Tag Archives: Druids

Sniffing for Druids

Scent is incredibly powerful especially in terms of bringing emotion and memory to the surface. It’s also a sense we don’t tend to use much. Most other mammals make far better uses of their noses than we do. Admittedly, some have far more powerful noses than we do, but our lack of engagement is a far bigger issue.

I can tell when the fox has pissed on the bushes outside the flat. Sometimes I smell death even though I cannot find the body. At the moment, the woods are permeated with the aroma from the new garlic leaves, but if you get your head in close there are violets to sniff as well. Weather creates smells, so do trees, rotting plant matter, bodies of water. Opening up to smell gives us access to far more than we can know by looking.

Smelling things makes you more of a conscious participant in a place, less the observer of scenery. Of course smell is one of the ways in which your body is permeated by your environment – the smells we breathe in are airborne chemicals that come from their source and physically enter our bodies. And no, it’s not a pleasant thought to recognise that the steaming turd we can smell is also, now, a little bit inside us, but we can’t embrace nature and deny the bits we find distasteful. To many mammals the pile of poo is a veritable newsletter and worth taking the time to sniff.

Sniffing the world and paying attention to smell may change your relationships with human-made smells. Car fumes, artificial scents for the body, factory smells – noticing them can make them harder to deal with. Many of the things humans put in the air do us no good at all, and tuning them out doesn’t protect us from harm.

You don’t need a lot of energy or mobility to go sniffing. It helps if you can cross-reference smells with other sources of information, and of course not everyone has a good capacity for smelling things. Most of us, however, have far more potential in our noses than we normally use, and can snuffle our way into a deeper state of relationship with the world.


The Bouncy Druid

I have a silly body. My circulation is poor, which makes chilblains a risk in winter, but this winter it ratcheted up a notch, and made sitting for long periods unbearable. I had a major editing project on and I needed to sit for long periods. I invested in a haemorrhoids cushion – these are great by the way, and make sitting less painful and as an unexpected side effect, solved lower back pain that has dogged me for more than a decade.

Eventually, I discovered that trampolines are good for circulation issues and for problems with lymph glands swelling up – an issue I’ve had my whole life. Exercise is tricky for me – aside from poor energy (no doubt in part due to the problems I have with exercise) most of my limbs bend the wrong way when under pressure, which hurts. This rules out a lot of things. Anything that jolts, hurts. Running hurts. I only recently figured out that this probably isn’t normal and that most people who run don’t experience pain as I do. My body doesn’t handle lactic acid well, so I get panic attack responses if there’s too much of it in the bloodstream.

I don’t believe in magic bullets, but in the trampoline, I have found something I can do to be active and increase my heart rate without causing me a lot of pain. Swimming worked before I buggered my shoulder, but walking to and from the pool can make it too tiring. Exercise is much easier for people who can drive to places to do things that suit them!

I bounce every hour. I play music to give me a rhythm and a timeframe. It reduces the pain that comes from sitting, and improves my concentration. On the days when I have little energy, it’s really, really hard getting started. However, I learned the hard way that not bouncing hurts far more overall than forcing myself to bounce. On the good days, it’s fun, and there were more good days when I started. The last week or so has been tough. I’ve had to change what I eat because I’m building muscle, and not eating enough protein when your body is trying to build muscle, hurts. On the whole it’s been a really good thing. I’ve used it on the hour every working day, and sometimes when suffering from poor circulation at the weekend, too, for a month now. It helps.

Why the Bouncing Druid? This. You’re welcome.


Bardic: Performance and the Awen

The awen (a Welsh word) is invoked by Druids in ritual, usually by chanting it. This is one of the traditions we owe to revivalists, not to ancient history. However, the experience of flowing inspiration is something that can and does happen – during periods of creativity, but also sometimes when performing.

For me, it’s a sensation of being completely taken over by what I’m doing and being able to do it in a totally different way – with more drama, intensity and depth than usual. On rare occasions, it’s had some very odd effects indeed. I recall a ritual when three of us spontaneously improvised music together, and another ritual where I re-wrote one of my own songs as I went to better fit the situation. I had no real memory afterwards of what I’d sung.

Awen is something that turns up when it does – it cannot be summoned by force or will. You have to be open to it, welcoming of it, ready for it, and also perfectly able to keep going if that other level of magic doesn’t happen. Sometimes it comes as a trickle, adding a sparkle to what you were doing. Sometimes it’s a tidal wave that will wash you away.

When it comes, it is best to let that flow direct things rather than trying to control it. If you want the kind of magic controlled by will and personal intent, this is not something to try and court. If you are willing to be a flute the awen can play its own tunes through, it may do just that.


Apple trees and mistletoe

According to the Romans, nothing got the ancient Druids more excited than an opportunity to cut mistletoe out of an oak. On the whole, mistletoe does not grow on oak. I may have seen some once in about twenty years of keeping an eye out for it, and I didn’t have a camera, and it was winter so there were no leaves on the tree and I couldn’t get close enough to the tree to be entirely certain. In some ways that feels like a very workable metaphor for any kind of spiritual experience!

Mistletoe grows on all sorts of trees. In the area I live in, I’ve seen it on willows, and other trees, but the absolute favourite seems to be the apple. In the fat floodplain of the Severn, there are a lot of surviving old orchards, and a lot of non-fruit trees absolutely smothered in mistletoe at this time of year. Old apple trees have a bumpy bark, which of course gives the seed somewhere to lodge. Apple trees are attractive to birds, and birds are how mistletoe seeds generally find their way into tree bark, as birds clean their beaks. So it all makes plenty of sense.

One of the surprising mistletoe things I’ve recently learned is that, for reasons best known to itself, mistletoe does not like pear trees. I was in an old Severn-side orchard recently where all of the apple trees were covered in ‘the golden bough’ (which is of course green and alive, not golden and dead at the moment). There was one pear tree, and the pear tree had no mistletoe. The landowner was able to confirm that this is a thing.

Too much mistletoe does a tree no good at all, so taking from a well covered tree is in many ways a good thing. The mistletoe itself does not benefit from killing its host. If there isn’t a lot of mistletoe, make sure you leave plenty behind, or you’ll kill it. Resist the temptation to cut off a whole ball, unless there are a lot of other balls on the tree – generally taking no more than a third of anything is a good idea, and less if something is generally scarce.

Mistletoe Image taken from the Woodland trust website, which has an excellent page with lots of mistletoe information and more photos on it  – https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/mistletoe/


Favourite Druid things

I’ve done a couple of Steampunk posts recently on favourite people, so I thought today I’d put together a list of favourite Druid things. In no particular order…

Druid Camp – organised by Mark Graham, this is a gathering of several hundred Druids in a beautiful location in the Forest of Dean each summer, for a bit under a week. Talks, workshops, music, community, inspiration. I’ve done three now. It draws in many of my favourite people.

OBOD – The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids taught me when I’d been led to believe myself unteachable, welcomed me when I had been excluded, and gave me a sense of dignity when I was largely on my knees over other issues. It is an honour to be able to contribute.

Contemplative Druidry – a monthly group meeting to sit quietly, and a way of doing things. Being in this space has taught me to slow down and let go, to face up to my fragility, and to trust. I’m not good at trusting people, I find it hard to feel like I belong anywhere, but this group has caused me to face those assumptions and rethink them.

Druid Music – Damh The Bard, Paul Mitchell, Paul Newman, Talis Kimberly, Arthur Billington, to name some obvious names, and beyond that just that there is Druid music, and that our rituals have songs and tunes in them, and we can connect, celebrate and share in this way.

Druid books and authors. Ronald Hutton, Cat Treadwell, Robin Herne, Penny Billington, Graeme K Talboys, Brendan Myers, Morgan Daimler, Kris Hughes, Philip Carr Gomm, Brendan Howlin, Lorna Smithers, and beyond that everyone writing blogs, and poetry, and articles, and writers who aren’t intentionally Druidic but teach me folklore and history and landscape and all the other things I feel a need to know about.

People doing stuff – and there’s so much of it that I can’t hope to name check. Artists, crafters, activisits, photographers, dancers, runners, people taking their Druidry into their work, into volunteering, and charity, and acts of generosity. There are many, many names that deserve to be mentioned here. People I meet at events, locally and online. But this is one of the things about the Druid community – perhaps one of the most important things – that it is a lived tradition. It’s not something we do at the weekend, or at special festivals only – it’s a day to day thing shaping how people live, and driving people to acts of beauty, abundance and radical change. It takes us to protests and politics, to knitting and animal welfare and countless other things.

We meet primarily as people doing stuff – on an equal footing, because we are all active in some way, all experienced in some field – or working on becoming that, for the younger and newer folk. I look at the Druids I know and I see so much to love, and respect and get excited about.


Life Goals for Druids

In western culture, we are supposed to be ambitious about getting rich, owning a bigger house, more cars, maybe a private jet. Affluence and possessions are the focal points of the aims we’re expected to have. Power and affluence are part of the mix. Those of us who fail to be super-rich are to stay envious and striving. Alongside this we tend to prioritise romance and child rearing – and if you aren’t inclined to parenting, that tends not to be treated with respect. The majority of us are set up to fail, and will, if we go along with this, spend our lives chasing after ever more money, never able to be satisfied by what we have.

One of the reasons for following a spiritual path is that it allows a different set of priorities. You don’t have to be rich to be spiritual – many traditions suggest that an obsession with worldly wealth will only get in your way. Many religions are focused on what you have to do to get to a better life after this one – codes of behaviour and service to deity tend to define this. We don’t have that in Druidry, so what kind of life goals should, or could a Druid be interested in?

Life long learning seems an obvious one to me. Not the absorption of sterile facts, but a quest for deeper understanding. A desire to know, to experience and to cultivate deeper empathy is something you can explore in any circumstances, and the rewards are many. Learning adds interest to life, and allows us to see more than the surfaces in front of us. The kind of learning that cultivates wisdom and encourages flexible, rather than rigid ways of thinking, is, I would suggest, an ongoing, satisfying and happily infinite thing for a Druid to pursue. Learning creative and practical skills, and bardic learning would also be part of this.

Cultivating virtues. Paganism tends towards virtue-led ethics. It’s an interesting process figuring out what you see as virtue, and then deciding how to actively cultivate those virtues in your life. At the moment I’d list patience, persistence, generosity and laziness as the virtues I most wish to work with. I think in our over busy, over worked, over acquisitive culture, laziness can be a very powerful virtue indeed. This list will change over time.

Cultivating relationships – with people, with the land, and sky, with the history in the landscape, with the wildlife and the spirits of place, with the ancestors… the list is vast. To know, to care, to be engaged… again these things confer ongoing benefits and you’ll never run out of things to explore.

Seeking happiness and the good life. Making time to figure out what a good life is from your perspective, having the scope to live life on your own terms, setting out to enjoy life day to day rather than always striving after distant goals. One of the great strengths of the life goals I’ve offered is that they bring delight and richness from the moment you start. There’s no pouring energy unhappily into effort for years in the hopes it pays off in the end – which is at the heart of your standard western practice of making affluence a life goal. You aren’t waiting to start living, you’re living already if you’re inclined to live a good life right now with what you have.

What are your requirements for a good life? What kind of goals do you have at the moment?


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.


A gathering of tribes

It’s interesting to think about where we fit and belong, the communities we call home and the relationships we have with them. I started pondering this a couple of days ago, and making notes, and the scale of it surprised me.

I have my blood family and the people I share history with – people who have lived in the same places, been through the same schools.

There’s the folk community – full of family ties and personal history. People I have played music with, people whose songs I sing, people I listen to. Also there’s the tribe that gathers for Genevieve Tudor’s folk program, and that’s an important weekly moment of belonging. I hope to put dancing back on that list.

I identify with the Pagan community, and with Druidry, and within that I belong a whole host of places – OBOD, The Druid Network, Druid Camp, Contemplative Druidry, Auroch grove, and through the bard side, it overlaps with the folk, and through my writing with the next lot…

Authors, book people, bloggers, readers, Moon Books, JHP fiction, other publishers. People I read and admire, storytellers, the local writing community and through those connections I branch out into…

Wider creative connections with artists, musicians, local creative folk, organisers of things, and I branch out into Steampunk, Comics, and geekery in general.

My Paganism also directs me to green activism, so that’s The Green Party, which is part of my local tribe, as is my engaging a bit with the Transition Network and other local, green, sustainable alternative outfits. People I know because they are local.

Eventually, I also managed to recognise that there are people who are in my life simply because they like what I do. I have a number of important connections based entirely on that.

Inevitably it’s the people who fit in more than one of those circles that I interact with most, because time is also a factor in all of this, and the more I share, the more time I tend to spend with someone. There are people I see once a year, or less, and there are people I pine for if I have to go more than a week, and I can manage an afternoon without Tom, but that’s my limit.

Of those people who I interact with in numerous ways, there are a few with whom I share creativity – either working together, or working alongside, swapping ideas and inspiration. This is a small tribe, and these relationships I pay a lot of attention to. They are the most defining ones in my life. It’s not any kind of coincidence that I married my artist… I am most emotionally invested in people with whom I can share creativity.

Beyond that, and overlapping with wider circles in all kinds of ways, is the tiny tribe I walk with. My most essential tribe.


Dirty Druids and magical cleansing

Cleansing is a concept that comes up a lot around magic practice. I think there’s much mileage in thinking about what we might want to cleanse, and why, and how that relates to your world view. In witchcraft it tends to be about the removal of negative influences or unwanted energy that might conflict with your intentions. In spiritual practices, cleansing is often about the idea of purifying body and spirit to be more acceptable to the gods, and to help you transcend dirty, earthly things for the life of spirit.

Before you can cleanse anything then, you have to figure out in what way you consider it to be dirty, and what ‘clean’ would mean. Now, I have to say that in nature based religion, cleansing, cleanness and purity are all tricky words. Nature is dirt, and shit, and decay just as much as it is pretty flowers and nice birds. Some of it I’m more inclined to get close to than other bits, but if I start from the premise that nature is sacred, I want to be careful around ideas of cleansing in case it turns into a rejection of some part of life and the natural world.

What about cleansing myself? I make some effort to be sure the outside of my body is passably groomed and not unpleasant smelling. I also consider what I’m putting into my body in food and drink so I’m not dirtying myself with pollutants any more than I can avoid. I have a lot of mess and pain in my history, and dubious mental health as a consequence. Do I want to try and cleanse that away? Well, it’s part of my journey, it has been a great teacher, there’s a balance to strike between what to take with me and what to let go of. It’s not simple.

Might I want to purify my thoughts to be more spiritual? Yes, but I don’t believe I can do that in single acts of ritual cleansing. What I have to do is look at and work with my thinking over time to make sure I am not carrying about ideas I don’t believe or perpetrating ideas I don’t like, or inflicting on myself attitudes I would find unbearable if inflicted on anyone else.

When it comes to cleansing other things, there’s also the issue of free will. I have an animist perspective, give or take. I see the potential for not just spirit, but also intention and autonomy in things around me. I can’t assume that anything else has no opinions and won’t mind me waltzing in, and imposing my idea of spiritual cleanliness on it. This means if I want to do a ritual and my chosen space has picked up a bad atmosphere, I need to take time finding out what’s going on there, what the problem is, what would help. Sweeping out the negative influences may well not solve the problem, and might cause bigger issues in the longer term.

Traditional magic seems to me to be very much about imposing your will. If you’re looking at a largely unaware reality then this may feel comfortable. If you think everything else might have will and preferences too, forcing your will onto anything becomes ethically problematic.  When that will expresses my understanding of purity, cleanliness spiritual acceptability, usefulness, there are a lot of value judgements involved, and a value judgement is not the same as being right.

On the whole, I would rather be open to experiences that might change me, than seek any means of ‘purifying’ myself.


Challenges for new Druids

Go back twenty years and more, and the challenges for new Pagans and Druids were very different. There weren’t many books about Paganism, and if you didn’t know titles and authors, you’d have trouble tracking them down. Your local library wouldn’t carry them, most likely. Pagans of decades past were more cautious by far – there were no laws to protect us and a Pagan could lose their job for their faith. Back before the internet, your local moot, grove or coven would be considerably harder to locate. Finding other Pagans took time and patience, and you had to jump through a lot of hoops before anyone would spot you and take you seriously.

Today’s challenges are perhaps not so obvious. Five minutes with a search engine will give you information that would once have required years of patient hunting, asking and waiting. Most Pagans are ‘out’ and you can find their webpages. However, you may decide that social media is enough, and not make it to a physical moot. Useful if you live miles away from others, but potentially also a trap, because you may not get round to in-person Paganism, and that’s a loss.

The internet is a big place full of a lot of information, much of it contradictory. Druidry is wide, and deeper in some places than others. The people who get online and shout the most often know the least. As an example, there was a person who rolled in here and on message boards, with the email address of ‘seniordruid@’ and started making a lot of noise – much of it rude and self important. It took five minutes to discover that said person had no knowledge base – perhaps in world of warcraft they were a senior Druid, but not out here in the real world. I confess I was neither kind nor gentle – overconfident pedlars of misinformation are too much of a liability to leave unchecked. But there’s a lot of them out there.

Would-be Druids of the 20th century largely had to contend with shortages of information and slow starts. 21st century would-be Druids have the opposite problem – too much information, too many options and possibilities. The challenge for the modern seeker, is to work through the mounds of information and the vast amount of noise to try and figure out what makes sense to them. You start knowing little or nothing, guided by a gut feeling or a yearning. Telling what is worth your while, and what has no value to you, is not easy. The old rites of passage were simpler, in that you knew when you’d found your way in. These days, ‘in’ is quick, but often devoid of meaning. Finding the needles of what you need to know in the great internet haystack is a sizeable challenge.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, and the thought most easily lost in the noise, is this: The internet is not your Druidry. You can learn here and you can connect with people – and that’s all to the good, but this is not where Druidry lives. Druidry is about the earth you stand on and the air you breathe, it is tribe and wilderness meeting. You might be able to talk and learn about it here, but you can’t do it here. However valuable the things you learn online, you have to take them out into your life and apply them in some way.