One of the questions to ponder in last week’s assignment was “what does Neopagan Druidry mean to you?”. It’s taken me a few days to fully think about this, and I feel like it is one of those ever-shifting questions without answers, a koan of a sort. But here are some preliminary thoughts. The post is fairly long, so its behind the cut:
ADF defines Neopagan Druidry on their website as:
A group of religions, philosophies and ways of life, rooted in ancient soil yet reaching for the stars. We are part of the larger Neopagan movement, one of the world’s most vital and creative new religious awakenings. Like much of that movement we are polytheistic nature worshippers, working with the best aspects of the Pagan religions of our predecessors within a modern scientific, artistic, ecological and holistic context using a non-dogmatic and pluralistic approach.
They also have a set of commonly held beliefs, or “standard assumptions underlying practice” which most (not all) Neopagan Druids would agree with. ADF are clear that each of these “beliefs” are not dogma, and have a variety of interpretations.
While I agree with most (not all) of ADF’s definitions, interpreted in a naturalistic context, this doesn’t quite touch the point of the question: what does Neopagan Druidry mean for me?
Let’s break the term down into its parts.
The prefix Neo- means “new”. This reflects the fact that modern Paganism is just that: a new, modern, set of related religions/philosophies. While Paganism no doubt looks to the ancient past for inspiration, it also looks to the future to create a path that is vital and valid for the 21st century. Being “Neopagan” means that we don’t have to be bound to the beliefs and practices of the past. It isn’t about recreating Bronze Age society, or ignoring centuries of human knowledge. As modern Pagans, we are free to jettison ancient practices like blood sacrifice that do not fit our modern morality. We are also free to reinterpret beliefs that no longer accord with what we know of the world through science. Modern Pagans don’t have to believe the sun is carried through the sky on a chariot!
The word Pagan comes from the Latin “paganus” meaning “country dweller” and was a derogatory term, much like “hick” or “redneck”. Modern Pagans have reclaimed the term. For me, the sense of “country dweller” carries with it connotations of being “people of the land”, connected to Nature and the Earth. While endless online debates rage on about who is, or is not, a Pagan, River Higginbotham simply states that: “The word Pagan is a label that identifies you as a person who agrees with one or more parts of Pagan philosophy, and who may participate in observances or practices common to most Pagans”. He also points to the ideas of interconnectedness and blessedness as the central concepts of Paganism.
Finally, Druidry. The word “Druid” may come from the proto-Celtic terms for “oak” (Dru) and “knowledge” (wid). So a Druid is one with “oak knowledge”, knowledge of Nature, of ecology and the forest. OBOD, another Druid group of which I am a member, calls Druidry a “path of wild wisdom”. The ancient Celtic Druids provided a specific sociological function as advisers, judges, doctors, priests and so forth. In modern times, “Druid” is like “Pagan” in that it essentially describes anyone who practices Druidry. I like the freedom modern Druidry has to define your own path, and I don’t feel that only people who have completed a particular course, or joined a particular group, or been ordained as clergy should be “allowed” to call themselves Druid.
John Michael Greer, one of my favourite Druid thinkers, wrote:
What does it mean to be a Druid today? Above all else, Druidry means following a spiritual path rooted in the green Earth. It means participating in a living Western spiritual tradition drawn from many sources, including surviving legacies from Celtic wisdom teachings, but embracing the contributions of many peoples and times. It means learning from archaic traditions, from three centuries of modern Druid scholarship, and from the always changing lessons of the living Earth itself. It means embracing an experiential approach to religious questions, one that abandons rigid belief systems in favour of inner development and individual contact with the realms of nature and spirit.
So, putting all that back together again, “Neopagan Druidry” for me is a path that looks to the ancient past for inspiration to create a modern way of life rooted in reverence for the living Earth.
What does Neopagan Druidry mean to you?