Emma Restall-Orr
Avalonia Author Interview

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The Interview
by Sorita
( January 2005: Bobcat indicates answers by Emma Restall Orr, Q indicates question posed by Sorita)

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Q: A couple of years ago you started a new Druid organisation called THE DRUID NETWORK (TDN). How did this happen and who can get involved?

Bobcat: In the early 1990s, I became joint chief of The British Druid Order (BDO) and worked for that organization with my co-chief Philip Shallcrass (Greywolf) for almost a decade. However, tidal flows were taking Greywolf and I in different directions, and through enormous heartache we went our separate ways a few years ago. For a while the BDO drifted, but there is a strong loyalty for that Order which Greywolf and I had built up with the magical energy of our partnership, and it is finding its feet once again.

One of the problems I had with running an Order was the inevitable issue of membership, of being in or out, so the organization I inaugurated at Imbolc 2002 was not an Order but an international network for the Druid / Pagan community. The point of the Druid Network (TDN) was to provide a resource for anyone interested in Druidry and we run the website for that reason, with project coordinators doing their own autonomous thing, running areas and pages that reflect their own interests and skills. We hope to support anyone who is keen to express their creativity and share teaching. There is information about events, courses, books, Druid groups (Orders, Groves, Gorseddau), a look at the media, the environment, politics, ethics, green living, and so on.

You can subscribe to the Network in order to use the secure database of other subscribers and their particular interests and skills, and in this way individuals in the community can freely share their experience and understanding of the tradition. We also have a number of forums for subscribers; because subscribers can’t remain anonymous, the forums are free from sour politics and bitchy critical energy. We encourage folk to take responsibility for the power of their own opinions.

Perhaps it is simply because I don’t like exclusivity or the ‘club’ mentality! The Network runs specifically to encourage individuals in their own spiritual journeys, without them needing to join anything at all, nor to use any particular label. If they do belong to an Order or a Grove, or they feel themselves to be Heathen or Wiccan, they can still be a part of the Network, taking and contributing in whatever way they wish.

We run it on wholly Pagan spiritual tenets, ensuring there is honourable communication and interaction in every aspect of what it does, not only in terms of relationships within the staff and with the community, but in our banking and printing and dealings with other organizations. There is celebration of the diversity of our Pagan community.

A long answer, so I’ll write no more.
Check out the website : http://www.druidnetwork.org

Q: What inspired you to take the name “Bobcat” ?

Bobcat: Weird, hey? I’ve always been a cat, and through most of my life I have worked magically with the panther of my childhood experiences in South America. But when I first came out of the darkness of my solitude (provoked mainly by becoming a mother) and started working with other people spiritually, the panther in me was not impressed at all. In fact, she was wholly unhelpful. It was the journey of magical initiations and teaching that drew me deeper into Druidry that allowed another cat to emerge within me, one that I’d always felt but had never seen objectively. This cat was slightly less antisocial, and helped me come out of my profoundly solitary life.

It was a beautiful young seer who named the cat, recognizing what kind of cat she was, saying the word first to me in Lakota and making my whole soul shudder with recognition. Because the name Emma has never sat with me comfortably, the name Bobcat stuck. As to who she is, the Bobcat : she is the side of me that just about manages the light of day.

Q: Awen, is considered an important part of Druid spirituality. What, in your opinion, is the best way to experience Awen?

Bobcat: The answer is : in sacred relationship. Awen, simply defined, is the experience of total consciousness of the life force upon the web that connects us, spirit to spirit. In other words, we are filled with the visceral experience of being (or being alive) as we touch and are touched by another being, being alive. How, then, do we wake ourselves to this experience, or provoke it?

To someone just beginning in the tradition, reaching to understand the concept of Awen, I would suggest that it is most easily found in moments when all the world disappears except the focus of one shared sensation : we can do it in the climax of pleasure when we make love in trust and truth, soul-naked. Yet to the Druid, that sharing is possible in other ways that aren’t necessarily sexual. A deep intimacy can be found with the rain, the darkness, the moon, an ancestor, star light, the mist, a river, the land itself, even the spirit of our tribe. It is in this profound relationship that we find natural honour; but also here that we find the exquisite divine inspiration that in Druidry we call Awen.

For some, it is experiential relationship and connection with a deity that provokes Awen, but to talk about that we’d need to consider all the different definitions of deity. If we stick with poetry, evading the complications of theology and metaphysics, being touched by a god or goddess is another sound way of feeling the Awen.

Q: There has been much discussion on the subject of whether Druidry can be considered Pagan or not, with some claiming that it has Christian roots due to the beliefs of some of the revivalists. Do you think that it can be considered as a purely Pagan path, or does it allow for other religious thought also?

Bobcat: There is Christianity hiding in all corners of modern Paganism, not just Druidry! However, it is true that most Druids are happy to accept the Non-conformist Christianity of the 18th and 19th century revivalists, while many other Pagans tend to duck the Christian in their history. Fully a part of its time, the Enlightenment monotheistic vision was a powerful influence on Druidry, and some in the tradition continue to be inspired by that vision. Others adapt it to embrace later psychology and psychotherapy, still acknowledging spirit and deity as a blend of metaphor and mystery.

I rather like the anarchic all-embracing diversity of modern Druidry, and happily share ceremony and feasting with folk who call themselves Christians within Druidry, just as I welcome the Wiccans, Heathens, humanists and psychotherapists. I don’t necessarily understand their vision, but I find it rewarding to discuss ideas, theologies and perspectives.

What holds it together is the invocation of the word – Druidry – which calls with honour to our ancestral religious and spiritual heritage. Beyond that, commonalities are debated. I would assert them to be these : reverence for the powers of nature, respect for the ancestors, and the love of learning that is the quest for the beautiful patterns of the multiverse! Our specific understanding or practical devotion to deity or deities are not what defines a Druid.

I myself am an animist polytheist. That may seem a long way from a Druid colleague who is also a Quaker, or from another a Protestant minister and a Druid. Yet, in many ways that is theologically and practicably no further than I am from another colleague who calls herself a Pagan Druid who honours (her vision of) Brighid, her craft shining with the Brighid’s sunfire, her life brilliant with the energy of light and community. Or another who honours any number of goddesses, believing them all to be faces of the one Goddess she calls Isis.

We all honour the sacred in nature and our ancestors, and we all quest the patterns of the web. Beyond that, we’re all different.

Q: Another tradition which is often linked to Druidry is Shamanism, with some people claiming that Druidry is a form of British Shamanism, is this a realistic view of Druidry?

Bobcat: It is another word that is understood by different people in different ways. If you understand Shamanism to be a spirituality that reveres nature, that acknowledges every part of nature to have its own spirit, or soul or consciousness, and that it is possible to communicate with those spirits (of tree, river, beetle, ancestor, valley and so on), then most Druids would acknowledge their tradition to be shamanic. Many would go further in understanding that it is possible to leave this shared reality and journey to parallel realities, other worlds of consciousness, in order to interact with spirits and/or gods.

By this definition (which seems to be one most commonly used), I would describe my own Druidry as shamanic. I would also say that Druidry as a whole, the mainstream of Druidry, is increasingly shamanic. People are becoming more interested and courageous in exploring spiritual paths of ecstasy and mud.

Q: One of the Wicca groups I run, is called Vitriol Grove, which has often lead people to believe that we are involved in Druidry. Why are Druid groups called “groves” and do you feel that it is appropriate for non-druid groups to use the term also?

Bobcat: When the Romans encountered Druidry some 2000 years ago, they related that Druids celebrated their religion in sacred groves. However, words mistranslated from the Latin, and assumptions made about the normal practice of Druids (as opposed to what they might be doing during a period of Roman conquest and persecution), imply that Druids always made their temples in forest groves. It is more likely that they celebrated with significantly more flexibility, crafting a temple where it was relevant and appropriate.

So has the word become attached to Druidry, and I heartily encourage folk to sever that stiffened thread. Let us all use language in ways that make most sense to us as individuals, enriching our spiritual vision and practice. If that provokes misunderstanding, then hopefully ensuing discussions will only waken minds.

Q: Your books have contributed and inspired to many more people wanting to find out more about Druidry. Who or what inspired your own interest in Druidry?

Bobcat: What inspired me? A childhood following my parents (my father an ornithologist, my mother a botanist), wandering through the wild places of this beautiful planet, sharing their wonder at nature’s extraordinary wealth, learning from nature’s brutality, and finding nature’s beauty even amidst the concrete mess of human construction. I was brought up with an understanding that nature was everything.

Beyond that, a genetic illness which I still cope with led me to quest understanding and motivation to stay alive. I read and read, exploring philosophy and spirituality, theology and poetry, seeking answers to the ancient questions. Yet, 20 years ago, there were no books on Druidry that inspired me at all. In my reading, my vision of Druidry came direct from Caesar and the Arthurian myths. And of course, Getafix, the Druid in the Asterix comics which were a staple of my childhood.

So, to precis the above : what inspired my Druidry in the beginning was my love of nature and Getafix. Since then, my inspiration has also come from colleagues in the community.

Q: Do you think that Druids and Wiccans have much in common?

Bobcat: Some Druids and some Wiccans have a good deal in common. Some have very little in common. And sometimes I feel I have not much in common with either of them! It sounds trite, but actually I believe these labels are wearing thin, and individuals are finding commonalities regardless.

Q: One of my friends had a huge crush on you, describing you as a beautiful fairy (so much so that he undertook a study of Druidry!). I have also heard people describe you as a modern day Morgan Le Fey, how do you feel about this kind of attention and has it ever lead to problems or humorous situations?

Bobcat: The Morgan le Fey issue has been with me for a very long time. People would say to me, “I’ve just read a book about you!” The book was Mists of Avalon and, when eventually I got to read it in the early 90s, I could see glimmers of myself but on the whole felt rather awkward about the whole notion. My principal goddess is darkness, I live a fairly solitary magical life, I work deeply with the sidhe, and I can be fierce when I feel ferocity is justified, but I am still human.

So yes, occasional problems, when people object to me being human, holding expectations they have crafted of their own image of who I am, expectations I can’t (or won’t) fulfil. And of course, rumours and spiteful chatter put around by folk who don’t like anyone they perceive threatens their own status. I’ve slept with more people than I know, according to gossip. In the winter of 96, I apparently moved in with Ronald Hutton for three long months (a fact that he and I only discovered sometime the following spring).

Q: You are known to be very environmentally conscious, how would you advise modern Pagans to get involved in looking after our resources and planet?

Bobcat: Primarily, the most powerful way that we can get involved is with every penny that we spend. We are given the vote every four years or so in terms of the politics of who runs our country, but almost every day of our lives we are voting for far more powerful authorities : the commercial giants who run the capitalist world within which we live.

It takes work, dedication and the willingness to change, but every journey starts with a step. I do all I can in my life to ensure that I never buy a thing from companies who I feel are unethical : Unilever, Procter and Gamble, SmithKline Beecham, Nestle, Cadbury, Tesco, Philip Morris, Gap, M&S, Walmart, and so on. I don’t buy American petrol, anything produced in Israel, anything from the animal industry, the legal or illegal drugs industry. I’m very careful about the dirtiest trades, buying only organic and fair trade: coffee, tea, chocolate, sugar, cotton, and so on. Shifting to a ‘green’ electricity supplier is important. Using an ethical bank, like the Co Op is another key change.

Secondly, I feel that dedicating a percentage of my annual income to give to charity is an important commitment. A proportion of this goes to planting trees to help with being ‘carbon neutral’. Because my own income is so low and erratic, I tend to do my accounts at the end of each month and see what I can give and who is in need that month, then at the end of the year, around Yule, working out the balance of the household income and make sure that more is given to those who need it.

Thirdly, clothes … buy second hand! It’s virtually the only ethical option if you want to wear anything other than hemp and natural dyes.

Fourthly, recycling …
I could go on.

Perhaps a good rule of thumb is to stop once a month, at your moon tide rite (full or new), and make a commitment to another change. For example, this month, give up unethical chocolate and only buy Green and Blacks, Kaoka and other organic/fair trade brands. Next month, buy no tins anymore. Step by step.

Q: The Druid Network has also organised a Tree Planting scheme, how can people get involved with this?

Bobcat: This is a project that is still in construction. It is easy enough to contribute, by sending the £5.50 and adding to the fund. We are currently in negotiation with several companies that are looking at schemes for planting trees in areas that need regeneration and resanctifying. We don’t feel it is important for the Network to own land, but it is essential and more useful to work with companies that do own land and are keen to have it crafted into beautiful sacred places that will then be protected.

Big news on this is about to break, so I won’t say more. Keep an eye on our website and especially on the Environment pages.

Q: What is the best way for someone to find out more about Druidry?

Bobcat: Spend 48 hours in the woods.

It’s a fast answer but true in terms of the ‘best’ way. However, there are other ways. The usual ways : Come to Druid camp, come on a Druid retreat, talk to folk in the tradition, read a few books, get involved with forums and discussion groups, check out who’s talking at conferences, challenge people, ask questions, listen.

Then spend 48 hours in the woods.

If you are serious, find a teacher who is serious, and will take you seriously. It’ll change your life completely, opening doors to extraordinary freedom, inner strength and creativity.

A good number of courses, workshops, camps, etc, are advertized on the website.

Q: Do you have a favourite song at the moment?

Bobcat: I have been listening to the Manic Street Preacher’s new album, Lifeblood, which I think is their best to date. My son has just picked up Robbie William’s Greatest Hits, and plays it on repeat, which can be a little wearing. My husband has just put together a CD of Iggy Pop and David Bowie tracks, which is wonderful. If I had to choose one song? : Iggy Pop’s ‘Some Weird Sin’.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

Bobcat: A few books. Arthur Schopenhaur : a German philosopher of the early nineteenth century. If you can clamber over his pessimism about human reality, he has beautiful ideas and is an exceptional writer. I’m also reading John Lydon’s book, Rotten : another crazy soul who I don’t think I would like if I met, but a man with vision and experience that has changed a great many people’s lives.

Q: Any exciting plans for 2005?

Bobcat: Two books are half written, but apart from that, I’m open to offers …

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Books by Emma Restall-Orr

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Thank you to Bobcat for granting this interview for Avalonia! We enjoyed every moment of it. For permission to reproduce this article please contact us first – (c)2005 Emma Restall Orr (Bobcat) & Avalonia.

For those of you wanting to find out more about Bobcat, her workshops and other events, together with information on THE DRUID NETWORK please visit their website: http://www.druidnetwork.org

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