I recently watched this charming documentary, and can recommend doing so if you get a chance.
Fungi are wonderful and for anyone interested in the natural world. The way in which they interact with other forms of life will be resonant for Druids. We have been talking for decades about the web of life and the interconnectedness of all things. We’ve talked about it as a magical concept. Fungi are the physical embodiment of this idea, they are the network connecting life.
One of the concepts from this film is that cooperation is basically how reality works. The script includes observations about the importance of community, and identifies community as an inter-species thing. It offers us more than human co-operation. There were words about the generosity of nature, and about living beings working together cooperatively for mutual benefit.
It comforts me to think that cooperation isn’t just intrinsic to human success, but also is fundamental to how life exists. It means that the people pushing the other way, towards competition and cruelty, are simply wrong. Reality won’t change to let them have it their own way. Collaboration shapes life, and people can either engage with that to their benefit, or not. We won’t be able to make selfishness into the driving force of existence.
When I first came to Druidry, something like twenty years ago, my sense of what modern Druids did was informed by observation. Clearly the first thing to do was join a Grove and/or a Druid order. Ideally a Grove belonging to the Druid Order. In practice it’s often a lot more complicated of course!
Joining a Grove meant showing up for regular meetings (monthly, for me) and attending festivals through the year. Study and practice was to some degree dictated by the Grove. I also went to bigger Druid gatherings at Avebury and Stonehenge.
It was clear from early on that people came to Druidry with all kinds of different intentions. Some people just wanted a community in which to celebrate the cycles of the seasons. Some were following a specific calling within Druidry – to be bards, or healers, herbalists, activists, and so forth. Some would become ritualists and celebrants and lead groups themselves. There weren’t so many authors back then, but it was clear that writing, speaking at events and teaching were part of what some Druids were called to do. Especially those Druids who were going to be Big Name Druids.
I grasped early on the importance of service and volunteering. I did quite a lot of that, one way and another. Curiously, I also had a strong sense that I should be stepping up. I ended up with a lot of students of my own – as a twenty something proto-Druid it turned out that I knew more myth, folklore, music, magic, meditation and nature stuff than many Pagans who were a lot older than me. There were a lot of people around me who were entirely new to Paganism and who wanted to learn, and so I stepped up as best I could. I led rituals and workshops and moots and all sorts of things – often because despite being fairly young and not that experienced, I was often the most experienced person to hand.
Doing all the things that might make a person a modern Druid is bloody hard work, though. There are people who make it pay, but I certainly wasn’t one of those. Over the years, I started to look harder at what of the work made sense to me – I cut back on teaching. I stepped away from celebrant work, which is prohibitively difficult if you don’t drive, and I’m honestly not theatrical enough. I became less interested in leadership roles.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many other Druids of my acquaintance seem to have walked a comparable path and are undertaking to Druid in quieter ways, focusing on the bits of the path that truly interest them and not trying to perform a large and complex role. It means diversity, and not so many of the people aspiring to be Big Name folk and not so much emphasis on that. More sharing and conversation, less authority. I like it better.
I cannot, for the life of me, figure out now why twenty-something me thought that aspiring to be a Big Name Druid was even slightly attractive. I knew what kind of level of work was required and I wasn’t averse, back then, to martyring myself, but I was never mercenary enough to make it work financially. I was never pushy enough to take up enough space. I was never that into authority. But, I had a weird feeling it was what I was supposed to be doing. Perhaps at the time, it was what I needed to be aiming for, but I’m a lot more comfortable for having since let go of all that.
Dana O’Driscoll’s Sacred Actions is a rare example of a book I think everyone should read. It’s written for Pagans and Druids, but I think there are lot of people who simply care about the natural world who would also benefit greatly from this book.
This is a book about how to embed not just sustainable practices in your spiritual and daily life, but also how to be restorative. It’s not enough to be sustainable. The idea of being regenerative is exciting, and the book as a whole has a hopeful, encouraging tone and is a good antidote to despair and distress.
You could take this as a manual for a year long project, or you could just read it all and pick the bits that work for you – there’s plenty of inspiration and flexibility here. Author Dana is a longstanding Druid, with a wide range of life experiences. The result is a beautifully written book that is pragmatic, realistic and recognises the breadth and limitations you might be facing. It is as applicable for urban Pagans in small spaces as it is for those who can run off and start an organic homestead, and all places in between. There’s attention to issues of wealth and privilege, and this is an excellent piece of writing for not excluding anyone or assuming much about available resources.
The book follows the wheel of the year, and the 8 festivals familiar to most modern Pagans. You could draw on this material to enrich your own seasonal celebrations, there would be no difficulty setting it alongside a different set of celebrations, either. If celebrating the festivals isn’t part of how you do your Paganism, that will also be fine, you can make this entirely about action without any need for ritual.
Each festival explores an area of thinking and action and looks at how to bring this into your daily life, and spiritual life. It’s a book that is very much about embedding the spiritual in the everyday, and increasing earth awareness and feelings of interconnectedness.
If you’ve been a deliberate eco-Pagan for some time, you might find some of the content familiar. However, this is a book with so many ideas in it, that the odds are good of finding new things to bring into your life. There are original rituals and triads here, and content for contemplation and meditation that will enrich any Druidic practice. I really like the emphasis on meditation as an action, and using meditation to embed ideas, reflect on relationships and deepen understanding. These are the most valuable meditation pointers I’ve seen in a very long time.
The author writes from her own experience, which means that the book has most to offer a Pagan in similar circumstances – someone living in North America. If that’s not your situation, there is still a great deal to gain from this book, you’re just going to have to do extra work to find out about relevant plants and groups where you live, for example. As a UK dwelling reader I enjoyed the decision to make the content specific – in many ways, specific details provide a better map for those of us outside the area of interest, than vague content that doesn’t really give anything precise to anyone.
If you need inspiring and uplifting right now, this book is for you. If you need help finding out how to live a life that is regenerative, and more than sustainable, this book is for you. If you are even slightly interested in earth based spirituality, this book is for you. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s made me realise a lot about what is most important to me in terms of Druidry – connection, care, community, responsibility, action, living our values, and uplifting each other so that we can all do better.
In witchcraft, keeping silent can be an important part of what you do. In Druidry however, I think it is more powerful and important to keep talking. Our magic doesn’t depend on secrecy anything like as much as it depends on communicating. Bard magic is very much not about keeping silent.
Talking, writing and communicating are key parts of activism. If you’re interested in peaceful protest and non-violent ways of making change, then it has to be all about communication. Education, information sharing, awareness raising – it all counts. Speaking truth to power, speaking personal truth to anyone who needs to hear it – this is all part of the Druid’s work. In many circumstances, silence is complicity.
There is magic in what we can share with each other. We can enchant, uplift, support and encourage each other with music and with words. We can put beauty into the world, comfort the uncomfortable, challenge the people who are too comfortable.
Druidry tends not to be secretive. We meet in daylight, often, we meet in public places. Many Druid groups offer public ritual at least some of the time. The heart of our magic is inspiration and for many people its also found in the transformative power of ritual. This is the kind of magic where to keep talking is more powerful than to keep silent. We all benefit from ideas shared and knowledge passed on.
Some years ago, I donated some of my poetry to The Druid Network – it’s still there, with ‘Bryn’ on it as a name. Bryn is my first name (Brynneth, for long) – I mostly use Nimue when I’m writing (my middle name) because Bryn Brown doesn’t quite have the right swing as an author name. In everyday life I use both names interchangeably and am happy to have people call me whichever they prefer.
Recently, I had a contact via the Druid Network from a fantastic Druid chap who found some of that poetry and has recorded some of my work. I love his reading, and the richness his voice brings to my words. So, over to Davog Rynne…
This is a process I’ve been through a few times now. When I’m engaging with Druidry in a deliberate way, what that means is that I’ll be trying to embed something into my life. Inevitably there was a lot of this early on in following the path. The more successful a person is at embedding their spiritual work into their life, the less visible it becomes.
If you have a prayer practice, if meditation is part of your life, if you live in a contemplative way, if you deliberately engage with nature, and serve in what ways you can… it can become strangely invisible. A ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ sort of situation, perhaps.
I go through phases of feeling not very Druidy at all. Often what happens is I’ll then run into another Druid online talking about the history, or the mythology and it will occur to me that I do know a fair bit of this stuff, and that I am living my principles and maybe it’s ok.
Public ritual seems to be the best antidote to these small patches of crisis. Standing together in circle there’s chance to affirm our own journeys and practices, and to remind ourselves and each other what it is that we do, and who we are. There aren’t many things that it is easier to do on your own, I think. Humans thrive on recognition from other humans, from feelings of belonging and involvement. However solitary your path is, there’s something really helpful about getting to check in with other Druids now and then for the affirmation that what you do does indeed make some kind of sense, and does look like Druidry.
It’s nearly 9am as I write this. I’ve listened to the dawn chorus, I’ve been outside in the sun. I’ve held a creative space to nurture someone else’s Awen. I’ve done a teensy bit of online tree activism. I’ve thought about a lot of things deeply, including how best to talk about Neo-Paganism and what it might be useful to say during a talk I’ve been asked to give.
Every now and then I persuade myself that being a Druid is clearly something more glamorous and fantastical than I am capable of. But, that may have a lot more to do with my sense of self than it does with what showing up as a Druid on a daily basis looks like. It’s not only about having fantastic photos of your gorgeous self to put on social media – although that can be an effective way of inspiring people and adding beauty to the world. There’s room. There’s room for what I do and for the sort of person I am.
This has all led me to ask questions about what I might do for myself that would allow me to feel specialness and take more joy in the path. What can I give to myself? What can I do that will help me feel more overtly Druidic? I’m aware I have feelings that if I’m enjoying something too much I’m probably doing it wrong, or am not entitled to that, but this is a story that could be changed. What could I do that would allow me to enjoy being me a bit more?
I suppose I will jump right in here with both feet. I could call this post Unpopular Opinions.
I don’t think she was.
There are a few ideas about the Irish goddess Brigit that are popularly accepted as ancient but which appear to be modern in origin, often arising from the unsupported speculations of Victorian thinkers, and which have fallen out of favour among Irish scholars. One is that Saint Brigit is an outgrowth of the goddess, that the cult of the goddess was either absorbed into the saint’s, or the saint was herself a druid who, with her sisters in druidry, was a disciple of the goddess. In this role it is conjectured that she took on the goddess’s name, perhaps as a title. Under pressure from mounting Christianity, say some versions of the story, they converted to that faith but retained their goddess in the traditions and practices that they carried forward in her saintly guise. Thus, the two cults ran seamlessly together.
I have been a devotee of Brigit since the early 1980s. At that time, I didn’t hear that she might have been a druid. But I did absolutely accept that the cult of Saint Brigit had absorbed major aspects of the goddess’s, and that Saint Brigit and her sisters tended a perpetual flame that was not extinguished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, over a millennium after she lived. That last idea both excited and enraged me – how wonderful to have such a communal veneration, and how terrible to have it destroyed. It was this story that inspired me to start the Daughters of the Flame in 1993, to bring Brigit’s fire back to the world.
Ever since I first met Brigit she has beguiled me. I’ve made a point of reading everything about her that I can in order to expand my understanding and help me deepen my connection with her. So it was with some discomfort that I began to read things which made me question my view of the goddess to whom I was devoted. My concern kicked into high gear with Erynn Rowan Laurie’s fine essay, “Queering the Flame – Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities.” Erynn did the work of digging into the whole idea of Brigit and her flame, in part because of a dispute between different practitioners over whether men should tend it. I will refer to her article again below, but first I want to address the idea of a druid sect being forced to convert in Brigit’s day, and the place of perpetual flames in the Irish landscape.
At the time of Saint Brigit, Ireland was very early in its transition from pagan to Christian. She is credited with travelling the country and establishing religious communities, but these were not simply additions to an already flourishing network of Christian monastic houses; they were among the first seen in Ireland. Until this change, women religious stayed with their families while practicing their faith. Though Palladius and others had come to tend the scattered faithful, Christians were few, and there is no evidence of the kind of brutal forced conversions that happened in other areas of Europe. It seems highly unlikely, especially at such an early time, that any druidic or pagan community would have felt such pressure to convert.
We know the Sisters of Saint Brigit tended a perpetual flame. How likely would the Sisters of Goddess Brigit have been to do so?
Classical writers, when speaking of the Celts, nowhere mention the tending of perpetual flames. Considering the importance of the perpetual flame in the rites of the Vestal Virgins in Rome, and the Roman habit of equating or assimilating local deities into their own, it is unlikely that such a practice would have gone unnoticed. But the Romans never reached Ireland. Might such fires have been unique to that land? Most of us will be aware of the large bonfires kindled on three of the four Quarter Days in Ireland. But were there instances of sacred flames tended all year round?
The best known, of course, belongs to Kildare. Saint Brigit lived in the 5th and 6th centuries, yet no mention of a perpetual flame at Kildare appears until the last years of the 12th century. The many Lives, prayers, masses, and so on written about or to her in the centuries between are silent on the topic. One Life, written by Cogitosus, presumably a monk of Kildare in the 7th century, describes her church in detail, but makes no mention of a fire temple or perpetual flame. We first read of Saint Brigit’s perpetual fire in the Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales, more than seven hundred years after Saint Brigit’s birth. He tells us that it had been tended originally by the saint herself and that now, when she has long since gone to heaven, she keeps it lit miraculously on the twentieth day of every cycle.
This is a good time to return to Erynn’s essay. It was there that I learned that Brigit’s monastery in Kildare was not the only Christian establishment in Ireland tending perpetual flames at the time, and that all of the others were tended by monks. (Erynn counted three. I have since learned that there were seven at least.) This information struck me hard, especially when coupled with the very late reporting of Brigit’s fire. It became difficult to avoid the idea that the perpetual flame was both late in origin and Christian, not an ancient holdover from the cult of a goddess. And as Erynn points out, the name itself, Kildare – Cill Dara – is a specifically Christian name, referring to the church (cell, or cill) of the oak (dara). In addition, there is no reference to it in the Dindshenchas, that repository of place names with sacral significance to the pre-Christian Irish. If it had been an important sanctuary for the goddess, she argues, it would be mentioned there.
That there was a goddess named Brigit, or Brig, perhaps several, I do believe. That Saint Brigit was modelled on her, or was her devotee, I sincerely doubt. This is not to say her cult wasn’t influenced by the themes of Irish goddesses, but which ones, and in what way, we don’t know.
Thus, I have had to adapt my own devotion, my own understanding of the goddess I have given my life to. This was not easy at first. Letting go of my original view of her felt threatening, as if my faith was a lie, which I knew it could not be. Over time, I realised that I was losing nothing. Or, in vernacular terms, I wasn’t losing a goddess, I was gaining a saint. The two2 Brigits now live side by side in my awareness. I give to the saint what is the saint’s, and to the goddesses what is theirs.
1 Laurie, Erynn Rowan. “Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities,” The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism. Megalithica Books [Stafford, England] (2015).
This essay is by far the most comprehensive examination of the topic that I have yet seen.
2 – or four, if you count all three goddess sisters, the daughters of the Dagda – and possibly more, if you count other Brigs in the literature, but we aren’t going there…
3 For more on these ideas and the background to support them:
Bitel, Lisa M. Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Oxford University Press (2009).
Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church: Ireland 450–1150. Oxford University Press (2002).
4 The poem “Dubthach Versus the Druid” is from Mael Brigde A Brigit of Ireland Devotional – Sun Among Stars, pg. 163. Moon Books (1 September 2021).
One of the most striking ideas in 20th century Paganism was that we could and perhaps should all be our own priests and priestesses. In many ways this is a wonderful idea: No submitting to someone else’s authority, no dogma, and the equality of all being able to speak to the divine on our own terms.
There are however, downsides. Being a priest or priestess is a lot of work. I’ve sauntered towards it in the past. What I notice is how often I wish there was somewhere I could easily, regularly go and just sit in, where showing up would feel meaningful. Sometimes, finding the ideas, energy and inspiration for maintaining your spiritual practice is hard. Sometimes guidance is needed, or just not having to carry the weight of the whole thing.
Of course historically, the people we tend to think of as Celts were not Druids – Druids were a group within that culture, performing specific roles. A Druid community made up entirely of people doing the Druid priest thing is going to have rather a lot of healers and diviners and all the rest of it, but perhaps not enough people focused on other things. It’s not easy being a Druid if you don’t have someone to be a Druid for. Historically, being a priest meant mediating between the divine and the people, it’s what defines that role. So, if we are all our own priests and priestess, what does that job even involve?
It’s not a question I find easy to answer. The thing about ministering is that we often need it doing for us – to be taught. To be guided through times of crisis. To be inspired and uplifted. To be healed when you need it, to be held and comforted by your path – these are really hard things to do for yourself.
Perhaps the answer is to aspire to be a part time Druid. Right now we need to re-skill and decarbonise, we need growers and makers and doers in all areas of life. To serve the earth or to serve your people or any deity associated with the natural world, I think you have to be considering climate chaos and the need to reduce consumption. We need the equality of having the right to stand as our own priests and priestesses and the right to be our own spiritual authority. That protects us all from dogma, and power gaming and gurus and all the problems that brings. But at the same time, we will all have days when we need ministering to, when we need someone else to be our Druid for a bit.
By not aspiring to be full time, and not aspiring to hold positions of authority, we might be able to have something egalitarian that is also supportive and that shares out all the different kinds of work that needs doing. I think that’s what I can see happening across the community – that full time Druids are rare and few people seem to aspire to that position any more.
Many of the things we might do as Druids to connect with nature have serious impacts on nature. Walk on the bare earth in the winter and you’ll add to erosion. With more people seeking green spaces as an antidote to lockdown, paths get wider, wild plants are deprived of space, and popular spots suffer from erosion from all the footfall.
If you get off the path to really commune, the odds of doing damage increases. The wildflowers, plants and even the soil structures underfoot will suffer, so will anything trying to live in them. We’re less of a strain on wild creatures when we are predictable. Getting off the path means getting into the space where someone else is trying to live. Nature is pushed to the limits as it is, we should question how ‘Druidic’ it really is to get out there and take more of it for our own benefit.
How far do you drive your car in order to commune with nature?
If you light a fire without using a fire dish, you are going to harm the ground. Your smoke may cause harm. Your fire may scorch leaves and branches. If you’ve got a well tended and responsibly set up fire pit in an appropriate place, fair enough. Mostly, having a fire ‘out in nature’ is harmful.
If you leave offerings they really had better be of some use to the wildlife in the area and not an active hazard. If you tie cloth to a tree it had better be 100% natural fibres, or it won’t break down for ages, and will constrict the tree’s growth. When it does eventually break down it will release plastics into the environment and it will hang about as a choking hazard. Tea lights and the empty cases of tea lights aren’t good for nature. Abandoned food items can be highly problematic. Anything in plastic… anything left in a jar or in a pot or shoved into a hole someone else may have called home… If you haven’t thought carefully about an offering, there’s a real risk what you’re doing is an act of vandalism.
Foraging can feel like a great way of connecting with nature. But how much are you taking? How much can the landscape afford to lose? By all means, eat a few blackberries, snack on a few leaves. But if you come through with a carrier bag to take a great stash of wild plants, you aren’t communing, you’re consuming. Nature is not endless bounty. Nature is something we’re pushing to breaking point and we have to stop imagining we can take anything we want.
How much noise do we take into wilder places for our rituals? How much light pollution do we cause around rituals at night and out of doors? How much do we take? How much do we take for granted? To what degree do we let our feelings of being special and spiritual override any consideration for the realities we’re imposing on the natural world?
Nature isn’t some abstract concept to be worshipped in whatever way appeals to our egos. Nature is living creatures and living landscapes, and suffering from human exploitation. We need to commune in ways that aren’t actively harmful. Don’t let your Druidry be part of the problem.
I’ve been a fan of Anna McKerrow’s writing for many years now. So, when she asked if I’d like to do an interview with her, I managed not to go entirely into incoherent fan-girl mode, and I said yes.
It’s always tricky trying to talk about Druidry. I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to figure out what Druidry is, and I’m still not sure I know. We’re a large and diverse community, and I try and get that across as best I can, but inevitably what I think Druidry is gets coloured by my personal experiences.
The books I should have mentioned when talking about Welsh deities were
Gods and Goddesses of Wales – Halo Quin
Pagan Portals Rhiannon – Jhenah Telyndru
Pagan Portals Blodeuwedd – Jhenah Telyndru
Cerridwen, Celtic Goddess of Inspiration – Kristoffer Hughes