This is an article that is appearing in Pagan Dawn magazine. Someone asked where they can buy this since it won’t be out in the USA until August 08 and Australia/NZ April 08 (and in French, German, Dutch & Czech translations then too). Well you can buy it here (The OBOD bookstore) and it comes with a first edition card of black and white drawings by Will and signed by all three of us.
Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s The Druid Plant Oracle has just been published by Connections. In 1994 Connections published their Druid Animal Oracle and a decade later their DruidCraft Tarot appeared which soon became one of the most popular Pagan tarot decks due to Will Worthington’s extraordinary evocation of another world in his artwork and the way in which the authors’ weave Druid, Wiccan and Tarot lore seamlessly together. Here Philip Carr-Gomm talks about how the third in this trio of oracles was created.
Not of father nor of mother
Was my blood, was my body.
I was spellbound by Gwydion,
Prime enchanter of the Britons,
When he formed me from nine blossoms,
Nine buds of various kind;
From primrose of the mountain,
Broom, meadow-sweet and cockle,
From the bean in its shade bearing
A white spectral army
Of earth, of earthly kind,
From blossoms of the nettle,
Oak, thorn and bashful chestnut -
Nine powers of nine flowers,
Nine powers in me combined,
Nine buds of plant and tree.
Long and white are my fingers
As the ninth wave of the sea.
translated by Robert Graves
I first became interested in the Druid path about forty years ago. I used to visit a friend of my father’s, the old Chief Druid Ross Nichols at his home in London and he began training me. He would make two cups of tea for us and then would read to me from a set of teachings he had prepared, and I remember so clearly how it was the sections on trees or plants that really inspired me. He was a poet and was able to write in a lyrical way about Nature. The scholarly failings of Robert Graves’ White Goddess had not yet been revealed and he had absorbed Graves’ work avidly, and had built upon that.
As the years rolled by, and I learnt more and more about the Druid tradition, I became disappointed that there was so little plant and herblore within the tradition. Scholars would point out that we only had Pliny’s references to four of the Druids’ favourite plants and that was it.
I was writing about one of these four – Vervain – for the revised version of the Order’s Ovate teachings when it suddenly struck me that perhaps, as with the traditional animal lore that Stephanie and I had researched 14 years ago for The Druid Animal Oracle, the plant lore of the ancient Druids and their contemporaries was not totally lost but simply had to be looked for in a different way.
We began researching traditional plant lore – and to our delight we started to feel that we were beginning to piece together much of the old herb-lore that would have been used in those far-off times. We did this by drawing on information from five sources: the relatively new science of archaeobotany; the information given in the old herbals that were written at the time of the ancient Druids; accounts of the practices of later herbalists; the clues left to us in the old Irish and Welsh legends and in folklore; and the findings of botanical pharmacology.
In other words, if we found that a plant had been growing in the territory of the ancient Druids, and if its healing powers had been discussed in one of the old herbals that were written by their contemporaries (such as Dioscorides) we deduced that it was highly likely that the Druids would have used it. If, in addition, the plant was mentioned in one of the old legends and if it appeared in folklore then it was clearly entrenched in tradition and was even more likely to have been used by the ancient Druids. The other sources of information were sometimes able to help us too with supporting evidence.
By researching in this way we identified over 40 plants that we reckon were almost certainly used in those far-off times. Now, of course, it is perfectly possible to argue that Druidry is a living tradition and that if – for example – a Druid wishes to use or recommend the taking of Gingko Bilboa then the fact that the ancient Druids would not have used this is irrelevant. Even so, while fully accepting that Druid herblore today can be as eclectic and universal as it likes, the fact that we can identify those plants they are likely to have used inspires us, and we took that inspiration one stage further. We realised that each plant had a set of traditional associations, meanings or stories surrounding it. Just as there was a discernible body of sacred animal lore so too there was a similar body of lore around plants.
When we read the old stories about plants or animals we couldn’t help asking the questions “What do these stories mean? What are they trying to tell us?” ‘They’ are both the stories themselves and the Ancestors, who collectively have created this ‘lore’ over the centuries. By putting the stories, the images, the associations into the cauldron and stirring it a little we have been able to come up with oracular interpretations for a number of plants, just as we did earlier for the animals, and Will Worthington has managed to create beautiful pictures of them to accompany our interpretations.
As we began creating the oracle together we realised that we could ask the publisher to make the cards the identical size to The Druid Animal Oracle so that the two decks could be shuffled together, so that guidance could be received from both the plant and the animal realms.
The result? Will seems to be able evoke an enchanted world in his paintings – the images are on the one hand very realistic and yet something shines through them and invites us into them. The images are filled with resonances – moonlight glinting on arrow-heads, standing stones in the distance. We think they’re wonderful. As for the accompanying book it would be immodest to wax lyrical about that wouldn’t it?