Yesterday I attended the Cotswold Pagan Society Imbolc ritual held in Clearwell caves – Druid led but not just for Druids. It was a really interesting experience. The caves themselves are a mix of natural formation and iron ore mining that dates back into pre-history. Clearwell, in the Forest of Dean is part of an area where coal and iron have been mined for a long time, much of it by surface digging. The landscape is hillocky with leavings from mining efforts such that much of the place has been shaped by ancestral activity.
It is a place of my ancestors. My father’s mother came from the Forest, so I assume given so many people there were miners that I probably have an ancestor or two who worked those caves. In youth, before it was all organised and a centre, my father and his friends wandered about down there, he was clearly a braver and more adventurous soul than I am! I’d be nervous doing that in the dark, it would be so easy to get lost.
I’ve never done a ritual in a cave before. I’d also not previously done anything so formal, planned and scripted, so that was an interesting experience. Despite the OBOD training, I’m too much the bard to want paper in hand. If words need to be fixed I feel a need to learn them – for me that’s part of the bard tradition. Really I prefer to wing it, finding inspiration in the place and the moment. I’m aware that comes from a long history of improvising – with music, mumming, writing, I’m in the habit of doing things in the moment. Many people aren’t, and a lot of life doesn’t encourage us to open up to sudden flows of creativity. One of the things yesterday left me with was a sense of being fortunate in the skills and experiences life has brought me. There must be many people who need the support of the written word, the permission inherent in a ritual script, to make Druidry available to them. Taught as we are to follow and regurgitate, it seems like an act of ego, insanity or self importance to be burbling away off the top of your head. At least, it does at first… Druidry has to start places people can cope with, and sometimes the reassuring bit of paper is needful.
During the ritual I found myself thinking about Stone Age cave painters, mysteries explored in art in the deep darkness of the earth. I thought about the hibernating bear, and also the mystic cave dwellers, the dragons and goblins, and wondered who, traditionally, inhabited those forest caves. I thought about the association between caves and hermits seeking inspiration and closeness to spirit. Inevitably I also thought about the womb of the earth, especially as we walked the steep and narrow path up towards… not rebirth in daylight, but the gift shop. Ah, modern humanity…
I spent so long running rituals, or being at the running end. It’s really good to stand in circle without any particular job or responsibility, to just be there and see what happens. It’s a relearning process for me, in all kinds of good ways. I have no doubt that at some point I’ll be setting up some circle of my own, quietly, but yesterday reminded me of how much work goes into making those big, public circles happen. All kudos to the people who pour their energy and creativity into such events around the world. It’s such a valuable service, connecting communities and letting inspiration flow, but I remember all too well how it used to wash me out.