The Order's Winter Solstice Assembly in Glastonbury
What is an Order gathering like? Read a first-hand account by Richard from West Wales
Does the thought of attending a druid gathering fill you with trepidation? Here below are the adventures of one first-timer... Glastonbury - Alban Arthan - 2004.
I walked up and down the high street looking into the faces of the people I passed. Are you a Druid? Or are you? Or you?.... 'What does a druid look like?' My first time at an OBOD gathering and, having only started the Bardic grade a couple of months earlier, I had to admit to some slight nerves. Anyway I hijacked a group of people as they went into the town hall as I'd offered to help set up. After a bit of chair arranging, Damh (I'd seen his pic on the web site) said, 'I've not given you the official druid welcome yet', and gave me a big hug. I thought 'Yes, I'm in the right place, going in the right direction, this is going to be good'. I just didn't know how good!
Saturday morning came and I was early: it gave me a chance to watch as everybody arrived. I soon came to the conclusion that it is no use asking what does a druid look like, but rather how does a druid look? I saw happy, open faces, joyful in the greeting of friends, and strangers soon to become friends. The hall began to ring with the sound of happy voices. Then it was time for ritual. Damh asked, "How many of you have not done this before?" To my surprise and a little relief a dozen or more hands went up. From that point I felt fully engaged: any remnant of nervousness slipped away unnoticed.
This was my first experience of a ritual involving so many. I am sensitive to the energy generated in a group of people, but I have never felt anything like that before. So much energy was raised so quickly - In fact I have only once felt that level of energy before, during a two week residential Permaculture Design course. Then the energy was raised by the focus of twenty people, living and working together in such close proximity and isolation from the world that we were effectively on retreat. However, in less than an hour we in Glastonbury Town Hall had the energy 'singing' amongst us: I can still hear the cascading Awens!
The afternoon talks were good for me too as I want (need) to learn: what a gift, to be able to give an informative talk and make it fun to listen to! And two speakers on one afternoon who have that gift! Fantastic! Then on to the music and storytelling of Robin and Bina Williamson. I was starting to become almost overwhelmed: I would have travelled to attend any of the aforementioned events, and there were still more to come. Could I take it, or would I 'Bliss Out?'
Reality returned....Outside it was raining, hard and cold! But I thought, 'Never mind, let's experience the elements'. Setting off for the Chalice Well, a group of druids was coming in the opposite direction. Yes I had learnt to recognise druids: they are the ones carrying staffs and lanterns. We were early, I was told. Ah well, there was a pub close by... Here is one of my lasting memories. Without any awkwardness and minimal introductions I find myself talking like old friends with a couple of people I've just, that minute, met. Beekeeping, mead-making and sustainable living, all these ideas flowed and wove a bond which has stayed with me. I now begin to understand/feel the 'Universal Bond of Druids'...
Back out into the dark, wet evening and into the Chalice Well gardens. The ceremony started, we processed - a river of candle lanterns casting glints and gleams on the bushes as we wound our way into the darkness of the longest night; set pieces enacted for us as we passed were milestones and signposts on our journey. The top of the gardens: the wind and rain were cold, the elements bringing the message, 'This is Winter, don't you forget it!' And from that germinated, 'Yes, but after the darkness comes the light' and so it did, for after the candles had all been extinguished and the darkness had enveloped us, one by one each was rekindled, spreading the light amongst us, conjuring thoughts of the new year beginning, and welcome, warmer, longer days to come.
And so to the feast, which was indeed legendary! The music was great, the conversation congenial, the dancing enthusiastic. Amongst all this occurred a special cameo, a little baby being blessed at the end of the table where I sat, quiet and happy amongst the hubbub of joyous feasting; babies tend to be very sensitive to the feelings around them, and this one clearly felt that things were good. I was amazed by the dancing, the enthusiasm with which people went for it. When the first chord sounded you could have been killed in the rush! Everybody, obviously comfortable in each other’s company, was having a good time! So how do druids look? Wise? Some do. Friendly? Definitely. Mischievous? Without a shadow of a doubt, there's quite a lot of that about! Now I wait with anticipation for the next gathering.