Cylch Blodeuwedd

Druidic Grove in North-West Wales

Modern Druidry & 21st Century Druids

by gillian - November 4th, 2012.
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Historically:

The ancient druid was a highly respected member of society, frequently recruited from learned families among the nobility of the land. Their training was long…. at least 19 years, depending on what level of druidry they wished to attain.

Functions:

Counsellors, law-givers, mediators, healers, teachers, historians, genealogists, astrologists, diviners, shamen, bards.

It could be said that historically, one definition of a druid is someone being of the magical order of the Celts. Perhaps to a certain extent this still applies – much of what was once considered “magic” ( healing, use of psychotropic drugs, astrology, divination,shamanic journeying, energetic work) now have more scientific explanations and are far more widely known about, accepted and understood.

The challenge today is to emulate the Aes Dana, “The Gifted People”, whose gifts and unusual skills were given in service of Celtic society. They could walk between the worlds; help people through conflict, sickness and death; communicate lofty or earthly impressions through music and poetry. Musicians were charged with regulating society by means of their music; highly trained, they could make people joyful and lively, sad and tearful, relaxed and sleepy… or warlike! Society was kept in harmony by bards instead of police. (Look at effect classical music has on people today, calming the mentally ill, Mozart easing certain sicknesses…. on other hand, what effect does modern pop music have on our youngsters??????)

On a less elevated level, today we too can all strive to develop as many of these qualities, and skills as possible…. what mother hasn’t employed many of these gifts in a natural and automatic way in bringing up her children? Some of us may encompass some of these skills as part of our profession…. we may work as doctors, nurses, alternative therapists, social workers, voluntary charity supporters, teachers and professors, historians, genealogists, advocates, solicitors, writers, journalists, publicists, high class performers and musicians. But whatever our capabilities, whatever our job of work, we can all aspire to bring these qualities into our lives and the lives of those around us. In a nutshell, it means that today, all of us at our best, can produce wondrous things from our talents and share them!

Traditional/Modern Representation:

The traditional historical figure of a druid as portrayed by the classical writers is that of an aged man with long flowing hair, beard and white robes, clutching a golden sickle or leaning on a tall wooden staff. This image has in part been reinforced by the patriarchal figureheads so popular in the Age of Pisces, as presented by the druid revivalists of the last three hundred years or so. Even now, the figure remains strong in people’s psyche.

Many books about druidry list the physical prerequisites for practising one’s druidry: long robe, a cord or belt, a wooden staff, a druid egg, a crane bag, a blank book for recording observations, poems, songs, stories, etc., something made from the wood of the tree you are currently working with, your preferred divinatory tools, a sickle, a musical instrument. These “theatrical props” are possibly good tools to help a person focus on their objectives, as long as they don’t become an end in themselves and the reason for them lost. But none of these things are actually necessary… it is what is going on in your heart and mind and on your spiritual levels that counts, rather than what you adorn your body with or hold in your hands.

Definition of Druidry Today:

It is often, jokingly, said that there are as many definitions of Druidry as there are Druids. There are certainly many differences among those who call themselves “druids” today. (Do you think of yourself as being a druid? Whether or not that is the case, what do you believe?)

Rob Wilson of The Druid Network writes: “Driudry can be viewed as an intangible essence that holds, guides, challenges and directs – not blind faith – a knowing…. but not knowing at all.

Main Beliefs:

  1. Animism

  2. Polytheism

  3. Respect of Ancestors

  4. Reincarnation

  5. Importance of Trees

  6. The Fairy Realms

  7. Awen

  8. Ethical Behaviour

  9. Ecological responsibility

These can be condensed into fewer headings, but for the purposes of specific identification, consideration and discussion, I have chosen to specifically itemise.

Animism: The belief that all things are imbued with spirit. This fundamental belief encourages us to be aware of the true spiritual nature of all things, animate or inanimate. This awareness encourages us to treat all beings and all things with respect and lies at the heart of the “green” spiritual environmentalism that is so much a part of modern druidry.

THOUGHT: Phil Ryder of The Druid Network comments that scientists tell us that 65% of the universe is energy that they cannot identify.

Polytheism: The belief that there are many gods and goddesses, all of whom are worthy of respect and reverence. Fosters tolerance, allowing us to see other faiths as valid paths to spiritual growth. (Personally, I see various god and goddesses as archetypal figureheads born out of mass human belief. Or any/all deities as part of the “spirit worlds”…. plains of other existence. But we are all imbued with that of the Divine, whether we are gods, humans or blades of grass(back to animism) which is all worthy of respect?????????)

Respect of Ancestors: Recognising and honouring those who have gone before us, both of our genetic bloodline and of the land/place where we live. Also respecting those of our spiritual path who have gone before us and with whom we therefore feel a close affinity. Our respect for the ancestors stems from the fact that so much of who we are is derived from them, both physically and spiritually… they are also sometimes our teachers, guides and inspiration. It is important to call on your ancestors; the gifts and wisdom of your heritage flow through you and never die, but will be built upon, refined and improved…. a way of “remembering yourself”…. your inner self.

Reincarnation: Belief in the eternal self, soul, anam; in a cycle of lives; a constant life passing from one expression to another. The ancient Greeks knew this continuous process of rebirth as metempsychosis, the transfer of the soul to living form. Self comes into the world, usually in human form, but it might be in any animate or inanimate form. May even be something as fleeting as a shout, a wave or a fleck of light. (Quantum physics has proved that these do make a lasting impression on the cosmos. Some scholars doubt that this concept dates from the druids; that the idea of soul/spirit dwelling in non-human form was introduced later and is Pythagorean in origin. Greek/ Roman sources describing druid beliefs only mention transmigration which is the immortal soul in physical form. But just how much did they really know of druidic practice???? What do you think?

(Many similarities between druids and Pythagoreans… has been suggested that the Pythagoreans might have been spawned by the druids, rather than the other way around)

Important to be able to reincarnate many times in many forms. (Theosophical concept that we have already had many lives in the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms before graduating to the human plain).

If Time is not linear, can we/do we reincarnate up and down history… or experience more than one lifetime simultaneously? (You might like to go away and give some of these questions more thought)

Tir na n Og …. Land of the living…. Beautiful Paradise…. the Summer Lands…. located across the Magh Mell, The Plain of Honey, out in the western sea, where the soul goes between incarnations to rest and recuperate.

It might be interpreted as an underlying metaphysical goal to accumulate spiritual growth/knowledge/wisdom by experiencing the diversity of the universe; whether this is viewed as an issue of reincarnation, or psychic transformation within one lifetime, or a fusion of both, is a personal matter.

The Importance of Trees: That trees are a huge source of wisdom, often living centuries longer than we do. Until very recently they have also been absolutely vital to our survival and well-being on the planet, feeding, clothing, warming and sheltering us… even now we still use wood for a great many things in 21st Century life. And they are still the lungs of the planet! In druidic terms, there is the Tree Alphabet, Ogham and the World Tree (found in many cultures around the globe). Trees span plains of existence as well as physical plains; their roots are sunk deep in the earth, their trunks pass through our physical arena of life and their branches commune with the sky and the spirits of air/heaven… or in shamanic terms, they span the Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds… from etheric to astral. Druids respect trees; they seek out their company, their strength and accumulated wisdom. They meet in groves of trees.

The Fairy Realms: Different plains of energetic existence (etheric, astral, energetic levels), vibrating at higher rates than that of the human plain, but very close to us, so that sometimes they overlap and we see, smell, touch or otherwise become aware of “that which is not real”. This covers the Tylwedd Teg, the Sidhe, realms of ancestoral spirits, animals, rocks and vegetation; spirits of place and archetypal deities. Levels of existence that we perceive as beautiful, seductive, timeless… but they are also different to our own and can be “distorted and dangerous… need to be handled with great care!

There are frequent references within druidry to shapeshifting and shamanic practice… these are activities which are carried out on these other levels. (If people “see” something, or if someone becomes “invisible”, it is by changing people’s perception of something, not by actually becoming it)

THOUGHT: Connection with ancestors and land spirits in modern context can be construed as a deep concern for family, in its broadest sense, and a deep environmental awareness. (Order of Imbas, America).

Ethical Behaviour: Because of the remarks made by classical writers concerning druidic teachings, the early Revivalist druids of the 18th – 19th centuries came to believe that the ancient druid moral doctrines were essentially the same as Christianity. Therefore the revival of druidry in Britain attracted social reformers, activists for various causes,labour organisations,socialists, etc..

Modern druids have inherited a number of important ideas from the early Revivalists, including the one-ness of the world, the immortality of the soul, the presence of Awen, the experience of the Divine in trees and landforms and in nature generally; and the inherent goodness of human nature – as well as possessing better quality historical, linguistic and archaeological information about the ancient Celts and the druidic era.

Druids ancient and modern had/have a deep interest in questions of moral and social philosophy. But druidry daoes not pronounce or enforce – in a gentle and open-minded way, questions are posed and support given if wanted while people search for answers.

Philip Carr-Gomm writes “Most druids have a highly developed sense of ethical behaviour which is usually implicit in their actions, rather than explicitly stated”. He believes that druidry contains four main ethical concepts; responsibility, community, trust and integrity.

Another quality frequently mentioned is “honour” and Emma Restall Orr believes that this is the sum of three specific virtues; courage, generosity, loyalty.

Others suggest that to live with truth is to live with kindness, tact and diplomacy; to know the truth of one’s own nature and to shun self-delusion and that to exhibit true strength is to live life courageously honourably and to its full.

Below are a list of fairly typical qualities often referred to in druidry:

Hospitality Generousity Integrity Truth Responsibility Authenticity Attentiveness Respect Honour Wisdom Courage Service/Sacrifice Sovereignty

Which do you think apply most to druidry?

What else might you add?

Which take personal precedence?

Structure:

The Revivalists of the last few centuries established patriarchal traditions, in keeping with their patriarchally dominated Christian upbringing. In fact, modern druidry has no central authority; national and international Orders and organisations are created to facilitate networking and study between druids. (Although I fear that certain large Orders are loosing sight of this!)

In this country we have The Druid Network, The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and The Druidic Order, with a handful of smaller groups.

There are three branches of druidry: bardic, ovatic and druidic. These can denote how advanced a person’s personal path is if you are following a course run by one of the Orders, or it can simply clarify what aspect of druidry attracts a person most.

Druids meet in “groves”, often small groups of friends and family, with a recognised leader or egalitarian group alternating administrative functions between themselves. They might just meet to celebrate the eight main festivals around the wheel of the year, or for specific celebrations connected to Celtic/local deities, the position of the moon or stars, rites of passage, etc.

There are many more who are “solitary” practitioners, either because they prefer to remain private in their activities and beliefs, or because they cannot find others with whom to share their spiritual ideals and interpretations. Craig Cartmell of the druid network has proposed another category for those working alone… that of Feral Druidry…. learning to literally stand still and silent with your eyes wide open; seeing and approaching reality from different perspectives “outside the box”.

Some More Definitions of Druidry:

Most agree that a druid is a man or woman who walks a spiritual path founded upon the Celtic branch of the indigenous European tradition. Unfortunately, there appears to be many divergent views of exactly what is Celtic, spiritual, indigenous or traditional! (Personally, I think that druidry can be applied to whoever or wherever you are, and that the Celtic interpretation is only relevant if you are living in the Celtic lands or are of Celtic descent…… discuss?) Having said that, as Nicholas Mann and Maya Magee Sutton point out in their book “Druid Magic”, it can be argued that each one of us comes to understand druidry only by making the effort of getting inside the many layers of Celtic cosmology from the past and by practising druidic principals in the present.

But above all else, druids are people who have in common a reverence for all Life, fully engaging in Life; celebrating and honouring the relationships, cycles, spirit and matter that make up each of us and the world in which we live.

Another unifying factor of modern druidry is a desire to give back to the earth. Historically, massive deposits of valuable objects were made to the spirits of lakes, rivers and springs, but the druids of today offer more practical gifts; money, time and energy to persue ecologically motivated work.

Pauline Kennedy Allen of The Druid Network suggests that druidry is a family of related paths; sometimes so disparate that the only thing that they have in common is the term “druid”. However, she goes on to say that druidry is where we all have in common the principal of respecting each others opinions and beliefs; the honour and respect of nature and share similar goals and principals.

Her own definition is “Someone who is inspired by Celtic myths and loves to work with the Spirits of the land they live in, their ancestors and their own Gods in whatever form they feel these beings take; who strive to honour and respect those around them even when they disagree with them; who work to improve themselves and the lives of those around them in whatever way they can; who take responsibility for their own actions and for their own learning and development”.

Robin Herne, author of “Old Gods, New Druids”, suggests that around the world, druids fall into roughly three categories of belief:

  • Some strive to maintain strong continuity of belief and practice with the original druids of history.

  • Some engage in practices that are as much inspired by Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity as they are by ant Insular Celtic ideas.

Some see “druid” as a term to convey the suggestion of “nature priest(ess) more than to imply a specific link to ancient practice.

SUGGESTED QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES

  1. Try writing your own personal creed/declaration.

  2. Ancient druids were part of a structural hierarchy, whilst many modern druids prefer to steer well clear of any spiritual hierarchy.

  • What have we gained and what have we lost by rejecting such power structures?

  • How do you personally feel about the idea of an organised priesthood?

SOURSES USED IN PREPARING THESE NOTES

Books:

  1. “Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom” by Maya Magee Sutton and Nicholas R. Mann

  2. “Druid Mysteries: Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century” by Philip Carr-Gomm

  3. “Old Gods, New Druids” by Robin Herne

Various articles from the following websites:

  1. The British Druidic Order: www.druidry.co.uk

  2. The Druid Network: www.druidnetwork.org

  3. The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids: www.druidry.org

  4. Druidic Dawn: www.druidicdawn.org

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