The OBOD Retreat at Cae Mabon Snowdonia May 2014. Howard is in the centre of the picture by the cello case.
A splendid piece from Howard Campbell which he read out to the assembled company on the OBOD Cae Mabon retreat in May:
Aristotle – Howardean Ethics of the Mean after Nicomachus
with thanks to Cormac McArt
choose to do that which brings you towards the virtue of your being
do not seek what you cannot know
do not dwell in what cannot change
if your nature be as rock
move down – go deep
if your nature be as fire
move up – flame with sparks
if your nature be as water
move around – meander
if your nature be as air
expand fill every corner – unseen
stir your cauldron full with
learn the difficult craft of choice
make your way of being a work of art
not too much nor too little of any one tint
a finished work of art needs nothing
taken away nor added
search for the excellence of your being
so easy to have feelings
given out too much or too little
so difficult to find the centre of a circle
so difficult to change a habit to virtue
to sraighten a bent willow wand
curve beyond the mean
anyone can be angry – this is easy – so difficult
with the right person
to the right extent
at the right time
with the right motive
in the right way
this is not easy
choose to do what brings you towards the virtue of your being
do not seek what you cannot know
do not dwell on what cannot change
seek to be not too little nor too much
climb the steep path
stoop to the wind
navigate the mists towards
the virtue of your being
Notes – Nichomachus was Aristotle’s son. He edited his father’s notes which may have been lecture notes as they were repetitious and confusing. I have taken the liberty of condensing about 100 pages into the above piece hence Howardean. Brendan Myers led me to virtue ethics – the best way we can be – and on to Cormac McAairt 3rd century King of Tara who had an Aristotlean view of virtue ethics in his instructions to his son, Cairbre.
I have added two elements as Aristotle only referred to two. I have also added a few poetic twists.
Here is the text of a talk I gave at the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of our Order – first at the Dryade International Camp in the Netherlands, and then a short while later in the marquee in the Glastonbury Abbey Grounds
We are Reclaimers of Stories
A view of the eating area at the Dryade International camp 2014
One of the reasons we are drawn to Druidry is because we are aware of its love of story, which lies at the heart of the Bardic tradition. We know stories are important: they are healing and inspiring – they deepen our sense of who we are in the world.
Imagine the petals of a flower that overlap around its centre. And at this centre lies our personal story – who we are – our individual journey. But that story is embedded in or linked to another story – that of our family as it exists today, and then our ancestral story that travels way back into the past. It is also embedded or linked in some ways to the story of our country, or perhaps of our ethnic origin. And all these are embedded in a wider story still – that of all humanity and of the planet we live on: the World Story.
Being unaware of a story, or disliking some of the stories we’re involved in, creates tension and suffering, but sometimes this dislike is unavoidable. How many of us like every single aspect of our ancestral or family story for example? How many of us like how the story of our current civilization is unfolding? But to put our heads in the sand is not an option if we are treading this path, which is the way of the Bard, the Reclaimer of Story, the person who can sing praises or scold with satire.
But to cast stories as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is too simplistic, and the Bard knows that the sounds of mirth and sorrow go hand in hand through much of our tales. The psychotherapist knows that reclaiming, redeeming, stories can provide the keys to healing. The Bard knows this as well – knows that stories can not only enlighten and entertain, but can also act like a healing balm.
In addition to our personal story, our family story, our ancestral story, our country’s story, and the world story, we are a part of other peoples’ stories – the stories of our friends, and the story of any group we may be in, or affiliation we may have: our religion, or school, or employer, those groups we have joined. Our role in these stories may be minor or they may be major, but the difference between them and the other kinds of story is that we have a choice over whether we wish to be a part of them. When it comes to those other stories we don’t have a choice – in this incarnation we’re stuck with them. But with these stories we can choose whether or not they become a part of our life.
Together, the given and the chosen stories combine, intersect and interlace like Celtic knotwork or the weave of a tapestry, to make the story of our lives in all their richness and depth.
One of the threads in the tapestry of all our lives is the story of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids. Now this may represent a big strand in our life, or a minor one. But either way each of us here is involved in it, otherwise we wouldn’t be here!
The marquee at the OBOD 50th celebrations with poet Liv Torc in the Eisteddfod
So let me take this opportunity of the 50th Anniversary of the Order to talk a little about the story of the Order, and in particular, the context, the environment in which that story has arisen, to bring more colour to it, to make it more alive.
The Story of the Order
People talk about the 1960s being a seminal time – a time in which – certainly in Europe and America – some of the weight of the suffering of the Second World War and the weight of outdated tradition fell away, and a new impulse came into the world. The Civil Rights Movement took off in the United States; the Feminist movement and Gay Rights took to the stage. The gurus arrived from the East, Flower Power sprang up borne on the winds of the Peace movement, and in the heady atmosphere of parts of San Francisco, Amsterdam and London, change was in the air. And so it is perhaps not surprising that the story of our Order begins at that time – in the London of the mid 1960s.
It was then that our founder, Ross Nichols, along with other members of the Ancient Druid Order, broke away to form their own group which they called The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids. This process of breaking away, of hiving off, which is such a common phenomenon in any grouping of individuals, is often described as schismatic, and is seen as something negative. But when we look at the history of virtually every movement, whether it is religious, political or social, we see this process at work, and it is so ubiquitous our conclusion must be that it is a natural phenomenon, like the process of cell division, the very process of life itself and of fertility. Nature wants diversity. Monoculture is unnatural, and it seems we can only enforce it on people with a police state, and on agriculture through its equivalent in Monsanto-style regulation and enforcement.
When separations or hiving off occurs we don’t have to make one group right or wrong – it is natural that people should have different approaches and should want to form different configurations, and this is what happened fifty years ago. A new chapter in the story of Druidry began.
In 1964, after a great deal of heart-searching, and after ten years of being in the Ancient Druid Order, Nuinn broke away from that group to found OBOD, and in doing so he sowed the seeds which have resulted in what we see in the order today – half a century later.
I first met Nuinn in 1963, and seven years later, in 1970, when I was initiated at a Beltane ceremony on Glastonbury Tor, there were only about a dozen members in the Order – and most of them seemed very elderly to me. But as we stood in the circle, just below the summit, the Third Ear Band played for us – wearing blue Bardic tabards supplied by Nuinn. The year before, they had issued their album Alchemy, which included tracks with titles like ‘Druid One’ and ‘Stone Circle’ – with later albums being called The Elements, and Magus.
1970 was also the year John Michell had published his book ‘A View Over Atlantis’- which became a cult best-seller and introduced a generation to the idea of the British mysteries. Although Nuinn was in many ways an old fashioned man, preoccupied with heritage and the past, he could sense the new tides being borne into humanity – re-articulating the age-old esoteric tradition in new ways – and so he made contact with the Third Ear Band, and with John Michell.
And as I stood there on the Tor, my 18 year old self bemused by being in a ritual with the unlikely combination of an avant-garde hippy band with these people who seemed genuinely ancient druids to me – and who kept forgetting their places in the ceremony – I was also inspired by a vision of how it could be: of how there could be hundreds of people standing on the Tor. Of how it is in fact now, when we climb the Tor to perform our ceremony each year in June. This afternoon there will be hundreds of us there.
Since that time, the Order has grown from a handful of members who lived mostly in London, to become a truly international group with over 17,000 members in 69 countries. Today in this marquee there are members from 19 countries present. They say ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’ and that has certainly been true in the Order’s case. But how has the mighty oak, or more accurately the forest, which is now OBOD, grown from the handful of seeds cast on the ground by Nuinn half a century ago?
Perhaps the most significant of the seeds that Nuinn sowed were – first and foremost – the founding of the Order itself: the establishment of a mystery school with the three levels or grades of training of Bard, Ovate & Druid. But he was also responsible for the introduction of the observance of the Eightfold Year into modern Druidry, as his friend Gerald Gardner was responsible for its introduction into Wicca. And in addition, he introduced an emphasis on the Bardic Arts, and an appreciation of the value of Celtic myth and treelore, which had been surprisingly absent within Druidry until his time.
To grow, seeds require the right soil and conditions, and the 60s provided fertile ground for planting – it was a time when radical ideas could be aired, when an interest in magic and mysticism could surface again after the decades of the 40s and 50s, which had been focussed on war and then reconstruction.
Nuinn sowed and then nurtured these seeds for just 11 years, until he died in 1975. There were even fewer members by then, almost all of them were elderly, and after his death, there just wasn’t sufficient impetus for the Order to keep going. It was closed in the apparent world, and lay fallow for thirteen years. And it did this as we started to move into a different era.
The mid-seventies and 80s were the Nixon, Reagan, Thatcher years. It was the time of the splurge generation, rampant consumerism, of hostile takeovers – the era of laissez-faire economics and neo-liberalism. The turn towards the soul of the 60s had morphed into the hedonism, narcissism and materialism of the Me, Me, Me Generation of the 1980s. It wasn’t a conducive atmosphere for the pursuit of the spiritual quest – particularly a quest not so much concerned with personal salvation, but more with developing a reverence for the Earth.
This feeling of a need to revere the Earth was stimulated to a great extent by the increasing awareness of the threats faced by our planet. Some people had awoken to the environmental crisis in the 60s of course – 1962 was the year of Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’. More had awoken in the 70s – the Club of Rome’s important book ‘The Limits to Growth’ had been published in 1972. But it wasn’t until the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s that large amounts of people began to realise the enormity of the threat to the Earth. By 1992 the first Earth Summit had been convened, and the giant fires in Yellowstone Park in 1998 contributed to greater awareness in the United States.
And it was in anticipation of this greater awareness in the 90s, that the Order awoke again, as if out of a winter’s sleep in 1988. The winds of change had blown once more, and there was a wave of interest in the last decade of the century, not only in the fate of the Earth, but in the fate of indigenous peoples and tribal cultures. And a wave of interest too in nature-based spirituality that avoids the dead weight of the established religions, with their centuries of dogma and rigid hierarchies. Once more there was fertile ground for the sapling trees of the Order to begin growing again.
And so it was in the second half of the Order’s fifty year period, that it experienced its tremendous expansion, and that was due to a message I received from Nuinn in Spirit in 1984. He told me to put the Order’s teachings in the form of a distance-learning course so that more people could benefit, and this very common-sense advice bore fruit. Membership was no longer limited by geography. It took four years to organise, but then when the Order was refounded in 88 it took only a year for it to have 200 members. In the second year there were 500 and so it grew. And then of course the world wide web arrived, and by the end of the millennium the Order had its own website, and membership began increasing more or less steadily ever since, just like an oak tree.
After more and more people became aware of the threats to Mother Earth during the 90s, we were catapulted in the new millennium into an even more worrying era, when the September 11 attacks occurred and the War on Terror began – a war, it turned out, that only served to increase our fears rather than create more safety. It began to feel as if the Story of Humanity was being written by a deranged script-writer, and at OBOD HQ we noticed a sharp increase in membership, as if the need for spiritual connection and refuge became ever more urgent as the world seemed to have gone mad. 2001 was also the year that the first foreign edition of the course, in Dutch, was published.
Despite the difficult chapter in Humanity’s Story that we have entered into in this new century, over these last 14 years something very interesting and positive has also been going on: a movement amongst many away from greed and exploitation and the cult of ‘Me’ to a genuine opening of care and concern towards others and the planet we live on – a collective move from ‘Me’ to ‘We’ – from ‘Ego’ to ‘Eco’.
The environmentalist Paul Hawken has written about this powerfully in his book ‘Blessed Unrest’ which tells the story of the vast amount of initiatives being undertaken by individuals and groups to change our world for the better. He tells the story of the incredible numbers of people and grass-roots groups around the world who are filled with love for humanity and for the earth – who are resisting injustice, and remaking, restoring, renewing, revitalizing their communities.
I see the Order as being one of these many thousands of movements and groupings that now exist around the world, that act as forces for positive change. What we’ve done, all of us collectively, in these last 26 years has been to take a Mystery School – a magical, spiritual group – and to make its work relevant to our modern age. We’ve managed to turn a group that started with those few people on the Tor all those years ago, into a truly international organisation. That Mother Grove planted by Nuinn fifty years ago has now spread its seeds across the Earth – and that has occurred not through the efforts of one, or even a handful of dedicated individuals, but through the contributions of thousands of people all over the world. A huge thank you and a cheer for all us who have achieved this: to Nuinn and his Pendragon Vera Chapman who founded the Order, and to all of those, all of us, who have built on these foundations and created what we see around us today. And here’s to the next fifty years!
The marquee the following morning before it was dismantled
In the following article from the Guardian, George Monbiot exposes the flawed and destructive nature of the Government’s proposed ‘Infrastructure Bill’ – a piece of legislation that we should all be very concerned about…
The infrastructure bill seeks to reclassify extinct species as non-native, and prevent them from returning…
Can any more destructive and regressive measures be crammed into one piece of legislation? Already, the infrastructure bill, which, as time goes by, has ever less to do with infrastructure, looks like one of those US monstrosities into which a random collection of demands by corporate lobbyists are shoved, in the hope that no one notices.
So far it contains (or is due to contain) the following assaults on civilisation and the natural world:
• It exempts fracking companies from the trespass laws.
• It brings in a legal requirement for the government to maximise the economic recovery of petroleum from the UK’s continental shelf. This is directly at odds with another legal requirement – to minimise the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Enough vandalism? Not at all.There’s yet another clause aimed at suppressing the natural world, which has, so far, scarcely been discussed outside parliament.
If the infrastructure bill is passed in its current state, any animal species that “is not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state” will be classified as non-native and subject to potential “eradication or control”. What this is doing in an infrastructure bill is anyone’s guess.
At first wildlife groups believed it was just poor drafting, accidentally creating the impression that attempts to re-establish species which have become extinct here – such as short-haired bumblebees or red kites – would in future be stamped out. But the most recent Lords debate scotched that hope: it became clear that this a deliberate attempt to pre-empt democratic choice, in the face of rising public enthusiasm for the return of our lost and enchanting wildlife.
As Baroness Parminter, who argued unsuccessfully for changes to the bill, pointed out, it currently creates,
‘a one-way system for biodiversity loss, as once an animal ceases to appear in the wild, it ceases to be native.’
She also made the point that it is not only extinct species which from now on will be treated as non-native, but, as the bill now stands, any species listed in schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Among those in schedule 9 are six native species that have already been re-established in Britain (the capercaillie, the common crane, the red kite, the goshawk, the white-tailed eagle and the wild boar); two that are tentatively beginning to return (the night heron and the eagle owl); and four that have been here all along (the barn owl, the corncrake, the chough and the barnacle goose). All these, it seems, are now to be classified as non-native, and potentially subject to eradication or control.
After the usual orotund time-wasting by aristocratic layabouts (“my ancestor Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, who was known as the great Sir Ewen … killed the last wolf in Scotland” etc), the minister promoting the bill, Baroness Kramer, made it clear that the drafting was no accident. All extinct species, it appears, are to be treated as non-native and potentially invasive. At no point did she mention any of the benefits their re-establishment might bring, such as restoring ecological function and bringing wonder and delight and enchantment back to this depleted land… to read the whole article click here.
On Sunday Mgr Mael, Primate of the Orthodox Celtic Church, died at the age of 91 at the Monastery of the Holy Presence in St.Dolay, Brittany. In the 37 years since founding the Church he, along with the brothers and sisters, achieved an enormous amount – creating a beautiful sanctuary run on ecological principles and a thriving community, both ordained and lay. I was lucky enough to meet him first in 2010, and here is a photograph from a visit the following year that shows him standing beside an Awen Celtic Cross symbol, for he was a Druid too. He became a loved and respected elder for me – and had known my teacher Nuinn, who died a long time ago – in 1975.
A Dolmen of Mane-Kerioned, Carnac, Brittany
His funeral was on Thursday. The following day I visited the Dolmens of Mane-Kerioned not far from the monastery. In a dolmen with a great stone carved with many symbols, the light streamed in, as if from another world – a world that ‘Petit Père’, as he was affectionately called, was now entering. I am going to paste in below a video clip of him talking – it’s in French and not of much interest I would imagine to most people – but this blog acts as a kind of personal journal and scrap book for me, and seeing and hearing him talk brings back such fond memories.
Anyone who has traced their family history – mapping out its spreading branches upon the page – will appreciate how when seeking to organise patterns of information, there is nothing quite like the structure of a tree; it enables us to make sense of a complex web of connections; it branching can help us to reveal relationships and correlations that previously we had not seen. With a tree diagram, we can visually comprehend how diverse and seemingly separate units function as an interconnected whole. At one glance we see the bigger picture.
Manuel Lima has written a fascinating 800 year history of the tree diagram entitled The Book of Trees: Visualizing Branches of Knowledge. He writes:
Our primordial, symbolic relationship with the tree can elucidate why its branched schema has provided not only an important iconographic motif for art and religion, but also an important metaphor for knowledge-classification systems. Throughout human history the tree structure has been used to explain almost every facet of life: from consanguinity ties to cardinal virtues, systems of laws to domains of science, biological association to database systems. It has been such a successful model for graphically displaying relationships because it pragmatically expresses the materialization of multiplicity (represented by its succession of boughs, branches, twigs, and leaves) out of unity (its central foundational trunk, which in turn connected to a common root, source, or origin.)
To read more about ‘how the humble tree became our most powerful visual metaphor for organising information and distilling our understanding of the world’, click here.
Talented poet Jay Ramsay has a major new collection out from Waterloo Press (Hove) entitled Monuments. Here is a particularly beautiful poem from the collection, followed by a review by the painter Angie Spencer.
for Carolyn Finlay
Huddled half-hidden out of the wind
swirling all around the stone building
in this cliff top church porch, port
we enter in…to its polished air and font
luminous stained glass and ring of candles
before we see them, only as we’re leaving again
on the curving ledge between lintel and roof;
dark-feathered discreet, almost overlapping
as close for warmth as they can: the lovers
(if we keep very still, they might not see us)
their nest beside, a castle and a crown
with its rim of white feathers like flags
naked as the day, barely out of reach…
here at the edge, still no room at the inn
where Love is eternally waiting to come in.
A MONUMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT
review by Angie Spencer
Jay Ramsay’s new collection of poetry,Monuments(published Waterloo Press in Hove) lives up to it’s name. It is a truly monumental work. Comprising poetry written over the last 12 years it is a bold and devastating statement of the plight of humanity in the face of an increasingly de-humanizing society.
Many of the poems are political, for example ‘A Suicide Bomber Reaches the Light’, ‘Iraq Diary’ (2003), ‘Occupy’, ‘Whistleblower’, and ‘Shard’…written last year for the Greenpeace women), but unlike most political commentary that we hear today, they are stripped of all of the partisan machinery of politics that we have become so weary of. They are comments fresh from the soul, the heart – forcing us again and again to see what is really happening. They break through the numbness that has become our customary defence. They are full of psychological insight (as one might expect from a psychotherapist of Jay’s standing) – but here it is the psychology of human race he is working towards understanding.
More personal and intimate poems also find their way into this beautifully crafted collection (includingAnamnesis – the remembering of soul(2005-6), written monthly during his residency at St James’ Church, Piccadilly during that period). These are reflective meditations that can be returned to again and again like a quiet chapel .
Jay begins the collection with an elegy for Ted Hughes (with whom he had correspondence before Hughes’ death, at 69, in 1998). Full of grief at losing a mentor and (possibly) a poetic father figure, this somehow prepare us for the breadth and poetic stature of the rest of the collection.
Jay says ‘The book is about memory and what we need to remember. It is also an invitation to poets to face what is actually happening in the world and not just hide in personal expression, ‘language’, and narcissism. We are living in the Great Transparency, and poets are the truth-tellers of our time’.
Jay and Kevan Manwaring are hosting a special celebration of Gloucestershire Writers 1914-2014 in ‘The Golden Room’ at the Stroud Subscription Rooms, Stroud on July 26th.
Monumentsis available from The Stroud Bookshop and fromWaterloo Press at £12, or £4.92 on Kindle (Amazon).
John Michael Greer and I, with contributions from anthropologist Jonathan Woolley, Warrior’s Call activist Tim, and environmentalist Hilde Liesens, talk about the speculative bubble of fracking and assorted topics, in a temple in a Glastonbury Bed and Breakfast. Plus a Lughnasadh story from Cerri Lee and music from Led Zeppelin. What more could you want?! https://soundcloud.com/damhthebard/druidcast-a-druid-podcast-episode-88