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Among The Druids On Primrose Hill

June 23, 2014
by the gentle author

In the grove of sacred hawthorn

At Midsummer, Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the celebrants of the Loose Association of Druids on Primrose Hill for the solstice festival hosted by Jay the Tailor, Druid of Wormwood Scrubs. As the most prominent geological feature in the Lower Thames Valley, it seems likely that this elevated site has been a location for rituals since before history began.

Yet this particular event owes its origin to Edward Williams, a monumental mason and poet better known by his bardic name Iolo Morganwg, who founded the Gorsedd community of Welsh bards here on Primrose Hill in June 1792. He claimed he was reviving an ancient rite, citing John Tollund who in 1716 summoned the surviving druids by trumpet to come together and form a Universal Bond.

Consequently, the Druids began their observance this year by gathering to honour their predecessor at Morganwg’s memorial plaque on the viewing platform at the top of the hill, where they corralled bewildered tourists and passing dog walkers into a circle to recite his Gorsedd prayer in an English translation. From here, the Druids processed to the deep shade of the nearby sacred grove of hawthorn where biscuits and soft drinks were laid upon a tablecloth with a bunch of wild flowers and some curious wooden utensils.

Following at Jay the Tailor’s shoulder as we strode across the long grass, I could not resist asking about the origin of his staff of hawthorn intertwined with ivy. “It was before I became a Druid, when I was losing my Christian faith,” he confessed to me, “I was attending a County Fair and a stick maker who had Second Sight offered to make it for me for fifteen pounds.” Before I could ask more, we arrived in the grove and it was time to get the ritual organised. Everyone was as polite and good humoured as at a Sunday school picnic.

A photocopied order of service was distributed, we formed a circle, and it was necessary to select a Modron to stand in the west, a Mabon to stand in the north, a Thurifer to stand in the east and a Celebrant to stand in the South. Once we all had practised chanting our Greek vowels while processing clockwise, Jay the Tailor rapped his staff firmly on the ground and we were off. A narrow wooden branch – known as the knife that cannot cut – was passed around and we each introduced ourselves.

In spite of the apparent exoticism of the event and the groups of passersby stopping in their tracks to gaze in disbelief, there was a certain innocent familiarity about the proceedings – which celebrated nature, the changing season and the spirit of the place. In the era of the French and the American Revolutions, Iolo Morganwr declared Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association. Notions that retain strong resonance to this day.

Once the ritual wound up, we had exchanged kisses of peace Druid-style and everyone ate a biscuit with a gulp of apple juice, I was able to ask Jay the Tailor more questions.“I lost my Christian faith because I studied Theology and I found it difficult to believe Jesus was anything other than a human being, even though I do feel he was a very important guide and I had a personal experience of Jesus when I met Him on the steps of Oxford Town Hall,” he admitted, leaving me searching for a response.

“When I was fourteen, I went up Cader Idris at Midsummer and spent all night and the next day there, and the next night I had a vision of Our Lady of Mists & Sheep,” he continued helpfully,“but that just added to my confusion.” I nodded sagely in response.“I came to Druids through geometry, through studying the heavens and recognising there is an order of things,” he explained to me, “mainly because I am a tailor and a pattern cutter, so I understand sacred geometry.” By now, the other Druids were packing up, disposing of the litter from the picnic in the park bins and heading eagerly towards the pub. It had been a intriguing afternoon upon Primrose Hill.

“Do not tell the priest of our plight for he would call it a sin, but we have been out in the woods all night, a-conjuring the Summer in!” – Rudyard Kipling

Sun worshippers on Primrose Hill

Memorial to Iolo Morganwg who initiated the ritual on Primrose Hill in 1792

Peter Barker, Thurifer – “I felt I was a pagan for many years. I always liked gods and goddesses, and the annual festivals are part of my life and you meet a lot of good people.”

Maureen – “I’m a Druid, a member of O.B.O.D. (the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids), and I’ve done all three grades”

Sarah Louise Smith – “I’m training to be a druid with O.B.O.D. at present”

Simeon Posner, Astrologer – “It helps my soul to mature, seeing the life cycle and participating in it”

John Leopold – “I have pagan inclinations”

Jay the Tailor, Druid of Wormwood Scrubs

Iolo Morgamwg (Edward Williams) Poet & Monumental Mason, 1747-1826

Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien

The next Pagan ritual on Primrose Hill will be held at Lammastide, 1pm on Sunday 10th August – more information from the Loose Order of Druids

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. jeannette permalink
    June 23, 2014

    oh!!!! you’re killing me!!!! gods bless us, every one.

  2. June 23, 2014

    In times of filthy capitalism, one should turn to the true realities as there are those of the Druid’s rituals!

    Love & Peace

  3. Rupert Neil Bumfrey (@rupertbu) permalink
    June 23, 2014

    This novel: has a good fictional celebration of Summer Solstice from earlier times and a more southerly London location 🙂

  4. Milo Bell permalink
    June 23, 2014

    As a matter of interest what sort of biscuit did you get with your gulp of apple juice?
    Was it a Hobnob?

  5. June 23, 2014

    Just wonderful to think this is going on in the metropolis. Here in East Sussex there is much pagan activity afoot too. A plaque has recently been placed on the block of flats in Brighton where Doreen Valiente, a published and much respected witch lived.
    Your excellent and respectful text reminded me of Leonora Carrington’s, The Hearing Trumpet, also awash with sentences that could never be predicted and gentle humour. Total joy, I couldn’t want for more! Thank you and Colin.

  6. June 23, 2014

    Beautiful, Peace to you all.

  7. Greg Tingey permalink
    June 24, 2014

    I suppose theyr’e harmless.
    But you never know, with religion

  8. June 25, 2014

    It’s a joy to read about a group of people who are continuing the Druidic tradition amid the noise and haste of modern London. Merry Midsummer to you all!

  9. Sarah Louise Smith permalink
    June 27, 2014

    The biscuits were of vegan origins, but nevertheless tasted very buttery. Yum yum.
    Druism is not a religion. It is a way of life based on respect for Nature.

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