Ross Nichols - The Founder

Ross Nichols was one of the key figures in the revival of interest in Celtic Spirituality and Druidry in modern times. In 1964, Nichols, a Cambridge academic and published poet, became Chief of The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, and from that time, he wrote prolifically on the subjects of Druidism and Celtic mythology.

His main work, The Book of Druidry, was published in 1990, fifteen years after his death, and over twenty years later remains in print, while The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, which he founded, is now the largest Druid organisation in the world, with many thousands of members worldwide.

BIOGRAPHY

Ross Nichols, whose Druid name was ‘Nuinn’, b.1902 – d.1975, is one of the founding figures of modern Nature-based spirituality. A graduate of history from Cambridge University at the time when Sir James Frazer, of Golden Bough fame, was teaching there, Ross devoured the work of Frazer, Freud, Jung, T.S.Eliot, Robert Graves and Jessie Weston amongst many others, to satisfy his interests in mythology, depth psychology, magic and religion. He worked in journalism, teaching and social work through the Depression, and became a committed socialist and pacifist, favouring for the rest of his life the new economic theories of C.H.Douglas, whose concept of Social Credit advocated a total reform of the monetary system to make it more equitable. Ross was also a vegetarian and naturist, joining Britain’s first naturist community, Spielplatz, near St.Albans in Hertfordshire, in the 1930s.

In 1939, at the age of 37 he became Principal of a private college in London (‘Jimmy’s - famous for tutoring Winston Churchill) where he worked during the war, staying at Spielplatz at weekends and on vacations. It was there that he probably first met Gerald Gardner.

Four books of his poetry and prose were published between 1941 and 1947, and one of his best essays appears in The Cosmic Shape, published in 1946, which deals with the power of myth and the value of seasonal celebration. The essay concludes with a Manifesto designed to stimulate the use of myth amongst poets, co-signed with the poet James Kirkup.

In 1949, Ross became assistant editor of The Occult Observer, published by Michael Houghton of the Atlantis Bookshop. Houghton published Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid in the same year. The journal ran for only a year, but in it Ross wrote about Druidism for the first time, and his friend Mir Bashir wrote a story entitled ‘The Book of Shadows’, which apparently inspired Gardner to adopt the term for Wicca.

At the age of fifty, with the help of friends amongst London’s occult intelligentsia, Ross published a sumptuous two-volume edition of Paul Christian’s History and Practice of Magic. He then helped his friend Gerald Gardner to produce his first non-fiction work on Wicca – Witchcraft Today, published in 1954. That same year, Ross joined the Ancient Druid Order that Gardner had joined about a decade previously. Ross was a member of the ADO for ten years, becoming its Chairman and lecturing on Druidism in London and once in Dublin. During this time he worked on a major book The Land of the White Bull – a Mythology for Britain. Most of this work has been lost. In 1963, in Brittany, he was ordained ‘Archdeacon of the Isles’ in the Ancient Celtic Church. The next year, Gardner and the Chief of the ADO died, and with fellow Druids, Ross formed a new group, The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids.

During the last decade of his life, Ross succeeded in radically changing the practice of modern Druidism, shifting its focus towards Celtic sources. In addition he introduced the practice of observing all eight festivals of the Pagan Year within modern Druidry, and the three grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid, based on classical accounts. In the last years of his life he wrote The Book of Druidry. He was an accomplished poet and artist, and travelled widely, feeling particularly drawn to Egypt. His legacy is yet to be fully appreciated, and the Order that he founded has grown to become the largest Druid grouping in the world.

Listen to Philip Carr-Gomm talking about Ross Nichols' life on Druidcast - the Order's Podcast - Part One here Part Two here.

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