Roman leader Julius Caesar famously recorded that the Druids of ancient Gaul practised human sacrifice by burning their victims in a wicker man, but modern-day proponents of Druidry describe their practice as a peaceful spiritual path that connects them to nature and encourages self-improvement.

These days, historians question the accuracy of Caesar’s claim, suggesting it might be propaganda against the Celtic peoples – first century BC fake news perhaps. But interest in the beliefs and practices of the ancient British druids is likely to be raised by new television drama, Britannia, with Mackenzie Crook playing the character of the druid Veran.

For Swindon druids Wayne Paul and Sue Baxter, however, the pagan path of Druidry is all about connecting with nature and the cycle of the year, learning patience and tolerance, and celebrating the magic of everyday life.

Friends Wayne, 55, from Moredon, and Sue, 59, from Haydon Wick, have both been interested in paganism for many years and are now members of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), a worldwide organisation of over 20,000 members from 50 countries, dedicated to practising and developing Druidry as a source of spirituality.

“It’s very nature-based,” explained Sue, who works as an advocate for Swindon Mind, and runs mental health first aid courses. “I became interested in paganism in the late 90s and Wayne became a spiritual guru to me. I had started to get a yearning to get into something different.”

Wayne, who was born in Zambia and moved to Britain in 1984, said he was fascinated by the natural world since an early age, as he had grown up immersed in nature.

“I was brought up in a large Catholic family, but I always questioned a lot of stuff,” he explained. Wayne studied many religions and spiritual practices, such as Rosicrucianism and shamanism, because he did not like what he saw as the rigid structures of more formal religions.

“I was interested in the spiritual – questions about the purpose of life, of who I am – and this was a way to engage with life, to make it better.

“It’s also about how you feel – that absolute awe you can feel in the face of the natural world. It’s a feeling, that’s the larger part of it. And it’s how you create your own story about how you fit in the world. That’s not to denigrate other faiths – there are lots of things we take from Christianity.”

Sue and Wayne tune themselves to the cycle of the year by carrying out rituals at eight points during the year – the summer and winter solstices, the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, Imbolc in February, Beltane in May, Lughnasadh in August, and Samhain in November.

The Swindon druids do indeed wear the traditional white robes for their ceremonies, and their rituals may involve a recognition of the importance of the four elements of air, earth, fire and water, and incorporate symbols from Celtic folklore and the mythos of King Arthur.

“We wear white robes for our ceremonies, but not all druids do,” said Sue, a mother of four and a grandmother. “For me it’s about getting into the right frame of mind.”

Wayne, who used to be a hairdresser and now does clinical massage, said Druidry was an eclectic practice with no sacred text and a wide range of individual approaches. At a moot – the druid meeting – the details of a ritual will be worked out by the group

“Everybody is allowed to speak and share their thoughts and ideas,” he said. “Underlying that is a core set of principles that underline how it takes place.”

This might involve creating a circle, acknowledging the above and the below, and consecrating the space with fire and water. Symbolism is a key part of their practice, with the druid’s staff, for example, representing the first tree, and the relationship of above and below, while adornments of beads and bells related to the four elements.

“It’s about gratitude for the day. I greet the elements. I show gratitude for the water and thank it, and hope it stays pure. I connect to the air when I breathe, and I salute the sun,” Sue explained. “It’s about connection, observation and appreciation.”

Wayne added: “We sometimes see ourselves as separate from Nature, but this is reconnecting us to the plant. A lot of the ecological movement came out of the revival of Druidry.”

Wayne has completed the OBOD studies required to earn the title of Druid and says tolerance is a key principle of their beliefs – and that followers of this tradition might believe in one god, or many, or none at all.

Sue said people did sometimes think her druidic interests were unusual.

“People think we are a bit eccentric or strange, but more people are curious,” she said.

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