GLASTONBURY, England — An announcement was made at the summer assembly of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids in earlier this month, regarding the selection of a new chosen chief. Eimear Burke, an Irish Druid, will be stepping into the role in 2020 after a two-year transition period, and she will be taking the order forward.In 2020 the current chief, Philip Carr-Gomm, will have been in the role for 32 years. He himself was selected by Ross Nichols, the founder of the order, and initiated on Glastonbury Tor 48 years ago. Carr-Gomm states on his blog, “I will be handing on the leadership of an organization that is flourishing, that doesn’t need changing or fixing, but just needs a steady hand on the tiller while at the same time allowing the order to grow and flourish in a new phase of its life.”
He goes on to say, “If you wait until the leader of a group dies, you create an unstable situation that has so often occurred in the history of spiritual groups. It can so easily initiate a ‘moment of peril’ that risks undermining much of the careful building work that has been done in previous decades. The responsible thing to do is to create a succession plan, and to let everyone know about it, so that the transition from one leader to the next is as smooth as possible. . . . Our vision is that Eimear will hold the position from seven to nine years, and then chose a successor, so that she can then join me as a past chosen chief who can advise the new title-holder.”
The announcement has been greeted positively overall by the members of OBOD. Carr-Gromm is held in considerable affection and high esteem by order members, one of whom remarked that he was pleased to hear that the outgoing chief will essentially be remaining on campus in an advisory capacity whilst stepping down as vice chancellor.
Eimear Burke is a professional psychologist, and with her late husband, Howard Campbell, founded the Kilkenny Druid Grove. She is also a member of the Fellowship of Isis, and has had experience of spiritual practices throughout the Western world and Africa: she is a guest lecturer on undergraduate and graduate courses in development studies in Dublin and Tanzania, and has studied with traditional practitioners of magic on the African continent.
The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids itself is a magical child of the 20th century. Born in 1902, Ross Nichols has a similar relation to Druidry as Gerald Gardner has to modern Wicca. The two men were friends, and exchanged perhaps more information and ideas than many Druids or Wiccans are aware of. An academic, historian and poet (he was a contemporary of Auden and Eliot), Nichols was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids, but founded his own order — the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids — in the 1960s, assisted by the writer and founder of the Tolkien Society, Vera Chapman. Today OBOD is the largest Druid order in the world, with over twenty thousand members in fifty countries.
Philip Carr-Gomm says of Nichols that “He was a teacher to me – not a guru. He didn’t try to be a guru, and later – when I followed one for a while – I realised the difference. Ross offered culture rather than charisma. My guru offered plenty of charisma, but precious little culture, and although charisma may be superficially more appealing, in the end it is the culture in a person that endures. . . . it is the gifts of their culture that become their contribution to the world that outlasts their mortal lives.”
Known as Nuin (the ogham word for the ash tree), Nichols remains a largely unknown poet. He died in 1975.
On the order’s official website it is stated that “Membership of the order is open to followers of all faiths and none, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ethnic origin. This statement reflects the values we consider central to our philosophy: of tolerance and inclusiveness that completely rejects expressions of racism, fascism and homophobia. OBOD is a community, a mystery school, that celebrates life in all its beauty and diversity, that seeks to protect and preserve the Earth, and that focuses on teaching Druid spirituality for the times we live in – emphasizing the virtues of compassion and respect for all of life.
“Although most members practise Druidry on their own, there are over 200 groups around the world that offer the opportunity for members to meet and celebrate together. In addition individual members and groups organise gatherings, retreats, camps, conferences and workshops.”
Finally, in his official announcement, Carr-Gromm states, “I still remain committed to the order, to being of as much help as I can, and I am going to carry on talking, writing and making a nuisance of myself at every possible occasion! The difference will be that we will have effected a hopefully smooth transition from one phase in the life of the order to the next, supporting the membership in the best possible way. ‘A blessing on our bards, sweet-tongued, heads afire with awen! A blessing on our ovates, their hearts open to the cry of the wind on the Tor, the deep pulse of the Earth of Avalon, the flowing waters of the red and white springs. A blessing on our Druids, bright as flames, solid as stone, joyful as the day is long. A blessing on all our lives and a blessing on the land.’”