Last weekend Stephanie and I visited the OBOD Imbolc camp and took part in a special ceremony that marked the completion of a 19 year cycle, and the birthing of a new chapter in the story of druid camps.
In 1993 I met Ronald Hutton for the first time at a planning meeting for a conference to be hosted by the Secular Order of Druids. We were in the evocative setting of Avebury and I can remember the moment when Ronald told me of a phenomenon he’d discovered: camps focused around a theme such as astrology or dance. “Are they any good?” I asked him. “They are so good I would swim through a river of sewage to get to one!” came Ronald’s reply.
The seed was planted, and the following year we held our first camp in the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire. A dragon made of withies and paper, operated by three or four people, blessed our opening ceremony and spat a bag of stage ‘thunder-flash’ powder into the central fire. The magic had begun! Over the years we’ve held dozens of camps, four a year since 1996, and it’s changed many peoples’ lives, including a whole generation of children, including our own, whose lives have been enriched by the love and creativity they’ve experienced on them. You can see photographs and accounts of them here.
OBOD and Druidry work with the dynamics of radiance, fertility, giving and seeding, and once our camps, after the first few years, had taken root, they began to inspire others to start Druid camps: the British Druid Order, then the Druid Network and Rainbow 2000 held weekend camps in the summer. Then some OBOD groves started their own camps. Then OBOD groups in the Netherlands, Germany, and New Zealand. Variations on the theme (using hostels or gites rather than tents) developed in France, Belgium, and Australia.
All of these other gatherings were autonomous – in other words organized by groups of members who took full responsibility for their camps. They were open to OBOD members and friends, but they were not organized by the Order.
After 19 years (which represents a Metonic cycle, which symbolizes completion and wholeness to Druids) it feels as if the original UK camps group should join the ranks of all the other groups to become completely autonomous.
Now there is not just one camp group that reaches OBOD members but many. Rather than having a situation where there seems to be only one ‘official’ group run by the Order, and others that are somehow different, we have created a situation whereby all camps are ‘unofficial’! Any member or group of members can create a gathering or camp for Order members, just as any member can establish a Seed Group. If it works it will work, and if it doesn’t it won’t. The camps in Britain have built up such a body of experience, such a team of dedicated people who work incredibly hard to create magical events, I am sure they will go from strength to strength. The less ‘officialdom’ we can have the better. As an organization we don’t want to build an empire, or hold on to structures for longer than is necessary to ensure strong foundations.
To mark this moment we held a ceremony on Sunday. About 40 of us were standing in the sacred circle in a great yurt at Wildways in Shropshire (where the Imbolc camps have been held for many years). After the opening ritual, Stephanie and I stepped forward and spoke of the story of camps, of the way in which Imbolc is a time of seeding, and how camps have seeded their joy around the world. We honoured the history of camps and all the people who have nurtured it. We acknowledged and honoured the land on which camps were born and have grown: Adam’s farm in the Vale of the White Horse, the field beside Dragon Hill at the foot of the Horse, the woodland sanctuary of Wildways for Imbolc. We honoured the spirits of the land, the camp and the Order who have nurtured us. We acknowledged and gave thanks for the gift the camps have given to our children. We honoured and thanked the elders, trustees, site crew, focalizers, visiting speakers and volunteers of every kind who have created and held camps over the years.
And then I asked Garth to step forward. Garth, who has reached the age of 80 this year, has been in charge of the Gate of camps for many years. This is a job that requires the ability to spend most of the time isolated from the rest of camp, waiting to receive visitors, welcoming new arrivals, offering them tea and biscuits to help them ‘ground’ and fully ‘arrive’, and collecting their fees. Garth has done this with incredible dedication for so long I’ve forgotten how long! And since the Gate represents the doorway into the magic of camps I figured he was the right person to give the symbol of the gift of freedom, which had arrived synchronistically a few days before, just as I had been asking for inspiration on what symbolic gesture I could make in the forthcoming ceremony. I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t know how I could enact something ritually, and then a package arrived from Sofia in Bulgaria for my birthday. The gift was an ornate key, and I sensed at once that this would be the perfect gift for another kind of birthday – a gift from the city named after the Goddess of Wisdom to symbolize maturity, adulthood, the Freedom of the City, or in this case the Field! Here is Garth with the key: