On the May Day weekend I looked in on both the Avebury Gorseddau, the 'Free and Open' Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri that meets on Saturdays and the Gorsedd of Bards of Caer Abiri (which is also free and open but doesn't like to brag about it
) that meets on Sundays. It was the first time I'd been to Avebury for a Gorsedd celebration for a few years. Both events were attended by about 45 people. It was nostalgic for me and also a little sad. Before the Gorsedd split in two in the late 1990s to the dismal sound of clashing egos, we would have expected that many people on a freezing cold, rainy day in midwinter. On a warm, sunny day in springtime, we'd have expected 200 or more. When things got ugly in the 90s, most of those who used to attend regularly simply turned away in sorrow and never returned
Such is the damage a few troubled minds can cause. Clearly the ceremonies themselves meant nothing to them. Each one began with a greeting at the southern entrance in which the Guardian said: "All who come here are welcome, but thrice blessed are those who come in peace, with reverence and love." The opening of the circle always began with calls for peace at each of the four quarters. We all joined hands and together said "We swear by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand. Mark, O Spirit(s), and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow." It still beggars belief that anyone could take part in a ceremony where such words are spoken, even joining in speaking them, and then go on to disrupt the rest of the ceremony with angry outbursts and physical violence.
Things have also changed in that, when the celebrations began in 1993, they were avowedly multi-faith. Christians, Bah'ai and Buddhists joined hands with Wiccans, Druids and Heathens, plus the occasional Native American or Australian Aboriginal and swore the oath of peace in a real community of spirit. Now the celebrations seem purely Pagan. As such, they seem to me to have lost part of what made them special.
To be honest, there are times when I wish I had never started them at all. Before 1993, Avebury was known to few in the Pagan community and cared about by fewer. By 1995 it was becoming Pagan central, largely due to the rapidly spreading fame of the Gorsedd. The reason what we were doing caught on so quickly and so strongly was partly down to the simple fact that large, open, public Pagan-run gatherings were then as rare as hens' teeth. That and the fact that Avebury is a very magical place and one with far fewer access problems than Stonehenge
. Unfortunately, a part of the Pagan presence attracted to Avebury by the Gorsedd chose to mark the festivals as much with drunken aggression as with ritual celebration
. This has caused problems for the site curators, the police and the residents of the village that nestles within the henge. It goes without saying that causing such problems within a place I love so deeply was diametrically opposed to the original intentions of the Gorsedd, which were to bring people together in peace and harmony.
But then I think of what so many people have told me about how much the Gorsedd has meant to them. It genuinely has changed people's lives and brought healing to broken souls
. As with so much in life, it comes down to a question of whether the good outweighs the bad. For me, having witnessed both the worst of the bad and the best of the good at Avebury, the Gorsedd is still too close to call.
Having said that, the celebration coordinated by Morgan on the Sunday of the May weekend was a fine and enjoyable one including, I was pleased to note, bardic initiations. It was good to hear words spoken at the first Gorsedd 18 years ago still sounding in the sacred circle
. Morgan has done well to maintain as much as could be held of the original spirit of the Gorsedd given the changed circumstances following the split of the 1990s, and the celebrations she coordinates are certainly worthy of support.
The Saturday ceremony that preceded it was a looser, slightly more boisterous affair, but seemed to satisfy those who attended.
One thing that would not have happened in the 90s was that there were at least two other groups who took up stations within the henge during our rite on the Sunday. One of these brought chairs and set themselves up in the centre of the South Inner Circle where Gorsedd rites are commonly held. This meant that our rite was focused around the Ring Stone that stands between the inner and outer circles near the Southern entrance. This too may be a side-effect of the widespread attention drawn to Avebury by the Gorsedd.
For myself, having composed the original Gorsedd rite, given it its name and set its form in the early years of its existence, my hope was always that others would take on the running of it. It was always the
Gorsedd, not my
Gorsedd. Nevertheless, since mine was the original vision that set it rolling, blessed by the spirits of the place, I can't help but retain an interest in its destiny. So, though it still raises very mixed emotions for me, I'll be back.