Celtic religion

In his excellent book, Stalking the Goddess, Mark Carter makes some interesting points about Celtic religion. (You’re going to be hearing a lot about Mark). The Celts didn’t have a name for their religion so far as we know. Why would they? It was their religion, the religion, it didn’t need naming. To call it Druidry, he points out, is like calling Christianity Priestism. Celt itself is a word that comes from the outside too. There’s the Greek word Keltoi, which I think the Romans took up to describe some of their ‘barbarian’ neighbours, designating others as Germanic. The divisions are arbitrary.

Often names come from the outside. We don’t need them. We are the people, this is our earth, this is our religion, you only need names when there’s something to distinguish yourself from. As Alan Pilbeam points out when writing about countryside history, inside the village, it’s just the village. The name other people give it will tell you a lot more about what the place is like. I live in the area that was once Slime Bridge. Nice.

Druidry is not the word for ancient Celtic religion. Is it the word to
describe a modern religion? I’m going to say no. Druidry is not A Religion. For many people, what they practice as a Druid is effectively a religion, but that’s not the same as A Religion. We have polytheists, monotheists, duotheists, animists, pantheists and non-theists amongst the modern Druid ranks. No amount of mental wriggling will enable you to call that A Religion. It’s lots of religions.

It’s also worth noting that our culture is totally different. Modern Druids are not one people in one society with one land and one religion. We are scattered across diverse communities and walk amongst people of widely different beliefs. We live in very different places, too. It no longer makes sense to say ‘we are the people and this is our religion’ because the context that worked in no longer exists. There is a great deal about Celtic religion we can never replicate because we do not have social context in which it functioned. A religion is not a tag on to a society. It both informs, and is informed by everything else. Without Celtic life and Celtic social structures, we are doing something else. That’s fine, but we need to recognise it.

I think it helps to consider Druidry as a doing term. Druidry is that which Druids do. This in turn allows us to focus on the commonality and not get bogged down in what it means that some of us believe in individual, personified deities and some of us don’t. Druidry is service. It is study. It is using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe (whoever they are). It is teaching and enabling other people, planting trees, honouring the natural world. Druidry is turning up when you are needed and doing the things you are called on to do. That might be celebrant work, or helping other people find the words they need, or writing stroppy letters to the press, or any number of other things. It’s not belief that makes a Druid, but the doing. It’s also wider reaching than the Druid or Pagan communities. It’s being a voice for the environment at a local planning session. It is protest for human rights and social justice.

Often where your Druidry is most needed is not in the company of other Druids, but out in the rest of the world. The company of Druids is more a place to share ideas, and draw inspiration. We do not need to do Druidry for other Druids very often. Rites of passage maybe, support in hard times, but mostly if a person is doing Druidry, they don’t need another Druid to do it for them. The (im)moral support can be nice though.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. 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

10 responses to “Celtic religion

  • druidcat

    Love your flowing inspiration SO much, lady xx

    BTW I love the discussion on Horrible Histories about the Normans changingg Snottingham to make it less… horrible *snigger* Sometimes thinggs need to evolve, after all!

  • phil ryder

    Religion is not defined by deity – all paths can be considered as a philosophy or spirituality but identifiable practice and belief identifies a religion. So whilst anyone is free to not consider druidry a religion there are many who are not scared of the word. The common Abrahamic definition is not universal – if it was then the majority of world religions would not be considered such.

    • Ysgawen

      I am not scared of the word “religion”, indeed, I defend it in all those interminable debates about being “spiritual, not religious”, but my religion is Christianity, my path druidry. In the same way, many of my friends say their path is druidry and their religion Paganism.

  • Kara

    Is Hinduism not a religion? Replace celt and druid with hindu throughout and this article could be argueing that because hindu practices and belief vary so widely and are so scattered it isn’t a religion? Perhaps you’re right or perhaps your definition of a religion needs reviewed.

    Very interesting article Nimue. But then I wouldn’t excpect any less from you 😉

    • Ysgawen

      Many Hindus say Hinduism is not a religion, but a gathering of religions. Indeed, since it is open to gods and goddesses from outside, it could be seen as all religions.

  • greycatsidhe

    Very interesting post. I sometimes think about the words “Druidism” and “Druidry,” whether they are good terms for my religion, etc. In the end, I continue to call what I do “Druidism” and am comfortable referring to it as my religion because I don’t have anything else to call it. It facilitates communication in the way all labels do. ADF Druidism is probably the best way to describe what we do at my protogrove since that explains our tradition and views (for the most part). I also like to use those words because they convey a certain symbol set derived from certain cultures – which set Druidism apart from other practices *most* of the time, though not always… The diversity certainly makes it difficult to really pin down, huh?! But in the larger context, I totally see what you are saying. The side of me that leans towards reconstructionism wonders what, if anything, the ancestors called their practice. I like what you say about Druidry being a verb and that our practice is defined by our actions.

  • lornasmithers

    Just wondering if Druidry is service to the land, study, tree planting, protest… what separates it from environmentalism and community service?… Where’s the religion?

    • Nimue Brown

      I may not have done a good job of expressing myelf, but,in my defence, its a nuanced and tricky one. I would call Druidry my religion. I have no fear of the ‘religion’ word, and the comment about Hindusim as many religons made a lot of sense to me. I’m no expert on Hinduism, but there seems to be more consensus about the nature of deity there than I see across the Druid spectrum. Lorna, a very good point, my answer is that if you do this as a Druid, you are doing it as a conscious, spiritual dedication, while plenty of other environmentalists do it as expressions of their specific faith, or belief, be that pragmatic, humanist, we only have one planet, or whatever it is. Its what we do that makes us Druids, and that we make that a spiritual commitment is what, for an individual, makes Druidry a religion. If you are doing Druidry but see it as a philosophy, as some do, then it’s not your religion.

      • lornasmithers

        ‘If you do this as a Druid, you are doing it as a conscious, spiritual dedication.’ – Yes that makes sense now, and I think could could be reapplied to what differentiates a Bard from other writers too.

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