Paul Davies, aka Oddie, is an independent Druid, a Norwich Quaker, a photographer and a pacifist. He’s also the editor of This Ancient Heart, a book that ‘reveals the connective pathways where beliefs, actions and metaphors lead to dynamic, practical and spiritual lives’. Having had this brief but fascinating introduction, I was thrilled that Oddie gave up some of his time to answer a few questions about the book and beyond.
Mabh Savage: Tell us a bit about the book This Ancient Heart. How did you become involved with editing this compilation?
Paul Davies: I wanted to invite the leading spiritual and academic thinkers of our time to consider the complexities of a collective ancestry emplaced within nature. In order to avoid chapter clash, I suggested working titles and this seemed to work well.
MS: Who would you say the book is aimed at? Who will get the most out of it?
PD: This Ancient Heart is of interest to all seekers and scholars with an interest in ancestral landscapes.
MS: Did you have a favourite essay from the book?
PD: Graham’s Foreword is clever and I love Luzie Wingen’s chapter on the ancestry of wheat and oak. (I’m keen to develop ideas of how our human experience of landscape effects the development of future DNA.) Jenny’s [Jenny Blain] chapter on Seidr is wonderfully revealing and it moves away from the Northern Tradition’s usual association with sword wielding warriors. Caitlin’s [Caitlin Matthews] chapter is absolutely pivotal.
MS: Do you think it’s becoming more challenging to connect to our ancestors and the earth, as the world becomes more scientifically and technologically advanced?
PD: Science and spirituality have always been complimentary. One does not preclude the other, and most people will instinctively understand this. To see ancestry in terms of science versus religion where the two antagonise each other is very wide of the mark. For example, science produces data; anthropologists will understand that data in one way and druids another. Both are relevant, and both produce knowledge and inform identity in very different ways. However, my thesis was never meant to deny or condone science, simply to focus on ancestral landscapes from a specific vantage point, and yes, to also challenge assumptions and convention.
MS: When did you start your own study of earth spirituality?
PD: Back in the 1980s. After reading The Spiral Dance by Starhawk I began to focus my pacifism more toward a Spiritual Green Anarchism.
MS: What was it that attracted you towards becoming a druid?
PD: I came across Philip of the OBOD and Tim Wally the SODs at a Mind, Body, Spirit Festival in London the 1980s. (I focused on OBOD and met up with Tim many years later on Pultney Street in Bath.) The Gwersu of OBOD seemed to be in harmony with my spiritual ideas and I felt, very strongly, that I should join this group. Tim seemed to be in harmony with my political vision.
MS: What are the benefits of being associated with several druid groups?
PD: I joined different groups as the spirit called, mostly as an associate member. For example, I worked closely with the SODs for 1 year but remain an associate. With the OBOD I felt compelled to work methodically through each lesson (but after many years, I still haven’t finished the Druid Grade). Each group constitutes an important spirit that is very different from other groups. I am now active within the Peace movement and the Quaker Community in Norwich, especially in terms of sustainability and social equality. (Quakers have their vision within social processes where spirit and politics are in harmony, and Druids are getting to grips with this).
MS: How do you feel about Historic England’s (previously English Heritage) decision to not rebury the human remains discovered at Avebury? How did you become involved in this debate?
PD: I feel that EH were in a difficult position where the only option available to them was to deny the request. The remit was weighted in their favour, Tim was dying in hospital and tensions between competing groups were high, hence the situation was not conducive for an equitable settlement.
Several other factors were also against us. For example, we requested the reburial of human remains and received a public consultation focused on museum retention. By placing emphasis on bones as scientific data, issues became primarily concerned with school education versus earth spirituality, and that ensuing conflict was unhelpful. It’s time to look beyond the consultation.
The inspiration for the ‘reburial campaign’ began while I was reading Archaeological Theory and Social Anthropology at Lampeter. While reading Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions by Robert Layton, I felt inspired to request reburial on behalf of the ancestors on display in museums in Britain and Eire. A bright light shone within my mind and I felt peace. The book detailed the problems experienced by tribes-people in North America and Australia where museums refused requests for reburial, usually on the basis of a lack of cultural affiliation with human remains that were thousands of years old. Decisions were evidence based and therefore negated belief, religious experience and identities that flowed from the ancestral spirit.
Academically informed, and spiritually inspired, I initiated the process of reburial by writing a letter for Tooth and Claw (BDO). Unbeknown to me, Philip and Emma were already on the case working with EH. They were the 1st. Jenny and Robert wrote academic papers and the ‘campaign’ then rested silently for many years. 9 years later, I felt inspired to make contact with Tim, and the SODs in Bath and Glastonbury, who helped place the issue in a more public light. This ensured that ancestry became a mainstream concern, both in the media and among Pagans around the country. By the time the request for reburial was made to the AKM at Avebury, Emma had initiated HAD and was already working with Jenny, Robert and others. Odd things began to happen. As the process developed, I felt, very firmly, that this work was simply part of a larger awakening. Indeed, I began to notice the influence of ancestors everywhere, and on many subtle levels, I felt we are not working in isolation. We received much support form kind people and kind spirits, and that was helpful in times of inter-group conflict. For example, at one point in the consultation I felt I was being bashed on the head by every archaeologist in the country (and half of the Pagan community at the same time). As an archaeological theorist, anthropologist and Druid, these group conflicts told me that I must be doing something right. We were asking the right questions.
MS: Do you think the decision by EH may be overturned in the future?
PD: With love, and with much reasoned debate, a harmonious compromise may be found. I’m not convinced that a win/lose mentality is helpful though. Small, peaceful, steps are the way to co-operative living. No need for swords.
MS: You are vocal on social media about the myths surrounding GMO. What makes this a subject you are passionate about?
PD: I like to resist stupidity wherever it raises its head, and the current focus of many environmental groups is rooted in a fear of science, often on the basis of what may or may not happen. Their lies are a spiritual poverty and that is not acceptable.
MS: What do you think the role of Druids is in the modern world?
PD: Like many Pagans, I focus my spirituality within nature, and I love the interaction that flows between nature and myself. My vision is not complicated really: to share my peace, love and light with the world, to uphold truth, share this with others and, of course, resist all forms of stupidity.
MS: You’ve been involved in the campaign against nuclear weapons. Do you still support this, and do you think with the changes in UK politics, disarmament may come to fruition in our lifetimes?
PD: Yes, peace is certainly achievable simply by shining a light of co-operation and by resisting the bully boy poverties of lesser logic. Trident is a great example where the threat of nuclear murder made against civilian men, women and children (the nuclear ‘deterrent’) is used to maintain ‘peace’ between nations. That is a nuclear lie.
MS: Do you have any further books on the way? Any other compilations you are involved with?
PD: Yes, I’m editing a new compilation of essays for undergraduate and postgraduates. It’s called A Modern Pagan: Thought and Practice and is due out later this year.
MS: Do you have a hobby? How do you relax?
PD: I love travelling to Germany, and I’m a keen photographer.
MS: And finally, what are you hoping 2016 brings, more than anything else?
PD: Solar and wind energy will become more popular and that should undermine the need to create more nuclear waste and frack for oil and gas.
I’m also keen to focus more on peace work in Norwich and to improve my photography around North Norfolk and the Broads.