There’s nothing in modern Druidry to tell us that pain and suffering are in some way good for us spiritually. If a painful experience comes along, there’s always scope to learn from it in some way, but no feeling of obligation. There’s no Druidic story that we’re here to learn specific lessons, or worse yet, that we agreed to those lessons before being born.
Ancient Druidry may well have included an element of belief in re-incarnation – the Romans certainly thought so, and compared Celtic belief to the philosophy of Pythagoras, because that was what it reminded them of. A Celt might agree to repay a debt in a future life. What’s interesting in this, is that what carries over does so by agreement. There isn’t some great weighing and measuring system that sets you up to deal with past mistakes or learn lessons, by the looks of it.
What the mythology tells us about Gods, punishment, suffering and learning is that it’s all very personal. It is the deals you personally made that you will be held to. It’s breaking your personal taboos that will land you in trouble. There’s no bigger system. Pain is personal too, and it may well be the price tag for a glorious, memorable life.
It isn’t noble to suffer. It doesn’t reliably make us better people. A bit of suffering can be good for improving empathy and compassion for others who suffer, but there are no guarantees. Pain can be a teacher, but only if you choose to accept it as a teacher and only if you have enough resources to be able to work with it on those terms. Pain is not spiritual punishment – unless you did something that brought it on yourself, as Celtic heroes seem to do, and then it’s part of your story.
In life-affirming religions, the physical world is a good place. Yes, it can hurt you and it will kill you, but in the meantime there are feasts to go to, there’s mead to drink and wine, and beautiful other people to try and shag, there’s adventure to be had, and passion and glory. Pain can be a consequence, but it’s part of being alive. In religions that value pain and suffering as spiritual experiences, this tends to go with a denial of the physical. If you’re trying to transcend the body, then making it suffer can seem like a tool for spiritual advancement.
But honestly, having done a lot of physical pain and emotional suffering along the way – it isn’t a great teacher. I’ve learned more from more nuanced opportunities. I can learn more and grow more when I’m not mostly shut down by pain. Often, all pain can teach you is how not to want to be in your body, how not to take joy in it, how to find this life miserable and restrictive and how to have happy feelings about death. There is pain in my life, but mostly I try and use my Druidry to help me overcome it, rather than trying to use the pain to fuel the Druidry – in which capacity it has very little to offer me.