Initiations can often be very powerful experiences.
I was initiated into the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids on the Spring Equinox of 1995, having joined the Order in April 1994. I hadn’t rushed in. I wanted to be sure I had found my home. I remember the night well. The ceremony was a powerful experience, full of the symbolism of rebirth, but as a lot of other people have found, the real change began with the coming night, and the dreams that appeared through the mists.
I wrote down the dream I had on the night of my initiation, but lost the piece of paper for years, until the building work we have recently had done forced me and Cerri to explore old files, piles of paper, boxes that had been left unopened for years, to rationalise our home space. This process brought to life many treasures, including my write up of the dream I had that night. As I read, it all came flooding back. If I hadn’t written it down I may have completely forgotten about it. If you are on a spiritual path, keeping some kind of diary is a wonderful thing, and I thoroughly recommend it.
I loved remembering that moment. So much that I want to share the story with you here.
I hope you enjoy it!
I pulled off the dual carriageway onto the single-track road which would eventually lead me on to the Downs. The Sun was beating down making the car’s air system work overtime, but sweat still dripped down my forehead. It had been the hottest and longest summer I could remember since 1976. However, when I was 11-years-old, all Summers felt this long. It was Lammas time and the corn stood golden in the fields awaiting the inevitable sacrifice to the harvester. These days most farmers feel little for the Corn King except for a money-making commodity.
As I drove my car into the car park at the top of Firle Beacon I was surprised by the lack of other visitors taking advantage of the glorious August weather. I killed the engine and stepped from the car into the heat. The South Downs Way stretched from east to west and the sea reflected the Sun’s brilliance to the south. Inland the Weald with its meandering rivers and patchwork fields basked in the heat, the corn being moved by the gentle breeze making wavelike patterns. I was alone on the hills except for the sheep and birds.
I smiled and began to walk along the ridgeway, feeling contented and happy. The Beacon was once used as a signalling hill between the neighbouring hill forts of Caburn and Hollingbury and I was on my way to visit one of the many Long Barrows. Two large tumuli of ancient burial mounds were visible in the centre of a distant field and smaller tumuli hugged the ancient ridgeway path. I looked around once more to see if any other walkers were about. Only the sheep looked back at me.
Shortly I reached the Long Barrow which was perched on the peak of the beacon hill. Once the mound was probably bigger, it was about fifteen metres long, and about two metres high, but it had been the victim of the plough for many centuries. I thought it was amazing that it was still visible at all. The burial chamber had been constructed from wood and had either fallen in or had been vandalised by one of the many Victorian archaeologists. I walked up the mound and sat down on its top. The view of the Sussex countryside all around me was breathtaking but, tired from the walk, I laid down and closed my eyes, listening to the natural sounds around me.
I stayed like this for quite some time when I realised the sounds had changed. When you are surrounded by nature you can be tricked into thinking that you are enveloped in the peace of the countryside, but the sounds I heard now were very strange. I did not move but rather tried to work out what had changed. I heard the birds, the wind, and the farm animals around me, but something was missing. Then I realised what it was. I opened my eyes and quickly sat up. At first I thought I was imagining things, but it was real. The missing noise was that of distant traffic. I looked across the valley and saw that the A27 road had gone…disappeared. I stood and looked around and saw that the patchwork fields had been replaced by a huge forest and that the towns of Newhaven and Brighton had completely vanished! The front of the Barrow lay open, its four-sided wooden chamber empty, awaiting the arrival of the dead. As I walked down the side of the burial mound it was indeed much bigger, and the air…the air was so sweet and pure, like breathing Champagne!
I should have panicked, I should have felt at least a little uncomfortable, but I did not. I felt exhilarated. I looked across at the Caburn, instead of the earthwork-crowned hill I was used to seeing I was presented with a magnificent sight. The earthworks were still there but the hill was covered with a huge wooden fence which encircled the entire hill fort. I could see smoke coming from inside the perimeter fence and figures moving around the outside, tending to their sheep.
As I stood watching the fort a movement caught the corner of my eye. I looked around to see three large birds flying towards me. They landed and perched on top of the chamber of the Long Barrow. They were, without doubt, the most beautiful birds I had ever seen. They were brightly coloured and had glorious long tail feathers. All at once they began to sing and their voices hypnotised me as I slowly began to understand the language of these creatures.
“Welcome traveller,” they sang. “We are the Birds of Rhiannon, the Delayers of Time. Wait with us and listen to our song, for someone is coming to speak with you.” I had no choice but to agree! Their songs held me spellbound with tunes spiralling and moving me to tears. Then they stopped. It felt as if they had been singing for mere moments but, as I regained my thoughts, I noticed that night had fallen. The Caburn was lit by the glow of fires.
“You have travelled far.” The voice made me jump out of my reverie. It had come from a figure who stood at the entrance of the Barrow. In the darkness I could only make out the outline. It was a man who stood against a tall staff, he was hooded.
“What has happened?” I asked.
“You…have happened,” was his reply.
I was, as you can imagine, very confused. “What do you mean?”
The figure pointed at the entrance of the Barrow and beckoned me. I walked towards him.
“Stand in this place…and remember,” he said.
I stumbled into the hollow created by the four wooden sides. Then I regained my balance and looked up at the figure. In the moonlight I could see him more clearly. He was a Druid. He smiled at me. It was the most warm and friendly smile I had ever seen. “Welcome,” he said, and reached out a closed fist. “Take what I have to give you, and keep them safe.”
I opened my hands to receive the gift, not knowing what he had to give me. As he opened his hands four stones fell into mine.
He waved his staff and everything went black.
I opened my eyes to bright sunshine and a wet tongue licking my face. The sheep looked down at me, then ran away startled as I stood up. All around me things had returned. The Barrow was sunken, the noise of the A27 road mumbled in the distance and, across the valley, the Caburn stood defiant, but fenceless. As I returned to full consciousness I remembered my dream, and my recent Bardic initiation into the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, and smiled. How things Druidic can make your imagination run wild! I stood to return to the car and, as I did so, my feet touched something hard. I looked down and saw a circle of four small stones. Reaching down to pick them up, they tingled in my hand and I remembered my conversation with the Druid.
“What has happened?” I asked.
“You…have happened,” he replied.
The reality struck me that the physical initiation is only the trigger to the spiritual initiation which follows. I looked around the world for the first time through the eyes of a Bard. I heard the music in the breeze and the poetry in the sounds of nature.
I smiled and returned to my car.