The Power of Initiation
When I began to turn my attention to seriously explore Paganism much of the conversation was about magic, which path you would end up following, and initiation. It was like I stood outside of something, and all of these choices stood before me, leading to that final decision, and the initiation rite that would bring me from that feeling of standing outside, to being inside. I had already been studying magic for many years having taken four initiation steps along the path of Ceremonial Magic. These had all been powerful experiences, but none had asked the questions I was being asked now.
It seemed very important at that time to make a decision about which path to follow. The eclectic Pagan was still a growing phenomena amongst the seemingly far more committed, and recognised, Pagan traditions of Wicca, Witchcraft, Druidry and Asatru. These were the four well trodden tracks that lay before me. Like standing on the edge of a forest I could see the beginnings of each path, I could find out and walk a little way along each, but then darkness lay before me, a darkness I knew would illuminate once I had made my decision, but until then, I could merely strain to see further, to no avail.
So I met with some groups, going to their open evenings, discussing aspects of their traditions. I sent off for the intro pack for the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids to find out more of this path, I joined in with the Pagan Federation’s open rituals, and went to some camps. And all the time I could see this beckoning finger in the mists, calling me forward, but into what I still didn’t know. You see I loved the tradition of the Witch and the ceremony of Wicca. My past lay in Ceremonial Magic, and I could tell just by talking to Witches and Wiccans that their path’s history also came from that same place. There was a familiarity that was compelling. However my big stumbling block was the initiation. From all I had been told if I were to step upon this path I would be making a commitment for lifetimes. Not just this one, but the next, and the next, forever. This is something I just couldn’t do. If it turned out that in my next life I also felt the call of the Wiccan then I would find that place once more, or it would find me. But the lessons I needed to learn next time might well be different – how was I to know what lay in my future, for eternity? I couldn’t make that choice, so the path of Wicca shimmered and then gradually disappeared, as the path blended back into the forest – or so I thought, more about that later…
The problem with Asatru was finding anyone locally who practiced and ran a group. Considering I was living in Sussex, the land of the South Saxons, it was really hard to find anyone to talk to about this path. So reluctantly I took this as a sign that it was not for me.
The same could almost have been said for Druidry. This was 1993-4 and the main thrust of Paganism was definitely held within the hands of the Craft. I tried to find Druids and found one, only one. Luckily she was a member of the local Druid Grove run by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm in Lewes, the headquarters of the OBOD, the largest Druid Order in the World. So on the Winter Solstice of 1994 I found myself in their home, celebrating the Solstice within a Druid Grove. I hadn’t needed any initiation, I hadn’t sat down and spoken with anyone in the Grove. I was just openly invited to join in. Because all of the inner workings of Wiccan group ritual had been closed to me unless I could make that commitment to join the path, I couldn’t feel the magic of those ceremonies. Here for some reason I could. I could fully experience Druidry before I made that step. As the circle was cast, and the lights turned off as the candles were lit, as the incense was taken around, and I heard the Awen sung for the very first time I felt like my heart was going to burst. This was it, I was home.
So on the Spring Equinox 1995 I arrived at the Grove ready for my initiation as a Bard, and I was terrified. All I had going through my head were the tales of people jumping out of windows and legging it down the street being so scared of what was to come. Admittedly all of these tales had come from the Wiccan Coven I had been exploring, but still, was Druidry much different? I didn’t know yet. I was taken away from the main group and sat alone in a darkened room. I could hear sounds from the main living space, but other than that there was silence. Time for me to think about the path that had led me to this point. It was a few moments later that I realised I was not alone in the room. I sensed movement. In this heightened state I through it could be anything. I sensed something moving in the blackness then a book fell from the shelf as Philip and Stephanie’s cat jumped from the bookshelf. A cat, that was all, just a cat.
About 30 minutes later the door opened, and I was led to my initiation.
Having gone through this I wonder now why I hear less talk of initiation. You see on that night I experienced something Other than I had been used to with my Ceremonial Magic grade initiations. I guess I felt this as I knew that I had finally found my spiritual home. Nothing really changed during the ceremony itself, but over the next few days there were subtle shifts in perception, changes in the way I looked at life, at the world. I could feel the embrace of countless other Bards who had taken this Journey – from Philip and Stephanie, to Myrdhin, Amergin and Taleisin. Even then I knew there was no unbroken line, but the Spirit that guides the Bard has ever been the same, and still continues to this day. I found these great Avatars waiting when I closed my eyes, and stepped into the Inner Grove, I found them waiting on ancient hill tops, and in ageless trees. I found them in folklore, in poetry, in myth, and in my heart.
Once I had travelled through each of the grades of the Order I asked my Grove to re-initiate me as a Bard. It was where I belonged, and where, for this lifetime at least, my destiny lay. That re-dedication was even more powerful than the first as I brought all of my knowledge and learning with me. This was not a frightening jump into the dark, but rather a full stop before the next chapter, a chapter of a book I’m still writing to this day.
So I am truly in favour of magical initiations. They are moments in our lives that stay with us forever. They are times when we look to the Universe and shout, “I am ready!” But there is one more story I must tell before this post is done.
Whilst I was still deciding which path to follow, and before I had made contact with the Order I had a dream. In this dream I was in a temple room, it was lit only by subtle torchlight – on the walls, and in the hands of a circle of people that stood around me. The people were all wearing animal masks, and gently chanting. They were all looking at me, looking directly into my soul. In this dream I was led through a ritual that I can still vividly remember to this day. The next day I told this dream to a Wiccan High Priestess. She smiled and said, ‘To some people that dream would have been an initiation. What do you think?” For some reason I said no, I thought it was just a dream. In truth I think I said it to please her – I thought that was the answer she wanted to hear, that I still thought I needed a physical initiation. But inside I always knew that it was real. And this is why I said ‘or so I thought’ when it came to my relationship with the Craft. You see, on that night I believe that I slipped into some Otherworld and received a magical initiation. Not through the physical initiation of a tradition, but by something else. I think it was that dream, and my initiation in the OBOD, that have influenced the way I practice Druidry as a magical Pagan path, and how that has also influenced my music. In this place lies the Chalice and the Blade, the Awen and the Oak, the Sun and the Moon. Here lies Annwn.