It is easy to laugh. It can sound a bit dipsy, but as Cassandra Eason says: ''It makes more sense than swallowing a load of pills.'' On Friday night, the eve of the summer solstice, Cassandra will leave water in a gold-coloured dish surrounded by yellow and golden flowers from dusk until noon on Saturday, the longest day. This solstice water is particularly healing and empowering, according to druid tradition, and Cassandra will keep hers in glass bottles to drink or add to bath water to boost energy and confidence throughout the year. Her favourite trick is to splash some on her pulse points just before she does a television or radio interview; she swears it helps her outwit interviewers whose brief is to mock her ritual.

As growing numbers of educated and sophisticated people reject the materialism of the 21st century, the question is whether druidism is meaningless mumbo jumbo or a return to nature from which we could all benefit.

There is no doubt in the mind of Cassandra Eason, a writer on druidry, that people are desperately seeking a refuge from the head-ache-inducing hurly burly. ''We live in a 24-hour society where you can go to the supermarket in the middle of the night. Toddlers can barely walk these days before they are dragged off to tumbletots classes and children are taken to theme parks and ever-more daring rides

for relaxation.

''People who live in cities no longer have a difference between night and day. We need to reconnect with nature by taking children to the countryside. They may say it is boring, but they soon start to collect stones or build tree houses and you can have a far more interesting conversation in a walk through the forest than in a hot queue in a theme park. Instead of looking at our local wildlife, we teach children about animals through Walt Disney simulations.''

Cassandra, who has five children, belongs to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, which provides training in the rituals, but says her druidry is essentially a homely practice which is fitted in between work, visits to the supermarket and collecting the children from school. ''On the whole, druidesses were women who had families. Their wisdom was due to age and experience as well as knowledge,'' she says.

According to her definition, anyone who has ever run barefoot across the grass is a modern druid, and women in particular can incorporate druidry into their lives as nurturers. The difference between a druidess and a mere nature-lover, according to Cassandra, is that a druidess will collect different herbs and use them in the home. She is a wise woman. They have always existed, of course. She remembers one who lived across the road from her in Birmingham, who laid out the corpses and was consulted in times of trouble. later, when she was a young teacher in Fife, her pupils would tell her of grannies' and great-grannies' herbal remedies.

She has just planted a very small grove of trees, her sacred grove, where she goes early each morning quietly to absorb their energy. ''It's a way of giving yourself extra strength,'' finds the woman who grew up in an overspill housing estate. It consisted of uninspiring concrete, but it was called Druids Heath, an ever-present reminder of a more natural age, and there was a scruffy clump of trees on the wasteland opposite her house. After she'd seen a Victorian painting of a druidess dancing round a tree of golden apples, her child's imagination was fired to imbue her own grove with mystical powers.

Like most modern-day druids, her adult life has followed the usual path of work and family commitments, and like many others, particularly women, she has practised her druidic rites in solitary fashion until relatively recently. Now that her children are older, she is free to take part in group events, most recently a winter solstice celebration at Stonehenge with her 16-year-old daughter. She describes the effects of calling forth the awen, the life force behind the universe that is linked with the sun, when she suddenly felt in tune with her ancestors and with her descendants yet to be born, a vital part of the continuum of life.

All religions make use of similar practices, whether it is prayer or communal singing or chanting. The problem is that druidry can conjure up visions of animal sacrifice, but it has no part in the modern version. ''If anyone says anything about sacrifices or animals on altars, you run a mile,'' says Cassandra.

Druids in the 21st century are a gentle tribe, who, along with other pagans, are keen to take part in interfaith dialogue with other religions. Many say it is perfectly compatible with Christianity. They include Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was inducted as an honorary white druid at an open-air ceremony in Wales last August. It was seen as controversial by some Christian leaders, but Dr Williams dismissed suggestions that he was dabbling in paganism.

Cassandra insists that it is not like magic. ''We don't cast spells to make things happen. It's not a B-movie culture,'' she said, pointing out that while she grows herbs and some vegetables, she is not self-sufficient and will be standing in the supermarket queue with baked beans in her trolley just like anybody else.

Yet, she will also light different-coloured candles at specific times of the year and bring leaves and flowers into her house to arrange with a significance that will bring blessings or good health as well as colour and scent. The idea of shapeshifting, the ability of highly-trained druids to take on the qualities of a particular animal or bird, sounds highly unlikely, if not suspicious to most of us. As Eason explains it, however, it becomes more of a useful psychological prop.

To cope with demands for public speaking and broadcasting, Cassandra finds it helpful to adopt the blackbird - bringer of sweetness and joy - as her personal totem, and found interviewers responding in kind. On Saturday, she suggests everyone should simply revel in the longest day of the year, whether they make a point of welcoming the sun in the east and bidding it farewell in the west or simply going into the countryside to be at one with the world. Druid or not, anyone can do it.

The Druids of Albion, a group based in the west of Scotland, will hold a public celebration of the summer solstice at the Muirshiel Centre, Clyde Muirshiel regional park, on Sunday, 2pm - 4pm.

The Modern-day Druidess.

Cassandra Eason. Piatkus (pounds) 9.99.

What the druids believe

Druids recognise a supreme creative power, but also divinity present in every life form, including rocks and crystals. They include Christians and pagans.

Druidry centres on the life-giving power of the sun and its seasons and most of its rituals are practised in the eye of the sun (unlike witchcraft which follows the rhythms of the moon).

It is a religion of the open air, with no temples or altars other than trees or the earth.

It has a reverence for the ancestors, love of nature, and awareness of the life force which flows through plants, animals, insects, and humans which is common to many cultures.


The sacred grove is central to druidic ritual. It can be any group of trees, bushes, or pot plants. Herbal healing is one of the druidess's powers, and those more advanced in druidic study can also invoke the power of animals, known as shapeshifting.

Pagans and druids, mostly in small groups, will gather at sites of ancient significance in the days surrounding the 21st including Stonehenge, the Callanish

stones on Lewis and megalithic sites in Orkney.