Tag Archives: druid philosophy

Druidry and western philosophy

I find myself once again thinking about the relationship between philosophy and Druidry.

Modern philosophy grew out of a tradition that goes right back to the ancient Greeks. Not the ancient Celts. Most of what we know about ancient Celtic philosophy comes from what we can extrapolate from Roman writing and mediaeval texts. At best, it’s an inexact science, but I think it would be entirely fair to say that whatever Celtic (and therefore ancient Druidic) philosophy looked like, it did not look like the history of philosophy that we now have. There’s plenty of Roman writing to suggest that the Celts had their own philosophers, and that the Druids were the thinking classes. But what did they think?

As a modern Druid, I felt pretty much obliged to poke around in philosophy. I did not enjoy the experience. To me, what I encountered felt too sterile, too abstract. That which pre-dates science is in many ways proto-science, trying to make sense of reality. In many ways the models we have now, based on empiricism, research and observation, are better models than the random guesswork of the ancients. So, while there’s an element of academic interest, it does feel a bit pointless to me getting bogged down in the history of human guesswork and confusion. I would rather turn to psychology research to ponder the workings of the human mind, than to philosophy, which depends almost exclusively on introspection and self reporting to try and make sense of mental phenomena. Again, philosophy was the proto-science for psychology. I am not at all fascinated by all the debates spawned by Christianity. I am sad about the history of fear that goes with how the church responded to thinking, I feel it’s useful to know the gist, but I have finite time, and learning the ins and outs of who burned whom when and for what bit of heresy, does not inspire me.

My feeling, undereducated in this area as I am, is that philosophy as a subject rapidly gets bogged down in its own language and habits of thought. To someone who is not an initiate of the mysteries, encountering it is often bewildering and frustrating. I ask this, what does it achieve? Are the dominant thought forms of our times driven by academic philosophy? Or by the mentality of the marketplace? Are we driven by a desire for truth, or political expediency? There seems to me to be a horrible gap between where academic philosophy goes, and where the unconsciously held philosophies that guide us all, get their power from.  I guess that makes me more interested in social science, some kind of anthropology of the here and now.

Being able to think, question and reason are liberating, powerful tools that can help us fight superstition, stupidity, short term thinking and self destructive behaviours. Most people will not turn to Plato or Spinoza for that.

I confess that I’m not that interested in who exactly came up with what about where ideas come from when pondering the issue thousands of years ago. I care about how people here, and now, think, and don’t think. I don’t see any place for Druidry, modern or historical, in the tradition we’ve got, and I wonder about the potential for new lines of philosophy. What happens if we take what we know, and start asking all the basic questions about how and why again, looking at now, looking at the future not the past, looking at need, and what would help rather than throwing energy into pondering impossible intangibles that do not help us to be better people, live richer lives or take better care of what is around us. I don’t give a shit about Kant. I don’t think he can tell me how to turn public thinking away from short term profit towards long term survival.

We need a Druid philosophy stream that is not about mainstream academic philosophy, but is about us, here and now. Maybe all that means is that we need to keep asking awkward questions in public places and challenging each other to come up with something resembling answers.

Two druids, three theories

Put a group of druids together, or any kind of pagans for that matter, and there tend to be more ideas floating about than there are individuals to attach them to. I’m one of those people who often has a number of theories about everything, and while I like testing them against other people’s views, and refining them, running into full on dogma frustrates the hell out of me.

One of the aspects of druidry to first attract me was the philosophical element. I’ve heard plenty of people describe druidry as being a philosophy, but once you start poking around, that turns out to be different to say, stoicism or existentialism. I’ve come to the conclusion that by usual definitions, druidry is not a philosophy. Rather, it is a spiritual path that inspires people towards being philosophical. That’s a huge distinction. A philosophy is something you can take on board and live by, a coherent system you may be able to learn in its entirety from an external source. Being philosophical is an ongoing dedication to asking ‘why?’ amongst other things, a continual process of wondering, seeking, trying to make sense. This, for me, is far more exciting than finding a way of doing things and adopting it.

There are dogmatic druids out there. Some of them make their homes in forums, where they wait to pounce on the unsuspecting and beat them over the head with a certain interpretation. I spent a while experiencing that, and moved on out of boredom. Now, I really like hearing other people’s theories, but what I don’t enjoy so much is people who get funny when you try and ask good questions about the whys and wherefores of a stance. “Because I feel it, or believe it” is a good enough answer for me, I don’t need hard evidence, but an understanding of why someone has adopted a position makes it easier to see in context and contemplate.

My favourite kind of philosophical debating is precisely not like some kind of bear baiting arena. I enjoy most, the company of thinkers who do not seem to have it all figured out either and enjoy batting ideas about to see how they bounce of others. You can get at ideas by bashing two opposing thought forms together until a third one appears. It’s not the only way. You can even sit down with someone who sees things totally differently and have that same sharing, exploring process, so long as those involved are not excessively confident that they have all the right answers already. You can’t have a real discussion with someone who knows it all. You can be lectured by them, but nothing else. I lived for some time with someone who lectured, and it did little to enhance my understanding of the world. It was frustrating, inhibiting and ultimately pointless. Argument for the sake of it is a way of passing the time, but little else. I‘m more interested in the kind of dialogue that gives me insight, helps me learn how to do a better job of being both a human, and a druid.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no ultimate answers to the questions of life, the universe, and everything (aside from 42!). The experience of learning something always (as far as I can tell) opens up more uncertainties than it answers. For each answer, there are yet more questions about why it is this way and not another, whether it could change, how it works, and what to do with it. There is no available end point of total knowledge. I think the same is true of spirituality, that there is no point of total enlightenment out there, there is an infinity of awareness to explore and there will always be new layers to work through, new levels of consciousness. It’s a thought that I worked up to over a long period of deliberately thinking and discussing the subject. I rather like it. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but that doesn’t matter, because it works as a thing I can live with. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really want reality to be tidy, like a puzzle to be solved. I like the uncertainties and the feeling that there will always be more questions than answers. I also like the idea that there are an infinite number of infinities, all of different sizes, which is curious, because as a child the notion of infinity scared me witless.

I think it works better not to take druidry as ‘a philosophy’ and imagine that we have been given the ideas to live by. Life is so much more interesting when you start from a position of uncertainty, with an intention to explore. We play and poke reality. We talk to it, listen to it, ask it questions it is unable, or unwilling to answer for us, and construct ever changing ideas about what it’s all for and how best to engage with it. It’s like being in a conversation with everything. With every passing day I see relationship as being somehow even more intrinsic to my druidry than it was before. I think this kind of approach keeps that relationship with everything alive and keen, in ways that I assume I will need to keep exploring for the rest of my life. And possibly afterwards as well. Who knows?