What mud and whose blood?

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Update 2:

Greywolf, head of the BDO, left this comment on the original post which explains the origins of the “mud and blood” phrase in detail:

“As, for my sins, the chief of the BDO, I wrote the quoted sentence, “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.” Had you asked, I would happily have explained what was meant by it.
In 1997, I was working closely with Emma Restall Orr, a.k.a. Bobcat, who I had invited to join me as joint chief of the BDO in 1995. When asked what Druidry is (always a difficult question), she would often reply “mud and blood.” What she meant is that Druidry is a religion rooted in the earth and that direct contact with the earth helps us to engage with it with all our senses. For an example of this in action, check out the video of our appearence in the tv series, Desperately Seeking Something, in which Bobcat gets presenter, Pete MacCarthy, to lie face down in the mud in a wood. The ‘blood’ part of the equation is meant to convey the need to engage with Druidry at a primal level that involves every aspect of ourselves, that it involves our bodily fluids and not just our minds.
My expansion of it to ‘the mud and blood of Britain’ was intended to indicate, as said, the fact that much of the inspiration behind the BDO stems from my own quest to recover a local form of what is now known globally by that much-overused term ‘shamanism.’ There were two reasons for this. One stemmed from my exploration of eastern spirituality in the 1960s and early 70s, particularly Zen Buddhism and Taoism. While both have much to recommend them, I still had the feeling that there were aspects of them I was incapable of grasping because I didn’t have the understanding I would have had if I had grown up in the cultures that produced them. Christianity seemed equally distant to me, with its references to deserts, palm trees and camels, things I was only acquainted with when Carry On: Follow That Camel was being filmed near my childhood home. This set me on a quest to find a spirituality I could fully embrace because it grew from the land in which I was born, a quest that led me to Druidry as one of the two religions Britain has given to the world, the other being Wicca.
The second reason why I embraced Druidry as the earliest native British spirituality for which we have a name stemmed from a growing awareness of the problem of cultural appropriation. This is an extremely sensitive issue for many indigenous peoples. A coalition of Native American tribes went so far as to declare war on exploiters of Lakota spirituality – http://www.aics.org/war.html . I’ve met many Europeans who have adopted Native American spirituality and will only use sacred herbs, feathers, drums and rattles imported from the United States, seemingly oblivious to the deep offense this causes to many American Indians who feel that Europeans have robbed them of their lands, their rights, their language, culture, health and pretty much everything else, and now we’re coming after all they have left, their religion. I have argued for years that this is completely unnecessary when Europeans have a number of native spiritual paths that we can follow, one of which is Druidry.
That said, we have never exercised any exclusivity over who may join the British Druid Order and have members in many countries around the world. A long-standing statement on our website says that: “we welcome all who come to us, and to the lands in whose heritage our tradition is rooted, of whatever nationality, creed or colour. Anyone who knows history knows that Britain is, and always has been, a ‘mongrel’ nation, from the first hunter-gatherers arriving from Continental Europe after the last Ice Age, through to present-day migrants. Many folk have made Britain their home over many millennia and we honour, respect and welcome them all.”

Update 1:

The British Druid Order have issued a Statement on Racism that makes clear that “the BDO wants to add its voice in condemning all manifestations of racism and to clearly state that as an organisation it does not and will not tolerate any form of racism or racial abuse within its membership or affiliates. We stand with all groups, even where we may disagree with them on other issues, that are targeted by racist, fascist and neo-Nazi organisations, whether inside and outside of Paganism.”.

You can read the full statement on the BDO website.

Thanks to everyone on the BDO Facebook group for some wise and illuminating discussion on this topic.

In 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, 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 possible 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.

 

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4 Responses to What mud and whose blood?

  1. Dear wonderful writer.
    Whilst I get your point, by excluding certain terminology because of another’s missuse, in my opinion, it actually strengthens their claim on such terms.
    Context is everything.
    Debate with those who appal you is vital if we are to maintain peace and love. My ancestors of Ancient Pouis, probably much like yours were a real mix of kind and cruel. Prince Tsilio and his brethren refused to lift a sword and successfully encouraged Celtic Christianity (entirely different to Catholicism) amongst a broad part of the rural folk of that land and yet others of his line, had no problem having the eyes and genitals removed of close relatives for looking at their wives in the wrong way.
    Even though our ancestors were very much about the grass or soil beneath their feet and the blood that pumped through their veins, they also invited the Saxons over and allied with them as they were better neighbour’s than those of the other britannic kingdoms.
    Ofcourse using terms without knowledge and context is dangerous but our real strength is in our words not fists and so I think it’s wrong to avoid terminology because of another’s missuse.
    I would agree though that druidry should be about the mud and grass beneath everyone’s feet and the blood that pumps through all creatures not the spilling of it. The only way that these people will win is if we shut up and let them.

    • Ryan C. says:

      Hi and thanks for dropping by! I did respond to your comment on Facebook, but for the sake of transparency, I thought I’d reproduce my response here too:

      “You make a good point about who can claim such terms, and I do see the argument for standing by phrases that mean something different to us, even if they are also used by racists.

      Where we disagree I expect is the idea of “debate with those who appall you”. I can debate with people who disagree with me, but some things are too appalling to debate, and must be resisted instead.”

  2. Dear Ryan,
    It might have been both polite and useful if you had contacted someone at the BDO before publishing this piece. Ah well.
    As, for my sins, the chief of the BDO, I wrote the quoted sentence, “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.” Had you asked, I would happily have explained what was meant by it.
    In 1997, I was working closely with Emma Restall Orr, a.k.a. Bobcat, who I had invited to join me as joint chief of the BDO in 1995. When asked what Druidry is (always a difficult question), she would often reply “mud and blood.” What she meant is that Druidry is a religion rooted in the earth and that direct contact with the earth helps us to engage with it with all our senses. For an example of this in action, check out the video of our appearence in the tv series, Desperately Seeking Something, in which Bobcat gets presenter, Pete MacCarthy, to lie face down in the mud in a wood. The ‘blood’ part of the equation is meant to convey the need to engage with Druidry at a primal level that involves every aspect of ourselves, that it involves our bodily fluids and not just our minds.
    My expansion of it to ‘the mud and blood of Britain’ was intended to indicate, as said, the fact that much of the inspiration behind the BDO stems from my own quest to recover a local form of what is now known globally by that much-overused term ‘shamanism.’ There were two reasons for this. One stemmed from my exploration of eastern spirituality in the 1960s and early 70s, particularly Zen Buddhism and Taoism. While both have much to recommend them, I still had the feeling that there were aspects of them I was incapable of grasping because I didn’t have the understanding I would have had if I had grown up in the cultures that produced them. Christianity seemed equally distant to me, with its references to deserts, palm trees and camels, things I was only acquainted with when Carry On: Follow That Camel was being filmed near my childhood home. This set me on a quest to find a spirituality I could fully embrace because it grew from the land in which I was born, a quest that led me to Druidry as one of the two religions Britain has given to the world, the other being Wicca.
    The second reason why I embraced Druidry as the earliest native British spirituality for which we have a name stemmed from a growing awareness of the problem of cultural appropriation. This is an extremely sensitive issue for many indigenous peoples. A coalition of Native American tribes went so far as to declare war on exploiters of Lakota spirituality – http://www.aics.org/war.html . I’ve met many Europeans who have adopted Native American spirituality and will only use sacred herbs, feathers, drums and rattles imported from the United States, seemingly oblivious to the deep offense this causes to many American Indians who feel that Europeans have robbed them of their lands, their rights, their language, culture, health and pretty much everything else, and now we’re coming after all they have left, their religion. I have argued for years that this is completely unnecessary when Europeans have a number of native spiritual paths that we can follow, one of which is Druidry.
    That said, we have never exercised any exclusivity over who may join the British Druid Order and have members in many countries around the world. A long-standing statement on our website says that: “we welcome all who come to us, and to the lands in whose heritage our tradition is rooted, of whatever nationality, creed or colour. Anyone who knows history knows that Britain is, and always has been, a ‘mongrel’ nation, from the first hunter-gatherers arriving from Continental Europe after the last Ice Age, through to present-day migrants. Many folk have made Britain their home over many millennia and we honour, respect and welcome them all.”
    I find the implication, however slight, that we might have borrowed a statement or sentiment from Nazi propoganda deeply offensive, not least because one of my grandmothers was Jewish and my father fought Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in the streets of London during the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. I was unaware of the Nazi use of the term ‘blood and soil’ before your piece and agree with Charles Cannon that “excluding certain terminology because of another’s missuse … actually strengthens their claim on such terms.”
    As said, it might have helped if you had contacted us before publishing.

    • Ryan says:

      Dear Greywolf,

      Thank you for your response. One of the reasons I had not considered contacting the BDO in advance of publishing this post was simply because I really didn’t expect anyone to read it. My blog doesn’t get a huge readership, and as this was simply a think-piece I wrote following watching some horrific events in the news, I didn’t plan for it to go as far as it did.

      Please do not feel that this was intended to slight or disparage the BDO in particular. As I say in the post, “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.”

      With the “mud and blood” term, it was the words I found troubling, not the BDO or yourself, or Bobcat. I appreciate that I probably should have asked for explanation first, and I apologise for not doing so. I probably wouldn’t have written this post in quite the way I did now that I have had more discussion and reflection, not least via the BDO Facebook group, on it.

      Your explanation is eloquent and provides much-needed clarification, and I thank you for it.

      I was absolutely not implying that the BDO in any way borrowed the statement or sentiment from the Nazis. Any similarity is no doubt coincidental, and I would never suggest that it was intentionally derived from Nazi propaganda. My concern was that the two terms, “blood and soil” and “mud and blood” can sound similar and that outside observers, not knowing anything about Druidry, could hear the one and mistake it for the other.

      The purpose of the post was a call to clarify our use of language so that we don’t unwittingly give others the impression we hold views that are anathema to Druidry and to all right-thinking people: “it is so important that we take care with our language and how we present Druidry.” I was not attempting to propose an answer to this question, but to provoke discussion.

      I deeply apologise if I have caused you offence, and the thought that I have upsets me greatly. I hugely respect you, both as a Druid and as a person, and I have nothing but goodwill towards the BDO, whose vision of Druidry as I have heard you articulate it is close to my own.

      If you wish, I am willing to either delete the post, publish your comment at the head as an update, or publish a retraction post. Let me know what you would prefer.

      I sincerely hope that this, which in my mind when I wrote it was only a minor point of contention, does not cast a pall over either the BDO, or you, or me, in future.

      With greatest respect, and in the light of the Awen,

      Ryan

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