Respect for our Ancestors is Respect for Ourselves

At the beginning of the week I watched the documentary Standing with Stones. It’s a wonderful journey through many of Albion’s ancient sacred sites that took 8 years to film and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in archaeology, Paganism and the ancient ways of our ancestors. At the end of the film the presenter gave a wonderful speech that asked where are these people now? His answer is they are still here. It is us. I think that can be quite a hard thing to accept, living in a country that has been invaded a number of times, with it’s own boundaries and human-constructed barriers that keep people apart. But then you have the story of the archaeological dig in Cheddar caves where they checked the DNA of prehistoric bones found in the legendary cave system in the village with school children and teachers who lived there today. Remarkably one of the teachers had similar DNA as some of those bones, and two schoolchildren had exact matches! Their families had lived in or near Cheddar for over 12,000 years! Cheddar on the political map of Britain is in England, a place supposedly over run with not only Romans, but also Anglo Saxons and then the Normans. Some would have it that all of the ‘indigenous’ peoples of Britain migrated to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany, but obviously they didn’t.

Now I’m a Gemini. An air sign, so when I get thinking I really get thinking. And I got thinking… and where these thoughts led me was to the way we treat ancient remains at archaeological digs.

There is currently discussion about bones that were re-dug up from the grounds of Stonehenge. I say re-dug up because they were dug up in the early 20th century, then reburied, then dug up again more recently so people can explore them again using our current advances in science. There are two arguments concerning these bones. Obviously we want to understand our ancient roots so this research is extremely valuable, but some say we should keep them in a box in a museum for further research. Then there are others who say that these were living people and that their remains should be returned to the ground once the research has finished. Being a typical Gemini I could see both sides, and found it hard to have an actual opinion. However, after hearing the speech of the presenter of Standing with Stones it made things clear to me.

I’ve heard people say about their own bodies, and I have agreed with them in the past, that once we die it doesn’t matter what happens to my our bodies. We have gone, it’s just an empty shell. It doesn’t matter. But what does that say about my relationship to my body? What does that really say about how I feel about this wonderful city of cells, of blood and bone, that has been my home in this lifetime? Of the brain that has imagined music, the voice that has sung, and the fingers that have played their music? Of the arms that have held my children and the people I have loved? Of the tears shed in pain and joy? Have I become so disassociated with my body that I just see it as a vehicle to carry the real me around until I die and then I’ll get a new one, like a new car? When I realised this I also realised how wrong these thoughts were.

For thousands of years when a loved one passed away those who remembered them wanted to say goodbye and the body is what represented the remains of that loved one. Now if we apply that to our ancient ancestors they not only loved these people, but they built massive Long Barrows and Chambered Tombs to hold their remains. Sometimes the bones would be taken out, but then they would be replaced. Some of these tombs were in use for nearly 1000 years. Since ancient times humans have respected the remains of the dead through burial or cremation. So how long have human remains got to be in the ground before it’s alright to dig them up and keep them in a box in a museum, or even put them on show as a exhibit? Would we dig up a Victorian grave? Further back? You see I think it’s our disassociation from these people that makes it ok. Many of us look at Stonehenge and don’t see a monument built by our direct ancestors. But why?

I recently joined ancestry.co.uk to look into my ancestry and managed to trace my family tree on both my parent’s lines right the way back to the early 1600s. Just 10 generations, but in those 10 generations are 882 ancestors. Take that back to the Neolithic and we are talking crazy numbers. Without doubt some of those will have been living here on this island. So the bones in that box in the museum could be our direct ancestors. So for me this disassociation between myself and the bones from these ancient graves has dissolved completely.

So I am of the same people who built these sites. They are our ancestral sites. This brings them even closer. And the people who built them, the people who lived there on Mount Caburn, Cadbury, Cissbury, some of them are probably my ancestors. They are a part of me, and you. So what to do about the bones?

Most of us will agree that it is important to learn more about the ways of our ancient ancestors, and a part of that is learning through remains. But when we have finished, I do believe we should return them to their resting place. In the same way as Native Americans holds dear to their hearts the spiritual homes of their dead, I think we should honour them in the same way. At some point, way too far back for many to care, these bones were placed in the earth, in the tomb, by a community that loved them. They were human and had the same emotions we have now. Those seemingly empty shells held the spirit of a human being who laughed, cried, ate, drank, loved, just as we do. And although I once didn’t really care what happened to my body after I die, I realise how crazy that way of thinking was. There is no separation between body, mind and spirit, so I will ask those who I leave behind to honour this body. Give it to fire, and place half of me on the Long Man of Wilmington, and half on the cliffs of Boscastle – my two spiritual homes. And there a part of me will remain. That is my wish, so if you are reading this in 5000 years time – DON’T DIG ME UP!

Advertisements

Spirit of Albion the Movie – First Trailer

Here’s the first little trailer for the forthcoming movie, enjoy!

Spirit of Albion Movie Production Diary – Day Six

Here’s the latest Spirit of Albion production diary. Love this one!

In an alternate Universe, yes…

Last Sunday, after the Anderida Gorsedd open ritual at the Long Man of Wilmington, many of the people stayed behind to be extras in the Spirit of Albion movie. It was an amazing day, and here is a short interview conducted by my friend Greg while I had a little time out of filming, and had the opportunity to watch a scene from the film develop.

Sources of Inspiration 2 – Places of Peace


The Quest for the Awen, yearning for those three sweet drops to fall upon my tongue, to open my eyes and see the world through the eyes of a poet is still a Quest that drives me every day. Nature is the world’s most intoxicating drug and the great thing is that in all of my encounters with her, the side effects of this particular addiction have all been, without exception, completely positive.

I am blessed by the fact that my chosen medium, acoustic folk, is infinitely portable – from an acoustic guitar or for even more portability, the tiny mandolin. I have written many songs in the quiet of my own home, but a number of the songwriting experiences I remember with most fondness are the songs that I caught whilst playing outside.

Some people find inspiration in conflict. Friction can be a wonderful source of inspiration and it has been for me a couple of times, Only Human instantly springs to mind, a song that I had to write after watching a program about animal experimentation, but for me the main source of inspiration is peace. I guess some may find no inspiration in peace at all, finding it too dull, still or quiet, but I have always known that I have within me an inner hermit who yearns for that sacred solitude that opens us up to the Divine.

Oak Broom and Meadowsweet was written in a woodland near Beltane, the floor covered with bluebells, and the voices of the Faerie almost dictating the words; Noon of the Solstice was written in the same woods, near the time of the Solstice, singing the words to the Horned God standing with my back to a mighty Oak; Hills they are Hollow was written in the stone circle at Merrivale with the ‘Tors standing as Guardians to the rites to Nature’s Gods of darkness and of light’; and Grimspound was written in the large roundhouse at the site listening to the calling Ravens and the voices within the fallen walls.

Other sites have inspired songs that have arrived some time after getting home. Land, Sky and Sea was inspired by a visit to St Ninian’s cave in Dumfries and Galloway where every day St Ninian used to make a pilgrimage down to the sea, to sit in this tranquil cave, and here he said he could talk to God and hear his reply. When I went to the place I also sat and spoke aloud, possibly to different Gods, but still there was a sense of connection that I can vividly remember whilst writing this. It is taking these experiences and putting them into words that have been a large part of my songwriting over the years.

So what to do? Well, I get on my walking boots, go outside, take my instrument with me, and a pen and paper. Choose a site that I love, and make a sacred pilgrimage to the place, making my intent the connection to the Site, not writing a song – the song comes from the connection.

When I get there I open up to the spirits of place, sit and open my senses – look, listen, smell, and touch deeply. A technique I learned from my Bushcraft training was to see with the eyes of the deer, listen with the ears of the hare, feel with the skin of a new born baby, smell with the nose of the wolf. This intense opening to the senses quiets the voice that chatters in my mind about the washing up, the bills to pay, that I am wasting my time and shouldn’t be here, that kind of thing. If I turn my attention away from that voice and solely to my senses, that
voice cannot get through. Combine this with conscious breathing and the connection with the place, and its energies, open to me, and then, sometimes, something wonderful happens, and I begin to hear the words of the Ancestors, then voices of the Faerie, the stories of the Stones.

Usually I just ‘noodle’ on the guitar, playing the words I hear with notes. We know that sound is vibration, that music is tuned vibration, and notes do not end after the string is played, but rather carry on out into the universe, and endless space. That is the space I get into, and if I am lucky I will catch a word or two, and begin to sing over the tune, and sometimes these words become a song.

It is the sense of peace I feel at these places that lets me open up to the flow of Awen. It is when I allow my inner hermit his space that the songs I feel most connection with are given voice. Do you have an inner hermit/monk? Do they get enough space? If not, try to give them time and space, and there you too might find peace, and taste the Awen.

The One Tree

After a lovely concert at the New Horizons moot in Stockport I drove the next day to the Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple of UK, Tividale, for the One Tree Gathering, a convention of Druids and Hindus organised between the International Centre for Cultural Studies and the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. I had been asked to organise the Druid section of the musical ‘cultural exchange’ that was due to take place in the afternoon so asked my good friends Claire Hamilton to tell a harp-accompanied story, and Kate and Corwen to play some music and song. I’d join them as the third act.

My TomTom guided me into the middle of a housing area, and then told me I had reached my destination. I looked around and thought, it must be in one of these houses. But I stopped in a local garage and they told me to head back into some roadworks, then turn right. I followed his directions and found the Temple. It was a massive area of land, I’d say around 12 acres, upon which a number of Hindu temples had been built. Some additional building was still going on. My next quest was to find out where within this complex the One Tree Gathering was taking place. There  were hundreds of people walking around, taking photos, heading off to ritual, taking in the vibe of the place. I eventually found the reception who vaguely told me to “go outside and turn right”. I did, nobody there. Eventually I asked another person and they pointed me to one of the temple buildings, and when I got inside I saw the One Tree Gathering logo. I was in the right place but everyone had gone to lunch, so I just hung out and had a tea, and eventually I was joined by the others, returning from lunch.

The cultural exchange was due to start at 5pm, so I had arrived early enough to take part in the afternoon’s activities. The first of which was to watch Satish Kumar’s Earth Pilgrim film. I remember watching this on the BBC and blogging about it a couple of years ago. If you’ve never heard of Satish, head to his website, he is an amazing man. Earth Pilgrim really set me up for the next activity which was for the Druids to take part in some Hindu ceremonies, and the Hindus to go off with Philip Carr-Gomm and Thea Worthington who would lead them through a Samhain Druid ritual. We did a Hindu tree blessing, a birthday blessings, and a Puja in honour of Ganesh. What quickly became apparent is that their religious ceremonies are still a vital part of their everyday life. There was no separation between their spirituality, their family life, and their culture. This is something I think our society has sadly lost. Much of the time our traditional folklore is practiced as a tip of the hat to older ways, as a curiosity from days past rather than as a valuable continuation of a ancient custom. But here the rituals were still relevant, still an active part of everyday life, and I found that very inspiring. It was deeply moving to have been a part of these rituals, and I’m sure they will influence my own practice and dedication to my Druid ways.

5pm arrived and all of the attendees gathered for the Eisteddfod. The first act was Claire Hamilton, a renowned harper and storyteller. If we were to present the Bardic Arts to another religion what better way to begin. I explained that the harp is the only instrument that can trace its origins to the bow – a weapon became the source of an instrument of peace – and my feeling that the Faerie had given that inspiration, and that whenever we play the harp, they listen. Claire did a marvellous version of the tale of Taliesin and Ceridwen, beginning with the forming of Morfran in the womb, with images of him ‘wrapping swirling mists of darkness around himself’, wonderful. Next up was Kate and Corwen, two people who are currently dedicating their lives to the rediscovery of ancient festivals and songs, trying to re-introduce us to our own history. Their set, as ever, was a journey through time, and emotion. I joined them on backing vocals for their rendition of the classic song Lowlands.

Then it was time for the first Hindu performance. A carpet was placed on the stage and about 7 people sat down, cross-legged ready to sing and play. They invited Kate and Corwen to join them on shruti box and drum. For the next 20 minutes we were treated to Hindu chant and song, each one sung by a different person, yet also joined by the audience in a ‘call and response’ pattern. The words were all in Sanskrit so I found it hard to sing along, but that didn’t matter, the Hindus sung with gusto! It was raucous in places, magical in others, and all the time I knew that this was their way of worship – celebratory and inclusive. I thought of the magic of language, and that when my friends in the Czech Republic call to the Quarters in their mother tongue it also holds such magic. I wondered what ‘We all come from the Goddess’ sounded like to someone who couldn’t understand the words – whether or not they also felt the magic within? Or do we need more celebratory chants in our modern Pagan movement, rather than the three note chants we currently hear around our campfires? But that’s a topic for another blog post.

This was followed by an energetic performance of music with drum and chanter. I was next on stage, and time had moved on – we were running a little late. It seems that there is not just Druid Mean Time, but Hindu Mean Time too! We were never going to keep to the time plan! So I thought I’d just cut my set to three songs. I started with Song of Awen (surprise, surprise…). As I played this song I realised again how universal the lyrics are, and it was lovely to see the Hindu people in the audience nodding, smiling, then joining in as they listened. I followed that with The Wheel, and finally Kate and Corwen joined me on Hal an Tow. I thought that would be it, but the final presentation from the Hindus was a sacred dance, and the dancer was still getting ready, so the three of us burst into on final song, Child of the Universe, a cover of the old Heathens All song – a perfect lyric that summed up the unity that I had felt there all day. It was after this that a dancer, dressed in beautiful traditional costume, took the stage. It was the perfect gift with which to finish the day. Graceful, sensuous, sacred, a blessing.

After we all retired for a meal together in the temple (complete with the best lime pickle I have ever tasted!), and after much hugging and exchanging of contact details, I headed back home.

I love being around open people of Faith. That open exchange of beliefs, practices, respect, and peace is something I dearly cherish. Strange then that the next day at our Anderida Gorsedd open samhain ritual at the Long Man of Wilmington, where around 85 people had gathered to celebrate together, to speak the names of loved ones who had passed into the Otherworld, to share a symbolic feast with them, to meet in circle in open friendship with people of many Paths just as I had done the day before, that an elderly gentleman approached us. He asked me and Cerri what was going on and Cerri said it was an open Druid ritual for Samhain, and that he was very welcome to join us. “Oh no!”, he replied. “I follow Jesus” And then shouted “Jesus is Lord!” across the circle. Cerri said, “That’s very nice, but we are in a ceremony and we would respect your ceremony.” So he moved away for a while, before approaching a couple of relatives of people in the ritual, continuing his research. When they explained, he began muttering under his breath, praying and chanting. On the way back he approached a number of the participants, trying to call them to his God. From tolerance and acceptance of belief  from one faith, to the fear and judgment of another in less than 24 hours. I just wish that sometimes these people would really read the New Testament, of the love Jesus showed, of the way he taught to turn the other cheek, to love your enemies and neighbours, rather than the fire and brimstone of the Old Testament.

So much love to all of my new Hindu friends, and love also to our visiting Christian, and all brothers and sisters from other spiritual paths, faiths and religions. We are all branches of The One Tree.

Celebrating Ten Years of the Anderida Gorsedd

On the Spring Equinox 2000 7 people met up at the Long Man of Wilmington to celebrate the season. We walked up to the flat hill beneath the figure, and there we set our circle, uttered the Druids prayer and oath of peace, and drummed on a sour cream and chives Pringles tin. Small beginnings indeed for the Anderida Gorsedd that this Spring Equinox celebrates 10 years of open rituals at the Long Man. Now you will find anywhere between 50 and 100 people there on the Sunday nearest to the festival.

10 years is a long time in magical circles for anything to survive, so maybe it’s time to look back and reflect on how this small gathering developed into a group of people who celebrate 8 times a year at the Long Man, have held 11 camps, and two conferences. A group that without aiming to be, has become a tribe in the truest sense of the word.

That initial 7 quickly grew, and by the Summer Solstice of 2000 the average attendance was around 35 people. In the Winter of that year after our Winter Solstice ritual I called down to the Giants Rest pub in Wilmington to see if they were open. The landlord said they were closed, but how many people were with us. I told him around 35 so he said, “come down, I’ll open for you!” So it was that the Gorsedd’s relationship with Adrian and his glorious pub began. I gave him the dates we were planning to meet, and he opened for us. After a few years he opened on Sundays as a matter of course, and now he also offers food. But each year I still let him know the dates, and he gets extra staff in to cope with the rush. In the Winter the pub provides a warm shelter, and a friendly place to retire after the rituals so that the Anderida Clan can continue the celebration with a social pint. In the Summer the garden at the front of the pub is full of Druids, and Pagans, sitting in the sunshine together. If the Mythago Morris have danced for us up the hill, they will often also dance outside the pub – perfect!

Over the years we have met some amazing people who just happened to be at the Long Man when we were there. A Peruvian Shaman, a group of Native Americans, some Egyptian Dancers, to name just a few. Walkers, people on picnics, and ramblers often join the circle and celebrate with us. The Long Man, being a Sacred Site to many people seems to draw people of a like mind, and many of these random encounters have developed into long lasting and close friendships.

Over the years we have heard the clash of swords as the Oak and Holly King do battle at the Solstices, we’ve created Flesh-henge and Flesh-grange out of the people attending, we’ve walked labyrinths, planted snowdrops, called out the names of loved ones who had moved on from this world to let them know they are still being thought of, we have regularly chosen the May Queen through divination, and the May King by hunting the Stag Horns. In February 2007 we held the first open Eisteddfod competition for the Bardic Chair of Anderida, an annual event at Imbolc ever since. In sunshine, high winds, rain and snow we have let the Old Gods know that there are still those who honour the Sacred Days, and still love them dearly.

But it hasn’t always been easy. For many years we held the rituals in the picnic area near the Long Man as this had easier access for people with walking disabilities. But the picnic area land was leased to the local Council, and the landlord complained, so we were given no choice but to move the rituals back up the hill. Sadly some people just cannot make that walk. We did fight as hard as we could, but in the end we lost the fight to ignorance and prejudice. We have been up the hill ever since, and although we thought it might put some people off, it seems that the Gorsedd is made of sterner stuff, and even in bad weather people will make the trip to mark the time of year. No fair-weather Pagans here!

In 2003 we held our first Anderida Gorsedd camp. We wanted the Gorsedd camps to be tangible magical journeys that worked with a theme throughout the weekend. Over the years we have worked with the Wickerman, a Three Worlds journey, the Faerie, Arthurian Legend, the Battle of the Trees, and many more. We keep the camps small and intimate with a maximum number of 60 adults. This has also resulted in the feeling of a true tribe with people returning to the camps time and again. The Anderida camps now sell out within 24 hours of the tickets going on sale. We could easily make them bigger, but we don’t want to do that as the size and intimacy is one of the things that make them special. But this year in July we are putting on AnderidaFest – our first open no limit camp. Still the same idea of working with a theme, just bigger. Check out www.anderidagorsedd.org for details.

The Gorsedd has also held two conferences at the wonderful Southwick Community Centre, but this year we have replaced that with AnderidaFest. We do plan to put on another conference in 2011.

I cannot tell you what an honour it has been to have been a part of such a group. These things begin as dreams, and we are blessed to be surrounded with people who listen to what me and Cerri dream up, and then dive in fully with it. Pure magic. So here’s to the next 10 years!!

Here are some videos from past camps and conferences.