My first druidic teacher was a bit of a disaster for me. I was 25, and very keen, had been pagan for years but knew nothing about the ins and outs of Druidry. It spoke to me and I really wanted to learn. My teacher seemed very mysterious and wise. I soon found myself thrown into situations where I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it – asked to take an active role in ritual where I had no sense of what to say, shown barkless ogham sticks and asked to identify them, when I had never seen the symbols before. (I would have managed some from the bark, had there been any.) There were other such difficulties. I soon began to feel that I wasn’t good or intuitive enough to make it as a Druid.
In the months that followed, there were a lot of arguments. I was told to wear robes, but I had a lot of practical and emotional reasons for finding that beyond me. I was given exercises to do that made no sense to me and were radically at odds with my own world view – I’m a river person, I don’t want to envisage myself in a boat dodging rocks, I belong in the water, and could see no use in the meditation, but was not allowed to adapt it to suit my nature. When we talked about the cycle of the year I was told how autumn is the time of quietly winding down into the quiet stillness of winter. But I was foraging hedgerows, making preserves, and the winter for me means cutting wood, lugging coal – I have a more traditional lifestyle. I was told that what I do looks a lot like Druidry, but is not Druidry. I was told off for drawing too much on folklore and my understanding of the natural world, and not listening enough to the wisdom being passed to me. I was told I was unteachable because I always questioned everything and took nothing on trust. By the end of it, I had nearly given up on Druidry as an idea. To question the teacher was to disrespect the teacher, and the teacher’s teachers. I ended up feeling very small.
Angry, and with a point to make, I signed up for the Order Of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) course. I received study matter and was given a tutor. I explained to my tutor what had happened, and was given a warm response, told that it was fine to ask questions, and that an independent mind was valued by OBOD, and encouraged. Working through the study matter, I kept finding comments to the effect that if an exercise felt wrong for any reason, to leave it, or adapt it. Which I did, with great enthusiasm. Feeling empowered to play and explore on my own terms, I loved the course, and went through all three levels over about four years. It gave me back my confidence and showed me that what I had been doing all along looked a lot like Druidry after all. The other great aid to rebuilding confidence came from reading Emma Restall Orr’s work and finding that made total sense to me as well.
Not long after, a man came to my local working group who knew nothing about Paganism but wanted to get involved. He needed to learn. I could teach him myself, decline to take him on, or send him to the teacher who had messed me about so badly – the only teacher in the area I knew of. I chose the first option, not feeling remotely qualified to do it, but aware that was the best I could offer him. I wrote him a small essay each week on a relevant topic, and we talked in between. I kept this up for two years, during which time we went through a lot of material. He taught me that I could teach. Since then, quite a few other people have been through those ‘missives’ – 5 reaching the end, 2 now close to finishing, and five who stopped for personal reasons – one to take a formal educational course, one died, one decided paganism wasn’t for her, one I lost contact with, and one became such a pain that I withdrew from teaching her. This last one did not so much as acknowledge the material I sent to her, and when I stopped sending, did not comment on that either. To my mind, this is disrespect of the teacher, and ‘unteachable’.
I learn a lot from my students. One was never very responsive, but most take the time to offer thanks and a few thoughts. Some write back reflecting on how any given topic affects them or relates to their own life experience. The sharing of stories is always good. My favourite person to teach always came back with questions and counter arguments, poking at possible holes in my logic and looking for things I had missed. He demanded more from me, and he required me to think. Such students stop the teacher from getting complacent, or too comfortable. We don’t know everything. It’s good to be challenged, and it makes me look back at my early Druid studies and shake my head. I was the kind of student I happen to like best. And so learn.