Tag Archives: Druid

Contemplative Druidry

I first joined Contemplative Druidry as a facebook group, but by happy chance I moved to Stroud, which was the location for physical meetings, so about four years ago, I started going to those as well. It brought me into contact with many likeminded people locally. The monthly opportunity to sit in contemplation with others was a tremendously valuable experience. The habit of looking at where I am in my life and being witnessed in a held space has been good for me too.

Yesterday was the final session. It struck me how rare a privilege it is to close something with care and attention. How often the last time we do something, we only know in hindsight. Consciously and deliberately bringing something to an end, honouring its history, and letting it go is a beautiful thing to get to do, and very much in keeping with my experience of the group as a whole. I’m sad that we’re letting it go, but also in no doubt that it was the right call.

This was the last thing I did in a group that had a Druid label on it. I let go my Druid Network membership a while ago, I gave up volunteering for OBOD and I fell out of Druid Camp last year. I no longer have active membership of any Druid thing. In fact, the only thing I’m still doing that has the Druid label on it, is this blog.

For me, the group aspect of Druidry has always been key. Last time I found myself not involved in any Druid space, and asked what it meant to be a solitary Druid. A friend pointed out that what it makes me, is a hedge witch. The labels become irrelevant if you aren’t using them to connect with other people.

In the same timeframe as this last great putting down, I’ve had a lot of bardic opportunities come into my life. Last time I fell off the edge of Druidry, I was feeling really isolated as a consequence. This time, it is easier because there’s so much else going on – music, art, live performance, time with friends. The labyrinths will be my contemplative practice in coming months. I don’t feel lost or cut adrift, it’s just a shift in focus. Going back to the bard path feels like a good and right thing at the moment.

Everything has its time, it’s season. Recognising when something has run its course isn’t easy, but I think the whole process of the contemplative Druidry group has been a good one and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Ritual without authority

For some years now I’ve been uneasy about working in an authoritarian sort of way. I’ve been the benevolent dictator for a number of groups in the past, but it’s really hard work and takes a lot of energy and attention. For some time now I’ve been questioning the idea of hierarchy within spiritual practice. Power structures can leave us (me) wanting to be powerful and important, losing sight of what’s spiritual, getting mired in our own ego fragility. I know from experience that full democracy doesn’t work – generally speaking wholly democratic Druid groups get very little done. I’ve been part of one of those.

If there’s going to be a ritual, someone has to be responsible for naming the date and place. This can be done with discussion, but it has to be done. Someone has to call the shot, but it need not be the same person every time. Someone has to let people know. This doesn’t set anyone up to be a future archdruid, it’s just admin, if treated as such.

What happens if we get into ritual space with no plan? Sometimes we may default to familiar ritual forms. We may end up doing something that isn’t much like a ritual. What I’ve found where I’ve been experimenting over the last year, is that people are most likely to push for the bit of ritual they like, and let the rest go. Circles I’ve been in have tended to feature some act of recognition of spirits of place, chanting the awen, something bardic, and a passing of a drink.

For Imbolc, I’ve called a date and time that I already know will suit a lot of people. I’ve named a place we’ve used before and that won’t be too cold and windy. I’ve stated an intention to roll up and make a labyrinth, because that’s what I want to do. If anyone wants to do more conventional bits of Druid ritual around it, that’s welcome. We’ll go to the pub for any bard stuff so that we don’t freeze!

A ritual with no one in charge is an ongoing act of negotiation. Rather than it just rolling out smoothly, we have to keep checking in with each other. Is this ok? Do you want this? Do you want something else? It becomes collaborative, improvised, uncertain. The first few times, there was an assumption that I was running the ritual and would therefore provide lead and direction, and some odd moments as I declined to do that, but we came through something there, and I like what happened. I don’t want to have to do all the planning. I want room to be surprised, too, and inspired, and to be part of something collaborative.

As things stand, I think ritual is going to be a regular feature for me again, after a break of some years. I think it’s going to be far more improvised, with shared ownership, and no one really in charge. I like this prospect a lot.

Where is my Druidry?

Back when I was working on ‘When a Pagan Prays’ it struck me that it’s very easy to fall into a ‘my work is my prayer’ mentality, where there’s no real truth in the assertion. If my life is my Druidry, and my Druidry is intrinsic to my everyday life, then I am equally at risk of just doing whatever occurs to me and having no discernible Druidry in the mix at all. What makes it a Druid life?

I don’t have a fixed daily practice. I don’t have an altar at the moment. I’m not honouring any deities. I’ve felt for the last six months or so that my Druidry was in flux, and I’m entirely easy with that – it’s happened before and I both expect and hope that it will continue to happen.

I’ve lost several key community spaces this year – Druid Camp, and the Contemplative Druid meetings. I have become much more involved with a bardic community, which goes well with my desire to reconnect with and re-commit to the bardic path. I’ve invested more time in divination (I may be back to write about this in more detail) and as ever, walking, and being present in the world are a big part of what I do. My service has shifted – I’m no longer volunteering for OBOD, but am giving my time to The Woodland Trust instead. Last year there were more seasonal rituals than I’ve had for years, and I mean to carry on with that.

I don’t know where I am, I’m not entirely sure where or if I fit, and that’s fine. I don’t know where I’m going – there’d be no fun in it if I did. Journeys into land and story, maps and labyrinths, dreams and possibilities are part of my sense of trajectory, but I’ve no real plan. I’m open to what comes, waiting to see where the awen takes me.

Teaching Druidry, Learning Druidry

I have, at various times and by assorted means, tried teaching Druidry. It’s an odd business for me – not least because I dislike dogma and authority, and firmly believe that modern Druidry is something we have to make for ourselves as individuals. Of course teaching doesn’t have to express authority or dogma, but it’s so easy to accidentally fall into either, or both.

I’ve learned a lot when I’ve been teaching people. It’s allowed me to find out a great deal about other ways to see the world. One of the things it taught me is that I enjoy being a student, and always feel a bit out of my depth if asked to taking a teaching role, but that at the same time I find teaching exciting, and watching people find their own way even more so.

This has led me to the conclusion that most of the time, creating space is more productive than any attempts at formal teaching. It’s also less demanding in terms of time and effort. Give people a space, an opportunity, and let them do it on their own terms, and what they find will be their own, and will have its own shape. It removes all temptation for the teaching to be about how clever and important the teacher is, and it frees the student from any dogma the teacher might have been hauling around.

Too often, teaching can mean imagining the student as the blank page onto which the teacher must write their great wisdom. But, if you start from the idea that what the student needs to do is discover their own wisdom, everything changes. If you aim to have the student find their own inspiration, their own insight, their own magic… then giving them yours is of limited use.

There are a great many ways of creating opportunities, and this is something we can all do for each other without needing a hierarchy of teachers over students. Anyone can make a space, and anyone can work within a space to experience and develop. All that is required of a space is that it gives people room to have experiences. That could be a moot set up to talk philosophically. It could be a ritual or a bardic circle that doesn’t overly direct participants. It might just be a walk, a few pointers for a drawing exercise, a meditation space or room to dance.

I think the best scope for learning occurs when we are least invested in controlling each other’s experiences. One person cannot teach another person to have a spiritual experience – it’s just not possible. All we can do is show each other the things that might lead to spiritual experience.

Druidry and technology

I’m not the sort of Druid who believes that ‘back to nature’ is the answer to everything. There’s a rather charming quote from Good Omens about a young woman who has to spend a while living in a field before she figures out exactly why her human ancestors went to such efforts to stop doing that sort of thing! Creatures adapt their surroundings as best they can for their own comfort, it’s not an unnatural thing to do.

For me, Druidry has always meant standing with one foot in the realm of human culture, and one foot in the wilds. We have to know both, and mediate between them.

I’m all for simplifying, for reducing what we think we need to get down to a more sustainable, and more enjoyable way of life. The right technology, used in the right way, is an absolute blessing to the modern Druid. So, what features should a Druid be looking for when it comes to technology?

Endurance and life expectancy. We don’t want things that are going to break, fall apart or are otherwise contrived for obsolescence.

Minimal resources. It’s better to have a small efficient thing, and ideally a thing where bits can be repaired or replaced at need, or recycled when dead. If there’s a re-use aspect to the technology, even better.

There are things machines do a better job of than people with hand tools – getting dust out of carpets for example. Check the value of doing it by hand, sometimes there is more pleasure in doing it yourself. If doing it feels like drudgery, causes you discomfort or is too difficult for your body, clearly this is a good time to get a machine to do it instead.

Some machines make work – because they change our expectations. Many people spend as much time on laundry as their handwashing ancestors did because they feel everything must be immaculate at all times. I don’t think that’s progress. Check how the machine is going to affect your thinking, and whether it will make more work for you. Consider the empty social exchange of staring at a phone versus spending time actually doing stuff with another person.

Take your time. Adverts encourage us to feel rushed and pressured and like we have to have this thing right now. Pause. Ponder. Look at your life, your home, your transport and all your other needs and think about the things that would give you most benefit. Pick the technology that will serve you, not the technology that will enslave you.

The right tool can be a great life improver. For me, a crock pot was an absolute win on this score. For others, an electric bike might be the perfect solution to numerous problems. It might be a more efficient device, or one that can use rainwater…

Things that we buy because they are all the rage, because we are afraid of being left out, because we wanted to cheer ourselves up, or compensate for a feeling of lack or inadequacy… these are the things to avoid. Shopping is one of those things we do emotionally, when we’d be far better off making more logical and informed choices.

Joining Special Branch

I admit it, the name lured me in. Do you want to be part of Special Branch? Yes, yes I do.  So here we are at the start of a whole new adventure.

This summer I put down a number of volunteering things I’d been doing, because they weren’t working – all kinds of reasons. Volunteering is like any relationship; you rock up all shiny eyed and excited at the beginning. Sometimes you fall out of love with them. Sometimes you change, they change, you grow apart, your needs change, their ideas… sometimes there are personality clashes. And that’s fine, because it’s human and real and it can be gently put down and life goes on.

Service is important to me. Volunteering has always been a part of my life. Not volunteering hasn’t felt good, although I needed time to draw breath and figure out how to move forward, with so many things going so wrong in so many ways, it’s overwhelming. Conscious that I can’t wade into every fight, I’ve been looking for a place to stand that makes sense to me.

I’ve been a member of The Woodland Trust for something like a decade. It’s been a happy relationship. I give them money, they send me a nice magazine, and every now and then they win something, a wood is saved, land is bought and allowed to regenerate… and I feel good about being a tiny part of that. So, when they announced the idea of Special Branch, I got rather excited. What they were looking for are people willing to campaign online. But it gets better, because what we’re talking about here is soft campaigning.

I’ve done a few turns at harder activism. The sort of work where you go in and fight your corner, and push, and protest. It burns me out emotionally. I expect I’ll keep doing bits and pieces of that when it’s needed, but I can’t live there. Soft activism, by contrast, deeply attracts me. It’s about building ideas and getting people engaged. It’s about stories, and, for these purposes, connecting people with trees.

And really, if as a Druid I wasn’t a bit excited by the idea of trying to softly engage people with trees via stories and other forms of creativity, something would be wrong!

One of the consequences of this, is that I will add more tree related content to the blog. I’m always looking for new threads of ideas to explore, and this should be a very natural match for the other things I get up to. Turning my love of trees into something that can serve the trees seems like a very sustainable way forward for me. It will not solve all the world’s ills, but I firmly believe that a culture that is considerate of its trees will likely also do a better job of taking care of its people, so, here we go…

Tempted to follow suit? there are loads of ways to get involved, more information here – http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer-with-us/

Druidic Meditation

I’ve been interested in meditation for most of my life. The one thing I’ve known for a long time that I don’t want is an eastern-derived practice with mistletoe stuck to it. Meditation that comes out of Hindu and Buddhist traditions has certain underpinning ideas about the nature of reality and the goals of meditation, and these do not work for me.

Having done a lovely Contemplative Druid day at the weekend, I had a lot of time in situ to contemplate what Druid Meditation is. What we do in that space connects well with what I’ve been doing for years. There was a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment for me when James Nichol spoke of how this practice creates stillness on the inside, but not to take us out of the world. Here are some extensions on that line of thought.

We slow down, and in slowing down are able to go deeper, or wider. We notice more and have the time and space for really involved thinking and feeling responses to whatever we’re experiencing.

In the silence of the circle, what we tend to get is a very softly held deeper kind of connection with each other as human beings, and a deepening of experience of the space, the day, the season. Usually the centre of the circle is a small altar with a light and seasonal representations, and this encourages seasonal reflections of what happens both outside and within us at this time of year. Space to share those diverse responses and to contemplate each other’s way of being in the world increases mutual understanding and eliminates dogma. Personal truths sit side by side and are honoured.

During the day we’ll go into various contemplative activities – sound, art, and movement may all feature. These will be things we undertake together so again there’s that sense of deepening connection. We may go outside, and encounter the wilder part of the area with an open heart and more scope for seeing. We look deeply at things. Often the consequence is inspiration and there will be words, poems, images and intentions that form through these experiences.

Druid meditation is an expanding of relationship  with the self but also between participants, between participants and space. It’s a nourishing, nurturing practice that explicitly invites inspiration (Awen space is something we hold deliberately). There’s no intention to develop shared meaning, we share in order to witness, know and support each other. There’s no particular outcome that anyone is aiming for. In slowing down, paying attention, reflecting, looking back, looking forward, looking around, we will all find something and it usually turns out to be something we needed.

There are very few rules in these practices. We hold silence as the default, but there’s room to speak and share when something important comes up. Empty noise is eliminated and replaced with more soulful exchanges. We don’t do interventions for each other, although in some of the spaces, we can tackle each other’s questions if it makes sense. Not that there are any ‘right answers’.

I find it a very generous, allowing way of meditating. In some sessions I just sit with the quiet and let my mind wander where it will, enjoying the quiet companionship of everyone else as they do whatever they do. It’s a releasing process, allowing me to sort out the inside of my head in a more organic, less pre-defined sort of way. It permits whatever happens to happen, and that creates a great deal of possibility. It encourages inner stillness and calm, but I notice repeatedly that deep thinking and profound emotional responses often follow – for myself and others – because we allow ourselves to engage with anything that seems interesting in that space.

What Druids are supposed to do

Most of the things I’ve done as a Druid, I’ve done in part because someone asked me to. I’ve taught Druidry and meditation, I’ve run ritual groups and undertaken celebrant work. I’ve run workshops and done talks. I’ve written for magazines. There’s also this blog, and the book writing. I need to mention that I never set out to be a Druid author – my ambition was always to write fiction, this is a diversion that happened because the opportunity was there, but it was never part of a grand plan.

These are all the things that you do if you’re going to be a professional Pagan. And if it works, you can add media work, interviews, travelling around the world to events and suchlike to the list. In practice, of the many Pagans I know who are doing all the things, only a handful are jetting off internationally or getting on the telly. For most of us, the lure of The Very Important Druid work means an expense of time, money and energy far more than any kind of personal gain. And trust me, if you’re burned out, the ego trip just isn’t that much of a payoff.

This year has brought me a lot of challenges, and those challenges have caused me to think long and hard about what I’m doing. There is a real and growing tension between what I need for my personal path (solitude, introspection, presence, time, energy) and what I need to function as a ‘public’ Druid (time, energy, travel, ideas, networking). There is often a tension for me between writing about the path and walking it. It doesn’t help that I’m also a lousy self-publicist and would rather spend my time promoting other people than touting my own work about.

I’m in a process of re-thinking who and how I am. I’ve seen what happens to the people who start to believe their own PR, and I do not want to go there. I also don’t want to peddle authority or dogma. To this end, I have given up most of my teaching work. Talks and workshops are still a possibility. I’m not going to put myself forward for celebrant work – if things come up locally, then fine, but mostly this is not a path I want to follow. I’ve stepped away from things that could have given me a platform, in no small part because I don’t want the platform.

I intend to keep doing this blog, keep writing my Quiet Revolution column for Pagan Dawn, and to write other things as and when inspiration strikes. I’m committed to supporting the creativity of others, what form that will take depends on the opportunities that come along.

Beyond that, I don’t know. I may be giving up on writing non-fiction books. At least in the short term so that I can focus more on my own path and journey without getting caught up in how I’m going to turn that into something useful. And also to make more space for creative writing, and for supporting others. I am seriously considering a formal re-dedication to the bardic path. I’m asking what it is that I want, and how I want things to be and making time and space for those answers to resolve.

There are a lot of things I’ve done because I thought it was what you were supposed to do if you’re being a *serious Druid* and because people asked me. What I’ve not done for many years, is asked what I need to do for myself to seriously be a Druid, which is quite a hefty oversight. I’m greatly enjoying the re-thinking process.

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.

Cat Treadwell

I’ve known Cat Treadwell for long enough that I can’t remember when and where we first ran into each other. We have a lot of things in common in our history – The Druid Network, The Pagan Federation, Druid Camp, writing for Pagan Dawn and Moon Books, being a Druid blogger… Somewhere, many years ago, one of these things first brought us into contact with each other.

Cat is a very lovely person who I think is a great example of a Druid Priestess. She does a lot of celebrant work, and prison ministry, she teaches and writes, and lives her Druidry and shares that experience. I have met her in person and she’s someone I would very much like to spend more time with.

This is a video of Cat Treadwell talking for a recent PF Disabilities Team online conference. Here’s she’s talking about mental health and ritual.

This is her blog – https://druidcat.wordpress.com/

Cat is the author of two titles (at time of writing this.) A Druid’s Tale grew out of the above blog, and is all about her life and work. it’s a lovely expression of being a modern Druid and what that means in practice.

Facing the Darkness offers stories, tools and inspiration to help those suffering from depression – all from a Pagan perspective. My other half – Tom Brown – did the cover for this one.

If you’re not familiar with her work, do look her up, she’s out there in social media land, her books are all the places you can get books, she does talks at events sometimes as well.