Tag Archives: Druids

Windows for Druids

I like the idea of going outside every day and spending time under the sky. When I can do it, this is a key part of my Druidry. However, it’s not always an option – extreme weather, illness and simply not having enough energy all keep me housebound at times. This has taught me to be uneasy about any practice that depends on being able to get out.

I’m also wary of what I’ve come to think of as living room Druidry. This is where you do all the rituals and meditations inside based on an intellectual understanding of what nature is and what bits of it mean. This doesn’t have to be a consequence of limited options, and may be a deliberate choice. When nature is abstract, you can celebrate the seasons according to when the wheel should have turned rather than struggling to work out if it has. You don’t get dirty, and no one will interrupt you. This is nature as an idea, not lived experience.

Windows make more direct encounters possible in times of limited options. I can sit at my window to watch the snow or rain falling, to watch the impact of high winds on the trees around me. I can watch the birds, and sometimes I’ve seen foxes go by as well.

With the window open, I can reliably hear bird song and flowing water. I can smell the air from outside. Even with windows shut, if I keep my household quiet, I can still make out the sounds of birds – including owls at night. If I don’t overwhelm my space with artificial noise and light, and if I direct at least some of my attention outwards, my home ceases to be a place cut off from nature. I can make the boundaries permeable.

Even the least promising window will reveal something of the sky – even if its only how the light falls, or when the darkness creeps in. There is so much to gain from experiencing nature as it manifests around you, rather than letting it become something abstract, or something you imagine happening somewhere else.


Solitary Druids

When I first came to Druidry some fifteen years ago, it seemed very much a collective activity. Groves, orders, networks, study groups, circles… it was more likely that any given Druid would be a member of multiple groups than that they would be solitary. Seven years ago when I found myself obliged not to be an active member of a group, a friend joked that the name for a solitary Druid, is a hedge witch.

There are good reasons for wanting to be part of something. Being part of something is a pretty basic human need for most of us. We went to groves and orders to learn what it is that modern Druids do. There were fewer books back then. We gathered together because the history of modern Druidry has been one of gathering together for key festivals to do Druid things. There’s affirmation to be had in doing something you call Druidry with a bunch of other people who are also inclined to call it Druidry.

There’s also power to be had. A big group is a power base. To be an Archdruid, you need to be in charge of an Order. To be a Very Important Druid you need people who follow you round and do the Druidry in the way that you say it should be done. Good leadership can be a very good thing indeed, but the desire for power always has the potential to corrupt.

I know of a large number of Druids who have the knowledge and the skill set to lead, but mostly aren’t. I know a lot of Druids who are out there quietly walking their own paths and not wanting the limitations and responsibilities that group membership involves. When I asked, some time ago, what’s happening in Druidry, why it seems to have gone so quiet, people talked to me about their solitary work.

Clearly we have not all become hedge witches.

The Druidry we had grew out of modern reconstruction. It grew from a desire for alternative religion, but also from ego and a yearning to ponce around in white robes wearing fake beards. It came from Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner agreeing on a wheel of the year. It brought us a style of ritual that owes to the western occult tradition. You could be a bard without having done a single bardic performance. You could be a Druid without being able to identify trees.

To go further, deeper, into Druidry it may be necessary to take off the costumes and set aside the props and the desire to be important. I think it is necessary to give up our ideas about nature in favour of direct personal experience. Seasonal ritual becomes less important than a lived experience of the seasons.

I feel increasingly that Druidry is going underground, into quietness and contemplation, into personal experience and exploration. Perhaps at some point in the future it will turn out that seeds were germinating and something new and alive will spring up, but maybe it won’t, and that’s fine too.

What’s new in Druidry?

The developments in witchcraft at the moment seem really exciting to me, looking at them from the outside. Kitchen witchcraft. Fairy Witchcraft. Urban witchcraft. Traditional Witchcraft. I see people drawing on folklore, literature and tradition, and I see people innovating, experimenting and exploring their own ideas, and I see that being brought together to create something vibrant and very alive.

I was excited about Emma Restall Orr’s work some ten years ago and more, breaking away from male stereotypes in Druidry to find something wilder and more feminine. I was very excited about the Contemplative Druidry movement. I am excited about what Julie Brett has done exploring Australian Druidry. I hope we’ll see more Druids around the world finding ways to do Druidry that are about their immediate experience of landscape. But beyond that, things seem quiet to me at the moment. People whose ideas I was really interested in seem to be moving away from Druidry as an identity. I’m short of new Druid books that I’m keen to get my hands on.

It may be that I’m just not looking in the right places. So, if you’re doing something, or know about something interesting happening in contemporary Druidry, do please leave a comment. If you’ve got a blog or a book about modern Druidry, please give yourself a plug!

Traditions have to be living traditions. We breathe life into them with action and innovation. Ten years ago or so it felt like Druidry as a concept could fly apart because so many people were trying to do it in so many different ways and no one knew what was right. There seemed to be more heresy than orthodoxy, and that was fun. It doesn’t feel like we’ve settled down into something calmer and more clearly defined. It feels like we’ve lost something. Perhaps it’s just me.

Druids who do not speak to kings

Where myth and history meet there are tales of Druids who spoke with Kings, and who could stand on battlefields and bid the armies cease in their fighting.

We are not such Druids. May we live to see the day when there are no kings left to speak to. No unelected men with any titles, no such forms of absolute power.

We can speak truth to power. We can do so not because we have a big, shiny title everyone respects (it cheers me how far we are from that) but because truth should be spoken to power wherever power is oblivious to truth.

We can speak to anyone who will hear us.

We can speak for those who have no voices – the land, the creatures, the ancestors, the Gods. However, when we do so, we must be careful that we aren’t speaking for ourselves and claiming to voice something other in order to look good.

When we speak for those who have no voices, we must remember that most people have voices and their problem is about not being heard or taken seriously. If we speak for them, we may only add to this. We can help to amplify them.

Before we speak, we need to pause. To listen to the living voices around us. To listen to the voices of spirit and inspiration that might come to us if we make room. To listen to what we intend to say so we can figure out if it has any merit. Better to listen a lot, and talk less, but talk with insight, with inspiration, with understanding.

And when we speak as Druids, let it be because Druids are called to serve, and not from a desire to have our voices heard over all others, and not from a desire to be important and powerful. There is no need for us to be the Druids who speak to Kings.

New books for Druids

Australian Druidry, by Julie Brett comes out this month, while Reclaiming Civilization by Brendan Myers has just been released. Both titles are highly pertinent to anyone following the Druid path and as I’ve read both I thought I’d review them together.

Brendan Myers is a philosopher and academic with a really accessible writing style. I’ve been following his work for a long time. In this most recent book he explores the concept of civilization. Inevitably this means a fair bit of looking at the ideas of our ancient Pagan ancestors. It also means exploring what people think civilization is, and flagging up all the things that aren’t hard wired, or inevitable, and could in fact be changed. For anyone hankering after a different sort of society, this is an uplifting book, and there’s enough in it about how we live as individuals to help any one of us, alone, to start pushing more deliberately towards better forms of civilization. I highly recommend it.

Julie Brett’s title at first glance has no obvious relevance to Druids outside of Australia. But, I want to make the case that this is a book for Druids everywhere. It is to a large extent an exploration of the seasons and the landscape. Now, mostly what Druidry works with is based on solar events and known Celtic festivals. Our wheel of the year was not ancient history, most groups that we know about celebrated some, but not all of the festivals with the equinoxes probably the least celebrated of the lot.

The wheel of the year makes sense (a bit) in relation to the British and Irish agricultural year. However, for the international Druid, there may not be hawthorn in May. Imbolc may well not be the time of first flowering. There may be no harvests between Lammas and the autumn equinox. There’s plenty of information out there for Druids wanting to work with their ancestors of tradition, but not much guidance for Druids who want to work with their own seasons and landscapes.

In this book, Julie shares the methods she used to establish an Australian wheel of the year. In doing so, she’s created a road map that any Druid, anywhere can use to begin working with the seasons on their own terms. Reading it some time ago when the book was still in development, I realised that even here in the UK, there isn’t always a tidy match and that there had not been enough of my landscape in my practice.

The Wolf of Allendale – a review

Hannah Spencer approached me recently to review her novel, The Wolf of Allendale, which I knew about from Twitter and was aware had a basis in folklore, so I cheerfully dived in. It’s a great read and I very much enjoyed it.

There are two time frames in this book – Iron Age Celts dealing with Roman incursion, and industrial age Britons dealing with the incursion of railways and factories all in the same landscape. The parallels between the two timeframes are striking. One sees the pressing of the Roman road into the wild moorlands, the other sees the laying of train tracks. Both timelines question the cost of progress.

At the centre of the book is the wolf of the title – and without giving too much away, this is an ephemeral but deadly being. As the story unfolds it becomes apparent that the narrative set in the 19th century involves direct descendants from the Iron Age experience of the wolf. This put me very much in mind of the work of Alan Garner – especially Boneland and The Stone Book Quartet, and things revealing in the Voice That Thunders. This is about the survival of oral tradition, the importance of ancestry and connection to the land and the way in which the last hundred years has severed those ties is very much raised by the tale.

Author Hannah Spencer clearly has a deep love of landscape and writes from a place of intense connection to the land and all that lives on it. I loved this aspect of the book, and the way in which these details root the narrative and give a solidity that helps hold the more magical and supernatural elements of the tale firmly in place.

I will admit that in recent years I’ve taken to avoiding novels about the Druids. Most of the Druid fiction I’ve read at best disappoints me and at worst annoys me. Much to my surprise and delight, what The Wolf of Allendale offers is a historical Celtic setting, complete with Druids and followers of the Druid path, that totally worked for me. It’s not contemporary Druidry projected into the past, there’s a strong shamanic aspect, and the whole thing is rooted in the author’s clear understanding of the period, the culture and the land. It may not be ‘truth’ in a historical sense but it rings true in a way few Celtic-set novels ever have for me.

This is a beautifully written book with a large cast of compelling characters, an engaging story arc and a lot of depth. I think the odds are if you’re a regular to my blog, you’re going to love this book, do consider picking up a copy. It’s widely available, here;s an Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Allendale-Hannah-Spencer/dp/0062674617

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/