Tag Archives: Druid

Doing it from memory

We know that the ancient Druids had an oral tradition, and that the bards of old memorised vast amounts of material. However, when it comes to the modern bard path, I think it’s really important not to be dogmatic about doing things from memory.

Firstly, not everyone can. Not all brains are good at storing great swathes of text and music. Brain injuries, cognitive differences, and learning difficulties can all make memorising impossible, or excessively difficult. No one should be excluded from bardic performance for these reasons. If you’re holding a bardic space, it is important not to discriminate and not to demand that people perform from memory. Don’t challenge people who can’t and don’t ask why they can’t – it isn’t your business.

There can also be class, life stage and economic issues around performance from memory as well. Learning takes time. That time may not be available – work, illness, family, and other pressures may mean a person does not have the luxury of time to learn content by heart. It is kinder and more inclusive not to put people under pressure or to exclude them based on how overwhelming their lives are. And again, we do not need to know the details of why a person cannot commit to learning the words.

For someone who is anxious, or inexperienced, doing it without the words can simply be too daunting the first few times. People who could be great may never get started if the entry bar is set to high. None of us benefit from that.

The quality of a performance does not depend on whether you are holding a piece of paper. Certainly a piece of paper can be a barrier between performer and audience, but it doesn’t have to be. No one complains about classical musicians reading from the sheet music. Authors are allowed to read from their books at events, too. It is entirely possible to perform very badly from memory. The best thing to do is focus on quality of performance – in your own work and when you are making space for other people.

If you need the words, or notes, to make that possible, go with whatever allows you to do the best performance you can. Don’t penalise other people for needing to rely on paper or phones for content. You can encourage excellence without making specific demands on what people do. It takes time to develop as a performer and most people start out far less able than they will be with practice. Experience of performing is part of what takes a person towards being a really great performer – most of us don’t get up for the first time at anything like the level of performance we might be capable of.

(And thank you to Clive Oseman for the prompt)

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Druid community and anxiety

Yesterday was full of interesting challenges and unexpected opportunities. I spent the day at Druid Camp in the Forest of Dean. I missed the previous 2 years, because there had been a lot of painful drama – accusations that I had bullied someone, that led to said victim trying to get me removed from the field, prohibited from being a speaker there and fired from my day job. I had evidence of what had actually happened, and was not fired from my day job, but it was a scary and stressful time. It was also deeply emotionally loaded for me because I feel very strongly about taking bullying accusations seriously.

So, back to Druid Camp I went, but only for one day because I didn’t know how that was going to work out. I felt welcomed and supported. There was no residual stress or drama. I did a talk and it got all the sorts of responses I had hoped for, especially getting other Pagans thinking about the transition towns movement. I sat as a model (entirely clothed) for some of Tom’s life drawing class, and I spent some intense time with a number of people I am deeply fond of.

Sometimes, the only way to deal with fear is to try again. It’s hard to see what’s a reasonable response and what’s out of date, and what never was that big a deal in the first place, without testing things. Testing things is scary. But, without that, nothing can change. Fear wins. There are issues of picking your fights and assessing what information you have – not all anxiety inducing things will turn out to be fine if you go back and give them a second chance. If something was genuinely wrong and hasn’t changed, it will be as scary as it was before.

If there are reasons to think things have changed, going back can be the best way of dealing with fear. Having support also makes worlds of difference. I know I could not have done this on my own. I had considerable support for making the journey and people around me I would trust with my life. I knew I had a number of very good friends who would be on site, and that helped. They were my incentive for having another go. The organisers were supportive and encouraging – particularly Bish and Fleur who went to some lengths to reassure me, and make things as easy for me as possible. This all gives me space to consider what I might do next year.

The measure of a community is not what it does when everything is fine. The measure of whether a group of people even are a community comes when something is difficult, or broken, or on fire. How people treat each other when there are problems says a lot more about who we are to each other than anything else. It is a very big deal to me to feel safe and welcome.


Wisdom from the Ancestors – a poem

Wisdom from the Ancestors

 

If the ancient Druids spoke through me

They would say to you,

Now we are in crisis.

In drought and flood our crops will fail.

Our people are in conflict.

Many go hungry.

Our wild brothers and sisters

Even the sacred bee

Are in peril,

May leave us forever.

Faced with such disaster

We need a really potent sacrifice.

Not goats this time.

Not criminals or prisoners of war

No commoner we were finding a bit inconvenient

No!

In the face of dire circumstance

Only the brightest and best will do.

We need a sacrifice who combines

Wealth, power and influence. A leader!

A statesman, more valuable than any other.

Only the greatest and most noble of sacrifices

Can save us.

 

When they destroy the land and the people

For their power and pride

It is their own vanity that will lead them

All the way to the ritual space.

It’s not that we’re superstitious.

It’s that we know sometimes

The best way to protect democracy

Is to persuade the bastards at the top

To self congratulate themselves all the way

To a wicker man.

 

(I’m not advocating putting actual people in actual wickermen, but at times like this I can’t help but feel that there are other ways of looking at the idea of sacrifice kings…)


Getting back on the horse

My grandmother always said that if you fell off a horse, it was really important to get straight back on the horse as soon as possible or you’d lose your nerve.

(For anyone who read Family Traditions, this really is a thing she used to say and not something I have made up and attributed to her.)

It was an approach she applied to life in general. Fallen off something? Get back up and at it as quickly as you can. She was the sort of person who got things done by dint of sheer bloody-mindedness. She got back to things as fast as she could. When a stroke stopped her playing the piano, she got back to the piano. The falling off the horse thing wasn’t metaphorical for her either.

And she was right about the horse. The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes to get back on. The bigger a deal the fall becomes. The less time you give it, the less of an issue it is.

Next week, I am going back to Druid Camp. Just for the one day (Thursday). I’ll be doing a talk about Druidry and the Future, Tom will be doing a life drawing class. It is a large horse to get back on, and one I thought I’d accepted falling from. It was quite a nasty fall, with a lot of nasty fallout from said fall. I don’t know if I’m going to have to deal with any of that, but, only being there for a day, I can limit how much there is. It would be easier and more comfortable to just give up and stay away forever, but at the same time, I did nothing wrong and I paid heavily. I want to give things the chance to be different. I want to see the people I seldom see anywhere else. I have left it too long for this to be simple. And dammit, I do not want to be the sort of person who falls off a horse and loses their nerve and never does the things again.

Event details here – http://www.druidcamp.org.uk/


Standing and Not Falling – a review

Presented as a workbook for those wanting a spiritual detox ahead of working magic, Standing and Not Falling is a text you could work through over 13 moons. The idea is to deal with the kinds of things that might get in the way of a magical practice, and pave the way for a deeper and more effective kind of sorcery. For anyone interested in serious magic, this is well worth a go.

I didn’t read it or work with the book in that way. I pick up this kind of book because it is always useful to research for the fiction. I’ve learned a lot that I can no doubt apply in my speculative writing. What I didn’t realise when I started reading the book, is how valuable it is as a philosophical text.

Lee Morgan has a great deal to say about how we navigate inside our own minds, how we perceive the world and relate to it, and how our thinking shapes our experiences. There’s a lot here about being embodied, about animism and relationships based on animist philosophy. There’s great content about ancestry, our relationship with the land, and how we deal with mainstream culture – and for that matter, how it deals with us. There’s a great deal to chew on. Much of it aligns with my own thinking, so that was pleasingly affirming, but at the same time, it’s a very different perspective on those familiar issues and it opened up a great deal of new territory for me.

I recommend that Druids pick up Standing and Not Falling to read as a philosophical text. It has a great deal to offer on those terms. Anyone interested in the bard path will also be interested in how the book is written – the crafting of it, the way language is deployed, the poetic qualities the author brings – these are all worthy of your attention and may well be a source of inspiration.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a magical text because it’s not my path. However, what I can say (having read a fair few magical books for research purposes) is that I’ve never seen anything like this before. There’s a world view here, and a way of relating to self, world and magic that, while it has some familiar elements, really isn’t like anything else I’ve run into. It’s well worth a look.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/standing-not-falling 


Gods and Goddesses of Wales – a review

June 2019 sees the release of Halo Quin’s Gods and Goddesses of Wales. This is a Pagan Portal – meaning it’s a short, introductory book. I read it a while ago – one of the many perks of my working life.

I very much like Halo as a human being. I’ve spent time with her at Druid Camp, she’s a warm, lovely person full of inspiration. She’s not identifying as a Druid – but honestly what she writes is just the sort of thing for a Druid starting out on their path. Welsh mythology has a central role in modern Druidry, but getting into it can be a bit of a struggle. This is an ideal beginner’s book, giving you very readable and relevant takes on those key myths and figures.

This is a relevant book for anyone interested in Welsh mythology or deities associated with the British Isles. It’s worth remembering that the Welsh border hasn’t always been in the same place, and if you are in the west of England, these influences are highly pertinent!

You can buy this book from anywhere that does books, here’s the Amazon link https://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Portals-Goddesses-practical-introduction-ebook


The ritual of writing

There are a great many small joys and privileges that come from working at a Pagan publishing house. I get to read all sorts of books ahead of release. I get to help new authors break in, and more established authors reach further. I get to help. There’s an immense joy in seeing a writer winning – a first time author with a breakthrough title, an author whose been slogging away at it for years finally getting the attention they deserve. This is not always the work I am paid to do, this is sometimes stuff I do in my own time, because I can.

A few years ago, Andrew Anderson submitted a manuscript to Moon Books. It wasn’t something we could publish – it was simply too short. I liked his ideas and his writing style, so I dropped him an email with some pointers about what might work and get picked up – I’m not the person making those decisions, but I know how publishers operate. To my immense joy, he came back with a new book, and it clearly was one that we could put out. This month it is released.

The ritual of writing is a book for bards, and for anyone else using the written word as part of their creative spiritual life. Anyone inclined to write rituals, spells, prayers or meditations will find something they can use in this book. For anyone who wants to use writing as a focus for their spiritual journey, this book is resplendent with tools and ideas. It’s an ideal read for anyone on the Druid path and a natural companion book if you’re doing the OBOD Bardic grade. That Andrew is studying in the Ovate grade with OBOD should come as no surprise!

I’m personally delighted to see a book exploring creativity as ritual process in this way. I’m excited to see a new and innovative addition to contemporary Druid thinking. I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew does next. I feel honoured to have had the chance to be part of his story.

The ritual of writing is available anywhere that sells books. here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ritual-Writing-Spiritual-Practice/dp/1789041538 


What Druids Do

There are a lot of things that Druids Do in terms of providing service for other people. I’ve explored most of these over the years, and have come to some conclusions about what its feasible for me to do – what I do well and what I can sustain.

Celebrant work – I’ve done several weddings and a funeral. As a person without a car, it’s not sensible for me to go dashing around the country so increasingly requests that aren’t close to home get passed to other people. I’ve found I’m not keen on doing celebrant work – it’s one thing doing it for people I know, that’s fine. I’m not called to celebrancy in a way that makes me want to offer that to strangers. To work as a celebrant, you need to be a good performer and ritualist, and able to work out what people need from their rite of passage, and provide that for them.

Leadership – whether that’s founding a grove, a teaching school or an order, many Druids are called to leadership roles. Not all who wish to lead manage to attract people who wish to follow and that doesn’t always play out well. I’m not much attracted to this because it calls for so much taking responsibility for other people – to do it well. I’m not especially fussed about having people do Druidry my way – my way is probably too idiosyncratic to be of much use to many others. There’s so much organising and work involved in doing leadership well that it does not appeal to me.

Healing, counselling, guidance – I’ve not a lot of skill in this area. I will do my best to offer suggestions when people come to me, and I try and share my experiences in ways other people might find useful, but that’s about it. I believe that often the best way to enable healing is to create a safe and supportive environment for people. There’s a practical limit to what I can do on that score, it’s only really something I can offer to people who know where I live.

Representation – I’ve done a bit of this, and it is quite challenging work. Speaking to people of other paths, or speaking on behalf of Pagans. I live in a place with a lot of Pagan and alternative folk – enough that we’re pretty normal and that representation is seldom an issue. There are also plenty of older, wiser and more experienced folk around who are better placed to do this.

Teaching – I’ve tried mentoring both independently and as part of OBOD. I’ve stepped away from that because I don’t feel comfortable setting myself up in authority over other people’s journeys. I prefer informal approaches, where I just put stuff out there (this blog, books, talks, one off workshops) and people can take it or leave it in whatever way they like. I’m always happy to support other people in their journey. If someone comes to me with questions I’ll do what I can – that approach keeps the power and responsibility firmly in the hands of the seeker, and I think that’s far better.

What I think we need more of, rather than people in these specific roles, is people taking on thinking work. We need ideas, stories, philosophies, methods, inspiration for people to live more sustainably. We need living examples, different ways of thinking, visions of the future and the courage to act. We need people who can overcome despair, campaign, take action and enable others to do so. Looking around I am aware of a lot of Druids who are doing this. I think it’s where we are all most needed, in whatever ways we can engage. So much of What Druids Do comes from conventional models of leadership and human importance revolving around purely human needs. What Druids need to be doing is something less human-centric and I’m glad to say I can see a great deal of that happening already.


Druid Magic

There is a great deal of magic in the stories that modern Druids look to for inspiration – Cerridwen brewing in her cauldron of inspiration, Gwydion creating illusions, and making a woman out of flowers, supernatural feats of strength, love potions, fairies, giants, monsters… But very little that suggests what a modern Druid might do in terms of following a magical path.

For Druids who desire magic, this can mean simply picking up witchcraft approaches and either running that in parallel to Druidry, or finding ways to integrate it. That’s never really appealed to me.

What I have found over the years of doing Druidry, is that it has magical consequences. The process of seeking and deepening my relationship with the land has changed me over time, and opened up how I perceive and experience. It tends not to be a high drama path, and it is slow, and it is not the magic that can be deployed to serve ego or short term desire. Not that I think this is inherent in what witches do, it’s just that you can if you want to on that path.

I’m coming to think of Druid magic as something that flows from relationships. I’ve noticed my understanding and my capacity for intuition have improved somewhat. What I’m able to think has changed – these are hard things to explain and I think one of the tasks as I move forward is to work out how to more usefully talk about all of this.

For me, as for many Druids, inspiration has always been the key magical force within my path. However, how a person seeks inspiration will inform where it takes them. If we start with our own will and intent – as is often the way in magical work – we don’t get anything outside ourselves. The process of opening to whatever we hold sacred – gods, spirits, the land means that the inspiration we’ll find will come from somewhere other than ourselves. Where that takes us will not be where we would have taken ourselves if left to our own devices.

I’ve put in some years now of simply going out and making relationship. I feel like I’m at the very early stages of a process that has a lot of potential in it. I have no idea where it might take me. At the moment I’m asking questions about what comes next, and waiting to see what the answers are. I know at this stage that it is not the kind of magic that will give me much power for myself, but I think it might allow me to be a vessel, or a catalyst, or something of that ilk.


Being a spirit of place

Standard Druid ritual has us, somewhere near the beginning, saying things like ‘hail spirits of this place, spirits of land and sky and whatever else lives here. Hail and welcome.” We make our circles, and we welcome the spirits of place into the space. This is something I’ve felt uneasy about for a while.

Recently, I had an experience of being cast in a similar role. I came into a space I have a longstanding relationship with, and where I work. Someone I have never seen in that space before but who happened to have got there first, thanked me for being there and welcomed me in. The whole approach gave them the appearance of owning the space, and cast me as the outsider.  It was not a happy or comfortable experience. It was the exact opposite of feeling honoured or respected.

Respect for spirits of place begins with the recognition that they are intrinsic to the space while you have come into their space. It also depends on recognition that they are part of the space, and you are probably not. Or you are less so.

If you are doing ritual in your own home, think about how you would welcome a person who also shares your home to share ritual space with you. It may make sense to acknowledge that you are the one making ritual space, in your shared space and to asking them to join in.

If you were in someone else’s home holding a ritual space, you wouldn’t thank them for being there. You’d thank them for hosting the ritual space. You’d thank them for letting you run a ritual space in their home.

It is all too easy to rock up to a place you want to use for ritual and act like you own it. Even when you have legal possession of a place, it is important to remember that any spirits of place you may call on won’t see it that way. If you want to honour them as the spirits of place, your recognition of their relationship with the place will be a key part of that.

I can say with some confidence that being in a place where you feel you belong and having someone who is not of that place welcome you as though you were an outsider and the place was theirs, is not a good way to start. It does not create feelings of warmth and delight. It may create feelings of annoyance, resentment, and worse.

I’ve stood in too many circles that have said ‘we bid you hail, and welcome.’ I don’t think this is the right language for creating meaningful relationships.