So. I’ve been working through ADF’s ‘Wheel of the Year’ book, which takes you through the Dedicant Path a week at a time – but I’ve been quite scrappy about some weeks. I think I need to go back over the weeks I didn’t do in enough depth. And also start the five months of meditation in earnest – as near to daily meditation as I can get.
This year I’m taking part in the Pagan Blog Project – a year-long post-a-week alphabetical challenge. Here we go…
How did I get to this point?
I don’t ask myself that question often enough. It’s an important one, though. It’s easy to get on a road and keep going. It’s harder to be critical about who you are and where you are heading. And key to that, for me, is how I got where I am right now.
The antecedents to my Pagan path are fairly simple. I took one road, then another, then another.
Right turn. A visit to my family in Ireland, about fifteen years ago, when I had the strangest sense that the mountains were in my blood. And an encounter with land spirits.
Left turn. NLP – neuro-linguistic programming – the approach that models human behaviour and communication, which I’ve been using for ten years to work on the effects of my ‘dyspraxia with aspergers features’ that I’d rather not have to deal with all the time. The more I learn magic, the more I realise that NLP has a lot in common with it. I was casting circles with NLP long before I knew what I was doing. One day I’ll get my ‘master’-level qualification in it and start teaching the damn thing. It’s too useful not to share. Once I started studying NLP, my thinking was never quite the same again.
Right turn. The influence of my father, the shamanic practitioner, a spirit-worker of the land. And fan of crystals. My new-agey stuff is entirely his fault. I used to think he was crazy. I have a growing appreciation for the depth of his spirituality and – though he wouldn’t call it this – magic. I don’t really believe in reincarnation or past lives (or necessarily even afterlives – more on that next week) but if I did, I might wonder if we’re not together on this good earth for a reason. But I’m a sensible person so I shan’t.
Straight on down a very winding lane. Sociology of religion. I started with an MA in Disability Studies, which I loved. I intended to focus on sociology of medicine and health, but it’s a depressing subject. One summer at Greenbelt, the very progressive Christian arts festival, I decided I needed to research Christianity and disability. That led to informal, related research on other religions. I started reading. Buddhism, Hinduism, even Shinto – but I get nervous about cultural appropriation, and they didn’t *feel* right, anyway. Meanwhile, I thought the increasingly narrow track I was on was signposted ‘atheism’. I was wrong. In desperation I read all the Christian theology I could get my hands on, went to increasingly liberal churches, was confirmed at church, considered myself something of a Gnostic (although I still don’t understand Gnosticism very well), focused on the social justice work that I considered inherent to my Christianity. Still nothing, and eventually I realised Christianity no longer made a great deal of sense to me. Yes, I’m still working out whether I ever got off that road entirely.
Roundabout, and straight on to Paganism, via Celtic Christianity. On a podcast, someone mentioned the words ‘Celtic Reconstructionism’ and I went “oooh”. Wicca had never made a lot of sense to me. Reconstructionism, it turned out, did. But I soon found out that I was never cut out to be a Reconstructionist. I take as much as I can from it, though. It feels authentic enough that it makes sense.
And then some gods called me.
There’s no map, no GPS, no bird’s-eye view. I wonder what I’d have thought if I’d had any of that. Would I have turned around and gone back home to the Pentecostal churches and Christian fundamentalism I came from? Maybe. Is it better that the road ahead is hazy, disappearing into the mists of Manannan? Absolutely.
Take the ramp onto the Druidry highway, and straight on till morning.
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.