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Guest blog – Mark Townsend – Initiation

October 27th, 2009

As Philip has kindly invited me to contribute a word or two to the blog I thought I’d offer something that links together both sides of my spiritual pilgrimage – my Christian Priesthood and my Druidry. This is a piece that attempts to express the spine tingling enchantment of a Druidic initiation rite. Mine occurred a few months ago now but its magic will last forever!

The sword’s sharp end dug into my shoulder blade and jagged stones indented my knees. The discomfort was intense and my heart pounded as I awaited the next instructions. I’d been warned that such rituals were demanding! But as I knelt in the dark, wet cave I felt like I’d been plugged into an electric socket, such was the energy of the place.
All was silent, save for the occasional droplets of water that fell from above, splashing into the pool below. I raised my head and caught a few drops in my mouth. I wasn’t thirsty; I just wanted to taste the enchantment of the moment. I wanted to suck the magic marrow out of the very ‘bones’ of Gaia.
‘You’ve entered the womb of the earth Mother,’ the Druid Chief whispered, ‘now prepare to be re-born into a magical new universe.’
He gave a few more instructions and then left me.
I stayed for some time, knees sore and back aching, but it didn’t matter. The pain was worth the experience. The Druids had prepared the place earlier, while I’d been sat in solitude a little way down the hill. As I absorbed the breath-taking beauty of the Welsh mountain valley, so they transformed the cave into an exquisite grotto with candles, symbolic objects and incense.
There I knelt, gazing at the animal skull, left as a symbol of the death of my old life, and illuminated by orange flickering light. Were it not for the physical discomfort I think I could have stayed there for ever. I felt safe, held, loved and at one with the heartbeat of the universe. But now I had to make my way out.
As I approached the light, the Druid Priestess greeted me and gave me symbolic gifts of the rite of passage. Her words were comforting and she seemed to personify the Goddess herself.

It was an awesome experience – my initiation into the bardic grade of the Druid Order – and the more I think about it, the deeper the parallels become between it and other ceremonies of my past – of my Christian past.
Almost a decade before, while still working as a Priest of the Church of England, I underwent a magical and, at times, gruelling Vision Quest in the New Mexican Desert. It was a Male Rite of Passage, modelled on the tribal initiation rites of the world’s various native cultures. It was Catholic yet Pagan and, like my bardic initiation it, was also a ritual of death and re-birth. Lasting for five long days and forcing me to dig deep into the hidden resources of my own soul, this process challenged body, mind and spirit. Only recently have I begun to realise what it did for me. During the period I spent researching for my new book it became clear how this New Mexican trial was a pivotal event in my life – like a detonator which, when triggered, released a fuse that could not be stopped. It was only a matter of time before there would be an explosion!
The fuse wire’s sparks finally reached the dynamite in the early summer of 2007… but that is far too big a story to tell here!

‘Mark’s latest book tells the full story of the ‘explosion’ he mentioned. It is to be published very soon: The Path of The Blue Raven’, O Books.’  Damh

4 Responses to “Guest blog – Mark Townsend – Initiation”

  1. Hi Mark,

    What wonderful experiences! Thanks for sharing. It’s fascinating how something can be set in motion deep within us – a shift brought about by one special moment in time that eventually brings such profound and deeply felt change. The cave sounds beautiful – what a special way to start your Bardic Grade!

  2. It was awesome Maria. It was my second ‘Bardic Initation actually – the first was a year and a half earlier up on a beach in Lancs. As a real ‘Water Sign’ guy I did my own solitary ceremony while I was in that area… drew the circle in the sand etc… breath-taking place to offcially begin the Bardic Course.

    But the Welsh communal ceremony, beautifully crafted by my wonderful friends of that part of the world, was unforgettable.

    Of course (as you know) such experiences tap into the deepest part of the Self / Soul where the intellectual / rational faculties are little use. The power is in the mythic, symbolic dimension etc.

    It’s so refreshing to have found a way of spiritual expression that does not rely on proof texts and clever religious arguments. I love the gentle Pagan approach of ‘if it works, use it.’

    I have applied this approach – also – to my battered Christian faith too… and am much happier for it.

    Big blessings!


    • Hi Emma,

      Just saw your post. It must have arrived after the other two, though was it was clearly sent before them. But thanks for your encouragement etc. From what you said to me (by email) it obviously looked as though I was refering to Philip in my post, but it was Rob Chapman who did my initiation!

      Just returned home from spending Samhain in London as a truly breath-taking ritual! I’m still coughing up the smoke and incense form the cauldron!



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