To hear an audio interview with Pagan Musings Podcast Channel click here.
To hear an audio interview for Druidic Dawn click here.
To read an interview with The Times click here.
To read an interview with The New Yorker click here.
To read an interview in The Blog of the Valley Oak Bard click here.
To read an interview with Beetroot Books click here.
To read an interview with AREN click here.
Below is the text of an interview I had with Pino Longchild of Magicka ezine. Pino asked such good questions I asked him if I could share the interview here:
You are best known perhaps as the current Chief of the Order of Druids, Bards and Ovates. Many of our members will not be familiar with Druidism, can you tell us a little of the basics and within that could you also explain the difference between a Druid, a Bard and an Ovate.
Druidism, or Druidry as it is often now called, is a Nature Spirituality that draws its inspiration from the Druids of old, who existed in Ireland, the British Isles and Brittany before the coming of Christianity. A revival of interest in Druidry occurred in the 17th century and over the last 300 years it has developed into a flourishing path that has grown massively in the last twenty years.
Druidism and Wicca are the two religions that Britain has ‘given’ to the world, and to be even more specific geographically we could say that much of the impetus for the modern Witchcraft and Druid movement both emerged from the same place at the same time – London in the mid twentieth century.
My teacher, the old Druid Chief Ross Nichols, was a friend of Gerald Gardner, and they both used to meet at the Spielplatz Naturist resort just north of London during the 2nd world war. There, as the bombs rained down on London they would sit on the lawn and swim in the pool, and discuss the need for a revival of reverence for Nature, and an observance of the eightfold festival cycle.
Gardner went on to promote Wicca and Nichols Druidry, although they still kept in touch. Nichols edited Gardner’s book which really launched the current interest in Wicca – ‘Witchcraft Today’.
Nichols set about reforming Druidry within the three traditional divisions of Bard, Ovate and Druid. Bards develop their creative abilities, working with the power of music and story. Ovates develop their healing and divinatory ability, working with plants, animals and oracles. Druids develop their philosophical and magical abilities – working with teaching, ceremony, and philosophy.
In what ways is Druidry relevant to the modern Western World?
More than ever we need spiritualities and ideas that are ecological, that help put people back in touch with the Natural world, and that redress the imbalance caused by consumer culture and philosophies that deny the sacredness of the body and the world.
I have read that Ross Nichols, the original founder of the Order, trained you. What was the part he played in influencing you on the path to Druidism and what were your other spiritual influences?
Ross Nichols was the principal of a college in London, as well as the leader of the Order. My father became a teacher in his college and soon he was a family friend. I first met him when I was 11, and then when I was 16 I began training with him. I would visit his house once a week or so, after school. He would make me tea and then teach me. He was a very educated cultured man, and made no pretensions to be a guru. A little before he died, I met a Bulgarian spiritual teacher who had tremendous wit and charisma, called Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, and he became a ‘guru’ for me, but after seven years I left his movement. His philosophy felt too dualistic and in the end I realised that culture offers a more lasting gift than charisma.
In 1984, nine years after Ross Nichols had died, he returned to me in a meditation and my whole life changed in that moment. But that’s another story!
You have written Druidcraft –the Magic of Wicca and Druidry. Can you explain in what senses these two spiritual traditions can be compared and synthesised?
Wicca and Druidry are two separate and self-contained systems. Plenty of people are happy to be practicing one or the other. But they do share many common features: in their modern form, they both emerged out of England, championed by two people who knew each other. They both celebrate the eightfold year, they both have three levels of initiation, they both work in the circle with the four directions and five elements. So they have much in common, but they have intriguing differences too. In the last few years I noticed that many people were starting to combine the two traditions, and so in my book Druidcraft I explore ways in which this can be done.
I recently interviewed both Raven Grimassi and Mickie Mueller who created the Well Worn Path divination system. Along with your wife Stephanie and artist Will Worthington you designed the beautiful and profound Druid Craft Tarot. What form did the creative process take for all of you? How did you manage such a large undertaking? How much and what kind of research went into the symbolism?
We had worked together ten years or so before on The Druid Animal Oracle, and the idea for the project came from the publisher. Initially I thought “No” because I hadn’t looked at the Tarot for years, and there seemed to be no connection between it and Druidism. The next thing, I thought, if we go down this path will be ‘Druid tea-leaf readings’, Druid Yoga and so on. But (thank heavens!) I always try to apply a Druid idea about how to make important decisions: wait three days if you can. During those days I started to realise that (a)’ Beginner’s Mind’ is often the best way to approach a project – you can think in fresh ways about a subject, and (b) there are connections between Druidism, Wicca and the Tarot (see below for what they are!)
We worked on it in the following way: Stephanie helped with the research, and we engaged in long discussions about the project. Since she is a painter for opera and the theatre she has a great visual eye, and we would discuss each image and she would always come up with fabulous ideas. These we then emailed to Will, who lives up in Manchester, and he would draw sketches, scan them, and email them back. We would comment on them, maybe have phone discussions with him, and then he would amend the designs. The art director of the publishing company was also involved in these exchanges, and another director too, so sometimes it got quite heated!
At one point the publisher decided that to save money we could have symbolic pip cards. Rather than painting 40 different images, Will could paint the four suit symbols and photoshop could create the ten cards for each suit. After much discussion Will and I were ready to back down and agree, but Stephanie strapped on her battle-harness and won the day.
I went out to New Zealand with a huge pile of books and stayed there for 6 months in the most wonderful place, high on a hill facing the Tasman Sea where whales were known to pass. I started by coming to understand the Tarot as a system, constantly playing with it, using it, re-arranging it, looking at its numerology, experimenting with other authors’ ways of organising it.
One of the things that struck me was that every book started with the Majors, then moved on to the pips, and finished with the court cards, often in a rather cursory way. It felt like both the writers and the readers had run out of energy by the time they had studied 62 cards. Those last 16 were rather pesky and were mentioned almost as an afterthought. I am exaggerating, but you know what I mean. And then it occurred to me in a flash that we should reverse the sequence: start in the ‘Outer Court’ of the Mysteries, learn about the Minors first, then move on to the ‘Inner Court’ of the Majors. And start with the 16 court cards – they are Tarot’s ‘typology’ – just like astrology’s 12 types. Since writing the book I’ve come across three books which focus on the courts: Mary Greer and Tom Little’s ‘Understanding the Tarot Court’, Julian de Burgh’s ‘The Tarot of the Celtic Heart’ and Kate Warwick-Smith’s ‘The Tarot Court Cards’. They all repay careful study.
From the reviews I’ve seen in Amazon (there are 45 up now) readers really seem to like the approach we developed, which includes clustering the pips by number rather than suit.
As regards how we went about researching the cards, I had a routine in New Zealand, which included meditating on the card, reading the interpretations of many authors including Ouspensky, Crowley and my favourite Tarot authors Mary Greer and Rachel Pollack. Then letting go of all I had read and going for a walk or swim, then just tuning in to the card and writing away furiously! I would then email the material to Stephanie who would make comments and suggestions.
Back in England it took another 6 months to finish writing the rest of the book, and editing and revising the card interpretations. We are fortunate in knowing two great Tarot experts who run a Tarot training institute in Holland – Agnes and Jurre Yntema who also publish the OBOD courses in French, Dutch and German. So I made several visits to them and had a fascinating time looking through the hundreds of decks they own and talking late into the night about the Tarot – and even visiting the Tarot and Playing Card museum near them in Belgium. And of course we did lots of readings too – anyone who dropped into our house all through the time we were working on the deck was offered a reading! Meanwhile Will had been working away non-stop without a break to create the images.
In what ways can a “Druid” Tarot be justified, given that it is generally accepted that the Tarot in a recognisable form was invented in Renaissance times? Is historical continuity important or does the fact the Tarot is firmly part of magical and Pagan practice today outweigh any historical considerations?
To begin with I thought there was no historical connection between Druidry and the Tarot. Clearly there couldn’t be since the ancient Druids existed for about a thousand years until they died out in the 6/7th century, and the Tarot can only really be traced back to the Renaisssance. But then I thought again: Druidry is a living spiritual tradition that was revived in the 17th century. In the 19th century it was profoundly influenced by the Golden Dawn, which of course affected the practice of modern Wicca too. And the Golden Dawn in turn had a profound effect on the Tarot.
This is how we explained it in the book: ‘A key phase in the development of all three systems [Tarot, Wicca, Druidry] occurred in the nineteenth century, with the appearance of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which succeeded in synthesising many of the disparate strands of the Western Magical Tradition. The teachings and practices of this Order influenced the Ancient Druid Order, and in turn two of its members: Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner, who became seminal figures in modern Druidry and Wicca.
The teachings of the Golden Dawn resulted in the creation of three of the most influential modern Tarot decks: the Smith-Waite (Rider-Waite) pack, the Thoth deck conceived by Aleister Crowley, and the Builders of the Adytum deck developed by Paul Foster-Case.
A quantum leap in the understanding and application of the Tarot occurred with the stimulus of the Golden Dawn, and we have drawn on this in The DruidCraft Tarot for its intrinsic worth, and for its historical connection with the evolution of Druidry and Wicca.’
I think that 19th century link provides enough justification, but there are actually more connections which are much older, and link us to the world of the ancient Druids, and at the same time to ideas found in the Tarot: the teachings of Pythagoreanism, and the old tales of the Bards.
I’ll quote from the book again: ‘The ancient Druids did not use the Tarot as we know it, although they were known for their interest in divination, and were said to have used the flight of birds and the shapes of clouds for divining, amongst other things. But we can follow a clue, given by classical authors, that may well connect the numerological symbolism found in the Tarot with the ancient Druids.
A number of writers living at the time of the ancient Druids reported that they taught Pythagoreanism, which included the mystic science of numbers. Since Pythagoras was the father of numerology, and claimed initiation into the Egyptian Mysteries, it is possible that as we study the numerological meanings inherent in the Tarot, we are hearing voices from the distant past – not only of Druid sages, but of Egyptian priests and priestesses.
The Bards of old, steeped in Druid wisdom, used the power of images to remember their stories and to paint pictures in the minds of their listeners. Many of these images would have conveyed the same archetypal ideas that the Tarot conveys, and R.J.Stewart in The Merlin Tarot suggests that some of the images found in twelfth century texts on the life of Merlin could be considered as early Tarot images. It is quite possible that the Tarot began life as part of a sacred oral culture – as pictures not on card but in the minds of storytellers and their listeners.’
Finally, leaving aside any possible historical links, as we explored the territory shared by Wicca and Druidry we realised that the Tarot provided an ideal lens or system that could help to illuminate this territory. Once you see the Tarot in this way, as a window that allows you to explore a tradition, then you realise that you can use it to look at any spiritual path regardless of whether there is any historical connection. So this was the unexpected benefit of creating The Druidcraft Tarot – we realised it could become a way of teaching Druidry and Wicca.
You have a degree in psychology from University College, London. Wicca, magic and Paganism in general attract many with an interest in this subject, most famously perhaps Vivienne Crowley. Why do you think this is?
If you are interested in psychology then you tend to be interested in human potential, and in consciousness, and so the two studies go very well together. When you approach the subject of magic you very quickly come up against the whole question of ‘inner powers’ – and of superstition, and even of the problem of evil – why people would want to harm others with magic. So a study of psychology I feel is in many ways vital.
You are a trained Montessori teacher and even founded a Montessori school. For those unfamiliar with this method of education it lays emphasis on the self-directed activity of the child and the importance of physical activity in absorbing academic concepts and skills. How useful a background has this been for your role as Chief of the Order of Druids, Bards and Ovates and as a workshop leader?
What a very astute question! I studied the Montessori method after I trained in Psychosynthesis therapy, and I was struck by the way both systems honour the inherent ability in the client or child to be self-directed. The teacher or therapist takes on a facilitating role, and while intervention or guidance might be needed at times, the whole emphasis is on them ‘getting out of the way’ to allow the child or client to blossom. I saw it work so well in these settings, and I compared it to my experience with the guru, where people seemed disempowered because he didn’t ‘get out of the way’. I sensed strongly that the way to act in a leadership role in a spiritual movement involved being there to set boundaries and offer guidance, but that your job should be to ‘light the touchpaper and retire’ – to get out of the way as much as possible. And I think these rules apply equally to workshop leading too.
You run a full schedule of workshops throughout the year. In June you will be leading one on the Sacred Plants of Britain, which I have to say sounds fascinating….Can you tell us about how you pieced together the ancient knowledge of these plants?
You are asking such big questions! Can I suggest readers go to two articles I have on my blog which talk about this in some detail? They are at:
Your latest book, Sacred Places: Fifty sites of Spiritual and Religious Pilgrimage is out in August. In your twenties you founded the Esoteric Society in London which organised trips to Egypt and Bulgaria. Spiritual tourism has become increasingly popular. What are your views on this? Is this always a good thing?
Sadly not. When I started to organise some spiritual tours in the 1980s it was a fairly new idea in the esoteric/New Age world, but over the last decade or so it has become an industry. When you combine New Age tourism with traditional religious pilgrimage you get a massive ecological impact. Increasing spiritual awareness, lower airfares and the internet have combined in a way that now involves millions of people travelling each year, which means we have to start thinking in a new way about sacred sites.
I know we are all getting tired of being preached at about the environment, but the times do call for a new approach, best summed up in the adage ‘Think globally, act locally’. So in the book and on its website (www.sacredplaces.info) I suggest we explore sacred sites far away in meditation, on the internet, flying there on google earth, and so on, and that we only visit if we feel it’s really important. Otherwise why not spend the money on creating a new sacred site in your locality or in joining forces with others to do this?
What is your favourite Sacred site and why?
It’s the Long Man of Wilmington, just a few miles away from here in the Sussex Downs. It feels very peaceful when you are there, and the great figure of the ‘giant’ is so evocative. I wrote about it in ‘The Druid Way’.
You are a lover of poetry and often quote poems in your work. Who are your favourite poets? Ever been tempted to write your own poetry and, if you have, care to give us an example?
Rumi, Rilke and Mary Oliver to name three. I have been tempted but have hardly ever succumbed. I think I will spare you my attempts!
What are your latest projects?
I’m working on a book called ‘The Book of English Magic’ which surveys the way in which, through design or fate, over the centuries England has become the guardian of the greatest body of magical lore in all the world, and how there are more people practicing magic in England now than at any time in her history.
I’m also working on a project to see how we can develop positive responses to the world situation which seems so dire at the moment. I’ve come up with a number of strategies which I’ve written about in an essay entitled ‘In the Eye of the Storm – How to Stay Sane in an Insane World’. I’m posting it in the blog for the moment before developing it further.
Thank you for asking such good questions!