Today’s exercise began with a poem that I heard a year ago for the first time, at the Winter Assembly of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I loved it on first hearing. It is Winter’s Cloak by Joyce Rupp. Here is a recording of me reading it aloud.
I live in Ireland, temperate land where Winter means darkness and short days. It rarely snows here, we are too close to the seas. Winter here means cold and damp, but the contrast with the summer is the lack of light. In the Summer, I feel guilty about spending time indoors reading and resting. In the Summer, a sunny day means I have to go out and enjoy it. Sunny days are a rarity even in Summer.
In Winter, however, I am allowed to be as introverted as I like. I can lie under a blanket reading a book, writing or just being, and it is a day well spent.
I am fortunate to live in a place where hunger and starvation are no longer common. I have hot showers and a warm house and food that is transported around the world to huge supermarkets so that even in the late months of winter/early spring, I always have food. I do not hunger. Most of the world is not so fortunate. I try not to forget how fortunate I am, and I am grateful for my own well being.
I love the darkness, and I welcome the returning light at solstice and throughout the year. And yet, I do not always give myself the darkness of winter’s cloak. I blind myself with the bluescreen light of facebook, of netflix. Perhaps a little more, I would like to wrap myself in the darkness and stillness of winter’s cloak, and rest, just being. Just being.
This post is day six of my personal responses to ‘Honouring the Darkness’, a ten day reflective period leading up to the winter solstice, facilitated by daily emails from Janelle Hardy at http://www.janellehardy.com/hearthome/
I moved to Belfast a couple of months ago, and one of my ambitions coming here was to organise and facilitate regular ceremonies in the style of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I held one last month with a new friend. I’ve scheduled one for the first weekend in July. I would normally try to host something closer to the solstice (21st/22nd June) but there are multiple events happening and certain OBOD friends here are away or busy. The weekend after is out because I’m going to Dublin for Pride. So it will be the Sunday 3rd July. I am calling it a Summer Ceremony. I will be using and simplifying a scripted OBOD ritual for the Summer Solstice.
In OBOD we use the term seed group to mean a small group of OBOD members who gather together to perform ceremony. I know there are a few others in Belfast and certainly a few of them said they’d come. I titled the group Belfast Seedgroup and I have submitted my information as a point of contact to be listed on the Order’s website. That information, and details of other groups, in these islands can be found here
This is a step up for me, and I am curious about the journey and how it’s going to go. Previously, I have helped in events that are already happening, or organised the ritual part within an existing community. My intention for this is pretty simple and, I believe, achievable. For the duration of my time in Belfast, I will facilitate OBOD style ceremony on or near the eight festivals of the wheel of the year. If a ceremony happens, it is a success. I have found over the years that it is far better to create events and happenings and allow the groups to form and evolve themselves. People will come some times, and not others. Some will come once. Some people will love it, and some people will say it is not for them. I will help to hold the space and time for the events. Each ceremony will be different in its way. I will do my part with integrity, presence and a lightness. It may be that when I eventually leave Belfast, the group and the ceremonies stop. Everything has its season. For now though, this is a beginning.
In OBOD ceremony, we often use the following statement:
We gather as equals, in our physical form here upon the Earth. Each Presence is a blessing, and with every breath we take we breathe life and light into this circle.
If you would like to attend, or get in touch, you can contact me via here, or the Facebook page for the group. https://www.facebook.com/BelfastOBOD/
Last week I was on an OBOD retreat. I met you afterwards and you asked me a simple but powerful question: what do you get out of it? It got me thinking, that sort of slow, gently ruminating on it for weeks kind of thinking. I’d like to answer as best I can.
The retreat I went on last week was open to members of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. I’ve been a member since 2001. Membership of the order is based around a mail order course, whereby each month, for a year, members receive a package of booklets. Inside each is a mix of meditations, info on mythology and ritual, and some inspirational poetry. It is simple and magical.
I’ve been to a number of big order gatherings where two hundred order members gather in Glastonbury twice a year. I have been a part of small groups of members who get together to hold ceremonies for the seasonal festivals. I have been my own solitary druid. This was my first retreat. There were twenty five of us. It was held at my friend’s home and it was facilitated by a couple of very experienced facilitators in the order. The retreat lasted five days and the theme was Fionn mac Cumhail and the salmon of knowledge.
On the first morning, we were asked to share with the group a little something of the landscape we came from and what we were looking for on the retreat. I didn’t really know why I was there. It was an emotionally mixed up arrival for me. When I booked my place on the retreat it was as a joint adventure with a former friend and partner. So my first days were coloured with the feeling of “this isn’t how it was meant to turn out”. I felt wary, somewhat closed hearted and unsure of my place.
During the course of the five days together, we went on walks, held ritual, made little purses out of salmon skin, ate very well and generally built community together. My self appointed task was to get up early enough to make porridge for everyone.
Apart from the wonderful personal connections, the retreat had some powerful highlights for me. One was our Eisteddfod. At druid gatherings we like to have a section of the event where people perform. We place great value in creativity, and entertainment. So, on this evening, I chose to sing. I sang a song that has been massively inspirational to me in the last year. It was ‘In my mind’ by Amanda Palmer. It was a big deal for me singing solo in front of a group of people. It didn’t scare me, but it was a first. I love singing, I just never do it much in front of others. I learned that I would like to. The song itself speaks its truth in the final line “fuck yes! I am exactly the person that I want to be!”. Last week a friend sent me a card. On the cover was the sillhouette of a naked man dancing across the words “free yourself to be yourself”. It might seem trite, but the great spiritual journey of me, at this point in my life, is to fully be myself in the world, with all the self-compassion I can generate. Looking after and loving myself, and from that self love, self care, I can be more open, more alive, more giving, more creative.
The second major highlight was our visit to a rock pool beneath a waterfall on Sliabh na mBan (the mountain of the women). It was a trek across the hills, then following the mountain stream, through a forest, and down a ravine. It was worth it. Once there, without much talking about it, ten of us took our clothes off and got into the cold (cold!) waters. We held hands in circle as each new person got in. What a wondeful feeling to be completely present with no agenda other than to whoop and hollar and celebrate the truth “We are alive!” (thanks JJ for vocalising it).
In both of those experiences we were witnessed and held by the group, and the landscape we sat in, and also by our shared tradition.
When the workshop ended, and we were sharing what it was we were taking away, mine was two things: the memory of sitting in that cold water, and the feeling of being part of a tribe. I was reminded, I said, that in a very real way, OBOD is my family. I feel huge love and support whenever I am within a gathering, but also, and more and more, whenever I do my daily meditations, knowing that I am part of this. But the major thing I came away with was ‘goddamit, I am alive’. I live, I breathe, I love, I hurt, I heal, I cry, I dance, I do silly and stupid things. But fuck it, I am alive, and I am me, and I am incredibly priviledged to be able to see the world through these eyes, to sing with this voice, to dance, to bare my body and soul in joy.
So why do I do it? Why do I go to Assemblies, and retreats, and gather in small groups to praise the equinox or solstice? Because it turns up the volume on the Joy in life and (fuck yes!) it feels fantastic.
I wrote a few months ago about how I was missing a community of practice. It’s wonderful to have my own path and my own way in the world but I missed the feeling of being held by tribe. I am travelling at the moment and I have found that space not just once, but twice.
The first time was on the dance floor. I walked into a very special class held by a teacher I know and trust. I was home. I released into the dance. The energy rose and by the end I was in floods of tears. This is my joy.
The second space I discovered was with other members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids at the order’s summer assembly in Glastonbury. This was my third time going and it really felt good to be with folk like me.
This photo is of the circle being consecrated by fire at the ritual on Glastonbury Tor. My partner took it. The photo reminds me very much of the hermit from the tarot. The hermit is the seeker, going Beyond. Going beyond but not alone.
I know who my tribe is. I know where to find them.