Today at 5.18 am it was the Spring Equinox, and I was asked to come on to Channel 4’s Paul O’Grady Show broadcast today, to talk about this. They said they would put weblinks up on the show’s website so it’s possible that a viewer has found their way here. If so, hello!
On the show I mentioned that the Queen Mother was a Druid, as well as Winston Churchill. Afterwards in the Green Room, a chap with the extraordinary name of Bear Grylls said “Surely not – you must be joking!” So I thought I’d post a note about this here:
There are three types of Druid: cultural, fraternal and spiritual.
Cultural Druids promote the Welsh language (and Cornish and Breton) through events known as Eisteddfoddau. The Welsh Eisteddfod, which is an arts festival in Welsh, is under royal patronage, and is known as ‘The Royal National Eisteddfod’. Druids of this kind include the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, former Welsh secretary Ron Davies, Robert Croft, the Glamorgan and England cricketer, the opera singer Bryn Terfel, and the Queen Mum. See a brief article on this in the Daily Telegraph or a more detailed article at the Druid Network’s site.
Fraternal Druids engage in primarily social and charitable activities, and are like Rotarians or Masons. Winston Churchill was one of these. Here is a famous photograph of him (note the false beards and his rather folorn expression!). A prize for the caption?! Something like “Oh crikey what have I got myself into here?” American conspiracy theorists lay great store by this picture – suggesting this proves Churchill was part of some dastardly secret sect – poor fools, they don’t understand British eccentricity at its best.
Spiritual Druids are interested in Druidry as a spiritual path. They are inspired by the rich heritage of folklore and tradition that comes from the Druid source-lands of these islands and western Europe. More information on them can be found here.
During the interview Paul O’Grady said “William Blake was a Druid wasn’t he?” I said yes, and then in a flash the interview was over, but in fact it’s a bit more complicated than that, and I couldn’t even begin to go into this on air. Many people think he was, he wrote about the Druids a great deal, and he has been adopted as a ‘hero-figure’ by much of the modern Druid movement. My teacher, the old Chief Druid Ross Nichols, believed Blake was a Druid, based on the story that when he was hauled up at Chichester assizes on charges of attempting to persuade a soldier to leave the army, he refused to swear on the Bible, saying he was a Druid. It now seems this is not true – recently the historian Ronald Hutton has examined the records of the assizes and there is no record of Blake saying this. So if we look at the historical record there is nothing in it to say he was one, although you never know of course…
Chatting to Paul was great fun. He’s a lovely man and behind the scenes it was a hoot. He was cradling a lamb and feeding it with a bottle while his dog jumped around wanting to join in. Just before walking on stage the lamb peed on him but he carried on. In an interview like that (which lasted just a few minutes) you can’t possibly say everything you want to say, and I didn’t get to fit in my last bit, which I’ll post here instead:
Why is Druidry so popular today?
I think people are drawn to Druidry because they see it as a spiritual approach that isn’t bogged down with dogma, and they see that we have fun – we’re not into being pious.They also know that we’re making a mess of the Earth. Most people know about climate change, but it’s not just that: one-fifth of all living species could disappear within the next 30 years. So we need philosophies and spiritualities that are ecological, that help us to respect the earth.
So there – I’ve said it now! Happy Equinox!