Let’s start at the very beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start. When you read you begin with ABC, when you sing you begin with Do Re Mi… and when you talk about this event you begin with D.D.U.N.G. This acronym isn’t just an unfortunate one, standing for the Druids Down Under National Gathering, it’s also a meaningful one and a funny one and it can tell you a lot about the kind of event this one has always been and will always be. The first time we laughed at this, and then pondered it’s deeper meaning, and then laughed again at the absurdity of it and decided it was just right, myself and some of the Sydney Druids were sitting together in a pub in the city having one of the meet ups that led to regular Sydney Druids Down Under workshops on the wheel of the year and other aspects of Australian Druidry. We would get together and ask the simple question “how’s your Druidry going” and go around the table, sharing our interests and experiences over cider and beer and a bistro meal. And sometimes we would dream about the future.
One night we decided it would be great fun to one day get everyone from the Facebook group together for a gathering, have some workshops and rituals, hire out a nice venue, have a bardic circle and an Awen space… but there was a lot to think about. We started a new page of notes and went to write the heading, now what would we call it? First off we wrote out “DDUNG” and after having a laugh, thought “oh no, we can’t do that, can we?” and tried a few other options, Druids Down Under Gathering (DDUG), Druids Down Under National Assembly (DDUNA), Druids Down Under Camp (DDUC)… but then we came back to it. Maybe we could use DDUNG. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of dung in the garden! It’s out of dung that flowers grow, right? DDUNG could be fertilizer for the spirit! Good things come out of DDUNG! It wasn’t just funny, it was also meaningful. We had discussed the idea of the sacredness of compost that Starhawk had brought up with her blog title ‘The Daily Compost’ where the idea of recognizing every part of nature is important and sacred. Dung and compost are a sacred point of rebirth and rejuvenation. A place where we can go back to the earth in order to germinate something new. And even though some people might think we were choosing an unsavoury title for our gathering, we knew there was more to it than that, and it made us giggle.
This deeper meaning had us realize that this was just the kind of thing that set the tone for us. We certainly take ourselves seriously, but we also like to be silly. Around the same time a few of us had gone on a road trip to see the stone circle at Glen Innes and on the way had invented a hand gesture for Awen with three splayed fingers pointing down which had us laugh often. We were also quite partial to a bit of raucous interpretive dance to wonderfully serious though evocative poetry. We proclaimed that in Druids Down Under we were all Grand High Poobahs with our hats and (for some reason) matching muffs (you know, hand warmers). At the same time I was writing an essay for uni on the forms of comedy that inspire insight and rely on the function of pointing out the absurd truth. We loved this kind of thing. It made us laugh and learn at the same time. It brought us together. It stopped us taking ourselves too seriously. It was with this attitude of both seriousness in what we do and an ability to laugh at ourselves that idea of the gathering was born.
This sense of a balance between fun and seriousness carried through and was understood by others in the community who became a part of it too. After a wonderful weekend at The English Ale in 2016 I was sitting with Adrienne from Spiral Dance recording a podcast about everything that had happened that weekend. It’s another great event with a wonderful sense of both fun and seriousness about it. They have morris dancing, ritual, a parade, a Punch and Judy show, a hilarious mummer’s play, comedians and musicians. It’s a wonderful day and we had a good time discussing it, and then Adrienne encouraged me to get this DDUNG thing happening again. She loved the idea and said Spiral Dance would be there to play and that it just had to happen. Well, there it was, recorded on a podcast and now I had to get it happening, so that’s what we did.
I brought it up again with the friends who had initially started the idea a few years beforehand and started mentioning it to other friends in the community, finding out who would be interested in being a part of it. As it turned out, a lot of people were interested and excited in the idea. Obviously not just because of the title, but because it was to be a celebration of everything that Druids Down Under means to us. Online we are a community of people who are exploring what it is to follow the Druid’s path in Australia.
All the different orders got involved with members of OBOD, BDO and ADF all coming together with many others who wanted to add their energy to the gathering. Slowly we gathered workshops, ritual ideas, offers to help with food, with site set up, with administration, with the bardic circle and eisteddfod, we added KC Guy to the concert playlist, we found creatives to share their work in the market, and it all came together. We did also find someone to do a welcome to country for us but they couldn’t make it at the last minute. We are still really happy that we made this connection for the future. Our community created this event from so early on and it grew into something that everyone who came along to was a part of.
The ritual was written by a team that included members of OBOD, BDO and ADF as well as some who are eclectic Druids. I asked each of the representatives what they would like to have included from their traditions, and then it was a matter of working out how to fit it all together and making a meaningful ritual experience over the three days. We decided to make the focus of the rituals the coming together of community, our connection with the land and the three ancestors and three elements that helps us find unity in our diversity, and through that, focus our energy on talismans that we could take home at the end as symbols of everything we’d learned.
The first ritual was about arrival, bringing our stones and water from home and being given a bag of seeds to meditate with at the event. These would be the focus of our coming together as individuals with different stories, interests, traditions, lands and lives. But they came together onto our altar and as we circled them we declared them all a part of our community. We shared prayers, songs and invocations from different traditions, we deeply welcomed the energy of place and we declared our community of Australian Druids both diverse and united.
The workshops began on Saturday morning. They covered all the different traditions and some practices and theories that would help us to better understand the purpose of our rituals. We learned the different perspectives of the traditions and heard personal stories of connecting with the land in different ways. The teaching in itself was a celebration of our experiences and how we can learn from each other in sharing them.
The creative element of the weekend was fascinating to both explore and observe in others. We began with a bardic circle where one brave bard piped up to challenge us to be better and to really think about what these circles are about. To really see our expression as a spiritual practice and raise the bar of our own sense of expectation. This was met with a wonderful discussion about authenticity, how we go about finding our songs, expressing ourselves through our relationships with the ancestors and with the land, and as the weekend continued, the expressions of Awen we saw were just wonderful. This exploration and expression would be central to the weekend’s activities.
On Saturday night we were shown some fabulous bardic talent from Spiral Dance and KC Guy who had us all singing and dancing along to their wonderful music. I must say, despite being exhausted, I danced my little feet off and had a blast! We finished the night with another chorus from our main ritual in which we had brought in a song from one workshop and a dance from another. We sang “the Awen I sing, from the deep I bring it” to empower our amulets and give thanks to the land and the energy of the group as we sang it again at the end of the night rang in the air even after we finished. That night some of us had another bardic circle round the fire, sharing songs of our ancestors in Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, and Welsh. I hear some stayed up until the morning meditations began at 6am! So you could say we had a 24 hour non-stop party that night.
Now if Saturday was mostly about learning and bringing in Awen, Sunday was about really getting creative and exploring the expression of our Awen. The Awen space proved a wonderful area for us to spend time writing, painting, giving divinations and creating in many other ways. We also had our market where creative talent in the community was put on display. In the afternoon we had our final ritual where we redistributed the talismans so that each of us could take home a part of the community energy. In the evening we had Elkie’s Australian Druidry history project which is so exciting. Learning our own history helps us to understand who we are and where we have come from as a community. It’s such important work to create together. We then had a round table discussion over dinner in which we brought up many ideas for where our community is headed.
We finished off the evening with the Eisteddfod. A fantastic exploration of our creativity in both seriousness and joyful fun. Some of the acts were somber and heartfelt bringing a tear to my eye, while others were hilarious and had me in stitches. This sense of silliness and fun; good humour really, was there throughout the event. Our activities were serious, but our sense of the joy of life was there in so much laughter, playfulness and positive energy the whole way through. Perhaps it was invoked in the name of DDUNG, but whether it was or not, it says wonderful things about our community and our ability to balance what is serious and important, which what brings us joy and laughter, for what is one without the other?
Thanks to everyone who helped to bring this community gathering together. On every level it has been amazing to experience. Specific thanks go to:
Mark Hepworthb and Gliding Seal Events – for mentoring me in events planning and organization, as well as so much back of house work it’s not funny. You’re a champ and this could not have happened without you.
Spiral Dance and KC Guy – for bringing along your wonderful music to entertain us and also for getting involved with workshops, rituals and many other aspects of the gathering.
The ritual team and workshop presenters – Lisa, Stacey, Bec, Elkie, Shaz, Pete, Kacey, Adrienne, Unanyntji, Amanda and Tom.
Administration – Rhiannon and Janet
Helping in the Kitchen – Victoria, Lisa, Rachel, Rhiannon, Janet, Adrianne, Gabby, Elkie, Pete, Tom, and so many others who lent a hand when it was needed.
Market Stall Holders – Lisa, Shelley, Jo and Kath, Adrianne, Gabby, Spiral Dance and Kacey, Danuta, Elkie, Alexandra Tanet, and Urban Faun.
Elkie for running the history project discussion.
Bec for hosting the round table discussion and picking up the drums.
Stacey and Jenneth for setting up the Awen space.
Jenneth for running the eisteddfod.
Amanda for setting up the cameras and podcasts for recording.
PAN for their lending us the drum kit and helping with insurance.
And everyone who helped move chairs and tables, clean up after meals, set up things, pack up things, help, made decorations, brought instruments or craft items, brought ideas and creativity, brought laughter and love.
This has really been a wonderful event. DDUNG was fertilizer for my spirit.
It certainly wasn’t ever going to be shit. And now we know, it was ‘the shit’ 😉
Love you guys. /|\