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The Purpose of Spirituality and Religion

November 29th, 2008

How can we respond to the problems we see in the world – of war, suffering and environmental degradation?

Do we have to choose between either denial or despair?

There’s a third way, neither denying the sadness nor getting submerged in it.

Instead allowing awareness of it, feeling it deeply, grieving it, and digging deep

– to find an anchorage.

An anchorage in Nature – in tangible Nature out there and in our own inner Nature.

One way to do this is to find the Gateways between these two Natures. Where do they meet?

This idea of ‘Gateways’ between the realms is central to the spiritual path. Each tradition will speak about this in different ways – as an example, in the Jain tradition the 24 great teachers are known as Tirthankaras, which means ‘Ford-makers’ – suggesting they help create a bridge/ford/gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness, between outer Nature and our Inner Natures. The founder of the Baha’i religion was known as ‘the Bab’ which means ‘gate’. In Druidry, natural features or deliberately placed stones or trees form magical gateways that can help us access other realities. I’m reminded of this whenever I visit our local sacred site – the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’, a giant outline of a human being on a hillside who seems to be creating a gateway for us, reminding us of Novalis’ statement that ‘Visible and invisible, two worlds meet in man.’ This idea is strongly evident in shamanism in the process whereby the shaman makes journeys into the Otherworld to bring back healing, or knowledge that will help in the manifest world.

All these things – teachers, teachings, sacred places, practices such as ritual and meditation – have as their purpose the creation and maintenance of gateways so that there can be traffic, commerce, connection – a flow – between the worlds. And in this period of instability they take on an increasing importance as anchor points that can help us to avoid falling into either despair or denial.

Earnest Health Freaks

November 28th, 2008

A century on, the ideas behind the creation of garden cities in England still sound enormously sensible. Imagine a developer today creating a city and only felling one tree in the process! The following excerpt from Wikipedia shows how significant the movement was. Replace ‘Cheap Cottages’ with ‘Cheap Eco-Friendly cottages’ and the whole idea seems as sensible as it was 100 years ago. Unless – like John Betjeman – you dislike ‘earnest health freaks’.

In 1898, the social reformer Ebenezer Howard wrote a book entitled Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (later republished as Garden Cities of Tomorrow), in which he advocated the construction of a new kind of town, summed up in his Three Magnets diagram as combining the advantages of cities and the countryside while eliminating their disadvantages. Industry would be kept separate from residential areas– such zoning was a new idea at the time– and trees and open spaces would prevail everywhere. His ideas were mocked in the press but struck a chord with many, especially members of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Quakers.

A competition was held to find a town design which could translate Howard’s ideas into reality, and September 1903 the company “First Garden City Ltd.” was formed, Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin were appointed architects, and 16 km² of land outside Hitchin were purchased for building. In keeping with the ideals only one tree was felled during the entire initial construction phase of the town, and an area devoted to agriculture surrounding the town was included in the plan – the first “Green Belt“.

In 1905, and again in 1907, the company held the Cheap Cottages Exhibitions, contests to build inexpensive housing, which attracted some 60,000 visitors and had a significant effect on planning and urban design in the UK, pioneering and popularising such concepts as pre-fabrication, the use of new building materials, and front and back gardens. The Exhibitions were sponsored by the Daily Mail, and their popularity was significant in the development that newspaper’s launching of the Ideal Home Exhibition (which has more recently become the Ideal Home Show) – the first of which took place the year after the second Cheap Cottages Exhibition.

Railway companies often ran excursions to the town, bringing people to marvel at the social experiment and sometimes to mock it: Letchworth’s founding citizens, attracted by the promise of a better life, were often caricatured by outsiders as idealistic and otherworldly. John Betjeman in his poems Group Life: LetchworthHuxley Hall painted Letchworth people as earnest health freaks.

From Wikipedia

A Reason for Magic

November 27th, 2008

In looking at Gareth Knight’s website and blog, I came across this stirring quotation:

The world of magic is one of high imagination, and an art and science with applications as universal as those of mathematics. Yet its unique scope, encompassing both science and religion, has caused it to be denigrated in modern times. Physical science has discarded it as superstition or a pseudo-religion. Religion has regarded it, as it once regarded science, with deep suspicion, thinking it to be an impious attempt to trespass on sacred preserves. But I consider magic to be a middle ground between science and religion, reconciling them in a technology of the imagination, which can bring about personal regeneration and spiritual fulfilment.

In a wide historical survey I show how the higher imagination has been used as an aid to the evolution of consciousness, from the ancient Mystery religions, through alchemy, Renaissance magic, the Rosicrucian manifestoes, Freemasonry and 19th century magical fraternities up to the 20th century occult revival. The message of the whole book is that we have sadly neglected the contribution that the higher imagination can make in bringing about an ecological responsibility to science and a restoration of nerve to religion. Now that we and the environment are threatened with a Faustian disaster, could a re-appraisal of the function and importance of magic be the key to our survival?

Gareth Knight, A History of White Magic

As an example of the use of the higher imagination magically the author has initiated a project to help the planet: Keepers of The Planetary Flame

Hallowing Limitation

November 23rd, 2008

In the Spring I wrote a post on strategies for living in a world that faces so many problems. It was very long and now that we’ve come to the season for pruning, I have taken my pruning shears to it. Here’s some of it that is probably more effective to read in isolation rather than embedded in 10,000 words:

Hallowing Limitation

When faced with Parkinson’s Disease, the Quaker writer John Yungblut wrote an essay entitled ‘On Hallowing One’s Diminishments,’ in which he described a different way of thinking he had developed about his progressively diminishing capacities. Rather than grieving over loss he decided to ‘hallow’ it – to make it holy.

Sharon Astyk has taken this idea and applied it to the environmental crisis. She has a blog called Casaubon’s Book, which she describes as ‘my explorations of our future, one that cannot but be shaped by peak oil, climate change and economic instability. I believe passionately that these crises are not the end of our world, but that they must be faced squarely, honestly and with integrity in the true sense of the world – the integration of our whole lives into our ethical principles’.

In an article on her blog (quoted and developed here) she explains Yungblut’s idea and then applies it to the coming diminishments she expects we will all experience as Peak Oil, Climate Change and the economic downturn really start to bite. She calls this ‘Hallowing the Descent’, and explains how Yungblut suggests we adopt a friendly rather than adversarial stance towards our sufferings or privations, which – since they won’t go away – will help us live with them more effectively. Yungblut points out how each diminishment comes with gifts, as Astyk explains: ‘the physical limitations that come with aging also bring with them ‘the reconversion from earning a living to cultural activity’ – that is, there is time to talk to others, to think, to devote to the outside world as we retire and age’. We could add ‘to devote to the inner world too’.

Yungblut then talks about the ultimate diminishment – death – and how accepting its inevitability is the most effective strategy.

I’d like to suggest another phrase which helps me apply this idea to my own life: ‘Hallowing Limitation’. Born in the post-war years, and growing up in a liberal society, I have spent most of my time immersed in a culture that has constantly pushed against limitations and restrictions. Go for gold! The sky’s the limit! This has been the message, not only of consumer marketeers, but sadly of motivational psychology and much of New Age popular spiritual psychology.

But now we need to accept that we may be entering an era in which we will need to limit our ambitions and desires. The mind is a wonderful tool, and with the power of a good idea we can change the way we experience our lives. If rather than feeling punished by them, we are able to hallow the limitations we might start to experience, they can become our allies rather than our enemies. This of course is the way to happiness taught by most spiritual traditions since time immemorial: that of limiting our desires and expectations, so we can open to the blissful awareness that exists beyond the desire body.

If this is too esoteric for you, here’s a down-to-earth image that illustrates the gifts that limitation might harbour – imagine losing access to the television!

Hallowing the Descent, Hallowing Diminishments, Hallowing Limitation – it all boils down to opening ourselves to the gifts that ‘Less’ has to offer: the gifts that silence can bring, that Being rather than Having or Doing can bring.

Plusic – Music made by Plants

November 21st, 2008

In October Stephanie and I witnessed an avocado plant making music in a tree-house in Italy with the Damanhur community. It was a moving experience.

I’ve discovered that a musician called Mileece has been experimenting with the same idea. Here’s a glimpse of her bio:

24-year-old Mileece has had a remarkable life. When she was growing up, her parents ran a recording studio in Covent Garden, and started an early music video company. Later her father became a director of television programmes such as Fraggle Rock and Countdown, whilst her mum ran a record label.

In early life she lived in various parts of the world including “The crystal garden” where she encountered counter-culture figures such as Timothy Leary and Charles Lucy – the inventor of the Lucytune microtonal scale.

After this, she moved to a large house full of animals in rural France to escape and learn about classical music. On top of this, her grandfather Max Matthews programmed the first computer generated song, “Daisy, Daisy” which was cynically referenced in Kubricks “2001, A Space Odyssey”, sung by the Hal computer ….

More here

And more info from an ‘Independent’ article that has music samples here:

In 2006, Mileece was commissioned by the London School of Economics to develop a “generative plant biofeedback system”. She discovered a way to make sounds out of the electromagnetic impulses of plants and is now creating a website to host data-streams from specimens all over the world.

Making music from plants is also being explored by the Edinburgh band Found in a project in May at the Scottish capital’s Royal Botanic Garden. Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo will involve the five-piece improvising around a midi-controller “operated” by plants, turning the electrical resistance generated by flora into beats and bleeps.

Scientists are increasingly reaching out to musicians to engage the public in their work. In 2002, Mira Calix, who is signed to Warp Records, was commissioned by Geneva’s Museum of Natural History to compose a piece of music from the sounds of 150 different species of insects. The result, Nunu, was performed live with the London Sinfonietta at the Royal Festival Hall. She is now working with David Rothenberg, Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, on a “remix” of the songs of beluga whales.

And here’s a sample of her ‘Fern’ track from http://www.ambientmusic.co.uk/mileece.html


Opera, Nakedness & Generosity

November 20th, 2008

ROH calendarArguably the the three most important things in the world – the capacity to be magnanimous, generous, charitable; the sublime experience of Opera; and the equally sublime experience of nakedness that celebrates the gift of our form in the natural world – have come together under the auspices of London’s Royal Opera House. They have produced a charity calendar for 2009 that depicts opera singers and musicians in the nude in sumptuous surroundings.

If you have had the misfortune to sit in the Upper Circle of the English National Opera House in the summer you will know of the overwhelming desire you might have had to rip your clothes off – such is the poor quality of the ventilation. Rather than spending thousands on new environmentally-unfriendly air-conditioning why don’t we lobby ENO for ‘Opera in the Buff nights’?

Your dilemma over what to give Great Aunt Griselda for Christmas is solved. Just click here and order a calendar for her. It’s only £10 and you will be supporting the Macmillan Cancer Appeal.

Debunking the Debunker – Richard Dawkins and Spin

November 18th, 2008

Do you remember the two TV series that had Richard Dawkins debunking religion? I’m all for challenging beliefs and testing ideas, but something about the programmes unsettled me. He wasn’t picking on people of the same intellectual calibre as himself, so he ‘won’ every argument. But at one time he started talking to Deepak Chopra, a doctor and scientist too, and he seemed decidedly uneasy. Chopra was making valid points that began to make Dawkins’ position look less secure and the interview ended in a strangely abrupt way.

At the time I remember thinking “Why doesn’t he debate with someone his own size – like Rupert Sheldrake?” And now I’ve found this account of an interview that was never screened – on Rupert Sheldrake’s site.

Just as I (and many others) thought – the Dawkins programmes were not made in the spirit of science but of spin.

Here is the article from www.sheldrake.org

Richard Dawkins is a man with a mission – the eradication of religion and superstition, and their total replacement with science and reason. Channel 4 TV has repeatedly provided him with a pulpit. His two-part polemic in August 2007, called Enemies of Reason, was a sequel to his 2006 diatribe against religion, The Root of All Evil?

Soon before Enemies of Reason was filmed, the production company, IWC Media, told me that Richard Dawkins wanted to visit me to discuss my research on unexplained abilities of people and animals. I was reluctant to take part, but the company’s representative assured me that “this documentary, at Channel 4’s insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil was.” She added, “We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry”. So I agreed and we fixed a date. I was still not sure what to expect. Was Richard Dawkins going to be dogmatic, with a mental firewall that blocked out any evidence that went against his beliefs? Or would he be open-minded, and fun to talk to?

The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, “But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs.”

I agreed that we had a lot in common, “But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science.”

He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echo-location system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echo-location. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”

He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”

Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”

In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.

Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?

Rupert Sheldrake

If you’re not familiar with Sheldrake’s work, have a look at this fascinating talk:

Order of Bards Ovates & Druids Annual Review 2008

November 10th, 2008

Geddes EvergreenFor the last 20 years I’ve been writing an annual review for members of the Order. This year I thought I would share it with a wider audience:

In the final analysis, Druidry isn’t about orders, teachers, and books. It’s about each person’s experience of living nature, and if the orders and books and teachers get in the way of that, set them aside, go out beneath the open sky, and find the Druidry that works for you. Ultimately, that’s what matters. John Michael Greer

As we move towards Samhuinn in the northern hemisphere it is time once again to review the last year in the life of the Order and Druidry in general.

This year has been marked by a growing awareness amongst the general public of the situation that most of us in the ‘alternative’ movement have known about for years. Just before the end of October last year half the newspapers here devoted their front pages to the conclusions of a UN report that questioned humanity’s survival to the end of the century if environmental degradation continues. And now, as I write this, the       obvious-to-many-of-us fact that unbridled economic growth and environmental preservation cannot go hand in hand, is now finally being recognised as we start to feel the consequences of governments’ and industry’s failure to confront this reality.

In tandem with a sense of growing dislocation in the world around us, many of us are feeling the need to reinforce our sense of solidarity with those things that really matter – with meaning, purpose, heritage, community, spiritual tradition and the ‘Great Mystery’ – and the urgency of the situation seems to have catalysed a need in many people to do something positive to help the  environment and to connect to a life of meaning. As an example of this it has been heartening to see, for example, the way millions of people have turned to instruction on meditation from teachers like Eckhart Tolle.

In our own small way we have noticed an increase in membership – and if you are a new member this year “Welcome!” – and the year has been marked by a growing use of the Web as a way of networking and communicating. Druidcast, The Order’s podcast, which we started at Alban Hefin last year is now downloaded up to 9,000 times a month, and a dazzling array of music, interviews and talks awaits anyone who wants to access this material (at www.druidcast.libsyn.com). Damh in the office, who puts them together, created two special episodes (13 & 14) to celebrate Druidcast’s First Birthday – and one episode is devoted entirely to music.

The Web has also seen another recent development: three Druidic magazines have made their debut, delivered as downloadable pdfs. At Lughnasadh 2007 the quarterly Eolas, averaging 10 pages an issue, was launched by Ord na Garach Gile – the Order of WhiteOak (see www.whiteoakdruids.org). The Bond of Druids ‘A Druid Journal’ was launched in the summer this year and is more substantial at around 46 pp, and is available both in a printed version or as a pdf at $6 a copy from www.mygrove.us/ bond_of_druids. Druidic Dawn’s quarterly journal Aontacht was launched at the same time and like Eolas is free, but more substantial with 25 pp. I hope they all flourish. What with monthly podcasts, monthly copies of Touchstone, and 3 quarterly journals no-one can complain about not being informed!  Add in the Message Boards and Chat Rooms available online to Druids  and the only risk might be an overload to the nervous system.

Nothing stays still, though, and there are now even more opportunities for Druidic stimulus. This year has seen the arrival of two Facebook meeting places for OBODies: an official one and an ‘OBOD Friends’ – both of them have over 350 members connecting with each other. And my prediction is that by next year the fledgling group of members in the virtual world of Second Life will have developed into a seed-group which holds rituals in a secluded grove on an island.

However much we may decry staring at a screen to learn our Druidry, the reality is that this is the way most people are discovering the fact that it is a valid and meaningful path today. We have made a few You-tube slide-shows to convey key ideas and the first we made on ‘The Seven Gifts of Druidry’ has been viewed over 34,000 times in its two versions (high and low definition).

Holistic TV, based in Eastbourne, are now editing footage they shot at the OBOD Summer Camp, and with Druid groups around the country. They plan to create two documentaries – one for television and one for a DVD for home viewing. I’ve seen a rough-cut of these and they look fantastic – far better than the awful documentary screened recently which trotted out the old ‘Druid Prince’ material mixed up with          evidence of ‘Druidic cannibalism’ derived from the analysis of one broken shin bone found in a cave in the west of England. The programme has been universally derided and deservedly so.

A far more believable and interesting find than the shin bone has been the grave of the ‘Essex Druid’ found at Stanway, near Colchester. Although the dig was started in 1996, the full report on it was only published this year after 12 years of painstaking digging and research. In the grave that was uncovered, archaeologists discovered a board game with the glass counters laid out, medical equipment – the earliest ever found – a tea strainer still containing the remains of a herbal brew, and some mysterious metal poles, which archaeologists believe may have been used for divination.

It now seems that the find may represent the very first Druid grave ever discovered. But it was the traces of Artemisia in the tea strainer that struck our attention, since Stephanie, Will Worthington and I had been working on The Druid Plant Oracle for the past few years, and it was wonderful to see another piece of evidence for the ancient Druids’ use of medicinal herbs. The Plant Oracle was published in December in Britain and in December we held a launch party in Treadwell’s Bookshop – one of London’s most atmospheric magical bookstores.

On the subject of books: in February John Michael Greer’s  ‘The Druid Magic Handbook: Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth’ (Weiser) was published, which offers a way of working magic by combining Druidic symbolism with techniques derived from the Golden-Dawn and other traditional workings. Ellen Evert Hopman’s ‘A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine’ (Destiny) appeared in June, and in May Brendan Myers’  ‘The Mysteries of Druidry: Celtic Mysticism, Theory, and Practice’ (New Page) appeared, followed swiftly by his masterful exploration of Druidic ethics ‘The Other Side of Virtue: Where Our Virtues Come From, What They Really Mean, and Where They Might Be Taking Us’ (O Books). Emma Restall Orr’s eloquent ‘Living With Honour’ (O Books), also on ethics, appeared at the same time, and these two books together with the paper Brendan delivered for the Mount Haemus Lectures this year provide at last a solid basis for contemporary Druid ethics.

In the light of these important three works, a new page on Druid Ethics has been placed on the Order’s website. Go to the website too to read Brendan’s Mt Haemus paper, where you can also see a movie clip of the first Mt Haemus gathering in 2004 and see details of the first volume of 8 lectures the Order published this summer. In August we held the second Mt Haemus Gathering at the Medieval Hall in Salisbury, and it was just one of those perfect days where everything (apart from the powerpoint projector) went smoothly and was deeply satisfying. The sun shone, the medieval hall is impressive but warm and welcoming, the speakers were loudly applauded, as were the musicians who entertained us, including Andy Letcher who is already at work on the Mt Haemus Award for 2009  – comparing and contrasting the six courses in Bardism now available to the 21st century seeker.

It really is remarkable that Bardistry has experienced such a revival, and we’re continuing to encourage this by introducing a system of ‘bardic coaching’ via the Order’s Message Board, and by awarding more ‘Honorary Bardic’ crowns.

On the Mt Haemus day Esme Vincent was crowned for the magnificent artwork she has created over the years  – with calligraphy, painting, drawing and book design……..

And at the Summer Gathering in Glastonbury radical poet Liv Torc received the crown:
At that Summer Gathering, Wendy  Shrubshall & Rob Chapman who have so ably coordinated the grove rituals and Tor  celebration for the last 2 years handed over to Marion Sibbons who managed to help create a deeply moving experience for participants and spectators. The following morning JJ and others coordinated the dawn ceremony, which was blessed with sunshine and a magical hare who led us into the centre of the stones.

Everything about these Glastonbury Gatherings is so impressive – somehow everyone manages to give of their best, with the evening Eisteddfod never ceasing to amaze, and all unobtrusively coordinated by Cerri and Damh’s team of volunteers. At the Winter Gathering storyteller Eric Maddern, creator of the Cae Mabon centre in Wales, was crowned after he entertained us with song and story, and earlier in the evening we were scandalised by Kristoffer Hughes personal account of his Druidic education. His talk was recorded and can be heard in one of the podcasts. A small team of Druid censors had to listen to the recording and edit out some of Kris’ more outrageous jokes! Ronald Hutton followed Kris with a rousing critique of past Druid leaders and a call to emulate their social idealism, and I introduced Mark Townsend, a fascinating writer, priest and mentalist magician who performed magic that left us all wondering ‘How on earth did he do it?!’

While in England highlights for the Order were the camps, the two gatherings in Glastonbury and the Mt Haemus day, in Holland the Order’s magazine Dryade held its tenth birthday celebrations, which turned into the inaugural Dutch OBOD camp. Modron Cairisthea Worthington and I flew over and about 40 of us spent the weekend together in celebration. It was wonderful to see so many children there, and the ‘knowledge transfer’ that had occurred, with ideas we have found successful in the UK camps being put into practice across the channel.
In Holland a memorial pottery chalice was cast to commemorate the event, and Peter who coordinated the event, was able to hand out these cups to everyone at the camp. Soon afterwards, the first Dutch Druid podcast went on air!

In May I went to Portugal and Germany and gave some talks and workshops there. Again there was that warm sense of recognition and common purpose, and a little while later, with the help of web-wizard Brianna a new website www.druidry.eu was created to act as a portal for the Dutch, French, German and Czech Order websites. Brianna has also created a German forum, and a site on DruidCraft in English and German at www.druidcraft.de. In September Stephanie and I went to Italy – I gave some workshops and a talk on Nuinn and Gerald Gardner, looking at the influence Italy had on both of them, and we visited the Damanhur Federation – a spiritual community of over a thousand people who live in the Valchiusella Valley a few hours northwest of Milan. There they have built the most extraordinary underground temples, and follow an initiatic path that places both art  and a commitment to being of value & service in the world  jointly at the centre of human endeavour. I had written about them in ‘Sacred Places’ (which was published in August) and now we were shown the temples, their organic farm, their art centre, their eco-houses and – most amazing of all – their tree-house village where they are experimenting with plant-musicians.

Electrodes are placed on a plant and the  electrical signals picked up are converted via a synthesizer into musical tones. Slowly the plants learn how to make music, and remarkably those who have developed their musical talents seem to be able to pass these on to other plants simply by being placed next to the new plants. We climbed up into a tree-house and sat beside an avocado plant in a pot who is a particularly good musician. It was extraordinarily moving to then witness the music he or she emitted. I hope we can arrange a demonstration at an Order gathering next year.

In the Spring and Summer Damh in the office worked on the Ovate Grade audio version, using the voices of Welsh Annie (who now lives in Glastonbury) Irish Dwina and me, plus lots of new music and stories. It should be ready between Samhuinn and Alban Arthan – we’ll let you know!

Despite the wet summer, the skies once again cleared for us in the west for the Lughnasadh camp which was as magical as ever, as was the New Zealand Lammas camp held in February (and the other UK camps). Meanwhile in the background, stalwarts Kate & Barry Reilly continued their workshops that support the course, using Chalice Well in Glastonbury as a venue. Having  trained with Kate & Barry, Henk & Marjorie recently facilitated the first Level 1 workshop in Holland, while Shaun Hayes became the Order’s representative on PEBBLE – a liaison group that works with government bodies and the Pagan community.

The Message Board with its team of moderators and administrators continued to make ‘The Druid’s Head Pub’ one of the most interesting and lively web environments for Druids, while member Nigel Dailey and his team have managed to develop their ‘Druidic Dawn’ site into another warm and lively environment for networking and learning.

In the field of publishing, in addition to the non-fiction titles mentioned, 2008 must be remembered as the Year of Druidic Fiction: Not only was Penny Billington’s gripping Druid detective story ‘Gwion Dubh; Druid Investigator’ (Appleseed Press) published (and sources tell me she’s busy working on the next volume) but also Elen Hopman’s ‘Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey’ (Llewellyn), Emma Restall-Orr & William Melnyk’s ‘The Apple and the Thorn’ (Thoth) and Christina McCarthy’s ‘Forbidden Magic – A Druid Born’, (Fremantle Press). What a great way to spend the coming evenings – with these books by your side!

And so another year completes itself, and as it does, let me share with you a little ‘miraculous’ event that occurred when I went into the Order’s archive room recently. In 1992 we decided to change the ‘shape’ of the way the Order was run by instituting a new role of ‘Modron’ to complement the existing triad of Chief, Pendragon and Scribe. The Modron would symbolically stand in the West, symbolising connection with the Feminine, the Cauldron, the inner knowledge of the land and the Otherworld. Cairisthea Worthington became the Modron, but in 2002 retired for personal reasons, taking up the reins again in 2006. It became clear recently that not everyone knew of this change, and I had just been talking with Cairis about whether to write about the subject for Touchstone. A few days later I entered the archive and quite spontaneously an entire box tumbled off a filing cabinet in front of me, and one document glided gracefully out of it to land at my feet. Dated 14 Feb 1996, eight years to the day from the Order’s re-founding, it was written by Cairisthea and entitled ‘The Changing Shape of the Order’. As if continuing the conversation we had been having a few days before, it discussed the way in which the introduction of the role of Modron shifted the organisation from one that seemed overly masculine and hierarchical (and the shape of a pyramid) into one that is more balanced and which corresponds to the sacred circle with its four directions that we know so well.

Cairis concluded the document by saying ‘The Order began to change shape with the introduction of the Modron, but I think the seed of change was planted by Nuinn when he incorporated the four fire festivals back into Druidry. Essentially he began the work of healing through the honouring of both the masculine and feminine principles. When I began looking at the changing shape, I saw very clearly the image of the Cauldron. Each member of the Order was a pearl around its rim. The cauldron was the Earth, our humanity, the Fellowship of Druidry and much more. It is filled with knowledge, inspiration and healing; it is the cauldron of plenty, of wisdom and initiation.’

I’m so glad this document appeared in this way – the archive, as you can imagine, is filled with material. Those of us who have ‘official’ roles within the Order see these as supportive and facilitative of all the membership and each of us, whether we fulfil a role within the Order or not, whether we are mentioned in this review or not (my apologies to the many people I haven’t mentioned!) stand as equals in the circle – heart to heart and hand in hand.

May the coming year be a time of knowledge, inspiration and healing for all of us.

Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist

November 9th, 2008

From Philip Pullman’s website:

What do you do about writer’s block?

I don’t believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?