An account of a meeting with Emma Restall-Orr, former co-chief Druid of the British Order of Druids and now head of the Druid Network.
On a recent trip to Great Britain I was fortunate to spend most of one day with Emma Restall Orr, at the time she was the Joint Chief Druid of the British Order of Druids, today she heads the Druid Network. Ms. Orr is the author of The Principles of Druidry; Spirits of the Sacred Grove, and her new title, Ritual: A Guide to Life, Love and Inspiration.
Emma is a wonderous being. Very small in physical stature with black hair and dark complexion, she portrays what comes to mind when we speak of the Old People. She is chronologically young but an ancient soul in her wisdom and knowledge. And she is refreshingly unpretentious. She does not flaunt her role as one of the contemporary leaders of paganism and Druidry. She does not sign her name with those all too prevalent abbreviations “HP” following. In fact she is modest in her role. When I mentioned to her that Druid Orders appeared to be male dominated she replied that she was requested to be joint chief Druid to again inject into the Old Religion the energy and the balancing power of women. Historically there have been female Druids but today it has become almost entirely male with a conscious effort to keep women out of the Order. According to Emma this is a direct result of the 18th century revivalist movement which was led, of course, by influential males. This male domination is especially evident in the United States. To me this is distressing in that contemporary pagans are mirroring the traditional patriarchal/Christian churches in keeping the leadership in male hands.
Emma spoke passionately about the attempts by "New Age Pagans" to “improve” ancient sacred stone circles. One such circle was purchased by a group of archaeologists and pagans to preserve it and to make it available to all. In their attempt to "improve" the circle they sowed grass seed in an area in the center which never had grass growing in it. The energy at this center was such that vegetation did not grow. After the grass died it was again replanted. In addition the moles which were active in the circle, churning up the dark and fresh soil of the Mother Earth, were poisoned. Pesticides were dumped in the burrow holes inside the sacred circle. All of these “improvements” drastically changed the flow of energy at the site. It was through the efforts of Emma and others of the Old Religion that the destruction was countered and the moles protected. This is but one of the examples of people who believe that they are practicing “pagans” with no link to their past, with no link to their responsibility to the Earth and to the other living beings of our world, engaging in activities which are entirely selfish and counterproductive. Activities that may forever alter the flow of power from these sites.
Emma is one representative of many meeting to decide the issue of free access. Many believe that all sacred sites, such as Stonehenge, should be available to all for any purpose. Emma believes that they should be off limits. One reason for her thinking is the annual solstice festival held at Stonhenge. A few years ago 400 riot police had to battle revelers who were drunk, dancing on the massive lintels and who camped on, defecated on, and otherwise vandalized the site. This year they were back, bent more on self indulgent behavior devoid of any respect rather than observing a holy day. Free access must be tempered with respect and rational thought. These are sacred sites and should be treated as such.
Although soft spoken, Emma exudes power and wisdom. She normally presides at three rituals a week at Stonehenge as well as numerous other sites. The week I saw Emma she had six weddings to officate at in Avebury on Saturday alone.
Our small group was privileged to participate in a ritual with Emma in the inner circle of Stonehenge. When we indicated to the guards that we had "special access", they opened the gates for our vehicle to pass through. As they saw Emma in the front seat they smiled and saluted. A response obviously given in friendship and respect.
One cannot imagine the intensity of feelings that come when you walk through the same portals that have seen the rising and setting sun for over five thousand years and which have survived the Romans and the Christians and, so far, New Age pseudo-pagans.
Emma is a small but powerful voice in the fight to protect these ancient places so important to the Old Religion and as yet to be understood by modern science. As we were leaving her at the end of the day in Avebury, she turned to my wife and said that she found it ironic that she was trying to journey to a place of sanity and normalcy while the rest of the world was trying to journey to where she finds herself today.
I doubt if many of us will be able to find ourselves even remotely near her level of spirituality.