, our families, friends and wider communities. This is the path that Buddhists call that of the bodhisattva, 'enlightened being.' This refers to one dedicated to the goal of attaining enlightenment and also to one who, having attained it, chooses to devote themselves to the goal of bringing all other beings to enlightenment. The word Druid may be interpreted as 'very wise one,' a meaning very close to that of bodhisattva.

Drumpaintedx800And finally, the caveat emptor: If you've read the above carefully, you'll know that serpent power is not to be trifled with. The meditation given above is designed to invoke the aid and protection of powerful deities. If you're not ready for such encounters, leave well alone!

Blessings of the white serpent of healing,
Greywolf /|\