I first met Robin Herne through The Pagan Federation, before I’d even started to study Druidry. From then, I was impressed by his evident wisdom, insight and humour. He’s one of the few high profile pagans of whom I have never heard a bad word spoken. Perhaps in part because despite his writings and long standing service in the PF, Robin comes across as being an unassuming sort of chap. Some people are drawn to the limelight because they hunger for attention. Others step up and become visible because they have something to give, something to share. Robin is undoubtedly one of the latter.
Nimue: What defines your druid path?
Robin: My path is a polytheist one, trying to learn about the deities of the Iron Age tribes of Britain and Ireland. Like many polytheists, I am also open to the existence of deities from outside the immediate pantheon that I follow, and often attend the rituals of other non-druid groups in the area (as well as hosting Kemetic and other rituals). Not only is there my relationships with the gods, but also with the more localised spirits of place. Various people argue over the roles and duties of the druid, but for me this includes my rewarding work as a storyteller, composer of poetry for ritual and pleasure, and teacher. Alongside this is the ongoing quest to deepen my knowledge of native flora and fauna. I also get a great deal of pleasure from brewing and baking which, whilst not especially “druidy” activities, nonetheless serve as a means of expressing hospitality to guests attending rituals and classes in my home and garden ~ which definitely is a very druidy value!
Nimue: My, admittedly vague sense of things Kemetic gave me the impression that it’s connected to the cycles of the Nile. How does it work exploring something from such a different land, in the UK? And how does that sit alongside the druidry?
Robin: One of the challenges facing Kemetics (and followers of some other traditions) is the issue of geography. As you say, Kemeticism was heavily centred on a very specific geographical feature, the Nile. Whilst Rome carried the worship of certain Egyptian deities to other parts of the empire, the religion of Egypt really had little interest in spreading beyond the bounds of the Pharaoh’s authority. 21st century Kemetics live all over the world, and each needs to consider how they relate to the Nile. Do they follow its (pre-Aswan Dam) seasonal tides in shaping their calendar, or do they rather see Kemeticism as a religion that celebrates a river (rather than the river) and adapt to the tidal patterns of whatever river is important to the area in which they live? There’s no absolutely correct answer here; for me, perhaps because of the influence of my druidry with its emphasis on spirits of place, I adapt to my local river ~ the Orwell & Gipping which converge in Ipswich. They are scarcely on the scale of the Nile, but I take the approach that to the ancient tribes that once lived here would have seen those rivers as the centre of their lives for fishing, drinking water, trade etc. The divine presence of the Nile is the deity Hapi, the divine presence of the Orwell & Gipping is a very much smaller local entity.
I think one of the challenges that modern pagans need to take into account is this emphasis on locality. The popularisation of Wicca has created a sort of global form of paganism no longer rooted in locality. By this I mean that festivals such as Imbolc and Samhain originated in the agrarian festivals of the Irish, and arguably British, climates. For people living in those lands, especially those whose lives are still heavily involved with sheep or cattle farming or the resultant industries, there is strong reason to still celebrate these dates. For people living thousands of miles away, in markedly different climates, there seems little or no reason to mark those dates ~ especially when it would be more pertinent to honour local agricultural or other environmental events. We have become used to proselytising religions that have a standard set of festivals that do not necessarily reflect local conditions, and I think modern paganism has somewhat slipped into a similar pattern with a standardised set of festivals abstracted from their original context and applied regardless of whether one is in a jungle, desert, coastal district, or frozen tundra. Hopefully the future will see a (re)flourishing of localised celebrations based around both micro-climates and also the life cycles of whatever crops or animals are of greatest prominence to the pagans in question. Such festivals should be planned for when Nature cues them, and not shoe-horned into a rigid pattern dictated by a book or tradition.
Nimue: I have to say, I heartily agree with you about the need for localisation. I was very taken with your book Old Gods New Druids, and have the impression you’ve more writing in the offing? Any clues as to where that might be going?
Robin: The next one is ‘Bard Song’, which uses examples of my own poetry to explain to readers how to write in the metrical styles of medieval Ireland and Wales. There are also sections on the poetry of Scandinavia, Rome and Greece, as well as some philosophical musings on the nature and uses of poetry in ritual and magic. The book is due out on March 31st. I am also currently finishing the draft of my first work of fiction, an anthology of supernaturally-themed stories.
Nimue: I am officially very excited by this! It’s an idea that has always appealed, but I lack the scholarship to get started – and would bet I’m not alone in that. How did you get into that line of study and work? What’s the path for someone more diligent than me?
Robin: I have been writing poetry since a teenager, and rapidly grew to prefer the challenge of writing structured metrical poetry rather than blank verse. Practical guidelines on writing Irish, Welsh, Norse etc metres were easily available for quite a while, though the advent of widespread Internet has seen a lot more academic resources become accessible to pretty much everyone. The path is simply one of research and practice… and, of course, performance. The nature of this sort of poetry is that it is intended (or was, historically) to be performed for a hopefully appreciative audience. A lot of people are nervous of reading in front of friends (let alone strangers), but I am minded of Joyce Grenfell’s advice that performing to an audience (and just a handful of people are sufficient) creates a wonderful alchemy that can, when it all falls into place, transform the work
Nimue: Thank you! How can interested people best go about following you online?
Robin: I have a blog, though it is by invite only as I use it as my “therapy space” when the dogs get bored of listening to me. I have written quite a lot of articles for the Ipswich Pagan Diary, Pagan Dawn, and a couple of other magazines (rarely under my own name, I enjoy using assorted bizarre alter egos… I am a frustrated actor, or perhaps just a living example of John Rowan’s subpersonality thesis) and a number of those appear on www.ipswichpagancouncil.webs.com should anyone fancy a browse. There are other things in other places, but this is all I am willing to admit to in public.
Nimue: Coolness. And where might a person locate one of your books?
Robin: They can be ordered via any bookshop. You could order through a certain wellknown on-line company, but please bear in mind that their financial arrangements often push small scale publishing firms into the red by insisting on such hefty cuts. Support your local bookshop instead! Or you might encounter me speaking at some convention or other, and hope that I have a few copies on me! For the fiscally challenged, there’s also the library service.
Nimue: Thanks Robin. When the new book comes out, I’ll put out the information in Druid News.