Tag Archives: revival druids

Steam Druid

For all of you who suffer from folk innuendo syndrome, I should start by saying no, this is not a Beltain related topic. It’s about steam engines and Druids.

Only when I went to the Cambridge (Gloucestershire) vintage car and steam show last weekend did I remember what I was doing there the previous year. It’s a small show – a field of old cars, a steam car (the only car I have ever loved!) a steamroller and a few baby traction engines puffing about. There was also a lot of rain. Last year I was working on Intelligent Designing for Amateurs. It’s a fiction thing and it’s coming soon… and as the title suggests, it is a bit about people playing God.

But I digress. I’d read Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe the previous winter, and that was a big influence on writing Druidry and the Ancestors. I needed to make some kind of meaningful response. A legacy remained. The sheer insanity of revival Druids, the mad energy, shameless disregard for facts, fraudulent invention… that had got under my skin. At the time I couldn’t see any way of bringing that to my ‘proper’ Druidry so I did what I usually do with impossible things, and put it in a story. How to do revival Druids? I didn’t want to work with the actual historical figures, so I needed to invent some equally crazy people to play with.

One of the consequences of this, was Henry Caractacus Morestrop Jones (Archdruid) complete with moustache, a robe that looks suspiciously like a nightdress, and a heightened sense of self importance. I wanted some slightly more sympathetic Druids as well though.

Then, at last year’s vintage car show with traction engine event, I watched the steam roller pootle back and forth, slowly. Inspiration popped into my head. Not the kind of spiritual, fire in the head awen inspiration we normally like to associate with Druids, but very silly inspiration. Druids on a traction engine. The scope for low speed chases struck me at once. I like a good slow chase for comedy value. Jack Barrow does them well, too.

In the process of writing a book, its’ not difficult to lose track of the source material, especially with fiction where I’m not making the same conscious effort to remember what I got from where. As a result I sometimes get the curious pleasure of re-encountering a thing and realising that it set me on an imaginative journey.
Druids on a traction engine.

I gather Dr Who has sinister cybermice in it, so I may have been a bit prescient with that one. Yes, it’s been a strange year, creatively speaking and the upshot is a strange book.

Revival revival

Much of modern Druidry comes not from the ancient Druids, but from the revival Druids – and that great fraudster Iolo Morganwg in particular. The period of revival Druidry (read Ronald Hutton if this is unfamiliar territory) was both mad and wild. Speculation about ancient sites, mediaeval texts, invention of texts by Morganwg, and a wider culture full of secret societies, curious regalia and funny handshakes made for a crazy sort of time.

These days we have far better scholarship and everything has settled down a bit. While I’m all in favour of the more rigorous scholarship, we have lost something. That energy of mad creativity has gone, on the whole. Now, back in the day if you wanted to get all inventive you’d probably start by inventing an even more ancient and venerable history for you group, book, dining table, than anyone else had in order to establish seniority. I think we all know what the score is now, so those games should not be revived unless you’re being shamelessly tongue in cheek about the whole thing. (With all due reference to my most excellent colleagues, the Time-travelling Order of Ancient Druids, or Toads, definitively more ancient than anyone else!)

It is possible to innovate honestly, without needing to imagine a historical basis. We might look to our relationship with our specific bit of land, to invent a Druidry that is totally about where we are, responding to local flora, fauna, seasons and quirks. We might look at our ancestors of land, and innovate based on them. We might think about what else goes on where we are, and Druid our way into it. This would in turn inform how we do ritual and everything else.

The revival folk went in for costume in a way that puts our occasional white robes to shame. I’m not wild for robes, they aren’t very practical, but the whole ‘robes’ thing comes from a revival mistake about statues of Greek philosophers (Hutton again). We don’t really have a strong, exciting Druid aesthetic, in terms of how we might dress, or what imagery we stick on our book covers, or next to articles. Trees feature a lot, but there is no reason to get comfy with what is, in essence, a pretty dull visual tradition at the moment. We could do something. We could invent something new. We could have a really cool Druid aesthetic.

While we’re on the subject, we don’t have many prayers, or Druidic works of fiction either. We don’t have enough teachers or celebrants, and we don’t do enough real world stuff (yes, I know, I’m blogging….) We’ve settled into this comfy place of 8 festivals, a couple of prayers, a fairly staid way of doing ritual, and optional white robes. We’re rather inoffensive, and if you look at us collectively, we are a lot more bland than our Druid revival ancestors.

About the only thing you cannot safely accuse the revival era Druids of being, was bland.

Which brings me round to Steampunk, anachronism, fakelore and making stuff up. (What is a Secret Order of Steampunk Druids for, anyway?) If you aren’t mad for Steampunk, we can just come back to that central theme of the awen, inspiration and creativity. We can bring all that stuff to how we do our Druidry. We don’t have to get everything we do out of books or from courses. We don’t have to do it the way everyone else does it. Most importantly, that ‘stuff we all do’ the truth against the world and swearing by peace and love to stand, the awen and all that? Revival Druidry, for the greater part. Not ancient Druidry, not unassailable truth about what it means to be a Druid, just people making stuff up. We are people, and we ought to be perfectly capable of making stuff up.

That’s an invitation to listen deeply, to respond, to understand, to see the need and answer it. If Druidry is more, really, than people making stuff up and wearing silly costumes, then it comes from somewhere. It comes from the land and our experience of being human. It comes, I think, from deliberate and soulful interaction with the world. We should be doing that thing. I want to look to the revival folk for the inspiration of their energy and creativity, not to replicate what they were playing with.