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.

Deity in spiky boots: finding the Sacred at a rock festival

“Let me enlighten you, this is the way I pray” -Disturbed, “Prayer”.

So there I was, standing in a mud-soaked field in a torrential rainstorm, surrounded by people dressed in black, chanting. Upon a raised dais, three figures lift their arms to the air and make a ritualised hand gesture, directing us all to worship the Fox God.

An occult ritual? Nope, this was BabyMetal’s performance at the Download Festival!

I got back the other day and wanted to write something about how amazing Download was. Despite the weather (leading to it being nicknamed “Drownload“), four days of schlepping about in the mud listening to metal was an experience to remember.

Image from Nottingham Post.

Image from Nottingham Post.

Over 80,000 people made the pilgrimage to Donnington for the festival, which lasted over three days (of music, plus two days of camping). And it was, in a very real way, a religious experience.

If you consider to root of the word “religion” to be from the Latin re-ligare (to bind together, or re-connect), then a metal festival certainly fits the bill. Thousands of people bound together by a shared love of music, connecting through song, cheering and chanting, with a shared identity and common symbols (band logos, metal “horns”, black t-shirts). Seems religious enough for me, anyway.

But this was no monastic retreat for self-denial, although it took a lot of self-discipline and will to withstand the elements. This was a joyously, gloriously, hedonistic celebration of life in all its fullness, including its darker elements. While metal deals with death and loss, it often does so in a cathartic way, leaving you feeling healed as a result.

This was a festival where you could find alternative visions of the Sacred. From the blow-up church on site where couples of all genders could get married, to Amon Amarth belting out hymns to Thor during a rainstorm, to Black Sabbath’s invocations to Lucifer, or Nightwish’s paeans of praise to the wonder of the Universe, or indeed to BabyMetal’s devotion to the mysterious “Fox God”, a range of Sacred concepts and forms found expression in the pounding drums and soaring vocals of metal. [Sadly Ghost were unable to make it, but their sublime Luciferian cantos would have fitted in nicely here].

The great joy of it all was that what you believe didn’t matter. I felt the power of Thor in the thunder and rain during Amon Amarth’s set, but you didn’t have to be pagan to enjoy connecting with the mythology of the Vikings. Likewise, I doubt many BabyMetal fans are devotees of Inari,  and I’m sure somewhere in the thousands-strong crowd were some Christians throwing the Devil Horns and singing the Number of the Beast with Iron Maiden.

It may seem a stretch to find a genuine experience of the Sacred in the often tongue-in-cheek Satanism or Viking-Warrior machismo of metal, but it is there, if you open yourself to it. As Disturbed might say, “Liberate your mind, you motherf***er”.

This is open-source, DIY, Sacredness. No dogma, no priests, no commandments. Just a field, some people, food and drink, fellowship and damn good music. Epicurus would be proud.

In the words of Lzzy Hale, can I get an Amen?

Bonus Druid moment: I got to meet Damh the Bard! I knew he was going to Download because he posted about it on Facebook, but I was surprised to bump into him outside a noodle van on the very first day of the festival! I may have fan-squeed a bit about being a long-time listener to Druidcast, but he seemed genuinely happy to be recognised. Nice bloke!

Taliesin

One of the major folktales, or legends, in the Bardic tradition is that of Taliesin, from the Welsh Mabinogion. The tale tells of the goddess Ceridwen, who brewed a potion (the Awen) to help her son, who was the ugliest in the land, gain wisdom. She hired a local lad, Gwion, to tend the cauldron and, as these myths tend to go, Gwion ended up accidentally gaining the wisdom of the Awen himself. A series of shape-shifting chases between him and Ceridwen follow, and eventually Gwion, as a grain of wheat, is eaten by Ceridwen, in the form of a hen. Nine months later, guess what? Ceridwen gives birth to Gwion, now transformed into Taliesin, the greatest Bard in Britain.

Well, that’s the short version anyway. Far better in the case of folklore to hear the tale than read it, and so here’s Damh the Bard with his brilliant verse rendition of “Ceridwen and Taliesin”.

Nightwish

Image from Wikipedia (CC 2.0)

Image from Wikipedia (CC 2.0)

“We are one, we are a universe. Forebears of what will be, scions of the Devonian sea” -Nightwish.

One of the highlights of my winter break was getting to see my all-time favourite band, Nightwish, play the Wembley Arena in London. I first saw them 10 years ago at Manchester University, so what a phenomenal rise to go from what was essentially a student union to the legendary Wembley!

Their latest album is called Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and draws inspiration from Darwin, evolution, and the wonder of science. The final track is a whopping 24-minute long epic journey through the 4 billion year history of life on earth (with narration by the brilliant Richard Dawkins), and listening to it evokes a sense of awe, wonder and beauty that is as close as I get to a “religious” experience. Hearing the album while on a train through Norway’s fjords and forests was particularly moving.

Lyrically, the themes seem to me to be almost pantheistic (in a naturalist way) and speak to the sacredness of nature and the sheer joy of being alive. For me as a Druidic Pagan type, Nightwish seem to get to the heart of what life is all about: being part of this great interconnected “tapestry of chemistry” that is the universe.

So, if you have some time to spare, turn these videos up LOUD!