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Interview with Emma Restall Orr by Lilitu Babalon This interview took place when I was producing a Pagan

radio program – Pagan Place – in the late 1990s. Obviously things have changed and advanced since then, but I still think this interview has a lot of interesting points. Emma Restall Orr is the author of three books, published with Harper Collins: Principles of Druidry, Spirits of the Sacred Grove and Ritual. She was the Joint Chief of the British Druid Order and a tutor with the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. An experienced writer and broadcaster, she has been working in shamanic Paganism and Witchcraft all her adult life, embracing Druidry in the late 1980s in order to practise her spirituality more openly, while also connecting more deeply with the spirits of the land. This interview is an edited version of a radio interview. Some minor changes have been made for clarity. Lilitu: The first thing I'd like to ask you today is to explain a little of modern Druidry. What is modern Druidry? Emma: Modern Druidry is the extension of a tradition which has evolved and changed over thousands of years and its practise today is really, very generally, expressed by an honouring and a respect of the land and the ancestors; the land underneath us; the sky above us; the seas around us; our source of water and food; the spirits of place; our external environment and also our ancestry. This is our blood ancestry and also the ancestry of our t4eachers, and also thew ancestors of the land on which we live. It's a weaving of honouring the land and the ancestors. It's also described as a tradition which is based on the quest for inspiration which some people call the quest for the Holy Grail, or the quest for Ahwen. It's the inspiration which allows us to be creative, to live creatively, to live well. Lilitu: So in some respects Druidry is very similar to other forms of Paganism. What do you think it is about Druidry in particular that differentiates it from, say, Gardnerian-style Wicca or other forms of Paganism? Emma: In terms of the differentiation with Wicca, the main differences would be that Druidry is not a religion, whereas Wicca would be called a religion. Druidry can be a religion if we just define religion as being a quest to relate to deity, but deity is not a necessary part of Druidry. There are no specific gods that people need worship. Some people do worship, honour or revere the Celtic deities, or even the Saxon, Nordic or classical deities, but there are Druids who have a very different sense of deity. There are Christian Druids, Druids who honour the land or the ancestors, but honour the Christian god or gods. That makes it very different from Wicca, just in that one fact. There are also Druids who are entirely animistic, who don't work with deity at all.

The other difference is perhaps that Druidry is not a magickal tradition in that its focus is not the weaving of magick, if we think of magick as being conscious change by force of will. It's thinking of what we want to make happen and then accessing the power, mostly through deity, and then through the power of thought and whatever else ceremonial practice we use to flesh that out into being, into manifest form. Druidry isn't like that. Essentially Druidry is about simply the quest for inspiration and then flow of that inspiration into creativity. Lilitu: A lot of people think of Druidry as old men with long beards and white robes at places like Stonehenge, especially those who haven't come into contact with modern Druidry. How does modern Druidry differ, but also how does it draw upon the old myths about what Druidry is? Emma: Well, that old myth of the archetypal, the stereotypical Druid in the long white robe with the golden sickle and the long white beard, is really an 18th century creation of what a Druid might be. It didn't exist beforehand and it's losing its power now, in that a great many people come into Druidry who can't really relate to that stereotype or that archetype, particularly the women. We're trying now to offer an archetype of the Druid as woman who doesn't need to attune or relate to that old man. Yet, at the same time, there is some power in that image. We talk about the weave between the vulnerability and physicality of our bodies, of our mortality, and the strength of our spirit, and that old man has that weave between being vulnerable in his physical form but also having the power of his knowledge and experience. It's a blend between the wildness in us, the unconstrained part of our soul, of our creativity and the wisdom that is our internal core which holds us still and centred. Lilitu: It's probably a good point now at which to ask you, if Druidry comes from that archetype that was created only a couple of hundred years ago, how has modern Druidry come about? Emma: That archetype, that revival of Druidry in the 18th century in Britain was very strong and it's strong to us still because it's quite recent. There was also a great revival, or renaissance of Druidry in the 20th century. Before that there were waves of Druidry coming to the surface as cultural assertiveness, of the nationalism if you like, of Celtic nations, of Celtic peoples, of people trying to defend themselves against incursions of new culture, of invaders: the Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings; whoever it may have been. Of course, of Christianity, monotheism; political monotheism. Druidry has always been there. It was never entirely wiped out. Two thousand years ago Druids had a very strong base in the British Isles and Ireland and when the Romans came through, they took away that base; they took away the power. They didn't destroy Druidry as a tradition or as a wisdom. Druidry continued underlying the culture in different ways, not as the key political power, but as the key basis of culture and it has continued over the two thousand years. It's just evolved. We don't try to recreate a

Druidry of 2,000 years ago; it wouldn't be sane, wouldn't be relevant. The Druidry of 200 year ago is not really relevant to today. We have different needs socially, politically, spiritually, creatively, now as 21st century beings than we did 2,000 years ago. So, it's always changing. The threads have always been there, it's just an evolution of spirituality. Lilitu: How have the threads manifested over the last 2,000 years? Emma: Mainly we see them as stories that come through, and those stories hold the law of the land. Those stories hold our attitude towards science and religion and education. Really the basis of what British culture is, and Irish culture, is on old Druidic lore. It's still there. Of course some Christian and Roman lore has come in but the Druidic is still its foundation. It's about equality and tolerance; it's about the love of the land; it's about the power of the seas. It's very much a spirituality that comes from that temperate climate, the seasons changing, but also a place of many different people, flowing through the land, shifting and merging and pushing through into culture. It's a land of changes, washed by the waves on the shores of the islands. That's what language is - the textures of the tradition. Lilitu: And if Druidry is, as you say, a tradition of the land in Europe, how have you seen it relating to the land in Australia where the cycle of the seasons is not as defined in most of Australia, as it is in Europe? Emma: It's very interesting. Druidry is a very quickly-growing tradition in Australia. Its been very quickly growing in America for 20 or 30 years as it has in Britain, but in Australia it's just really emerging and taking off in terms of a tradition. Mostly that's about people searching for their own ancestral spirituality, new Australians with European heritage, particularly the British, Celtic, Irish heritage; looking for their ancestral spirituality. It's about finding the wisdom, the knowledge of their ancestors, and than as every good Pagan does, adapting it to the land on which they walk, and the environment in which they live. That's the nature of Paganism: looking around ourselves to find the lore of nature in the land we live in. The old eightfold festivals, particularly the seasonal festivals which we might call Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, that start the seasons, are very different here, and they are very different in Western Australia from south and east, and of course north. It's not as if Australian Druidry can have a different system that stretches right across this country; it can't. Western Australian Druids are working in a different climate, with different harvests, different seasonal planting times, different fruiting times, different times of hardship and new growth. One of the interesting things I've found in Australia is that the autumn and beginning of winter is very much a time of new birth after the drought which in some way strangely relates to the springtime in the northern hemisphere. We have to be very clear that we're starting from scratch and try not to take the ancestral wisdom in terms of dogma and plant it in this land. It doesn't work, just as the oak trees don't germinate here without a great

deal of care and attention. And they're not made to, so perhaps we shouldn't be planting them anyway. We also need to take the wisdom of our European ancestors, and see where it relates, how it relates, where it's relevant and appropriate, and not be afraid to put to one side anything that isn't appropriate, that allows us to evolve, to keep the spirituality evolving naturally instead of getting stuck and allowing it to die in dogma, which so many other spiritualities have done. Lilitu: I suppose that one thing about the various forms of Paganism is that it is very challenging to the practitioner in the way they relate not just to the seasons, but to all the circumstances of the environment around them. Emma: Yes, that's right entirely. One of the great things in Druidry is the Ogham alphabet, which is the tree alphabet of 20, increasing to 25 trees and plants, and those were the sacred trees of the tradition. They became a magickal alphabet in much the same way that the Germanic and Nordic runes are. But those are from British and Irish trees. There are those who are trying, and have tried for many years, for 20 or more years, to find relevant Australian native trees and plants that might be substituted, that might be an Australian Ogham. Some people think it's a valid task to try and find them, some people think its not; we should begin again from scratch or just use another language. Most people here are keen to use their ancestral wisdom. Just as we understand how to make solar power, how to make bread, to make wine or whatever it is, and we take that memory from our ancestors, so we must do it in terms of our spirituality, transplanting it into a different land. Lilitu: I think there certainly has been a move here in Australia to look at native fauna, if not flora, because people have been using cards like the Medicine Cards, or the Beasts of Albion. There's a move now to look at Australian animal totems. Would that form an important part of Druidry as well, working with animal spirits? Emma: Yes, very much so; very much indeed. I came across an Australian animal deck which I was very impressed with. It's not Druidic in terms of the book that goes with the divination deck; it's a mixture of different traditions but the animals themselves were put down beautifully, and it was one of the things which helped me to find myself present in Australia; to find the animals. Animals are very important as they are extremely wise in terms of teaching; they teach us different perceptions; they teach us different wisdom and to shape-shift or empathise with animals is an important part of the tradition, to understand how they attune to the environment around us and understand what their ancestral wisdom is. This is in terms of living well, living appropriately and living with responsibility in a sustainable world. So yes, absolutely. Working with the trees and plants that are native to the land we're in is as important as working with the animals.

Lilitu: Something that interested me when I was reading your first book, Principles of Druidry, was the assertion that the Wheel of the Year as we understand it is fairly new to modern Paganism. It's not something that comes naturally from thousands of years ago and was in fact something that a Druid called Ross Nichols first looked at only about 50 or 60 years ago. Emma: That's right. I think it's very important not to idealise some unbroken line of tradition. It is evolving; it changes and yes, we know that our ancestors celebrated the solar festivals of the solstices and equinoxes, as long as four or five thousand years ago, and we know that the seasonal festivals have been celebrated in different ways in parts of the British Isles and Ireland for thousands of years as well, but celebrating all eight festivals is really something that modern society has the luxury to do. Our ancestors didn't have that luxury of time, of feasting, of anything really. In different places, different festivals were important so a place that wasn't dependent on agriculture, wouldn't have a strong agricultural and harvesting rite and celebration like Lughnasadh. It would be more likely that somewhere based on agriculture would have those festivals. Somewhere that based their wealth on sheep or horses would have festivals based on those sources of power in their community. So, it's modern culture that have the eight festivals. I think it's important to know and take on board a way of adapting that to a new landscape like Australia. It's not thousands and thousands of years old, this celebrating of eight festivals. It's changed. Let's change it again to see what's appropriate here. I have a friend who has vineyards in South Australia and the most important festival of the whole year for him is the picking of the first grapes and that's a very important part of his Scottish, Druidic heritage, picking the first grapes in the Barossa Valley. Lilitu: The other thing I'd like to focus on is your particular path into Druidry. It comes through very clearly in Spirits of the Sacred Grove. It's more or less the story of a year in your life, the way in which you celebrate the year and the way you relate to the environment. What was it that first pushed you onto the path of Druidry? Emma: My feeling is that we can divide humanity into two different kinds of people, those who have a tendency towards spirituality; who want to know more, the reasons and the underlying currents of what life is, and those of us who don't get drawn into a religion or spirituality and are happy in a secular world. I was one of those who needed to know more. I was unwell as a child and for much of my childhood and adolescence I was fighting the fragility of my physical form. I came to the edge of life a number of times and looked into the eyes of death, wondering what to do, what that meant and how to cope with it. That intensified my meaning and intensified my motivation to find a meaning to life. I searched through many different spiritual traditions, looking for answers, looking for something which was powerful to me. At the same time my mother and father are both

naturalists. My father is an ornithologist and my mother is a botanist, so I was brought up in the rainforests of South America and walking through the mountains and volcanos in wild, wild country. I was taught as an integral part of my childhood that nature was extraordinary. Not sacred so much as just extraordinary and powerful and untameable. My search for spirituality and my conditioning which told me that nature was all powerful came together into Paganism very naturally. I don't think I remember being any other than the Paganism that I came to. I explored Shinto when I lived in Japan. I explored native American and central American culture when I lived there, but when I came to England and decided to settle in England I fell in love with a wonderful Scotsman. Being with him and marrying him inspired me to dedicate myself to the British Islands and to explore their spirituality, which is the spiritually of my heritage. I found Druidry and it seemed to be the natural, and it is the indigenous, spirituality of those lands. That's really what drew me in to the tradition, and finding the core of the tradition being a search for inspiration - that search for inspiration; the three drops that come out of the cauldron of inspiration and rebirth. That being the core of the tradition gave me the motivation to overcome the problems I had in my physical body and to find healing; to find a way of living well. Lilitu: Was it also important to you that explored the other forms of spirituality before you found you settled into Druidry? Emma: I think it is important to explore. It opens our minds in different ways. It gives us an objectivity on our own heritage if we have explored other people's. If we do it with honour, of course, and respectfully. Just as travelling around the world allows us to perhaps better see our homeland, to keep us awake, to stop us being complacent, and taking things for granted. I think it awakens our intellect and our ability to understand the world, the powers of nature, if we are in places very different from what is normal, what is easy for us. So I think exploring other spiritualities, seeing other points of view, seeing what is important, and being in other places where the highest power of nature is different. For example. In the British and Irish islands, the highest power of nature, that which withdraws from us fertility and light, is really the long dark months of winter. In Australia it's not, it's fire and sun which is most likely to take life and to take fertility from the land. That kind of exploration of different places and different spiritualities based on the environment allows us to see more clearly who we are and where we are, and consciously make decisions as to why we are there and why we should be there. It stops us from being complacent. There's a dreadful complacency in modern society. Lilitu: Do you bring with you from the other traditions things that you still use? Emma: I think what the other traditions gave me, particularly Shinto, was a very clear understanding of honouring the ancestors. It certainly helped me, when I was studying Druidry, to understand more clearly the relevance, the need, to honour ancestry. In the

Japanese culture honouring ancestry very much means honouring your mother and father, and your grandparents, it doesn't mean honouring some ancestors lost in the romantic mists of time. That was important and that I took from Shinto, together with the stillness of Shinto and Zen, and the art of paradox. These I found within Druidry but my understanding was deepened by looking at the oriental traditions. Also the native traditions of central and north America allowed me to explore Druidry as more of a muddy tradition. Druidry is often conceived and explored intellectually through the writings, the texts, the myths and legends, poetry and stories of the middle ages. Instead of doing it entirely intellectually, it allowed me to come in on more of a muddy level and to find teachers who would take me through it on that level, exploring the edges of life and death, the rough edges. Druidry is often seen as a spirituality of the polished Holy Grail and the exquisite shining sword of Excalibur where, if you go back through that, it has elements of the rough old iron cauldron and uneven dagger which is far more earthy, rooted. It came from sitting around fire in my early teens in the forests of Central America with local guides singing and chanting to the gods, to the spirits of place. It allowed me, as I grew up, to search for that in my own culture. Lilitu: I think it's something that most people in Western cultures miss out on, and that is a sense of communing with spirit. I had it a little in my family as we used to sing together and so on and I certainly value that now when I look back. I often sit in a Pagan gathering and see people who are not used to doing that and who are scared to let go and open up, and sing and chant. Emma: It's interesting. I find that particularly in Britain and Ireland those who were brought up in Catholicism find it a lot easier to be a part of ritual because the incense and robes and beauty of the Latin mass is all far closer to ritual than Presbyterian or Anglican Church of England Christianity which is much more restrained. So yes, some people find it very hard who are brought up without spirituality or in a spirituality which is constrained and restrained. I look now at second generation Pagans, and I don't mean the second generation of the hippy Pagan era, but second generation of the very dedicated Pagans of the '80s and '90s who aren't doing it in a counterculture sense but very much in the heart of established culture. Their children are being brought up as Pagans with very clear ideas about consumerism and the sanctity of the land, animistic perspectives of spirit and understand of death and sexuality which aren't loaded with the taboos of Christian culture. These children are very confident and happy with themselves and free, yet at the same time entirely responsible and ever-conscious of recycling and how much they use and eat, and whether they take a care which will use petrol or walk. It's wonderful. It inspires a great optimism and positivity in my perspective of the future, seeing how these Pagan children are looking at the land, looking at the earth.

Lilitu: Do you think those changes that have happened in a small way in Pagan families will be important in the way we look at the earth in general, in looking at it in a more ecological way? Emma: I think it's absolutely critical, and I think it will make an extraordinary difference. When my son, who is now nine, almost ten, when he's out there working in the world in ten years' time, having been brought up in a culture of low consumerism, and high responsibility, personal responsibility, with an animistic, tolerant, polytheistic perspective; when he's out there working with his contemporaries we'll live in a different land, and when those people are 40 or 50 years old and running the governments of this world, it will be a very different place, I'm sure.