Books To Read: A Druid’s Primer

druid's primer bookLuke Eastwood, ‘A Druid’s Primer’. Moon Books, 2012. ISBN 1846947642.

Eastwood has created a really interesting approach to modern druidry here. He’s done a lot of good research into histories of pagan practices, both ancient and modern. He then merges everything he’s learnt into a mix of existing and new philosophies and practices. This is a good book for anyone fairly new to druidry who wants to be better informed about some of the sources we draw on, as well as for more established druids who want to try a new approach to mixing the old and the new. It’s a very Irish-focused book, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (though you won’t be surprised to hear that that worked well for me), but he does draw on British and other myths and folklore too.

But the problem with separating books into ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended’ categories is that most Pagan books have parts that I like and parts that I… don’t. This book is no exception. Overall, I really enjoyed it. But let’s get into the things that I didn’t enjoy.

I’m getting really tired of books that repeat myths that we know are simply not true.

First myth: Let’s address this once and for all, shall we? The snakes that St Patrick drove out of Ireland were NOT THE PAGANS. There is absolutely no evidence that anyone thought they were, until very recently. The first reference that I can find to this idea is in Marion Zimmer Bradley – from the 1980s. It’s a modern Pagan idea. And I really wish this particular myth would burn and die. Eastwood doesn’t endear himself to me by repeating it.

Second myth, more problematic as it runs through the whole book: Modern Druidry is not ancient. Eastwood has a good grasp on the history of modern druidry, and that of ancient druidry (as far as we know anything about it). His problem is mixing the two up, believing the commonly-held view that modern Druids are the direct inheritors of the wisdom and knowledge of ancient druidry.

And that’s not entirely his fault. This myth is everywhere, after all. OBOD has its own version, as do other druid orders. But it really is a myth. Modern druidry has very little to do with ancient druidry, other than basic inspiration – and everything to do with being a beautiful modern spirituality rooted in the old sacred earth that we could do worse than embracing as, well, modern.

So now that I’ve started with the things I disliked about the book, let’s get into the good stuff – and there was quite a lot of it.

For example, he has some great chapters that merge ancient myth with modern druid ideas, such as the light body exercise. He relates the modern sun and moon cycles celebrated by most modern druids, to ancient myths that contain echoes of cosmological and solar folklore – including the myth of the Dagda and Aengus at Bru na Boinne, and the story of the Mabon. The chapter on elements is largely based on the Western magical tradition, but mixes some Irish mythology in. His chapter on healing, with botanical information on herbs/plants and their mythical and folkloric uses, is a lovely addition that I didn’t expect to see, but enjoyed.

My favourite chapter was on Ogham. This was a surprise, as I’ve done a lot of work with Ogham, using both new and old ideas on it, and I find that a lot of what’s written on it can be fairly terrible. But Eastwood’s extensive research really comes into its own here. He combines medieval and neo-Pagan sources on Ogham into a really lovely set of interpretations on each of the feda. He could have written a whole book on Ogham – as he says, he’s only had time here to skim the surface of all the sources, myths and ideas relating to it. If he does write more on the subject, I’ll read it!

As long as you’re aware of the limitations, this is a really good book with some refreshing approaches to the modern druid way of drawing on the old while being rooted in the new. I’ll be using a lot of this book in my own practice.

My rating: 7/10.

All in the Family (30 Days of Deity Devotion 5, 6 & 7)

To summarise today’s overly-detailed ramblings: Bhéarra is not one of the Tuatha De Danann. She has a sister over the bay in Dingle, called Duibhne/Dovinia, for whom a tribe is named. An eighth-century myth about an ancestor of the Dingle people associates him with Bhéarra and her white cow that turns to stone. I share a bit of my UPG about these two goddesses. Continue reading

V is for… Vision

noun
1. the faculty or state of being able to see.
2. the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.

verb
1. imagine.

– Concise Oxford English Dictionary (11th ed.)

I read the Morrigan’s prophecies in my Samhain ADF ritual this week.

I shall not see a world that is dear to me… Continue reading

Ogham (OR: Blogging some actual work)

It occurred to me today that I talk a lot here about my theology and ideas, but not so much about my practices. And while I do write in my druidry journal, about once a week, it can be tricky to get an overview when I look back on what I’ve written.

So. There are (at least) two things I’m doing at the moment that I need to write about here a bit more. The first is the ADF Dedicant Path. The other, which I’m doing on my own, is work with Ogham. I should take these one post at a time, so – Ogham first.

Continue reading

D is for… Deities: Defining the Divine

Disclaimer: This post is about my experiences. I sometimes have difficulty communicating the idea that I’m talking about *me* alone, and not trying to universalize any of my ideas. But this post is just about me. Me me me. Got that? Good. :P
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I’m a polytheist. I actually believe that the gods exist. Really and truly, and outside of our minds, and everything.

Why yes, I am that naive. ;)

cailleach bhearra

Cailleach Bhearra, as imagined by the Irish Film Board.[1]

Continue reading

Ancestors

Last night I dreamt of my grandfather. I quite frequently do – he was an important influence in my childhood, and I remember him often. He is one of the reasons I value education. Having left school at 15 because of poverty, he did years of night school to gain his degree and ended up with a great job in the Civil Service. He loved languages and creativity – he wrote the most fantastic stories – and I think he had a spiritual side that he didn’t talk about much. His stories about the woods near his house gave me inspiration to see forests as living, enspirited places.

In the dream, I had run into my Grampy somewhere random, a hotel I think. He had been living under a false name in a new city. He was tight-lipped about why he hadn’t contacted me for ten years, but he was very pleased to see me (and especially pleased that I’m doing a PhD, partly funded by the money he left me). He was different: more serious, with only occasional flashes of the humour that he was well-known for, but absolutely himself. It was a strange dream – I was remembering that he had died and that I’d been to his funeral, but I also knew he was sitting in front of me. I’m not usually that analytical in dreams. Mostly, I was just pleased that I could talk to him again.

For the past two weeks I’ve been doing 12 days of ancestor meditations. I dedicated my ‘folding table’ altar to them for the period, setting the altar out in a style inspired by another culture’s ancestor veneration approach. As a starting point, this approach did the job I wanted, which was to focus my mind on the ancestors for a specific period of time. I didn’t manage to do 12 completely consecutive days, for health reasons – but I mainly did four days on, a day off, rinse and repeat. I tried to meditate at sunset each time, but that was impossible on days when I was in the office, in which case I did the meditation before bed. I used a modified version of an ancestor meditation from the BDO bardic grade material.

Since the beginning of my exploration of my Pagan path, I’ve found it difficult to connect with ancestors. Honouring gods was not a problem, which surprised me, having come from a monotheist tradition. But I’d heard the myths of these gods since childhood, so it wasn’t so difficult to talk to them. Ancestors, though, were another thing entirely. A lot of Christian groups have a major prohibition on attempting to contact the dead (others less so, what with the saints, but I didn’t find saint-honouring traditions until I was a bit older). I can’t deny that the thought of ancestor work made me a lot more nervous than other aspects of Pagan/Druid practice – which, realistically, should have been equally nerves-inducing. Human beings: not really very rational creatures. I did have a fairly successful ancestor meditation that a priest friend led for me, which made me realise that talking to my ancestors is not as difficult as I thought. Since then, I’ve found that spending time at my ancestor shrine is a more useful experience than it was – but it’s still difficult.

And then I was in Ireland over the summer, in the Beara Peninsula, where my ancestors come from. A goddess that I believe my ancestors worshiped (UPG) was very present there. And, after some work on my part, so were my ancestors themselves. Back in Britain, though, they were much quieter again. So when a friend told me about his ancestor meditations based on a voodoo altar setup, I was interested. I didn’t want to indulge in cultural appropriation, though. I like hoodoo, but voodoo is a complete mystery to me, and I don’t really have time to study either of them in depth at the moment. So I just took some inspiration – a sustained period of meditations, a dedicated altar with belongings and photos of my ancestors, and food and drink offerings. I have some Irish whiskey made in the Beara Peninsula, I made the black coffee that my grandfather loved, I offered chocolate one day (since Grampy was also a fan of that), and on other days I left other food depending on what I felt inspired to offer.

It’s hard to explain the effects of the ancestor work, either during the meditations or at other times during the 12 days. Suffice it to say that things happened. I did much more writing than I usually manage each day – academic and creative non-fiction alike. I started working with Ogham, including having a good idea about how to take it further, and I did some interesting work with my tarot deck. I was asked to contribute to creative projects, and had others accepted where I’d been waiting on a decision. I suddenly got very decisive about Druidry, and joined ADF formally – I’ve been doing a lot of ADF-style work recently, based on materials they’ve made public, but for many months I’d been really unclear about what direction to take my Druidry in, until I started these meditations. Simultaneously, the British Druid Order set up a support system for their Bardic Grade students, something I’ve been waiting for, as I’d been finding it hard to work on their course without help. And while my health was as dodgy as ever, I somehow felt more able to cope with the severe pain and other illness symptoms that I deal with every day – which is an amazing gift.

Did I experience my ancestors? That’s the really interesting bit. Outside of specific meditations, I only feel their presence occasionally. I’ve been learning a language for the past year-and-a-bit, because I’d like to be able to communicate better with my bilingual partner’s family – and just sometimes, during lessons and practice, I feel like my Grampy’s pleased that I’m taking his linguistic interest forward. (The difference is that he was great at languages – he spoke fluent Spanish and French, decent Welsh, and wasn’t bad at a couple of others, while I am absolutely rubbish at them. But I think he likes the fact that I’m trying!) And sometimes I feel a general presence of anonymous ancestors. But mostly, it’s the gods that I connect with in daily life. I’m not honestly sure that I felt the ‘mystical presence of the ancestors’ much more, in the rest of life, than usual.

But in the meditations: yes, absolutely, I believe that my ancestors responded and were present. I got different (and very interesting) messages and ideas each time. Decisiveness about directions was the order of the day. My visualisations were much more vivid than they usually are – I have some difficulty visualising, most of the time. One night I desperately needed sleep but attempted the meditation anyway, and was told quite firmly that they would rather I was looking after myself. One night I focused very strongly on my grandfather, and had a very thought-provoking request from him – that I have no idea how to honour, but I will try. On other nights I focused on other family, and felt the need to stay more in touch with cousins overseas and at home. And on some nights I just had a general sense of ‘ancestors’ who I thought of as ancient and mighty. Power and numerousness. And the idea that there are projects in store for me that I will love. And that I should have more self-esteem and be more proud of the good work that I do in the world. And do more for my community…

Like I didn’t have enough to do. ;)

Ancestor altar

Are the dreams about my grandfather relevant? There’s a nice mundane explanation – I ran into an old university lecturer last week, who I knew in my undergraduate days, and who did rather remind me of my grandfather. Reconnecting with old influences was on my mind, and that’s probably the extent of it. But maybe not. Still, I dream about him often, and the dreams often feel quite significant. If it’s only that I think he would be pleased that I’m doing the education thing that he loved so much, I’m glad I had a little reminder.