The most obvious response to ‘what is druid service?’ would have everything to do with working as a druid priest – celebrant work, teaching, leading rituals, maybe some spiritual guidance, healing work, that kind of thing. The trouble is, that to be offering that kind of service, you need a community that sees you in that role and has a use for you. If everyone studying Druidry aspires to Being A Druid in this sense, where is the tribe you are going to serve? Clearly we can’t all work that way, there just aren’t enough acolytes to go round!
But there is more to Druidry, and to service, than getting to be the one who flounces round centre stage in a really nice dress. When the opportunity arises, I’ll admit I’m probably as game as the next Druid for both the centre stage and the nice frock. Or whatever it is you like to wear in public. But there are other ways our Druid skills can be called upon. Druidry has the scope to take us into relationship with all kinds of non-human entities. The spirits of place might want a ritual from us. Or a tree planting. Or a litter pick. They probably care less about the fashion statements.
Opportunities to serve frequently come up in non-spiritual settings – volunteer work, care for the environment, fund raising for good causes, supporting the local school, offering bard skills to a local event. With these our Druidness may well not be visible to anyone watching. It doesn’t need to be. This is not about how great you are, or I am. It’s not about attracting attention, being important, or even about making other people respect Druids more.
Acts of service are things undertaken because they need doing, are worth doing, and either cannot be funded, or cannot be properly funded. It means giving of time, energy and creativity for the simple reason that a thing needs to happen. You might be serving the local environment, responding to an international crisis, you might be helping out in your community. It’s not about the self importance of the one doing.
Now, there are many personal gain aspects to service – the pleasure of getting a thing done, the scope for social contact, the boost to self esteem, the sense of being a valued part of the community. These are all good things. Undertaking acts of self torment and martyrdom in the name of a cause is seldom sustainable and more likely to make others profoundly unhappy than to make the world a better place. Service works better when it can be given freely, and happily, and when the one giving gets something good out of it. However, there are lines not to cross. When ‘service’ becomes an excuse to boss others about or put them down, that’s not a win. It shouldn’t be about creating opportunities to be smug, self righteous, more-druidy-than-thou or anything of that ilk. It’s not a good idea to be doing it in hopes of love, fame, attention or reward either, as none of these will necessarily be forthcoming. Do it for love of what you do, not in the hope of being loved for your service.
Boundaries are very important. Meditation and ritual work can teach us a lot about how to craft them, but service will really test them. There is always more work to do than there are people to do it. There are always more problems to solve, more pain to ease, more wrongs to right. None of us can do everything. Entering into service, in any space and at any level, holding boundaries is vital. Know how much time and energy you have to give. Guilt and a desire to please can both push us into giving more than we can sustain. A burned out volunteer is not a good thing. Better to be able to give consistently for years to come, than to make a huge effort and fall over in a couple of months.
I think service should be a part of the Druid path for all of us. How we understand it can vary. Small acts of kindness, small contributions to community and local place are not to be discounted. Ask what is needed. Ask what you can give. Ask how you can make things better. Don’t wait for someone to request a handfasting. There’s plenty of other ways to serve your tribe, even if they don’t realise they are your tribe, and haven’t the faintest notion that you are, in fact, their Druid.