Category Archives: What is Druidry?

Druidry without hierarchy

This week I read a really interesting post over on Tommy Elf’s blog about leadership. In it, he talks about being asked who he considers his mentors to be, and says that he doesn’t go in for that. He does however consider me to be one of his influences, along with Cat Treadwell. You can read the post here – https://tommyelf22.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/keeping-things-on-level-ground/

Aside from the delight of getting name-checked in a blog I am subscribed to, I was struck by this post. Cat Treadwell and Tommy Elf are very much influences on me – I follow both of their blogs. I follow a number of other Druid bloggers as well. I used to follow the other Druid he mentions but don’t any more for more reasons than I have space or inclination to share.

Druidry can of course be massively hierarchical, with grades to advance through and titles to aspire to. Not all of us want to be an Arch-Druid. As architecture goes, I see myself as more of a flying buttress… Arches are pretty and all that, but they aren’t the only thing you can be. I’ve dabbled in leadership, I’ve run groups and I’ve taught, more and less formally. I absolutely get where Tommy is coming from in his blog about not wanting to be put on a pedestal or treated as a source of authority. I’m seeing more of this in Druidry all the time.

Leading is mostly a practical job – someone has to figure out when and where to meet and what to bring and to hold the space. Someone has to teach people who show up wanting to learn. Someone has to do the rites of passage people want and need. These are jobs we can do for each other. I think it works better when there’s fluidity in it. Leading all the time is hard work, can be an obstacle to following your own path, and can be an epic ego trap. Leadership can be the enemy of spirituality. However, if you share it around and hold it lightly, this isn’t a problem.

If some days you are the teacher, and some days you are the student, you’ll never feel like you’re supposed to know it all. If you can lead ceremony, but there are also people you can go to if you need someone to hold the space for you, that’s much happier as a way of being. If you can run things, and go along to things other people are running, it’s much more relaxed. Plus you’ll never end up feeling like it’s the work you do that gives you a space, or that being accepted is conditional on your work.

A person can share their experience without having to assert that theirs is the one true way. We can offer our wisdom to others without demanding that they accept it. We can share what we do without someone having to be the authority. We can take responsibility for our own paths, looking to each other for inspiration rather than instruction.

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Crazywise

Last night I went to a showing of Crazywise – it’s a film about alternative approaches to mental health crisis. It will be of particular interest to Pagans because it does look a bit at how mental breakdown is handled in indigenous cultures around the world. The website for the film has a lot of good material on it – https://crazywisefilm.com/

There’s also a great deal of material on Phil Borges’ youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9yq8Z0q-3XAjNKcRxOpAPA

One of the things I found really validating is that this film talks about the need for community solutions to mental health crisis. There’s a lot of reflection on the way people become isolated through mental illness and the way isolation enables mental illness. Further connections are made between our relationship with the world around us and our mental health. To be well, we need people, and we need the natural world.

I’d come to similar conclusions based on observation and experience. It’s something I can feel more confident about expressing now.

For me, Druidry is very much about relationship – relationships between people, relationships between people and everything else. I know I’m not alone in finding Druidry to be a way of navigating through my own issues and wounds. Over the years, doing the Druidry – prayer and meditation, ritual, walking, contemplation, and all the community aspects – has been key to my overcoming trauma and getting depression and anxiety under control. Having that framework in which to approach what’s going on in my head and body has really helped me.


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.


Worklife Druid

I’ve never felt easy about having my Druidry be something I do in my spare time and my working life being separate from that. I’ve been fortunate in that there are things I can do that lend themselves to taking my Druidry to work. However, I’ve done all kinds of odd jobs along the way, and there are all kinds of things that mean I can take what I believe into employed spaces. This is not about evangelising, but about walking my talk. I appreciate not everyone will be able to do all of these, but I float them out in case anything inspires anyone.

I can walk to work, or work from home. I can make a point of turning things off to reduce energy use and looking out for other opportunities to make wherever I’m working a bit greener. I can quietly support and encourage those around me in making greener choices.

I can refuse to support unethical working arrangements. Now, this one is hard and costly, and on one occasion meant me quitting a job. Being able to take that risk is possible for me because I’ve always maintained a financial safety net – there’s all kinds of privilege underpinning that. If you do have the means to vote with your feet, it is important to do so. The people who are most exploited in their workplaces are the ones with the least power to resist it.

I can stand up to workplace bullying, and support anyone who is badly treated in their workplace. I can’t always fix things. I’ve seen horrendous workplace bullying in situations where it was pretty much impossible for the person on the receiving end to get it stopped without quitting their job, and they couldn’t afford to quit. Someone who is bullied at work may have to weigh fear of poverty against what they endure day to day. They may be responsible for other people and unable to take the risks of getting out. They may be trying to find something else and unable to jump until they have somewhere to jump to. If the bully gets to write your reference, that can be difficult, and fear of how they will punish you for leaving is a real thing.

I can bring my creativity and my inspiration into any work situation. I can bring my desire to uplift, inspire and encourage other people into any job. It doesn’t have to be overtly spiritual work for me to try and be a good thing for those around me. I can give the best of what I’ve got and find ways to apply that. Much of the paid work I do is not conventionally thought of as ‘creative’ in the same way that music, fiction and art are. However, I use my bardic skills all the time. I find them relevant. I also find that the more I do this, the better I feel about myself and the jobs I am doing.

The desire to be seen as a creative professional can have creative people sacrificing their autonomy for the sake of success. You write what the publisher’s accountant likes the look of. You draw what the person offering the money wanted. You sing what you think Simon Cowell wanted to hear. Sometimes the price of fame and success is creating on other people’s terms.

However, if your desire is to be creative, you can take that into any kind of work and find a way to apply it. I say this having worked on checkouts. I spent one summer washing and packing glassware. How we are in the world does not have to be defined by the role we are cast in, and anything can be made better if you can find even the smallest ways of bringing your inspiration to the job.


Druidry and Spirits of Place

As my contribution to Pagan Pride in Nottingham, I talked about Druidry and spirits of place. It’s not the first time I’ve talked about this at a Pagan gathering. Spirits of place are pretty much at the heart of my sense of what Druidry is and how to approach it. I tend not to label it as such when I’m blogging because I tend to be focused on something specific – bats this summer, trees, foxes and so forth.

Over the last few years, what I think of as my Druidry has been increasingly about the spiritual aspect of connecting with what’s directly around me. I’ve become less interested in the eight main festivals than I was before. For me, they are purely about community and human tradition, and that’s fine and I can make room for it, but they aren’t where my Druidry lives. Formal ritual doesn’t do it for me in terms of personal practice. I’m more interested in contemplation and communion and the process of being a body in a landscape. I’m interesting in encountering and being encountered.

What flows from this is a growing number of relationships at various stages of development. There’s no feeling of a need to do anything with this – it does not call for rituals, or dramatic action, or big declarations. It is small scale, day to day stuff and it is the fabric of my life. There is nothing in this I can use as a power base – it does not give me magical power, or uncanny insight, or the backing of Gods. It does not give me anything to call upon for my own ends. What it does give me is a keen sense of the numinous in the familiar, and a lot of encounters with wild beings.

This is not a path. This is a relationship with a place, in which there are many paths that I walk in the most literal sense of the words. I walk the paths of the place where I live. I walk, and I encounter and I experience. I do not transcend, or progress, or ascend, or become enlightened. I’m just another mammal moving through the trees. I’ve been exploring Druidry for about sixteen years now. I’ve done the OBOD course, I’ve stood in big public rituals, I’ve hung out with The Druid Network, I’ve read a lot of books. What I want from Druidry is my own intimate relationship with the world, and increasingly, that’s what I’ve got.

On Sunday, one of the people who came to my talk asked if I’d got a book on the subject. I don’t, but I’m seriously considering writing one. It will likely be a slow process, and if I do it, it will take a year or more, most likely. I’m not sure how attractive a book it would be – I can’t offer power, or conventional magic, or progress or status with this kind of work. I know at the same time that this whole way of being and doing is working really well for me and that there could be a few other people who would be interested to know what I’ve done and how I’ve gone about it.

So I’m just floating it out there to see if this is something I should try and write.


Writing Druidry, living Druidry

To what degree is it fair to say that writing about Druidry is Druidry? Clearly it can’t be the entirety of what you do – or you wouldn’t have anything to write about! With creativity and the bard path very much part of modern Druidry, it makes sense that writing can be part of how we explore spirituality.

My experience has been that when I’m writing, I get flashes of inspiration that impact on the rest of my druiding. Things rise up that I’ve not seen before. Threads pull together to create a meaningful picture. Possibilities emerge as I reflect on my experiences. Patterns suggest themselves. When I challenge myself to answer questions, I learn things about how I think. Writing is a process of reflection that brings cohesion to what I know.

I use the written word to share my experiences with other people – first and foremost I do that on this blog, but I’ve also written books (available from places that sell books). I find there’s an ongoing tension between sharing what I experience and avoiding dogma or giving myself too much authority. I like that tension, I try to stay alert to it.

I think I benefit personally from the challenges of trying to express experience in words. I don’t feel I lose anything or dis-enchant myself by exploring the mechanics, but that might not be true for everyone. I recognise that there is also sometimes a tension between lived Druidry and written Druidry and that too much of the one can mean there’s very little space for the other.

I’ve also found that over time, as I’ve deliberately brought more ideas from Druidry into my daily life, that it gets harder to separate out what is ‘Druidry’ and what is ‘life’ and I’m never sure if that’s even a relevant question to ask. I keep asking it because I don’t want to get complacent about what I’m doing, or make lazy assumptions that my life is Druidry and therefore I can just do anything and call it Druidry and this will somehow be fine.

Of course it all gets very meta. A blog post in which I write about writing. I suspect that the issue of how I write about Druidry and what role that holds in my path should be explored through interpretive dance, or action painting, or something a bit less wordy. I keep coming back to words though. I’m a story telling creature, and part of what I do is try to tell a story to myself about what on earth is going on in my life right now.


Druid seeks bat

For the coming weeks, I’m in the blessed and exciting position of doing some bat surveys at night. A charity that acts to protect wildlife in my area is surveying ahead of work on one of the local cycle paths, and my household have stepped up to do some night surveying. We’re looking for mammals, listening for owls, and we have bat detectors to take out.

This is going to be what we do on Saturday nights for some weeks now. There are two kinds of bat – pipistrelles and noctules, who appear at sunset – which at the moment is a bit before 9pm. Other bats won’t show up until it’s actually dark – after half past nine, and getting later all the time. For me, this means a relatively late night.

Our first survey was a great success – we identified lots of pipistrelles and noctules. You can identify a lot of bat species from the frequency at which they emit sound. Pipistrelles it turns out are much more variable in the sound emissions, but as we also saw them in the twilight, we can be confident about identifying them. We also saw a roe deer with a very small fawn, which was exciting.

This is very much what I want from my Druidry at the moment. Direct encounters with the wild world. Deepening my relationship with my locality. Doing something that helps protect what is wild in my locality. Sharing all of this with lovely people. Coming back from the surveying with good stories to tell.


Trees, Druids and life after Ogham

Tree-related spirituality in Druidry may first present itself to us as ogham – an old listing system, for which tree lists are just one of the many options. Ogham is problematic in terms of who used it when and for what. I think it’s much more problematic in terms of how we use it now.

For me, the single biggest problem is the absence of the small leafed lime. Most of us in the UK are more familiar with the large leafed lime, brought in by the Victorians to decorate parks and cities. Once upon a time, the small leafed lime share with oak the role of main woodland trees. It was a massive part of our ancient woodland, but it served no purpose for humans, while oaks do. Woodland management favoured oaks, and the small leafed lime is a rarity these days. Why is it missing from the supposedly ancient ogham list of ancient trees?

There’s a lot missing. Beech, juniper, evergreen oak, chestnut, guelder rose, larch, horse chestnut, sycamore, field maple, wild fruit trees other than apples. Willow is not a single tree, but a whole family with many different characteristics, but we only get one generic willow.

Of course if you live somewhere other than northern Europe, your most important trees may well be missing. The less like Europe your environment is, the less relevant the ogham list will be. As a Druid, you need to connect with what’s around you. It’s interesting to learn about ancestral things, but first and foremost, a Druid must relate to the landscape they inhabit and all that lives in it.

The ogham lists give us meanings associated with trees. What we don’t get is the history of the tree, which other trees it is related to. We don’t get the properties inherent in the wood, and the uses the trees have been put to and how this has affected them, and the humans using them. We don’t get much folklore, either. We don’t get the folklore of specific ancient trees. It’s all a bit generic. It leaves me wondering why our ancestors would make a list of trees that didn’t include much about their inherent properties.

What would be far more productive, would be a personal list of local trees. From there, a person could compile whatever they needed to know in terms of use, history, place in local eco-systems and folklore, including local folklore.

If you aren’t the list making type, a relationship with actual trees that live around you is a much more valuable thing to pursue than the learning of ancient lists that have no immediate relevance for you.


Experimentation or dedication?

As we go through life, we need space to change our minds and explore new directions. This is true of jobs, romantic attachments, friendships, politics, spirituality, where we live, how we live – everything. There is no magic formula to tell us how much we should experiment, or when we should dig in.

Experimentation brings the excitement of new experience and possibility. It may take us towards what we most need and desire. On the other hand, we may be so hooked on novelty that we can’t commit to anything. We may use changes of direction as a way of avoiding ever finishing anything or doing it properly. We may flit and skim, never making much of anything and never finding anything truly satisfying.

Dedication brings depth of insight, continuity and a feeling of rootedness. It can take courage and emotional investment to stay with anything for the long term, and because that asks more of us, it can also give us more. On the downside, dedication can become the empty repetition of habit, it can mean stasis, lack of inspiration. It may not offer real depth at all if we no longer have any passion for it but can’t be bothered to change.

I think it’s as well to have some areas of life that are open to experimentation, and some areas of life that offer stability. These might get swapped round over time, but feeling either that everything is still, or everything is in motion isn’t good.

I experimented once with a change of landscape and it taught me that I need to be on the edge of the Cotswolds, in sighting distance of the Severn. I need that to be a constant in my life. I need creativity to be a constant, but I also need there to be plenty of room for experiment there. Something similar happens with Druidry – it is a constant, but within it I am always exploring. I think dedication works best when it isn’t stasis, when you are involved in something that holds you but also allows you to grow and change within it.

It can take time and a lot of experimenting to find the things you want to dedicate to. My default position is not to judge anyone else over this. A private journey is only my business if it directly impacts on me. But I do wonder sometimes, when I see people who are presenting as experts, and who are suddenly experts in a new thing that’s more fashionable, or who had stopped being centre stage with the old thing. Again, there are natural shifts and progressions in anyone’s life, but certain kinds of shifting about will always look like marketing strategies, to me.


Windows for Druids

I like the idea of going outside every day and spending time under the sky. When I can do it, this is a key part of my Druidry. However, it’s not always an option – extreme weather, illness and simply not having enough energy all keep me housebound at times. This has taught me to be uneasy about any practice that depends on being able to get out.

I’m also wary of what I’ve come to think of as living room Druidry. This is where you do all the rituals and meditations inside based on an intellectual understanding of what nature is and what bits of it mean. This doesn’t have to be a consequence of limited options, and may be a deliberate choice. When nature is abstract, you can celebrate the seasons according to when the wheel should have turned rather than struggling to work out if it has. You don’t get dirty, and no one will interrupt you. This is nature as an idea, not lived experience.

Windows make more direct encounters possible in times of limited options. I can sit at my window to watch the snow or rain falling, to watch the impact of high winds on the trees around me. I can watch the birds, and sometimes I’ve seen foxes go by as well.

With the window open, I can reliably hear bird song and flowing water. I can smell the air from outside. Even with windows shut, if I keep my household quiet, I can still make out the sounds of birds – including owls at night. If I don’t overwhelm my space with artificial noise and light, and if I direct at least some of my attention outwards, my home ceases to be a place cut off from nature. I can make the boundaries permeable.

Even the least promising window will reveal something of the sky – even if its only how the light falls, or when the darkness creeps in. There is so much to gain from experiencing nature as it manifests around you, rather than letting it become something abstract, or something you imagine happening somewhere else.