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Following an official announcement last February, Druid College UK has opened its doors, quickly filling up all slots for its first year of study. This is a British sister school to the Druid College in Maine, and will be following the same underlying philosophy, as described by co-founder Joanna van der Hoeven in her personal blog:
There are many Druid Orders and other pagan and earth-based organizations that offer solid training within their respective traditions. The Druid College is for those who wish to journey further. We wish to work with those who want to be ‘carriers’ of Nature-based spirituality –- as compared to ‘followers’. We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.
To understand what this might mean for practicing and erstwhile Druids in the United Kingdom, The Wild Hunt asked van der Hoeven to expand on the details of this project.The Wild Hunt: How long has the UK branch been in the works? What did it take to get it started?
Joanna van der Hoeven: I’ve been in discussion with my colleague from America, Kevin Emmons about Druid College UK since the summer of 2014, talking on how we can create a sister college here in the United Kingdom. I had been in contact with Kevin for a few years now, finding in him a kindred spirit on the path of Druidry and he spoke to me of his vision for the expansion of Druid College. I was honoured that he thought of me for beginning something on this side of the pond, and it’s taken off with great success.
Kevin and I discussed the subjects and the programme, and we simply went with what he had already established, as it is a great programme to begin with. Our teaching methods will be slightly different, obviously, because we are different people and we have different tutors.
My co-tutor here in the UK, Robin Herne, has a skill set that I do not possess, and vice versa, so we complement each other very well. Robin is Course Leader in the Religion and Ethics Modular Degree Pathway at University Campus Suffolk, West Suffolk College, and has taught for many years as well as being a professional storyteller. His experience is invaluable to Druid College in so many ways.
We also have external tutors coming in to offer various workshops — this weekend we had local forager David Slate coming in to give us a foraging workshop in the beautiful venue setting, rich with diversity in its water meadows and river’s edge.
TWH: It looks like you run a tight ship on both sides of the pond, with three people in the USA and two in the UK. How many students do you think you can handle at one time? How many do you have registered?
JvdH: We currently have 13 students this year on our Year 1 programme, which is a nice number. Our current venue will not allow much more than that at one time, and as it is a student/apprentice programme, any more people joining would require more tutors in order to be able to offer them the time and teaching required in between the four weekends that we gather for study and discussion.
TWH: Are there differences in the program offered at the two schools? Could you describe what’s different, and explain why?
JvdH: We follow the same curriculum, so for instance in Year 1 we are both teaching: Core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies.”
The method in which this is delivered is pretty similar, with a combination of lectures and discussion, as well as incorporating ritual into the weekends. Our ritual for the beginning of Year 1 follows the same intention, though the “delivery” of it will, of course change depending upon certain variables such as venue, space, physical ability of participants, etc. Year 1 focuses on re-weaving our broken connection to the land, and also offers a basic foundation in the principles of Druidry.
Some of our students are members of various Druid orders, some have had no experience of Druidry and so we’re getting everyone on the same page with the basic concepts. At the moment, Druid College USA uses the four elements as guides for teaching on the weekends, while we use the concepts of Land, Sea and Sky with Sacred Fire at the centre. Similar outcome with a slightly different approach.
TWH: What does the Druid College UK provide that a student can’t get anywhere else at any price?
JvdH: I think this question is difficult to answer, because there are people and organisations teaching Druidry at all levels, both in offering guidance and in varying price ranges. At Druid College we provide physical teaching, as opposed to a correspondence course, with interactive weekends four times a year, plus a fifth weekend that comprises ritual and celebration at the end of Year 1. Druid College is both informative and experiential, and so you will be able to learn and try out what you have learned with others on the course in a guided setting.
Our intention with the three-year programme is to take people on a journey toward becoming a priest of nature, and this is perhaps what makes us different from other learning opportunities about Druidry. It is learning Druidry and then taking that next big step toward living a life in service. It is for those who want to do more, who feel called or who feel a deep responsibility toward this planet, promoting sacred relationship using whatever skills they have and all that they have learned and will continue to learn.
Second and third year students will receive specific guidance and teaching on how to be a Druid Priest, how to work in the modern world as one and what it means to live a life in service. They will learn essential skills for their work in a real “hands-on” approach, rather than just through book-learning. It is more akin to an apprenticeship, and so in Years 2 and 3 students will be able not only to receive teaching, but also opportunities to shadow us in our work for the community as Druid Priests to further inform their own path to living in service.
Declaring one’s “chair” seems central to the program. Can you elaborate on what’s involved?
It is finding your place, both in the environment and in the community, and living a life in service, awake and integrated, fully realising that we are a part of the whole, of the natural world. It is using your skill sets and personal experience, combined with Druid teachings and a deep love, reverence and respect for nature, enabling one to work full integrated in the world, to be able to give back and enabling others to do the same. It is about inspiring relationship, being inspired by the world and inspiring in return a love and responsibility for this planet. Awake and aware to our soul truths, riding the currents of energy through the tides and times of the cycles of nature, the natural result leads us into a life in service to the environment, the community, the gods and the ancestors.
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Applications for the first year closed September 27, and this past weekend the students gathered as a group for the first time. For those who are disappointed that they missed out, the wheel of the year turns quickly: applications for this term were opened last February, so the time to sign up for next year should be only a few months away.
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