I am standing in a field holding the northern gateway in a ceremony. Due to recent relentless rain, the centre of the circle is marked by a pool of water. Wind blows into my face and low December sun blinds my eyes. It is December 20, 2015 at the OBOD ritual of Alban Arthan. The Mabon has been reborn and progresses around a circle of some forty people bearing her lantern of hope. She allows every individual to light a candle from her flame. The small lights blow out quickly but nevertheless the sun has been reborn.
So far, it’s predictable. Variations of this would have been enacted throughout Britain and in all countries where Druidry is practiced, in groves and gardens, in stone circle, and even in sitting rooms.But this ritual was taking place near Chester, in the field where dedicated individuals have maintained a camp to prevent iGas from carrying out an exploratory drilling aimed at fracking the area for shale gas. The pool of the water at the centre of the ritual marked the point where the drill would penetrate the earth if the testing went forward.
Paul Beer, a member of Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and one of the founding members of the Frack Free Dee Coalition, is a untiring supporter of the camp. Beer organised this ritual to add to the magical protection surrounding the camp. But also, in line with a point that he makes in a recent Touchstone article, Beer wanted, as a Druid, to be visible and to be seen as active in expressing his spirituality in support of the struggle to prevent this technology from being used here.
To support the cause, some of us who are part of The Warriors’ Call had come from across Britain to stand and be counted in the fight against unconventional gas extraction. There were also many people present in that circle who were not members of OBOD and who did not identify as Pagan. They were there simply to express solidarity with the protection camp. And that particular opportunity would not have existed without the ritual.
As Druids we claim to love the land and many of us relate to deities we find in the landscape. We gain insight from the woods and ancient monuments of Albion, or our local environment. Surely then, we should make our presence visible when the integrity of our environment is threatened? Why is the Druid and Pagan voice so muffled? We say the Druid prayer, and ask for the knowledge and love of justice. Climate change and other environmental threats are creating and founded upon injustice. What are we doing about it? What are you doing?
This was the concern voiced by Jonathan Woolley recently in an account of his attendance as a researcher at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris. Describing the visibility of Christians, Muslims and other faith groups in the civil-society focused “Green Zone,” Woolley recounts how he tried to find other Pagan activists in the Green Zone but could not.
— Jonathan Woolley (@aboymadeofsky) December 9, 2015
This was also my experience when I attended the Climate Change Lobby of Parliament at Westminster in August 2015. CAFOD and other Christian organisations were very evident, but there was no Pagan presence. Woolley summarises, “Our [Pagan] organisations have shown a puzzling lack of initiative; failing to capitalise upon the almost unique relevance of our philosophies to climate change.”
Returning to the Winter Solstice ritual at Upton, as the Mabon lit the lights and before the Oak and Mistletoe bearers spoke, I walked around the circle giving everyone a button badge bearing the Warrior’s Call protective sigil. I explained its function, asking people to meditate on it when they re-lit their candles at home. One individual is weak but together, acting in the world, we can be strong.
In his article on the OBOD website titled “Done fracking,” Beer wrote, “Being Pagan or Druid should not be about what you do in retreat or hidden away from the world. It should be about what you do in the world.” As one of the founders of The Warrior’s Call and one who took part in what Philip Carr-Gomm called “The Biggest Magical Operation on Earth” (the 2013 public ritual to protect Albion against fracking in Glastonbury), I need no convincing of this. While some might argue that it is our role to throw pure spiritual and magical intent secretly into the mix as Dion Fortune did in the Magical Battle of Britain, I would argue, as did Woolley, that this is not enough. As Druids we are in a unique position to show moral leadership in the struggle to protect the environment and slow down Global Warming.
When speaking of my resolution to stand up and be counted with a non-Pagan friend, he retorted, “Who’s counting?” For one, the people of Upton are counting. The Solstice Ritual was reported in the local press. Secondly, iGas is counting. Though eviction has been imminent since Dec. 4 2015, the camp remained in its field surrounded by venerable oak trees through Jan. 8.Then, on Jan. 12 the camp was evicted by bailiffs with some three hundred police from Cheshire, Manchester and Wales Constabularies in attendance. But four days later, on Jan. 16, hundreds of people, including Druids following The Warrior’s Call, attended the J16 Solidarity Day at Upton. A rally was held outside the ruined camp to reassert community opposition to fracking at Upton and everywhere.
To paraphrase the words that we often use to close our rituals: The camp has gone from the apparent world, but our memories retain what our eyes and our ears have gained. The fight goes on; Pagan participation goes on. And, I, for one, feel that Druid and general Pagan involvement should become more visible in all areas where our lands are threatened.
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This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.