Wisdom is the first of ADF’s Nine Virtues, which together form the ethical framework of ADF Druidry. Our Own Druidry defines wisdom as “Good judgement, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide the correct response”. The Oxford Dictionary for Students defines it as: “The quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement”, which is a very similar definition.
Wisdom may seem odd as a “first” virtue to write about, as it can be seen as the culmination and integration of all the other virtues, but it can equally be considered to be the foundation of any other virtue. To live a virtuous life, to participate in Aristotle’s eudamonia, is to be both grounded in, and reaching towards, wisdom. The path of philosophy literally means “love of wisdom”, and wisdom itself seems to be something that comes with reflection, knowledge and experience. Plato’s Theaetetus quotes Socrates as saying “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and wisdom begins in wonder”.
As the philosophers of the Celts, wisdom was undoubtedly important to the ancient Druids, and should be important to modern Druids as well. In Celtic legends, wisdom is often sought for, but seems to be gained by those not looking for it. Finn MacCool accidentally gained the wisdom of the Salmon of Wisdom when he burnt his thumb cooking the fish for his mentor Fintan. Likewise, Gwion Bach received the Awen by accident, also burning his finger with three drops of the boiling potion flew from the cauldron he was tending for Ceridwen. Perhaps this hints that the way to wisdom is pradoxically to not seek after it. By contrast, in Norse mythology Odin gives up an eye and hangs himself from a tree for nine days and nights to gain the wisdom of the runes, suggesting that wisdom is hard to achieve and worth making sacrifices for.
Wisdom is more than simply knowledge of accumulated facts, as it implies a deep understanding and the ability to discern and make good judgements about your actions to bring about the best consequences. In this way, it is linked with the Buddhist concepts of right thought and right action. Being wise requires years of experience of the world and it is no coincidence that when we think of a wise person, the image that often springs to mind is of an aged sage, a Gandalf, Merlin or Obi-Wan type figure.
Wisdom is not a “thing” to gain once and for all, but a process of acting, reflecting and growth.
ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009
Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford University Press, 2006
Michael J. Dangler, The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010
Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Delphi Classics, 2012