This interview first appeared in Wyldspirit Issue 1 (March 2014) and was written by Nemetona.
Kristoffer is head of the Anglesey Druid Order (Urdd Derwyddon Môn) and also an author of several books on the subjects of Druidry, Welsh legends and lore and his upcoming books; the first, ‘The Book of Celtic Magic’, coming in August 2014, and the second, ‘The Journey into Spirit: A Pagan’s Perspective on Death, Dying & Bereavement’, coming Autumn 2014.
Read on to find out about Kristoffer’s inspirations, background and essential travel items.
Nemetona: How did you ‘discover’ Druidry?
Kristoffer Hughes: Druidry has always been a colourful and vibrant aspect of my life, even when I did not necessarily identify it as a spiritual path. I was born and raised in Wales where the National Eisteddfod and its Druids are a function of Welsh culture, identity, heritage and education. As a child in school, both primary and secondary, the Eisteddfod was always there, just a part of life. To this day I adore it. Whilst it and its Druids do not have a Pagan spiritual function, I could not help but sense the spirit that hid beneath the veneer of cultural celebration and the influence of Iolo Morganwg upon it. Its rituals continue to appear to all effect, Pagan, albeit they are not held or performed in that spirit. However, the ceremony and pageantry of it all just sings to the frolicsome Pagan within me. I love pageantry.
I was particularly drawn to the myths that the Eisteddfod and my primary education fostered and disseminated. It was these that sang to my heart and called my spirit to seek out the wild places of my beloved homeland and the connection my ancestors had to it. As a child hearing the myths and legend of my Celtic ancestors, riddled as they are with echoes of a Druidic past, they sounded like news of home. They tickled my senses and caused me to want to seek out the magic that lay between the lines of legend.
I went down the usual Christian route, but it did not quench the thirst I had for something that sang in praise of my land. It was what we now identify as Neo-Druidry that addressed this thirst and was to eventually quench it.
Since my early twenties what I now identify as Druidry has been a vital and joyous aspect of my life.
Nemetona: What sparked your interest in writing?
Kristoffer: I never envisaged such an interest in writing. English is not my first language and I still lack the confidence and aptitude of a native English speaker. I guess I will always feel like an imposter, which I believe is a sense that many second language English writers feel. My path into writing was purely accidental, although I did love to read as a child and had a vivid imagination, it was a chance meeting with a publisher who heard me speak at an event that led to this journey. He asked if I could write him a book, in English! My initial reaction was “Good gods, no! I’m Welsh!” But I had a go, and found that I enjoyed the process. I have learnt a few things along the way, and whilst I secretly would never consider myself a writer (although technically I am!), I get an enormous amount of pleasure exploring the use of the English language, which I am rather fond of.
I am still an amateur, I think in Welsh, writing in English will always be a constant battle for me, but one that I do rather enjoy. Ultimately all any author can hope for is that their words serve to inspire someone else, that is my aim, to share my journey. If that inspires someone else, then I have done my job.
Nemetona: What made you decide to write your upcoming book, ‘The Journey into Spirit’?
Kristoffer: I am not just an author and a Druid, I also have an ordinary job in the secular world – although I hasten to add that not many would find my job ordinary! I work professionally at Coroner’s Mortuaries (Morgues in the USA) where I assist at Post-Mortem examinations on the bodies of the recently deceased. It is unusual, and has taught me a great deal about life and of course death.
I always struggled with the general perception of death and the ‘Big Questions’ within Paganism. As a community it is not something we actually sit down and talk about that much, but we are actually growing older and starting to die off. Death becomes us it seems. And I am of the opinion that as a community we should be ready for it. I also wanted to address issues of survival, continuation and so forth. Death is literally my life, I have a close, intimate relationship with it, and would go as far as saying that death has informed my spirituality.
This book is the culmination of my 25 year experience as being a servant to the Reaper and someone who lives a partially liminal life in the Kingdoms of the Dead. Ultimately it is my story, it is deeply personal and etched with patterns of my own encounters with grief. It is a book that will probably grow as I grow, I may have to re-write it several times in the future as I travel the path of death and dying. It will grow as my experience continues to grow.
Nemetona: Do you have a favourite author? If so, why them?
Kristoffer: I may take liberties here and offer two, one in relation to fiction and the other to non-fiction. When it comes to novels, although I do so wish I had time to read more of them, it has to be the fantasist Charles de Lint. He is a Canadian author and a folk musician and the majority of his novels are inspired by Celtic mythology, I adore them. They are the perfect escape mechanism when the ordinary world gets to frantic and hectic. I struggle with English language novels and find that a book needs to grab me and keep me engaged, and to this day I will find myself reading teenage fiction more often than adult. I am still a learner. But, Charles de Lint’s novels cause an invocation of images in my head, I can see what he writes and that helps. I am a slow novel reader, it may take me 3 months to finish one of his books.
My other favourite author would be Dion Fortune, I adore her use of the English language, and it reminds me so much of the style of Elizabeth Gaskill’s ‘Cranford’. Quite Victorian in style, immensely colourful and eloquent, and in Dion’s case riddled with Occult wisdom, insight and magic. I started reading Dion as I ventured onto this path, and my first teacher insisted that I read the works of the 20th century’s most eminent practitioners of the Western Mystery Tradition. I am grateful for the advice and continue to love and cherish her books.
Nemetona: What is the ‘plan’ beyond your upcoming books?
Kristoffer: I am currently working on another project for my publisher Llewellyn Worldwide, although this is more of a long-term project and will be at least 3 years before it comes into print. This is more of a labour of love. Other than that, I continue to write other books, although a lot of my energy goes into the Anglesey Druid Order.
Nemetona: As the founder and head of the Anglesey Druid Order, can you tell us a little about the order’s aims and what you do on a typical gathering?
Kristoffer: Anglesey claims to be the ancient chief seat of the Iron Age Celtic Druids, it seemed to be of such threat to Rome that Caesar commanded its destruction. Suetonius Paulinus undertook this charge and in 62AD and took arms to destroy the Druid stronghold of Ynys Môn. Whilst we do not claim any form of direct lineage to the ancient druids, we strive to be an Order that invokes their memory from the ancient past and we offer a new connection to the new Druids of this land. The Order celebrates the islands heritage and culture, its myths and legends and offers a training programme steeped in Celtic lore and mystery. This takes the student on a powerful journey into the mysteries and also forges a relationship with the island herself. The Order is a magical Order and not simply a philosophical one, we like to get our hands dirty if you will.
Our gatherings range from workshops, open rituals, courses, camps, tours of the island, in fact we work closely with secular organisations to celebrate Anglesey’s prehistoric past. Our Summer Solstice dawn event is a partnership between ourselves and the Welsh heritage body ‘Cadw’.
We are definitely locality specific and our rituals and events reflect that. The Welsh language forms an essential component of our ritual activities.
Nemetona: If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 items would you want with you?
Kristoffer: I am inclined to say a boat, a SatNav and a packet of sea-sickness tablets! But I would probably want my notepad and pen, I am always jotting down thoughts and observations. My mascara, even on a deserted island one should have good eyebrows, there is no telling who or what one could bump into! And chocolate, I’m a good boy, but I am weak. I love chocolate!
You can find out more about Kristoffer Hughes via his personal website here: www.kristofferhughes.co.uk/
And more can be found out about the Anglesey Druid Order (Urdd Derwyddon Môn) here: www.angleseydruidorder.co.uk/