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Memories of Ross Nichols

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The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids
 
 

Caitlín Matthews, author of numerous books on Celtic Spirituality, and past-Presider of the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids, writes:

“I remember going to Ross's house in the early seventies, just after I'd finished drama school. It was an evening meeting of meditation into which I had somehow blagged my way. Never having meditated in any formal sense, I was very nervous of what might be expected of me. I only knew that druidism was what I must somehow follow, so I remained reserved but attentive. I was not disappointed.

"Ross was busy welcoming everyone in the big basement with its long table: most people seemed to know each other already and I was very shy. But he was so friendly and natural that I was immediately put at my ease. He winkled out of me that I was desperate to learn the harp and seemed to think that I probably would in the not too distant future. His sense of how the universe co-operates with our desires was much more pronounced than mine was then. I noticed how his lively demeanour masked something much more profound. His agility struck me: he seemed like a dancer. I wasn't so sure about the other people gathered, one of whom - a red-haired woman with a very well bred voice - leant over to me and imparted the knowledge that she felt I had been a nun in a past incarnation. A statement that left me speechless! I later discovered, on going to Clonegal Castle, that this had indeed been the redoubtable Olivia Durdin Robertson, with whom I have subsequently done much work. So it was an extraordinary evening on all counts.

"We gathered around in a circle and Ross led what I now recognize was a path-working. Ross spoke in a measured and encouraging way, without a script, as if he was leading a walk in the country. There was a point when we were free to engage with the scene into which we had been led. Something happened on a very deep level as we all waited in the stillness of contemplation. Afterwards, he asked each of us what we had experienced. I told him that when he had spoken of a plough going through the land, I found myself at the nose the plough, feeling the earth fall over my shoulders. Indeed, I seemed still to feel the gritty soil about me. He lifted his head and smiled, nodding enthusiastically, 'Yes, yes! That's because you were in the north-west!' He said it in a collegial kind of way, as if speaking to one of his peers - which is how he spoke to everyone. But for an inexperienced would-be druid, it was a revelation that not only could I meditate and that meditation did have notifiable results but that druidic teachers had not left the earth, but lived still among us.

"I feel the same now: whenever I enter the grove, Ross is still there. He is a guardian of the grove now as then."


A member of the Order, Adele Cosgrove-Bray, has written an account of a meeting between Nuinn and a Canadian friend of hers, Lily

Lily tells Adele: 'Your country has such a wonderful ancient culture, so rich with traditions, and I desperately wanted to learn more. So I approached the Order of Bards Ovates & Druids.'

'The Druids? Did you ever meet any?'

'Oh yes,' replied Lily, polishing a teaspoon before stirring it through gravy. 'I very nearly joined them too. I met a wonderful man named Philip Ross Nichols, sometime in the early 1970's. He was the Chosen Chief of the Order, and lived in a large Victorian house in the London W14 area. He was a small man, very elderly yet as agile as a little monkey. He wore delicate leather sandals and possessed the most exquisite feet I have ever seen!"

"His feet? Never mind his feet," I laughed. "What was he like?"

"Absolutely charming! Very articulate and intelligent, but also quite witty. He was a very warm, approachable gentleman with wonderful sparkling eyes. Being alone with him didn't worry me in the slightest, though I was worried about what I might be getting involved with.

"He led me down a long corridor with heavy brown lino on the floor. Closed doors led off to several rooms. The room he took me into was literally crammed with stuff, far more than mine is, if you can believe that. Animal heads were on the walls. Daggers and chalices and candlesticks caught my eyes. It looked like a Native American Indian shaman's den, full of fetishes and a skull, I think. The curtains were drawn, making the room dark despite the afternoon sun. We talked for a while. I asked if I would need to learn Welsh, and he said while it wasn't necessary, it would help."

Lily gazed out of the violet painted door to where Horus the cat groomed himself in the sun. "Then he took me into the basement. Part of it had been converted for living in. The other part housed a long, highly polished table with an assortment of dining chairs around it. At one end was a bigger chair with arms. At the other sat a lady. She was probably in her fifties and had large, beautiful eyes and a delicate facial structure. She said absolutely nothing the whole time, just watched me carefully and smiled a lot. She was introduced only as the Green Lady, though someone later told me she was a well-known actress."

Lily then went on to follow a guru who lived in Wirral. She said: "I wrote to Ross Nichols and thanked him for his kindness and his time. I really didn't expect to get any reply, but he sent me a beautiful, thoughtful letter wishing me well in my Quest."


Vivianne Crowley, Wiccan author, in the Foreword to Druidcraft by Philip Carr-Gomm, writes:

“I visited Ross Nichols, Philip’s predecessor as Chosen Chief of OBOD, thirty years ago. A wise and kindly man, he took time in his busy schedule to explain Druidry to a teenage spiritual seeker trying to find the right path.”


Philip Heselton, author of The Elements of the Earth Mysteries, and Wiccan Roots, writes:

“The only time I met Ross Nichols was rather strange in that our roles were reversed! I was the rather nervous 24-year old standing on the platform speaking and he was the member of the audience who came up to talk to me afterwards.

It was in November 1970 and I was in a panel of speakers (the others being John Michell, Jimmy Goddard and Paul Screeton) convened in the Kensington Central Library on the subject of 'Leys, UFOs and Orthoteny'.

I can't remember exactly what Ross talked to me about, but I think he became quite interested in the subject because subsequently he wrote several articles for 'The Ley Hunter' magazine.

My main impression of him was that he was very unassuming but paid full attention as we were talking, as if he was genuinely interested in what I had to say. We probably only spoke for five minutes, but I now feel most privileged that our lives intersected at that moment.”


Philip Carr-Gomm writes:

“Nuinn felt like a teacher and rather like an older relative both at once. He was there in my life without question: when I was a child through the 1950s and 60s he would visit our home and stay for hours – having long conversations with my father (usually about political history). In the early 1950s, my father worked for him as a history teacher. Later, when my father started to publish his own history magazine, Past and Future, Ross contributed a number of articles, whose variety of subject matter demonstrates his wide-ranging interests. Ross once took my father to his woodland retreat in Buckinghamshire then to the Five Acres Country Club, where Ross introduced my father to Gerald Gardner, and all three swam and talked together. Ross’ woodland was right beside my godmother's house, and he had met my grandmother and aunt. As I got to know him, I never questioned the relationship - it just seemed the most natural thing in the world to visit him often - either in his house in Baron's Court or at his college in South Kensington. In that sense he was like an uncle or even grandfather - since I knew him between the ages of eleven and twenty-three, when he was between sixty-one and seventy-three years old – he was fifty years older than me. And somehow the bond between us was deeper than any conflict that occasionally occurred: sometimes the wild teenager in me found the old man infuriating, sometimes - I am sure - the Chief Druid found his pupil frustrating.

"Occasionally we met for social events – during my first marriage we had Ross to dinner, and one evening, with Olivia Robertson - on his invitation - we watched the Japanese Kodo drummers play at the Round House. But most of the time our meetings were for the serious business of learning. He was there to teach me, and I was his pupil. He was used to dealing with pupils, since he taught all day long at his college. I would arrive at his house, often on my way back from school in the late afternoon, and he would make us both a cup of tea, and then he would read to me: often from essays such as those in this volume (In The Grove of the Druids). As he read, he would make comments, or scribble explanatory diagrams - which I have kept to this day. When the essay finished, he would carry on talking, or would make a snack while I had to read some other material. Eventually I would go home, with a copy of the paper he had read, together with his notes and diagrams.

"When I knew him, he was a 'relaxed vegetarian' - in other words he was mostly vegetarian, but would not refuse a sausage or a slice of bacon. One day, he broke his usual habit of only discussing Druidry and related subjects with me, and instead gave me a lesson on how to make a nut cutlet.

"He was a teacher to me - not a guru. He didn't try to be a guru, and later - when I followed one for a while - I realised the difference. Ross offered culture rather than charisma. My guru offered plenty of charisma, but precious little culture, and although charisma may be superficially more appealing, in the end it is the culture in a person that endures. And it is the gifts of their culture that become their contribution to the world that outlasts their mortal lives.”

 


From Katherine Knight, author of 'Spuds, Spam and Eating for Victory: Rationing in the Second World War' (2007):

" I first came to live in London in the early 1950s. Ross Nichols let out rooms in his house in Barons Court Road to students, mostly music students. A school-friend of mine and her brother had bed-sits there, and on the strength of this my sister and I came to rent the couple of rooms in the basement with a small kitchen and outside loo.

"Ross Nichols was a pleasant presence in the house, living mainly upstairs. Because of the students' practising it was almost always full of music - a violin on the top floor and a piano in the large downstairs 'drawing room', sometimes in competition. As a bachelor he wasn't particularly concerned about housekeeping, though he had a cleaning lady, Mrs. Crow. The District and Piccadilly Line trains ran past the back of the house, only a few yards away in fact. They did not cause much disturbance, because we got used to them, until the track maintenance men came along at two a.m. to dig it up and throw bits at each other. I had a 'Put-U-Up' bed which folded away during the day. Looking back it was the second most uncomfortable one I have ever used, the worst being a war-time table shelter. However, this was my early independent home, and so I happily put up with it!

"I was freshly out of a secretarial course, hoping to make my way in journalism, but doing odd office jobs in the meantime. Occasionally I did some typing for Ross Nichols - and remember a vivid account of a reconstruction of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It was not easy to read his handwriting, I seem to remember, and his manuscripts were"