Religion in context

The converting tendencies of Christianity and Islam have given a perspective of the place of religion at odds with many perspectives. Most religions are not universal, nor meant to be. Judaism is the religion of a people, and I have recently discovered that Shinto is Japanese to a degree that would make a nonsense of outsiders trying to practice it. Romans venerated their Emperors. Faiths do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a social context, as part of a culture. They may be interacting with other cultures – the relationships between Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shinto are, from a superficial look, clearly very complicated. The relationship between politics and religion is equally long and messy. Just think of the divinely sanctioned rulers, and the rulers who became gods.

There is a vast difference between mediaeval Christianity, and any of the modern interpretations. And I would bet at least as much difference again to the people who started it. How much of Christianity belongs in the landscape of its origin? What happens when we take a religion out of its place of origin and give it to people from a different culture? Can it hope to be the same religion? If I took up Buddhism, or Taoism, could I really follow those paths with the same depth as someone whose whole culture was steeped in them?

Then there’s issues of language. Words in translation are always imperfect, there are seldom tidy matches that carry all the same subtext and nuance. Often, there are words that just don’t exist, ideas that one language cannot embody. I see this in Buddhist writing, where words like ‘ego’ and ‘empty’ are employed to mean things that we do not usually use them to express. I have a feeling that if I read these ideas in their original language, and met those words in their true form, I could have a chance at understanding something that currently is beyond me.

I’m very conscious of not living in a Celtic culture. My blood ancestry has some Celtic in it, and, having grown up with folklore and mythology, I got steeped a bit, I feel this culture as my own heritage, which may help me. But I’m aware that I can only ever be a Druid of my time. This is one of the reasons that I think deep relationship with the land, the trees, the spirits of place, is so vital. Religions do pass through cultures and different ways of seeing the world. Something survives, but something also changes. Interesting to ask what is vital and intrinsic, and what we can afford to let go of. It’s easiest to keep the surface things like costumes and settings, hardest to keep the understandings that belong to another time, another people. But should we? How important is continuity? Should we be more concerned with who we are and what we do now? I see a risk that we will imagine continuity far more easily than we will truly find it.

The world I live in is not the world of my grandmother. My son will inherit a place that could be as different again. The language evolves continually, along with understandings of the world. Belief cannot be a constant in a changing world, belief too must inevitably be changed by everything else that we do and know. Perhaps that means that the greatest scope for Druidic thinking lies in the future, not in the past. Who knows?

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Religion in context

  • Alex Jones

    If you live in the UK it is a Celtic culture, which extends as far as Spain, Ireland and Turkey. The roots of Druidism is authentic if it was ever practiced in a location that modern Druidism is founded in. The land and the Druid is stronger in those places it was practiced in.

  • corvusrouge

    Religion and evolution historically have made uncomfortable bed fellows. One seemingly rooted to the past whilst the other superficially more concerned with the future. Relationship would appear to represent the bridge between the two yet relationship would also appear to be as individual as our current perception of our self. The medium of the land, in my experience, has played a key role in how that relationship is formed and experienced. And the differing physical makeups of different areas of the world are always going to result in a “non-standard” experience that may appear to contradict the original purpose.
    It has been my experience that we all, consciously or otherwise, leave a little “something” in any landscape we interact with, be that urban, rural or wild. And much like the makeup of sedimentary rock structures, the non-physical landscape evolves with each and every addition we leave. So the land would appear to be rooted in it’s history, which forms the physical aspect whilst the non-physical elements continually evolves as more “material” is added, consciously or otherwise. The physical representing the history and non-physical representing it’s continuing evolution. For me, this suggests more of a symbiotic relationship as opposed to a contradictory one.
    It is our understanding of such things that would appear to be a odds with the reality of these processes.

  • Iodhan Silverbear

    I think about the language of the earth. I think about how my ancestors who were all Celts must have worshiped the land and their sacrifices and their lives and loves. I wonder if any of my ancestors were Druids or Bards and there is a calling in me to practice what I feel is a spirituality that can be applied in my own life in my own way. I don’t think that it matters where a religion or a spirituality comes from or where you come from. If you are willing to embrace something it means you are willing to learn from it. If you are willing to learn from it, then it either makes you a better person or a worse person depending on your own values and goals.

  • Metalgaia

    I think it is impossible to be a Celtic Reconstructionist to perfection – because much of the Celtic Tradition was destroyed by others or lost in time.

  • Pondering modern Druidry « Druid Life

    […] I talked about religion in context, and the way in which many religions have belonged to specific peoples and places. The idea that a […]

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