Tag Archives: druid camp

Druid Camp from the depths of winter

As I write this, I feel a long way away from the summer fields of the Forest of Dean, and Mark Graham’s Druid camp. It’s an August event, and here we are, shivering in January. No going barefoot in this weather, no exposing skin to sun, no grain ripening in the fields. It’s less than a week – under 2% of a year, but it’s become over the last three years something of a key part of my summer.

Druid Camp is a community space, which means I get to spend time with a bunch of people I really like, and seldom see. Being a community space, there are inevitably other people I don’t get on with as well, and about whom I feel anxious. I’m not the most socially confident life form, and generally avoid people who rub me up the wrong way. The field is big enough, and there’s always enough going on that there’s no obligation to be in close proximity to anyone else. Which is as well. It takes a lot to make me fall out with a person butI’m not all peace and love and light, by any stretch of the imagination.

In more involved, more intense spaces, relationships can be forged that endure. There’s room at camp, and time, and situations that encourage openness, emotional intimacy, even physical closeness. As a person who really struggles around all things physical, that’s always a big challenge for me. Over the last three years, there have been people who knew what was going on with me and have done all manner of things to help me move forward, to be more confident. So now I feel secure enough to use the showers, I can get in the sauna, and I’m much better at hugging people. And at not hugging people and feeling able to say when I’m too sore or otherwise out of sorts.

In workshops, in ritual, in dance spaces… people find opportunities to test themselves, to take risks, and to encounter other people doing the same. It can be really exposing. Encountering another person in this way, you rapidly learn things about whether you want to move closer, or step back. As someone who tends to feel obliged to appease, it’s been an important experience for me, to realise that I don’t have to suit everyone. I don’t have to be totally acceptable to all comers in all ways. I can be an awkward misfit in some contexts, and still have a place.

January, for me, is a most obvious time to be thinking about Druid Camp. I’m waiting for Mark to announce the speakers and music list so that I can run around and tell people. I know some of what’s in the offing, and am already excited. Tickets are already on sale, because I’m not the only person who gets to January and wants to make plans for the coming year. With the way events work, it’s important to be doing that. I will be at the South West Pagan Federation conference in April, I’ll be at Festival at the Edge in July, and at Conscious Connection Camp, I’ll be at Asylum – the huge Steampunk event in Lincoln on the August Bank Holiday weekend. And of course I’ll be at Druid Camp, and nearer the time I’ll figure out what I’ll be contributing. I’m not a main speaker, so there’s more time to pin that down.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to get things moving, tickets, as previously mentioned, are already on sale… http://www.druidcamp.org.uk/


Life after the Druids

I return home from Druid Camp exhausted, sore and covered in bits of field. In the last few days I have been inspired, challenged, encouraged and affirmed. There’s a lot to unpack from the experience, so that’s going to dominate the blog for some days to come, I rather suspect. If you’re wondering how I managed to get all of last week’s posts written in the midst of this – I cheated – and set them up in advance.

There were three fantastic speakers at camp, Professor Ronald Hutton spoke about the seasonal festivals, Penny Billington spoke about being a tree, while trees and meditation dominated Philip Carr Gomm’s talk. Getting to meet him was a very big deal for me – OBOD has been a big part of my life for more than a decade now. It’s lovely when you think you know someone from online exchanges, and you meet them in person and they are very much as expected.

Music at camp was fantastic – during the day I experienced singing bowls with the awesome Bliss, and chanting – Enchanting the Void with JJ Middleway. Damh the Bard and Paul Mitchell provided some kickass evening sets. I was also blessed with an informal folk circle including the aforementioned Mr Mitchell, Penny and Arthur Billington, Talis Kimberly and clan, and an array of other people with fine singing voices. My own anarchic sound space on the Wednesday night was pure magic – due to the glorious contributions of a gathering of wild and inspiring people. Musically, the absolute highpoint for me was seeing my son get up on stage to sing as part of the eistedfodd, and being really good.

I also knitted a hare, wriggled past my own body awkwardness to follow Vishwam’s inspiring guided meditation, gently triumphed over my nudity issues and also worked out how to handle physical contact with people. There’s a lot to unpack from all of this.

I’ve struggled a lot with issues of belonging in the last six months or so especially. I come out of this week with a very keen sense of who my people are and where I fit. Alongside that I have a much clearer sense of what I want from Druid community. I know how to put a hand on the shoulder of people I don’t really know but who merit friendly gestures, how to reach out to people I like, how to throw myself unreservedly into the arms of the people I really care about, and how to keep the hell away from people who make me uncomfortable. There aren’t many people who belong in that last category.

I come out of this feeling a good deal clearer about what I need to be doing, and who I want to be doing it with.

Community ritual

It’s Saturday at the Rainbow Druid Camp, and that usually means community ritual – an opportunity for everyone at the camp to be an active participant in crafting and participating in a large ritual. It’s quite an opportunity.

The organisation of it is canny, and effective. A way will be found to assign all participants to one of a selection of groups (last year it was where Mars falls in your birth sign, for example).  This prevents cliques, gives everyone an equal footing, and a place to be. Each group is assigned someone to hold it together. An overall theme, or narrative for the ritual is figured out ahead of the day by a group of people who show up because they want to do this, and on the day, each piece of the ritual is planned by the groups who then come together to make it all happen.

From which you can comfortably infer that as a way of getting a lot of people, most of whom are not acquainted,   to all actively make and enact a ritual, I think this is brilliant.

However, I don’t do it. I’m not personally drawn to big rituals. I’ve done some of the circles at Avebury and Stonehenge where there could be a hundred people and more. I go along for the opening and closing rituals at camp, because that feels like the right thing to do, but otherwise, I find really big rituals with lots of people incredibly disorientating. For myself, twelve to twenty four people is about my comfort zone for ritual groups, and I’m happy to work smaller.

My personal preference is for more focused, more intense ritual with people I know and feel connected to. I like circles small enough that a person can sing in them and not be lost, and where I can do the formal bits without having to shout. I like to be able to see other people’s eyes.

There are many very good reasons to do big, public and inclusive rituals that engage and offer celebration and theatre. There are Druids (and Mark Graham who runs Druid Camp is one of them) who are brilliant at this sort of thing and can carry large circles and engage large numbers of people at one go. And there are those of us who need to do other things in other ways. One of the many things I love about Druidry is that this is fine, and there’s room for everything. The small scale deep sharing rituals, the big acts of public drama, the solitary Druids, the people who do not do ritual at all… there is room.

What we did at Druid Camp

It would be fair to say that I’m not good with nudity. I can just about cope with other people’s, mine I find difficult. Making my body available to people in any way creates challenges. I have a lot of issues with my body, so inviting people to look at it or to accept my skin is tricky. So, yes, that is my new book cover, and yes, that is my back.

I’ve never considered myself cover material – I’m not the kind of slinky, glamorous entity that normally goes on covers. Last year, I decided to challenge this, to see whether my publisher, and readers, would be willing to tolerate me on the front of a book. It was not an easy thing to do. Given the subject matter of the book, I clearly needed to be lying down. For the Pagan aspect to come through, I needed to be lying on something natural, which meant outside. I don’t have a garden. I also don’t have a decent camera. Evidently, this was going to take a team, and the right place.

I took the project to Druid Camp, in no small part because it’s a safe space for me. Skin is acceptable there, and I knew no one would have an issue over my removing clothes. Plus, it’s a friendly, supportive environment full of people with skills. Getting the paint onto my back and the photos was a team effort, and a lot of trust on my part. It was a strange and exposed sort of thing to do, but it left me feeling stronger and less fearful.

I put this image out into the world with some nervousness. I tell myself that it will be ok because I am well used to people criticising my appearance. Only a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, a chap asked ‘why the f*ck would anyone want to go near you?’ I’ve had people telling me how ‘funny looking’, fat, and unattractive I am my whole life, this cover will not change that, and it will likely bring more of the same. I am used to thinking of myself as ugly, it is part of my sense of who I am. What makes me nervous, truth be told, is the risk of being found attractive. I find a measure of safety in being the sort of person very few people would want to touch anyway. It is simpler, and unthreatening. People affronted by my body have never even tried to hurt me by then using that body unkindly. Other people’s desire has not always worked out well for me and part of this wider process of testing my edges is about trying to establish that there isn’t something about my body that justifies abuse.

So here it is: awkward painted mammal by the light of a summer sunset, on the lush meadows of Druid camp.

Bare breasts, bare feet

As those of you who have been with me for a while will know, I have an exploration underway into having unfettered breasts. I’m ample enough up top to have spent the last twenty years strapped up, so building up the capability to go unstrapped is taking time.

At Druid Camp this year I had chance to play with a few possibilities in a safe space. I spent the week mostly barefoot, sometimes with a bra, sometimes with a bikini top that offered far less support, sometimes loose under whatever top I had on. As I had suspisioned, being bare foot on grass makes a lot of odds. Most of us walk differently with no shoes on, tending to drop pace and place bare feet more gently. This reduces impact and means there is less swing generated further up.

Soft earth and grass doesn’t impact as much when you walk on it – I’ve done plenty of barefoot walking on tarmac and the difference is huge. The jarring impact of putting feet onto a hard surface jolts the free-range breast about rather a lot, making walking uncomfortable. It’s also hard on your feet. Softer surfaces make bare foot walking more viable, and reduce impact on the breasts. I find I can jog short distances barefoot on grass with little or no breast support. Neither feet nor chest could bear that on a hard, urban surface.

The moral of the research at this stage seem to be, if you want to be in a natural state, you need to be in a natural state. The more artificial your habitat is, the more you will suffer if you don’t protect breasts and feet from the consequences.

If you’re wondering about all the sticks and stones inherent in natural places… if you are barefoot you learn to pick your way carefully, and you don’t end up with the same rhythms. On rough terrain, you walk differently. With tarmac and concrete we can march vigorously over many miles, battering that tempo into our bodies. It’s worth remembering that the Roman roads were built precisely so they could march armies about quickly. Roads, tarmac and cement come from our desire to be places faster than our bodies are designed for. Modify your habitat and you have to modify your body to cope, hence shoes become more important, and you can’t run without a bra once you have shoes and a hard surface.

I’ve gone over to softer bras with no metal underwiring, and to floating about unfettered where I can. But, depending on my feet for transport, and having no choice about the surfaces which get me where I need to go, I’ve got to have boots to deal with the impact of the surface, and I’ve got to have chest support to deal with the impact of the boots on that surface. The more you can match your shoes to the needs of your breasts, the better this is going to work, though.

Wool against Weapons

I have gone off today on a coach from Stroud with other Wool Against Weapons folk, to protest through the medium of wool. So, rather than a usual blog pot, here are some photos – both taken by Chris Hastie at Druid Camp and are re-used here with permission.

10570428_850437411635632_6826475609340304292_nThis one was taken early on Saturday night, and as Talis Kimberly sang about Eleanor Roosevelt knitting, Sophie and I were sewing segments of scarf together. The scarf went up for a bit of a dance, which was fabulous as it stretched the length of the marquee!

That’s Tom sat next to me, looking serious.








1546048_850436044969102_47608862912746272_nThis one shows a section of scarf laid out in a morning meeting. After the protest, the pieces will be reassembled into blankets and sent to projects that need them. I’m hoping to be involved with that stage, too.

I’ve contributed some knitting (not a whole piece, but lots of bits of communal pieces) and a fair bit of sewing, and some emergency crotchet to fill in a narrow bit.

Friendly Lechery

This was another interesting lesson from Druid Camp: The value of friendly lechery. Druid Camp is a friendly place where people can take their clothes off. Amongst people who know each other, there can be a fair amount of playful, friendly flirtation and lechery. It’s important to note that this is something that can flow in any direction regardless of gender, and with scant reference to preferences sometimes. It does not exist to demean, exert control over, objectify or otherwise mistreat the participants.

In most contexts, I would be likely to find innuendos threatening because I am damaged by experience. I know that sometimes innuendo is a veiled threat of physical violence. Often it is designed to humiliate and objectify. That’s what you get when it’s perpetrated by strangers as an act of expressing power. But then, rape is all about power, it’s not about lust or desire. If what you’re dealing with is all about lust, desire, or even just liking and fondness, it’s a whole other game and not about hurting the recipient.

What sets friendly lechery apart is that for a start, it is inherently friendly. It would not continue if it made the recipient unhappy. It is supposed to elicit playful banter in return, not cowering and running away. If someone said ‘no’ or ‘this makes me uncomfortable’ it would stop, because the friendliness matters. Forcing unwanted sexual attention isn’t friendly. Making people uncomfortable isn’t friendly and if you have any care or respect for another person, making them miserable is just not an acceptable outcome.

We live in a culture that prizes sexual attractiveness. It’s also not enough in our wider culture that we are attractive to a life partner. The vibe is that we must be more widely attractive than that. We’re all regularly fed unattainable, photoshopped images of desirability. At the same time, our society is entirely crap about giving us positive messages about how we look and seem. That’s not going to get us to buy products, after all! We’re having our sexuality constructed for us by people who want to undermine our confidence in ourselves, while making us feel we must be universally appealing, in order to make us buy stuff.

One of the gifts of friendly lechery is that it allows us to affirm attractiveness to each other without consuming anything. With flirtation and innuendo, we affirm each other’s acceptability, and when that’s done well, it is a cheering experience. We should not automatically feel degraded by another person’s appreciation, we also shouldn’t need to feel like everyone fancies us, but we’re all under a lot of pressure over this one.

There’s an interesting parallel with Steampunk culture here. In Steampunk, clothes dominate, and it is not just normal, but expected that you will approach other people to compliment them on hats, clothes, accessories and style. In this context it is fine for anyone to pay a compliment to anyone else, because it is understood as part of how the culture works. Other places, that same behaviour might be interpreted as creepy or threatening. A big part of what makes the difference here, and in Druid circles, is the understanding that respect can be assumed. When you know you are respected, any comment about appearance and attractiveness is heard differently. It’s not a prelude to assault.

In most situations with people we do not know well, respect is not a given. Physical safety is not a given. Acceptance of your sexuality is not a given. Making jokes at the expense of others is normal.

If the people around us are not objects, then the lechery is personal. It exists in a context, as part of an exchange, and if that’s not ok, then the flirting, the play and suggestion stops. To expose attraction is, in this context, to be vulnerable. Only when we objectify people can we express unsolicited lust without feeling vulnerable. Only if we are also laughing at the recipient can we feel relaxed about desiring someone who might say no. And of course if we keep laughing, we might not bother to hear the ‘no’ anyway. In objectifying another person in order to be lecherous at them, we might feel sexually powerful, and as though we have turned attention away from the issue of our own desirability. Friendly lechery, by contrast, allows us all to be a bit more real, human and gentle with each other.

The value of a person

Last week at Druid Camp, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato came and gave a talk about the nature of money. Molly isn’t a Druid, it should be noted, but is open to talking to any group of people who want to listen. Druid Camp is about finding ways to engage with the world as a Druid as well as retreating into a shared community space.

In Molly’s talk, she reflected on how people equate pay with value, where more pay seems to indicate that a person has more innate worth to those paying them. It’s a seductive way of thinking that traps us into putting a price tag on everything, and then not valuing those people and naturally occurring things that do not merit a high price.

We should pay fairly for time and skills, but the pressure in a capitalist system is to extract as much profit as possible, often meaning we will pay the less powerful less than they are worth to us. Unions were a way of countering this, but they have been restricted repeatedly by politicians. When we make hierarchies of worth, assumptions creep into the mix. Traditionally feminine areas are often considered less valuable than traditional masculine employment, for example. Hard physical labour is not valued as highly as desk jobs (unless there’s also a gender issue). Producing the product is deemed less important than managing the people who produce the product. And on the strange flip side of all of this, get high enough up the ladder and you can lose money for your company and still expect to be paid a vast salary and a hefty bonus. How we deploy wages could certainly stand some thought.

The value of a person is not their earning ability, and we should not be valuing each other in terms of cash flow. It’s horribly reductive, undermines self esteem and leaves us all vulnerable. What value do you have if you fall sick, retire, or your company folds, if you take time out to raise children or care for a sick relative, to campaign, study or the like? We are not our paychecks.

This only holds up though when you postulate that people are earning enough to maintain a decent standard of living. If you do not earn a living wage, and must work two jobs just to survive, or sell your possessions, or do without many otherwise normal things, you will feel keenly that you are not worth much as a person. It will be there every time you desperately need to say ‘no’ but can’t afford to. Loss of economic power is also loss of self, when it means you have to work any hours offered at no notice, or when it means you resort to selling your body, through pornography or prostitution. The person who cannot afford to eat properly doesn’t get to make so many ethical choices about what their employer asks of them. Undervalue a person economically, and you take away their rights to function as a person in your society.

Only when everyone has enough to maintain a decent standard of living, can we sit back and feel confident that the size of a paycheck is not the value we place on a person.

Druid camp faerie tales

Thursday at Druid Camp, and there was to be a masked ball in the evening. I had nothing to wear – I don’t own many dresses and as nothing in my wardrobe would do for a glamorous Druid ball in hot conditions, I had brought a few things in the hopes I could cobble them together, apply face-paint and get away with it. However, Thursday turned out to be busy, I didn’t stop until gone 8, by which time everyone else was ready while I was hot, tired and painfully sore.

This may be starting to sound a bit like a familiar story shape. I was definitely not going to the ball, because by this point my lower back had locked up and was painful enough to make me cry. Dancing would not be an option. Everyone else set off, aside from Tom, but Ferdiad returned, taking on the ‘faerie godmother’ role (which I think should be generally understood more as a job description than an identity). It took some time and energy to get me out of the worst of the pain and return me to a state I could bear.

I did not go to the ball.

This is where it gets really interesting, because on Friday the suggestion was mooted that it might be worth getting me in the sauna, to alleviate pain and tension. I can’t cope with being naked around people, and while I’m better with other people’s nudity than I was, it’s still tough. At Rainbow Camps there are often naked people. A quiet window was found where I could have sauna time without anyone else, and various people accompanied me to help me feel secure as I did this more communally again in following days. However, on that Friday we discovered that in terms of pain and stiffness, a sauna is pretty much an instant magical cure. As I don’t normally believe in instant magical cures, this came as a surprise. It doesn’t fix me forever, but it quickly returns me to a viable state.

On Friday night, I was sufficiently pain-free to be able to dance a bit while the band was on. Not much, not too energetically and not for too long, but some wafting about to music was viable. This cheered me greatly. The not being able to dance aspect of not going to the ball had been gutting – I love to dance, but these days it’s not always so feasible. If my body is stiff and awkward, liveliness and grace are not an option.

On Saturday at the market, there was a dress. Black bodice, dark green skirt. A glorious, outrageous sort of dress compared to the kinds of things I more normally wear. I tried it on, and it was an uncannily good fit. I tend to self identify as  scruffy urchin, but this dress managed to both look rather fancy, and look like me – I did not appear to be trying to be anything or anyone I am not. I wore it barefoot and with no makeup, and that was fine. On Saturday, I went to the eistedfodd in said dress, and people said nice things about it. I spent a lot of the evening at the back of the marquee, in the fabulous frock, listening to the music whilst sewing up stretches of scarf for Wool Against Weapons. I also managed a bit of dancing.

Faerie tale outcomes tend to fall together neatly so as to make a good narrative. Life can take a lot longer to come up with good outcomes, but just sometimes, when we look out for each other and enable good things to happen, there are moments of magic. Thank you everyone who made that possible, it meant a great deal to me.

Away with the Druids

I’m not really here. Posts this week were set up a while ago, in a fit of being organised. I am in a field in the Forest of Dean, doing Druid stuff, and next week will no doubt have a veritable ton of things to reflect upon and enough inspiration to keep me blogging for weeks.

In the meantime, here is a flier. It’s not a really real Druid camp flier, even if it is on the website, because in no sane reality would I be the headline at an event like this. It was very kindly made, I think because I’d said that one day, I hope to reach a point in my life and work where I’ve done enough to be worth someone putting on a flier. To be thought warmly of by a friend, and honoured in this way is no small thing, and it was a humbling sort of experience to see this.

In reality, I will be helping out with bits and pieces as needed and generally trying to make myself useful. Just once in a while though, it is nice to be able to pretend, and the fragile ego and hunger for recognition are just things that I have to learn to work with.