by Vivian Godfrey (Melita Denning)
On an evening that marked no special commemoration, three friends met together for the simple purpose of enjoying one another’s company. At the “toasts” stage of their shared meal, one of the three with mock solemnity declared,
The past is past:
The die is cast!
Another of the three countered this at once with,
The present is present:
It’s happy and pleasant!
The third member of the party, thus inadvertently placed in a rather tight corner, took up the theme with,
The future’s the future –
Concluding (after due pause) with
Let’s give it good nurture!
The ancient habit of grouping our ideas into trines has remained fixed in our thinking, so as to be accepted often without question. We need not challenge the trine of primary colours, red, blue and yellow. But the colours of the rainbow were also identified at one time as those three, until research on prismatic colour expanded the accepted number to seven; while Jung points out that people nowadays tend spontaneously to accept ‘four’ basic colours – red, yellow, green and blue – and that in ancient times the accepted four were red, yellow, black and white. The three phases of the moon are a venerable and enduring trine, and so are the three aspects of time – past, present and future – if we consider them existing, so to put it, simply in one plane. This does not, however, represent their appearance to many people’s minds.
The equal reality of past, present and future is not shown, for instance, by the myth of the Three Fates who give the thread of each individual life a beginning, an extension and an end: for the beginning and the end represent no part of the extension. This frequent view of things sees, in fact, only an ever-changing Present Time moving beyond an “unborn Tomorrow and dead Yesterday” (as a Celtic poet rendered the thought of an Ismaili initiate): it is the view of the sceptic, natural or conditioned. There are others, again, who see the Present as scarcely existing in time at all: as a fragile knife-edge of experience continually menaced between the ravaging Past and the ever-encroaching Future. Alphonse de Lamartine, whose association with Druidry is here revealed to us by Dr. Michel Raoult in The Druid Revival in France and Brittany, expresses this anguished attitude to Time in his exquisite poem Le Lac. There Lamartine writes, not as the philosopher but as the poet almost crushed by a tragic bereavement, of future and past as dark gulfs of eternity which seek to swallow up the precious remembered moments of his love. But in the closing lines of the poem this anguish is mitigated and transcended as he realises the oneness of his experience with the enduring life and beauty of Nature. It is surely that sense of unity with the natural world, with the cosmos even, whether it comes to us in sorrow or in joy, which is one of the great inward gifts of the Druid experience.
But there is a third view of Time, I which Past, Present and Future blend almost indistinguishably into one stream: a stream with its shadows and reflections as well as it currents, its hidden springs and drifting twigs. The visionary knows this aspect of time: the prophet, the diviner, are familiar with it almost to the confusion of their pronouncements. In the family circle of Gilbert Murray, renowned Greek scholar and translator, psychism was a happily accepted fact; and we can catch something of the feeling of “remanence” as the dowsers call it, in the lines in his rendering of Euripides’ Hyppolytus concerning the seas Goddess Dictynna –
Who in Limna here can find thee,
For the Deep’s dry floor is her easy way,
And she moves in the salt wet whirl of the spray.
The past is not dead, and the future has its voices of promise. To live in continual full consciousness of this unity of all Time would doubtless be perilous in the workaday world, but the knowledge of that unity, and the acceptance of it – many folk experience it occasionally in dreams – is a part of that enlargement of consciousness which does indeed give us, here and now, “life more abundantly”. Another, closely related part of that enlargement of consciousness is that unity and continuity of life expressed in the Song of Amergin, quoted at length for us by Philip Shallcrass in his paper on The Bardic Tradition.
These reflections have been prompted by my first reading of The Druid Renaissance in MS, for through it I have been caught into many areas of past happenings, of present work in the inner as well as outer world, and of eager looking into the future. Some topics are familiar ground to me, some are new; some names have previously been known to me and some not: but, all in all, the book brings the delight and stimulation of exploration in the company of friends.
I met Isaac Bonewits in the American Midwest, back in the seventies. He was always a “live wire” in the Pagan movement, and this presentation of his more recent work, in The Druid Revival in Modern America, is of much interest. “Paganism”, to accept a popular word of wide application, is a powerful force in the widespread root0seeking nostalgia of the Americas. Hard-and-fast ethnic or regional boundaries cannot and should not be attempted, but certain focal points can be noted. The People of the Land are rallying to the memory and reconstruction of their own Native American traditions and ceremonies; Santeria, Voudoun and allied forms of belief and ritual find their chief allegiance in the further South; but Druidry, with its strong affinity with the world of Nature, holds – as is demonstrated by Isaac Bonewits, by Erynn Rowan Laurie in The Preserving Shrine, and by Graham Harvey in Passage – the most fertile promise for those of European stock and/or tradition.
Graham Harvey’s article is, certainly, not related particularly to the American continents but to the whole human race. Is this nostalgia for a lost earth – for Eden, for Tir na nOg, for Guinee, for the Golden Age – an essential part of human nature? Even the strictest monotheists have their harvest or vintage festival, their feast of Tabernacles or other acknowledgement of participation in the wholeness of life. In the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden’. Or re-create the garden around ourselves? And within ourselves?
However, being no great believer in labels I would not align Druidry entirely with any label, and with that of Paganism I cannot. There must be many Christians who feel that they would gain much by taking literally the injunction to consider the lilies of the field, or to look upon the fields when they are white (or yellow or golden brown) to the harvest: or, with the Psalmist, to consider the heavens, the moon and the stars, and perhaps even to sleep under them. The rules for the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles enjoins that one’s hut or tent should not be completely roofed over: that there should be some aperture through which the lights of heaven can shine. Sometimes people have asked me what I consider to be the quickest and easiest way of awakening their psychic powers: my answer is, spend at least three nights under the stars. Gautama Buddha received enlightenment beneath the branches of a living tree. The prophet Muhammad said that every prophet had been a shepherd, and he knew what he was talking about.
Relating the subject of Christianity to The Druid Renaissance, hwoever, there are some thoughts that I must utter. Treated more inwardly in Frank Owen’s paper Nemeton, more outwardly in Gordon Strachan’s And Did Those Feet?, is the enduring legend of the visit of some, or all, of the founding fathers of Christianity to Britain. And it is a most enduring legend. One may ask, why? And if there is truth in it, again why is there? If these famous personages, or at least others of that ilk, came to these shores, how can we account for the matter?
Inwardly, psychologically, there is cause enough why the soul of a believer should cling to such tradition. A person does not wish a dichotomy in the great loves of his or her life: the loved land and the loved faith must in some manner be brought together. But to argue thus is only to show cause why people perpetuate a tradition. It gives no ground for either accepting or rejected the tradition itself in its plain, outer-world interpretation.
The framework of a theoretical visit by a “young Jesus” with Joseph of Arimathea is easily formulated. Phoenician traders, as a historical fact, came to south-west Britain. Joseph was a merchant, and Galilee is next door to Phoenicia; Phoenicia indeed contains the home of the tribe of Dan, which “went down to the sea in ships”. Easily, then, one pictures Joseph bringing along on one of his voyages the keen-witted, fearless lad with a taste for mystical debate. But there is more to the epic, for an epic it is. There is a presumption of the departure, after the crucifixion, of all the intimates of Jesus of Nazareth from Palestine. There is the legend that the body of the apostle James, albeit he met his death in Palestine, was brought to Compostela, in the province of Galicia, in north-western Spain. There is the very mysterious legend of the Fisher-King, which evidently belongs to the same corpus of tradition with the rest. There is the legend of the death of Mary Magdalene at Lyons, on the Rhone. And there is the story of the arrival at last of Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury, bearing those relics of blood and sweat which afterwards gave rise to the sublimated Grail mythology – for a mythology it surely is.
Not attempting here to piece these fragments together, I come back only to my original question, why should such a journey have been directed to Britain? And I will give my suggested answer before following my reasons for it through the interstices of history. The journey was made, and took the course that it did, because the personages in question were basically Celts and sought to be among Celts.
I will not be pedantic about gathered material, which is after all not very much. But t should enable those who so desire, to verify the matter without it becoming tiresome to other readers. The people of my question were from Galilee, and we can begin there. The western limits of its territory bordered Phoenicia, which was such a narrow strip of coastal land that western Galilee itself was not far distant from the Mediterranean. Always a prosperous region through trade as well as from the fertility of the land, Galilee was never very clearly defined in extent. During some considerable period it extended so far as to include the Cities of the Plain.
Customarily the Israelites of olden times referred to Galilee as “Galilee of the Nations”. This was not a compliment. The Galileans were a mixed people, probably to a considerable extent Pagans, and with a large proportion of Canaanites who were accepted peaceably by their Jewish and other neighbours. In such matters the Galileans were easy, tolerant folk; although throughout their history they had the reputation of being fiercely courageous, inured to war from childhood, and contemptuous alike of bribery and of the fear of death. Honour, and independence of spirit were all to them. Not surprisingly they were also described as changeable, habitually opposed to established authority, and prone to sedition.
These same people, however, were industrious and skilful, pursuing every kind of calling for which their fertile and beautiful land provide the materials. Arbela was renowned for its woollen cloth, Bethshean for its linen. Wine, honey, olives, nuts and a profusion of aromatics made life pleasant for the people of the land and gave them rich goods for commerce. Not only the Mediterranean but the Sea of Galilee enabled the region to provide salted fish for the whole of Judaea. At Megiddo there entered Galilee the great merchant-road which ran via Damascus into Egypt. On contrast to Judaea, at no time was this a poor land or a people burdened by toil.
Nevertheless, Judaea was not eager to appropriate Galilee, Perhaps the Galileans were too independent, their speech too noticeably different, their practice and general attitude in religious matters too irreconcilable with Judaean traditions to make any such approach comfortable. Certain it is that by the commencement of the present era the population of Galilee was even more cosmopolitan than it had been in early times, with Greeks, Arabs and Egyptians noted among the numbers. But it is not, I believe, among these later developments that we must look for an explanation of the matter that I am pursuing. It appears to go back into the early history of the region.
At this point I must explain briefly my attitude to the New Testament as we now have it. Detailed exegesis would be too tedious and too complex. Let us take the document as it stands, with its admixture of history, of myth, of faulty reporting, bias, all flaws we tolerate in other documentation every day of our lives. In spite of these there is, it seems to me, a core of consistent narrative in which one can see truth without thereby being a Christian.
My own opinion is that there really lived in Galilee, at something about the period indicated, the man whose name we have in garbled form as Jesus of Nazareth. His family claimed to be descended from David. We are not told how long they had been settled in Nazareth, but they were evidently altogether at home there. It may have been generations; it was very likely centuries. At any event, I am convinced that the reason why they were there is that Galilee was their ancestral home.
The circumstances stand thus. David was a descendant of Ruth, and Ruth was a descendant of Moab. Certainly David had other relatives, friends and allies, but he repeatedly showed a partiality fro the Moab folk; we can suppose he felt some particular affinity with them.
Ruth was indeed of the race of Abraham – they all were – but her descent was by a rather distinctive line. When, gleaning in the fields, she was noticed by the landowner Booz who subsequently married her, what caught his attention was that she was different from the other Israelite girl gleaners. Unfortunately, we are not told in what way she was different. She undoubtedly has a different accent, but this is hardly likely to have been in her features, her posture, her colouring: any or all of these. Ruth was a descendant of Abraham’s nephew Lot, thereby also of the lady reputed to have turned to a pillar of salt when the cities of the Plain were destroyed. We are not told the name or family of that lady.
As to the Cities of the Plain, it is useless to try to fathom exactly what calamity overtook them. There seems to be no evidence of earthquake or meteorite, but the earth is so rich in bitumen and sulphur that fire might have been involved. A violent whirlwind might have occurred, and there is a mountain of readily fragmented sodium minerals in the region. Certainly in ancient times cities existed – probably there were five of them, probably Canaanite cities – and then, just as certainly, they ceased to exist. Most likely there was a dearth of surviving witnesses, but there are several such unexplained cataclysms in the course of history and prehistory. The shock and dread caused in that era by the calamity can be measured by the horrendous story woven to explain it, so that good folk might live on, assured that no such fate would overtake them.
But against this background of vague nightmare, one story stands out: the story of the woman who could have survived, but that she must linger for one last look back at her home. A most probable reason presents itself. Lot was a sojourner there, but his wife was surely native to the city. Were her people Canaanites, or perhaps of the stock of those other Galileans who had possessed the region? Does the omission of her name from the story perhaps suggest that?
Lot and his wife had two daughters, neither of whose names or marriages are recorded. The family seemed at this point to have passed out of the annals of Israel. But the elder of these daughters was the mother of Moab, himself a patriarchal character who established a new blood-line in the nation, the “Moabites”, even as his younger brother’s descendents became known as the “Ammonites”. Presumably they all spoke Hebrew, as nothing is recorded to the contrary; but that it was a dialect form of the language seems sure. And Ruth, descendent of Moab, was the grandmother of Jesse, whose youngest son was David: shepherd, warrior, king, harpist, mystical poet.
We are, therefore, discussing people who were somehow distinguishable from the people of Israel as a whole, so that when we come to New Testament times this distinction is not to be considered simply as a prejudice on the part of the Jews of Jerusalem. Besides the matter of accent, there was certainly a matter of colouring; in some individuals at least. David as a boy keeping his father’s sheep was, we are told, “ruddy, with fine eyes, and good-looking”. Again, in the story of his defeat of Goliath, it is repeated, “he was just a youth, ruddy and fair of countenance”. In the Song of Solomon it is generally supposed that the figure of the Bridegroom is a portrait, perhaps a self-portrait, of Solomon, son of David: and here the Bride sings, “My beloved is white and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is like pure gold, his locks are curly, and black as a raven.” This striking combination of “white and ruddy” skin with black hair is not known, in Ireland for instance, although here the description probably indicates also a golden tan.
In the New testament we have no descriptions of anyone’s appearance, but we have a fair amount of related tradition. One of the Roman emperors, I think it was Vespasian, asked to know how Jesus of Nazareth had looked. He was given a jewel with an engraved profile, ands description which included dark reddish hair, slightly curling. That is interesting because the source of that traditional in Rome would hardly have been related to a Byzantine canon which gives rules for painting ikons to depict Mary, the mother of Jesus. She should be shown, it says, with dark red hair, a complexion the colour of ripe wheat, and olive green eyes.
Later Western artists followed their own imaginations more freely, but some traditions remained. Mary Magdalene, inevitably, is shown with glorious auburn or golden hair. The Christ figure always has reddish hair, probably following the Roman tradition already cited. The hair of Judas is always shown as positively carroty, a tradition which gave that colour a bad name for centuries and probably survives in superstition to the present day.
Looking for Celtic traces in the Gospels one curious fact stands out. The story of the lost Mabon, the young son of the Goddess whose disappearance fro three days accounts for the intercalary days of the Celtic New Year – is in different forms given twice. There is the disappearance of the twelve-year-old boy (why twelve?) at Jerusalem, when, though we are told his father and mother sought him and found him in the Temple, it is his mother only who is recorded to have spoken to him reproaching his thoughtlessness. And then there is also the greater and more significant “disappearance” following his crucifixion, when he is absents himself from the material world from Friday afternoon until Sunday sunrise.
This period of absence in the realm of death is of particular significance in Byzantine tradition and also in British tradition, in which it is known as the “harrowing of Hell”: the presence of the Lord of Light in the Underworld causing the release of the just who have been imprisoned there, an event which is represented as a symbolic and even an actual coming-forth of the dead from their tombs. The story is of great antiquity: certainly older than the Egyptian Book of the Dead which contains it, for that book is an assemblage of even more texts and traditions. The twelve hours of the Night-journey are there clearly defined. But there is absolutely no connotation of “three days”. We might suppose that this statement in the Gospels has no mythic connotation, were it not for that other story of the three days disappearance of the twelve-year-old boy. Even if we can give no clue as to how this strain of Celtic tradition got there, there it unmistakably is.
One more strand among these thoughts of mine should have its place here, tenuous though it may seem. It has sometimes been remarked, and with good cause, that of all the saint who have modelled their lives and characters upon that of Jesus of Nazareth, none has come near to the original as did Francis of Assisi. In Francis, indeed, the resemblance seemed, and I think truly was, based not so much on “imitation” as on a powerful natural affinity of temperament.
Francis was Italien certainly, but he was minimally Latin. His birthplace, Assisi, is in the region of Perugia: and that is the very region in which Celtic blood and culture are so persistent that James Joyce when he went there felt himself to be among Irish people who happened to speak Italian. Moreover, Francis even at home must have seemed more Celtic than most, for his mother called him her “little Frenchman”, hence the name by which we know him.
What particularly Celtic characteristics, then, would I say were shared by Francis of Assisi and Jesus of Nazareth? Certainly a gift of words and a flair for dramatic presentation. A closeness, too, to the earth, and a tenderness towards the small things of the natural world. A complete fearlessness, with a loyalty to inner truth which could annihilate all prudence. And with this independence of spirit, a subtle humour and intelligence which could in one act both obey authority and mock it.
To return to my beginning upon this theme: when anyone – Phoenecian or Galilean merchants, religious emissaries or refugees, anyone – arrived from Palestine, how did they communicate with the people of northern Spain, of France, of the West Country? Assuredly in Greek. Throughout the lands of the Mediterranean and the North, Greek was a familiar and well-accepted second language. This was particularly true in the Celtic culture, as witness the affinity between the Greek and the “public” Celtic alphabets. Indeed, without appealing to Herodotus, I should say for certain that in speech among themselves, the Celts adopted Greek words for particular concepts, just as easily as we speak of a “nuance” or a “hiatus”. It may be recalled how in Lorna Doone with its partly autobiographical background, the hero tells how he was laughed at at school for using the dialect word, “goyal”, for a dell: until an older boy said the word was in Homer’s Greek and meant the hollow of the hand. And I remember Vera Chapman - Peitho – telling me once of her conviction that the pisgies, or pixies, were known in former times as the Paniskoi, those merry, mischievous, goat-footed little followers of the Rustic Pan.
I first met Vera in the early forties when we were both on war work, and I knew her as a good friend with a great zest for life, the warmest of hearts, and an incredible fund of multilingual learning and wit. Subsequently we lost track of each other, to meet again – most unexpectedly for both of us – in the early sixties, brought together in the powerful magnetic current which cradled Nuinn’s founding of OBOD.
It is time now for me to turn from thoughts of the far past, to my own recollections of the early years of the OBOD: happy, creative and expansive years.
In the early sixties I was living and working in central London. I was something of a solitary, but those were great days, great nights rather, of the coffee bars: and often after an evening meal, I would go and spend hours in a few chosen spots in Soho where people from all walks of life sought mild adventure of new outlooks and good talk.
In those days a particular coffee bar, the As You Like It in Monmouth Street, was the favourite haunt of a very notable astrologer, Ernest Page. Ernest was a remarkable man in many ways, and in astrology he was deeply skilled. I still have the natal chart which he drew fro me on the occasion I shall tell of, with its annotations in his beautiful meticulous handwriting. But it is not of Earnest that I have to tell here, but of the occasion.
He asked me my place of birth, and I told him, London: adding almost as a joke, “I might as well say Greenwich Meridian, for I was born on Tower Hill.” After getting some other particulars from me, he went on with the work. No sooner was my business with Earnest completed, however, than a stocky, middle-aged man, pleasantly affable but slightly shy in manner, asked me over to another table. That was my first meeting with Philip Ross Nichols: Nuinn as he introduced himself, and as I afterwards learned to call him. I accompanied him to the other table, and there, like a huge gnarled oak which is past its prime but which still has the aura of its ancient strength, sat Robert MacGregor Reid, whom Nuinn introduced as Ariovistus.
Ariovistus opened the conversation at once. “We heard you saying that you were born on Tower Hill. That interests us, because Tower Hill is one of our scared sites, the Bry Bwyn.” I nodded: I had never associated the matter with myself but I had read that Tower Hill had been so named, and for me the speaker had his credentials. Besides, I felt immediately at home with these two. There was a kinship.
They told me they were Druids, and went on to talk of the early history and traditions, with somewhat of the revival of which I knew nothing. I was held by the complete genuineness of both of them. It impressed me as something more than sincerity, for people can be sincere in a mistaken notion. The two, I felt really were Druids: the elder with an air of having grown into the timelessness I described earlier, the realm of the seer and the prophet, and Nuinn with his aspect of more alert and present knowledge which yet only half masked thee perception of the poet, and a quiet elfin oneness with the ancient times of which he spoke.
I was asked to an informal party of members of the ADUB at Nuinn’s house in Gledstanes Road. That was the occasion of my unexpected reunion with Vera, and my meeting with several other people whom I came to know as valued friends and teachers in Druidry. Some months later, to my joy I was invited to be Lady of Summer at Stonehenge, and had the almost uncannily thrilling experience of treading among those ancient stones in a ritual role, and presenting the Horn of Plenty to the Chosen Chief, Ariovistus.
I was one of the party of Druids and friends who attended the Breton Gorsedd in 1963: a stimulating and enlightening week. The Chosen Chief and Dr. Maughan, the Pendragon of the Order, had hotel accommodation, but the rest of us – Nuinn included – enjoyed the mingled pleasures and privations of nights under canvas, on a well-organised camping site near Brest. I shared a “bivvy” with a young Australian woman with a Scottish name, who was hiking through Britain and Europe and had discovered Druidry and Neolithic culture on the way. The festivities of the occasion were not simply Druidic, it was a general celebration of the kind frequently called “Folklorique”. Our party visited the cave-shrines, their walls bearing the incised maze-like emblems of the Mother, we marvelled at the height to which the huge fallen menhir Er Mane Hroeck must have towered when standing. One day Nuinn quietly took three of us on an excursion into more wooded country, where in the cecluded church – almost a hermitage – of St. Dolay, we saw him ordained as a deacon of the Celtic Church. But also, as a body, we took time to walk around the scene of the festival, enjoying the dancing and the music and examining the Breton bagpipes, admiring the traditional costumes worn by the people and the women’s tall lace headdresses which must have been treasured heirlooms. We attended a celebration dinner given by the Mayor of Brest.
Back in London, for a short while the accustomed calendar of Druid activities was resumed. I had become integrated into their pattern, and everything seemed set for me to join ADUB. But no inner voice said “yes”.
In fairness I must say that I am not in any case what the Americans call “a joiner”. I do not rush into memberships. Ariovistus left this life in the year following the Breton adventure, and for me the climate had changed.
Nuinn – Ross Nichols – has written in The Book of Druidry about the uneasy time that followed. I can only write of it very briefly, from my own point of view. Beyond and above my own sense of unease, the most significant thing that I noticed was this: The people with whom I had formed the warmest relationships among the Druids whom I had met – Hope and John Brant, Margaret Martyn our harpist, Vera Chapman herself, several other men and women whose faces are in my memory though their names at present escape me – were now drawing closer to each other and closer to Nuinn. A hosting of kindred minds was becoming manifest.
Among ourselves, people voiced their own dissatisfactions with the existing state of things, and when at last Nuinn himself spoke similarly, it was put to him that if he founded his own Order he would have a following. He spoke about the matter to me, I think simply because I was not a member of the ADUB: it was not in his nature to draw anyone’s given loyalty deliberately away from another. I replied with what I knew of his adherents: and then a thing became clear to me which I had not seen before, and I added, “If you do form your own Order, I’ll join if you’ll have me.” It went back to my first meeting with them together, Ariovistus and Nuinn, almost like father and son in tradition. He said I would be welcome, and we shook hands on it.
As the OBOD we established our own places of Gorsedd: principally, from the beginning, Parliament Hill and Glastonbury Tor. We visited other and very interesting sites, and found a special vitality in them, but to those two, for our outdoor work, we always returned. The Tor is a special challenge to the walker. One cannot consider it, nor dress for it, as a “climb”, but some of it gradients are trying for people who are wearing tennis shoes or white wellies (according to temperament and the weather) or who are doing there best to maintain an orderly processional line. None the less, we always got there, robes and head-dresses flapping like banners, and we always felt it was well worth the effort. Nuinn himself set a great example. The asthma which frequently afflicted him, seemed to be banished by the fresh Somerset air, and he strode, upright and sure-footed, up those less invincible slopes and cattle-tracks which formed our route to the summit.
The Tor is a wonderful place for a Gorsedd. Often it happens that gazing from the summit one sees a blue-grey mist, charged sometimes with sunlight, covering the Vale of Avalon so that the whole area seems transformed again to the inland sea of former times, the Lake of the Lake-ladies and of Lancelot. And on the height there is usually a sharp wind, so that “the Call of the Gorsedd” and the bidding to hear it are snatched up as soon as uttered and carried – who knows whither? Yet never did we simply perform our rite and depart, for Glastonbury is a place of wonders. There were friends to visit, and the Museum, and the delightful Chalice Well gardens. There, once as we were strolling (how the little things stick in the memory!) a dear Red Admiral butterfly settled on the lapel of Hope Brant’s cream-white coat, and stayed there long enough for John Brant to be called back from the group ahead and to take a photograph.
There is more that should be said of the Brants, and this is as fitting a place as any to say it. A draughtsman by profession, John designed and painted the symbolic banners for the Groves. He also customarily sounded the trumpet for the Gorsedds, deputised for the Chief on the rare occasions of Nuinn’s absence, was secretary and archivist and was in general Nuinn’s right-hand man. Hope was treasurer over the whole range of monetary transactions, but also she was keeper of the non-personal regalia and advisor on all matters connected with robes generally. She was MC by instinct, and watchful as a dragon over matters of deportment and the safe-keeping of ritual objects. In their devoted loyalty to each other, to Druidry and to Nuinn, the Brants created a strong knot in the bond which united us.
Glastonbury, like Stonehenge, has besides its deep power an intense fascination. Parliament Hill is an ancient and palpable place of power, but without the same glamour. None the less, it seemed to me that of the two sites, when we held Gorsedd at Parliament Hill it held the more responsive atmosphere. Doubtless this was in part because Parliament Hill was the place of our midnight vigil, ushering in the Summer Solstice, for then the vibrancy of the site was intense: not overwhelming, but enfolding. Of Parliament Hill there are two incidents I must record. The first occurred during one of these midnight vigils, at the Summer Solstice of 1967.
We were in our circle, with torches and lanterns, and the ritual was proceeding, when chancing to look skyward I became aware of a very plainly visible UFO, apparently at that moment coming closer, and almost directly opposite me although at a good height. I had not had many UFO sightings and this was a thrilling spectacle: a brilliant sphere, with wavy bands of various fiery colours following each other rapidly across its surface. It, or its occupants presumably, seemed to be aware of us, for having descended so far the luminous sphere made a circuit of our hill-top, disappearing behind my right shoulder and reappearing above my left and then, once more opposite me, darting off on a swift oblique course, ascending and receding until it seemed simply a brighter star among the stars, then vanishing from view. It would not surprise me if that particular Druid assembly is on record in some far region of the Universe.
Of course my impulse had been to interrupt the rite and to draw attention of my companions to the happening, but to cry out would have seemed wrong and to distract anyone from their scripts by glance or gesture proved impossible. As for Nuinn himself, he seemed, as he often did when conducting a Druid ceremony, to be in an elevated state of consciousness. Hope at one point glanced upwards and I had the impression that she might have seen the UFO, but as it happened I had no opportunity to speak to her of it until a week later and then she was not sure what she had witnessed although she felt there had been “something”. Certainly she, of all people, would have had all her attention firmly focused on the rite.
The other matter connected with Parliament Hill is an unfinished business, and I lay it here before anyone who will complete it, for I think it belongs to Druidry.
A great reason for the success pf the OBOD from its inception, granting the rightness and power of the tradition in which it followed, was surely the wholehearted effort with which every one of us worked for it. We belonged to it, and it to us. We gave our free time to crafting implements for special rites, making garments, designing banners, painting, repairing things, even re-writing documents if required. Sometimes Nuinn would ask for a specific piece of work, sometimes we would simply see that something needed to be done and volunteer for it if it lay within our particular abilities. We were a family, and in his won way Nuinn treated us as such: always reserving his own time and seclusion for his own life and work, but now and then inviting one or another of our number to accompany him on some occasion of interest or significance. They were very miscellaneous occasions. I, for example, accompanied him to a Restoration comedy, a display of very classical Indian dancing, and the funeral of Charles Cammell, whose biography of Annigoni Nuinn had discussed with me on an earlier occasion.
Once in the later sixties, when we were at parliament Hill on a clear sunny day, Nuinn pointed out to us one of the few discoverable things which he had ascertained about that strangely bush-covered mound known as “ Boadicea’s Tomb”. He had found that it, that is the summit of Parliament Hill, and the Pen Ton (the top of Pentonville Hill) and my native Bryn Gwyn form a straight line, which he indicated to us, roughly north-west to south-east. This was interesting and evidently significant, and for my part I took the idea away and digested it. I felt there might be more to be said. I got an Ordnance Survey map and put a ruler across it, through the three points in question. Extending the line to the north-west I found nothing of interest – although nobody ought to take that cursory view of mine as conclusive but extending it to the south-east I saw that it crossed Blackheath. This was more promising, so I took myself to Blackheah with a compass, looked around, and found myself in a thoroughfare called Maze Road.
Unfortunately I met nobody there who could tell me anything about this, so I had to put the question aside and, in the course of events, it remained put aside. But I still feel it might be worthwhile to know how Maze Road, Blackheath, got its name.
We made excursions to many sites, and always we earned more than the matter in hand. We went pendulum-dowsing at Cadbury Castle, and as we were on questions of earth-magnetism, Nuinn drew our attention to some stately and magnificent trees in the area and encouraged us to find how we could renew our energies by standing with back pressed closely against the trunk. Elsewhere one might see him as essentially the man of cairns and the standing-stones, but among trees another side of his character emerged and rejoiced. He was Nuinn, the Ash tree, and “woodsman of the woods”. Customarily we all went to a piece of woodland which he owned, on a steep hillside near Henley-on-Thames, fro our Lughnasadh rites, and a grand picnic outing it made for us, a last breath of summer freedom as the leaves were beginning to brown. Such experiences of the natural world gave to us town-dwellers a fuller sense of the reality of our Druidry.
This brings me to the closing theme of this Afterword. What does Druidry really offer to humanity? I would answer in one word: Humanity. We can look back to the Song of Amergin, and reflect upon it:
Being a stone, I must crystallise within the womb of Earth,
Being a plant, I must root well in the Earth that I may grow.
Being a fish, I must wash in the waters, swim and be clean.
Being a land-creature, I must set my feet firmly on Earth and look Life in the face.
Being a bird, I must soar to the heights.
Being human, I must live in all worlds fro I am all worlds:
Yet must I lose none of them.
If I do not crystallise I can give no light.
If I lose my roots I cannot grow.
If I do not swim, or walk, or soar, I have lost part of my life.
For a number of years now I have been a student of Qabalah. All teachings concerning humanity, if they teach truth and not fantasy, must come to one point in the end for there is only one human nature. And if you call it Qabalah, or Druidry, or what you will, the truth is that as human beings we are one with all life, and all life is one with us. And we each of us, whether consciously or not, live in the four Worlds – of matter, of feeling, of mind and of spirit – and without that fourfold life no person is complete in himself or herself.
So-called “Western civilisation” has been too clever, and is leading the world astray. For various reasons – first religious, then intellectual – “Western civilisation” has cut itself off from it roots. Some people among us, seeing this error, have felt called to separate themselves from our whole heritage to become Buddhists, Taoists, Shamans. If they have found ways of life which bring them peace, then peace let it be. But I believe that our Western tradition – which does not consist in eating trash bread and corrupt meats, nor in trying to find the whole meaning of life shut among city walls – I believe that our Western tradition ahs something better to offer the world, something which the world desperately needs. It is not a matter of religion. It is not even a matter of philosophy, for right human living is needful before a person can find their true choice in matters either of spirit or of intellect.
It is, if you like to call it so, a matter of Alchemy. It has been said, “If you want to put the world right, begin with yourself.” In its measure this is true counsel, but it needs a corollary. The Alchemist says, “If you want to work upon your inner self, start working on something outside yourself.” Follow your talents. Purify your metals, find and test the virtue of new alloys, and you will find their virtues within yourself. Paint or sculpt beauty and strength, and you will find and refine your inner beauty and strength. If you are an accountant, seek and find absolute integrity in your calculations. If you are a teacher, above all teach your pupils to learn. If you prepare food, prepare it as food truly. Live fully and with a good will, and your inner will shall be good. That, it seems to me, is the meaning of Alchemy, and the meaning of Druidry too.
But the opportunity must be there. Just as we must be able to get out of the towns and look at the stars, live among the trees and all living things, eat decent food, breathe decent air and find time for study, rest and meditation, so we must teach others to seek the same qualities of life. For a Druid, whether a member of a named organisation or a druid in spirit, must by some means teach. But can others do what the Druid counsels? Or will future generations be able to do so?
Now, as never before, we need all the power we can gather, that the pendulum may swing, the tide may turn, before too late. That is why, besides our present knowledge and understanding, we need all the wisdom we can gather from the past, to meditate it, pre-digest it, for the aid of the future. “Let’s give it good nurture!”
Truly in this age, people in many lands are turning more and more to the Mother. For she is not only the Earth-Mother, from who we draw our life and to whom we owe our outmost help. She is also Brighid the all-powerful. She is Mary, and Modron. And she is the Divine Sophia, Holy Wisdom. Wherever we may find her and by whatever name – in the ancient cave-shrines, in the forest groves, upon the mountain, in whatever building or holy place – it is indeed Holy Wisdom whose guidance we need.
But guided, the work must be ours.