OBOD – the Bardic Years

I landed at the door of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids a confused and bruised mess. Signing up to study the bard grade was a desperate last ditch attempt to prove that I wasn’t a waste of space. But at the same time, I felt that hunger to prove myself maybe wasn’t the best motive for commencing spiritual learning. I was honest with my tutor about my self-doubts, and found kindness and support. That made a world of difference.


I found in OBOD a warm and supportive place. I didn’t learn a vast amount of new things in my year or so of studying the bard grade. What I did find was the means to pull my entire life into one coherent shape. All those different aspects of what I’d been doing suddenly became part of one coherent thing, and that coherence was my study of druidry. It was an enormous breakthrough for me, gave me back a sense of personhood and a feeling of direction that I desperately needed. I started to feel a sense of belonging within the wider druid community. I thrived on the bard course, became more confident and was profoundly grateful for the experience.


OBOD has a number of flaws in it. One of the things I love about OBOD is that it does, on the whole recognise the limitations and do its best to help people work around them rather than feel trapped by them. For those who have not encountered it, OBOD offers correspondence courses in three grades. By the nature of it, the teaching is a bit ‘one size fits all’ and cannot really respond to the student. But if you need to learn and there’s no suitable teacher to hand, somewhat inflexible material is way better than nothing. A student with OBOD has to recognise the nature and limitations of the course to get the best out of it. There are things it cannot do. It gives you a beaten track through the woodlands of druidry. It’s a safe path, many feet have been there already. From that path you will see little windy, overgrown turnings, and places to which no paths lead but the ones you make for yourself. However, once you decide to wander off and follow one, OBOD as a formal structure cannot go with you. Individuals can, and sometimes will.


I found that many of the exercises assume working indoors and I felt ill at ease with that. I didn’t want to imagine the wind, I wanted to be in the wind. I talked to my tutor and found total support to progress in my own way, and explore things however they made sense to me. This was a wonderful, empowering gift to be given. I was not going to be rejected for my inability to just get on with doing what I was told! Instead, I was encouraged to ask those awkward questions, of myself, and others, encouraged to experiment, and to find my own way. I got off the path when I needed to, came back when I felt like it, and all was well.


Plenty of people who start the bard grade do not make it to the end. There will be all kind of reasons. However, we’re used to education systems that push us to do things to other people’s time scales. You can do the bardic grade in a year, or you can take a decade, it’s all fine. There is considerable freedom and no pressure, but with that comes responsibility. A student who is not motivated to do the course for its own sake, will not get through. It can be frustrating, if you’ve been actively pagan for a long time and feel you’re being told things you already know, and that is a flaw, but not an insurmountable problem. What I learned in the bard grade was that I could bring my own creativity afresh to things I thought I knew, and remake them, reunderstand them, and grow from that process. What you get out depends a lot on what you are willing to try and put in.


The other flaw with OBOD, is the history. Anyone who has read Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe will know that the history of OBOD as presented by OBOD is not consistent with the available historical information. Until Hutton wrote his excellent book, of course OBOD only had its own myths to work with, and Philip Carr Gomm (head of OBOD) was recognised by Ronald Hutton for his openness and integrity in tackling this sensitive subject. Now that more fact based history is known, I expect OBOD will simply adapt, place it’s myth alongside Hutton’s invaluable work, and potter forwards with grace and equanimity.


OBOD is not for everyone, but I found it tremendously useful and am very glad of the time I spent there.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “OBOD – the Bardic Years

  • bish

    Totally loving this article! Identifies why I didn’t get on with the Bardic course despite loving its words and intention. Identifies also my on flaw in not working through to the course review and why I never moved to Ovate. That flaw I recognised long ago, but there’s probably too much water under the bridge to pick up the threads. In the meantime, hurray for outdoor druidry, unlit trails and the magic that sings. 🙂

  • Alison Leigh Lilly

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Nimue.

    I think the mentor makes a world of difference. When I took the bardic course, my mentor tended to be very slow in responding to my emails, and when I talked about my academic background in religious studies and my intellectual curiosity about Celtic mythology and history (which at that point I knew very little about), her response was skeptical, asking if I really had a “deep personal commitment” to Druidry or if I was just interested in it academically. The question left me feeling somewhat unsupported and discouraged, since I’ve never seen intellectual curiosity as being at odds with personal passion (and I’ve never lost either)… and in my answering email to her I talked about how for me the study of religion has itself always been deeply personal and meaningful (I don’t remember ever getting a reply to that email, though). Plus, being broke and just out of college and having just plunked down about $300 to take the course, I was a bit annoyed at the suggestion that I wasn’t personally committed!

    I do wonder if things would have been different if I’d had a more supportive and communicative mentor. Now I’m a member of the Druid Order of the Three Realms, which is just a small group based mostly in Georgia. That community has always been wonderful, responsive and supportive even though my only contact with them is primarily online. I guess sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the people who really “click” with you.

  • Nimue Brown

    Oh, that is horrible, and the kind of thing that makes me cross in a number of ways. A good teacher recognises that the student needs to learn the stuff they are motivated to learn, for a start. And as for people who can’t handle the idea of thinking about feeling… grrrr…. so frustrating. But some people, if they cannot do a thing, assume that no one else should either. More grrr. Very glad you have found the right place to be though. At least sometimes the bad experiences equip us to better recognise when we really have found the right sort of thing.

  • Philip Carr-Gomm

    Hi Nimue, Just read your post and appreciate your view of the course and positive comments. As you say it’s hard to offer an experience that will suit everyone. Just a few points to note: I don’t know when you took each of the three courses (Bard, Ovate & Druid) but each grade has been extensively revised – the Bardic in 2000, Ovate in 2006 and Druid in 2011. They have been much improved and in them we have corrected historical errors with Ronald Hutton (and Celtic Reconstructionist Gordon Cooper) going through the material with a fine tooth-comb. So your last point about history has been covered!
    As regards getting outside, we always felt that an individual would be able to decide this on their own, but do encourage this more in the new versions. We have had to be careful though – we’ve had disabled and incarcerated members complaining that we suggest going outside into Nature when they are physically incapable of this!
    As regards Alison’s comments about mentoring. Without our getting bogged down in an individual case suffice it to say anyone can contact the tutor coordinator (who leads a team of 50 tutors worldwide) if they would like to switch tutors or haven’t had a reply within a reasonable time.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and exlplain. I am a few years out of date by the sounds of it – I’d certainly finished the druid grade before Blood and Mistletoe, I remember Damh saying a couple of years back that revamps were on the way… and I’ve been a bit out of the loop since then. I am going to write in the not too distant future about time spent in th other grades, but will make sure to note that things have changed and that it’s purely historical! (I also enjoyed the other two, in very diferent ways)

      I think the willingness of OBOD to flex and grow is a great strength, and speaks of the deep integrity within the order.

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