How being a Druid affects my life?

How life is circular not linear and how being a Druid inspires a sense of we, not us and them

There are three main teachings that work through my life.

Circles. When I first began looking into Druidry and Paganism I found them everywhere, and in a society that more and more seems to view life as linear (you are born, you live you die) the philosophy of the circle made so much more sense to me. Druids see Nature, and life, as a circle, or a wheel. The planets revolve around the Sun - the horizon is a circle, the seasons move through Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter, and then Spring returns again, our ancestors built their temples in circles.

So instead of viewing life as birth/life/death/afterlife, many Druids have the added dimension of ‘rebirth’, be that into another human body, or an animal, plant, or even into the elements of Earth, Air, Fire or Water. So when people die, there is the old tradition of the ‘Summerlands’, a place of rest and reflection where we stay for a while before rebirth. Where we meditate on the life just lived, learning our lessons, seeking patterns, before we return.

Let’s consider a day, any day. I see the sunrise, feel its warmth at noon, then watch the colours change as the Sun sets, and the darkness of night draws in, but I know the Sun will rise again with the coming of the dawn.

Now let’s consider a year, any year. I see the year awakening, just like the daily sunrise, in Spring. I feel the warmth of Summer at the noon of the year, watch the year setting during Autumn, then feel the darkness and cold of the Winter months, but I know that Spring will return.

Now let’s consider a life, any life. After my own birth I was as a child, like the sunrise and Spring. I grew to maturity and strength, just as the Sun does at noon and Summer, then the ‘Autumn’ of life begins as a time of maturity and wisdom. The Winter of age comes and as the snow falls on the land, so it falls on my hair turning it white, the weight of age bends my body, and as I fall to the earth, so my Spirit makes that journey to the Isles of the Blessed. But just like the sunrise, and the Spring, I know I will be reborn – Nature has shown me this.

Awen. The word Awen is a Welsh word that means ‘flowing spirit’ or ‘divine inspiration’. It is the name given to the contents of the Cauldron of Inspiration of Celtic myth, a container that later became the Holy Grail. It is said that whoever tastes just three drops from this cauldron will be blessed with the gift of prophesy, and be able to see into the past, present, and future. The great poets of Celtic myth tasted this brew, Taliesin, Merlin, Amergin, all received this divine ‘Fire in the Head’. It is also the quest of the modern Bard to taste it.

Because Druidry is a nature-based spirituality, it is nature herself that I seek communion with. I feel the Awen flow through me when I see a beautiful sunrise, or during a dramatic storm, when I’m walking the moors or the Downs and feel the elements up close, when I see a soaring buzzard, or hear the roaring of the deer in the rut. For me it is these moments of connection that inspire me, and I feel at my closest to my Gods. The result is often a poem, song, or story that expresses this feeling, a tradition not only found in Druidry, but in other traditions such as Sufism.

Spirits of the Land. When I travelled into the more remote areas of this land I come across people who still related to the land as animists. The rock on the hill, the one with the cup marks, I found the family who leave a little milk in that cup for the Faerie Folk, maybe as an offering to ask for a good harvest, or maybe as a gift to ask them to keep away from their crops or animals, as the Faerie are not always the nice gossamer winged ‘little people’ of our childhood fairy tales. These ‘Faerie’ are the Spirits of the Land.

One of the things that Druidry has brought me is that it has opened my eyes to these Spirits. I can no longer see myself, or my species, as the dominant animal on the planet. For years that is how we acted which has resulted in the environmental mess in which we now find ourselves. Shifting from an ‘us and them’ approach to simply a ‘we’ has had a deep effect on all areas of my life.

Humans are just another animal, an intelligent ape, the same spark of life pumps the heart of a mouse that pumps our own hearts. The deeper I went into the Druid tradition, the more this became the reality I saw, and this changed the relationship I had with the world around me. The physical aspects of nature, the plants, trees, and animals once more became living aspects of my Gods. But it goes deeper than that. Even the inanimate objects suddenly became imbued with life. The rivers, streams and oceans, the rock and stones, the air, the soil, and fire, all came to life for me in that instant. This is not just religious belief either, research in quantum physics is now showing that matter has different vibrations – something that mystics have somehow known for centuries.

These three basic philosophies are not ‘commandments’, but they are choices I make, for a way of being within nature as a part of the whole.

Damh (pronounced Darv) is a modern-day Bard whose spirituality, and love of folk tradition, is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry. He is an Honorary Bard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD)
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Is the Great Fire of London a blueprint for how governments deal with disasters?

Visible leadership, an established authority, and a common external enemy: an enduring defence mechanism 350 years on.

In 1968, the science journal The Lancet ran a report into human behaviour. When populations are confronted with disaster, it recommended, effective “communications, coordination, and control, and the establishment of a recognised authority” are of utmost importance (advice that should have been heeded immediately after the Brexit result in June this year).

The 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London this week seems is a good time to think about how we deal with disasters: over 13,000 homes were destroyed, 87 churches ruined and thousands of Londoners displaced.

For me, one of the most striking parts of the story of the Great Fire is not the fire itself nor the dramatic rebuilding programme that followed, but the state of flux in between.

When the fire broke out, England was at war with both the Dutch Republic and France. As soon as news reached France, the Venetian ambassador Alvise Sagredo, declared that the fire would be “worse than the plague and any other disaster, capable of making [the English] change their government and their principles”.

In England, even the London Gazette warned that England’s foes would try “to persuade the world abroad of great parties and disaffection at home against his majesties government”. Faced with unparalleled destruction and unprecedented disarray, how did the king, his advisers and civic authorities regain control of London?

With the Guildhall severely damaged and the Royal Exchange destroyed, the first step was to find a new base for civic and mercantile power. On 6 September, Charles II instructed the Lord Mayor and the city aldermen to resume governance of the city. Gresham College and buildings around Bishopsgate were taken over and efforts were immediately taken to re-establish trade. Vendors were granted permission to set up sheds in temporary markets at Bishopsgate Street, Tower Hill, Smithfield and Leadenhall Street.

“Honest and able persons” were selected to monitor the ruined city to ensure fire did not break out afresh, appeals were made across the country for charitable donations and neighbouring counties were called upon to provide sustenance. From the navy stores, ship’s biscuit was offered to the needy and canvas was provided so that the tens of thousands of homeless people stranded in the fields surrounding London could fashion tents.

The measures were not perfect. Visiting Moorfields, the diarist John Evelyn described, “the poor inhabitants . . . some under tents, some under miserable huts and hovels, many without a rag”.

Those stranded found food to be in short supply and many succumbed to the illnesses bred by a reduced condition in life, including aged playwright James Shirley, who died in October 1666.

But it wasn’t long before people started to disperse – either leaving London altogether, finding accommodation elsewhere, or returning to the locations of their former homes and shops to erect makeshift shacks above the ruins.

In the background, the trial and execution of French watchmaker Robert Hubert, who falsely claimed to have started the fire, provided a focus for any anger and rage.

With communication ruptured following the destruction of the London Gazette printing house and the General Letter Office, rumours of plots, arson and invasions had spread almost as quickly as the fire itself. Indeed, terrible violence had broken out during the fire, with mobs targeting any “strangers” or foreign-born Londoners. One French servant, for example, reported how gangs of “English women did knock down strangers for not speaking good English. Some of them armed with spits, some with bread staffs, and the captain with a broad sword.”

When the London Gazette was released the week after the fire – after only skipping one edition of its biweekly run – it provided readers with a detailed description of the catastrophe, emphasising its accidental nature and promoting the role played by Charles II and his brother and heir, James, Duke of York, in preventing the fire spreading even further.

Against protocol, the newspaper also allowed important tradespeople to advertise their new offices: the goldsmith-bankers, for example, informed readers that they had found premises along Broad Street.

By mid-September, the etcher Wenceslaus Hollar had already begun his survey of the city and plans had been submitted to the king from John Evelyn and architects Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, to name just a few, as to how to rebuild the capital.

Writing at the time, Sir Nathaniel Hobart, believed that the “rebuilding of the Citty will not be soe difficult as the satisfying all interests, there being many proprietors”. As such, one of the most important innovations following the disaster was the establishment of a judiciary, known as the Fire Court, to untangle the complex web of formal and informal agreements between tenants and landlords. From 1667 until 1672 the Fire Court settled hundreds and hundreds of cases.

There were certainly many bumps along the way – for a while, the City of London was plundered and inhabited by gangs. Plus, anger towards foreign-born Londoners continued; owing to his Dutch background, one Johan Vandermarsh had to fight tooth and nail to keep hold of his property on Lime Street, despite helping to save many of his neighbours’ homes.

All of this considered, there was nothing like the widespread disorder that Charles II had feared and his enemies expected. On the contrary, the visibility of the king and his brother and heir – and the convenient suspicion that the fire had been started by an external enemy – worked to bind the people to their king and settle unrest. Although hard to believe at the time, there was also the promise of “a more beautiful city”.

Rebecca Rideal is a historian, factual television producer and author of 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire.

She will be speaking at London’s Burning festival on Friday 2 September – a contemporary festival of art and ideas produced at Artichoke to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Free to the public, it runs from 30 August-4 September.