Last weekend, I took the car down some windy country lanes to the tiny Essex village of Messing, to gather in the Village Hall for the first weekend of Year One of Druid College.
Under the clearest blue skies all month, some nineteen Druid Apprentices came together from all over the country and beyond, some even making the trip from as far away as Sweden, for a weekend of intense Druid study and practice.
The College (named for the earlier sense of the word “College” not as a physical building but as a group of students in vocational preparation) is taught by the dynamic duo of Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne, with occasional guest tutors for specific subjects. The full programme runs for three years, with four weekend courses a year (and homework and self-driven study in between).
This first weekend was largely introductory, but I was impressed with the sheer amount of material we covered. The first day was largely classroom-based, with Jo and Robin taking us on a journey into Druidry, its ancient roots and modern practice. From the wheel of the year to connection with the gods, ancestors and spirits of place, to storytelling and myth, trees and ogham and more, there was a lot to take in and my hand ached at the end of the day from all the notes I made! Other, deeper, concepts were tackled too, including ideas of truth, honour and service, living with integrity and the role of Druids as peace-makers.
For a change of pace, we had an activity halfway through the day where we went outside and found a spot to connect with the energies of the land. After wandering around the old churchyard opposite the hall for a while, I found a spot beneath an ancient yew tree, probably older than the church itself, and sat down. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, my experience with sensing things has never been exactly overwhelming, but I definitely picked up a feeling of history, of centuries of human and non-human activity, and beneath that, the constant but gentle pulse of the land.
After a night spent in a nearby pub on a very loud road, the second day I felt pretty tired, but excited to continue. This day also began with lectures, after which we had our first guest teacher, Melanie Cardwell, a herbalist and healer, who came to teach us an introduction to making medicine from everyday plants and herbs. We learned about making infusions and decoctions to drink as tea, tinctures in alcohol, herbal oils, and salves made with beeswax (or coconut oil for vegans).
Following that, we went out for a walk, each armed with our trusty staff or wand that we had been asked to bring. Passing the village green and heading out into the fields, Melanie stopped frequently to point out an interesting tree or plant and tell us about its medical properties and how to harvest it safely and sustainably. The walk took us into the woods, which were beautiful in their autumnal hues, and filled with mushrooms, and into a large clearing surrounded by oaks, birch and beech, where we each dedicated ourselves to the journey ahead in a small but very moving Druid ritual.
Then it was goodbyes and home!
I can’t believe a week has already passed, but I also feel like it was ages ago. I have lots of activities and assignments to do before we next meet in January, and I’ll be blogging about them here as I go.
Having studied some distance-learning Druid courses, I feel like I got more experience of real-life Druidry from this one weekend of in-person teaching from experienced Druids and within the context of a community of apprentices. Not to belittle the distance-learning courses, they are wonderful and for many who can’t get to physical Colleges a lifeline, but I learn best in person and in a more traditional classroom/lecture/practical activity format.
A while ago, I wrote about the need to stop dabbling with Druidry and start getting real. To stop reading about Druidry and start practicing it. I feel like Druid College has set me on the path, and given me a map for the first steps on this new journey. Thanks to Jo, Robin, Melanie and all my classmates for the teaching, fellowship and good food! See you all in January!