Druidry in the doing

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It feels like I haven’t written about Druidry in ages. I certainly haven’t been keeping to my self-imposed schedule of twice weekly posts on the 30 Weeks of Druidry and Explorations in Ogham challenges, which I feel guilty and anxious about until I remember that I set the schedule, nobody’s checking in on me, and that means I can change it!

But my blog-silence doesn’t mean that Druidry has fallen by the wayside. Far from it: the main reason I’ve been unable to find the time to sit at a computer and write about Druidry is that I’ve been spending more time doing Druidry, at least doing things that I feel are Druidic anyway.

A quote I saw online (ironically) once said that “internet Paganism is not Paganism” and that’s something worth remembering. Especially as a solitary practicioner away from a local Pagan community, my path can easily become “internet Paganism”, more blogposts than blackbirds, more Facebook than forests.

When all your Druidry is digital, what is there of real, physical, nature? How much can you connect to the gods of land, sea and sky sat on your sofa?

I had another study weekend with Druid College at the end of April, just before Beltane. It was a weekend of personal challenges, facing some fears, and also a weekend of sitting barefoot in a wooded grove of oak and beech, meditating, chanting and singing. Without going into too much detail, something happened. Some small, subtle thing shifted in my subconscious, a tiny brain-hedgehog waking up from hibernation, twitching its whiskers in the warm spring air, sniffing at the scent of blossom and new life.

And so, as softly as a summer breeze, my Druidry (or what I thought of as my Druidry) was blown off course, and all I could do was ride the thermal current, a leaf on the wind. It led me away from the screen and away from books and essays (*cough – sobehindonmyhomeworkandstartingtopanic – cough*) and outdoors. Not to wild rugged romantic places, but to my own back garden, my local paths, the intriguing beauty of the fens.

I’ve been working in the garden more, putting in a pond for frogs and toads, planting wildlife-friendly shrubs, leaving a patch of lawn to become a grass-and-wildflower meadow. As I do so, I notice nature more. The species of trees that make up my mixed hedgerow, the movement of the great old willow, the play of squirrels, the territorial scraps of robins and blackbirds, the rooks who leave their roosts as I leave for work and return home as I’m having dinner in the evening.

I celebrated Beltane (which is, as all Pagan festivals are, a season not just a day), with a small ritual but also by going to a local folk festival and seeing Green Man costumed morris dancers, drinking local beer and cider, and later by cooking over an open fire in the garden. To me, all this is Druidry.

Waking, I greet the sun and the new day. Retiring, I greet the moon and the night. Cooking, I honor the plants I eat. Walking, I try to notice the land and hear its song, not be wrapped up in my own thoughts. Exercising, I strive to honour my own body as part of nature, as a sacred creature to love not to hate. Relaxing with my partner and our pet gerbil, I experience the bliss of connection to another living being.

None of this is particularly mystical, or intellectual, or specifically Pagan. But all of this is Druid. As my Druid teacher, Joanna van der Hoeven put it, “Druidry is loving nature and allowing that love to inspire you to live your life accordingly.”

And you know what? Stepping away from the screen and finding Druidry in the small daily moments has deepened my practice. Knowing about Druidry and actually being Druid are not the same thing, and it’s important sometimes to leave the books and websites and study, and get your hands dirty.

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Druid College: Year One, Weekend One.

oaks-995359_960_720Last 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!

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