Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Questions of honour

If a chap in a chivalric or mythic tale announces that his honour has been damaged in some way, you know there’s going to be a duel or other violence. His honour may have been damaged because he didn’t get the right cut of meat at the feast, or someone suggested his wife is not the prettiest woman in the history of the world. The speed of his horse may have been questioned, or some more obscure personal pride thing that no sensible person could have seen coming. And then, so that honour can be satisfied, pain must be inflicted, maybe even death. It’s a way of thinking about honour that has never made much sense to me.

For women, honour is usually framed in such stories as being all about not having sex, or only having sex with the man you are married to. The woman who has sex forced upon her is deemed dishonoured in such tales – she does not get to fight a duel with the perpetrator. She may only be able to redeem herself through suicide. Men in her life are entitled to get angry and kill people – her included. Women who have affairs, or love people other than the person they were forced to marry do not get a good deal, often. Although Queen Medb of Connacht with her friendly thighs does better than most in this regard. Women in such stories do not get to regain their honour by killing the person who dishonoured them.

Ten years ago and more, honour was a popular term in Druidry, especially around the Druid Network. In that context, it didn’t mean taking offence and getting into fights – although that happened too! This is the idea of honour as a heroic virtue available to people regardless of gender, and as something you hold within yourself, not something people can take from you by saying you don’t have the best horse. Honour is a personal code, and as such, how one person’s honour works may make no sense to the next person.

For me, it means the place where I dig in. The point at which I will sacrifice something in my interests for the sake of a principle. It’s the lines I won’t cross, no matter how great the temptation. I have a lot of grey areas and points of flexibility because while I prefer not to lie (for example) I wouldn’t compromise some innocent person’s safety or wellbeing for the sake of speaking the truth. My sense of what’s honourable often depends a lot on the context. My relationship with the natural world is one where I think a lot about what’s honourable, but I can’t always act with perfect honour, often because I’m compromised by not being able to afford the best options. There are things about how I work and what I think is honourable there that contributes to not being able to afford to live with perfect honour in other regards.

It depends so much on what you think matters. Personal honour can be a very private thing, needing no recognition or anything else from anyone else. Or it can be all about holding up a perception of yourself in which honour needs defending from criticism, and it’s worth killing or dying over a joke or a badly spoken word or someone getting laid. If you know you’ve acted honourably, no one can take that from you. If your honour is all about your public image, it’s really vulnerable. There are so many stories in which rulers are offended because someone lets on they aren’t as good as they think they are – if the illusion of your honour is dearer than truth… it doesn’t seem much like honour at all to me.

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Druidry and the Future – cover notes

Here’s the cover for a small book I’m self-publishing. The reason I’ve gone it alone for this one is that there’s a good 9 months of lead time doing anything at Moon Books, and I felt this needed to move now. I’ll be sorting out ebook versions in the next few weeks.

The cover came about in no small part because Tom Brown (my co-conspirator in most things) has been thinking a lot about hope punk recently. Hope punk was coined as a literary term to offer some kind of alternative to grimdark. However, the notion of hope punk really lends itself to visual expression. What would a restorative, regenerative, generous sort of future look like? If we can dream it, we have a much better chance of making it happen.

We tend to associate Paganism with rural settings, although most of us live in more urban areas. So, here’s Druidry in an urban context. It’s an explicit visual statement that Druidry does not belong ‘away’ in some wild and remote place, but belongs where people are. Look closely at the city and you’ll see the roof gardens, the trees, the plant pots, and also the birds in flight. Nothing says hope to me like the image of a sky full of birds.

This is a project all about hope. I don’t see any point doing anything else. Misery and hand wringing changes nothing. I’m most interested in the kinds of changes I can make personally, and by directly engaging with other people.


Applied Druidry

Back in April, I spoke at the Pagan Federation Wakefield conference and it was a striking experience for me. I had a lot of conversations with people about climate change, about what we do and how to keep going and say sane. It shaped how I talked at the Scottish Pagan Federation conference a few weeks later, and after that I realised I needed to write about what I know. I’ll be at Druid Camp this summer in the Forest of Dean talking about ways of working your Druidry for the sake of the future.

The short of it is that there’s a great deal within Druidry that lends itself to helping us live sustainably and cope with both environmental and social chaos.

I’m currently thinking about how best to put that out there. Much of it draws on things I’ve already said here on the blog and also in my Pagan Dawn column and at those talks – but, I’ve written it as a single, coherent piece rather than a drip feed of fragments. As new things occur to me I’ll keep doing that drip feed here. In the meantime, the question is – how I do I most effectively put this out? I’m planning on doing a small print run so I have copies for events. I’m thinking about doing an ebook for ease of access, and keeping the cost there very low.

Part of me feels that I should just give this away to make it as widely available as possible – but that means I can’t do a print run because I can’t afford to buy everyone a copy of my book. Charging a small amount for an ebook would help offset the cost of a print version, potentially. There’s also the question of the amount of time I’ve put into this and my own economic sustainability. If I give everything away, the time I have to put in is much reduced. It’s a dilemma I face all the time, as a self employed worker also doing a lot of voluntary work.

If I could get patreon up to a level that supported me sufficiently, giving away ebooks would be easy. I could afford to do that and afford the time to keep writing. (Patreon account here – https://www.patreon.com/NimueB )

I feel very strongly that poverty should not be a barrier to inclusion, so I need to figure out an answer to that as well.

If you’ve any ideas about sites you’d like to see the ebook on, do leave me a comment. I don’t really want to use amazon because there’s so much I don’t like about how they do business.


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!


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.