I’ve seen two wonderful posts about trees in Druidry this week – Damh the bard here http://damh.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/stillness-and-the-born-survivor/ and on the fundamentalist druid blog here – http://phoenixgrove.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/oak-totems-and-what-druid-really-means/
How we learn druidry is a very interesting question. I’ve heard plenty of druids talk about the religion of the ancestors, the Celts and what fragments we have left of Celtic tradition. I find a great deal of inspiration from things Celtic, but it is not the absolute core of my Druidry, and the reason is this: The Celts did not learn their religion by studying fragments of Celtic mythology. It is possible they inherited something from whatever went before, but if you take that back through time, there must, logically, be a starting point. There must be a place and a time where a person was inspired to think a thing.
When it comes to book religions, it is fair to say that before the book, the religion did not exist. Take the book away, and the religion would cease to be viable. While many pagan paths depend to some degree on our textural knowledge of old gods and myths, paganism as a whole does not. The idea of paganism, or the sacredness of nature, the spirit in all things, a multitude of divinity and so forth can be found over, and over with no reference to older cultures or beliefs. Paganism is a response to nature. While there is nature, we can viably keep rediscovering paganism.
I believe that my Celtic ancestors venerated the natural world, although that is not all I think they believed in. It is also my belief that they were able to find this for themselves, not in half remembered myths, or borrowed ideas, but from immediate and personal experiences of nature and deity. And of course, trees. So I very much agree with my fundamentalist friend about the essentialness of trees in Druidry.
Trees, historically have been vital to human life. Each kind of wood has its own unique properties, and humans have been utilising wood as material for as far back as we know about. The Stone Age was also a wood age. Trees are housing, fuel, and the raw material for almost every civilized activity there has ever been. We might turn more to metals and plastics these days, but trees and earth, wood and ceramics are the material basis of human civilization as we know it. Our modern relationship may seem different, but the breath of trees, the soil holding, life giving, rain influencing magic of trees is no less essential than it has ever been.
The experience of being in the company of trees defies language. Trees do not normally speak in human terms, but that does not mean they cannot be heard, experienced and felt. In their age, their seasons, growth patterns and slowness they are a wholly different kind of entity to us, and yet the scope to learn from them is vast. Who we are when we are in the trees is not always who we are the rest of the time. Put a child in a wood if you want to see what a free range, inspired human being looks like.
The knowledge of trees does not give authority to humans. It does not make the holder of texts or language the controller of spiritual truth. It does not create a text that can be waved under the noses of disbelievers or used to explain us to other faith groups. By its very nature, what we learn from the trees is hard to express human to human. I have felt it, and I have no words to speak it. Even if I had those words, I would not want to write them, because speaking it is inadequate. It needs to be felt, individually, uniquely, each of us finding it in our own way. Druidry is not in books, it is in groves and forests, in the trees of our cities even. It is also in the sky and the soil, but these are harder still to engage with, and not always the easiest place to start.
Druidry is listening, and feeling, it is knowing and doing. And we might also find that in relation with each other, in moments of shared inspiration, and we might guide each other in useful directions, but no one can just hand this over wholesale to someone else. No matter how philosophical a religion may be, it is not an intellectual premise. But it is also entirely available to anyone who decides to go looking for it.