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.