One hundred years ago, come Monday night, Britain joined the dance of chaos that was sweeping across the lands. As, on my computer screen, I view third hand and yet freshly made images of terror and destruction, of mutilated people and broken cities, I wonder that I am so unscathed and wonder too how “the war that will end war” fell so short even of that promise. Someone’s just dropped another detailed and gory photograph of a bomb-dismembered child onto my Facebook feed and that’s about enough for one day.
As, one century on we remember that night, I shall be joining other members of my local community tomorrow in a vigil; a contemplation of war, of our entry into World War I. I’ve been asked to read a poem by Wilfred Owen, and I’m putting those words here.
1914 – A poem by Wilfred Owen
War broke: and now the Winter of the world
With perishing great darkness closes in.
The foul tornado, centred at Berlin,
Is over all the width of Europe whirled,
Rending the sails of progress. Rent or furled
Are all Art’s ensigns. Verse wails. Now begin
Famines of thought and feeling. Love’s wine’s thin.
The grain of human Autumn rots, down-hurled.
For after Spring had bloomed in early Greece,
And Summer blazed her glory out with Rome,
An Autumn softly fell, a harvest home,
A slow grand age, and rich with all increase.
But now, for us, wild Winter, and the need
Of sowings for new Spring, and blood for seed.
Earlier in the year, on 5th July, a circle of Druids met at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, in Staffordshire. Members of OBOD, BDO, TDN and other Orders and Groups came together in ritual under blue skies around a grove of silver birch, planted with a Dresden oak at its centre, surrounded starkly by pieces of masonry taken from blitzed and bombed cities across Europe and beyond. We stood and talked and sang and called to the gods in memory of those ancestors who lived in times we can barely credit – but then again, times that are being lived today, right now, by some.
Not all Druids are pacifist, myself included. I have been too safely taken through this world to know if I would fight or take flight, or simply die, if push came to shove and then to shoot. Only those who face utter humiliation and destruction know for sure if they choose peace over all things. But we try…
We swear, by peace and love, to stand. Heart to heart, and hand in hand. Mark, oh Spirits, and hear us know. Confirming this, our sacred vow.
Simple lines. I wonder how they would sound in the face of a Palestinian rocket, or an Israeli tank barrage… Were they chanted out in the Libyan desert as members of the Universal Bond and the Golden Dawn stood in solidarity with the peaceful Senussi Order of Islam against the overwhelming might of the conquering Italians? May there be peace in the east. And the west, north and south, above and below, and in all the worlds. But mostly, right now, how about simply not killing everyone? How about a cease fire that lasts longer than lunchtime? Let’s not shoot down any passenger planes today. Or tomorrow. The day after is too far into the future to believe in, but how about just for now?
The Druids of ancient legend were said to walk through the battles, separating those in conflict, bringing peace? How do we do this, now, today? Is it enough to post supportive memes onto social media sites? Is willpower, incantation and intention sufficient? It seems not, because war continues. Shall we march, and declare not in my name? Shall we write to our government and our MPs and shout out we do not condone you selling arms to either side? All of the above?
Warfare is first done by disassociating the other from ourselves. As often nowadays it is a separation of us and the planet; our needs coming before those of the place we exist with, as if the loss of the latter is of no consequence. But right now, in more than one land, two tribes battle over a sliver of land that both hold title to. There is no separation. Until we accept, fully and wakefully, that we are all one, we all lose. May there be peace. May the gods that be, agree.