Tag Archives: Druid

Druidry, walking, and not walking

Walking is my primary mode of transport and is also how I engage with the natural world and the seasons. It’s a major part of how I exercise, and a key strategy for managing my mental health. As a consequence, not being able to walk is a bit of a disaster. There’s been a lot of that this year, and in the last six weeks or so it has been a massive problem.

Usually the limits on my walking come from pain, stiffness and lack of energy. I’m used to having days when I can’t do much, and fitting what I need to do around what’s possible. However, I’ve had a bout of very low blood pressure (for reasons) and it’s made walking really hard. I haven’t been able to get up hills, I’ve been able to manage twenty minutes at most, and I’ve felt awful. I’m aware that for a lot of people, twenty minutes would be a good amount of walking, but with the role walking plays in my life, not being able to walk for a few hours at a time is a real problem.

It’s meant I’ve had very little access to the landscape. Places I find spiritually nourishing – especially the hilltops – have been unavailable to me. If I had a garden, I could develop a spiritually nourishing outdoors space closer to home – but currently I can’t do that.

I’m lucky in that the underlying causes of this problem have been dealt with, and I should be able to recover and rebuild my strength and stamina. Not everyone who has a bodily crisis gets to do that afterwards. Many people live with sorely limiting conditions.

This experience has taught me that there is nothing I can do inside my flat that does for me what getting outside for long hours at a time does for me. My Druidry is so very much about my relationship with my immediate landscape. Much of the time that’s quite an understated presence – I do think about my connection with land and spirits of place whenever I am out, but that’s often so normal to me that in some ways I don’t notice it. Absence is a great teacher, and what I’ve not been able to do has taught me about what I need to do.

There’s an interesting balance around internalising things and losing sight of them. With any spiritual practice, you want to embed it so deeply in your life that it is your life. But when you do that you can stop noticing that it’s there, which is problematic. This in turn brings me to consider the usefulness of deliberate spiritual action for reminding us of our spiritual lives, and how necessary it may be to have things that aren’t so deeply embedded that they become invisible. This might mean I need to make a labyrinth once I’m back in shape. That’s a good jolt out of everydayness.

I certainly need to look at what I can do with my Druidry that is real and immediate to me, and soul satisfying, and not so dependent on being able to walk for a couple of hours. Alongside this, I have a lot of practical work to do rebuilding body strength and stamina, getting my heart fitter again, and getting back up the hills. I’ve come to understand in recent years that taking care of my body is a necessary consideration for how I do my Druidry – my body is where I experience everything else, and if I don’t keep it well and fit, I can’t get out there and do anything else. I’m very glad to have at least some options around improving wellness and fitness.


Druid Life

I think it’s really helpful to pause now and then and ask what the relationship between my life and my Druidry currently is. It has certainly changed over time – I have along the way been a student and a teacher, I’ve been a participant and a leader, a ritualist and a non-ritualist. There have been times when prayer and meditation have dominated, and times when it’s been mostly about service. Druidry has many different aspects to it, and different things come to the fore at different times.

This year, creativity has dominated so far – mostly in the form of Wherefore, a fiction series I’m doing on youtube. I’ve been talking about animism, magic, the nature of reality, and environmental issues under the guise of a silly story. You can find series one here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLd-6bmI3UuPDjEp1YqIYY6GkVTmG-1qux 

I’m re-thinking my work and service – I work for my local Transition movement, I volunteer for the Woodland Trust, I write for Pagan Dawn, and I’m getting more involved with my local theatre festival. I’m limited mostly by energy at the moment. I want to do more, but exhaustion is an ongoing problem.

Getting outside to walk, and sit, to witness the cycles of the seasons and encounter the wild things remains really important. Lockdown gave me some serious challenges – not having a garden didn’t help. But, I found ways to get out there and to stay passably connected.

At the moment, meditation and prayer are more to do with how I use my new altar space and I’m not doing as much along the edges of sleep as I was. This is in part because it no longer takes me so long to get to sleep!

This year has brought me a lot of re-thinks around divination and intuition – two things I had let go of some time ago, that now once again have a place in my life. It all feels really fragile at the moment. I’m conscious that if reality doesn’t turn out to line up with what I think I’ve been intuiting, this could get messy. Alongside this, there have been some shifts in experience around magic, how I think about deity, and how that might fit into my Druidry. This is all far too fledgling to talk about but all being well I’ll be back when I can share something more coherent.

The single biggest question right now, dominating my life, and my Druidry, is how to imagine the future. Climate chaos and the awful state of our politics make it hard to know what to do. There are personal complications as well. What I want, and what I have the financial power to do are currently a long way apart. This summer tantalised me with possible ways of changing that, and I am waiting to see what, if anything, is really possible. Right now, I have to embrace uncertainty, be as peaceful as I can be about what I do not know, and figure out how to stay open.

Recent weeks have brought many lessons about how much choice I have. There are important areas where the lack of choice is really hurting me right now. I’ve chosen not to protect myself from that. I’ve chosen to be open hearted and I’m conscious that what I’m doing is choosing who to be in face of circumstances I have little control over. Choosing hope is really hard work when there’s nothing much to support that. Looking around to see what will support hope, and who will, has changed how this works for me. Choosing faith when there’s no evidence – well, that’s the nature of faith and I’ve never been much good at it, but here I am trying to do it. I have no idea how this might impact on how I do my Druidry in the future, but it certainly could.


Druidry and Despair

One of the things I really appreciate about Druidry is there’s nothing inherent in it that will kick me when I’m down. There’s no ‘like attracts like’ philosophy. There’s no sense that suffering and difficulty are a result of bad karma, past life activities or lack of spiritual effort.

There are two places a Druid can look for spiritual guidance. There’s the literature pertaining to the Celts – the folklore and myths of Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and arguably also England and France. There’s the natural world. Both of these sources will demonstrate to you that life can be a bit shit. There isn’t always any justice, people do not get what they deserve. Tragedy happens. The Gods do what they do and cannot be counted on to make life easy for you. Death, decay, misery and suffering are part of nature, these things will happen to you. Cycles are natural, and that means not everything can be great all the time. There’s also the history we get from the Romans, and there’s nothing in that to suggest any kind of toxic positivity in ancient Druidry.

Feeling despair means I am not feeling Druid-fail. I can dwell on all the stories in which people do terrible, stupid things and/or have terrible and stupid things happen to them. It’s not just me. Rhiannon faced loss and terrible injustice, so did Branwen. Blodeuwedd and Macha do not get good deals.  Follow any story far enough and everyone dies. The question is not whether things will be awful and tragic – because they will, sooner or later. The question is whether we can manage to be heroic, poetic, glorious, and unique regardless, or because of the things that will cut us down.

My Druidry reminds me that if I feel I have nothing else, there’s always the option of strapping myself to the stone to keep fighting. If winning isn’t an option, there are still important questions to be asked about how you want to lose, and how you want to be seen as you go under. There’s always the scope to inspire and encourage others by putting up a fight, and by trying to do something glorious, poetic and heroic with the hand you’ve been dealt, no matter how shitty it is. And sometimes, figuring out how to fail heroically is as good as it gets, and it is better than failing in sad, boring and mundane ways.

I’ve lost my way this week. I’ve lost my sense of trajectory – a fledgling thing I’d only found this year. Epic things had been happening to me that were shifting my sense of self and I may have lost that too. I have lost inspiration that was essential to me, and I may never get that back. I can’t tell if this is a small setback, or a tragic ending that would be entirely recognisable to my ancestors of tradition.

The thing about strapping yourself to a rock to keep fighting, is that it imagines keeping fighting does some good. While you can stay upright, rescue remains possible. Something could happen, something could change. Even while expecting defeat, it’s an action that invites other possibilities, right up until the last breath.

Despair is not an obstacle to carrying on as a Druid. Defeat is not an obstacle – the Druidry the Romans defeated survived to at least some degree in story and myth. Something remains. Something lives on. Dying away is part of the cycle, I can enter those spaces, Druidry and all. I do not have to be happy to continue as a Druid. I do not have to be hopeful or brave, or believe anything much so long as I am prepared to keep going with something. This week has taken me to some difficult places, and the awareness that I might have to accept living there for an uncertain amount of time. Potentially for the rest of my life. I will tie myself to the rock and keep standing for as long as I can.


Druids in the Cathedral

I’ve blogged a few times now about my relationship with Gloucester cathedral – while there’s no Christianity in my religious mix, it remains a powerful place for me. This is a building made with love and determination and remade and developed over many centuries by my ancestors of place, and probably a fair few blood ancestors as well. I go there to honour them. The stone has come from the hills – it is a sort of forest/cave made of stone and as such is works well as a dry place in which to commune with the wider landscape and its history. I also love the way sound is transformed by the space so that mundane human conversations sound a bit like a choir.

I haven’t been outside of Stroud since the start of the year. The small train journey to Gloucester was a big consideration. The county isn’t doing as badly with the virus as some places, but it remains an issue. I don’t want to spread it and I certainly don’t want to catch it. Balancing virus issues against emotional and mental health needs remains tricky. It was, however, really good to have some quiet, contemplative time in the cathedral.

I have a favourite chapel, and I’ve frequented it since my late teens. I first started going to the Cathedral when I was studying in Cheltenham, and sometimes my journey back from there gave me time for a visit. I’ve been sitting in contemplation, and lighting candles in the cathedral on and off throughout my adult life.

Yesterday, my adult son and I sat together in the blue chapel. Some of it was quiet contemplation, some of it was talking quietly about the stained glass and what it means. There were very few people in the cathedral, and I took the decision to do something I have always wanted to. I hummed, quietly. After a while, my son joined in and then we got a bit more deliberate about it. We’re both Pagan, but have had plenty of exposure to Christian music along the way. We picked Christian tunes that we like – slower and stranger tunes – the older ones that seem to resonate more in that space. We pondered whether the space had been made to fit the music or the music had been written for cathedral acoustics.

It was a very powerful thing for me – our two voices humming in harmony, filling the small chapel and getting glorious acoustic resonance from the building itself. No one bothered us or told us to stop. We were singing in a chapel where the modern stained glass is two thirds devoted to representing the natural world. It felt like a very Druid thing to do.

It also struck me that visitors to the cathedral were making all kinds of irreverent noise. We were the only ones doing something audibly reverent, and still I was anxious that someone might get cross with us or tell us off. But they didn’t, so maybe I will do it again.


Druidry and your environment

We are shaped by our environments. The context in which we live our daily lives has a huge impact on us. We do better as people when we have green space, and there’s evidence out there that we are kinder, better humans when our environments include trees. Lockdown has made it apparent that poverty and impoverished environments go together and that those who have least are also required to live with insufficient space, and green space.

How we live is informed by the space we live in. How much room we have and what resources are available to us. There are things you can do to create an environment that works for you, but this will be limited by your financial resources. As a Druid you may well want trees, perhaps a whole woodland, but whether you can afford to own or access that is another question. For people in serious poverty, there is no spare budget for houseplants, or to grow herbs on the window. I have done well rescuing nearly dead, reduced to clear plants, but when you do that, you take what you can get.

If you rent your home, you may not have much scope to put things on the wall or choose the wall colour. As a renter with white walls for a winter, I had a terrible time of it. I need colour in my environment and living with so much white wall space ground me down. I know some people find pale and plain environments soothing, but I’m not one of them! I crave vibrant colours and lively space.

Many Pagans choose to make their homes overtly Pagan looking as a way of re-enforcing sense of self, celebrating the path and connecting with whatever most appeals. It’s interesting to examine what, in your living environment actively supports your Druidry. Is it an altar space? Depictions of divinity? Or of nature? Is it natural objects or crafted objects, representation of the elements, or your hearth-space? Is it your books? Do you keep your ritual or divination tools on display?

What in your surroundings supports and nurtures you? What inspires and uplifts you and reminds you of who you are and what you are doing? What comforts you? What helps you? It’s worth looking around at your space on these terms and asking what you can invite in, what’s not helping and what could be changed.


Druidry and the dormouse

I’ve never seen a dormouse in the wild – but that’s not unusual. They are shy creatures and they have an aversion to putting their feet on the ground. It means they are particularly affected by the presence or absence of green corridors connecting areas of woodland. Their cute, sleeping forms are, as a consequence, a popular image for the Woodland Trust and for other organisations trying to reconnect the fragments of our remaining wild places.

They have a great deal of power as an icon for vanishing wildlife, and as this is the way I have most experience of them, it’s the one I’m going to focus on. Activism on behalf of the natural world is something many Druids do. As individuals we may be enthused about all kinds of aspects of nature. However, most people are moved by cute things they can readily identify with.

The sleeping dormouse is adorable. Small, soft, furry, harmless, vulnerable – it pushes all the right buttons to get people caring about woods and trees. It can be difficult to get people to care, there are so many pressures to do that, and emotive content tends to have an impact. I don’t like approaches that over-play on your emotions because I think they just add to the problem. But, cute dormouse is cute and engages people without hurting them.

Dormice hibernate and my understanding is that their name comes from the Latin and that the Romans liked to eat them. However, our sense of them as sleepy creatures owes largely to Alice in Wonderland’s sleepy dormouse, and to mostly only seeing pictures of dormice having a kip. When they aren’t hibernating, they’re busily doing the things mice do, only inside hedges at night, so you won’t see them being active. The story about the dormouse is far more prominent than the reality of the creature itself.

Dormice are not available to most of us. To encounter them you’d likely need some training and the opportunity to participate in dormouse-specific projects. But, dormice are not commodities. They don’t exist to teach us, or for that matter to charm us. They may be good fluffy posterboys and girls for raising environmental awareness, but they do not exist for us. As most of us cannot engage with them directly they raise questions about the service we might unconsciously expect from nature, and our feelings of entitlement to have access to everything. Dormice owe us nothing, and perhaps the best way to honour them (aside from protecting their habitats) is actually to leave them in peace.


The Druid’s Hedgehog

Spiky on the outside, soft in the middle, I identify rather a lot with hedgehogs. Night wandering snufflers, eaters of whatever turns up, there’s something cheerfully pragmatic about hedgehogs. In recent years they’ve also provided us with evidence about how quickly creatures can adapt. Once, they rolled into balls to deal with threats, and died to cars. Now, they run away. They shouldn’t have to, but human spaces aren’t much good for them.

In my teens I had a number of memorable hedgehog encounters. There was a hedgehog who lived under my grandmother’s shed. There was one evening when I was sat on her doorstep because I couldn’t sleep (I lived between her house and my mother’s not really belonging anywhere). The night was quiet, but there came a sound as though an army of a hundred tiny marching feet was coming down the road. I was a little scared, but I stayed put. And down the road came a massive hedgehog, spines skittering over the bumps in the tarmac to make the sound of many feet.

That encounter got me thinking about traditions of putting bread and milk out for faeries. This is also what one traditionally puts out for a hedgehog, although it’s not good for them and cat food is far better. But, feed the hedgehog, and there will be fewer pests in your vegetable plot, and you will be blessed with more food.

I’ve rescued many a hedgehog from roads and sides of roads. I find that putting coat sleeves over the hands makes it easier to lift them – they are really spiky. I’ll take the pain of that over leaving one in danger any time, though.

Other hedgehog stories – the one I sat with on a low wall for a while on my way home from the pub. The family of baby hedgehogs who cavorted on my lawn one late summer’s afternoon. The hedgehog on the sports field, looking up at the full moon. The two hedgehogs in the same place involved in what looked like a dance routine. They are always charming.

I’ve lived with them in my garden, I’ve chatted to them late at night. Hedgehogs don’t mind people that much – not if we’re on foot and at a reasonable distance. They like us even more when we make our gardens accessible, leaving hedgehog sized gaps under fences. They like us when we leave them safe places to sleep and don’t later turn those into bonfires. They like us when we put stones in our ponds so they don’t drown in them, and when we don’t poison life in our gardens. They are a blessing to have around.

If there’s a hedgehog in your life, it is a measure that you are doing things well.


Druidry and Animals

Modern Druidry includes quite a bit of animal lore. There’s what various people have gleaned from mediaeval Celtic sources, from folklore, folk song and other sources no doubt more and less historically accurate. Like most Pagan paths, our creature lore tends to focus on larger, higher status animals. The Druid Animal Oracle is a fine case in point here – it’s a lovely pack and I treasure my copy of it, but there’s more missing from it than is included.

So, what about all those other creatures? The ones we don’t have myths for. The ones that don’t crop up in Pagan conversations about animal spirits and Celts and whatnot? We’ve lost a lot of larger mammals from the British landscape, and these must have been significant to our ancestors. We’ve lost the stories that go with them, too. And size isn’t everything – some of our tiniest neighbours, like the earthworm, are intrinsic to life as we know it.

In the coming weeks I’m going to explore some of these creatures as best I can. I’m going to be focusing on the ones that don’t have roles in epic tales, that aren’t traditionally used as metaphors for human behaviour. I’ll be drawing mostly on personal experience and things that I have feelings about, so it’ll be a random list with no obvious logic from the outside. I’m totally open to suggestions for what to include – depending on me knowing anything at all about the being in question!


Magic in the creative process

As a Druid, I hold inspiration sacred and I see creativity as an inherently magical process. However, there’s one aspect of this that is stand-out magical for me, and it has to do with how I work with other people.

Without a doubt, I do my best work either when I’m collaborating with others, or writing for someone very specifically. It gives me focus. Ideas are easy to find, for me the key moment of inspiration is when I see how to pull a selection of ideas together to make it into something for someone.

What I write depends a lot on who I’m writing for. When I’m writing for someone specific, my relationship with them colours what I create. There will be a moment, or moments when I’m thinking about them and drawing on all the emotions that go with that. What happens next is like opening a door. Until I open that door, I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what will happen to me or what I’ll be able to do.

I feel this in a tangible way. I feel it in my body, in my thoughts. The door has a reality. Opening it changes things. Stepping through is a shift. I have no idea what I’m stepping into, what this space is or how it works, but it changes things for me. It lifts my creativity out of the stuff I can do from practice and experience, and elevates it into something with more inherent enchantment in it.

The door opens, and I pass through it. I write whatever it is that I could only have written by taking that step. Some people I will only ever write one or two things for because there turns out not to be much magic on the other side of the door. Some people I will keep coming back to because writing for them brings out the best in me. I’ve been writing for Tom for more than a decade now, and that door always leads me to good places.

Inevitably, this process impacts on my relationships with people. I’m drawn to the people I can create for in this way. I’m even more excited about people who are prepared to be a bit more active, engaging with me around whatever I’ve written for them, and deliberately opening doors for me by asking me to write specific things.

It’s a giddy feeling, when it works. Wild and wonderful, unpredictable. When I open those doors to write for someone else, I go places I would never have gone on my own. I’m able to think differently. Possibilities open up before me. I am at my happiest and my best when I can do that.


Druidry and Food

Eating is one of the most fundamentally natural things we do. It is an everyday opportunity to engage with our bodies, and to be alert to the relationship between our bodies, and the natural world. For a Druid this is territory rich in potential.

Like many people, my lifelong relationship with food is problematic. Fat-shaming featured heavily in my childhood, although having dug out some old photos, I was never especially fat. I was encouraged to feel guilty about enjoying food, and fearful of the threat of fatness. I ate badly in my teens – poor nutrition, failed attempts at starving myself in a desire to be thin. I became fearful of eating around other people. In my twenties, food became part of the power balance in a truly unhealthy relationship. I’ve also had my relationship with food undermined by poverty and sourcing issues.

It’s really only in recent years that I’ve been able to eat exactly as I please and feel safe while doing so. I’ve discovered how much I enjoy raw, fresh things, how much I prefer a diet dominated by plant matter. Wholegrains. Diversity, experimentation and messing about have become options for me. I’ve started to enjoy cooking. I’ve done a lot of cooking – as a matter of duty. Only in recent years as my relationship with food has changed have I been able to enjoy thinking about meals, planning food, and I’ve come to truly enjoy making and sharing food as well.

Food can be a creatively expressive form. It can be inspired, and we can bring our sense of the sacred to what we eat. Meals can be a good basis for social connections and for family life, so if community is part of your Druidry, food is a way of approaching that. People who eat together form bonds. Companions are, etymologically speaking, people who share bread. That can be a ritual thing, but is just as powerful in other contexts.

Food can be part of how we do our activism – in our dietary choices and how we source what we eat. It brings us into contact with the soil, with other living beings and with the state of the planet.

Eating engages us with our fundamentally animal selves. It gives us opportunity to honour nature in our own bodies. To be embodied in your nature based spirituality is to resist body-shaming, food shaming and fat shaming. It strikes me as inherently Druidic to seek the balances between personal health, environmental health, joy and celebration when it comes to food.