I had an absolutely fantastic time at the Druidry 2013 conference yesterday. It was diverse and fascinating, with input from lots of different druid organizations and styles, and much food for thought. I wasn’t feeling too well, but I managed to stay awake and interested throughout, which is a sign of how good it was!
There were some wonderful speakers. Emma Restall Orr talked about what her druidry is like now – a fantastic glimpse into her earthy, spirit-worker ways, so inspiring for anyone who’s interested in liminality and life on the magical borders. There was other fascinating input from OBOD (including the opening ceremony), the British Druid Order (the marvellous Greywolf gave a talk), and the Druid Network. Some themes emerged: there was a lot of talk about the ancestors, and how their prominence has increased in druidry in modern times, and there was discussion about the form and place of modern druidry in today’s society. I particularly enjoyed Phil Ryder’s talk on the journey of registering the Druid Network as a charity, and how that led them to have to confront the thorny issue of druidry as a ‘religion’. (And if you don’t know what’s recently been happening with the Druid Network and the thing about druidry and religion, and the potential for the Druid Network’s involvement in the national Interfaith Network, you need to get listening to my podcast – because it’s important British sociology of religion stuff!)
But it was, of course, Ronald Hutton who inspired me most of all. He gave a potted history of modern druidry, in contrast to the mythic history (you know, the one that says we’re the direct inheritors of ancient druidry, and other such rubbish). As Hutton says, the real history of druidry is so inspiring that the mythic history pales in comparison. He talked about how the early British druids were radicals and revolutionaries who opened their ranks to the working people, at a time when that just wasn’t ‘done’. He talked about groups of druids who went out to stand with indigenous people in the desert, whose ways were being wiped out by colonisers, and who died side-by-side with those people. He talked about Iolo Morganwg and his band of rebels – Iolo who has been so maligned by many modern druids, but who led the first rendition of his famous Druids’ Prayer with soldiers standing by threatening to harm his group – Iolo the spiritual ancestor of modern druidry, who, for all his faults and forgeries, was clearly a very courageous man. (As Hutton said: when he said “grant us thy protection” he meant it, and when he said “justice” he meant it, and when he prayed for “the love of all existences” he meant the soldiers who were threatening him, too. Wonderful stuff.)
My friend and fellow ADF member Eilidh has written a review here. She talks about meso-pagan druidry and neo-pagan druidry, and that has made me think. I know that ADF uses these distinctions a lot, but I’m not sure I agree with them as categories. OBOD members are overwhelmingly neo-pagan, even though OBOD is (nominally) open to those of other faiths. I know polytheist druids who honour Norse, Celtic and other European deities, along with druidic animists, pantheists, atheists and everything in between – these are all very neo-pagan ways of approaching druidry. Everyone I spoke to and heard at Druidry 2013 was a Pagan, and so are all the OBOD, BDO and other modern druids I’ve met in the UK. The meso-pagan and neo-pagan concepts may have been relevant to the history of druidry in the past, but I’m not sure they work for today’s druidry. Instead, what we have is mainly American-based and British-based druidry, with very different roots and histories and therefore different ‘cultures’, but both neo-pagan. However, the very different histories and focuses of American and British druidry means that they really are very different now. I’ve had American druids attack me online for the fact that British druidry isn’t ‘Celtic enough’ or ‘neopagan enough’, but the people who say such things really seem to have no idea what the history of British druidry is, nor what the modern culture of British druidry is as a result. Nor do they seem to understand their own historical link to these forms druidry. I hope that, as the internet allows people more insight into different countries’ forms of druidry and other types of neo-paganism, we learn to see each others practices in the full scope of their history and context, and to respect each others’ differences.
The conference reminded me of how diverse, individual, pluralistic and deeply fascinating modern druidry is. We all do the druid thing differently. I agree with Eilidh that it would have been nice to see ADF have a presence there, but we are so tiny in the UK that it wasn’t likely to happen – not this year anyway. (Maybe in future years we could propose a stall or a small workshop!) But the Druid Network was represented, and they are probably the most diverse of the druid organizations, with an ADF grove under their general banner. I loved the broad scope of druidry that was represented there. It reminded me why I am on a druidic path. Modern British druidry is not reconstructionism – I do that sort of thing in other contexts. But it is a big part of the modern Pagan history of these little islands, and I’m proud to be part of that, in whatever little newbie way I am part of it.
 I didn’t get the full details of this story. I need to read Hutton’s ‘Blood and Mistletoe’ soon – I’m hoping the story is in there, as I want to honour these brave people as my spiritual ancestors!
 There is of course also druidry in other countries, and indeed Ronald Hutton spoke briefly about how druids in Nazi Germany ended up in concentration camps. Their history is different again. The two forms of druidry that I know most about, though, are American and British. But I’d certainly love to learn more about European druidry and other international forms of this big, wonderful movement.