Home shrine update: simplify


My home shrine is the central focus point for my regular Druid practice. Here is where I meditate, work through my Gwersi, do small rituals and the like. It has evolved and changed over time as my Druidry has too.

Lately, I noticed the shrine was getting quite cluttered. The central tree wasn’t doing too well as a houseplant and needed moving outdoors. And I’d gathered all manner of stones, conkers, pine cones and stuff from my nature walks to put on there, which I like to do as a way of bringing the outdoors in, but after a while they had begun to look worse for wear and were gathering dust, so it was time for an update.

The state of the shrine was in its own way symptomatic of my practice lately. October has been a ridiculously busy month, and I haven’t had (or haven’t made) the time to keep to anything like a regular schedule.

My hope is that by clearing away a lot of the detritus, I can symbolically clear my mind too, and recommit to more regular practice. For inspiration, I turned to zen shrines as I wanted something of their simplicity.

Simplicity is sort of a key concept in my Druidry at the moment, and I wanted the shrine to reflect that. Some people like their shrines filled to bursting with statues, pentacles, crystals, candles, ogham staves and such, but I prefer sparse, almost stark, open space.

So, I have my lovely Tibetan singing bowl which was a gift from my wife, some tealight candles, a small stone shaped like a heart which was found on a beach in Norfolk (you can’t really see the heart shape in the pic, but it is pretty, and cool that it was naturally formed that way by wind and tide), a twig from the local woods and a blue ceramic water bowl that contains a seashell to connect it symbolically with the ocean. In keeping with zen tradition, I need to get better at changing the water every day instead of leaving it there to get all gross and weird.

In the centre is the Earth Dragon card from Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s Druid Animal Oracle, which I have in physical card-deck form and also as an app on my phone for daily readings. The Earth Dragon is there because I am currently working on connecting more with Earth as part of a “journey through the elements”. I’ll shift it out for the other elemental dragons as I go along.

I miss having a tree or a plant of some kind on the shrine, so I may look for a suitably hardy houseplant to replace it.

Simple. Clear. Thoughtful. A representation of how I want my Druidry to be in the world.

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Myth and Meaning

sunset-1367138_960_720A version of this essay was originally published in “Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans” edited by John Halstead and published by Lulu, 2015. In light of some recent discussions about Paganism, faith and non-theism, it seemed appropriate to repost it here.

Myth and Meaning: A non-literal Pagan view of deity

“The phenomenon we call spirit depends on the existence of an autonomous primordial image which is universally present in the preconscious makeup of the human psyche”. -C.G. Jung, “The phenomenology of the spirit in fairytales”.

How can you be Pagan without believing in the gods?

This is a question frequently asked of atheist, agnostic and other non-theistic Pagans. In some corners of the Pagan community, the words “Pagan” and “Polytheist” are synonymous, and the idea of atheistic Pagans is literally unthinkable.

However, the Pagan community is, and has always been, diverse in its beliefs. One of the first books on Paganism I read, Paganism: an Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions, by Joyce and River Higginbotham, says:

“It’s not difficult to find statements made by both Pagans and non-Pagans that Pagans are polytheistic. This can be true, but it isn’t necessarily true. What is true for Paganism as a whole is that Pagans may believe anything they wish about Deity. Certain Pagan traditions may adopt specific beliefs, but those beliefs operate only within that tradition and do not carry over to Paganism as a whole”.

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Becoming a Bard


This post from Nimue at Druid Life is a great bit of practical advice for anyone interested in pursuing a “Bardic” path in some form, and especially useful for those of us who are “Bardically challenged” like me!

Druid Life

How do you go from being a person who does not perform, to being a fabulous bard with a song or poem up their sleeve for every occasion and who can give a dazzling performance in any space? It may seem like an impossible leap. I’m going to start running a thread about techniques and tactics for becoming a bard. I’ve been a performer for a good twenty years, but I’ve also run spaces where I’ve been able to help people cross this threshold. I’ve got a fair amount of experience to draw on, and a desire to help as many people as I can realise that even though yes, it is a big, intimidating looking step, it is also an entirely feasible step to take.

You probably weren’t one of the kids cast in lead roles for school productions. You probably weren’t chosen for solos in the choir –…

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The word Nwyfre, which I mention in my previous post, comes from an old Welsh term meaning “sky” or “heaven”. In Druidry, however, it takes on a deeper meaning, and one which deserves a bit of thought.

Nwyfre can be seen as the “life force” of nature, the energy or power which moves through and within all things and holds all things together, both living beings and things which we usually think of as non-living such as rocks, streams, mountains and the land itself.

Nwyfre is not, I hasten to point out, a scientific concept like gravity or the weak and strong nuclear forces which, in a very real way, do move all things and hold the universe together. Like most things in Druidry, it is a poetic, mythic, archetypal concept by which we can connect to nature in an holistic way, involving the body and the emotions as well as the rational mind. Of course, one could argue that the fundamental physical forces recognised by science are themselves manifestations of Nwyfre, in a sort of “theory of everything” way, but I’m not going to go there in this post.

If the idea of Nwyfre sounds familiar, but the name does not, then that may be because you’ve encountered it in another context: the chi of Chinese philosophy, the prana of Hinduism, the Tao of Taoism, or perhaps more likely: the Force from the Star Wars movies. George Lucas borrowed from martial arts and Eastern philosophy when creating his Jedi Order, and the Force is a direct analogy to the Japanese ki.

This concept seems to be a human universal across cultures, in fact as John Michael Greer points out in The Druid Magic Handbook, “The only languages that don’t [have a word for the life force] are the ones spoken in the industrial nations of the modern West”. It’s as if Nwyfre has been banished from modern society, which prefers to see the world as simply inert material to be used and exploited for human greed. How convenient.

“Outside the industrial West”, Greer writes, “the life force is just as much a part of life as bodies and minds are. In modern Japan, for example, people still talk about the state of their ki on a regular basis. The word for courage in Japanese is yuki, literally “active ki“, depression is fukeiki, “sluggish ki” [etc.].”

Nwyfre is not simply an idea to believe or disbelieve, however. In fact, “belief” has no part in my own approach to Druidry.As a non-theist and naturalist, I find it impossible to simply “believe” things without experiencing them myself.

Nwyfre, however, is to be experienced. Meditation, especially barefoot on the earth, is a great way to experience the flow of Nwyfre. Starting with the soles of your feet, feel them against the earth, feel the force of them pushing down and the equal force of the ground holding them up. Feel them tingle with subtle energy. And then work up, through your legs, torso, arms and head, until you are aware of your whole body being filled with Nwyfre, and then feel your own Nwyfre connecting with that flowing through the earth beneath and all around you.

It may take a while to experience anything, but even if you don’t, then you have had a nice relaxing breathing session and got some fresh air, so nothing is wasted.

The Druidry Handbook, also by Greer, contains exercises for connecting with the Solar Nwyfre, the Telluric (Earth) Nwyfre, and the Nwyfre of trees as you do your walking meditations, and I recommend getting a copy and trying them out.

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Taking off my shoes and socks, I place my feet cautiously upon the dew-wet grass. The cold against my toes surprises me, on this bright morning; early autumn, with the lingering golden light of late summer.

I reach down to touch the earth, and whisper words of thanks and blessing. Then, I lie down in the long grass and clover (needs mowing, my brain reminds me), feeling the damp dew soaking into my t-shirt and trousers. Closing my eyes, I feel the breath of the autumn breeze, and the warmth of the still-low morning sun. I hear the whisper of leaves in the trees, sounding drier and more urgent now as they lose their moisture and prepare to turn yellow and red and fall to the earth. I‘ll have to rake those up soon, I think.

I turn my attention to the earth beneath me and all around me. The soft, rich soil, the worms and beetles and other creatures that make their homes under the ground, the roots of grasses and trees snaking through the earth, drawing nutrients and Nwyfre into themselves. I breathe slowly, and practice my meditative exercises, feeling the earth’s Nwyfre mingle with my own and refresh me.

I inhale, the earth exhales. I exhale, the earth inhales.

Connecting with nature is, for me, the heart and centre of my Druid practice, and one way to do this is to connect with the four “classical” elements, each in turn.

The concept of the four elements is not necessarily *authentic* or historical in Druidry. It probably came into Druidry during the 18th century Revival, via the western mystery tradition and perhaps originally deriving in Greek philosophical thought. The Celts, as we know, tended to think in threes, and their three element system was that of Land, Sea and Sky. Yet, as Graeme Talboys writes in The Druid Way Made Easy, “Fire is also present, but not regarded as separate. Rather, it is the spirit that inspires the rest of the world”. So there is a clear overlap between the systems, and about 300 years of tradition in using the four elements in a Druid context, so that’s good enough for me.

The elements in Druidry are not to be seen in the same way as the scientific elements of the periodic table. Nobody today thinks that everything is literally made up of just four “bits” of earth, air, fire and water. But they are symbolic and deep representations of the major forces of nature in which we live and move and have our being.

Currently, I am spending a good deal of time learning to connect more with the earth. In practical terms this means exercises like the one above, as well as walking my local woods as much as possible, growing herbs and veg to use in cooking, and keeping an eye out for the local creatures with whom I share this small space of land: the squirrels, hedgehogs, mice, voles and the like.

In esoteric terms, the earth is associated with the body, and sensuality. So I’m also trying to eat healthier and move more. It’s also linked to practicality and the sort of honest-to-goodness qualities we still describe today as being “down to earth”. I tend to live n my head, so trying to be more down to earth is good for me.

Autumn seems like a natural time to connect to the earth, though of course it is all around us (indeed, it is us) all year round. But in the Autumn, with the leaves falling and crunching underfoot, the smell of decay in the air, the start of the chill in temperature, the final harvest of nuts and berries, the animals stocking their larders for winter, and of course my favourite holiday, Samhain (Hallowe’en) bringing to mind the dead who lie beneath the earth, “earthiness” is pretty much everywhere right about now.

Of course, connecting with the earth doesn’t stop at meditations and nature walks. Recycling, eating local and seasonal food, switching to a green energy supplier, supporting the Woodland Trust or other tree-planting charities, protesting against fracking and environmental destruction; all of these can be seen as sacred acts to honour the earth, our only home.

Connecting with the earth, with the practical, grounded nature of reality, can also help to bring Druidry out of the realm of ideas and root it in daily life, in the world of work, and housework, cooking and chores. Now, this can be very difficult, but on those rare, good, days when everything fits into place, each simple task can be seen as an expression of Druidry.

And with every breath, the earth exhales.

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Walking the labyrinth


For the Autumn Equinox, the village green had a wonderful candle-lit labyrinth set up by Kay’s Pathway. The labyrinth was marked out by grass seed, so as to leave no harmful paint or suchlike, and then lit by hundreds of candles in lanterns, jars, glasses, whatever was available.

Arriving to it, on a dark and cool September night, felt really rather magical. At the centre of the labyrinth was a conker cairn: the idea of which was that you take a conker (horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum) and walk the path with it, leaving it in the middle. For me, this was an offering to the Earth in thankfulness for the year so far.

It was interesting to see how people reacted, for the most part people walked the labyrinth in silence, or spoke in whispers. Almost everyone seemed instinctively to feel that this was sacred time and sacred space, regardless of beliefs.

The labyrinth was not Pagan, and nor (I imagine) were most people who walked it last night. But it was one of those mysterious traditions that speak of an older way of being that I like to think of as “Folk Pagan”.

I didn’t do a “formal” Equinox ritual, as I have shifted in my practice lately to more simple acts of daily awareness rather than scripts and circles (which I feel woimg_0741rk better in a group setting), so having this opportunity to practice walking meditation in the Equinox labyrinth was a beautiful alternative, and to me still very Druidic, way to celebrate Alban Elfed, and also to take part in the activities of my local village community too.

All of that, followed up by a wonderful seasonal brown ale (Water Vole by “From the Notebook” beers, money from which goes to wildlife charities), was a great way to acknowledge the turning of the Wheel of the Year as we spiral into the darkness.

What did you do/what are you doing to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox?

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Alban Elfed


The Autumnal Equinox occurs on or around the 21st and 22nd September in the northern hemisphere each year, and marks the point at which day and night are at equal length (i.e. around 12 hours each).

The word “equinox” comes from the Latin for “equal night” and reflects this equal division. The reason for this is due to the angle of the Earth’s axis, which is tilted 23.5 degrees with respect to its orbital plane. As the Earth orbits the sun, the two hemispheres tilt closer or further from the sun, causing the seasons on Earth to change.

An equinox, National Geographic says, is “a geometrical alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned right above our planet’s equator. On these days, both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres experience roughly equal amounts of sunshine. It’s also only on the spring and autumn equinoxes that the sun rises due east and sets due west”.

From this point on, the days will be shorter than the nights as we enter the dark time of the year, leading to the shortest day at the Winter Solstice. The weather also changes, becoming cooler and more Autumnal, with the leaves turning golden and falling from the trees, the “second harvest” of apples, berries and sloes ripening and the creatures gathering food stores for the winter to come.

The name for the Autumnal Equinox in the Druid tradition is Alban Elfed or Alban Elued, meaning “the Light of the Waters”. As the festival is situated in the West, the place of water, on the Wheel of the Year, and Autumn tends to be a very wet and rainy season in Britain, the name seems fitting. The OBOD website says: “The Wheel turns and the time of balance returns. Alban Elfed marks the balance of day and night before the darkness overtakes the light”. It is a festival for celebrating the harvest and for preparing for the darker days ahead.

This is a good time of year to make fruit crumbles, elderflower cordial, and warming vegetable stews, go on long walks through the crunchy leaves and enjoy the last warmth as late Summer transitions into Autumn’s cool crispness. It’s also a good time to tidy up the garden before Winter, and sow wildflower seeds to bloom in Spring.

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