The Life & Legacy of a Druid Chief
Author: Philip Carr-Gomm, with the Selected Poetry, Letters, Travel Diaries, Watercolours and Drawings of Ross Nichols, Foreword by Christina Oakley Harrington
Publisher: Oak Tree Press
Publication date: March 2010
Ross Nichols was one of the key figures in the revival of interest in Druidry and Celtic Spirituality in modern times. The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, which he founded, is now the largest Druid group in the world.
Journeys of the Soul vividly describes Nichols’ journey through life in the first complete biography of this enigmatic and influential Druid Chief, allowing us an intimate and controversial glimpse into the life and mind of one of the founding figures of the modern Pagan movement.
Photographs, sketches and reproductions of his watercolours are included with the letters and diary excerpts of Nichols’ own journeys, continuing the theme of the book with stories of travel in evocative places: by the pyramids in Egypt, in the mountains of Bulgaria, in the ‘House of Mysteries’ at Pompeii.
In these travel journals, Nichols weaves impressions of the countryside and the people with historical and archaeological information, psychic impressions, anecdotes, jokes and poetry. As we follow a historian and spiritual teacher on his journeys, we too are taken on journeys of the soul.
‘A splendid book – erudite and comprehensive.’ Olivia Durdin-Robertson, The Fellowship of Isis.
Illustrated 220pp hardback published by The Oak Tree Press and signed by the author
Excerpts from the book:
‘Ross, like those of his contemporaries who dared to challenge authority, embraced ideals – and acted upon them – which have created the cornerstones of contemporary Alternative Culture. And now – to a great extent because of the mess that ‘conventional wisdom’ has created for us – the challenge for those of us who also embrace these ideals is to build upon the work of our spiritual and political ancestors, such as Ross, so that one day these ideals are no longer seen as ‘alternative’ and therefore marginalised. Excitingly, the process has already begun…
Ross was a teacher concerned with the process of education – not a guru trying to change the world. He offered culture rather than charisma, and although charisma may be superficially more appealing, in the end it is the culture in a person that endures. It is the gifts of their culture that become their contribution to the world that outlasts their mortal lives.The legacy that some people leave to the world is obvious, and often their contribution is recognised before they die. But others – such as Ross – contribute in a way that is more hidden. It is as if they plant seeds during their lifetime that only flower when they have long left this earth…’
‘Ross Nichols was one of the founders of the modern pagan revival, and deserving of this overdue biography.
Part of Ross’ childhood was spent in Cornwall, a place so elemental I wonder if this contributed to the druid spirit that emerged in adulthood. His days at Cambridge, in the early 20s, set in the aftermath of the world-changing Great War and the Russian Revolution steered Ross towards a life-long path of Socialism and Pacifism, and dedicated to education. His time at Cambridge coincided with that fascinating fulcrum in which many intellectual giants came together in those hallowed halls of learning, and who had a profound effect on modern thinking. The main star in this galaxy as far as influencing Ross was Sir James Frazer. In his book The Cosmic Shape, Ross talks of “The rich mine systematically opened up by Frazer.”
His socio-political views chimed (then) with John Hargrave, a major, but often forgotten figure in histories of the modern pagan revival, but restored to his proper place here. Hargrave was a follower of Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft movement, and went on to form The Social Credit Party and the Kibbo Kift Movement. Ross was in tune with the aims, “Because they articulated the ideas that were dear to him; new forms of education, pacifism, social justice, a belief in the spiritual nature of life and the necessity for both a return to a more harmonious relationship with Mother Earth and for a revival of interest in mythology and ritual.” Ross and Hargrave worked together on The Occult Observer published by the Atlantis Bookshop from 1949.
Journeys of the Soul follows Ross Nichols’ path through the depression, WW2, (he was a Conscientious Objector) his life as a naturist, an artist, and poet. Ross’ acquaintance with Gerald Gardner led in a substantial way to the subsequent development of modern pagan Wicca and Druidry via Woodcraft. Apart from the general back to nature philosophies, these ideas included books of spells, pentagrams, celebrating the older gods of Europe, working with the four elements, and so on, and other fertile seams.
Of interest to Fellowship of Isis members, we learn that Ross was ordained into The Ancient Celtic Church, and was consecrated ‘Archdeacon of the Isles’ [Isles of Britain] by Archbishop Tugdual’. This Archbishop celebrated a Celtic Mass, which was translated into English by the Surrealist painter, and member of both the Fellowship of Isis and Kenneth Grant’s New Isis Lodge, Ithell Colquhoun. Ross celebrated this mass in the old chapel at Huntington Castle with Olivia and Derry. Olivia and Ross were close friends, and the book contains the famous photo of Olivia and Ross in the Castle grounds.
The book contains Ross’ art, some in colour; some fine figure drawings, his poetry and travel journals. I can’t do this biography justice here, but do highly recommend it. It is a beautifully presented book looking at the wonderful life of a gentle, principled man who helped to quietly steer the changing spirituality of the modern world.’ Caroline Wise, Mirror of Isis
‘If this were merely a further selection of Nuinn’s writings, it would still be a welcome addition to one’s bookcase. It is this and a great deal more.
Before founding the Order in 1964, Ross Nichols regarded himself primarily as a poet. He established a respectable reputation in Bohemia and Fleet Street. His verse and prose appeared in a wide range of literary journals, magazines and newspapers. Parts Two and Three of the book – Letters, Poetry and Travel Diaries written in a fluent and approachable style – reveal a modest, caring man of great erudition, strong principles and a keen interest in all he saw: they are a rich repository of insights the value of which cannot receive full justice in this short review.
Part One of the book (roughly one third) is devoted to the fullest account, to date, of Nuinn’s life, as comprehensive as research and invaluable first-hand acquaintance can make it. This undramatic life, so seemingly short on incident to the professional biographer, gives an invaluable insight into the roots of druidry as we know it today and, in particular, of the Order.
The book is illustrated with photographs (of which the Spielplatz selection is of particular interest), facsimiles of manuscript pages and publications and – for those of us who like to look at the pictures first – a sprinkling of Nuinn’s drawings and watercolours which reveals a versatile and talented artist who worked at his drawing, had a quirky way with a cartoon and a visionary’s eye for landscape.
This insightful and lovingly presented glimpse into the life of a private, far-sighted and inspiring man is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the development of modern spirituality and indeed, twentieth century ideology.’ Arthur Billington, Touchstone