I start our session with showing you the splendid Wheel of Seagais Personal Reader Kit. You can find out more about it here. And if you’re in Glastonbury on 4th June, come along to a morning workshop on it!
The world can be a difficult place to live in. The body can be a tough container for us to inhabit. One solution is to follow a path of detachment – that teaches that the physical world is ultimately illusion, and that our focus should be elsewhere: on the Divine. The problem with this approach is that it easily leads to denial, in the psychological sense of not really facing the educational opportunities embodiment offers us, and often in the literal sense of denying ourself the pleasures of the sensual world. In extreme cases it leads to mortification and the repression of the self and of other people. This is why so many are now turning away from such approaches, which are found in both the East and the West, to embrace body-affirming and Nature-affirming paths such as Druidry and Paganism.
But even amongst embodied spiritualities like Druidry, most practitioners will believe in an Otherworld, in a reality beyond the world of appearances, in the continuity of life after death. Philosophically, they will most likely be Idealists rather than Materialists, believing that matter is a derivative of consciousness, not vice versa. This is the great strength of such an approach – you can have your cake and eat it! You can fully engage with life, celebrating the pleasures and beauties of embodiment, avoiding the dangers of denial and repression, but you can also be sustained in a knowledge of and experience of other levels of reality. Through spiritual practices, you can experience detachment from the ever-changing parade of sense impressions to bathe instead in a reality that sustains your spirit and feeds your soul. You can love the house you live in, and you can also walk outside and gaze up at the stars.
The goose teaches us that we can experience both engagement and detachment – which is why she is featured in The Druid Animal Oracle. A goose is among the highest flying of birds, reaching up to 29,000 feet (8,800 metres) and yet it loves to strut about in the mud too. What a lovely example to us, bringing to mind Mary Oliver’s inspiring poem ‘Wild Geese’, which ends:
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
To ground this idea in experience, let’s use a key technique taught by Roberto Assagioli, founder of Psychosynthesis, within the Sacred Grove. Originally called the The Psychosynthesis Identification/Disidentification Exercise, others have renamed it more simply as the Centering Exercise. There are various wordings you can use, but essentially what you are doing is affirming the physical, emotional and mental aspects of your being, while also affirming that you are more than any of these. You can read the original version of this exercise here, but I prefer a variant, which you can find on this site, and which I have amended slightly here:
I have a body, but I am more than my body. I am the one who is aware: the self, the center. My body may be rested or tired, active or inactive, but I remain the same, the observer at the center of all my experience. I am aware of my body, I love my body, but I am more than my body.
I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions. My emotions change, they come and go, but I love the fact that I feel deeply. I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions.
I have a mind, an intellect, but I am more than my mind. Regardless of my thoughts and regardless of how my beliefs have changed over the years, I remain the one who is aware, the one who chooses – the one who directs my thinking process. I have a mind, but I am more than that.
I am a centre of pure awareness. At One with all Being.
Here is an interview about The Druid Plant Oracle, and see below for how you might be able to get a free copy before 10th May!
Our publisher is making a very generous offer of a free Druid Plant Oracle if you are within the UK:
I had to be in the beautiful county of Dorset on Monday so asked our former Press Officer Matt McCabe to broadcast a ‘Tea with a Druid’ session. Despite clear instructions to drink only tea, Matt brought in a beer. When I asked Damh the Bard to do the same, he drank a coffee. Aren’t Druids great! They refuse to conform – even to the simplest instructions. When I trained with a child psychotherapist she had a catch-phrase ‘Disobedience is Divine’….
Matt lost his broadband connection and had to re-start – hence the two parts. There’s some pixellation too, but the audio is fine. The stone circle pictured above is a modern stone circle in Oxfordshire, at the home of the Order’s Patroness, Dwina Gibb, which aptly illustrates Matt’s point about continuity of tradition.
As you may already know the One Tree Gathering is a project initiated by the ICCS (International Center for Cultural Studies) and OBOD (the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids) to explore values shared by Pagan and Hindu cultures. The aim of the annual gatherings is to provide a platform for our communities to exchange ideas and form relationships based on friendship, mutual understanding and shared values.
This year the One Tree Gathering is on 25th-26th of August at the beautiful Beaumanor Hall, near Loughborough. During the weekend we will have an opportunity to meet like minded people and take part in inspiring talks, discussions and interactive workshops as well as get to know each other around bonding activities. This year it will be based on the Tree and exploring your own ‘birth tree’ and what its values and qualities are. There will then be a tree walk to go and find your tree. Philip Carr-Gomm will lead us in experiences of Sophrology and a Druid Nidra, both of which combine Eastern & Western techniques and understanding. The price for the weekend is £50 and £60 with accommodation in the bunkhouse.To enquire please email firstname.lastname@example.org and check our Facebook page https://m.facebook.com/events/
Here is a short video from the 2015 Gathering explaining a little about the One Tree origins:
For some time there has been a strong movement towards recognizing and enhancing our appreciation of the Divine Feminine. Centuries of male-dominated religious beliefs have necessitated this. But over the last few years I’ve become aware, both in personal experience and in hearing from others, of a new wave of awareness that goes beyond an interest in either the feminine or masculine principles.
It’s as if we needed to turn our attention to the Divine Feminine to honour, balance and integrate it, and now – for some at least – the journey continues as we ask ourselves “What is the principle, the reality, the Source, or indeed Being, who is beyond or behind, or causal to the Goddess, the God? Do I need to work with the Divine Feminine, or should I go deeper, higher, further, and focus on the Divine Source of All Being? Is my soul Masculine or Feminine, or are these concepts redundant at the level of soul?”
Have a look at this short piece I wrote on ‘Spiritual Sexism’ and tell me if you agree or disagree – I’d love to hear what you think!
Druidry has been influenced by Alchemy, Tantra, Taoism, Wicca and Jungian psychology in placing a good deal of stress on the idea that there are Feminine and Masculine Principles that need honouring and uniting. This approach makes a welcome change to the body-denying and sex-denying attitudes that can often be found in the Abrahamic and Dharmic religions. But look what has happened as this idea – powerful and indeed obvious as it is – has become over-used. It has jumped out of its box and run riot – gendering everything from stones to planets, from numbers to qualities of heart and soul.
In the summer of 1990 Jay Ramsay set out on pilgrimage with an interfaith group from London to Iona. The result is his most ambitious book-length poem, an astonishing tour de force in the tradition of Wordsworth and Chaucer. Epiphanic, conversational, meditational, psychological, political, it divines ‘the cross’ of spiritual and ecological being in Britain’s radical tradition, as symbolised by Iona as the crown of the Celtic church and the direction that Christianity lost. Constructed as a series of 25 ‘days’, the narrative builds symphonically like waves of the sea up to its visionary climax. Full of stories, reflections, memories, and images, Pilgrimage is above all a love poem, an invitation into the greater love that is our true becoming where we can find the God most personal to all of us – alive in the heart of Life.
‘Pilgrimage is an important outpouring from one of Britain’s leading poets wrestling with the Christ story, the human story, and the story of where we need to go as a species. Travelling with Jay is never anything less than a journey into the past, with adventures in the present, and visions of hope for the future.’ Martin Palmer
‘It is strange and beautiful how everything he passes comes into colour, into focus – is born. And I ran along after him and listened as he changed the colour of the sea and broke down doors.’ Peter Owen Jones
Pilgrimage is published by Awen Publications
The shocking tragedy of the war in Syria suddenly came home to us all here recently in the small town of Lewes in East Sussex, when we heard the news that Anna Campbell, the 26 year old daughter of a Lewes friend had been killed in a Turkish attack on the all-female Kurdish YPJ in Afrin, Syria. Anna had joined the YPJ because she believed in their ideals and wanted to fight ISIS. Her father Dirk said that she was ‘very idealistic and determined’. The British and Americans have been supporting the YPG in their fight against ISIS, but as Dirk wrote recently: ‘The most scandalous injustice of all this is that the Syrian Kurds, until yesterday, were the faithful allies of the West in fighting against Islamic State. They were supported by Britain and the USA and supplied with weapons. They did our job. They attacked IS, defeated them and rendered them ineffective. Our message to them? ‘Thanks. You have done our work for us. We now leave you to the tender mercies of the Turkish army, furnished with the high tech weapons we have sold them.’ Yes. My daughter was killed by British-made weapons, in the hands of Turks, trained by British military experts.’
War is a disgusting immoral business – and I mean business. While supplying arms to the Kurds we have quite happily been supplying arms to the tune of £330 million to the repressive regime of Turkey, regardless of whom they kill – just as we continue to supply arms to Saudi Arabia despite its appalling human rights record and its bombing of men women and children in Yemen.
Dirk has written a powerful article about his daughter and the Rojava Project, which she believed in. Read it here. And Dirk has a message for anyone touched by Anna’s death, which I will pass on here:
Most of the people who have contacted me to offer condolences have asked, as one does, if there is anything they can do to help. Actually there is one thing that everyone can do to help: support Anna’s cause, i.e. the Rojava cause, by emailing your MP. You may think that this is a waste of time, but it’s not if enough people do it. A single email by my sister to her MP in Ealing resulted in a direct question to Boris Johnson, who is now aware from several sources of the strength of feeling about Anna’s death and the Turkish attempt to wipe out Rojava.
So email your MP. Ask why the UK government is doing nothing to prevent the Turks invading Syria and displacing and massacring the Kurds who are the UK’s allies in defeating Islamic State. Tell your MP that the Syrian Kurds are not terrorists, as the Turks claim, and do not pose a threat to Turkey or Turkey’s territorial integrity. The Syrian Kurds are successfully modelling a new society based on the values of feminism, ethnic inclusivity and environmentalism which, if it were allowed to survive, could provide a solution to all the ethnic rivalries and tensions that have been tearing the middle East apart for decades.
Make the point that if Western governments give Turkey the green light to stamp out the Syrian Kurds and their hopeful project, it is likely that Islamic fundamentalism and war in the middle East will go on indefinitely, with all that means in terms of refugees and security issues for the West.
Remind your MP that the Kurds don’t want to leave their homeland to come here. They don’t want to put their children in flimsy dinghies and risk drowning on the open sea. They don’t want to live in internment camps. They would prefer to live safely and prosperously where they are, and it is the non-violent, inclusive society that is being modelled in northern Syria (Rojava) that offers them the best hope of doing that. Inform your MP that the protection units of the YPG/YPJ only exist for the defence of Rojava. The clue is in the name – ‘protection’. There is no aggressive intention behind the formation of these units, only the need to defend against aggression.
Lastly, ask your MP if they think that British sales to Turkey of weapons and training, with the death and displacement of thousands that follow as a direct result, are worth the economic value to the UK that those sales provide.
One more thing: a fund has been set up by a family friend in Anna’s name to support the victims of the Turkish invasion in Northern Syria via a local charity. If you would like to donate to this fund go to www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/annacampbell
A few days ago I watched the fantastically well-made new Netflix documentary series Wild, Wild Country about the Rajneesh story and how it ended, and it’s one of those ‘You couldn’t make this up’ tales that seems utterly unbelievable and yet it happened: a clash between Christian Conservative America and blissed-out nude-sunbathing meditators that ends in bombing and bio-terrorism. It’s a fascinating study in the extraordinary ability we seem to have to not see one another’s point of view, to justify our own behaviour however outlandish, and the incredible egotism and narcissistic pride that can exist amongst followers of a spirituality that seeks to transcend ego, and is sincerely trying to build a greener, more caring world.
Most of the crazy guru stuff happened amongst my generation – the baby-boomers, and what a marvellous time some of us had. I think it was the Rajneesh lawyer featured in the series, who was a guest at one of the most sensuous and delightful dinner parties I’ve ever attended – at the Prana Centre in the Coromandel, New Zealand, ten or so years ago. After chatting about many of the events that are depicted in the film, we swam in a palm-fringed heated ‘Watsui’ pool, as Pink Floyd played through underwater speakers and the southern stars sparkled high above us.
Now that was just sheer fun, but why was my fun-loving generation so stupid? Wasn’t the fact that Rajneesh had 20 Rolls Royces a clue that something was amiss? And that everyone was wearing uniform – the obligatory orange that became maroon?
It all seems so obviously wrong in hindsight, but I think there was a development, an evolution going on, and I don’t think people are so easily misled these days (do tell me if you think I’m wrong!) Just before watching the series I heard a great TED talk by a young woman trying to create solutions to the pandemic of loneliness. And when I look around at what is happening now – the cutting edge, what the younger generation are doing – I see such a passionate commitment to tackling social and environmental problems. There’s an acceptance of the need for self-care, of the value of meditation, yoga, wholesome food – a broad SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) approach – but it isn’t as obsessively focussed on the Self as was my generation at their age.
So there’s hope I reckon! I know this is a gross over-simplification, but I’d be interested to know if you agree, or if you think I’m kidding myself and have a different take on things.
Meanwhile here’s the trailer for the series I mentioned:
I believe that one of the strengths of OBOD is that it offers an inclusive space where members can – if they feel drawn to do so – blend their Druid path with other spiritualities. Some prefer to focus purely on their Druidry but we have many members who combine their practice with other belief systems such as Buddhism, Wicca, even Atheism.
Rev Shawn Sanford Beck – an OBOD Bard and an Anglican Priest – blends his Christian faith with a Druid path. I include here a lovely guest post from Shawn and also an interview with him on Tapestry (a Canadian radio program on spirituality), talking about his blended ChristoPagan path. To listen to the interview, please click here.
“Put out some of those green scotch mints … those are the ones they really like.”
This was the advice given to me by one of my friends from the First Nation community which borders our farmstead most closely. My friend’s father is a Cree elder who remembers the old ways of honouring and communicating with the mimikwisis, the little people who dwell along the steep shores of the lake on which we live. Candy is one of the treats they like the best, and this is what used to be done to keep up good relations with the local neighbours of the spirit world.
So as I pace out the circumference of my sacred grove, I place the green mints in a small pottery dish at the far edge of the circle, with a word of acknowledgement and affection for the trickster guardians of the shoreline. Having called out peace to the four directions, I kneel at the half-buried stone in the centre of the grove, lay my hands on it, and begin my ritual of blessing our land. In my spirit, through the mind’s eye of my imagination, I travel to the various fields, pastures, garden plots, orchards, underground streams, as well as the underwater realm of the lake, and spread a golden-green light of blessing. I look inward toward the cattle and horses, the goats, pigs, chickens, cats, and dogs, as well as the human people, the barn, house, and wood wights, and the ancestors who lived before any of my people arrived on Turtle Island, but who still dwell in the land. To each of these various beings, I direct blessings in the name of the Holy One, and ask that the Spirit surround and uphold them all, binding us together in Her vast Web of Wyrd. After a time of quiet contemplation, I pray as Jesus taught: Abba, Father, Mother who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name … then I close the circle and leave the grove.
Later that afternoon, after chores are done, I will lead a bible study for the farm community, put the finishing touches on the sermon I’ve been working on, and send out an email reminder about the full moon ceremony coming up on the weekend. Another day in the life of a homestead chaplain, Anglican priest, and Sophian druid … never a dull moment!
For many people, perhaps even most people, one religion or spiritual pathway is more than enough. The traditions, practices, and disciplines of Christianity, NeoPaganism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, or any of the other great religious ways can keep a person grounded, fed, and challenged for a lifetime. But for some of us, especially in the context of a pluralistic and multi-cultural world, the blending of religious paths (or, as Philip sometimes calls it: spiritual fusion cooking!) is an irresistible calling. I have been a Christian since late childhood, was ordained as an Anglican priest 15 years ago, and have a deep and abiding love for the Holy Trinity, and for Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God. AND, at the same time, I have been profoundly transformed by my encounters with various NeoPagan paths such as Druidry, Wicca, Heathenry, and various forms of shamanistic and animist traditions. In short, I am a ChristoPagan.
In general, ChristoPagans tend to be scorned by both parent traditions. We are often seen as heretical by the wider church, and derided as wishy-washy or deluded by other Pagans. And in some ways, I can see why: a superficial pick-and-mixing of Pagan and Christian elements can lead to a bizarre or even spiritually dangerous brew. But for those of us who are called to it, a disciplined and reflective fusion of these two traditions can be life-giving and redemptive. Think of how many centuries of bitter division our religions have undergone … do we want that to continue? I think not. As a ChristoPagan who seeks out the depths of both traditions, I have hope that this new and fragile blended path might be a sign of hope and an agent of interfaith healing in our fractured and fractious world. And I give thanks for the safe space of communities such as OBOD, which provide a place for druids of all religious paths (and none) to live and work together in harmony. May it ever be so.
Peace in the Grove,
Shawn has also written a book about Christian Animism which can be found here.