Awen bonfire, ECG 2014
There is just no way to completely describe the awesomeness of this year’s OBOD East Coast Gather. It was our fifth year, and I’ve been attending since year one. Each year is different, and like children, I can’t say that I’ve loved one more than the others because I’ve loved them all differently. That being said, this year, devoted to the Goddess/goddesses was definitely one that deepened relationships with gods, community, and craft. The spread of DTIs* was rapid and joyous, and will doubtless inspire the tribe long into winter’s night.
One of the most wonderful things about ECG (aside from the food, the bonfires, and the mead) is its small size. Capped at 100 or so people, the scene is set for deeper conversations, renewed friendships, and lively discussions. The guest speakers were so generous, both of their time and their wealth of experiences. We were blessed with four wonderfully talented and amazing guests from the Isles this year: Kristoffer Hughes, Penny Billington, Arthur Billington, and Ursula Billington (yes, related!).
Kris heads up the Anglesey Druid Order, and has written a number of fantastic books. His talk on Epona and the Cetlic Horse Goddess was engaging, entertaining, and sobering. First of all, just getting to hear a native Welsh speaker say the names of gods and goddesses from the Mabinogi was a rare treat. He spoke mainly of Rhiannon in her role as psychopomp, tying in many other threads of horse goddess lore, including the White Horse of Uffington and the revival of the Mari Lwyd. Kris emphasized the importance of grief, and how our culture has sadly pathologized mourning (see the latest version of the DSM if you think he’s kidding). He encouraged us all to think about how we want to die, and to make plans to ensure that our deaths and burials reflect how we lived our lives. In the lifespan of the universe, a human only exists for a picosecond (0.000,000,000,001 seconds). He challenged us to make the universe sit up and take notice in the time we’re here. Or, in his words, “Do epic shit.”
The Billingtons are Bards in every sense of the word, whether they were performing around the campfire, inspiring us with lectures and meditations, or just encouraging everyone to express themselves creatively however they could–to paraphrase Penny (who write the inspiring Path of Druidry), the job of a artist is to go out there and do it, and if you do it imperfectly, well, so be it! Getting to chat even a little bit about music and the creative process with these folks was amazing. Arthur and Ursula have a wonderful musical synergy and her gypsy fiddling added such richness to Arthur’s bluesy guitar chords. They treated the campfire to rollicking renditions of the Ballad of John Barley Corn, and the Hoochie-Coochie Man amongst many others.
Penny’s talk on goddesses, totems, and the spirit world consisted of one part ritual, one part lecture, and one part meditation. In order to create centered space, she has us sing a long E to the East, I to the South, O to the West and Ah to the North, ending with Mmmm back in the center. After a brief introduction, Penny has us make groups of three or four to talk about what the word “goddess” means to us–quite a valuable exercise since we had everything from One Goddess worshipers to devotees of single, small, local goddesses. There wasn’t an expectation of everyone ending up on the same page, but it was great to have it openly acknowledged that there were many, many ways of interacting with these great spiritual beings who are undeniably more than human, but also somehow less so. Penny then went on to examine the different animals/totems/symbols associated with British goddesses, noting that in times of need, these beings draw strength from their animals–Rhiannon and her horse, or Branwen and her bird, for instance. The last bit of the lecture was a wonderful meditation that led to an exploration of three symbols of Brigid: the horseshoe, the chalice, and snowdrops. In all it was a wonderfully varied lecture, with many bits of wisdom that will doubtless serve as meditative seeds themselves.
It’s interesting to note that thus far, most of the ECG guests have come across the pond to visit our little tribal gathering. What amazes me is that they always, always, fit so seamlessly into the community. Of course there are some cultural differences (pants vs. pants anyone?), but at the core we’re all Druids. We love this world, we love this life. The forests of Camp Netimus have begun to sing our songs back to us, welcoming our return with golden branches and croaking ravens. We’re here to love the land, love each other, and answer the Druid’s call to art, to justice, and to peace. We come together once a year to combine our knowledge, our gifts, and our passions so that when we return home, we brings new harmonies back to our practices and our groves.
Now, let’s do some epic shit.
*Kris Hughes is responsible for the wonderful term DTI, or Druid Transmitted Infection.