Category Archives: Becoming a Druid

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.

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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.


Crafting for Druids

When a person starts out along the Druid path, there are so many things they might potentially learn that it can all be a bit overwhelming. I don’t have (as yet) an easy route map for all of this. For those signed up to a teaching order, there’s at least a framework (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, The British Druid Order and ADF all offer distance learning support and there are probably others). Many would-be Druids however have to go it alone.

When looking for ancient spiritual wisdom, many of us default to books. The ancient Druids didn’t write anything down, all we have is modern thinking. Arguably, there is no spiritual authority in anything any modern Druid writes. I think this is excellent because it puts the onus on each of us to find out own truth.

So, why crafting for Druids? Having traditional skills connects us in really direct ways to the lives of our ancestors. Doing the things they did will teach us about their lives and brings them closer. Traditional skills also bring a person in relationship with the living world. To make a fire, to grow vegetables, weave a basket or throw a pot you have to deal directly with real things. Too many of us have working lives that put us indoors, looking at the world through a screen and typing (I’m stuck with this too). Traditional skills ground and rebalance us. They make us a part of the living world.

Learn to do something – anything – from scratch. We’re constantly bombarded with the idea that we need labour saving, time saving for-sale interventions. There’s a radical aspect to ignoring that. Doing things from scratch gives you something unique and personal. It forms a connection between you and what you make. It allows space for creativity and inspiration. In all of this we challenge the shrink-wrapped one size fits all culture that is so stifling and destructive.

Learning a craft won’t teach you everything you need to know in order to be a modern Druid, but it will teach you a lot. The insights, like the things you make, will be entirely your own.


Challenges on the Druid Path

Faiths can be a lot like love affairs. You start out full of excitement and enthusiasm. This will be the one! This will change your life, heal your broken heart and make everything perfect. For the honeymoon period, you do all the things. You carefully celebrate seasonal festivals, make and maintain an altar, have a daily practice…

And then you don’t achieve enlightenment. You don’t become a super-capable magician. Your problems still exist. Your broken heart is not perfectly restored. Maybe it wasn’t the faith for you. Maybe it’s time to try another, to fall in love with a new set of ideas. We can end up wandering about being offered fantastical, magical answers, and never really getting what we wanted.

This is, I think an important aspect of being on a path, and one we probably don’t talk about enough. It’s too tempting to focus on the more meaningful experiences, and on times of change, even though that’s not what day to day spirituality looks like. I’ve been exploring Druidry for years. There is so much I do not know. There is so much that I am not. Dramatic events and big revelations are scarce through to non-existent. There’s a slow process of building on what I know, and changing how I am in the world. Druidry has not solved all my problems, but it has given me some ways to handle things better.

The divine does not speak to me, mostly. There are odd moments that leave me wondering, but nothing clear enough to be comforting. Birds do not fly to my hands. I do not see the future. I cannot heal people with the power of my mind. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges Paganism offers us, is that having invested in these magical, enchanting ways of seeing the world, we still have to deal with the mundane realities, socks still get dirty, injustice still stalks the earth, bad things happen. We aren’t magically protected from all things in all ways, and we probably know we shouldn’t be anyway. To embrace the idea of magic while accepting the frequent absence of it isn’t easy.

Real growth, and real learning are often about tiny shifts that aren’t visible while they’re happening. It’s natural to crave the dramatic revelation, but what you’re more likely to do is get evolution by tiny increments over a long time. Shifts in how you see and feel that are subtle, and that you don’t register as they happen. We’re changing all the time, but we won’t see it until more time has passed.

The faith we thought was our one true love maybe hasn’t let us down after all, maybe we just had unrealistic expectations. Part of why we have those expectations is the way others sell ideas of rapid progress and instant development, and the way some people play up their own experiences and fail to mention the boring bits.

I’ve been a Druid for over a decade, and mostly it’s very quiet. There are moments of wonder and inspiration, there has been a slow change taking place in me. I get excited about ideas and connecting with other people but I’m still basically a flawed, often confused human muddling along as best I can. All of us are, to at least some degree.


Becoming the Very Important Druid, and other quests

What first brings a person to Druidry? There are of course, many answers. A desire for knowledge and experiences, a hunger for mystery, wonder and the numinous. Wanting a place to belong, feeling a kinship, needing or longing for something. We all have our own reasons and all of those reasons have their own validity.

Once you get onto the path and start learning, those initial desires can rapidly stop being relevant, or can evolve. In the first year of Druidry, working on the wheel of year can seem massively important, but that very work will show you what the wheel doesn’t do, where it fails to connect with your experiences, and so one quest can lead to another, very different sort of quest, as an example.

Sometimes the way a path grows and changes is very smooth and makes total sense. Sometimes the things we start with, and the things we come to want are quite at odds with each other. The very idea of spiritual growth can create interesting tensions. I came to Druidry in no small part because I wanted to learn, grow and change, to acquire spiritual depth. The steps from here to thinking yourself better than other people, succumbing to ego, to hubris, to self importance, are not many. It’s a potential pitfall for anyone who organises, writes or leads – that you start to think of yourself as an important Druid. Being A Very Important Druid doesn’t sit well alongside a deeply lived spiritual life. The more invested we get in our own importance, the harder it is to show up to the spiritual life.

At the same time, there is a real need for people who can organise, lead, teach, write and generally share the wisdom they have gained. There’s a need for celebrants and ritualists that isn’t just about the hungry ego of the individual. What little we know of the history of Druidry suggests that ancient Druids were very much in those places of leadership and wisdom for their tribes.

How much do we quest for the role of the important Druid? How much tension is there between role and personal spirituality? How do we treat those who take on such roles?

For me, the key to all this is service. If you show up to do the job – as writer, teacher, celebrant etc – and your focus is the job, it works a lot better. If you show up to be adored and looked up to, then it’s not about the job, it’s about the self importance. However, these are hard things to admit to. We’re all fragile and human, wanting to be loved and admired is natural. So is wanting to be valued and respected for what we do. The risk is that if our Druidry is all about seeming fabulous to other people, it may well not be giving us anything we need. It’s a shallow pool to paddle in at the best of times. I’ve certainly put my feet in it more than once.

Turning up to serve, the only questions are ‘is this working?’ ‘is this useful?’. If someone finds it useful, then you’re doing the work. If the focus is on doing the useful work, then any larger profile gained is recycled into the means to do the work and to reach and help more people, landscapes, causes. A Very Important Druid who uses their prominence to inform, enlighten and uplift others, is a person to support. If all the fame does is serve to bring adulation to the famous one then they aren’t doing themselves or anyone else any favours. Any attempt to knock that kind of activity down only feeds it though, because someone invested in their own superiority will see only trolling in the behaviour of people who do not like them. If a person is on an ego trip, then any attention paid to them, will feed it.

What to do then, if you wake up one morning and suspect that the desire to be seen a certain way has somehow taken over from the work of being a Druid? Go back to the trees. Back to the soil and the mud. Find a hilltop and be really, really small under the sky. Seek out the ancient dead and consider how long ago they lived, and step back into a more reasonable perspective on your life. I find it helps, at any rate.