Doing Better

“Doing better” is a phrase I have been using a lot recently. Over the last few months and years, it has become increasingly important to me to understand how Druidry works in terms of our relationship with Indigenous traditions. As an Australian Druid this means learning about Aboriginal culture and the expectations there are for us as people on stolen, unceded land to act with respect at take time to find out more about the first nations cultures of the lands that we call home. This is a long learning journey for non-Aboriginal Australians and it will take time and effort for us to come to a position where we are really doing right by Aboriginal people. There’s a lot to learn and to unlearn but in the process. I know I make mistakes and stumble along as I learn to do better, but if we keep that as the goal – to always be trying to do better, we will make a difference.

Since I returned from the UK in 2008 I have made learning about Aboriginal culture an important part of how I approach Australian Druidry. I included a small chapter of my book Australian Druidry about honouring Indigenous wisdom. I did not go into a great amount of detail about this at the time for a couple of reasons – for one, I think we should be learning from Aboriginal people about this subject, and two, I was really only at the beginning of my journey of learning and still needed a great deal of guidance myself.

Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I recognise many people in Druidry can be Aboriginal or have Aboriginal heritage. I have met many who either identify as Aboriginal or who are interested in finding out more about a lost part of their Aboriginal family heritage, often through the trials of the stolen generations. I don’t want to erase your experience from Druidry by speaking from my own non-Aboriginal perspective. I see you. But I also know that the majority of Druids in Australia are non-Aboriginal and have a lot to learn about Aboriginal culture, and here I am mainly speaking to that perspective.

In the book chapter I covered fairly minimal ground and I made some mistakes that would seem glaringly obvious to me now. I suggested we include an acknowledgement or welcome to country in our rituals, but I didn’t explain the difference between these two terms. A “welcome to country”, can only be given by a Traditional Owner of the country we are on, whereas an “Acknowledgement of Country” can be given by anyone. I also suggested we include this part of the ritual during the welcome to the ancestors of the land. I now understand the importance of making it the very first art of the ritual, before anything else is said. This is an example of what we say in our gatherings in Katoomba now:

“We stand today on Dharug and Gundungarra land. Land that was never ceded. We acknowledge the Dharug and Gundungarra people as the traditional owners of the land and recognise their deep and abiding connection to the land, the waters and the skies; to the plants, animals, landforms, sacred sites and seasons. We acknowledge the sadness and suffering that has occurred here and express our sincere hope for reconciliation, for healing, and for the continued strength of the Dharug and Gundungarra people. We ay our resects to the Elders past and present, and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.”

In the last few years, it has become common practice in most Druidry circles in Australia to include an acknowledgment of country like this at the beginning of our rituals. Know the name of the country you are on. Make giving an acknowledgement of Country a priority in your rituals, and we will all be doing a bit better. If you are interested in learning more about the difference between an Acknowledgement of Country and a Welcome to Country, or would like to find out how to contact a Traditional Owner to perform a Welcome to Country for your community event, the following link provides good information:

Taking time to learn about our local Indigenous community and how we can give a heartfelt acknowledgement of country in our rituals is of course just one way that we can do better. To learn more, I encourage you to learn about the history and community where you live. One of the best ways to do this is to support your local land council or Aboriginal community centre and the events that they put on to help the wider community learn about Aboriginal culture. Turn up. Listen for what is important to them and through that, learn about the places, people and history, the pain and suffering in battles or loss of connection to land, the families of the area and their stories, the strength of culture to continue and survive, and how we can all continue to try to do better with this every day.

Water for Stonehenge

As I walked towards Stonehenge this time, I held in my hand something unassuming, but very special to me because of its meaning and where it had come from. A small bottle of water. It was cool in my warm hand, as I walked up the path, surrounded by many other tourists, with my son holding my other hand and my husband walking behind us. We had gotten off the plane from Sydney via Bangkok mere hours earlier and were quite tired from the jet lag, but simultaneously really happy to be there. My son was excited as there was a kids TV show that he had seen it on, and he also loves to look at museums. My husband had never been and was quite surprised at how big it was. For me, it was about returning to fullfil a promise.

stonehenge julie 18The last time I’d set foot near this incredible site, I was there for a winter solstice Gorsedd gathering that my teacher Morgan Rhys Adams had invited me to. There had been about a hundred people in attendance. I had only started learning about Druidry with Morgan that year and it had really captured my heart. I had learned so much after months of working with some core concepts, and was feeling ready to return to Australia with that knowledge to begin my project of understanding the Australian landscape better.

The Gorsedd gathering involved recognition of the season, a play acting out a part of the story of Arthur, an initiation of Bards which I was able to receive, and an eisteddfod of other performances. In that space I decided to state my intention to take what I’d learned back to Australia. So, in front of that big group of people I expressed my deep gratitude to Druidry and to that community for what I’d learned there, and I made a promise to take what I’d learned to Australia and explore how it could help us there. It was that promise I felt I was returning with fulfilled.

The water in my hand wasn’t just any old water. It was water that had played an ddung altarimportant role at the first Druids Down Under National Gathering, held in March this year in Sydney. People practicing Druidry through many different pathways came together to celebrate what it means to us to walk this path in our Australian context. We symbolised this in our ritual practice over the weekend. A significant part of the ritual was the waters of the cauldron. Each of us was asked to bring a small bottle of water from our own land – either the tap water we drink that is a part of who we are physically, or water from a sacred natural place for us. In ritual we each added into the cauldron the waters of our land representing our coming together from so many different places. During the main ritual we blessed the water with our invocations and welcomes to the ancestors, the nature spirits, and the shining ones, we danced and sang our Awen, chanting and toning harmonies together to bring a blessing to our offerings. The water was later put into many small bottles for us to take home again as a symbol of our community. This was the water I held in my hand.

water stonehenge 18

I walked around the pathway and found a nice spot on the grass to sit for a while, remembering that promise made in the stones ten years ago; remembering returning to Australia and starting to find others, discussing Druidry and how it could be adapted for Australia, developing an Australian wheel of the year, and learning about Australian plant and animal symbolism, as well as exploring the concepts of elements, local spirits and sacred sites in our antipodean context; I remembered the many discussions online and in person with so many inspiring people who worked together to create a vision for what our community could be and worked towards creating it; remembering all the connections made that led to our first national gathering; and remembering the wonderful experience of the gathering itself, that was the product of the efforts of so many individuals in the community, giving with generosity and joy. My heart felt so full sitting there on the grass, clutching this little bottle of water and looking at these ancient stones.

I poured some into my hand, and placed my hand on the soft grass, dotted with daisies. I breathed in the place and felt a sense of completion, encouraged to keep going, and to just be filled with the joy of it all. Feeling that the promise had come full circle. I’d returned and had done what I’d set out to do. I wondered if there would be a next task, but all I felt was joy and a contentedness to simply continue. I have so much gratitude for this journey. For those who helped me in England, to the sacred sites and the ancestors, and to everyone who has been a part of the journey in Australia. What a wonderful thing we have created together. I felt as though you were all with me there in the symbol of that water bottle. We are here. Australian Druidry is a wonderful community of people and I am so proud to have played a part in helping us come together.