You know me? You don’t know me

I am not a reconstructionist.

There. I said it. I feel better now, I think.

I was strongly drawn to reconstructionism in the beginning. It seems so academic. (The fact that most academics would find what reconstructionists do rather… inaccurate and confusing, is an entirely different issue.) It seems so clear. Got questions about a deity? The answers are out there, waiting to be uncovered by (usually amateur) archeologists/linguists/folklorists/mythicists.

Except they aren’t. And I feel, increasingly, that this is not a way to do religion or spirituality.

I love looking for clues in the stories of the land. My deities can all be spotted there, or at least, shadows of them – including Baoi (Beara), Dovinia/Duibhne (of the Corca Dhuibhne people), and the Three Sisters (Lasair, Latiaran and Gobnait-who-is-sometimes-Inghean Buidhe-or-sometimes she’s-one-of-the-others-and-sometimes-she’s-Crobh-Derg). But they are, as you can see even when I just try to say their names, not all that easy to pin down. The Three Sisters are deeply rooted in the land around Cork and Kerry, and if you ask the locals about St Latiaran, they will know who you mean, and they will tell you stories about her that you’ve never heard before. But these deities also have precedents across the water and across Ireland. Does that make them any less local? No. It makes them a far bigger mystery than they first seem. The clues are there, but they will slip out of your hands when you try to grasp them.

I’m getting tired of other deities being conflated with mine, and ‘texts’ (medieval ones) being used to ‘prove’ things about them to me. I’m tired of being asked to believe that romantic stories are a record of historical belief. There are many ways to do reconstructionism, which is a method, not a religion. But I think that most of those ways are flawed. If we start looking for a ‘pure’ truth about our gods and the ‘culture’ that they came from, we’ve already lost ourselves to ideologies of purity and nationalism that worry me immensely. Which isn’t to say that pride in one’s cultural origins isn’t a thing. Just that we have to play very carefully with it.

My gods cannot be imprisoned by words on a page. They emerge from the land, and from my relationship with them. Anything else is a beautiful puzzle that will never be solved, a mystery that you could chase forever. It’s a beautiful mystery, but it is not for chaining down in words or creeds. The fairytales of others are not our religious source material. And we certainly shouldn’t be saying how those others get to use them.*

[*This comment comes from a depressing response I saw from some reconstructionists on the subject of modern druidry in Ireland and whether it is acceptable or not…]

It’s modern folk belief that I’m interested in now. That which those who live in the lands of my goddess believe about her, and that which those who have taken her stories elsewhere believe in her. That’s far closer to what she is than a medieval poem about one of her many past lives, before had she turned to stone and returned to life a thousand times. Those stories can be beautiful inspiration, but only land and relationship (with gods and with people) can bring me closer to who she really is. And in that, bring me closer to who am.

It’s the beginning of the week leading up to Latha na Callich, a Scottish folk acknowledgement of the Cailleach. Not my Cailleach, because how can your god ever be the same as my god, when we are not the same? But it’s a day that Baoi is OK with me, personally, using to acknowledge her. Annually, this my Holy Week. Beginning the week before, on St Patrick’s Day, I cover my head, sit at my shrine, and listen. I’ll have a bonfire in the garden this week, to honour St Lasair of County Cork, who I consider a deity of early spring (late though I am with her commemoration). I will ask what the Forgotten Gods want me to do in the world this year, as the sun returns.

And that’s why I am a Druid. Because these are new ways, not old ways. We are the priests of forgotten people and forgotten gods, and we will never re-member them as they once were. We can only re-member them into new forms, new myths, new ways. If I start thinking I can tie them down with words and creeds and literalist stories, then I have lost my way. And only the land and its spirits can bring me back to myself.

I’m taking my mother and my grandmother to Cork this summer. My grandmother hasn’t been back for years, and I think she’s looking forward to going back and seeing family (though it’s really hard to tell with her!) My relationship with that land is ongoing, but distant. I’m a foreign cousin who comes and goes, not a daughter of the land. The relationship that those who live there have with that land, and with its goddess, is totally different from the relationship of us as visitors or observers of it. We don’t know all the secrets that they know. We don’t know all the stories that they know. We don’t know all the alleys leading down to the sea, and all the rocks on the shore, and all the dark hills rising above, and all the little villages hugged by the embrace of a mountain goddess. And that’s fine, and good, and right. We are all shaped by the lands, cultures and lives we experience ourselves, today. There’s some Irish diasporic in me, but there’s more modern British melting-pot and cheerful London sprawl. There are many ways to know and encounter gods and spirits. They’re pretty big, really, and they contain multitudes.

For now, I’ll be here – right here, where I am. Back being an urban druid, in a modern world. A druid shaped by many landscapes, including (but not limited to) the stones and concrete of London, the deep green of the Derbyshire hills, the mystical shores and mountains of the Beara peninsula, the ordinariness of the Torquay seafront, and (grudgingly) maybe even the dusty desert towns of Israel.

And may the gods and spirits of all these lands walk with me.

11 thoughts on “You know me? You don’t know me

  1. Well said! Interestingly the Brythonic group I contribute to favour ‘reconnectionism.’ I’d agree that a few scraps in mythological texts, ancient inscriptions and academic debate are nothing to piece a deity’s identity and nature together by (and not the right approach either!). Deities change with time and place and according to who they’re communicating with. I often wish more people would be forthcoming about speaking their experiences and relationships with their goddesses in the here and now so we could get a greater understanding of their complexities but so many people are afraid of getting it ‘wrong’!

    • “reconnectionism” is a term I have happily appropriated :) – it resonates perfectly with the idea of C21st druidry (or any kind of modern-day veneration of the older gods, really). I am very, very guilty of keeping silent about my experiences for fear of “getting it wrong,” but am taking baby steps towards remedying this. Funnily enough, every time I do, I discover that my experiences lead me towards a new piece of myth/literature/archaeological evidence that I might not have discovered otherwise!

  2. I was also heavily drawn to Recon path, but after taking sometime to think, an oracle from the gods and a little push from them later I realised that Reconstuctionism cant ever happen because there is far too many pieces missing. So I left it behind and now identify as GP which suits me perfectly. I am very lucky to be living in Ireland and that the majority of the Gods I worship have a strong tie to the Kerry/Clare/ Limerick landscape where I live, and because of this my love of folklore and folk practises has grown along with the urge to preserve them so we can pass it down to future generations. This is what drives me on despite having a community but not being fully apart of it, because of my rejection of CR I feel like an outsider within the CR/GP community, and so with my very close relationship to The Great Father I looked into druidry but even this felt off to me so now I just wander it seems while trying to find where do I fit into all of this.

  3. Recon is so impersonal, it’s someone else’s experience. Another time another life another story. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to know to get a background and I agree people are afraid of getting it “wrong” and being deemed unworthy by the sanctimonious among us.

  4. Perfect. And just what I needed to read right now, as so many of your posts are; thank you for sharing!

    I wonder if part of the lure of reconstructionism is the reassurance it offers of finding affirmation in something other than our deeply personal relationships with our deities. We are socialised to crave external affirmation; it can be hard to shake off that habit. Ironically, I used to wish I could follow a path like that, but the voice that called me was so protean it took me a long time to even recognise it as such (and even so I have only just begun to learn); but I had got out of the habit of treating my intuition as something worth listening to…

    Funnily enough, that Walt Whitman quote (“very well, then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes”) has been echoing through my mind all week :)

  5. This is something that has been hammered home to me lately – both that i cannot be a recon and that I’ve let myself be cowed into silence because i know there are people within the recon community who look down on the relationships with my Gods – even the existence of one of them (which gets into that whole lore-over-all mindset).

    Well written, thank you!

  6. I feel what you have shared here is extremely important. We may find hints from ‘externally validated sources’, but the only ones that matter are those that resonate with our soul, ring true to our heart and settle deep within our core. I have relationships with the gods and ancestors and spirits of the land around me, but they would not be like those you or anyone else will or can have since they are filtered through me. They communicate in ways I can understand. I can read stories and myths to get a sense of how our ancestors, whether of the deeply or shallowly hidden past, related and understood the gods and what it does for me is to reassure me I am on a spiraling continuum of belief and exploration. These stories and myths, new and old, are ways of sharing what we are discovering and learning. They all hold truth, but Truth we discover for ourselves in our own time, our own heart, our own soul, our own core. We need not be silent. We do need to support each other as we present a living and breathing, singing and saying, dancing and playing, way of celebrating and honouring the gods who have revealed themselves to us.

  7. You’ve articulated this beautifully and it resonates powerfully with me (as well as others, judging from the comments): thank you.

  8. The risk of choosing an empiric-eclectic path is that the self can tend to manifest in the deity. The risk of choosing a reconstructionist path is that the deity can eventually manifest in the self! The very definition of the word ‘truth’ implies treading the middle way, yet the path to it seems to involve many wild oscillations either side of the mean…

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