Tag Archives: druidry

Druidry and speaking for the land

Reading Julie Brett’s most recent book I was prompted to think about who speaks for the land in a British Druid context. We often call to spirits of place, and I’ve long felt uneasy about going into a place and welcoming the spirits WHO ALREADY LIVE THERE. Julie led me to realise there’s a human aspect to this, too.

There are of course far more Druid groups in the UK than I have stood in ritual space with. My experience is partial, but I’ve never heard anything to make me think it’s untypical. Druids go to places of historical significance, and places that are local and wild, or geographically convenient – it varies.

I’ve never stood in circle with a Druid group that identified who had the most involved relationship with the land and who therefore should speak on behalf of the land. I’ve been in Druid spaces where people from away have spoken with authority about the deities in the landscape as though there were no local Druids honouring them. I’ve stood in ritual where the Druid who literally owned the land we were on was treated to a lecture by someone who did not live there about all the spirits they could see present in the space.

I had one occasion of speaking in ritual in an urban green space. It was a space I frequented – not quite in walking distance for me, but part of my wider landscape and a place I had a fair amount of relationship with. I talked about what a haven the space was for the urban people living near it. My comments were met with derision – you could hear traffic! The Druid in question had never been to the place before and lived many miles away. I was upset, and at the time I didn’t know how to articulate what was wrong in that situation. Also, it was a beautiful green place on the edge of a city and no, it wasn’t pristine nature, but that didn’t make it any less precious in my eyes.

I’ve felt it at a local level too – there are fields and hills here that I know deeply, and other parts of the landscape – in walking distance for me – that are much more deeply known by other people. I’ve had a longstanding urge to acknowledge this and am only just finding the language to talk about it.

Imagine if Druid rituals included consideration of who, in the ritual, actually had the most involved relationship with the land. Imagine what would change if we felt it was inappropriate to go into an unfamiliar space and start talking about it with authority. Imagine if being a senior, Very Important Druid did not entitle you to speak for, or to a landscape unfamiliar to you. Sadly there’s a lot of ego in all of this. It takes a certain amount of humility to acknowledge that the people who live on the land, or have spent a lot of time with a place might be better placed to talk about it and speak for the land.

Whose land is this? Is a really important question. Who are the ancestors of place? Who has a relationship with the ancestors of place? What assumptions do we make when we enter ritual spaces, and could those assumptions stand a re-think?


Belonging to The Earth – a review

Having really enjoyed Julie Brett’s first book – Australian Druidry – I was excited to get a review copy of Belonging to The Earth. This is part of the new Earth Spirit line from Moon Books – small, tightly focused titles for anyone interested in Earth-based spirituality.

Julie is a Druid living in Australia. Her work is very much about squaring up to the implications of being on someone else’s land, with all that history of violence, cultural oppression, massacre and displacement. It’s something she’s navigating personally and she has a great deal to share about the process. I think she sets a good example of how anyone might move towards respectful relationship with the true owners of a land, without speaking over them or appropriating their traditions. She shares a lot of direct quotes from Elders she’s sat with, and the principle of showing up to listen is one that we all need to adopt.

Belonging to the Earth is written about Australian experience, but it offers a map to anyone interested in decolonization and the Indigenization of ideas. Julie is clear that wherever we are in the world, we all need to work on becoming more aligned with indigenous people and that this is also about having respectful and sustaining relationships with the land.

Reading this as a European, I was struck by the thought that although many of us live in the lands of our ancestors, we don’t have that depth of connection. Any of us could have been Aboriginal peoples, but none of us are. Countless ancestral choices have brought us to this point, and we have a great deal of work to do to both change that, and change the colonial narrative that insists on treating our disassociation as superior to the land-honouring cultures of First Nations People.

There’s a lot to learn for those of us with European and colonial heritage. The need to learn is urgent. How those of us from the colonial-capitalist side of history deal with First Nations People is a critically important matter of social justice and restorative justice. We urgently need the understanding of landscapes that would allow us to live in sustainable ways. We all need to be rooted in something more nurturing than consumerism.

I heartily recommend this book, and have every intention of reviewing more titles from the Earth Spirit line.

Find out more on Julie Brett’s website – https://juliebrett.net/2021/11/09/belonging-to-the-earth/


Druidry and Desire

Back in my twenties I was, for a little while, a member of The Druid Order of the Yew, which was held within The Druid Network. A big part of what it offered at the time was space and witnessing for dedications. I was really focused on service at the time and framing my Druidry in terms of what I could give. Alongside this I had a problematic home life. The idea of giving more and asking for less became heavily ingrained.

Of course there are always people who want what you can do for them and offer little in return. There are always people who will become unpleasant if you try to show up as a person and not as a service provider. I’ve never been good at handling this and have tended to think that I should offer service and expect nothing in return from anyone. It’s taken a while to challenge that thinking.

What happens if I ask for more? There will be people who don’t like that, and who will either be clear about having a problem with me, or who will gently reverse out of my life and make good their escape. But not everyone. There are also the people whose eyes light up at the thought, and who feel cheered and validated by my wanting more from them and with them. People who aren’t afraid of being needed and who do not experience being valued as some kind of imposition.

I’ve spent a long time treating Druidry as a form of pouring endlessly from myself into the world. Give more, ask for less. Give until it hurts, and then keep giving. I look back and see how convenient that’s been for other people in my history. I also think with hindsight that the person who most encouraged me to shape my service this way was not living on those terms. They are painfully hard terms to live on. 

Child-me had a better handle on this. I remember sitting in an assembly being told about how we are all supposed to help those who are worse off than us and wondering how that even made sense and how on earth you get to be the person who needs helping, on those terms. That a doctrine of giving selflessly to others actually relies on there being people worse off, more vulnerable. You can’t forgive trespasses unless someone undertakes to trespass, either.

What happens if there is more room for desire? What happens if I ask for more, and not less? I start to see how this could enrich not only my experience, but the experiences of people dealing with me. If I allow myself to want, there is a different kind of energy available to me. I cannot pour out from myself endlessly with nothing to replenish me. I can do a lot more if I invite more richness in, and have room for what I need.

Service cannot be a person pouring endlessly from a bucket they do not get to refill. The more I look at it, the more important it seems to me that we all have space for things that are personal, enriching, nurturing, life enhancing and I dare to say it – selfish! I know that the dismantling of selfishness is often seen as a spiritual goal, but increasingly I think what helps most is to change the terms on which we think about our own needs. A person can seek what they want without that inevitably hurting someone else. It is not always the case that for one person to have more, someone else has to go without.

No one is poorer if I have enriching conversations, time in the sun, cat snuggles, affection, time off… no one is reduced by me having things I need for myself. I expect I will come back to this as I reframe what service might mean for me, and rethink how I want to be in the world.


Druid Online

There are lots of ways of being a Druid online. Anything that people do for and with people can be handled via the internet. While it may not be as appealing to make virtual rituals, it is worth considering the people who, due to where they are, what transport options they have or what challenges they have, are unable to go to physical events. Online Druidry has the scope to include more people.

The internet is a great way of moving information around. Unfortunately it’s just as good for moving crappy ideas, misrepresentation, fantasy, content distorted by appropriation and deliberate bullshit. By being online as a Druid you can offer substantial alternatives. For me, this has often  meant challenging toxic positivity and the ways in which privilege is mistaken for spirituality.

The internet gives us ways to communicate with people in places of power and influence. I know keyboard warriors tend to get bad press, but you can use the internet to speak truth to power. You can use it to organise, educate, amplify those who are ignored and so forth. You can use the internet to work for justice and to stand up for the environment. 

Perhaps one of the most powerful uses for the internet is that it allows us to be kind to each other. Sadly this isn’t how a lot of people seem to use it, but the more people who come online intending to be kind, the more scope there is to shift online culture. Share beauty, share nice things, uplift people, build them up, encourage them… When you’re talking to people who aren’t powerful, kindness is the best thing to offer, usually. It’s even possible to disagree kindly and to argue without resulting to abuse. 

However you view the spiritual dimensions of your path, part of what makes you a Druid is walking your talk. What you bring to the internet is part of how you do that. What you make and give, what causes you serve, and how you use words, and emojis in dealing with other people. My favourite Druids come to the internet to inspire and encourage, offering beauty, wisdom, wit, political analysis, compassion, creativity and more.


Modern Druids

I don’t write much about historical Druids and in truth I’ve never been that interested in trying to reconstruct what ancient Druids did. Religions tend to evolve over time and where there is continuous tradition, there doesn’t tend to be fixed practice. What the ancient Druids did is not likely to make sense in our era of climate crisis, and capitalism, with the majority of humans alienated from the land, tradition, each other, their work…

I’m fairly well read, in that I have a passable knowledge of a fair body of mythology, alongside some awareness of history, pre-history, folklore, religions in general, and the modern Pagan movement. I have some idea what comes from the last few hundred years and what is older. I’m interested in the ideas and inspiration that can be drawn from what we know of history but when it comes down to it, I’m more interested in contemporary Druidry and where it is going, than I am in what we might figure out about where it has been.

People do all sorts of interesting things under the banner of Druidry, and have done for some time now. It’s a term that has inspired cultural efforts, and also fraternal groups designed for mutual care. It’s a spiritual movement that includes atheists, animists, polytheists, Christians and many others. Something about it attracts people from a broad range of backgrounds and beliefs, and these people can come together and share things in ways that are often meaningful.

I’m fascinated by how Druidry has changed in the last twenty years or so. When I first started volunteering for The Druid Network, Druidry was dominated by a few voices, and organised around Orders and Groves. It was about working in groups, and there were a small number of Very Important Druids who tended to dominate the whole thing. But now we have blogs, and youtube, and small events and a proliferation of people doing Druidry in all sorts of ways and talking about it. We have far less hierarchy and authority and, I think, far more Druids who just aren’t that interested in being important and who want to share what they’re doing.

Being a Very Important Druid is hard work, high maintenance stuff likely to attract conflict and drama into your life. It’s actually at odds with having meaningful spiritual experiences. There’s a lot more to be said for being a Druid on your own terms with no responsibility for numbers of students or devotees, and just sharing what you encounter with other people who are doing similar things. There continue to be Orders and Groves and people who run things, and this is good, and it no longer dominates, which is even better.

All religions change over time, depending on the intentions of the people who get involved with them. The past is in many ways a closed book. The future however, is there to be made and shaped. What people do now in the name of Druidry will inform what is to come. I think there’s a lot more to be excited about in considering the future of Druidry and how to do that well, than there is in looking to the past. But at the same time, that’s just me, and I have every respect for those people who find meaning, direction and coherence by looking to ancient Druidry. My way does not invalidate their way. Druidry should be roomy enough to accommodate this, and more.


Who do we sacrifice?

As a younger human, I was fairly hardcore when it came to rituals. I’d go, no matter the weather and no matter what sort of state I was in. Pain and fatigue are longstanding issues for me, and when I was younger I was more in the habit of just pushing through. 

It didn’t help that I absorbed a lot of fairly toxic notions around sacrifice within Druidry. I had a strong feeling that I needed to put the Druidry first, and that complaining about my body or stepping back when I wasn’t well, wasn’t ok. I’ve had heatstroke doing rituals. I’ve been problematically cold, which makes me hurt more. I’ve pushed through exhaustion. I’ve done rituals that left me emotionally burned out and unable to function for days afterwards.

It was worse during the period when I was leading rituals because I felt obliged to show up, to not let people down. This was all voluntary, all given in service, and I was working alongside it and had a young child.

A culture of service and sacrifice can really hurt you if you aren’t well to begin with. I look back at a lot of my early experiences of Druidry and I can see how the ableism was hard-wired in. I can see my own, internalised ableism, and I can see how I unwittingly perpetuated it.

A real community doesn’t break its members for the sake of a seasonal celebration. At this point in my life I am much more aware of the importance of not demanding more than people can safely give. I reject the idea that sacrifice is a spiritual good or a social good. I’m deeply in favour of compromise and negotiation, but when some people have to sacrifice themselves for the ‘good’ of the community, you will tend to find that it is those who have least who end up giving most. 

Sacrifice is often what we do when power and responsibility aren’t equally shared. When there is fairness, equality of sharing and ownership, we shoulder the hardships together. We bear the hard things together, those who can do most help those who most need help. We give, to each other, to the land, to what we hold sacred but we do not ask anyone to suffer. Community is fundamentally about taking care of each other and that means it has to be safe to say no. 

The demand for high levels of commitment in Pagan groups tends to be ableist. Either those who cannot commit are excluded, or they are pushed into harming themselves. It has to be ok to not show up when you aren’t well.

So, for the autumn equinox I ended up leading by example. I found I was too ill to run a ritual, and I cancelled it. At the moment I don’t have other people who could take over for me, but I will aim to develop those skills in others so that it doesn’t all depend on me.


The embodied Druid

About ten years ago I started running into the idea that we live too much in our heads and that Druidry calls for embodiment. Now, I’m very into the idea that we are nature and that we need to engage with nature as it manifests in our bodies. I’m as likely to seek out actual trees as the next Druid, but do I really need to get out of my head?

The thing is, I rather like the inside of my head. I like meditation and contemplation, philosophy and study. These are all things it is reasonable to associate with historical Druidry. I like to think. I reject all suggestions that thinking makes us less emotional or less authentic. I also, after some consideration, reject the idea that time spent in my head is disembodied, disconnected from nature or otherwise undesirable.

My brain is a squishy lump of biology full of blood and chemicals that are also part of the rest of my body. What happens in my brain affects my body. It’s also the key organ for responding to experiences of the natural world, the seasons and the numinous. I’m a thinking creature, that is my nature. I want to have a considered relationship with the natural world and that’s a head issue.

When ‘spiritual’ people talk about the ills of not being embodied, they are usually talking about other people, and how they read and interpret other people’s actions. It’s a perspective that doesn’t take into account the realities of many people’s lives. Rushing about, eating badly, not exercising enough – these things are all symptoms of a capitalist society that makes inhuman demands on the human body, and especially on the bodies of the poor and sick. It’s easy to sit back and judge other people, but it tends not to be kind or helpful. If you aren’t exhausted and time poor then you have privileges.

Being really present in your body isn’t a lot of fun if your body hurts. The ableism around this can be horrendous. I’ve been told that my physical pain is the result of me not being embodied enough – if only I paid more attention to my body, it would hurt less! It took me a while to recognise that this is cruel and unhelpful, and does not reflect my lived experience. Some days the best thing to do is try not to show up for the pain, and I’m hardly alone in this.

For the person who can, and who wants to follow a path centred on being embodied – excellent. The problems arise when we start to assume that one way of being in the world is superior to another, regardless of circumstance. Other people are making the best choices they can based on their circumstances. If you want other people to live embodied healthy(on your terms) lives, then campaign for better working conditions, better welfare support, more green urban spaces, better healthcare for chronic conditions and so forth. Don’t make individual people feel spiritually inadequate because of the systemic pressures they are experiencing.

We’re all embodied. We all have bodies. Some of us like to think more than others do. Some of us find joy in movement and for some of us that’s only ever going to hurt. There should be room for difference. It’s better to have diversity in how people approach their lives rather than to create hierarchies of spiritual superiority, and so often what’s put forward as spiritually superior turns out to be forms of privilege.


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.