Tomorrow is Peace One Day day. If you’ve not come across it, POD was established at the end of the last century by an actor and film-maker, Jeremy Gilley, who called for a day of peace, of ceasefire and non-violence. Just one, not much to ask, eh? In 2001 it was adopted by the UN and the one day of hopeful peace was set at the autumn equinox, September 21st.
I’ve marked POD over the years, but last week at the most excellent Druid 2013 conference in Wolverhampton, the whole issue of pacifism was brought to mind in an excellent talk by Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University. I want to relate a part of his talk, which was otherwise about the distinctions between Druidry and Wicca, as it showed another side to that faker, that forger, that laudanum addict… Iolo Morgannwg.
As Professor Hutton related it (and I accept his truth implicitly and apologise if I’ve misinterpreted it), the modern Druid heritage was reborn anew in the enlightenment era of the eighteenth century. It was a time of clubs and associations, some of which took the old name of Druid for their own. Crafted as an alternative to the authoritarian traditional religions, borrowing from the best parts of them, Henry Hurle created the Ancient Order of Druids, the AOD, in a pub in 1781. The ADO was perhaps the common folks Freemasonry, which had itself become a club for the rich in society. It was a fore-runner of interfaith, being open to adherents of any religion, and followed a similar style to Freemasonry, having a club, or group, or grove affiliation.
The AOD having become less radical, Iolo Morgannwg (or Edward Williams), a London stonemason who had a learned interest in Welsh Literature, replaced it with a new movement. Williams was a pacifist, opposed slavery, opposed cruelty to animals, fought for votes for all, and in a time during which the Napoleonic wars were in full swing he was persecuted. He left London for his home of Glamorgan where he held open air meetings. Those who attended the meetings were attacked for their radical views by mounted vigilantes wielding clubs and sabres, and scattered.
After the Napoleonic War was ended, Williams tried again and called his members together once more. Twenty people gathered, and met under the stare of cavalry with drawn swords. They were deliberately bare headed, offering no defense against attack, and were deliberately bare footed, showing they would not, could not, run away. In unison, they called out what is now the Druids Prayer. I’ve heard this, spoken it, many many times, but with this back-story it resonates so strongly with POD. This is it in its modern version.
Grant, Oh gods, your protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of the gods.
The cavalry rode away in shame and the Order remains to this day, and in part is parent to the pagan Druidry of the mid twentieth century. Modern Pagan Druidry follows a path(s) of relationship and service, and communion with deity(ies) through interaction with the natural world. It’s not always pacifist, but that heritage of pacifism is reflected in the non-violent protest that many Druids take part in.
I’m very happy to say that my life has for the most part been a peaceful one. If I’m not a true pacifist, I’ve at least never had to face the issue full on and decide whether to fight, to take another’s life. I have no idea if push came to shove what would happen. If I was faced with the trial, the very clear and present physical threat that Iolo and his group were faced with, I have no idea if I could have remained firm, neither to fight nor take flight. The Druid’s Prayer sits differently in my mind now.
Another incarnation of Druidry known as the Universal Bond and eventually the Ancient Druid Order (ADO; note the shuffled letters), based upon trades unionism, socialism and the magical heritage of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, came into being in the late 1800 and early 1900’s. Headed by George MacGregor Reid it too stood for pacifism and ‘universal bonding’. They welcomed membership from Buddhists and Muslims. Faiths seen as opposing mainsteam Christianity. Reid sent out thirteen Druids to stand with a tribe of non-violent Muslims called the Senussi, who were facing obliteration in Libya from Italian troops.
The Senussi had been corralled out of north Africa by the imperialist oppression of the British and French colonial governments until, surrounded by Italian machine guns and rifles, they were gunned down. The Druids who stood with them, died with them. Again, would I be able to stand in the face of such an onslaught. I frankly doubt it. Interestingly, one of the Members of the Golden Dawn and Universal Bond was one Charles Rosher…
These are the folk who birthed modern Druidry. So as we mark Peace One Day, I will raise a glass on Selsley Common tomorrow in grove with other Druids. There is not peace, in the east, west, north or south. But there may yet be, one day. May the gods that be, agree. And in the meantime, there is always PODcasting!