Graeme made a very interesting point in the comments on my Becoming a Druid post – “For me it has always been a shorthand term for someone who learns what they can about ancestral Celtic spirituality and lives their lives in the here and now by those precepts.”
I’ve been pondering to what extent that would be true of me. I’ve spent a fair bit of time poking around reading history, and interpretations of history as part of my ‘becoming a druid’ process. I’m not a historian, and I feel what I do is much more about here and now, than anything that went before me. But, there are concepts that I think are historical in their source.
The single biggest influence on that score for me was Brendan Myers’ book ‘The Other Side of Virtue’ particularly where he looked at ideas of virtue in early heroic cultures. So not all of that was necessarily Celtic, although some is. The idea of living boldly, with style and colour, embracing life rather than being afraid of it, being wild, independent, loyal, passionate, creative, and honourable are all virtues I have come to associate with the Celts and therefore by extension with the Druids.
Things we know about the Druids – that they were the thinkers of their day, the scientists, healers, philosophers, historians and facilitators of justice and advisors to leaders. That certainly colours what I do and how I do it. What we know as a culture and species has changed a lot since then, but that gives me part of my sense of needing to be here and now, alive to contemporary ways of knowing and understanding.
We know that the bards of old also carried news, history, genealogy, and that their satires had political importance. They were more than ‘entertainment’ they were the soul of the community made manifest, and they also worked tremendously hard, like the Druids, committing a vast amount of material to memory. There’s another pointer towards learning, as well as diligence, dedication, and community.
Then there’s the whole worshipping in groves, what I’ve gleaned about Celtic deities, the sense of Druids as connected to the land, but also profoundly involved in culture and civilization – people with one foot in the wilderness and the other at human gatherings. I have a sense of historical druids as balancing between all the things that might be deemed polar opposites – sun and moon, nature and civilization, war and peace, life and death. They walked the edges and the inbetween places (I think.)
So that’s the historical aspect underpinning my perspective. I am also very conscious of its selective nature. No sacrifice of a bloody persuasion. A great deal of me going ‘this is how I understand it, and therefore how I apply it in a modern context’. It’s a subjective process, inevitably. My understanding that ancient cultures had to be far more co-operative than our modern one, points me in certain directions. But at the same time, the Celts of old seem to have had a very different attitude to death, war, feuding, and anything around violence to my own far more pacifist take. I am not them. But if they had continued, uninterrupted by Christianity, I’d be prepared to bet they wouldn’t be the same now either. The evolution of Christianity provides a model for that.
There’s a distinct arrogance in any claim to ‘know’ how the Celtic Druids would have evolved from there to here and in claiming to be doing it. Of course I hope I am. But none of us are never going to know that. I’d rather claim to be modern, and doing what makes sense to me, and not focus so much on the historical side. It means I can’t claim anything else much, and what I do will stand or fall based on whether it works, not where I got it from. That appeals to me.
(Thanks Graeme for the inspiration, I shall be on the lookout for a copy of your book)