I have a very great interest in Stonehenge and in the ancient Druids, so it’s inevitable that I should have heard of both the modern Druids and the current campaign to have the remains of the ancestors returned to Aubrey Hole 7. The attention I devote to modern Druids ranges from negligible, for most of the time, to a more than passing interest on certain days, but my attention’s been concentrated on them over the last few months, primarily on account of the “Bring Back the Ancestors” campaign.
I have not yet written about the reburial issue in general or the reburial issue at Stonehenge in particular, but I have every intention of airing my views in minute detail at some future point. For now, and very briefly, I think that a great many people have a sense of what might be termed “common decency”, although I’m fully aware that this notion is disputed in some quarters and not just by archaeologists.
All this can wait until another day, because for now, I simply wanted to air my perception of the modern Druids. This won’t be an exacting, scholarly analysis, but it will simply be a personal opinion and one based on some of the correspondence I’ve received, as well as on what little I’ve seen and read of modern Druidry over the last few months.
There are so many individual Druids and so many Druid organisations that I long ago lost count of them and I gave up trying to keep track. However, from where I’m standing, it seems as if their most prominent individuals and groups are beginning to fall into two sharply-defined categories that I would describe as the Mods and the Rockers, for reasons I’ll go into.
First of all, the “Mods” – this name occurred to me as a convenient shorthand for what I’d describe as modern-thinking types, while I’d personally add New Age, politically-correct and Establishment Friendly as ways of defining this category. I would say that the best-known of the ‘Mods’ is Professor Ronald Hutton, someone who is regarded as the greatest living authority on Druids on account of his many publications, while Professor Hutton has recently been appointed a Commissioner for English Heritage.
I don’t know what this post entails, but I’m sure that Professor Hutton will perform his duties admirably and to everyone’s complete satisfaction, so I for one would like to extend my warm congratulations to him on his appointment and to the Minister for Culture for what is indubitably a wise and popular choice.
Another prominent figure among my ‘Mods’ is Emma Restall-Orr, a lady I had the pleasure of meeting back in 1998 when we were among the one hundred guests invited to the Open Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge. Among other things, Emma’s Wikipedia entry describes her as a Neo-Druid, a designation I’d say was broadly in keeping with my loose definition of a ‘Mod’, while as you can see from the link above, Emma enjoys arguably the highest profile of any Druid or Druidess alive.
I’ll come to the ‘Rockers’ in a moment, but I should point out that there are many other modern Druids with divided or undecided loyalties. I was astounded to meet a Christian Druid when I spoke at the Isbourne Centre back in March of this year, as I didn’t know such people existed, but I don’t doubt that there are many others who quietly go about their own business in this poorly-defined centre ground.
This category also contains some individuals or groups who yearn for prominence or influence, but as their aspirations seem to be founded primarily on made-up names for their groups and claims that leave me slack-jawed in disbelief, I’ll pass them by until such time as they do or achieve something truly worthy of note.
And so, at the other end of the spectrum to the ‘Mods’ are the group that I’d describe as the ‘Rockers’, for reasons that are surely self-evident. I would describe the ‘Rockers’ as those Druids who identify with rocks, standing stones, stone circles [as opposed to groves], Stonehenge, the ancestors and so forth, people who are ‘traditionalists’ as opposed to ‘Neo-Druids’. As far as I can see, the most prominent ‘Rockers’ are the Stonehenge Druids and King Arthur, pictured at the top of this post on the right, with his partner Caz and with Frank Somers, Head of the Stonehenge Druids.
To my mind, these Rockers are just about as far removed from their Mod counterparts as it is possible to be. Where the Mods go in for lecture tours, establishment appointments, the publication of books and suchlike, the Rockers seem to be an altogether more accessible, down to earth and ‘front line duty’ bunch, while they’ve achieved some prominence for their sustained campaign to get the remains of the ancestors returned to Stonehenge.
I have no idea if these two camps exist outside my imagination, or if they would identify themselves and each other with my descriptions, but I was amused by what the Mods and Rockers entry on Wikipedia had to say on the matter of their predecessors from the 1960s: “The rockers considered mods to be weedy, effeminate snobs, and mods saw rockers as out of touch, oafish and grubby.”
On a more serious note, it’s abundantly clear to me that within the modern Druid movement, two polarised camps are engaged in a not-so-covert battle for hearts and minds, so I find myself wondering which side will ultimately prevail in the court of public opinion? Will the people of Britain and elsewhere buy into what I’d describe as the ‘Druid Lite’ brand, or will they go for a more traditionalist ‘Druideology’ approach? There are many relevant aspects I could examine, but this is purely a personal opinion, not a scholarly examination of what might be termed a sociological or anthropological phenomenon, so I’ll confine myself to what I feel are the most pertinent issues.
At the heart of it lies the ‘Ivory Tower’ Syndrome, something I have to regularly remind myself about. For example, Professor Hutton has recently been appointed a Commissioner for English Heritage and while I don’t doubt for a moment it’s an admirable achievement, I must confess that I don’t have the faintest idea what a Commissioner for English Heritage actually does, while I suspect that a great many other people would be hard put to accurately compile a job description for this post. I’m sure it will impress his peers, but whether or not it impresses and influences the general public one way or the other remains to be seen.
I understand from a previous issue of the Watkins Review that Emma Restall-Orr has had ten books published so far, but I don’t know how extensive her readership is or if they are all actively involved in the Druidic movement. I was honoured to share the front cover of the most recent issue of the Watkins Review with Professor Hutton, but I note that his most recent publication, Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain, costs a fairly hefty 30 pounds, which I suspect will put it beyond the reach of all but the most avid enthusiasts of the subject matter.
Of course, the writing of such learned works is an admirable endeavour in and of itself, but I speak with the Voice of Experience & Authority when I say that being a writer of a book is often deemed to be a leisurely, almost foppish pastime. As I know all too well, people have to be aware of a book’s existence before they’ll consider buying it, so when it comes to the matter of which of the two aforementioned sides will prevail as far as hearts and minds are concerned, I find myself considering the issue of the ongoing picket at Stonehenge [pictured at the top of this post].
I don’t know how regularly King Arthur and others carry out their protest, asking people to sign their petition, but as Stonehenge receives something in the region of 1,000,000 visitors a year, then I’d have thought that these people will receive far more exposure and will garner far more awareness of their cause than most authors are ever likely to do, myself included, especially when you consider that the media take a regular interest in their activities.
Finally, at the risk of being seen as less than impartial, there is what I believe is another aspect to all this. If I were ever asked to name the one characteristic that I would prize and value above all else in other people, then I would say ‘generosity of spirit’ every time, without a moment’s hesitation. However, running a very, very close second would be what’s commonly termed ‘backbone’ or moral courage, so in all fairness, I would say that at least one of the ‘Rockers’ has this quality in bucketloads.
If you follow the next link, you’ll see an interview with a Druidess named Caz, who has been campaigning at Stonehenge for the return of the ancestors. Whether or not I agree with her argument is entirely beside the point, because I cannot help but admire her determination to present her case in a thunderstorm that sent everyone else screaming for cover and from what I understand, she continues this vigil in all weathers. Of course, not everyone is in favour of the campaign to return the ancestors and not every visitor to Stonehenge signs the petition, but those that do are likely to be impressed by someone consistently putting themselves in the front line.
To put it another way, it’s one thing for me to sit here, languidly typing out a few lines per day for my next published epic in between strolling around the woods & fields hereabouts with Blueboy and periodic bouts of feasting and drunkenness, but it’s quite another when I cast my mind back to some of the really hard physical work I’ve done, out in the open in front of occasionally hostile crowds.
In another incarnation, almost twenty years ago, I became the first western knight in Russia – it’s a long story for another time, but apart from teaching me what a truly warm-hearted and hard-partying bunch our Russian brothers and sisters are, it entailed some of the most tiring and trying circumstances I’ve ever endured and believe me when I say that’s up against some pretty stiff opposition.
I would say that this principle of being seen to be in the front line applies equally well to someone like Professor Mike Parker-Pearson, who runs the Stonehenge Riverside Project. Of course, the general public are invariably going to be impressed by an opinion or soundbite from an ‘expert’ or other office-bound academic, but I can only say that I’m far more likely to be influenced, in a case such as this, by someone who has spent years getting the dirt of the Stonehenge landscape under his fingernails in all weathers.
So, who do I think will ultimately prevail in the matter of gaining public support – the Mods or the Rockers?
My money’s squarely on the Rockers.