Some years ago, pagan author Pete Jennings pointed out to me that if all pagans were killed, all pagan books burned, all traces of paganism expunged from the earth then there is every reason to think that at some point in the future, someone will figure it out all over again. The same cannot be said of book religions that depend on individual revelations.
How important then, is the history of Druidry, or for that matter, of any other pagan path?
I recently reviewed Ronald Hutton’s epic work Blood and Mistletoe over at www.druidnetwork.org. It’s a book with a lot to say about the limits of our knowledge and the lack of certainty in anything to do with the ancient Druids. Well worth reading. I’m now reading Graeme Talboys, a beautiful counterpoint to Hutton looking at what we might plausibly extrapolate. Two very different takes on what we know, and read side by side I think they make a perfect pair.
Like a lot of people who end up on a druid path, I started out with a fondness for things Celtic – the knotwork, the mediaeval stories, the harps… I find ‘Celtic’ things resonant at an emotional level. Having Cornish ancestors and ancestors from the Forest of Dean (which historically was more often in Wales than not!) plus a legend about an Irish lass who ran off with the stable boy, I feel confident that I have some biological Celtic ancestry. That however, is secondary because someone with no claim to blood lineage who felt that resonance, would be no less entitled to it, in my book.
What is it that draws us to other times and places, giving us a sense of connection outside ourselves? Is it some kind of past life or genetic memory, or just fancy? I wonder too about the impulse to identify ourselves with plants and animals.
You could look at this from one angle and get the idea that pagans are mostly misfit fantasists who want to be something else, somewhere else. We have the fantasy that as Celts, (or whatever else it is) we’d have fitted in. That may be true on any count.
But there’s also the great object-subject divide to consider. (Thank you zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance). We live in a collective mindset that places the individual as distinct and separate from everything else. We are separate in time and space, and so any engagement with anything that is not part of our own time and space, is by definition fantasy. That’s not the only way of looking at things. If you perceive everything as interconnected, then what is without can also be within. Everything we experience within ourselves is part of our dialogue with everything else. If we are discrete entities, but part of our nature is made up from our contact with other things, those other things are part of us.
The human mind having its limits, we can’t hold consciousness of being connected with everything all of the time. We can however explore the bits we encounter in meaningful ways, and answer the feelings of resonance certain things evoke. By this measure, the resonance of the Celts, of the herons, or oak trees or flowing waters or whatever else calls, is no kind of crazy. By experiencing them and caring about them, they become part of us. Arguably they were part of us anyway and all we have done is notice this and responded to it. Our understanding of time, and history, can be very much part of this.
Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance talks about mythos – the shared story on which society depends, and goes on to point out how rooted in a rather limited ancient Greek vision our current mythos is. To step outside the mythos is to court madness, allegedly. I think it can be done. More, I think we’re already doing it. We have to challenge all those beliefs that are currently being passed off as indisputable fact. The world is, I suspect, a far more interesting place than we let ourselves believe it to be.