Derwydd ym maes onnen

Discovering Druidry in and around Ashfield

Toutatis: Tribal God of Mansfield.

As you will be aware if you read any of the previous articles on this Blog, Mansfield, Ashfield and the surrounding area was all once a part of the territory of the Brythonic Corieltauvi tribe, sitting right on the boarder with the neighbouring Brigantes.

Through studying place names and the landscape there is a lot of local evidence for some of the better known pan-Celtic deities, including Lugh/Llew/Lugos/Lug, Bridget/Brig/Brid/Briganti and Bel/Belions/Beli. In this article however I would like to highlight the evidence for the presence of Toutatis (pronounced tow-ta-tis) as a possible tribal ancestor god of the Corieltauvi tribe.

Over the years Archaeologists have discovered a large number of what have come to be known as “TOT rings”, finger rings that bare the inscription “TOT”. Up to 70 of these rings have been discovered, and their distribution closely matches the territory of the Corieltauvi. This includes local finds in Farnsfield and Linby. The rings date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries during the Roman occupation of Britain, and they are usually made of silver or copper.

ToT Ring

The inscription “TOT” is an abbreviation of Toutatis who was a well known deity throughout Britain and Gaul (France). One ring discovered in Bedfordshire has the expanded inscription “DEO TOTA” which affirms that the inscription should be read as an abbreviation of Toutatis, who was also known as Toutates, Teutatis, Toutiorix or Teutanus according to inscriptions found across the Roman world. In many inscriptions Toutatis was conflated with the Roman god Mars. Toutatis was also one of three gods mentioned by the 1st century Roman poet Lucan. The other two being Esus (“lord”) and Taranis (“Thunderer”). In later commentary on Lucan’s work Toutatis is associated with either Mars or Mercury.

The name Toutatis comes from from the stem teutā-, meaning “people” or “tribe” suggesting that he is a tribal ancestor, hero or patron deity. It is also been suggested that like many other recorded celtic deities, the name Toutatis may actually have been a title, and that each tribe would have had their own Toutatis. The prevalence of the TOT rings in the territory of the Corieltauvi alludes to a particularly strong connection to this area, but stone inscriptions are notably absent even though they have been found elsewhere in Britain and and all over the continent.

So it is entirely possible that to the Ancient Corieltauvi Britons living in the the Mansfield and Ashfield area under Roman occupation, Toutatis was a very important local tribal deity.

The politics of a Druid

In this article, I would like to discus how politics fits into a modern druid perspective of the world. Many would say that politics should play no part in their Druidry, but I fundamentally disagree. The reason for this is that politics is the business of making decisions on behalf of a group of people, or organising society. But society can be organised and managed in many different ways. So how decisions are made is heavily influenced by the social and economic philosophies of the people making the decisions. Moral philosophy absolutely fits in with Druidry.

In the UK, it is not the party leader (the cult of celebrity) that we vote for. It is not even really the local candidate or party that you vote for. Nor even the policies in the party’s manifesto. The truth is, with your vote you lend your support to the philosophy the party adheres to. So when you vote for a local candidate who is a member of a specific party, you can be sure your are voting for someone who will perpetuate the philosophy of the party they are a member of.

Modern Druidry (as I understand and practice it) is also underpinned by a philosophy. Therefore, when engaging in national political debate it is important to look for parties and their representatives who’s philosophies are broadly inline with the philosophy embraced by Druidry. You want to walk the walk right? So with this in mind I would like to explore some of the ideas in Druidry and indeed most modern Paganism to tease out a basic philosophy, and see how it’s consideration might influence political choices.

If you ask 2 people to define either Druidry or Paganism, you will very likely get 2 different answers. To say that they are broad churches would be an massive understatement. Finding an agreeable definition is fraught with obstacles, opinions and challenges. But there are two things that almost all of these esoteric paths agree on. The first is a rejection of authority and societal norms, and the second is that “Nature is sacred” in some way.

By their vary nature, Druidry, Wicca, Heathenism etc are all “alternative” spiritualities. They are not the state endorsed Christianity and as such are a rejection of the norms, a rejection of the status quo. They are counter-culture movements rejecting the authority of the church-state machine to dictate the beliefs of the citizens. Beliefs that underpin the choices made by the society. The belief that God granted Man “dominion over the earth” for example, creates the mindset required to justify the exploitation of the environment for personal gain. And this “God-given right” to simply take from the environment, and shape it according to our whims is leading to the collapse of the ecosystem that supports our very lives. Further this mindset presumes then that any time nature “gets out of hand” and wrecks havoc, we look for someone to blame as it was clearly a failure of humanity to control the environment adequately that lead to the disaster. When a river bursts its banks destroying peoples homes, we ask who is to blame? Why did the council not provide better flood protection? How could the government allow this to happen? But the truth is that the mistake was building houses on a flood plain and believing we have any control over the awesome forces of nature. We fail to respect the river, to respect the fact that sometimes it will swell and burst its banks The river has claimed this land before, why would it not claim it again? Instead of respecting the river and working with it’s cycles and dynamics, we turn to fear and control which almost always backfires. In Druidry we do not seek to control nature through fear, we seek to understand, we watch the turning of the seasons and the patterns in the land and we aim to respectfully work with nature’s own rhythms.

Many people who turn to paganism do so because they are looking for something different. Something radically different to the self-destructive society on offer. There are some yes, to whom being pagan is little more than a fashion choice, or a way to rebel against conservative (with a small “c”) parents. And there are fewer still who are simply interested in seeking out romantic relationships. But to the ones taking it seriously, to the ones thinking “what does it mean to be pagan?”, it is very much about creating alternative communities, support structures and the sharing of knowledge and resources outside of the existing official structures of the society. Having failed to feel satisfied with the rigid status quo society has to offer, feeling that they do not fit the cookie-cutter template of a successful member of society, these people then seek other avenues that embrace and celebrate the change and diversity they feel they represent. First and foremost then, paganism is a rejection of any form of authority that would seek to curtail their individual expression, creativity and liberty. Personal autonomy and the freedom to make ones own choices are absolutely paramount to pagan paths, yet these are things our society seeks to restrict and control.

Closely linked to this rejection of authority is the concept that all of nature is sacred. Yet our society sees nature as little more than a resource to be exploited. Even today with all the scientific knowledge we have, and much more awareness of the destruction we are causing, we are still increasing the rate at which we extract the earth’s resources and convert them into profits in the hands of just a few lucky (usually simply lucky enough to be born to a certain family) individuals. And the fact that the global system of resource exploitation is intimately linked to how we operator our society, makes it very difficult to change one without changing the other. Especially when it is in the system’s best interest not to change. Because if it stops extracting resources for profit, how will it make profit? And so rather than risk radical change, it continues the slow march towards death, taking us all down with it.

The Pagan view of nature is very different. I am speaking very broadly here, but pagans see the world as alive. Every tree, rock, river, star, tall mountain and deep pool is alive. It has it’s own desires, needs and feelings. We talk about angry winds and raging storms. These are our gods. Nature is not there to be tamed and controlled. It is both bountiful and destructive, nurturing and indiscriminate. Far more powerful than us. But rather than fear the destructive power, we pagans accept it. Not in resignation but in reverence as we stand awe struck at the sheer magnitude, the complexity, diversity and the awesome power of it all. And from this position we try to craft respectful relationships with the aspects of nature we are drawn too. Relationships not based upon exploitation, but on mutual aid, trust and love.

If we see nature as sacred and we seek respectful beneficial relationships with the entities who inhabit our world (human, non-human, plant or whatever), then this should be the starting point of any pagan political philosophy. That any action that seeks to exploit nature is absolutely and directly an insult to the gods. Our entire mode of thought, and how we conduct our selves in the world should be based around this one simple truth. We can wrap it up in scientific terms if you prefer, in that any action that contributes to the decline of our ecosystem will lead to our own destruction and places the society as a whole in danger. If you see nature as divine, as sacred, then how could you do anything to harm that? Any form of pollution or environmental destruction you cause is an insult to your gods, to the earth, never mind counter productive for the survival of our (and most other) species.

So having established the core of a philosophy that underpins our pagan ways, how does that feed into our national political landscape? Well I would suggest that this personal pagan philosophy should drive the decisions on who to vote for and why. I.E. concerns about Nature should be first and foremost the driving factor in any decision undertaken by a person who calls them self a pagan. Every other issue is dwarfed to insignificance when placed against the continuing assault on the natural world. Yes. Even Brexit is irrelevant – utterly irrelevant – when the entire earth is dyeing.

So it was with absolute horror that I watched the result of the general election last week. Not because of the specific party or individuals that won, but because of the philosophy they advocate. But I would like to avoid party politics in this post, and keep my theme to the wider philosophies that underpin our choices.

Did we make our choices based on our pagan values? Did we make a choice that placed our gods, the natural world and it’s survival as the most important point? Or did we support parties who’s capitalist agenda necessitates further, faster, deeper exploitation of the Earths resources to deliver the economic growth we mistakenly use to measure our success?

If for some reason you call yourself a pagan, and yet last week you did not put the environment first when placing your “X” in the box, then you are no pagan at all. You are playing at it. Playing dress up and paying lip service. Basing your vote on any other issue but the environment is to betray all future generations. Worse still, if you voted for a party who’s agenda actively seeks to further the destruction of the natural world, either through policy or lack of it, then you have betrayed every living thing on earth, and the environment it’s self. Do you think you can insult the gods by supporting those who seek to destroy them, and still call your self a pagan? For the first time in a generation we had the chance to put the environment first. To see the radical change our community exists to facilitate. If we ever get chance to make a choice like that again, it will most likely be far to late to limit the damage we are doing to the natural world. And that is why any vote during this last election that did not put the environment first is unforgivable. A betrayal of the rest of the species, of every other creature, and the environment it’s self. I hope in the coming decade as our planet dies you are able to live with the decision you made last Thursday. I know I can.

The Brythonic villages of Rainworth and Blidworth?

These two villages have been discussed a number of times on this blog. Today, I would like to propose some new theories on the origins of their names. I believe it is entirely possible that both of these villages have their origins in the pre-Roman Brythonic speaking culture that occupied this corner of the territory of the Corieltauvi tribe.

In a recent post, I put forward the theory that Rainworth got it’s name after the death of King Raedwald’s son Raegenhere. The theory goes that after the battle, Raedwald renamed a ford that crossed the river Idle (where Rainworth water now passes under the road next to the bus stop) to Raegenhere’s wrath, which ultimately mutated to Rainworth as the village grew up around the ford in the river. If this is true, then it places the Battle of the Idle on the land known locally as “the bogs” and Rainworth Heath/Nature reserve.

The key point in this history that I would like to pick up on here is that Rainworth was nothing more than a ford where the river Idle (now Rainworth water) crossed the Roman road running from Mansfield to Newark.

Before the Roman invasion and until the invasion of the Anglo-Saxons, the tribal Britons spoke the Brythonic language. As the Anglo-Saxons invaded, they gradually pushed the Britons further and further west until they had been pushed into Wales. And it is here that they remain until this day, with the Welsh language developing from the Brythonic that was once spoken all across the lands. Brythonic/Welsh is effectively the native language of the British Isles, not English.

The study of place name entomology is also riddled with opinion and outdated information. With many place names assuming either no meaning, or that they are named after a presumed historical person. Blidworth is an example of this very lazy entomology, where the name is assumed to mean “the enclosure/land of Blitha”, where Blitha is a presumed historical person that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest ever existed. We see these assumed people in many place names, but there is no evidence for it. It is just one of those things that has been repeated often enough that it has become “fact”. The truth is, these place name meanings are often conjecture. Further, there seems to have been very little consideration of languages outside the evolution of English. Most place names tend to be credited to Anglo-Saxon, Old English, Norman (french), Norse (viking). Where we do have accepted older place names, they are often referred to as “Celtic” ignoring the fact that we have at least two insular Celtic language families. The first is the Brythonic family that includes Welsh, Cornish, Cumbric and Breton. The second is the Goidelic family that includes Irish, Manx and Scots Gaelic. I find it very interesting then, to look at our local place names through the lens of the Brythonic language that was once spoken here, and the closest we have to that is North Welsh.

With all of that in mind then, I find it very interesting that Welsh word for ford (around which the village of Rainworth grew up) is “Rhyd”. The letter “y” in Welsh (in this instance) is pronounced somewhere between “i” as in “is” and “ee” as in “bee”. Tag on the Anglo-Saxon word for enclosure (worth/worde from weorthig) and you have Rhyd-worde, meaning the enclosure of land around the ford, and sounding an awful lot like the word Rainworth we use today. Could it be that the name Rainworth has nothing to do with Raegenhere, and is actually derived from the Brythonic word for ford?

The neighbouring village of Blidworth can also be subjected to the same kind of analysis. Blidworth has already received much attention on this blog because of the Druid Stone ritual complex just outside the village, and the solar aliments with other important local landscape features. It is well known that the village was recorded in the doomsday book after the Norman invasion, so it is safe to assume there was a good water supply. And in fact there are over 30 recorded wells and a number of natural springs at the top of the hill on which the village stands, some of which were said to never dry up until the mine shaft was sunk in the 1920s which lowered the water table. It has also been suggested to me a number of times that some of these springs/wells would have been sacred, and very likely important to the local deities.

So what can we find looking at the place name? Well, there is the Welsh word “Blyd” which means “wet”. Once again if we add on the Anglo-Saxon worde then we end up with Blyd-worde meaning “wet enclosure”. And once again, given the nature of the geography of the area, I would suggest that the case for this theory is stronger than “the enclosure belonging to Blitha”. Of course we can never know for sure. But I am happy to contribute another theory for consideration, and if I am right, then we can clearly see that these villages have their roots in the Brythonic culture that once dominated this landscape.

References:

https://rainworthvillage.webs.com/ashorthistory.htm

http://blidworthhistoricalsociety.co.uk/3127.html

The Magic of an Ashfield

As you may have noticed, this blog has been focused in and around a place called Ashfield, and I thought it would be worth exploring what that name might mean. In it’s simplest terms it refers to a piece of land, a field, that is covered in Ash trees.

Ashfield lies at the western edge of Nottinghamshire, along the border with Derbyshire. The border follows a naturally occurring magnesium limestone ridge, with Nottinghamshire taking the higher point to the east. This elevated limestone environment creates the perfect habitat for Ash trees. In historic times these Ash trees gradually gave way to more Oak trees as you made your way down the ridge and into the Sherwood sandstone area. For many years Oak and Ash dominated the landscape now named Ashfield. In fact Ash is the second most popular tree used as part of an English place name after thorn. It is easy to see why Ash is so popular in this area as the young trees pop up everywhere like weeds.

It is well known that trees were central to the spirituality of the ancient Celtic speaking tribes that inhabited these lands. So by looking at the mythology and folklore surrounding the dominate trees in this area, can we learn anything about the spirit of this landscape?

Ash trees come up many times in Celtic mythology, but in particular they are associated with Gwydion the uncle/farther of Llew. In previous posts I have shown the association in the Ashfield area with the pan-Celtic deity Lugus. Clear evidence is found in the vicinity at Blidworth and Blosover as well as the Lughnassad solar alignments that cris-cross the landscape and are centred around Hamilton Hill.

Ash was seen as one of the Chieftain trees. In Ireland, it was said there were five sacred trees of which three were Ash. These trees were lost during the conversion to Christianity, but it is unlikely they would have survived to this day as Ash trees typically only live a couple of hundred years, up to around 400. However, Ash is said to coppice very well, giving long straight poles. Ash coppice stools seem to be able to go on producing poles almost indefinitely, with one 18 foot diameter stool in Suffolk estimated to be over a thousand years old.

The Welsh Magician-god Gwydion carried a staff of Ash, a symbol of transformation and empowerment in matters of destiny. It is with these powers that Gwydion tricks Arianrod to remove her restrictions on Llew’s destiny. It is this transformational meaning for ash that we now attribute to the Ogahm feda Nuin (N in the Ogham alphabet) for the purpose of divination. A druid’s Ash staff inlaid with copper spirals has even been found on Anglesey.

This standard association of Ash with the Ogham letter Nuin is not universally accepted. All of our interpretations are based around a set of three cryptic Irish riddles known as word oghams. For Nuin these are:

Costud Síde
Staple enjoyment or supply of the otherworld

Bág Ban
Boast of women

Bág maise
Boast of beauty

As you can see these are rather cryptic clues, but they all suggest association with the otherworld and femininity, properties not traditionally linked to Ash. Some among you will have noticed the words “maes onnen” in the title of this blog. Maes onnen means field of Ash, where onnen is the welsh word for Ash Tree. The 17th letter in the Ogham alphabet is Onn, which would appear to mean Ash tree in old Irish. This letter however is usually associated with Gorse. The word oghams for Onn are:

Congnaid, congnamaid ech
Wonuder/helper of horses

Fétham soíre
Smoothest craftsmanship

Lúth fían
Sustenance of warriors

Initially these clues are just as cryptic as the ones for Nuin, but in this instance we know that Ash was extensively used in carpentry. Ash wood is very strong, and it is said a joint of ash will bear more load than any other wood. It was commonly used for chariot and coach axles, as well as ores, tool handles and many other uses. It was especially prised for use in spears. The English word Ash comes from the Old English word “aesc” meaning spear. Dried leaves of ash were also used as a fodder for horses. All of these associations seem to fit the word ogham of Onn much better than gorse. So it seems that the standard tree associations repeated in the vast majority of literature surrounding the Ogham alphabet needs re-considering.

Confusion in the Ogham alphabet aside there is quite a lot of British folklore surrounding Ash without the need to resort to the Norse world tree Yggdrasil. You must also be careful not to confuse Ash with Rowan, which is also known as Mountain Ash. A quick search for traditional Ash uses online for example will turn up much of what is in this article, but it will also include the use of “Ash berries” in a baby’s crib to ward off faeries. But Ash doesn’t grow any berries! This is just an example of people copying and pasting the same miss-information, with no understanding of the trees they are writing about. If you come across this remember that “Ash berries” are actually Rowan Berries. Same goes for when you see Ash as a “protection” tree. This is actually a reference to Rowan.

A folk practice from Suffolk recorded in 1834 speaks of an Ash tree or sapling being split down the middle. A baby would then be passed between the cleft gap 3 times, and afterwards the tree would be bound up. If the tree successfully healed it’s self then all would be well in the child’s life. In other locations this practice was used as a way of healing children, especially of rupture or weak limbs. This link between Ash trees, childhood and healing is reflected in other customs too. Newborn babies were sometimes given a teaspoon of ash sap before leaving their mothers bed for the first time. In many cases where a person is passed between the split tree, the fate of the individual and the tree would become intertwined with the welfare and fate of one effecting the other, which would lead to people becoming rather protective of “their” ash tree.

Other use for ash were the curing of lameness, swellings in cattle and general pains which were thought to be caused by a shrew running over them. Thus a hole would be bored into an ash tree, then a shrew would be thrust in and the hole plugged up. It was then thought that any animal or person brushed with the leaves of the tree would be cured. There was just such a tree in Richmond Park in London during the 19th century that was used to cure children of whooping cough.

Other folklore and customs surrounding the Ash include the making of small ash crosses which were thought to protect the owner from drowning at sea. Ash keys, the winged seeds, were also thought to be protective against negative magic, and ash wands were used for the raising and conducting of healing energies. Ash leaves placed under ones pillow were thought to induce prophetic dreams, or placed in water to fight off illness. Ash is commonly found growing besides holy wells suggesting some kind of role in the well dressing customs, and it was said in Ireland that crops growing in the shadow of an ash tree would fail.

Ash wood is also prised as a firewood, with it’s density making it an ideal fuel that burns for a long time with an intense heat, regardless of whether it is seasoned or is green. Ash is also said to attract lightening, and lightning struck trees were seen to make especially powerful wands. This attraction of lightening is remembered in the old verse “Avoid the Ash, It draws the flash!”. Another verse that deals with Ash is for predicting how much rain there would be in the year depending on what tree leafs first:

Oak before Ash we are in for a splash
Ash before Oak we are in for a soak

It may well be true that these kinds of sweeping weather predictions are about as accurate as a tabloid zodiac column, but the leafing of these two trees does tell us something important about our environment. Both trees leaf at around the same time of year, between late march and may. But where as the Oak times it’s leafing mainly based on the temperature, the Ash is more influenced by the number of day light hours. So if spring arrives early with high temperatures in February and March, then the Oak trees will be likely to leaf first. If, however, the cold weather persists until April, then the Ash trees are likely to leaf first. As Britain experiences more and more warm springs, Oak has been leafing up to two weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago. Historical data suggests that Ash used to win the race at least 30% of the time, but recent studies have found that Ash has only leafed first 3 times in 40 years. Because Oak and Ash often compete for the same canopy space, and Ash has been loosing out year on year, this is having a big impact on the bio-diversity of our woodlands. Ash makes a perfect habitat for the rare and threatened High Brown Fritillary butterfly. Bullfinches eat Ash seeds and Woodpeckers, Owls, Redstarts and Nuthatches all use the tree for nesting. Ash trees also support deadwood specialist species such as the lesser stag beetle, and the bark is often covered in lichens and mosses. Also the leaves feed several species of moth caterpillars, and the early leaf fall creates perfect conditions for wildflowers such as Dog Violet, Wild Garlic and Dogs Mercury.

There is another important threat to Ash trees too. A disease known as Ash dieback, which is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The disease causes the tree to lose its leaves and the crown to die back, resulting in the death of the tree. There are signs though that some trees are immune to this disease.

Is there then a lesson we can take from what we now know about Ash trees? Well first of all we can see that the name sake of the area, the Ash tree, is under threat. Just because is seems prolific, springing up in every garden in the area, doesn’t mean we should be complacent. Remember the ogham meaning of the tree is all about making your own fate. The transformational power to change the circumstances of the future. And now more than ever the people of the Ashfield, just like all humans, need to embrace this power to transform the future. We need to make a better world for future generations, rather than leave them a desolate and depleted wasteland. And just as the Ash has played it’s part in healing us down the centuries, we must now work to heal the Ashfield. Just as others work to heal their own localities. As I have said before, humans can’t fix climate change. We have left it to late. But nature can. Initiatives such as re-wilding and others that allow the environment to heal, are absolutely the best ways to bring our ecosystems back to some kind of homeostasis. With more resilient developed ecosystems, including forests, wetland and marshes, the earth would be better able to cope with extreme events and pollutants. Focusing on climate change and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is like treating the symptom and not the cause. So perhaps that is what it means to be a Druid in the field of Ash trees? To simply work towards allowing the local environment to heal. To embrace the transformational power and take control of the future.

The story of how the environment can be saved, that no one wants to hear.

I, like many people am rather worried about the prospect of global climate change and the mass extinction that is currently underway. Environmentalism has been a big part of my life since I was a teenager, and over the last 15 years or so I have come to the conclusion that there is no way our current political, economic and social systems will address the issue in time to avert a disaster. It is a sad position to feel yourself in and can lead to disengagement and a sense of giving up. A sense that there is no hope. I have come to realise though, how very wrong I was.

If the politicians, the scientists and the systems we have in place have utterly failed to act in time, and the structures underpinning society are unlikely to change radically enough to enact a meaningful change, where is this hope? To whom can we turn to help humanity through this crisis? The answer it so obvious it is almost painful.

First though, I think we humans need to accept we have failed. We had a really good stab at it, but since the initial charting of the electromagnetic spectrum we have understood that what we can perceive with our senses is less than one millionth of reality. Of that small proportion of reality we can perceive, we are only aware of how a small fraction of it works. With our human arrogance we think that we understand some part of nature, and that if we control that small part (such as the amount of carbon in the atmosphere) then we can “fix it” and make nature work the way we want. But in absolutely every attempt of humanity to subdue nature, we fail to see the vast quantity of intricate connections to other ecosystems and the subtle changes that end up causing environmental disasters. Even the simple tilling of land for growing food leads to soil erosion. The worst part is that in our arrogance we ignore all the millions of intricate relationships and connections between the animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and everything else in the ecosystem that we do not understand. If we don’t understand it then it can’t be important. But then every week there are news articles about new discoveries that completely change the way we understand these interconnected systems. Humanity’s quest to understand everything through science has been valiant, but it has utterly failed. In our quest to understand we have wrought untold destruction. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of what there is to know, and now we have run out of time. There simply is not enough time left for science to understand the entire workings of the planetary biosphere, and convert that understanding into political and social action in order to avert the disaster we have caused. And to think that we can do so now at this eleventh hour shows yet more human arrogance and that we have learned absolutely nothing from our mistakes. No, I think we have had our chance and have proven that we are not capable of the stewardship of the earth we seem to believe we are entitled too.

So if Humanity can’t resolve the climate crisis, who can? Who has the ability to fully comprehend all the important interconnected systems that support and encourage life on this planet? Who can comprehensively rebuild these devastated ecosystems at a rate fast enough to avert disaster? Who has the power to save humanity from extinction? And who will do this without payment, with no desire for reward or recognition? The answer is simple. I am beginning to believe the way forward is for humanity to accept it’s failure of science, and to once again petition the gods for their help. Stay with me a moment and hear me out.

If we stop interfering with Mother Nature, then the great mother goddess will rebuild all of the devastated ecosystems of the earth with absolutely no input from humanity. And she could do it in record time simultaneously across the entire globe. Without human interference nature would rebuild itself with new ecosystems that act as carbon sink. Grass lands, forests, bogs, and all other habitats and ecosystems would flourish, and the earth’s ability to deal with extremes of carbon output and other pollutants would be restored. It is not just that we humans are polluting the earth, it is that we are also destroying the ecosystems that would have naturally been able to absorb the pollutants. It is death by a thousand cuts.

So what if humanity could do just that. What if we could let go and place our trust and faith in the Goddess to restore herself to beauty, so that we all may benefit from her abundant love? Humans and every other species of life on the planet would benefit alike. Human science, politics, society and other artificial constructs can not, and will not save us. But the goddess both would and could.

For me the next logical conclusion is that as pagans who “love nature”, “worship nature”, “see nature as sacred” etc, is it not our responsibility as devotees to nature, to the mother of us all, to ensure that nature can flourish of it’s own accord everywhere that we can? To return brown field sites to nature and let her take her course. To prevent any further destruction of ecosystems. To let existing ecosystems such as meadows, forests, wet lands and seas all mature and re-grow the intricate relationships and connections that allow them to keep the climate in balance. Those would be the actions of someone who is truly devoted to nature.

There has been talk for a while now that humanity is lacking a story for the modern age. That we have outgrown our existing stories and have not been able to find a new one that will lead us through these dark times. I am beginning to feel that this is the story that we need:

If we let her, the Goddess will save us.

Ida Goddess of the river Idle?

I would like to talk about the River Idle in more detail in this article. The area of focus in this blog has been centred around the area south of Mansfield, from Sutton-In-Ashfield to Rainworth.

The River Idle rises in Sutton-In-Ashfield, and after flowing under the centre of the town, it joins the river Maun and is know by that name until it once again becomes the Idle at Markham Moor. Before it reaches this point though, it is joined by Rainworth Water at Ollerton, which has its source at Thieves Wood, just outside Sutton-In-Ashfield and was also once known as the Idle. This means that two rivers both named Idle join the Maun many miles before the Maun and the Meden conflate to become the Idle that we know today. Further, the sources of these river Idles all rise within a few miles of each other in Ashfield, some 20 miles from Markham Moor where the Idle officially begins.

I have stated before that rivers have a tendency to retain their Celtic names. We can see this in many other local rivers such as the river Leen (which also rises in Ashfield but flows south to the Trent) which comes from the word for lake or pool, Llyn in modern Welsh. The Trent or Trisantona meaning great thoroughfare. The Derwent meaning valley of Oak Trees. The reason that rivers retain their old names is because unlike a town, which is easily renamed by a new group of people, a river is shared among many communities up and down its banks. Used for transportation and trade, it is much harder for a new group of people entering the land to rename the river and to have the name stick.

It is therefore not unreasonable to think that the name Idle may be much older that we currently believe. The best guess at the moment is that it is derived from Anglo-Saxon, and it means slow and lazy or idle. The name would fit the first part of the river before it joins the Maun where it is little more than a trickle. But the better known bigger river Idle is a strong and fast flowing river, and the name simply does not fit. So what could the name mean? Is it older than Anglo-Saxon?

If the people who lived on these lands in the past, our ancestors, knew all of these rivers as part of the Idle, then it is also not to unreasonable to think that the river Idle could also have had a local river goddess associated with it, who would have been a unifying force for the people of the area. We may even be looking at the area of a very local sub tribe of the Brigantes or Corieltauvi tribes. So who might this goddess be? There is one very interesting name that is both spelt and pronounced in a similar way, the name Ida.

As a name, Ida has multiple contested sources. It is a popular name to this day in Nordic countries like Denmark and Sweden, derived from the Germanic word id meaning “work” or “labour”. Alternatively it may be related to the Old Norse goddess Iðunn who is associated with apples and youth. She is also the wife of Bragi the god of poetry. The Norse gods however are not the gods of this landscape. They are the gods of the Norse lands, and it is unlikely Iðunn has anything to do with the river Idle. But it must not be entirely discounted in that the Germanic culture developed from the same Indo-European culture as the earlier Celtic tribes. Ida is also the anglicisation of the ancient Irish girls name Íde. There is no reference to an ancient Irish Goddess by that name that I am aware of, however, there is a St. Ida.

St Ida of Killeedy was known as “the foster mother of the saints of Erin”, and her name is said to mean “thirst for holiness”. She was also known as “the Brigid of Munster”. It was said that Ida embodied the six virtues of womanhood – wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle craft. Her feast day is the 15th of January and she was also known as a prophetess and spiritual director. Genealogies of the saints state that Ida’s mother Necht was a daughter of Dallbronach, making Ida a cousin of Brigid.

It is well known that many of the Irish saints are really ancient Irish gods in disguise, adopted by the early christian church in Ireland in order to ease the conversion of the pagan population. There is no record of a Pagan Ida Goddess in Ireland, instead we are presented with her life story including dates of birth and death, in much the same way as we are with St Brigid. But we know that St Brigid has many of the attributes and associations of the earlier Goddess Brigid. They are largely the same character. At this point I would like to remind readers that in previous articles we have shown that the local tribe the Brigantes and their patron goddess Briganti are evident in our local landscape.

One very interesting area of investigation is the similarities and links between the ancient Irish language and stories, and that of the Indian Rig Veda of the ancient Verdic peoples. There are many websites and articles that document some of the many fascinating links, but one that I would like to point to now is the Verdic Goddess Ida. This Hindustani goddess of speech, the earth, and the source of abundant food and nourishment was seen as the primary cause of the origins, continuance and dissolution of all beings. Cows and milk are sacred to Ida, whereas in Ireland these are sacred to Brigid. In the Rig Veda she is associated with and often mentioned along side Bharati and Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, fertility, and flowing rivers. Bharati is a feminine adjective meaning “high, great, lofty” and seems to be a title applied several times to the goddess of the dawn Uṣas. As you may know, the names Briganti, Brigantia, Brigit come from a cognate proto indo-european word *bhrg’hnti from the root word berg’h meaning “high, lofty, elevated”.

To surmise for a moment then, we have an Irish St Brigid who is associated with St Ida. Brigid is based on an earlier Indo-European goddess Briganti who is also present in Verdic culture as Bharati. The Verdic goddess Uṣas/Bharati is also associated with the Verdic goddess Ida. Further, Verdic Ida, Uṣas/Bharati and Irish Brigid are all associated with cows, milk and motherhood. Briganti is clearly present in our landscape, and we also have a river named Idle for which we have no clear entomology. Could it be there is a forgotten Brythonic Goddess named Ida associated with the river Idle?

So what about the Maun? Well from this perspective the Maun is nothing more than a local name for a short section of the Idle, known to the Romans as Aqua Mam. Mam meaning “mother, breast or hill” in reference to Hamilton Hill where the source of the Maun is. If Ida is a goddess of the earth, of the land, and Hamilton Hill her breast then the Maun, Aqua Mam is her milk, the waters of the mother.

There is another possibly related goddess too, from Greek. The goddess Idaia, meaning “she of mount Ida”, Ida meaning “wooded mountain”. There are actually two sacred mountains named Ida, both sacred to mother goddesses. The first in Crete is where Rhea, mother of the first generation of Olympian gods put the infant Zeus to nurse with Amaltheia. The second mountain was in Anatolia, modern day Turkey, and was mentioned in the Iliad of Homer as sacred to Cyble mother goddess of the Anatolians and sometimes known as Mater Idaea or “Idaean Mother”, mother of the Idaean people.

There is of course no way to be sure about any of this. Is there a lost local Celtic Ida, local to this area associated with the river Idle? It is all just conjecture really, but I am certainly beginning to feel that we of Ashfield and the surrounding area are Ideans. We are Ideans in so much as we are the people of the Goddess Ida of the River Idle.

The Ladies of Ashfield

The ladies of Ashfield, they number in three
Ladies Meden, Maun and Idle they be

In a sorry state
Is Lady Idle of late
Her spring once a marsh 
Now a housing estate
East under concrete 
Her waters migrate
From pond amoung houses
Along litterd brook to her fate
To disappear under the road
Down a neglected grate
And emerge next to asda 
At a trickling rate
Onwards under the ground
To the boating lake donate
Her waters press forward
Then with the Maun’ s they conflate

Oh Lady Maun, 
Mother of this land
Nourishing the greenery 
With your waters so grand
From your spings by the Mam 
To your sacrifice on the moor
Your love for your people 
Is clean fresh and pure
Queen of the green wood
Sovereign of Sherwood
The spirit of your water 
Is thick in our blood

Beautiful Maiden of flowers and spring
On the banks of the Meden can be heard to sing
The notes in the air and rythm of the splashes 
Accompany her song of love and of rashness
From the end of wood to the moor with Maun
Her beauty is such it eclipses the dawn
She is the goddess of spring of life and desire
The river of youth and passion and fire.

Where they conflate
The Idle becomes great
Her flow and her waters
A much better state
Rushing to the Trent
At an incredible rate
Aligned with the Mam
On a magical date
No more to stagnate
Our lives to hydrate
To our Goddess of Idle
Our love we restate

To the ladies of Ashfield I offer this vow
To fight for the life of this land somehow
To pass on the lessons you have given to me
With honesty, integrity and to do it for free
To stand up to injustice and the greed of man
To work for balance and harmony any way that I can.
To help others to see your enchantment at hand
And before it is to late, learn to love our land

A Druid quest: Find the grail and save the planet!

Ask two people who have adopted the label of Druid exactly what Druidry is and you are very likely to get completely different answers. If you ask the same person twice you are still likely to get two different answers. There simply is no clear definition, and the study of Druidry encompasses so many subjects, it is very difficult to pin it down. Having said that, one key theme that is likely to come up is a reverence for nature. Trees, plants and animals make up a good proportion of the study.

This reverence for nature is expressed in a myriad of ways. For some people it is simply enough to go for a walk in the woods every so often and “forest bathe”, feeling a connection to the environment that is not present in their everyday mundane lives. Lives in which they “carry on as normal” most of the time, as full participants in society with all the trappings and responsibilities that comes with. Mortgages, cars, single use plastic and the modern world.

For some, reverence for nature goes a little deeper. The question goes along the lines of: If I hold nature to be sacred, how can I allow any of my actions to contribute to its destruction. This inevitably leads to desires to reduce our own consumption and environmentally destructive behaviours. Perhaps even to consider growing our own food, living off grid or protesting environmentally destructive initiatives, veganism and so on. Whatever the actions, the result is a feeling of distancing from what is seen as the destructive consumption driven norms of society.

In short, a deep reverence for nature should lead to a questioning of our own impact on the environment, and hopefully a desire to change our ways. It should also lead to the realisation that civilisation as we know it is the direct cause of environmental destruction. What I would like to question in this article, is the response we as druids have to this realisation.

In many cases (not all) our reactions are introspective. Focused on our own actions and behaviours. We understand that it is the wider behaviour of society that is at fault, yet we seek the solutions at the individual level. What can I do? Be the change you want to see as Gandhi put it. There is nothing wrong with this, and as part of our spiritual growth it is an important step, but it doesn’t have the level of impact on the wider problem that we so desperately need in this time of environmental collapse and mass extinction. In part this is due to an individual feeling of impotence when it comes to affecting change on a large scale. Another option is to join a group and to try to apply pressure that way. The group at the moment is Extinction Rebellion, but groups come and go. Ten years ago it was the Camp for Climate action. Extinction Rebellion is no different, it is simply the latest incarnation of the movement to save our ecosystem. Some people will join, some won’t, and very quickly, the actions of a few individuals will cause the entire movement to be seen in an ill light. What idiot did the Extinction Rebellion logo graffiti on the standing stone? Well done that person.

Like everyone else, I do not have the answers to these problems. I am as vexed as everyone else as to how we may prevent this impending catastrophe. I am as frustrated by the lack of action as you, and indeed the backwards steps we currently seem to be taking with the increased destruction of the Amazon, and the appointment of right wing politicians who continue to put profit first, and hardly even pay lip service to the environmental armageddon we face. But perhaps we can look to our mythology for parallels that reflect our current predicament. And perhaps, just perhaps, we may find clues as to how to respond to the challenges we face now.

In early version of Arthurian legends, the grail is kept by the fisher king or wounded king, who suffers from a leg or groin wound and is unable to walk. He can only sit in his little boat and spend his days fishing by his castle. The wound cripples the king and effects his virility, and as the king suffers, as does the land, becoming barren and infertile as a result. Eventually Percival, a knight of the round table comes to the castle in search of the grail and restores the king and the land to health.

Like the land of the fisher king, our world is becoming a barren and infertile wasteland unable to support life as we know it. Or at least our lives. Like the land of the fisher king, the world’s poor health is a direct result of the impotence of its rulers. Their wounded characters, and their lack of action.

Percival was raised in the isolation of the forest by his widowed mother who purposefully hid the realities of the world from him keeping him ignorant and naive. When he reached 15 he came upon a group of knights passing through the woods, and decided to leave home to become a knight of the round table. Percival’s innocence and ignorance is then further compounded by his tutor in arms, Gornemant, who instructs Percival not to question the significance of the things he sees.

Like Percival we are purposefully kept ignorant by the lies of politicians. We are misled with oversimplified reactionary news articles, that do not reflect the reality of the situation. And we grow up in an education system that teaches us to unquestionably accept the instructions of authority above all else, and simply accept the “facts” we are given. We, like Percival, are taught not to question the significance of the things that we see.

When Percival remembers that his mother fainted when he first left, he decides to go and see her, but first comes across the fisher king who invites him to stay in his castle. While he is there he witnesses a strange precession of magnificent objects including a bleeding lance and a grail, but due to his instruction Percival remains silent and doesn’t question this. The next morning when he awakes the castle is gone. He continues his journey until he comes across a young girl who chastises him for not asking about the grail as it would have healed the fisher king. Percival resolves to again find the castle of the fisher king so that he might ask the right question and heal him.

Like the human population of the earth, Percival knows that something is amiss, he can see it with his own eyes, but due to his upbringing and conditioning, doesn’t feel that he has the authority to question the status quo. Like those who today deny the impending climate catastrophe, there are none so blind as those that will not see. Ignorance is bliss until reality gives you a good slap in the face. And this is where I feel humanity is stuck. The young girl has chastised us, but as a society we are yet to accept our mistake and resolve to correct the situation.

Our quest for the grail must now begin in earnest. We must seek the means to restore the land. There will be perils and pitfalls along the way, but that is the nature of a quest, it is difficult and dangerous. At stake is the life of the land and all who depend upon it. We must rid ourselves of the ignorance of the situation and continue on the quest with clarity and purpose.

How can we apply this understanding to the situation at hand? As I said above I do not have the answers, but I suspect that at least part of it lies in the symbology of the grail itself. The grail is of course the Christianisation of earlier Celtic symbology surrounding cauldrons. There are many cauldrons in the mythology of the British Isles, but it is generally accepted that it is a symbol of the feminine. The knights of the Arthurian tales are chivalrous. Many of their deeds and quests are concerned with protecting the honour of the ladies in their lives.

Today’s society is dominated by the masculine principle. We are a patriarchal society obsessed with dominating the natural world for our own selfish gain. Faced with the challenge of climate change, we seek to dominate and control further. We believe that if only we can plant enough trees and stop burning fossils we can once again manipulate the system to our advantage. But isn’t this failing to learn the lesson we are being taught?

Is the key to unlocking this conundrum the very relationship we have with our environment? If we as a society and individuals can build a relationship not based upon acquisition of resources, of exploitation and use. A relationship that embraces the feminine, that embraces community, mutual aid and compassion. Or at least a more balanced approach than we currently have. Then perhaps with a different perspective we may be able to find a way through these issues we face.

If we can find the grail within ourselves. Within our work places and communities. Our nations and our societies. Then I believe we can change our relationship with our environment. But I think we need to seek the grail in every aspect of our lives with honesty and integrity. And it will not be easy.

It is folly to try and control everything. We need to learn to let go and understand that we are entirely dependent on our environment. We must instead focus on fostering a far more respectful relationship. One that respects the ebb and flow of our weather patterns and the changing of our seasons. The natural harvest cycles. We must learn to take only what we need and to give just as much back. Landfill makes a poor offering to the gods!

Are you ready to embark on perhaps the most important quest we have ever had to undertake? I am not sure any of us are. But we must undertake this quest now if we have any hope of success.

Good luck brave knight.

Alban Hefin at Silver Hill and the birth of sacred sites.

In years past I have made the pilgrimage to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This year, I stayed local and I am glad that I did.

Each year, the celebration of Alban Hefin, Litha, Midsummer or the Summer Solstice seems to enter popular culture a little more. This year there was even a Summer Solstice Party in Portland Square in the centre of Sutton-In-Ashfield, featuring local school children singing and family fun and games. A genuine official event put on by the local authorities, though with very little recognition of the solstice itself or any importance it might have.

It seems that this trend is growing year on year. The BBC reported that 10,000 people attended Stonehenge this year, and I can’t help but suspect that many were there for the first time, and know very little about the reasons they were there. They are simply attracted to the event. That was certainly true back in 2015 when I stayed at the Stonehenge camp site and got talking to many of the people staying there in the lead up to the solstice. There were genuinely people attending that really had no idea what the solstice or the stones were all about, and I think that is a good thing. It seems that there is something unknown, unseen that is driving people towards these sorts of events, towards the Pagan community, and they are growing each year.

Silver Hill in Ashfield is a place where I walk with my dog almost every day. It is the default place I go because there are not normally a lot of people there, and it is big enough that I can see far enough to safely let the dog off his lead to have a good run about. So I was rather surprised to learn that a Summer Solstice event was being organised there for sunset.

Sun rise at Silver Hill 21-06-2019

I was up early enough on the morning of the Solstice to make my way to Silver Hill and climb to the top in time for the sunrise. At 4:30 in the morning there was no one else around but the birds. I sat and watched the sunrise in the North-East, just to the left of the power station visible on the horizon. Although there was cloud overhead, the horizon was clear as the sun began to light the sky pink and orange. I remained until the sun was fully up, and made my way back home.

After a full day of activity, I made my way back to Silver Hill around 7pm. When I arrived I was surprised to see a steady stream of people going both up and down the hill, and began to suspect this local Solstice celebration might have more than the handful of people I was expecting.

Waiting for sunset

It was a quiet event with perhaps 100 people in attendance, and as the sun went down people began to play instruments and drums. Others were dancing too, and the atmosphere began to feel charged with the energy and enthusiasm of the people there.

I did not stop long after the sun went down around 9:30 (it had been a long day!) and I made my way back home again.

Sunset

The next day I began to think about how good it was to have such a well attended public Pagan event so local, and I also got to thinking about the location and sacred sites.

Of course there were many other gatherings up and down the country (and indeed all over the world). Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Nine Ladies to name but a few. The difference is that these places are all considered “sacred sites”. Silver Hill, as far as I know is not. In fact Silver Hill is an artificial landscape created after the end off the coal mining industry. The small hill at the top with the miner statue is actually the highest man-made point in Nottinghamshire, so it is a perfect place for viewing the solstice even if there are no apparent alignments with other hills, etc.

So what makes a site sacred? I do not know if other people would draw up a list of specific requirements. They might cite such things as solar alignments or the antiquity of the site. For me all of nature is a sacred site, but I also believe a site is what people make of it. If enough people see a place as sacred, treat it as such, and use it for worship then it is a sacred site. Over time the site will even start to acquire energy and a character.

Sacred sites are often sacred to something or someone. This could be a deity for example. In the case of Silver Hill, I think it would be contrived to try and associate a Deity with the location at this point. But that is not to say that there is not appropriate symbology at Silver Hill that could be built on.

The stand out feature at Silver Hill is the statue of a miner. This statue reminds us of how important coal mining was in the local area. Or put another way, this statue reminds us of the importance of coal mining to our recent ancestors of place (and for many ancestors of blood). It reminds us of the dangerous jobs, the dirty conditions and the suffering of our recent ancestors. It also reminds us of the legacy of the coal industry on our towns and countryside.

For these reasons then, I propose that Silver Hill from this point forward be treated as a genuine local sacred site that we as the local pagan community can build upon and work with. A site sacred to the ancestors of place. A site we as the local pagan community can continue to use for celebrations.

Rainworth, the place British paganism died.

I am going to digress a little from my normal subject matter of Iron Age and earlier local history, and take a moment to introduce to you an interesting theory from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Rainworth is the village I lived in from the ages of 3 to 17. During this time I got to know the local area pretty well, walking our dog all over the nearby woods and heath land. Especially the heath known locally as “the bogs”, with Rainworth Water River flowing along its western side. I now think it is very possible that in this location events occurred that sealed England’s fate and conversion to Christianity.

St. Edwin

Born in 586 AD, Edwin was the son of the Pagan King Aelle of Deira. We do not know if Edwin was first in line to the throne, but it was Aethelfrith who assumed the kingship around 604 AD. By this time the kingdom had merged with another and had become Northumbria. Whether or not Edwin was first in line to the throne, for some reason Aethelfrith was intent on murdering Edwin, so he fled. First he fled to Gwynedd in Wales, then to Mercia. By the early 610s he was under the protection of the powerful Christian king Raedwald of East Anglia.

At first Aethelfrith tried to bribe and then threaten Raedwald into giving up Edwin, but Raedwald’s wife had a divine vision, and persuaded Raedwald that is was not honourable to give Edwin up in this way. Also, Ethelberga of Kent, Edwin’s intended bride was a Christian, and her father would only allow the marriage if Ethelberga could continue to practice her faith.

In defence of Edwin, Raedwald raised an army and slew Aethelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle in 616 AD (also known as the battle of Hatfield). Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died at the battle and Edwin became a surrogate son and immediately ascended to the throne of Northumbria initially under Raedwald’s patronage. Taking it from the Pagan Aethelfrith. Edwin eventually converted to Christianity in 627 after surviving an assassination attempt and a war with King Cuichelm of Wessex.

The pivotal moment then was the defeat of the pagan Aethelfrith, leading to the Christianisation of Northumbria, and thus ultimately the later England and eventually the entire British Isles. But where was this Battle? Well, we actually know very little about the Battle of Hatfield. There are a number of places named Hatfield including Hatfield Chase near Doncaster and High Hatfield near Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, and it is in these locations that people have searched for the site of the battle without much success. Hatfield however, is actually recorded as “Haethfelth” which simply means “Heath Field”.

The history of Rainworth goes back to Roman times. The Village originated from The Roman Way, a Roman road, which ran through Mansfield, Rainworth, Newark and on to the Garrison at Lincoln. A Roman Camp was set up by the River Idle there, which is now known as Rainworth Water. A part of the river here became known as “foul evil brook” because the Romans thought that the waters could cure an eye complaint that they knew as “foul evil”. Where the Idle crossed the Roman road, there was a ford (where the river now passes under the road in the centre of the village).

In 616 when Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died by the side of the Idle, Raedwald renamed the river in honour of his son, naming it Regnhere’s wath or Ford, now known as Rainworth Water. The immediate area also became known as Reynwath, Reynethwath, Water of Reynwath, Reynewath, Reynewathford, Raynswathe, Reinwarth Forthe, Rayngwath and finally became known as the Rainworth we have today.

Rainworth water on The Bogs aka Rainworth Heath

So there you have it, the battle of the Idle (Rainworth Water) / Hatfield (Rainworth Heath) was the final nail in the coffin of Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

As a final aside, Edwin was also finally defeated somewhere local (possibly by the river Poulterer) and his fleeing forces managed to get his body to Edwinstowe (which is where it gets its name). Form there his head was taken to York.

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