The OBOD Course

Hello! My name is Liz and together with Jenny I am one of the organisers of the Mandua Briga Seed Group. I’ve been a member of OBOD since 2001 and to say that I have really struggled to find the focus and the organisation to complete the OBOD Bardic Grade, the first of the three courses that are available to you when you join the Order, is an understatement! I have found that I have started and stopped and re-started again and again, and then constantly gone off on tangents, and my tangents have led to other tangents, until I am virtually meeting myself coming back the other way!

I know that there is absolutely no pressure at all in OBOD to complete the course in a set period of time, or even to complete the course at all, to be a member. However there is always a sense of incompleteness and of missing out while the course remains largely unexplored. I also know that I am by far not the only person to have had this problem, and a regular topic of conversation at the OBOD Camps that I attended in the early 2000s was feeling guilty about not progressing through the course ‘quickly’ enough.

The first mistake I made which halted my progress was thinking that I “should” remember everything and not commit anything to writing, as I always read that Druids in ancient days committed everything to memory and wrote down nothing at all, and so it felt like it wouldn’t be “authentic” to commit anything to paper. I think not writing things down was also partly a trust thing, worrying that some of the experiences I have had could be classified by an unsympathetic reader as quite ‘nuts’ and so the power of them could be undermined and dissipated, and partly not being sure in what format to write things, how to present my thoughts, feelings and experiences.

At Lughnasadh 2003 I realised that I needed to start writing things down. I’d decided I was going to have to get a notebook to do this, and I hoped that the right one would come along. I hadn’t found one I liked in the shops, but as I was helping to tat down the OBOD Lughnasadh Camp, I found a lovely small notebook of handmade paper, bound with board covered in dried leaves. I kept it as no-one else crewing recognized whose it was, and I didn’t want it to get put in the lost property that was stored in the barn and probably get damaged. I thought it belonged to Adam, who had been at camp and is a bookbinder by profession, and I contacted him, offering to buy it. He replied and said it definitely wasn’t one of his! So I kept it, but even though something was obviously telling me to start writing, I still didn’t. I am sure I will have a purpose for the notebook, or be able to pass it on to someone else who has a purpose for it. I think what stopped me then was a feeling of restriction, of limitation – of making a mistake, of doing it “wrong” and “messing it up”, having to cross things out and so spoiling this lovely book. And what if I wanted to add something later? Or take something out? And no way would it be big enough, so I would have to find another notebook, leading to a series of them, which could get out of sequence, or some of them could get lost or damaged … straightaway I worried and saw potential problems, so I didn’t do anything.

Then my friend Richard, who is an Ovate, came to stay for a few days, and we got chatting about the OBOD course. I explained to him the difficulty I have had with it, how I started, got to Gwers 6, gave up, started again, read through the entire course and once again seemed to hit a brick wall at Gwers 6. I put my lack of progress down to a lack of time (although I always seemed to have time to doodle around on the internet), certainly I blamed myself, my lack of ‘readiness’, my own inertia, too much other work to do, etc. He listened and then simply asked if I had been writing anything down. I said no, and gave the reasons I’ve outlined above, but mainly the sense that I had of being unfaithful to the Druid tradition by writing down thoughts and experiences. He said that he had had a similar conversation with several other people who felt they couldn’t progress with the course, who also were not writing things down for the reasons I had given, and explained that, in his experience, unless you start making a journal the Order’s Guides and Guardians simply stop you from progressing any further with the course. It is they who put up the brick wall until you start writing things down so that, at the end, you are able to connect up the fragments to make the bigger picture of your journey through the grade and really see how you have changed and developed on the path.

Something about this just ‘clicked’ with me and felt true. I expressed my concern about producing a journal by computer, as this seemed doubly ‘inauthentic’, but he said don’t worry, that’s the way he did his, just do it the way you feel most comfortable, it’s your journey, after all. So I decided to produce my journal using a word processing package on the computer. It felt much more free for me to express myself using this medium, and also appropriate as computers were how I earned my living, as I taught people how to use them. For me, it is the most flexible and least restrictive method of recording my thoughts and feelings. I can write easily and allow the words to flow using a word processor as I can take things out, correct things or insert things whenever and wherever I like and not worry about making a ‘mistake’. Writing using the medium of a computer is completely different to how writing would have been in Celtic times – then whatever was written down was literally ‘set in stone’, or placed upon rare and extremely expensive vellum or parchment. None of these media could ever be altered and so words placed upon them were fixed for evermore. A journal written using a computer and read on the screen rather then printed out on paper is totally different as it is utterly fluid. For example, just now I have amended this paragraph to focus what I want to say by cutting and pasting sentences and adding and deleting words. Perhaps the ancients would have written things down if they had had such a level of flexibility and control over their words as I do today.  Perhaps they like the idea of computers – I do hear they are amazed and rather envious about wellies …

So I started an electronic journal back in Spring 2004. Over 500,000 words later, it is still going strong. So you see, I have been exploring a whole lot of tangents! However, my little seedlings of stop-start progress through the Bardic course became lost in my tangled forest of tangents.

When I first started the Bardic course there were only paper-based Gwersi that were mailed out to you in bundles of four each month. After this we got the fantastic audio course on CDs (remember them?) which I also bought and spent hours transforming into mp3 files to put on my ipod (remember them?). The paper-based Gwersi with their lovely illustrations and typefaces are things of beauty to hold in your hands and gaze at, and I really recommend to everyone that you get them as part of your course. But for someone like me – who can at times have the attention span and focus of a hyperactive squirrel in late autumn – they allowed me to flick through and ‘graze’ their contents, letting me run ahead and have no structure. The launch of The Druid Hearth and its online Bardic Gwersi where you must finish a Gwers before you can progress to the next, and can only progress to the next section of each individual Gwers after you have marked the previous section as complete is absolutely ideal for me, slowing me down and forcing me to read and think about everything before moving on. So this seems like a good opportunity to make a fresh start, and now that we have our Seed Group website, it is a chance for me to transplant my little Bardic seedlings from my journal to here so I can hopefully give them the space and light to grow into a beautiful Grove.

Finally, it is a running joke between Jenny and myself that whenever we go to a general Druid or a specifically OBOD event and we separate into grades and I am in the Bardic group, there is always, always, always … interpretive dance. In every group I am in. Interpretive dance. Now interpretive dance is fine thing and I have even enjoyed watching some in my time – two of the most amazing dance performances I have ever seen were at the Stockton International Riverside Festival a few years ago, a piece by the Candoco Dance Company called You and I Know and also a piece by Tin Arts called cAty wOMpuS which was accompanied by some wonderful live bluegrass music. But performing interpretive dance is really not my thing. Really not. So this is me attempting to dodge any further mandatory Druidic interpretive dance.

If you are a member of OBOD and would like to read Journeying Through The Bardic Gwersi and follow my progress – perhaps to compare and contrast it with your own – please log in to The Druid Hearth and message @Aregwedd (that’s me) for the password.