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" If the world is a tree,

we are the blossoms "

Novalis

An Interview for Dragora Druida

Vanessa Haines Photography ©2016

Question 1: Do you, in relative terms, think that there has been a shift towards Paganism over the past years, as it appears that more and more people are turning to the Pagan Community for whatever their reasons?

I don’t really know – I haven’t come across any ‘hard facts’ about this, although my sense is that this is so. But there is hard evidence of a big shift from the established religions to the category known as SBNR – Spiritual But Not Religious. About a fifth of people in the UK now fit into this category, according to Prof Michael King from University College London. In the USA, In a 2012 survey, 7 percent of all Americans, a bigger group than the atheists, and way bigger than Jews, Muslims or Episcopalians identified as SBNR. And this is good, I feel. We don’t need to get too identified with labels, so I think broader, vaguer terms like ‘spiritual’ or ‘nature-based spirituality’ are sufficient.

Question 2:  You have been a Druid for many years now, and still as passionate about bringing Druidry to as many people as possible. What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated is seeing the effect Druidry has on peoples’ lives. I get to read the reviews that students who are taking the OBOD course send in at the end of all their studies – through the Bardic, Ovate and Druid grades – and I am constantly amazed at the stories I read of transformation, healing, and inspiration.

I think a spiritual path needs to offer at least six very practical, tangible benefits: it needs to help us find equanimity, calm, in a world that is often stressful and challenging to say the least; it needs to give us hope, to inspire us, so that however much despair we might fall into with our own failings or the failings we see in the world and people around us, we can still find joy and feel that life is worth living; it needs to offer us a sense of community, so that we don’t feel isolated and alone. We are social, even tribal animals, but modern society has tended to foster alienation, so that loneliness is now a huge problem. A spiritual path brings people together, fosters celebration, relationship and community, and in doing so enhances people’s physical and mental health, as studies have shown. It needs to give us a way of finding meaning in life, too. That doesn’t mean that everything has to be explained in a fundamentalist, dogmatic way, but a spiritual path needs to offer a way of looking at the world that renders our lives meaningful rather than meaningless. This meaning can be conveyed rationally through philosophical, ethical and theological ideas, but it also needs to be conveyed ‘transrationally’ through story, myth and ritual.

In addition to these 4 functions of a spirituality – providing ways of finding equanimity, hope, community and meaning – I think to be truly fulfilling a path also needs to help us find ourselves and lose ourselves. By that, I mean it should help us feel more whole, more ‘the person I really am deep down’ – so more authentic, more true to ‘thine own self’, more self-aware. But – and this is crucial, otherwise we fall into the trap of narcissism, focusing only on our own development – it needs to help us forget ourselves – to get off our story line, having fully owned it – and be concerned about the rest of the world and other people. That is why ‘service’ or ‘charity’, or in Eastern terms ‘seva’, is a vital component of a spiritual path.

I’m sure one could tease out what is needed of a spirituality even more, but perhaps here I should end with just one last function I think it needs to offer: a means of engendering altered states of consciousness, mystical states or experiences of transcendence or Oneness, whether that is through ritual, meditation, singing or chanting, going on pilgrimage, reading sacred texts – whatever it is, the path needs to offer ways that help us step out of our everyday awareness to enter states of communion, bliss, or simply deep calm and a sense of peace.

Have there been times when you have worried that Druidry as we know it, has /is going in the direction you envisaged it? 

No, not really!

Question 3: Do you think that Druidism should become part of the main stream spiritualities and if so why?

I don’t think we need to worry about being ‘accepted’ or ‘mainstream’. Those categories are changing all the time, and slowly what was once considered ‘nuts’ by the mainstream is becoming accepted. Meditation was considered quite odd until it was popularized in the West by people like the Maharishi in the 1960s and now it’s totally mainstream – with Mindfulness being recommended by the NHS, for example.

But really the whole question of whether something is ‘mainstream’ is perhaps a red herring. Much of what is considered ‘normal’ is completely aberrant and toxic, while much that might be considered ‘weird’ is life-affirming – think of the food industry, the farming industry, the military-industrial complex, ‘Big Pharma’, the list of what in the ‘mainstream’ is harmful is endless. So I don’t worry about being considered weird or eccentric – I am proud of the long tradition that Druidry has of colourful eccentric characters who have challenged the status quo, such as the Druid William Price who broke the law in the 19th century to cremate his son, and whose right was upheld in court thus making cremation legal in Britain.

Question 4:  Do you think that enough is being done regarding Fracking, as in raising ever more awareness of what it would do to the land sea and sky  if it happened here in the UK, considering what has happened in places where they have and are fracking in other parts of the world?

There’s a fantastic group – The Warrior’s Call – driven by a core group of Pagans and Druids – which does a great job in that respect. Have a look at their site if you don’t know about them.

In addition to that, many Druids have been working to oppose fracking in their own ways up and down the country. So yes, I think enough is being done. I am optimistic (but not I hope complacent – we still have to be vigilant) that fracking will not happen in the UK, not least because the economics behind it don’t stack up.

Question 5: What are your views, if any at the moment, regarding the proposed Stonehenge Tunnel, especially taking into consideration the recent archaeological finds, such as Blick Mead and Marden Henge?  Do you think that a tunnel is necessary, either the  long bore or short bore, when any disturbance could potentially ruin any further archaeological artefacts not yet discovered.  What, if anything, would be your solution?

I like the idea of the southern by-pass route, which I understand is now being considered, which would involve no tunnel at all and would divert the A303 well away from the Stones. I think the more we can see and experience the whole area as a sacred landscape with the minimum of interference the better.

Question 6:  What would your advice be to anyone that felt they were called to walk a Druid path, and could they walk it along side another spirituality if they had one, eg, Druidism with Catholicism/CofE  etc etc?

If you feel called to walk the Druid path that’s wonderful! You can always walk a little way and then change direction if you want. With Druidry you can follow the path alone, making your way with the guidance and inspiration of books, the internet and the Spirit of Druidry speaking to you through the world of Nature and through Awen, or you can follow one of the distance-learning programmes in Druidry that now exist – there are at least three as far as I know: OBOD, BDO, and NOD. If you don’t want to follow it alone, there is a wonderful community out there, with online forums and gatherings. OBOD alone has over 150 groups that meet regularly around the world.

As regards walking alongside another path, Druidry is really miscible – it works very well with Wicca, Christianity, Buddhism and so on. I wrote a short blog post about this question – I’ll give the link here: https://www.philipcarr-gomm.com/essays/follow-just-one-spiritual-path/
And we have a whole section on the OBOD site about combining Druidry with other paths.

Question 7:  You are obviously a very well educated man, a quiet man, going about his business in a manner that is confident, yet subtle, you are very well respected in the Pagan Community and your views/opinions are valued.  According to some of our members, you and OBOD are the respectable face of Druidry, saying that you are a person that is always willing to listen to reason and discussion, without dismissing  people and  ideas out of hand.  Our members see you as a humble man, is this the way you see yourself?

Thank you for saying those things, even though you finish with a trick question! If I say “Yes, I see myself as humble,” that doesn’t sound very humble! For me it’s not so much about being humble or not, but about taking a position which values the principle of Uncertainty. We all want so much to be certain about things, but every judgement we make is based upon partial information, and so it seems crazy to me to be insistent that one must be right. I’m always open to changing my mind, revising my opinions or beliefs if new information arrives. Openness brings humility perhaps, because the opposite of humility is a kind of arrogant pride, and there is often an awful arrogance amongst those who refuse to change their minds, who are convinced they are right, that they know the Truth!

Question 8:  Where you think, Druidry/Paganism  will be in the next 5 years in as much as, do you think the modern Pagan Community will continue to grow and will the general public be more understanding of these spiritualities  than they are now?

I think an acceptance will slowly grow, and even today there is much more than there was a few years back. I’ve just come from an exhibition that OBOD loaned some artefacts to, on Wicca and Modern Paganism at Preston Manor in Brighton, and there it was in the middle of a very mainstream museum. I think we’ll see more and more of this kind of thing.

Question 9:  It is interesting that  you don’t use any “official” title when referring to yourself regarding Druidry, why is that?

Well, my official title of ‘Chief’ or ‘Chosen Chief’ can feel alienating I think. Some people tell me they like it, they like its tribal resonances. But in psychology you talk about the Top Dog and Underdog positions that people can adopt and a title like that suggests a Top Dog position which can immediately push people’s buttons into either feeling an Underdog or in feeling reactive and wanting to fight to be Top Dog.

The problem is, though, that any group needs a leader – someone who takes responsibility for steering the ship, however light a touch they have on the tiller, and what do you call them? I try to simply not mention my title when I don’t need to, or say something like ‘I help to lead the Order’ or ‘I lead the Order’. Sometimes ‘Head’ of the Order sounds less over-bearing than ‘Chief’.

Question 10:  What are your views regarding the reburying of the bones at Stonehenge?

I don’t have strong feelings about this issue. Perhaps it is because I am a Naturist and wrote A Brief History of Nakedness, the whole business of feeling private or coy about the body in whatever state it is – naked or simply in skeletal form, doesn’t mean much to me. I accept that other people feel shy, ashamed, or embarrassed about being seen, or simply feel privacy around being seen is important to them, but because I don’t have such feelings it is hard for me to get exercised about this issue. At another level, I believe our core identity is the soul, and that when we die our physical remains are the equivalent of an old overcoat that we have sloughed off, so when people are looking at bones, they are just looking at the husk, part of the clothing that has been left behind, and they are not therefore violating the identity of that person.

Question 11:  What do you do to relax when you get a rare day off?
I like to swim and enjoy the garden and I love hiking in the country. I’m off to Cornwall in a few weeks to spend four days hiking.

Philip Carr-Gomm
April 2016