I discovered this book a year ago at the same time I discovered Druidry. On a re-read it has been fascinating returning to parts that have inspired and shaped my relationships with the Old Gods and nature spirits of my local area, as well as finding new meanings to fit the present period of my life. The title alone has a magical resonance.
Old Gods. Robin Herne is a polytheist Druid who lives in East Anglia. He runs an Eisteddfod in Suffolk and is part of a long running Clan whose patron deity is Ogmios. He writes about Druidry due to his conviction `of the existence of the Gods.’ This sense of passion and connection flows through the book, affirming and celebrating their existence. My own life has been characterised by a wild desire to hunt for the divine; my restless and insatiable mind and feet leading me through fantasy novels, horses, crazy festivals and the dirtiest rock clubs, Romanticism, Greek and German philosophy and tragedy, more horses, long walks, and at last to the Old Gods of this land, which has been a huge homecoming.
Reading this book for the first time confirmed my developing intuitions and taught me some important lessons. We can build better relationships with the gods if we address them rather than attempting to invoke them. Instead of approaching them with demands we should get to know them. Rather than turning up with an armful of offerings or a page full of verse we should find out what they want us to do for them.
Until Phil and Lynda Ryder introduced me to Druidry my connection with deities had taken place away from home, and in many ways been an escape from the banality of suburban life. After opening my eyes to what was outside my door I became more aware of the nature spirits of my local area. Robin’s book has been really useful as he offers sound advice on how to connect with them. For example before approaching the spirit of a water course learning if it’s artificial or manmade, whether it’s been diverted and what it’s old uses were. This process turned up some interesting research about my local valley and it’s brook as well as deepening my understanding of the spirits.
As a poet I found the following lines inspirational: `in Clan, we wonder at what body of land-stories may have once existed, that saw and celebrated the spirits of the land. We wonder too at what stories we, and others, could create anew to reinvest the spirit in the Sacred Land.’ They played a part in leading to me writing a book of poetry about the valley to raise money for the Friends group I set up there.
An exercise that stuck in my mind was a visualisation where Robin says `you may feel the urge to chant, sing, clap a beat with your hands, or do various other activities. Go with the flow…’ Whilst I’ve found other people’s visualisations don’t work for me these words stuck in my mind, because I knew, frustratingly, this was something I’d never been able to do. Following a prompt to sing one of my poems to Belisama, the goddess of the Ribble, I recalled these words, with my frustration. I decided to try it, an experience which has transformed and deepened our relationship. Building on this I’ve learnt to let go entirely, allowing a song to take me into a trance, strangely and inexplicably met Gwyn ap Nudd, a deity whose wild, terrifying nature connects to my soul, and journeyed with him to the Otherworld.
New Druids. Robin’s values as a young man coalesced `in the mythic image of the Druid.’ The label of `Druid’ has been a sticking point for me. Up until last year my world view was based on Nietzsche’s artist’s metaphysics and William Blake’s visionary excavation of London, combined with my growing intuitions about the local land, its Gods and their myths and stories. This amalgamation made me see myself as some kind of pagan poet-philosopher, my totem mare fleeing tradition, stamping and shaking her head like a horse refusing to go into a box.
For Robin to reject tradition involves dismissing `those ancestors that adhered to polytheism within that time and who might well guide the living from beyond the grave.’ A question I ponder frequently is why am I called to the Gods of ancient Britain and the tribes who lived in relationship with them, and to the divine figures whose tales, hunting horns and battle cries, with the scream of ravens echo from The Mabinogion and The Books of Ancient Wales? Why me? Why now? Why is Druidry returning, or perhaps, why is Druidry being brought into being by those who are called by the land and its Old Gods?
Robin’s suggestion is that `Gods are astounding entities and a new spirituality could be built around them that would enlightening, liberating, awe-inspiring and magnificent. If the world had never had a body of polytheistic naturalists seeking meaning and beauty and sapience in the land around them, then the 21st century would be a fantastic time for it to gain one.’ `Myths inspire the future.’ For Robin the draw of the mystical religions is their capacity to restore wonder, mystery and enchantment to the world. This restoration does not take place solely in ritual and meditation but by working with and sharing the energy and inspiration that are gifts of the land and its deities, a task Robin performs through teaching, storytelling and poetry.