I first met Philip Carr Gomm, the Chief Druid of OBOD, about 25 years ago when I was doing a talk and workshop on Totem animals in Therapeutic Practice. In those days I was still a probation officer and describing work I had undertaken with people on probation, using aspects of the Mabinogion, to help them find a connection with their spirit animal. This too was a watershed period for me which led to me shortly afterwards leaving the probation service and training as a psychotherapist. Mine and Philip's paths did not cross again until 2012 when I received an email from him; in the meantime he had created a worldwide spiritual community based on the legacy he inherited from his teacher, Ross Nichols. I had trained in a style of psychotherapy based on working with the body and with aspects of Buddhist psychology. I became a teacher of that form for 10 years,left it and returned to teaching independently creating the Annwn Foundation and the Awen Training as a vehicle for the fusion of the old welsh traditions with my understanding of working with the body and awareness.
It was good to hear from Philip, to meet up with him again and to attend the Druid gatherings in Glastonbury as a guest. Philip has a stillness, presence and courtesy that puts you at ease and it was great to witness the community he has created. One very pleasant surprise was the quality of Druid music: I was prepared for the music of Damh the Bard which I enjoy but was delighted to discover Arthur Billington a master blues musician who has gathered around him some very talented younger musicians. There were also excellent poets and storytellers, drummers and dancing and all in all the fruits of a spiritual community that is mature enough to not to take itself too seriously.
I was keen therefore to respond to Philip's invitation to do an experiential session at the winter gathering in working with spirit animals. I was intrigued also to be addressing the same subject 25 years later.- a fresh turning of the wheel.
The day began for me by attending Glastonbury Town Hall just before 10am; the hall was festooned with druid banners, images of the Awen, sacred Trees and Beasts, the God and the Goddess. Several hundred chairs were arranged in a circle around the room and in the centre was a great heap of mistletoe with a candle in its centre. The day began by the lighting of the candle.
The mistletoe is a potent image and form out of the mists of Druidic tradition-the mysterious all-healing plant that grows on the Oak and the Apple in great Globular web-branching clusters. It is seen as the seed of the stars which, in being ritually brought down to earth, impregnates Her with new life. It is the Awen seeding new expression. E Graham Howe, another Druid, saw it as the image of non-duality becoming dual-the mystery of the division of the indivisible; that deep dynamic against which our life unfolds. Philip made a brief but powerful comment while looking into the great pile of mistletoe and invited us to see it as the cosmos with many star points and suggested we find our own star. A simple and powerful contemplation connecting the immediate fragility and beauty of the plant with the vastness of the cosmos and our own deeper nature and one that might hark back to an ancient understanding of the plant.
Philip continued with a deceptively simple but powerful exercise inviting an animal to come to us. I had a small wolf come to me with a puppyish manner that I have met before though not for a long time. There is both sweetness and power in him-he plays lightly, seriously and fiercely and as I write these words I recall the need for that quality in my life.
The day moved on with an excellent group exercise in which several hundred people picked cards from the Druid Animal oracle and then had to find the people in the room who had the same animal. It was a great invocation of the energies of chaos and meeting and gathering. I picked the water dragon card which, as I have pondered, has gained significance for me. My creativity is often very watery, I flow around fixed forms and shapes but I periodically have problems in finding edges and defining myself. The image in the card is of a rearing dragon breaking out of the depths, looking wrathful. Much to ponder here about breakthrough and the creative potential of wrath.
The afternoon began with the wonderful Kriss Hughes doing a stunning and very funny talk on animals in the Mabinogion concentrating on the hwch the magical pig and on the relationship between essence and appearance in the transformation process.
It is interesting following somebody in something like this, especially when the person is good and presents so well. It leaves you very conscious of the things that you're not. In my case South Walian from a fractured industrialised community whose grasp on the old ways and certainly the old language is sketchy at best. I have images of the Mond Nickel works and the polluted canal I used to walk along. Then I see the similarities, deep love and knowledge of Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi and Llyfrau Taliesin (the 4 branches of the mabinogion and the books of Taliesin); commitment to the deep way of the heart and the land. I breathe again as I come back to myself.
Now it is my turn to introduce a meditation and lead us through it. How I do these things is to open to the field of the group and to Annwn the very deep place that is NOT and to surrender to the spark of Awen that is arising. Not easy here with such a group after such a day.
I find myself speaking about the necessity to unite the worlds and the art of bridging outer and inner. Bid ben bid bont- who would be Chief must be a bridge, must lay their body down between the worlds in an act of joining. I make reference to the tale of Cormac in the Land of Promise- a tale of the abuse of the silver branch that opens the road to Annwn and shows the path of healing through following the 5 senses backwards into the heart grove in the middle of the body, in the middle of experience.
I lead us through this journey where is found the deep wellspring and the Taliesin-salmon who spins us down into an essentialised journey through his myth -it comes like Tibetan vajra pith instructions. The salmons spins in a vortex drawing us down to Gwion Bach becoming little, small, the watching awareness around which things crystalise; we go down and down to the cauldron's bottom opening to the radiant drops of awen born out of deepest darkness, falling into the hands of the beloved, crooked-back black/white woman of holiness: the old sow who births and devours.
With her breath on our back we run as beasts of the field knowing with animal senses the ways of the sacred land; shedding that shape we plunge into water's world, being the upstream, leaping salmon flowing in the flowing world before leaping into sky as the crowned Jenny Wren. From land and sea and sky we drop, dropping all shape, being the singularity, the single drop that has absorbed the Three Realms in its knowing heart.
We are swallowed down by old,black-crested hen into the womb of wombs- reshaped, remade, finding a new arising of our human form born of the cauldron and the worlds. We are squeezed out, singing into coracled containment, driven by currents across the great sea then unfolding in darkness rhythm and metre, metaphor and allusion; naming and shaping while being named and shaped. Driven up the estuary which unites and divides the worlds we are caught in the net of the body, opening our senses and allowing the bendith blessing of the revealed drop of Awen to flow into the world.
All of which leaves me reflecting on the mystery of identity; at the heart of Welsh tradition is the this question of the relationship between anian or nature and ffurf or form or to put it another way between the radiant drop of the Awen, the star of our being and the the expression of that star through myriad creative forms. Thus the Master Druid proclaims with Taliesin,
I have been a multitude of shapes,Before I assumed a consistent form.I have been a sword, narrow, variegated,I have been a tear in the air,I have been in the dullest of stars.I have been a word among letters,I have been a book in the origin."
Here we touch E Graham Howe's image of the Mistletoe simultaneously non-dual and specific, quantum and particle-both are necessary in our embrace of life. So who am I? what is my identity here? Like Taliesin I have been a multitude of shapes but what is my consistent form- I have been Qabalist, Buddhist, Shaman, Probation Officer, Manager, Educationalist, Psychotherapist, son, husband, lover, friend etc. There is however a consistent thread that runs through my life and that would be the Mabinogi and the Llyfrau Taliesin. I have never been without them. In childhood they were mysterious books I read and reread immersing myself in images to ward off the pain and fragmentation of family life. As I grew they informed my understanding, helped me work with damaged and disturbed people and continued as a teaching presence as I learned the art of psychotherapy.
When my teaching career in psychotherapy ended suddenly and dramatically I found myself marooned without direction- a dark night of sorts, I suppose. The new direction comes in a vision. I am working on Preiddeu Annwn-the spoils of Annwn- one of the more mysterious poems of Taliesin which begins with the song of a prisoner in the depths of Annwn- in my vision a doppleganger is drawn from Annwn a wounded self who has been kept in darkness for much of a life. In my quest for healing of this form I am taken back to my childhood home-in the back of the house was a cave which contained a pit into which my Aunt in an unhappy moment had thrown all the family papers. I am taken into this cave to face old memories old selves and all the dead of my family. I am shown the need to renew the old traditions, to help heal old ancestral wounds and am given a way of understanding Preiddeu Annwn and using it as the basis of a training course to help us open to the Awen and surrender to it.
So who am I now? What is my consistent form? I find myself buying an Awen pendant and wondering " Am I a Druid?" I don't and have never have belonged to a Druid organisation.
What is it to be a Druid? The name is thought to derive from old Welsh and Irish sources and seems to mean oak-knower or oak seer. It is linked also with the welsh word dryw the word for wren a mysterious shapeshifting bird linked in the Mabinogi with the spirit self of Lleu - the son of light. To be an oak knower is to enter into the heart of the Tree of life and death; to be the bridge between worlds; to gather the understanding of the mistletoe year upon year, deepening in that knowing as the world turns. The wren shows us the power of the small and the liminal, the singularity that is between- the King of the birds called Jenny; the earth bird that flies higher than the eagle by resting on the wings of the universe and at the singular moment of deep knowing hops into the centre of the sky. It takes us back to Gwion Bach, the small being that catalyses all.
The Druid grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid can be roles within an organisation but can be seen as archetypal functions- three aspects of Awen:
Bard-the holding of lore, of the stories that heal and renew
Ovate-shaman and seer
Druid - bridge and centre point
These roles revolve and flow into each other returning us to the mystery of the mistletoe and the Awen's arising in the depth of Annwn.
In this sense, yes I suppose I am a Druid- I take it as my continuous form.