Druid Camp 2016

Druid Camp 2016

I’m so very much looking forward to Druid Camp this year, seeing old friends and having a brilliant, transformative, heart-warming time!  If you’ve never been, it’s a five-day event (though you can buy single day tickets) that celebrates the songs of our land. There are workshops, talks, music, ritual, healing area and more, as well as evening entertainment, lovely veggie food, hot showers, sauna and lots of other wonderful things to delight!

The naked form

Beltane is fast approaching – the house martins are back, the bluebells are coming out, the earth underfoot is soft and the air is turning warmer. Many thoughts are turning to the coming summer, the long days, the short nights, the summer clothes, or lack thereof. I’ve heard it said that Beltane arrives when it is warm enough to make love outside without freezing your bits off, alongside the usual ‘when the hawthorn blooms’. But I do wonder, with a smile – is it ever the season in Britain to have your clothes off?

Don’t get me wrong – I love being naked. Without the restriction of clothing, the body moving freely, feeling the air upon your skin, swimming naked; all these are pure bliss. What’s not so lovely about being naked outdoors is sunburn, or bug bites, sitting on thistles or treading around nettles, etc. We humans (sadly, in my opinion) have evolved without all that much fur to protect us from the elements.

On the rare days that it is warm enough here in Britain to get outside naked, you’re more than likely to get sunburn, especially if you’re fair like I am. I’m not a big fan of slathering sunscreen all over my body (I don’t like the feeling of the lotion). I’d rather wear some lightweight clothing to protect my bits from the sun, wearing sunscreen on any exposed bits. That way, it also doesn’t interfere with any insect repellent that I might be wearing – I love lavender, as well as citronella, as they are brilliant at keeping away the mozzies and the midges. However, they can react with your sunscreen, making it less effective, so I try not to combine the two on my skin. So, if you’re not being burned or bitten, it’s probably cold and wet and rainy, which is nice, for a while being outside and naked in, but for a sustained length of time leaving you shivering and probably not terribly healthy in the end.

There are also other considerations to bear in mind when being outdoors and naked – will others see you? It’s still illegal in this country, unless you’re in a designated naturist resort or camp. I’ve spent many summer days at nudist beaches and hot springs, revelling in the lovely feeling of freedom of being naked (bugs are less of an issue on the beach and around the hotsprings, though sunscreen is a constant pain). These are places where people know that they will be seeing other naked people – it’s not a surprise or a shock when they come across the naked human form. We have to consider other people’s issues as well as our own when we are exploring nudity – we can’t just think of ourselves in this regard. How would I feel if my nudity made someone feel uncomfortable? While it’s good to challenge people’s perceptions every now and then, pushing them into uncomfortable situations isn’t all that respectful. Think of the young girl who has been sexually abused by her stepfather, and confronted suddenly with a naked male stranger during ritual or at a pagan camp – that’s not a situation that is taking into consideration her story, her feelings on the matter. Working with compassion means we have to try to understand everyone’s story, even as we are telling our own, and realising that others’ stories matter, even if we haven’t heard them. If we are in a designated area where we know there will be nudity, and where everyone is in the same mindset, then we can be more respectful to the thoughts and feelings of others, whatever their situation.

It’s a great and liberating thing to do, to explore nudity outdoors, getting in touch with your body, spending some time around other naked bodies without a sexual agenda. However, I would say that there is a time and place for this, in order to respect other people’s feelings (and the law). My last trip to Avebury in March saw a couple just on the other side of the bank pleasuring each other in a field – a beautiful affirmation of their feelings, yes, but not entirely appropriate perhaps when walking around with a three-year old. And speaking of sexual agendas, making love in the forest, while perhaps being illegal (indecent exposure) can be a beautiful expression of our souls connecting not only with each other, but the earth itself (though do be prepared for possible bug bites in embarrassing places – or massage each other first with a lavender massage oil!). It all comes down to respect – will you be disturbing anyone? If so, I’m sure that there are other equally fine alternatives.

It all comes down to respect – respect for yourself, for others and for the land. May you find blessed freedom and comfort in your own body!

Druid Camp 2014

Druid Camp was, once again, a wonderful experience. Though we were only there for Friday evening and Saturday, leaving early Sunday morning, it was an enriching time filled with laughter, good friends, a coming together of a tribe and community, and an honouring of the land. The focus of this year’s camp was environmentalism within a spiritual context.

We arrived Friday just after 7pm, after horrendous traffic on every single motorway – it took us over seven hours to get to Camp from the Suffolk Coast – three hours longer than usual. School holidays had just begun. We checked in and then hastily made our way to the ritual circle, where Phil and Ness were being handfasted. They had met at Druid Camp years ago, and were now taking their vows and pledging their love to each other, with the tribe and community acting as witness. It was beautiful.

Later that evening, Arthur ZZ Birmingham and then Ushti Baba, a gypsy/ska/folk band got the crowd on their feet and we danced the night away.

Saturday began with a lovely yoga session led by Theo, which worked out all the kinks from the night before and set us up perfectly for the day, followed by circle dancing. The morning meeting followed, where the next two days were laid out before us with an array of choices to make, which workshops to attend, and what was taking place where. The afternoon ritual was then planned, which I will come back to in a moment.

The marketplace at midday was the biggest I had ever seen it. Beautiful crafts and homemade wares were on display, as well as books, second hand clothing, incense, ritual gear, meads and wines. Arthur ZZ Birmingham led an improvised band (and I joined in on my new doumbek) and played some great blues tunes in the heat of the midday sun.

Mid-afternoon the healing and divination area was in full swing, as were the talks and workshops. I went to Brochfael’s talk on ethics within Paganism – something which I’ve been exploring quite a bit on this blog lately. Ideas were exchanged and points of view shared in a brilliantly painted teepee, with Will delivering his talk before a tableau of a red dragon dancing in the light of the sun.

Saturday afternoon’s ritual focus had an astrological bent – Mars in the various zodiac signs. Though I’m not a great believer in astrology, it did provide an interesting framework for ritual. The idea was that one woman would represent Boudicca, discovering and learning her warrior aspect as she dedicated herself utterly to the land. She was to move through the houses of the zodiac in which Mars resided for all ritual participants. Every single ritual participant was divided up into groups based upon which sign Mars was in for their own person – for me, Mars was in Virgo. The groups would then challenge and provide Boudicca with what she needed for her journey.

When the time came for the ritual, Mark Graham opened the circle and the woman who was chosen to play Boudicca entered, looking every inch the proud warrior queen, even down to the flaming red hair. Each house of the zodiac presented her with challenges and gifts, wisdom and advice as she progressed through the circle. It was so inspiring to see the creativity of everyone, wherein each group was so different and so unique, yet coming together to create a single ritual of great beauty.

After Boudicca (who was played by a woman aptly named Victoria) had processed and been blessed by the tribe in her protection of the land, everyone came together in the circle, chanting words dependent upon their ritual designation within the elements of earth, air, fire and water. The words flowed through each other in exquisite awen, as everyone circled and chanted, sang and set their hearts free in love of the land. I was quite overcome at this point, with the seagulls flying overhead, the wind upon my skin, the earth humming with energy beneath my feet and the waters of the Severn River encircling us upon this sacred hilltop. My love for this land and for the planet, the Earth itself, overwhelmed me and tears began to slide down my mud-stained cheeks as I called to my gods, opening my heart and soul to them in utter dedication and devotion. On the outer edges of the circle, I felt a great need to connect more fully with the earth, and dropped to my knees to lay my hands upon the sacred soil. Thankfully, those in the middle of the circle soon felt a similar need, and I was not trampled under Druidic feet! Everyone in the ritual knelt down to the ground, bringing their foreheads to touch the earth in peace and love, dedication and devotion to that which holds us so utterly and beautifully in the world. A selfless love flowed through me for the entirety of the world in a rush of pure, divine awen, and I tried not to sob out loud at the release.

After the ritual I made my way back to my tent, to process and integrate what I had just experienced. My husband and I then went out for dinner at the local pub, and coming back I meditated alone (in a field of sheep, so not entirely alone) watching the sun set over the hills within a bank of cloud, the crickets singing around me and the finches twittering overhead. Utterly spent, we had an early night that night.

Sunday we went for breakfast at the café, and had a great breakfast discussion with friends old and new about what they were working on in university, on gender roles and personal life experiences. This is what I love about Druid Camp – such engaging and brilliant discussion over beans on toast.

Then it was time for the long journey home towards the North Sea coast. Coming at last to our home, smelling the familiar scents of heath and forest, of sea and sky, I sat in my backyard by my altar and honoured the land upon which I live, connected as it is to all of the British Isles and the rest of the world. I said a prayer for peace, and reaffirmed my dedication once again to my gods, with the spirits of place and the ancestors as witness.

I can’t wait to see what will happen at next year’s camp.

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The view from out tent of the Severn River and the rolling hills…

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Brochfael’s talk on Pagan ethics in the painted teepee, or is it a hobbit about to be eaten by Smaug???

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Solar panels in the distance… how apt…

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The astrological houses for the big ritual on Saturday afternoon…

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My favourite tepee in the whole world…

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Ritual preparation…