Archive for the ‘Welsh Gorsedd’ Category

East Coast Gathering 2015   5 comments

This last weekend marks the 5th East Coast Gathering I’ve attended, the 6th since its launch in 2010, and another gift of Spirit and mortal effort.

You can read my accounts of three of the previous years: 2012 | 2013 | 2014. A special thank-you to John Beckett, several of whose professional photographs illustrate this post. You can visit John’s own articulate and insightful blog “Under the Ancient Oaks: Musings of a Pagan Druid and Unitarian Universalist” over at Patheos here.

Camp Netimus -- photo courtesy Krista Carter

Camp Netimus — site of the ECG. Photo courtesy Krista Carter

 

Registration for the weekend filled within 20 hours of opening this last spring. Gatherings like this answer an obvious need in the Druid and Pagan community, and more are in the works in other locations. It’s on us to help make them happen. A dedicated team can bring the same joy, support, inspiration and community to other regions.

Yes, we’re all solitaries some or much of the time, but every solitary benefits from celebrating and learning in the company of others. That chance conversation, ritual insight, day- or night-dream, word or phrase that lights up just for you, the hugs you give and receive, the opportunities to serve the community through offering a workshop, cooking, cleaning, organizing, driving — these make Gatherings like this such richly rewarding experiences. The dark and light halves of each year are real, and we need all the help and laughter we can find to thread our way through the labyrinth of time.

 

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I arrived Thursday afternoon early enough to check in and unpack before the opening ritual. My cabin mates had already hoisted a banner, which also made the building easier to distinguish from the others in the dark, when the “9” on the door was no longer readily visible.

cabin banner

Cabin banner. Photo by A Druid Way

 

Equinox marks the shifting energies of days and nights, rebalancing the world. A lovely moon bore witness, waxing each evening through wonderfully clear skies, lighting the path to evening events like the Ovate initiation ritual and illuminating the short uphill walk from the cafeteria to the nightly fire circle.

The crescent moon. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Crescent moon in a twilit sky. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

The theme this year was ritual, and the whole weekend focused our attention on its magical possibilities through a dozen workshops, demonstrations and ceremonies. You can get a sense of the range of approaches from the list of workshops here. We also welcomed returning U. K. guests Damh the Bard, Cerri Lee, and Kristoffer Hughes.

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Cerri Lee, Damh the Bard and Kris Hughes. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Damh’s workshop on “The Bardic Voice” underscored the centrality of the Bard in Druidry. Like many Druid groups, OBOD orders its teaching in the sequence of Bard, Ovate and Druid. But they do not form a linear progress or erect a hierarchy of achievement. They spiral. In an Ovate breakout group a day later, several people mentioned how they often return to the Bardic coursework, its insights deepening through their Ovate practice. And likewise with the work of the Druid grade.

Damh is a fine teacher, an animated storyteller and ritualist of deep experience. With his wife Cerri he leads Anderida Grove. [For an audio inspiration, listen to his hour-long recording for inner journeying here.]

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

Damh in teaching mode. Photo courtesy John Beckett

 

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Reminders of ritual possibility filled the weekend. Below is a picture of a labyrinth, another gift of the weekend, lovingly constructed by Cat Hughes and friends.

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Labyrinth by day — entrance. Photo by A Druid Way.

 

Volunteers switched on each light every evening, then turned them off again when everyone else had gone to bed.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

Labyrinth by night. Photo courtesy Damh the Bard.

 

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Kris’s workshop, “Laudanum, Literature and Liturgy — the Ritual Legacy of Iolo Morganwg,” featured the ritual — in Welsh — that Morganwg first performed on the Summer Solstice on Primrose Hill (London) in 1792, launching the Druid Revival and establishing the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards. Morganwg is also the author of the Druid’s Prayer, still used in many modern Druid groups including OBOD, and a major influence on generations of Druids from his time to the present. Kris’s Celtic eloquence in praise of Morganwg and his passion for Druidry took him off script and left many of us with tears in our eyes.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

Kris during his workshop on Iolo Morganwg. Photo courtesy of Dana Wiyninger.

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Bill Streeter from the Delaware Valley Raptor Center, the charity designated for this year’s Gathering donation, brought six birds and made a fine presentation on raptors, their abilities, the dangers (mostly human) facing them, and the challenges of rehabilitating injured birds.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Bill Streeter of the DVRC with a golden eagle. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

These magnificent birds have often suffered neurological injuries that worsen over time. Though both the eagle above and the owl below look normal, both are blind in one or both eyes, or suffer other injuries like crippled wings, and thus could not survive in the wild. But the birds help save the lives of their kin through their appearances in info sessions like this one.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Great Horned Owl. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

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The Alban Elfed ritual celebrating the Equinox includes gifts from children, guests and each of the three grades of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Here are Chris and I holding bowls of acorns, part of the Ovates’ ritual gift, just before the ritual procession into the Circle.

Chris and I just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Chris (r) and I (l) just before Alban Elfed ritual. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

The evening eisteddfod (music and poetry circle) one night featured a splendid duet from Kris and Damh — see the image below.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle.

Kris and Damh singing at the fire circle. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

Below is another pic of the fire circle one night. Our enthusiastic and skilful fire-makers Derek and Brom love large, carefully-constructed bonfires.

Fire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Evening bonfire. Photo courtesy John Beckett.

Once again Dana set up her meditation tent on the campground for all to visit and enjoy.

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

Approaching the tent. Photo courtesy Dana Wiyninger

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Altar in Dana’s meditation tent on the camping field. Photo courtesy Hex Nottingham.

A small group made a side excursion to nearby Raymondskill Falls. Here’s a view of one of the waterfalls.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy of Gabby Batz Roberts.

Raymondskill Falls. Photo courtesy Gabby Batz Roberts.

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And for those of us who can’t wait an entire year, the Gulf Coast Gathering will celebrate its second year in March 2016. Blessings of the Equinox to all!

Rowan Williams Gets It — a Spiritual Diagnosis   2 comments

druidwilliamsSome 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.

Of Orders and Freedoms, Part 1   1 comment

[Part 2]

Lorna Smithers’ comments about Druid Orders on the last post, “Facing a Critique,” have revolved fruitfully in my thoughts for the last couple of days.  I have to laugh at finding myself, if not defending groups and organizations, at least examining their virtues as evenhandedly as possible, given that I’m not much of a “joiner” either, though I’m a member of OBOD.

Smithers reflects:

It was my preconceptions about the middleclassness and conservatism of Druidry that made me steer well clear of it until a couple of years ago until Phil Ryder of The Druid Network gave a talk at my local pagan society, voicing that it isn’t all about robes, ceremony and tradition but forming relationships with the land and communities in which we live. Which identifies it more with radical ecology and grass roots movements than middle class conservatism.

Many people instinctively shy from joining groups for the reasons Smithers gives: they’re confining to the person who wants and needs to do more than follow convention and the group-think that too often can arise from, and mar, such organizations.  To many people, the energy and effort required to acclimate to a group don’t equal the advantages that come with belonging.  And there are definite advantages, which I’ll talk about later.

A 1906 Breton gorsez (gorsedd)

A 1906 Breton gorsez (gorsedd)

Druid groups are of course no more exempt from these weaknesses than any other human institution.  And for a number of secular Druid groups, some of the satisfactions of belonging are indeed the “robes, ceremony and tradition.”  The Welsh, Cornish and Breton gorseddau (the Welsh plural of gorsedd “gathering”) are specifically intended to promote poetry, music and scholarship, and the annual public gatherings are rich with ceremony and symbolism — and robes.

Smithers continues:

I’ve never been able to bring myself to join an Order such as OBOD and pay for their tuition because I don’t want my relationship with nature and the divine to be determined by anybody else’s structure, and I believe one’s local land and community, its spirits and deities are the greatest teachers.

If ever there was a succinct manifesto not just for the solitary Druid, but for all Druids, there it is:  “one’s local land and community, its spirits and deities are the greatest teachers.”

Yet we need some kind of structure, even if it’s free-form: a shape for our journeying, a cairn along the forest path.  Where to find it?  William Blake is credited with saying, “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s.”  Sexist pronouns aside, his words ring true.  The challenge for the solitary is to be open and receptive enough to perceive what she is being taught, to catch the lessons of the spirits and deities and local land and community.  Orders can help in teaching techniques of openness.  And the community of the like-minded, of one’s fellows, or of a more formal Order is often the leaven that forms in us an opening to new experience.  We catch awen from others’ inspiration, we take flame from neighboring fires.

In my experience, a good half of spirituality is “caught” not “taught.”  Or the teaching simply says listen!  In the presence of others, human and non-human, we find what we seek when we inhabit fully our ears and eyes and tongues and noses and skins.  What we need, to quote Moses at his most Druidic, is right here: “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”*  To obey is to listen and then to heed what we have heard, to follow what we know in our hearts, what we recognize is present to guide and heal and inspire us.

Emma Restall Orr

Emma Restall Orr

Emma Restall Orr, for a decade the joint chief of the British Druid Order (BDO), has pondered deeply some of the challenges of identity, authority, hierarchy and freedom in and outside formal “orders.”  Her several short articles in the excellent BDO booklet Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire deserve repeated reading.  Here in “So What is the BDO?” she pinpoints the issues:

In keeping with so much of modern Druidry, the BDO exists as a paradox.  And like modern Druidry, it is rather difficult to describe.  A good place to begin might be to declare that the BDO exists largely as a concept:  a means by which things get done, an organized non-organization.  Druidry is sometimes easier to define through what it is not, and so is the BDO.  It is not a source of teaching for an ancient faith or culture reconstructed.  It is not aiming to proclaim a definitive Druidry, be it 3000 years old, 200 or 10.  We have a mailing list of subscribers who receive our journal and various other leaves of information, then there are others who belong to our groves but do not subscribe, and many more who attend our affiliated gorseddau [gatherings].  Essentially these are the members and friends of the British Druid Order.  Yet the ‘membership’ exists only in this personal way.  It is horrifying the number of people, Druid chiefs to media men, who ask what is the membership of the BDO in order to judge its influence and validity.  For us, the very existence of a ‘membership’ brings up connotations of an organization to which some people belong and others don’t. And once we find ourselves with an organization with this list of people attached, each one of them investing their energy and their loyalty, those who run the organization begin to find themselves taking responsibility for — and, the gods forbid, speaking on behalf of — that membership, who in turn on some level look to the organizers, and before you know it people are defining positions, and the great confusion of hierarchy and politics ensues.  The whole problem of who does represent the membership quickly arises and next comes the democracy or dictatorship debate … Such political considerations are not part of the spiritual tradition that the BDO encourages or practices (65).**

The anti-authoritarian tone of Orr’s words finds a sympathetic reception on both sides of the Atlantic; if anything, Orders like ADF are every bit as structured as OBOD, and many people prefer to remain solitary or at least unaffiliated.  John Michael Greer, a member of both orders, and head of a third, AODA, is uniquely positioned to comment about structures and hierarchies.  In an article on the ADF website, he notes:

Each type of organization has its advantages and disadvantages. The minimalist approach followed by OBOD has resulted in a streamlined and efficient structure that needs to devote very little time to organizational matters, and has played a large part in helping OBOD go from the edge of extinction to become the largest Druid order in the world in only ten years. On the other hand, its success depends almost entirely on the personal qualities of the Chosen Chief, and members who are dissatisfied with OBOD policies have very few options other than voting with their feet. By contrast, ADF has achieved impressive organizational continuity and has extensive checks and balances in place to prevent malfeasance; this has been paid for by a need for so much involvement in organizational issues that many other matters have had to be neglected for years running.

What this means for actual practice, and what Druids can do whom the land calls and who divine that Orders are not for them, are among the things I’ll tackle in Part 2.

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Images: Breton gorsez; Emma Restall Orr

*Deut. 30:12-14; New  International Version.

**The British Druid Order.  Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire. Peterborough: Express Printing, 2002.

Updated/edited 20 October 2013

Of Headlines and Images: “Purely Cultural” or “Very Pagan”?   Leave a comment

It’s worth resurrecting a decade-old headline — and the accompanying picture! — to reflect on the power of headlines and images.   In 2002, when then incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was inducted into the Welsh Gorsedd of Bards during the Eisteddfod, an annual festival of Welsh culture, it kicked up some predictable controversy (or kun-TRAH-ver-see, as the Brits say it).  It also produced a fine picture that says at least as much — though what it does say is also debatable.  Here’s the whole article:

Incoming Archbishop of Canterbury becomes a druid
Monday 5 August 2002

An ancient early morning ceremony yesterday saw the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury stepping into a circle of Pembrokeshire stones and into a controversy.  Rowan Williams donned a long white robe, stood inside the sacred circle in a mist shrouded field in Wales, and became a druid.

The Archbishop of Wales was one of 50 people to be inducted into the Gorsedd of Bards during the service at the National Eisteddfod, a celebration of Welsh culture this week at St David’s, Pembrokeshire.

The Gorsedd comprises Welsh-speaking poets, writers, musicians, artists and others who have made a distinguished contribution to Welsh language and culture. But the ceremony was seen by some as too close to paganism for comfort.

The Rev Angus Macleay, of the evangelical group Reform, said: “Even if to Welsh speakers it is recognised as purely a cultural thing, the appearance of it looks very pagan. You have folks calling themselves druids, dressed in white and going into a stone circle, reciting prayers which don’t mention Jesus Christ.”

Dr Williams, who takes up his post in November, hit back at suggestions that the honour was linked to paganism. It was “one of the greatest honours which Wales can bestow on her citizens”, he said. “Some people have reached the wrong conclusion about the ceremony. If people had actually looked at the words of the hymns and text used they would have seen a very Christian service.”

The Archbishop is stepping down this year, having presided over a  decade’s worth of theological contentiousness about marrying and ordaining homosexuals that is splitting his church.  Other kerfluffles (I use the word advisedly:  in a century historians will no doubt smile and shake their heads at what is controversial now) include his positions on Sharia law, the hijab, Freemasonry, and creationism.  He is taking on what should be (almost anything would be!) a less dramatic and public role: Master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University.  Think Professor Minerva McGonagall as head of house of Gryffindor at Hogwarts, though Gryffindor was one of four dorms or “houses,” rather than an entire college.  Still …

I suspect Williams enjoyed his secular Druid experience more than some of his official duties as Archbishop.  I hope he reflects on it from time to time, as Druidry grows richer and more widely known.

[Updated 7/19/12]

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