[This issue, we sit down with Steve Andrews, the Bard of Ely. Here, he discusses his personal spiritual practices; his environmental activism; and his forthcoming book, Saving Mother Ocean; and his other projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Steve Andrews: I am very eclectic, but as to defining my “spiritual practice,” I am a Druid, as a Quest Knight of the Loyal Arthurian Warband. I also hold the title of Principal Bard of the Stonehenge Grove of The Loyal Arthurian Warband. Unfortunately, living abroad has taken me away from taking part in Gorsedds and celebrations of the Druid calendar to a large degree, though. I used to be a regular at Avebury, but this became more or less impossible. I try to visit Avebury and Stonehenge when I am back in the UK. I had the pleasure of doing a book signing session at the Henge Shop in Avebury a couple of years back.
ev0ke: Do you honor any specific Deities, powers, entities, or beings in your practice?
SA: I honour Mother Earth and Mother Ocean. They are what is most important to me, as the source of all life here.
ev0ke: How did you come to be known as the Bard of Ely?
SA: Well, first let me explain that it is the Ely in Cardiff, not the one in Cambridge. I lived on the housing estate there for twenty-four years, and in 1998 I had a column in Big Issue Cymru. Knowing that I was a singer-songwriter, poet and performer, the publication dubbed me “Bard of Ely” and the title stuck. I liked the idea of being a bard from a council estate. I am listed in Wikipedia alongside Shakin’ Stevens as a “notable person” from Ely.
ev0ke: You have lived in Wales, on the Canary Islands, and in Portugal. How have these different locations influenced your prose writing, your poetry, and your songwriting? Do you find yourself drawn to different styles or projects depending on your environment?
SA: It all depends. Many of my songs and poems could be written anywhere. They are not tied to locations. But I have also done a tremendous amount of writing about specific places. I wrote for several newspapers in Tenerife and my articles were usually about nature and locations on the island. I also wrote for a number of years for Optimanova Digital Advertising Agency and used to write according to what subject matter I was given. These were often travel locations. I was writing for the agency’s clients, which is very different to writing creatively because you feel inspired. The environment does inspire and motivate me, though, for example, seeing all the plastic pollution when I was still in Tenerife got me started on finding out more and writing the poem, which became the song “Where Does All The Plastic Go?”
ev0ke: To date, you have published four titles through Moon Books. Congratulations! How did these projects come about? Did you approach Moon Books with the ideas, or did they come to you?
SA: Herbs of the Northern Shaman had already been published by the now-defunct Loompanics Unlimited in America in a black and white version. Moon Books published a new updated edition with colour photos and additional text. I approached the company and got the idea from the late Philip Coppens, who was published by the Axis Mundi Books imprint of John Hunt Publishing. I had been researching the pyramids of Tenerife with Philip at the time.
Herbs of the Southern Shaman was the logical follow-up.
Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets was based around the idea I had had for a book on the subject of how herbalism was linked with astrology by ancient herbalists. I approached Moon Books for that one.
For my new book Earth Spirit: Saving Mother Ocean everything fell into place. Trevor Greenfield of Moon Books was looking for someone to write a book about the oceans for the Earth Spirit series, and it was simply waiting for me to write this seeing as I was already focused on the subject matter of taking action to save the seas.
I came up with the idea for a new series, which would be “The Magic of….”, and this was accepted and I am kicking it off with The Magic of Butterflies and Moths.
ev0ke: Three of your books — Herbs of the Northern Shaman, Herbs of the Southern Shaman, and Herbs of Sun, Moon, and Planets — focus on the psychedelic and spiritual aspects of various plants. If you could do away with one misconception or bias about the use of such herbs, what would it be, and why?
SA: I make the point of stating that how tribal people and their shamans prepare and use entheogenic herbs is very different to how people from the western world might want to do so. For these people the “plant teacher” herbs are sacred and should be consumed the right way, with the right preparation and ceremony, or not at all. Many of these plants are very potent and potentially dangerous and are to be used with great respect and care, not as recreational drugs for a weird trip. I suppose what I am trying to explain is that westerners think it is ok to do what they please, but this has caused a tremendous amount of problems in the world. The traditional ways of indigenous people do not cause such problems. For example, the Kogi Mamos from Colombia use coca leaf on a very regular basis as part of their lifestyle and belief system. Although, technically it contains traces of cocaine, it is beneficial to these people’s health unlike refined cocaine, a dangerous drug used throughout the civilised world.
ev0ke: What interesting historical, spiritual, or medical tidbit did you uncover in your research that you just *had* to share in your writing?
SA: In Saving Mother Ocean, I have looked at the views of the Kogi leaders, who are known as Mamas or Mamos. They believe they are the guardians of the planet and that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia where they live, is the “Heart of the world.” Back in 1990 a documentary about these people was broadcast by the BBC. It was called “From The Heart of the World: Elder Brothers’ Warning.” It showed how the top of their sacred mountain no longer had the snow that should be there. This was a serious warning sign to the Kogi and was why they wanted to warn us that unless we changed course the world would come to an end, and there was nothing they could do about it. They pointed out that we must stop mining, drilling, stripping away at the Earth, and that we are making Mother Earth very sad and in such pain that she is dying. These people and their message made a very big impact on me when I first saw the documentary.
The point I am making is that there are many indigenous people who are well aware of the environmental and climate crisis our mismanagement of resources has caused. We need to listen to these people. It is not just our scientists who have issued warnings. I am very proud to have Alan Ereira, who directed that film about the Kogi, as one of the people who has endorsed my book.
ev0ke: Saving Mother Ocean will be released by Moon Books in November 2021. What inspired the creation of this book? Was it a difficult book to write, or did you find it to be an exercise in hope?
SA: I found it very easy to write. It was almost as if it was writing itself. I was already focused on the subject matter, so writing the book simply gave me a way of expressing myself about very important issues. As for the inspiration, I have been aware for a long time that the natural world is being destroyed, and plastic pollution had already inspired me to write a song. I realised too that the oceans are the most important part of the natural world. That is why I use the term “Mother Ocean.” Like Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd says: “If the ocean dies, we die.” I am honoured to have an endorsement for my book from Captain Paul.
ev0ke: You also came up with the idea for Ocean Aid concerts, to raise funds for environmental organizations. Will there be more concerts? Will you be writing more songs?
SA: I held the first Ocean Aid concert back in February 2021, with the aid of a cast of musical performers from Rew Starr’s ReW & WhO? Show, which I had become a regular part of, too, even though it was streamed live from New York, and I am in Portugal. We collected funds for Sea Shepherd. I am hoping to inspire many more Ocean Aid concerts, and I want to see them happening worldwide. I wrote a new song especially for this project with the title “Time For Ocean Aid.” I have included the lyrics in Saving Mother Ocean. I am combining writing books with songwriting.
ev0ke: There are a number of organizations dedicated to saving the oceans, and other water resources. Are there any in particular that you recommend?
SA: Sea Shepherd is my first choice of organisations working on saving marine life and saving the seas. I also give details of some others in Saving Mother Ocean.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
SA: My landing page is here.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SA: I have just finished writing The Magic of Butterflies and Moths. I have some songs I want to record for a mini-album I began working on with Jayce Lewis as my producer at his Northstone Studio in Bridgend, south Wales. Unfortunately the pandemic has delayed the completion because I need to be physically present at the studios. I have two songs and a video ready to go, but have been waiting to complete my mini-album before releasing them as singles. The completed songs are entitled “A Real Love” and “Communication” and “Climb Through A Rainbow.” There is a rerecording of “King Arthur’s Coming” to finish about the Druid King, and another song to record from scratch, which I think will be Time For Ocean Aid. I want to venture as well into the Rap and Hiphop genres with a new song with the title “Mother Nature Rap.” There is also the strong possibility of a filmed documentary being made in collaboration with highly acclaimed Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Augusto Almeida. I want to make a film about my passion for butterflies. My song “Butterfly In My Beard” could be included. It has become a very popular live song, which always inspires audience participation when I get everyone to “make a butterfly and fly with me.” This they do with outstretched hands linked to make wings and crossed thumbs as antennae.