Tag Archives: Druid

Belonging to The Earth – a review

Having really enjoyed Julie Brett’s first book – Australian Druidry – I was excited to get a review copy of Belonging to The Earth. This is part of the new Earth Spirit line from Moon Books – small, tightly focused titles for anyone interested in Earth-based spirituality.

Julie is a Druid living in Australia. Her work is very much about squaring up to the implications of being on someone else’s land, with all that history of violence, cultural oppression, massacre and displacement. It’s something she’s navigating personally and she has a great deal to share about the process. I think she sets a good example of how anyone might move towards respectful relationship with the true owners of a land, without speaking over them or appropriating their traditions. She shares a lot of direct quotes from Elders she’s sat with, and the principle of showing up to listen is one that we all need to adopt.

Belonging to the Earth is written about Australian experience, but it offers a map to anyone interested in decolonization and the Indigenization of ideas. Julie is clear that wherever we are in the world, we all need to work on becoming indigenous people and that this is about having respectful and sustaining relationships with the land.

Reading this as a European, I was struck by the thought that although many of us live in the lands of our ancestors, we don’t have that depth of connection. Any of us could have been Aboriginal peoples, but none of us are. Countless ancestral choices have brought us to this point, and we have a great deal of work to do to both change that, and change the colonial narrative that insists on treating our disassociation as superior to the land-honouring cultures of First Nations People.

There’s a lot to learn for those of us with European and colonial heritage. The need to learn is urgent. How those of us from the colonial-capitalist side of history deal with First Nations People is a critically important matter of social justice and restorative justice. We urgently need the understanding of landscapes that would allow us to live in sustainable ways. We all need to be rooted in something more nurturing than consumerism.

I heartily recommend this book, and have every intention of reviewing more titles from the Earth Spirit line.

Find out more on Julie Brett’s website – https://juliebrett.net/2021/11/09/belonging-to-the-earth/

Nature at Samhain

Some twenty years ago I spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between modern Druid festivals and the wheel of the year as it turns where I live. The solstices and equinoxes make total sense because of their relationship with the length of the day and night and all the impact that has on the rest of nature.

Imbolc is traditionally associated with sheep lactating and with snowdrops. Lammas (which is at the same time as Lugnasadh) is associated with the first of the grain harvests. While lambs don’t reliably appear in the fields this early, we have some obvious markers for these two festivals. Gathering May blossom is traditionally associated with Beltain, and it’s also the time of year when bluebells come out, and when it’s warm enough to be barefoot outside (or to have sex outside, but barefoot is probably more inclusive!). 

I spent a long time considering Samhain. The pumpkin harvest may seem obvious, but pumpkins are from the Americas and not part of UK tradition. If you’re growing them, it may well make sense to take them as a key seasonal marker. Twenty years ago is struck me that the leaves are usually down from the trees by Samhain.

Climate change is impacting on the wheel of the year. How we relate festivals to seasons may need serious consideration in light of this. Do we stay with the ancestral dates? Or do we adapt based on what those dates mean to us? I suspect the answers will be individual. For many people around the world, those ‘Celtic’ dates have never related much to a lived experience of the local seasons anyway.

It is Halloween. Most of the trees in my area still have all their leaves. Many are barely beginning to turn yellow, and there’s a lot of greenery present. There is no sense of the dying year, not yet. It’s still warm enough to be outside without a coat during the day. Grazing animals are still out in the fields. If your focus for Halloween is the idea of bringing animals in and choosing which ones will live, then we aren’t at that point in the year yet, either.

Druidry and Desire

Back in my twenties I was, for a little while, a member of The Druid Order of the Yew, which was held within The Druid Network. A big part of what it offered at the time was space and witnessing for dedications. I was really focused on service at the time and framing my Druidry in terms of what I could give. Alongside this I had a problematic home life. The idea of giving more and asking for less became heavily ingrained.

Of course there are always people who want what you can do for them and offer little in return. There are always people who will become unpleasant if you try to show up as a person and not as a service provider. I’ve never been good at handling this and have tended to think that I should offer service and expect nothing in return from anyone. It’s taken a while to challenge that thinking.

What happens if I ask for more? There will be people who don’t like that, and who will either be clear about having a problem with me, or who will gently reverse out of my life and make good their escape. But not everyone. There are also the people whose eyes light up at the thought, and who feel cheered and validated by my wanting more from them and with them. People who aren’t afraid of being needed and who do not experience being valued as some kind of imposition.

I’ve spent a long time treating Druidry as a form of pouring endlessly from myself into the world. Give more, ask for less. Give until it hurts, and then keep giving. I look back and see how convenient that’s been for other people in my history. I also think with hindsight that the person who most encouraged me to shape my service this way was not living on those terms. They are painfully hard terms to live on. 

Child-me had a better handle on this. I remember sitting in an assembly being told about how we are all supposed to help those who are worse off than us and wondering how that even made sense and how on earth you get to be the person who needs helping, on those terms. That a doctrine of giving selflessly to others actually relies on there being people worse off, more vulnerable. You can’t forgive trespasses unless someone undertakes to trespass, either.

What happens if there is more room for desire? What happens if I ask for more, and not less? I start to see how this could enrich not only my experience, but the experiences of people dealing with me. If I allow myself to want, there is a different kind of energy available to me. I cannot pour out from myself endlessly with nothing to replenish me. I can do a lot more if I invite more richness in, and have room for what I need.

Service cannot be a person pouring endlessly from a bucket they do not get to refill. The more I look at it, the more important it seems to me that we all have space for things that are personal, enriching, nurturing, life enhancing and I dare to say it – selfish! I know that the dismantling of selfishness is often seen as a spiritual goal, but increasingly I think what helps most is to change the terms on which we think about our own needs. A person can seek what they want without that inevitably hurting someone else. It is not always the case that for one person to have more, someone else has to go without.

No one is poorer if I have enriching conversations, time in the sun, cat snuggles, affection, time off… no one is reduced by me having things I need for myself. I expect I will come back to this as I reframe what service might mean for me, and rethink how I want to be in the world.

Druid Online

There are lots of ways of being a Druid online. Anything that people do for and with people can be handled via the internet. While it may not be as appealing to make virtual rituals, it is worth considering the people who, due to where they are, what transport options they have or what challenges they have, are unable to go to physical events. Online Druidry has the scope to include more people.

The internet is a great way of moving information around. Unfortunately it’s just as good for moving crappy ideas, misrepresentation, fantasy, content distorted by appropriation and deliberate bullshit. By being online as a Druid you can offer substantial alternatives. For me, this has often  meant challenging toxic positivity and the ways in which privilege is mistaken for spirituality.

The internet gives us ways to communicate with people in places of power and influence. I know keyboard warriors tend to get bad press, but you can use the internet to speak truth to power. You can use it to organise, educate, amplify those who are ignored and so forth. You can use the internet to work for justice and to stand up for the environment. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful uses for the internet is that it allows us to be kind to each other. Sadly this isn’t how a lot of people seem to use it, but the more people who come online intending to be kind, the more scope there is to shift online culture. Share beauty, share nice things, uplift people, build them up, encourage them… When you’re talking to people who aren’t powerful, kindness is the best thing to offer, usually. It’s even possible to disagree kindly and to argue without resulting to abuse. 

However you view the spiritual dimensions of your path, part of what makes you a Druid is walking your talk. What you bring to the internet is part of how you do that. What you make and give, what causes you serve, and how you use words, and emojis in dealing with other people. My favourite Druids come to the internet to inspire and encourage, offering beauty, wisdom, wit, political analysis, compassion, creativity and more.

Modern Druids

I don’t write much about historical Druids and in truth I’ve never been that interested in trying to reconstruct what ancient Druids did. Religions tend to evolve over time and where there is continuous tradition, there doesn’t tend to be fixed practice. What the ancient Druids did is not likely to make sense in our era of climate crisis, and capitalism, with the majority of humans alienated from the land, tradition, each other, their work…

I’m fairly well read, in that I have a passable knowledge of a fair body of mythology, alongside some awareness of history, pre-history, folklore, religions in general, and the modern Pagan movement. I have some idea what comes from the last few hundred years and what is older. I’m interested in the ideas and inspiration that can be drawn from what we know of history but when it comes down to it, I’m more interested in contemporary Druidry and where it is going, than I am in what we might figure out about where it has been.

People do all sorts of interesting things under the banner of Druidry, and have done for some time now. It’s a term that has inspired cultural efforts, and also fraternal groups designed for mutual care. It’s a spiritual movement that includes atheists, animists, polytheists, Christians and many others. Something about it attracts people from a broad range of backgrounds and beliefs, and these people can come together and share things in ways that are often meaningful.

I’m fascinated by how Druidry has changed in the last twenty years or so. When I first started volunteering for The Druid Network, Druidry was dominated by a few voices, and organised around Orders and Groves. It was about working in groups, and there were a small number of Very Important Druids who tended to dominate the whole thing. But now we have blogs, and youtube, and small events and a proliferation of people doing Druidry in all sorts of ways and talking about it. We have far less hierarchy and authority and, I think, far more Druids who just aren’t that interested in being important and who want to share what they’re doing.

Being a Very Important Druid is hard work, high maintenance stuff likely to attract conflict and drama into your life. It’s actually at odds with having meaningful spiritual experiences. There’s a lot more to be said for being a Druid on your own terms with no responsibility for numbers of students or devotees, and just sharing what you encounter with other people who are doing similar things. There continue to be Orders and Groves and people who run things, and this is good, and it no longer dominates, which is even better.

All religions change over time, depending on the intentions of the people who get involved with them. The past is in many ways a closed book. The future however, is there to be made and shaped. What people do now in the name of Druidry will inform what is to come. I think there’s a lot more to be excited about in considering the future of Druidry and how to do that well, than there is in looking to the past. But at the same time, that’s just me, and I have every respect for those people who find meaning, direction and coherence by looking to ancient Druidry. My way does not invalidate their way. Druidry should be roomy enough to accommodate this, and more.

Equinox Druid

There’s not a lot of tradition to draw on for the equinoxes. In the autumn it can make sense to think about harvest and what’s being harvested locally. It can make sense to think about balance, and there’s also the modern tradition of Peace One Day to draw on.

As we approach the equinox, no doubt many Druids and Pagans are considering how they will celebrate. One of the big challenges for us is that most of us do not live close to the land. We are not celebrating the harvest we brought in.

The equinox is a time of balance between light and dark. For the urban Druid this means more streetlighting is on the way as the amount of daylight decreases. The idea of a ‘dark’ part of the year makes far less sense in an urban context. Most of us will not experience much darkness.

I think one of the great challenges for urban Druids (and that’s most of us) is to make sure we don’t end up worshipping an idea of nature that mostly exists in our heads and in our living rooms. It’s so easy to romanticise the natural world, or to embrace stories that suit us but are problematic. That we are heading towards the great sleep of winter is one of those.

Not everything hibernates, and for many people winter is a time of struggle, challenge and discomfort. Winter is only a time of sleepy gentleness if you can afford to heat your home, eat well and aren’t walking for transport in all weathers or working outside.

It’s always good to ask how our lives relate to the wheel of the year and to consider the relationship between our lived experiences and our stories about the seasons.

The embodied Druid

About ten years ago I started running into the idea that we live too much in our heads and that Druidry calls for embodiment. Now, I’m very into the idea that we are nature and that we need to engage with nature as it manifests in our bodies. I’m as likely to seek out actual trees as the next Druid, but do I really need to get out of my head?

The thing is, I rather like the inside of my head. I like meditation and contemplation, philosophy and study. These are all things it is reasonable to associate with historical Druidry. I like to think. I reject all suggestions that thinking makes us less emotional or less authentic. I also, after some consideration, reject the idea that time spent in my head is disembodied, disconnected from nature or otherwise undesirable.

My brain is a squishy lump of biology full of blood and chemicals that are also part of the rest of my body. What happens in my brain affects my body. It’s also the key organ for responding to experiences of the natural world, the seasons and the numinous. I’m a thinking creature, that is my nature. I want to have a considered relationship with the natural world and that’s a head issue.

When ‘spiritual’ people talk about the ills of not being embodied, they are usually talking about other people, and how they read and interpret other people’s actions. It’s a perspective that doesn’t take into account the realities of many people’s lives. Rushing about, eating badly, not exercising enough – these things are all symptoms of a capitalist society that makes inhuman demands on the human body, and especially on the bodies of the poor and sick. It’s easy to sit back and judge other people, but it tends not to be kind or helpful. If you aren’t exhausted and time poor then you have privileges.

Being really present in your body isn’t a lot of fun if your body hurts. The ableism around this can be horrendous. I’ve been told that my physical pain is the result of me not being embodied enough – if only I paid more attention to my body, it would hurt less! It took me a while to recognise that this is cruel and unhelpful, and does not reflect my lived experience. Some days the best thing to do is try not to show up for the pain, and I’m hardly alone in this.

For the person who can, and who wants to follow a path centred on being embodied – excellent. The problems arise when we start to assume that one way of being in the world is superior to another, regardless of circumstance. Other people are making the best choices they can based on their circumstances. If you want other people to live embodied healthy(on your terms) lives, then campaign for better working conditions, better welfare support, more green urban spaces, better healthcare for chronic conditions and so forth. Don’t make individual people feel spiritually inadequate because of the systemic pressures they are experiencing.

We’re all embodied. We all have bodies. Some of us like to think more than others do. Some of us find joy in movement and for some of us that’s only ever going to hurt. There should be room for difference. It’s better to have diversity in how people approach their lives rather than to create hierarchies of spiritual superiority, and so often what’s put forward as spiritually superior turns out to be forms of privilege.

Invisible Prejudice

Often what makes prejudice invisible is that people who are not affected by it don’t want to see it. Truly, it is impressive what can be invisible for people who don’t want to look. If you’re ever tempted to tell someone you don’t think their problem is real because you’ve never seen any evidence of it, consider how little that really proves. People who refuse to see what is inconvenient to them are part of the problem.

As a Druid, working for justice means that you have to be able to recognise injustice. To recognise it, you have to listen to people whose experiences differ from your own. This may make you uncomfortable. It is ok to be uncomfortable and it is often key to how we learn to do better. That we cannot see something is not proof that it does not exist. When we don’t recognise a problem it is all too easy to become complicit in continuing it.

If you find you are getting things wrong, it is vitally important not to double down. Recognise the mistake, own it, apologise and do better. Never try to justify or excuse your prejudice when it has been exposed. Never try to minimise the impact of what you’ve got wrong and don’t suggest anyone is overreacting if you’ve upset someone in this way. Take any distress you cause seriously. Don’t blame the people you have made uncomfortable. Don’t prioritise defending yourself. Sometimes such situations can turn out to be complex or more nuanced for all sorts of reasons, but the above still holds – whatever else you may need to do, never double down on the things you were wrong about.

Your discomfort at getting things wrong does not make you a victim. Being called out for prejudice, and asked to do better, does not make you a victim. Being called to account does not constitute a witch hunt. 

We all make mistakes. We’re all informed by the cultures we grew up in. We all need to learn and we all have more work to do educating ourselves about the challenges other people face and the way in which prejudice has been normalised and made invisible to us. No one is going to get everything perfectly right all of the time. The important thing is to do better, to try, to listen, to read, to care. Doubling down on mistakes and poor judgements only increases the misery it causes, and makes the person doing it look like an insensitive ass. 

There have been some serious issues with the UK publishing industry recently. Publishing house Picador has been slow to recognise its mistakes. The doubling down in some quarters has been hideous to behold, and the racist abuse this has caused has been inexcusable.

Fungi and Community

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.

What does a Druid do?

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.