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SYDNEY — Australian eclectic Druid group Druids Down Under is set to host its first national event in the Pennant Hills this weekend. The gathering will include workshops, musical performances, meditation, creative spaces and nature walks, with organisers expecting around 60 participants from a range of established traditions such as Ár nDraíocht Féin, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and the British Druid Order, as well as eclectic and solitary practitioners.

Organiser and eclectic Druid Julie Brett hopes the gathering will be significant and uniquely Australian. “It focuses on what it means to follow the path of Druidry in the Australian landscape specifically,” Brett says. “This is the first time that we have met in large numbers from around the country in person. Up until now it has been an online community.”

Brett, who has run the DDU Facebook group since 2007, is anticipating most attendees will be more experienced practitioners. She gave two reasons for this. “One is the desire to meet the community face to face after knowing each other online only for a long time, and the other is that [Druids] are looking for a better understanding of Australia-specific Paganism . . . .This tends to come after learning the basics: when people first come to Druidry and perhaps Paganism more generally, they will most often learn the traditional, Northern Hemisphere way first. It is often later in people’s learning that they become aware of the need for Australia-specific practices, for example, understanding how the bushfire energy might be a part of the wheel of the year, or wondering about the elemental associations of native animals.”

One of these experienced practitioners is author Alexandra Tanet, who has been appreciating reconnecting with the wider Druid community.

“After ‘hermit-ing’ away from Druid gatherings for quite a few years while I was raising my young children, I now really enjoy embracing opportunities such as this,” says Tanet, an OBOD member who is looking forward to an immersive weekend with a wide range of people who have similar interests.

“I’m curious to see how folk from a mixture of Druidry traditions and different Pagan backgrounds get along together – I’m hoping for some fascinating conversations which stretch my ways of thinking.”

Elkie White, a member of OBOD’s Melbourne Grove, sees the DDUNG as the next step forward for Australian Druidry.

“OBOD members have been running Southern Hemisphere assemblies since 1997. They are now well established, and there is every reason to believe that they will continue to grow and develop in the years ahead,” White says. “What the DDUNG does is provide the opportunity for Druids of all persuasions to come together and celebrate what it means to be a Druid in Australia.”

Shaz Cairns, who serves as Asia-Pacific regional Druid and deputy regional Druid for ADF, is also looking forward to connecting with other Druid traditions over the weekend. “I do think these types of gatherings are important for sharing of knowledge and getting to know people from other paths so we all have some common ground,” she says. “The more we are able to come together, the greater we are able to represent ourselves to the wider community.”

When asked whether the recent allegations of sexual abuse against ADF founder Isaac Bonewits affected her decision to attend the DDUNG, Cairns said that “given that I am representing ADF [the accusations have] strengthened my intention to attend. I am hoping that just as we have been able to move forward after other serious incidents of this nature that we are able to support those affected and continue to provide safe spaces for all.”

“ADF is bigger and more important than any single individual, even a founder,” White agrees. “We can learn and grow from this.”

Brett said that there were no plans for facilitating formal discussions at the DDUNG around Bonewits or the issues raised from the accusations in the wider community. “Isaac Bonewits has never been involved with Druids Down Under aside from being associated with ADF, to which some of our members belong, but there is no formal relationship between the two groups.”

“I don’t follow Isaac’s flavour of modern Druidry,” says Tanet. “This didn’t have a big impact on me. It seems that the accusations are only allegations, not court-determined evidence. I’m not judge and jury – how can I make a decision about his supposed guilt based on the limited information that I have? There are other people who vouch for his good character, which seem to counterbalance the allegations, so the allegations have had no influence on my decision to attend this event.”

The gathering will take place over three days, with workshops offered on the awen, singing, connecting with the land, indigenous storytelling, deep listening and more. There will also be a musical performance on Saturday night, with special concert-only tickets available for those not attending the rest of the gathering.

“We suffer from the tyranny of distance in this land,” says Spiral Dance front woman Adrienne Piggott.  “So many new connections and friendships will be formed over the DDUNG weekend.” The band will be playing on the Saturday night alongside South Australian bard KC Guy.

Some Australian Pagans consider Spiral Dance as more than just a band; Piggott agrees. “It is a living, breathing energy that I and the other members are very lucky to be a part of. I’ve always felt that we have a service to community, so [performing with Spiral Dance] is a way of bringing community together, creating events to ensure people on the Pagan path can come together in a safe and happy place, to dance and sing along to the songs and music. To connect with like-minded folk and hopefully to inspire others as well.

“How could we not play at a gathering of Druids when so many of the songs are inspired by this path?  It will be an honour to do this, and we love a good, rowdy Druid crowd!”

The event is supported by both Gliding Seal Events and the Pagan Awareness Network. Mark Hepworth from GSE has been mentoring Brett as she makes the transition to organising large-scale events such as this. “Gliding Seal Events is in reality a Pagan-based events company,” he says. “I wanted to make a company that would allow all sorts of Pagan events to be run . . . .  by more people than just me.”

PAN president David Garland emphasised the appreciation the organisation has for new events such as the DDUNG. “It is an event that we believe Sydney, and Australia, needs. Supporting the younger members of the community to run events and support the community in my opinion grows the community through networking opportunities. PAN Inc is happy to look at any proposals for events or gatherings that would benefit the community.”

Attendees will be travelling to the gathering from across Australia this week. All parties interviewed expressed excitement over connecting with old networks and new.

“Personally I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones,” White says. “It’s impossible to have too many like-minded friends: people who ‘get you’ and to whom you don’t need to constantly explain yourself. I’m hoping to find more such friends at the DDUNG.”