On the Spring Equinox 2000 7 people met up at the Long Man of Wilmington to celebrate the season. We walked up to the flat hill beneath the figure, and there we set our circle, uttered the Druids prayer and oath of peace, and drummed on a sour cream and chives Pringles tin. Small beginnings indeed for the Anderida Gorsedd that this Spring Equinox celebrates 10 years of open rituals at the Long Man. Now you will find anywhere between 50 and 100 people there on the Sunday nearest to the festival.
10 years is a long time in magical circles for anything to survive, so maybe it’s time to look back and reflect on how this small gathering developed into a group of people who celebrate 8 times a year at the Long Man, have held 11 camps, and two conferences. A group that without aiming to be, has become a tribe in the truest sense of the word.
That initial 7 quickly grew, and by the Summer Solstice of 2000 the average attendance was around 35 people. In the Winter of that year after our Winter Solstice ritual I called down to the Giants Rest pub in Wilmington to see if they were open. The landlord said they were closed, but how many people were with us. I told him around 35 so he said, “come down, I’ll open for you!” So it was that the Gorsedd’s relationship with Adrian and his glorious pub began. I gave him the dates we were planning to meet, and he opened for us. After a few years he opened on Sundays as a matter of course, and now he also offers food. But each year I still let him know the dates, and he gets extra staff in to cope with the rush. In the Winter the pub provides a warm shelter, and a friendly place to retire after the rituals so that the Anderida Clan can continue the celebration with a social pint. In the Summer the garden at the front of the pub is full of Druids, and Pagans, sitting in the sunshine together. If the Mythago Morris have danced for us up the hill, they will often also dance outside the pub – perfect!
Over the years we have met some amazing people who just happened to be at the Long Man when we were there. A Peruvian Shaman, a group of Native Americans, some Egyptian Dancers, to name just a few. Walkers, people on picnics, and ramblers often join the circle and celebrate with us. The Long Man, being a Sacred Site to many people seems to draw people of a like mind, and many of these random encounters have developed into long lasting and close friendships.
Over the years we have heard the clash of swords as the Oak and Holly King do battle at the Solstices, we’ve created Flesh-henge and Flesh-grange out of the people attending, we’ve walked labyrinths, planted snowdrops, called out the names of loved ones who had moved on from this world to let them know they are still being thought of, we have regularly chosen the May Queen through divination, and the May King by hunting the Stag Horns. In February 2007 we held the first open Eisteddfod competition for the Bardic Chair of Anderida, an annual event at Imbolc ever since. In sunshine, high winds, rain and snow we have let the Old Gods know that there are still those who honour the Sacred Days, and still love them dearly.
But it hasn’t always been easy. For many years we held the rituals in the picnic area near the Long Man as this had easier access for people with walking disabilities. But the picnic area land was leased to the local Council, and the landlord complained, so we were given no choice but to move the rituals back up the hill. Sadly some people just cannot make that walk. We did fight as hard as we could, but in the end we lost the fight to ignorance and prejudice. We have been up the hill ever since, and although we thought it might put some people off, it seems that the Gorsedd is made of sterner stuff, and even in bad weather people will make the trip to mark the time of year. No fair-weather Pagans here!
In 2003 we held our first Anderida Gorsedd camp. We wanted the Gorsedd camps to be tangible magical journeys that worked with a theme throughout the weekend. Over the years we have worked with the Wickerman, a Three Worlds journey, the Faerie, Arthurian Legend, the Battle of the Trees, and many more. We keep the camps small and intimate with a maximum number of 60 adults. This has also resulted in the feeling of a true tribe with people returning to the camps time and again. The Anderida camps now sell out within 24 hours of the tickets going on sale. We could easily make them bigger, but we don’t want to do that as the size and intimacy is one of the things that make them special. But this year in July we are putting on AnderidaFest – our first open no limit camp. Still the same idea of working with a theme, just bigger. Check out www.anderidagorsedd.org for details.
The Gorsedd has also held two conferences at the wonderful Southwick Community Centre, but this year we have replaced that with AnderidaFest. We do plan to put on another conference in 2011.
I cannot tell you what an honour it has been to have been a part of such a group. These things begin as dreams, and we are blessed to be surrounded with people who listen to what me and Cerri dream up, and then dive in fully with it. Pure magic. So here’s to the next 10 years!!