Of dualism and Druids

One of the great underpinnings of modern, western thinking, is dualism. Mind-body separation sneaks its way into a great many things. Not least, into spirituality. So many faiths have at their essence the idea of a separation between things material and things spiritual. We must overcome, transcend, or otherwise subdue and conquer worldly, bodily things to obtain Heaven, Nirvana, Enlightenment, or wherever else we think we may be going.

Dualism came out of an old world view that had no trouble separating mind from body because it lacked most of the technical details we have today. Brains are chemical interactions happening inside physical structures. How we think, is physical. The chemistry that informs our thinking, and our emotions, is the same chemistry as works is way through the rest of our bodies, and it is subject to all kinds of influences. We may think about mind altering drugs as being something hardcore and illegal, but they aren’t. The feature in everyday life.

Over many years, I’ve watched what anaemia, low blood sugar or a salt shortage does to my mood, and to my brain functionality. I’ve become familiar with the physical nature of both depression and anxiety, ailments I feel in my ‘body’ far more than in my ‘mind’. Laughter helps us to heal, depression makes us more vulnerable to sickness. Let’s mention alcohol, caffeine, tobacco as well. Hot spices. Hot food even. They all change us.

All of this leads me to think that it is not a clever plan to seek the spiritual at the expense of the body. Mental health and physical health go together. You can’t imbibe poisons and expect your mind to be unaffected. You can’t ignore your body in the quest for intellectual or spiritual advancement, and imagine there will be no consequences. In ignoring the body we can become even more alienated from the natural world, which for Druids, really doesn’t make any sense at all.

I’ve watched with interest in the last few weeks as a number of Druids have started blogging about running. For a spirituality that embraces nature, celebrates the material world and seeks to go deeper rather than wanting to get away from bodily life, it makes sense to me to explore Druidry in physical ways as well as being magical, philosophical and whatnot. Walking, dancing, drumming, working with our bodies, experiencing nature as it manifests in our bodies, is all part of how Druidry can be. We are a part of the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the cycles of nitrogen and oxygen. We have a place in the food chain. Our bodies are made from the dust of the stars and our earthly ancestors. Seeing the spiritual in the physical is, for me at least, a big part of the Druid path.

Following on from this, we can make care for the physical body part of how we live our Druidry. It’s possible to think of the body as the earth in microcosm. How are we going to take care of the earth if we don’t know how to take care of the tiny fragment of nature that is us?

I view my mind and body as parts of a whole. May as well talk about spleen-body dualism, as mind-body dualism, as I see it. It’s all chemistry and physical structures and there’s no great dividing line at the neck. Sugar highs affect brain and rest of body alike. Depression makes my body sluggish. I also don’t see any divide between emotion and intellect. Emotion is, technically speaking, all about the body chemistry, the hormones, the blood sugar levels and so forth. Mood is chemical. Chemicals happen right through our bodies. There is no separation. The idea of viewing myself as a collection of unrelated bits, with some of those more ‘spiritual’ than others, seems a bit daft to me. It’s totally at odds with what contemporary science has to tell us. And, viewing my ancestor Druids as the scientists of their day, means I don’t feel easy ignoring what modern science tells us.

Which begs some very interesting questions about what I would have done had I come into the world in the era when the rational difference between emotion and intellect was very much in vogue, along with the mind-body dualism that has informed how we still tend to think about medicine. Would I have been out on the fringe with the then-denigrated holistic folk, or would I have been supporting the science? Convenient for me that I don’t have to make that decision. I have no idea what the answer is to that one, or what I might have done, but I do enjoy floating the questions.

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

14 responses to “Of dualism and Druids

  • Alex Jones

    Druids have a strong association with oak trees. Oak trees have roots in the earth and branches reaching to the sun. Druids should be rooted in the earth like an oak tree, but also reaching up for the sun.

  • Iodhan Silverbear

    I’ve seen this, although a bit in reverse. Years ago I weighed 317 lbs. (144 Kg). As soon as I stopped eating junk food and high octane soda I started losing weight. I am now down to about 240 lbs (109 Kg). It was in the midst of this process, once I began to feel better, that I made my final conversion to Paganism and began paying attention to my own spiritual process. For me, it works both ways apparently (Smiley thing).

    • Nimue Brown

      I’d like to say something profound about the circular nature of reality, but am not feeling that clever this morning! But, yay for you. A good journey, by the sounds of it.

  • hal weeks

    I Love what you wrote this morning…(well, it’s morning here in Colorado, where I read this.) Just before I opened my email, I was reflecting on the Lovers card in my Tarot. It depicts “the chemical wedding”. And the Great Work of mating the mind/body, spiritual and physical aspects to create “new life”…our new life.

    I loved the synchronicity of opening up my email and finding your post.

  • greycatsidhe

    Beautifully put. I think there is a time and a place for some mind altering substances (I will not give up my caffeinated tea! And I love a nice cup of wine.), and that they are also a part of nature. The trick is balance and not forgetting that we are still embodied. We need to moderate what we do.

  • journeymaid

    Thank you! This blog post of yours is so much in line with my own thoughts for the last couple of days, despite coming from a slightly different angle (since I don’t identify myself as a druid). I have the feeling this is a very important thing to keep in mind…

  • Jay Landar

    What do druids think of life after death? Does consciousness still exist? If so it is manifestly separate from body. What about dualism then? Just a question..

    • Nimue Brown

      I think it depends on the druid. I have no certainty about what happens. I like the idea of reincarnation, I think many druids do, but many of us hold a dash of doubt alongside ou beleief. We won’t really know until we get there…

  • Ian

    But the issue that materialists incur is when faced with a metaphysical argument called: The Knowledge Argument

    So imagine that you have someone in a colorless room, everything is black and white, and they study all the possible physical knowledge about the color red, what precise wavelength it is, how precisely it affects our brains when we see it. They have studied all knowledge they could possibly have gleaned from studying “red” physically. So the person should know everything about it, even though they have never seen the color. But it seems as if when the person steps out of this color-less world, and sees the color red, it is as if they have learned something new, what it is to experience the color red.

    Now this is an argument for dualism, that there is both a material and an immaterial part of who we are. I am not saying that the physical does not affect that which is non-physical. I am saying that there is a duality in which one affects another. This is not contradictory to science. Science says nothing about there cannot be a soul or any kind of immaterial part of ourselves.

    The problems lies when we start saying that they’re separate. That the mind is separate from the body, they are not, they obviously are not. They have an exchange. The body affects the mind. The mind affects the body. The information we have today is insufficient to explain consciousness and experience. And it seems as if science will just keep giving us the same information. How exactly does stimulating certain parts of the brain equate to pain? Yes, when you stimulate them, one experiences pain, but why? It doesn’t quite explain the sensation of pain does it?

    • Nimue Brown

      The places science can’t get fasciante me. I agree that sometimes the kind of dualism you describe is a helpful way of making sense of the world, and that the real problem s to thik of things as wholly seperate. Many thanks fo your input here.

  • Terra Maple Forester

    I like your line about spleen-body dualism!

  • angharadlois

    I like this, too! Dualism has always seemed so obviously artificial to me – a tool, sure, but not an indisputable truth. That’s one of the things that draws me towards some of the imagery and metaphors connected with celtic heritage – triplicity, multiplicity, pluralism; the endless evasion of definition which questions more than it answers. A fine tradition and a useful counterpoint (if that’s not too dualistic a statement!)

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