Tag Archives: Druid

Embodied with a brain

One of the things I’ve struggled with around ideas of embodiment is the degree to which I am head-led. I’ve come to some conclusions about this recently and am sharing them because I expect I’m not the only person on the Druid path who struggles with these issues. Druidry does tend to attract people who like to think.

I don’t do well when I try to lead with my body. Frankly, my body has no idea what it’s doing, doesn’t reliably know where the ground is and disassociates hard when panicked. I’ve gone rounds with feeling that I’m not good at being an embodied Druid because I’m very much in my own head.

When it comes to the chemistry that impacts on my whole body, that also starts most usually in my head. The things I feel normally begin with the things I think. How I respond to something conceptually informs my emotions, and that in turn defines what my embodied experience is.

I also find that if I’m trying to silence my inner voices, the main effect of that is to totally focus me inside my own head. There’s usually a lot going on in my brain such that shutting it down takes a lot of my concentration and tends to focus me inside myself. If I let my brain do what it does, while being open to the world, I end up being more present and embodied than I do for trying to shut my brain down.

While the relationship between our inner lives and outer realities can vary a lot, it’s worth remembering that the mind is as much a squishy bit of biology as any other part of us. The idea that mind and body are separate comes from a time and culture that also imagined we were made ‘in God’s image’ and separate from the rest of nature. It’s mind/body dualism that’s the issue, I think, not being brain-based.

Druidry and dedications

Rituals are a good opportunity for making dedications and having them witnessed by your community. Along the way there have been three dedications I’ve made in a Druidic context that have had a significant impact on me. Looking back I am all too aware that on each occasion, I really had no idea what the implications were of the commitments I was making.

Something like twenty years ago, I knelt in the wet grass at Stonehenge and initiated as a bard. I pledged to use my creativity for the good of my ‘tribe’ (not language I would now use) and the good of the land. I went into that not knowing what I would be being asked to commit to (not something I’d do these days either). That dedication has become central to what I do with myself, although it has played out in many different ways. It’s what I’m for.

Something like eighteen years ago I stood in the museum and art gallery in Birmingham in front of a small baked clay image called The Queen of the Night – probably a depiction of Ereshkigal. It was a gathering organised by The Druid Network. I had an overwhelming sense of being called to walk in darkness, and I accepted the call. I’ve walked a lot of dark paths since then, bringing back what I can by way of maps for others to use. It’s been hard, far harder than I could ever have imagined, but I’ve managed to do something useful with it here and there and perhaps that’s enough.

I’m not at all sure when I made my Order of the Yew pledge but it was in the same timeframe. This order was held within The Druid Network – I’ve not been involved with either for a long time. The Order of the Yew was very much about making dedications, and I started out with something long and fancy and probably rather self-important. I took myself far too seriously back then. At some point I came back and replaced it with a simple dedication along the lines that I would undertake to love as much as I could for as long as I could. It stuck to me, that one.

Of the three, it’s been by far the hardest. I’ve broken down repeatedly to places where the amount of love I could put into the world really wasn’t much at all. I’ve given from a state of being hollowed out and exhausted for extended periods of time. I have committed, over and over to loving with an open heart people who I knew perfectly well would not reciprocate. I step forward to get my heart broken. If I knew how to stop, I probably wouldn’t because I feel most like me when I’m honouring this dedication.

In theory the key thing with making a dedication in ritual is how much you invest in that dedication and how much you are willing to take it forward. In theory. I’m never sure what to believe about anything, but I can say with certainty that these dedications marked and changed me, and invited things into my life that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Your Druidic practice

I was struck this week by this powerful post about daily practice, routines and needs – https://therivercrow.wordpress.com/2022/08/22/august-update/ such that I felt it was worth me chipping in.

So many pieces of writing on Paganism and Druidry advocate for a daily practice or for specific kinds of activity. Not everything works the same way for everyone and there should be no shame or unease in doing things that work for you and avoiding things that don’t. Some of us need routines to function at all, and some of us find them stressful and unworkable. Honouring nature means honouring nature where it manifests in you which in turn means not trying to force yourself to be something you are not.

It’s all too easy for people who don’t struggle with things to conclude that said things are fine and everyone can do them. At this point I’m largely convinced that phrases like ‘everyone can’ or ‘everyone should’ are strong indicators that the person writing the piece has little awareness of how diverse people are. I’m pretty sure that there is nothing that everyone can or should do in any specific way.

There are two key questions to consider when it comes to how you do your Druidry. Firstly, what does your Druidry do for the world? And secondly, what does your Druidry do for you? The answer to the first question needs to be some form of good, and it can be any form of good. The second answer needs to be about how you are affected, be that in body, heart, mind or spirit. Your druidic practice should give you comfort, inspiration, a sense of purpose, or relationship or connectedness. Some of those things, or all of those things. There may well be other good things that you find in your Druidry, but I think these are the core qualities to look for.

It is worth trying things a few times before deciding how or if they work for you. It’s often difficult to make a good decision about something when you’ve had little experience of it. At the same time, it is not the case that there’s any merit in slogging away at something that leaves you cold and does nothing for you just because you’ve been persuaded that you have to do it to be a good Druid. If you get a strong feeling of aversion to something at the first try, there’s no reason to make yourself uncomfortable by revisiting it.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a lot of variety within any given practice and a lot of room to do things on your own terms. If what one writer or teacher has to say on the subject doesn’t work for you, then it may be worth looking around for other inspiration and possibilities. It’s also worth considering exploring things on your own terms. Every Pagan practice out there is something someone figured out, and the people doing the figuring out were not massively more qualified to do that than you are. If you’re willing to put in the time exploring and experimenting, then you are going to become an expert in the thing you are doing.

Druidry for your soul

Most of my focus when I’m writing blogs is about how to put Druidry into action for the benefit of people and planet. This is partly because it was something I pledged to when I first initiated as a bard. However, pouring from an empty cup is seldom a good plan and it is important to think about how we are each nourished, as well as what we might give.

Druidry can give us a focus for bringing beauty into our lives. We can do this by creating altar spaces and through making ritual. We can also use ritual to create peacefulness and to seek inspiration, and we can also approach meditation and prayer with that in mind.

For some people it seems helpful to seek messages and signs in nature. This can be a source of meaninging and reassurance, and if that works for you, that’s great. It doesn’t work for me at all. I find that going out in pursuit of meaning can actually get in the way of having the experiences I need. If I’m out there trying to find something significant I can bring back and work with, I will likely be trying too hard. I may come back with ideas, but the odds of feeling nourished by the experience are slim.

We are all routinely bombarded with messages about productivity. I’m a very ‘doing’ oriented sort of person, and also an ideas oriented sort of person, and if I’m not careful this can turn absolutely everything into work. It is a terrible idea to spend all of your time actively looking for raw material you can spin into something to use. It becomes relentless. Pressure to perform online and to look the part on social media can add to this.

I think it’s really important to have some part of your spiritual life that remains private and personal. Holding some experiences close, and not talking about them or using them in any particular way is important soul-care. We don’t have to turn every part of ourselves into something other people can consume. 

Obviously I’m not going to tell you about the things I don’t tell you about, but they exist. Small, quiet things that are part of my life, and part of my day. I’m trying to figure out how to expand that soul-space and how to make more time in my life for things that I do for me, and for no other purpose. I may come back and talk about the process, but the details I will hold close.

Druidry – how to learn

The internet is full of resources a student of Druidry can use, to broaden their knowledge of Druidry both historical and contemporary. There are courses you can pay for and teachers who will guide you and when you’re starting out, that can be hard to make sense of. Not all Druidry is the same – there are many different styles and flavours out there. Not all of those are going to suit you and you may not be lucky enough to land exactly where you need to be at the start – not least because at the outset you likely don’t know what your kind of Druidry is.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes. This is a key thing for all kinds of learning. You don’t have to utterly invest in the first things you encounter – and if you do, it’s also fine to change your mind about that and move on. If you try things and they don’t work out for you, that’s not a failure on your part. It also doesn’t mean that Druidry itself is not for you, you’re just in the wrong bit of the woods at this point.

Give yourself permission to change your mind. Be open to being excited about things but don’t feel like you have to take up residence there forever. What works for you right now might not work at all in a year or two, and that’s not a problem. We change, we grow, our needs shift and so what we do has to adapt to that. 

No doubt the most difficult thing you might face around this is the possibility of having been wrong about something. The first things you encounter are likely to shape your ideas of what Druidry is, and not all Druid content is created equal. If you have run into fantasy takes on the Celts, or something laced with bigotry, or appropriation from other cultures, you might be in the uncomfortable position of having to admit that you’ve been doing it wrong. Druidry is generally non-dogmatic and inclusive of many approaches, but we’re not free from issues and it is so easy, in all innocence, to pick up some of that. 

Getting caught up in something dodgy is not a measure of you. The key thing is what you decide to do if it is suggested to you that you’re engaged with something problematic. The right answer here is to listen, read, learn – be open to what you’re hearing about the problems and scrutinise them. Listen to the people who are affected by things you didn’t realise were a problem. Be willing to change.

If what you are doing harms no one, then it’s your business, or it is between you and your Gods. If you’ve unwittingly entered into something harmful, that’s always going to be uncomfortable. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re young in our craft. Like a lot of people, I’ve got crystals of unknown provenance I bought when I didn’t know any better, and as a teenager I had one of those cheap, rip-off dream catchers. The key to proceeding with honour is to be able to own that kind of thing and act accordingly. Alongside this it is important to educate each other without shaming anyone for not having known, and to give each other opportunities to do better rather than knocking each other down.

When not to educate people

Teaching is definitely appropriate work for a Druid, but it’s certainly not all about teaching Druidry. What humanity most needs right now are people willing and able to educate others about climate chaos, politics, compassion, diversity and justice. We need to be talking about how to make things better than they are. It makes sense to focus on whatever you best understand and wherever you have the most insight to share, and no one can do everything. So, pick your fights and don’t feel like it’s your job to make everyone better informed about everything because that will burn you out.

It’s fine not to step up to educate people if you are already exhausted and/or it’s going to cost you too much to do it. Stepping away and refusing to engage are also meaningful choices and sometimes engaging just amplifies hatred.

Not everyone who has questions and says they want you to educate them is genuine. Some do it deliberately to exhaust and debilitate activists. Some of them are bots. Some are just attention hungry people. Actively putting out good information can be a better choice than tackling individuals.

It can be better not to wade in if you don’t understand what’s going on. You don’t have to have an opinion on everything, and if you aren’t informed it is painfully easy to get things wrong. Sometimes it’s better to step back and focus on listening and learning. Increasing your own understanding of a situation is a good choice. If in doubt, amplify compassion and discourage abuse – but be alert to how tone policing can impact a situation. The distress of a victim can be weaponised all too easily by an abuser.

Be wary of people who act like it’s your job to explain or defend something to them. No one is automatically entitled to your time and energy. There are a great many things you should never feel obliged to explain – why you are saying no is at the top of that list. You don’t owe random strangers explanations about why you need something or why you can’t do a thing. Anyone unprepared to take that at face value is unlikely to be persuaded by anything you say, either.

There will be people who want to learn and understand, and who consequently act with respect and appreciation. Those people are worth your time, if you have it. They are also likely to be willing to wait, or to accept pointers towards existing resources. 

Mapping the Contours

Mapping the Contours is a poetry collection from some years ago, which I self-published. I’ve been swapping books with David Bridger a fair bit this year – we’re writing together and getting to know each other’s work has been part of that process. So, this isn’t an impartial review, but on the other hand, as a Druid and speculative fiction author David is very much the sort of person I hope would find my work resonant.

“I became aware of Nimue Brown one year ago, through her non-fiction books, the first one I read for research purposes being her “Druidry and the Ancestors – finding our place in our own history.” I found her mind impressive. Then I read some of her fiction, and found her creativity hugely impressive too.

Then she reviewed one of my novels, and then a second, and then we started talking, and then we became friends, and then we decided to co-author a fantasy series. It’s an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable collaboration in a creative relationship that has grown, and continues to grow, organically.

Now, for the first time, I’ve read her poetry. In her collection, Mapping the Contours, Nimue explores place and relationship in her life along the Cotswold edge. This is her, “…walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself.”

It’s remarkable poetry. I read it slowly, then re-read it even more slowly, taking many individual poems in it as either mini-meditations and visualisations, or as starting points for deeper meditations.

I am grateful for this. Opening into my consciousness as it did at first with Nimue’s characteristic humility, it quickly became quite possibly the most meaningful collection of poetry I have ever read.

Mapping the Contours, Nimue Brown, published by the author 2018″

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You can pick up the ebook version for free from my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/s/8e7caa2cfc

Presenting as a Druid

I’m always interested in how we define or experience authenticity, versus when we see things as fake, in ourselves and when looking at other people. For me, authenticity is very much part of what it means to live as a Druid. To act authentically, to show up as a person not just a performance and to connect with people and others from a place of honesty. 

However, as soon as you put clothes on and use words you’re engaged in a process of deliberate choices. Part of being human is how we express ourselves to others, how we want to be seen and understood. There’s a hazy area between aspiration and performance. If I want to become a kinder and more patient person my best bet is to try and act like a kinder and more patient person until the process of doing that becomes ingrained in me and part of who I am. There’s not much difference between that and the person who simply wishes to seem kind and patient acts and either person can mess up and let something else show.

When you look at another person, it is hard to tell if they’re undertaking to fake it until they make it. Maybe they are showing you their most authentic self. Maybe they are a people pleaser trying to perform the role they think you most want them to play. Maybe they are an abuser with a persona that protects them and enables them to groom new victims. From the outside it can be impossible to tell what anything really means. Inherently charismatic people are good at persuading others of their innate worth. Socially awkward people can come across badly but still be full of wisdom and compassion.

Druids who are wise, knowledgeable, experienced and compassionate will often discourage others from seeing them as leaders and authorities. Druids who want to be important may go to a lot of effort to present as plausible leaders and authorities. Some Druids step forward to lead and offer authority because they have valuable skills to offer and want to help people. Some Druids pretend to be humble because they’ve figured out that it’s a good look.

I can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s head. I do know that it is very human to feel judgemental of other people. We get social reinforcement by looking around and identifying people to feel we are superior to, and people to look up to as role models and leaders. How we judge each other may have a lot more to do with our own desires to know where we fit than with anyone’s innate qualities. 

It’s good to think about what we’re attracted to, what we find convincing and engaging and what seems laughable or insubstantial. Are we drawn to beauty, charisma and glamour in our potential leaders? Are we deeper people if we mistrust those things, or is that just a different set of values, prejudices and performance styles at work? Any time you feel moved to say ‘that Druid is superficial and insubstantial’ it’s worth looking at exactly what we’re rejecting and why. Humbleness and self effacement can be just as much a performance as fancy robes, and can be a highly successful one. It depends on what buttons you have to push.

How deliberate is your presentation style? What are you putting into the world as a Druid? How deliberate a performance is your Druidry? Does the idea of Druidry as public performance make you feel uneasy and inauthentic, or might that be an entirely valid aspect of what it means to be a priest, a bard, a celebrant? How does anyone else benefit from our Druidry if we don’t perform it in a deliberate way? Is it enough to live your truth, or is it necessary to make that more visible?

Sunlight and shadow

For me, woodland works in many ways as a metaphor for Druidry. I like the image of Druidry not being a single path, but being many possible journeys through the wood. I like the idea of Druidry as a terrain rather than as something more directional and focused on a goal. We’re in the wood, the wood is the destination, there is no extra special place to get to, no finish line to cross, it’s just about being in the wood.

Of course woods change all the time. They change with the seasons. They change one year to the next – trees grow, trees fall, paths become overgrown, new paths open up. Wild residents change in number, and location. The wood is not a fixed place. The metaphorical Druid wood is also not a static thing.

The other feature of woodland that has long struck me as being a good Druid concept, is that interplay of light and shadow. Across a wood, light levels can vary dramatically. You might find open clearings where the light is bright. Woods can be very dark – at night they cut out a lot of light pollution so you can get proper darkness under trees. Most of the time what you find is this constant and ever changing dappling of light and shadow. I don’t find the way that some people equate light with good and darkness with evil to be especially helpful because both are part of nature. I think Druidry belongs to the dappled and shifting light of woodland, where there is also beauty in the shadows and in the contrast. This is not to say I think Druidry is or should be amoral, more a recognition that everything is complicated and few things turn out to be purely good or purely bad.

What is a Druid Life?

For me, the key ingredient of a Druid life is that it is a considered life. The processes of contemplation and exploration are really important to me. I think philosophy is something we should do as part of how we live, and that thinking about things is generally a good idea. This is why a lot of the time my blog posts are me poking around in ideas.

That consideration is framed by a number of priorities and values. As someone whose spirituality is centered on the natural world, questions of how to live sustainably and restoratively are important to me. How do we reduce our impact on the planet? How do we protect life? I’m also concerned with social justice, which I think is intrinsic to environmental justice. I try to live my life in accordance with my values, although I’m always learning and always aware that I could do better.

For all of those reasons, I’m anti-capitalist. I think we need as many alternative ideas as we can about ways to work, share, organise and fairly distribute resources. This has me talking about community a lot. I’m also exploring the ways in which focusing on things as individual problems helps perpetuate them when we need community solutions and social change.

I’m exploring the bard path because I think creative sharing is often the better way to engage with people. We’re storytelling creatures and we respond to emotional content. We also need creativity both to enrich our lives and to open us to new and better ways of existing.

The overtly Druidic content is a fairly small part of what I do. Sometimes I write on obviously Pagan and Druid topics, but I find a lot of the time this just doesn’t seem like the best way to do the Druidry. For some years now I’ve felt that Druidry is best served by me doing the day to day things as outlined above, but reading any individual post it might not be obvious why I think the content is relevant. I don’t know how useful it would be to include more explicit notes about why any given thing seems relevant to me – I’m very open to feedback in that regard.

How we live, day to day is more important than the occasional big gestures. What you do as a Druid is what you do at home, at work and in your social circles. It’s there in how you spend your money, how you vote, what you support, what you allow, what you ignore. Druidry is not separate from life, and I’m always suspicious of people who think that their spirituality isn’t political.

If you think you aren’t political it’s because you feel safely in line with the status quo. If you don’t have to be political it can only be because your needs and rights aren’t threatened in any way. You aren’t hungry. You aren’t ill. You aren’t in any danger that you can see – which given the climate crisis may be a serious error of judgement. To be a Druid and to be self aware should include an understanding of those relationships. If you have the privilege not to need to engage, then as a Druid, the issue of justice should matter to you, and looking away only ever supports those who cause harm.