Ivan McBeth builds Stonehenge-like formations using found rock at his Dreamland property and throughout the state to support his Druid practice. / EMILY McMANAMY/FREE PRESS
WORCESTER, Vt. â?? According to an essay by Julius Caesar, the average ancient Celt generally had to train for two full decades in order to become a druid.
Several millennia later, people can complete a course at the Green Mountain School of Druidry in three years. They're even able to achieve this goal by email, though that's likely to take a bit longer.
Ivan McBeth and his wife Fearn Lickfield offer these lessons from their hilly 70-acre Worcester homestead, dubbed Dreamland. There, McBeth has assembled a circle of 13 standing stones for druidic purposes.
Last weekend, the couple conducted a summer solstice ceremony at another megalith that McBeth, now 61, created a few years ago: The Burlington Earth Clock in Oakledge Park. It consists of 13 granite stones, some 10 feet tall, donated and transported by the Rock of Ages Quarry in Barre. They're aligned like a compass, with a diameter of 43 feet. In the center, there's a sundial.
The dictionary defines "druids" as the priesthood of a pre-Christian religious order found in western Europe, Britain and Ireland. That was around 300 B.C. and beyond. They left no written record.
McBeth once heard that someone in Worcester was referring to his druidical doings as a cult. "I like to think we're pretty normal people," he countered.
These normal people built themselves a large, one-room, roundhouse using cord-wood masonry, a method that dates back 1,000 years. The center post is an enormous hemlock tree, harvested and stripped of bark. The structure overlooks the Dreamland stone circle, not as massive as the one at Oakledge Park, and a teepee.
McBeth was raised in his native England as Iain McBeth Smith, a reluctant Methodist from Devon. Resistance to conventional behavior began early.
"I was always getting in trouble. My parents didn't care for my appearance. They wanted me to get a haircut and wear decent clothes," recalled the bearded McBeth, his abundant silver locks crowned with red-orange streaks.
Lickfield, 44, comes from Episcopal stock, and her grandfather was a bishop. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst with a degree in natural resources, worked on organic farms, became a master gardener and "tuned into Paganism" thanks to a mentor "who was a witch." Vermont beckoned in 1999.
After nomadic travels through India, Egypt, Australia and South Africa, McBeth's 2004 trip across the Atlantic seems preordained to him.
"I knew at age four that I'd live in the United States some day," he explained, adding that the idea was sparked by listening to Dvorak's New World Symphony on the family record player. "The album cover had a picture of a ship passing under the Brooklyn Bridge."
Instead of aiming for that New York City borough, McBeth started spending summers in Vermont. A friend from Scotland who is a geomancer (someone who believes in divination via markings of soil, sand and rocks) invited him to stay at his digs in Hinesburg.
That's where McBeth met Lickfield, who helped him organize workshops.
Marriage and a permanent shelter were daunting propositions for a guy who imagined himself a lifelong loner. "I thought I'd never want to have a wife or a house," McBeth acknowledged. "I was terrified of such responsibilities. So both have been quite a shock but I'm getting used to it slowly, slowly."
Worcester, on the other hand, brought certainty. "As soon as I saw the place, I knew this was meant to be," McBeth said.
Lickfield had been living in the area when she spotted the site. "I told Ivan, 'This is my dream land.'"
After witnessing good omens - a rainbow around the sun and hawks in the sky overhead - they bought the property in 2006. Construction began the following year. The project hewed to what's known as the sacred geometry, in which symbolic meaning is ascribed to every shape and proportion. The technique was used in olden times on cathedrals, churches and mosques.
Their off-the-grid lifestyle (indoor plumbing but no electricity except a gizmo to power Internet access) extends to how McBeth makes stone circles: With only the most basic tools and sweat equity.
To date, McBeth has installed more than a dozen megaliths around the world - including the Swan Stone Circle that went up in 1992 at the annual Glastonbury Music Festival, where revelers might feel druidic vibes while boogying to rock 'n' roll.
Now, Lickfield has a part-time job wrapping organic sweets at the Liberty Chocolate Factory in Montpelier. McBeth earns money by building stone circles, which supplements the income from various courses. The fee for druid training ranges from $1,300 to $2,000 for each year-long session.
For Mark Adams, a Burlington, Vermont massage therapist, druid training offers peace, wholeness and a sense that "you are your own keeper."
He began with a one-year shamanic healing course a decade ago, then embarked on the full druid regimen in 2010. Adams trekked to Worcester one weekend a month from March through October. Each winter hiatus was an opportunity for extensive reading on the subject and periodic get-togethers.
For occasions such as the druid fall harvest festival, participants may don costumes. Adams prefers a handmade hooded cloak that's red on the inside, black on the outside. "We can sometimes look like Hobbits," he said of these robes. "But, ultimately, we like to blend in. We're not a secret society."
Lisa Murdock of Charlotte, Vermont once affixed a wry bumper sticker to her car that read: "It's a Druid thing."
She immersed herself in the druid training course eight years ago, before McBeth and Lickfield developed the Worcester property.
"We tease newcomers now that we had to haul water back then," Murdock said. "For me, the whole druid experience has been a journey inward, facing all my fears, all the shadowy parts of me. My heart has expanded hugely as a result. Before, I felt alone and lost in the world."
One reason for feeling less alone now, she contends, is that gods and goddesses keep showing up to give her guidance. There are about 104 such mythic beings, both male and female, in Celtic lore.
"Ivan tells us, 'Let's be happy and loving and connected,' " Murdock said.
Her druid graduation ceremony took place on an early morning five years ago at England's Stonehenge, the most famous megalith on Earth.
The New York Times profiled McBeth in 2012. After the article was published, a camera crew arrived in Worcester to shoot the pilot for a potential reality TV series about McBeth and Lickfield. Only vaguely aware of what that might entail, they did begin to suspect the producers were hoping to film conflict. Nothing came of of the proposed series.
Still, McBeth and Lickfield stay busy, even regularly heading to Montpelier, Plainfield and Shelburne to host evenings of Ecstatic Dance. Across the country, this increasingly popular activity involves free-form movement, possibly leading to trance-like rapture.
Not all of the McBeth-Lickfield endeavors turn out well. A Hugworts School of Magic - intended to teach "an understanding of the forces of nature" rather than prestidigitation, she explained - fell prey to restlessness among the young students.
It's too soon to know if success awaits a sort of continuing education program for veteran druids called the Ancient Order of Impeccable Moose.
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