Initiations in OBOD are powerful ceremonies that transmit mystical knowledge and wisdom to the candidates, but they are not the primary transformative process of the order. They are an introduction to a grade, not a culmination of that grade.
At last weekend’s East Coast Gathering, we initiated 12 Bards into the Grove of the Ovates. These new Ovates have a lot of work ahead of them and all the ones I talked with understood that. If you’ve been around long enough to complete the Bardic grade – particularly if you’ve attended an OBOD gathering or two – you understand the Ovate grade is challenging. It was by far the most challenging for me.
Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm has a long essay on the historical and contemporary role of Ovates on the OBOD website. Referencing the Ovate’s role as healer, Philip says:
How is the Ovate Way of relevance to us today? The fact that many healers – of both body and soul – find Druidry helpful lies in its ability to open the Self to something more than just the personal. The story of psychotherapy illustrates this point, and suggests that we can place Druidry, and the work of the Ovates in particular, at the leading edge of psyche (soul) therapies.
And of course, before you can heal others you must first heal yourself. This is the work of the initiate in any of the many expressions of the Western Mystery Tradition. While this blog post is written in the context of the Ovate grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, what follows is applicable to anyone attempting to refine his or her soul through esoteric practice.
To the new Ovates and to intermediate practitioners of all traditions I say do the work and trust the process.
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I’m an industrial engineer – my paid-work career has been focused on building efficient, effective processes. Industrial processes can’t depend on exceptional individuals – I can’t design a process that requires a man with the strength of a weight lifter or a woman with the endurance of a long distance runner. I have to design them to be workable by the next moderately healthy, reasonably intelligent person who walks in the door. Good processes use the right tools and the right methods to produce the right results.
If you want to become a long distance runner, you have to have a few basic physical prerequisites – but just a few. There are lots of “couch to 5K” training programs that will turn healthy non-athletes into runners in a few months. There are 5K to marathon programs that will turn casual runners into marathon finishers in a few more months. Good processes use the right training program to produce the right results – do the work and the results will follow.
Someone who has reached the Ovate grade – or for folks in a non-OBOD setting, someone with an intermediate knowledge of myth and spiritual practice – has the necessary skills to do the work. If you feel like you’re not good enough, smart enough, spiritual enough, magical enough – you are. You demonstrated that by completing the Bardic grade (what do you need to start the Bardic grade? A willingness to begin).
The process is contained in the gwersi – the (nominally) weekly lessons of the Ovate grade, containing our unique combination of stories, poetry, history, ritual, and practice. Follow the process – work diligently through the gwersi – and the results will come. Do the work and trust the process.
How can you be confident the process works? It worked for you in the Bardic grade, didn’t it? The Ovate grade is deeper and more intense, but the basic process is the same. The Ovate process worked for me and for thousands of other Ovate graduates. I can’t tell you exactly how it worked, in part because it’s a secret, but mainly because it’s a mystery that cannot be adequately described in words.
I never took a break from my Ovate studies and they still took me 25 months to complete. Based on my conversations with other OBOD folks, I think the average is slightly longer. If it takes you two or three or five years, that doesn’t mean you’re failing. It means that’s how long it takes for you. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I wrote to my Ovate tutor in January 2008:
As I work through the Ovate material, I’m finding that it’s just not possible to move through the Gwersi at any regular pace. Where I could pretty much work through the earlier material at one Gwers per week, these inevitably take longer – there are multiple meditations, and some of them raise as many questions as they answer. That’s neither a complaint nor a self-criticism – just the reason why I’m not moving as quickly as I was before.
Do the work and trust the process.
Druidry is usually thought of as a Nature-centered practice, but the Ovate grade contains much that is Self-centered. That, combined with the distance learning program of OBOD, makes the Ovate studies a solitary thing. But while you must do the work for yourself, you need not do it alone. You have your OBOD tutor for help. You also have your fellow Ovates, both those who are studying the gwersi at the same time and those who have finished them. Non-OBOD folks can draw on the experience of students and elders in their own traditions and groups. This is one of the reasons I recommend everyone find a group to practice with – no matter how good a hermit you are, there are times when all of us need the support of someone who has walked or is walking the same path.
The process of transformation can be slow. Keep a journal and write in it regularly. It may seem like nothing is happening, but that’s only above the surface. Deep inside, mystical processes are at work. Many times I feel like nothing has changed, but then I look back at something I wrote a year or two or ten ago and I realize what was cloudy is now clear, and that I’m now stronger and more capable than I was.
To the new Ovates beginning the journey within, to the new Bards taking the first steps on this magnificent path, to the new Druids learning to lead, and to everyone seeking to learn and grow, I say do the work and trust the process.