Much of modern Druidry comes not from the ancient Druids, but from the revival Druids – and that great fraudster Iolo Morganwg in particular. The period of revival Druidry (read Ronald Hutton if this is unfamiliar territory) was both mad and wild. Speculation about ancient sites, mediaeval texts, invention of texts by Morganwg, and a wider culture full of secret societies, curious regalia and funny handshakes made for a crazy sort of time.
These days we have far better scholarship and everything has settled down a bit. While I’m all in favour of the more rigorous scholarship, we have lost something. That energy of mad creativity has gone, on the whole. Now, back in the day if you wanted to get all inventive you’d probably start by inventing an even more ancient and venerable history for you group, book, dining table, than anyone else had in order to establish seniority. I think we all know what the score is now, so those games should not be revived unless you’re being shamelessly tongue in cheek about the whole thing. (With all due reference to my most excellent colleagues, the Time-travelling Order of Ancient Druids, or Toads, definitively more ancient than anyone else!)
It is possible to innovate honestly, without needing to imagine a historical basis. We might look to our relationship with our specific bit of land, to invent a Druidry that is totally about where we are, responding to local flora, fauna, seasons and quirks. We might look at our ancestors of land, and innovate based on them. We might think about what else goes on where we are, and Druid our way into it. This would in turn inform how we do ritual and everything else.
The revival folk went in for costume in a way that puts our occasional white robes to shame. I’m not wild for robes, they aren’t very practical, but the whole ‘robes’ thing comes from a revival mistake about statues of Greek philosophers (Hutton again). We don’t really have a strong, exciting Druid aesthetic, in terms of how we might dress, or what imagery we stick on our book covers, or next to articles. Trees feature a lot, but there is no reason to get comfy with what is, in essence, a pretty dull visual tradition at the moment. We could do something. We could invent something new. We could have a really cool Druid aesthetic.
While we’re on the subject, we don’t have many prayers, or Druidic works of fiction either. We don’t have enough teachers or celebrants, and we don’t do enough real world stuff (yes, I know, I’m blogging….) We’ve settled into this comfy place of 8 festivals, a couple of prayers, a fairly staid way of doing ritual, and optional white robes. We’re rather inoffensive, and if you look at us collectively, we are a lot more bland than our Druid revival ancestors.
About the only thing you cannot safely accuse the revival era Druids of being, was bland.
Which brings me round to Steampunk, anachronism, fakelore and making stuff up. (What is a Secret Order of Steampunk Druids for, anyway?) If you aren’t mad for Steampunk, we can just come back to that central theme of the awen, inspiration and creativity. We can bring all that stuff to how we do our Druidry. We don’t have to get everything we do out of books or from courses. We don’t have to do it the way everyone else does it. Most importantly, that ‘stuff we all do’ the truth against the world and swearing by peace and love to stand, the awen and all that? Revival Druidry, for the greater part. Not ancient Druidry, not unassailable truth about what it means to be a Druid, just people making stuff up. We are people, and we ought to be perfectly capable of making stuff up.
That’s an invitation to listen deeply, to respond, to understand, to see the need and answer it. If Druidry is more, really, than people making stuff up and wearing silly costumes, then it comes from somewhere. It comes from the land and our experience of being human. It comes, I think, from deliberate and soulful interaction with the world. We should be doing that thing. I want to look to the revival folk for the inspiration of their energy and creativity, not to replicate what they were playing with.