Annoyingly wobbly health has kept me from posting here for a bit and much has happened in the interval. No great progress on the health issues. A wealth of symptoms which my physician says is caused by my wobbly brain chemistry, and which my naturopathic doctor says is caused by a carload of nasty things floating around inside my body which my body is trying to get rid of. Probably foremost, are fears, and I am working (again) to try to spend some time identifying what they are and apply some therapeutic techniques involving affirmations, etc.
But, in the interstices of attending to my health, I was happy to preside over a meeting of the Avalon Center Board of Governors. This is the first meeting we have had since I decided last Samhuinn that I could not carry on with operations of the Center until circumstances changed.
Mr. Meyer, who has been serving as our Merlin and one of the board members, stepped forward with a proposal to focus our operations more narrowly than we have hitherto. It was his excellent suggestion that without giving up the big dream of a druid college, we need to focus on what we have right now, which is an online scholarly center that has a certain amount of infrastructure to offer people who want to teach in the range of fields we have embraced within our educational mission.
Mr. Meyer also volunteered more of his time to administration, so that I could focus on academic affairs. The board agreed that in keeping with this new focus on being a really functional scholarly center online, we should change the titles of the administrators to something a little less university-like and a little more business-like. Mr. Meyer pointed out that this would better reflect the reality of the current duties and would make the title useful on a resume. “Merlin” or even “Bursar,” to take two examples, would not be very useful in the world of business because they would require so much explanation.
I have long been a bit uncomfortable with “Chancellor” because it sounds a bit puffed up and grand. The title is often used in academia for an administrative office of university proportions, and one that oversees many colleges, as at Oxford University, where the Chancellor heads the university which is made up of quite a large number of separate colleges with deans and wardens and bursars and so forth.
So, in the spirit of being who we are now and not labeling ourselves with the job titles we would like to have at some future date when we can evolve into a fully fledged college of druidic arts, or even liberal arts, it was agreed that our chief officers should be titled as follows:
Head of Operations (Mr. Meyer)
Head of Finance (Ms. Miller)
Head of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty (yours truly)
We will need further personnel to work under each of these heads, or rather work with them, under their leadership. We are trying to avoid hierarchy as much as we can, and make decisions by discussion and consensus. I hope that with three heads (like fabled Cerberus, gaurdian of the Underworld), we can do so. If each of the heads has assumed decision-making authority in his or her division, then the others can serve in an advisory capacity. So, for example, Mr. Meyer as Head of Operatons (HOO) has decision making authority over all operations generally, including develpment and maintainance of the cybercampus, the online library, student and faculty records, and all other routines of managing the Center as a business.
The Head of Academic Affairs (HAA) has decion-making authority over courses and teachers and to some degree the status of students. The additional title “Dean” simply means that the HAA has authority as leader of the faculty to assign courses, assist the other teachers in professional development and course design, to oversee the quality of teaching, and so forth. Once a new faculty has been assembled (which remains to be accomplished) these things can fall under the self-governance of the teachers themselves. The great challenge for me, as the past three years have proven, is to get teachers who will follow-through on their teaching. The great challenge of the Head of Operations, is to see that we have some routine mechanisms for advertising and recruitment so that the teachers have students enrolling in their courses.
The past three years have been a learning experience, and we hope that we can pick up the lessions learned and build a strong business plan and structure of administration, which in turn can provide for teachers the service of a place to teach with a druidic ethos. There are online schools which are focussed on certain witchcraft traditions (Witchschool and Ardantane for example) or on a kind of popular pagan idea of magic (The Grey School of Wizardry). There are several druid orders that offer training courses, mentoring, or instruction online or by post, and there are numbers of other kinds of magical orders, rosicrucian colleges, and so forth offering similar kinds of instruction in their particular initiatic current. Freemasonry is another very large mystery school that is, of course, quite old and well organized, but has become at least as much an order for fellowship and charitable fund-raising as it is for spiritual growth through initiatory degrees. It offers some instruction, but not everywhere or always.
I also know of a school of astrology in Florida, which came to my attention because they use the domain name “avaloncollege.com” and we have been using “avaloncollege.org”. And there is quite a good school of alchemy, Flamel College, which is run by Dennis William Hauck. Finally, there is Cherry Hill Seminary and the Aquarian Seminary in Vermont and Washington State respectively, which are established as religious seminaries.
What need is there for Avalon Center? Well, chiefly, to create a place for those of us who call ourselves druids to gather. Those who cal lthemselves witches, pagans, magicians or simply environmentalists, psychologists, or seekers, are welcome to join with us to form a community of learners and teachers. My own vision is to create a physical place where this community can come together as a sanctuary, a Grove of Academe that is not limited in scope to any of the various areas described above. It remains to be seen if the scattered magical folk want to come together in this kind of organization. It is more academic than most of them, which is to say, guided by the academic model of free-thought and learning through reading and writing. It goes against my nature to place myself in competiton with these other schools which have been longer established and are doing good work. So, for my part, I wish to see how Avalon Center can provide a different kind of service, something that will complement the work of all these other organizations, not compete with them.
The catalog which I originally sketched on the Avalon College web site will likely be eventually retired to a redesigned wing of the cybercampus devoted to the larger vision of a comprehensive program of higher education with study programs and diplomas given. In the mean time, I think that our particular strength and focus is on the idea of a field of druidic studies. This is a term I invented to described in a short phrase the peculiar range of areas druids like to study. The focus, for the most part, is on the legends and lore of the ancient pre-Christian Celtic peoples. This itself covers an enormous range of material. In additions, modern druidry has extended these old bits of lore and legend into new areas (which we suppose might echo older practices). For example, the creation of card sets for cartomancy based on Celtic lore — the Celtic Tree Oracle, and the Druid Animal Oracle, for example, and even the Druidcraft Tarot and the Arthurian Tarot, which unite ancient and medieval themes with the equally mysterious traditional oracle, the tarot cards.
In addition to the study of Irish and Welsh myths and legends, Arthurian romances, we might include what has become known as “Celtic Christianity” and the folklore of the British Isles generally. Continental Europe offers its own vast range of Celtic history and lore, much of which is scarcely known to the Anglophone world of popular druidry. Further, Ovate studies open the door to a wider study of divination, spirit-guides, ghosts, ancestral spirits, divinities, and also such fields as herbology and the healing arts. Tree lore and communication with the Hidden Folk, commonly called “fairies” is another huge region of study that ovates may desire to pursue more deeply.
By “more deeply” I do not mean to disparage the teaching courses offered by orders such as the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, or the Ancient Order of Druids in America, or A Druid Fellowship, et al. These orders offer a particular community and spiritual current, just as different religious sects do. That kind of education is important and foundational to one’s self-identification as a bard, ovate, or druid in the modern world. However, many self-styled druids do not belong to one of these orders or have not, for whatever reason, gone through their self-study programs. I myself hope that the number who do will increase, but there is no denying that many druids today feel called by something in their heart to be a druid simply by a love of nature, or a love of old Celtic myths and legends, or a love of the Hidden Folk. The spiritual calling is strong and the druid spirit has always been individualistic. Even in ancient times there were druids who advised kings and many more who lived as hermits or healers or diviners or simply studied nature and her spirits. At least, so we divine from the remnants of old stories and poems.
So, Avalon Center for Druidic Studies has been conceived to serve the diverse interests of druids. My hope is that we can attract teachers and develop courses of study that will permit druid scholars to further their own specialist studies and others to receive a broad range of exposure to new fields of knoweldge, for a well-rounded druidic education. For example, anyone who has completed the ovate grade of the OBOD, will have seen the vast array of subjects they can study from this vantage point. Avalon Center will offer them a more structured learning environment in which they can pursue some of those subjects further with the guidance of a teacher (or tutor, as they are called in the U.K.), someone who will guide them and help them manage their projects. Not so much someone who wishes simply to share their own wisdom and ideas, but someone who will wisely help the student to think for herself and write well upon a subject. Trained as a professor of English and composition, I place a very high premium upon writing as a method for discovering what you think. The act of articulating your thoughts in writing is central to education. I also believe that being able to articulate your thoughts or a body of knoweldge verbally is very important, and I hope we can address that even in an online cybercampus with the latest audio-visual technologies. I myself and not too hip about YouTube, but clearly such technology offers a splendid way for students to submit oral work to supplemnt written work.
So, in sum, when I am not suffering from indigestion, rashes, or chronic melancholy, I feel hopeful about Avalon Center and that we have taken a new step forward on what must be a long road toward develping such an institution. We must do so slowly and gradually, and with a business plan that will permit us to have money to work with. This kind of business cannot be run purely on good-will. No school ever has run that way. Indeed even organizations with “members” paying dues will find that good will alone is likely to wear out. As a spiritual movement, druidry cannot threaten people with Hellfire and damnation if they do not attend and pay their dues. There is no great inconvenience at dropping out of any druid organization. Which means that for any such organization to succeed it must continue to offer its clients value for money and moreover, spiritual value — the joy of learning and the joy of being spiritually fed through involvement with a community.
It will be interesting to see if this community responds to the invitation to work together in this way.