Druidry and speaking for the land

Reading Julie Brett’s most recent book I was prompted to think about who speaks for the land in a British Druid context. We often call to spirits of place, and I’ve long felt uneasy about going into a place and welcoming the spirits WHO ALREADY LIVE THERE. Julie led me to realise there’s a human aspect to this, too.

There are of course far more Druid groups in the UK than I have stood in ritual space with. My experience is partial, but I’ve never heard anything to make me think it’s untypical. Druids go to places of historical significance, and places that are local and wild, or geographically convenient – it varies.

I’ve never stood in circle with a Druid group that identified who had the most involved relationship with the land and who therefore should speak on behalf of the land. I’ve been in Druid spaces where people from away have spoken with authority about the deities in the landscape as though there were no local Druids honouring them. I’ve stood in ritual where the Druid who literally owned the land we were on was treated to a lecture by someone who did not live there about all the spirits they could see present in the space.

I had one occasion of speaking in ritual in an urban green space. It was a space I frequented – not quite in walking distance for me, but part of my wider landscape and a place I had a fair amount of relationship with. I talked about what a haven the space was for the urban people living near it. My comments were met with derision – you could hear traffic! The Druid in question had never been to the place before and lived many miles away. I was upset, and at the time I didn’t know how to articulate what was wrong in that situation. Also, it was a beautiful green place on the edge of a city and no, it wasn’t pristine nature, but that didn’t make it any less precious in my eyes.

I’ve felt it at a local level too – there are fields and hills here that I know deeply, and other parts of the landscape – in walking distance for me – that are much more deeply known by other people. I’ve had a longstanding urge to acknowledge this and am only just finding the language to talk about it.

Imagine if Druid rituals included consideration of who, in the ritual, actually had the most involved relationship with the land. Imagine what would change if we felt it was inappropriate to go into an unfamiliar space and start talking about it with authority. Imagine if being a senior, Very Important Druid did not entitle you to speak for, or to a landscape unfamiliar to you. Sadly there’s a lot of ego in all of this. It takes a certain amount of humility to acknowledge that the people who live on the land, or have spent a lot of time with a place might be better placed to talk about it and speak for the land.

Whose land is this? Is a really important question. Who are the ancestors of place? Who has a relationship with the ancestors of place? What assumptions do we make when we enter ritual spaces, and could those assumptions stand a re-think?

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

8 responses to “Druidry and speaking for the land

  • potiapitchford

    So much of this resonates deeply. I’m rituals I have led up here we don’t invite the spirits of place, we let them know what we wish to do and thank them for allowing us to be there and at the end thank them for holding us gently and bid them farewell as we are the ones that leave. It’s a simple yet profound change.

  • karenenneagram

    Well, to my sorrow druidry is as attractive to power-seeking control freaks as any other ‘organised’ (i.e. named) group.

    One of my axioms is – if they say they know, and that they are right, they don’t and they’re not. Because ALL spirituality is paradox. And when it comes to place, surely the only ones who can speak of it are those whose place it is? The ancestors, the spirits, and those of us who gratefully come into and out of their space? When I see a group of dryads dancing in their grove should I break in, tell them they shouldn’t be there because of the traffic noise? Tell the mountainside that clearly tells me to go away that it’s wrong and I can heal it? Tell the ancestors who told me I could join in their Samhain gathering ‘at my peril’ that I did not fear them? Bah!

  • locksley2010

    I encourage paying respect to the spirits of the place rather than inviting them. A shame the Druids you mentioned seemed to lack any respect at all.

  • flahertylandscape

    A good read. Lots of good questions. Thanks for sharing.

    Nice to talk about ‘place’ in the landscape; but it is, in my opinion, about being, instead of talking. Still it is a complex issue. What you and many of us try to explain about landscape is perhaps like trying to understand weather and climate from a freeze frame.

    Some things always change. Sometimes talking hinders being when it comes to presence in the landscape.

    I put up a post ‘Urban Green…600 yrs ago’, in which an American student doing a term abroad study in Morocco, tries to understand Urban Green in the context of the Tangier medina.

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