Tag Archives: druidry

What does a Druid do?

When I first came to Druidry, something like twenty years ago, my sense of what modern Druids did was informed by observation. Clearly the first thing to do was join a Grove and/or a Druid order. Ideally a Grove belonging to the Druid Order. In practice it’s often a lot more complicated of course!

Joining a Grove meant showing up for regular meetings (monthly, for me) and attending festivals through the year. Study and practice was to some degree dictated by the Grove. I also went to bigger Druid gatherings at Avebury and Stonehenge.

It was clear from early on that people came to Druidry with all kinds of different intentions. Some people just wanted a community in which to celebrate the cycles of the seasons. Some were following a specific calling within Druidry – to be bards, or healers, herbalists, activists, and so forth. Some would become ritualists and celebrants and lead groups themselves. There weren’t so many authors back then, but it was clear that writing, speaking at events and teaching were part of what some Druids were called to do. Especially those Druids who were going to be Big Name Druids.

I grasped early on the importance of service and volunteering. I did quite a lot of that, one way and another. Curiously, I also had a strong sense that I should be stepping up. I ended up with a lot of students of my own – as a twenty something proto-Druid it turned out that I knew more myth, folklore, music, magic, meditation and nature stuff than many Pagans who were a lot older than me.  There were a lot of people around me who were entirely new to Paganism and who wanted to learn, and so I stepped up as best I could. I led rituals and workshops and moots and all sorts of things – often because despite being fairly young and not that experienced, I was often the most experienced person to hand.

Doing all the things that might make a person a modern Druid is bloody hard work, though. There are people who make it pay, but I certainly wasn’t one of those.  Over the years, I started to look harder at what of the work made sense to me – I cut back on teaching. I stepped away from celebrant work, which is prohibitively difficult if you don’t drive, and I’m honestly not theatrical enough. I became less interested in leadership roles.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. Many other Druids of my acquaintance seem to have walked a comparable path and are undertaking to Druid in quieter ways, focusing on the bits of the path that truly interest them and not trying to perform a large and complex role. It means diversity, and not so many of the people aspiring to be Big Name folk and not so much emphasis on that. More sharing and conversation, less authority. I like it better.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out now why twenty-something me thought that aspiring to be a Big Name Druid was even slightly attractive. I knew what kind of level of work was required and I wasn’t averse, back then, to martyring myself, but I was never mercenary enough to make it work financially. I was never pushy enough to take up enough space. I was never that into authority. But, I had a weird feeling it was what I was supposed to be doing. Perhaps at the time, it was what I needed to be aiming for, but I’m a lot more comfortable for having since let go of all that.


Druidry and Prehistory

Having been poking about learning what I can about prehistory, I think this is a really good topic to put on your ‘Druid syllabus’. Not just for what we can learn directly about our ancestors.

There is more of human history in prehistory. Modern humans are perhaps 200,000 to 300,000 years old. These were not the first humans. We only have a few thousand years with written records. This distorts our sense of time, I think. 

Looking at prehistory has a lot to teach us about what it means to be human. What is culture? What is civilization? What is art? What physical evidence do we take as signs of different kinds of activity? Just asking these questions tells us a lot about ourselves, and about humanity.

One find can change the entire story. This is inherently exciting. It teaches us not to be dogmatic, to remain open and flexible and ready to change our minds in face of new information. These are good life skills to have.

Modern culture is materialistic and has a high impact. Seeing how little remains from early humans makes for a powerful contrast. Can we imagine complex societies that aren’t so materially oriented? We’ve tended to assume ancient humans were inferior because of their technology, what if we instead learned to see their strengths and capabilities?  Colonialist thinking likens non-material modern societies to ‘primitive’ ancient humans, but we are wrong about that in so many ways. Studying the past can help us learn about this without having to interfere in the lives of living people.

When we imagine the Stone Age as being a bunch of people barely wrapped in animals skins, mostly saying ‘ugg’ and full of superstition and irrational beliefs about how the world works, we do our ancestors a great disservice. Modern humans of the Stone Age had the same brain capacity we do. The evidence is that our ancestors were all far more complex, sophisticated and capable than we’ve habitually depicted them. We might have a better, healthier perspective on our own state if we did not imagine ourselves to be superior. 

Contemporary humans are not the pinnacle of achievement in a progress narrative. We’re the irrational ones. We are the ones whose behaviour is driven by ignorance and irrational belief.


Celtic Shamanism

The internet offers a vast array of content on the subject of Celtic Shamanism – books, courses, names, symbols, meanings… Which is problematic in all kinds of ways.

There were no historical people who self identified as The Celts. It’s a term applied from outside to describe an array of tribes living in Europe in the Iron Age. The Romans drew a rather arbitrary line between Celtic peoples and Germanic peoples that may have coloured our interpretations ever since. Iron Age Europeans were no doubt a diverse lot, and imagining the existence of a single, coherent Celtic culture is probably unhelpful.

Problem number two is that much of what we know about Celtic culture comes from stories recorded in the mediaeval era by Christians. This clearly isn’t going to be a precise rendering of a Pagan belief system. A brief flirtation with Irish, Welsh and Scottish tales will also give you a pretty clear sense that these are not the same people, even if some figures appear to crop up more than once.

Shamanism is a problematic word. It most probably derived from the Tungus word ‘šaman’ the internet reckons. Its use to describe the religions of contemporary indigenous people around the world is widely considered problematic. Applying it to the Celts also causes problems. It starts from the assumption that what the Celts did was shamanic and that therefore it can be reconstructed by drawing on practices from existing indigenous people. 

We know that the Celts had a lot of gods, and put up statues to them. There are ways of reading the stories that suggest ties with shamanic practices – but perhaps only if you start out looking for that and ignore the material that doesn’t fit. My personal feeling is that the desire to believe in Celtic shamanism comes primarily from a desire to believe that Europe had shamanistic practices comparable to other parts of the world. This, all too often, works as a justification for a bit of cultural appropriation. Druid sweat lodges. Druid animal guides. Druids burning white sage, and smudging their sacred spaces. And so on, and so forth. 

These are all terms deriving from other cultures that I’ve seen Druids using. We aren’t entitled to these words, no matter how much we want them. We aren’t entitled to these practices, no matter how much we want our Celtic ancestors to be like some specific group of contemporary people. We aren’t entitled to steal other people’s words and practices to fill in the gaps in our own history and knowledge. It’s appropriation, and there’s a lot of it out there.

The urge to find a way to be an indigenous person in Europe, is a good one, I think. But we can’t do it by stealing things from other cultures and trying to pretend it was ours all along.


Druidry and Privilege

Back when I was first exploring ideas of privilege, there was a person who used to show up on my blog to argue with me. I’ve since deleted most of her stuff.  If I talked about body size, she’d be in to tell me how hard things can be for thin people. I talked about the social issues around being found unattractive, and she responded by telling me how hard things can be when you grow up pretty. I remember her writing about her home, and big garden, and driving to get to the farmer’s market, and me raising the issue of privilege and being told that she wasn’t privileged.

We were all fairly new to the privilege conversations at this point. I did not then know how normal this type of conversation would become – that people who have considerable amounts of privilege are often incredibly resistant to seeing it, or to imagining what life would be like without those things. I know at this point how normal it is for people with massive privilege to dismiss the challenges faced by others, to treat the inconvenience they experience as being comparable, and to minimise the suffering of those who have significantly less.

These days I would have both the confidence and the insight to call out someone for this kind of crappy thinking. At this point I know that I am right about this stuff, and was right at the time. I never owed anything to the poor little rich girl who wanted to feel sorry for herself over how her attractiveness made other people jealous. One of the things massive privilege likes to do is whinge when it looks like the focus of attention is moving somewhere else. Immense privilege is used to being centre stage, and feels entitled, and resents the suggestion that something else matters more, so dammit, if the way to compete is to prove that really you are the disadvantaged one, then that’s what you do to stay firmly centre stage and most important.

For me, justice is an important part of Druidry. The work of seeking justice begins in yourself. If means being anti-racist and starting by looking hard at your own prejudices and assumptions, for example. It means looking at your privilege and the differences between what you have, and what others do not have. Justice requires a willingness to be uncomfortable. This includes a willingness not to be centre stage, and to recognise that other people may have bigger problems. Yes, thin can bring issues and criticism, but it will not usually mean a doctor automatically ignores your symptoms and attributes them to your body shape. 

For there to be justice, we have to listen to each other. One of the easiest ways to derail a bid for justice is to insist that something else is more important. When men insist on foregrounding violence experienced by men in response to someone trying to talk about violence inflicted on women by men, for example. At the same time, if someone is talking about issues with no reference to the privilege involved, that actually needs derailing. No, we can’t all drive to the farmer’s market to buy local organic veg. Not all of us can drive, or afford that kind of food, and it isn’t that we aren’t trying hard enough.

And today, justice is allowing myself the space to feel angry on my own account that I had to deal with all of that. Angry that someone persistently worked to undermine me, to derail me, to minimise genuine issues and to put themselves centre stage in this space that is mine. I’m allowed to be angry, but it’s taken me a lot of years to be able to hold that for myself.


Druidry and the body

One way to honour nature is to honour it as it manifests in our own bodies. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because capitalist cultures are set up to have us not doing that. We work for too long and don’t rest enough. We’re sold allegedly convenient foods that are harmful to us. We dose ourselves with chemicals. We don’t spend enough time moving around, or being outside. Consumer culture makes it hard to honour nature within ourselves.

This week my body has made it clear that I have to figure out how to be a lot kinder to it. My body is no longer prepared to go along with the demands I make of it. This animal self needs more that as healing, comforting and restorative. I note that I think of my body as something separate from ‘me’ and that I’ve been in a running battle with my body for most of my life. What I want to do and what I expect of myself are not compatible with what my body can actually sustain, and this has always been an issue for me.

Currently I’m experiencing menopause issues. I have been for a while, and every now and then I get really knocked about by it. Where menopausal stuff intersects with problems I already have, the results can be desperately unpleasant. One thing that is clear is that I need more slack in how I organise my time so that if I get in to trouble, I can focus on it. I’m going to have to give my body more priority and I’m going to have to be kinder to it and take better care of it.

There are ideas that come up around Druidry, around other spiritual paths and in other aspects of life that don’t help with this. Discipline is one such. Discipline doesn’t encourage us towards listening to our bodies or treating them kindly. There are all kinds of ideas out there about what we should be doing in relation to the wheel of the year that doesn’t take into account how the seasons impact on our bodies. Notions of spiritual routine and daily devotion may not give anyone enough flexibility to handle a body that just can’t do the things right now. An approach to Druidry that begins with practicing kindness towards your own body might work very differently.

At the moment I am simply trying to figure out how to be kind. It goes with trying to figure out how to be this body, rather than just inhabiting it. This flesh and skin is also part of the natural world. It is a soft mammal that craves rest and peace, gentleness and sleep. It’s time to stop making this body fit in with capitalist notions of what a person is for. This is no longer just a philosophical consideration for me – I can’t face being in so much pain that I can’t function, and that seems to be where I’m heading if I can’t make enough changes.

It’s taken me far longer than usual to write this blog, and I’m going to be fine with that. Everything is taking far longer today. I need to slow down, to prioritise rest, to sleep more and do less. I know I’ve been saying all of this for years, and I have been (ironically slowly) moving in this direction, but I need to embrace it more fully, and let this body call the shots more often.

For the time being, I’m going to make listening to my body the focus of what I’m doing as a Druid. I’m going to dedicate myself to learning about nature as it manifest within my own skin, and treating that piece of the natural world with more care and respect.


To be a Pilgrim

Over recent years I’ve been developing a seasonal walking calendar. The idea is to visit the places where I can best encounter key seasonal events in my locality. This is primarily about what the plants are doing, because these are predictable year to year. Good places to see the bluebells and the spring beech leaves. Good places to see the wild orchids, especially the bee orchids. I also know the best places to see glow bugs, and some migrant birds. I also know where the herons nest, where to see ducklings, where the bats go, where I am most likely to find young owls in the summer, which paths open or close in which conditions and so forth.

This walking calendar has been built over years of exploring, and finding out how different parts of my surroundings change through the seasons. Creating it has been a rich and interesting process, and a body of work I don’t imagine it is possible to complete. There’s always more to know, and more plants to learn about and encounter.

Last year, covid limitations meant I didn’t get to a number of my key places at the right time. We were encouraged not to be out for more than an hour per day to exercise, and in some areas that was enforced by the police and by neighbors reporting each other. This had an awful impact on my mental health. What made it worse was knowing that it was total nonsense. Transmission requires people. If you’re outside and you don’t see another person, you can hardly spread a disease. Time spent outside is not an issue unless you are trying to alleviate pressure on inadequate amounts of green space. And there’s a whole other set of problems that needed better consideration.

This year I’ve struggled with fatigue, and various other bodily problems that have really impacted on my ability to walk. I managed to see some bluebells, but not the wonderful blue swathes that make the hilltops so enchanting. I may not get to see the bee orchids. These walks and encounters have been the heart of my Druidry for years, and it is hard being without them.

I’m focusing on doing what I can, seeing and connecting with what I can, and accepting my limitations while doing my best to push against them. Perhaps later this year I will be able to be a pilgrim again on my own terms. It’s something to aspire to, and to work towards.


Druidry and Confession

I’ve felt for some time now that the Catholics are on to something with confession. There are times when it would be an enormous relief to be able to tell someone the things.

As Druids don’t have a clear set of rules in the first place, it would be down to the individual to decide what they need to confess. We wouldn’t need to frame it as sin necessarily. Failures, shortcomings, mistakes, bad ideas, poor responses – whatever a person felt uncomfortable about, could be usefully owned in a safe space.

The wise and experienced Druid hearing the confession could then tell us what they think of it. There are times when it would be really helpful to hear things like ‘this is just ordinary human error.’ ‘Clearly you could not have know how this would work out’ and things of that ilk. Feedback that isn’t forgiveness, but that could be permission to forgive yourself. We all mess up, but it can be hard not to beat yourself up over mistakes.

Confession in a Druid context wouldn’t be about penitence or punishment, but it might be about restorative justice. Again there are lots of times when it might be of great benefit to have someone else’s wisdom in the mix. Imagine someone who can say ‘you really do need to apologise for this’ or ‘here are some things you could try that might be restorative.’

People who are having a hard time with their mental health and/or dealing with abuse can end up feeling responsible for things that aren’t of their making. The process of confessing could open the way to hearing that you may be taking too much onto yourself or judging yourself too harshly. It could signpost the way to therapy, or to kinder thoughts. Sometimes being told that you can’t possibly be responsible for what’s going on is the first step to recognising an abusive situation. None of this requires much in the way of qualification, I think. Just enough life experience to spot when people feel responsible for things they cannot possibly be responsible for.

There would be relief in being able to say to someone ‘this is how I have messed up’ and hearing their take on it, offered in kindness. Obviously there’s no formal way to do this at the moment, but it is something we might be able to do for each other.


To keep talking

In witchcraft, keeping silent can be an important part of what you do. In Druidry however, I think it is more powerful and important to keep talking. Our magic doesn’t depend on secrecy anything like as much as it depends on communicating. Bard magic is very much not about keeping silent.

Talking, writing and communicating are key parts of activism. If you’re interested in peaceful protest and non-violent ways of making change, then it has to be all about communication. Education, information sharing, awareness raising – it all counts. Speaking truth to power, speaking personal truth to anyone who needs to hear it – this is all part of the Druid’s work. In many circumstances, silence is complicity.

There is magic in what we can share with each other. We can enchant, uplift, support and encourage each other with music and with words. We can put beauty into the world, comfort the uncomfortable, challenge the people who are too comfortable.

Druidry tends not to be secretive. We meet in daylight, often, we meet in public places. Many Druid groups offer public ritual at least some of the time. The heart of our magic is inspiration and for many people its also found in the transformative power of ritual. This is the kind of magic where to keep talking is more powerful than to keep silent. We all benefit from ideas shared and knowledge passed on.


Druidry, integration, disintegration

This is a process I’ve been through a few times now. When I’m engaging with Druidry in a deliberate way, what that means is that I’ll be trying to embed something into my life.  Inevitably there was a lot of this early on in following the path. The more successful a person is at embedding their spiritual work into their life, the less visible it becomes.

If you have a prayer practice, if meditation is part of your life, if you live in a contemplative way, if you deliberately engage with nature, and serve in what ways you can… it can become strangely invisible.  A ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ sort of situation, perhaps.

I go through phases of feeling not very Druidy at all. Often what happens is I’ll then run into another Druid online talking about the history, or the mythology and it will occur to me that I do know a fair bit of this stuff, and that I am living my principles and maybe it’s ok.

Public ritual seems to be the best antidote to these small patches of crisis. Standing together in circle there’s chance to affirm our own journeys and practices, and to remind ourselves and each other what it is that we do, and who we are. There aren’t many things that it is easier to do on your own, I think. Humans thrive on recognition from other humans, from feelings of belonging and involvement. However solitary your path is, there’s something really helpful about getting to check in with other Druids now and then for the affirmation that what you do does indeed make some kind of sense, and does look like Druidry.

It’s nearly 9am as I write this. I’ve listened to the dawn chorus, I’ve been outside in the sun. I’ve held a creative space to nurture someone else’s Awen. I’ve done a teensy bit of online tree activism. I’ve thought about a lot of things deeply, including how best to talk about Neo-Paganism and what it might be useful to say during a talk I’ve been asked to give.

Every now and then I persuade myself that being a Druid is clearly something more glamorous and fantastical than I am capable of. But, that may have a lot more to do with my sense of self than it does with what showing up as a Druid on a daily basis looks like. It’s not only about having fantastic photos of your gorgeous self to put on social media – although that can be an effective way of inspiring people and adding beauty to the world. There’s room. There’s room for what I do and for the sort of person I am.

This has all led me to ask questions about what I might do for myself that would allow me to feel specialness and take more joy in the path. What can I give to myself? What can I do that will help me feel more overtly Druidic? I’m aware I have feelings that if I’m enjoying something too much I’m probably doing it wrong, or am not entitled to that, but this is a story that could be changed. What could I do that would allow me to enjoy being me a bit more?


Druidry and Celebration

What should Druids celebrate? The short answer is – anything you find meaningful. While a lot of writing prioritises the 8 festivals model, it’s not the only way to approach celebration as a Druid.

Druidry honours nature. Therefore any aspect of nature that you want to celebrate, you could honour in ritual. Solar events, moon phases, how the seasons manifest where you are. If there are significant local events, you might want to honour those – arrivals and departures of migrating birds, key local crops, wild flowers – whatever feels important.

Druidry honours ancestors of blood. Therefore as a Druid you may find it makes sense to include festivals that your blood ancestors honoured. If you grew up with a different religion that you still respect and want to acknowledge, or if there are festivals that are culturally important to you, or part of your family identity, honour those.

Druidry honours ancestors of place. If it makes sense to honour festivals that relate to your location, go for it. Engaging with the culture around you can make a lot of sense.

Druidry honours ancestors of tradition – if you feel something belongs to your history, honour it. The 8 festivals in the wheel of the year fall into this category, and there might well be festivals from other Pagan traditions that make sense to you.

As Druids we also get to take ourselves seriously, if we want to. If there are important days in your wheel of the year that you need to honour and approach in sacred ways – you should go with that.

Druidry is pragmatic. Meet up when you can. If community celebration is your focus, getting together can be more important than the precise timing.

It’s good to celebrate. It’s good to engage with the world in a joyful way and to connect with other people while doing that. If you run into someone who is dogmatic about what Druids should and shouldn’t be celebrating, try to be compassionate. They probably need to feel in control for some personal reason. They may need the comfort and security some people find in rules and systems. They may not feel confident enough in their own choices to follow those without the affirmation of everyone else being the same.

Your Druidry is your Druidry. Your celebrations are your celebrations. That’s all held by the context of your culture, family background, personal heritage and local landscape. Celebrating is good. Celebrate in any way you find meaningful, soulful, helpful or necessary.