[W]ORCESTER — The weekend Ivan McBeth died, the bonfire burned 24 hours a day.
After the EMTs left — unable to revive McBeth — his wife and friends tended to his body. They prepared it with gauze and essential oils. They dressed him in his favorite clothes. They painted his fingernails, which he kept colored in life, a favorite shade of dark blue.
Thus adorned, McBeth lay for three days in the northwest section of the megalithic stone circle he built in front of his house. That quadrant, in McBeth’s druid tradition, is where death lives.
Ivan McBeth was a druid in the order of bards, ovates and druids. He founded a druid school in the foothills of the Green Mountains in Worcester a decade ago.
The site of his home and school became a gathering place for Vermonters interested in exploring druidry, a pagan way of life rooted in ancient Celtic tradition from the British isles that centers on spiritual connection to nature. There is no particular dogma, nor a particular scripture. McBeth — a buoyant, larger-than-life spirit with a white beard who stood more than 6 feet tall — was a well-known and well-loved figure within that community.
Some 30 people were already at Dreamland, the name McBeth and his wife, Fearn Lickfield, gave their home, on the day the 63-year-old died. They were there for a previously planned weekend gathering of druids, witches and faery seers — members of complimentary pagan traditions. No one left after his death.
McBeth’s body was placed on a cot, and a tent was erected above him; tapestries and decorations, a set of butterfly wings, hung around him. Candles were kept lit, splashing beeswax in the grass.
Friends, family and students kept constant company. Bonfire smoke and blends of incense perfumed the early autumn air. Some dry ice was brought in and placed under McBeth’s cot to prevent decomposition. People took turns sitting with him. Some spoke to him and listened to him, sang songs, recited poems, performed music on guitar and pennywhistle.
While some workshops and events went on as planned, there was always a contingent staying with McBeth, keeping the fire burning.
The morning after McBeth’s death, Jeanette Bacevius, his friend and sometimes student, went to Dreamland to join in a sunrise meditation. Then they danced, she said, a fitting celebration. Ecstatic dance had been one of McBeth’s passions.
For those in attendance, it was an intimate experience with death.
“The first day he just had this big smile on his face,” Lickfield said. “As time went on, the smile changed a little bit, but his face sort of softened and settled a bit in a way that he looked very much like a leprechaun,” she added with a soft laugh.
On the third day after McBeth died, they held a requiem service. The man who led the ceremony, a fellow teacher, elevated McBeth to the status of a saint. Then his body was taken to a crematorium.
“It was the death of a king. It really was,” Lickfield said. “It was so beautiful and powerful and so, so honored by so many.”
On an early November afternoon, Lickfield sat at a picnic table on the large wooden porch of the round cordwood house she built with McBeth. A bouncy shepherd mutt, Brinkley, lounged near her feet.
Minute bluish insects floated lazily in the unseasonable late-fall warmth. Most of the trees in sight had already dropped their foliage, save for a hardy apple tree near the top of the clearing still clinging to emerald leaves and two golden-tinged tamaracks at the far edge of the field. They stood near the pond where McBeth deposited a third ring after his and Lickfield’s wedding ceremony — symbolizing their marriage to the land.
Scattered across the large clearing leading down the hill from the house are pieces of the kingdom Lickfield and McBeth created at Dreamland: a yurt, a vegetable garden, a cluster of ribbon-wrapped maypoles, the stone circle.
Dreamland is home to the Green Mountain Druid Order, the school of druidry McBeth and Lickfield built up beginning in 2006.
The training, guided by McBeth, is a three-year endeavor that guides students through three grades of druidry: the bard, the ovate and the druid. Students at each level spend six weekends of the year at Dreamland as part of their training.
McBeth and Lickfield settled on the 70-acre property north of Montpelier a decade ago.
Before purchasing it, they lived nearby and often visited the spot, which then belonged to a family in Texas who camped there in summer. Lickfield and McBeth fell in love with it and eventually bought the mostly wooded lot.
From the beginning, a fire pit on a small plateau at the top of the clearing was a gathering space. They held ceremonies and classes there. Eventually the spot became the site of the stone circle McBeth constructed.
About a dozen jagged megaliths salvaged from spots around the state, including a couple of pieces of Barre granite, make up the circle. Each is carefully placed to align with points on the earth. The circle is a recognition of a spot already considered sacred, and the stones enhance its energy.
McBeth was already a master of stone circle construction by the time he led the project at Dreamland. His lengthy resume included the Swan Stone Circle, a monument on the grounds of the popular British music festival at Glastonbury.
Initially McBeth and Lickfield envisioned creating the circle entirely using stones found at Dreamland. They began with a substantial megalith in the woods not far from a stone well on the edge of the clearing. Moving it was an ambitious project, Lickfield said, but not out of character for her husband.
“Ivan had a large stone appetite,” she said.
When moving the large stone toward the site of the circle, the trajectory crossed a small ditch that proved a significant obstacle. At that time, for the sake of safety, Lickfield and McBeth shifted their goal and began obtaining stones from other locations in Vermont.
McBeth led the sometimes-harrowing stone hunt, using borrowed trailers and friends’ labor. A flat bluish tooth-shaped stone on the southern side of the circle had a particularly tricky journey to its current spot. “Almost killed the truck, and the trailer and the people in it,” Lickfield recalled. “But it managed, it made it.”
Now placed in a southern-facing spot of the circle, that megalith — the coyote stone — is aligned with the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
McBeth, never an American citizen, would tell people the significance of the stone for druid civic engagement. “We just vote through our Capitol Hill stone,” Lickfield recalled him saying.
Iain MacBeath Smith was born in Devon, England, in 1953.
His father was an athletic trainer at a school, and McBeth a competitive athlete. Under his parents’ tutelage, he and his brother took up tennis at a young age and were quite good. His younger brother went on to compete at Wimbledon. McBeth, naturally talented, was being groomed for a similar path. However, as Lickfield put it, he enjoyed the fun of the game but “had no competitive spirit.”
Growing up, he often felt like an outsider in his family, which prompted him to leave home at a young age, according to his wife.
He traveled extensively and spent time in India and the Sinai desert. He found druidry and became an active participant in the United Kingdom. He legally carried his birth name throughout his life but never felt it fit. Early in adulthood, he adopted the moniker Ivan McBeth.
In the United Kingdom, he was an active member of the druid community.
McBeth always felt a pull toward the United States and, almost 15 years ago, stayed in Vermont for several months with a friend’s family and led some spiritual teachings. He became part of a community of people who had organized initially to meet and celebrate on the solstice, equinox and the midpoints between those days, called cross-quarter days.
David Brizendine was part of that group and met McBeth during that first stay in Vermont. McBeth took a liking to the States, so the group set about forming an organization that could sponsor him to come back in a more permanent capacity.
McBeth loved humor, Brizendine said. He had a characteristic “glint in his eye that always seemed to tell of some kind of a plot or a plan in his mind that was brewing,” he recalled.
Where others might get angry and frustrated, McBeth would not. “He didn’t see the point in using energy in that way,” Brizendine said.
McBeth went back to the United Kingdom after his first visit to Vermont. But from afar, his friendship with another Vermonter he met during his trip, Fearn Lickfield, blossomed into romance through correspondence. He returned the next summer in 2004, and soon after the couple wed.
Together, the pair established and ran the druid school and built up their home at Dreamland.
Lickfield lived with McBeth through perhaps his most productive years, she said, but they were also his sickest. He was plagued by a rash of health issues, including diabetes, colon cancer, kidney problems and chest pains. His body limited him, Lickfield said, though he never complained.
He continued to be passionate and prolific and, despite ailing health, completed a stone circle in the Northeast Kingdom in September.
Then, at 6:30 a.m. the day after the autumnal equinox, McBeth suffered a massive heart attack.
News of his death prompted an outpouring from both sides of the Atlantic, from people who knew McBeth from his travels and his teaching.
A story from one of his friends, Snow Falcon, posted to a Facebook memorial page, recalled that a year before his death he asked to go on a mountain walk.
The friend set up a retreat in the Sierra Nevada in Spain. McBeth’s walking was limited by his health, but he persevered for short distances, and they took a Land Rover to get to higher altitudes. McBeth said he wanted to see an ibex and an eagle on the trip — unlikely to be spotted in those areas, the friend noted. But before the trip was out, the party spotted both species.
“Ivan, was, of course, a consummate magician — the kind that doesn’t actually have to wield a wand, but just lays back and laughs at the magical Universe as it unfolds,” the friend wrote.
Long live the king
On a gray Saturday midday, more than 100 people gathered around Burlington’s Earth Clock.
The day marked the 10th anniversary of the stone circle’s completion on Lake Champlain’s shore, near Oakledge Park. McBeth was one of the circle’s builders.
People of all ages crowded around the circle’s edge, steeled against the November damp in winter coats and long hooded cloaks. Many celebrants wore felt hats, some adorned with flowers, feathers or other colorful touches. A few held tall wooden staffs. Pointed elf-like ears poked out subtly through one woman’s sandy hair.
The ceremony blended meditation with personal recollections, song and dance. A bagpiper wailed out a haunting “Amazing Grace.” Two dancers began a silent rhythm around a fire that mounted with drumbeats and lyrics until everybody bounced and swirled in the crowded circle.
As the ceremony neared conclusion someone began a chanted chorus. The crowd repeated with arms flung in the air: “Long live the king. Long live the king.”