Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Druidry, walking, and not walking

Walking is my primary mode of transport and is also how I engage with the natural world and the seasons. It’s a major part of how I exercise, and a key strategy for managing my mental health. As a consequence, not being able to walk is a bit of a disaster. There’s been a lot of that this year, and in the last six weeks or so it has been a massive problem.

Usually the limits on my walking come from pain, stiffness and lack of energy. I’m used to having days when I can’t do much, and fitting what I need to do around what’s possible. However, I’ve had a bout of very low blood pressure (for reasons) and it’s made walking really hard. I haven’t been able to get up hills, I’ve been able to manage twenty minutes at most, and I’ve felt awful. I’m aware that for a lot of people, twenty minutes would be a good amount of walking, but with the role walking plays in my life, not being able to walk for a few hours at a time is a real problem.

It’s meant I’ve had very little access to the landscape. Places I find spiritually nourishing – especially the hilltops – have been unavailable to me. If I had a garden, I could develop a spiritually nourishing outdoors space closer to home – but currently I can’t do that.

I’m lucky in that the underlying causes of this problem have been dealt with, and I should be able to recover and rebuild my strength and stamina. Not everyone who has a bodily crisis gets to do that afterwards. Many people live with sorely limiting conditions.

This experience has taught me that there is nothing I can do inside my flat that does for me what getting outside for long hours at a time does for me. My Druidry is so very much about my relationship with my immediate landscape. Much of the time that’s quite an understated presence – I do think about my connection with land and spirits of place whenever I am out, but that’s often so normal to me that in some ways I don’t notice it. Absence is a great teacher, and what I’ve not been able to do has taught me about what I need to do.

There’s an interesting balance around internalising things and losing sight of them. With any spiritual practice, you want to embed it so deeply in your life that it is your life. But when you do that you can stop noticing that it’s there, which is problematic. This in turn brings me to consider the usefulness of deliberate spiritual action for reminding us of our spiritual lives, and how necessary it may be to have things that aren’t so deeply embedded that they become invisible. This might mean I need to make a labyrinth once I’m back in shape. That’s a good jolt out of everydayness.

I certainly need to look at what I can do with my Druidry that is real and immediate to me, and soul satisfying, and not so dependent on being able to walk for a couple of hours. Alongside this, I have a lot of practical work to do rebuilding body strength and stamina, getting my heart fitter again, and getting back up the hills. I’ve come to understand in recent years that taking care of my body is a necessary consideration for how I do my Druidry – my body is where I experience everything else, and if I don’t keep it well and fit, I can’t get out there and do anything else. I’m very glad to have at least some options around improving wellness and fitness.


Druidry and Rabbits

Rabbits are interestingly complicated from a Druid perspective. On one hand, they’re cute, fluffy mammals, and on the other, they could be the poster-creature for humans messing up.

We’ve been moving rabbits around the world for a long time. When exactly they came to the UK is uncertain – could have been the Romans, could have been the Normans. Certainly the Normans had to build warrens for them because apparently rabbits back then weren’t very tough at all! Old rabbit warrens in the landscape can easily be confused for other things. There’s an interesting pair near me that, in local legend, are supposedly mass graves for a smallpox hospital.

Rabbits in Australia have been an ecological disaster. They may be small and cute, but being in a landscape where they don’t belong has had a series impact on other species. Tree loss, soil erosion and loss of other plant species causes huge knock on effects.

Then we get myxomatosis – a virus that originated in South America and turns out to have hideous, crippling effects on rabbits, who die slow and painful deaths from it. I’ve heard a lot of stories about how it was deliberately brought into the UK to control rabbit populations – a horrible choice by any measure.

We move rabbits around so that we can eat them. We keep them as pets. We use the fur of Angora rabbits for clothing, but the treatment of those rabbits, is often appalling. The problems rabbits cause in the world stem from our human assumption that they are there for us to use in whatever way we see fit. When we colonise landscapes, our impact isn’t just about moving people in, and humans – especially white, European humans – have caused a lot of harm by deliberately and accidentally moving creatures to places where they do not belong.

Rabbits invite us to look at how we use power. They invite us to square up to a long history of ecological damage and arrogance. They are intimately tied up with colonial histories and the history of invasion. From a Druid perspective, they have much to tell us about what a lack of natural justice looks like, and what human hubris does in the world.


Druid Life

I think it’s really helpful to pause now and then and ask what the relationship between my life and my Druidry currently is. It has certainly changed over time – I have along the way been a student and a teacher, I’ve been a participant and a leader, a ritualist and a non-ritualist. There have been times when prayer and meditation have dominated, and times when it’s been mostly about service. Druidry has many different aspects to it, and different things come to the fore at different times.

This year, creativity has dominated so far – mostly in the form of Wherefore, a fiction series I’m doing on youtube. I’ve been talking about animism, magic, the nature of reality, and environmental issues under the guise of a silly story. You can find series one here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux 

I’m re-thinking my work and service – I work for my local Transition movement, I volunteer for the Woodland Trust, I write for Pagan Dawn, and I’m getting more involved with my local theatre festival. I’m limited mostly by energy at the moment. I want to do more, but exhaustion is an ongoing problem.

Getting outside to walk, and sit, to witness the cycles of the seasons and encounter the wild things remains really important. Lockdown gave me some serious challenges – not having a garden didn’t help. But, I found ways to get out there and to stay passably connected.

At the moment, meditation and prayer are more to do with how I use my new altar space and I’m not doing as much along the edges of sleep as I was. This is in part because it no longer takes me so long to get to sleep!

This year has brought me a lot of re-thinks around divination and intuition – two things I had let go of some time ago, that now once again have a place in my life. It all feels really fragile at the moment. I’m conscious that if reality doesn’t turn out to line up with what I think I’ve been intuiting, this could get messy. Alongside this, there have been some shifts in experience around magic, how I think about deity, and how that might fit into my Druidry. This is all far too fledgling to talk about but all being well I’ll be back when I can share something more coherent.

The single biggest question right now, dominating my life, and my Druidry, is how to imagine the future. Climate chaos and the awful state of our politics make it hard to know what to do. There are personal complications as well. What I want, and what I have the financial power to do are currently a long way apart. This summer tantalised me with possible ways of changing that, and I am waiting to see what, if anything, is really possible. Right now, I have to embrace uncertainty, be as peaceful as I can be about what I do not know, and figure out how to stay open.

Recent weeks have brought many lessons about how much choice I have. There are important areas where the lack of choice is really hurting me right now. I’ve chosen not to protect myself from that. I’ve chosen to be open hearted and I’m conscious that what I’m doing is choosing who to be in face of circumstances I have little control over. Choosing hope is really hard work when there’s nothing much to support that. Looking around to see what will support hope, and who will, has changed how this works for me. Choosing faith when there’s no evidence – well, that’s the nature of faith and I’ve never been much good at it, but here I am trying to do it. I have no idea how this might impact on how I do my Druidry in the future, but it certainly could.


Druidry and Despair

One of the things I really appreciate about Druidry is there’s nothing inherent in it that will kick me when I’m down. There’s no ‘like attracts like’ philosophy. There’s no sense that suffering and difficulty are a result of bad karma, past life activities or lack of spiritual effort.

There are two places a Druid can look for spiritual guidance. There’s the literature pertaining to the Celts – the folklore and myths of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and arguably also England and France. There’s the natural world. Both of these sources will demonstrate to you that life can be a bit shit. There isn’t always any justice, people do not get what they deserve. Tragedy happens. The Gods do what they do and cannot be counted on to make life easy for you. Death, decay, misery and suffering are part of nature, these things will happen to you. Cycles are natural, and that means not everything can be great all the time. There’s also the history we get from the Romans, and there’s nothing in that to suggest any kind of toxic positivity in ancient Druidry.

Feeling despair means I am not feeling Druid-fail. I can dwell on all the stories in which people do terrible, stupid things and/or have terrible and stupid things happen to them. It’s not just me. Rhiannon faced loss and terrible injustice, so did Branwen. Blodeuwedd and Macha do not get good deals.  Follow any story far enough and everyone dies. The question is not whether things will be awful and tragic – because they will, sooner or later. The question is whether we can manage to be heroic, poetic, glorious, and unique regardless, or because of the things that will cut us down.

My Druidry reminds me that if I feel I have nothing else, there’s always the option of strapping myself to the stone to keep fighting. If winning isn’t an option, there are still important questions to be asked about how you want to lose, and how you want to be seen as you go under. There’s always the scope to inspire and encourage others by putting up a fight, and by trying to do something glorious, poetic and heroic with the hand you’ve been dealt, no matter how shitty it is. And sometimes, figuring out how to fail heroically is as good as it gets, and it is better than failing in sad, boring and mundane ways.

I’ve lost my way this week. I’ve lost my sense of trajectory – a fledgling thing I’d only found this year. Epic things had been happening to me that were shifting my sense of self and I may have lost that too. I have lost inspiration that was essential to me, and I may never get that back. I can’t tell if this is a small setback, or a tragic ending that would be entirely recognisable to my ancestors of tradition.

The thing about strapping yourself to a rock to keep fighting, is that it imagines keeping fighting does some good. While you can stay upright, rescue remains possible. Something could happen, something could change. Even while expecting defeat, it’s an action that invites other possibilities, right up until the last breath.

Despair is not an obstacle to carrying on as a Druid. Defeat is not an obstacle – the Druidry the Romans defeated survived to at least some degree in story and myth. Something remains. Something lives on. Dying away is part of the cycle, I can enter those spaces, Druidry and all. I do not have to be happy to continue as a Druid. I do not have to be hopeful or brave, or believe anything much so long as I am prepared to keep going with something. This week has taken me to some difficult places, and the awareness that I might have to accept living there for an uncertain amount of time. Potentially for the rest of my life. I will tie myself to the rock and keep standing for as long as I can.


Druids in the Cathedral

I’ve blogged a few times now about my relationship with Gloucester cathedral – while there’s no Christianity in my religious mix, it remains a powerful place for me. This is a building made with love and determination and remade and developed over many centuries by my ancestors of place, and probably a fair few blood ancestors as well. I go there to honour them. The stone has come from the hills – it is a sort of forest/cave made of stone and as such is works well as a dry place in which to commune with the wider landscape and its history. I also love the way sound is transformed by the space so that mundane human conversations sound a bit like a choir.

I haven’t been outside of Stroud since the start of the year. The small train journey to Gloucester was a big consideration. The county isn’t doing as badly with the virus as some places, but it remains an issue. I don’t want to spread it and I certainly don’t want to catch it. Balancing virus issues against emotional and mental health needs remains tricky. It was, however, really good to have some quiet, contemplative time in the cathedral.

I have a favourite chapel, and I’ve frequented it since my late teens. I first started going to the Cathedral when I was studying in Cheltenham, and sometimes my journey back from there gave me time for a visit. I’ve been sitting in contemplation, and lighting candles in the cathedral on and off throughout my adult life.

Yesterday, my adult son and I sat together in the blue chapel. Some of it was quiet contemplation, some of it was talking quietly about the stained glass and what it means. There were very few people in the cathedral, and I took the decision to do something I have always wanted to. I hummed, quietly. After a while, my son joined in and then we got a bit more deliberate about it. We’re both Pagan, but have had plenty of exposure to Christian music along the way. We picked Christian tunes that we like – slower and stranger tunes – the older ones that seem to resonate more in that space. We pondered whether the space had been made to fit the music or the music had been written for cathedral acoustics.

It was a very powerful thing for me – our two voices humming in harmony, filling the small chapel and getting glorious acoustic resonance from the building itself. No one bothered us or told us to stop. We were singing in a chapel where the modern stained glass is two thirds devoted to representing the natural world. It felt like a very Druid thing to do.

It also struck me that visitors to the cathedral were making all kinds of irreverent noise. We were the only ones doing something audibly reverent, and still I was anxious that someone might get cross with us or tell us off. But they didn’t, so maybe I will do it again.


Druidry and your environment

We are shaped by our environments. The context in which we live our daily lives has a huge impact on us. We do better as people when we have green space, and there’s evidence out there that we are kinder, better humans when our environments include trees. Lockdown has made it apparent that poverty and impoverished environments go together and that those who have least are also required to live with insufficient space, and green space.

How we live is informed by the space we live in. How much room we have and what resources are available to us. There are things you can do to create an environment that works for you, but this will be limited by your financial resources. As a Druid you may well want trees, perhaps a whole woodland, but whether you can afford to own or access that is another question. For people in serious poverty, there is no spare budget for houseplants, or to grow herbs on the window. I have done well rescuing nearly dead, reduced to clear plants, but when you do that, you take what you can get.

If you rent your home, you may not have much scope to put things on the wall or choose the wall colour. As a renter with white walls for a winter, I had a terrible time of it. I need colour in my environment and living with so much white wall space ground me down. I know some people find pale and plain environments soothing, but I’m not one of them! I crave vibrant colours and lively space.

Many Pagans choose to make their homes overtly Pagan looking as a way of re-enforcing sense of self, celebrating the path and connecting with whatever most appeals. It’s interesting to examine what, in your living environment actively supports your Druidry. Is it an altar space? Depictions of divinity? Or of nature? Is it natural objects or crafted objects, representation of the elements, or your hearth-space? Is it your books? Do you keep your ritual or divination tools on display?

What in your surroundings supports and nurtures you? What inspires and uplifts you and reminds you of who you are and what you are doing? What comforts you? What helps you? It’s worth looking around at your space on these terms and asking what you can invite in, what’s not helping and what could be changed.


Druidry and bones

I take my bones to the graveyard and I lie on the land, feeling the weight of myself.

These bones are made of limestone, of hill and landscape, and there is empathy between them and the earth.

Below me, the bones of others lie, peaceful and soil embraced. There is empathy between my bones and these bones unknown to me. We are all much alike when it comes down to bones. Hard to tell apart.  The differences between bones are fewer than the differences between lives.

I listen to the soil, to the grass. To whatever it is somewhere beneath me whose sound I cannot name, but who sounds anyway, careless of my ignorance.

There are no rituals today. There are a few muttered prayers to the universe, the land, any gods who might be willing to believe in me even though I struggle to believe in them.

It is a Druidry that lacks for grand revelations. It is the Druidry of grass against my face and something I cannot name in the ground beneath me, and the quiet presences of the hundred years dead, and the ancient history of Romans on this graveyard site and all that has been here alongside these known moments in history.

This is the Druidry of questions with no particular answers. But I can lie down amongst the unnamed dead, whose stories are forgotten. Not because I am able to channel their stories or speak for them, but because it seems meaningful to me to be with them, story-less, honouring a shared humanity, knowing that I will disappear into the mists of history in time as well. Sometimes it is powerful indeed to make space for my own insignificance, the fleeting nature of my being.

I do not think the land much notices me, or cares about me. And yet, nonetheless the land holds me, and lets me stay, and does not mind. It is a blessing to be able to exist. The land does not much care who I am or what I have done or what I believe. It will take my bones when I am dead. It holds my bones while I live. It is inside my bones. Separate and together.

I take my bones to the graveyard – a privilege for the living. To choose to go, and choose to return and to lie in stillness for a while.


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.