BDO Recommended Reading List 2020

The following is a selection of books and authors whose writings are in accord with the teachings and practices of the British Druid Order. They’re laid out in a logical order, beginning with introductory guides, then books relevant to the traditional three paths of Druidry, those of Bard, Ovate and Druid. All would make good supplemental reading for students on our courses.

Introductory Guides to Druidry

BDO chief, Philip Shallcrass, a.k.a. Greywolf, published an introductory book, ‘Druidry: A Practical and Inspirational Guide,’ in 2000 (Piatkus Books). A new edition is in preparation. In the meantime, reasonably priced used copies occasionally turn up on online bookshops.

Emma Restall Orr was joint chief of the BDO from 1995-2002, so her books carry the BDO gene. Some of her earlier ones are currently out of print, but again, used copies are often available. Her introductory book is: ‘Principles of Druidry,’ Thorsons, 1999. This is currently available as a free pdf file at: https://druidnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/What-is-Druidry.pdf

More recently, Philip Carr-Gomm, former chosen chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, published an excellent introductory guide to Druidry as a whole: ‘What Do Druids Believe?,’ Granta, 2006.

The Bardic Tradition

Kevan Manwaring writes convincingly on the bardic tradition due being an excellent bard himself, one of our tradition’s finest storytellers. Particularly recommended are: The Bardic Handbook: The Complete Manual for the Twenty-First Century Bard,’ Gothic Image, 2006, which does exactly what it says in the title. ‘The Way of Awen,’ Moon Books, 2010, which builds on the previous book.

Arguably Britain’s greatest living bard, Robin Williamson, has published a few books himself, as well as producing beautiful music as a solo artist and with the Merry Band and the Incredible String Band. He’s also a talented artist and a contributor to our courses. Again, some of these titles are out of print but available from online booksellers:

Celtic Bards, Celtic Druids,’ by Robin and R. J. Stewart, Blandford, 1999, is particularly good, combining decades of accumulated wisdom from these two great bards.

The Wise & Foolish Tongue: Celtic Stories & Poems,’ Chronicle Books, 1991, is a selection of some of Robin’s favourite traditional pieces re-worked for performance to modern audiences.

If you fancy getting musical but aren’t sure where to start, Robin has written a great introduction to a good starter instrument in ‘The Penny Whistle Book,’ Music Sales, 1992, which also covers the basics of reading music.

If you’re feeling bolder and have more cash to play with, you might fancy getting a harp. Robin and I both bought our first harps with one thing in mind, making pretty noises to accompany storytelling. Robin has since won awards for albums of harp music. I haven’t, but I still make pretty noises. Robin was first taught to play by Merry Band member, Sylvia Woods, whose book, ‘Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp,’ Woods Music, 2008, is an excellent introduction.

The text that underpins much of what we teach and do in the BDO is the great collection of medieval Welsh prose tales, ‘The Mabinogion.’ Of the many available translations, our recommendation is that by Sioned Davies, Oxford Books, 2008.

Kristoffer Hughes, chief of the Anglesey Druid Order, is a good friend of the BDO, a fine writer and an excellent advocate for modern Druidry, based firmly in the British bardic tradition. He’s written several books, and this one’s a great one to start with: ‘From the Cauldron Born: Exploring the Magic of Welsh Legend and Lore,’ Llewellyn Books, 2012.

A good collection of Irish bardic tales is ‘Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends,’ by Marie Heaney, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995. It includes the ‘Book of Invasions,’ the Cuchulainn stories, and legends of Finn mac Cool.

Perhaps the greatest product of the Irish bardic tradition is the saga of the great warrior, Cuchulainn. It has been translated many times, but never better than by the poet, Thomas Kinsella, in ‘The Tain: Translated from the Irish epic, Tain bo Cuailgne,’ Oxford University Press, 2002.

Since one traditional role of bards is that of historian, this seems a good place to introduce some histories of the Druid tradition. Here we are blessed to have Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University as a member of the BDO and of various other Druid groups. Ronald is the finest historian of paganism of our generation. Among his books are two dealing wholly with Druidry, particularly since the 18th century revival, a period many other scholars tend to ignore: ‘The Druids,’ Hambledon Continuum, 2008. ‘Blood & Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain,’ Yale University Press, 2011.

For the earlier, archaeological and classical era of Druidry, the following work by Miranda Aldhouse Green, probably this generation’s finest Celtic scholar, fits the bill admirably: ‘Caesar’s Druids: An Ancient Priesthood,’ Yale University Press, 2010. Her Sacred Britannia: The Gods and Rituals of Roman Britain, Thames & Hudson, 2018, is another useful source.

The Ovate Tradition

I known of only one book devoted specifically to the ovate tradition, that being: John Matthews (editor), ‘The Celtic Seers’ Source Book: Vision and Magic in the Druid Tradition,’ Cassell, 1999. A good selection of texts, from classical to modern.

The ovate art of divination is, however, very well covered in the Druid community. The BDO itself publishes two divination decks:

A Druid Tarot,’ by Greywolf, is a 29-card divination deck using images drawn from 5,000 years of ancestral art and a 40-page booklet, available only from the BDO webshop.

A Druid Ogham Oracle,’ by Greywolf and Steve Rumelhart, is a beautiful 25-card deck illustrating the letters of the Irish Ogham alphabet and the trees after which most of them are named. The accompanying booklet explains the significance of each card/letter, quoting from the original source for most of our knowledge of the Ogham system, The Scholars’ Primer. Available from the BDO webshop.

Some of the most beautiful divination decks in existence are those featuring the artwork of Druid artist, Will Worthington. These include:

The cycles of Sun and Moon flow through our ovate course, and our course contributor and tutor, Elen Hawke, has written an excellent guide to working with the Moon: ‘Praise to the Moon: Magic & Myth of the Lunar Cycle,’ Llewellyn Books, 2002.

The Druid Tradition

To get a good idea of what it’s actually like to be a Druid in the modern world, try: ‘Spirits of the Sacred Grove: The World of a Druid Priestess,’ by Emma Restall Orr, reprinted by Moon Books, 2014 (also published as ‘Druid Priestess: An Intimate Journey Through the Pagan Year,’ Thorsons, 2001).

One of the best practical guides available is: ‘Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom,’ by Maya Magee Sutton & Nicholas Mann, Llewellyn Books, 2000. Both authors give the clear impression that have not only researched the tradition deeply, but that they walk their talk. Full of things to do that have a genuinely Druidic feel to them.

Since one of the defining roles of a BDO Druid is walking between worlds, this short but precise and well-written guide by Danu Forest definitely earns its place here: ‘The Druid Shaman: Exploring the Celtic Otherworld,’ Moon Books, 2014.

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