This is the fourth year of the OBOD East Coast Gathering, (which I have reviewed before on this blog) and if anything can be said for certain, its that a tribe has now been firmly established. In the four years that I’ve been attending the gathering, I’ve watched us grow from a group newly formed to a community with rich traditions, rituals, and kinship. Coming to the ECG this year, after a very difficult year for me in particular, was coming home. This is beyond friendship, beyond family, reaching something deeper and more meaningful than most other relationships. We are a tribe, we are kin, we are brothers and sisters in a sacred tradition honoring the land and supporting each other. At one point in the gathering, the question was raised–is the gathering more “real” than what we were all returning to? Which reality is reality? These are things worth considering, and certainly, as we all spend substantial time in “readjustment” as we return to our jobs and hectic lives, the tribe that is the ECG will continue to hold the events of this past weekend in our hearts and minds. In this review, I hope to capture some of the highlights of our gathering.
The Spirits of Place. I am always amazed by the welcoming nature of the spirits of the land of
Camp Netimus. They are serene and welcoming, whimsical and witty, and willing to share their knowledge. From the fairy mounds and moss-covered fairy pathways deep in the forest and the stone cairns that seem to have grown out of the earth herself to nearby babbling brooks and our forest circle, the land holds us, cherishes us, and nurtures us as we gather. We had fewer acorns than last year (which was a shame, I was finally prepared with good buckets for harvesting them) but that did prevent the usual three or four acorns knocking you on the head during the gathering. Our weather, for the most part, was sunny and cool. We did finally receive a good storm or two on Saturday evening–but druids welcome all weather!
Story and Song. One of the highlights this year were our UK visitors, Damh the Bard, OBOD Pendragon; Cerri Lee, Pagan Artist; and Susan Jones, OBOD Tutor Coordinator. Damh gave us a wonderful concert on Thursday evening by our fire, where he sang some of his greatest songs, including two personal favorites of mine, “The Green and Gray” and “Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood.” If you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to his music, I strongly suggest doing so–his work resonates deeply for many of us. Damh, furthermore, is wonderful in person–I have listened to the OBOD Druidcast for many years, but seeing Damh in person was a rare treat. In addition to the concert, each night our fires were home to bardic arts of many kinds–stories, songs, poems, dancing, and drumming.
Learning from One Another. Our gathering also had a fantastic line-up of workshops this year, including Fairy Houses with Denise Caron, Ogham and Druid Tree Magic from Damh the Bard, Survival Skills 101 with David Morrison, The Cauldron in Druidic Lore by Cerri Lee, Working with Animal Guides by Lorraine Soria, and the Journeyman and Hermit-Ways to Sacred Places with Susan Jones. Each workshop helped deepen our understanding of the living and spirit worlds, and all were meaningful. I especially enjoyed Susan’s historical discussion of the journeyman and the hermit and Damh’s discussion of how he does tree magic using the ogham. Simple, yet profound, the knowledge gained from these workshops will continue to be transformative both within and without.
Ritual and Initiations. On Saturday night, we initiated 3 druids and 12 ovates, for a record 5.5 hours of initiation (this is not something we set out to do, but we ended up having many more initiates than we had expected to have). Despite the long hours, it was exciting to see so many new–and old–faces during our initiations. We also initiated 14 new bards into the order–welcome new bards, and congratulations to those of you who entered new grades this year! In addition to the initiation rituals, we had a lovely opening and closing ceremony, an Alban Elfed ritual, and a ritual dedicated to the Lord of the Forest, Cernunnos. During our Alban Elfed ritual, the community received gifts from the bards (a very entertaining and moving act), gifts from ovates (a discussion of apples and the rich earth, among other things), gifts from the druids (anointing of ash and oil from our fires and chanting of ogham), from the children (a fairy house and numerous caterpillars from the children), and our guests (a gift of good hospitality). The Cerrunos ritual was particularly powerful–we processed deep into the forest to blazing fires and drumming, and summoned the lord of the forest to music and drumming.
It is the hour of recall….The hardest thing about the gathering is going home. I have a hard time thinking about how long it will be until another gathering comes–a full year will pass, and with it, joys, sorrows, and so much more. But if there is one thing I know, is that there will be another gathering, another time for our community to share, grow, and learn. I am very excited to see what our 5th year looks like, and in the meantime, I’ll honor our kinship and community by closing with the OBOD Vow, a vow we say at the end of each of our rituals, “We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand to hand. Mark, Oh Spirits, and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow.” With a community like ECG, this vow becomes more than just words–it shows the power such communities can hold.
*Special thanks to John Beckett for letting me share some of his photos! I was very busy organizing the Alban Elfed ritual and forgot to take any photos of my own!*