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: http://awencanada.com/Druidpath1.html).
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.