The OBOD East Coast Gathering (ECG) is held near the town of Milford at a wonderful site called Camp Netimus. The camp is the brainchild of an OBOD member called Lorraine and between her and her lovely crew they hold the most magical and wonderfully safe space. We had the whole of Thursday to walk the grounds and to get familiar with our new surroundings then that evening I was due to play a fireside acoustic concert. Just before we flew out to the USA I had contracted a cold with a grim cough, and if you are a singer you will know that this is not conducive to good singing, but I would give my best, none the less.
So here’s the scene. Night has fallen, it’s a beautiful temperate evening, a bright full moon is gliding across a clear star-filled sky. A fire has not just been built but has been wonderfully constructed like a fire sculpture, mead is flowing. I walk up to the fireside and am introduced as ‘our Pendragon’. I was initiated as the Pendragon of the OBOD on the Summer Solstice of 2010. It’s something I am very proud of, but not something I wear openly, but on this night, with these wonderful OBOD Druids I was proud and honoured to have been introduced as such, to the people of my tribe, to new friends who were walking the same forest paths as me.
I picked up my guitar, and the singing began.
I know I am blessed to be able to live the life I am living, and I thank the Gods every day. As we all sang of Brighid, sang in honour of the Old Ones, of Herne and Cernunnos, of the Great Goddess, of our love for our Mother. As that full moon raised her silvery head above the tree line, we took a moment to acknowledge just how lucky we all were. Magical nights like that are not experienced by many people, and I just wish more people had the opportunity to feel moments of connection like that. If we all could, we would love each other more fully, we would love the other beings we share this planet with more. We would live more. But for that moment we did connect, and we stayed connected in that way all weekend. And my cold? Well, I could hear the difference in my voice but I gave 100% considering I felt at about 80%, but I don’t think anyone else noticed. I think us performers are always harder on ourselves.
Friday started early with Bardic initiations in the woods. I love these. There were two circles where the initiations took place as there were 12 initiates. Cerri was in one group, and I was in the other. Being present at someone’s spiritual initiation is like being at a birth. Initiations are still very important to me. Although I know they seem to be falling out of favour with some people I love the fact that they are moments where the seeker looks to the universe, looks inside and to the Earth, and screams, “I am ready!”
Chances to leave what has gone before.
To begin anew.
It was an honour to have been present for this moment, within the woodlands of Pennsylvania, with the calling of the birds of prey above the trees, and chipmunks running through the undergrowth.
Friday evening the moon arose once more as we all gathered for a ritual dedicated to the Horned God Cernunnos. I was asked to offer the ‘gift of the fields’ during the ceremony. So I walked, with my chalice of grain, in procession into the trees to the sacred place set aside for our rite.
OBOD isn’t known for holding rituals dedicated to particular deities. It’s a very inclusive Order where people can use the teachings in whatever way they wish, and I love that. But sometimes, being inclusive to all paths can have the negative effect that we might miss deep focussed ritual like this – where people have the chance to throw themselves into a rite that has the singular purpose to encounter a specific deity. I loved it, and was very happy to have experienced this at an OBOD event. We gathered in circle, made our offerings to the fire, and invited Cernunnos to be with us. We all sang Antlered Crown and Standing Stone (not led by me, but instead led by a group who had worked out an arrangement purely for voice. It was wonderful, and just the kind of thing I write my songs for). Then the drumming began and we began to circle and dance around the fire, all the time chanting “Cernunnos! Cernunnos! Cernunnos!” I felt the spirit of the Stag consume me. Feet changed into hooves. Eyes turned black. The forest felt like a home, a true home, not just a place visited, but one lived in. I felt as hunter, and hunted. It was wonderful. More chanting. Drums in the night. Voices resounding through the trees.
After we returned to the fire circle and once more we sat beside another expertly built fire. That night I could really ‘sample’ the home-made mead, so i did… The Bardic presentations around the campfire were amazing, and I also had the opportunity to jam with Hex, an OBOD member I’d spoken to on email but never actually met. He is an amazing Djembe player, so we very soon had everyone up and dancing around the fire.
What happened next blew my mind. A young man stood up and told an epic poem from Taliesin from memory, and that was followed by his friend, also reciting from memory, Robin Williamson’s poem Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave. I was spellbound. This is the kind of thing that makes my heart sing. I had tears rolling down my face. For that moment, my friends, thank you.
I couldn’t play after that. I sat around the fire and talked with friends. Drank more mead. Looked at the moon. Smiled.
Susan Jones, the OBOD tutor coordinator, was also at the gathering, and it was lovely to have the chance to sit down to hear her talk of sacred pilgrimage on Saturday morning. In the afternoon I did a workshop on the Ogham, and then Cerri did a workshop on Cauldrons in Celtic Mythology. It was a wonderfully chilled out day in the sunshine.
As night fell we began the longest initiation session I have ever experienced. 3 Druid initiations, and 12 Ovates. We started at 7pm and finished after midnight. Over 5 hours. But every initiate had there own time, their own space, dedicated purely to their experience. What an amazing night.
On Sunday there was a wonderful Alban Elfed ritual to celebrate the Autumn Equinox.
Goodbyes always take a long time at Druid events, and that is how it should be. We had been welcomed into another OBOD tribe like we were part of their family, and I will hold those memories dear, until we all meet again.
JFK airport is a good place to ground.
Soon we were on a plane flying from JFK to Vienna. But’s that’s another story…