Sunday, March 15, 2009

OBOD: Gwersu of the Bardic Grade: Gwers 4

Gwers of the Bardic Grade

Gwers Four: The Celtic Renaissance

Druidry Underground, and Revival Druidry

It was the survivals of the ancient religion(s) in the myths and legends, folktales and folk customs, and the sacred places of the Isles of Britain that first attracted me to these ways. Tantalizing memories, among the people and even, it seemed, in the land itself, drew me… Robin Williamson’s epic poem “Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave” was and is the theme-song of my Bardic and Druidic yearnings, and now studies.

My parents were “Anglophiles” who had frequently traveled overseas to Britain and Ireland, and when I had the chance first to take a study tour to England and Scotland in 1985, and then to spend a semester studying in Ireland (University College, Galway, where I studied ancient and medieval Irish history and archaeology), I was drawn in even deeper. I got to see Stonehenge, to set foot on tumuli, view barrows both long and round, touch the stones of Avebury, and re-enter the womb of Newgrange – not to mention view holy wells where thorn-bushes still flutter with prayer-cloths.

Closer to home, I was and have almost always been aware of the deeper and older meanings behind many of the customs we observe at Christmas, Easter, and Hallowe’en. There may not have been the kind of organized, wide-spread survivals of the Old Religion that Margaret Murray recounted, and Isaac Bonewits later disparaged as the “Unitarian Universalist White Witchcult of Western Theosophical Brittany,” but there unequivocally have been and are survivals – half-remembered in many cases, but perhaps quite well-remembered in others.

And of course, much more is encoded, whether intentionally or otherwise, in surviving tales of Irish and Welsh provenance. Christianized though they may undoubtedly be in many ways, they nonetheless contain seeds and fragments of the old lore. And then there were the Bardic and Brehon schools, which were only just dying out as the Revival interest in Druidry began…

Such sources, collectively, are I believe sufficient to trace lines of continuity from “our most early and unwritten forebears” (Williamson) until today: continuity at least of the spirit, and perhaps in some cases of actual belief and practice. It is in this, I believe, that both reconstructionists and some Revivalists err: they don’t give ourselves or our ancestors enough credit. Of course we are not practicing Druidry the same way our ancestors did; too much has been lost. But that does not mean that there are no connections, no lines of descent, no similarities in belief and practice between our ancestors and ourselves.

However gossamer-thread thin and tenuous, I believe there are lines of connection, some archaeological, some literary, some folkloric, and some mytho-poeic, that connect us to those “who raised the hollow hills and the henge stones,” and to their Druidic descendants. And just as spider-silk is thinner than a hair but stronger, for its diameter, than steel, so I believe those gossamer threads of continuity are likewise stronger than many give them credit for, binding us to our ancestors and their ways, if we but open ourselves to their influence.

I particularly like the image of the Celtic Twilight being not the setting of the sun on the end of a tired day, but the twilight that heralds the new dawn. In our world which is in so many ways alienated from that which is good, natural, primal, and nourishing, we need the infusion of older and earlier ways of looking at the world of Nature, the world of Spirit, and the world of our fellow-humans, and the ways in which these are connected. What this Gwers describes as “a powerful and archetypal sense of being close to nature, while being imbued with a deep sense of the sacred, and a passionate love of life” is exactly what the doctor ordered.

If our tired world is indeed to be renewed, if it is indeed to reach a new dawn, perhaps we need to return to, again in the words of Williamson, “worshipping across the world the music that nests in birdsong, insinuates in river-babble, sings in the soft south wind, and burns in the burning flame.” That is an attitude of heart, mind, and spirit which can take us beyond the despair, nihilism, and alienation of our present techno-industrial civilization to a true “new age” of communion between and among humankind, non-human Nature, and the Divine!

Practicum: Ceremony of the Bardic Grove

Sadly, at the moment I am able to enact this ceremony only in visualization. Although I do have an altar area, I do not at present have sufficient space, either outdoors or in, to support the fullness of the ritual – and that is indeed a source of sadness to me, as I am a person who deeply loves and appreciates ritual and ceremony. A love of liturgy is what drew me from the Methodism of my birth to the Anglican tradition of Christianity, and ritual is and was also part of the appeal of the Old Ways to me. So I am looking forward to the opportunity to enact this ritual in its fullness on a regular basis.

Having said that, though, I have also to say that a few weeks ago, on Sunday the 22nd of February, I did have the opportunity to perform a full OBOD ritual, the celebration of Imbolc (Brighidmas) at The Nature Church of York, Pennsylvania, where I am in fact in the pre-ordination track. I used a slightly modified version of the rite by Susan Morgan Black which appears on the website. The ritual was described by participants as being “powerful,” “moving,” and “emotional.” As its leader, I concur! So I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the power of a Druidic ritual, and that experience will continue to empower and enflesh my visualization of the Bardic Grove, until such time as I can practice it more fully on a regular basis.

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