“If you were to find a book containing your Druidry – what would it say?”
– question asked by Cat Treadwell
Me: I have to write a post on Druidry.
SJ: And this is different from the rest of your writing how?
– Conversation between me and The Spouse this morning
In a garden at the centre of the world, we were becoming something. It was something we already were, maybe something we had been all along – but still, we became. Some of us had called ourselves by the name already. Some of us, feeling and fearing the heavy burden of the word, chose to shy away from it. Perhaps we felt inadequate when measured against a term with such history and baggage and gravitas behind it. It is a path I have been following for three years, but I didn’t want to use the name. I was afraid of it. I didn’t realise how much I already live that name.
Standing in that little garden, telling our stories and calling on the ancestors and gods and spirits of the land to witness them, we were becoming druids.
I don’t mean to speak for other people here. It’s just that for me, from my perspective, this was very definitely a group experience.
If Cat’s druidry course has been a life-changing experience, then last weekend – the graduation from the course – was an unexpectedly initiatory one.
We tend to think of initiation as a beginning, but it can be other things too, including marking a kind of end-and-new-beginning cycle. Isaac Bonewits talked about three types of initiation. He said that, among the traditional ideas of initiation, it can also be a recognition of status already gained.
This last one is the most relevant to the type of initiation we went through at the weekend. And yet, ‘status’ is the wrong term here. One of the features of Cat Treadwell’s druidry course is that it confers no titles and hands out no certificates. And that’s perfect. Who can certify another as a druid? Who can look at the work someone does in the world and say, now you are finished, now you have achieved druid-hood? Cat can’t. I can’t.
And yet, we told each other that we had started, last weekend, in that garden at the centre of the world. Because only your community can look at you and say, druid. Not become. Ever becoming.
If there’s one thing that’s characterised my experience of Cat’s course, it’s been fear, and looking it in the face and doing things anyway. Not conquering it, but learning that even though it never goes away, it can’t kill me.
And yes, I’m afraid of the term ‘druid’. I’m especially afraid of the many objections that people have to the word and the way it’s used. From Gaelic recons, there’s often a call for it only to be applied to priests in their own community – as though they own the term – which they don’t. From other types of purists, an assumption that druids are trying to reconstruct ancient practice (about which we know basically nothing) – in total ignorance of the history of modern druidry. From some modern druid orders, the idea that the way other orders do things is ‘wrong’ – and vice versa. From some Celtic Pagans, the idea that druidry has to be ‘Celtic’ or it doesn’t count. The list goes on and on and on.
Modern druidry is many things. It’s not hard to find out about its history. From the 18th century and the Celtic revival, right through to the way Ross Nichols and others evolved a practice from the tools around them, drawing on their love of ancestors, spirits and gods. And now the living history of what’s going on with the new approaches of a very diverse bunch in Britain, in parallel with entirely different ways of doing things in other countries. (Something that I’m finding that druids and Pagans from other countries can be ignorant of.)
And, while all that history and all those perspectives are relevant, they are not the thing that matters most. What matters most is the work we do in the world. There is no such thing as a solitary druid – not really. You may be the only druid you’ve ever met, but still it’s your community – whatever it looks like – that looks at you and says, you are a druid. Whether that’s a literal title they call you by, or whether they say it in their daily interactions with you, without ever having heard the term. I believe that community (including the community of gods, spirits and ancestors) is what makes us druids.
Community is a complex thing. In the Pagan community, there are some groups that I envy for their certainty, their knowledge, their cohesiveness as a group. And, sadly, many (not all) members of those groups have shown me elitism, and even fundamentalism. Not welcome. Not until I prove myself.
But the neo-druid community – while it has its problems – has been nothing but welcoming towards me.
And in the old biblical phrase, “By their fruits shall you know them”.
I may have problems with things that go on in the community. I may be nervous about some of the practices that happen in certain contexts. I may wish there was more academic rigour, or that I could participate more deeply, less self-consciously, in the things they do. But these are my people. And they accept me as I am, and blimey, is there a lot to be nervous and unsure about when it comes to me. I’m a total mess and certainly don’t deserve the term druid. But who does? Who uses the term ‘druid’ and has really earned it? Not many of the community, that’s for sure. They use it because they are becoming it.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still having major difficulty with the term. We discussed it a lot, at Cat’s graduation weekend. Our Heathen friend who was hosting us (an amazing guy, and an academic) interprets the word ‘druids’ as ‘people of the trees’ – which I absolutely love. We are the people of the grove. What that means to each of us will be slightly different. And I suspect that no one using the term is not using it reluctantly. We none of us feel like finished druids.
In the end, we are all becoming.
Blessings of the gods, sprits and ancestors to my brothers and sisters of the trees, of the Grove.
.*Note the very deliberate small ‘d’. That’s a topic for another day.