Pagan People – Nimue Brown talks to Emma Restall Orr

Mar 30th, 2013 | By | Category: Pagan People

EmmaEmma Restall Orr (aka Bobcat) is one of the most well-known Druids worldwide. She worked for the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids and was Joint Chief of the British Druid Order for nearly ten years. In 2002 founded the international Druid Network which, by gaining status as a religious charity in 2010, changed the legal definition of religion in Britain. She is celebrated for her uncompromising views on ethics, environmentalism and personal responsibility, challenging the Druid and Pagan community with her writings, talks and other public appearances. She has acted as a media spokesperson for Druidry for over 15 years, presenting a reasoned and intelligent response to a broad spectrum of issues and current affairs.

 

Author of many books on Druidry, former joint leader of The British Druid Order and founder of The Druid Network, Emma Restall Orr has brought a great many people to Druidry. Her influence on the language and development of contemporary Druidry in the UK could not be over estimated. 

Nimue: Your latest book, The Wakeful World represents a significant change of direction from previous books, in terms of both style and content. What prompted you to move away from the experiential and towards a more rigorously academic approach? 

Emma: It is interesting that you consider this a change of direction, for I don’t feel that.  The Wakeful World is a natural, perhaps almost an inevitable, next step in my thinking, and the way in which I present a book has to work with its content.  Writing about Druidry, I was always keen to get away from the dry books that were on the market, filled with history, observation and theory.  I wanted to reveal to the reader a Druidry that was rich and muddy, filled with dance and wonder.  I wanted to talk of the living experience of being a Druid, and the best way of doing that was to express the experiential in a vivid narrative.  Hence the style of alternating anecdote or story with more reflective, explorative text that seeks the reasons or value within the events described.  Writing Living With Honour was a book for which I almost removed all the story elements, but there seemed a usefulness is giving the reader a first-person view of the ethical philosophy I was presenting.   The Wakeful World didn’t require that anecdotal perspective.  It is a more theoretical book and as such it is presented without the experiential element.   

Nimue: What drew you to the study of Western Philosophy – you’ve evidently read broadly and deeply across the subject – yet so much of it is so far from Druidry, all that dualism…. how did you engage with that? 

Emma: I have always read a huge amount.  At school there was a policy of sending me to the library when I became impossible in class, and there I happily quietly read.  When my boyfriend was doing his degree at university, I read his philosophy books, and without the constraint of needing to write an essay within specified parameters I often read more widely around a topic than he did.  My search for god, for the sacred, for meaning, meant that by the time I was 25 I had read all the key sacred texts of mainstream religions, and then continued to read narratives and explorations around them.  And you are right, it wasn’t this reading that took me Druidry: in terms of literature, it was the Arthurian mythos that led me there, Robert Graves and WB Yeats.   

As a kid studying Latin, though, I had read in Caesar that Druidry was a tradition of learning, but I found little appetite for learning in the Druid community.  Teachings and rituals seemed to place more importance on some sort of personal salvation through self-development and self-celebration.  While there is, of course, value in self-reflection and soul growth, I was frustrated with what I felt was a lack of more intense education, so I continued reading even where there was little encouragement to do so.  At the same time, what I did find myself able to dive into within Druidry was the connection with nature, with mud and rain, the emotional and intuitive, the sensuality of being, the experience of living, and I have written a few books on Druidry which celebrate that expression of the tradition.  That I am now sharing some of my philosophical learning in my writing is simply because I have come to a point where that is necessary to communicate what I am exploring.   

Nimue: I’m seeing a lot of Druid people moving towards academia and Doctorates. That desire to be taken seriously and properly recognised makes a lot of sense, but at the same time I wonder if existent structures have enough room in them. You’ve evidently chosen to do this on your terms, rather than work within a framework so I am guessing this is something you’ve thought about too…. 

Emma: A good many of those who are moving into academia are looking at the archaeology, history and literature that is directly or indirectly associated with Druidry.  While I have explored these, as has any good student of the tradition, my religious practice has always been more profoundly inspired by the currents of nature and the idiosyncrasies of human nature.  Hence my focus has been on both the visceral experience of life, of consciousness and deity, and also in the exploration of how we understand and language that experience, through philosophy and theology.   And no, I never coped well with the structure of school, with its hierarchies of authority and limited academic pathways, and knew that university would be even worse, requiring the student to reach so many prescribed goals before a whisper of original thought could be entertained. 

Perhaps I have done just the same with my Druidic learning and practice.  The Druidry I encountered in the mid to late 1980s is far removed from the Druidry I described in my first book, Spirits of the Sacred Grove (or Druid Priestess) ten years later.  And my unwillingness to work within the boundaries of defined belief system or set of rituals got me into trouble a good number of times.  I was grateful to meet Philip ‘Greywolf’ Shallcrass in the early 1990s, and in him find someone who was willing not only to support my wild exploration of natural British religion and philosophy, but to welcome it as a valid expression of Druidry.  Without him, I suspect I would have walked away from the notion of ‘Druidry’ into a broader shamanic animism, and in doing so lost a great deal. 

Nimue: Do you have any sense of where you’re going, into the future, or is it more a case of seeing what comes? 

Since writing Living With Honour, it has been my intention to write the trilogy, that book being an ethics, The Wakeful World being a metaphysics, the final book being an exploration of politics.  In other words, (a) why do we make the decisions we make, (b) what is the fundamental assumption or belief on which those decisions are based, and (c) what happens when we make those decisions as a people?  Looking at the ethics, I recognised how my Druidry – as a religious and philosophical tradition that for me is essentially British – held my understanding, but at its core my ethics was based on an integrated animism.  The metaphysics was entirely an exploration of that animism, with no mention of Druidry.  However, a politics would, I believe, return me to an investigation of Druidry.  Animism describes a perception of nature, but the way we interact with nature as individuals and collectively is the practice of Druidry.   

Whether I write that book or not is yet to be seen.  In studying to write it, the currents have taken me into a place of mysticism that I had not anticipated.  Writing a book requires, to a large extent, the willingness to express oneself – one’s self – directly or indirectly.  At the moment I am so comprehensively within a process of deconstructing my self, the very notion of self, that to write a book would be impossible.  When or where I emerge from this part of the journey is not clear. 

Nimue: Has this happened to you in the writing process before, or is this the first book that has become something other thn a book along the way? 

Emma: The writing of The Apple and The Thorn was another.  When William Melnyk suggested we write a book together, his initial idea was of a theological discussion between his Episcopalian Christianity and my Druidry.  Through meditation and inspiration, what the book became was a novel based upon strands of history, mythology and theology, all of which would provide opportunity to describe our core beliefs.  We agreed to find perspectives through the characters of Joseph of Arimathea and the Lady of the Lake, and the very act of immersing ourselves in these mythic ancestors changed our lives.  It emerged as a profound love story rooted in Judaism and British animism, forcing us to question deeply our roles within our own religious communities.  You would expect no less of a journey that faced such powerful characters. 

Nimue: Do you think you’ll go back to fiction in the future? 

Emma: That’s a question I can’t answer.  Who knows what inspiration the future will bring.
Nimue: True enough. I’ll take that as a no particular intention either way, unless you say otherwise! 

Emma: I continue to write.  I am by my nature a writer and I can’t help but explore how words cohere into language and communication.  That some of my writings are published as books or articles under my own name is, I think at times, simply where patterns co-incide, syncronicities offering currents of being.  After a while, however, unless you are seeking celebrity, the name under which you publish can become a burden.  When I finish a manuscript and hand it over to the publisher, I have a very clear sense of giving it away, allowing that book to take its own path of becoming.  In that way, I don’t feel attachment to the book, I am happy to move on, following my curiosity.  As such, I very much hope that there are some inconsistencies between earlier and later books, for they reveal my growing, changing, thinking, being.  But the name on the cover, the name that is known, has in some ways become an abstract, and as such it can feel as rigid and two dimensional as a cardboard cut out.  On the other hand, affirming oneself as a person in the public eye removes layers of privacy and seclusion that are enormously valuable.  There is a balance to be honed. 

Nimue If people want to know more about your work, where should they look for you (on or offline, or both, as you prefer) 

Emma: The internet is a valuable resource, offering ways in which the balance can be crafted.  My website emmarestallorr.org lists published books, and for the time being I have a Facebook page for discussion and sharing of ideas.  Offline?  I tend to hide in the woods. 

nimue brownDruid, author, bard and dreamer. Nimue is OBOD trained, a founding member of Bards of The Lost Forest, Druid Network member and previous a volunteer for The Pagan Federation.

 

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