Tag Archives: Brynneth Nimue

What Makes a Druid?

For some people, the only druids are those who existed before the Romans wiped them out. For others it’s a term very much here and now, and available to anyone who claims it.  There are many who feel that to be a Druid is to hold a position of respect within your community, to act as a priest, and to have some years of training and experience behind you.

I’m just going to throw open some questions and hope people pile in with their answers. So far as I am concerned, there are no wrong answers here, but it’s interesting to share. Don’t feel obliged to answer all of them, either. Do as you will!

What defines a druid? Action? Belief? Role within a community? Relationship with the land, or the gods? Or something else?

Would it be better or worse if the title of Druid could be formally bestowed in a way everyone found recognisable?

What makes you able or unable to use the word ‘Druid’ (assuming it relates at all to what you’re doing, of course!)

What does ‘Druid’ mean to you?

Help!

Being a good natured, well meaning chap, James likes to be helpful. We’ve had a fair few interesting discussions around this, as he’s learned about the issue. Like most children, James started out with play helping – and frequently that’s entirely unhelpful. I wondered about letting him do that, but opted to very gently suggest that helping in an actually helpful way would be more use. He turned out to be totally open to this. Since then he’s become really good at responding to requests for help, and asking what help is needed rather than assuming he knows.

It’s very easy, when trying to help, to end up swamping, disempowering or depressing the person you meant to assist. It’s an easy time to accidentally patronise, or make the recipient feel that they’re not doing well enough as it is. “Is there anything I can do to help?” is much better than “Let me do that for you.” Or worse yet, “I can do that properly.” How we offer help shows our respect, or lack thereof for people.

If a person needs help because they are in difficulty, it means pretty much by definition that they have lost control of something. That might be through ill health, misfortune, injury, job loss, or any number of small or vast setbacks. The one thing a person in crisis needs more than anything else, is not to lose more autonomy. Genuine help means not taking more power from that person. It’s always easier to see the solutions to other people’s problems than our own, but rushing in with too much enthusiasm can do more harm than good. ‘Help’ that denies a person choices, or disempowers them in any way, is not useful.

If you want to help, with anything or anyone, then begin by asking what you can do. Don’t assume you know what they need, or even that you know what the problem is without checking. Ask what the other person needs, how you can support them, what they would like. Be willing to listen. Unless they are in a coma or otherwise totally unable to act on their own behalf, don’t act for them without consent, that can add to distress. Give a distressed person as much time as you can to speak for themselves and make their own choices. It’s not just a matter of fixing whatever the short term issues are, consider their longer term needs, dignity and sense of self.

If we rush in too fast, we can cause more harm than good. It’s so easy to railroad a person who is already in distress. The loss of control that goes with crisis creates fear, anxiety, and can make a person feel they do not know how to cope. Coming in and rushing someone can increase the feeling of lost control and make it harder for them to make good choices. To give true aid, it must be offered on the terms of the one who needs it, not on the terms of the ‘helper’ or what we do can easily make a bad situation worse.

No Curses

Lots of people associate paganism, especially witchcraft, with curses. One of the most commonly asked questions I get from non-pagans is ‘do you do curses?’ (It comes along with queries about dancing naked and sacrificing virgins.) Traditionally, curses have been a part of paganism – cunning folk did it and so did our ancient ancestors. However, in today’s ethical climate, it’s not a comfortable issue.

Wishing ill on people, no matter what they’ve done to you, is unethical. It’s not something I have ever done, nor would I consider doing it. There’s a secondary issue that it’s not good to be filled up with hatred and a hunger for revenge. Thirdly, many pagan folk believe in ideas like karma, and the wiccan notion of threefold return- what we do comes back to us. So in thought as well as deed, it’s not ok to send malevolence to another.

So what do you do, when conventional justice does not seem available? I think we all have moments when someone drives us to despair or rage, and we have no viable scope for responding. What do you wish for, or pray for? So below, partly for my own amusement, partly for yours, are some entirely ethical, but not remotely nice responses for when you don’t have any other options.

Wish them self knowledge and the chance to fully understand who they are and how others perceive them.

Wish them learning opportunities, and the chance to understand the impact of their actions.

Wish them the opportunity to share in what they have given you.

Wish them a conscience.

If you can’t tackle a person directly about wrongs committed, sometimes it helps to imagine them in front of you (when no one else is around to think you are crazy) and say aloud all the things you wish them to hear and understand. It’s a good way of venting and getting it out of your head and heart.

Above all else, wish for poetic justice, and imagine what form that would take. I’m going to come back on the poetic justice issue because it’s such an interesting one, both from a writing and a druidic perspective.

Druid Charity Status

The Druid Network has charity status – not registered yet, but rubber stamped as fulfilling the requirements for registration, so pretty much there. This is very big news. It makes tdn the first recognised Druid charity in the UK and the first pagan group to be registered under the 2006 Act. It’s taken years and a lot of very wonderful people have fought very hard to make this possible – dealing with a system that had been set up to handle religions shaped more like Christianity than not.

The Druid Network having achieved charitable status will bring all kinds of benefits to the organisation, enhancing credibility and creating opportunities to promote and support Druidry. This is all good. It also means that any other pagan charity is going to have a much better chance of getting charitable status. No other Druid group is going to have to prove that Druidry is a valid religion. Other pagan groups will be able to use the tdn case to help express their own. The process that has got tdn charitable status has helped create understanding of nature based religion, modern polytheism, and things that are not remotely like Christianity. As this is a legal definition of tdn as a religious charity, it will have all kinds of wider legal implications too.

It’s an awe inspiring thing to have seen happen. I’ve been in a position to watch from the sidelines through the later part of the process. The work that has gone into making this happen, has been colossal. It’s wonderful to see paganism being taken seriously, and I think this bodes well for our future. 

I know there are a significant number of pagans who are wary about contact with officialdom. For some, part of the attraction of paganism is precisely that we aren’t tied up in state structures and officialdom. However, for pagans to have the same rights as other folks and the freedom to live and worship on our own terms, we have to engage with the system. It’s vitally important that we do that without compromising the individual choice and responsibility inherent in paganism. To define ourselves without becoming dogmatic, and engage with authority without becoming authoritarian or hierarchical is going to be a challenge. The systems we deal with are based on assumptions that are totally unlike paganism.

One of the things that charitable status for the Druid Network shows is that we can engage and be heard, without having to become something other than we are. That gives me hope.

Druids and the Church

Druidry and Christianity have a very interesting sort of relationship. There are folks who do both, and most of the folks who only do one find this a bit perplexing. And no, I have no idea really how it works, but so long as it does work for people, then fair enough.

Churches have a very strong physical presence in a lot of communities. They are a hub point for activity, as well as the focal point of worship and religion. Contemporary druids do not, usually, have anything comparable. There aren’t enough of us, we don’t have the financial backing, and there is the whole issue of liking to do it in the trees. Groves are good for rituals, but less good for playgroups, jumble sales, coffee mornings and all the other social glue that holds church communities together.

I’ll freely admit that every now and then I get an attack of building-envy. Churches tend to have very good acoustics too, they are fabulous places to sing. Often they have interesting windows and art work to explore. In rural places, churches are often where the local history, archaeology and myth wind up. If you want to find out about a place, poking around in the church will give you a good place to start. Then there’s the graveyard – frequently a wildlife haven and full of ancestors – ancestors of place, if not bone or tradition.

If you’re getting the idea that I love churches, you’d be right. But the trouble is Christianity doesn’t speak to me and never did. I am very fond of many lovely Christian people, and I have a lot of respect for what they do, but I’m never going to be going that way.

The trouble is, being a Druid, by definition involves having a community to be a Druid for. Which is fine and dandy if there are plenty of pagans about. But what do you do if you are the only pagan in the village, or your part of town? The private, solitary aspects of Druidry you can do anywhere, but the community aspect means people.

When I was in Redditch, I had a good relationship both with the nearest vicar, and my son’s school (which was a faith school). We were entirely open about the paganism. I’ve sung in the church (because I love mediaeval music) and supported church events. It depends a lot on the nature of your vicar, but many have an attitude that the church exists for the community, first and foremost. Being openly pagan, non-confrontational and interested in giving service, I found it easy enough to find a place.

My new home, unshockingly, turns out to have a church in viable walking distance (this being the UK, I’d be hard pushed to live somewhere this wasn’t true of). It’s a significant hub of local life. I love the graveyard, and have snuck into the building when no one else is about. Empty churches can be very lovely places to meditate on a rainy day. In time, I’ll start offering all the things I’ve given in other places – music, harvest loaf making, help with practical things. All the community and craft aspects. If the community I’m in turns out to be light on pagans, and more Christians, then to serve, as a Druid, I need to find ways to serve within a Christian-defined context. It can be done.

Who am I?

Without a sense of self, it’s very hard to work out what to do with your life, or how to do it. Self knowledge is necessary for personal growth and for any kind of meaningful spiritual life. How do I hold a mirror up to my soul? How do I establish what kind of person I am? How do I discover my true nature?

This is an issue I’ve been wrangling with a lot lately. I have absolutely no idea who I am. Things I had considered true, I’m no longer sure I can trust. Reflections offered back by others, I’m now putting aside. I’ve spent this summer watching myself, trying to figure out who I am.

I don’t think what happens inside any person’s head is a measure of who we are. In our heads, many of us are the heroes of our own stories. We are right, justified, reasonable etc. The trouble is, experience demonstrates that many people are not right, much less actually heroic. So how do we get beyond the inclination to think well of ourselves and get some measure of truth and reality? Or for that matter, how do folks who have been conditioned into thinking the worst of themselves break away from that training and find a new self image?

The answer lies not in what we think, but what we do. Intentions and attitudes are of limited use, really. I seek to know myself through how I live, the choices I make. I can get some sense of what I am like from how others respond to me. (Gently, on the whole, with care, kindness and support, aside from a couple of notable exceptions). What kind of people are we surrounded by? If everyone we encounter seems hostile, selfish and uncooperative, is that misfortune, or is some aspect of who we are being reflected back at us? The best sense we can get of how we seem, is by looking at our relationships and seeing what they tell us.

We can tell a lot about ourselves and how we impact on the world by looking at who our friends are. Do we have longstanding friends? And if not, why? There are lots of reasons why a person may find it hard to make and keep friends – shyness, a nomadic lifestyle, eccentricities that make it hard to connect, or just not being a people person can all be issues. But you can also make friends with creatures, and places, and look at those relationships as points of reference. One or two deep friendships will tell you as much about yourself as dozens of casual connections can. Family, neighbours, people we meet through work and daily life all reflect back something of how we come across to them. Do people avoid us, or seek us out? Are you someone to confide in? Am I a good shoulder to cry on?

Creatures and children are very good points of reference. You can’t bullshit a creature. They judge you based on how you treat them. If you are kind and gentle, animals will respond to you in certain friendly ways, or avoid you, if you are not. Being a parent is perhaps the biggest mirror you can hold up to yourself. The person you raise will reflect back all kinds of things about who you are – especially the nature of their primary care giver. Sure, kids can come out well in spite of bad parenting, or come out badly despite best efforts to nurture them, but they’re a very interesting yardstick to measure ourselves by.

In stillness, isolation and inactivity, who we are is entirely theoretical. Action is real, and relationship one of the best ways of seeing how that action manifests. Who we imagine we could be and what we think we might do if only we had the chance, isn’t worth much in the scheme of things. Judge yourself on what you do, not on wishful thinking, or self critical fear.

A context for peace

One of the things I’ve realised, writing peace articles lately, is that peace isn’t something you can work for in isolation. In many ways, achieving peace is going to be a consequence of achieving other things first. 

On a world scale, we have no scope for establishing peace until we have a lot more equality and justice. While there is exploitation, starvation, abuse of power and a huge gap between the rich and poor, peace is impossible. Faced with injustice and suffering, people will take arms when they feel they need to – and with justification. Peace bought by oppression and hunger is no kind of peace at all. 

At more personal levels, peace depends on honour, care, and respect. That’s not something we can achieve as individuals, we have to do it collectively. It’s impossible to live peaceably in an environment where others are cruel, greedy, abusive or otherwise uncooperative.

Peace is a human thing. We can’t and shouldn’t try to avoid the challenges and conflict inherent in living, but we can seek to exist peacefully alongside each other. We can only achieve this through thoughtful, honourable living. Working for peace means working for justice, compassion, tolerance and equal opportunities. It is not an easy path, which is why we are so far from having peace in the world. Being greedy, selfish, violent and unfair is a lot easier and pays good dividends, and that’s why people stick with it. Seeking peace means working against our own immediate interests for the good of all, and that’s not a simple path to walk.

The little pockets of peace we manage to create and hold are intensely beautiful things. Gems in the dark waters of human interaction. We can treat each other well and honourably. It might not bring immediate financial gain, but it rewards us in other, more soulful ways. When we have peace between us, we can also have peace in our hearts. I can’t think of anything more precious or worth striving for.