Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Calling yourself a Druid

It’s been problematic for as long as I’ve been doing it. We are not the ancient Druids, so how can we claim the name? There are lots of theories about what the word means and where it comes from, and it may well relate to oak or trees, but at the same time, it’s a word we don’t fully understand. We don’t have the same training the ancient Druids did, or access to everything they knew, so how can we claim the title? And it is a title, historically denoting training, and status within a community that no longer exists.

Then there are the modern Druids you don’t want to be associated with. You know the ones. The Druids who are doing it wrong, the ones you find embarrassing and unacceptable and you don’t want to be considered as like them, or supporting them.

Of course all of this is true of any label that lasts more than a day or two. Labels develop histories. Meanings and associations change over time. Just look at how Christianity has changed over its history and how many versions of it there are out there. There are plenty of Christians who are deeply embarrassed by those other Christians who are doing it wrong. There are plenty of feminists who are furious with the other feminists who clearly have entirely the wrong ideas. There isn’t a human project out there free from disagreement, and safe from asshats.

What would it mean to have Druidry be something that no one disagreed over? There could be no new things, no experimentation, no innovation, no personal gnosis, no diversity. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered who want to identify as Druids want to do so on their own terms. We would not function without the room to change our minds.

How do you get a space free from asshats? Perhaps you have some people with the power to police who is allowed to call themselves a Druid and to throw out those who don’t make the grade. I can’t think of a single Druid I know who would be happy to be on the inside of that. Most of them would make an effort to get thrown out at the first possible opportunity. For every training order that confers titles there are plenty of Druids stood on the outside, shaking their heads and saying they wouldn’t have done it like that. For every person willing to stand up and say ‘Druidry is this’ you can count on their being at least one other person willing to stand up and say ‘oh no it isn’t.’

There are people doing Druidry who I don’t like at all, whose actions I despise, whose words I find ridiculous. I expect there are Druids who would say the same of me. Does that mean some of us can’t be Druids? Arguing about Druidry is entirely Druidic. Arguing with other Druids for the sake of arguing with other Druids is not the basis of a spiritual path. Trying to assert who is and is not a Druid is a waste of time and energy because there will only be arguments on that score. We can reject teachers and leaders personally – we should always be free to do that. We can talk about why we object to ideas and behaviour – that’s important. But, these are things not to get bogged down in.

The failure of other people to do Druidry in a way we like is not the failure of Druidry. You will not find a human project of any substance that doesn’t have dissent, its own heresies, heretics and dodgy characters. There isn’t a human project out there someone hasn’t tried to abuse to get power, or tried to dumb down, or used as a tool for hatred and discrimination. Shitty people get everywhere. Including Druidry. We are not magically better than any other human project.

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Solitary Druids

When I first came to Druidry some fifteen years ago, it seemed very much a collective activity. Groves, orders, networks, study groups, circles… it was more likely that any given Druid would be a member of multiple groups than that they would be solitary. Seven years ago when I found myself obliged not to be an active member of a group, a friend joked that the name for a solitary Druid, is a hedge witch.

There are good reasons for wanting to be part of something. Being part of something is a pretty basic human need for most of us. We went to groves and orders to learn what it is that modern Druids do. There were fewer books back then. We gathered together because the history of modern Druidry has been one of gathering together for key festivals to do Druid things. There’s affirmation to be had in doing something you call Druidry with a bunch of other people who are also inclined to call it Druidry.

There’s also power to be had. A big group is a power base. To be an Archdruid, you need to be in charge of an Order. To be a Very Important Druid you need people who follow you round and do the Druidry in the way that you say it should be done. Good leadership can be a very good thing indeed, but the desire for power always has the potential to corrupt.

I know of a large number of Druids who have the knowledge and the skill set to lead, but mostly aren’t. I know a lot of Druids who are out there quietly walking their own paths and not wanting the limitations and responsibilities that group membership involves. When I asked, some time ago, what’s happening in Druidry, why it seems to have gone so quiet, people talked to me about their solitary work.

Clearly we have not all become hedge witches.

The Druidry we had grew out of modern reconstruction. It grew from a desire for alternative religion, but also from ego and a yearning to ponce around in white robes wearing fake beards. It came from Ross Nichols and Gerald Gardner agreeing on a wheel of the year. It brought us a style of ritual that owes to the western occult tradition. You could be a bard without having done a single bardic performance. You could be a Druid without being able to identify trees.

To go further, deeper, into Druidry it may be necessary to take off the costumes and set aside the props and the desire to be important. I think it is necessary to give up our ideas about nature in favour of direct personal experience. Seasonal ritual becomes less important than a lived experience of the seasons.

I feel increasingly that Druidry is going underground, into quietness and contemplation, into personal experience and exploration. Perhaps at some point in the future it will turn out that seeds were germinating and something new and alive will spring up, but maybe it won’t, and that’s fine too.


Unspeakable Druidry

Unspeakable in the sense that I seldom have much idea how to explain it to anyone else. However, putting words to experiences is one of the things I think I’m for. My hope is that at some point I’ll understand enough of what I’m doing to be able to come back and talk about it coherently, but for now, it’s a case of trying to speak the unspeakable in the hopes that someone finds it at least a relevant signpost for their own journey.

Back when I read Celtic Buddhism (reviewed here) I had my first run in with Tibetan Bon, a tradition that has no formal practices. It is simply what happens to you as a consequence of how you live with the natural world. This chimed with me, and led me to realise that for some years now, my rather ephemeral and hard to pin down take on Druidry has been about me trying to do something similar.

When I first came to Druidry, I was all about study, meditation, visualisation and ritual. It was a very cerebral response to what I already knew about the seasons and the natural world. It’s been a process for me of recognising that when I work that way, I’m working with an abstract concept of nature inside my own head, not directly with anything else. To clarify, I know for some people, interior work means working directly with spirit, but for me it’s mostly not felt like that.

For some years now, what I think of as my Druidry has been solitary, although I can do it when other people are around. It’s about taking myself outside and encountering and being encountered. It has had the discernible effect of me seeing far more wildlife than I used to. It has meant developing a quality of presence that is alert to what’s around me, and open to it, but also involved in the narrative of the place and my history with it. I’m certainly not in the moment to the exclusion of all else, nor seeking to be. All the time I do this, I’m bodily learning – sounds, smells, movement, colours – information from the world around me that helps me know how to interpret other experiences. The sound of the bird connects to the shape of it and the shape of its flight and so forth.

I am changed by this, and not just in terms of what I know. I am changed, and no doubt have more changing to do in terms of who I am when I put my feet on the ground and move. I exist in relationship to a landscape and to others dwelling in this landscape. I feel a profound sense of connection, but beyond that, very little, and that may be significant too.

I do not come back from this with wisdom to rapidly transform your life. I do not have messages from the natural world that I must tell to people. I do not have secret knowledge, magical power, mystical authority or anything like that. I can’t even tell you with confidence what I think is happening when I do this, only that I know something is happening to me. I will never be able to teach this to people over an expensive weekend course. There are no exciting shortcuts to offer, and no easily explained benefits, just a quiet certainty on my part that this is the right thing for me to be doing. I may well need to spend a lot more years doing it before something properly speakable emerges.

There are consequences of being in the world in this way. Every time I go outside, there are moments of joy and wonder. I see, hear, smell and touch things, and am moved by them. I have a body knowledge of my landscape that comes from having moved through it so many times. I find being away harder. I find big groups of noisy people harder some days as well, because I don’t know how to tune them out. I do not feel adrift, lost, or out of synch any more. I know where I stand, in a very literal sense.


What’s new in Druidry?

The developments in witchcraft at the moment seem really exciting to me, looking at them from the outside. Kitchen witchcraft. Fairy Witchcraft. Urban witchcraft. Traditional Witchcraft. I see people drawing on folklore, literature and tradition, and I see people innovating, experimenting and exploring their own ideas, and I see that being brought together to create something vibrant and very alive.

I was excited about Emma Restall Orr’s work some ten years ago and more, breaking away from male stereotypes in Druidry to find something wilder and more feminine. I was very excited about the Contemplative Druidry movement. I am excited about what Julie Brett has done exploring Australian Druidry. I hope we’ll see more Druids around the world finding ways to do Druidry that are about their immediate experience of landscape. But beyond that, things seem quiet to me at the moment. People whose ideas I was really interested in seem to be moving away from Druidry as an identity. I’m short of new Druid books that I’m keen to get my hands on.

It may be that I’m just not looking in the right places. So, if you’re doing something, or know about something interesting happening in contemporary Druidry, do please leave a comment. If you’ve got a blog or a book about modern Druidry, please give yourself a plug!

Traditions have to be living traditions. We breathe life into them with action and innovation. Ten years ago or so it felt like Druidry as a concept could fly apart because so many people were trying to do it in so many different ways and no one knew what was right. There seemed to be more heresy than orthodoxy, and that was fun. It doesn’t feel like we’ve settled down into something calmer and more clearly defined. It feels like we’ve lost something. Perhaps it’s just me.


Druidry and the ancestors – some excerpts

Druidry and the Ancestors is a wander through the challenges and possibilities of working with our ancestors. Ancestors of blood, of land and tradition. Also the ancestors we imagine, or long for, and what they can tell us and how they can help us.

In some ways it is easier to explain what this book isn’t, than to begin by pinning down what it is. This is not a history book in the sense of having lots of dates and hard, dependable information about the history of Druidry in it. It definitely isn’t a linear narrative history of Druidry at all. It is, however, a book about history, with the emphasis on the story. This is an exploration of how we imagine and construct our ancestors, and what the implications are of the ways in which we think about them. Anyone interested in the history of Druidry, I would suggest reads both Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe and Graeme K Talboys’ The Way of the Druid, which are highly informative and offer very different understandings of the subject. It’s not the facts of history I want to explore, but what we do with them.

This is also not a book designed to teach a person how to do Druidry. It is, I hope, something that would be of use to anyone exploring a Druid path, to people in the wider pagan community, and to anyone with an interest in the ancestors. We all have ancestors and, for most of us, that can be a complicated issue. This is a book about making peace with the ancestors, understanding their legacies and their ongoing presence in our lives, and exploring how ancestry impacts on community, and ideas of race, nation and culture. For someone looking for a book that will help them begin the study of Druidry, I recommend Graeme K Talboys’ The Druid Way Made Easy and Robin Herne’s Old Gods, New Druids.

One of the things I do want to do is raise the issue of how we access history. Many pagan readers and authors alike are self taught people. Working outside formal academia, dependant on what we can find and not always aware of where the cutting edge is, we are a community vulnerable to misinformation and being horribly out of date. Mistakes made by authors fifty or a hundred years ago still surface in pagan writing and new examples of that surface all the time.

 

Most of us know who our immediate ancestors were, but the precise details soon peter out, leaving only a vague impression of those who lived as little as a few hundred years ago. Although genealogy is a popular hobby, for most of us, those people before our immediate ancestors are an uncertain, amorphous lot, colored by whatever we learned of history at school, who we imagine our people were, and the odd focal story – a famous predecessor, a family legend, some speculation based on names.

I have a huge family tree, mapped out by my uncle and delving deep into the past. Names, dates, jobs and occasional details are in the mix. It’s interesting, but beyond those tantalizing glimpses, it tells me relatively little about how they lived, felt and thought. There aren’t many facts, and the facts are not that informative. Unless people leave detailed letters and diaries, this is often the way of it. The ancestors remain mysterious. For many of us, ideas held about ancestry are intimately connected to ideas of race and culture. Those on the far right believe in ancestry as a contained, defined thing, linking certain groups of people whilst distancing them from others. This seems to me a rather short sighted view of the past. Humans have been mobile and interbreeding for a very long time. We are all humans. But even for people who do not hold overtly racist views, race is important, perhaps connecting them directly to the history of a country, an area of land or a religion. The trouble is that recorded history is actually sparse, and as a percentage of human history, represents a very small bit. The further back you
go, the less there is by way of written record. The countries and religions we have are relatively recent innovations, but our most recent history is inevitably the most resonant, and the most divisive. For anyone wanting to uphold the idea of division and separateness, recent history must be treated as more important than the ambiguous millennia preceding it. For anyone wishing to work with ideas of commonality, it becomes necessary to push
past recorded human history in search of a time when perhaps ideas of race and culture did not divide us. A past we can only really imagine and can never hope to prove.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/Druidry-Ancestors


Every Day Druidry

Part of the idea when I started this blog and called it Druid Life, was to look at lived Druidry and how Druidry impacts on what I do in the rest of my life. This is one of the reasons I write about a whole array of things that perhaps at first glance don’t seem very Druidic at all.

For me, Druidry is what we do all the time, not just at the festivals. It’s about the approach and the process, the underlying logic. It’s about the willingness to reflect, question and delve deeper. It’s the willingness to bring philosophical ideas into everyday life, to bring spiritual values into things that are not overtly spiritual.

The problem with this, is that I’ve found it’s easy to lose the sense of the Druidry even while trying to live the Druidry. My Druidry is about the choices I make in my working life, about activism and education. It is green living choices, and what I do creatively, and what I do to nurture and support others in their creativity. I bring my Druidry to volunteering for The Woodland Trust, and I’m bringing it to the Transition network locally, and I take it into pubs and make spaces for people to follow their inspiration.

These are not things to do while wearing robes. Not that I’ve ever been one for the robes. I’ve come to see this year how much ritual spaces and overtly Pagan and Druid spaces do to affirm a person as Being A Proper Druid or whatever they are being. Seeing ourselves recognised by other people on the same path is affirming, and helpful.

There are days when I can’t see the Druidry for the trees. I see the trees a lot. I see the wildlife. I walk. I’m closer to the patterns of light and dark than I have ever been, closer to this land than I have ever been. And yet when I see photos of all the proper Druids at Druid gatherings, I feel like an outsider. A fake. A wannabe. I question, over and over whether ‘druid’ is a word I should use, or have any entitlement to. I stay with it in no small part because I have no idea what to call the blog instead and there’s some comfort in being able to identify as something.

When you make something part of your life, it becomes less self announcing. The difference between a long term marriage and the first excited flush of a new relationship. The difference between starting a new exercise or diet plan, and having a healthy lifestyle. We notice the new, the unfamiliar, and we notice the things we have to really consciously work at. That which is embedded in life can be less visible even as we’re doing it. Equally, that which is an every day thing can be a taken for granted thing. It’s easy to say ‘my work is my prayer’ and that be an empty, meaningless statement. The work is only the prayer if you’re really doing it.

And so I pause every now and then and ask where the Druidry is in my life. What is my Druidry? What does it mean? What does it do? How does it manifest? What am I learning, making, changing? What am I dedicating to? Where am I needed? Sometimes I don’t really know what any of the answers are. It’s ok not to know.

When I started on the Druid path, it seemed that the Druid path was many paths through a vast an ancient forest. Perhaps the forest itself was Druidry. I saw many fellow travellers, I walked well worn routes. I knew where I was because there were plenty of signposts.

Right now I have no sense of there being a Druid path beneath my feet. No sense of direction, no signposts. No one waving to me from the next path over. Just quiet, and stillness and trees, and I cannot tell if this is because I have entirely lost my way, or because I have arrived somewhere.


A body in a landscape

One of the reasons I’ve not written a Pagan book in quite some time, is that my practice has changed and I didn’t want to over-intellectualise the process. I realised that I needed to get out there and try things without setting myself up to think that I was going to come back and write a book about it afterwards, and in terms of my personal spiritual journey, that’s been a really good thing. I don’t find this blog gets in the way, because there’s always stuff going on that I want to talk about.

I love words, language and communication. Which at first made it a bit odd for me wanting to go into something that wasn’t about words, and where the communication wasn’t about dealing with other humans.

It was an idea that occurred to me while working on the Pagan Pilgrimage project. I was going to write a book about that, but was finding the writing process getting in the way. I hit on a phrase – walking my body into the landscape and the landscape into my body, and beyond that statement, there was no real place for words. Mostly there still isn’t, although I’m getting to the point where I feel a bit more able to talk about what I’m doing.

Too often, the use of planned and ritualised language can actually take us away from the living moment and all that is happening in it. If we go in knowing what we’re going to say, our words get between us and our experiences. We make the spiritual experience about the inside of our own heads and not about any relationship with what’s outside our heads. Wordless and without so much agenda, there’s room for other experiences.

I’ve become interested in how sounds impact on my body. I’ve become alert to how the shifting patterns of sun and shade affect my mood when I’m walking. There are places I’ve walked often enough over a long enough time now that the shape of them, and the rhythm of moving over them is very much inside me. I don’t have much language for expressing this well. I’m not even sure I should be looking for such a language. Perhaps it is enough to offer wordy gateways, because any expressing of my experience, is only ever that, and what’s called for here is the first hand encounter between body and place.

We need to put ourselves back into the landscape. We need to stop treating landscape as a pretty background in which to do our exclusively human things. We need to get over the idea of scenery and into the idea of relationship. We need to show up, in our bodies, with our senses, and be places. Be part of places, involved with them, not casual users passing through. Not so locked into our human-centric concerns that we don’t see the wood, or the trees.

Things happen when you do this. Things that are not translatable into human words. Body knowledge and awareness. Felt things. We change, when we let the landscape inhabit us. It is a good change and I recommend exploring it.


What is sacredness?

While I was planning my talk for the recent market and conference in Wolverhampton, I had a bit of a light bulb moment. I was talking about sacred places, so of course the question of ‘what makes something sacred?’ was very much on my mind. Why are we more able to see the sacred some places than others? Why is Stonehenge sacred, while the Stonehenge car park isn’t? Why do we identify some days as more sacred than others?

The barrow I frequent is a sacred place for me. Other people go there to fly remote controlled aeroplanes, and to ride down the sides on mountain bikes. It is not a sacred place for them. The sacredness I experience is not self-announcing.

It struck me that it might be entirely off the mark to think of sacredness as being inherent in an object, place or time. What if sacredness is the kind of relationship we have? It follows that ancient sites and places of beauty are more likely to inspire us to a feeling of sacred relationship than a supermarket car park. At the same time, it means that someone who was looking for sacredness in a supermarket car park could do just that.

I have, as it happens. Supermarket car parks attract foxes – I assume they come for the rodents who come for the scraps. I’ve had a number of beautiful fox encounters on car parks, and that has given me a sense of sacredness in places that otherwise in no way seem to invite it.

In theory then, anything can be sacred. In practice, our little monkey brains can only do so much. Relationship is a conscious thing, it requires engagement, deliberateness, participation. Trying to be in sacred relationship with everything all the time would be exhausting. Perhaps when we are very old, and very wise, with decades of sacred relationships behind us, it will simply be a state we have entered, but that’s a ways off for me. Most of the time, it is enough to make the sacred relationships we can. Be that with a place, or a time, a creature or a tree, an idea or an experience. Sacredness can be the terms on which we choose to engage.


Hail Spirits of Place

“Hail spirits of this place” is a popular Druid line for ritual, in that brief bit at the beginning where we normally honour whatever is around us. It’s something I do outside of ritual situations, and something I like to invest more time in during rituals.

Saturday found me in Wolverhampton, talking about sacred places. Much of the venue was lovely – the hall the market was in had beautiful light, a lot of wood, lovely acoustics and would have been a great place to do ritual. The area for talks had a stage, microphone and lighting, making it a good place for talks, but it didn’t have much atmosphere, it was a bit dead acoustically. In the right space, if I’m talking about ritual or sacred places, I’ll have a play with the room acoustics because that can be magical. I got off the microphone briefly, and went straight back because the room wasn’t going to give me anything.

All the same, I got to talking about spirits of place in ritual, and offered my ‘hail spirits of place’ and something shifted. I felt hairs rising, and gooseflesh breaking out on my shoulders and arms. A keen sense of something with me and behind me that hadn’t been there before. Something friendly and supportive, and glad to be noticed.

I’ve greeted spirits of place in all kinds of places. I’ve done it when I didn’t feel safe, and it has always helped. I do it before talks even when the talks aren’t Pagan. Sometimes the effects are more dramatic than others. Saying it out loud is important – although sometimes that’s a whisper in a toilet cubicle. It’s enough.

Spirits of place do not belong only to distant wild places and iconic ancient sites. They are in your living room, your garden, your workplace. They’re on the school run, the commute, in the car park. Acknowledge the possibility of them and they may acknowledge you in return.


Druids who do not speak to kings

Where myth and history meet there are tales of Druids who spoke with Kings, and who could stand on battlefields and bid the armies cease in their fighting.

We are not such Druids. May we live to see the day when there are no kings left to speak to. No unelected men with any titles, no such forms of absolute power.

We can speak truth to power. We can do so not because we have a big, shiny title everyone respects (it cheers me how far we are from that) but because truth should be spoken to power wherever power is oblivious to truth.

We can speak to anyone who will hear us.

We can speak for those who have no voices – the land, the creatures, the ancestors, the Gods. However, when we do so, we must be careful that we aren’t speaking for ourselves and claiming to voice something other in order to look good.

When we speak for those who have no voices, we must remember that most people have voices and their problem is about not being heard or taken seriously. If we speak for them, we may only add to this. We can help to amplify them.

Before we speak, we need to pause. To listen to the living voices around us. To listen to the voices of spirit and inspiration that might come to us if we make room. To listen to what we intend to say so we can figure out if it has any merit. Better to listen a lot, and talk less, but talk with insight, with inspiration, with understanding.

And when we speak as Druids, let it be because Druids are called to serve, and not from a desire to have our voices heard over all others, and not from a desire to be important and powerful. There is no need for us to be the Druids who speak to Kings.