Orr, Emma Restall: Joint Chief of the British Druid Order
Bobcat, Joint Chief of the British Druid Order, Priestess, author, poet and singer Emma Restall Orr has books to her credit including keystone works 'Principles of Druidry', 'Spirits of the Sacred Grove' & 'Ritual: A Guide To Life, Love And Inspiration', as well as poetry books 'Black Lizard Forest' & 'Tides of Dying'. Her latest title, 'Druid Priestess', is a new edition of 'Spirits of the Sacred Grove'. Emma is also lead singer of Hush, whose music is fast gaining a devoted following, particularly in the UK and USA.
First, could you give our readers a bit of background, so they have an idea what led you to where you are today with the BDO?
Bobcat: My spirituality emerged as a child. Deeply affected by periods of time spent journeying with my parents through the wild landscapes they were studying (they were naturalists), I was brought up to recognize that nature was extraordinary, exquisitely beautiful both in growth and decay, and all powerful. As I struggled with a genetic disorder through my adolescence, stumbling through drugs, alcohol and other sources of escape from pain, I began also to seek the point of life, studying philosophies and religious traditions wherever I was living or travelling around the world. This quest for purpose wove itself together with my awe for nature, and the result was a seeking for nature based traditions. Japanese Shintoism felt closest to my soul for a long time, but when I made a commitment to live in Britain, I looked for the indigenous tradition here. For me, that was Druidry. I read, sought out teachers and also became a member of OBOD. OBOD, however, in many ways didn't !
express Druidry as I perceived it. When I met Greywolf, Philip Shallcrass, he expressed a wildness that inspired me to ask about the Order he ran. At the time, the BDO was in hibernation as he cared for his young sons. We began to work together and soon afterwards he asked me to join him running the Order. Gods, guides, colleagues were consulted and it came to be. I warned him that I would set a match to what I considered to be the potential of the Order, lighting the fires of inspiration, and he laughed, agreeing that it needed to be done...
What are the basic tenets of your order?
Bobcat: To give a soundbite, we aim that the BDO will act as a source of inspiration and a resource of information. We are in the process of expanding this by creating an international and easily accessible network, that we hope will be a way in which those studying and practising the tradition all over the world will be able to share contacts, skills, friendship, inspiration and creativity.
Perhaps most of all, that aim is underlined with the belief that Druidry is a pagan tradition. Small p for pagan. By that I mean that Druidry is based on reverence for the spirits of a locality. As a religion or spirituality that honours spirits of place, by its very nature it differs from valley to valley, from town to town, hilltop to forest to moor, and so on. As a mysticism that seeks attunement (through understanding, empathy, ecstatic relationship) with the spirits of place, the energy that infuses it differs profoundly. As a philosophy of being that quests the stories, wit and wisdom, of our ancestors, each individual within the tradition, seeking through their own bloodline, their own teachers, the dead of their own community, will be working with different spirits, different experiences.
Druidry, as a pagan path, is then one that honours individuality. Instead of declaring or selling a particular definition, the BDO seeks to encourage each person to find their own understanding of the tradition
As a result, we don't offer an initiation into the Order, nor do we insist upon paid membership (many Groves share publications and contacts). We hope to be inclusivist, excluding nobody but those who dishonour that basic tenet.
In one word, the tenets of the tradition that I hope to express through the BDO is Honour. Honour life, nature, both around us and within us.
Would you expand on that by addressing the feeling of the BDO concerning members who follow other paths?
Bobcat: This question I have in part answered with the previous. As a polytheist, my own religious practice is focused around a handful of deities, yet I do not deny the power or relevance of other gods or others' concepts of deity. I would hope that this view is shared by others within the BDO. The Order has amongst its members those who revere Nordic, Classical, Egyptian and pantheistic and monotheistic gods, as well as British and Gaelic gods. There are humanists, animists, and many more.
I may not fully relate to one who calls themselves a Christian pagan, or a Jewish Druid. I may not understand the relationship between a young girl and Woden, or the idea of the One Goddess. Yet it is a part of my religious tradition to accept these as others' paths and welcome them to our events, just as long as they live with honour.
There is an exquisite beauty in being in a circle of 200 or more, knowing that there are literally dozens of named deities honoured by those folks, standing hand in hand, side by side, each one honouring the spirits of place, the ancestors, listening to the stories of our heritage, seeking wisdom and inspiration. This is not tolerance (for tolerance is required where there is an intolerance lingering) - this is acceptance.
I was honoured to lead a ritual within Stonehenge around Gwyl Awst (Lughnasadh), where each person made a prayer to their own god. Amongst the 26 people (that being the maximum number allowed on a normal special access pass) prayers were made, songs and poetry shared, to the usual Pagan aspects of Cerridwen, Bridgit, Woden, Taranis, Herne, Rhiannon, and so on. We had with us a young Moslem who, after questioning me, seeking permission, made his own prayer in Arabic. He had tears in his eyes. As a second generation British lad, it was a powerful moment for him, a moment of acceptance by this land that nourishes him, that he loves and cares for, and the Stones did sing with him. It is a moving moment to remember at this time of global uncertainty.
That is the BDOs attitude to folk who walk other paths. Hand in hand, we support each other to walk this world in peace.
I notice something in virtually every Druid site or community that I go to on the internet that greatly disturbs me, that there always seems to be at least one thread of conversation to the effect that no one today can be a true Druid, that without written documentation we can never equal the old teachings or live the true path. What are your feelings on this?
Bobcat: I could answer that with one sentence : Druidry is an oral tradition. But perhaps being so brief sounds a little harsh.
Druidry, I feel and express through the BDO, is a natural religious tradition. It is now what it always has been, a way in which humanity makes relationship with the powers of nature. It is not limited by any place, but celebrates the diversity of natural landscapes. Nor can it be limited to any period of time.
It is not now possible to be a 300 BCE Druid, nor a second century CE Druid, nor a medieval Druid. It is only possible for us to be 21 century Druids, for this is the moment in time and space within which we live. Druidry as practised 2000 years ago is to some extent not relevant to life today. We hold a common genetic heritage with our ancestors, common human problems, but we are living in a very different world. Much of what they did is now illegal, unnecessary and/or irrelevant. The old laws are not a part of today's society.
Let us forget the quest to recreate some ancient Druidry and focus our energy on living with perfect presence, expressing the beauty of Druidry, here and now. It is a religion with its roots in the deep mists of time, but it is an intensely modern tradition - for it teaches us to respond with honour to the powers of nature, revering the sun with each new dawn, moving gently with the flows of evolution and change that are an integral part of nature, around and within us.
On a lighter note, I know that you, as well as functioning as a joint chief of BDO, run your own grove. You are a poet, an author and a singer. You make public appearances and give lectures and seminars. How do you find the strength and time to keep up with it all, and does it ever overcome you?
Bobcat: Actually, on top of running the BDO with Greywolf, teaching apprentices, guiding others, and travelling to conferences, lectures, workshops, and writing (I'm in the middle of a new book), and music, I home educate my 11 year old son. I don't know how I do it all! I live in a very quiet little village beside a wild old forest in the gentleness of the English countryside, and the serenity around me inspires me with energy. I make sure I put aside significant periods of time for myself and my family, regenerating and refuelling on a regular basis.
There are, of course, many aspects of Druidry; the purely academic, the creative, the healing, to name a few. Some of these aspects are recognized as legitimate goals and duties of a Druid by some orders and some are not. Another aspect which seems to be debatable, to put it mildly, is, and I hesitate to use the word here, use of magick, or to be more precise, focus of the will in order to manipulate matter or events. Without escaping into the common cliches and answers, in your opinion, what is a Druid, and how do you envision all the aspects of Druidry?
Bobcat: I shall begin by saying that I assume you mean, by 'Druid', any that work within the Druid tradition. That community of Druidry is, of course, a place as filled with diverse humanity as almost any, but the community itself is divided into those that study, questing the power of the tradition more deeply, and those who seek only to be a part of a community, to feel a sense of belonging with kindred spirits.
Whether a person calls themselves a 'Druid' or not is too complex an issue to declare a stand on. If someone dishonours the word, I am concerned. But before you question me for evading the point with diplomacy ... there are a good many folk out there who call themselves Druids whom I believe have no right to do so. But this is not because they don't speak Gaelic, or don't know the Mabinogion, or work with Tarot, or some such detail; it is because they are dishonourable human beings, living in a way that is unhealthy and unethical.
So what is a Druid?
Amongst those who are studying the tradition more deeply, most acknowledge three facets: the bardic, ovatic and druidic. In very simple terms, the bard is one studying the mysteries of listening, one who may in turn express his understanding as a musician, storyteller, historian, or any craft of sound and words. The ovate studies the mysteries of seeing, and may express his understanding as a healer, seer, artist, midwife, priest, or any craft that works the magic of energy, colour, the flow of life. The individual studying the crafts of the druid learns how to walk in another's shoes. He builds bridges, so works as a teacher, priest and guide, or any craft that requires or creates access through which inspiration and creativity might flow.
As to the three you mentioned ... 'academic' : my view is that we do need to study, but Druidry requires us also to live our wit and wisdom, not just ponder upon it. The second, 'creative' : as a spirituality or religion, I would hold Druidry to be one of inspiration and creativity, so this aspct is critical. The third, 'healing', I have answered above.
As to magick with a 'k', this is not an integral part of my Druidry. Partly because I grew up learning magick ... developing my ability to hurl energy in hexes for teenage sport, working on my ability to heal by directing energy as a young adult questing a sense of personal value and purpose. And simply because, as a result of that experience, I now do not believe it is possible to be sure that any magickal action is entirely ethical or in the best interest of all concerned. Druidry teaches us to quest inspiration and live creatively. As a result, our lives are enriched with the power of natural magic, without a 'k'.
Do you feel that the time will come when Druids, hopefully in concert with other pagans, will be recognized as a legitimate group and take a more active role politically and environmentally?
Bobcat: Yes. And that time is coming. But those who live on the fringes of society will always be on the fringes. What will become a part of mainstream society, recognized as a part of modern western culture, is the kind of Druidry that is expressed in a mature, acceptable and sensible way. Those who can't accept that probably won't like the form of Druidry that does becomes legitimate. The same is true of any religious group.
One of the primary goals of my Order is to be at the forefront of the effort to promote unity, not only among Druids, but in the pagan community as a whole, hopefully spreading onward from there. As I believe this is a vision that we share with BDO, what do you think are some positive steps that can be taken in this direction?
Bobcat: The BDO does indeed share the vision you express. We feel that the way to progress on this front is to celebrate the diversity of Druidry and Paganism, asking not for a conforming to one list of tenets or beliefs, to one symbol or regulating committee, but a simple and inclusive framework of honour.
Where the attempt to bring British Druidry together failed absolutely was in the Council of British Druid Orders, which was rapidly taken over by some angry lads wanting to use the organization as a political force to further their own aims, and these were not in accordance with most Druids' beliefs. As a result, the three largest groups left, leaving the group far from representative of British Druidry.
Paganism and Druidry are religions of individuality, locality, ancestral wisdom, all of which make the practice incredibly diverse. Hinduism was as diverse a few hundred years ago. It was the British colonizing India that gave this vast spectrum of native religions one name, the British government named it and was therefore willing to use that name. We are trying to name ourselves, and confusing ourselves in the process.
To return to your question though, the BDO is happy to support your Order's aims. But the way to go, I think, is to keep it simple, inclusive, non-political. Honour.
It is the opinion of some that although a lot of flowery speech is given in the Druid community concerning gender equality, that in reality there is still much progress that needs to be made in that area. Any thoughts?
Bobcat: There are two ways I can interpret your question. Firstly, is there sexual inequality in Druidry or sexism? No. There are groups that admit only men and those that admit only women. There are Orders whose teachings are more male oriented, and others whose courses are devised by women. As to sexism, there are idiots everywhere ... And as to sexism in terms of sexual orientation, there is less prejudice in Druidry than almost any Pagan or monotheistic religion I have ever come across.
However, if you mean is there too much menspeak in Druidry, I have to say yes! A great many of the sources of information and inspiration that people are using with regard to Druidry are men's words. The Classical writing we know is biased. The tales and poetry of the medieval literature that are used, the mythologies, are not so clearly defined as male interpretations and male experience, but they are, and very obviously so. The 18 - mid 20th century revivals and writings about Druidry are very male oriented. As a woman, I found this infuriating.
A key reason why Philip Shallcrass asked me to join him in running the BDO was to change this. I hope my work is a beginning. My first book Spirits of the Sacred Grove, republished as Druid Priestess, was an attempt to show what women's Druidry is in practice. My book in progress is about women's sexuality and creativity. My publisher has already asked me for a book spefically teaching the practice of women's Druidry.
The image of the ancient Druid is still the old man in white. But, about the wild, screaming, blackrobed women on the cliffs of Anglesey, hexing the Roman army? Were they Druids? I think so ...
In closing, could you give us some advice on primary areas of study for those seeking knowledge of the Druid path?
Bobcat: There are a thousand ways of answering that question. I answer it differently each time I am asked. Here's today's version.
The first step is to stop reading. Find a quiet moment and consider what it is that inspires you. What is it that brings you to that exquisite moment of pure tranquillity, when nothing else exists, when you are lost in the flow of the moment, drinking it in? What captivates you? What excites you? This is the first step. Prioritize these moments into your life. Is it watching the sunset? Listening to Mozart? Playing the harp? Studying? Do it.
It is important not to be limited by someone else's idea of what Druidry is. Begin with the simpe quest for inspiration and perfect creativity. Allow that to strengthen you, nourishing the seedling of your interest. Then go back to reading of others' experiences, find a Grove or a gathering, and share what you have found. Druidry should be an experience, not a theory.
Learning to become a Druid takes a lifetime and more. We learn to honour spirit and spirits, the sacred and the gods, the wisdom and the pain of our ancestors. We learn to live with honour, caring for our own body and soul, and acting with responsibility, sensitivity and widsom. Be patient. Don't hurry. Listen.
Suggested News Resources
- Philip Greywolf Shallcrass
- Between 1995 and 2002, shared running the BDO with Emma Restall Orr, jointly editing four editions of 'A Druid Directory' (BDO, 1995-2002), editing and contributing to 'Druidry: Rekindling the Sacred Fire' (BDO, 2002). Has given talks and workshops on ...
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