Best Known Works: A Druid's Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year and A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine
Where can you find her? Website, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Llewellyn
Top Writing Tip: Being a writer is not something you “want to be”, rather it is something “you are”. There is a tremendous amount of sacrifice associated with this profession. Also, there is very little money in it and not much glory, so it had better be something you “can’t not do” to use a double negative. The only reason I have been able to write so many books is that I have always worked part time, just to have the energy to keep writing and teaching. Sitting and dreaming about “being an author” has nothing to do with it. You have to want to sit in a chair for hours every day and thump out pages of work, in solitude.
What are the main life experiences that have led to this book?
I have been a Druid since 1984, officially. I was born in the Hallstatt area of Austria which some say is the birthplace of Celtic culture. There were Celts around before that but it was only when the Celts had salt mines in that area that they were able to accumulate enough wealth to commission distinctive jewelry and weapons. In my early years my mother would talk about the Celts with great reverence, I never thought much about it and it was only in my thirties that I heard there were “Druids” in this world. I immediately felt drawn to that word and have spent the rest of my life learning about the Druid path and founding or co-founding Druid Orders in the US.
I was one of the first members of ADF. I co-founded The Henge of Keltria and was its Vice President for nine years, and The Order of Whiteoak where I was co-Chief for five years. I am currently Archdruid of Tribe of the Oak .
I have taught and initiated many Druids over the years. As a teacher I wanted to understand the full scope of what Druids once were and what we are now. That was the impetus to travel to Britain to
see what Druids on that side of the pond were doing and teaching. I interviewed the major Druid leaders at that time and those interviews eventually became this book.
When did you realise that you were Pagan?
I had an actual epiphany on Winter Solstice morning 1978. I was riding in the car with my then husband and he was listening to a hockey game on the radio. I had no interest in the game whatsoever but at one point the announcer casually mentioned that it was the day of the Winter Solstice, in the midst of his patter about the game. I suddenly felt a strong urge to “do something”, I knew not what. I begged my husband to stop the car. He wouldn’t get out and kept listening to the game while I bounded out of the car into a forest. I had no idea what I was doing but I stumbled upon a stream that was partly frozen over and saw the sun shining in the water. I anointed myself with the water and I “knew” I had done it. Whatever “it” was.
It was years later that I learned how Fire and Water were considered the basic building blocks of creation by the ancient Celts. For Scandinavians, of course, it was Fire and Ice.
When and why did you begin writing?
When I moved to New England I was amazed at the shortness of the growing season here. I couldn’t imagine how settlers and Native Americans survived through the long winter with no fresh greens. Then I looked out the window and realized they must have been using the trees somehow as food. I looked for a book that would tell me how to do that and never found one. That was in the mid 1980’s. So I made a leap of illogic and decided I had to write the book myself! The book that emerged was Tree Medicine – Tree Magic which covers the herbal, practical and magical properties
of trees. There were no books like it at the time and it is now out of print. I later went on to pen a sequel called A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine which is arranged around the trees of the
Ogham alphabet and also gives the herbal, magical and practical uses of those trees, based on Celtic scholarship.
Is this your first published piece or have you had work published before?
I have quite a number of books out these days, both fiction and non-fiction. There is a Druidic trilogy of novels starting with Priestess of the Forest – A Druid Journey that is focused on the time when the very first missionaries were appearing in Ireland and Scotland and written from the point of view of the Druids. There are a number of herbals including A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, Secret Medicines of Your Kitchen, Scottish Herbs and Fairy Lore, Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal, and the newest herbal which is due out in February, 2016 called Secret Medicines from Your Garden.
How did the topic of your books come to you?
What usually happens is I wake up at five AM with a sudden inspiration for a book. I “see” the outline of the book and once I “see” that I know that all I have to do is write it! I have always felt that some deity was behind all this – I suspect Brighid.
Tell us a bit about your new book, A Legacy of Druids.
The new book A Legacy of Druids is the story of how the major Druid Orders of today came to be formed, in the words of the founders. It gives the reader an insight into what they were thinking and what their hopes were for the future of Druidism. It also tells us about how these Druids were raised and what led them to become a Druid in the first place. Each of them defines what the term “Druid” means to them and the variety of opinions and insights is astounding.
The book is becoming more valuable by the day since a number of those interviewed in it have since passed over. Isaac Bonewits, Lady Olivia Robertson, Tim Sebastian and Septimus Myrrddin Bron, have crossed the veil since I recorded their bits. I am immensely grateful to have spoken with them and these may be the last words we will see from them in print.
Do we see some of you in your book?
There is a bit of me in the new book A Legacy of Druids which you will find in the questions I ask. I steered the conversations towards the topics I was interested in and cared about, others might have done it differently. I have another book out that was done in a similar way called Being a Pagan – Druids, Wiccans and Witches Today. That is also a book of interviews and The Huffington Post named it one of the twenty seven most important books on Paganism. I am hoping that A Legacy of Druids will receive similar accolades.
How long does it take you to write a book, are you a fast writer or a slow writer?
It usually takes me about two years to write a book. Then I hand it over to a reader or readers who make comments and I revise accordingly. Then I hand in the whole book (I have never had luck with queries) to a publisher that I think is suitable for the genre and they make their comments. Then I revise again. Finally the publisher edits and corrects the grammar and spelling and I approve the process, chapter by chapter. After that there is the work of promotion which usually takes at least another year. The exception to all this was the first novel in my Druid trilogy – that took nine years! I was writing other books at the same time but I had never tackled fiction before and I had to learn, step by step. I did not go to school for this, I am not a trained writer, I just do it.
Are you published or self published, and what has been your experience of this process?
I have never self-published, I rely on good editors and distributors to help birth my books. One of my pet peeves is self-published authors who throw a book on Amazon and then ask for positive reviews when the book is filled with bad grammar, misspellings, strange lacunae in the text, anachronisms, etc. This is what editors are for, to correct and point out those kinds of failings. It is the responsibility of publishers to provide a second or third set of eyes to double check a manuscript. In the absence of that process the quality of books is just going down, in many cases.
Do you think ebooks have changed the publishing market for better or worse?
I do not own an ereader and I have never read a book electronically other than on my computer. I dislike reading books on my PC, I find that I miss or gloss over many things when I do that. I prefer to read a book on paper. I also like having reference books on the shelf where I can mark chapters or passages, bookmark favorite herbs, etc.
The worst aspect of ebooks, as far as I can see, is that they are putting book stores out of business. Book stores are still the best place for people to browse and get to know authors they have never heard of. They also provide a place for authors to speak to a live audience. It makes me very sad to see book sellers being pushed out of business. Also, books do not have to be made from trees. There are many other options out there such as hemp. I hope that paper books remain a viable business in the future.
Where do you go when you need to recharge?
I am blessed to live in an oak forest so mostly I will just go for a walk outside my kitchen door. There is a natural stone circle out back and a lovely little stream that I have used as a clootie well for thirty years. I get moose, bears, possums, skunks, foxes, coyotes and fisher cats here at the house plus owls, eagles, woodpeckers, crows and many other birds. If I get stuck while writing I will go outside and see what the weather is doing or what animal, herb or tree has put in an appearance, and that often provides an idea for the next chapter.
Do you socialise with other writers or are you a solitary author?
I do like to socialize with other authors, especially when I am in the throes of writing a book. I belong to a writer’s guild and I participate in writer’s lists on Facebook. Meeting with other authors is a good way to get tips on writing and ideas for how and where to promote your books. Writers who are blocked for some reason can get pointers on how to overcome that hurdle or face whatever fear is in their way. It’s is thrilling to read passages from a new book out loud, especially an unpublished one, and get feedback from your peers.
But in general, this is a very solitary occupation where most of the time it’s just you, your PC, and the cats for company, as you bang away on the keyboard.
What are your future plans for writing?
At the moment I am “between books” and waiting for the next idea to drop on my head. I am also in conversation with a script writer and an actress about hopefully turning my novels into a film. I trust the Gods to guide this process because, once again, it is completely strange territory for me and I am learning as I go!
Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your passion and your process, Ellen! We wish you all the best with your next inspiration and we look forward to seeing where that inspiration takes you!