I guess I am still enrolled in the Lutheran Church at home, but there is no one church or creed with which I fully agree. For one thing, I am crazy about Nature, and almost worship it, but isn’t Nature the direct work of God?”
Olaus Murie 192
Olaus Murie (1889 – 1963) was an environmentalist imbued with a natural spirituality. He opposed the building of monuments in places of great natural beauty. An article on him describes how ‘Murie’s philosophy and actions fit well into such Taoist principles as noninterference, nonaction, the importance— even the beauty—of death, the value of intuitive knowledge, and the sacredness of cycles.’ James M.Glover, Olaus Murie’s Spiritual Connection with Wilderness.
The Equinox is a time of Promise and Fulfilment: promise in the Spring when we sow seeds and look foward to their ripening, fulfilment in the Autumn when we harvest the growth from those seeds. One of the central ideas in Druidry is that human processes – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – are natural and work in the same way as the rest of Nature. So now at the Equinox we can either sow seeds of new ideas and inspirations if we are in the northern hemisphere, or we can harvest them if we are in the southern. So here – for harvesting or planting are some seed-thoughts – to amuse as well as inspire!
‘If the Gods are watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.’ Anon
‘Seek the Truth, and run from those who have found it!’ Anon
‘The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.’ Margaret Atwood
It’s always helpful to know you are not alone in your thoughts, feelings and experiences – and the net is great for helping us find others of like mind. Last year I researched Walden Pond for an entry in ‘Sacred Places’ – a book due out in August – and here is what Henry – a blogger who recently commented on a post here says about the pond and about his experiences of the joys of skinny-dipping. I like his idea of underutilized rebellion!
Thank you Henry for letting me quote from your blog – ‘What Would Henry Do? A Virtual Cabin in the Woods’: “There is a brief passage in Walden where Thoreau describes bathing in the idyllic waters of his Pond. If you’ve ever been to Walden Pond in the summer, you can imagine what this must have felt like one hundred years ago, miles from your closest neighbor: Like pure bliss. We’ve all gone skinny-dipping at least once in our lives, (I hope!) and we all know how good it feels. My first experience was about twenty years ago at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island at a designated clothing-optional beach. At first it felt strange. But the strangeness disappeared after about five minutes when I realized that no one was staring at me and no one looked like a runway model. It was the height of summer, about ninety degrees. The ocean water felt luxurious against my skin and it was glorious to come back to my towel and lay basking in the bright sun. I was hooked. For many years afterwards, I would proselytize to the uninitiated about the benefits of my discovery. I used to compare nude bathing to buying a microwave oven (Bear with me). Before you get a microwave, you don’t understand what all the fuss is about, but after you have one you can’t imagine how you ever lived without it. When I talked this way, people looked at me funny. Then everyone had a microwave and my analogy lost its meaning. So I changed my object of desire to an iPod, but now everyone has one of those as well. I once heard Muddy Waters quoted as saying, “If you’ve got something good, keep it in your pocket.” Maybe that’s what I should do, I decided. Much like politics and religion, no one likes to be lectured to. The most meaningful discoveries you make in life are the ones you make yourself. But bathing this way, whether it be on a beach in the bright sun with hundreds of people or alone in a secluded quarry hidden deep in the woods, makes me feel more connected to the earth than anything else I can imagine. It’s childlike and pure. And in the crazed, nature-deprived, hyperactive, over-scheduled, hell-in-a-handbasket world we live in, one of our last and most tragically underutilized rebellions.”
Last week I took a train to London. As it pulled into Victoria Station the guard announced over the PA “Welcome to Victoria. As you leave please look around you. Have you left any mobile phones, lap-tops, book, coats, hats or scarves? Any livestock or children? Please remember to take everything you brought with you.” Everyone in the carriage broke into a smile, and started looking at each other. I thought ‘There is hope for humanity!’ Jolted out of fixed patterns of thinking for a moment it was as if we all woke up. One of the central ideas in many spiritual teachings is that most of us are ‘asleep’ – caught in habitual semi or fully automatic patterns of behaviour, thinking and feeling. To ‘wake up’ we need experiences out of the norm. A group called ‘Improv Everywhere’ stages impromptu performances through co-ordinated ‘undercover agents’ to create these experiences. Have a look at the film clip – it’ll give you the idea!
Derek Jarman was a film-maker who was fascinated by alchemy, Queen Elizabeth I’s astrologer Dr John Dee, jazz, and the relationship between religion and sexuality, amongst many other interests. Tilda Swinton recently wrote of him:
He supported the hunch I had long before I met him, and which drew me to him in the first place: that life is too short a thing to spend outside of your own urges and instinct. An artist’s responsibility is to remain self-determining at all odds: uncooptable and free. Derek modeled exactly this measure of a responsibility met head-on. It was his vocation, just as it is any artist’s – and his challenge, just as it is ours. And if not ours, then whose? Tilda Swinton
He lived in the beautiful, stark and surreal setting of a tiny wooden cottage on the beach near Dungeness nuclear power station.
There’s a Jarman exhibition at Tate Britain until 1 June 08. Details here.
I have just found this wonderful slide show of the Jain festival of
MAHAMASTAK ABHISHEK – The Grand Anointing Ceremony
This magnificent ceremony of the Jains takes place once every12 years, in Karnataka. To pay homage to Bahubali, an18-metre high statue of the saint is anointed with milk, sugarcane juice and herbal powders.
It is by award-winning photographer Karoki Lewis, on the BBC website. Have a look here!
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.
“I challenge you here today, and I recommit to challenging myself, to become a modern bard, to tell the stories of today and record for history what happened at this crucial juncture in time, and to push past our comfort zones into new uncharted territory, because, selfishly, that is where the greatest songs lie waiting, and most importantly where a kinder world still waits for us.”
Twenty years ago a singer songwriter named Eliza Gilkyson from the United States contacted me. She was interested in Druidry, and had joined the Order. We started a correspondence and she sent me some of her music. The whole family loved it and we used to play the CDs in the car on long journeys. Later Eliza kindly donated a track to ‘The Timeless Quest’ which was a set of audio-recordings of meditation and self-development that I had created. Later still another track of hers appeared on the Order’s ‘Bardass 1′ album of members’ music. We only got to meet a few years ago when she came to play in nearby Brighton, and we had a great evening. Eliza is a wonderful entertainer – her between-songs banter was fabulous and it felt like we were meeting an old friend… Sometimes we don’t get to hook up with soul companions for years, and Eliza is certainly one of them. Recently she gave the keynote speech at the Folk Alliance Convention in the States and I thought many readers, particularly musicians, would like to read it. The quote is from this speech and if you click on her name you’ll get to her website. Read more
I’ve just been writing a brief biography of John Michell for The Book of English Magic that I’m writing with Richard Heygate. Richard and I had an entertaining meeting with him in his flat and then in one of his Notting Hill haunts – a cafe on Portobello Road. As I was researching John’s life on the internet I came across this little quiz on the website of the magazine – The Oldie – he has contributed to for over a decade.
Try it and see if you are an Oldie!
Are you an Oldie?
Take our quiz and find out…
1. When you hear of ‘Big Brother’, do you still think of George Orwell?
2. Do you not only talk to yourself, but see nothing odd about it?
3. Do you know quite a lot of poems by heart?
4. Do you spend more than an average amount of time in stationery shops?
5. Do you refer to ‘the wireless’?
6. Did you know who Chantelle is? Do you care?
7. Are you obsessively concerned about the size and shape of spoons?
8. Do you mend clothes rather than throw them away?
9. Do you write letters?
10. Do you still wind your watch up?
11. Do you know what a pronoun is?
12. Are there at least 10 people in your address book who are dead?
13. Do you know any prayers apart from the Lord’s Prayer?
14. Do you save string?
15. Are you frightened of going to the Barbican?
16. Can you waltz?
17. Do you go around turning lights off?
18. Do you clean your shoes with a brush and proper shoe polish?
19. Have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant?
20. Have you taken out a subscription to The Oldie?
With the Chinese killing Tibetan protestors in Lhasa isn’t it time the rest of the world made a stand for Human Rights and boycotted the Olympics? Tough on the sports people, but why not relocate to a country with a good human rights record?