Pondering the Forest Path

Formal training, or no formal training? That is the question I read on a friend’s Facebook status just a couple of days ago, and of course it got my Geminian air-head mind thinking.

A have had formal training, both from a Hermatic Ceremonial Magic Temple, and then later with the Order of Bards. Ovates and Druids. For me I found there were so many books, so many paths and teachers, that my head began to spin. I read everything I could lay my hands on, and spoke to everyone I could find, philosophising often until the early hours of the morning. But that approach for me felt out of focus, like a scatter gun I was spreading my attention too widely. My wish was to find a path that was wide enough to not feel restricted, but focussed enough to feel that I was actually on a path at all, and for me the course run by the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) was the perfect choice. It was not an academic course that demanded learning vast amounts of ancient history, yet somehow the path that led me though the forest had enough tributaries and smaller byways that I found myself often stepping from the main path of the course and spending that time exploring archaeology and history books that then built on the experiences I was having with the course. The material in the Gwersi was enough to keep me focussed, yet not so restrictive that I felt tied down.

So I followed the course. It took me 9 years to complete the Gwersi from Bard, through Ovate, and then Druid, and the irony was that, when it was finished, my personal path took its own life, held by the foundation of my experiences both as a student of Druidry and a studying Magician. So even though I finished the course in 2003 I still feel that focus, and regularly meet others who are walking in the same forest, on those same paths.

So when I saw that post on Facebook I realised that it was now impossible for me to says whether formal training was necessary, because having gone through it, I find it hard to imagine where I would be if I hadn’t. I’m sure I would have been fine, I would have found my own way with time, but whether I would be the same person I am now, I somehow doubt that. An interesting thought to ponder…

15 Comments

  1. Jo H (@druidsgarden) August 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    I spent about 10 years discovering my path, first as simply just as an interest & then when I realised that I was Pagan, I chose an Eclectic Hedgewitch path as Wicca did not personally hold any attraction for me. I had a long road to travel to even get to the point where I could do group ritual comfortably never mind be an active participant or lead ritual – There was alot of personal brick walls to break down, which I eventually did as an Eclectic.

    However I longed for some structure to my Paganism & for me starting the formal training with OBOD 3 years ago gave me that – It’s taking me a long time to work through the Bardic course, some of that is because of personal circumstances and other procrastination but I even though I’m not actively ‘doing’ the course at the moment – I can still feel the Gwersi I have done working on me and for that and that alone – If it takes me 20 years to get through this course I will and I will be a better Druid because of it – So in my case I have to say yes – Formal training is an essential part of my journey

  2. Heddwen August 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm - Reply

    Exactly, and as a student on the Ovate OBOD course, I find that the course echoes and compliments my life as it equally challenges me.

  3. Helen Wood August 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    I never had the option of the OBOD course. Lack of money saw to that. I’m in much the same position as you as regards advice, because 12 years learning druidry without formal training has led me in a certain direction and I cannot now imagine having done it any other way. I know druids who have had training and druids without and both kinds seem to flourish. I will not say I have had no teachers, I have had a lot of them, but I do wonder whether a course would have made me a better druid. Maybe it would have just made me a different one.

    • Byrch February 14, 2016 at 3:48 am - Reply

      Realizing this is an old comment, but I just stumbled across it. I think you turned out to be the kind of Druid you were meant to be. If it was meant to be any other way, it would have. Paths open up before us and we take the steps along it. Your paths found you, and you them. – currently in the Bardic Grade of the OBOD, practicing Wiccan and Johannite.

  4. John Willmott August 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Personally, I do not think there are any rules on this or any sides to take.

    I sometimes perform one of my Aurie mac Ruarie (Pottering Harry McCrory) stories on this very matter where Aurie is trying to decide the value of scribe based education at the monastic cille or the oral education from Erc The Deravid.

    Much of my labyrinth guidance work is coaching people through a cleansing from their dependence of “academics” that causes so much anxiety. I think texts and books, leading components of “formal” learning. can become an addiction, a replacement to our spirit and heart guides. One person, a former school teacher, here said this well in a very blunt way – “state schools ram us with stuff that knocks out our common sense”

    Having said that, I feel books and texts are beautiful tools if we treat them as such but often in the labyrinth visitors will rebut and ask what books am I following in what I “teach” and what “school” was I certified in.

    Fortunately, I am following a way taught to me by my father, taught by his father who was taught by my grandfather etc. but very few have that lineage.

    Sometimes I invite visitors to to speculate where a writer or a teacher obtained her or his research, and often its from other books.

    I then take them on a visualization through the ancestry of written books to the point where there was no book just memory and inspiration which was the founder of all books, and therefore the highest order of knowledge.

    I think if we take ourselves to that point of knowledge, the sanctuary of inspiration and memory and then use the tools we are comfortable with whether these are books, texts, use Google online to browse web sites, watch some YouTube clips, go to seminars, conferences, retreats and so forth we are ok.

    Regarding many teachers and many trees on a forest path I was on a debate with someone earlier who at a seashore looks over the sea and yearns to cross the sea into the horizon. It made me think of how people at sea yearn to be back on land. I also remembered that when i am on the shore I see so much around me that I could eat and wonder why I would need to be anywhere else.

    I think a lot of anxiety and confusion happens when we loose the simplicity of perception of what is around us.

    I often have parents with children arrive at the labyrinth and while the parents are questioning me about the make up of labyrinths, my learning, books I suggest etc – the children have already walked, or run, the labyrinth, been illuminated and arrive back looking at us with broad grins. Who is the teacher in that situation?

  5. magpieschest August 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Great post Damh; and something to consider. I had been questioning what my beliefs were and took the OBOD course as a way of providing some form of accessible direction. It certainly opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about that original question!
    I guess depending on who you are, who you know and how you interact with the available information will determine how useful a formal training actually is. But for many, the forest path has been paved for sometime, and courses such as OBOD will allow them to lift the flagstones and allow their feet to touch the earth once more…

  6. ashbeth August 8, 2011 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    I think formal training definitely adds something. Hopefully we’re learning all the time, the bits that come in formal chunks tend to lead to more easily recognised outcomes at the end, not the same ones in everyone, but stuff we can look back at and see how the active commitment to learn and work and the structure of having this stuff you were meant to be doing helped make it happen. That the learning and study is more potent because your commitment is making happen, rather than it just being stuff that is you that happens because of general interactions. I think it encourages more growth that there is the intentionally designed courses input flowing to you. Also learning seems to be faster when you are connecting to information others have learnt in the same format before, and the commitment in saying “yes i will do this course” (even when it’s hard to find a way to pay for it) are worth it.

    I took 9 years over my bardic grade, and then had a year or so’s break, and so far my ovate grade has been ongoing on and off for about 3 years, sometimes through not being so prompt at pushing myself to move on, sometimes because my mundane life demands a lot, and often because a small step in a gwers will trigger lots of other external stuff to do (it’s sent me off on whole other training courses before now!) so although the courses aren’t cheap you could say I’m getting value for money out of them since I am turning each of the nominal years training in something far far longer lasting than a year. As someone who is also scraping by to have enough for food quite often I still find the OBOD course worthwhile financially.

    As far as the effect it has goes: It provides stimulus which have been objectively balanced to ensure your development is balanced too and that it makes serious efforts to not leave you flying off into the land of flakiness and too much idealising and romanticising or with with clouded judgement fired by overwending passion which leads you astray and into fighting for fightings sake. Good structured formal training will try to ensure you develop your weaknesses so they don’t trip you up and understand and help your strengths stay in balance but still grow, and for you to know both of them better so you know yourself better and can apply this to all you are learning. For this the formal path is invaluable, especially as a foundation. There are few amongst us if any who can actually get a totally objective view of ourselves and how we can interact with the world. Therefore without it we risk having little holes which undermine further development.

    The very commitment involved in joining formal training, (not that sense some seem to have that they can buy themselves spirituality) is actually a form of self dedication, finding the money for a course if you are grindingly poor is a potent form of sacrifice, both of these are very useful tools both psychologically and in other ways, all of which adds to the potency of committing to a formal course.

    However all that said, if the commitment, sacrifice and balance are there in the student then they will doubtless still achieve great things without the formal training too.

  7. Diane August 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    yes I know what you mean, when you have walked one path it is hard to know how it would have turned out if you had taken a different route. For years I walked my path resisting formal training, thinking I didn’t need it, then after walking the Druid way for 10 years I decided to do the OBOD training, now, 4 years on, I have begun the Druid training and I’m so glad I have come down this route as I gained so much from the Bardic and Ovate parts of the training and I’m sure the Druid grade will have the same effect.

  8. John Beckett August 8, 2011 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    I needed both. My initial work was solitary – learning from books and learning by doing. During this time I found my path. What began as simply “NOT the religion of my childhood” was gradually refined from universalism to Paganism to Druidry.

    When I began working with an eclectic group and found myself thrust into leadership roles, I realized I needed formal training. That’s when I began the OBOD course – it provided a structure I could never have developed on my own. The OBOD material was specific enough to provide spiritual depth while being generic enough to allow me to interpret and express it in ways that are meaningful and helpful to me.

    Could I have learned all that on my own? Probably, but without the benefit of the collective experience of the Order, it would have taken far longer and I likely would have chased down several dead-end paths.

  9. Clare P August 9, 2011 at 6:04 am - Reply

    Thank you for your insight. This is a subject which has been on my mind for a while now. As you say, it’s finding something focussed but not restrictive – I think that finding something to keep your path on it’s way rather than just going around in circles and not ever developing your path.

  10. Lynn August 9, 2011 at 8:59 am - Reply

    I consider that I have been Pagan all my life – but had the oft usual C of E school upbringing and at times explored Christianity – I knew it wasn’t right for me, but there were plenty of ‘formal’ teachings to follow. As a mother in a female profession (midwifery) I resonated for a while with Goddess based paganism, wicca wasn’t for me, but there were plenty of groups and teachers. But it’s funny, it wasn’t until I felt ‘at home’ in Druidry that I felt a need to be committed and ‘sign up’ as it were. I too am doing the OBOD course – I have just completed the Ovate journey (but still walk as Bard…….and no doubt Ovate…..forever…..). I have been ‘out and proud’ for a while now and put much of my new found confidence in the formalised study. It is focused, but as broad as you want it to be. I now at last, feel I am ‘walking my talk’.

  11. Jennifer Smith Walker August 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm - Reply

    It makes me feel a bit better to see that the OBOD courses took you 9 years… I’ve been working (on and off– mostly off, lately) on the Bardic course now for– Goddess bless, nearly 5 years! I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to Druid, but I do want to do the Ovate course. Someday…

  12. Terry August 15, 2011 at 6:44 am - Reply

    In typical Gemini fashion I drifted along a Pagan sort of Wiccan but not really Wiccan path? for many years before really examining what I was doing. We were at a COA summer gathering and it was Dave, (Damh the Bard) who made me think about my path and where I was going in a Pagan sense during his evening performance. Anyway I joined the OBOD and did the Bardic course, I sucked it up like a hoover, absolutely loved it. I found the poet in me and even won the obod short poem category on the website. I am now about half way through the Ovate grade and although it’s much more challenging I know so much more about myself and the world. I really struggle with herbs and plants but there are so many other avenues to explore and that’s what I love about the course. I would never try to heal anyone with herbs, it would be like Death with a smile……but horses for courses and I love history and finding the stories of the land.
    I think as has been said the great appeal of the course is that it is focused but not restrictive, and nothing is written in stone, one is free to adapt and redirect the content to suit.

  13. Adam Chandler August 25, 2011 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    An interesting question, I can only add my experiences. I had never considered any formal training, reasoning ‘if I wanted to be told what to think, I would go to church’. I have long been a devotee of the godess Andraste and meditated long and hard , wanting to build an alter to her, I swear I heard a voice (dangerous that, I’m a psychiatric nurse) saying ‘swords are my true alters’. From then on I have been a student of historic, european martial arts an a medieval reenactor. I have honestly never been happier and I’ve met a lot of interesting people. (also collected an impressive array of injuries along the way). Recently I have decided to follow the OBOD course too, this can only be a good thing and the journey continues.

  14. Hodekin September 20, 2011 at 7:49 am - Reply

    One does need a guide! But having said that, a guide (in the human sense) can be a dangerous thing, well OK not so much dangerous as perhaps misleading and not to mention expensive…it’s a human thing isn’t it!

    I often feel sorry for the newbie starting off on their path into the esoteric, there are gurus, experts and self confessed avatars on every corner (especially in Glastonbury) hawking their spiritual knowledge at usually overly material prices…but that’s the world we live in, so what is one to do?

    One has to accept that you will make mistakes, that there will be many blind turns and cul-de-sac s along the path of journey…wasted time? Not a bit of it! Each mistake (no matter how bad or basic) is a lesson learned, we should not regard the path as a three year course, but a life time of discovery.

    For me it is a question of go with your intuition, ask as many questions as possible, if people are only willing to ‘sell’ you the answers, then you have your answer there and then!

    Persistence means that eventually you will come across someone with the knowledge and experience you are seeking, someone who will to some extent at least be willing to pass on lore and skills if not for free then at least at a trade or a price that is reasonable and not inhibiting.

    Self discovery,self determination and a good heart……..that should be enough!

    Hodekin.

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