Druidry, and All That

Hello. I’m Leithin*, known elsewhere online as Sophia Catherine. I wanted a blog that was focused on my Druidry, and this is it.

I’ve been exploring Druidry for about eighteen months. I was researching Paganism for quite a while before that – I didn’t want to jump in and just ‘try things’ without any kind of framework, and I wanted to know what spiritual path(s) really called to me. But I think I was first put on this path a while before that. The first conscious experience I had with the spirits of the land was in Ireland, when I was about 18. My family is from the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. Nowadays I go back every two or three years, but as a child, my father didn’t like going back, since the roads were bad and it took hours to drive from the ferry port to the south-west coast, and so we didn’t go very often. When I was 18 I persuaded my mother to take me to Ireland, for the first time since I was a child. We took the bus down from Dublin to Cork, and I spent three hours staring out of the window, enraptured. I remember saying to my mother that “These mountains are in my blood.” I didn’t know what I meant then. It makes a bit more sense now.

One morning on that trip, while we were staying by the sea, I got up early and went for a walk. I walked until I reached the edge of the world, the sea, where chaos meets order. The bay that I had reached seemed to be surrounded by mountains on every side, with no glimpse of civilization except a boat moored at a little wooden boathouse. The spirits of the mountains and the sea were deeply present, and more real than anything I had ever experienced. I think I met Manannan mac Lir that day, although it would be thirteen years before he appeared in a dream and I knew enough to recognize him.

From there, it was a long and winding road before I realised that Druidry was a pretty good fit, as these things go, for my spirituality. What ‘kind’ of Druidry, though, is a question I’m still exploring.

I’ve been writing a post about what principles my Druidry is based on, but I got caught up short by the realisation that, ultimately, my Druidry is about experience, not definition. The spirits of the land defy the boxes that I like to put things into and call it ‘religion’. Sometimes they’re the spirits of mountains, lakes or trees – ancient spirits that have existed for years or aeons, sometimes individual, sometimes blending with each other into beautiful colours, patterns and realities. Sometimes they’re the fae – very Otherworldly.  Sometimes I encounter a god or goddess that I will never be able to understand, whose name was lost before writing, before speech, before thought. I met a goddess at a loch on the isle of Skye whose name I will never know, but who I often think of when I pour water into my Well.

Other things I’m exploring in the realm of Druidry at the moment include beginning to learn divination (including Ogham, which I’m just starting to work with, and which is absolutely beautiful in terms of land spirituality), and very stop-start attempts to connect with my ancestors. I’ll write about my recent ancestor work when I’m done with something that I’m working on at the moment. I’ve also been practicing little bits of magic for a while, trying to start from (what I think of as) the Druid principle that magic is about connection, with the land, the spirits, the universe. I tend to start with journey-work. For anything more complicated, I draw on some things that are not particularly Druidic but which work for me. My background in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) helps. I’m reading John Michael Greer’s ‘Druid Magic Handbook’ which is incredibly detailed and complicated, so I’m going to need to take some time over it, but it’s fantastic and is helping me to fit things into a framework.

In terms of Druid orders, I have a lot of influences. I’ve just finished the OBOD Bardic grade (I need to write my review), I belong to the British Druid Order, and I’ve just joined ADF and started their Dedicant Path. Let’s just say that I’m someone who needs a lot of guidance before I feel like I can do anything. I think my path is somewhere between what the BDO does and what ADF does, with a touch of OBOD’s style – somewhere between earthy and deity-focused, somewhere between spirituality and religion. Balance is good for me. I’ve been really enjoying the ADF Dedicant Path in the short time I’ve been following it. I’m also a member of the Druid Network, because I think that the work they do is absolutely brilliant. Someone who’s been very influential in helping me to understand my emerging Druid path is Cat Treadwell, who is a priest working with the Druid Network who does fantastic community work in my area. I also belong to a fantastic OBOD grove. I’m writing up my OBOD Bardic grade review now, and then I want to finish the BDO Bardic course that I started a long time ago but only got about half way through, while also doing ADF Dedicant Path (I get bored easily). I’ll be blogging about the latter for Teo Bishop’s Solitary Druid Fellowship. The different styles of Druidry in each of the courses are giving me a great overview of things.

I have a polytheistic, deity-focused practice running alongside my Druidry that sometimes overlaps with it and sometimes doesn’t. I think of that side of my life more as ‘religion’ than as ‘spirituality’ – although of course there’s a lot of mixing of the two. And it’s Celtic, I’m afraid – although Gaelic is a more accurate term for the gods I worship, I take my inspiration from pan-Celtic ideas (or from the little that we know of those). My gods are (mostly) not Brythonic or Scottish. The way we think about the Celts today is a social construction, but everything is. You can say that recent ideas have corrupted this social construction, if you like – but corrupt isn’t the right word. Just because they didn’t call themselves Celtic doesn’t mean that these tribes didn’t share ideas, culture and religion – they did, and it was beautiful and terrifying, and war-like and peaceful, and honourable and dishonourable, and all about power and all about the tribe… At the moment, the conclusion I’ve come to about ‘Celtic’ is that there is some complete crap floating around out there about what that means, and there’s also some very good stuff, and my task for myself is to separate the wheat from the chaff and honour my gods in a way that I think they’d like. Among my Druid friends ‘Celtic’ is almost a dirty word, but this grandaughter of an Irish farmer is proud to use it, and my ancestors have no problem with the term. This does not for one minute mean that I think only people of Irish or British ancestry can follow a Druidic and/or Celtic path. It’s simply about what resonates for me, because of my ancestry, my influences, my time spent in Ireland and among Irish family, and the way I’ve always thought about these lands and their people as a result. (And you have to go with what resonates for you, The Anglo-Saxon and Germanic gods, for example, have never said a single word to me, and the runes are nothing but pretty drawings to me, no matter how much I attempt to understand them. You go with what works.)

I may or may not finish that post about the principles that my Druidry is (currently) based on. The danger there is that I’m new to this stuff, and things change. The other danger is that by writing these things down, I codify them, and put them in boxes. And as soon as I write something down about what I believe, the gods laugh, and show me something new that explodes the box. Still, it’s good to have a record of what I think at any given time. I’ll think about the wisdom of speaking these things aloud.

Oh, and I also have Gnostic Christian/Celtic Christian influences that I’ve sort of put on a shelf, until I have time to work out how they relate to the rest of my religion and spirituality. I suspect it will take a while. Occasionally I go back to church – it’s more important as part of my identity than my spirituality these days, but it’s still important. Possibly it’s something to do with needing to know and acknowledge the whole of the journey, rather than throwing out earlier forms of spirituality and pretending they didn’t have any impact on me. “When you know where you’ve come from, you can see where you’re going” – Felicity Hayes-McCoy.

A few other things about me: I’m doing a PhD in sociology of religion, I teach part-time alongside it, I do some writing, and I live with my civil partner, three cats and a hamster in the Midlands of the UK. I’m the co-host of the not-very-often-released podcast Divine Community. Sadly, time is very limited for podcasting, between my PhD, my work, my spiritual practice, my writing, and life with several chronic illnesses. But we try to make episodes occasionally! I’ve also just started contributing to some spiritual/religious writing projects that I’ll talk about when they get off the ground.

Looking forward to writing here. If no one reads it, I’ll talk to a very captive audience of one.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings – John Muir

*Pronounced ‘Lay-in’, as far as I can tell. From the story of an eagle whose search for wisdom was not, it turned out, the most important thing in the world.

6 thoughts on “Druidry, and All That

  1. I heaved a big sigh of happiness when I read your post. I’ve just started investigating Druidry (about 6 months) Solitary, of no order, but I have been craving the connection of like minds as I walk my path. THANK YOU!

  2. Leithin, you say here that you have a ‘polytheistic, deity-focused practice running alongside my Druidry.’ Does this mean that you see your relationships to personal deities as ‘other’ to Druidry. How would you define the difference? You’ve led me to contemplate whether my relationships with the gods are separate to or part of my Bardic path…

    • Hmm. As ever, good question. I don’t know how separate it is. In ADF Druidry terms, it’s the same thing. But my feeling is that polytheism doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with revival Druidry – OBOD-style etc – but that may be more about what I’ve experienced of that. I feel like the way I relate to my gods is a bit alien to some Druids, given the reactions I’ve had (occasionally) – I’ve had people tell me my view of the gods is ‘wrong’ or naive, for example. Most of the Druids I know are pantheistic and/or animistic. That’s fantastic, but it’s slightly at odds with my view of deity. So I suppose my polytheism both is and isn’t part of my Druidic path. I know, clear, right? :D The Celtic answer ‘yes’ to an either/or question inspires me here, I suppose!

  3. When you say that your view is naive do you mean you see your gods as ‘persons’? That’s the way I relate to my gods, and to nature spirits too (although they appear to be less human like). The majority of Druids I’ve spoken to seem to see the gods as forces of nature. I see my gods as bound up with nature, but more than that- they have their own lives, purposes and stories to tell… I’d probably say I’m more devoted to my gods and my quest for inspiration in this world, and the Otherworld than to a tradition, although I’ve made my commitment for the year to work through Kevan Manwaring’s ‘The Bardic Handbook.’

    • It’s hard to be clear on what I mean, as I’m still working out how I feel about all this, and why it is that I feel that my approach is different from some Druids (and some other Pagans). On one level, it’s because every Pagan has a different way of doing *everything*, including approaching the gods. But I also hear a LOT of talk of archetypes, which is absolutely fine – but it also gets imposed on me, with people basically telling me I’m wrong. I asked a question in a Pagan Q&A recently, about whether there was a place for polytheists in modern Paganism, because I was hearing so many of the panelists talking about the importance of approaching gods as archetypes or in pantheistic ways. The answers from the panel were confusing to me. The suggestion seemed to be that it was a naive way of approaching gods, since they are basically a mix of deified ancestors, and ideals that humanity has perceived as a gods. But that just doesn’t work for me as a way of approaching deities. So should I give up, and learn a more ‘sophisticated’ way of approaching the gods? I think that the answer, for me, has to be ‘no’. I view my gods as distinct spirits, individuals. For me, they have a very strong relationship with the land but are not exactly land spirits or forces of nature. I interact with every spirit as an individual, and I feel that that’s the only way I can honour them respectfully. Does that make sense?

      How do you feel that your view of the gods is received in Pagan circles? I’m interested to know if other polytheists feel what I do, or if I’m just being paranoid :D

      • Hi Leithin, makes perfect sense to me. There are other poytheist Druids such as Robin Herne and the Dun Brython group who approach the gods in a similar way. Within my local pagan society most of the other members are Heathen, so also polytheists so my approach sits just fine. I love doing Heathen rituals and journeys and believe I would have become Heathen if I’d met the right gods. Sigh. I can’t get my head around pantheism- I can’t imagine one of anything, not even the whole of a tea cup let alone all as one. The view that the gods are archetypes does no justice to the powerful experiences I have been honoured with, which have been so mind blowing and life changing I don’t believe they could ever have come from my mind, even the unconscious part. Celtic myths about the divine figures, nature spirits and the Otherworld date back far beyond pantheism (originated during the Industrial period if I remember what Hutton said in ‘Triumph of the Moon’ correctly) and the archetypal view originated with Jung. I think the idea that the Ancient Britons saw their gods as forces of nature stems from the fact they never made any representations of them. It seems to be the majority view amongst Druids that the Romans were responsible for the anthropomorphization of the British gods. Whether figures from the Celtic myths are gods, deified ancestors or heroes etc. remains open to question. Of the couple I work with they’re inarguably divine, and to me they’re gods… Long answer, but definitely a subject that’s been on my mind.

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