It’s a boy, no a girl, no – It’s a film!

On the 30th April 2011 the cast and crew gathered in a woodland in Sussex to begin filming Sprit of Albion, the Movie. Before we did anything else we held hands in a circle and asked for the blessings of the Spirits of the Land and of the Old Ones to see the film through to completion. We took some deep breaths, then the filming began – the first shoot being my performance of Pagan Ways, then I watched my song Green and Grey come to life before my eyes. It was an amazing moment I will never forget.

A year on to the day and there are two premiers being held in the UK tonight, one in the north of England which still has a few tickets left, and one in the south at the Hawth in Crawley that is sold out. Then tomorrow the DVDs go on sale. I can barely believe it’s actually finished.

I know that there have been independent films created in the past that have held magic in the hearts. The films of Kenneth Anger spring to mind, and I know that many Pagans (me included) love the old 70s horror film The Wicker Man, but that has really been adopted by us, and the final scene isn’t exactly the best publicity message for the Pagan community. I think with The Wicker Man it’s the magical vibe, and the songs, that we love.

Well, now we have a film that is truly ours, and I hope it will be loved just as much as Anger’s and The Wicker Man. A film that is about magic, and our relationship with the Land and it’s old myths and legends. It will take people on a journey, and there is one message held at the very heart of the film, a message that we don’t get very much from our regular TV, movies, or other media.

The message is one of hope.

Happy Birthday Spirit of Albion – The Movie!

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Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

Writing and recording an album is quite some undertaking. Each of my albums have taken on their own personality as each note has been played and recorded. During Herne’s Apprentice I was excited and nervous to see how my music would be received by people. Hills they are Hollow was probably the most gentle ride of all, as I’d found my feet and was thoroughly enjoying finding my way around the recording studio. The difficult third album was not so difficult in the end and, on the whole, Spirit of Albion flowed beautifully.

It was my fourth album The Cauldron Born that gave me my biggest challenge. Songs were coming that were deeply personal (Imramma – A Soul Quest), some political (Only Human), some written with an aim of putting the record straight (Green and Grey), whilst others told of a deep inner need to reconnect to the natural world (Land, Sky and Sea). The Cauldron Born lived up to its title as it felt like it was torn from my very soul, as I looked back into the depths of the Cauldron, and saw my own reflection.

I think it might have been this experience that led me to change direction with my next studio album by recording an album of classic traditional folk songs in Tales from the Crow Man. Some people ask why I did that, and the truth is that I really felt the need to give something back. I’d recorded a few folk songs on my previous albums (such as Raggel Taggle Gypsies and John Barleycorn), and each time I played these songs I became aware of a huge pyramid of ancestors stretching back behind me made up of all of the people who had sung these songs over the centuries. Nobody knows who wrote them, and that to me is part of the magic, but they are still being sung. These old folk songs tell of our human experience, and a folk song has to do that otherwise people will stop singing it, and it’ll disappear. So I chose the songs that had moved me the most over the years and went back into the studio.

I quickly realised that I didn’t just want to re-record covers of these songs, I wanted to really get to know them, explore them, feel them, then make my own mark on them, and that’s what I did, and that’s why Tales from the Crow Man was the hardest album of all. There was a pressure and a responsibility there that I wouldn’t deny. So it took a while, and it also took Cerri coming up with the concept of the Crow Man, this mysterious figure in the field outside the village that had seen the events of all of these songs happen. So he told his tales, and in the end I was really pleased with the result.

Last year I released my first live album As Nature Intended, and it is really lovely to have that available for those who simply cannot get to one my shows, and for those that can, but want to relive the experience.

So where next?

I am now halfway through recording my latest album, and it has already taken on a life of its own. It has taken this amount of time to tell me its name – as I’ve recorded the songs I’ve realised that it is a return to my roots. I am writing and singing about our myths, the land, and the Greenwood again, and it feels wonderful. This return to my roots led me to think about what it is that keeps drawing me to these subjects, and it is the mysticism, the spiritual connection to the beliefs and ways of our ancestors. And when I look into the mists of the green I always find the Lord of the Wildwood staring straight back at me.

So this album will be called Antlered Crown and Standing Stone. I said I was aiming at a March release but as usual I’ve been a little optimistic… So I will keep writing, and recording, and when it’s ready, it will be born.

The Blessings of the Wheel

I love the way our Pagan Wheel of the Year works its magic. It lies at the very heart of my spiritual life and I’m sure, like many other Pagans, the more I have worked with it, the more my own life has changed to reflect the turning of the seasons. So now, as the nights have drawn in, and the leaves have fallen once more to the ground to nourish next year’s growth, I too can feel the busy-ness of my own life changing. But just as the birds and animals are still busy searching for food, so I am searching for the Awen to inspire new songs, and to bless me with the insight for the arrangements of the songs I’ve already written.

I’m heading back into the studio to record a new album – the first album of my own songs since The Cauldron Born released in late 2008. I have a couple more concerts this year, and a couple early in 2012, but I have consciously created a space for that Awen to enter. And as I look outside at the late Autumn day I can see and feel that the energy is right.

The origin of some people’s inspiration is action, from friction and intense activity. Some people find their spiritual connections also come from that space, from drumming and dancing, screaming and chanting. I love that too, but I also know that the foundation of my inspiration comes from stillness, from peace. And that is another reason why I love the Wheel of the Year. The Spring and Summer are times of activity, when I am out playing at festivals, dancing around a burning Wickerman, running through a labyrinth, losing myself to the fire and power of the Pagan drummers. So when Autumn and Winter arrive I am ready to welcome their energy too – energies of reflection, and peace. I know that my spiritual life is enhanced by these changes. If all I knew was hot, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never felt cold? If all I knew was light, how could I fully understand and appreciate it if I never knew darkness? So if all I knew was wildness, how would I fully understand and appreciate it if I didn’t know stillness and peace? 

The Ancestor is standing at the Threshold. The woodland is still, and filled with the aroma of decaying leaves. And I am now ready to approach the Ancestor, to seek entry into the Grove of Reflection, to sit in stillness with eyes open, and to allow the woodland to accept my presence. Only then will the Faerie come out once more to dance, to show themselves to me, and allow me to hear their music.

Tales from the Road – Here be GATORS!

It probably seems like a crazy idea to go to Florida for a long weekend, but that is what we did. Hopping on a plane at 9.30 on Wednesday morning we flew to Chicago, then on to Orlando where we were met by the lovely Ashley, one of the crew for the Samhain Florida Pagan Gathering. We arrived at the campsite in the dark, but I couldn’t help but notice the ‘Beware of the Bears’ sign as we drove in. We were shown our cabin which we were sharing with the author M R Sellars and his lovely wife, took some dinner, then headed straight to bed as the jet lag just caught up with us.

When we got up the next morning (after waking up at around 5am wondering where I was, remembering, then going back to sleep – something that’s happened quite a bit this year) we opened the door to the cabin and took in the sight that greeted us. The venue was beside a big lake, and on this morning it was so still as to be mirror-like in its splendour.

After breakfast we took a walk around the site, and down to the lakeside where we saw the Warning Alligators sign – not a sign I’ve ever seen at our UK Pagan festivals! We spent Thursday meeting up with new friends and old, and chilled under the Florida sunshine.

Friday was different. A chill wind had blown in and the lake was no longer its mirrored self. We held a poetry workshop by the windblown lakeshore, and then in the afternoon I led an Ogam workshop, also somewhat colder, but both a delight to lead. Then I began to prepare for my evening’s concert. The venue was perfect, and Paul, the sound engineer was a delight to work with. In no time I had the sound I liked.

Now, I have to say that I don’t like waiting to play. Once I’m ready I just cannot wait to get on with it. But before long people arrived and I was ready to start. I took the stage, and, said “Hello!”….. and every light in the entire venue went out. I was in pitch darkness. I thought it was part of the show, and other lights would come on, but they didn’t. So there was nothng else to do but to play a bit with the situation. I got really close to the mic and in a deep voice that boomed out of the darkness I said. “Welcome to the Underworld, did you think it would look different?” Some giggles from the audience in the blackness, then a few turned on torches to light me up. I could see a few people rushing around at the back of the venue, and thought I’d better start – I could just see with the audiences’ torchlight. So I opened with Song of Awen, and during the song the lights came back on, and the show continued. What had happened was a lady with a mobility scooter had plugged her vehicle in outside the venue, couldn’t see a charging light, so flicked the switch above the plug, and in doing so she turned off all of the lights in the venue. She was so apologetic afterwards, but it really wasn’t a problem – things like that often give me the opportunity to play the fool a bit more, and certainly keep me on my toes. We all had a wonderful evening together, as did those who came along for the encore concert on Saturday lunchtime.

There were times when I was sitting with friends, and I felt the Sun on my skin, so I just soaked it up. I knew that it would be the last time I felt that warmth until maybe April of May 2012, and those of you who know me will know I am a true Sun worshipper, and miss the light and heat deeply. Sharing the campsite with beautiful red-cap cranes was quite an experience, and I marvelled at the aerial acrobatics of the black wing and turkey vultures, but I almost cried when the bald eagle flew overhead.

But soon it was Sunday, and so early in the morning we left with our friends and headed to a Cracker Barrell before being dropped back at the airport.

We had the most wonderful time at the Florida Pagan Gathering. The organisers, the other headliners, and the visitors were so lovely, and I just know it won’t be our last visit there. Thanks to everyone who made our trip, the workshops, and the concerts, so enjoyable. Oh, and thanks for all the mead too!!

Motley Crue and Morris Dancing

Around Lughnasadh this past Summer I was interviewed by Phil Widdows for the UK’s premier folk and acoustic music podcast Folkcast. Well, I am delighted to say that the interview has now been released as a Folkcast Special Edition. Me and Phil talk about my music, my path to Druidry, Motley Crue, glam rock, Morris Dancing, the Spirit of Albion movie and much more. So make a nice cuppa and have a listen.

You can find the link here

The Heart of Samhain

I was asked very recently why Druids celebrate such a dark festival as Samhain. What is it about this shadowy and occult time, where the land is overrun with ghosts and ghouls, that makes us want to associate ourselves with it. I found it a really odd question, but I think it’s a topic that, unless you are involved with Paganism, can be confusing. To the mass populous Samhain is Hallowe’en. A time when children knock on the doors of strangers asking for sweets, when demons and ghosts run riot, where we carve pumpkins into scary Jack o’ Lanterns. So in a way it’s not surprising that some wonder why we would celebrate this as a spiritual festival. So I replied that it isn’t dark. That the darkness some people perceive comes from a fear and distance from death.

The feast of Samhain comes from a time when people didn’t have world trade. They couldn’t just pop to the supermarket to buy their food. They had to grow it all themselves. Samhain as Summer’s End marks the obvious slip into the darkness and cold of the Winter. There would be the slaughtering of cattle and salting of meat to preserve it, the bringing in of crops, and some would look at the older members of their community and wonder if these frail people would live to see another Spring. The Sun’s arc is in decline, bringing shorter and shorter days, and with these thoughts of darkness and death comes our memories of those that have past on before. The Otherworld lies close at this time of year, and sometimes it feels so close you can almost touch it. So, being so distant from those tribal peoples what relevance does Samhain have today?

Today most of us are so distant from even the idea of death that we find it dark and scary. Dead bodies are taken away, hidden from view, filled with chemicals, then put straight into a box, then into the ground or cremated. Death is such a part of life that this distance is, in my opinion, unhealthy. Many of us British people take that another stage further with the idea of having to keep our chin up, or that emotional-baggage inducing stiff upper lip. So many of us either will not allow ourselves to mourn, or are not allowed to by our peers. The act of crying is such an important part of letting go that in the end this pent up emotion has to come out in some way, and sometimes this is in illness or misplaced anger. So during our Samhain ritual we say that all the time the names of our loved ones are spoken into the air, they will know they haven’t been forgotten, and sometimes that very simple act of saying their name out loud, of bringing their faces into our memories, is enough to break that barrier of held grief, and allow people to begin to let go. A powerful and truly human thing.

A part of any spiritual path deals with what happens after we die. In the end none of us will truly know what will happen until we take that journey, but while we are here these spiritual teachings can bring us comfort and peace. As a Druid I believe in reincarnation. That when I die my spirit will travel to the Blessed Isles of the West, to rest, reflect on my life, and then to return to the Cauldron to be reborn again. I don’t know this, but I feel that it’s what will happen. I wonder if our journey after death reflects our beliefs in life. We shall all find out in the end, and maybe that is the real essence of Samhain that people find frightening and dark. That death is life’s one inevitable, and every day we are making our way on a journey towards that moment. Let’s spend the majority of our lives living, but once a year it’s good to ponder our mortality.

Tales from the Road – He was searching for the Grail. I told him we’d already got one.

A very short flight took us from Prague to Frankfurt airport where we were met by Petra and then taken to a lovely German coffee house in her home village. A quiet night in led to us travelling the next day to the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids German Mabon camp.

The venue was beautiful. A YMCA centre with lovely chalets surrounding a gorgeous green where we would hold our rituals and workshops. The weather was still uncharacteristically warm for October so a great weekend was in store.

As dusk fell on that first night we walked into the woods, set our circle, and prepared for some Ovate initiations. The Moon shone through the treetops, owls called somewhere in the forest, we were blessed by a cloudless, star-filled sky. One of those skies that remind you just how small you really are. The initiations were magical. We walked back to go to sleep to awake at 6am, just before sunrise, for the Bardic initiations.

I have trouble getting up in the morning. I admit it. I have real trouble getting moving at 6am. But once dressed in my robe I opened the door and was caressed by the most delicious air that just filled me up and drove away any tiredness that was still hanging around.

We walked to the same location as before. Just over a stream, and into the woodland. We set the circle and the initiations began. What I haven’t told you is that we were sharing the site with a group of Live Action Role Players (LARPers). They were all in the next field. As the Sun rose bathing us in the most glorious early morning light, and the Bards saw the first dawn on their new Journeys, we were about halfway through one of the initiations when we heard a metallic stomping sound. I’d never heard this sound before, and it got closer and closer. We all stopped, there was a silence and stillness in the circle as the sound got louder, and we waited in anticipation, all wondering what would appear. We turned to see a knight in full plate-mail walking up the forest path towards us. Now I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time as a Druid, but this was about the most surreal.

Our gatekeeper walked over to him, obviously asked him to avoid the circle, and he dropped his shoulders in a rather dejected manner, turned, and stomped away with that same crashing sound. It was like a knight searching for the Grail, coming upon a group of Druids in the forest who told him ‘He Shall Not Pass This Way’ or like Monty Python, “well old chap, we’ve already got one.” It probably fitted his role-playing perfectly. The initiations were beautiful, and what a memory for that initiate to hold!

After we then found ourselves with some free time. Me and Cerri added our wishes to the ribbons, pictured below.

On Saturday night I played my concert. People gathered in the concert hall and I just couldn’t wait to get playing. This was my second concert in Germany and I could tell from talking to people at the camp that they were all up for a great evening. There was no need for translation here, people just understood the words of my songs and just joined in with me. By the end people were up and singing at the tops of their voices with a good number dancing in the isles. Apparently this is quite unusual for a German audience. It was s great night.

On the Sunday Cerri held her Awen workshop, and I did a talk on the Ogam, and a tree identification walk. More sunshine, more smiles. Then on Sunday morning at dawn we were once again up at 6am for a lovely naming ceremony. We had already packed our stuff as immediately after we were in the car, and on our way to Frankfurt airport to hop on a plane for the last leg of the tour. To Milan.