Travelers don’t know where they’re going,
Tourists don’t know where they’ve been.—Hostel Wall in Inverness
I saw that quote on my first trip to Britain and Ireland, and it neatly sums up my approach to traveling. I plan, loosely, but leave as much wiggle room as possible. The world has a much better idea of what I should be doing and where exactly I’ll be going than I do.
I expected to do a lot of blogging on the trip I’ve just come home from, for example. That didn’t happen, and I’ll be doing my best to make up for it now. There was too much living packed into too little time. Old friends and new, and people I wanted to see but didn’t get to. I planned carefully, but allowed for last minute changes wherever I could. Hostel reservations, for example, can be cancelled, in most cases. The few times I did get hooked for an extra night, it’s usually cheaper to book in advance and eat that cost than to try and get a bed on arrival. Train tickets, likewise, are much cheaper in advance, and a few minutes with a site like trainsplit.com will let me know which fares never change and what the difference in cost is if I book a nonrefundable fare in advance, or get a fare that can be changed or canceled. Besides, I find trip researching a particularly pleasant form of daydreaming.
My first stop was Anderida Camp, in Sussex. It was the first stop on my first trip to the UK, and it was a bit off the beaten track this time, but I was determined to return. I had missed climbing the Tump in Lewes the first time, and thanks to some time on Google Earth before I left, this time I was able to walk right to it. Thanks to some overambitious travel plans though, by the time I got there I was in a slightly altered state. I’d gotten about two hours sleep in the last 48, and had learned by then that Caffeine is Good, Food is Dangerous. I found I could function as long as I remembered that, and kept busy. It took two cabbies and an online map to figure out where camp was—I knew, but they didn’t, and I was giving directions from a different country, really. I walked in there at around hour 50, but this time all my friends were there, and I was soon set up among their tents, being fed tea, and generally having a wonderful time. I was also talking to Tony Stark by then, and by hour 55 I felt like I was surrounded by pillows. I decided I’d better sleep, and missed the opening ritual.
I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling much more grounded in reality, and went to the fire. A weekend of connection and community followed. Anderida Camp is known for Burning Things, and this camp was no exception. The firesides are also the best to be found anywhere. There was the happy-off, where we all played the happiest music we knew, and the hippy-off—well, you get the idea. A camp-wide version of the Age of Aquarius had us all on our feet. This, for me, is the heart of Druidry. Connection with people, and with the Land. Once again I felt the chrysalis around our world. It may feel as if we are dying, but it is only the old ways dissolving to make way for the new. This, I think, was one of the reasons I didn’t know why I was making the trip, or the shape of it. I still don’t, but the work I have to do is before me and the more of it I do, the clearer things become.
Maybe it was the ridiculous marathon of getting to Camp, maybe it was meant to be, but I lost the pouch with all my magical things in it somewhere along the line. Among them was my set of ogam feda. These look like a bundle of sticks, but they represent the ogam alphabet. They can be thought of as wooden tarot cards, though the system they represent is more a skeleton on which oral knowledge is hung. It is a way of memorizing such knowledge and organizing the relationships between it. The first letter, for example, is called Beith. The word means Birch, but it is also associated with Ban (white), Besan (pheasant), and beginnings. Among other things. The old Bardic schools used to teach oral knowledge, and for the first three years, students memorized 50 sets of associations for each letter. Once that structure was in place, their education continued with stories, philosophy lessons, grammar, etc. A Victorian reconstruction of a list of their studies can be found in P.W. Joyce’s A Social History of Ancient Ireland. One of the sets of associations are the different woods in the Irish forests, and modern use of this system tends to emphasize that set of meanings over the others. Accordingly, I decided to make my first set out of the woods. It took me many years to learn to recognize the trees and collect the various woods, and make the first set. It was very hard to lose it, along with my first Awen, and the pouch full of items that was attached to it, the presents I had for people, and so on. However, gone was gone. I could grieve over what were essentially things and let the loss overshadow the trip, or I could realize that I made many of the things that had been in that pouch, including the pouches themselves, and treat this as a new beginning.
I was in the land where the forest reflected the ogham. I decided to treat this as a “final exam.” The first set I’d constructed had been made by trial and error. I know more now, and can do a better job this next time. I also have a chance to make a set that is wholly from the forests of England and Wales. My first set reflected my own American state of being, being constructed from woods from several states as well as a few I could find only in Albion. My first trip gave me the last woods to complete that set.
So my trip was a chance to look closely at the forests around me and find the trees I needed. It was a chance to connect with each tree, and exchange gifts. It was a chance to create a ritual to contain that sharing, and to explore the difference between giving and theft. I didn’t have much time, and I am not completely satisfied with how I went about this task, but I did complete it, and learned a lot in the process. I came home with a forest in the form of a bundle of sticks. I know now that I can recognize every tree in the system in its natural habitat, and I have a ritual for collecting that creates connection between the gatherer and the gathered. I have seen a community in a field of Heather, and had a centuries-old Oak throw a branch at my feet. I know where each wood came from and can remember the conversation we had. Most of all, I am involved in a process, and am learning the phases of creation of a set as a set, rather than disparate woods gathered at different times. All of them came home with me as a bundle of green wood. Now I am in the process of stripping them of their bark and allowing them to dry completely. That has to happen before I can choose a size for each fid (wood), as each stave is called. I also have to decide how I will shape them this time as I no longer have access to the tools I used the first time.
Not knowing, but trusting, was a wonderful way to travel. It wasn’t all good, but neither is life. I feel as if the Land was testing me. The first two trips the red carpet was rolled out. I was cradled and protected by the Land. This time, more is expected of me. The gifts were no less munificent, and I count the tasks among them. What I lost may be the catalyst for someone else when they find what amounts to a kit for Druidry somewhere. In the meantime I have articles and songs to write, blog entries and recordings to make, and experiences to share. I have friendships and memories to sustain me here on the Shores of the Western Sea. I am blessed beyond measure by the Druids and the Land of Albion.
I’ve been thinking lately about studying Druidry in California, a land where it is not indigenous. I’m beginning to think that what I thought of as a predicament might just as well be an advantage. Instead of the marked wells and obvious stone circles of Albion and Ireland, my landscape is covered with markers that I have never been taught to recognize, wrested from the people who should have been our friends and teachers but were mostly murdered and driven into the Missions. I know that someday I will have to seek them out, the ones who survived, and learn the proper names for the places, the names and needs of the spirits of this place, and of the First Peoples.
We *have* to learn to share this land, to return, if not the land itself, all the rights and recognition that we of the dominant culture have, and have respect for what is left of their culture. They should be able to choose a fitting and comfortable place to live, rather than a bit of land that we don’t want, where life is marginal, and further breaks the bonds of culture. We have to become one people here, of many colors, traditions and cultures, who live together in peace and harmony. That is a process already begun, but it will take many generations at the rate we are moving because everyone needs to be a part of this and most of us don’t seem to realize that it needs to happen at all.
I can of course honor my ancestral deities–we all can–but if I am to live in this land, I must also honor the spirits who live here, who are indigenous. I think that that is part of what is meant by re-indigenization. That’s part of it, but it’s more than that. We all need to remember that we are part of this world, we are not the owners of it. I have altered my rituals to reflect this. I ask permission and guidance from the ancestors. I ask to honor them and make an offering. It really is the least I can do and I recognize that it’s only a start.
We have to learn to recognize the true strength in diversity, the inherent fragility of monoculture. We need to remember what true wealth is: clean soil, clean water, clean air. We cannot live without these things. If we put toxics in the ground, we eat them. If we put toxics in the water, we drink them. If we put them in the air, we breathe them. We are doing this right now, and we wonder why so many of us are getting sick. We wonder why so many of us are getting fat and why we can’t lose weight, why cancers, once rare, are now becoming ever more common. Meanwhile, we use our drinking water to flush our toilets, and the traces of the drugs we take in order to heal ourselves from the conditions the toxins we have put in the land, water and air cycle back to be taken into our bodies again. We can’t get away from them, who can refuse to breathe, drink, and eat? All we can do is stop the cycle and clean up the mess.
So how did I get from holy wells and stone circles to the sicknesses of modern civilization? John Muir said it a century and more ago: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Our world is a largely closed system. What we do to one part of it affects the whole. If we want to be well, we have to heal the world around us. We need to recognize that we are part of this world, and that we have to care about the other living things around us. Every being in this world has a right to live well. The Kichwa people in Ecuador have a term; sumak kawsay. It means to live well, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of describing coexistence. An ocean has the right to live well, as does a plant, or a people. This right is now written into the Ecuadorean constitution. The country has yet to catch up with the words on the page, but at least they are there at last.
Where I live, there are so many people of Northern European descent. Many of our stories were lost as our ancestors fled their homes and we have struggled to find an anchor, a place to belong, and in the process have too often recreated the oppressive systems that were strangling our ancestors. Many of us follow other paths, from Atheism to Buddhism to Christianity. What was rootlessness has become a great mixing and could be a source of creativity and strength. It is a great blessing to have all these different ways to the center. None need be privileged over any other, and anyone of any ancestry should be free to choose that which calls to them.
I grew up Unitarian, and played in a chapel where banners stitched with the symbols of many faiths hung in the tall windows that ringed the space. I was never formally taught any faith, but many different ways surrounded me. I was an Atheist in my teens, but eventually found Paganism, and now Druidry. My path through the forest and to the land of my ancestors is a source of great beauty and meaning to me, and while I am happy to share it, I know that it is one among many, and that the world is a more interesting and beautiful place because we don’t all try to use the same one. A road trod by all can easily become rutted and strewn with garbage as people are driven along it by force. Better we spread ourselves out and discover places that have meaning to each of us. The path to my grove in the hills beside the Shores of the Western Sea is still full of mystery precisely because no one comes there unless they choose to.
Few of us can return to where we came from. Such a place doesn’t really exist for many of us as generations pass. All we can do is share the places where we are, and treat each other with respect. None of us get to choose where we were born, and few of us get to choose who we live among. We do get to choose how we look on the world and the people around us, and how we pass the land and culture on to the next generations. I hope those who come after live in a world that is healthier, stronger, and happier than the one I inhabit. I hope that they know a peace that I will never experience. I live in wonderful, terrible, pivotal times. I will never be indigenous, but I can work for a world where future generations can be one with the land, true citizens of Earth.