What mud and whose blood?

mud-1122068_960_720In case you’ve been hiding under a rock (and the way 2017 is going, I don’t blame you if you are…is there room for one more under there?), you will no doubt have seen that hundreds of actual bloody Nazis and white supremacists have descended on Charlottesville, USA, brandishing flaming torches and shouting racist slogans.

One of the slogans they used is “blood and soil”. This is a Nazi slogan. The website Quartz explains:

Though a German expression decades before Hitler came to power, “Blood and Soil” was popularized by the prominent Nazi theorist Richard Walther Darré in 1930, three years before he became Hitler’s minister of food and agriculture. Darré maintained that the preservation of the Nordic race was inextricably tied to Germany’s agrarian population. The idea painted farmers as national heroes who protected the purity of Germany. Under Darré, and with Hitler’s support, the Nazi Party embraced “Blood and Soil” as one of its chief ideologies.

Amongst all the other hate, this slogan stood out for me because I recently heard something similar closer to home, even within the Druid community.

The phrase “mud and blood” was used by a fairly prominent former Druid on a podcast interview a few weeks ago, and the phrase has cropped up in discussion online. New Directions in Celtic Studies, a 2000 book by Amy Hale and Philip Peyton, cites the British Druid Order as stating:

We draw inspiration from the sacred land and from our ancestry; from the mud and blood of Britain, whose myths and mysteries are the wellspring of our tradition. (The Druid’s Voice, Summer 1997 – emphasis added).

Now, I know the BDO, and I know damn well they are not racists by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m not accusing anyone in Druidry of being so.

But the language above is problematic. It’s easy to see how these sentiments about the centrality of land and ancestry could be twisted to fit a racialist ideology and foment hatred against people of other lands and other ancestry.

As for the phrase itself, there’s not a huge linguistic leap from “mud and blood” to “blood and soil”.

Think for a moment about the implications: is Druidry only for people living in the British Isles, or who descend from “ethnic” British people (whatever that means)?

Now, my ancestry for the past couple of thousand years is mostly Irish. Family genealogy and family legend has it that we’re descended from a line of minor kings/chiefs who held court at what is now the Rock of Cashel.

Does that make me somehow more of a Druid, or more entitled to practice Druidry? Of course not. And it certainly doesn’t make me a better Druid (I’m a bit rubbish at it for the most part). Other bits of my ancestry contain large chunks of Polish and Spanish, anyway, and if I was really serious about following the faith of my ancestors (for at least the last few centuries) I’d be a Catholic.

What even is the “blood” of Britain anyway? What does that mean? The British Isles have been settled by the Beaker People, the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons, the Normans, the Vikings and immigrants from all over the British Empire. As a country, as a set of islands, we’re a glorious mix of all sorts of cultural and genetic influences, and I think that makes us more vibrant and diverse as a result.

Where do you draw the line at determining ancestry? If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from a very small group of humans who lived in the Rift Valley in what is now Kenya. We’re all related, and we’re all kin. Every one of us has ancestors from all over the place.

And as for the “mud” part, well, sure, Druidry was originally a Celtic thing. But the Celts weren’t only from Britain; they lived everywhere from Ireland in the West to Turkey in the East, and travelled, settled, traded, and inter-married wherever they went. Not to mention that I know a good few American Druids who seem to have no problem practicing Druidry without having ever set foot in the “mud” of Britain.

Druidry, as I see it, is at its core a connection to Nature. Nature is everywhere, and is not exclusively found in one place, or by one set of people. Druidry connects you, whoever you are, to the land beneath your feet, wherever that is.

As someone I met at Druid Camp explained in a Facebook post:

The land is always the land, it has many people who will walk on it over long periods of time.

The land doesn’t belong to us. We belong to the land.

Druidry does not belong to us. Druidry belongs to the land.

At a time when racists and white supremacists chanting “blood and soil” are literally murdering people in the street, and being defended by the President of the USA in doing so, it is so important that we take care with our language and how we present Druidry.

Neo-Nazis have already infiltrated Heathenry and stolen their symbols and their religion to further their agenda of hate (I know a lot of Heathens are fighting back, and good on them), and I’ve seen attempts made by sites like Stormfront to infiltrate Druidry too.

Maybe we need to quit talking about “mud and blood”, and state openly that Druidry is for everyone, open and inclusive to all who walk on this one Earth we all share and all hold dear.

Of course, we’re not racists. But that isn’t enough. We must be anti-racist as well.

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Book Review: Old Gods, New Druids

20170813_153435Old Gods, New Druids. Robin Herne. O Books (Moon Books), 2009.

There were three reasons for me reading this book (because Druids do it in threes!): One, it looked interesting and I wanted to broaden my understanding of Druidry both ancient and modern; Two, because I promised Nimue I’d do a review of it eventually; and Three, because the author, Robin Herne, is also one of the tutors at Druid College UK and it’s on my reading list!

Well, I’m glad I took the time to sit down with this one and digest it over several cups of tea, lots of biscuits and the occasional whisky.

Robin organises the book into twenty lessons, each with historical background and in-depth discussion of a certain theme, such as the structure of early Gaelic society; the Gods and Goddesses; Truth and Justice; etc, followed by points to consider or discuss and some practical activities to try out.

A diligent reader (alas, not me for I didn’t have the time) who worked through all the discussions and activities, could start the book with little to no understanding of the subject and finish it with a solid grounding and a workable Druid practice.

Unlike many other “introduction” books on Druidry out there, Old Gods, New Druids is based heavily in the history of the early Celtic tribes in the Iron Age, and examines carefully what we know (and what we don’t know) about how they lived, loved, worshiped and legislated. The sheer amount of facts, and the tongue-twisting names of ancient Celtic sources crammed into this relatively short book did have my brain spinning in places, but Robin’s conversational and easygoing writing style stopped it from feeling too dense or dry.

Robin writes from the perspective of both an academic and a practicing Pagan, and the lessons are often put into both the historical Celtic context and the context of how his own group, the Clan, work with the gods and myths today. He tackles the ever-present question of whether we can even be Druids today by saying:

Do we consider ourselves modern counterparts the the ancient Druids? The answer is: sort of. Druids performed many functions for the old tribes. Some of the duties are beyond our league…However, there are functions that we certainly perform in our daily lives. Some of us teach, some heal the sick, we all perform ritual…etc.

It’s clear that Robin’s view of modern Druidry is one influenced by the ancient past, but also rooted firmly in the real world in which we live today, and specifically rooted in community and service.

While I am generally less interested in how ancient Celts organised their societies than perhaps some modern Druids are, I still think it is absolutely worthwhile to know your background and know your history; by which I mean real, documented and archaeological history rather than the mish-mash of folklore and fake-lore that is often propagated in some Pagan communities. With this in mind, Old Gods, New Druids is an excellent sourcebook for gaining a decent foundation in what the ancient Druids might have actually believed and actually done.

That said, the book isn’t just an historical miscellany. We are invited to consider what implications the past has on how we practice and live our Druidry now. What do we want to keep? What do we want to discard? What do we want to change?

Myth inspires the future. A romantic past that just leads one to gawping passively into dreamland is of little use. A vision of the future that inspires us to strive forward, to make that ideal a reality, is far more practical.

I would probably not recommend this book as the very first thing someone should read about Druidry if they had absolutely no background knowledge or experience; some of the history and references to ancient texts can seem a bit overpowering, and there isn’t much on modern Druid orders, ritual, the wheel of the year etc. This is intentional, and I’m glad to see that it isn’t a book filled with the usual rehashed information and padded out with ritual scripts, but I would probably recommend this for people who are either already practicing Druidry and want to learn where it all comes from in order to deepen their connection to it, or at least for people who have read a book or two on modern Druidry first.

That said, it’s an informative and entertaining read and well worth a place on any Druid’s bookshelf, and after reading it I’m very much looking forward to learning from Robin as I commence my Druid College studies in October.

 

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Druid Camp and Druid College

2014.07.24-01-Druid-Camp-Windmill-aI’m back from my second time at Druid Camp, and it was brilliant again!

This year’s camp had a very different feel for me than the last one. Part of that was the weather (last year was glorious sunshine, this one was near-constant rain), part of that was the different theme and speakers and part of that was the simple fact that it wasn’t my first time any more.

Different isn’t bad though, by any means. Just that while last year’s camp felt exuberant and fun, this year was more challenging. The workshops I attended and the group work involved facing up to some of my own fears and anxieties, and overcoming them, at least in part. Hey, I only had a social-anxiety panic attack once, which is pretty good for me!

The highlight of the camp was the amazing gig by Inkubus Sukkubus on the Saturday night, which had everyone up and dancing, cold and rain be damned!

And, as before, the real fun was found in the impromptu conversations over tea in the cafe, or by the fire (when it was dry enough to light), with old friends and new, including the ever-wonderful Penny Billington and Philip “Greywolf” Shallcrass.

In other news, since I had my “get real” moment where I decided to stop dabbling with Druidry and start getting serious, I emailed Joanna van der Hoeven of Druid College UK. Knowing their course starts in October, I wasn’t optimistic about enrolling this year, but by one of those amazing bits of “cosmic coincidence” (to borrow a phrase from Greywolf), there was one place left. And, the day before I started packing for Druid Camp, I got an email to say my application was accepted!

So, I plan on finishing my Bardic Review for OBOD this week (just to get it done), and then I have a reading list to work through to prepare for the start of my Year One studies with Druid College UK. Druid College does in-person residential weekends, and works to train apprentices of Druidry rather that just students of Druidry. I’m seriously excited by this, and am really looking forward to seeing where this new journey on the Druid path will take me.

*Header image from http://www.druidcamp.org.uk

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In this farewell…

In Druidry we sometimes talk about “ancestors of spirit”, those who we have no direct connection to, may never even have met, but who have inspired us and our lives.

Growing up as a metal fan, and a weird kid, Linkin Park were one of those bands that seemed like they just *got* me. And, as I grew older, their music developed and matured as well. I’ve never been a super-fan but they have always been there as a constant presence.

I have no words on the death of Chester Bennington. Death is a tragedy, and suicide even more so. As someone who struggles with depression, I can empathise.

So, here’s a reminder, if you are struggling at any point, reach out to someone. A friend or loved one, or call a helpline:

UK – Samaritans 116 123

USA – NSPL 1800 2738255

Tonight I’m raising a glass to a true ancestor of spirit. Thanks for the music.

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Dabbling and getting real

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I’ll admit it, I’m a dabbler. Like so many people who come from one very rigid, organised and structured religion (in my case Catholicism) and somehow find their way to the free-flowing streams of Paganism, I’ve been tentatively hovering around the edges for the better part of a decade now without really commiting.

Now, edges are great. I’m in love with liminal spaces and liminal times, with the boundaries between the realms. Seashores, riverbanks, woodland margins, these things are at the heart of my Druidry. But there comes a time when “liminal” can become “lazy”, when initial hesitation becomes inertia. Once you’ve stuck your toe in the water, eventually it’s time to dive in and swim, or walk away.

In his excellent book The Path of Paganism, which I am currently reading (review coming soon!), Druid writer John Beckett talks about his own “get serious or move on” moment, after eight years of dabbling in Paganism. That defining moment led him to where he is today, as one of the most active, eloquent and thoughtful Druids I know.

Recently, I’ve had a similar sort of experience. While working through the Cernunnos ritual in John’s book, I had what can only be described as a religious experience. I know, I know. I’m the sceptical (read cynical) non-theist who’s the last person to talk about having religious experiences, but there it is. I won’t go into details, not least because one of the classic hallmarks of religious experience (per William James, 1901) is “ineffability”, the inability to fully describe it in words. I had a crack at using a bit of Bardistry to portray it in my “Encounter” poem, but it falls short.

What I took from that, though, was a sense that it was time to stop dabbling. Stop reading *about* Druidry and start learning to *be* Druid, in the real world, not just in my head.

Get real, or give up.

Quite what that looks like, I’m not sure yet. It will no doubt be a challenge, a long process, and a lot of hard (though I hope rewarding) work. I fear it may mean edging out of my introvert shell and actually (gasp) talking to actual people.

I must confess (and it feels like a confession, with all the attendant sense of shame and guilt) that the Bardic course with OBOD left me (ironically) uninspired. And ADF are great, but they feel alien, not rooted in the traditions of Druidry here in this land. So where does that leave my Druidry?

I have some potentially interesting developments coming up, details of which I won’t share until they’re finalised, but I think it is time for me to find, or create, my place, as a Druid, as a Pagan, as an animist, in this rich, complicated, painful, messy and beautiful world.

I will still forever love the liminal, but it’s time to get real.

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Encounter – a poem

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Night wind stomps hoofbeats through the briar,
Three flames summon faltering shadows
On the faceless face of one who sits:
A name uncertain, a presence felt.
More real than real, more dream than seen –
A dream of trees, of branches like antlers,
Or antlers like oaks.
A storm, a calm, a snake grasped without fear.
An offer made and one returned:
The torc held out, well worth the weight.
Now falls silence and the rain.
Listen.

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Potatoes

all-natural-1866415_960_720There is real magic in the real world, and today I experienced some of it.

When we eat, how much do we think about where our food comes from? How much are we aware of the cycle of growth and harvest?

Some months ago, I got some old potatoes that were starting to sprout. I kept them in the kitchen in a box and waited. I waited until they had put out greenish-white tendrils, like tentacles reaching out to probe the strange world of the dark box they were in.

Then I buried them in a large pot, covering them with earth and hope. As shoots began to grow, I covered them up again with more earth, a process known as “earthing up”, until the pot was full. This took weeks. And I waited.

Eventually, sprouts emerged once again, no doubt expecting to be buried, and perhaps surprised to be allowed the freedom to reach for the sun. And I waited.

They grew leggy and started to flower, delicate purple and white blooms that were not showy, but were a sign that the “earlies” were ready. So I dug out the plants, taking care not to damage their roots too much, and to keep the original potato intact, and I harvested the first crop of tiny white new potatoes, each one no bigger than a marble (and lovely with butter and chives).

And then I put the plants back in the pot, earthed them up with compost, and now I am waiting again, for the flowers to finish and the final harvest at the end of summer.

From a mouldy old spud, delicious new life and growth and wonder. There’s nothing quite like growing your own food to connect you to the earth and the cycle of the seasons.

And so much of this process was waiting. I think in our modern society, we have become accustomed to having what we want instantly, at the click of a button or as we drive through a “fast food” joint (it may be fast, but it ain’t food). Growing crops means slowing down, it means care and tending, and it means waiting. You can’t have your potatoes now if they’re not in season.

I think there’s an analogy to be made here to the Druid journey. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to “be a Druid” now, without appreciating the hard work, time and waiting that goes into the process to become a Druid. And it’s a trap I’ve fallen into myself.  It’s worth taking stock, as I come to the end of the Bardic course with OBOD and look to the next stage in the journey, and realising that nothing in nature happens instantly. The wheel turns and we turn with it.

And, like the potatoes, so much of our growth goes unseen and un-noticed until afterwards. We grow underground, in the deep and silence of the subconscious. Like a potato, Druidry is not (in my opinion) a showy thing. It’s a thing of earth and soil, mud and rain and sunlight, of green growing things.

I’m not a Druid. Not yet, anyway. But I can be a potato.

 

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