Tag Archives: Druidry

Cosmic Dancer reviews the Druids

A Legacy of Druids, by Ellen Evert Hopman

A fascinating book that will lead to discussions, a lot of the posts by Druids I don’t agree with (as a Druid myself), but is that not the point of this type of book? To read it and then discuss the points with other readers? I did struggle with the American contributors as I struggled getting to grips with making it more of an organised religion with people being ordained and such but that’s my opinion. I think this is a book that if discussed at local moots would lead to a good night of debate and conversation. A book well worth a read even if it’s just to see if what the contributors were hoping for years ago has come to pass(and some have).All in all I enjoyed it and whether I agree with the pieces or not I respect all those that contributed to it. I do recommend it.

 

Spirituality without Structure, By Nimue Brown

Even though it is only a small book, it contains such a wealth of information and insight that it makes you question yourself, which as a Druid is always a good thing. When you question your belief you stop taking it for granted. I also found myself agreeing with a lot of the content and finding that my belief is not a million miles away from hers.
If you are thinking of leaving the mainstream religions or have left and are in a bit of a panic then this book is for you (it also mentions cake).

 

 

Let’s Talk About Elements and the Pagan Wheel, by Siusaidh Ceanadach

It is mainly aimed at children , but I do feel that adults will enjoy it just as much. Each section has some questions and challenges set for children. A must read for all children, who wish to learn more, I’m sure they will come back to it time and time again.

 

 

 

The Handbook of Urban Druidry, by Brendan Howlin

As an Urban Druid myself I can agree with most of the things that he says in this book. For some Druids the thought of doing “Druidry” in an urban environment can be a bit hard to get their head round, as most are more used to a forest or woodland setting, but this book helps you come to terms and find a way to be a Druid no matter where you are. Lessons and observations are laid out very well and it is not a complicated book that you could get lost in. I did find it useful and it was good to know that another feels the same way about the cityscapes as I do. All in all a good read for those just starting on this path or maybe just want to look at their town and live in the same environment as the author.

 

Paganism and Politics

Mixing religion and politics isn’t comfortable. Every pagan I’ve ever spoken to on the subject has expressed deep discomfort with how various right wing monotheistic politicians use their religion to justify hatred and oppression. Political thinking should be based on human need, above all else, not religious ideology. The trouble is that you can’t separate how someone thinks religiously from how they think the rest of the time. If your beliefs are deeply held, they are your world view.

So I wonder what overtly pagan politics would look like? Imagine we had a sufficiency of pagan politicians to wield influence. How would paganism manifest in government? I like to think we’d hold to our aversion to oppressing folk, that pagans in power would support diversity, starting from a premise that looks a bit like ‘an it harm none, do what you will’. If you aren’t hurting or compromising someone else, what you do really ought to be your own business. Given that paganism is green spirituality, we’d have to have environmental awareness and responsibility at the heart of every policy.

Now, the more I look at things, the more convinced I become that green politics and social justice go hand in hand. War is bad for the environment. Poverty leads to environmental degradation and hunting rare animals for food, or killing them as competition. Social justice means not polluting other people’s drinking water, not using humans as cogs in your machine, not permitting big business to buy land, freedom and political influence at will.

Pagans don’t like being told what to do, so pagan politics would be minimal, avoiding micro-managing people’s lives, encouraging freedom, and responsibility. Many pagans are anarchists – not in a ‘trash the state’ sense, but in thinking that we should all try and take responsibility for ourselves as far as is possible. We believe in freedom of choice, and we don’t believe that’s about picking which brand labels to wear on your clothes. But there’s also a strong ethos of compassion, caring for those in genuine need or distress. We’d have health services that did more to encourage wellbeing in the first place.

Druidry has a somewhat clearer history as a political force. I get the impression it was the political clout of the Druids that inspired the Romans to take them out, when usually they let people get on with their local religions. Druids of old counselled leaders, but did not lead directly themselves. They could go out onto battlefields and halt wars. Traditionally, Druids are peacemakers and negotiators. Druidry is also supposed to be very much about justice. Less the punitive justice currently favoured, more a restorative justice, where the idea is to fix what’s gone wrong, to heal it, resolve, compensate and restore. The kind of justice that enables people to learn, to deal with the broken relationship that underpins wrong behaviour, to rebuild respect, trust and community. Punishment doesn’t really achieve that.

Would I want pagans to rule the world? No. There’s this old thing about what power does to people, and I wouldn’t want to see that happen to us. Politicians become smug and complacent all too easily. It’s better to be on the outside, voicing challenges, trying to keep the people on the inside honest and on track. Pagans can achieve wonderful things in terms of organising events, protests, groups and so forth. We have some tremendous organisations, we might be chaotic, but we can do structure when we need to, and only as much structure as we need (although I can think of one notable exception). But on the other hand, when we gather, we argue. Many a discussion board online testifies to this. For every pagan, there is a unique opinion. We wouldn’t herd naturally into party groups, we don’t have a ‘party line’ just a broad ethos, a tendency to look at the world in certain ways. Pagans are idealists, frequently. In the current climate, few politicians seem to be. But that doesn’t mean we should keep quiet. When politicians say ‘there is no choice’ we need to be there to shout ‘yes there bloody well is’ because there always is. When government tries to feed us restricted visions of the world, short term, suicidal, disrespectful, ill considered money making schemes, we need to make our voices heard. I’d love to see politics get a bit more pagan, without the necessity for pagans to make themselves entirely political.

Wands and letting go

You can spend a lot of money on wands if the inclination takes you, and it’s possible to buy them in all kinds of materials, degrees of craftsmanship, and attendant cost. Mine were all wooden, sourced for the greater part from trees in the area I lived in, and collected to reflect the ogham tree alphabet. There’s a fair bit of uncertainty around tree ogham, it certainly isn’t the only kind of ogham, there’s dispute over which plants are meant by what – like so many things in paganism its roots and uses are uncertain and modern interpretation may be at odds with what our ancestors intended. And also, like so much of modern paganism the point really is what we do now and whether it works for us.

A traditional wand runs, lengthwise from the tip of your longest finger to the crook of your arm. It gives you a very personal length, and one that feels good to hold, wave about, or sit with. Working with a specific wood, knowing the tree – both as an individual and a species, makes wand ownership into a journey and a relationship. They don’t need to be ornately carved. Just smoothing the ends with sandpaper and rubbing them down with vegetable oil will give you something lovely. Keep them dry. As natural things, they are susceptible to mould and will rot.

Wooden wands are tactile, good to hold, to sit with. I like them for meditation. You don’t have to think you are Harry Potter to benefit from meditation with a wand in your hand. They can be grounding, helping you learn about the tree they came from and the wealth of folklore associated with it. Building a wand collection means building a knowledge base with it, adding insight with every new plant explored. It means building relationship with the land you are in, and specific plants. You hold a forest in your hands.

I’m writing this blog post in part as a eulogy. My wands did not survive this winter. I’ve had them years, some of them. I knew the trees they came from, the soil they rooted in. I worked with them, from time to time, over a long while and their presence in my home was one of my overt statements of my Druidry, there for everyone to see.

I said goodbye to them today. It was a sad moment for me, but a necessary one. They did not take kindly to the challenges of this winter. (See previous comments about the importance of keeping wands dry and safe from mould.) There were other issues too. They belonged to a time in my life that I need to let go of and move away from. They were part of a landscape that I’m not a part of any more, and where the trees they came from are still alive, I’m probably never going to visit those trees again. It felt right to let them go. They were part of a living web of connections and relationships. And I loved them. I put time, love, energy and thought into each one, the sourcing, cutting, shaping… they were unique. I left them as an offering alongside an apple tree that came down last autumn. It seemed like a good place. I said goodbye to them, letting go of friends, companions, teachers. It was not easy. But at the moment, nothing is easy. There are a great many things I have to let go of, all of them with stories, history, significance. I picked this one to write about because it’s more recognisably about my Druidry than some of the other items.

Alongside the wands, I’m letting go of most of the other overtly pagan things I have – the ornaments and trappings, the books… some of it I’ll store. Some is leaving. I’ll still have the awen symbol in my skin. Do I need the outward display? Probably not, but I liked the aesthetic, and there was comfort in it. Do I need an altar space in my home? Perhaps not. Amidst the letting go, the stripping back, the being taken apart from outside… I pause to ask sometimes, what of this defines me, or makes me a Druid. What can I let go of and still be myself? What can I give up or stop doing, and still be a Druid? I don’t know. It’s a process.

Honourable Relationship

My first encounter with the term ‘honourable relationship’ came with wwww.druidnetwork.org and my time with The Druid Network. At first glance, it’s an obvious and simple concept. If you are living honourably, then your relationships must be honourable too. When everything is going smoothly and everyone’s happy, then maintaining honourable relationship isn’t difficult if you are a half way decent human being. When there is conflict, staying honourable is hard. I’ve watched board debates spiral out of control in online spaces as folk I know are well meaning and decent people can’t work out how to do honourable disagreement. It happens in real life as well.

Honourable relationship can only occur when those involved are all consciously acting with honour and seeking honour in and through said relationship. You can treat anyone honourably, but if they aren’t responding in kind, it’s not honourable relationship. However, even the most well meaning, honourable persons can find themselves in disagreement. What happens then, is the true test of both the relationship and the honour in it.

To hold honourable relationship is to still hold respect even in disagreement. If at this point you realise the other person is an asshole, your scope for honourable relationship has gone. It means not feeling that you have the right or the need to force your perception on someone else. Recognising that the other is an intelligent, informed, honourable person means recognising that the differences are ok. Or taking back the assessment that they are intelligent, honourable and know what they are talking about. Again, if we do that it’s not honourable relationship any more. They have the right to perceive differently, to want and act differently, to express their honour in different ways. A fine example would be an argument between someone who is passionate about eating locally sourced organic food, and is omnivorous, and someone who is passionately vegan and depending to a degree on imports.

To be in honourable relationship, we have to accept the other as they are, and respect their choices and actions. We can challenge and question, but we can’t deny them the right to think and feel as they do. And equally if we encounter questions and challenges, we have to recognise the other has every right to do that, and respond with integrity, not irritation. A key part of maintaining honourable relationship is the assumption that what we have is indeed honourable relationship – constantly looking for honour fails will break it in no time, so will a ‘more honourable than thou’ mindset. If we do it, we do it together, harmoniously and as a team effort.

Aside from the assumption of honour, we shouldn’t assume anything else. We should ask, and listen to the answers. Honour does not preclude competition – think about those heroic myths! It doesn’t rule out disagreement or conflict. And oddly enough when you think about it, honourable relationship does not require friendship. Two people might totally oppose each other in terms of ideology whilst holding such profound respect for each other’s dedication and methods that they do in fact hold honourable relationship.

If a relationship isn’t shaping up as honourable, then foot stamping and pointing out the other person isn’t doing it right seldom works. If a person cares about honour, nothing will offend them more than suggesting they aren’t acting honourably. Which can make those challenges and all important questions bloody awkward! While dignity is very much necessary to help you maintain your own honour, pride is a distinct handicap sometimes, and telling the two apart matters. Dignity will drive you to discover the right answers and to fix anything that has gone awry while pride makes it hard to own mistakes and tempting to stand your ground and claim you are ‘right’ when you aren’t.

In honourable relationship, we act in ways that allow ourselves, and others to maintain personal dignity. When pride becomes the dominating factor in a relationship, we may well lose the honesty and respect that honour depends on.

Relationship with self

How we relate to ourselves is at the centre of our life experience. It informs what we do, how we do it, what we accept and tolerate. The ideas we hold about ourselves are not created in a vacuum, they are shaped by those around us. To a certain extent, who we think we are depends on who everyone else thinks we are. How we act informs this, and it creates a circle of action and reaction. If we aren’t doing this consciously, if we behave in the ways we are expected to, we can end up very much products of our environments and backgrounds with little actual control over ourselves.

We all of us carry stories about who we are. Some of that may derive from what we do. Much of it can be purely fantasy and daydream, carried within us. Equally, we may be under thrall to the perceptions of others. How do we tell? Is any of this any more real or important than any other aspect?

Who do we want to be and how would we like people to relate to us? Put aside all that is, and contemplate for a moment how you would like it to be. Where are the differences? Could you cover that distance with your own actions? Or is it all about the perceptions of others? Are you hankering after fame and fortune, or would you just like to be heard and taken seriously for a change?

Where we have good relationship, it is easier to flourish. In a good relationship, we are supported and cared for, encouraged to do our best and to aspire to greater things, to take joy in what we achieve and feel good about ourselves. Toxic relationships, poisoned by jealousy and resentment may instead encourage us to be small and insignificant so that others do not feel challenged by us. We may run up against people who resent us because we do not conform to their beliefs, and who will try and reduce us so they do not have to take a knock to their own cherished paradigm. We may meet with people who want to control us – they may well have little control over their own lives, and find security in being able to restrict others.

It is very hard indeed to have a good relationship with self if you are not allowed the space in which you can be yourself. Human relationships can be absolutely crippling in this regard, but if we are always used to being treated in certain ways, even seeing there is a problem is tricky. Consider the child who has grown up being told they are ugly and stupid. The absence of self esteem, and the profound self consciousness engendered may make them socially awkward, clumsy, reluctant to try, thus reinforcing all those beliefs about worthlessness.

Sometimes, to find out who you are, it is really important to get away from people. The sky will not judge you. The earth will not comment on your weight, or your earning capacity. With quiet and space, it’s possible to find different ways of being. I’m coming out of a great deal of darkness and difficulty, years of feeling like a total failure as a human being, a belief that I carried an inherent wrongness that marred everything I did and made it reasonable for people to treat me as less important than everyone else. Living with that from day to day, I couldn’t see it, much less challenge it.

When you change – as we all do, some people will fear and resent it, others will continue to love and support you. It’s easy to end up internalising the fear, jealousy and resentment of others, to become ‘wrong’ so that they can remain comfortably where they are. If you are acting carefully, honourably, then the right and freedom to be who you are should be a given. If it isn’t, if you are being restricted and not permitted to live and flourish on your own terms, you may be dealing with the toxicity of another. Step back. Take yourself, your soul, out into the wilds. See who you are when you stand only in relationship to the sky and the soil. Seek things you can undertake alone, and see what that reveals to you about your own nature. Relationship with self need not be defined by the attitudes of others, and no matter who we’ve been told we are, we can change, grow, become ourselves and be able to view ourselves as people worthy of love and respect.

Relationship with Divinity

There are people from all religions who have spiritual experiences and feel they have come into contact with their god, goddess, or another spiritual presence they find significant. Generally speaking, being a serious upholder of the given faith is deemed a good way of inviting that kind of experience. So, what is a Druid to do? How do we go about our lives in order to make contact with divinity?

For us, it’s a very different scenario. There’s no book of rules, no straightforward way of demonstrating power of faith or devotion that you can easily tap into. We talk a great deal about having nothing to mediate between us and the divine, but in practice what that also means is that we are entirely on our own.

What are we seeking, when we quest after direct knowledge of deity? Reassurance? Something to take us out of the realms of faith and into knowing and certainty, perhaps. We might seek validation, proof that we are heading the right way, doing the right things. We might just want the ego boost. While all of these things may be natural, they are about us, and not about relationship. If there is any rule at all for Druids in this context, it should probably be, to seek connection for its own sake and not for anything else. Don’t even assume it will mean insight and wisdom. It might just bring chaos, confusion and uncertainty. Are we looking for some clear moment, the booming voice from the Heavans? Or are we actually seeking to know and understand? Religious experience is not like the movies. There is seldom much certainty, but moments of beauty, wonder, awe and numinousness can enrich our lives and give us a sense of having encountered something other. Seek relationship for the beauty of it. That is enough.

The things that shape relationships between humans are just as valid when it comes to thinking about relationship with deity. What do we share? If we understand deity as manifest in nature, then when we are out, interacting with and relating to nature, we are also experiencing relationship with the divine. Watching it on the telly doesn’t count. If we are drawn to more human gods, the named figures of historical pantheons, then we might think about what they represent – and where we are exploring their focus, and the energy they embody, we are making relationship with them, or at the very least with concepts that exist externally to us.

To seek deity in the way I’ve described above, does not call for belief. It doesn’t need validation in the form of something obvious returning to you. It is experiencing sacredness in action, allowing perception to include that element of deity, and being open to that which moves us. It’s spending time with a river and the land, or writing poetry and recognising the sacred within that. As with all other kinds of relationship, the more you share, do and give, the deeper it becomes. No burning bushes actually required.

Druidry and relationship

In an earlier post on relationship I mentioned that relationship is a central concept in Druidry. I was asked in what sense I meant that as being specifically a feature of Druidry, and not religion as a whole. So today’s post is a proper attempt at answering that. (And, if you spot things I’ve skated over and need talking about properly, poke me, I am always appreciative of the pointers and inspiration.)

I think it is fair to say that relationship is a feature of every religion – relationship with the divine, and the world, which are usually viewed as two separate things. The book religions tend to specify very clearly how those relationships should be manifested. There are ways of praying, times to pray, songs to sing. There are people specifically responsible for mediating between divinity and the rest of us. There are prescribed forms of relationship that are ‘good’ – monogamous, permanent heterosexual marriage usually, and there are forms of relationship that are not allowed – gay relationships, plural relationships, sex outside marriage, etc. Where many religions are concerned, part of the shape of the religion is the way it defines our relationships for us and tells us how we ought to go about them.

When it comes to Pagan religions, some do more to define our relationships than others. Druidry very specifically does not pin down how we should relate to our gods or how we should express that. Druid ritual tends to be vague about naming deities a lot of the time, respecting that you might not all follow the same gods. The web of connection, the sense that all things inter-relate and are affected by each other, is very much part of a Druidic understanding of the cosmos. We don’t see ourselves as separate from nature, nor do we see gods as entirely separate from nature. We tend towards an environmental consciousness that recognises interdependence and unity. We have no rules about who you can love or how you should love them, beyond the requirement for honour. Druidry requires us to form our own relationships.

By encouraging our awareness of relationship, Druidry takes us towards conscious, engaged, thoughtful connections. But it doesn’t tell us how to do it. That would create dogma and would take away responsibility. It is crucial that we, as Druids, fully own our own relationships, are conscious of them, enter them mindfully and act based upon our own sense of honour and our own insight. This enables us to create relationships that are unique, intense, deeply felt and part of our spiritual experience. There is no room for complacency or taking for granted. I can talk about what makes good relationship, what it feels like and what it does, but I can’t tell you how to go out there, find someone or something to do this with and make it work.