Tag Archives: Druids

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.

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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/


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.