May you have a blessed and happy Solstice! May we each take a moment to give thanks this weekend!
Praying It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
It’s Saturday and I am in liminal time. Last night I gave my Farewell Speech as leader of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. Tonight, Stephanie, Damh, Eimear and I – and whoever else would like to join us – enter into the inner world to perform the actual hand-over so that Eimear will become the new leader from that moment.
We had to pre-record the words for this event – because of lockdown we are all in different places. Damh the Bard has engineered a wonderful soundtrack to accompany the voices, and it will be available on mine and the OBOD Youtube and Facebook pages, and in a special edition of Druidcast, all released at 8pm BST tonight, when we will enter into the imaginal world to fully experience the ceremony. Listen to it here.
I feel as if I have shed a skin – fresh and new and sensitive, with tears close to the surface. But they are tears of joy, exuberance and just sheer amazement – best conveyed by the closing music of the wonderful album One World One Voice created back in 1990, which Steph and I listened to so many times just as the Order was beginning to grow. A BBC documentary accompanied the album, and in it so much of what has unfolded over the following thirty years has come to pass. It is wonderful music and song from all over the world and as fresh and relevant as it was three decades ago. And since it finishes with the message ‘We will meet again’ I will leave you with this sample from the albumbelow, since it reflects so well how this moment feels and what I want to convey. I’m going to have a break for 6-8 weeks or so. What bliss! As little screen time as possible! My wonderful, long-suffering and talented assistant Maria, who I have worked with for over ten years, will keep the Instagram page going and field emails and so on, and then I hope to be back with some ‘Teas with a Druid’.
For now, I hope you enjoy this music. It’s time to dance and sing! And I’ll preface this with an excerpt from my speech:
Today, far from Druidry seeming like some arcane fringe activity, our preoccupations are now centre-stage: they address the most urgent and important issue of our time: how we galvanize all of our potential – practical, creative, intellectual, and spiritual – to protect and restore the Earth.
They address directly the gaze of Greta Thunberg and her generation – our children and grand-children – to say: we are committed to our love of Nature to the fullest extent, with all of our being – all looking towards the same horizon: a world in which every human being has enough to lead a happy, healthy and fulfilling life without suffering injustice, without terrible inequalities between rich and poor, without the destruction of habitats and species, without the pollution of our skies and seas.
Together, and individually in our own unique ways, I hope and believe that we can all fulfill these two most important aspirations of the Druid path: to care for our environment and all life, and to foster wisdom and compassion within ourselves and between ourselves.
Thank you for all the support you have given me over the years. Many many blessings. And – as I’m sure we are all saying to each other right now – I hope to see you again soon!
Go to about 42.50 mins in to hear the section I’d love you to hear, or listen to the whole thing! (I’ve just remembered that Nuinn invited me to see the drummers you hear at the end at the Roundhouse in London all those years ago – how time flies!)
In Druidry we use a prayer that we often recite together when standing in a great circle at Stonehenge or on Glastonbury Tor. It’s known as the Druid’s Prayer and it was written by a Welshman Iolo Morganwg just over 200 hundred years ago. The version we use in the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids goes like this:
Grant, O God/Goddess/Gods/Great Spirit thy Protection And in protection, Strength And in strength, Understanding And in understanding, Knowledge And in knowledge, the Knowledge of Justice And in the knowledge of justice, the Love of it And in the love of it, the Love of all Existences And in the love of all existences, the Love of God/Goddess/Gods/Great Spirit (or: the Earth our Mother) and all Goodness.
When you hear it recited in a big group it turns into a shambles right at the beginning. Some say ‘Grant O God’, others Grant O Goddess, others say God & Goddess, others O Gods, others O Great Spirit. This chaos is a good thing. There is no dogma in Druidry – no mandated theological stance. We celebrate this diversity. Unanimity is soon restored in the lines that follow, and the chaos only returns at the end, when Deity is invoked once more. Some people baulk when they hear the term ‘justice’ being used in this prayer. It conjures up images of authoritarianism – of aggressive policing. But they’ve misunderstood – and nowhere can this be seen more clearly than if we look at what happened in Minneapolis a few days ago when a policeman murdered a man brazenly in the street undeterred by the knowledge he was being filmed, and that people were calling out for him to stop. Justice is what every human being requires as a fundamental right, and that is why the fury has broken out in reaction to that apalling act. Racial justice, climate justice, social justice. The modern Druid movement stands for these values and I am proud that one of our founding figures, Iolo Morganwg, wrote those lines of the Druid Prayer, and proud too to know that outside a shop he ran in Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales, was a sign saying that the sugar he sold was from plantations that employed no slaves. He also refused a legacy from his brothers, whose plantations in Jamaica used slave labour. Druids pray for the Knowledge of Justice and the love of it. They pray for peace too, and after sending peace to each of the four directions in a Druid ritual, everyone in the circle – of every colour, gender, race, and age who is gathered there – says: “May there be peace throughout the whole world.”
Join Philip Carr-Gomm and like-minded folk all over the world to explore the ways in which Druidry can help us get in touch with Nature. This week we look at how our relationship with the flow of time affects our relationship to Nature. The longer meditations mentioned are available here.
Many of you will have read and enjoyed Mark Townsend’s books. Mark, a former vicar with the Church of England, is a writer, celebrant and magician. He has spoken and performed all over the world, from Gothic Cathedrals to the African Savannah, entertaining such diverse groups as Catholic Nuns and Maasai Warriors. He was described by actor and comedian Ricky Gervais as ‘a funny, druid-like magical priest from a Tolkein novel’! Mark, a member of OBOD, blends his Christian faith with a Druid path, which has inspired some lovely books which include Jesus Through Pagan Eyes, Path of the Blue Raven, The Wizard’s Giftand The Magician’s Tale.
The Traitor’s Child is Mark’s debut novel and will be released on the 20th June. I include here some press about the book and a short trailer.
Research took Mark from the seedy streets of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, to the sun bleached medieval hill top town of Mojácar in Andalucía.
The story follows the journey of an abused Catholic orphan who, after a failed attempt to find her parents, ends up as a prostitute. It alternates between various time periods and locations, and draws upon the terrifying records of the Spanish Inquisition and the alternative history of the birth of Christianity.
Ancient heroes are made villains and vice versa and, as the narrative progresses, various threads come together to form a climax that promises to shake the very foundations of the Church.
What if the church had got their saviour completely wrong? What if he had never wanted to found a new religion? What if his closest followers were ALL traitors, except one? And what if he never actually…
“The Next Da Vinci Code!”Essie Fox
“A real page turner. Exciting and unputdownable!”Barbara Erskine
“Exhilarating and provocative, this is one hell of a religious thriller.” Peter James
“The Traitor’s Child is a haunting and heart-breaking novel of betrayaland conspiracy, in which the roots of one family’s sordid secret burrow so deep beneath the pillars of the Church, they threaten to bring it crashing down. Gripping and thought-provoking to the end.” Karen Maitland
Publication Date June 2020 – Roundfire Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing ISBN: 978-1-78904-375-4 $14.95 | £9.99 (paperback) ISBN: 978-1-78904-376-1 $7.99 | £4.99 (e-book)
Mark can be contacted for interviews via firstname.lastname@example.org
Another proud dad moment! After doing the festival circuit, both of Sophia’s films can now be watched online. Sophie’s first film The Wider Sun, focuses on themes of loss, the Otherworld, and those mythical creatures dear to druids, selkies. Her second film, Nobody’s Darling, is more lighthearted but in reality deals with equally serious themes: sexual politics and loneliness. Watch them here, and if you want to find out how the second film was made tune in tomorrow: Wednesday May 27th 8pm BST – to Instagram Live @certainlightfilms for a Q&A session with Creators Ruby Richardson & Samuel Keefe and Director Sophia Carr-Gomm, to talk through the process of making the film.
A wonderful guest post from Rob Wilson. Do check out Rob’s website and his beautiful blog.
How often do we allow ourselves to stop and listen? To fully appreciate the call of the land, and the unfettered stirring of something far beyond our self to initiate change in our lives? We take two courses of action, either we cultivate the change and push through the challenges or, more often than not, we hold to the status quo, resist the change and wait for some calamity that then initiates the change whether we like it or not. I had a very uneasy relationship with change from a child, yet as an adolescent, I realised that change was like deity in my life, all-powerful and had the potential to wreak havoc or bring wondrous opportunities; I quickly needed to develop the Bardic skill of listening, with my heart, soul, body and eyes. For if I had listened, I would have heard the call and worked through the change. This led me to explore my relationship with the land, initially on the chalk downs of Kent, my spirituality leading me to understand the world much better through Paganism. For over the last 25 years I have explored my pagan spirituality through Druidry. Yet I have explored and been tutored in many other traditions from Shamanism and Spiritualism to Christianity and Witchcraft and with a toe dipped into Buddhism and Hinduism. However, it was only in the last few years, that something was truly stirring within me, a deep change looming.
Coldrum Stones, Medway Valley
For the past 20 years, I lived on the North Downs in Kent, having a deep affinity to the gentle rolling hills of chalk and flint, and the clay of the Weald and the Neolithic Tombs of the Medway valley. Here my craft was practiced, honed, matured and shared with a community both locally and nationally. The spirit of a grove held in the branches and roots of a woodland that echo its chalk roots; the ancestors who sung a story that was of my blood as well as my land; a childhood dreaming coming to fruition. So deeply connected to topography, geology and all the spirits that dwelt there, I found my place of eternal rest when my mortal days waned upon this journey. I resisted change, yet I courted it; with hindsight, I see this now more as maturing of a path and evolution of my soul journey. Suddenly, everything was shaken to it foundations, the gods calling for me to re-evaluate this spiritual path. I felt that I no longer found a place for myself amongst the wider pagan community, the labels of my journey felt a little restrictive, in one of my blogs I speak of it feeling like ‘Your best jumper that is now too small to fit. You squeeze into it as you love it so much, just as soon as you put it on, you feel restricted and you have to take it off again to breathe’. I distilled my thoughts and experiences of my practice and journey to four main features; Wildcraft, Animism, Folk-Herbalism and Bone-Singing. A journey that draws on all the spiritual teachings and experiences I had been exposed too, in a simple yet deeply connecting way, to Land, the Ancestors and the old gods that you encounter there. Placing Nature as my muse, teacher and provocateur, finding the stories of our ancestors in land and singing them alive once more, foraging and growing plants of folklore, history, healing and inspiration. The magic is the blending of these threads into patterns that allow me to follow spirals of initiation and new experiences, connecting to nature with reverence and honour. Wildcraft is the blending of teaching in Druidry, Shamanism, Traditional Witchcraft, an Animistic path of knowing the essence or spirit of mountain, moon, sun, stream, love, hunger and fear, finding the tools to build a relationship to these essences or spirits. As a folk-herbalist, exploring the power of plants, their spirit presences and the stories of their relationship with humanity from our distance past to the modern day. As a Bone Singer honouring the ancestral stories of blood, land and heritage and singing them alive once more so that they are honoured and remembered.
This stirring still continued, for it was also a yearning for a wilder place, somewhere the elements would be truly felt. A place that fed the hunger of wilderness within my soul. Clearly, an intention was set in motion, unconsciously at first and more conscious as the months progressed, for I was given the opportunity to relocate, through work, to the Lake District in Northern England. Working with ritual and meditation to ease my journey, my partner and I strode boldly out of the gentle chalk Downland of Kent to
Old Man of Coniston
the wild mountains and tarns of the Lake District. This was the next major process of stripping my spirituality to its bare bones. Arriving at Imbolc, in early February, I tentatively walked the land greeting the sprits there, offering prayers and gifts of wild rose petals, yarrow flowers and lavender, mead and bread. This was a beautifully strange place to arrive in; suddenly the elements were more vital, where in some way, surrounded by mountains you are at the disposal of the elements in all of nature’s beauty and brutality. My humanity screamed, and I tried to recreate what I had in Kent, only for it to be dashed and crushed as quickly as the rational thought sparked in my mind. Time was for a solitary path once more, time to reconnect, to study, to explore, to dream and to write. It felt that I had come full circle on the spiral of my spiritual evolution; here I was once again at the start of a journey, yet this time with a little more experience under my belt! Spring Equinox arrived and I consciously performed a symbolic ritual of cleansing, awakening me to acknowledge this new and exciting, scary and challenging new phase of my journey. By Beltane, I visited a local stone circle to celebrate the changing season alone; I remembered it had been 25 years since I celebrated a festival on my own. As I ambled into my first summer in the Lakes, I experienced an unusually hot and dry summer, for the Lakes are well known for rain. The water to the farm upon which we live, comes from a local spring and our cottage is a converted medieval Lakeland barn of local stone. Therefore, I literally bathe and drink the water from this wild land and living with the very rock of this land and its mountains. As the summer drew on, I had to be more and more conscious of the water, solidity, and coolness of my home.
Oak Moss Grove
Continuing with my pilgrimage to the spirit of my new homeland, I found a rather wonderful place to stop and commune with, just outside the village of Coniston. A small ravine of ancient Oak woodland, gently holding a Beck (a stream of Northern lands) at its centre. I stumbled upon a small oak grove with stones, carpeted in moss, and where ferns grow from trees, a remnant of Northern-Eurasian rainforest, so I am told. I would sit here and sing to the spirits, make offerings of petals, herbs, flowers, bread and mead. After a few visits, it seemed to envelope me, curious to my presence, but welcoming none the less. I have a deep affinity with trees, studying them academically and in my work within the country park in Kent, and within my spiritual practice. I expected a great working relationship with these ancient Oaks, Birch and Alder, yet it was the water, the Beck, calling the strongest, like a siren of the sea calling me in. After a period of rainfall, it is a torrent of power, in full summer heat it is a babbling, glistening stream. I started by sitting at the edge of the water, then gently dipping my fingertips into the water to bathe my brow. I was truly enchanted by the very power of that word. However, it was clear to me that this was not enough; I needed to immerse myself in these waters! The rational mind kicked in and I started to think and plan for areas of water that would be safe and secure to bathe in. I found nowhere, and with hindsight, why would I?
One evening I had what only could be described as a prophetic dream. I arrived in the small car park of my Oak moss grove, on reaching the Beck, I stripped off my clothes and bathed in the waters, secluded and alone save for the spirits of nature that resided there. I awoke with a clear sense of what and where I need to be and it was to be the hottest day of the year. I arrived at the same car park, very early in the morning, no one else around. I purposefully headed along the track to my Oak moss covered grove, stripped of my clothes and waded into the waters. I sang my prayers to the water spirits, as I sat down in the waters. The breath retreating from my lungs, telling myself to relax and I started my meditation, awaking my physical body to the physicality of the water and my spiritual body to the spirits of the water. I then laid back into the flowing stream and the most amazing connection occurred. I felt the water was literately flowing through me and I became one with the water. I have never felt such a connectedness to the natural world as I did in that moment. The water and I co-joined as one; I looked up at the tall oak branches above as the early morning sun’s rays filtered through. I was alive, the water was alive and we flowed as one. After some time I left the Beck, sat on the bank beneath a nearby oak tree, and just allowed the sun to dry my skin. I felt completely and utterly alive, awakened and beautifully connected to this place; I entered into communion that was beyond words or gestures, but by simply being, soul naked and true. The spiritual ecstasy that I had not felt for a long time was amazing and for the rest of day I felt totally connected to the wild land of my new home and energised, a new phase of my spiritual journey had begun. This would lead to a completely new way of working with the land and her waters, being naked, simply enhanced the exploration, connectedness and honouring of my ancestors, in some way I was offering my body and vulnerability to show respect and honour to the wildness.
If I were to be asked if I was a Naturist, I would have said no! Being a Naturist for me was about sharing a human community without any clothes. How narrow minded was I, what about being naked in the non-human community? Here I found the true understanding and it enhanced that which I have been practicing for many years, forming a sacred relationship with nature, as nature intended me to be. For me water holds the memory of land. To enter into a sacred relationship with wild bodies of water in Nature, deepens and strengthens a bond with the landscape, the ancestral stories of that land and ultimately acting as a liminal place to which, leads to the otherworld. When we do this soul naked and true, there is a vulnerability, a reverence and in some way a re-birthing – in my case to a new land and the spirits that dwell there.
Woodsland Fell Sunset
This whole experience has started a journey, not only to connect more deeply and spirituality with the wilds of the Cumbrian landscape and the spirits that dwell there, but also the physical engagement of water itself. I had many a pilgrimage to explore the shrine tombs of our Neolithic ancestors, the ritual rings of stone and henges, the burial mounds and the places of transition between the Pagan religion and early Christianity. I knew the power of liminal spaces; the trilithons of Stonehenge, the meeting of shore and sea, the mountain and the tarn. However, it was a new experience for me to explore the liminal space of water. In true Celtic tradition, I gave this exploration a name, to give it birth and meaning, the Nature of Water Journey. By working with these liminal spaces, these bodies of water, within a liminal physical state of being without clothes, I have discovered through experience that these bodies of wild water are gateways to the Otherworld. Through this experience, here and now, yet inspired by the spiritual understanding of water from our spiritual heritage, folklore, dreaming and bathing within the tarns, the becks, the rivers of this wild land in the Lake District, I have started to be carried to the Otherworld via a different practice.
The Otherworld for me is a parallel space or place, to this world, but to which our mortal eyes are blind. However, there are these places upon the land, which act as liminal spaces and entrances to this realm. These I have found amongst the tarns, becks and lakes of my homeland. Exploring different bodies of water has shared different pathways to the otherworld and the spirits that dwell there. From the healing and magical to the challenging and sacrificial. Water is alive and has memory, carrying the memory of this wild land, but importantly, can also flow from the other world into this; we can conjoin with it and flow to the otherworld of dreaming. The realm of spirits, of guides and guardians, a place of wonder, magic, fear and challenges, it sings to a distant soul that once was, and now, in this reality, its awen is flowing through modern eyes and pale skin body. I found little evidence for pre-Christian water rituals other than how our ancestor engaged with water, through ritual deposits of goods of value or indeed the sacrificial victims or bones of the dead. Therefore, I set about crafting a ritual framework from the modern need to engage creatively with Nature, and the inspiration from our Ancestral perceptions of water has set me on a journey through these waters. Allowing the wild waters to sing their song through my soul, to dream of water and all that lies beyond, and to know more deeply the magic of this wild land, and the wilderness in my soul, all while I am soul naked and true.
I have finally learnt to listen when the land and waters call. Wrapped in a blanket of my spiritual expression, coloured by the past teachings and flavoured by this new wild land as my soul loosens it edges and blends with beck, tarn, mountain and hidden valleys, the bog myrtle, buzzard and rain in torrents and gentle caress upon shivering skin – in some way, the journey has just begun. ~ Rob Wilson May 2020 www.woodspirit.org.uk Readers might also like this post!
We know we need to get back in touch with Nature, but how can Druidry help? Books like ‘Losing Eden’ by Lucy Jones and ‘Wintering’ by Katherine May help, and Druidry can help too by uniting our needs for nature, with our needs for culture and spirituality. Learn more at druidry.org For longer nature meditations see The Garden of Flowing in Perpetual Happiness.
I was going to talk about the ideas contained in this essay I wrote years ago, but in the end talked about a related topic: hallowing limitation. But here’s the essay anyway:
Finding the Doors, Holding them Open, Showing them to Others, Walking Through them
‘In every human being there is a Heaven – whole and unbroken.’ Paracelsus
Roger and Joan Evans at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London developed a helpful way to relate to therapy clients. Adopting a stance which they termed ‘bifocal vision’ they suggested that you see your client both as ‘messed up’ and ‘whole’ at the same time – as if wearing bifocal glasses. Rather than being idealistic, focusing just on their ‘perfect soul’, or purely pragmatic, just focusing on their woundedness, the Psychosynthesis therapist is urged to relate to their client in the belief that they’re both whole and broken – at the same time – at different levels.
We can apply this same method of perception towards life and the world – facing the fact that it is messed up in many ways and yet seeing its beauty and sensing its perfection. This perspective avoids the traps of both denial and despair.
At the heart of all spiritual approaches lies the belief that this world that we know through our five senses is not the only reality. Instead ‘earthly life’ is seen as just one expression of Life, and there is a belief in other worlds, a heaven or heavens, or even parallel universes – an idea now being explored at the farther reaches of physics.
Many of these approaches also believe that the physical universe emerges out of this Otherworld, and in certain cosmologies this emergence is seen as cyclical so that the ‘Manifest (physical) world’ is periodically reabsorbed by the ‘Unmanifest (Other)world’.
This idea parallels the conception of the soul which ‘manifests’ in a physical body for a certain time before returning to its source. With this understanding, both the Earth and our bodies are manifestations in the dimensions of Time and Space of Beings whose source is in the Otherworld, in another dimension.
If you believe this, then adopting bifocal vision means simply that you remember to be aware of both levels, and you sense yourself as being anchored in the world of Source and Soul. The story of the source of the river Boyne, the Well of Segais, offers a graphic description of this process by reminding us to drink from the well as well as from the five streams that flow from it.
The prime function of a spirituality can be seen as this: to provide doorways, portals, gateways through which people can access the Source, the Otherworld, (or Deity in other ways of speaking about these things). People, books, organisations and places can all act as these portals between the ‘messed up’ world and the ‘parallel universe’ of the Otherworld – the Source.
Pilgrimage to sacred places, reading books that awaken our spiritual awareness, talking to, listening to, or communing with spiritual friends and teachers, following a particular path, meditating, and so on are all ways of opening to the Other – of switching our vision for a time from the bottom lens of the bifocals to the top, or to use a more evocative image: of finding the doors, holding them open, showing them to others, and walking through them.
We see this idea reflected in children’s fiction that deals with magic, since almost always the story is based upon the process of moving from the everyday world into another more magical world, as in C.S.Lewis’ Narnia stories where a wardrobe acts as a portal.
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. 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, near where we live, the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ in the Sussex landscape, also 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 to stabilise us by anchoring us in Spirit.
A huge thank you to The Druid Network for funding the planting of 32 trees in our Golden Anniversary Grove in Scotland – one tree for each of the years I have led OBOD. In a month’s time I’m handing over that role to Eimear Burke, and we’ll organize an online event to mark that, with a big celebration in Glastonbury next June!
Thanks again to the good folk of The Duid Network!