Tag Archives: alcohol

What shall we do with the drunken Druid?

This post is prompted by something Halo Quin wrote on her blog about being put off by early experiences of drunken Druid rituals – you can read that here –  https://haloquin.net/2016/09/14/the-trouble-with-druids/ Like Halo, I wouldn’t feel easy being at a ritual where those in charge were drunk. I would also be uncomfortable if someone turned up to my ritual drunk, because risks are increased, and its harder to hold spaces effectively when people are off their faces.

Drunkenness in Druidry…  I’ll start by saying I’m no sort of puritan, and alcohol infused, trance inducing dancing was, at one point in my life, rather important to me. It seems to me to be all about time and place.

I’ve never run a ritual while drunk. For me, being in charge includes a sense of responsibility for the wellbeing – physical and spiritual – of the people who have trusted me enough to come and stand in my circle. Holding a circle takes all of my concentration, alcohol would undermine that, so I do ritual sober. If there’s a toasting goblet doing the rounds at the end when I no longer need to be so totally focused, I will participate enthusiastically, and I have come out of a few rituals a bit merry. But not so merry that I couldn’t safely handle things.

Alcohol doesn’t always mix well with being out in the dark in even slightly wild places. It doesn’t mix with driving (not an issue for me, but many people do drive to and from rituals). A glass raised to the gods isn’t likely to cause you problems, but for most of us there’s quite a large distance between taking a drink, and being drunk. It’s important, with this, to know yourself and know what you can safely do.

There are predators operating within the Pagan community. Alcohol impacts on our ability to make good judgements and our capacity to consent. Being drunk in a ritual you are not running may compromise your ability to make safe choices. Unless you are very sure of the people you are working with, staying free of all substances is in your best interests. If you want to do work that calls for concentration – spells for example – you can’t afford to imbibe anything that will dull your wits.

There are times when being merry, tipsy or full on drunk can be a joy. Times of celebration and friendship. There are times to party, and to go wild, and for anyone who wants it, alcohol can play a helpful part of this. But if you’re going to get falling down drunk, better to do it with a bunch of people you can trust in a place where that isn’t going to cause you, or anyone else, any significant problems. Nature kills careless people. Defining parties and rituals as separate activities means we can have all the things, and people can make informed decisions about what they’re getting into.

Shamanic traditions have a place for intoxication. However, shamanic traditions frame intoxication with ritual, with narratives and people in supporting roles, and safe places in which to take your journey. If you want to use an intoxicant for spiritual purposes, it makes sense to do the research, make the right holding space for it or work with someone more experienced.

Getting drunk tends to amplify things. If we think we’re powerful sorcerers and mighty Druids and we get rat-arsed, the odds are that we will feel that even more keenly. The drink may be talking, but the voice of spirits we’re hearing may not be the spirits we were thinking of connecting with. To be pissed as a newt is not to be in deep connection with your newty spirit guide. It is easy to feel that we need intoxicants to take us out of our normal, banal headspaces, but going this route creates a crutch, and may not be in our interests.

The question, always, is ‘what am I doing this for?’ If you can answer that honestly, and face up to your own reasons and desires, things will likely be fine. If you can’t, then no matter how much apparent virtue or alleged vice there is in your chosen path, your lack of self-honesty will trip you up.

Druidry and Drunkenness

There are some for whom the image of Druidry is inexorably linked to excessive alcohol consumption. I’ve heard plenty of comments, and also Paul Mitchell’s wonderful song ‘I’m a much better Pagan when I am pissed’ but I’ve also never been in a Druid gathering where there’s been anything beyond merriness. It could be that I’m too obviously sober to get invited to that sort of gathering in the first place, of course.

I have no problem with drunkenness as a life experience. Most of us do it some time or another. It’s very hard to discover where your natural boundaries are without testing them. I’ve tested mine. I’ve explored what inebriation does to my mind and body, and seen what it does to other people. I’ve never been prepared to use it as an excuse to behave in ways that I wouldn’t the rest of the time. My suspicion is that many people who claim they were so drunk they didn’t know what they were doing, are lying, to themselves as much as anyone else. I’ve been falling over drunk. I’ve never done anything voluntarily that I wouldn’t have done when sober. Failures of co-ordination don’t count, I think. Starting fights, getting off with people you claim you wouldn’t normally go near, vandalising stuff… if you’re together enough to do any of these things, you are choosing.

I use alcohol in ritual. I particularly like the more Heathen tradition of passing round a mead horn and making toasts. It’s a very easy thing, so long as the horn goes round a couple of times even the most nervous and inexperienced person usually manages to say something. A simple toasting of the company, the gods, the ancestors… it doesn’t take much. I think getting everyone actively involved is an important aspect of ritual, and a little alcoholic toasting can make this happen. It’s also very communal and bonding, sharing the cup, and the diseases… there’s an intimacy to it that has a value. I’ve been in plenty of toasting situations where the non-drivers have become merry, and this has not detracted from the ritual at all. Group rituals, especially open ones, are not the place for very deep and very quiet introspective work anyway, so there’s nothing to lose.

The Greeks had Dionysus, and I’m sure his equivalent crops up in many other cultures too. The God of the vine whose blood is quite literally wine, and who is celebrated with excessive consumption. The traditions of my own lands include periods of misrule and mayhem, a collective letting down of hair and venting of whatever you need to get out of your system. Drunkenness has a place in misrule, in celebration, ritualised rule/taboo breaking. More modest degrees of merriment have a place in social bonding and let’s face it, being slightly drunk in the right context is a lot of fun.

Falling over drunk is not very amusing, although the spectators can get a few laughs at your expense. Yes, I once got so drunk that I fell off my high heels into a book case, and was covered in bruises the next day. I learned from this. I don’t wear stupid shoes any more. I also don’t get that drunk anymore for the very simple reason that it isn’t fun. Throwing up isn’t fun – not done that one, but have helped enough other people deal with booze induced spewing. Being unable to protect yourself from sexual predation isn’t fun and while the onus should not be on anyone to avoid becoming a victim, the sad reality is that when you are off your face, you are desperately vulnerable to violence, theft, sexual abuse and really evil practical jokes.

Changes of perception and brain functioning can make for spiritual experiences. I’ve never felt moved to try and use alcohol this way, but assume it’s feasible. It is after all a manifestation of nature to take within the body, and it has been deemed to be the blood of Gods, so there is justification for exploring the spiritual impact of booze. However, a thing is what you make of it. You’re only likely to get an alcohol induced spiritual experience if you set out in search of one. Rolling out of a bar to vomit in a back alley is unlikely to give you a moment of numinous wonder.

Of course there’s no one tidy answer here. There are times and spaces for all things. There is room in Druidry for times of excess. Balance is not about just holding the safe middle ground. You can create balance through extremes as well. The question to ask is, do your actions serve you? Are you getting something out of them? If alcohol brings merriness, social lubrication and a warm fuzzy feeling of connection to everyone else, then why not? If you are in the business of poisoning yourself and acting out, then there are problems. There’s a Roman motto, that comes out as ‘in wine, truth’. It isn’t the truth of the vine that counts here, it’s the truth of who you are and what you do with it.