Tag Archives: gods

Spiritual exposure

We are all our own priests and priestesses as Pagans, which rather suggests we do not need anyone to mediate between us and the divine. You can do that for yourself. What we don’t talk about so much, is what happens if you can’t.

Many Pagans have stories to tell of direct, personal experience when Gods have spoken to them, shown them things, made requests, demands and offers. There are many others who don’t do Gods so much, but have intense relationship with spirit, spirit guides, ancestors and the like. Some part of the universe speaks spiritually to them in a way they are confident about recognising and understanding. This makes it very hard to put up a hand and say ‘that’s not what I get.’ It feels like failure, lack of effort, insufficient worthiness. How can I call myself a Druid if nothing is particularly talking to me? This is what I’ve got, because apart from a handful of odd experiences I am none too confident about, I do not hear the voice of spirit. Gods do not choose me, or talk to me. I have no guides and no totem anything.

It’s not for lack of trying. Years of study, lots of rituals, deep work with meditation and prayer over many years. Dedications, offerings of self, work done. I’m not that good at belief, and perhaps that closes the door on me, but others who do not believe have startling experiences that change them into people who know. That’s not been me. I’ll admit I have all kinds of less than perfectly enlightened responses to the profound and intense experiences others describe. Jealousy, above all else. Frustration, confusion. Why them and not me? What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing more of? I come with a will to serve, give, work and so forth, why are so many others worthy of attention when I am not?

It would be easy to hide this, to lie about it and pass myself off as being just as beloved of the gods as the next Pagan. It would be easy to become wholly disenchanted and settle into comfortable atheism and feel no responsibility for what I am not. I’ve managed to settle on Maybeism, holding the possibility, and accepting this is where I am and that for whatever reasons, a great deal of regular Pagan religious experience just doesn’t happen for me. I can feel inspired, and I can feel wonder, and perhaps I have to just get over the desire to feel a bit special and acceptable to deity, and get on with making the best of what I have.

Writing ‘When a Pagan Prays’ felt very exposed indeed, because it is a confession of what is absent in my life and practice, and exposure of what it means to have no certainty, no confident firsthand experience. Putting it out there left me feeling decidedly naked and vulnerable – now all the people who are proper Druids and Pagans, in relationship with the Gods of their ancestors, will know that I am not one of them, not part of their experience. At times it feels like it is just me; that everyone else can do these profound spiritual things that are beyond me, but perhaps that isn’t so. Perhaps there are others quietly staying silent about what they are not, and what they can’t do. My hope is that if there are, this exposure of experience will at least make that less bitter, less demoralising.

A person can be spiritual without having certainty, can dedicate to the ideas of Gods and religions even if nothing speaks back to them. We can choose ways of living and being because they seem like wise choices, not because we had a vision or a higher being told us to. I’d like to think it is entirely valid to choose a spiritual way of life even if your quest for the numinous never brings you to anything. It is the choice, the quest and how we choose to live as a consequence that matters most, if all we have is a fairly mundane experience of the world.


Gods of the wild yeast

In my kitchen a strange, magical process is taking place. Alchemy, if you will. The wild yeast has found the blackberries I harvested and laced with sugar to attract it, and now there is fermentation. I’ve not made wine this way before – although it is traditional. The same is true of bread – while you can get packets of yeast, yeast is airborne, and it will come to you.

Fermentation is the basis of settled agriculture, which in turn is the source of our civilisation. There are debates as to whether we started planting cereals for the beer or the bread first, but either way, the wild yeast was essential. We have a plethora of grain and grape deities. Wine and bread crop up a startling amount in the Bible as well. I can’t think of any deities of the wild yeast (pile in if you know). It is the transformation into bread that makes the grain easy to digest. Raw grain from the field is not easy to eat or extract energy from.

The easy calories of bread and the intoxication of alcohol both give us a large feel-good effect. If you want to feel that the world is a safe and benevolent place, a belly full of bread and beer will aid this process considerably. Get drunk and you’ll hit the phase of feeling like you love everyone. Obviously if you glut on the bread and the beer, less good things happen in the longer term, especially if you aren’t using those calories for something. But our ancestors were more likely to starve than balloon, this probably wasn’t so much of an issue for them.

Enchanted by the magic of wild yeast in my kitchen, and the wondrous transformation of blackberries into wine, conscious of the role of the yeast in creating our own culture… I have come to the conclusion that Paul Mitchell is onto something serious with Far Better Pagan (play it, it’s a very funny song and then go to his site, http://paul.makingithappen.co.uk)

(I do love my God and I love my Goddess, but I’m a far better Pagan when I am pissed).

And for a more sober bread-based magic, Talis Kimberly and Wild Yeast:

 

We have created a habitat that is unnaturally lit, with few mysterious shadows in it. Most of aren’t feverish, starving or drunk in the affluent parts of the western world. We’re in the stiff reality of caffeine, worshippers of the bean. If we spent more time with the wild yeast, perhaps the world would look very different to us.

 

 

 


Understanding the nature of deity

The short answer would be, that I don’t – but as that’s not much of a blog post, let’s keep poking about! My sense of what deity is and whether there really is any varies from one day to the next. There are days when my rational inclinations leave me with a more atheistic perspective. The universe is complete unto itself. I can go from there to a feeling that the sacred force in the universe, is the universe itself and that we are all part of a growing consciousness. However, the scale of that is so daunting and impersonal that it’s not unlike having no gods at all.

I do however have this unshakable sense of the sacred, that stays with me on my most questioning, uncertain and atheistic days. It comes as a response to land and ancestry, to experiences in the moment and is informed by a sense of wonder. There are several personified deities associated with the land I live on, so I have a sense of them as both forms in the landscape and historical presences.  But as distinct consciousnesses with intentions and powers… I really don’t know.

I am aware that many Pagans experience deity as discrete individuals with whom it is possible to interact. The sense of deity as something anthropomorphic and human orientated, interested in our concerns and able to interact with us in ways that make sense… makes more sense with some deities than others. Many of the figures in ancient pantheons come across as being human-like – very much gods of the tribe. However, the gods of nature, or the possibility of the divine in nature clearly isn’t going to be so innately human-centric. Gods of earth, sky, seasons, gods of storm and sun seem very unavailable to me. I might experience them, but I do not feel much hope of understanding them or sharing with them in reliable ways.

This blog over at Corvid’s viewpoint has had me pondering though. If consciousness begets physical reality, and not the other way round… then what might that consciousness be? My small consciousness clearly isn’t creating much reality. In the warp and weft of existence, perhaps the gods are the underlying threads onto which the rest of reality is woven. Perhaps the gods are the loom, or the wool. I like craft metaphors such as this.

I still have no idea how reality works. No matter how much pondering I do, I will not come to a place of certainty, because my uncertainty is one of the few things I’m a bit dogmatic about. Other people may know… I do not.


Of Gods and Stories

I have no idea how the universe works. Not a clue. Ok, some tenuous grasp of some of the physics, but when we get round to issues of deity and eternity, I make no claims to insight whatsoever. The whole thing confuses and unnerves me, and has done since I was about four and started trying to get my head round such things. I’ve made my peace with not knowing, and have settled into a place of maybeism. Maybe there are Gods. Maybe there aren’t. Maybe everything is part of the divine. Maybe there’s a grand plan. Maybe not. It’s a good way of not getting into fights with people over issues of belief, because, for all I know, they could be right.

From that position, the idea of working with Gods is tricky. I assume you need a very confident, hard-polytheist belief in the literal existence of Gods as autonomous and individual personalities in order to work with them. Maybe they are like that. Maybe the archetype people have it right…

The one thing I do believe in, is stories. Not least because so little actual belief is called for. Stories have power, and that is a power I know how to trust and invest in. Religions are, for the greater part, gatherings together of powerful stories that are meant to show us something. The measure of any story, be it religious, historical or fictional, is the effect it has. The greater Truths about living and dying, being human, being good, being effective… these are more important than whether or not a person actually existed, or whether people a few thousand years ago thought they were looking at a God or a fictional character.

We blur the lines between deity and fiction all the time. Ovid’s dream deities, might have existed as Gods, or maybe he made them up for that story. We’ve turned Thor and Loki into modern movie stars, and we aren’t sure what of the Welsh myths is ancient tales of deity, and what is mediaeval fiction. I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. If a story moves you, and inspires you, that’s far more relevant than whether some people a few thousand years ago thought it was true. If The Lord Of the Rings is your sacred, inspirational text that has done most to teach you how to live, why should that be less valid than taking up a really old story that might or might not have originally been religious? Why should it matter if the story is about real, historical events? Robin Hood is a powerful icon. So are Lady Macbeth and Captain Kirk, for some people.

Stories change people. They give us shapes in which we can reimagine ourselves. They give us ways of choosing and living we might not otherwise have thought of. They give us ideas, hope and possibility. No, I have no idea if Blodeuwedd was really a Celtic Goddess. What I do know is how that story touched, changed, maddened and inspired me. That’s where the power lies.

The truth is out there (X Files). In all kinds of places. In galaxies far, far away, in girls who are shot by religious extremists, and miraculously do not die, in modern heroes and ancient tales. Whether we believe in deities or not, we can see the very real effects their stories have. There is a lot of reason in honouring the power of stories. It is not where they come from that matters, but where those stories are taking us.


Hearth and home

The first frost came last night, but we’d anticipated it and put coal on the fire, keeping the stove going until morning, so although it wasn’t toasty first thing, the difference in temperature between inside and out was significant. I think for people who have grown up with electricity as a given, heaters as a source of reliable and instant heat, kettles, cookers and central heating, the importance of the fire for most of our ancestors, is hard to grasp.
Waking up in the morning, in winter, with the fire gone out would have meant not only being desperately cold, but having no means to cook, or to heat water and a job to do getting the fire re-lit. Pre-matches and lighters, the starting of a fire was a much more complex business, time consuming and requiring patience. It’s a vast distance away from the instant heat and light that so many of us in the western world can now take for granted. If my fire goes out, I do have gas, can still make hot drinks and lift the temperature. I benefit from modern insulation, a duvet, and other luxuries that most of my ancestors could never have dreamed of. I do not need the fire to bake my bread, or cook my food. I do use it for cooking, I love the kind of one pan slow cook options the stove gives. If the fire goes out, I still have a gas cooker to turn to. That gives me a layer of insulation from the realities my ancestors had to deal with.

I’ve long been interested in living history. Books are all well and good, but it’s hard to really grasp the implications of a thing until you’ve done it. I’ve foraged for wood, and I know how much wood you need to get through a night. Not the handful of sticks you’ll see in films. I’ve hand-washed clothes, an activity that dominated the lives of my female ancestors, and I understand the bliss and luxury of a washing machine as a consequence. I’ve no real firsthand experience of farming though. I’ve milked a goat, once, years ago. I’ve never ploughed a field or carried a sickle for harvesting. From our first settling to agriculture through to the industrial revolution, farming didn’t change that much. Humans tilled the land, aided by animals. The grain was cut with a blade wielded by a bloke. There’s a startling amount of continuity in the history of bread, from prehistory to the early twentieth century. The industrialisation of farming is actually rather recent. Photos at the Folk Museum in Gloucester of harvesting in the 1940s could have depicted a scene from the 1840s.

Our lives are easier, for the greater part. I think most of us aren’t that conscious of just how much ease we have, how much insulation from the vagaries of weather and harvests. Most people this morning will only have noticed the frost if they looked out of their double glazed window, and even then it will not have affected them.
The closer you are to living hand to mouth, the more amplified both the smallest of setbacks and the smallest of triumphs becomes. And over it all presides the small god in the hearth, the fire that gives warmth and comfort, cooks food, dries clothes, consumes all that you can bring to it. When life depends so much on getting small details right, when setbacks can kill and the fire going out is a disaster, then I think there’s a lot more room for thinking about gods. The vulnerability and immediacy of life in that context makes the fire in the grate a force to be reckoned with.

The luxuries we have are not as reliable as it may be tempting to imagine. A banking error a few months back pushed many into hunger, unable to access their own resources, some faced homelessness. A loss of a job can strip away the insulation in days. A change to the benefits system, or a loss of health can do the same. We travel from protected lives to ones where the magical switch on the wall represents money we don’t have, and the fridge is useless because there’s no money to put food in it. Many of us are closer to the ancestors than we think. The end of civilization is, I understand, generally considered to be about two square meals away.


The silence of the Gods

A great many Pagans and Druids talk about serving the Gods, and doing what the Gods ask of them. I have a confession to make: I do not hear the voice of deity. I used to, years ago, but it went away. There may be reasons. I became too wrapped up in my pain. I become too weary to give – my acts of service went to the material realm, I had nothing to offer the Gods beyond that, and so, perhaps, they ceased bothering with me. Perhaps I have become spiritually deaf. Perhaps there is nothing they want from me right now and they have more important things to be doing. They are Gods, after all.

I have no trouble at all holding to the idea that Gods exist. But I’ve never been good at holding relationship with anything I couldn’t interact with. Belief without relationship doesn’t work for me, I don’t know how to do it. I love and respect the natural world, and the energies of human creativity. I pay a lot of attention to the things I encounter, to the reeds and the grebes, the sky, the earth. I have a sense of the sacredness in all that is around me, but based on previous experience, that’s not the same as a feeling of relationship with deity.

I could beat myself up over this. I have spent a lot of time wondering what changed, and why, and whether this is some judgement upon me, some proof of insufficiency and of not being a proper Druid after all. When the rain falls on me, I do not think it is a divine judgement on my shortcomings. I think it’s rain, falling. When something random and shitty happens in my life, I don’t tend to think “ah, the gods are pissed off with me again, better sacrifice a goat.” Shit happens, and it happens to everyone, and some of the best people I know have had some really hard things in their lives. So that can’t be it. That said, when unimaginable good fortune comes my way, I do tend to wonder if I have been smiled on by some benevolent force, and I express my gratitude.

There are people in my life I haven’t heard from in years. People on the folk scene, for example. The silence does not suggest to me that they no longer exist. It doesn’t make me think they hate me. Based on experience to date, when I next run into them, we’ll sit down somewhere and talk, and the intervening years won’t matter much at all, aside from the work of filling in the gaps. Why should I assume the gods are any less busy, and any less pleasant, than folk musicians? I don’t.

I’m saying this partly because it’s something I have made my peace with. Partly also in response to the many online pagans who are talking about their personal relationships with the divine. I would be prepared to bet I’m not the only one who doesn’t have that right now. Am I less of a human because of it? I don’t think so. Am I less of a Druid because of it? Well, maybe, but also maybe not. Perhaps the work I need to be doing right now is quietly inside myself, and the Gods are leaving me alone until I get straight enough to be useful again. I also don’t think of the Gods as being omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, I think they are finite entities and they may be busy elsewhere.

So if you’re one of the people who isn’t talking about what the gods ask you to do for them, I hope this comes at least as some kind of comfort.


Offerings and Dedications

Moving on from No Sacrifice, what does a modern Druid do? I’m going to wave a couple of concepts here today. Offerings are something I have strong opinions about, and where my take does not match what I’ve seen Druids and Pagans generally doing. So, this is not authority, it’s my banging on about personal preference. Obviously, if I convince you all of my superior argument, that would be lovely, but I’m not expecting anything of the sort!

Offerings and dedications are things that we might do for gods, or spirits, that are also things we do for ourselves. Not unlike giving a gift or making a vow to a human companion, we do it for the joy of doing it, and for the subsequent strengthening of bonds, and knowing it will encourage them to feel benevolent towards us. It’s a friendly exchange, it’s not supposed to hurt.

I have an animist world view. I think everything has spirit. Not all pagans are animist and that’s probably key for how you think about offerings. It confuses the hell out of me when people turn up at rituals with offerings that basically consist of having uprooted a bit of spirit from where it was living and plonking it down in front of another spirit with a ‘there you go’.  Wildflowers from the hedgerow, feathers and other gleanings are popular. What makes this ours to give? When some of your own creativity has gone in the mix, it makes a degree more sense. What does the spirit of a tree need with a few fragments of sea shell offered to its roots? (seen that done). Why do all the dark places need offerings of tea lights? Often, the offerings become litter, or there’s a pile of stuff for the celebrant to take away and sort out at the end. Think about what happens to your offerings, after you leave them behind. Also think about what the spirits you were offering to might have a use for. I’d rather take water to plants in times of need, or, more usually, take in a dustbin bag and clear up the litter. Making a temporary altar out of what is in the space, an improvised art working with what lives there, seems a far more fitting offering than a thing bought in a shop or uprooted from where it was happily being a spirit of place in its own right.

Dedications, especially those made in ritual with human witnesses too, are ways of offering ourselves to the gods. They also serve to reinforce community bonds and help us develop in shared intentions together. Pledges to greener living are good. If one person says ‘from now on I shall grow all my own herbs’ other people may be inspired to have a go too. If the newbie dares to say ‘I’m going to recycle, diligently’ recognising that they are just starting out on a path, we can cheer them along. We dedicate to reducing consumption, to better sourcing, to making more of our own. We dedicate to living in more creative ways, giving more, being compassionate, upholding the values of a specific deity. During rites of passage, we dedicate to each other, as partners, parents, welcoming life in, waving it goodbye. We may dedicate as teachers, celebrants, bards – these human roles can be put before the gods too. These are things we can offer to the gods, to ourselves, to our communities and our planet. By formalising that intent into a ritual statement, we strengthen it.

Such efforts as these are not simple, one sided things. We are not giving something away for nothing, and it is not simply an activity which costs us. We are interacting with other things – divine, human, aspects of place, of our own lives. In this kind of undertaking we may be recognising all kinds of relationships. We make them conscious, choose how to conduct them, offer our intentions. By offering we affirm, we inspire others, we share the journey we are making. By offering, we nourish those around us, and when we hear their offerings and dedications, we can be inspired in turn. This is about how we craft our own lives, how we understand ourselves in relation to all things. It creates a focus.

When I make an offering or a dedication, the goodness of that action for me is something I am always conscious of. This undertaking will make my life feel cleaner and more honourable. This will strengthen me, give me purpose, focus me on the work my hands need to be doing. This will invite my community to support me in a new venture, to see me in a new way. This will keep me straight, I’ve pledged in public and will not lose face by then failing to follow through. But equally, if we just did it for personal reasons, it wouldn’t be worth much, and so these dedications are also for the good of the land and its other inhabitants, to honour the ancestors, to guard the future generations and so forth. The reality that everything we do is connected to everything else becomes clear, and that’s essential Druidry in itself.


Gods of our childhood

Exploring the ways in which people appeal to deity, it looks like for many, both contemporary and historical, gods are great uber-parents to be whimpered to when we want something sorting out. Some of the requests we offer up are petty, many are self serving. If we assume that life should not be crappy, should not cause us misery, should not deprive us of what we love or fail to give us what we desire, then going ‘oi, God, fix it!’ makes a degree of sense. One of the things atheists pick on theists for, is this constant running to mummy goddess and daddy god, for intervention that seldom comes, rather than facing our own challenges. Of course, not everyone relates to deity that way, but for today I want to ponder those who do.

We come into this world powerless. It is down to others to feed us and keep us warm. We cry, and help comes to us. Or doesn’t. We may be comforted, bottoms cleaned, food provided, or we may be left to howl in the darkness. In later life, we won’t remember much of this, but I would be prepared to bet that our first impressions stay with us. That lingering desire for the parent god who takes away the bad smell and brings the milk and honey, is not so unnatural. How much of our development as spiritual people might hark back to our early childhoods? Some sense of whether or not our prayers for intervention will be answered by benevolent powers might owe a lot to time in the cradle. But, what of those who are neglected? Do they hunger for the parent god who never came, and seek another one in later life?

If this isn’t total madness, then I suspect the transition of growing out of powerlessness, and learning that parents cannot do everything, has got to be a critical part of the journey. On Monday we had a school trip. A handful of inappropriately dressed girls, struggling with the cold, were quite angry about having to wait outside. The expectation that someone should be there to fix it, right now, was evident. My own lad, in his wet weather gear, quiet, accepting, comfortable and a bit bemused by the girls. How much you expect to have to cope with for yourself, how much you assume you are entitled to have fixed, how stoical you are, and what you see as a big deal or no real problem, all shapes your relationship with reality. I would bet it also informs how you think about deity.

When we’re in crisis, the desire that something, someone, sweep in and rescue us, may be natural enough, but it isn’t always helpful. Often what we most need to do is figure out how to rescue ourselves. Life is so full of setbacks for so many people. Letting go of a sense of entitlement, or disbelief at reality, and working with what is, makes life a lot easier. When you are inclined to either deal with things or accept them, there’s not a great deal of reason to go bothering a deity about your problems. You might still talk to them, though, because there is more to faith than applying to the uber-parent to have your psychic nappy changed.

My belief, which to me seems ‘druid’ to me, is that it’s my job to sort out my problems. I have prayed, in crisis, I admit it. Usually what occurs to me is ‘just let me survive this’ or ‘I could do with some insight here’. I find it hard to imagine that any deity is going to swing into my life. But at the same time, there have been periods of such strange coincidence and unlikely connections that I’ve wondered if other hands were twitching the threads of reality a bit. Just because that might happen sometimes does not incline me to think I can have it for the asking. I’m definitely animist in outlook, I believe in the idea of spirits, presences, things that are here and not so tangible. I assume they have their own intentions and desires. If mine overlap, that may help me, if they don’t, it won’t. Pretty much the same as dealing with people, in fact. There could be kindness and compassion, but I’m not counting on it.

I remember being young enough to be making the transition from seeing my parents as omniscient and omnipotent, to having to deal with them being people, and sometimes wrong, and not always perfect. Initially, it came as a bit of a shock, but many things do when you’re that size. I think the longer you go with gods for parents, the longer you spend insulated from life, the bigger an adjustment it is when you have to start fending for yourself. Which is why I’m not attracted to the idea of gods as super-parents, making everything ok and smoothing the way for us. I want to stand on my own two feet when I can.


Those whom the gods most love

Heather left a powerful comment on my Downtrodden blog, about spiritual attitudes to poverty. I’ve been reflecting on that, and wanted to follow on from there. I’ve never been one for the New Age theories of like attracts like, or that misfortune is the paying off of karmic debts for some awfulness we did in a past life. Equally I have never seen wealth and affluence as proof of being in a deity’s good books. Until recently I hadn’t examined why I hold such beliefs, but on reflection I think it has everything to do with the Celtic element of my Druidry.

Skipping over how truly ancient any of the Celtic myths are, I would say it’s fair to describe them all as a bit mournful. Very few Celtic myths end happily ever after. Many end with the death of the ‘hero’. Tragedy is a pervasive theme. I think about Rhiannon, deprived of her child, blamed, humiliated and suffering. I think about the torments Branwen suffers, and all those doomed lovers, people destroyed by geas… Celtic myth is not resplendent with happily ever after, and this is a big part of what I grew up on. But then, the more I think about it, the less able I am to find stories where the righteous do not suffer. In most traditions, religious stories are all about being tested. From Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, onwards, the Old Testament makes it very clear they have a God who tests his followers.

What makes a hero, or a legend? Once upon a time, there was a man who the gods loved. They did everything imaginable to make life easy for him. He never had to work because money grew on a tree in his garden. He had a wonderful wife who recognised all the qualities in him that the gods loved, and did not want him solely for the money tree, and who bore him lots of charming, beautiful and well behaved children. Life was perfect for them in every way. It’s not a very good story, really. It’s dull, and you’re waiting for the moment when it all goes crushingly wrong, because that’s what happens in stories. It also raised a point. What are the qualities, in this deity-blessed man, that make him so appealing to the deities? If they do everything, and he does nothing, all they’ve got to go on is who he imagines he is. This man is untested. He is not a hero. He has never done anything of note, and he never will.

Compare this with the story of a woman who starts out badly – her parents are poor, maybe she’s blind, maybe she has some virtue – a good heart, a quick mind, a pretty face. To take care of her aging parents, she sets out into the world and faces terrible adversity. Bears chase her. Bandits steal her only possessions. She shares her last crust with a swan who turns out to be a fairy who can tell her how to find a fortune if only she will undertake to do three impossible things first. Not only is this more like a story, but at a symbolic level, it is more like real life.

In practice, being dishonourable, selfish, greedy and ambitious is more likely to pave the way to affluence than being generous and kind. A compassionate person won’t use their energy praying for a new car, they’ll be praying for the starving, for the homeless, and will spend their time trying to help others. Only someone who sees it as their god given right to strive after wealth above all else, will live that way. However, very few people like the idea that they might be morally bankrupt. So, by assuming money, ease and success to be signs of divine favour, they neatly get round the ethical issues. I must be fine, see how much the gods love me, see how much money I have…

If the stories are anything to go by, the gods are anything but kind to those they love most. You do not get to be a hero unless there are monsters to fight. Saints are given opportunity to die for their faith. Heroes die in battle. Mythical women die for love, or protecting their children, or defending their virtue. In face of adversity, the people who spawn legends, shine. We might take Nelson Mandela and Ghandi as more contemporary and famous examples here. The martyred icons of protest, the heroes of bloodless revolution, the ones who stand up to injustice. They are on the news every day. You can bet they aren’t praying for a pay rise. Those whom the gods love most, they challenge, sometimes to breaking point. But then, it’s only when you break a person that you see what’s inside them. Often it’s the cracks that let the light through. Often it is the wrongs, or the pain suffered that motivates a person to do amazing things. A person can have a life of ease and comfort, or they can have a life of trial and heroism, but not both. For me, one of the essential messages of the Celtic myths, is that I would seek out the latter if it did not come to me anyway.


Belonging to the land

Talking about druidry on this blog recently, I suggested the idea that what defines druids as distinctly different from other pagans, is that druids belong to the land. There was a lot of affirmative feedback on that, so I wanted to come back and consider what that means.

The land is the source of all life, and the basis of most ecosystems (oceans aside). So by focusing on the land we are called to take a longer perspective over living things, ourselves included. The long term wellbeing of the land is essential for all life. You cannot mistreat the land and hope to have life continue unchanged. Mistreating the land is something humans do continually, with no eye to the long term and little sign of any enlightened self-interest even. To be a druid is to speak for the wellbeing of the land, to act with that in mind, to see the deeper connections and the longer time scales.

Belonging to the land also places us specifically in the land we inhabit, along with all of its flora, fauna, history and human activity. Wherever we are, we belong, and it doesn’t matter how often or how far we move, while we are living on the land, we have the relationship and we can hold it consciously. It gives us a starting place from which to explore all the relationships we can have with other inhabitants of the land, and with its history, and future. Belonging grounds us – literally. We have a place to stand – literally again. It is the kind of knowing that gives strength and the ability to endure.

I think the idea of belonging to the land also leads us to relationship with much more immediate manifestations of deity rather than big, distant concepts. We’re more likely to take an animist approach, seeing spirit in all things, to look for the spirits and deities of our places, and to honour deities connected to the land we know. The sacredness of our land and the spirit of it is present to us, however we choose to understand it, and this immediacy feeds into a sense of direct involvement. God is not distant and inaccessible. The gods, the spirits, the divine is here, present, now. It can speak to us with the voices of wind and stream, from the roots of trees and the soil itself. We can glimpse it in the running hare or the soaring bird. These too belong to the land and are part of the same magical relationship that builds reality from one moment to the next.

If we belong first and foremost to the land, then we do not belong to our human communities above all else. We are not the property of the state, or owned by our employers. This affects how we perceive ourselves and our human relationships. We are not owned by the job, or by the demands of human expectations. We belong instead to the land, and consciousness of that allows us not to be ruled so easily by misguided cultural norms, or social pressures. We are also less inclined to see the land itself or anything that lives upon it as property to be owned by humans. We belong to it, it does not belong to us.

You can build a whole ethical framework from the principle of belonging to the land, and have that shape everything that you do. Equally, it is a viable basis for belief. The land does not require our belief, but the idea of its sacredness does, especially when we’re surrounded by people who see only resources to exploit and potential for profit and economic growth. A man on radio 4 this morning described the creation of jobs and wealth as a moral imperative. To me, that’s an absolute nonsense. Making sure there is sufficiency and sustainability are my moral imperatives. That we should have enough, and take no more than constitutes enough, and be careful to properly understand what ‘enough’ means is an ethos far more in line with belonging to the land, than imagining we own it.

I’m barely scraping the surface here but the more I look at it, the more I feel able to define my druidry in this way.