A shamanic journey through an ancient landscape
Author: Philip Carr-Gomm
Publisher: Thoth Books.
Dutch edition: Phagos Press 2005
German editions: Hugendubel 1998, Arun 2011
First edition: Element Books 1993
Publication date: October 2006
The Druid Way is a book that weaves history, folklore, Druidry, spirituality and psychology into the story of a walk from a sacred hill in Lewes, Sussex, to the giant chalk hill-figure of the Long Man of Wilmington. A reviewer writes: ‘The book describes one person’s journey in the countryside of southern England that evolves into any-person’s journey of self-discovery, and discovery of the Goddess of the Land.’
This whole book is a delight. It is the diary of a sacred journey, through sacred space, and through the heart and mind, as well as a useful practical guide to the countryside and its associations and history. It is a book to use and to keep and to remember. Asphodel, review in Wood and Water
Philip Carr-Gomm’s intelligence – not unlike Andrew Harvey’s – has a bright, mercurial and energizing quality that immediately stimulates interest and attention. Far superior to a rote historical study, his book is an experiential pilgrimage, a first-hand account that could only be charted by someone as sufficiently steeped in the ideas from the inside of his skin as is Philip. And here is where it begins: high on the downlands above Lewes on the South Downs Way, as he stands on Itford Hill at the outset of his circular journey of excursion and return. From here, in twenty-one chapters, he unfolds a compelling narrative that is both story and exploration, memory and discourse, homily and lyric exposition, coloured with his own immediate psychic perception.
‘I plead very guilty to being indeed my own ancestor’, as Nuinn is quoted in the book…and what is everywhere present here is the presence of the past that the whole landscape resonates, and that Philip unearths, naming original place names, tracking lost paths gone to grass and cut through by our present roads – and he does so with a sense of detail reminiscent of Gilbert White, though his canvas is larger.
Jay Ramsay, review in Resurgence
The Druid Way makes an interesting departure from the routine glut of Paganism-by-numbers manuals. Instead it describes one person’s journey in the countryside of southern England that evolves into any-person’s journey of self-discovery, and discovery of the Goddess of the Land. This is refreshingly in touch with the roots of our primal traditions, containing much of interest on the lore of the Land: giants, dragons, ancestors, birds, trees and the seasons. Our relationship with the Goddess is explored in depth, with particular insights into the misdirection of male energy.
Martin Wood, review in Pagan Dawn
This book sees a welcome return of the genre of writing favoured by Richard Jefferies, W.H.Hudson and H.J.Massingham, all of whom documented the downland landscape with discursive and insightful wisdom. The Druid Way passes beyond the rural appeal of these writers by the interweaving of place with the author’s own druidic tradition. Here is one who has walked the land and understood its secrets through every sense. Here there is no urging to try out techniques you don’t understand the need or purpose of, no exhortation to join or become anything that you are not; just a strong affirmation to explore the land as the person that you are, to be a soul on pilgrimage through life itself, listening to the voices of the heart within you and the earth beneath your feet.
This timely book speaks to all who seek for the roots of their belonging in the land in which they live. It provides inspiration, soul-food and encouragement to those who long to be part of the richer life of this beautiful planet.
Caitlin Matthews, review in Touchstone
It took some time to adjust to the writer’s fusion of vision, poetry and academic fact. Philip Carr-Gomm’s style is not to present fixed dogmas or structures of belief but to wander freely among ideas and images, allowing great play to the subconscious mind.
The seed of the journey is set on the occasion of a death at the Winter Solstice, initiating an exploration of Life and Death within the Celtic year. The outward journey, at Imbolc, is full of exploration and growth on many levels. It ends with the discovery of the Harvest God’s wound. Fittingly the return journey is made at Lughnasadh. In the time between, there has been a death and a birth.
This superficially simple book contains an underlying complexity which provokes disagreement as well as insight. It is an interesting contribution towards the constantly growing recognition of the older forms of the land, yearly negated by the tarmac chain-mail which, paradoxically, denies access to Place and the related portion of our collective cultures. The lasting image of the book is the sexually ambivalent figure of Wilmington, the empty space enclosed by the chalk lines, a creative metaphor for the path of those inspired by indigenous spirituality.
Review in Talking Stick
This is a welcome new edition of a book that has been unavailable for a while. It charts Carr-Gomm’s journey from his adopted home town of Lewes to the hill giant of the Long Man of Wilmington on many planes. Like fellow pilgrims of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, sharing tales along the way, we accompany Carr-Gomm on his perambulations and it is like going on a multi-dimensional ramble with a wise and witty guide, and though we enter perilous territory – coming face to face with our/the Land’s woundedness – we know we’re in safe hands with this Chief Druid who takes us there and back again across a transfigured Sussex landscape, mythologised by his imagination, research and experiential encounters.
Finding the universal in the particular, Carr-Gomm’s windings created a Sussex Dreamtime, in which each tump and copse, stream and curve, gains significance – the dance of the God and the Goddess, Child and Crone, across the land. Past, present and future, otherworld and this world merge – in a style reminiscent of Magic Realism, as the magical interrupts the mundane in unexpected ways. Giants throw rocks at each other across the South Downs; spritely nymphs and noble horse goddesses lead Carr-Gomm further up the garden path – the Bonny Road – a Rhymer on the borders of Elfland, a Don Quixote of the Weald.
This subjectively imaginative approach to, effectively, Local Studies, is now deemed psycho-geography and has become cultishly fashionable, but is in effect as old as the hills. Our ancestors walked this land with the same awareness, and Carr-Gomm, leading by example, walking his talk, gently encourages us to do the same. It is a journey we begin at our birth, or even before – and this personal odyssey is framed by such crossings over; tragic deaths which challenge and affirm one’s belief system (as beautifully compounded in the ceremony of passing included in full) and the Appendices usefully provides guidelines for other key rites-of-passage; along with suggestions for further reading for those wishing to plunge into the wildwood of Druidry.
It is a shame the fabulous map created by Bill Worthington for the original edition
(Element Books, 1993) isn’t included in this new version as a fold-out, as it charmingly renders Carr-Gomm’s stomping ground as ‘Middle-Earth’ – an example of what can be done with one’s own neck of the woods – but perhaps it will be possible to order this separately. The book is nevertheless well-produced, with a lovely new cover and layout.
Whether you are interested in the Sussex landscape or not this book provides an inspiring guide as to how to interact with any landscape (‘Go on a journey. Start here – where you live’). It challenges us to connect with wherever we live; with each other; our loved and lost ones; and with the sundered or neglected aspects of ourselves. It is a journey to wholeness, to balance – epitomised by the ambiguous Long Wo/Man. As Carr-Gomm keeps reminding us, there is no separation.
Review by Kevan Manwaring
The Druid Way, recently extensively revised and published in a new edition, follows one man’s journey of discovery as he explores the landscape around Sussex and the South Downs. It is written as an allegory, one of the spiritual languages of the druid inheritance, at at one and the same time it is a text-book and also a love story. The book lives and breathes: its pages are resonant with the experience of the Druid, the insight of the Ovate and the lyricism of the Bard.
For Druids, the wellsprings of inner wisdom arise first and foremost from the everflowing stream of life, and are contacted through a close relationship with the Spirit of the Land. These two sources are embraced and become guides and tutors as the path over the downlands subtly moves into and out of the shifting hills and valleys of the
Otherworld, as influences from time past and time future cast shadows and sunlight along the way.
Many aspects of Druidry are woven into the story and there are encounters with elemental forces, with dragons, with guardian trees and ancestral voices. Ever present is an awareness of the Spirit of the journey, Niwalen, whose silvery light illuminates the track which lies ahead.
“While the shanachie at the peat fire
and the bard within the hall,
rewove the tattered cloak of dreams
where nothing is quite what it seems…”
As the story continues it gradually becomes clear that the shining track is threading its way through the age-old territory of the Western Mysteries which is known as the Way of the Heart and the reader is drawn in to an eternal love-affair, sensing some of the thousand reflections of love; a love which unites God and Goddess, which is shared between male and female, a love which flows between Earth and her offspring, between parents and children, and the love which extends throughout the universe.
The Way of the Heart is frequently one of beauty and delight but sooner or later inevitably, there must come a parting when the joy known by the the lovers turns to pain. And so with events in The Druid Way when the sudden death of a much-loved young woman brings with it the shock of separation and causes grief to family and friends.
“For year on year the web is spun of
dew pearled mist and soul’s song
of salt-seas breath and flight of swan,
and moon by moon the thread is turned,
borne in starlight on the wind,
the dark north wind, the stormy wind
The meeting and mating, the great initiations of birth and death are awesome rites of passage for humankind. These are doorways and thresholds which link the everyday world of incarnation with the Otherworld and the wider mysteries of being. The Druid Way offers three rituals to warm the heart, to comfort the soul at such times when adequate words are notoriously difficult to find.
The book ends when the journey through the sacred Land, having developed for nine months in the womb of time, comes to maturity. The birth of a new baby is also celebrated in the world of outer, daily life and yet another round on the spiral pilgrimage had been completed with a resultant broadening of vision, deepening of awareness. The reader is left to contemplate the eternal enigma of birth and rebirth and the profound implications of the love story, of the Grand Passion which unites the two energies named Death and Life, the two lovers whose union makes all creation fertile.
Thank you Philip for such an honest, enlightening and eminently readable book…..a guide for us all.
“So now my songs are done,
Leave me tonight awhile and the
To silence and sweet dreaming,
Here where no music calls, no beauty
Till in my heart the birds sing to the sun
And the new dawn wakes me.”
Review for Touchstone by Esme Vincent
‘MAGICAL LANDSCAPE IS ALL AROUND US’ – Sussex Express Article
WITH the current popularity of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, everyone is looking for a bit of magic – and the extraordinary thing about Lewes and its landscape is that it is brimming with mystery.
No-one knows this better than Philip Carr-Gomm, a Lewes author and psychologist who has the odd distinction of teaching magic by post.
The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, which he has led for 18 years, has attracted more than 10,000 members. Years ago, he started walking the hills around Lewes and began researching its history and folklore. The result? He found that he didn’t need to travel to Glastonbury or the Himalayas for spiritual inspiration – it was right here in his home town. He wrote a book, The Druid Way, about a walk he took from the Mount by Lewes Priory to the Long Man of Wilmington and back.
And it seems he isn’t alone in wanting to find a magical landscape that he can explore. Just two weeks ago, some 50 people, including Lewes District Council chairman Marina Pepper, assembled on the Mount to celebrate the winter solstice sunrise – the shortest day of the year – and the sun duly rose over Beddingham Hill, complete with aligned burial mounds – although it was covered by cloud that day.
For the record, from The Tump the winter solstice sunset is aligned with Swanborough Hill; the summer solstice sunset with Black Cap and the summer solstice sunrise with the long barrow on Cliffe Hill. ‘A lot of people are drawn to Lewes because they sense it is somewhere very special,’ Philip added. ‘Sometimes they are a little scared of it, but there is nothing frightening about the kind of magic I’m talking about. It’s all about seeing beyond the every-day to recapture the wonder we felt as children.’
Now, after 13 years The Druid Way has been republished by Thoth Books. Philip has re-written much of it and added in more material he has since discovered. It is on sale (together with a free map) at the Lewes Tourist Information Office in the High Street. His advice? ‘Go walking on the hills and footpaths around the town. Read a little about the local folklore and history. Come up to The Tump on one of the eight ancient festival days.’ The next one is Imbolc on February 1, followed by the spring equinox on March 21.
One of the suggestions Philip made in The Druid Way found support, when in 1997, local archaeologist John Bleach published a paper in the Sussex Archaeological Collections, which revealed the existence in ancient times, of four mounds in the town which, if included with the three existing ones, suggests that Lewes was once home to at least seven sacred mounds.
Two Druid groups have formed in the area; the Anderida Grove and the Avronelle Seed Group of the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. The Anderida group also began holding open gatherings to celebrate the eight festivals beside the Long Man, and in 2003, with the co-operation of the Sussex Archaeological Society and with paint donated by the Order, members of both local groups re-painted the concrete blocks which outline the figure. Concluded Philip: ‘Looking back, it is surprising to see how much activity this enigmatic figure in the landscape has inspired.
‘Perhaps it is because although the figure seems to be simply holding two staves, we feel that something more is going on – that a doorway is being held open, and we are simultaneously being invited in and at the same time being barred from entry.’