It is fair, I think, to ask what any religion, all religions, are ‘for’. Looking at religions from the outside, here are some possible answers. To make people conform. To comfort people or give them a sense of control. To placate a god or gods. To explain how the inexplicable works. To provide power and authority for an elite few. To support and teach a moral code. If we consider the function of a religion from the position of being inside one, broad answers might include… to become a better person. To belong to a group or community. To know how to live. To secure a place in the afterlife. To avoid the wrath of the gods in this life. To experience the divine. To make up for other gaps or insufficiencies in life. I’m conscious of creating a rather negative list there.
Atheists have many critiques of religion, especially around subject like authority, control, and the alleviation of existential fears. Many non-religious people see religion as a comfort blanket, a fantasy way of trying not to experience the world as it really is. God as imaginary friend and faith as delusion. There are religions, periods, and places where the relationship between faith and control is not comfortable, or has been an issue.
It’s possible that ancient Druidry had the power element in it, but modern Druidry doesn’t. No modern Druid has a great deal of clout, or earns silly money from their Druidic work. Not least because we do not have a captive audience, people vote with their feet and anyone in it for fame and fortune is unlikely to last for long. There’s no political advantage to gain, no ears of Kings waiting for us to whisper into. I see this as entirely a good thing. There being no agreed book or set of rules to turn to, conformity clearly isn’t part of Druidry, and we don’t have a clear moral code.
So what is Druidry for? I don’t think many modern Druids turn up with a desire to explain where thunder comes from or why the crops failed. Most of us don’t seem to be looking for divination, good omens for our next cattle raid, blessings for a war, or many other things we know the ancients generally used religion for. Are we asking the gods to intervene on our behalf and make life easier? I don’t know. Most Druids of my acquaintance keep their relationships with deity private. Not all Druids even believe in deity in an anthropomorphic sense.
Many aspects of modern Druidry call for no faith at all. Service, peace work, community building, questing for and sharing inspiration, seeking a green and sustainable life – plenty of non-Druids do all the same things as us for much the same reasons and feel no need to self identify as Druids at all. However, many of us do actively seek for a sense of connection with something sacred.
Modern life is underpinned, increasingly by a rather reductionist sort of rationalism. It’s all about utility, wealth generation, and material comfort. Science takes things apart to see how they work, and does that very well, but does not tell us how to hold relationship with what it finds. Modern life is consciously, deliberately mundane. Growing up means ceasing to believe in faeries, Father Christmas, benevolent leaders, fairness, unicorns, the inherent goodness of people, dragons, day dreams, and anything capable of inspiring awe and wonder. Life does not require you to feel inspired or filled with awe. Modern life wants you to earn more money to pay off the loan you took out to buy the new shiny thing.
Druidry is very much a religion of re-enchantment, I think. It is very much about building a new kind of relationship with the world, a new way of seeing, and feeling and being. It’s not a rejection of science or rationalism, but a capacity to think of quarks with a sense of amazement. Know how the rainbow is formed, and still be inspired by one. Understand the earthquake, but still feeling the energy and spirit within it. Druidry is about a rejection of the idea that everything is commodity, and that only utility and cost are relevant measures. Whether we believe in deity or not, I think Druidry is a quest to rediscover how to be moved by the world, and how to move within it as a feeling being experiencing awe, delight, horror, and all the other emotions that modern life seems inclined to squash.
Writing this I realise that my answer to ‘what is Druidry for?’ defines it very much in relation to the present moment and a wider, cultural setting. If the quest for enchantment succeeds, and we develop a collective ability to see the world with new eyes, the role of Druidry will change. Perhaps the next question to ask is what we do with that sense of enchantment and possibility. That could keep us busy for a while!