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.
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.
I’ve heard it said that a tree doesn’t benefit from having its roots dug up, and this is true, but every now and again I feel the need to take stock and look back at what brought me to the Path in the beginning. To make sure that my roots are still secure, as sometimes they do need some kind of repair.
So yesterday I stopped looking forward, and placed my gaze firmly on the past, yet from this present moment. I got out my old Grove Books that I wrote during my studies with the Occult Church Society, and then the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. I read what I’d written for the first time in probably 8 years.It was lovely to read my own words as I set out on this path, a time when I had no idea how my life would change. I hadn’t yet written one Pagan song, so all of it lay unknown, in the future.
One beautiful thing that came from this was a great sense of re-connection, of getting back to my own roots, and it was wonderful. During one of the rituals I wrote that I believed I had met Brighid who had told me that the “source of my poetry and song lay in my own Spirit”. When I asked what that meant She just kept on repeating the same words, over and over again. There were other beautiful messages about the future hidden within the text, and a couple of times I couldn’t help but have to dry away a few tears.
There is a lot of sense in working with the Power of Now, especially if we have a tendency to live in a perceived future when we believe all will be better. But every now and then, and particularly as Samhain approaches, I think it does me good to look back and acknowledge the ancestor of my life today. To water the roots that keep my feet on the Path, and to be able to then take a new step forward, held by my life’s experiences.
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.
Vienna is one of my favourite cities. It seems to have such a relaxed atmosphere, and I adore its relationship with the Arts. I guess having such famous offspring helps, and it seems to value the Arts extremely highly, and I have never felt that being a musician is an undervalued profession here. This would be my fourth annual concert in the city, and my third visit to the Austrian Broomstick Rally.
We were collected from the airport by our dear friend Siggy, the person mainly responsible for my connection to the harp, and taken into Vienna to chill out for a few hours before going to the concert venue. I’d woken up at a Premier Inn at Heathrow at 4.30am so needed a power-nap before the gig that night. So rested we made our way into the city.
There was a buzz in the air that night. Everyone was in high spirits and the evening was opened by the Pagan Piper Project, a mass of singers and musicians who I had seen play a few songs at last years Broomstick. They were wonderful. Check them out atwww.paganpiper.com . The venue was full, with a few standing, and the atmosphere this year was fantastic. From the opening song we were all singing together and I don’t know if I was imagining this but it felt like there was some release of tension in the air – our lives do seem to be complicated right now with work, and the political climate – it just seemed like we were all thankful of the opportunity to just let go for a few hours.
The next day we hopped onto a tiny train that took us into the Austrian mountains. As each mile passed we were taken deeper and deeper into the countryside, and what countryside! Eventually we arrived at the tiny village of Anneberg and picked up from the smallest station I’ve ever seen to be taken to the new location for this year’s Broomstick Rally. It was pretty dark by then so I couldn’t see what was surrounding us, but when I got up the next morning I found that we were surrounded by mountains, held in a kind of natural cauldron. Again I felt that the atmosphere of the Broomstick was filled with joy and that same feeling of letting go.
On Friday afternoon I helped Cerri as she took the participants through a two and a half hour workshop and ritual based on the Taliesin poem The Spoils of Annwn. Then in the evening there was the annual Broomstick Eisteddfod with music, storytelling, poetry, and dance. Yes, dance. Great Breton dancing to harp. Wonderful.
On Saturday morning Siggy guided us through a brilliant candle decorating workshop, and then later there was a fantastic Pagan Treasure Hunt, and the traditional game of Pentacle Rounders. As night fell we once more gathered around the fire for more music and story, under an amazing star-filled sky.
The Sussex Broomstick Rally was the first Pagan camp I ever attended, back in the early 90s. The Austrian Broomstick Rally was start by Karen, a woman with a vast amount of energy who attended one of those early camps and took the format to Austria when she later moved there. The Sussex Broomstick Rally hasn’t been held for a number of years but it is wonderful to go to another country and go to workshops of depth, and also take part in some of those crazy games I remember with such fondness.
On Wednesday morning I’ll be travelling to Austria to play a concert on Wednesday evening in Vienna, then on Thursday I’m off to the Austrian ‘Broomstick Rally’ in the mountains for the weekend. Then on Sunday driving to Prague for a moot on Monday, and a concert on Tuesday. After that it’s to Frankfurt for the OBOD Germany camp for the next weekend including a public concert, then on the Monday off to Italy for a concert in Milan on the Tuesday.
So I’ll doubtlessly be blogging about our adventures, but if you are in or near any of those places check out my gig listing below for details, and come and say hello!
I just found this on YouTube. The complete concert filmed at the OBOD Summer Gathering from Glastonbury Town Hall. Guests on stage are Paul Newman, Kate and Corwen, and sadly you can’t see Keiron Sibley on the Djembe. We had one run through the set together before we played that night, so what you are seeing and hearing is pretty much a live jam. I remember Kate saying, “Imagine what we would sound like if we actually practiced!” So true.
A have had formal training, both from a Hermatic Ceremonial Magic Temple, and then later with the Order of Bards. Ovates and Druids. For me I found there were so many books, so many paths and teachers, that my head began to spin. I read everything I could lay my hands on, and spoke to everyone I could find, philosophising often until the early hours of the morning. But that approach for me felt out of focus, like a scatter gun I was spreading my attention too widely. My wish was to find a path that was wide enough to not feel restricted, but focussed enough to feel that I was actually on a path at all, and for me the course run by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) was the perfect choice. It was not an academic course that demanded learning vast amounts of ancient history, yet somehow the path that led me though the forest had enough tributaries and smaller byways that I found myself often stepping from the main path of the course and spending that time exploring archaeology and history books that then built on the experiences I was having with the course. The material in the Gwersi was enough to keep me focussed, yet not so restrictive that I felt tied down.
So I followed the course. It took me 9 years to complete the Gwersi from Bard, through Ovate, and then Druid, and the irony was that, when it was finished, my personal path took its own life, held by the foundation of my experiences both as a student of Druidry and a studying Magician. So even though I finished the course in 2003 I still feel that focus, and regularly meet others who are walking in the same forest, on those same paths.
So when I saw that post on Facebook I realised that it was now impossible for me to says whether formal training was necessary, because having gone through it, I find it hard to imagine where I would be if I hadn’t. I’m sure I would have been fine, I would have found my own way with time, but whether I would be the same person I am now, I somehow doubt that. An interesting thought to ponder…
Here’s the latest production diary for the Spirit of Albion movie. Things are progressing beautifully!
Some of you might not have heard my single The Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood. I’ve just found this video, complete with lyrics, on YouTube, so here it is!
Considering the current political climate I think this song should be heard far and wide, so feel free to share the link as much as you like!
And the live version from the OBOD Summer Gathering!