If you've ever thought about joining a local Grove, or starting one, this video following the Chiltern Grove around the festival year might help 🙂
It's mid-October and autumn's beginning to make its presence felt here in North Wiltshire. With the cooler weather, it's increasingly tempting to forego working in the garden and get on with the BDO Druid course. We started work on these courses almost a decade ago, and it's been a fascinating journey for me personally. First I had to review every single conclusion I'd ever reached about the nature of life, the universe and everything to see if it still made sense. As part of this, I went back over everything I'd ever written about Druidry, from when I first came to the path in 1974 through to my book, Druidry: A Practical and Inspirational Guide, published in 2000. I was surprised and pleased to find how many beliefs developed out of the experiences of my childhood and teens still held good.
The next stage lay in expanding on existing understanding and generating new material based on new research and developing practice. This has been a real joy, sometimes consisting of major revelations, more often of small insights that build, one on another, to create greater ones. I've gone back to the founding texts of our tradition, from medieval collections of myths, legends and folklore, through to the works of Druid revivalists such as Iolo Morganwg. I've also re-examined my own work as founder of the BDO and a member of OBOD and other Druid groups.
Whenever I read a book on any spiritual tradition, I always look for signs that the authors have actually experienced the things they write about. I've drawn heavily on my own experience for my contributions to these courses, including out-of-body experiences, Otherworldly visions, meetings with pagan deities, shape-shifting into animal forms, and plenty of other weirdness. All the other contributors have a similar range of strange experiences to draw on and, as with my own, these have helped shape their image of how the universe works, what our place is within it, and what we should do about it.
Those fellow contributors include quite a roll call of the great and the good, including legendary singer-songwriter, Robin Williamson(right), author, Flick Merauld (a.k.a. Elen Hawke), musician and author, Andy Letcher, poet and author, Robin Skelton, Wiccan High Priest, Druid and ghost-hunter, Leon Reed, and, new to the team for our Druid course, Pagan philosopher, Brendan Myers, as well as many others.
My Druidry book forms the basis on which the courses are built. The latter, however, go way beyond what's in the book. The book consists of a little over 37,000 words while the bardic and ovate courses contain over 640,000 words between them. Add the nearly 200,000 words already included in the Druid course and the 150,000 or more still to come, and by the time we're done, our courses will comprise the equivalent of more than 27 books.
Plus, of course, we offer tutorial guidance to help folk through the courses. If current feedback is anything to go by, they're working pretty well, prompting one American ovate student to write, "I find myself feeling the presence of other beings as I walk, and feel them as fellow travelers in mutual aid. And I’ve finally arrived at a place I can make offerings to the gods and spirits, and do rituals, and really feel it and mean it versus going through the motions because I think I ought to. Finally, I feel the connections I’ve heard others speak of, but found so elusive to find on my own.”
The Druid course is coming together well. Having created a list of the booklets in it by number and title, followed by the chapter headings within them, I'm using that as a guide to shift sections around and create a sequence that makes sense to me and will, with any luck, work in the context of the course.
The package contents will vary considerably from those listed on the Druid course page here on the website. Once I've settled on a revised running order, I'll update the course page to reflect it. Meanwhile, rest assured that all the subjects referred to on the course page will be covered, just in a different order.
One major difference from the original outline is the amount of space given to animal spirits. Once serious work on the course began, it soon became apparent that working with spirit animals was going to be a far more important aspect of it than initially thought. The reason is that I started looking back to the deepest history of our tradition, tracing its origins to Central Asia around 40,000 years ago. Our ancestors in that far-off time were nomadic hunter-gatherers, and their relationship with a small range of animals was fundamental to their spirituality and their lives. I've written a little bit about the significance of seven of these animals on my Greywolf's Lair blog. I'm fairly sure I'm going to add horses as an eighth.
Around half of the course deals with the Druid role of walker-between-worlds, giving advice on when, where, how and why to access Otherworlds, plus details of what you may expect to find in them. For me, the ability to enter such spirit realms is one of the defining features of Druidry.
I'm really looking forward to completing work on all three courses sometime in 2016. I intend to celebrate by travelling to visit friends in various parts of the world, including Scotland. Despite having Scottish ancestors, I've never been North of Hadrian's Wall, which is just not right... Then I'll start revising the bardic course...
It's getting closer, folks! Even before the final booklets of our ovate course went online in October 2013, I'd started compiling pieces to go in our Druid course. I knew it was going to take a while. With the ovate, our aim had been to get it online in time for the first few people finishing our bardic course to go onto it. This entailed me working up to 16 hours a day and 7 days a week for the best part of a year. We made it, just. With the Druid course, I decided not to give myself quite such a hard time, knowing that this would delay completion. It's good to take time out though, attending occasional events, making drums with my son, making ceremonies, having a little bit of a social life. All work and no play makes Greywolf a dull Druid 😉
So, where are we with the Druid course? More than halfway through it. I've just printed out about 480 pages formatted into booklets. Of these, some are more-or-less complete while others are only 10 pages or so of notes. Some need considerable revision, others need a good deal of information added. I also have some pieces written but not yet formatted into booklets.
It's shaping up well, though changing quite a lot from the outline package contents given on our Druid course page. Booklet 1, as you'd expect, introduces some of the major themes the rest of the course tackles. Booklet 2 introduces the concept of a Palaeolithic origin for much of what we believe and do as Druids. The same origin underlies more-or-less every religion on the planet. As part of this, we've identified eight animals, or groups of animals, that humans have had extremely powerful spiritual connections with for tens of thousands of years. Each of these is examined in depth and pointers given as to how we may forge, or re-forge, our connections with them. This includes shape-shifting.
Otherworlds, journeying to them and returning, feature strongly in the course, which includes a thorough and fascinating guide to the inhabitants of these realms as recorded in the countries of the 'Celtic fringe' and elsewhere in Europe. This is backed up with practical information on how and why such journeying might be achieved.
Another major thread in the course is ethics, inspired by the classical description of Druids as 'moral philosopher.' In this, we are fortunate to have a section written by Brendan Myers, a professional academic philosopher as well as a Druid. Ethical and moral considerations feed into our lives in many ways, leading us to consider the life choices we make in terms of career, relationships, the environment, politics, pacifism, animal welfare, the food we eat, etc., etc..
For the craft-oriented, we offer instruction on drum-making and roundhouse-building. What else is there? Oh yes, there's weather-working, teaching, counselling, community engagement ... well, lots and lots 🙂
The next stage is for me to take my trusty red pencil and go through the printed drafts making corrections, amendments, additions and revisions. Then back to the computer to transfer those changes to the original files. My aim is to do what we did with the ovate course, that is to get the first half of it online first, giving us six months during which to complete work on the remaining half. Unfortunately, quite a lot of what I've printed out already belongs in that second half of the course. I would estimate that the first half will be ready to go online in about May 2016. Apologies to those of you who are waiting... I hope to get a free 'teaser' sample pdf for free download from the site before then. Watch this space...
Fortunately, our ovate course is so packed that I'm pretty sure that, unless you're blessed with an idetic memory, you could go back through it two or three times from beginning to end and find new things in it every time. And if you haven't studied our courses at all yet, what's keeping you? Feedback from our students is overwhelmingly positive, with many reporting their lives enhanced and changed by engaging with the courses, which Ronald Hutton has described as "the most intelligent and erudite sequential introduction to modern Druidry available." The bardic course is the place to begin, and you'll find a free sample pdf file here 🙂
From a sun-blessed study in rural Wiltshire,
Tewkesbury Medieval Festival is the biggest annual event of its kind in Europe, featuring hundreds of reenactors in full costume, period musicians and entertainers, plus acres of stalls selling goods from every period of history, from flint arrowheads to 70s retro clothing, and admission is free! For the last decade or so, the British Druid Order and friends have been providing a Druid blessing ceremony for the event at the request of the organisers, many of the reenactors and stall-holders being Pagan. This year, as last, we'll have a BDO stall in one of the big marquees opposite the restaurant, cafe and bar area. We'll have BDO t-shirts, publications, CDs, books, rattles, etc. for sale on the stall, which will be staffed by Greywolf and his sons. Come and say hello. You can't miss us, we have big, bright banners bearing the BDO Awen logo 🙂 It's an amazing event and a wonderful weekend for all the family, plus did I mention it's free! 😀
For how to get there and where to stay, check out the Visit the Festival page.
It's proving a difficult year for Druid and Pagan events. The Druid Network Conference was cancelled, and we've had to cancel the forthcoming Balfolket Sound Healing Retreat, the Midsummer Night's Dreaming concert and we've scaled back the Wild Ways Mini-Folk Festival so it'll now feature Jake Thomas and Greywolf. The TDN conference was cancelled due to low advance ticket sales, the other events due to Lena of Balfolket breaking a leg and three other members of the Norwegian party having family problems that prevent them from travelling. Our advance ticket sales would have enabled us to just about cover basic expenses, but only if Elaine took nothing for the hire of Wild Ways. Everyone who has paid for tickets will, of course, be refunded.
We also had to cancel the Bardic Storytelling weekend with Robin Williamson due to poor advance bookings.
The BDO can't afford to run events at a loss. Our aim is always to offer events at the lowest possible price that will allow us to pay for venues, cover the costs of teachers, speakers and performers and pay them a little bit on top. The latter is necessary because, while capitalism survives, those of us living in capitalist countries need money to buy food and pay bills.
We are told that the British economy is recovering from recession. For most of us who live here, it isn't. Money is tight. Many of us just can't afford to attend events, however low the cost. Another factor is that there are so many events on offer these days. Twenty year ago, there were perhaps half a dozen Druid-focused events each year. Now there are often that many on a single weekend, while the number of Druids wanting to attend them hasn't grown at anything like the same rate.
It takes a lot of work to put on an event and it's always disappointing to have to cancel one. To have to cancel several in a row is quite disheartening, especially when the events in question are ones we really care about and that we think are really worthwhile. Which covers every event we do, because if we didn't think them worthwhile, we wouldn't be putting them on in the first place.
Ah well, onward and upward,
Reflecting a particularly busy year for our esteemed guv'nor, a couple of recent blog posts on Greywolf's Lair may be of interest. One covers GW's recent adventures in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where he offered workshops based on our course material, including the ancient healing techniques reconstructed for our ovate course. He also got the opportunity to re-connect with the Quileute tribe out on the coast of the Olympic Peninsula and take part in their drum circle. The second comes from what GW's currently engaged in, which is helping to thatch a pair of reconstructed Iron Age roundhouses for the Museum of Welsh Life at St. Fagans in South Wales. This led him to ponder roundhouse-building traditions in both Britain and America.
The in-house journal of the BDO, Tooth & Claw, is on its way back. Huzzah! Suzanne and Jake Thomas from the South Shropshire Hills will be its new editors. That's them on the right. It will be a glorious technicolour production of around 16 pages or so, sent in glorious PDF to those who buy it to download for the miniscule price of £1.50 per issue. It will be published whenever those 16 pages are full of wondrous things, stories, poetry, articles, gorgeous artwork, spectacular photos, event details and anything else which we can cram in!
This is where you come in, dear BDO member and/or friend. Please send us your bardic ramblings, tales and verses, reviews of books, camps and ceremonies, artwork, and anything else you might care to share with fellow Tooth & Claw readers to toothandclaw @ btinternet.com (removing the spaces of course).
Word doc and docx, jpegs, and equivalent will be appreciated, or simply copy and paste into the body of the email and we'll sort it this end.
We look forward to receiving and publishing your work. Full credits on all submissions of course. So, get writing, drawing, painting, snapping and earn yourself a free subscription for every substantial piece published. Woohoo!
We've been having a few problems with the software we've been using to run the BDO webshop. While our web wonder, Adam, sorts out a new software set-up we've temporarily taken the webshop offline. We expect to have it up and running again soon. Meanwhile, we apologise for any inconvenience caused. When the shop's back online, we'll be adding new items, including BDO Awen T-shirts and rattles and drum beaters made by Greywolf (left), which brings us to our next item:
Back from his trip to the USA, Greywolf has completed and posted parts two and three of his Beginner's Guide to Drum-Making on his Greywolf's Lair blog. This details how to make frame drums using traditional methods that have been used across much of the Northern hemisphere for thousands of years. Included is a truly excellent video by Salish drum-maker, Jorge Lewis as well as a video of Greywolf playing his first completed drum accompanying his wolf chant. Here are links to parts One, Two and Three.
The BDO Circle of Elders will soon be getting together to discuss how we move the Order forward. We've reached a stage in our development where we need to assign new roles that will help us provide more and better connections with members and students. There are exciting times ahead as we continue to expand and to redefine contemporary Druidry. The results of our discussions will be posted here and will also lead to changes in this website to improve accessibility to what we have to offer. At the same time, serious work is beginning on putting together the third and last of our distance learning courses, the Druid course. For an outline of some of the things that will be in it, see here.
It's been a while ... well, 15 years, so quite a long while really, but we're delighted to announce that The Druid Tarot, designed by Greywolf back in the early 1990s, is now back in print and available via our wonderful webshop. Do check it out by clicking here. We love it!
In other news, BDO head honcho, Greywolf, will shortly be zooming off to the USA for the first time in a decade, revisiting old friends in the Pacific Northwest, attending a gathering of the BDO-founded Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Pugetia in Seattle, and offering talks and workshops in the magical setting of LaPush, coastal home of the Quileute people who are descended from shape-shifting wolves. Check out details of happenings at LaPush by clicking: LaPush 2014 flyer. For further details and booking, please telephone Seattle-based Pagan priest, great friend and long-time BDO member, Leon Reed on 206-329-6260.
Due to Greywolf's absence, there may not be many new posts here for a while as he tends to write most of them ... So, see you in a little while and don't forget, as another of our Seattle friends, guitar-maker, Denis Merrill, taught us to say, "Be the Awen!"
The BDO and friends have been conducting blessing ceremonies for this event every year since 2006. This year is no exception. The ceremony takes place before it opens to the public, but if you contact Elaine Wildways on facebook, she may be able to arrange for you to join us. However, even if you can't make the ceremony at 10am Saturday morning, you can still enjoy an amazing weekend, and it's free! The BDO will have a stall there this year on which we'll be selling BDO publications and various products designed and made by Greywolf, who will be manning it along with his son, Joe, and Blue Fox. It's a fabulous family event and there's a huge field full of stalls selling all manner of fine products from every era of history. Plus there are entertainers, musicians, Morris dancers and a good range of food and drink available.
Latest BDO @ Tewkesbury News
Two new BDO products for sale! First, the brand new BDO 'Be the Awen' t-shirts, available in Medium, Large and Xtra Large. Second, the new reprint of The Druid Tarot, designed by Greywolf back in the early 1990s and out of print for the last 17 years. The new reprint contains four new cards, representing the four elements as stone (earth), spear (air), sword (fire) and cauldron (water). The accompanying booklet has also been hugely expanded. Also for sale on the stall will be rattles and drum beaters made by Greywolf. All these items will be available soon via the BDO webshop, but if you want to get yours early, come along and meet us on the stall at Tewkesbury in the big marquee near the beer tent.
For more information, visit the website: http://www.tewkesburymedievalfestival.org/