Autumn is here

autumn-1757887_960_720According to the Met Office, Autumn officially started ten days ago, on 1 September. Astronomically, Autumn begins in 11 days time, at the Autumnal Equinox on 21 September. Some Druids place Autumn’s beginning at the Equinox (Alban Elfed), while others consider Autumn to begin with Lughnasadh, the harvest festival generally held around early August.

Rather than merely following a calendar, for me, one of the skills and tasks of a Druid was (and is) to know the signs of nature, those subtle hints of trees and birds, animals and stars, that tell of changes in weather or season. The ancient Druids were said to use augury (studying the flight of birds) to divine the future.

One of the benefits of living in the same place for a few years, and making an effort to go out and observe nature as often as possible, is coming to know and recognise these signs. I have a long way to go before I can identify every tree in my local woods, but sometimes nature speaks so loudly it’s hard to miss. And sometimes, it honks.

I was out in my garden yesterday and I heard a great honking above me. I looked up, and right over my head, flying low as to come in to land, was a whole skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), flying in their famous V-formation, instantly recognisable by their brown bodies with white underbellies, and black necks and heads, with a white band around the chin.

These visitors from the North arrive around September each year, albeit at different times depending on how mild or cold the weather has been, and settle by the local river. They are among my favourite birds, and I welcome them as old friends returning after a long absence.

For me, the arrival of the geese is the start of Autumn. There are other signs too, the sloes on the blackthorn, the first leaves falling, the squirrels digging up my lawn! But it’s the geese that always tell me that yes, Autumn is here.

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Pagan Hygge

I first encountered the word “hygge” a few years ago and it always brings to mind the coziness of the homes I saw in Sweden and Norway, each with their little lamps in the window, glowing softly amidst the dark and snow. It’s a quality worth cultivating back home, too, as Joanna Van Der Hoeven points out:

Hygge is a wonderful word. But it’s more than a word; it’s a feeling. Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah) was originally a Norwegian word, meaning “wellbeing” that was adopted by the Danes in the early 1800’s. Nowadays, it’s a very important word to describe a feeling of comfort, security, warmth, friendship, cosiness and more. In […]

via Pagan Hygge — Down the Forest Path

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Running as connection

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I went for a run today.

Not exactly earth-shatteringly important news to share on here, but it was significant for me. I’ve been getting out of shape lately, working a pretty sedentary job and having various mental health crises that led to me not looking after myself very well, so lacing up my shoes and getting out the door was a big deal.

There are some wooded trails around my neighbourhood, which I am very lucky to have, so I went down one of those, and I noticed that running can be more than just pavement-pounding for the sake of losing a few pounds.

I noticed the fruit on the elder tree, ready to be picked to make elderberry wine, and the ripening blackberries on the hedgerows (I even nibbled a couple, the sweetness giving me that extra bit of energy to keep going). I noticed the birds calling, and flying overhead, the squirrels bouncing from branch to branch. I heard the wind whispering through the willow leaves, and felt it on my face, cooling me down as I started to overheat with the exertion of running for the first time in ages.

I felt the earth beneath my feet, felt the change in texture and pressure as I moved from hard pavement to gravel trail to grassy field.

I saw the sun break through the clouds, three rays of light softly cascading down like an Awen symbol, inspiring me to keep going.

And as I ran, I noticed that I had no room in my head for other thoughts, for work or the news or TV or Twitter. Just my body, the earth beneath me and the air around me.

It was a sensation of simply “being”, one part of nature surrounded by other parts of nature, in this moment, sharing a physical connection.

I had never thought of exercise as being in any way spiritual, just seeing it as another tiring chore. But being out in nature, appreciating the air and the sun and the land, felt like meditation (only better as I actually had something to do rather than just sit there). No words, no ritual, no symbols, just the physicality of movement, the inhalation and exhalation of air, and the rhythm of feet on earth.

On a Sunday, while other people may be going to church to connect with their vision of the sacred, I’ll be out in the woods, running along the trails, connecting with mine.

*Note: I don’t intend this to come off as in any way ableist: I am aware that many people who practice Druidry/Paganism have health and/or mobility issues that make running impossible. This in no way limits their ability to connect with the sacred, and in no way suggests that physical activity is “better”. I am simply sharing my experience today.

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What mud and whose blood?

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Update:

The British Druid Order have issued a Statement on Racism that makes clear that “the BDO wants to add its voice in condemning all manifestations of racism and to clearly state that as an organisation it does not and will not tolerate any form of racism or racial abuse within its membership or affiliates. We stand with all groups, even where we may disagree with them on other issues, that are targeted by racist, fascist and neo-Nazi organisations, whether inside and outside of Paganism.”.

You can read the full statement on the BDO website.

Thanks to everyone on the BDO Facebook group for some wise and illuminating discussion on this topic.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock (and the way 2017 is going, I don’t blame you if you are…is there room for one more under there?), you will no doubt have seen that hundreds of actual bloody Nazis and white supremacists have descended on Charlottesville, USA, brandishing flaming torches and shouting racist slogans.

One of the slogans they used is “blood and soil”. This is a Nazi slogan. The website Quartz explains:

Though a German expression decades before Hitler came to power, “Blood and Soil” was popularized by the prominent Nazi theorist Richard Walther Darré in 1930, three years before he became Hitler’s minister of food and agriculture. Darré maintained that the preservation of the Nordic race was inextricably tied to Germany’s agrarian population. The idea painted farmers as national heroes who protected the purity of Germany. Under Darré, and with Hitler’s support, the Nazi Party embraced “Blood and Soil” as one of its chief ideologies.

Amongst all the other hate, this slogan stood out for me because I recently heard something similar closer to home, even within the Druid community.

The phrase “mud and blood” was used by a fairly prominent former Druid on a podcast interview, and the phrase has cropped up in discussion online. New Directions in Celtic Studies, a 2000 book by Amy Hale and Philip Peyton, cites the British Druid Order as stating:

We draw inspiration from the sacred land and from our ancestry; from the mud and blood of Britain, whose myths and mysteries are the wellspring of our tradition. (The Druid’s Voice, Summer 1997 – emphasis added).

Now, I know the BDO, and I know damn well they are not racists by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m not accusing anyone in Druidry of being so.

But the language above is problematic. It’s easy to see how these sentiments about the centrality of land and ancestry could be twisted to fit a racialist ideology and foment hatred against people of other lands and other ancestry.

As for the phrase itself, there’s not a huge linguistic leap from “mud and blood” to “blood and soil”.

Think for a moment about the possible implications: is Druidry only for people living in the British Isles, or who descend from “ethnic” British people (whatever that means)?

Now, my ancestry for the past couple of thousand years is mostly Irish. Family genealogy and family legend has it that we’re descended from a line of minor kings/chiefs who held court at what is now the Rock of Cashel.

Does that make me somehow more of a Druid, or more entitled to practice Druidry? Of course not. And it certainly doesn’t make me a better Druid (I’m a bit rubbish at it for the most part). Other bits of my ancestry contain large chunks of Polish and Spanish, anyway, and if I was really serious about following the faith of my ancestors (for at least the last few centuries) I’d be a Catholic.

What even is the “blood” of Britain anyway? What does that mean? The British Isles have been settled by the Beaker People, the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings and immigrants from all over the British Empire. As a country, as a set of islands, we’re a glorious mix of all sorts of cultural and genetic influences, and I think that makes us more vibrant and diverse as a result.

Where do you draw the line at determining ancestry? If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from a very small group of humans who lived in the Rift Valley in what is now Kenya. We’re all related, and we’re all kin. Every one of us has ancestors from all over the place.

And as for the “mud” part, well, sure, Druidry was originally a Celtic thing. But the Celts weren’t only from Britain; they lived everywhere from Ireland in the West to Turkey in the East, and travelled, settled, traded, and inter-married wherever they went. Not to mention that I know a good few American Druids who seem to have no problem practicing Druidry without having ever set foot in the “mud” of Britain.

Druidry, as I see it, is at its core a connection to Nature. Nature is everywhere, and is not exclusively found in one place, or by one set of people. Druidry connects you, whoever you are, to the land beneath your feet, wherever that is.

As someone I met at Druid Camp explained in a Facebook post:

The land is always the land, it has many people who will walk on it over long periods of time.

The land doesn’t belong to us. We belong to the land.

Druidry does not belong to us. Druidry belongs to the land.

At a time when racists and white supremacists chanting “blood and soil” are literally murdering people in the street, and being defended by the President of the USA in doing so, it is so important that we take care with our language and how we present Druidry.

Neo-Nazis have already infiltrated Heathenry and stolen their symbols and their religion to further their agenda of hate (I know a lot of Heathens are fighting back, and good on them), and I’ve seen attempts made by sites like Stormfront to infiltrate Druidry too.

Maybe we need to quit talking about “mud and blood”, and state openly that Druidry is for everyone, open and inclusive to all who walk on this one Earth we all share and all hold dear.

 

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Book Review: Old Gods, New Druids

20170813_153435Old Gods, New Druids. Robin Herne. O Books (Moon Books), 2009.

There were three reasons for me reading this book (because Druids do it in threes!): One, it looked interesting and I wanted to broaden my understanding of Druidry both ancient and modern; Two, because I promised Nimue I’d do a review of it eventually; and Three, because the author, Robin Herne, is also one of the tutors at Druid College UK and it’s on my reading list!

Well, I’m glad I took the time to sit down with this one and digest it over several cups of tea, lots of biscuits and the occasional whisky.

Robin organises the book into twenty lessons, each with historical background and in-depth discussion of a certain theme, such as the structure of early Gaelic society; the Gods and Goddesses; Truth and Justice; etc, followed by points to consider or discuss and some practical activities to try out.

A diligent reader (alas, not me for I didn’t have the time) who worked through all the discussions and activities, could start the book with little to no understanding of the subject and finish it with a solid grounding and a workable Druid practice.

Unlike many other “introduction” books on Druidry out there, Old Gods, New Druids is based heavily in the history of the early Celtic tribes in the Iron Age, and examines carefully what we know (and what we don’t know) about how they lived, loved, worshiped and legislated. The sheer amount of facts, and the tongue-twisting names of ancient Celtic sources crammed into this relatively short book did have my brain spinning in places, but Robin’s conversational and easygoing writing style stopped it from feeling too dense or dry.

Robin writes from the perspective of both an academic and a practicing Pagan, and the lessons are often put into both the historical Celtic context and the context of how his own group, the Clan, work with the gods and myths today. He tackles the ever-present question of whether we can even be Druids today by saying:

Do we consider ourselves modern counterparts the the ancient Druids? The answer is: sort of. Druids performed many functions for the old tribes. Some of the duties are beyond our league…However, there are functions that we certainly perform in our daily lives. Some of us teach, some heal the sick, we all perform ritual…etc.

It’s clear that Robin’s view of modern Druidry is one influenced by the ancient past, but also rooted firmly in the real world in which we live today, and specifically rooted in community and service.

While I am generally less interested in how ancient Celts organised their societies than perhaps some modern Druids are, I still think it is absolutely worthwhile to know your background and know your history; by which I mean real, documented and archaeological history rather than the mish-mash of folklore and fake-lore that is often propagated in some Pagan communities. With this in mind, Old Gods, New Druids is an excellent sourcebook for gaining a decent foundation in what the ancient Druids might have actually believed and actually done.

That said, the book isn’t just an historical miscellany. We are invited to consider what implications the past has on how we practice and live our Druidry now. What do we want to keep? What do we want to discard? What do we want to change?

Myth inspires the future. A romantic past that just leads one to gawping passively into dreamland is of little use. A vision of the future that inspires us to strive forward, to make that ideal a reality, is far more practical.

I would probably not recommend this book as the very first thing someone should read about Druidry if they had absolutely no background knowledge or experience; some of the history and references to ancient texts can seem a bit overpowering, and there isn’t much on modern Druid orders, ritual, the wheel of the year etc. This is intentional, and I’m glad to see that it isn’t a book filled with the usual rehashed information and padded out with ritual scripts, but I would probably recommend this for people who are either already practicing Druidry and want to learn where it all comes from in order to deepen their connection to it, or at least for people who have read a book or two on modern Druidry first.

That said, it’s an informative and entertaining read and well worth a place on any Druid’s bookshelf, and after reading it I’m very much looking forward to learning from Robin as I commence my Druid College studies in October.

 

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Druid Camp and Druid College

2014.07.24-01-Druid-Camp-Windmill-aI’m back from my second time at Druid Camp, and it was brilliant again!

This year’s camp had a very different feel for me than the last one. Part of that was the weather (last year was glorious sunshine, this one was near-constant rain), part of that was the different theme and speakers and part of that was the simple fact that it wasn’t my first time any more.

Different isn’t bad though, by any means. Just that while last year’s camp felt exuberant and fun, this year was more challenging. The workshops I attended and the group work involved facing up to some of my own fears and anxieties, and overcoming them, at least in part. Hey, I only had a social-anxiety panic attack once, which is pretty good for me!

The highlight of the camp was the amazing gig by Inkubus Sukkubus on the Saturday night, which had everyone up and dancing, cold and rain be damned!

And, as before, the real fun was found in the impromptu conversations over tea in the cafe, or by the fire (when it was dry enough to light), with old friends and new, including the ever-wonderful Penny Billington and Philip “Greywolf” Shallcrass.

In other news, since I had my “get real” moment where I decided to stop dabbling with Druidry and start getting serious, I emailed Joanna van der Hoeven of Druid College UK. Knowing their course starts in October, I wasn’t optimistic about enrolling this year, but by one of those amazing bits of “cosmic coincidence” (to borrow a phrase from Greywolf), there was one place left. And, the day before I started packing for Druid Camp, I got an email to say my application was accepted!

So, I plan on finishing my Bardic Review for OBOD this week (just to get it done), and then I have a reading list to work through to prepare for the start of my Year One studies with Druid College UK. Druid College does in-person residential weekends, and works to train apprentices of Druidry rather that just students of Druidry. I’m seriously excited by this, and am really looking forward to seeing where this new journey on the Druid path will take me.

*Header image from http://www.druidcamp.org.uk

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In this farewell…

In Druidry we sometimes talk about “ancestors of spirit”, those who we have no direct connection to, may never even have met, but who have inspired us and our lives.

Growing up as a metal fan, and a weird kid, Linkin Park were one of those bands that seemed like they just *got* me. And, as I grew older, their music developed and matured as well. I’ve never been a super-fan but they have always been there as a constant presence.

I have no words on the death of Chester Bennington. Death is a tragedy, and suicide even more so. As someone who struggles with depression, I can empathise.

So, here’s a reminder, if you are struggling at any point, reach out to someone. A friend or loved one, or call a helpline:

UK – Samaritans 116 123

USA – NSPL 1800 2738255

Tonight I’m raising a glass to a true ancestor of spirit. Thanks for the music.

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