Yesterday I talked about religion in context, and the way in which many religions have belonged to specific peoples and places. The idea that a religion should be universal, is a very Christian-centric one. So where does that leave modern Druidry? We don’t have much direct connection with the past – some of us more than others, through location, ancestry, deliberate research. Some of us embrace the idea of modern Druidry without wanting to be too bogged down in the details of trying to be authentically Celtic. Modern Druids are all over the world, on every continent. Some have ties of blood if not of earth, many do not.
However, there are some very important ways in which Druidry differs from other religions. There were many Celtic deities who have left one occurrence of their name, one shrine, one carved stone. It may well be that the vast majority of deities belonged to a specific tribe, and a specific place. There’s no reason to think that the Celts as they and their culture spread, took one coherent pantheon with them everywhere. Spirits of place are of course by definition, local. This tree, that cave, the big waterfall, each one is unique, and we recognise their spirit, or what resides there, as a distinct entity. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in the world, these ideas still make sense. The local aspect of Druidry works anywhere, because ‘here’ is local to us, wherever we are.
Trees are important to Druids, and probably always have been. The trees that grow in this soil, are the ones I am engaging with. Whichever soil I am upon. It is the native trees of the land I am in that will be the ones that matter. Now, even within the UK, tree distributions are not universal. The south east was originally a mix of small leaved lime and oaks, but the small leaved lime are not useful for much that humans do, and have not been encouraged. Where I come from, beech is the predominant wood. In wet areas, alder and willow predominate, and on high ground you get the pines. Some of the distribution of trees has to do with the long history of human use. Some of it has to do with the landscape. Trees are not an abstract concept, and in terms of how we practice, this is very important.
There can be a tendency in modern paganism to be over-fond of the 8 festivals, but for them to make any sense, they too must be adapted to where you live. Pagans in the southern hemisphere swap the festivals over to fit what they’ve got. No point celebrating spring in late summer. For any aspect of Druidry to make sense it has to be related to nature as you experience it. Living close to the Severn river, it would make sense to honour the tides. A person on the coast might have a daily practice that reflected the ebb and flow of the waves. A person ten miles inland might well have no reason to doing that, just going down to the shore occasionally and working with what they find. No point talking about John Barleycorn if your part of the world is mountainous and grows sheep, but Imbolc will likely be a lot more resonant.
Then in ritual, sometimes the landscape affects the shape of what we do. If you’re facing a mountain and have a river at your back, then earth is in front of you and water is behind you, and sticking to the usual ‘quarters’ would be weird. We have to respond to what we find. It may make more sense in such a context to scrap the quarters entirely, hailing spirits of mountain and lake, rather than earth and water generically.
Wherever we are in the world, our Druidry has to reflect nature as we experience it. Therefore I would argue that even if you are in Australia and drawing heavily on the Celts what you do will still be essentially local. This land. These plants. Those creatures. A druidry that isn’t, to some degree, local, doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Some people complain about the degree of looseness in modern Druidry – that it isn’t pinned down or firmly enough defined. That’s only, arguably, true, when considering the international picture. The Druidry of Here and Now tends to be a lot more specific. The looseness of the overall tradition gives us room to respond to Here and Now rather than clinging dogmatically to fixed ways of doing.
In space, Druids would still be able to adapt to their circumstances and make it work. Because we don’t have to pray to the East, for example. It would be interesting to consider how the less planet-orientated religions would actually work, if you tried to take them off the planet.