After 50 years of the Order’s existence and 25 years of its distance learning course now is a good time for us to assess what this has brought, to celebrate it – and allow ourselves to critique it too if we wish. And then we can look forward to what the next 50 years might bring – to envision it, dream it, sow seeds of intention.
If we look around us – at the tribe, the community of people who are drawn here today – there is such diversity, and yet some common music holds us together, brings us together. Such diversity, and yet such unity! I remember being at an Eisteddfod at Glastonbury a few years ago and we had an opera singer, a Dutch member, singing arias from Bellini and Verdi; we had a duo – Marianne, also from the Netherlands playing the electric double-bass, with Jim Faupel singing and playing guitar; we had Arthur with his Druid camp blues, Damh with his pagan rock anthems, and of course many more. So diverse and yet held together by some mysterious threads of connection – by our unity!
And this was the theme of this year’s Dryade International camp too – the diversity that is held within that wider context that we call Druidry and OBOD.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself frustrated by this wider context – it often seems to me that OBOD Druidry is so wide a term, so loose both in its structure and its philosophy (if it even has one) that I don’t know what it is! And this is coming from someone who is apparently helping to lead the Order, who has more or less immersed himself in the subject for the last fifty years – I first met Nuinn in 1963 when I was 11 and he was just about to found OBOD.
Oh my god, you might be thinking, if this guy doesn’t know what OBOD Druidry is, what hope is there for me when I’ve only recently joined?
Here is what I think – take it or leave it – and in hearing this, straight away you have a key principle of OBOD: freedom and guidance in the same breath! Offers of inspiration, ideas, memories, suggestions, exercises, but all in a spirit of freedom, without dogma, without attachment (we hope)! And you know that this is how the course works –there’s plenty of guidance, ideas, exercises, there’s a structure, there is actually an underlying philosophy too, but it is all given in this spirit of freedom.
The upside of this is that diversity can flourish – OBOD is like an eco-system with a very diverse range of flora and fauna. If you have been to different events and meetings, talked to different people, you will have discovered this. Some of it you might like, some you won’t – it’s a matter partly of taste and personality, and partly of our needs at any one time. At one stage in our life we may need more extroverted and social expressions of the spiritual life, at another stage we may need more inward, contemplative expressions, for example.
And so from this we can see that in OBOD Druidry there is an underlying premise of non-judgementalism: if it’s not my cup of tea that doesn’t make it wrong.
So the call is not to confine ourselves to one doctrine, or even one path. The call is not to follow, not to limit, not to contain.
“Oh, but this is the way of madness and of drifting!” you might say, “Just being open, taking in ideas from every direction, no holding, no containment – this is the way of modern society, just drifting in a sea – taking what you will – post-modern consumerism, eclecticism…”
But this is not what I am suggesting, nor what OBOD offers. Let me say it again:
“The call is not to confine ourselves to one doctrine, or even one path. The call is not to follow, not to limit, not to contain.” And the call is also not to drift, not to be so open you cannot find your way. Instead the call is to dance and to cook.
In dancing we don’t try to avoid contradiction – the stark counterposing of frigidity with fluidity, the necessity for both withdrawal and contact, for holding tightly, for letting go with ease. We breathe in and we breathe out, our muscles contract and release, the blood flows, our lungs breathe.
This is why I think OBOD Druidry is so good – because it’s like life – it is contradictory: you can’t quite get it with your mind. It’s good that it doesn’t ‘make sense’! It says: ‘follow this sequence, do this exercise, do this ceremony’. And then just as you get all excited because finally you are getting some guidance, it says ‘well you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It’s up to you.’ And some people can’t take this… and we know that, and that is part of the skill required in teaching and in mentoring, to know when to say ‘maybe this isn’t for you’. But for others, for most of us, it really seems to work – because what it is doing is empowering us, it is treating us like adults.
A trap that spiritual teachers, spiritual systems, religions, can so easily fall into is one in which we are infantilised – little by little, and often probably with no one fully aware that it is happening. There is no conscious desire to do this, but the impulse, the deeply programmed, archetypal longing to nurture the child is so strong in us that the teacher or organisation very naturally can act out this dynamic, which on the one hand can have immensely positive effects. Who of us can say that there haven’t been times when we have needed nurturing, needed care, attention, direction? And yet, and yet… as the poet Basho says.
And so the good teacher, the good system or organization, gets out of the way at just the right time. Of course they must nurture, be a place of safety, calm and inspiration but in the end the student dancer has to dance herself…
That is my conclusion after all these years of experiencing and exploring Druidry. To say you don’t understand what Druidry is, is a marvellous thing to say! Do you understand what life is? What this relationship is? No of course not – and if you think you do, that evokes that aphorism we see sometimes in busy offices: “If you think you know what’s going on, you really don’t understand!”
So its ok –essential even – not to understand.
“Oh thank God, I thought I was an idiot – I couldn’t quite get it!”
No, no this is good if you feel this way!
This is the beginning.