|ACTION - Beltane 2010 - Article 2|
Action is the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Educational Network
Celebrating the Release of "The Druid Isle" and "Making Kitchen Medicines: A Practical Guide"
I have in the past reviewed a couple of books by Ellen Evert Hopman, but this is the first time I have had a chance to interview her on two new books.
She is a modern day Druid, cofounder of the Order of the Whiteoak (Ord na Darach Gile ~ http://www.whiteoakdruids.org, an Herbalist and teacher as well as the author of Druid related books.
Christopher: Could you give us a bit of background on who you are and your experience?
Ellen: I am at present co-Chief of the Order of the Whiteoak. In the past I was Vice President of Keltria for nine years and one of the five people who originally dreamed up that Order. I was also one of the first few members of ADF, back in 1984.
As an Herbalist I trained primarily with William LeSassier in New York, back in 1983, and at the Findhorn community in Scotland under Barbara D'Arcy Thompson. I also took the professional course with the National Center for Homeopathy and attended many weekend seminars with Robin Murphy, Julian Winston, and others. Being an Herbalist is a life long vocation and I have continued my studies every year since then. I am always learning new things, from nature and from books. I am a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild.
Christopher: What are "Bardic teaching tales" and how does this relate to your novels?
Ellen: When the Christian missionaries converted Europe it became ever harder for people to practice the old ways in the open. One solution was to continue the ancient teachings via the Bards and story tellers.
A person could start by saying "Only foolish people will believe this" or "Only old women believe this now" and then launch into a mystical tale with a Pagan truth hidden within it.
In that vein I have written three novels (the last one is sitting on the publisher's desk waiting for acceptance) that inculcate Celtic spirituality and rituals, hidden within what I hope are entertaining tales. I always include plenty of romance and warrior action to keep the stories alive.
My ultimate goal is to create novels that a person can actually use to create a Druid path for themselves. I cover all the traditional rites of passage, seasonal festivals, healing work, initiations, and so forth in my works.
Christopher: I would like to start off with "The Druid Isle". This book continues into the next generation the story you started with in "Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey" does it not?
Ellen: Yes, "The Druid Isle" is the sequel to "Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey". The first novel is about life passages and the relationship with sacred land, from a Druidic viewpoint. It is also about the very fist encounters between the Druids and the Christian missionaries, written from the Druid's point of view.
The second book goes deeper into the training of a Fili or sacred poet, the highest grade of Druid, and also deals with sacred water and the mystical voyages or immrama of the Celts.
The third book, which is not yet published, deals with sacred fire, on the land in the sky.
The three books are my homage to the Three Worlds of Indo-European cosmology; Land, Sea and Sky.
Christopher: Why does your novel focus on this period of history, the arrival of the Christian missionaries and its effect on the Druids?
Ellen: Well, for a story to carry the reader through to the end there has to be conflict, tension and resolution. Also, that is the period I identify with most strongly. Some say it is a past life memory, others say I am just "channeling". As a Celtic Reconstructionist Druid that period holds great fascination for me, because that was where we lost everything that we are now so painstakingly trying to put back together.
It's not unlike what happened to the Native American tribes when they lost their religion, languages and culture. They are now gathering up the threads of what is still left so they can pass on the tribal traditions to the future.
I am trying to do the same with all my books, both the fiction and the non fiction works.
Christopher: Where do ideas come from for this story?
Ellen: I am a voracious reader of Celtic history and usually one sentence will pop out at me and the next thing I know I am dreaming in a book. I usually see the rough outline in my head and then I begin to write. But very quickly the characters take over and steer the story into areas I never would have thought of. At that point I am just a scribe, following them around and recording their actions, what they do and say.
"The Druid Isle" is loosely based on some time I spent in the Hebrides of Scotland, walking the land and feeling out the power spots on an island called Innis nan Druidneach that was once sacred to the Druids.
That was back in 1983 when I was living at Findhorn for a summer. But all the rest of it leading up to the descriptions of the island and all that comes after is dictated by the characters themselves.
I never know what a book is going to be about until I sit down to write it. Each book is my own mystical voyage of discovery.
Christopher: In one interview, you stated that your characters were wiser than you in some things. Could you explain what you mean by that?
Ellen: As I said, I just follow them around and record what they are doing. In the second book in particular, I watched to see how the Fili or sacred poets were able to come to terms with the new religion and make their peace with it.
It has always been fascinating to me that Ireland was converted peacefully.
In other areas, such as France, there were horrible events that cowed the common folk into accepting Christianity. For example, St. Martin traveled the countryside with a gang of thugs and their mission was to cut down any sacred tree or sacred grove and to smash Pagan statues and temples wherever they found them. There were instances where monks would come to a town, cut off someone's arm because they refused to convert, and then hang it in the town square as an object lesson for the rest of the townsfolk. It was pretty brutal.
So the fact that Ireland converted peacefully must have had a lot to do with the Druids ability to adapt. Of course the Romans never got to Ireland except possibly for trade purposes so in general there was less mayhem going on and people could be more reasonable.
To my eyes St. Martin of Tours and his ilk were just finishing the work of conquest that was started by the Roman armies. They were pursuing the practices of the "Church militant" rather than the secular imperial tactics.
My characters are wiser and more forgiving than I probably would have been under those circumstances.
Christopher: So how does the focus shift from what we saw in Priestess in the Forest: A Druid journey?
Ellen: The second book widens the world view. The first book takes place in Ireland while the second book begins to expand into Armorica (Brittany), Cornubia (Cornwall) and Alba (Scotland) and then back to Ireland.
Christopher: Why a trilogy, what is the significance of the number three here? And any idea when the next one will come out?
Ellen: Celtic cosmology honors Three Worlds rather than Four Directions. We have a vertical view of the universe, the world of Land which includes Nature Spirits and everything that lives on the land including animals, people, plants, trees, rocks, etc. is the middle realm that we humans walk upon. Below us is the world of Sea or Water which is the gateway to the ancestors and the Sidhe (Fairy) realm, and above us is the Sky Realm of the Goddesses and Gods.
The number three is probably the most sacred number in Indo-European thinking. That is why the Hindus and Vedic peoples have triple Gods and Goddesses, for example Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The highest Celtic deities; Brighid, the Morrígan, and Lugh (who was born of
triplets) are also visualized as triple deities.
As far as when the next book comes out, that depends on if the publisher accepts it. I would say at least a year or two from now.
"The Druid Isle" just came out this month!
Christopher: Where can people find out more about your books?
Ellen: All my books are on my website www.elleneverthopman.com. As an author I really appreciate it if folks buy their books; mine or anyone else's, by going through my site. By ordering from my personal site people can buy my books directly from me and have them signed and get a personal note from the author. They can also buy books via the link to Amazon.com.
Christopher: "Making Kitchen Medicines: A Practical Guide" How did this book come about?
Ellen: I have been doing workshops locally at health food stores, teaching people how to make simple medicines using foods and spices they already have in the kitchen. At one of the classes the students pretty much demanded that I write a book on the subject. So I did.
The book is due out any day now; you can pre-order it here; www.elleneverthopman.com
Christopher: Who is this book designed for?
Ellen: I like everyone else in the country (except for a tiny group of CEOs and Wall Street tycoons) am struggling within the current economy. I wanted to teach people to use what they already have at home to help themselves and their families. It's amazing what you can do with simple things like carrots, cabbages, bread, eggs and so forth, to help yourself without having to go to a doctor or the local pharmacy.
Of course these home remedies are not for serious medical conditions, it's more of a First Aid type of book. Anyone who is seriously ill needs to see a health professional, to at least get a good diagnosis.
Christopher: You have written on herbal medicines before how is this one different in its purpose?
Ellen: All my books are very carefully designed so that people can go out and gather plants and use them at home. I always include dosages, cautions, and so forth.
The other books are more mystical in that they generally cover every aspect of the plant or tree from Mind to Body to Spirit and traditional Pagan uses.
The book "Making Kitchen Medicines: A Practical Guide" is more hands on and mundane. My hope is that it will appear on health food stores and have a broad appeal to the general public, not just Pagan mystics such as you and me!
Christopher: do you have any new projects underway for us to be aware of this Beltaine or beyond?
Ellen: I am working on a large book of Scottish herbs and Fairy lore that has not yet found a publisher.
On Memorial Day weekend I will be near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you can read more about that here; http://gryphonsnestcampground.com/Upcoming_events.html
Folks can find my speaking schedule, my blog and other notices on my website http://www.elleneverthopman.com
Christopher: Any news on the Awen and the VA?
Ellen: Nope. We haven't heard anything new. So far it's a waiting game. For those who may not be aware, Druids have petitioned the VA to accept our symbol called the "Awen" which is three lines denoting the Three Worlds. We did an online poll with all major Druid Orders and that was the symbol that most Druids wanted. The actual design of the symbol is by J.Craig Melia who is the other co-Chief of Whiteoak. We have been working on this since 2004.
The VA has told us that we have to wait "until there is a need", in other words we can't move forward until we have a deceased Druid vet who has requested the symbol. A number of living Druid vets have requested it and if any Druid vet reads this please apply to the VA!
If you want the "Awen" on your military marker please get the paperwork in order and send one copy to the VA, and keep another for your next of kin and/or clergy person. The more Druid vets that do this the more smoothly things will go when we actually have a need.
You will find supporting documentation and the VA form here; http://www.dragonskeepfarm.com/headstone.
Here are the VA links with more details; http://www.cem.va.gov/hm/hmqa.asp and "VA Form 40-1330, Standard Application for Government Headstone or Marker http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-1330.pdf. The NOK or authorized representative may also request a new emblem of belief for the headstone or marker at the time they complete the form."
I would appreciate it if you send copies of letters and documents to me so they can be archived in case there is a court case. My address is POB 219, Amherst, MA 01004. Or if you can scan them and send them as e:mail that's even better.
Christopher: Anything else within the Druid community that might be of interest to our readers?
Ellen: Speaking for myself and for some others who are Pagan elders, I am seeing an increasing problem. Those of us who started the various Druid groups are beginning to age and after a lifetime of volunteering are starting to get older and sometimes getting sick and losing our strength.
I myself still put in about an hour a day at least, seven days a week, just on my Druid Order and until recently I ran Groves for almost thirty years during which I devoted weekends to teaching, running rituals, cooking, etc, every month or so. That's a huge amount of volunteer hours!
Unlike other religions Pagans have no paid clergy or retirement plans, no health care or other perks. Sadly, once an elder loses the energy to keep running rituals on a regular basis, what I see is that all too often the Grove or Coven falls apart and the members just scatter to the winds. It's as if certain individuals have to provide everything; their home, talents, time, effort, even funds, just to provide a free "Church" for members. When that key person has needs that prevent them from putting out so much energy the whole enterprise dissolves.
Pagans have a knee jerk reaction to paying for certain things. They will cheerfully pay for fancy robes and jewelry and to go to expensive festivals where they can be entertained for a weekend, but they have a deep aversion to paid clergy. I have no idea how this can be overcome.
We are at the same phase that Christianity was in, during the first fifty years when worship was done in people's houses. I hope that some day we will have permanent temples, old age homes and burial grounds so that those with the talent to be clergy will have a more comfortable life and the spiritual needs of all Pagans, from cradle to grave, will be taken care of.
One thing I have done is written a will so that all royalties from my books will specifically go to the creation of a Pagan cemetery in my area.
There, I've said it. I hope I haven't depressed anyone!