Some of you may recall a minor kerfluffle from the Christian Right a decade or so ago, when then Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams joined the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards and appeared in — gasp! — “pagan” Druid robes and hood. One of the many ironies of that moment and others’ reactions to it is that of all Druid groups, the Welsh Gorsedd is among the most secular and the least woo-woo (a highly technical sociological term).
So here’s a worthy sequel: an excerpt from a 2009 lecture Williams gave titled “The Climate Crisis — a Christian Response.” During his talk he offers Druidic perspectives:
I once suggested that one necessary contribution to a better awareness of these issues was to make sure we went out of doors in the wet from time to time (a suitable lesson from Noah…), and – if we haven’t got gardens of our own – make sure we took opportunities of watching the changing of the seasons on the earth’s surface. This may seem trivial compared with the high drama of ‘saving the world’; but if this analysis is correct, our underlying problem is being ‘dissociated’, and we ought to be asking constantly how we restore a sense of association with the material place and time and climate we inhabit and are part of.
A transcript appears on the link page — it’s worth skimming for additional insights like this, a thoughtful and mature Christian grappling with the same realities we all face, and feeling his way into a diagnosis that accords with earth-centered insights and experiences — one that also doesn’t deny Christian wisdom either.
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Image: Rowan Williams/BBC News.
“Wessex Harvest” is a poem written in 1948 by distinguished British archaeologist Stuart Piggott (1910-1996). I quote it here because it evokes autumn and an autumnal mood. Also because some of Piggott’s uncharitable remarks about contemporary Druidry, especially in his 1985 book The Druids (Ancient Peoples and Places), haven’t earned him much applause in some Pagan quarters. He distinguishes, quite appropriately, between “Druids as known,” “Druids as inferred,” and “Druids as wished-for,” and drops contemporary Druidry squarely in the latter category. The Druid Revival also earns Piggott’s scorn at times.
But of course, as AODA archdruid J. M. Greer is fond of remarking, mere age is no indicator of quality in anything. If we actually could dig up a 10,000-year old Druidry, would that make it better? And “wished-for” happens to be a quality inherent in most of the great accomplishments of human culture. What “actually” exists as “known” first arrives imagined, wished-for, waiting — oddly enough — like a poem not yet written down. No Druidry of any period simply appeared on the scene without prior human imagination and effort, to be buried like a dog’s bone and subsequently turn up in the archaeological record just for convenience.
Piggott’s poem shows a more intuitive and perceptive side of the man, which is helpful in seeing him more accurately and completely — more charitably. So here it is:
Now the ancient Wessex hills
seize their lost splendour–
once, Stonehenge-building, their princes
proud with their Wicklow gold
strode in the sunshine;
now earth inherits
their dust, who are chalk-graved,
dry frail and brittle
pale bones under barrows–
poor fragments, those great ones.
But see, the austere lines
of downland are gladdened
splendid now, flaunting
armour of red-gold plate,
corn-stooks its studding;
new from old treasure
is this year’s miraculous
rebirth in the harvest.
And so in all years
is nothing forgotten,
always the far dead things
new life begetting.
In this poem, unlike in his other work, Piggott shows that he does perceive how things like Druidry might re-emerge, finding “rebirth in the harvest” where “far dead things” really can and do “beget new life.”
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Images: Stuart Piggott — Wikipedia.
Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.
I relied on this insight in planning for the workshop at this year’s East Coast Gathering, whose theme was “Connecting with the Goddess.”
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Goals and plans I had for the workshop:
The heart of the workshop is a hands-on look at various ways to make a physical book/scroll/altar object that explores/invites/incorporates ritual, ogham/runes, art, prayer, poems, questions, magic and daydreaming into a concrete “link” to the Goddess as we experience Her — or desire to experience Her. Think “book” as “portable paginated/folding/roll-up ongoing altar-in-process.” I’ll talk about inspiration, nudges, hints and ways to listen, inviting and hoping for participant sharing and input! The seed for the workshop comes out of the fact that I’m a prime example of somebody who doesn’t have a consistent Goddess practice (though She’s seeing to it that’s shifting, too), but when She wants my attention, She gets it, like with this book, and workshop.
It’s probably a good thing we don’t always hear how ambitious we sound. Young or old, you eventually learn to deal with the inevitable gap between vision and manifestation. If you’ve managed to hold on to any of that original and wonderful idealism of youth, you also realize that the gap isn’t a reason to despair, or to dispense with vision, but rather a sign of just how important vision is.
The physical world, so important for manifestation, by its nature tends to lag behind the swiftness with which vision can appear. But that lag is precisely part of this world’s immense value: its inertia and density allow for greater permanency and resistance to change, so that we can experience the results of vision over time — and fine-tune it if we choose. Unlike in dream, where the subtle stuff of vision or imagination can wisp away so quickly, physical manifestation tries to linger.
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The Goddess is generous. Or alternatively, if you prefer the cynical version, I belong to the OCD Order of Druids. Creativity, as the saying goes, is messy. I over-planned for the workshop, ending up with far more material than any mortal could begin to do justice to in a mere hour, and this post is my penance, or confession. Or further indulgence. And maybe — in the way it often arrives when we’re not paying attention, even in spite of ourselves — a spark of awen.
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“Creating A Goddess Book,” with focus on “book” in order to free it from the psychological shrine many Druids, and Pagans generally, tend to put books in. Instead of paper, a book of leather, or metal, or cloth — individual sheets, or a single longer scroll. A nudge to try out the qualities of other substances than paper, than the admittedly inviting blank books on sale in chain bookstores, or even Ye Friendlie Lokal Paygan Shoppe.
Each workshop participant received a packet to practice with, consisting of a rectangle (approx. 3″ x 4″) of vegetable-cured leather and a similar-sized rectangle of .019″ aluminum, wrapped in a larger swath of canvas cut from a shop drop-cloth from Home Depot. A wood- and leather-burning tool, a few screwdrivers, some markers of various kinds, a few words about inspiration and the importance of working to manifest things on the physical plane as one powerful way to connect with the Goddess. Suggestions for inscribing/writing/ incising a short prayer, vow, magical name, etc. Reference tables of Ogham and runes for those who wanted to inscribe words with some privacy, as a personal meditation. I pointed out that you could cut all three materials with kitchen scissors. Besides the wood-burner, no fancy tools required. Then I shut up and let participants have at the materials. Done!
Hex Nottingham’s leather and metal “pages” — photo courtesy Hex Nottingham
Except for the next flash of inspiration in the planning process, which would not let go: a “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” you can try out here at one of several websites that illustrate the steps.
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A sampling, with some commentary and additions, from the workshop handout:
“Spirit must express itself in the world of matter or it accomplishes nothing. Insights of meditation and ceremony gain their full power and meaning when reflected in the details of everyday life.” — J. M. Greer, The Druidry Handbook, p. 138.
This world, here, is the realm of mystery. Spirit is simple — it’s this world that’s so surprising and complex in its changes and ripples, its folds and spirals and timings. Make something, I tell myself, labor with the body, and then I can often approach the Goddess more easily, dirt under my fingernails, sweat on my face. She likes bodies. I’m the one who keeps forgetting this, not her.
“Work with a Goddess long enough and you learn to hear Her call. You learn to pick her voice out above the noise of contemporary society, above the words of teachers and friends, and even above your own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes what you hear is not what you expect.” — John Beckett, “A Rite of Sacrifice,” Mar. 4, 2014.
“Shaper, you have made and shaped me. Honor and serenity are yours. I am your garment, you the indwelling spirit. Work with me in everything I do, that all may know you. Energizer, quicken me. Measurer, clear my path. Protector, guard me safely. Initiator, take my hand. Challenger, transform me. Savior, be my help. Weaver, make my pattern bright. Preserver, heal me. Empowerer, make me wise.” — adapted from Caitlin Matthews, Elements of the Goddess, p. 118.
Rilke’s fragment, a whole meditation in itself, or a daily morning prayer.
Oh, I who long to grow,
I look outside myself, and the tree
inside me grows.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
And Larkin’s poem “Water”:
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.
Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;
My liturgy would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,
And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.
– Philip Larkin
After delighting in this poem, make an exercise of it. Choose one of the elements. It can be water, as in the poem, or one of the others. Finish the sentence: “If I were called in to construct a _____, I should make use of [element].” Keep going: a series of statements, a meditation on the one you just wrote, a free association. Whatever gets you putting words down. You can try this over several days with all the elements, or at a different pace, if you’re working with the elements on your own.
The ECG schedule this year put the Goddess Book workshop immediately after Thursday’s Opening Ritual, so people arrived still bubbling from the ceremonial jump-start for the weekend.
“In every world, in every form, in every way, I am near you, I uphold you, I comfort you, I guide you, I deliver you from each limitation until my freedom is yours. Your body is my chalice, your heart my echo, your form my shadow, your pulse my footstep, your breath my passing.” — from my own Goddess book.
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1. Once you hold the Star of the Goddess in your hand, write the names of the four elements and Spirit, one near each of the points. Complete this step before reading further.
2. Which elements sit on either side of Spirit? Contemplate on their positions there. Are they elements that help support your spiritual life? Are they especially active? Are these the elements that need extra attention and balance?
3. Consider a section in your Goddess book for vows: experiment with them, not as harsh, unyielding obligations, but as tools for studying resolve, testing experience, practicing manifestation of you intent, and so on. They need not be “public” – write them in ogham, runes, etc. Start small and easily achievable.
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Dedicating a Goddess Book: Blood, sweat, tears, spit, etc. can mark our books with our earthiness: a commitment to be honest with the Goddess about our path, its ups and downs, to remember her presence with us, and to acknowledge what we need, what we doubt, what we’re willing to work for – whatever feels right to include. Make a ritual of it. Do it quietly, simply, without fanfare, with silence making its own ritual. Or call out all the stops, bells and whistles. Then dance, feast and celebrate.
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Allow a Goddess book — it could be a single sheet or “page” specifially intended for this purpose — to return slowly to the elements on an outdoor altar. Or bury it in the Mother’s good earth. Thus is the vow fulfilled that the Mother takes into Herself, as She will take all things back in time, and return them again.
“All things are holy to you. This book like all things lies among the faces you show to me; may I learn from you daily, drink deep from your well, and body you forth as your child.” — from my Goddess book.
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A small ritual. Take a few deep breaths. Sing the awen, or other name or word that grounds and focuses you. Holding your cupped hands in front of you, say: “I make this altar for the Goddess, a space where she may act in my life.”
Holding the Star, or your journal, or other ritual object meaningful to you, or nothing else at all, ask yourself: What specific space or doorway exists in my life for the Goddess to manifest or to act in? Pay attention to hints, images and answers as they come.
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And again: Our bodies already know the Goddess – this is our oldest magic.
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Images: ogham; star.
Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.
Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness. Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.
Primed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.
Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!
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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.
Camp Netimus path — photo courtesy of Carolyn Batz
[Here are reviews of ECG 12 and ECG 13.]
East Coast Gathering (ECG) ’14 just celebrated its fifth Alban Elfed/ autumn equinox in the wooded hills of NE Pennsylvania. Along with this year’s theme of “Connecting to the Goddess,” 114 people reconnected to each other and the land, the lovely land. New participants and old remarked on the kindness of place, the welcoming spirit of Netimus, a flourishing girls’ camp founded in 1930 that now plays host off-season to other groups, too.
[For another perspective on this year's Gathering, visit and read John Beckett's excellent blog "Under the Ancient Oaks."]
After a wet summer in the Northeast, the camp showed richly green — mosses, lichens, leaves and light all caressing the gaze wherever you looked. And keeping to our tradition of inviting guests from the U.K., we welcomed Kristoffer Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order and returning guests Penny and Arthur Billington, this time accompanied by their daughter Ursula, a mean fiddler with Ushti Baba (Youtube link).
For me what distinguished this year’s Gathering, my fourth, was the pure joy in so many people’s faces. And it just grew over the weekend. Over and around travel fatigue, colds, tricky schedules and stresses and waiting commitments — everything — they didn’t matter: the tribe was together again. To you all (from an interfaith week I participated in): “Thank you for the blessings that you bring. Thank you for the blessings that you are.”
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Dana’s Goddess Shrine in a tent on our ritual field was also a wonderful addition and a focus for many of us.
Goddess Shrine — photo courtesy of Nadia Chauvet
Natural offerings accumulated over the weekend — mosses, lichen-streaked stones, acorns, leaves, a small sun-bleached animal skull — were returned to Netimus, and the other items packed up for next time. A workshop I led, on making a Goddess Book, drew me back to the shrine several times for reflection and inspiration. (Here’s the link I mentioned at Camp to a video on making the “Nine-Fold Star of the Goddess” — seeing the steps in 3D should help make my hand-drawn images on the handout easier to read once you practice a few times. A series of divinations and meditations were to follow which I never got to in the workshop — though over-planning is usually better than under-planning. Material for a subsequent post!)
I continue to meditate on a surprising goddess experience during Penny’s workshop, which I may be able to write about in an upcoming post. One of the potencies of such gatherings of like-minded people is the spiritual crucible that can form and catalyze discoveries in ways not always easily accessible in solitary practice.
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Our fire-keepers outdid themselves this year, building enormous pyres (one with an awen worked in wood) to provide the centerpiece of each evening’s gathering after supper, workshops and initiations had concluded.
Awen bonfire ready — photo courtesy Nadia Chauvet
evening bonfire — photo courtesy John Beckett
As always it’s people who carry the spirit of Druidry. Here as they tour New York City, just prior to the camp, are Kristoffer, Renu, Ursula, Penny and Arthur.
Renu with our UK guests in NY — photo courtesy Renu Aldritch
I’ll return to A Druid Way (and the fourth post in the “American Shinto” series) when I get back from the annual East Coast Gathering (ECG) this coming weekend. This year’s 5th ECG shares in some of the energy of the OBOD 50th anniversary earlier this summer in Glastonbury, UK. For many U.S. Druids, the Gathering is the principal festival event of the year, a chance to renew old friendships, enter sacred time and space, and reaffirm ties to the special landscape of Camp Netimus in NE Pennsylvania. This year’s Gathering theme is “Connecting with the Goddess.”
In the interim, here are three images from last year’s Gathering — a visual invocation of the Alban Elfed/Autumnal Equinox energies of the Camp.
Camp Netimus sign — photo courtesy Krista Carter
Steps up to fire circle from Main Lodge — photo courtesy of Wanda GhostPeeker
The evening bonfire
[Part 1 | Part 2]
Below are images from our recent visit to Spirit in Nature in Ripton, VT, some eight miles southeast of Middlebury as the crow flies. An overcast sky that day helped keep temperature in the very comfortable low 70s F (low 20s C). At the entrance, Spirit in Nature takes donations on the honor system. The website also welcomes regular supporters.
As an interfaith venture, Spirit in Nature offers an example of what I’ve been calling Shrine Druidry, one that allows — encourages — everyone into their own experience. Everyone who chooses to enter the site starts out along a single shared path.
The labyrinth helps engage the visitor in something common to many traditions worldwide: the meditative walk. The labyrinth imposes no verbal doctrine, only the gentle restraint of its own non-linear shape on our pace, direction and attention.
Beyond the labyrinth, a fire circle offers ritual and meeting space. Here again, no doctrine gets imposed. Instead, opportunity for encounter and experience. Even a solitary and meditative visitor can perceive the spirit of past fires and gatherings, or light and tend one to fulfill a present purpose.
Beyond the circle, the paths begin to diverge — color-coded on tree-trunks at eye-level — helpful in New England winters, when snow would soon blanket any ground-level trail markers. When we visited, in addition to the existing paths of 10 traditions, Native American and Druid paths branched off the main way, too new to be included on printed visitor trail maps, but welcome indicators that Spirit in Nature fills a growing need, and is growing with it.
The Druid Prayer captures a frequent experience of the earth-centered way: with attention on stillness and peace, our human interior and exterior worlds meet in nature.
The trails we walked were well-maintained — the apparently light hand that brings these trails out of the landscape belies the many hours of volunteer effort at clearing and maintenance, and constructing bridges and benches.
A bench, like a fire pit and a labyrinth, encourages a pause, a shift in consciousness, a change, a dip into meditation — spiritual opportunities, all of them. But none of them laid on the visitor as any sort of obligation. And as we walk the trail, even if I don’t embrace the offered pause, the chance itself suggests thoughts and images as I pass that the silence enlarges. I sit on that bench even as I walk past; I cross the bridge inwardly, even if it spans a trail I don’t take.
Sometimes a sign presents choices worthy of Yogi Berra’s “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Perhaps it’s fitting to close with the North, direction of earth, stone, embodiment, manifestation — all qualities matching the interfaith vision of this place.
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This is the 200th post at A Druid Way. Thanks, everyone, for reading!