Not just a midsummer night's dream: Chris Salewicz discovers that modern Druids find much more in their beliefs than strange costumes and summer gatherings at Stonehenge

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THIS is an important week for Druids. At ancient sites throughout Britain they are celebrating the Summer Solstice until Midsummer Day on Thursday. The cowled figures worshipping at Stonehenge are as seasonal as the first swallow.

These white-robed disciples convey an image of cranky followers of a pagan faith, whose behaviour falls somewhere between the eccentric and the farcical. But it does not always involve looking like the hermit image from a Tarot pack.

For Adele Nozedar, the fact that Druidry can be so readily integrated into daily existence is part of its contemporary relevance. 'Druidry is extremely user-friendly. Unlike most other religions, it's quite specifically non-dogmatic. You try and carry your philosophy through in your life: just a decent way of behaving with your fellow man, which is not too different from most other philosophies or religions,' says Ms Nozedar, managing director of Rhythm King Records.

She was brought up as a Roman Catholic, but found herself being drawn to Druidry in what seemed an inescapable way. 'I had had enough of pontificating about spiritual matters. And I must say, Druidry is entirely guilt-free.'

Do her friends think she's crazy? 'They don't seem to think I'm mad at all. In fact, they react with great interest - particularly when I tell them I'm having a Druid wedding in August. But I think that anyone who's going to be part of an alternative philosophy has to be prepared to explain themselves.'

Ms Nozedar's views of the parallels between Druidry and Buddhism are echoed by Jamie Reid, an artist who has provided the visuals for, among others, the Sex Pistols. 'Buddhism's just more trendy,' he says. 'But Druidry is coming back into people's consciousness right now; it's as though a floodgate is opening.'

Mr Reid, whose great-uncle, Robert MacGregor Reid, was chief Druid of the Ancient Order of Druids from 1946 until 1964, adds: 'Druidry was all around my family, even though it went underground around the Twenties. At that time its energies were channelled into areas like alternative medicine.' Large weekly meetings were held in Robert MacGregor Reid's time on Clapham Common, then the site of the Druid headquarters. In the Twenties Druidry was associated with the Labour movement, and MacGregor Reid even stood unsuccessfully as a socialist candidate. Jamie Reid remains in this radical tradition. 'Druidry was the way I was brought up to think, particularly with regard to my creative work. It was the core of what it has been about.'

Philip Carr-Gomm, a psychotherapist from Lewes in Sussex, believes the 'ennobling' spirit of Druidry, has become misinterpreted by political wranglings over the Stonehenge Summer Solstice ceremony, an event which he doesn't think should be encouraged. A surprisingly radical stance, considering that Mr Carr- Gomm is also Chief Druid of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, one of Britain's 12 orders.

He also insists he would rather not make a proclamation of his Druid status. 'But it's a way of honouring one's tradition, and I have to admit that the term 'Druid' in most people's minds is extremely evocative. It triggers a host of ideas - of traditions, of the other world.'

Mr Carr-Gomm, 41, lives in a terraced house overlooking Lewes railway station with his wife and two of his four children. From the front room he runs a Druid correspondence course. The most recent of his three books on the subject, The Druid Way, is a kind of metaphysical travel book, describing a journey through the ancient sacred landscape of southern Britain.

'As I was walking the old tracks through the Sussex downs, I found myself thinking, 'What would our ancestors have thought as they did this?' We have a responsibility to both our ancestors and our children - if you believe in reincarnation, you know they are the same thing, of course. I kept hearing the words in my head, 'The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children'.'

With such a role in life, it is comforting that Mr Carr-Gomm is such engaging company. Although you are left in no doubt that all this is serious for him, he seems not to take it seriously at all.

To explain the relevance of Druidry, he cites the thinking of Joseph Campbell, the great philosopher of world mythology. Campbell, he says, would differentiate between 'revealed' and 'indigenous' religions. Revealed religions emerged through revelatory figures such as Christ or Mohammed. Indigenous religions, into which category Druidry falls, are articulated not by any one person, but exist as part of an all-encompassing attitude to life.

'There are no sacred books, for example. Yet Druidry is present in the British landscape, particularly in the sacred sites of southern England. And there's an oral tradition: you can plug into it through such old Welsh stories as The Mabinogion.'

Mr Carr-Gomm confesses he once tended to denigrate the importance of Britain's past. 'I had an inferiority complex about our own native tradition. I thought that somehow it was a bit crappy in comparison with the Tibetan or Native American traditions. But once you examine it and begin to experience it, you see that Druidry is equally important and inspiring. And accepting its power in this country is like coming home to what we really are all about.'

(Photographs omitted)

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