Skip to Navigation

" The songs of our ancestors

are also the songs of our children "

The Druid Way

The Beauty is in the Walking

June 30th, 2016

‘The Beauty is in the Walking’ is a film installation created for the Alfriston Labyrinth Festival, June 2016 under the title ‘Footsteps in the Forest’. It was played on a loop in a specially created area in the church of St Andrew’s on the village Tye. It is surprisingly calming and soothing to watch, a visual meditation that although is only virtual, definitely evokes the peaceful and centered feelings that a real walk can inspire. Try watching the whole way through and see how you feel at the end. Many thanks to Julie Couzens for sharing this with me!

Druid Wisdom

June 26th, 2016

I recently gave a talk entitled ‘Druid Wisdom’ at a beautiful retreat centre – Fintry House, home to The Universal Order and its publishing project The Shrine of Wisdom. They were filming at the time and have sent me a clip which gives you a glimpse into the building and its garden. I was lucky enough to find psaltery player Philippa Anne Reed in the audience and she agreed to open our time together with music, and you can hear a recording of the talk below.

I developed the talk and gave it again at the OBOD Summer Gathering in Glastonbury where we were lucky enough to have song, story and declamation from three Irish members to enrich the material. I wish we could have recorded that. Instead there are just the basic bones of the talk reproduced in the Essay section of this site, which starts like this:

The image of an ancient Druid suggests the archetypal wise person – a forest sage steeped in knowledge of the Old Ways. Even the etymology of the word Druid points to wisdom – with the first syllable – Dru – coming from the Proto-Indo-European root meaning tree, especially the oak, and the Id syllable coming from the term ‘wid’, meaning to know or to see, from which we derive the word wisdom. So the idea of wisdom is embedded in the very word and in the image we hold of the druid. But is there really any wisdom to be found in Druidry today? And if so, where does it come from, and of what use can it be to us? Read on here.

The recording of the talk at Fintry House:

A glorious opportunity for Britain?

June 25th, 2016

From the Independent yesterday: It’s hard to digest what happened this morning in the UK, especially when Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – the supposed triumphant victors of the whole charade – are standing in front of you looking like they’re speaking at a funeral. This is a “glorious opportunity for Britain”, Boris said in the tone of a political prisoner reading out a false confession. And in many ways he is a prisoner of his own politics. He played with the idea of Brexit, probably expecting a narrow victory for Remain and the opportunity to ride the momentum of angry pro-Leave sentiment right to the Prime Minister’s office. Now, instead, he faces the possibility of actually having to steer Britain out of the EU and into a brave new world of probable recession, continued austerity and isolation from our nearest neighbours. Read more here.

There’s a petition for a second referendum to be held, now that people realise what is at stake. Over a million people have signed it already. The government has said that the referendum is final, but why does it have to be? Every serious decision merits careful appraisal and re-appraisal, politicians happily change their minds all the time – and apparently a rule can be evoked to call for a second referendum. If you are a British citizen you can sign here.

A Poem for the Solstice

June 23rd, 2016
Sancreed Holy Well by Angie Latham http://www.celticmystery.co.uk/

Sancreed Holy Well by Angie Latham http://www.celticmystery.co.uk/

Thank you to Roselle Angwin for sharing her beautiful Solstice poem…

At Sancreed Holy Well

And you, solitary waykeeper hunched by this stile
and then again standing proud by the cloutie-well,
one among multitudes, and yet to each of you

your own song, here on this granite peninsula
at the land’s edge where you lean to the northeast
in a slant sweep, your compactness

like the people of this land, surrendering
to wind, to seafret and rainfall, to the deep
lodestones of the ores beneath your roots.

Midsummer, and your spilt five-petalled blooms
a bouquet for Her, sparks of milky light
harvested from sun, from cloud, from the misty

rains that stroll these ancient downlands.
To you, then, hawthorn, the secrets of guardianship
of this land, the protection of her sacred

waters, the wisdom of yielding to the elements
without giving up the one place
where your roots are nourished into blossom.
Roselle Angwin 2016

Big Magic

June 21st, 2016

The wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, speaks with humour and wisdom about the scary business of creating:

‘What I wanted to write about was what it means to live a creative life that is not based on suffering and torment and martyrdom and angst but on a joyful collaboration with the mysteries of inspiration which I think is the highest and most interesting ways a human being can spend a life…’

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

June 19th, 2016

Steven-Pressfield_Nobody-Wants-To-Read-Your-Shit_1024x1024I’m in love. This time with a man called Steven Pressfield. Well not with him, but with what he writes and the way he writes it. I’d never heard of him until a few days ago, when I received by email the offer of a free book called Nobody Wants to Read You Sh*t, subtitled Why That Is and What You Can Do About It. I downloaded it because of its outrageous title and because I write, and I was hooked straight away – reading the book in two sittings. It starts off in that direct American style that we uptight British either love or hate (or usually both simultaneously) shooting straight from the hip, not afraid to use swear words. Its for anyone who wants to express their creativity, particularly writers. And although it begins tough and in-your-face, by the end Pressfield is soaring. The third part of the book is about the source of inspiration and creativity that he believes is in the other dimension – its the elixir of Awen from the Goddess that Druids are so familiar with. So if you’re into this Druid stuff you’ll find Pressfield covering familiar territory – he’s talking about the Muse, and it’s fabulous.

If you’re struggling with starting anything, facing creative blocks, or are just intrigued by creativity and how it works, his non-fiction is for you. (He writes novels too – that’s how he started).

The free book comes with no strings attached. No email to sign up to, no pitch at the end of the book. But what a great way to get your ideas out. I immediately ordered his The War of Art, which is superb on creativity, our blocks to it, and the importance of the Muse –  I read this in a few sittings, and now I’m on to his Do the Work.

Click here to go to his website to get the book and I’ll paste in an interview below. Notice how well he explains Blake’s idea of eternity being in love with the creations of time (about 17 mins in).

In SpirallingLeaf’s Grove Podcast

June 17th, 2016

forest grove and rays

Mark Buxton

Mark Buxton

There is a fabulous podcast – In SpirallingLeaf’s Grove –  put together by OBOD member Mark Buxton. It’s a Druid’s delight of tree knowledge and folklore that is well worth listening to and supporting. The podcast can be found here and the FaceBook page is hereThe latest edition is all about the Rowan and there are episodes devoted to the Willow, the Alder and the Birch, with more to come.

An Ecology of Mind

June 14th, 2016
Neuro Arboriculture igor morski

Neuro Arboriculture by Igor Morski

Robert MacFarlane on why we need Nature Writing (from The New Statesman)…

In 1972, Gregory Bateson published Steps to an Ecology of Mind, a collection of his essays from the previous three decades. Bateson was a dazzlingly versatile thinker, whose work shaped the fields of anthropology, linguistics and cybernetics, as well as the movement we now call environmentalism. Near the end of the book, Bateson deplored the delusion of human separation from nature. “We are not,” he warned, “outside the ecology for which we plan.” His remedy for this separatism was the development of an “ecology of mind”. The steps towards such a mind were to be taken by means of literature, art, music, play, wonder and attention to nature – what he called “ecological aesthetics”.

Bateson, who died in 1980, would have been excited by what has happened in the culture of our islands over the past 15 years. An ecology of mind has emerged that is extraordinary in its energies and its diversity. In nurseries and universities, apiaries and allotments, transition towns and theatres, woodlands and festivals, charities and campaigns – and in photography, film, music, the visual and plastic arts and throughout literature – a remarkable turn has occurred towards Bateson’s ecological aesthetics. A 21st-century culture of nature has sprung up, born of anxiety and anger but passionate and progressive in its temperament, involving millions of people and spilling across forms, media and behaviours.

This culture is not new in its concerns but it is distinctive in its contemporary intensity. Its politics is not easily placed on the conventional spectrum, so we would do better to speak of its values. Those values include placing community over commodity, modesty over mastery, connection over consumption, the deep over the shallow, and a version of what the American environmentalist Aldo Leopold called “the land ethic”: the double acknowledgement that, first, ­human beings are animals and, second, we are animals among other animals, sharing our habitat with members of the biota that also have meetable needs and rights.

The outcomes of this culture have ranged from the uncountable enrichments of individual lives to clear examples of political and social change with regard to conservation and our relationships with “landscape”, in the fullest sense of the word.

Co-operation is crucial. Poets are colla­borating with educationalists, printmakers with permaculturists, dramaturges with climate scientists, film-makers with folk singers, sculptors with physicians – all in a gumbo that would surely have met with Bateson’s approval, as would the underlying belief that, in Lucy Neal’s phrase,artists can be “agents of change”.

Here are just a few examples drawn from my acquaintance. In terms of charities, I think of young organisations such as Action for Conservation, which seeks to inspire teenagers to become “the next generation of nature conservationists”, orOnca, which has the mission “to inspire creativity and positive action in the face of environmental change” by means of the arts. In terms of publications, I think of the journal Archi­pelago, or the magazine EarthLines, run, until recently, out of a croft in the Outer Hebrides and standing for “a land ethic”. In education, I think of the huge rise of forest schools; in theatre, of agile, agitating political companies including Metis Arts and the surge in British climate-change drama. In terms of campaigns, I think of Rewilding Britain, arising from George Monbiot’s book Feral(2013) and seeking to replenish British biodiversity and “connect people with the wonder of nature”; the recent Hen Harrier Day, which brought together Chris Packham and Jeremy Deller to combat the extinction in England of these beautiful hawks as a result of the grouse-shooting industry; or the emerging New Commons campaign, with which I am involved, aiming for the creation of areas of common land around our biggest cities.

In all of these cases, the natural good, cultural activity and human well-being are mingled rather than separable categories. As Ali Smith has observed, “The place where the natural world meets the arts is a fruitful, fertile place for both.” We might think of that place as an “ecotone” – the biological term for a transition zone between biomes, where two communities meet and integrate. That integration is excitingly visible on the Caught by the River website, where scientists and river restorationists share terrain with experimental musicians and urban birders.

As a writer and an academic, I also think of books. W H Auden once said that, among scientists, he felt like “a shabby curate . . . [in] a roomful of dukes”. When I am with serious conservationists – the people at the delivery end of saving the planet – I often feel like that shabby curate. I also ask them what switched on their passion for protecting nature and the answer is almost always the same: an encounter with a wild creature and an encounter with a book.

***

Literature has the ability to change us for good, in both senses of the phrase. Powerful writing can revise our ethical relations with the natural world, shaping our place consciousness and our place conscience. Roger Deakin’s Waterlog (1999) prompted the revival of lido culture in Britain and the founding of the “wild swimming” movement. Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure (2005) is recommended by mental health professionals. Chris Packham fell in love with wild cats and golden eagles because he read Lea MacNally’s Highland Deer Forest (1970), as a child growing up in suburban Southampton.

“Nature writing” has become a cant phrase, branded and bandied out of any useful existence, and I would be glad to see its deletion from the current discourse. Yet it is clear that in Britain we are living through a golden age of literature that explores relations between selfhood, landscape and ethics and addresses what Mabey has described as the “growing fault line in the way we perceive and talk about nature”. I don’t know what to call this writing, nor am I persuaded that it needs a name. It is not a genre or a school. An ecology, perhaps? In the Guardian in 2003, I describedwhat I saw as the green shoots of a revival of such writing. Twelve years on, those shoots have flourished into a forest, richly diverse in its understory as well as its canopy…(to read the entire article click here)

THE LEGACY OF DRUIDRY

June 12th, 2016

A Legacy of Druids coverA few months back, an interesting new book was published: A Legacy of Druids – Conversations with Druid leaders of Britain, the USA and Canada, past and present, edited by Ellen Evert Hopman.

Ellen asked me to write the foreword, which I began like this:

THE LEGACY OF MODERN DRUIDRY

To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye,
to restore it…
Margaret Fairless Barber

Ellen Hopman gathered the material for this book twenty years ago. When I was invited to write the foreword, I was hesitant. Would anyone be interested in what some modern-day Druids said or wrote two decades ago? But when I read the interviews Ellen has collected here, I realised that they articulate most of the issues contemporary Druidry is still concerned with today, and the insights they offer are as valid now as they were twenty years ago. This in itself would be sufficient justification for publication, but in addition I found I could engage with the material in another way. In reading the interviews, I had the benefit of hindsight – twenty years on I could see what ambitions had been realised, and whether any fears had proved justified. In addition, I could imagine how a similar collection gathered today might differ, and I could start to get some sense of what legacy modern Druidry might be leaving the world.
As the opening quote suggests, when we look backward, we have the opportunity to refresh our perceptions, and this is what this collection offers – the potential to refresh our vision of what Druidry is, and what it can offer that is of lasting value.

Failed Predictions, Hopes and Fears

Let’s begin with what this collection shows us about the contributors’ hopes and fears… To read the rest, click here which will take you to foreword, which is in the essay section of my website.

You can find the book on Amazon UK here  and Amazon USA here.

The Birth of Modern Paganism

June 10th, 2016
Gerald Gardner & Ross Nichols at Five Acres Naturist resort, Hertfordshire,  by Arthur Billington

Gerald Gardner & Ross Nichols at Five Acres Naturist resort, Hertfordshire, by Arthur Billington

I’ll be giving a talk in Brighton next Saturday‘The Birth of Modern Paganism – a Story about Witches, Druids, Nudism, the Opera, and Italy.’ A talk about two seminal figures in modern Paganism – Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols. 2pm at Preston Manor, Brighton (where you can visit the exhibition on Witchcraft, Druidry and Paganism). More info.