Category Archives: Becoming a Druid

What does a Druid do?

When I first came to Druidry, something like twenty years ago, my sense of what modern Druids did was informed by observation. Clearly the first thing to do was join a Grove and/or a Druid order. Ideally a Grove belonging to the Druid Order. In practice it’s often a lot more complicated of course!

Joining a Grove meant showing up for regular meetings (monthly, for me) and attending festivals through the year. Study and practice was to some degree dictated by the Grove. I also went to bigger Druid gatherings at Avebury and Stonehenge.

It was clear from early on that people came to Druidry with all kinds of different intentions. Some people just wanted a community in which to celebrate the cycles of the seasons. Some were following a specific calling within Druidry – to be bards, or healers, herbalists, activists, and so forth. Some would become ritualists and celebrants and lead groups themselves. There weren’t so many authors back then, but it was clear that writing, speaking at events and teaching were part of what some Druids were called to do. Especially those Druids who were going to be Big Name Druids.

I grasped early on the importance of service and volunteering. I did quite a lot of that, one way and another. Curiously, I also had a strong sense that I should be stepping up. I ended up with a lot of students of my own – as a twenty something proto-Druid it turned out that I knew more myth, folklore, music, magic, meditation and nature stuff than many Pagans who were a lot older than me.  There were a lot of people around me who were entirely new to Paganism and who wanted to learn, and so I stepped up as best I could. I led rituals and workshops and moots and all sorts of things – often because despite being fairly young and not that experienced, I was often the most experienced person to hand.

Doing all the things that might make a person a modern Druid is bloody hard work, though. There are people who make it pay, but I certainly wasn’t one of those.  Over the years, I started to look harder at what of the work made sense to me – I cut back on teaching. I stepped away from celebrant work, which is prohibitively difficult if you don’t drive, and I’m honestly not theatrical enough. I became less interested in leadership roles.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many other Druids of my acquaintance seem to have walked a comparable path and are undertaking to Druid in quieter ways, focusing on the bits of the path that truly interest them and not trying to perform a large and complex role. It means diversity, and not so many of the people aspiring to be Big Name folk and not so much emphasis on that. More sharing and conversation, less authority. I like it better.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out now why twenty-something me thought that aspiring to be a Big Name Druid was even slightly attractive. I knew what kind of level of work was required and I wasn’t averse, back then, to martyring myself, but I was never mercenary enough to make it work financially. I was never pushy enough to take up enough space. I was never that into authority. But, I had a weird feeling it was what I was supposed to be doing. Perhaps at the time, it was what I needed to be aiming for, but I’m a lot more comfortable for having since let go of all that.


Becoming a Druid

I started along the Druid path in my twenties, drawn in by a longstanding attraction to the title, by a crush and a set of odd coincidences. I found out early that modern Druids are not carrying on ancient Celtic traditions, and I got over that. When I started studying with OBOD I realised that I had in many ways been on the Druid path my whole life. I just hadn’t known that was the word that turned my various interests into a coherent way of being in the world.

I was so very serious as a student of Druidry. I read hard, practiced hard, and strived a lot. I never really got into kit and presentation – I find it hard to feel comfortable in what Cat Treadwell aptly calls ‘Druid Drag’. If I try to look like anything, I always feel fake. A few years into all of this, and people started showing up who wanted to learn, and undertake ritual. I didn’t have the experience to do it, but there was no one else willing to try, so I tried, and we muddled along.

Finding you are doing things you don’t feel ready for because someone else needs you to, is a rite of passage. It is one that can happen many times. First student. First ritual. First handfasting. And the hardest one – first funeral. Becoming the person who will step up and do what needs doing is, I think, an important part of what it means to become a Druid.

I took my service very seriously in my twenties and thirties. I sacrificed time and energy. I spent time at the Druid Network, and back then there was a culture of sacrifice and a clarity that it should cost, it should be hard. I made myself ill repeatedly, giving more of myself than I could afford, taking on voluntary work and responsibilities that were not sustainable. Sacrifice may be powerful, but you can’t live there.

It’s taken me a long time to learn how to be softer in my Druidry. How to be more like flowing water. How to say no to things. I don’t try hard any more. I show up every day in all sorts of ways to do things that are part of how I understand my path. I’ve become much more interested in beauty, kindness and how we lift each other and a lot less interested in opportunities to hurt myself.


Druidry and service

I first started studying Druidry about 18 years ago. Back then, I was hungry for knowledge, and hopeful about developing wisdom. I wanted something that gave my life coherence, and Druidry brought together all the things I was interested in, giving shape to my life in a way I was excited about. I joined a Grove, went to open rituals, studied with OBOD. When I started, this is something I was doing for me.

Not very far in, the idea of service as the heart of Druidry happened to me, and I volunteered for The Druid Network. For some years, it was all about how much I could give and as a person who already wasn’t good at self-care, this didn’t entirely work for me. Most of my Druidry came to be about what I did for other people – in ritual, in teaching (I’d grown up Pagan, so when I got to Druidry I actually knew quite a lot already).

I don’t really know how to do ritual for myself. It was always something I did as an act of service. I only dress the part if I’m working for someone who I think needs me to dress the part. I don’t go to events unless someone wants me to do a talk. It struck me this week that my whole approach to Druidry has been shaped, if not distorted by this sense that service is what matters most.

Most people who take up a spiritual path do so because they want to grow. They want to enrich themselves, and for Pagans, opening the door to wonder and the numinous is usually part of the mix. When I started out, that was what I wanted. I have a lot of underlying issues around not feeling like I deserve nice things, and this has no doubt played its part. So, I’m looking at my assumptions.

I don’t really ‘do’ deity and that’s in no small part because I can’t see why any deity would want to bother with me so there’s not much point asking. For years now, I’ve only held sacred space and time for other people’s benefit. I don’t dress up, because I’m not glamorous and I don’t really feel entitled to present that way – I intend to challenge this. I don’t do much pagan bling, or interior decoration because I’ve persuaded myself it’s superficial. But it’s also joyful, and I’ve not made much space for personal joy in my path, and I think I need to.

What if my Druidry was fun?

What if the study and embodying of Druidic philosophy was something I consciously did for my own benefit first and foremost?

What if I made more deliberate space for beauty and joy? What if I allowed myself to play with this and take more delight in it?

What if I stopped trying to justify my use of time in terms of how I benefit other people?

 


A sense of direction

When I dedicated to the bard path, I promised to use my creativity for the good of my tribe and the good of the land. The land part has always been easy to identify, if hard to protect in this exploitative, destructive age. ‘Tribe’ has always been trickier. Who are my tribe? Who should I be helping and supporting? Where can I do most good? I’ve put myself forward in Pagan groups, in politics, and I’ve stepped up to try and help fellow authors and creatives, all of this in paid and unpaid configurations. I’ve been looking for a tribe to serve.

It’s tricky. I need to work in ways that achieve something and that I feel good about. I’ve fallen out of a few spaces along the way simply because I didn’t have the resources or information to be able to do anything well, and the frustration of it ground me down.  Creativity depends on inspiration, and volunteering depends on energy, and I am more motivated by results than anything else. I’ve fallen out of some spaces because of internal politics, and I’m not good at dealing with people who are afraid I will become too prominent and important, and for whom keeping me under control is more important than getting good things done. I’ve fallen out of spaces through sheer boredom as well.

What I want is to build community, sustainability, and resilience. I want to help people flourish and do more good. I want more joy and better things for as many people as I can manage to bring that to.

I knew at the start of this year that I’d likely be picking a place to stand – or a few places. I’ve eyed up various groups and I’ve waited to see who made moves towards me. It’s been an interesting six months, and at this point, I feel I know where I’m going. I’m building a worker’s co-operative around the Hopeless Maine project. I’m putting more energy into Moon Books, and Sloth Comics. I shall carry on volunteering for The Pagan Federation and The Woodland Trust and writing for all the magazines I’ve been writing for. I shall be investing more energy in Transition Stroud as well – this is about transitioning to more sustainable ways of living.

I’ve learned not to work with people who are half hearted about me, or grudgingly make a place for me. I’ve also learned not to work with people who simply see me as a resource to exploit. You can’t build better things if what’s going around you is crap. You can’t bring good into the world if the project you’re in is inherently unethical in how it gets things done. None of us benefit from being treated like objects for use. Breaking people for causes isn’t good, and making personal influence more important than the cause isn’t good either. But all of that said, many good spaces exist full of people intent on doing the best they can with what they have, and those are the places that deserve energy invested in them and that reward you if you give what you can. In such a space, giving what you can becomes rewarding of itself.


Becoming a Druid by doing other things

I think it’s good to have a framework, and the time I’ve spent studying Druidry itself has given me some useful points of reference. However, I have a growing feeling that what makes a person a Druid is not the study of Druidry, but doing a whole host of other things. Increasingly, I see Druidry as an emergent property from approaching a whole array of subjects and practices with an open heart and mind, willing to be changed by them.

Living as close to nature as you can, will change you. Working with the seasons as you experience them will change you. Forming a relationship with your landscape, learning about what lives on it and making connections, will change you.

We can practice disciplines of the mind – philosophy, meditation, contemplation, gratitude, activism, prayer, and these experiences will impact on us. I think any study, any learning has a place here. By doing them, letting them permeate us, we become more than we were.

You can work with embodiment, in whatever way that makes sense for the body you have. Walking, wild swimming, sitting out, running, dancing, drumming. Any thoughtful interaction between body and world can be an incredible teacher. We can learn what to safely eat, how to grow plants, how to work with trees.

We can practice creativity in all its forms, and expose ourselves to the creativity of others, and to the creativity and history of our ancestors.

There’s more here to explore than any one person could do justice to in a single lifetime. And so each of us is free to follow the paths that appeal to us, to dig deep when we feel so moved. So long as we all have elements of wildness and civilization, embodiment and mind in our practices I think we’ll always find Druidry as an emergent property. It happens to us because we do the things. It lives in the doing, and in the way that acting in these various ways shapes our minds and bodies. It is not something to try and control, but something to open into and to allow to happen.


Druidry and meditation

Here’s something from the opening of my first non-fiction book – Druidry and Meditation.

When I first came to Druidry, there weren’t a great many texts to be had explaining how to be a Druid. I read what I could find, and while that gave me broad brushstrokes, I wanted a much more precise guide on how to go about doing ‘it’. I wanted someone to tell me what to do. What does it mean to be a Druid? How do you live as a Druid? I wasn’t only interested in ritual practice, but in the detail of ordinary life, in Druidry as integral to every day existence.

Over the years, studying with OBOD, attending talks and workshops, lurking about on forums and listening to others, I picked up a great many different and not always compatible ideas about what Druidry is and means. Once
I started participating in rituals, I learned by doing and observing. On occasion, people tried to tell me what to do and I found myself irritated by them. I learned that I did not want to be told exactly how to go about being a Druid after all.

I have lost track of how many times someone has written, or said in my presence that Druidry cannot be found in books. It has to be experienced. Which makes the idea of writing a useful book about Druidry seem like a bit of a nonsense. But in much the same way, a book cannot make you a kitchen cupboard either. It can tell you about tools, materials, potential problems and show you pictures of other people’s cupboards to inspire you. Making the cupboard remains your responsibility.

So where do you go to experience it? Where does the path begin? I learned, in frustration, that Druidry isn’t really a thing one person can teach another, because it is unique to each of us. But that still doesn’t answer the question of where to start and how to search for it. Then some years ago, I started acquiring people who wanted to learn, and who thought I had something to teach them. That was a surprising process, but sharing what I know
has taught me a great deal. No, you can’t teach Druidry and you can’t put it in a book. Anyone who wants to be a Druid, must, in the end, find their own way, that’s part of the nature of the thing. What you can do is put tools in people’s hands and tell them how to use them, much like the cupboard making metaphor. You can share techniques for exploring, and stories of how you found your own path. You can wave to other folk when you see them
roaming along some other route through the great forest that is Druidry. I can pass onto you the things I’ve picked up, as you will no doubt pass along anything that seems useful or relevant. We can’t turn each other into Druids, but we can share around maps and tales from the road.

Therefore, this is another book that won’t teach you how to be a Druid. But hopefully it won’t be teaching you, in ways you’ll find helpful and productive as you figure things out for yourself.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/druidry-and-meditation


Druidry, recognition and initiation

Back when I did more formal Druidry, I undertook a number of initiations – at Stonehenge, and through the OBOD course. They were important experiences for me, although at the time I don’t think I could have fully articulated why it mattered and what it changed. For a few years I also initiated bards in ritual, and that taught me a lot about what the process is and does and can mean.

In some traditions, initiation is about dedication. This is definitely the case for anyone self initiating. It is a commitment to yourself, the tradition, perhaps the Gods. It demonstrates intention and sets you on a path. In magical traditions, my understanding is that initiation is itself a magical process, and it is about moving you on with your studies. You are initiated into something new by people who know more than you do. It is a formal gateway you must pass through on your path.

If you are on a taught course, then a Druid initiation can be that kind of initiation into mystery. There are plenty of Druids who self initiate – and even though my OBOD initiation was designed by someone else, I undertook it alone and it felt like a dedication more than a step through a portal.

From what I’ve seen, no two Druids walk quite the same path. We can share insights and experiences, we can teach each other, but part of the nature of the path is that you have to walk it in your own way. Often what we need from initiation isn’t a portal into the next level, but the recognition from fellow travellers that we are also Druids. What makes the initiation powerful is a group of people gathering to say yes, we take you seriously as a Druid. Yes, we see your bardic work. Yes, we think you can carry on and do other things we will respect and value.

This too has its own magic. It’s easy to overlook the power of simple human interactions if you’re looking for big woo-woo stuff loaded with special effects. However, in terms of how we live our lives, human interaction is greatly significant for most of us. The majority of us are more likely to get direct feedback from fellow humans than we are to hear from Gods, spirits or ancestors as we follow our path. It’s nice to get the affirmation of that direct feedback too.

If the Gods don’t talk to you much, or at all, if the woo-woo isn’t part of your path very often, or at all, a bit of recognition from a fellow Druid can help you remember that there is more to this than the big stuff, that the small stuff done well is of great importance to the people around you. After all, what the Gods say to you probably won’t impact on your people much at all, but what you do with it will, so will whatever you do for your own reasons.


Sniffing for Druids

Scent is incredibly powerful especially in terms of bringing emotion and memory to the surface. It’s also a sense we don’t tend to use much. Most other mammals make far better uses of their noses than we do. Admittedly, some have far more powerful noses than we do, but our lack of engagement is a far bigger issue.

I can tell when the fox has pissed on the bushes outside the flat. Sometimes I smell death even though I cannot find the body. At the moment, the woods are permeated with the aroma from the new garlic leaves, but if you get your head in close there are violets to sniff as well. Weather creates smells, so do trees, rotting plant matter, bodies of water. Opening up to smell gives us access to far more than we can know by looking.

Smelling things makes you more of a conscious participant in a place, less the observer of scenery. Of course smell is one of the ways in which your body is permeated by your environment – the smells we breathe in are airborne chemicals that come from their source and physically enter our bodies. And no, it’s not a pleasant thought to recognise that the steaming turd we can smell is also, now, a little bit inside us, but we can’t embrace nature and deny the bits we find distasteful. To many mammals the pile of poo is a veritable newsletter and worth taking the time to sniff.

Sniffing the world and paying attention to smell may change your relationships with human-made smells. Car fumes, artificial scents for the body, factory smells – noticing them can make them harder to deal with. Many of the things humans put in the air do us no good at all, and tuning them out doesn’t protect us from harm.

You don’t need a lot of energy or mobility to go sniffing. It helps if you can cross-reference smells with other sources of information, and of course not everyone has a good capacity for smelling things. Most of us, however, have far more potential in our noses than we normally use, and can snuffle our way into a deeper state of relationship with the world.


Teaching Druidry, Learning Druidry

I have, at various times and by assorted means, tried teaching Druidry. It’s an odd business for me – not least because I dislike dogma and authority, and firmly believe that modern Druidry is something we have to make for ourselves as individuals. Of course teaching doesn’t have to express authority or dogma, but it’s so easy to accidentally fall into either, or both.

I’ve learned a lot when I’ve been teaching people. It’s allowed me to find out a great deal about other ways to see the world. One of the things it taught me is that I enjoy being a student, and always feel a bit out of my depth if asked to taking a teaching role, but that at the same time I find teaching exciting, and watching people find their own way even more so.

This has led me to the conclusion that most of the time, creating space is more productive than any attempts at formal teaching. It’s also less demanding in terms of time and effort. Give people a space, an opportunity, and let them do it on their own terms, and what they find will be their own, and will have its own shape. It removes all temptation for the teaching to be about how clever and important the teacher is, and it frees the student from any dogma the teacher might have been hauling around.

Too often, teaching can mean imagining the student as the blank page onto which the teacher must write their great wisdom. But, if you start from the idea that what the student needs to do is discover their own wisdom, everything changes. If you aim to have the student find their own inspiration, their own insight, their own magic… then giving them yours is of limited use.

There are a great many ways of creating opportunities, and this is something we can all do for each other without needing a hierarchy of teachers over students. Anyone can make a space, and anyone can work within a space to experience and develop. All that is required of a space is that it gives people room to have experiences. That could be a moot set up to talk philosophically. It could be a ritual or a bardic circle that doesn’t overly direct participants. It might just be a walk, a few pointers for a drawing exercise, a meditation space or room to dance.

I think the best scope for learning occurs when we are least invested in controlling each other’s experiences. One person cannot teach another person to have a spiritual experience – it’s just not possible. All we can do is show each other the things that might lead to spiritual experience.


Deep or shallow spirituality?

This was inspired by Tommy Elf’s recent post – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/going-deep-or-swimming-shallow/

What makes a spiritual practice deep or shallow? It’s no doubt easier to judge others from the outside than it is to make a fair assessment of our own spiritual paths. On reflection, what I have is odd, to say the least…

When I was trying hardest to be ‘deep’ I was at my most obsessed with surface and appearance.

When I tried to be important, I was at my least spiritual.

When I tried to teach others, I did a great deal of learning.

When I stopped striving and started seeing what happened, more happened.

When I was kinder to myself, I found more reasons to practice gratitude.

When I went to the woods for the sake of the woods, and not in search of anything sacred, I found something sacred.

When I let myself enjoy the surfaces of things, it stopped feeling like something shallow.

When I stopped trying so hard to seem deep, I learned how sacred mirth can be.

I suspect I could go on with this almost indefinitely. Spirituality is paradox. It’s the learning that teaches you how little you know.  It’s the wisdom to realise you are an idiot, and the devotion to be able to handle things with a light touch. But beyond that, it’s whatever makes sense to us, regardless of what sense, if any, that makes to anyone else.