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12

CeridwenWe often get the impression that paganism in Britain was completely eradicated by the arrival of Christianity and its adoption by our ruling elites. We also tend to think of pagan revivals as not occurring prior to the 20th century, or perhaps the Victorian magical schools of the late 19th. However, the more I've looked at the medieval literature of Britain and Ireland over the years, the more I've come to see that the bards of our islands have concerned themselves not only with the preservation of our myths, legends and histories, but with a brand of mysticism that amounts to a pagan revival. In Wales, for example, the literature surrounding the Cauldron of Ceridwen and its magical brew of Inspiration (Awen), and the subsequent tales and poems associated with Taliesin, the Primary Chief Bard of Britain, all point to a mystical, spiritual understanding that has at its core the witch-like figure of Ceridwen herself, Patroness of Bards, magician and initiatrix.

In Ireland, the Bards (filidh) wove mysterious legends of Druids, describing their rites of healing. They also created complex systems of cyphers and hidden languages based around the Ogham alphabet, itself described as being used for magic and divination.

Nor was England left out of this medieval pagan revMastering Herbalism by Paul Husonival if the following Prayer to Mother Earth is anything to go by. I first came across it in the 1970s in a book called Mastering Herbalism by Paul Huson. It comes from a 12th century English herbal and is very clearly pagan:

“Earth, divine goddess, Mother Nature who generates all things and brings forth anew the sun which you have given to the nations; Guardian of sky and sea and of all gods and powers and through your power all nature falls silent and then sinks in sleep. And again you bring back the light and chase away night and yet again you cover us most securely with your shades. You contain chaos Blodeuweddinfinite, yes and winds and showers and storms; you send them out when you will and cause the seas to roar; you chase away the sun and arouse the storm. Again when you will you send forth the joyous day and give the nourishment of life with your eternal surety; and when the soul departs to you we return. You indeed are duly called great Mother of the gods; you conquer by your divine name. You are the source of the strength of nations and of gods, without you nothing can be brought to perfection or be born; you art the great queen of the gods. Goddess! I adore you as divine; I call upon your name; be pleased to grant that which I ask you, so shall I give thanks to you, goddess, with one faith.

“Hear, I beseech you, and be favourable to my prayer. Whatsoever herb your power produces, give, I pray, with goodwill to all nations to save them and grant me this my medicine. Come to me with your powers, and howsoever I may use them may they have good success and to whomsoever I may give them. Whatever you grant, it may prosper. To you all things return. Those who rightly receive these herbs from me, do you make them whole. Goddess, I beseech you; I pray you as a suppliant that by your majesty you grant this to me.

“Now I make intercession to you all you powers and herbs and to your majesty, you whom Earth, parent of all, has produced and given as a medicine of health to all nations and has put majesty upon you, be, I pray you, the greatest help to the human race. This I pray and beseech from you, and be present here with your virtues, for she who created you has herself promised that I may gather you into the goodwill of him on whom the art of medicine was bestowed, and grant for health's sake good medicine by grace of your powers. I pray grant me through your virtues that whatsoever is wrought by me through you may in all its powers have a good and speedy effect and good success and that I may always be permitted with the favour of your majesty to gather you into my hands and to glean your fruits. So shall I give thanks to you in the name of that majesty which ordained your birth.”

Translated in 'Early English Magic and Medicine' by Dr. Charles Singer, Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. IV. The 'thees' and 'thous' of Singer's translation have been replaced with modern English. It's also quoted in The Old English Herbals, by Eleanor Sinclair Rohde, which should open as a pdf file if you click on this title: Old_English_Herbals. Well worth a look as it's got quotes from lots of other early Anglo-Saxon and English herbals, including assorted spells and charms...

It seems we are following in the footsteps of many generations of pagan revivalists. Or perhaps paganism never fully gave way to Christianity but always hung on like silver-dewed cobwebs in our hedgerows, sparkling briefly at twilight times then all but disappearing in the full light of the day.

I trust the unnamed writer's prayer was answered, and that she or he found the healing virtues so eloquently requested from our great Mother Earth.

Many blessings,

Greywolf /|\

 UPDATE, January 27th, 2014:

As so often, this particular historical mystery has been solved by my old friend, Professor Ronald Hutton. On page 384 of his book, Pagan Britain (Yale University Press, 2013), Ronald identifies this poem as a product of the late Roman Empire, reproduced in various continental manuscripts from the 6th century onwards, though only the aforementioned 12th (or possibly 11th) century herbal in England, always under its Latin title, Praecatio Terrae Matris, 'Prayer to Mother Earth.' It is translated in J. Grattan and Charles Singer, Anglo-Saxon Magic and Medicine (Oxford University Press, 1952).

My suggestion that it may represent part of a 12th (or 11th) century pagan revival still stands. My theory is that this took place, particularly in the Welsh courts and bardic colleges, but also in other parts of Britain, as a direct result of the Norman invasion of 1066. This violent influx of foreign culture led native Britons to look to their past, including their pagan past, for comfort, inspiration and a strengthened sense of identity. The fact that the pagan past was, by then, barely remembered (if at all) led them to look beyond Britain to fill the void, hence this Latin poem in a Saxon manuscript and the features from Irish mythology that appear in the Welsh Mabinogi, a collection of legends also compiled in the 12th century.

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 /|\

6

The World Drum is a remarkable shamanic instrument created as the result of a vision given to Norwegian shaman, White Cougar. White Cougar heard the call of Mother Earth asking for the Drum to be created and sent out around the world carrying the message that it is time for all the people of the world to awaken to the harm we are doing to our Mother Earth before it is too late, and that as part of this re-awakening we must put an end to war and hatred. The drum was made by Sami drum-maker, Birger Mikkelsen. It was first played in ceremony outside the Norwegian parliament in 2006. Since then, it has visited six continents and been played at over 500 venues.

The World Drum at my houseThis extraordinary Drum arrived on my doorstep a few weeks ago after having been played in ceremonies in Hawaii. By contrast, here in Britain, Spring had taken a jump back to Winter with freezing temperatures and snow covering much of the country. The picture here shows the drum sitting by my altar. In front of the drum is my branch of peace, the magical instrument by which the bards of old called for peace before a performance. I now use it to call for peace at the beginning of ceremonies too.

The arrival of the Drum was a wake-up call to me personally. I have spent so much time working on the distance learning courses we're putting together for the BDO that I've been neglecting the things that Druidry is really all about, i.e. getting out in the world and creating ceremonies with as much beauty, truth and peace as we can muster. The World Drum having been played by so many thousands of hands in so many sacred ceremonies and different cultures is a powerful reminder, a clarion call to step up to the mark, get your act together and make ritual not only happen but work.

Since then, we've made ceremonies at the Avebury Henge in Wiltshire, at Stonehenge, on the summit of Glastonbury Tor and at venues in Shropshire, including the summit of Titterstone Clee with its ancient remains of Bronze and Iron Age ancestors. Thes ceremonies have been strong, focusing as they have on the charisma and energy that the World Drum has built up during its incredible, seven-year journey.

On Glastonbury Tor, we invoked the ancient pagan goddess, Britannia, protectress of our lands, daughter of Mother Earth and Father Neptune. We invoked Brigit, goddess-saint who spans pagan and Christian traditions as well as being patroness of bards and artists. We invoked Albion, spirit of the people of our lands, representing all that is best in us, whatever our origins, colours or creeds. We invoked the Dragon who sleeps curled within the Tor, the Dragon who is the power of the earth, the power that also coild within ourselves awaiting the awakening of enlightenment. And then we drummed. O, how we drummed. The World Drum was moved around the circle so that all the 100 people there could play it and sense its potent presence while adding their own spirit, their own prayers, to the Drum. It was beautiful, magical, energising and just utterly amazing ... exactly what Druidry should always be. There are still further ceremonies to come, including one on the old Druidic centre, Angelsey, focus of a huge spiral anomaly in the Earth's magnetic field.

But what do we hope to achieve through all this activity?

Many years ago a Native American friend, John Two-Birds, said that if the world is to become the place we dream it should be, it is up to us, the dreamers and workers with spirit, wherever we are in the world and whatever tradition we are part of, to bring it about, because only we can weave the magic capable of changing hearts, minds and spirits towards that better world. I firmly believe this to be true and I believe that the World Drum is a strong part of that beautiful magic we are weaving together. I believe that if we continue to grow what we are doing, there will come a time when the balance tips in favour of we dreamers and spirit workers of the world, and that our way will become the way of the world, the way of peace, harmony and reverence, of sharing not taking. If there is to be a future, we must be it 🙂

What do we hope to achieve then? Well, not much, just changing the world by putting an end to war and creating social systems based on sharing, so that none need know poverty, injustice, hunger, homelessness or fear. Can we do it? Of course we can! 😀

Peace, love and many blessings,

Greywolf /|\

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

2

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

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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