Comparative religion for Druids

There are a great many folk out there doing druidry and something else. There are, I suspect, a comparable number of people who get really irritated by ‘druidry and’ approaches. The trouble is that most religions have more material to draw on than we do – more books, rituals, more famous practitioners, more wisdom teachings etc. Thousands of years of evolving culture from the distant past to the present day, full of changes but with enough consistency to feel like a tradition. We don’t have that. Granted, we have some things to draw on, but nothing like the quantity of writings, teachings, practices and traditions of any other major faith.

I spend a fair amount of my time reading books from other faiths. I’m currently reading about Shinto, and that book is next to my copy of the Tao Te Ching and a book on Buddhism. But, I’m not a fan of ‘pick and mix’ – that great accusation raised so often against New Age practice. I’m not looking for things I can steal from other people’s religions to fill in where I find gaps in my own.

I’ve always felt that religions deserve to be studied as academic subjects just as much as philosophical positions do. There is a world of difference between studying religion from a position of faith, and studying it from a position of curiosity. But just as the skills of anthropology can, and I think should be pointed back at the culture they originate from, so too the study of religion can be turned round and directed back at our own habits. There are always questions to ask about what we’re doing and why.

Considering the attitudes, core tenets and activities of other faiths gives a basis for comparison. It becomes possible to contemplate more broadly what it is that people want from a religion – any religion.  What traits do religions have in common, and where do they differ, and why? What does that tell us about what it means to be human? I keep coming back to ask ‘how does this relate to druidry?’ The answers of course vary dramatically.

Druidry needs the rich diversity of thinking and practice evident in all other significant religions. It needs the breadth of traditions, the variety of ways of doing that go to make a faith dynamic and living. This of course will take time. We may be drawing on something ancient, and something else a few hundred years old, but in some ways we are also very young, very new. I don’t like saying ‘neo’ because most modern religions are a long way from how they were two thousand years ago, so we’re not alone, and do not need singling out. But we are narrow, and small, as yet.

We can learn from other religions without borrowing techniques from them We can learn what it is that people do with religions, and use that to develop what we already have as ‘Druid’ and take it forward. Of course we’re all going to disagree on the shapes, potentials, just like we do over the ‘Druidry and’ options, but every time we do it, we’ll be adding something to the tradition, making it richer, finding out what sticks.

The last thing I think we need is some kind of universal faith of homogenised, easily digestible squidge. Religions should be distinctive and different, offering diverse paths that reflect the different needs of different people. If we let ourselves get too similar, all huddled round the same hymn sheet, we reduce the chances of getting any new ideas, homogeny goes very well with stagnation, dogma and repression. Diversity is much healthier. But, we can learn from each other without turning into universal spiritual squidge.

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

11 responses to “Comparative religion for Druids

  • lumpy wickwillow

    I respectfully disagree. All religions are syncretistic. Thats’ how they all started. Same with art forms. Everything’s borrowed. Even the old ones! Don’t know how you can say that they are not. That’s the beauty of culture. In druidism in America, we get to go out into OUR woods, (or deserts) and contact the gods here. And who do we find? Kokopelli! We don’t find oaks and mistletoe. We find Sequoias! So do we forget about that? No. And learning a bunch of welsh is fine and dandy, if that’s what we want to do. I’m of welsh descent. And I love all things celtic, but I’m not about to give myself a welsh name, and call my gods by welsh names. These are just outward forms! It’s the spirit that occupies…and we have to ask ourselves if our “religion” is one of outward forms (meaning LABELS, not immanent deity!) or spirit!

  • Conviventia (@conviventia)

    There’s something ironic about your second paragraph – reading about Shinto, Taoism, and Buddhism, while noting you’re not a fan of “pick and mix” approaches, since that’s exactly what many do in Japan and China. Chan (Zen) is the offspring of Buddhism and Taoism, and it’s perfectly normal in Japan to attend a Shinto and a Buddhist temple (for example: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20070904i1.html).

    There’s a cultural context in Asia that makes it different than the sloppy New Agey approach, so I understand where you’re coming from. But it’s worth considering how much our western distaste for syncretism is the result of a heritage of exclusivistic monotheism.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m absolutely fascinated by the ways in which this cluster of faiths have developped alongside each other, and with Confussionism in the mix as well, and whatever the older Chinese faiths were – I have only the vaguest sense of that, and would love to know more. I’ve skimmed far too much, trying to tackle too big topic in too small a post… For me, pick and mix is all about taking aspects with little understanding of where they came from, what world view they belong to, and therefore what they were supposed to be, and just stirring them in with a lot of other similarly lifted approaches, resulting in something that lacks depth or coherrence. The ways in which religions intertwine and relate to each other, I relate to very differently. The interplay between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the interplay between Christanity and paganism, this intrigues me, and the strange paralleles tht sometimes crop up between things that seem so very seperate. I’m woefully under read and under informed on such topics, paddling in unfamilair waters, totally fascinated, probably splashing a lot… 🙂

      • Conviventia (@conviventia)

        I think trying to really understand another religion is one of the most difficult cross-cultural endeavors we can attempt. Some of the newer textbooks on world religion no longer have separate chapters on Taoism, Confucianism, etc., but a chapter on “Chinese Religion.” This can be helpful, but even then, we’re looking at it through the eyes of an outsider, and it’s difficult to wrap our minds around the spontaneous way a Japanese person just knows it’s better to have a wedding at the Shinto shrine, but a funeral with the Buddhists. I love your blog, btw, as I’m slowly edging my way into some kind of Celtic paganish belief.

      • Nimue Brown

        Ah, so much to understand, so little time. Thank you for contributing.

  • Tony Taylor

    I agree wholeheartedly (with Nimue). No one has the corner on the truth various cultures have placed emphases on different aspects of their relationships with the sacred. I think that by understanding the practices of other spiritual paths can give us insight into our own. I’m not saying to adopt a mish-mash of practices. Rather, I am suggesting that to understand that the Shinto have a particularly strong relationship with their Ancestors can provide us an insight into how we can better develop our relationships with the Ancestors in a Druidic framework.

  • Ellen Evert Hopman

    I think Druidism is broader than many suspect. Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill are and were initiated Christian Druids, as is the current Archbishop of Canterbury. Then we have the Celtic Reconstructionist Druids who are attempting to re-create the ancient pre-Christian Pagan European religion. Inbetween are other fluid varieties of Druids. Druidism is part of the vast corpus of Indo-European religions with their roots in Vedic tradition. Here is an article I wrote some time ago that addresses the question “What is a Druid, anyway?” http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usma&c=trads&id=8742

    • Nimue Brown

      I think the Druidry of Winston Churchill is the cultural, Welsh eistedfodd kind, the people doing it are not spiritual druids, in the way we might understand it, but, it’s complex because that tradition also owes its existence to the great fraudster Iolo Morganwg. Thanks for the link!

      • Ellen Evert Hopman

        Yes it is very complicated because groups like the Ancient Order of Druids and the Ancient Order of Druids in America also base their spirituality on the writings of Iolo Morganwg and they consider themselves Druids. Some of them are Christian and some are not. There are also OBOD members who consider themselves to be Christain or Jewish and at the same time, Druids. Then we have the purely Pagan groups like Whiteoak http://www.whiteoakdruids.org

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