Reflection on the Notion of “Pagans Eat Their Elders” from Gaia Gathering 2017

Last weekend was Gaia Gathering, a Canadian National Pagan Conference that happens every two years. After so many years, Calgary was hosting it, despite many years of being known as a terribly fractured community. Would we be able to pull this off?

After hiccups and foibles, we did pull it off, and we “raised the bar” according to some attendees. (One advantage of being a nonprofit society is that the Calgary Pagan Pride Society was able to secure a grant from the Government of Alberta, which was a huge help!) So, hurrah to the Calgary Pagan community for coming together to make this one awesome event!

While the two workshops I hosted had absolutely no attendees, save for one person at the Ethics talk. I was competing against some fun workshops. Seriously, who wants to talk about deathcare and ethics when there are drum circles and fun workshops to attend, right? No one. Oh well, I got in some wonderful nap time instead!

I was a part of one well-attended forum: the Elders’ Forum. Despite being on my path for over 25 years, I never really considered myself an Elder because I was always on the fringe – the lone Druid wolf outside of the “pack” of Wiccan groups.

Honestly, I have always seen myself as more of a helper or facilitator. Yet, I was invited by the workshop’s presenter, and so I sat at the front of the room with 3 Wiccan Elders and was the Druid Elder. At one point, a very respected Elder (and one of our Keynote Speakers) from out East broke down in tears saying that she had “been harassed and bullied, chewed up and spit out too many times,” when asked how the community could help its Elders.

Today, one of the local Elders from the panel wrote a beautiful open letter to the Wiccan Community. She mentioned what had happened at the Elders’ Panel and added some stories of her own about being ousted by the community due to some “charges” which she is still unaware of. No one in the community seems to be willing to tell people what their beef is with them to their face without some sort of “trial” process, which is demeaning and completely unnecessary, IMO.

In my way, I wrote a lengthy reply in support, and then realized that I had totally hijacked the letter, so I deleted the reply, put in a short reply of support and decided to just put the response here instead. It is something that must be said, though.

I too recall being “charged” with offences that required in person meetings back in 2002, and once via a flurry of emails to everyone else but me about something I apparently did, but did not do (2001). I ended up confronting them at a bar of all places to get to the bottom of it! (I then got a written apology.) This is among many of the stupid things that happen in a lot of Pagan communities, not just ours. (In a way that’s comforting, but it’s also disturbing.) I did eff up in the past, I still eff up, and I always will eff up, because I’m a fallible human. I do my best to own up to it, apologize, and make up for it whenever I can.

A big question was about why Pagan Elders get burnt out and just disappear from the community. Are they just burnt out from too much work, or is the abuse they tend to get from people holding them to a higher standard? (I’m guilty of holding people to a higher standard when I was younger. Now, I just hold myself to that standard – and often fail.)

I was a solitary practitioner from 1991 – 2000, being taught by “Elders” around the world and in my own province. I experienced a life threatening illness in 1999 that just about did me in, and I thought that it just might be time to connect with community, but other Druids were hard to find at the time. Therefore, I spent a lot of time with the Wiccan community.

During that time, I met a lot of people, and discovered a lot of fundamental differences between modern Druidry and Wicca, and how certain things are viewed/dealt with. Those differences led to a lot of chafing in some areas. I was a fish out of water in that respect. I had been involved with Druid groups around the world since I got access to the internet in 1997, and I found the Wiccan community in Calgary to be close to what I was seeking, but the politics and differences were too much.

In 2003, I started organizing the Druid Meetup and met lots of solitary Druids who were also looking for other Druids but could not find them. In 2004, I had started Awen Grove, which had a core group of like minded individuals and was there to be a central place for Druids to get together. My big mistake was trying to make it into a tradition similar to the ones I had seen in the community. (Another big fundamental difference between Druidry and Wicca.) I also got married at that time to member of the Wiccan community and that was something to remember.

In 2005, I was ordained as a Third Order Druid Priestess with the Reformed Druids of North America. (They seem laid back on the outside, but if you show the right dedication, you become invited into the other side of it, which is more formal.) I was allowed to use the term Arch Druid as a result of that ordination (per RDNA), but it felt odd, so I went with Founding Druid for Awen Grove.

In 2006, my husband and I moved out of Calgary and found peace at last from the quagmire that was the Calgary Pagan community. I was quite involved with the Druid Network since its inception, and managed to get a phone call in to one of the founders a couple of times. I learned that this is not something confined to my own locale, but that they experienced it in the UK a lot before the Druid communities became stronger. Then, everything seemed to balance out because of the fundamental differences in how things are handled. Was it because of the Druid groups growing in number and the need to compete with each other dropping? Who knows?

While “Pagans eat their Elders”, I learned that Pagans also eat each other. Sometimes, they surprise you! I ordained a long-time Grove Member into Awen Grove’s Third Order in 2014 and went solitary once again when I too got ‘eaten” (at least, that’s how I felt, but I got my karmic comeuppance.). Modern Druid groups have a long history of schisms due to differences in belief systems, etc. However, they are usually friendly, and I’m glad to still be friends with this person. 🙂 That’s how it should be.

That member has since started, along with some other Druids, a lovely Druid Grove in Calgary, with lots of members. They do regular seasonal rituals and a number of fun social and other events. This Grove has basically surpassed what I was looking to do a hundredfold and I could not be more proud. (For me, the goal of the facilitator is to see people take what you give them and surpass you with it. Mission accomplished!)

I am not a member of the new Grove, nor do I run my Grove as I did before. Awen Grove is strictly my inner Grove as I hit the last half of my life. It would be nice to be invited to rites of passage and such, or even to come in and provide a guest lecture. I’ve started doing this for some Wiccan groups in town as the Guest Druid speaker and it’s been a lot of fun! Weirdo that I am, I love speaking in public, and would love to be a guest at any group gathering or special occasion.

I feel that I have served my time as a teacher/facilitator of groups. A purpose was given to me, which has now been fulfilled. There are much more qualified and energetic people to do that now. My goal was to create or inspire some sort of Druid Community in Calgary. I wanted there to be someone or some group that new seekers could go to, find fellowship and seek their Truth. It happened with the new Druid Grove in Calgary, making that part of my work is fulfilled.

Carl Jung said that there are two halves in life. From birth until about 35, the person’s goal is external: trying to find one’s place, path, and establishment in life. After 35 comes the second half, where one turns inward and begins the work of individuation and self improvement. At 41, that’s what I am doing. I still follow my path of Service through being on Boards, helping to organize events like Calgary Pagan Pride Day and the most recent Gaia Gathering, and being the guest speaker. I serve in my “mundane” community on Boards and through my volunteer work. I’m using what I have learned to help make things happen, such as getting a women’s shelter built in my city, and running for office. Politics again! I must be a glutton for punishment! Big P politics is a little different from the small p politics of smaller groups.

I’m also taking time for myself through completing my OBOD studies (I’m halfway through the Druid Grade!) and joining the Sisterhood of Avalon, where I am learning and growing even more. I am still working on my book – for real! I’m just terrible at actually getting things out! Another thing to work on within myself.

One of the Keynote speakers from Gaia Gathering, JD Hobbes, a Druid from Quebec, is also discussing the concept of Elderhood in the Pagan Community and has an interesting proposal: “Can we move away from the problematic Elder title and embrace Helper instead? The Helper title does away with the ideas of hierarchy or authority, and comes from a humble and modest source, focussing instead on the ideals of service, action, nurturing, and support.

I’m all for being the Helper! Let me know how I can help and I’ll be there! That’s all I’ve ever wanted: to make a difference, somehow, through Service. /|\

Posted in Druidry Every Day, Elders, Ethics, Interfaith, Opinions, Service, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Catching Up

It’s been a year since I wrote last and I apologize. I forgot my password and then just sort of got busy with other things. Now, it’s early morning on Labour Day and I can’t sleep. Lame-o excuses aside, it has been a very busy year for me, in all aspects of my life.

Below is the point form list:

Mundane Stuff:

  • Configuring and implementing a new volunteer management database for work. I work in the non profit sector and very few people in that sector come with a background in Information Technology. I do, so guess who got to the lion’s share of the work? 🙂 I spent a year learning how to use the database, configuring it to meet our needs and writing all of the technical manuals. (It definitely doesn’t get more mundane than this!!) I had a lot of fun doing it and we’ve got a nice database as a result.
  • Working toward and obtaining a professional designation. This involved an exam and three essays that were more difficult to write than I thought. Now, I can be pretentious and put letters after my name.
  • Serving as the IT Chair for the national professional association I belong to. This involves lots of website updates, fielding email and consulting on anything IT related.
  • Serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors for a local charity. We’ve managed to implement new programs and even work toward launching a social enterprise project.
  • Advocating for a family member to get appropriate funding and support for a disability. (If anyone has ever had to do this, you’ll know how much of a pain in the butt it is dealing with “The System”!)
  • Serving on several committees at work and in my community.
  • Volunteering with a police-based agency.

Druid/Pagan Stuff:

  • Performed a beautiful Pagan Memorial Service in June of 2012 for a member of our community. This is probably the largest public ritual I have performed and everything went so well. Words cannot describe how wonderful it was to be able to provide this type of service.
  • After having to cancel The Spirit of the West Druid Gathering in 2012, we made up for it in June of 2013. (Before the floods) Our special guest was Stephanie Woodfield, fellow Devotee of The Morrighan and a published author. (Our theme was Sacred Warriorship.) My Grove got to do the official public ritual. There were only two of us, but it was an amazing experience. Our theme was balance, particularly of the dark and the light. I served as the Priestess of The Morrighan, while my partner served as Priestess of Brighid. There was some scripting and some “from the heart” aspects, per our normal ritual format. This was the first public ritual Awen Grove has done in 10 years! We got the audience involved as well and all were welcome to attend. Below is a photo of me just after the ritual. (Despite my previous post about ritual, I am capable of putting on a good “show” while maintaining that connection with the Divine. I definitely felt the presence of The Morrighan and Brighid that evening and that they were pleased! Always a good thing to please the Guests of Honour…)  


“This is my helpful face…”

  • Serving as Chair the Board of Directors for Pagan Pride Day 2013. I mentioned the missed Pagan Pride Day of 2012 in my last post and how some people stepped up to plan PPD 2013. (September 28th!) I am one of them and I am happy to say that things are coming along nicely! We even got incorporated as a non-profit society in our province in June. Everyone on the Board and Planning Committee are from different backgrounds and traditions and we all get along just fine. Perhaps after an 8 year hiatus, people are finally willing to work together to make this a healthy community. (A big change from last year at this time!) I’m all for it and am willing to do my part.
  • Examining my beliefs and getting thing down in writing, literally! In June of 2012, I picked up a beautiful little notebook from the Glenbow Museum Gift Shop in Calgary. (I was attending a conference downtown and took a break to do a little shopping.) Since then, I’ve been writing what I believe and what I have experienced in 22 years of practice. I’ve also copied some wisdom texts and such in there that I find inspiring. It’s all handwritten and could be considered a Grimoire or Book of Shadows of sorts, except that it’s not top secret. If nothing else, this project has been a source of insight, relaxation and a great way to see where I’m at in life. After my passing, I hope it will be passed on to a member of my Grove. During this project, I have recorded some interesting observations about The Otherworld, which I will be posting sometime soon. (Really!) 
  • Almost finished the Bardic Grade gwersi for OBOD… I just have to get off my butt and do my final project. It’s in the works.
  • Started the new British Druid Order Bardic Course. It works on a subscription basis and is online, so there is no cost for postage, etc. BDO’s online format is more environmentally friendly (in my opinion), less expensive by far and can be done in a way that you only get the material at a certain time. (Not all at once, so there is no instant gratification. It takes a year.)

I suffered a bit of a health crisis in April, so I backed off from almost all of my activities except my main job for 3 months. Now, I’m slowly getting back into things and balancing it with more time for myself to do things like write. It’s a similar crisis to what I’ve had in the past, which is usually a sign that I need to change something or slow down. 

That’s it for me for today. I will return soon with my thoughts on the Otherworld, the Sidhe and more!

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The Question of Community – Again

Before I start this post, I will say this: It’s going to piss some people off, but I hope it gets people thinking and talking about an issue that needs to be discussed.

The question of community in the Pagan Scene seems to come up every few years; the last notable time in my locale was when Brendan Myers and Juniper Cox, hosts of the Standing Stone and Garden Gate podcast, stopped in my old hometown while on a cross-Canada trek in November of 2009. This question gets raised in almost every city and every Pagan community at one point or another and I’ve sat around for years, nearly bursting with things I wanted to say but have now finally felt the need to speak up publicly about it. The few times, I did speak up, I was accused of being negative.

I’ll use my own locale as an example since I am most familiar with it. Take a look at this, though, and see if any of this is happening in your community.

The particular incident that is fueling current discussion about the state of the greater Pagan community in my locale was Pagan Pride Day, which did not happen this year. This has resulted in people questioning what has happened to the Pagan Community and lamenting its loss. One prominent member of the community even mused on a blog that perhaps the closing down of a well-known Pagan store was part of the reason the community is so fractured. There was even some musing about how Gaia Gathering has not been hosted in my hometown, despite being a large city. In response to that, all I can say is that it is not going to happen until changes are made and important issues are addressed.

Looking at what happened to this year’s PPD, it could be chalked up to just “one of those flukey things that can happen in life”: one person seemed to be running it who got injured and could not do it anymore. Looking at the Facebook group for the event, there was quite a bit of public flaming going on during discussions and it was just not a healthy place to be. No one found out about the organizer’s bailing on the event until PPD didn’t happen on the date that it was scheduled for. Whoops! Fortunately, some community minded people took up the slack and are now beginning preparations for PPD to happen in 2013. Great discussions are happening on the Facebook group and a new website is up. A meeting of the organizers is happening in a few weeks and things seem to be well underway!

All has not been lost, but those discussions on the Facebook group are a reflection of what has been happening in the local community for almost 20 years and why things like successfully hosting Gaia Gathering is not within our reach right now. The community has not become fractured or disappeared because a Pagan shop closed. Quite a number of Pagan shops have opened and closed here over the past 20 years, and still the community remained.

In my opinion, the reason is the abuse that has run rampant in the community from all sides in that time.

There, I said it.

The history of the larger community in my locale is not a pretty one and has experienced almost 20 years of what the nursing community now calls “Horizontal Violence”. In my opinion, “Horizontal Violence” is just another euphemism for “Bullying” which is the common euphemism for “Abuse”, which is what I believe needs to be addressed before any healthy community can develop, Pagan or otherwise. This is as true of my locale as it is for many others, I am certain.


Horizontal Violence is harmful behavior, via attitudes, actions, words, and other behaviors that is directed towards us by another colleague. Horizontal violence controls, humiliates, denigrates or injures the dignity of another. Horizontal violence indicates a lack of mutual respect and value for the worth of the individual and denies another’s fundamental human rights.

~ From “Horizontal Violence Position Statement” found on the Proactive Nurse website:

The Proactive Nursing site provides some examples of Horizontal Violence:
•    Name-calling, threatening , intimidating, belittling
•    Gossiping, talking behind the back
•    Sarcastic remarks
•    Ignoring or minimizing another’s concerns
•    Slurs based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual-orientation
•    Pushing, shoving, throwing objects
•    Physical threats or intimidation
•    Inappropriate or unwelcome physical contact
•    Sexual harassment
•    Limiting the right to free speech and to have and state an opinion
•    Behaviors which seek to control or dominate another
•    Elitist attitudes based on education, specialization, or clinical area of practice

Replace “clinical area of practice” with “Tradition” and this might make a bit more sense in the Pagan context. Does any of this sound familiar? I experienced many examples of this and heard many more examples from others. I’ve read countless other examples of this on mailing lists, websites, and personal blogs. (Google “Pagan Bullying”, “fractured Pagan community” or even just “Pagan Community” to see what I am talking about.)

On one hand, I am relieved that I am not alone in seeing this. On the other, I am very concerned. This is a widespread problem!

Brendan and Juniper’s visit in 2009 raised questions in our locale about where the larger community went and why leaders are not having beers with each other. Juniper Cox wrote a brilliant blog post which challenges the thought that things are well here.

In one of the places we visited, we were told by a few different people (all independently) that there was a division and some strain in their community. We mentioned this to a couple of the leaders in that community. At first they seemed quite happy to use the Solitaries, Newbies, Teen Pagans and Ecletics as scapegoats (like many Pagan Leaders I have met, GRRR!)


They then kept insisting there was NO split because they feel the Leaders do get along very well.

(huh no spilt but you are happy to sacrifice the Solitaries and Newbies eh? hmmmmm I smell a rat)

So I asked them this:

If you say that the Leaders and Elders in your community all get along just fine, but your community says otherwise … are you leading by example? Do the members of your community SEE their Leaders & Elders getting along? Do they see you talk, do you organize events together? Do they see you going out for a beer together?

The answer I recieved from said Leaders was:

“Um … well, NO”

If I recall correctly, this was the first time Juniper had been to this city and met with many of those people. (I was not in attendance at the event) Juniper noticed there was a problem right away after only a few hours of talking with people in our locale. If someone from outside of our locale noticed it so quickly, how many people in our locale were noticing it too?

Intrigued, I brought this up with members of my Grove at our Samhain gathering. One member asked:  “Why does there only need to be one Community, particularly one that is so unhealthy? Why can there not be several smaller, thriving communities?” Why indeed? Our Grove had pulled away from the general community in 2005 and from that time found a connection with each other, did our best to stay out of the politics and just be a little community of our own. It worked out well.

I’m sure that quite a few people have asked those very same questions and, as a result, smaller and private communities are thriving. I’ve been fortunate to meet and celebrate with some of them. They are quietly going about their business and are happy to do so without involving themselves with the greater community. People are becoming more involved with more established global communities or starting projects of their own, away from our locale. It seems to be healthier that way. I found it to be so.

Getting back to Pagan Pride Day for a moment, our locale’s Pagan Pride Day started in the year 2000 by a group of teenagers. I joined the the original planning committee during that year. While not new to Druidry, I was very new to the Pagan community in my locale after over about 10 years of solitary practice due to the lack of Druids in the area. I remained with the committee for 3 years and then left when I changed careers and began running my own Grove.

Life moved on for me and I got busy with a score of other things including getting married,  buying a house/moving out of town, changing careers, volunteering on four boards of directors (national and local) and with the police, starting university, being ordained as a Third Order Druid with RDNA, serving as Regional Druid for ADF, Regional Coordinator for TDN,  and co-organizing The Spirit of the West Druid Gathering with some very awesome people.  There’s no denying that I’ve been quite involved with my community in many respects, both mundane and spiritual. Even my job as a manager of volunteers keeps me involved with over 300 people who choose to serve their community.  All of these things have been healthy, rewarding, enlightening and quite simply amazing!

It all boils down to this: Nobody wants to live in a spiritual cesspool, which is what the larger community in my locale had became over almost two decades. Eventually, people see the writing on the wall, vote with their feet and leave. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. It’s not happening just here, but in many locales. What do do about it? Who will stand up? Is it even worth it?

When there is no trust, something as big as the Gaia Gathering won’t happen in our locale anytime soon. It took over 20 years for that trust to be destroyed time and time again. That kind of damage might take twice as long to heal, but it needs to be done if people want it to grow once more.

Posted in Druidry Every Day, Interfaith, Opinions, Philosophy and Psychology | Leave a comment

Some Thoughts About The Focus on Ritual

What role does ritual play in the life of the Modern Druid? There is no universal standard for rituals and they can be performed in a manner that the practitioner sees fit. Some people opt for very involved and theatrical rituals, with costumes, scripts and large groups of people. Others prefer a quiet place to sit, meditate and leave a small offering of thanks.

The Oxford Dictionary provides the following definitions of the word ritual:

Ritual Pronunciation: or ri.chwal
• a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order: ancient fertility rituals
• [mass noun] :
• the role of ritual in religion
• a prescribed order for performing a ritual ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or Church.
• a series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone: her visits to Joy became a ritual

• [attributive] relating to or done as a religious or solemn rite: ritual burial; a ritual murder(of an action)
• arising from convention or habit: the players gathered for the ritual pre-match huddle

Rituals can be mundane in the sense of daily routines such as the daily ritual of getting out of bed and having a shower before getting ready for work, or they can be customary behaviours that we use to honour a special occasion, such as the guest of honour making a wish and blowing out all of the candles on the cake at a birthday party. Rituals in the spiritual and religious sense can be a beautiful way to connect with the spirit and bring meaning to life. Human beings in general seem to be driven by some sort of routine and many people get testy if things suddenly change or their routines and rituals become disrupted somehow. An extreme need for routine in ritual in life is one diagnostic criteria attributed to individuals on the autism spectrum.

Over the past few months, I have found myself thinking a lot about ritual and what the motivating factors are behind what I have often perceived to be a very heavy focus on rituals in Modern Druidry and Neo-Paganism.  Upon reading books, websites or promotional materials about Modern Druidry, it would seem that ritual is extremely important to the author or group; perhaps even the primary focus. Most Neo-Pagan festivals feature at least one or more (usually more) rituals that people can attend. It has gotten to the point where I almost tire of the word!

What made this come to a head for me was a realization I came to back in June when I was at The Spirit of the West Druid Gathering. Our special guest, a member of ADF and a published author, conducted a Proto-Indo-European ritual which involved a lot of preparation, memorization of lines and words that were nearly impossible to most of us pronounce from just reading them. The ritual was beautiful and it got a lot of people thinking about how rituals were done. A few hours afterward, I found myself talking to our guest and he was telling me how very important ritual is for him and even more important that it be done right. I was telling him how I really am not fond of overly scripted rituals and am more spontaneous and organic in my preferred ritual style. For instance, I’d much rather just go to a place outside with some seeds and water, take in the atmosphere and just see where my spirit takes me. I absolutely cringe at the idea of memorizing lines, choreographing a group of people and “putting on a show”, even though I can put on the show quite well if I need to!

I seem to be the odd duck among many other Modern Druids that I have spoken with over the past 20 years. Most people love the scripted, rehearsed and “showy” rituals and are not as comfortable with the organic “let’s-see-where-we-end-up” rituals. Why is that, I wondered? I then thought about religious background and asked our guest if he had gone to church in his childhood. He said that he had and that it was a wonderful experience for him. A few other people I had asked that question of before had said something similar. Others had said that they’d had the experience of going to church as children but it was so awful that their rituals were ways of taking control over those bad memories and turning the negative experience with religious ritual into something positive. I then asked if he had a background in theatre and he said that he did. Most of the other people I’ve known who are very focused on the “fanfare” style of rituals also have a theatre background.

It then dawned on me why I’m such an odd duck in this regard!  First: I have no theatrical background. My mother and uncle were into it but I was not. I was in one play in elementary school but I’ve never been a big fan and I am not a good actor! I’m not a lover of drama of any sort. My second reason is that I had no church background that either makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside or that I hated so much I have to beat it by developing my own ritual style.

I grew up with parents who absolutely cannot stand organized religion of any sort, so any form of church or religious service attended by my family was reserved only for baptisms, weddings or funerals. My brother and I were sent to Catholic school for two reasons, neither of which had nothing to do with religion: the first was that Catholic school was reported by many other parents to be better than the public schools with regard to education, and the second was that private school was too expensive. They were still fairly new to Canada, having emigrated from England in the mid-70’s, and did not have a lot of money to spend on an education that was close to what they had back home. Catholic school was publicly funded. My mother spent days phoning every church of every denomination in the city because the Catholic school required that the students be baptised, much to my mother’s chagrin. Finally, one Catholic church agreed to baptise all of us kids (my brother, my three cousins and me) at the same time on the weekend before school started. We were dressed in our best and herded off to the church by our parents for what I call the “back-alley baptism”. We were the only ones in the church and our baptisms were done as quickly as possible (about 20 minutes) just so we could get those certificates that the school wanted. We did not set foot in a church again until someone got married a few years later.

When I was in third grade, my parents were called to the school for a meeting with the Principal and the school’s Priest. What the heck had we kids done to warrant a call from the Principal and the school’s Priest?? Were we spitting blasphemous spit-balls at the teacher or something? It turns out that my brother and I were not in trouble for anything we had done, but our souls might be for what my parents were not doing. They were called in to be asked why their kids were never seen at church on Sundays. Can you believe it? My parents couldn’t and told the Principal that they wanted us to make our own choices about religion but that they would take us to church only if we wanted to go. If we didn’t want to go to church, the school and the Priest would just have to deal with it. The Principal and the Priest agreed and we had a very interesting drive home.

About halfway home from school that day, my mother turned to my brother and me in the car and said “Do you guys want to go to church on Sundays? If so, we’ll take you but you don’t have to…”  My brother and I looked at each other like my mother was on crack or something. What brought this up? I looked at him and he looked at me while my mother looked a bit nervous. We both finally said “no” and my parents drew a huge sigh of relief in unison. I wasn’t about to give up my sleep-in day on Sunday just to dress up and go to church when I didn’t believe in a thing they were going on about! Neither was my brother.

“Well, that’s that then,” my mother said with a laugh and it was never spoken of again. Life in our happy little household went on as usual and I would have loved to have heard the conversation between my mother and the Principal the next day!

The school dragged us to church several times a year for the big celebrations of Christmas, Easter and the end of the school year. I found the ceremonies boring, tedious and way to long. The constant standing up and sitting down also didn’t help. At school, we had to say prayers out loud four times per day: first thing in the morning, before lunch, after lunch and just before we went home. This involved standing straight by our desks and saying about 4 long prayers. It became a routine before long and I was not feeling anything. No connection to God, no spiritual uplift, nothing. I also found out something else: I really hate routine. After awhile with the same routine, I tend to get squirrelly; so you can imagine what 10 years of this did for me! Since this only happened at school and not at home, all of this ritual was just something that was done at school and had no spiritual meaning for me whatsoever.

I remember asking my father why he didn’t like going to church or anything and he told me that the best connection with God is the one we forge for ourselves. He said that anyone can talk to God at any time and that it was not right for any religion to keep us from directly connecting by forcing us to go through someone else at church. Hypocrisy was another reason he didn’t like organized religion. He found that many people would act so pious and holy at church but would turn around and be jerks for the rest of the week. That sentiment was validated for me every day at school. All of the other kids at my school went to church every week and proclaimed to be Christian, yet didn’t seem to really latch on to the values of Christianity. They were greedy, judgmental, rude and uncharitable. They did not seem to live by the rule of “love thy neighbour”, at least not toward me. The teachers at school often told us in Religion class that people went to confession to be forgiven of their sins. However, from what I observed, they just went ahead and sinned again the next week anyway as if penance would take away all accountability!

In my 8-year old mind, based on what I had seen and heard, church services and organized religion were for people who could not make that connection to God on their own, either through laziness or lack of capability; and for people to rid themselves of all accountability for their horrible actions by laying it all on God or Satan. I had no cherished childhood memories of church and religious ceremonies, but I also did not have any bad experiences with ceremonies that would justify me wanting to empower myself by developing bigger rituals when I embarked on the Druid path. They just meant nothing to me and there was no connection. Therefore, I had nothing to fight against, nothing to prove, and nothing to take me back to that warm fuzzy feeling of childhood. The social aspect that attracts so many people also did not seem to attract me. Perhaps it was because I was attending with the wrong people!

What I did have was my own connection with the Divine. I had taken my father’s words to heart and found that the best connection with God or the Divine truly was the one I forged for myself. When I still sort of believed in what I was being taught at Catholic school, I would sit in my room and do my own spontaneous observance of the Passion on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. If I felt so moved on a regular Sunday, I would open my Catholic Mass Book and perform the mass myself but with my own modifications to make it more interesting. (I had it cut down to about 15 minutes or so) I often meditated on and even seemed to connect with the Blessed Virgin Mother. She felt like a friend to me; one I could talk to at the end of the day and feel better afterwards for the experience, but she did not have the same “feeling” that I would have expected from this particular figure. I often think it was Brighid I was connecting to when I look back – the energies are the same. When I did my first Imbolc ritual as a Druid, I felt that same energy who introduced herself as Brighid and it felt like coming home.

There was nothing “mystical” or mysterious about my simple and quick little observances because the connection just seemed to be so natural. It was liberating to know that I could just open my mind to the Divine and say my own prayers in my own words, even if those words were just “please help me!” I’d often feel something good in response and I never got struck by lightning for being a blasphemer, so I figured God didn’t really mind the way I was doing things. Another point against organized religion for me: God didn’t mind how I was doing things, so to heck with them! I just went with what moved me and did my best to find out what spirituality was all about on my own.

I wanted to know the truth, but through my own seeking, not just by what others told me. I’d go outside and marvel at the wonder of the world and feel that connection with what I started calling ‘the Universe’ instead of ‘God’. I’d look at how situations would unfold and think about the “order of things”. Why did good things happen to bad people and vice-versa? My father told me that the world does not revolve around any one person and that we all play our parts to contribute to a greater whole. All of our actions had consequences and eventually those bad people would get theirs. Again, I saw that the big questions could not be answered satisfactorily by organized religion and I went the Atheist route for awhile. Being an Atheist really didn’t work for me because I felt this connection to something spiritual. There was a definite presence that I could feel.

It was not until I switched schools and attended a very liberal public and unusual school that I found the answer I was looking for. The school was small and primarily focused on students taking 100% responsibility and accountability for their own education. It was at this school that I would be introduced to Wicca by a few of my classmates. I read some of the books that they had and found that I connected with the Celtic stuff, but not so much with some of the other concepts. I had started reading about the Celts while I was still at Catholic school because it was part of my family heritage. Reading about the Druids really called to me and I felt something I had never felt before: a desire to connect with a particular spiritual path. I loved the focus on truth, the transmigration of the soul, the fact that the Druids were very well educated and were involved with so much more than just rituals and religion. The Celts seemed to have their spirituality well balanced with their everyday life and the Druids helped to teach and maintain that balance. That is what I wanted to do: continue to balance the spiritual with the mundane and focus on that balance in my life. 

As I embarked on my new spiritual path, I met a fellow who would become my first teacher. He held a second degree with a Wiccan tradition, but did not seem to be concerned with neither magic nor ritual. In fact the only ritual we did was my initiation and it was powerful. He told me that ritual was something that had its time and place and should not just be done for the sake of doing it. Rituals needed to come from the heart to work properly. It meant more when a ritual was done for the right reasons and with the right intent. He believed in right action and following a spiritual path of personal growth and service. This resonated with me because I am a huge believer in the power of service and right action. At the time, I was volunteering with street kids to help them get off of the streets on my own volition. (Not through an agency) The spells and such that I read in books looked very hokey and I could not see how lighting certain colours of candles at a certain phase of the moon and reciting bad poetry in the form of a request was going to help me anyway. I found that simply writing down what I needed, thinking long and hard about it and then making a plan toward obtaining it worked much better. As an added bonus, it could be done at any time without the fanfare. After my initiation, my teacher left town and I did not see him again for a few years. At that point I was on my own, so I pursued my studies as a Druid on my own.

After about 9 years of self-study and working with a small group of friends, I got involved with the Pagan community in my home town. I attended some public rituals done by various groups and found that I got the same feeling I did when I was in church at school all those years ago: zero connection with the Divine; just a big show. In fact, I found that I had a feeling of resistance from within and without. Was it because the rituals were not Druid ones? I’ve been to a few Druid rituals (other than my own Grove’s) and they have different feelings for me. 

As of now (2011), I have been on my spiritual path for 20 years and have conducted more rituals that I can count, both public and private. I’ve done many seasonal celebrations as well as rites of passage and healing rituals and I still find that the simplest and spontaneous ones are the most profound for me because they take me back to my roots: forging that connection on my own and seeing where my spirit takes me.

For example: On November 4th, I went out to my favourite natural area after not being able to go for quite some time (I live and work in an urban setting). It was +22 degrees Celcius and felt like a Summer day, which is very unusual for the Samhain season. The sun was blazing and all was quiet. It was like being in another world away from traffic and noise. As I walked along the path, I took note of all of the plants I saw along the way: wild rose bushes with brown leaves and ripe rosehips, the various prairie grasses all dried out for Winter, the aspen trees that still had a few leaves hanging on for dear life and one plant that looked like a mistletoe (leaves and berries looked the same) but was an actual bush. I went down by the creek and sat on the brown grass for a bit, just enjoying the sound of the trickling water and thought about the blessing received this past year, as well as all of the challenges faced. (This is an activity I regularly do at Samhain)

What was foremost on my mind was a dear family friend of ours whom I had visited in a hospice the day after my birthday just 3 weeks before. She was dying of cancer and had it all through her body. We talked for a bit, but it was a short discussion because she fell asleep. A few days later, she told one of her children that she was “ready to go but didn’t know how”. I knew that on November afternoon that she was still ready to go but didn’t know how.

As I walked, I picked a few rosehips here, some rowanberries there, some of those little white berries that looked like mistletoe and various other seeds and put them in my pocket. With each step, I asked the Ancestors to please let my friend join them as soon as possible because she was “ready to go but didn’t know how”. When I came back to my starting point, I sat down on the grass again, put my little collection of seeds into the running water and said “I have collected the bounty of the earth which I could take unto myself and be nourished, but instead I give this in payment for a friend of mine. Please let her join you soon. She is ready to go but doesn’t know how. Please let me pay her passage.” I sat there watching the seeds wind their way down the creek away from me and then disappear. Suddenly, I felt the feeling that my ritual was over and that it was time to go back home. I stood up and left the offering of birdseeds and water that I usually leave there when I do one of my walking rituals and went back home.

Later on that night, I lay in bed and suddenly felt a warm presence in the room. It felt like something brushed my hand and it was a happy feeling. My husband got into a bed a bit later and I said “I just felt this very warm presence for a brief second. I think our friend finally joined the ancestors and is free from her pain.”

Two days later, I received a call from my mother saying that our friend had passed away on the night of November 4th at around 10:00pm… the same time that I felt the presence in my room. It was almost as if the Ancestors had taken my payment and my friend was finally able to go home. She died peacefully in her sleep, according to her family who were all there when she crossed over the veil. This ritual was obviously profound but had not been planned nor scripted. I just felt this urge to stop at my favourite natural area while I was driving home from work.

The Communal Focus on Ritual:

A few years ago, a member of a global Druid organization posted a challenge on an internet forum hosted by another global Druid organization. He was talking about how Druidry seems to be losing something and was raising a call to action. I responded to it and am posting bits of it here along with some of the points that were raised:

• Complacency and self-satisfaction: Rituals lack “passion” and seem to becoming set in stone – Is that what it is all about? Rituals? I’m sure the ancient Druids weren’t sitting around doing rituals and traversing between here and the Otherworld all day long. I do agree with the set-in-stone remark since I’m not a big fan of scripted anything. I have plenty of passion about being a Druid. Ask anyone who knows me. I put a lot of work into it too! I volunteer, I operate a Grove, I teach, I provide guidance if asked to do so… I serve my community. And I do the odd ritual too! Ritual is not the centre of my life, nor do I believe it should be. Druids of old may have been at the cutting edge of philosophy and understood the cosmos, but they were also very involved with the day-to-day business of their communities, which really wasn’t all that exciting, I’m sure.

• We have been led to fear the words dogma and religion – I agreed with the instigator of the conversation on this one. So many of us, including myself, have come from other religions (perhaps one of the “big three” monotheistic ones) and have somehow been led to believe that religion and dogma are such terrible things. I also agree that the Druids were certainly not “unstructured, undisciplined, ill informed and confused” as many people could be these days. What is wrong with having a set of beliefs? What is wrong with re-ligion (re-linking to the Divine)? I may not the biggest fan of ritual for the sake of ritual, but Druidism is my religion. I feel it connects me with Spirit and the Divine, but not just in ritual – in my every day life! It is my spiritual path and it fulfils me spiritually. I have a strong set of beliefs, ethics, etc. The issue that many have is this: who decides what that dogma and religion are? Who makes the call about who should be leading the world of Druids? Who makes the call about what we should all be believing and practicing so that we can be one recognized body? I say: “Good luck with that…”

• We seem to “have no concept of the Pagan inner mysteries and stagnate in some superficial desire to connect with the seasons and the world of nature” – As a Modern Druid, I am a Seeker of Truth, not a follower of someone else’s ideas of “inner mysteries”. That is one of the reasons I have never been fond of “mystery traditions” and will never teach in that manner either – they tend to teach their own view of what they believe those mysteries are which, in my humble opinion, contradicts the entire concept of seeking the “truth against the world”. (more power to them, of course; it’s just not for me) To me, seeking Truth means making that connection with the Gods, the Universe, our Communities and even ourselves. It also means being realistic with the state of our times and society today, being true to my faith as a Druid and incorporating that into my every-day life. That does not mean I always have to be doing rituals, but it does mean that everything I do, I do with the intent of seeking truth, honouring my Gods, serving my community and growing as a person in spirit and mind.

Some Modern Druids may be of another religion that sees Druidry as a philosophy that fits very nicely with it. Others, like me, practice Druidism as a primary religion. I believe in the Gods as individuals (polytheistic) and have connected with them in my own way. I have learned from them, served them and gained much from the relationship I have forged with them over the past 20 years.

So, where do I stand on the subject of ritual? As my first teacher said: Ritual should not be done for the sake of ritual, nor should it be the primary focus. I love a good ritual as much as the next person, but I also believe that it should be done at the right time, for the right reason and from the heart as nature intended. I always try to go where my spirit takes me and I do my best to maintain a balance between the spiritual and the mundane.

This little pondering of ritual has turned into a rather large pondering, so I’ll finish off here!

Posted in Druidry Every Day, Interfaith, Opinions, Philosophy and Psychology, Spiritual Practice | 2 Comments

On Being a Druid Today

How can one call him or herself a Druid in today’s society? What does it mean to be a Druid today? I’ve replied to this question on mailing lists and discussion fora so many times that I felt it warranted some space on my blog, so here is my stance on the topic. 

Over the years, I’ve seen many arguments, many opinions and have wrestled with the question with regard to my own path as a Modern Druid. Some people say there is no way anyone could claim to be Druid today, others say that one can be a Druid after completing coursework and still others claim that one cannot be a Druid unless they fulfil all of the functions that Druids fulfilled in their time.

Looking at this from a practical point of view, it would seem that one could not claim to be a Druid today:

1. The ancient Druids lived in a different time than we do – The Druids of old always struck me as being quite in line with their times and up to date on the knowledge and atmosphere of their times. They were very involved with their times because they had to be. They were not trying to “recreate” a history like many of us are today. The ancient Druids lived in a different time than we do. The needs, technology and culture of the people in that time were vastly different from what it is like today. I’m fairly certain that they didn’t just wax philosophically, practise Druidry when they weren’t busy living their lives or doing their jobs, and performing rituals. They were heavily involved with their world: they advised leaders, served their community, healed, taught, negotiated, etc. We live in the 21st Century and our needs and circumstances have changed dramatically since ancient times.

2. The Druids of old held a different place on society’s class scale than we do – How many of us are involved in the “World Stage” of leadership or have the trusted confidence of a world leader? Where do you as an individual stand in your society? I am a middle-class citizen who owns a house and works in a specific industry (Non-Profit and Volunteer Management). Were I what I am now, a property owner who manages people, in ancient times, I might hold a different status, but I’d certainly not be up there with the Druids. Not unless I had studied for 21 years and become a Druid and was therefore advising leaders and involving myself with the spiritual aspects of everyday life.

3. The Druids of Old Were Trained Differently – I’ve always said that if one wanted to be somewhat equal to a Druid in ancient times, based on what we know of them, one would indeed have to train for about 17 – 21 years and would require university degrees in a number of disciplines including public relations, teaching, medicine, psychology, political science, religious studies, foreign policy, linguistics, etc. (and more, I’m sure) One would also need to be quite heavily involved in one’s community and political scene if one wanted to be “just like the ancients” who were very involved with their communities and community leaders.

Is this possible? Sure, if one has the time to get all of those degrees yet still be heavily involved in the leadership of a community (i.e.: advisor to a world leader or even the leader of a group). Is this very feasible? I’ll let you be the judge.

4. The Druids of Old Didn’t Write Anything Down – This is probably the biggest reason why one could not claim to be a Druid today. The original Druids forbade any of the lore to be written down if we can go by what observers of the Druids say. How would we even know what they believed, what they did or how they did it if no records were kept? We really don’t have a whole lot to go on except for what has been written by observers of the Celtic people, what has been gleaned by archaeologists, historians and other scholars, and what we can piece together on our own based on these sources.

All this said, I do believe there is a continuum – connecting factors – which link what we are doing today to what the Ancients might have been doing and in that respect, we could call ourselves Druids today. I wrote an article for one of my university courses last year which sums up why I believe in this. (The article is posted here:

Druids throughout the ages seem to have some things in common: service, education, love of nature, a sense of connection, belief in the immortality of the soul, high standards with regard to personal ethics (a sense and an idea of honour), seeking truth, in tune with their time’s needs and culture, and an affinity to the culture/philosophy that Druids are associated with. Looking deeper at a few of these:

1. Service: The Druids of old served their communities in a variety of ways and were the “learned ones” of society. They trained for many years and were the spiritual as well as political advisors to their leaders and people. They connected people to goods, services, to the Divine, etc. They were involved in the legal system. They taught that the soul was immortal and were very in tune with Nature, the Otherworld, etc. They served in accordance to the needs and culture of their time. Many Druids today serve in some sort of way, whether it be in an environmental sense, service to the Divine in their own way or helping animals or people in need. Some teach others or operate Groves.

2. Education – I’ve delved into Druid education and what we would need today in order to match what the Druids of old did. The Druids of old were nothing if not well educated. The Revivalist Druids of the 19th century were also educated for the most part. Not as Druids per se, but they were educated to some higher degree (lawyers, doctors, , etc.). Some were also teachers or professors. They too believed in the immortality of the soul and also tried to connect in their own way to nature. They served in accordance to what culture and needs were like in their time. Druids today are similar as well. Most are educated to some degree and modern Druid organizations offer plenty of training opportunities for those who wish to learn more.

3. Love of Nature – The Druids of old worshipped in groves of trees, if the Romans and other observers are correct. The Revivalist Druids also seemed to see nature as being sacred in their own way. Modern Druids also seem to be connected by their love of nature, if nothing else. The Two Basic Tenets of the Reformed Druids of North America sum it up succinctly in my opinion: “1. Nature is good. 2. Likewise, Nature is good.” Many modern Druid groups include the respect for or reverence of Nature in their statements of belief or self-descriptions. Some are involved in global environmental efforts such as tree planting programs.

4. Connection – The Druids of old were all about connection – they had to be! They connected the people of their tribes to the Gods, connected people together for trade purposes and connected with the spiritual. In a time when social services were scant, Revivalist Druid Orders often provided funding to the needy or assisted where they saw a need. They socialized as well. With modern technology such as the Internet, cellular phones, computers, etc., Druids today connect with other people in a way that neither the Druids of old or the Revivalist Druids could never possibly imagine! They also do what they can to connect with nature. With our environment in more trouble than it has ever been in, connecting with Nature as well as serving Nature are very important for Druids in the Modern sense.

5. Belief in the Immortality of the Soul – Roman and other observers of the Druids of old frequently noted that the immortality of the soul was something the Druids taught their people. The Roman writer Diodorus speculated that Celtic warriors were so courageous in war because the Druids taught them “that the souls of men are immortal, and that after a definite number of years they live a second life when the soul passes into another body”. Many of the Revivalist Druids were Christian and therefore believed in the immortality of the soul by way of an afterlife. Modern Druids also seem to embrace the idea of the immortality of the soul, but may have different ways of explaining it, including the transmigration o the soul, reincarnation or an afterlife of sorts. 

6. Seeking Truth – Just as Spirit is the driving force behind the universe, truth seems to be the driving force of Druid spirituality and practice. Looking at texts such as the Audacht Morainn or Testament of Morann (“Let him preserve Truth, it will preserve him.”), Tecosca Cormaic or Instructions of King Cormac (“Announce, increase truth”), and the Fionn’s Instructions to Mac Lugach (“Do not always be gossiping and Lying”), truth is held in very high regard, for those in positions of power and for all people. Edward Williams (AKA: Iolo Morganwg), a well-known forger and one of the strongest personalities in the Revivalist Druid movement of the 19th Century, wrote a lengthy document called “The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg” and claimed it was ancient Celtic wisdom. Despite the questionable authenticity of the document, it was what the Revivalist Druids used as their lore and is therefore worthy of mention from a historical perspective. The Barddas contained some triads, one of which reads: “Three things incapable of change: the laws of nature; the quality of truth; and the laws of Bardism; for whatever is found to be beautiful, good, and just, belongs to each one of those things.” Modern Druids also honour and seek Truth by many means. Most who have done their research know that Truth was a virtue highly valued by the Celts of all backgrounds, and therefore do their best to uphold Truth in their own lives and practice.

How could I call myself a Druid with no other Druids around? Below is how I believe I measure up with regard to the commonalities or continuum:

1. Service – The Path of Service that I follow is tri-fold:
a. Service to the Gods – building relationships with the Gods, celebrating the turning of the seasons, feast days, etc.

b. Service to the Community – Even though I was not involved in the Pagan community, I was still very much serving my Community: the community at large. I’ve been volunteering for various causes since I was 12 years old. I worked with a friend of mine to help teens get off the streets and find ways to live in their own without needing to live on the streets, I volunteered at school, etc. I now work in the field as a Volunteer Coordinator at a nursing home.

c. Service to Self – This may seem selfish, but it means that I try to keep myself healthy, keep the relationships with the ones that matter in my life healthy, work hard to earn a living and reap the rewards of helping others through my work, keep my mind sharp by endeavouring to learn new things all the time, etc. When I was starting out on my own as a Druid, I studied on my own from books and from Nature.

2. Love of Nature – As a teenager (I was 15 when I started on this path and am 35 now), I took it upon myself to “adopt” a natural area that was near my parents’ home. I picked up litter, meditated and cared for the land as best as I could. I befriended the spirits of the place and soon felt that it was my second home. I also cared for plants of my own and learned what I could about the ecosystem. We now recycle 85% of our household waste and I do not use toxic substances in my home or garden.

3. Connection – While I had no real connections with other Druids, I did forge connections with Nature, the Kindreds, etc. I forged connections with other people in many other ways (service, friendship, etc.). In our modern day, it is possible to connect with other Druids from around the world, which I have. Due to my love of connecting with others and learning different ways of approaching Druidry,  I am connected to a number of Druid organizations, including the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD), The British Druid Order (BDO), The Druid Network (TDN), Henge of Keltria, and Ar’nDraoicht Fein (ADF). I also connect with people locally though my own grove, Awen Grove Canada.

4. Belief in the Immortality of the Soul – I used to get into lots of trouble in Catholic school because of my specific beliefs on this subject when I was a little kid. I’d always ask my teachers: “If the soul is immortal, why does it only get the span of one human lifetime to perfect itself and then it either goes to Heaven or Hell? An immortal being has eternity to grow, learn and perfect itself. Why does God only give it 80 years on average? It doesn’t make sense!”

5. Education – I was educated like many other kids in my locale, but I took it upon myself to study what I could of Druidry when I was in my mid-teens and beyond, because I felt that irresistible pull toward becoming a Druid when I first started reading about the Celts. I am currently attending university and studying psychology because that is an area of interest for me and I like to help and understand people. I was not able to attend university when I got out of high school because I couldn’t afford it. I’ve worked since I was 13 and now have the equity and enough money to pay for a course at a time. It’s a long haul, but it’s worth it!

6. High standards with regard to personal ethics (a sense and an idea of honour) – One thing people have always been able to say about me is that I stick to my ethics and don’t bend them to fit in or become a part of the Status Quo. I have a special interest in Brehon Law and the Celtic wisdom texts and studied as much as I could. (Still do!) I live by my own standard of Ethics the best that I can.

7. Seeking Truth – For me, it means to seek Truth, whatever it may be, for oneself. I teach that way as well: I provide the framework of base knowledge and my students have to take that, learn on their own and forge their own personal belief system and practice as a Modern Druid. They cannot just take my words as Truth, they have to take them and find their own Truth Against the World. One other saying I hold true to: “Truth in our hearts, Strength in our arms and what we say we fulfill”. (Oisin’s words about how the Fianna lived when questioned by St. Patrick just before his death)

8. In tune with their time’s needs and culture – I was very fortunate to go to a school that was small, democratic and offered self-directed learning. We were entirely responsible for our education and had to account for every hour toward the completion of a 5 credit or 3 credit course (25 hours per credit). Our teachers taught us the value of being informed citizens and we learned the value of democracy first hand. The students ran the school and every week, there would be a General Meeting where everything from participating in a fundraiser to buying a new bus for the school were discussed and voted upon by the students and teachers. (Students outnumbered the teachers, so our vote counted for a lot!) The meetings were run strictly using Robert’s Rules of Order. A different set of students would serve as Chair and Secretary for the meeting. No teachers ever ran the meetings. Thanks to the school, I got very involved in my community and knew what was happening around the world.

9. An affinity to the culture/philosophy that Druids are associated with – I had wanted to know of my family heritage when I was 15 and my Mum brought home books on the Celts for me to read. Reading of the Druids, I felt that call and that irresistible pull. I couldn’t learn enough about the Celts, their culture, their beliefs and their legends. Most of all, I couldn’t learn enough about their spirituality and the role of the Druids in their society. I kept thinking “If only Druids were still around today… that is what I would do with my life!” A year later, I did find out about modern Druids and I started on my path becoming a Modern Druid.

Isn’t being a solitary Druid the same as being a Hedge-Witch? In my case, no. I am not one who practices an abundance of magic and I very strongly believe in the path that I have chosen for myself as a Druid. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where I am, to learn what I’ve learned and am very focused on continuing to learn because “Seeking the Truth Against the World” is also a common value for many Druids.

Druidry is more than just community or any one of the things mentioned above by themselves. It is intrinsic to each Druid. Each Druid has their own way of practicing their faith or philosophy (or both!), but there is a common thread that is significant to Druids. I’ve mentioned my points above, but I know there are others that I’ve missed!

After all, if there were no commonalities that distinguished a Druid from a Hedgewitch or a Wiccan or a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, etc., then we wouldn’t be Druids. We’d just be following another path entirely. There is something that makes us different and makes us who we are. That something is very strong, but also hard to pin down. No two Modern Druids are the same or have the same philosophies or beliefs, but the similarities are there.

Being a Modern Druid should not mean that we have to lose the rich mythology, philosophies and beliefs of the Druids of old; those things that connect us to the past; just because we live in a different time and culture. The Druids of old believed in the transmigration of the soul… I take it one step further and say that not only have our souls transmigrated to new bodies in a newer time, but Druidry has also transmigrated to a newer world, newer cultures and newer society.

We serve, we heal, we think and we feel. We do what we need to in this our world today. And we hold on to the past to some extent so that we can learn from it, feel inspired by it… so that we can move forward with it into the future.

Posted in Druid Lore, Druidry Every Day, Opinions | 1 Comment

Individuation: The Quest for Self

Individuation: The Quest for Self

“Know Thyself” was inscribed above the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece and the search for the true nature of oneself was important to Ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato (Sheets-Johnstone, 2008). Two-thousand years later, is humanity closer to knowing the nature of their true selves and achieving psychological maturity? Can one attain complete knowledge and acceptance of one’s true Self in a life-time? Dr. Carl Gustav Jung believed that this was possible, but it would take a lot of inner-work to make it so. Jung theorized that a person’s personality is made up of many aspects that, when integrated into the conscious, become the Self, the true centre of being (Feist & Feist, 2006). He called this process “Individuation” or “Self-Realization” and provided criteria that would have to be met in order for this to be achieved (Jung, 1968). In this paper, the process of fulfilling those criteria is examined as well as its practical therapeutic applications.


The word individuation is taken from the Latin possessive term of principium individuationis, or ‘principle of individuation’, which was used by several notable philosophers in history to explain the emergence of individual aspects into being, including Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche (Beebe, 2008). Individuation was simply defined by Jung (1968) as being “the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual’, that is, a separate, indivisible unity or ‘whole’” (pg. 275). Jung theorized that if there were unconscious processes occurring, then they should be part of the total person, but these are often ignored (Jung, 1968). Therefore, there is no whole if either the conscious or unconscious is suppressed (Jung, 1964). A more detailed definition of individuation is “the process of strengthening, differentiation and assimilation (integration) into consciousness of the various non-egoic parts of the psyche…” (Fiumara, 1989, pg. 178). These ‘non-egoic parts of the psyche’ include the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious which are represented by various symbols or archetypes.

The Structure of Personality

In order to truly appreciate the process of individuation, the structure of personality must be examined. Jung (1964) noted that human psychology “basically depends on balanced opposites…” (pg. 59), and he found that people were either introverted or extraverted in their attitudes. The determination of the extraverted or introverted attitude depended on how one directed their vital interest (Assagioli, 1974). Introversion is marked by introspection, self-knowledge (Jung, 1964) and the direction of vital energy inward, toward oneself (Assagioli, 1974). Extraversion is marked by the direction of vital interest out toward society (Assagioli, 1974) and the subscription to the majority view when making decisions and evaluating situations (Jung, 1964).

Added to these two attitudes are the four functions of thinking, sensing, feeling and intuition (Feist & Feist, 2006). Like extraversion and introversion, these four functions are also balanced opposites of being either rational or irrational (Jung, 1964). Thinking is the opposite of feeling, and sensing is the opposite of intuition (Jung, 1964). People strong in the function of thinking, a rational function, adapt themselves to the world around them by using their intellect and thinking things through (Jung, 1964). With regard to the function of feeling, Jung emphasized that his definition of ‘feeling’ centered upon the placing of logical value (evaluation)  on something, not by experiencing emotions (Jung, 1964). Sensing is an irrational function, which involves the use of the four senses to perceive stimuli (Feist & Feist, 2006). Intuition is also an irrational function which involves using ‘hunches’ that depend on internal or external influences rather than rational judgment (Jung, 1964). Jung did not intend for these terms to be dogmatic and saw them as only being four viewpoints of the types of human behaviour alongside things like imagination, free will, etc. (Jung, 1964). However, Jung did find these terms especially when describing a person to others as well as understanding one’s own perspectives on matters (Jung, 1964).

The Structure of the Unconscious

The unconscious consists of two aspects: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious (Jacobi, 1973). Aspects of the unconscious are often brought to the conscious through the avenues of dreams or the creative process (Jacobi, 1973). The personal unconscious contains repressed memories, personal symbolism, forgotten thoughts and events, and other thoughts that have not made it into the conscious (Jacobi, 1973). According to Jung, the collective unconscious contains “the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution born anew in the brain structure of every individual” (Jacobi, 1973, pg. 35). Jung was able to separate the aspects of the collective unconscious into what he originally called (Jacobi, 1973) “‘primordial images’ or ‘dominants of the collective unconscious’” (pg. 39), which he later named ‘archetypes’ (Jacobi, 1973). Some of these archetypes include:

  • The Shadow – This is the part of a person that is known as the ‘dark brother’ or ‘the other side’ and is also the invisible side of oneself (Jacobi, 1973). It is the (Henderson, 1964) “shadow cast by the conscious mind of the individual” (pg. 118) and it contains aspects of the personality which are repressed or hidden (Henderson, 1964). These aspects may be denied, but the individual may be quick to point these aspects out in other people (Von Franz, 1964). Many confuse this archetype with being completely dark or evil in nature, but the Shadow also contains qualities of good such as creativity or normal responses (Henderson, 1964). Jung proposed that there were two levels to the Shadow: the personal shadow which contains all of a person’s own repressed psychic features, and a collective shadow which is a negative aspect of the Wise Old Man or the Self (Jacobi, 1973).
  • The ‘Magna Mater’ or Great Mother – According to Jung’s studies (1968) of Sankhya philosophy, this archetype consists of the three aspects of “goodness, passion and darkness” (pg. 82). Goodness encompasses the Mother’s nurturing and kind love, passion represents her deep emotions and darkness reminds us of the Mother’s destructive nature as well as the depths of the Mother that we do not know (Jung, 1968).
  • The Hero – Almost every society in history, including modern Western society, features some sort of hero figure in its collective mythology (Henderson, 1964). The hero archetype often has a similar life pattern across cultures and time, which includes a miraculous birth, a show of superhuman strength in childhood, a quick rise in societal status, a triumph over an evil force, suffering the consequences of succumbing to pride and a sacrifice or fall through betrayal that results in his often young death (Henderson, 1964). Heroes may seem immortal, but often have some sort of flaw or weakness that usually is the cause of death (Feist & Feist, 2006).
  • The Wise Old Man – The wise old man is the archetype that represents the spirit (Jung, 1968), but has also been speculated to represent the Self (von Franz, 1964). This archetype often shows up in dreams or symbolism as a teacher, a prophet or some other elderly sage and is neither good nor evil in nature (Jacobi, 1973). For women, the wise old man often shows up as a wise old woman or even as the Great Mother, but has the same meaning (von Franz, 1964).
  • The Anima/Animus – This is the part of the psyche that represents the opposite gender of the individual (Jacobi, 1973). The Anima is defined by Von Franz (1964) as the “feminine aspect of the male psyche” (pg. 177) while the Animus is the male aspect of the female psyche. Men often see the Anima personified as a witch or sexual temptress while women seethe Animus as a strong male figure in either a positive or negative sense (Von Franz, 1964). The Anima or Animus can also take on the form of an animal such as a cow for men or an eagle for women if it has not been realized enough to take on a human form and is still perceived in an instinctual manner (Jacobi, 1973).
  •  The Self – The Self is both the guiding factor and the goal in individuation (Von Franz, 1964). Its guidance is not something that is made conscious but is often made apparent through dreams (Von Franz, 1964), or in some cases, creative pursuits such as art (Jung, 1964).

The Process of Individuation

Jung (1968) stated that the process of individuation “is an irrational life-process which expresses itself in definite symbols” (pg. 289). It is a natural process that is present in all people, but many are unaware of it and therefore do not fully achieve it (Jacobi, 1973). While the process differs for each person, there are common sign-posts or tasks that must be completed before one can truly achieve individuation (Jacobi, 1973). Von Franz (1964) proposed that the process of individuation “generally begins with a wounding of the personality” (pg. 166) which acts as a sort of call to action. This call may be in the form of an event or even an extreme case of boredom which makes life seem empty or devoid of meaning (von Franz, 1964). Because of this wounding or call, the ego experiences frustration because its will has been thwarted in some way (Von Franz, 1964).  This is the first contact with the Self and it can be symbolized by a dark shadow in one’s life or even as an ‘inner friend’ who comes to kill the struggling ego in its trap (Von Franz, 1964). The process can be also initiated through psychotherapy or even a conscious effort on one’s own part to achieve individuation (Jacobi, 1973). Prior to embarking on the journey, one must make a conscious connection with the process and also be aware of the risks. According to Von Franz, one must be aware that “the process of individuation is real only if the individual is aware of it and consciously makes a living connection with it” (pg. 162). Jacobi (1973) warns that this process is something that is best undertaken with assistance from a partner or therapist because “any attempt to travel it alone is extremely dangerous” (pg. 107).

Once the process has been initiated, the individual is ready to begin realizing the aspects of the unconscious and assimilating them into the conscious. The first aspect that must be realized is the Shadow or the unknown or denied aspects of the individual (Jacobi, 1973). The personal Shadow often makes itself known through dreams where the individual meets oneself and does not like the ‘other self’ (Von Franz, 1964). This ‘other self’ usually possesses qualities that the dreamer dislikes but can also possess qualities that the dreamer would like to have (Von Franz, 1964). The reason for this is that the shadow develops at the same time as the ego and is made up of all of the characteristics that the ego has discarded (Jacobi, 1973). The collective Shadow often appears in the form of a trickster-like figure, such as Loki or Mephistopheles (Jacobi, 1973). The key is to make friends with and value the Shadow because it is only hostile when it is ignored or misunderstood (Von Franz, 1964). This is done when an individual faces up to the inner truths and accepts all of the aspects of one’s personality, including the negative ones and enters into a genuine friendship with the ‘dark brother’.

After the realization of the Shadow, the individual then encounters and must become acquainted with the ‘soul image’ that represents the opposite gender: the Anima for men and the Animus for women (Jacobi, 1973). For men, the Anima often shows up as a single female figure in either a positive or negative sense (Von Franz, 1964), while for women, the Animus may appear as more than one man due to the monogamous sexual nature of women (Jacobi, 1973). However, the Animus often takes on a non-sexual role (Jacobi, 1973; Von Franz, 1964). The temperament of the Anima or Animus often depends on the relationship between an individual and the parent or caregiver of the opposite sex (Von Franz, 1964). The goal in this step is to make the relationship with the Anima or Animus a good one (Von Franz, 1964). The result of this friendship, according to Jacobi (1973) is “an extraordinary enrichment of the contents of consciousness and a great broadening of our personality” (pg. 124).

Once the aspects of the Shadow and the Anima/Animus have been reconciled into the conscious, the individual is ready for the emergence of the Self (Jacobi, 1973) or the “Great Man” (Von Franz, 1964). This aspect often shows up as the Wise Old Man or the Great Mother, which helps the individual to see the primordial and spiritual aspects of the Self (Jacobi, 1973). According to Jacobi (1973), the goal is for men to achieve liberation from the Father and for women to become liberated from the Mother and find their true individuality. This stage also comes with the risk of self-glorification which could develop into delusions of being a god or possessing of all knowledge if the Dark Self is encountered and not properly assimilated (Jacobi, 1973; Von Franz, 1964).  Jacobi (1973) used the example of “Nietzsche, who fully identified himself with the figure of Zarathustra” (pg. 126).

The final stage, if one can properly reconcile the Dark Self, is the actual encounter with the Self (Jacobi, 1973). This is not an easy stage and the individual may be plagued with unconscious urges that cannot be repressed or fled from because that would defeat the entire purpose of achieving individuation (Jacobi, 1973). Thus starts the tension-filled process of unifying the unconscious with the conscious, which means that this inner turmoil must not interfere with the individual’s daily life or work because the soul must become accustomed to this new way of being (Jacobi, 1973). Individuation does not mean that one is free from the suffering of worry or conflict in life, for part of the process is the transformation of inauthentic suffering, which can lead to neuroses, into authentic suffering which can lead to spiritual enrichment and fulfillment of one’s future goals (Jacobi, 1973). As Jacobi (1973) states, that achieving individuation “does not mean that the thunderstorm is robbed of its reality; it means that, instead of being in it, one is now above it” (pg. 135). The reward given by the process of individuation is not limited to curing neuroses and mental illnesses, but spiritual enlightenment, and the discovery of meaning and fulfillment in one’s life (Jacobi, 1973).  Jung chose to symbolize individuation with the mandala, which is the Sanskrit word for ‘circle’ because it represents order, symmetry, the union of opposites into one, the streaming inward of life’s essence and the Earth’s reception of the creative power of heaven into itself (Jung, 1968).

Challenges and Practical Applications

Jung gathered knowledge from a number of sources and examined concepts such as mystical experiences, mythology and the religious symbolism of many traditions, which made it very difficult for mainstream ‘scientific psychology’ to take his theories seriously (Richards, 2008). In the mid-1930’s especially, three important factors counted against Jung: his break with Freud cast him as an apostate, suspicions of dealing with the Nazis and the fact that Jung seemed to be more focused on the individual than with social interest (Richards, 2008). It has been argued that the process of individuation is unattainable because of the fact that so much of the Self remains forever unknown, which then causes suspension between the opposites of the known and unknown (Schlamm, 2007). Do these contradictions give reason to discredit the process of individuation completely?

This process, according to Jung, “may well be the goal of any psychotherapy that claims to be more than a mere cure of symptoms” (pg. 289). Despite the question of whether it is even attainable, or even Jung’s sources of information, the process of individuation has proven to be an excellent exercise in certain types of group analysis (Fiumara, 1989), palliative care (Bakhtiar, 1980; Moraglia, 2004), and in assisting middle-aged adults find a healthy way to work through mid-life crises (Weaver, 2009).

Those who are dying can find comfort and purpose in the process of individuation, even if they do not believe in an afterlife (Moraglia, 2004). The process shows that the path to self realization is the destination, rather than another existence after death, which can produce a sense of accomplishment (Moraglia, 2004). This exploration of the unconscious can be quite therapeutic in that it provides the dying patient with a positive outlook on death: dying becomes a transformative process rather than just a hopeless road to the end of life (Bakhtiar, 1980). It is generally believed that the process of individuation should start at mid-life (Hewison, 2003; Moraglia, 2004; Weaver, 2009). Jung had suggested that individuation takes place in the latter half of life since the first half of life is spent building only one half of the self: the external self which has made a place in society and succeeded in the eyes of others (Weaver, 2009). The ‘midlife crisis’ that many experience between the ages of 35 and 50 may involve personal disenchantment with extraverted goals such as societal success, and the need to find some deeper meaning to life that is not apparent (Weaver, 2009). Some have questioned whether this process absolutely must occur in midlife or if it can occur earlier (Beebe, 2008). Michael Fordham, a post-Jungian, has argued that individuation is a lifelong process that starts as early as infancy when an infant opens up to experience and then brings that experience inside (Hewison, 2003). Whether this is true remains to be discovered.


Two thousand years after the inscription of the words “Know Thyself” at the Oracle of Delphi, mankind still faces this challenge. People enter this world, strangers to themselves and others, each with the capability of embarking on the unique quest to discover the hidden Self. The process of individuation, if one is prepared to meet the challenge, is a way for an individual to accept that quest, discover the Self and enjoy the benefits of wholeness and enlightenment.


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Bakhtiar, Jamshid A.H. (1980). Care of the dying patient. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 26, 167-177. doi: 10.1177/002076408002600303

Beebe, J. (2008). Individuation in the light of chinese philosophy. Psychological Perspectives, 51(1), 70-86. doi: 10.1080/00332920802031896

Bozarth, J.D., Barry, J.D.,  Myers, J.E., & Heyn, J.E. (1985). Jungian analytical psychology and old age. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 4 (2), 105 – 110. doi: 10.1177/073346488500400212

Feist, J. & Feist G. (2006). Theories of Personality. New York, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Fiumara, R. (1989). The psychology of the individuation process and group analysis: the role of ‘pronominalism’. Group Analysis, 22, 177 – 187. doi: 10.1177/0533316489222007

Henderson, J. (1964). Ancient myths and modern man. In Jung, C. G., von Franz, M.L., Henderson, J.L., Jacobi, J. & Jaffe, A., Man and his symbols. (pp. 104 – 157). Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Hewison, D. (2003). ‘Oh Rose, thou art sick!’ Anti-individuation forces in the film American Beauty. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 48(5), 683. doi: 0021–8774/2003/4805/683

Jacobi, J. (1973). The psychology of C.G. Jung. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. (Original work published in 1942)

Jung, C.G. (1964). Approaching the unconscious. In Jung, C. G., von Franz, M.L., Henderson, J.L., Jacobi, J. & Jaffe, A., Man and his symbols. (pp. 18 – 103). Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Jung, C. G. (1968). Conscious, unconscious, and individuation. In Jung, C. G., & Hull, R. F. C. (Eds.), The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Bollingen series, 20. (pp. 275-289). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

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Moraglia, G. (2004). On facing death: views of some prominent psychologists. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 337 – 357. doi: 10.1177/0022167804266095

Richards, G. (2008). Jung’s social psychological meanings. Journal of Community & AppliedSocial Psychology, 18(2), 108-118.

Schlamm, L. (2007). C. G. Jung and numinous experience: between the known and the unknown. European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling & Health, 9(4), 403-414.doi: 10.1080/13642530701725981

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Von Franz, M.L. (1964). The process of individuation. In Jung, C. G., von Franz, M.L., Henderson, J.L., Jacobi, J. & Jaffe, A., Man and his symbols. (pp. 158-229). [Garden City, NY]: Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Weaver, Y. (2009). Mid-Life — A time of crisis or new possibilities?. Existential Analysis:Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 20(1), 69-78.

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A Bit About Existentialism

Thanks to Nimue at Druid Life for writing an article on her blog about Responsibility that inspired this comment, which has become my first real post on this blog!

Existentialism is something I’ve been studying for awhile due to its ties to psychology and psychotherapy that I’ve been learning about in university. In the context of psychology, existentialism focuses on five “Givens”: (Check out this site for a more detailed description of all of this: It’s brilliant, IMHO)

1. Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency – Many people think that freedom involves escaping responsibility. Life gives us responsibilities which can hinder us or make us feel like we are not free, therefore, we go off on our own to make our own freedom.

However, one can be existentially free, even if one is not “politically” free. Meaning: There is a consequence to everything and we must be aware of that. That’s the Responsibility part of the existentialist equation.

The freedom part comes in when we realize that we are completely free to react to something. No one can make that choice for us. The freedom you have in any situation, is what you will learn from this and how you will respond, which is the Will and the Agency part.

An excellent book to read on this subject is “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who became a prisoner of quite a few concentration camps during WWII, including Auschwitz. He provides an excellent overview of human nature in the context of a concentration camp, but also credits his survival to the realization that he had the ultimate freedom: psychological freedom. The freedom to take what is given and make the choice of how to react to it. He found meaning in the most undesirable of circumstances, which is hard for us to imagine based on the relative comfort of our modern lives.

2. Death, Human Limitation, and Finiteness – Death is the one destiny that all living things share. If we are born, we will eventually die. What happens between the two points of birth and death are what matters, and this is again where we can exercise our existential freedom of choice, awareness of consequence and will. Some people completely avoid enjoying the beauty of life because they feel that the true beauty lies in some afterlife where one will be judged on their austerity and perfection (or lack thereof) in life. Some people enjoy things in life a little too much and infringe on others’ enjoyment. (Criminals, etc.)

In my mind, life is about appreciating life because we will all eventually die. It is also about finding balance in life (not dwelling too much on death and not denying it). What would you do differently if you knew for sure you would die next week? What would you regret? What is stopping you from doing that now?

Rollo May, another psychologist, has written a number of books on various aspects of life with an existentialist focus. My favourite is: “Man’s Search for Himself” (1953), Delta 1973 (Reprint). ISBN 0-385-28617-1

3. Isolation and Connectedness – It’s not “all about me” in existentialism. It is about finding connection with others, practicing empathy and being a part of something meaningful with others (whatever that might be is up to you – again, that Freedom!) It is also looks at how we isolate ourselves: Interpersonal – how we can isolate ourselves from others physically or even become involved in relationships that are not meaningful; Intrapersonal – not being fully present in the relationships we have; and Existential – the feeling that we can never really overcome that isolation. However, the Existential Freedom comes from acknowledging that limitation, finding meaning in it and doing what we can to make our connections/relationships more meaningful.

4. Meaning vs. Meaninglessness – Finding Meaning, like Freedom is one of the cornerstones of existentialism. There are three types of meaning:

False – These are the myths of power that we create, i.e.: power, money, sex. They don’t make us existentially free, nor do they give us real meaning in life. The Dalai Lama, in his book “Ancient Wisdom, Modern World: Ethics for the new Millennium” (ISBN 0-349-11443-9), tells the story of his stay with a fabulously wealthy couple. They had it all, it seemed! When he peeked into their medicine cabinet, he took note of the anti-stress pills, anti-depressants and other things, which told him that all of that wealth didn’t seem to be working too well for their mental health.

Transitory – These are the things that help us cope with any situation. They are our values, which are good to have, but not the end-all-be-all of existence. i.e.: service, faith, education, leadership, growth as a person, etc.

Ultimate – This is the “type of meaning that aids in the transcending the existential issues of death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness.”( Some might argue that this is where a relationship with God, or the Divine (however we may see it) comes in: the spiritual self. I see it as being how do we grow, learn and make meaning out of the topics of death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness? How we do that is up to us once again – Freedom.

5. Emotions, Experience, and Embodiment – This involves embracing, accepting and finding meaning in our emotions… all of them. Even the ones we don’t like. The quest for Individualtion in the Jungian sense (unifying all of the aspects of the self and transcending basic existence) is a good example of this given. It’s difficult to do, but is very liberating when it is sought and achieved!

From what I’ve learned from the philosophy of existentialism, we have a lot more control over our own existence and situations than we give ourselves credit for. We have more freedom than we give ourselves credit for and, as a result, more power than we ever felt possible. Yes, there are consequences and, yes, there is responsibility that comes with that existential power… but the freedom, meaning and higher understanding of ourselves as human beings is so worth it! (In my own opinion, of course!)

The interesting thing about philosophy is how it is interpreted by each person.

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