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?