Wild Ways Stone Circle & the Seven Sisters

In 1960 I was 6 years old and lived in the same place as I do now, at Wild Ways in Shropshire. Childhood playtime was mostly in the woodlands and in and around the Borle Brook, at the bottom of the valley. I used to wander around, without any fear, perhaps visiting old Borle Mill and cottage to chatter away to Jack and Pat, like small children do. I did get into a bit of trouble for not telling my parents if I was going walking. As they worried when they couldn’t find me. In those days there were different tracks through the woods. The land moved and sometimes clay banks were unstable and slid bringing trees, soil and rocks in small avalanches to block roadways. The clearing near the brook was once planted with potatoes, after which it was known as the potato patch. The bracken was never cleared and remains in stubbornly beautiful strongholds along the field margins today. The potatoes were never very successful and the land was seeded with grasses. The grass manages to hold its own but has to compete with a magnificence of many species of wild flowers. It became the fairy field.

My father, being a timber merchant, purchased the woodlands back in 1945. A lot of it was then felled due to the war. He wasn’t very pleased about that and then spent many years waiting for it to regrow.

I, and my small friends had a great and wondrous time, climbing many of the trees. Our favourite being a Norway spruce, which had uprooted and had its top tangled in another of its species. It was much easier and less scary to climb than the sister spruces. They were massively tall. It smelled different and was a bit sticky in a cellotape sort of way, from than the other trees. My friend Jane could always climb higher than I could. I didn’t like the extra swayey bit when it got thinner towards the top. There were seven magnificently tall Norway spruces in our part of the Borle valley and one leaning one. They were known locally as the Seven Sisters. Centuries ago the White Ladies order of Augustinian canonesses had rented the land from Wigmore Abbey. Maybe there is a forgotten legend to be discovered and a mystery linked to the Stars for the telling… Mysteries are good.

Over the years, the leaning tree died. I was sad to see it and others also die. When it is time, it is time.

An opportunity arose, due to floodwaters piling up large stones at the edge of the brook. I thought it was time we had a Stone Circle. A friendly JCB owner lifted the stones into the corner of the fairy field. A few months later a ‘Heath Robinson’ like operation with a bent flat sledge-like metal sheet towed behind the old Fergy tractor aided the moving process. The stones were too heavy to move by hand in the time allotted and by the few folk around, so the equally old skid loader made a bumpy journey down to assist. After a bit of grunting, grumbling, stalling and pushing the stones whilst the tractor pulled, they were edged to where they would stand.

The Stone Circle would have seven standing stones to commemorate the trees in the valley, the Seven sisters and all the other tree friends. Steve measured up the Circle and decided the position of the stones. North is, actually, ‘North’. The circle is ‘site specific’, to honour the trees. A group of friends got together to put the stones into place. – The ‘purists’ slung some wooden poles over their shoulders and marched off to put them in by hand… However, ‘Bobcat’ the skid loader is a very capable tool. She and I have developed a good working relationship over the years. Just like the woodland ‘knows’ the tractor, so it knows the Bobcat and there is an acceptance and a harmony with nature with the work the machines do. So man and womanpower together with a Scottish child slave, carefully dug the holes and the machine carefully lifted the stones into place. A twist to the story came when the child decided that we should have a smaller stone in the middle. The stone would not stand vertically no matter what we did. However… there ‘were’ seven tall trees…and one extra…leaning, so in the end we had the perfect result for the spruces and the trees of our valley.

A short while later, under a full moon, a group of 5 Rhythms dancers and a group of druid folk and friends, ceremonially opened giving it its name and purpose.

And that is the story of the Wild Ways Stone Circle, for now…

Saturday 5th November 2016

Elaine Gregory

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The Oak Knowers – Druidry Today

Spirits of the Trees is a joint project of the UK’s three largest druid organisations, OBOD, BDO, and TDN, joining forces to support the call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. In this blog, Jonathan Woolley of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) reflects on the central role that trees play in Druidry past, present and future.

https://www.instagram.com/aboymadeofsky/All philosophical or religious traditions have a central figure, deity, or concept that defines them. Buddhism is the teachings of the Buddha, Christianity that of Christ, Marxism that of Karl Marx. Islam rests around Allah, Liberalism around Liberty, Fordism around Henry Ford. What, then, lies at the core of Druidry? The answer is simple:

Trees.

In Britain, trees are the heart of the entire ecosystem, and in ancient times, a vast, trackless wildwood covered these islands from the white cliffs of Dover to the bare beaches of Orkney. Most people are familiar with the basic features of our dependence upon trees – for the air we breathe; for the wood we use; for the fruit and nuts we eat. But who hasn’t looked at a tree and felt something more – a sense of peace, awe, or just a gentle pleasure at the sighing of wind in the leaves?

The word “Druid” comes from two, ancient words – “dru” and “wid-s” – the first meaning “oak” and the second meaning “knower”. As “Oak-knowing”, Druidry helps us to learn what lessons the oaks have to teach.

Druidry seeks to develop this sense of connection to its fullest potential. Druids today regard trees as more than mere background; for us, they are keepers of profound wisdom, sources of emotional support, and channels through which inspiration can be invited into our lives. The beating heart of Druidic thought, belief and practice is the sacred grove – a community of humans, plants, animals, and other spiritual beings, all sheltered beneath the boughs of these woodland giants. Maintaining this community, and learning from it, is the living essence of what Druids do.

Druids cultivate their relationships with trees using a wide variety of different techniques. Meditation plays an important role in personal practice. But rather than seeking mindfulness, Druidic meditation focusses upon contemplation; strengthening and harnessing imagination and sensory awareness. Developing our senses helps us to notice more in the world around us, while honing our imagination allows us to see the magic there, too. The best example of this is the Druidic use of the Ogham alphabet. The Ogham system of letters was developed in Ancient Ireland, and it is now used as a mnemonic for the powers and traits of specific tree species, and as a means of divination. Through this imaginative use of the Ogham, druids can see their own lives and surroundings as forested with meaning.

This nurturing of the imagination and the senses, in turn, supports another key Druidic activity; creativity. The Celtic societies of North Western Europe have a distinctive and startlingly beautiful artistic tradition, within which naturalistic imagery, and trees in particular, play a fundamental role. Druids explore this tradition through poetry, music, crafting, and literature, something that reaches its greatest expression during eisteddfodau; where Druids take it in turns to perform works of bardistry – often under the stars or beside the fire. In listening to the old tales and songs together, we become conscious of our common roots, and how they intertwine with those of yew, rowan, and blackthorn.

Artistic and visionary experiences come together in ceremony. Druids use a variety of rituals to commune with the spirits of the woods, or mark the passing of the seasons and our own lives. They can be as complex as a Summer Solstice gathering at a sacred site involving hundreds of people – or as simple as scattering an offering of birdseed on a woodland floor. To do such things with a sacred intent is important. It challenges the misconception – so prevalent in our society – that our forests are mere resources, and transforms our attitude towards them into one of respect and reverence.

From respect and reverence, comes action. Because Druidic lore is grounded in the physical world, the acquisition of spiritual wisdom also requires a measure of scientific and practical understanding – learning the Ogham involves learning botany, too. Furthermore, modern Druidry has a long history of environmental activism, halting the bulldozing of ancient woodlands during the 90s road protests, and occupying land that would be used for fracking rigs. Away from the front lines, Druids are involved in a host of green activities – from tree planting to growing their own food; working towards the creation of genuinely just, sustainable communities, and spreading the harmony of the grove to all beings. This makes Druidry inherently political.

The word “Druid” comes from two, ancient words – “dru” and “wid-s” – the first meaning “oak” and the second meaning “knower”. As “Oak-knowing”, Druidry helps us to learn what lessons the oaks have to teach. Like us, oaks have their roots in the past, drawing nourishment from layers of material set down in ages past. With this, they reach up to the stars, and connect the heavens to the earth.  And they grow, together.

All this is best captured in the Druid’s Prayer, shared and recited by all Druids:

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Grant, O Spirit, thy protection.
And in protection, strength.
And in strength, understanding.
And in understanding, knowledge.
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice.
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it.
And in the love of it, the love of all existences.
And in the love of all existences, the love of Spirit, and all goodness.

For me, this Spirit, is the Spirit of the Oak.

Visit www.spiritsofthetrees.uk for more information about trees and druidism, or to get involved in druidry acitvities around the call for a Tree Charter.

Words and photos by Jonathan Woolley
For more photos by Jonathan follow him on Instagram

How Trees Talk to Each Other

“A forest is much more than what you see,” says ecologist Suzanne Simard. Her 30 years of research in Canadian forests have led to an astounding discovery — trees talk, often and over vast distances. Watch this excellent, informative, entertaining and moving video to learn more about the harmonious yet complicated social lives of trees, and prepare to see the natural world of woodlands with new eyes. [From the TED website].

OBOD Statement on the Charter for Trees, Woods and People

obodawenI came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn… and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.’ – Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling.     * * *

Three gifts from the forests of the Isle of the Mighty: The beauty of birches, the strength of oaks, and the wisdom of yews.     * * *

Throughout the Ancient World, trees were held sacred. From the dryad-haunted foothills of Mount Parnassus in Ancient Greece, to the Oak groves of Ynys Mon in North Wales, people revered trees as living beings, animate with raw power and profound wisdom. The word “Druid” echoes down from that time – an old word, that can be traced to the proto-Celtic dru-wid- s. Translated into English, this means “Oak Seer”.

AveburybeechdruidsBritish Druids today draw inspiration from that heritage; still honouring trees and learning the many lessons they have to teach. Trees are, for us, far more than mere resources – they are spirits of the wild, counsellors of the heart, and guardians of ages, worthy of respect and love. Defending Britain’s woodlands and encouraging an ever-closer relationship between people and the forests is for us, therefore, a sacred charge. In this time of declining biodiversity, increasing urbanism, and climate change – this charge is more important than ever.

The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids has taken a number of steps to put this crucial aspect of Druidic philosophy into practice. Woodland lore forms a major part of the training the order provides, covering cultural, botanical, and spiritual themes. For many years the Order has been running the Sacred Grove Project – an initiative to assist members with tree planting – and actively promotes sustainability through our Ecological Campaign. In 2014, the Order celebrated its 50th Anniversary with the planting of 1,000 trees in Glen Moriston, in the Scottish Highlands.

A Charter dedicated to woods, trees and communities is therefore a cause that speaks to the deepest values of our Order, and reflects our existing commitment to safeguarding Britain’s woodlands.

Spirits of the Trees Ceremony – ready to download now!

spiritofthetreesAfter much burning of the midnight lamp, we’ve put together a ceremony for the Spirits of the Trees, based on the one performed as part of the Woodland Trust‘s Canopy Tree Charter Gathering in Warwickshire in March 2016 (see the video at the foot of the page).

Click on this link: Druid Ceremony for Trees for the 9.5mb pdf file (8 pages, A5 at 300dpi for clarity of printing).

The brief we gave ourselves for the original ceremony was that it should be short, capable of being performed by a minimum of two experienced ritualists, focused, interactive, allowing plenty of opportunities for joining in, and accessible to a wide range of people, most of whom had no previous experience of this type of ceremony. What we did worked well on the night, so we’ve stuck with the same basic outline. Some parts are drawn from ceremonial texts used by the three groups at the core of the Spirits of the Trees initiative; the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD); the British Druid Order (BDO); and The Druid Network (TDN). Many thanks to all who contributed.

We’re aware of the fact that different Druid groups have different ways of working. Hence the Druid Ceremony for Trees is intended only as a guide. Please feel free to alter any parts of it you wish, although we do ask that you retain the Honouring of the Tree Spirits at the four quarters and at the centre of the circle. That way, all our ceremonies will have those passages in common, uniting us in our purpose.

That purpose is threefold: first, to draw attention to the Woodland Trust‘s call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People; then to spread awareness of trees as living, inspirited beings; and also to present a good, clear public face of Druidry as we understand and practice it.

To this end, as we say in the preamble to the ceremony itself, we strongly encourage groups performing ceremonies for the Spirits of the Trees to broaden public participation by inviting local bodies who might be interested. These would include arts groups, conservation bodies, trades associations, churches, interfaith groups, schools, colleges and the like.

The best sites for these ceremonies will, of course, be those where there are living trees, e.g. parks or woodlands. When selecting a site, be sure to ask permission from those who own or maintain it, explaining to them what you have in mind. It will help if you have some idea of how many are likely to attend. Hopefully hundreds! Thousands! That said, with a little ingenuity, the ceremony could be adapted for use in theatres, marquees at festivals, back rooms of pubs, city streets or just about anywhere…

Please let us know if we can help and we will do our best to ensure you have a successful ceremony.

Blessings to all, for the Spirits of the Trees,

Greywolf (Philip Shallcrass)
Chief of the BDO

Spirits of the Trees – Druids working together for our trees, woods & forests

OakThe idea for Spirits of the Trees emerged out of a meeting hosted by the Woodland Trust in March 2016. The Canopy Gathering brought together a diverse group of conservationists, craftspeople, artists, poets, web designers, musicians, film-makers, land-owners and others to discuss the Trust’s call for a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People. Elaine Gregory and I were invited to create a Druid ceremony for the event that everyone could take part in. This was put together on the day and was a great success. You can find photos and information about it here.

After the Gathering, we spoke to Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, who agreed that for Druids to support the call for a Charter for Trees was ‘a no-brainer.’ Phil and Lynda Ryder of The Druid Network had much the same response. So, together with my own British Druid Order, we came up with the idea to work together on Charter-based projects, pooling our resources and utilising the skills of the Druid community as represented in our combined membership. As groups, we share much in common in our approach to Druidry, being different but complementary (and, coincidentally, all run or co-run by Philips!). Thus was born Spirits of the Trees.

The idea for the new Charter for Trees was inspired by the fact that 2017 is the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter, an addition to Magna Carta that allowed freemen access to the royal forests. With several native tree species currently under threat from disease, ancient woodlands threatened by development schemes, government plans to sell off publicly owned woodland into private ownership, and a steady decline in the amount of Britain’s land area that supports woodland, now seems like a perfect time to raise awareness of just how important trees are to us as humans.

AshMost fundamental is the fact that trees absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. Tree roots stabilise soil, preventing erosion. Trees absorb moisture through their roots, reducing risk of flooding. Trees provide timber for everything from making pencils to building houses. Trees provide a source of fuel that is sustainable and has very low carbon impact. Numerous studies have shown that trees have huge benefits for human health. Even being able to see trees from hospital windows has been shown to speed recovery after illness. Walking among trees has huge psychological as well as physical benefits.

In short, trees give us a huge amount. Now trees need us to give more back in terms of protection, disease prevention and cure, planting and replanting, and just plain caring.

As Druids, we work with the Spirits of Trees, hence the name of this group. SilverBirch+One way in which we do this is ceremonially. We will soon be posting a ceremony for the Spirits of the Trees on this site which will form the basis of the first strand of activities we’re encouraging Druids to engage in throughout 2017 in support of the Charter for Trees. The ceremony is designed to be performed by a minimum of two experienced ritualists. It’s also designed to be short, focused and very interactive. We anticipate that ceremonies will be open to all and that the public will be invited to join them. To this end, we suggest inviting parish councils, local authorities, trade bodies, faith groups, arts groups, schools, colleges, etc. The idea is to reach out to as many people as possible, sharing the message that trees are living, inspirited beings who both need and deserve our respect, care and commitment.

The second strand of activities will be cultural. As Druids, we value and promote the bardic arts, from traditional story-telling, poetry and music through to film-making and computer programming. To this end, we will be encouraging you to set up arts events in your own area. These can be anything from a lone busker, through lunchtime poetry readings and back-room music sessions in pubs, through to multi-media shows and involvement in major annual arts events and festivals.

At present, we’re still in the set-up stage but things are progressing rapidly and we will be bringing you more news as plans come together.

Meanwhile, if you are a poet, story-teller, musician, artist, web or app designer, film-maker, photographer, dancer, juggler, stilt-walker or any other kind of artist or performer, and you would like to be a part of the Spirits of the Trees project, we’d love to hear from you, especially, of course, if your work uses, refers to, or is focused on Trees. Please post your links and contact details below.

We look forward to working together over the coming months for the benefit of the Spirits of the Trees.

I’ll leave you with this short video I put together of a chant the came to me for use in our Spirits of the Trees ceremony. It names the five tree species that feature in the ceremony at the four quarters and the centre of the circle, Oak, Ash, Alder, Silver Birch and Yew, three of which, Oak, Ash and Birch, are currently threatened by disease and so in extra need of good energy. The chorus is based on the old folk song rigmarole, “hey down, derry down.” This is believed to derive from the Celtic languages of the British Isles and to mean something like “dance around the oak grove,” which seems appropriate for Druids! So, sing along and I’ll see you in the sacred groves 🙂

Blessings to all,

Greywolf (BDO & OBOD)