I’ve been looking for a place to stand for some time now. There’s the whole theory that with the right position and a big enough lever, you could move the world. I’m not interested in moving it, more changing it, but that lever and place to stand metaphor holds up passably. There are so many things wrong out there, from attitudes to the planet to social norms and gender politics, beliefs about money and responses to poverty… I could go on. There is a vast amount that needs to change for us to survive and thrive as a species and not destroy the one planet that is our home.
I love Druidry, and I love the whole mindset that goes with Druidry. However, it’s not for everyone. That’s in many ways the problem with any spiritual approach — it can’t be all embracing, and if it sets out to include everyone, it’s probably going to become vile. Where religion is concerned diversity is important, and about the only available antidote to the poisonous idea of ‘one true way’. I’ve known for a long time that Druidry was not going to be the place to stand in terms of wielding a lever to change the world. I’ve looked at Green politics, too, but the problem there is that far too many people are inherently mistrustful of power, authority, politicians and the systems they work in. Converting a lot more people to Green politics would therefore not necessarily fix much. It would most likely draw in the inherently political, not the innately disenfranchised, and it’s the second set of folks that I’m more interested in.
Then I found Steampunk. There is only one rule in Steampunk, and it is ‘be nice to each other.’ There’s shades in that of ‘an it harm none, do what you will.’ It’s a culture where respect and good manners are very much expected and encouraged, where tolerance and diversity have room to thrive. It creates, for example, a space in which crossdressers and trans folk can wander about in the gender identity/kit of their preference without fear of harassment. Prejudice is not even slightly splendid. There’s a delicious irony here, too, because of course Steampunk invokes the Victorian era, that great heyday of racism, sexism, colonialism, jingoism, classism, oppression, gay bashing and hypocrisy. Steampunk is not really about Victorian era stuff at all, it’s about how a group of people wish it had been. This is the world of the upbeat period novel. More Jules Verne than Charles Dickens, you’ll see the wondrous inventions and no orphans will be going up chimneys.
by Naomi Westland, Special for USA TODAY 12:19AM EDT October 29. 2012 – LONDON — When Lady Godiva protested oppressive taxes, as legend has it, by riding naked on a horse in 11th-century England, she started a trend that continues a millennium later.
Godiva instructed the townsfolk to close their shutters and avert their eyes while she bared herself. These days, the whole point of a nude protest is to be noticed.
Recent protests have seen naked feminists in Ukraine and “nudity rights” activists in the United Kingdom, anti-war protesters in California and environmental campaigners in Nigeria.
Stripping off clothing is a “guaranteed way to get publicity” for a cause, said Philip Carr-Gomm, British author of A Brief History of Nakedness.
“Nakedness is so provocative, even in the 21st century, when we think we’re so liberal and that we’ve seen it all, it is still a big deal,” he said.
A Ukrainian women’s rights group, Femen, would agree. After two years of having their fully clothed protests ignored by the media, in 2010 they decided to change tactics.
“We started out protesting wearing brightly colored clothes, carrying flags and banners and balloons, but journalists weren’t interested,” said one of the group’s founders, Aleksandra Shevchenko.
“The media is the most important part of our work, because our goal is to spread ideas and opinions. Through the media, we can reach millions of people. We realized we had to do something more radical.”
They went topless. They turn up at a particular location, strip off and scrawl slogans in marker pen across their bare breasts. The media coverage they receive – not just in Ukraine but around the world – is immense.
The group mostly demonstrates in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, but since opening an office in Paris this summer, activists have stripped off in front of the Venus de Milo statue at the Louvre museum to protest against the alleged rape by police of a woman in Tunisia.
Last week, they were outside the French Ministry of Justice to protest the acquittal of 10 men accused of raping two teenage girls in France. They also staged a topless protest at the London Olympics this summer claiming the International Olympic Committee collaborates with Islamist regimes that oppress women. Read more at USA Today
A friend died the other day and her family and friends came together and we all talked about how much we admired and loved her. Sometimes we talked to those around us, sharing our feelings, sometimes we talked directly to Adrienne, who had left this world just three days ago. It was a beautiful, affirming time of honouring her as a person without the constraints of time or procedure that a funeral by necessity imposes. Even so, we used a little ceremonial, a few poems and prayers, and time sitting in silence, to create a structure, a container, imbued with a sense of reverence and the sacred – but not piety – for our time together. Three days after someone has died feels a good time to hold such a gathering, and this moment is considered significant in many traditions, including Buddhism and Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and particularly the Orthodox Church, Judaism, and in some Islamic and Hindu communities. With the ancient Druids’ love of triplicities, and with modern Druids’ openness to the perennial wisdom that underlies all religions, it seems a good practice to adopt, when it feels right to do so. The reason given for marking the third day, explained in slightly different ways by each tradition, is that it takes a while for the soul to free itself from the body and its earthly attachments. In some teachings this idea is expressed in symbolic and mystical terms, in others in a more defined way, as when Swami Kriyananda writes: ‘The process of the astral body detaching itself from the physical body takes between 48 minutes and three days, depending upon the evolution of the incarnating spirit.’ In the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Makary of Alexandria talks about the same process but in a more lyrical way: ‘As the soul, accompanied by Angels, is permitted to travel for two days about the earth where it will, this engenders in it blessed hope. Sometimes, the soul, which loves its body, hides near the house in which the body rests, and thus spends two days, like a bird searching for its nest.’ On the third day, according to St. Makary, with the help of its guardian angel and Christ, the soul ascends to God. The fact that so many traditions express the same idea, clothed in different language, suggests a deep truth at work. If not, there would surely be variance, with some stating that four or five days had this significance, rather than three. Since each of us is unique, each of our souls’ journeys must be unique too, with the time it takes to shed earthly attachments varying widely. But since we cannot know how long each individual will take to accomplish this, it makes sense that traditions have evolved that honour this moment in conformity with the most likely time, and with the symbology of their tradition. Perhaps there is also another good reason for honouring this time. Perhaps, for those who are left behind, it can offer an early staging post, a still point, in the long journey of grieving. In looking back, it feels as if Adrienne’s three-day marking was a graduation ceremony. She has left the university of life on earth, the school of this incarnation, summa cum laude, with the highest honours. We all graduate in the end, and perhaps it is at this moment – in some exquisitely paradoxical way – that we realize our potential and become fully human. As the red leaves of autumn fall from the trees at this time of Samhain, I think of the message of the Death card in the DruidCraft Tarot: ‘The old and unnecessary wants to die. What passion! The new prepares to open like a rosebud at the dawn of a new day.’
You can see a video interview with Adrienne in an earlier post here.
A friend died yesterday. She loved the Earth and the seasonal festivals. Today we go to the Order’s Samhain camp. The leaves here in southern England are now in their full Autumn colours. All this prompted me to paste thoughts on death, loss and autumn leaves on the Order’s Facebook page, and I’ll post them here too, along with a photo I found on Wikimedia which shows leaves displayed on the eightfold wheel of the year. I’ve rotated the image from the original, so that the autumn leaves are in the North-West, in the place of Samhain:
Falling autumn leaves teach us of the beauty of endings, of the bright flame of passion that doesn’t die but is reborn when life is transformed. The death of our bodies, relationships, dreams and hopes can all feel deeply sad, and rightly so, for suffering is as real as joy, and loss is painful. But hidden within the darkness of loss lies a mystery, and although that mystery will always foil our attempts to understand it with our minds, Nature will sometimes offer us a clue as if to say: There! Can you see it in the brightness of these leaves?
A web-based radio station that focuses on music and interviews that will interest people who love Druidry.
They are both fabulous. Keltoi Radio now broadcast in English as well as Italian. Grove Radio uses English exclusively.
They both make the same mistake – they call themselves Radio stations which conjures up the idea of ‘audio’ when in fact they are TV stations too – having lots of film content. I’m not sure why they do this – perhaps because of the equipment they use! 🙂 But do take a look at them – they’ve got some great music and interviews up on their sites!
Some Samhain-inspired thoughts on creating a more just and sustainable world:
Perhaps we can start by looking and dreaming. Through entering the cave and facing the demons.
The first demon is called Death. In seeking to avert catastrophe, to ‘save the world’, we are confronted with our greatest fear: the fear of death – of ourselves, of other species, of humanity. This demon strikes at the heart of one of our two greatest dreams: The Dream of Eternity.
The second demon is called Chaos. In seeking to create a world that is fair and beautiful, a Utopia, we are confronted with our fear of its opposite: Dystopia, Destruction, Ugliness, Disorder, Chaos. This demon strikes at the heart of the other of our two greatest dreams: The Dream of Paradise.
We are beings in Time and Space. In Time we dream of Eternity, the Ever-Present Now. In Space we dream of Paradise. But here is the rub: our dreams are haunted by demons who threaten everything: the enjoyment of Time is disrupted by Death, the delight of Space by Chaos.
Psychology reveals that what is hidden and unrecognized controls us. Confront the demons and they dissolve in the light of awareness. This understanding suggests that our desire to create Paradise on Earth, to cease the death and destruction of life on the planet, is disturbed, and in fact controlled by the demons: the fear of Death and Chaos. Our very fear of them is running us and our behaviour – unconsciously.
This is why the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. This is why Utopian dreams have historically led to violence and bloodshed – just think of Fascism, Communism, the French Revolution, all propelled by the noblest ideals. Look at the history of religion!
So where does this leave us? Should we stop dreaming and trying to create a better world? No of course not, but to do this we need to understand what we’re doing.
To dream and to act to create a more just, sustainable world we need to come to face our fears: of death, annihilation, of the Moment, of Chaos, of Dirt. When they are accepted, not denied or bargained with, then perhaps we can be inspired to act not out of the unmet needs of these demonic (ie neurotic and unconscious) drivers but from a real sense of compassion and connection with all of life.
The last time I was in the USA was thirteen years ago. Then came 9/11 and the awful story that ensued, and life called in other directions: New Zealand, Australia, Europe. When Stephanie and I received the invitation to come to the OBOD East Coast Gathering taking place this summer in Milford, Pennsylvania, I was curious to see how it would feel to be back in the US after all that time.
I’m really happy to say that it felt like visiting an old friend. We’d been apart too long and it was time to reconnect. We spent 10 and 11 September in New York City. The weather was perfect: clear blue skies, bright sunshine. The same weather as on 9/11. We didn’t make it to one of the city’s hidden treasures: the Nicholas Roerich Museum, which no New Yorker I’ve met has visited. I saw it years ago and wanted to show it to Steph. But instead we visited another gem, recommended by a friend, and not listed on those ‘What to do in NYC’ webpages: the Rubin Museum of Himalayan art, between Chelsea and Greenwich Village. If you like Tibetan Buddhist art it is a must: a beautifully presented collection of statuary and thankas in an area of New York that is fun to stroll around.
On the evening of September 11 we walked down to Druids – an Irish gastro-pub in the Hell’s Kitchen area that is good on atmosphere and food. On our way we stopped in on a photo exhibition of the work of Editta Sherman just by Central Park. And there the photographer was herself: sitting by a desk chatting to a visitor, flamboyantly dressed with a huge hat. Not bad for 100 years old!
The next day we arrived at Camp Netimus, home for the third year running, to the OBOD gathering of the clans in the US. Straight away there was that feeling of connection: old friends from way back, last seen on the Druids’ Isle of Iona; members like Selene and Katlady who we’ve been working with for years, but never physically met; and then those we’ve known from their visits to the UK, including John Michael Greer, who gave some fabulous talks. For Stephanie, who looks at the database daily, there was the fun of matching faces with names, and we even bumped into Nico – a Dutch member we last saw at another OBOD camp, the International one in the Netherlands in June.
Who are these crazy people?! The OBOD East Coast Gathering 2012
Just like the Dutch camp, there was that warm feeling of community, the magic of shared rituals, the eisteddfodau around a blazing fire each night, the healing that comes from sharing, the learning that comes from discussion.
There were workshops, talks, a dialogue between myself and John Michael, an opening ceremony, an Alban Elfed rite, and a closing ceremony. In between all that, there were communal meals with food for every taste (including vegan and gluten-free – quite a task to organize for over a hundred of us) and lots of conversation: John Beckett in his blog writes: ‘I think my favorite part of whole gathering was the conversation. People shared their spiritual journeys, talked about their projects and their ideas, their hopes and fears for the future, discussed the nature of the gods and what comes after death. We talked about our groves and seed groups and for a few of us, our CUUPS groups. We had the kind of conversations we’re reluctant to have in the ordinary world for fear of being seen as odd or nuts or worse. There is nothing like immersing yourself within your tribe.’
It was John who held a special ceremony one evening, to be inducted as a minister in the Universal Gnostic Church, so that he could perform legal weddings, and it was moving to witness the ceremony. And I agree with him about enjoying the conversations at camp. If you go to a conference much of its benefit seems to come, not from the lectures themselves, however interesting they might be – but from the conversations with fellow delegates and presenters over tea breaks and meals.
In the Storytellers’ Circle. Photo: John Beckett
Conversation was one of the methods for exploring the meaningful questions about life and spirituality proposed by the New England Transcendentalists, Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott et al., and I decided to use conversation as the means for exploring what it means to be a Druid in 2012. This took place in the Storytellers’ Circle, a grove in Camp Netimus tailor-made for Druids. It was there that we held initiation ceremonies for all three grades: 25 Bards, 7 Ovates, and 3 Druids.
As we held these ceremonies I cast my mind back to the initiations we have participated in over the years: at camps in a sliver of woodland in Wiltshire, in the middle of the night on a sacred hill in Ulster, in a grove of cabbage trees in New Zealand. Always unique, always different, always the same – travelling deeper, crossing boundaries, seeking transformation.
What’s great about OBOD events is that the threads of story continue to weave: the camp is over, but the next one is already being planned, and at least one participant from California will be coming to the UK Samhain camp next week. Everyone, from the organisers who had worked all year to make it a success, to the members who gave talks and workshops, and everyone who attended – including Superman – made the camp an inspiring and memorable experience.
I’ve written a little about the gathering in my Annual Review for 2012: ‘In the USA, as the closing ceremony took place, a child tottered towards the centre of the circle in the bright sunshine. About 100 of us stood in awe as the little girl, only 2 yrs old, held up an acorn, the gift of the Druids at the previous day’s Alban Elfed rite. Superman then tottered out to join her. He was older – 3 – and wearing his superhero suit proudly, he stood with her in silence, contemplating the acorn, completely at ease in our ritual circle, banners blowing in the breeze, magic hanging in the air.’
The latest Druidcast podcast is just out, and as usual it’s a cracking one (do people still say ‘cracking’? Or should I say ‘wicked’?) As well as getting the first glimpse of Damh the Bard’s new album in a sample track which has a wonderful and rousing anthemic quality, we are also treated to Andy Letcher’s talk about the nature of bardcraft, which he gave at the Mount Haemus Day in Salisbury just recently.
Dr. Andy Letcher delivering his talk at the Mt Haemus Day Salisbury 2012
In it, Andy expresses his opinion that: “Bardism is the performance of poetry, music and song, and it reaches its culmination in the combination of all three. The Bardic art is to combine melody, narrative, rhythym, and lyric in such a skilled and crafted way that a truth can be expressed.” He goes on to say that he differs from more liberal interpretations of bardism as creativity in any sphere, to insist that “it’s all about performance”. I see what he means, but I prefer a broader interpretation. But see what you think once you’ve heard his talk. The link to Druidcast is here.
Until now the Mt Haemus scholars have been almost exclusively male, but not by any design. We’re determined to change this, and I’m happy to say that next year’s Mt.Haemus award goes to Dr.Karen Ralls. The title of Karen’s paper is:
Dr Karen Ralls
Music and the Otherworld: Sacred Places, Sacred Sounds In it Karen will explain how Old Irish and Scottish Gaelic literature can offer us clues to the ways in which music and sound can enrich our spiritual practice. From the beautiful, enchanting music of the faery harp to the sacred singing of the choirs of angels, Celtic literature has many references to music and the Otherworld, and to the elements and the landscape. Karen will relate these references to the latest research in the fields of Consciousness studies, Neuroscience, and Anthropology to enrich our understanding of the relationship between music, consciousness, and place. Karen, a medieval historian, musicologist, and world religions scholar, obtained her PhD from the University of Edinburgh, followed by six years as Postdoctoral Fellow and Sr Lecturer (Univ. of Edinburgh) and Deputy Curator of the Rosslyn Chapel Museum art exhibition. Based in Oxford (UK), she is a musician (flute, wire-strung Celtic harp, tin whistle) whose published work includes the seminal Celtic academic study, Music and the Celtic Otherworld, The Templars and the Grail and The Quest for the Celtic Key.