2017 Annual Review
‘The ideas central to Druid practice, acknowledging the need for a spirituality that reverences the Earth, and honouring the turning points on the Wheel of the Year, have gained a wider acceptance than any declared affiliation to Druidism. It is likely that Druidry will always represent a minority pursuit, and small, for Druids, really is beautiful. Even so, it can still act like leaven in the wider cultural milieu, producing an impact far beyond its apparent reach.’
Philip Carr-Gomm, from A Legacy of Druids, edited by Ellen Evert Hopman
Every year for the past 24 years I have written a review of what I have termed the life of the Order and the wider world of Druidry. This year I’m going to let go of offering to review the ‘wider world of Druidry’. It is just too hard to really get a sense of what is happening all over the world in such a widespread movement. If every Order created an annual review it would be easy to survey these and summarise them, but instead I have had to rely on looking at websites and forums, and combining any information obtained with any news I have received directly from other groups and individuals. Much of the traffic that used to remain ‘suspended in animation’ on message boards, and was therefore easy to refer to later, now occurs in Facebook groups, many of which are closed, with the information rapidly sliding down each page into the mists of the past, making the task of reviewing events much harder. Add to this the fact that there are now Druid groups communicating in many languages all across the planet, and the conclusion is clear: Druidry is now such a broad and widespread phenomenon it has become an impossible task to even attempt to survey and summarise what is occurring within it each year.
For this reason, it seems sensible to limit the scope of these reviews to the life and activities of this Order, together with mentioning any publications or significant events we have been told about. That last rider is significant - people often put a huge amount of effort into organising an event or writing a book about Druidry, and then they or their publishers forget to tell us about it.
Even limiting this review to just the life of OBOD is an ambitious aim: ‘Druidcast’, the Order’s podcast, has now been downloaded more than 2 million times, we now have more than 22,000 members (that is over almost thirty years, so some will have died, resigned, or simply moved on in their interests); there are now over 177 seed-groups and groves around the world, the training course is published in 7 languages, and 7 magazines for members are published in various languages.
All of this means that the only viable way to offer a review is not to try to list every event that has occurred. In the way the Order works this would be impossible. We don’t ask every group or individual member to tell us about a workshop, talk, or event they are planning. Groups organise weekend camping trips, walks, moots, visits to other groups, and more. They have their own websites, private Facebook groups and newsletters. We can’t keep a track of all of these. And the life of groups is only one aspect of Druidry as it is practiced within OBOD. There are more solitary members than those affiliated with a group, and each incorporates Druidry into how they live their lives in highly individual ways, so that it informs their relationships, their activism and their lifestyle in addition to the ways they pursue their spiritual path.
With all these caveats in mind, let’s turn now to review what we can of the year since last Samhain:
In January, the order’s office moved - still within Lewes - but now we have more space and a better view, looking out across trees.
In February, Honorary Bard of the Order, the harpist, author and story-teller Claire Hamilton, died. Her partner, Steve Eddy writes: ‘Claire was inspired by harpers like Alan Stivell, who revived the old Breton songs and who introduced her to some ancient Welsh ones too. This fed into her literary interests and led her to do an MA in the Bardic Tradition of Ireland. After that she found herself blending writing and performing music by joining The Company of Strangers, a theatre group with whom she wrote and presented several Celtic myths. Having explored the myths in all these ways, she found they contained deep and enduring wisdom. She lived in Wales and loved to play her harp overlooking the River Wye.’ Many of us remember her lyrical performances at the Gatherings, and thankfully she has left a legacy in the form of a number of books and CDs rooted in Celtic spirituality. www.livingmyths.com
At the summer solstice in June, after seventeen years of dedicated service, Susan Jones handed on her role as mentor coordinator to Steve Hounsome, having spent months carefully preparing for this, so the transition could be as seamless as possible. The result? Hardly a bump in the road as the team of over 40 mentors, guided by Steve and his two deputies Mike Williams and Gayle Graycarry on providing this vital service to members.
In September, Jurre Yntema who has printed and distributed the course in Dutch, French and German for over 15 years retired and teams in the Netherlands and Germany have taken over, although Jurre will continue to service members who joined before September 2017 for another year. See obod.fr for information on the French course, druidry.info and druidry.de for the German course, and druiderij.nl for the Dutch course.
From Samhain this year, the website Discussion Forums (which used to be called ‘The Message Board’) will be open to members only. Public discussions about Druidry and related subjects have in the last few years mostly migrated to Facebook, with the result that most Druid Orders have either closed their forums down, or they have become moribund. Although the OBOD forums have continued to be amongst the most lively, we have decided to focus on offering these for members only, since they provide a better online experience than Facebook for members who want to discuss Druidry and the course. But for more general discussions, it is Facebook which has won the day, and members can either turn to the official OBOD FB site, or the various non-official ones.
Fewer books on Druidry seem to have been published this year, but if you know of any we have missed on this list, let me know and I can add them to the online version of this review. We also list here books on any subject penned by Order members.
Australian Druidry - Connecting with the Sacred Landscape, by Julie Brett
Celtic Tarot by Kristoffer Hughes, artwork by Chris Down
The Crane Bag: A Druid's Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices by Joanna van der Hoeven
Eightfold Year by Jamie Reid
Falling in the Flowers: A year in the lives of American Druids by Benjamin and James Granderson
The Keys to the Temple: Unlocking Dion Fortune's Mystical Qabalah Through Her Occult Novels by Penny Billington and Ian Rees
Lessons in Magic by Philip Carr-Gomm
Lugh Na Bua - Lugh the Deliverer by Cathar O’Sesarchaigh & Sean O’Gaoithin
The Path of Paganism: An Experience-Based Guide to Modern Pagan Practice by John Beckett
The Spirit of the Hedgerow by Jo Dunbar
Heilende Lebenskräfte: Wege zu einem freieren Leben von Barbara Stühlmeyer
The Book of Luce by L.R.Fredericks
Land of the Giants by T.L.Merrybard
We can’t possibly list all the CD’s or recordings made by OBOD members - there are just so many creative and amazing musicians in, and associated with, the Order. The only way to keep in touch with this burgeoning phenomenon is by subscribing to Druidcast and Touchstone!
The Charter for Trees, Woods, and People
In last year’s review, I announced OBOD’s involvement in the Charter for Trees, Woods and People - a major initiative uniting more than 70 organisations in the defence and celebration of Britain’s woods and forests. Over the past year, members of the Order have been contributing to the development of the Charter through attending Steering Group meetings and providing expert evidence, ensuring that the content and wording of the Charter reflects the spiritual birthright that our forests represent, and that the reservoir of cultural heritage held by our trees, that we Druids watch over, is protected for future generations. The Charter will be launched next month, an event that the Order will solemnise with a ceremony - the details of which will be announced shortly. The Order will continue working with our partners during 2018, as the Charter enters the implementation phase.
The One Tree Gathering
In August, the sixth One Tree Gathering was held over two days at Beaumanor Hall, Leicester. There were fantastic presentations and exchanges - google ‘The One Tree Gathering 2017’ for my blog post about the weekend, which includes two audios and many photos. And see the dedicated section of the OBOD website (under ‘Events & Projects’) to learn more about the One Tree Project, which explores the connections between Druidry and the Dharmic traditions of India.
This is the Order’s project to foster scholarship in Druidry and related subjects. Every year an award is given, and every four years a conference presents the last four papers. This year, anthropologist Jonathan Woolley submitted his paper, in which he presented provocative thesis that Druidry is a culture more than anything else and that “the fundamental orientation of Druidry today is towards one philosophical horizon in particular – that of aesthetics.” This year, the following three years Mt Haemus scholars have been selected: Dana Driscoll, Susan Jones and Michelle LaFrance.
The Celebrancy Project
In 2015 we began offering training programmes in funeral and family celebrancy (for weddings, handfastings, and namings). These courses have now been filmed and include extensive text material and audio, are fully mentored, and are open to non-members as well as members. If you feel drawn to offering this form of service to the community, have a look at the course descriptions here: schoolofcelebrancy.com
The Hallstatt Award
A member has kindly offered to part-fund and administer a scholarship for members who want to train as celebrants. If you are interested in training as a celebrant but can’t afford the fees, have a look on the druidry.org website under “Events & Projects”
The strongest sense I have over this last year is that of Druidry and OBOD as a community. Stephanie and I have been in ten countries in the last six months, and the Order’s Pendragon Damh the Bard has been in many too, and we have all felt that same tremendous warmth and feeling of community, whether it was at the Order’s first Scandinavian Gathering in Sweden, in the mountains of Isernia in Italy, at the US East Coast Gathering in Milford PA, at the Winter & Summer Gatherings in Glastonbury, at the US Gulf Coast Gathering, at the French Gathering in Burgundy, or the Linden Gathering in Germany. We didn’t make it to the US Mid-Atlantic MAGUS Gathering, or the Australian Assembly near Melbourne, nor to the White Horse camps, but we hear they were wonderful too. Have I missed any out? Undoubtedly! And isn’t that fantastic - when so many incredible comings-together are organised no-one can keep track of them all?!
What we do at these gatherings is really quite simple - we do what our ancestors have done for thousands of years: we gather as equals in circles, we sit and dance around camp fires, we share our songs and stories and poems, we reverence the Earth and celebrate the Spirits of Place and of Time. We honour our Bards - this year at the Winter Gathering we crowned two new Honorary Bards of the Order: the musician, artist, poet, and music producer Youth, and the artist Jamie Reid. And we welcome visitors too. This year, at our Summer Gathering, I was delighted to greet and interview Archdruid Jean Pagano, head of the ADF and OBOD Druid, who visited us from the US.
As Stephanie, Damh and I have sat around camp fires in different countries we’ve all experienced the extraordinary way in which each event is utterly unique and different, and yet in each place there is the same warmth, the same feeling of connection and community, and the same degree of incredible talent and creativity.
In addition to these Order gatherings, 2017 has seen at least two tricentennial celebrations of Druidry’s apocryphal rebirth in 1717: a meeting at Steiner House in London with talks by John Mathews, Penny Billington and the ADO Chief David Loxley, and in Brocéliande in Brittany, to which members of the Order’s Sylvan Grove travelled, which leads me to an idea we have discussed often in the office, and which has been suggested to us again recently by a member: the idea of twinning groups. The Sylvan Grove has made strong connections with fellow druids in Brittany, and that relationship has resulted in collaborations, such as the beautiful ‘The Sacred Wheel of the Year/La Sacré Roue de l’Année’ - a stunning bi-lingual compilation of poems, essays and photographs produced by Druids on both sides of the Channel. What more collaborations might emerge if other Seed-Groups and Groves were able to twin with groups of fellow Druids in different countries? Watch out for more on this idea in future editions of Touchstone.
Bring people together and you get magic and creativity. Bring music, art and Druidry together and you get…..Well, two examples to complete this review:
For the 2014 Golden anniversary of the Order’s founding, Penny Billington came up with the idea of a fringe festival to complement the events the Order had organised. Members were encouraged to organise events themselves either side of the weekend. This was clearly an idea whose time had come, and now it just happens at the Glastonbury gatherings - events occur outside of the official times allotted. As an example, after the Winter Gathering, members could join a chanting session with JJ Middleway in one venue in Glastonbury, while in another, John Marchant gave an illustrated talk ‘Jamie Reid - Artist & Visionary’, which you can watch on Youtube, to discover the extraordinary connections that exist between Druidry, Art, Politics and Punk. And you can see some of Jamie’s strong and colourful pictures that illustrate the Druid festivals in his book that has just been published: Eightfold Year.
And in the second example of music, art and Druidry coming together, this year has seen the prolific Damh the Bard giving birth to a life-dream of his: to present the Mabinogion in song, story and music for a modern audience. His latest CD Y Mabinogi – The First Branch reveals these old stories in the most lyrical and haunting way imaginable, complete with beautiful artwork by his partner, Cerri Lee.
Beauty, inspiration, poetry, art, music, community - these are the words that sum up this last year in the life of the Order.
A Blessing on all our lives, a blessing on the land,