Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Looking hard at compassion

‘Compassion’ is one of those words easily chucked about that does a good line in making you sound spiritual and enlightened. I think it’s always worth poking anything that can be wafted about easily to make sure we’re doing what we think we’re doing.

Is the compassion something that lives in our heads, or is it translating into action? We can feel compassion for the hungry, the homeless, etc, but if it’s just about our feels, it does nothing to alleviate suffering. Telling ourselves we are feeling compassion may be a way of letting ourselves off the hook, assuaging guilt without actually doing anything useful.

The ‘I’m feeling so compassionate towards you right now’ stance can also be a way of disempowering the other. Here I am, all big, spiritual, shiny and wise feeling compassion for you because clearly you need it. Smug compassion can be more about making ourselves feel bigger than the one who needs our compassion. If it takes that shape, it does no good at all. Compassion can be a re-framing of pity, and pity only drags people down, it never lifts them.

‘I’m being compassionate towards myself’ can be a fantastically effective way of re-branding selfishness. It can be used to justify self interest and to protect us from having to look at the things which might otherwise make us feel uncomfortable. Ironically the people who most need to practice self care are the ones most likely to be hauling themselves over the coals, and the ones who can easily announce their compassion for themselves are, from what I’ve seen, the ones who have least need for it. And if you’re the kind of overthinker who perpetually tries to second guess their own motives, sorry about this paragraph. There’s nothing wrong with being kind to ourselves, unless we do that as a way of not being responsible or honourable.

I admit that if I encounter someone who talks a lot about how compassionate they are, I become rapidly sceptical. I’m interested in people talking about how to practice compassion effectively, how to do it more and better, but that’s got a very different swing to it. I’m also much more interested in people talking about what they do that helps, in whatever way, at whatever level. How do we make things better? How can we be kinder to each other and take better care of each other? Not by poncing about announcing how very, very compassionate we are, that’s for sure.

(And yes, if I was a better sort of person I might know how to feel compassion for the people who have to wave the idea of their own compassion about in this attention seeking way, but I don’t. )

Tao, Druidry and authenticity

I first became aware of Taoism in late childhood, via The Tao of Pooh, which I read, loved and no doubt mostly didn’t understand at all. But it spoke to me nonetheless and when opportunities have come up to explore further, I’ve taken them. I own several interpretations of the Tao Te Ching. My Druidry has always been coloured somewhat by the things I’ve learned from Taoism.

One of the Taoist ideas I find especially appealing to explore is the role of personal authenticity. Religions that are about transcending this world tend to encourage practitioners to put aside the self, the ego, the illusion in order move on up into the realm of spirit. I’m a spiritual materialist, my feet are on the earth and my sense of the sacred is earthly. I’ve no desire to transcend.

Taoism says be yourself, but see yourself as part of something far bigger and longer lasting than you. It teaches that human nature is naturally in tune with the Tao, if we let it flow, and that human artifice is the thing that keeps as away from being part of the flow of the universe. To live well and live simply is the goal, to be quietly part of the world and acting from our true nature so as to be aligned with the Tao. I’ve been in too many contexts that wanted me to hack bits off myself. The affirmation that my most authentic self is a good thing is something I find helpful, and healing.

It’s a line of thought that brings me back to Mary Oliver’s ‘You do not have to be good, you only have to left the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ For me this has been the basis of stripping away artifice and finding my authentic self. Whatever that is. I’m still looking, still finding things that aren’t me but have been squashed onto my surfaces. Still hunting out bits that have been hacked off in the past.

There’s a ‘good enough’ notion at the core of this. A human is fundamentally good enough. What we do to ourselves and each other can take us away from that, when we deform who we are to try and become what we think we should be… But in essence we are all good enough, we just need to settling into that, be with it, make room for it. Cruelty is not natural, nor is taking far, far more than we need in order the waste the vast majority of it. Our animal selves are likely much better than the weird socially constructed humans we’ve been cobbling together for thousands of years.

I do not have to overcome my ego. I do not have to deliberately crush any part of me that feels good about things. I do not have to punish my body to be spiritual. I do not have to deny my earthly being and my earth-based life to be spiritual. I just need to settle down in this soft animal body I have, and love the warmth of sunlight on my skin, and love the tactile surfaces and the warmth of other soft animal bodies, the hills beneath my feet, the shade of trees, the sunset… Rather than the spiritual path seeming like some vast and daunting effort, it seems gentle, easy even.

Contemplative Druidry

I first joined Contemplative Druidry as a facebook group, but by happy chance I moved to Stroud, which was the location for physical meetings, so about four years ago, I started going to those as well. It brought me into contact with many likeminded people locally. The monthly opportunity to sit in contemplation with others was a tremendously valuable experience. The habit of looking at where I am in my life and being witnessed in a held space has been good for me too.

Yesterday was the final session. It struck me how rare a privilege it is to close something with care and attention. How often the last time we do something, we only know in hindsight. Consciously and deliberately bringing something to an end, honouring its history, and letting it go is a beautiful thing to get to do, and very much in keeping with my experience of the group as a whole. I’m sad that we’re letting it go, but also in no doubt that it was the right call.

This was the last thing I did in a group that had a Druid label on it. I let go my Druid Network membership a while ago, I gave up volunteering for OBOD and I fell out of Druid Camp last year. I no longer have active membership of any Druid thing. In fact, the only thing I’m still doing that has the Druid label on it, is this blog.

For me, the group aspect of Druidry has always been key. Last time I found myself not involved in any Druid space, and asked what it meant to be a solitary Druid. A friend pointed out that what it makes me, is a hedge witch. The labels become irrelevant if you aren’t using them to connect with other people.

In the same timeframe as this last great putting down, I’ve had a lot of bardic opportunities come into my life. Last time I fell off the edge of Druidry, I was feeling really isolated as a consequence. This time, it is easier because there’s so much else going on – music, art, live performance, time with friends. The labyrinths will be my contemplative practice in coming months. I don’t feel lost or cut adrift, it’s just a shift in focus. Going back to the bard path feels like a good and right thing at the moment.

Everything has its time, it’s season. Recognising when something has run its course isn’t easy, but I think the whole process of the contemplative Druidry group has been a good one and I am proud to have been a part of it.

The Imbolc Labyrinth

It was cold, I grant you, but not too cold. Making a labyrinth is, as I discovered back in 2016, an intensely physical business taking me an hour to an hour and a half (depending on extra hands). But, it’s not the kind of physical activity to make you warmer, so I was unsure as to whether we’d get away with it in early February.

We did.

The making process means a person has to engage with the great outdoors for the duration, and that in turn prompts meditations on the season and its implications. I can’t say I went into the labyrinth with a clear head and walked it in a perfectly contemplative state, because my concentration wasn’t equal to that. But, I walked it twice, thinking about spring, and listening to the bird song – which has noticeably increased in recent days. I walked thinking about my intentions for the year and what I want to bring into the world. Each time I walked out of the labyrinth feeling clearer in my sense of direction.

The process of building and walking inspired me to think about when and where I want to make future labyrinths, and who I might want to make them for. I also came away with the certainty that I need to make a bag for the labyrinth to live in when it’s at home, and I need more material. I became aware of how the things I use for building only have this role, and have a growing identity as a labyrinth. I need to build on that with a labyrinth bag.

I find rituals difficult if it’s just me, or me and my immediate family – three isn’t enough people for ritual. It is enough people for a labyrinth. I can accommodate more if I need to. There’s little planning- just pick the time and place. At the moment, the labyrinth seems like a better answer to seasonal ritual for me than actual seasonal ritual. It will be interesting to see how this plays out through the year.

Where is my Druidry?

Back when I was working on ‘When a Pagan Prays’ it struck me that it’s very easy to fall into a ‘my work is my prayer’ mentality, where there’s no real truth in the assertion. If my life is my Druidry, and my Druidry is intrinsic to my everyday life, then I am equally at risk of just doing whatever occurs to me and having no discernible Druidry in the mix at all. What makes it a Druid life?

I don’t have a fixed daily practice. I don’t have an altar at the moment. I’m not honouring any deities. I’ve felt for the last six months or so that my Druidry was in flux, and I’m entirely easy with that – it’s happened before and I both expect and hope that it will continue to happen.

I’ve lost several key community spaces this year – Druid Camp, and the Contemplative Druid meetings. I have become much more involved with a bardic community, which goes well with my desire to reconnect with and re-commit to the bardic path. I’ve invested more time in divination (I may be back to write about this in more detail) and as ever, walking, and being present in the world are a big part of what I do. My service has shifted – I’m no longer volunteering for OBOD, but am giving my time to The Woodland Trust instead. Last year there were more seasonal rituals than I’ve had for years, and I mean to carry on with that.

I don’t know where I am, I’m not entirely sure where or if I fit, and that’s fine. I don’t know where I’m going – there’d be no fun in it if I did. Journeys into land and story, maps and labyrinths, dreams and possibilities are part of my sense of trajectory, but I’ve no real plan. I’m open to what comes, waiting to see where the awen takes me.

The teaching of Druidry

I’ve done quite a lot of teaching, in various shapes over the years. At the same time I’ve become increasingly uneasy about the most conventional teaching model, where the teacher offloads wisdom to the student. I don’t like the authority, the power imbalance and the risk of creating dogma. I don’t like the way all of this can set people up as gurus – which does them and their students very little good in my opinion. I don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s path.

Recently I read Solala Towler’s ‘Practicing the Tao Te Ching’ (proper review going to Spiral Nature). The Tao Te Ching (depending a bit on the translation) talks about what the sage does – the sage does by not doing, primarily. Being neither sage nor Taoist, I’ve previously found this interesting, but of no great use. However, this book talks about how we teach each other, and takes the ‘do by not doing’ to be about avoiding formal teaching in favour of just doing the things you were doing and letting other people learn from that if they want to.

I like it as a line of thought, and I think this blog may be a case in point. You rock up here when you feel like it, read as much or as little as you like, agree and disagree with me as you like. Many of your regularly respond to posts by adding breadth, depth, examples and alternatives to whatever I’ve said – which is awesome. I just float out whatever I’m doing or thinking about, and you do with it as you see fit, on your own terms. There’s no real authority in it – it’s just a blog. Much of my writing is about me groping around in the dark trying to make sense of life. But every now and then I say something that sparks something for someone else. I’m not a sage, I’m just doing what I’m doing and people can encounter it and make what use of it they will.

I like it because it’s a more collaborative approach to learning. I have no problem with experts, and there are things for which formal qualifications seem like a very good idea – any activity where you could kill or maim if you get it wrong, or where you have to make life choices for other people. But most of the time, the things we want to learn aren’t like that. We can afford to be responsible for our own learning, and we don’t need to be taught to do things someone else’s way. We need tools, resources, ideas and places to start – this is true of anything spiritual, creative, subjective, and where developing our own imagination and critical thinking is of value. The default setting of hierarchy of teacher over student isn’t an unassailable truth, it’s a habit, and we can do differently.

What Druids are supposed to do

Most of the things I’ve done as a Druid, I’ve done in part because someone asked me to. I’ve taught Druidry and meditation, I’ve run ritual groups and undertaken celebrant work. I’ve run workshops and done talks. I’ve written for magazines. There’s also this blog, and the book writing. I need to mention that I never set out to be a Druid author – my ambition was always to write fiction, this is a diversion that happened because the opportunity was there, but it was never part of a grand plan.

These are all the things that you do if you’re going to be a professional Pagan. And if it works, you can add media work, interviews, travelling around the world to events and suchlike to the list. In practice, of the many Pagans I know who are doing all the things, only a handful are jetting off internationally or getting on the telly. For most of us, the lure of The Very Important Druid work means an expense of time, money and energy far more than any kind of personal gain. And trust me, if you’re burned out, the ego trip just isn’t that much of a payoff.

This year has brought me a lot of challenges, and those challenges have caused me to think long and hard about what I’m doing. There is a real and growing tension between what I need for my personal path (solitude, introspection, presence, time, energy) and what I need to function as a ‘public’ Druid (time, energy, travel, ideas, networking). There is often a tension for me between writing about the path and walking it. It doesn’t help that I’m also a lousy self-publicist and would rather spend my time promoting other people than touting my own work about.

I’m in a process of re-thinking who and how I am. I’ve seen what happens to the people who start to believe their own PR, and I do not want to go there. I also don’t want to peddle authority or dogma. To this end, I have given up most of my teaching work. Talks and workshops are still a possibility. I’m not going to put myself forward for celebrant work – if things come up locally, then fine, but mostly this is not a path I want to follow. I’ve stepped away from things that could have given me a platform, in no small part because I don’t want the platform.

I intend to keep doing this blog, keep writing my Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and to write other things as and when inspiration strikes. I’m committed to supporting the creativity of others, what form that will take depends on the opportunities that come along.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I may be giving up on writing non-fiction books. At least in the short term so that I can focus more on my own path and journey without getting caught up in how I’m going to turn that into something useful. And also to make more space for creative writing, and for supporting others. I am seriously considering a formal re-dedication to the bardic path. I’m asking what it is that I want, and how I want things to be and making time and space for those answers to resolve.

There are a lot of things I’ve done because I thought it was what you were supposed to do if you’re being a *serious Druid* and because people asked me. What I’ve not done for many years, is asked what I need to do for myself to seriously be a Druid, which is quite a hefty oversight. I’m greatly enjoying the re-thinking process.

Re-thinking Nemeton Space

Back when I first started studying Druidry, many moons ago, I was introduced to the idea of Nemeton space – a magical, sacred energy space surrounding living things, and if your animism stretches that far, inanimate things, too. All kinds of physical presences either have or impact on energy in discernible ways, nothing non-sciency there! Our bodies are full of measurable electrical impulses, many creatures can sense the earth’s electromagnetic fields to use for navigation and so forth. Things have energy, energy can be experienced.

Early on it was a concept I worked with quite a lot, and I drifted away from it. I feel no resonance with Nemetona as a goddess, and while I can busy myself figuring out where the perceptible edges of spaces are, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere for me. This week, in a contemplative Druid session, I had a bit of a revelation, and while I haven’t done much with it as yet, I’m sufficiently enthused to want to write anyway.

Approach a tree, looking for the edge of its nemeton and ask to be allowed to enter. Maybe you’ll get a response and some kind of connection between you and the tree. This is pretty much what I was taught to do. But what is a tree? Roots engaging with soil, and fungi networks that can traverse whole woodlands. Smaller plants around the base.  Insects living in the bark and on the leaves, birds coming and going to shelter, feed, nest. Larger mammals visiting the base of the tree, squirrels and perhaps bats in the branches, more birds above. Rain fall, and water moving through soil. A tree is not a distinct and stand alone thing. It is part of a greater whole, as is everything. The tree is within the nemeton of the wood, or the hedge, or the field…

Some nemeton spaces are more stationary than others, although the wind will move plants in and out of each other’s spaces, rocks move, water moves all kinds of things from time to time. We mobile creatures are in constant shifting relationship with other energies and spaces. When I ask the tree if I can enter its space, whose space am I already standing in? And who am I ignoring when I speak to the tree?

I’ve noticed that when I’m open hearted to the world around me, I encounter a lot of it. I’ve blogged about that recently. How I’m doing it, I’ve been uncertain. If we are all in interconnected patterns of energy and overlap, then the knowledge of what is around us might be felt in the body. Wild things are all busy paying attention to each other, by whatever means. Creatures can seem to have an uncanny knowledge of what’s around them – many see, hear and smell far more effectively than we do, but I would bet they also feel more effectively than we do. I have found how to feel first, and apply my senses to checking out what I felt. I’ve got better at using those senses because I’m prompting myself to use them with intent not just see what wafts in.

I’ve never been really excited about the idea of nemeton space before. Circles within circles, though. Threads, loops and chains of connection between all things, all places… that’s an exciting thought. I don’t have to do anything, I am part of this already, but in knowing, in embracing it, I expect there will be change.

Presence and Druidry

What does it mean to be present in the moment as a Druid? For me, it has come to mean being in an active state of relationship and engagement with whatever is around me. That doesn’t have to mean being silent – although silence is fine. It doesn’t require me to be ‘alone’, although being the only human is workable, and some humans demand all that active engagement and make it trickier to engage with the non-human. It certainly doesn’t call for bodily stillness, inner stillness or inner silence.

I measure my presence and connection by my ability to notice and respond to other presences. This may mean noticing details of light and the shape of the land. It may mean seeing birds, wild animals, noticing unusual flowers or seeing how the season is progressing. The more open I am to the wild world around me, the more of it I see. I can hold that openness when reading a book, looking up somehow, magically, as the buzzard spirals above me. I can sit at my computer and be open enough to look up when the nuthatches, woodpeckers and other small birds are active in the tree opposite. I’ve raised my head from work to see a heron fly right past my window. I can have conversations with humans while walking and still notice the deer, and stop for them.

I don’t have to greet the world with an empty head. There can be ideas bubbling away. I may have a song as an inner soundtrack, I may be just letting random thoughts collide, but I certainly don’t need inner silence to notice the dragonflies or to spot a tiger moth. I don’t see the flow of inspiration as any kind of distraction from spiritual work – why would I? Awen is sacred. Experiencing inspiration as thought, energy and emotion is part of what it means to me to be in a state of presence and connection. I am not wholly separate from the rest of the world. My thoughts and feelings are part of my process of experiencing and participating in existence.

Quality may be an important issue. The quality of a conversation, or of silence can vary considerably. The quality of the thoughts in my head. Is my inner soundtrack a beautiful and much loved piece of music or an awkward jangle of half remembered commercial pop? What is the quality of attention I am paying to my surroundings? Do I care about what I’m doing? Care creates depth, richness, and opens the way to a better quality of experience. A person can stare hard at the world and still see nothing, can be silent and still not really hear what’s around them, can see and hear, and still not be moved.

And what is Druidry if not a thinking and feeling participation in existence?

My Druidry. My Steampunk

Recently at a Steampunk event, a very fine chap (Paul Adams) spoke about how just because something isn’t ‘his’ steampunk, doesn’t make it invalid. Like Druidry, steampunk has breadth and depth, and every so often someone tries to explain why some other set of people are doing it all wrong. This is a subject I’ve poked before, but new things have occurred to me.

When it comes to communities and interests, we should all have the right to choose how we identify and what we do. In any given community, there’s likely to be a critical mass forming a centre somewhere, and also people pushing the edges. To me, this seems intrinsic to a lively community. Enough definition, and enough challenge makes for something alive, able to change and not too controlling. The more people push at the edges, the more the people in the middle may feel they need to say ‘our bit is the true bit’ and reduce the size of the project to make it more ‘real’. They will vocalise the fear of being too diluted, too vague. It doesn’t mean anything anymore, we must get back to the core principles.

This way can lie fundamentalism, with all its nasty habits. However, if the centre has limited power, or ideally no real power at all, it can only make noise. Having people passionate about the centre is a good thing. It creates stability and gives the people on the edges something to rebel against. Yes, sometimes people can get so far outside a thing that they become something else entirely. This is also fine, so long as they don’t have the power to make everyone else do it their way. This is how we get new things, evolution, adaptation and learning.

There should be a little bit of natural tension between people who are part of the centre and people who push edges. We shouldn’t be afraid of that tension – it’s what’s holding the overall shape of the thing.

And let’s face it, if these processes of holding and testing had not already been part of Druidry, we’d still be wearing fake beards and white robes. We’d be a small, probably cultish thing centred around a few big names. Without our long, healthy history of people saying ‘sod that’ and going off to try their own thing, we could be a narrow and maladaptive little thing able to do only what its first few founders in the modern era were ok with.

If, ultimately, so many people moved to the edges that the centre collapsed, this would also be fine. It would happen if the centre no longer related to lived experience and social change. I’m passionate about Druidry, but if so many people ran off in different directions as to make it unviable as a community, I’d be fine with that. I would still do whatever it made sense to me to do, on my own terms. We don’t actually need the validation of other people doing it our way.

However great we think our practices are, they are never great enough to make people hang onto them when they want to be doing something else. I hold that this is true of all religions, all communities, all traditions and all cultures. If you aren’t driven by love of them, and working with other people of the same persuasion, what you’ve got is already dead.