Category Archives: What is Druidry?

The Secret Order of Steampunk Druids

I’ve had a page on this blog for many years about the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. It’s not a secret, and there’s no order worth mentioning, and yet a number of people have identified with it, and that cheers me. I think it’s good and necessary not to take yourself too seriously…

Dear Secret Steampunk Druids, a thing has happened. I am going to The Town That Never Was in Shropshire this June, and I shall be standing for election as the mayor of that imaginary place. I have been invited to do so as a representative of The Secret Order. I know that I am up against The Cthulhu Party who have slogans like “Why vote for a Lesser Evil?” so it’s going to be tough!

Over the coming month, I’m going to be putting together my manifesto. Clearly it has to include the right to beards. I’m tempted to get some wicker man content in there too.  There have to be trees. It’s an excellent opportunity for some properly Druidic political satire, and if I can get the balance right, it may even be a genuine opportunity for some interfaith work… there’s also colossal scope to make a total arse of myself in quite the wrong way, so I’ll be thinking about this carefully.

Victorian era Druids were amazing, and mad and ridiculous, and consequently fit well in a steampunk setting. But at the same time I’m likely to have an audience of people who have no idea who I am, or what Druidry is, or how my five minutes of yelling relates to anything else. There’s the possibility that I will be some people’s first encounter with Druidry – new or old.

So, what should I be standing for, and what should I be rabidly against? I’m very much open to suggestions!

Advertisements

What Druids Do

There are a lot of things that Druids Do in terms of providing service for other people. I’ve explored most of these over the years, and have come to some conclusions about what its feasible for me to do – what I do well and what I can sustain.

Celebrant work – I’ve done several weddings and a funeral. As a person without a car, it’s not sensible for me to go dashing around the country so increasingly requests that aren’t close to home get passed to other people. I’ve found I’m not keen on doing celebrant work – it’s one thing doing it for people I know, that’s fine. I’m not called to celebrancy in a way that makes me want to offer that to strangers. To work as a celebrant, you need to be a good performer and ritualist, and able to work out what people need from their rite of passage, and provide that for them.

Leadership – whether that’s founding a grove, a teaching school or an order, many Druids are called to leadership roles. Not all who wish to lead manage to attract people who wish to follow and that doesn’t always play out well. I’m not much attracted to this because it calls for so much taking responsibility for other people – to do it well. I’m not especially fussed about having people do Druidry my way – my way is probably too idiosyncratic to be of much use to many others. There’s so much organising and work involved in doing leadership well that it does not appeal to me.

Healing, counselling, guidance – I’ve not a lot of skill in this area. I will do my best to offer suggestions when people come to me, and I try and share my experiences in ways other people might find useful, but that’s about it. I believe that often the best way to enable healing is to create a safe and supportive environment for people. There’s a practical limit to what I can do on that score, it’s only really something I can offer to people who know where I live.

Representation – I’ve done a bit of this, and it is quite challenging work. Speaking to people of other paths, or speaking on behalf of Pagans. I live in a place with a lot of Pagan and alternative folk – enough that we’re pretty normal and that representation is seldom an issue. There are also plenty of older, wiser and more experienced folk around who are better placed to do this.

Teaching – I’ve tried mentoring both independently and as part of OBOD. I’ve stepped away from that because I don’t feel comfortable setting myself up in authority over other people’s journeys. I prefer informal approaches, where I just put stuff out there (this blog, books, talks, one off workshops) and people can take it or leave it in whatever way they like. I’m always happy to support other people in their journey. If someone comes to me with questions I’ll do what I can – that approach keeps the power and responsibility firmly in the hands of the seeker, and I think that’s far better.

What I think we need more of, rather than people in these specific roles, is people taking on thinking work. We need ideas, stories, philosophies, methods, inspiration for people to live more sustainably. We need living examples, different ways of thinking, visions of the future and the courage to act. We need people who can overcome despair, campaign, take action and enable others to do so. Looking around I am aware of a lot of Druids who are doing this. I think it’s where we are all most needed, in whatever ways we can engage. So much of What Druids Do comes from conventional models of leadership and human importance revolving around purely human needs. What Druids need to be doing is something less human-centric and I’m glad to say I can see a great deal of that happening already.


Druid Magic

There is a great deal of magic in the stories that modern Druids look to for inspiration – Cerridwen brewing in her cauldron of inspiration, Gwydion creating illusions, and making a woman out of flowers, supernatural feats of strength, love potions, fairies, giants, monsters… But very little that suggests what a modern Druid might do in terms of following a magical path.

For Druids who desire magic, this can mean simply picking up witchcraft approaches and either running that in parallel to Druidry, or finding ways to integrate it. That’s never really appealed to me.

What I have found over the years of doing Druidry, is that it has magical consequences. The process of seeking and deepening my relationship with the land has changed me over time, and opened up how I perceive and experience. It tends not to be a high drama path, and it is slow, and it is not the magic that can be deployed to serve ego or short term desire. Not that I think this is inherent in what witches do, it’s just that you can if you want to on that path.

I’m coming to think of Druid magic as something that flows from relationships. I’ve noticed my understanding and my capacity for intuition have improved somewhat. What I’m able to think has changed – these are hard things to explain and I think one of the tasks as I move forward is to work out how to more usefully talk about all of this.

For me, as for many Druids, inspiration has always been the key magical force within my path. However, how a person seeks inspiration will inform where it takes them. If we start with our own will and intent – as is often the way in magical work – we don’t get anything outside ourselves. The process of opening to whatever we hold sacred – gods, spirits, the land means that the inspiration we’ll find will come from somewhere other than ourselves. Where that takes us will not be where we would have taken ourselves if left to our own devices.

I’ve put in some years now of simply going out and making relationship. I feel like I’m at the very early stages of a process that has a lot of potential in it. I have no idea where it might take me. At the moment I’m asking questions about what comes next, and waiting to see what the answers are. I know at this stage that it is not the kind of magic that will give me much power for myself, but I think it might allow me to be a vessel, or a catalyst, or something of that ilk.


Contemplative Walking

The idea of contemplative walking developed out of my time with the contemplative Druid group in Stroud. We tried some silent, meditative walking in that context, and I found it didn’t suit me – especially not when in the company of other people. I began exploring ways of walking and sharing, and came up with a broad set of principles.

If you walk as meditation, you can end up more inside your head and less engaged with what’s around you. An approach to walking that is engaged can actually be helped by the presence of and interaction with other people. Two or more people will likely see more, and the invitation to share can help increase focus rather than diminish it.

Over a longer walk, silent meditation can feel a bit inhuman. Things arise in the rhythm of movement, the experience of being in the land, and practical needs, that require voices. How to talk becomes an interesting question. It is essential not to prioritise human conversation and to be agreed that it isn’t rude to break off in favour of noting something around you.

The default state when walking should be silence. There should be no small talk, no conversation for the sake of hearing your own voice. Avoid trivia, and avoid the kinds of conversations that involve point scoring or showing off. If someone is moved to speak, hold some silence around that where you can – this is a process we used in contemplative Druidry for speaking, and it is a powerful way of being with people. It works just as well when walking.

This approach creates the space to engage with the land. It also makes room for deeper thoughts to emerge. When things arise that need saying, there is a space into which they can be said. There may be exchange or conventional conversation, and that’s fine within the above parameters.

Listening carefully is an essential part of contemplative walking. It is by listing that you may notice or even see much of the wildlife around you. Listening is key to spotting small mammals in the undergrowth. Hearing bird calls will likely lead you to seeing them. You can’t be totally focused on regular human conversation and listen in this way. However, if you speak softly to each other and leave plenty of gaps, you can listen carefully to each other while also listening to what’s in your surroundings. It’s a way of being that enables us to be human with each other while not being totally human-centric.

I’ve tested this approach. I’ve walked with people who mostly just chat and observed how much of the wildlife they don’t see. I’ve also developed it as an idea within my family, and we do this together to excellent effect. When we started, I was the one who tended to spot all the wildlife, but over a few years both my son and husband have caught up to me and are just as alert to what’s around us. It can seem like magic, but it is really a skill set that can be learned, coupled with a willingness to move away from conventional human interactions so as to open out a broader dialogue with your surroundings.

 


Reading nature

The idea of reading nature for signs is problematic in many ways. It can be a way of adding to the sense of separation of us, from nature, where nature is seen as one homogenous thing. ‘Nature’ as a word is a shorthand for many complex existences and interactions and we should be wary of reducing it to symbols and then reading it for insight into our personal lives. It’s not all about us.

However, there are ways in which we can meaningfully read the world around us. This takes a lot more work over the long term and is not as human-centric.

We can read the health of a place. Top level predators are a good indicator of the overall health of a system. Diversity is a good indicator as well. If a place lacks for diversity and there are no predators, help is required. We can also read the health of a place in terms of litter and obvious human damage. Again this should be read as a call for help.

We can read the seasons. There are natural shifts in how the seasons manifest from year to year, so just keeping up with that is an act of engagement. With climate change impacting on everything, it is a good idea to read those shifts for information about what’s working and what isn’t.

You can read for your own impact. Are there insects in your garden? If you don’t have a garden, what can you do to support insect populations? I managed to establish a pot garden, and it attracts and feeds bees, so I can watch it for a while and read it in this way, and think about how to develop it. You can read the birds who come to your garden for what they tell you about the wildlife you are supporting. If you have regular insect eaters, you are doing well for insects.

There are times when an understanding of wild things will mean you can read what’s coming. The way creatures get off a beach when there’s a tsunami on the way is a good case in point. Understanding how the living things around you respond to stuff you can’t detect can be a lifesaver in some contexts.

It is better to read nature for the things nature might be able to tell us about its many selves, than to read the wild world for what it can tell us about our own immediate concerns. And if you’re looking for contact with the numinous, for spiritual guidance, and for guides this is still the better place to start. The knowledge you build by reading this way will make you better able to see something out of the ordinary that may be more to do with spirit and less other living things getting on with their lives. Learning to read what’s around you for its own sake is a gesture of respect, which is a good opening move in a spiritual endeavour.

If there is one message that humans need to hear from nature right now, it is that we are not the only things that matter, it is not all about us, and we have to stop acting like it is.


Walking my Druidry

Walking has long been a key part of my spiritual life. It’s how I connect with the landscape and engage with the living world around me. There can be enchantment in moments of beauty, and close contact with wild things. There can be inspiration from all of that, and also from the way the rhythm of movement loosens up my mind. Time with trees, sun, wind, water and sky has beneficial effects on my mental health, calming and soothing me. It won’t always fix everything, but I can count on it to take the edge off.

There is a process that only happens if I’m out and walking for a long time – at least four hours, maybe more. It’s not something that’s always available to me because I don’t reliably have the energy for the massive walks and I can’t do them in very cold or wet weather. However, when I can, I notice distinct shifts in my mental states. Over time, the landscape opens me up. It opens my heart, takes down my defences, makes me soft, tender and open to everything around me. It is a euphoric feeling and brings with it a sense of great kinship and involvement. Stripped back in this way, I feel like part of the landscape, not an observer of it.

The defences come from dealing with people. There is nothing in a landscape I need to protect myself from. Yes, there are things that could hurt my body, and I need to be careful, and mindful of hazards, but that’s very different. I can move at my own speed and act on my own terms. I usually walk with my husband, and so we talk as we walk, but that’s also gentle and open and spacious. There is no effort involved. Thoughts and conversations arise and flow as they will, and sometimes we have nothing to say and that’s also fine.

Being in the landscape in this way has taught me a lot about what I want from my human relationships. I want to be able to hold that same open awareness. I want to be soft and unguarded and relaxed about being affected by what I encounter. It’s much harder to do that with people, and much less safe. But at the same time, I’m starting to feel that if I can be more landscape-led in what I do, and treat the human risks with the same untroubled respect I have for steep banks, slippery surfaces and sunstroke, I might be able to do things very differently. If I can find ways to listen more to the land without having to spend hours peeling off armour, perhaps I can find better ways of going into human space.


Druidry and relationship with space

Capitalism encourages us to think of places in terms of ownership. The laws of ‘the land’ also focus on the rights of the owner, not of the inhabitant. It’s worth noting that in most places, the ownership of land can be traced back to violence and conquest.

When I wrote recently about spirits of place, I touched on the idea of ownership. Having had time to think about this properly, I realise that when I wrote ‘ownership’ what I meant was belonging. Or a kind of ownership that also involved being owned. A depth of relationship with a specific place, or places, that binds you to that place, and that place to you.

If you do ritual regularly at a specific site, you may come to feel that sense of ownership/being owned, and that can make it hard to see other people doing ritual in the same space. This is one of the big problems with choosing to do ritual at famous sites. No one has the right to own Avebury, or Stonehenge, or anywhere else on that kind of scale. As with all relationships, our relationships with places are open to possessiveness and jealousy, and what we feel most keenly may not bring out the best in us.

If you want a relationship with place that is personal, where you own and feel owned – then small and local is the way to go. You probably won’t have to share your grove in the woods with any other ritualists.

To feel belonging is to feel part of a community of place. When we belong, we don’t have to feel rivalry with anything else that also belongs. That includes other people. Any number of beings – seen and unseen – can belong to a place. It’s a more spacious idea than ownership, which capitalism has taught us to see as individual. Belonging does not free us from conflict though – especially if others come in and act like they own the place when they have no real relationship with it.

Belonging takes time and the investment of care and attention. It means getting to know the space and the community of living beings already in it. It means recognising that you are not more important than the other beings that belong to the place. It means not giving yourself instant authority by imagining you know what the land or the spirits of place really want. To belong you have to be a bit more humble, and not invested in putting human activity centre stage. Belonging means not trying to use your relationship with the land and its community as a power base to further your own ends.

Belonging is a subtle, quiet process that takes time. It is not the same as the short term excitement of finding a place resonant or welcoming. It’s what you do in the years after that moment.


Ecolinguistcs, a review

 

Ecolinguistics is an academic book by Arran Stibbe, exploring the way in which language underpins how we treat the natural world. I think it’s a brilliant book and heartily recommend it. However, it is expensive, so you might want to look at co-owning one (an ideal solution for study groups and groves). Unfortunately, the ebook version isn’t much cheaper than the paperback. If you can’t afford £30 for a book, there is a free online course that covers much of the same material, but not in the same depth. http://storiesweliveby.org.uk/ I got lucky and picked up a copy during an online sale.

Ecolinguistics is a detailed exploration of how we use language to talk about the world we live in. It’s quite a technical approach, and at times hard work for the non-academic reader. I found I mostly had to take it in small bites. There’s a density of ideas here, too. If you like pondering the intricacies and nuances of language, this a marvellous thing to read. It dissects how different people use language and the effects it has. It gives us the tools to use language differently and to more compassionate ends. This is a deconstruction of how the language of economics, particularly, breeds greed and self interest.

Humans are storytelling creatures. That’s not just about books and tales, but about how we communicate with each other. We tell each other stories about our experiences. Adverts tell us stories, so do newspapers, politicians, think tanks, pressure groups, and the PR teams for big business. The language we are exposed to is part of our environment, and we are all influenced by what we’re exposed to – to some degree. Expose people to the calculating language of animals as stock, landscape as resource, trees as biomass, and we become colder, less caring, less willing to take care of what’s around us.

However the flip side of this is that when we use inclusive language, when our stories place us in a community of beings and in relationship with the land, we become more compassionate. When we tell each other stories of belonging and involvement, we become more generous and open hearted, able to care and to get involved.

For me, this is absolutely what Druidry should be about right now. This is a path that’s always held a balance of human culture and wider nature. Story telling is part of what we do. For me, this book was a massive encouragement to see what a Druidic approach can do. This book gives a person the tools to move from an intention to an evidenced way of working, and the reassurance to know that this kind of approach works. We can make a difference with the stories we tell, and the language we use.

I found Ecolinguistics to be an incredibly inspiring book that has promoted me to do some serious thinking about what I do, how I do it and what value it might have. I’m planning to come back and blog about specific language use that might be interesting to fellow Pagans – ideas about how we talk about the world. I’m also aware of having had my poetry influenced by reading this book, and a clearer set of intentions for that line of writing has come to me as a consequence of it. More of this as it develops.


Druidry without hierarchy

This week I read a really interesting post over on Tommy Elf’s blog about leadership. In it, he talks about being asked who he considers his mentors to be, and says that he doesn’t go in for that. He does however consider me to be one of his influences, along with Cat Treadwell. You can read the post here – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/keeping-things-on-level-ground/

Aside from the delight of getting name-checked in a blog I am subscribed to, I was struck by this post. Cat Treadwell and Tommy Elf are very much influences on me – I follow both of their blogs. I follow a number of other Druid bloggers as well. I used to follow the other Druid he mentions but don’t any more for more reasons than I have space or inclination to share.

Druidry can of course be massively hierarchical, with grades to advance through and titles to aspire to. Not all of us want to be an Arch-Druid. As architecture goes, I see myself as more of a flying buttress… Arches are pretty and all that, but they aren’t the only thing you can be. I’ve dabbled in leadership, I’ve run groups and I’ve taught, more and less formally. I absolutely get where Tommy is coming from in his blog about not wanting to be put on a pedestal or treated as a source of authority. I’m seeing more of this in Druidry all the time.

Leading is mostly a practical job – someone has to figure out when and where to meet and what to bring and to hold the space. Someone has to teach people who show up wanting to learn. Someone has to do the rites of passage people want and need. These are jobs we can do for each other. I think it works better when there’s fluidity in it. Leading all the time is hard work, can be an obstacle to following your own path, and can be an epic ego trap. Leadership can be the enemy of spirituality. However, if you share it around and hold it lightly, this isn’t a problem.

If some days you are the teacher, and some days you are the student, you’ll never feel like you’re supposed to know it all. If you can lead ceremony, but there are also people you can go to if you need someone to hold the space for you, that’s much happier as a way of being. If you can run things, and go along to things other people are running, it’s much more relaxed. Plus you’ll never end up feeling like it’s the work you do that gives you a space, or that being accepted is conditional on your work.

A person can share their experience without having to assert that theirs is the one true way. We can offer our wisdom to others without demanding that they accept it. We can share what we do without someone having to be the authority. We can take responsibility for our own paths, looking to each other for inspiration rather than instruction.


Crazywise

Last night I went to a showing of Crazywise – it’s a film about alternative approaches to mental health crisis. It will be of particular interest to Pagans because it does look a bit at how mental breakdown is handled in indigenous cultures around the world. The website for the film has a lot of good material on it – https://crazywisefilm.com/

There’s also a great deal of material on Phil Borges’ youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9yq8Z0q-3XAjNKcRxOpAPA

One of the things I found really validating is that this film talks about the need for community solutions to mental health crisis. There’s a lot of reflection on the way people become isolated through mental illness and the way isolation enables mental illness. Further connections are made between our relationship with the world around us and our mental health. To be well, we need people, and we need the natural world.

I’d come to similar conclusions based on observation and experience. It’s something I can feel more confident about expressing now.

For me, Druidry is very much about relationship – relationships between people, relationships between people and everything else. I know I’m not alone in finding Druidry to be a way of navigating through my own issues and wounds. Over the years, doing the Druidry – prayer and meditation, ritual, walking, contemplation, and all the community aspects – has been key to my overcoming trauma and getting depression and anxiety under control. Having that framework in which to approach what’s going on in my head and body has really helped me.