Tag Archives: druidic

Druidry and time, continued

This is my second blog post contemplating a druidic relationship with time. The first one is here – druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/06/19/druidry-and-time/

About ten years ago I had a run of experiences that caused me to focus very much on day to day life. Things that mattered greatly to me seemed unviable, or that I was threatened with losing. It was a frightening time, but, all I could do was take it day by day. Although things were hard, that day by day focus on gratitude, appreciation and making the very best I could of what I did have got me through and taught me a lot.

All the important stuff eventually worked out in the way I needed it to, as an aside.

The legacy from that time remains with me.  It taught me a lot about how to think about life. It taught me how precious the small things are, and how you never get the time back and how important it is to celebrate and honour what you have right now.

This is more of a seize the day philosophy than a live in the moment approach. It was impossible to live in the moment with the future so uncertain and so fearful. But it was possible to dig into each day as much as I could, to relish the best bits and make the best of what I had. I never lost sight of the bigger picture, but I focused a lot on the details of everyday life. And I learned that most of the important stuff is made out of those details anyway.

Whether we accept it or not, our relationships with time bring us a lot of uncertainty. You never really know how long you will have with a person, in a place, a job or anything else. I’ve found along the way that I regret things I didn’t do far more than I regret the mistakes I made. Life doesn’t always give second chances, so when I can, I jump in with both feet.  It’s important to recognise the uncertainty, I think. Important not to put off opportunities that might never come again and to recognise how brief and fragile life is. And then to engage with it as much as possible on a day to day basis. Take it as it comes, love it in its smallest parts.

I’m a big fan of doing little or nothing. Time spent on not much can be time very well spent. The one to watch for is when you’re filling in the time, or worse yet, killing time, when you aren’t really engaged with what you are doing.

I don’t think there’s any specific philosophy about time that is more innately druidic than any other, only to value what we get, to make the most of it in whatever way makes most sense to you. Whatever your relationship with time is, make it conscious. Choose it. Live it. Even if you have a wider belief that gives you all the time in the universe, this moment is precious and will never come in quite the same way again,


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.


Druidry and service

I first started studying Druidry about 18 years ago. Back then, I was hungry for knowledge, and hopeful about developing wisdom. I wanted something that gave my life coherence, and Druidry brought together all the things I was interested in, giving shape to my life in a way I was excited about. I joined a Grove, went to open rituals, studied with OBOD. When I started, this is something I was doing for me.

Not very far in, the idea of service as the heart of Druidry happened to me, and I volunteered for The Druid Network. For some years, it was all about how much I could give and as a person who already wasn’t good at self-care, this didn’t entirely work for me. Most of my Druidry came to be about what I did for other people – in ritual, in teaching (I’d grown up Pagan, so when I got to Druidry I actually knew quite a lot already).

I don’t really know how to do ritual for myself. It was always something I did as an act of service. I only dress the part if I’m working for someone who I think needs me to dress the part. I don’t go to events unless someone wants me to do a talk. It struck me this week that my whole approach to Druidry has been shaped, if not distorted by this sense that service is what matters most.

Most people who take up a spiritual path do so because they want to grow. They want to enrich themselves, and for Pagans, opening the door to wonder and the numinous is usually part of the mix. When I started out, that was what I wanted. I have a lot of underlying issues around not feeling like I deserve nice things, and this has no doubt played its part. So, I’m looking at my assumptions.

I don’t really ‘do’ deity and that’s in no small part because I can’t see why any deity would want to bother with me so there’s not much point asking. For years now, I’ve only held sacred space and time for other people’s benefit. I don’t dress up, because I’m not glamorous and I don’t really feel entitled to present that way – I intend to challenge this. I don’t do much pagan bling, or interior decoration because I’ve persuaded myself it’s superficial. But it’s also joyful, and I’ve not made much space for personal joy in my path, and I think I need to.

What if my Druidry was fun?

What if the study and embodying of Druidic philosophy was something I consciously did for my own benefit first and foremost?

What if I made more deliberate space for beauty and joy? What if I allowed myself to play with this and take more delight in it?

What if I stopped trying to justify my use of time in terms of how I benefit other people?

 


The Secret Order of Steampunk Druids

I’ve had a page on this blog for many years about the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. It’s not a secret, and there’s no order worth mentioning, and yet a number of people have identified with it, and that cheers me. I think it’s good and necessary not to take yourself too seriously…

Dear Secret Steampunk Druids, a thing has happened. I am going to The Town That Never Was in Shropshire this June, and I shall be standing for election as the mayor of that imaginary place. I have been invited to do so as a representative of The Secret Order. I know that I am up against The Cthulhu Party who have slogans like “Why vote for a Lesser Evil?” so it’s going to be tough!

Over the coming month, I’m going to be putting together my manifesto. Clearly it has to include the right to beards. I’m tempted to get some wicker man content in there too.  There have to be trees. It’s an excellent opportunity for some properly Druidic political satire, and if I can get the balance right, it may even be a genuine opportunity for some interfaith work… there’s also colossal scope to make a total arse of myself in quite the wrong way, so I’ll be thinking about this carefully.

Victorian era Druids were amazing, and mad and ridiculous, and consequently fit well in a steampunk setting. But at the same time I’m likely to have an audience of people who have no idea who I am, or what Druidry is, or how my five minutes of yelling relates to anything else. There’s the possibility that I will be some people’s first encounter with Druidry – new or old.

So, what should I be standing for, and what should I be rabidly against? I’m very much open to suggestions!


Druidry and making our own environments

Following on from yesterday’s blog about nature and nurture, I want to think about how taking up a spiritual path can involve deliberately changing your environment in order to change yourself. I suspect there are elements of this in any path, but Druidry is what I know best.

We can be quite critical of the apparently superficial things people do when they come to Paganism. Early on, some people can seem to be more about the surfaces than anything else. The bling, the clothes, the pretty things. It’s something I’ve tended to be suspicious of. However, I’m fortunate in that I grew up with music, folklore, and wildlife. For the person who grows up in a ‘muggle’ environment, sorely lacking in magic and creativity, the jump to Paganism can be a big one. Changing the surfaces around you can help affirm that jump and make it seem real, I realise.

Making our environment, and ourselves look ‘pagan’ can be part of a process for change. If what’s around us affirms our choices, we’ll perhaps be better equipped to act on them. It may be that we spend a lot of our time in environments that are banal and soulless, and that dressing the part and covering your home in green men is a necessary push back against that. What looks like a superficial, consumer-orientated approach may in fact be a way of creating space for Paganism, and for changing personally. It depends on what a person is looking for.

If you use environmental shifts to support personal changes, then they can help you. If you are buying Pagan things because you like the look, and a few years hence maybe you’ll take up a steampunk look, or a hippy look… then it won’t make much odds. If you want a pretty surface as a temporary amusement I don’t rate the chances of it transforming your life. If you are changing how things look around you, and how you look to reinforce other things you are doing, it’s likely to do that.

Take a glance around your living space and consider what’s there primarily to give a physical presence to your beliefs. Perhaps you have an altar, a depiction of deity, a green man. I have house plants and a scattering of fossils picked up on walks. And I do also have some dry mistletoe. I have art on the walls that, while not overtly Druidic, does things for me. I live in a colourful, chaotic space that reflects what I do. Other people may find soothing tones, or minimalism reflects their spiritual identity – there’s no one right answer here.

Doing things to your home to make it look more druidy, or witchy, or shamanic will require you to think about what that means. Where does a big TV screen fit into that? Do your kitchen cupboards reflect your path? If you walk into the bathroom and looked at the products there, do they affirm your sense of being a Pagan? If you align your living space with your beliefs, you may end up making radical changes to do that, and thus what starts out as a superficial, simple thing about looking the part can become a serious process of walking your talk.


Calling yourself a Druid

It’s been problematic for as long as I’ve been doing it. We are not the ancient Druids, so how can we claim the name? There are lots of theories about what the word means and where it comes from, and it may well relate to oak or trees, but at the same time, it’s a word we don’t fully understand. We don’t have the same training the ancient Druids did, or access to everything they knew, so how can we claim the title? And it is a title, historically denoting training, and status within a community that no longer exists.

Then there are the modern Druids you don’t want to be associated with. You know the ones. The Druids who are doing it wrong, the ones you find embarrassing and unacceptable and you don’t want to be considered as like them, or supporting them.

Of course all of this is true of any label that lasts more than a day or two. Labels develop histories. Meanings and associations change over time. Just look at how Christianity has changed over its history and how many versions of it there are out there. There are plenty of Christians who are deeply embarrassed by those other Christians who are doing it wrong. There are plenty of feminists who are furious with the other feminists who clearly have entirely the wrong ideas. There isn’t a human project out there free from disagreement, and safe from asshats.

What would it mean to have Druidry be something that no one disagreed over? There could be no new things, no experimentation, no innovation, no personal gnosis, no diversity. The vast majority of people I’ve encountered who want to identify as Druids want to do so on their own terms. We would not function without the room to change our minds.

How do you get a space free from asshats? Perhaps you have some people with the power to police who is allowed to call themselves a Druid and to throw out those who don’t make the grade. I can’t think of a single Druid I know who would be happy to be on the inside of that. Most of them would make an effort to get thrown out at the first possible opportunity. For every training order that confers titles there are plenty of Druids stood on the outside, shaking their heads and saying they wouldn’t have done it like that. For every person willing to stand up and say ‘Druidry is this’ you can count on their being at least one other person willing to stand up and say ‘oh no it isn’t.’

There are people doing Druidry who I don’t like at all, whose actions I despise, whose words I find ridiculous. I expect there are Druids who would say the same of me. Does that mean some of us can’t be Druids? Arguing about Druidry is entirely Druidic. Arguing with other Druids for the sake of arguing with other Druids is not the basis of a spiritual path. Trying to assert who is and is not a Druid is a waste of time and energy because there will only be arguments on that score. We can reject teachers and leaders personally – we should always be free to do that. We can talk about why we object to ideas and behaviour – that’s important. But, these are things not to get bogged down in.

The failure of other people to do Druidry in a way we like is not the failure of Druidry. You will not find a human project of any substance that doesn’t have dissent, its own heresies, heretics and dodgy characters. There isn’t a human project out there someone hasn’t tried to abuse to get power, or tried to dumb down, or used as a tool for hatred and discrimination. Shitty people get everywhere. Including Druidry. We are not magically better than any other human project.


Every Day Druidry

Part of the idea when I started this blog and called it Druid Life, was to look at lived Druidry and how Druidry impacts on what I do in the rest of my life. This is one of the reasons I write about a whole array of things that perhaps at first glance don’t seem very Druidic at all.

For me, Druidry is what we do all the time, not just at the festivals. It’s about the approach and the process, the underlying logic. It’s about the willingness to reflect, question and delve deeper. It’s the willingness to bring philosophical ideas into everyday life, to bring spiritual values into things that are not overtly spiritual.

The problem with this, is that I’ve found it’s easy to lose the sense of the Druidry even while trying to live the Druidry. My Druidry is about the choices I make in my working life, about activism and education. It is green living choices, and what I do creatively, and what I do to nurture and support others in their creativity. I bring my Druidry to volunteering for The Woodland Trust, and I’m bringing it to the Transition network locally, and I take it into pubs and make spaces for people to follow their inspiration.

These are not things to do while wearing robes. Not that I’ve ever been one for the robes. I’ve come to see this year how much ritual spaces and overtly Pagan and Druid spaces do to affirm a person as Being A Proper Druid or whatever they are being. Seeing ourselves recognised by other people on the same path is affirming, and helpful.

There are days when I can’t see the Druidry for the trees. I see the trees a lot. I see the wildlife. I walk. I’m closer to the patterns of light and dark than I have ever been, closer to this land than I have ever been. And yet when I see photos of all the proper Druids at Druid gatherings, I feel like an outsider. A fake. A wannabe. I question, over and over whether ‘druid’ is a word I should use, or have any entitlement to. I stay with it in no small part because I have no idea what to call the blog instead and there’s some comfort in being able to identify as something.

When you make something part of your life, it becomes less self announcing. The difference between a long term marriage and the first excited flush of a new relationship. The difference between starting a new exercise or diet plan, and having a healthy lifestyle. We notice the new, the unfamiliar, and we notice the things we have to really consciously work at. That which is embedded in life can be less visible even as we’re doing it. Equally, that which is an every day thing can be a taken for granted thing. It’s easy to say ‘my work is my prayer’ and that be an empty, meaningless statement. The work is only the prayer if you’re really doing it.

And so I pause every now and then and ask where the Druidry is in my life. What is my Druidry? What does it mean? What does it do? How does it manifest? What am I learning, making, changing? What am I dedicating to? Where am I needed? Sometimes I don’t really know what any of the answers are. It’s ok not to know.

When I started on the Druid path, it seemed that the Druid path was many paths through a vast an ancient forest. Perhaps the forest itself was Druidry. I saw many fellow travellers, I walked well worn routes. I knew where I was because there were plenty of signposts.

Right now I have no sense of there being a Druid path beneath my feet. No sense of direction, no signposts. No one waving to me from the next path over. Just quiet, and stillness and trees, and I cannot tell if this is because I have entirely lost my way, or because I have arrived somewhere.


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.


Reviewing challenges and reader implications

In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two review books that were not written to have someone read them flat out cover to cover. Sing me the Creation, and Penny Billington’s The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew. I’m in the useful position of having been able to talk with Penny about her intentions with this text – she calls it a workbook and envisages people dipping in and out at need. “A book of ideas for workshopping as and when it seems appropriate: a reference book that, having read through for basic info, you can then pull off the shelf and dip into when it’s relevant.”  Undoubtedly, using the book in this way would result in a very different experience to reading the whole thing in three days.

I’ve read a number of books that were designed to be courses and worked through over extended time frames. Jane Meredith’s Journey to the Dark Goddess and Aphrodite’s Magic spring to mind as recent examples, but there have been plenty of others. In all these cases, the aim is not to have people learn by just reading your ideas, but to send them off to have experiences of their own, on their own terms, so as to be able to learn something more direct and personal.

Throughout her book, Penny talks about going out to where trees are, observing them, developing a sense of relationship with them. As it happens, I have a longstanding personal practice where paying close attention to trees is part of the mix. I have some sense of what a person would get from following Penny’s suggestions. But here’s the thing – I’ve not spent a year or so actively seeking out birches, oaks and yews. There is a vast and mighty oak on one of my regular walks. I don’t know of any birches or yews that I see regularly – I know they’re around, but I haven’t built those relationships. The experience of doing what Penny suggests is bound to be very different from reading it and thinking about it. As a reviewer, what I can offer is a best guess, not proper insight.

Those of us who take up spiritual exploration do so (often) with the desire to be changed by it. The odds are that facing the same material, we won’t be changed in the same ways, and the more the material encourages us to innovate, the more individual the experience will be. Where my birch trees grow is going to affect how I experience them. I’ve seen tenacious birches on old railways sites. I’ve seen them on the edge of commons, and struggling in over-damp Cotswold woods where the conditions tend to bring them down. There’s a lot of difference between a springy young sapling and a dying older tree, and what we find shapes what we do and what we therefore come to know.

I read how-to books out of interest, seldom intending to do the work as described. Sometimes I do bits of it – picking up what appeals to me. One of the great strengths of working with a book is that no one is directing your work and you have the freedom to do as you will with it. It’s also a weakness because some of us do better with guidance, and with the scope to have a response to our unique experiences.

If you’re interested in working with trees, Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew may be well worth your time. Can I tell you what will happen if you get in there and do the work? Not at all, but I think that would be also true if I’d worked intensely with the book for months. I can say with confidence that it is very well written and accessible, it is Druidic – although aimed at a wider audience, it offers signposts to a meaningful journey, but how and if you take that journey is yours to decide.


Visualisation for non-visual people

Visualisation takes a number of forms in Pagan practice – it comes up in certain forms of magic, it can be key to developing the tools for shamanic journeying, and the more creative forms of meditation depend on it. Visualising a sacred inner grove is a key piece of Druidic meditation. What happens if that isn’t available to you? Not everyone is born sighted, and sight impairments can’t always be an easy match with instructions to visualise the beautiful, intricate details. I have no firsthand experience of this and cannot therefore comment with any great confidence, although I think there’s a good chance what I’m poised to suggest could be helpful.

I have a very poor visual memory and a weak visual imagination. I cannot hold the shape, and look of a clearing surrounded by trees, in my head coherently for more than a few seconds at a time. I can’t see it. I’ve been trying on and off for over a decade on this particular exercise, and I still can’t see it. My visual thinking skills have improved very slightly over that time frame, but it’s taken a lot of effort and I still can’t do what many seem to do easily.

I have a good memory for words and sounds. I can remember smells, and I really remember touch. I have a recall capacity for physical sensation which I didn’t really explore for years, while I was struggling away with what I could not see inside my own head. I also have good emotional recall, which works well alongside the touch memories. I can recall cats I knew thirty years ago, and remember the shape of their bodies and the texture of their fur. I can do the same with people I have touched.  I can remember a number of actual clearings in the woods as bodily experiences of being in a space.

I think the only reason we have ‘visualisation’ and not some wider ‘sensing’ is because most people are primarily visual. Some of us aren’t, especially not when it comes to memory and the mind. What happens if we take the idea of visualisation, and stop being so visual about it? In my case the short answer is, success!

If visualising doesn’t work for you, let it go, in whole or in part, to explore other forms of sensing. Work with the senses that most involve you in the world and that your mind can most readily conjure up. I work increasingly with my felt responses. I don’t know what a grove of trees looks like beyond a most general sense. If I imagine what it’s like to sit with my eyes closed, in a place surrounded by trees, then the smells, sounds and bodily feelings of that are quite available to me, and I can blend memory and imagination to productive effect.