[This month, we sit down with Druid and author, Andrew Anderson. Here, he discusses his devotion to ursine Deities; his creative writing work; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Andrew Anderson: I am a Druid and, more specifically, I am a Druid training with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. My Druid path with OBOD has been really quite structured, which I think has been good for me. Creatively I find that I have a tendency to skip between things quite quickly! I’m a bit like a kid in a candy store going “Look at this! And this! And this!” I don’t think it’s a bad thing, it’s just how my mind works! However, it means that, in the past, I have moved on from some things before I have explored them fully. For example, I’ve been working with the Tarot since I was 18 but hadn’t really developed my intuitive reading of them until fairly recently; I’d just reach for a book to tell me what the cards said.
Spiritually I did the same. I tried all sorts of beliefs and religions including different branches of Christianity, Wicca, and Buddhism. At a time when I wanted a greater connection to the natural world and craved creative inspiration, I stumbled across the OBOD website. They suggested that their courses developed both of those qualities, so I signed up. It was one of the best decisions of my life! The structure of the OBOD training means I have been able to explore different avenues and develop practices on my own, but have also developed a core of central learning and a discipline which I feel I need. I now have a practice that is uniquely my own, but I am also part of a community of people with whom I have deep connections and camaraderie.
ev0ke: What sorts of Deities, powers, or other spirits are honored in your tradition?
AA: One of the things I love about Druidry is that it can be practiced either as a philosophy or as a spirituality. It has deities, but can also be deity free. When I began, I kind of avoided dealing with deities too much, but am finding that I am connecting to more of them now. I tend to prefer connecting with animals, both as beings in their own right and as totems or power animals in the inner world. I have always adored being around animals and they have become absolutely central to my spiritual practice. The Spirit of Place is also really important to me and my writing.
ev0ke: How has Covid-19 affected your spiritual practices? Do you think that things will ever return to “normal”?
AA: To begin with, Covid was utterly devastating to my spiritual practice. I live with someone who is extremely clinically vulnerable and I took the decision to shield with her, rather than going out at all. In fact, because I had a sense of what was coming, we actually locked ourselves into our home ten days before the national lockdown. I mean, I didn’t go out of the house at all and barely even went into the back yard as we live close to other people. This meant I missed pretty much the whole of spring and just didn’t feel like celebrating either the Spring Equinox or Beltane.
However, as the situation started to normalise, I found that being at home really gave me the chance to develop my spiritual practice. I did lots of reading and inner work. It was the space that Covid gave me that meant I moved from the Ovate to Druid grades of my studies, something that just wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I finally got to go for a walk around a wild space again in July and it was such an emotional experience! I am not afraid to say I cried a little bit as I climbed those hills! It felt like coming home.
I’d say we are still a very long way from normal – and I don’t think it will ever go back to how it was before – and that’s no bad thing. The UK is seeing low transmission rates at the moment, but we cannot put our head in the sand and assume everything is ok now. We need to work on global solutions, just like we do with the Climate Emergency. Let’s hope this is a catalyst for people coming together.
ev0ke: As the author of The Ritual of Writing: Writing as Spiritual Practice, can you tell us how that book come about? Why a book on the intersection of writing and spirituality?
AA: The book came from my own spiritual practice – and from some excellent advice! When I took my first steps in Druidry, I realised that I wasn’t connecting with some of the seasonal festivals as deeply as I felt I should. I reflected on this and realised how important stories were in my spiritual life, so I wrote a series of eight festival tales to help me engage with the festivals more fully. When I finished, I thought they were quite good, so I sent them off to Moon Books, who promptly rejected them. The tales didn’t really sit with what Moon Books publish and, realistically, very few people would have bought them. However, from that I began a discussion with another author about the process of writing the tales and they suggested that it could be an interesting focus for a book in itself. I was a Creative Writing teacher at the time, so the idea took off for me. It was like someone had flicked a switch and brought together my spiritual and working life together! I will always be grateful for that advice.
ev0ke: What sorts of exercises and prompts will readers find in The Ritual of Writing?
AA: The book begins in a really specific way by getting the reader to develop a festival tale of their own. It’s a step-by-step process through the first eight chapters of exploring mythology, finding a tale to tell, and really connecting that tale to the season and place you are writing. After that the book explores other styles of writing, such as non-fiction and poetry, but in a broader way.
ev0ke: You also contributed the essay “Writing the Wheel of the Year” to mePagan. How did your contribution to that collection come about? Was it an open call? Were you invited to submit?
AA: Every so often Moon Books does anthologies to introduce its writers to readers who may not have encountered our work before. I’ve contributed to a few now and they are great fun. I contributed one of my festival tales to mePagan to give readers a sense of the kind of story they could write if they followed the steps in The Ritual of Writing.
ev0ke: Your devotional Artio and Artaois: A Journey Towards the Celtic Bear Gods will be released by Moon Books in July 2021. Congratulations! How long have you been planning this book? Was it impulsive, inspired, or carefully plotted over several years?
AA: The Ritual of Writing was in production and I was thinking about what I could write next, but just couldn’t settle on a subject. I began reading through the Pagan Portals series, including Morgan Daimler’s book on Thor and Danu Forest’s wonderful account of Gwyn Ap Nudd. I loved how both of those authors were able to connect with their respective deities so personally and I began to wonder if I could write something like that.
As I mentioned before, I didn’t begin my Druid path with any real sense of connecting to deity, but there had been one that I kept going back to – and that was Artio. It was all very subtle. I just kept hearing and seeing her name in random places, I began finding more pictures of bears, that sort of thing. One day, all of that came together. I asked the universe, generally, for protection and had a vision of an enormous bear standing over my home, roaring loudly! I knew that Artio was answering me. I knew then that I had found my subject – I would write about Artio.
Then, when I began planning, I ran into problems. There really isn’t an awful lot of surviving historical evidence for Artio so I wasn’t sure if it would be enough for a book. During my research I also kept coming across the name Artaois but, again, could not really find much about him either. I decided to work with them together. About a month and a half after the launch of The Ritual of Writing I found myself in Bern starting work with the bear gods, so it was all very quick. That doesn’t mean there weren’t hold ups along the way though!
ev0ke: As you note, there is little surviving historical or archaeological information about either Artio or Artaois. What tidbit did you stumble across that you absolutely had to include in the book?
AA: For me, the most exciting discoveries happened when I went to Switzerland to see the statue of Artio in the Historical Museum in Bern. It is the single most important piece of archaeological evidence connected to her. The statue is comprised of a small plinth with a bear standing in front of a seated human female, possible a goddess. Anyone who has encountered Artio knows about that statue but, seeing a picture of it is not the same as seeing it in real life. It’s far more intricate and detailed. One of the discussions among Artio devotees is which of the two figures on the plinth is Artio. Is it the bear or is it the seated female? Some people think it is the bear, some the female, others think that it is both of them. However, from my visit I learned that one of those figures was on the plinth first and was moved to accommodate the other. That means we can be quite certain that the one which was there originally was actually Artio – but I’m not going to tell you which! There is also a tree on the plinth which most commentators dismiss as being a symbol of the forest. However, I think it’s far more integral and important than that, as I explain in the book.
ev0ke: What other resources would you recommend to those who are interested in honoring ursine Deities, and learning more about them?
AA: There is so much good stuff out there – more than I initially realised. The biggest joy of writing this book has been learning from the people who have spent a number of years working with bears and bear energy. I interviewed artists Beth Wildwood and Hannah Willow about their work with bear imagery, and Beth created the simply stunning front cover for the book. As I was writing, The Wild Place Project in Bristol opened a new exhibit called Bear Wood, which is a truly magical place. Bears used to roam through British forests and the Wild Place Project aims to replicate that environment. I talked to Louisa Potter about The Temple of Ursa, a project based in the highlands of Scotland which works with she-bear energy. I also connected with the Bear Tribe, an amazing project led by Corwen Broch and Kate Fletcher, which recreates ceremonies based on the earliest recorded examples of bear worship. The work of these, and others, in honouring the bear deities was truly inspirational and it’s where I learned the most. I’d recommend others explore their work, too.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
AA: In terms of Moon Books, I have recently contributed to a collection about Gods, which is forthcoming, but don’t have plans for anything else at the moment. I’m just waiting for inspiration to strike! As I mentioned before, my head is quite eclectic and it has taken me off in a very different direction. I’m currently working on a very unique project which is out with literary agents as we speak. During the winter lockdown I also wrote my first novel. The lead character is a thirteen-year-old girl who is part of the ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement and she begins to find out about Druidry. The novel acts as an introduction to the central beliefs of the Druid path for young adults, but is also a rollicking good adventure, too! It’s planned as a trilogy and I will be publishing book one later this year.