Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Druidry and time

Mindfulness as the idea of a state of living in the moment has become popular in Druidry as in most places. The idea that we should live in the present appeals to many people, but is one I remain uneasy about. It also seems to me to be at odds with much that is in the Druid tradition. We know the ancient Druids were keepers of history. Bards are tellers of stories. Ovates practice divination and look to the future. So while there are times when we might want to be focused on the present, Druidry exists in relationship with past, present and future.

It doesn’t help that the ‘mindfulness’ we get in the west is increasingly a practice stripped from its origins and packaged for us to consume. It is an increasingly unrooted concept and treated as a cure-all and there are a lot of reasons to be wary about embracing it with no context in this way. I don’t think that what passes for ‘mindfulness’ out of context has much to do with the original practice or anyone involved with it as part of their path.

Looking ahead is essential if you intend to lead or teach – and leadership, and teaching are both part of the Druid tradition.

Looking ahead is vital if you mean to create anything. Creativity that happens only in the moment tends to be self indulgent. If we want to use inspiration to meaningfully engage with someone else we need our roots in the past and an eye to the future.

It’s good to be present and alert to what’s going on. Life doesn’t give you much if you pay it no attention. But at the same time, the context for the present moment is held by where we have come from and where we might be going. Our brains have a capacity for holding a lot within the present moment, we’ve evolved to understand things in context, and if we want to relate to our natural selves, I see no point in trying to strip that away. Nature doesn’t live in the moment either. The cat poised to pounce is in some degree living in the future, so is the bird building a nest and the insects laying up a store for the winter. Trees begin making their leaf buds in winter and carry inside them the growth ring memory of previous years.

To properly understand the present moment, we need the context for it. To live responsibly, we most certainly need to be aware of the future and the implications of our actions. To be a Druid is to be in relationship with time. Choosing to step out of time for specific purposes may make sense, but overall Druidry calls us to be in relationship with time.


Druidry, place and thunder

I feel very strongly that Druidry should be rooted in where you are and that your relationship with your landscape should be part of it. This in turn calls for developing a deeper knowledge about what your landscape is like and who else lives in it. Time invested in knowing the land, encountering the spirits of place and being present through the seasons can be a large part – or even the whole – of your Druidry.

One of the things that makes my locality really unusual, is how storms behave here. This is an area of hills and interconnecting valleys. The hills are big enough that sounds will echo off them, and they are close enough together that some sounds will bounce between them. This means that most thunder storms are extra noisy and have a lot of reverb.

However, sometimes a storm will get down between the hills, and then the effects are dramatic. We had one yesterday where the thunder rolled for more than a minute at a time as the sound moved back and forth between the hills. It’s a really dramatic effect in the daytime, and more so at night.

For a person who thinks in terms of deity, this is clearly a place where the thunder Gods speak. For a person of a more animist persuasion, this may seem more like a conversation between the thunder and the hills. For a person who doesn’t believe in anything much, this is a dramatic experience born of the natural landscape. However you come at it, the experience is a significant one.

I’m not persuaded there are right answers to how we think about these things. Just pick the perspective that makes sense to you and allows you to enter into something you find meaningful. Sacredness is bigger than us, all we can ever do is respond in a limited, human way.


Druidry and Politics

It always makes me sad when I see modern Druids claiming that Druidry isn’t political. We know the original Druids were political, and we know this simply because the Romans went to some effort to wipe them out.

On the whole, the Romans took a really inclusive approach to colonialism. They had given some thought to what keeps a population biddable – bread, circuses and continuity. So where possible, your leaders continue to be your leaders, only they are answerable to Rome and send taxes in. Your Gods are still your Gods, although you might get a Roman name tacked on so they become a double-barrelled entity. There’s not much incentive here for the regular working person to rebel. People get grouchy when you take away their Gods and priests, so mostly you don’t, and conquest is easier. You co-opt their Gods and Romanize them too.

One of the few historical accounts we have of the Druids is of the Romans going to Anglesey specifically to wipe them out. Clearly, as an invading and colonial force, the Romans found the Druids a bit inconvenient. Enough to fight them. Enough to describe them for posterity in ways that did not make them look good. Whatever it was the Druids did to cause that much offence, I can’t help but feel it must have had a political dimension to it. Rome just wasn’t that fussed about religious diversity. By all accounts, the Christians of the period really had to make an effort to get martyred.

In face of oppressive, militaristic colonial capitalism moving into their territory, the original Druids put up enough of a fight to justify trying to wipe them out. Now, you can take that onboard and decide that they got it wrong – that the survival of Druidry was more important than resisting Rome, perhaps. You might decide that in the same situation, you’d have been off to some remote and romantic retreat to practice peace and light because your Druidry isn’t political. Maybe there were Druids who did that at the time – we don’t know. But there were clearly Druids who preferred death to submitting to Rome, and that’s about as political a choice as anyone gets to make.

The idea that you can step outside of politics is a mistaken one. The Druid who does not resist the Roman invasion is also making a political choice – to tacitly support the aggressor, to not defend people and traditions, to take what might be the easiest and safest personal path. In times of peril, conflict and great change, not doing politics is itself a deeply political choice with huge political consequences. You don’t get to be a Druid and opt out of politics because you don’t get to be a person and opt out. You do get to decide who you support, and doing nothing is a choice that supports whatever already dominates. Pretending you can avoid politics is a political decision, either to accept what is done to you or because you are comfortable and don’t suffer what the less fortunate do.


Druidry of place

This post was inspired by Ryan Cronin’s recent post about Druidry which you can, and should read – https://wrycrow.com/2020/05/10/druidry-of-the-real/

It got my thinking about what is unique about where I am and how I do things. The landscape here certainly does have an impact on my Druidry. One of the reasons I don’t do community ritual any more is that there is nowhere in easy walking distance where that would make sense. The wilder places are too windy, ritual shouting doesn’t do it for me. The woodlands are on slopes – again this doesn’t work well for a circle. The flatter outside places are really public, so that doesn’t work.

This has led me towards making walking and sitting out the heart of my Druidry. I make and walk labyrinths, and this is in no small part because I have space where I feel comfortable doing that. It’s something I can do in a park without feeling uneasy about other people. I managed to get one in before lockdown, but it is something I have missed doing.

Walking is affected by how the paths change through the year – where is accessible in winter, in mud or icy conditions. Where is sheltered enough from the sun for summer walking. Which paths flood in heavy rain, which ones feel unsafe in high winds.

One of the curious features of the valleys around Stroud is that where you are has a big impact on how you experience the shape of the day. The hills mean that twilight settles in some places before the sun sets in others. Dawn comes earlier on the hilltops than it does in the secluded valleys. Spring starts earlier some places than others, and across a distance of just a few miles there are all kinds of microclimates. Living here makes it hard to have a single coherent narrative about time and the seasons. I am more plural for living in this landscape.

There’s no grain in the valleys, so either I have to go out to where the grain is, or my sense of the summer grain festivals is impacted by this. We do have sheep and lambs, so my Imbolc is shaped by encountering them. We do have an abundance of hawthorn flowers and bluebells for Beltane.

On top of that, we have a local events calendar which intersects with my personal calendar. My wheel of the year has a book festival, folk festival, a theatre festival and a wassail in it, reliably, and some of the other regular events impact on me as well. Culture should be place specific.


Druidry and Curlews

World Curlew Day happened recently, and I had the honour of being involved with some curlew awareness raising organised by Gordon MacLellan – there’s a curlew poem of mine over here – https://www.celebrationearth.org/post/world-curlew-day

Curlews are liminal birds – they have amazing long, curved beaks for feeding in the mud which means you tend to find them in tidal areas.  I’ve seen them at the coast, and around The River Severn. When the tide goes out, the curlews feed. So they have a powerful relationship with tides. You find them inland when the tide comes in. I’ve seen flocks of over a hundred birds in fields in the winter. They spend time on the land, in the air, in the water and in the mud, which has implications if you want to think about them symbolically or as potential guides.

There are curlews all over the world – more information here http://www.curlewmedia.com/about-wcd

Their presence, or absence tells us a lot. We’ve lost most of our wetland in the UK, and so there are a lot of places where you probably won’t see a curlew, because there is no habitat for them. They stand as a symbol for lost wetland. Humans are not traditionally good at seeing marshy, shifting landscapes as good things. We drain those places and turn them into fields for our benefit. When you see a landscape as wasteland, as worthless and useless because it isn’t turning a profit for humans, you miss what the landscape is in its own right.

Curlews have the power to speak to us from the margins, and to embody the wetlands in a way we may be better able to appreciate. They have a lot to teach us about not being so human-centric. I think it’s really important to meet them on these terms rather than look at what they might do for us on our spiritual journey. For Druid purposes, we should be wary about reducing living beings down to symbols we can use for our own benefit. They exist for their own sake, and this is the most important lesson any wild being can teach us. We need to try and see the world from their perspective, not make them into something that serves us in some way.

They belong to landscapes that have no place for us – to the shifting mud at the tideline, to the places that are neither fully land nor exclusively water. They belong to places where we do not belong. We can admire them from afar, and respect them, and respect their habitats and learn to value things that are not about us.


Writing my best animism

I’ve made an interesting discovery this week – I write my best animism when I’m not being serious. If I try and write serious spiritual fiction, or for that matter, certain kinds of non-fiction I feel uneasy and don’t reliably do a very good job. There are always those risks around ego and self importance, the fear of accidentally writing in ways that exclude rather than draw in.

I have a particular unease around giving people the impression I’m more spiritually adept than I really am. I’m an animist, but I don’t hear the voices of spirit in all things animate and inanimate around me. I’m not having big, important conversations with anything much.

However, when I stop trying to be sensible and open up to what might be interesting and amusing, I can write my animism in ways that I like. I could get into a deep philosophical wrangle about what this means, but, that would seem to defeat the object, so instead, here is a little bit of happily preposterous, not taking myself too seriously animism from the current Wherefore project – which is mostly fiction.

“There are yeasts who want to teach you the meaning of civilization and culture. Fungi want to talk to you about interconnectedness. The dried garlic wants a conversation with you about how you are mistreating the bacteria on your skin, and it also wants to chat with the people who live in your lower intestines and who are frankly much more spiritually advanced than you are.

The jam in your kitchen is waging a war for your soul against the influence of an edible foodlike substance made by a chemical company. There is something in your fridge that is trying to make contact with the elder race down the back of the cupboard. All of the eggs are dreaming about their past lives and there are a whole selection of magical beans waiting their turn to influence your understanding of reality.

That’s just your kitchen.”

You can follow Wherefore, in all its silliness on my youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/NimueBrown

 


Druidry and Animals

Modern Druidry includes quite a bit of animal lore. There’s what various people have gleaned from mediaeval Celtic sources, from folklore, folk song and other sources no doubt more and less historically accurate. Like most Pagan paths, our creature lore tends to focus on larger, higher status animals. The Druid Animal Oracle is a fine case in point here – it’s a lovely pack and I treasure my copy of it, but there’s more missing from it than is included.

So, what about all those other creatures? The ones we don’t have myths for. The ones that don’t crop up in Pagan conversations about animal spirits and Celts and whatnot? We’ve lost a lot of larger mammals from the British landscape, and these must have been significant to our ancestors. We’ve lost the stories that go with them, too. And size isn’t everything – some of our tiniest neighbours, like the earthworm, are intrinsic to life as we know it.

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore some of these creatures as best I can. I’m going to be focusing on the ones that don’t have roles in epic tales, that aren’t traditionally used as metaphors for human behaviour. I’ll be drawing mostly on personal experience and things that I have feelings about, so it’ll be a random list with no obvious logic from the outside. I’m totally open to suggestions for what to include – depending on me knowing anything at all about the being in question!


Druidry and the Future – free read

I’m giving away pdf copies of Druidry and the Future to anyone who wants one.

All you have to do is leave a message in the comments below – I’ll be able to see your email address and will email one over.

I hope everyone is managing to stay safe and find things to do to stay as calm and healthy as possible.

I’ve got a new project in the offing to amuse people – more of that next week.


Druidry and Power

In a spiritual context, power is so seldom seen as a good thing. We might talk about how power corrupts, or about how we harm ourselves when we give away our power. However, there are many ways in which holding power, and recognising the power another person has over us, can be tremendously good things.

I think there’s a lot of good Druid work to be done around exploring how we can be powerful for each other.

If you stand in your own power then you can raise other people up. Your praise, affirmation and encouragement become more effective. When you hold power, you have the means to empower others.

If someone else finds you powerful, and that feels like pressure or being put on a pedestal, it can be a missed opportunity. Stepping into a place of power in someone else’s life can be transformative. It’s something to do carefully, mindful of the responsibilities, while not taking on things that are not yours to bear. Sometimes, when stepping up to be powerful for someone else, we can find lessons for our own lives. Changes in how we see ourselves can flow from this. Being powerful for someone can be a great teacher and can be intensely humbling as well.

It’s not unusual to encounter spiritually minded people talking about not giving power away. It’s good to question the idea of what another person can ‘make’ us do or feel. However, when we talk about not giving a person the power to make us do or feel things, we miss out. We focus too much on the negativity – the people who ‘make’ us feel sad or angry or hurt or frustrated… often also ignoring the way in which deliberate bullying sets out to force those feelings onto you. But, what about the people who make us feel glad and joyful? The people who open our hearts and bring love, mirth, delight, hope and other such feelings? They too have power over us, they too are making us feel things – and it is better to be able to welcome that.

Power is a nuanced, complex thing. It isn’t inherently problematic. We benefit when we make room for the people who have the power to inspire us, heal us, help us and guide us. As Druids, I do not think we should fear holding power in this way, either. To inspire a person is to be powerful. We do hold power over people when we undertake to teach them, or lead them in ritual. If that’s done with care and honour, if we use that power to empower, then there is no corruption in it.


Druidry and Sacrifice

While I wasn’t raised Christian, I went to a Church of England primary school and it was there that the concept of self-sacrifice entered my consciousness. I took onboard that it was a good thing, and that we should be willing to help others even when that’s painful or difficult. I wondered, sometimes, how a person could tell when they qualified as the ‘others’ who needed helping. I did not find an answer.

I feel confident that for our Celtic ancestors, sacrifice was not self-sacrifice. It was other people, and creatures. There might have been an element of giving things up when people threw swords and bling into bodies of water, but there’s also status to be derived from ostentatiously giving things up, so I’m not sure.

When it comes to modern Druidry, we’re clearly not going to be sacrificing what is other than ourselves. As an animist, I find offerings difficult because they remain their own thing, and not you. A picked flower is not your sacrifice, it’s just a less bloody way of sacrificing something else. So we may talk instead about sacrifices of time, energy and the like. And always, there’s that question of when you get to say that perhaps making the sacrifice shouldn’t be on you. What looks like a small sacrifice to a well resourced person who lives in comfort is a much bigger deal if you don’t have those privileges.

In the past, I have made all kinds of sacrifices to Druidy. As a younger person, I repeatedly sacrificed both my bodily and mental health through my volunteering. Because sacrifice is what you do when you’re serious about your path. I can’t say it led me to any kind of spiritual experiences and it didn’t make me a better person. If sacrifice is supposed to be utterly selfless, then there’s a case for saying that regular burnout and trashing my health is good Druidry. But no matter what I did, it never really felt sacred to hurt myself like that. It just hurt.

Except I’m entirely sure it was a terrible way to carry on, and that a culture that encourages this is an awful idea. I do not, at this point in my life, believe that this kind of sacrifice is a good idea at all. I think we’re much better off looking at sacrifice in terms of rebalancing. If you have a lot, and more than you need, sacrifice. Give away. Share. Offer up. You can afford it. If you’re struggling, ill, under too much pressure, I don’t think it should be your job to make sacrifices, or for that matter to become some kind of living human sacrifice.

There was no one to tell child-me when you get to say ‘I am the one who needs helping’. We need to do this for each other. We need to avoid competing for the best excuses not to give, and we need to avoid putting pressure on people who need taking care of. We need to recognise that what we give comes at different costs, depending on circumstances. We need to keep an eye on our own privilege in terms of where we let ourselves off the hook, and what we expect of others.