We interviewed leading Druid Philip Carr-Gomm to find out more about The Druid Plant Oracle, which he co-wrote with his wife Stephanie Carr-Gomm.
Philip talks about symbols, such as the cauldron, archaeobotany, mistletoe and how to use the cards for guidance.
Discover the herbs, owers and fungi considered sacred in the Druid tradition, with this beautifully illustrated oracle. The virtues and qualities of each plant, and the ancient folklore and mythology associated with them, offer wisdom, inspiration and guidance, in this enlightening pack.
Take a good and close up look at the Plant cards, see some card spread ideas, excerpts from the book, all timed to apprear on screen while Philip is talking.
Download to listen on the go.
Subscribe so you never miss an episode!
We publish a new podcast every 2 weeks on interesting Mind, Body, Soul and Health topics
Want more from Philip Carr-Gomm? Check out this interview on the Druid Plant Oracle ->
Read the interview
Philip C-G : Hello. Hi there.
Steve: My earliest introduction to druidry was actually through the amazing Asterix graphic comics. I really loved. I read them all, I think. I really like them as a kid for many reasons, but one of the reasons now I realise was that they showed this druidry and ancient way of living in a very positive light in numerous way, but a lot of Earth-based spiritual paths have not always been promoted this way. Has this been challenging for you as a druid?
One is that the cauldron is a hugely powerful symbol for us as druids. It’s the primal symbol that in Christianity became the holy grail, but is the symbol of the divine feminine, of the womb of the goddess, of nourishment, of spiritual nourishment, and of inspiration. The drink that comes out of the cauldron in druidry is awen in Welsh or immas in Irish, which is the elixir of inspiration, of divine inspiration, which is what druids seek. Because druidry is at its heart a way of seeking inspiration. We work with this idea tremendously. Of course, there’s a link there with plants because there are all sorts of suggestions about what plants might have been in that cauldron to produce that magical elixir.
Steve: Now, I’ve read somewhere that you wrote, “As the wilderness is eradicated, so some wilderness disappears in us also.” Now, most of us live in urban settings, and some of us have never even ventured in the wilderness. Is this a problem?
Philip C-G : I think it’s a huge problem. We’re going through a period in the story of the Earth and humanity which is absolutely critical, this period of mass species extinction, with this five runaway trains really, one being the population, the other being pollution, the other being habitat degradation and species extinction, and that’s four. There’s a fifth one, but that’s enough of them for the moment. I can’t remember that for the moment. They’re all seriously out of control, and what we need to do is we need to address them, as many, many people are. It’s important to focus on the positive. One of the ways to get back in touch with our deep selves, with our souls, with our purpose in life and to be of more value to others in the world is to get in touch with the world outside, with wilderness, which is why druidry is a spirituality that is celebrated outdoors as much as possible. We don’t have buildings, churches or temples. Our temple is the Earth and our sacred places are stone circles and clearings in the woods and spots besides rivers and seas, and so on.
Philip C-G : Exactly. The desire for inspiration and transcendence, for mystical experience is absolutely hard-wired into us, I believe, which is why when young people who are brought up in what’s called the consensus reality, sort the box of consensus reality and they start to break out as they grow up, that’s why they turn to drug taking and drinking and so on, in an attempt to get out of the box and expand their awareness and to have new experiences and consciousness. I think there’s a real duty amongst spiritual leaders and spiritual groups and any of us involved in this movement, really, to say to young people, hey, look, we understand why you’re doing this, but there’s a safer way to do it. There’s a more long lasting, effective way to do it, which is to follow these ways, these magical ways which can produce altered states of consciousness and a deeper sense of being alive in the world.
Steve: It’s an interesting point, because you mentioned the drug taking and the psychedelic culture, which has been really a party party thing, but that also was part of the ancient way of connecting with the spirit worlds, wasn’t it? There were magic mushrooms and various other things that were taken.
Philip C-G : Exactly. At the moment there’s this big fascination for ayahuasca to such a degree that demand now exceeds supply, apparently, and so the usual story is happening where the plant is being cut with or substituted with other things which are not good for you. There’s this story that I think there isn’t evidence for this, but some people in the 60s developed a story or a narrative that went that the druids were the sacred guardians of the mushrooms in the British Isles, and that’s why we are mycophobic in Britain, not mycophilic as on the continent. What that means is mycophilic is people who love mushrooms and who go out mushrooming, so if you’re in France, people will happily go out with baskets, pick mushrooms, and every local pharmacy will have charts explaining which ones are toxic and which ones aren’t, but people don’t do that in Britain.Somebody developed a theory, well, the reason why it’s taboo in Britain is because the druids were in charge of the mushrooms, because we have two psychedelic mushrooms that grow naturally in Britain, amanita muscaria, and the other one that’s fly agaric.
Philip C-G : Yes. Liberty caps. Fly agaric and liberty caps. There’s a very good book called Shroom by doctor Andy Letcher who dismisses this theory, but it’s a theory nonetheless. It points to exactly what you say which is the spiritual relationship that people have developed between humans and plants.
Steve: Now the healing tradition of plant medicine seem to have a lot of it gone underground as allopathic medicine came to the fore and wanted to elbow out the way these healers and kill them off and all that. Has it been challenging rediscovering some of this lost world of druid herb lore?
Philip C-G : Well, the thing with The Druid Plant Oracle, it’s been such a fascinating project because it’s really like such a lot in druidry. It seems to be lost but it’s just beneath the surface. A very common reaction somebody might have if you talk to them about druidry or if you say, “I’m getting interested in druidry. I’m following … ” They’ll say, “Well, there’s no evidence. There’s nothing around. It died out thousands of years ago and it’s just all fantasy.” That person just doesn’t know enough. They haven’t read enough. They haven’t studied enough, because actually there’s loads of material just waiting to be discovered really and rearticulated. That applies to the animal traditions and it applies to plant lore as well.
If you take, for instance, there’s a wonderful place called Llyn y Fan Fach which is a lake in Wales. Up on the top of that in this very windswept location there’s a cairn, bronze age cairn that was excavated a few years back by archaeologists and they discovered the cremated remains of a young woman. Alongside those cremated remains were traces of meadow sweet, enabling scientists to say when this woman’s remains were buried there, offerings were made of meadow sweet, and that’s, is it 4,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago. You think how can they possibly tell? They can and they do it by putting what they find under a microscope and detecting the cell structure that remains of whatever remains are there.
We’re familiar with the stories of is it from Tutankhamen’s tomb of grains of wheat or whatever being found and people being able to regrow them from thousands of years back, and that’s because they were sealed in a tomb, in a dry, hot place. Even in a windswept, wet place like the British Isles, archaeobotany can tell us what was growing at the time of the ancient druids and what they were cultivating and so on. That’s how Stephanie and I worked on The Druid Plant Oracle. We first of all turned to archaeobotany and said, okay, what was around at the time of the ancient druids, so we had a picture of that. Then we looked at the cotemporary herbals and said, okay, what were they talking about then.
Philip C-G : Here’s the extraordinary thing. It’s perhaps easy to believe that you can go inside in a meditation and become aware of the human being who tells you stuff, and whether it’s your imagination or you’re actually contacting somebody who’s died in the past or a being on another plane is a matter of belief and so on. One can imagine that. You can sort of imagine it with an animal getting, contacting an animal and perhaps that also bringing you information and so on. A plant, to the sceptic that would seem extraordinary that a plant could give you insight or information or healing in some way just in this inner world. An exercise I like to do in workshops is I just ask people, I just take them on a little journey up to Llyn y Fan Fach, this lake in Wales just for five minutes imagining they’re drifting on a cloud and travelling there and so on.
I get them to sit by the lake gazing at the lake and so on, and then I say, “Just imagine now that you can sense behind you a plant growing. Don’t turn around. Just feel it behind you. Just feel the colour. Get a sense for the colour that’s coming towards you. Get a sense for whether the energy is sharp or soft. What’s the kind of feeling there?” And so on. Then I get them in their imaginations to turn round, keep their eyes closed, feel the plant more, and then open their inner eyes and look at the plant, touch it, and then get a message. Get why am I seeing you. What is extraordinary is virtually everybody gets information, is astonished by how real the experience is and how the message or healing or energy or quality that is conveyed to them, how much it’s of help to them.
That’s really the basis of this. There’s this idea that what the plant oracle isn’t, it’s not a herbal that’s going to teach you how to make herbal concoctions and drinks and so on. There are plenty of those books, very valuable and helpful books. What it’s doing instead is it’s working with plants in a different way. It’s saying, look, these are the sacred plants of the druid tradition. These are the ideas that are traditionally associated with it. Here are some of the stories associated with this particular plant, and here’s what it might mean in your life if you draw this card in the oracle. Plants have been used as oracles, I mean the yarrow, for instance, was used as an oracle in the highlands of Scotland for centuries, as it was used strangely enough in China with the I Ching as well.
Philip C-G : Yes. Sure. It’s interesting you chose the mistletoe, because of course that’s the plant most famously associated with the druids. The reason we associate it with the winter solstice is because the winter solstice is the time of the greatest darkness. It’s the time of the longest night. Then the whole year turns on that fulcrum, as it were, round to the light again. What we do in a druid ceremony is we put out all the lights, we extinguish candles or whatever light there is, and then we just bathe, as it were, in the darkness for a while, that sort of nurturing, nourishing power of the darkness. Then we light one candle, and then everybody in the circle lights a candle from that. You have a wonderful magical moment of everybody standing there with these little flames.
Then we hand out mistletoe. The mistletoe, those little white berries symbolise that same thing, that point of light in the darkness. It symbolises the awen that we talked about earlier of inspiration, these three drops of elixir that comes out of the cauldron, that the cauldron of darkness, if you like, of the womb. Drawing it symbolises inspiration and it’s great to draw that card if one’s going through any kind of difficulty or just any confusion of lack of clarity, or sense of darkness. It’s also used in druidry as a symbol of fertility. When you squidge a mistletoe berry and it’s rather like male sperm, so it’s been associated in that way with the idea of fertility.
Of course, if you look at the opposites of all these things, and fertility is sterility, inspiration is actually the lack of guidance and so on. It’s drawing one’s attention in the reversed meaning to perhaps one is going through a period of sterility, and then you need to just sit with that and just allow that and so on.
Philip C-G : Well, what we don’t ask you to do is to use it to tell the future, because probably too long a discussion for us to have about that, but there’s a real problem with oracles as fortune telling. You have this business of the self-fulfilling prophecy, of suggestibility and so on. The way oracles can be tremendously helpful is in giving guidance. It’s as if our life and the flow of events is like the surface of a river that we’re looking at. There’s this flow of events, and what an oracle is helping you to do is just to go a little deeper and to connect or become aware of some of the currents that are flowing beneath the surface. What an oracle can do is it can say, ah, have you considered that? Look at this particular inference, and this seems to be the direction you’re going in.
This is where the fortune telling side comes in but in a gentle way. If you carry on like this, this is the direction you might be going in. Time to take stock, and that’s why you quoted earlier this thing about magically creating your future. You see, that’s where it gives you the choice. It says, look, your life is going this way, you can encourage this direction or you can take a different direction. You’re actually engaging in the process of literally creating your future.
Steve: Wonderful. Now, the oracle comes with a beautiful book. Lovely, gorgeous, colourful cards, and I must say illustrated by Will Worthington. We should mention him. There is also something where you can actually do all the different spreads, aren’t there? Something that you can lay them on.
Philip C-G : Yes. There are two spread sheets.
Steve: Philip, thank you so much for speaking with me and all the best for your work.
Philip C-G : It’s a pleasure. Thank you so much, Steve.
The Druid Plant Oracle
Philip & Sephanie Carr-Gomm
Discover the herbs, flowers and fungi considered sacred in the Druid tradition, with this beautifully illustrated oracle. The virtues and qualities of each plant, and the ancient folklore and mythology associated with them, offer wisdom, inspiration and guidance, in this enlightening pack.
The perfect companion volume to the bestselling Druid Animal Oracle, this is a must-have title for all those interested in Celtic and Pagan subjects and the world of nature.
Philip Carr-Gomm was trained by the Chief Druid Ross Nichols. He is Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the author of many titles, including The Druid Way and Druid Mysteries.