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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Truth to power

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The classical authors tell us that one of the roles of the ancient Druids was to act as advisors to kings and chieftains, steering their decisions and offering words of wisdom in times of political trouble.

Those of us who take on the name of Druid in any sense today should feel empowered and inspired to live up to this ancient role. Of course, we don’t have the ear of those in power, but we still have a right and a responsibility in a democratic society to speak our mind, and have our voices heard.

If you’re angry, upset, or shaken by the recent UK election result, and the pending “deal” between the Conservatives and the DUP, a party of homophobic sectarian Christian fundamentalists supported by terrorist groups (and if you’re not angry, as they say, you’re not paying attention), you can step into the role of the ancient Druids and speak truth to power.

Protest. Resist. And write to your MP. You can find their address online via They Work for You.

By writing your words down and sending them to your representative, you can offer advice, voice your concerns and most importantly of all, show them that the people are watching them.

And never feel that you can’t make a difference. The greatest trick of illiberal anti-democratic governments is to make you feel powerless. You are not. People making their voices heard is the only thing that ever creates change. We have the power.

So, when the political establishment is collapsing, and far-right groups are on the ascendancy, ask yourself what would the Druids do?

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Christian Druidry?

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There’s been an *interesting* discussion on various Facebook groups recently about whether Christianity and Druidry are compatible.

Putting aside that fact that the original post linked to a neo-Nazi site (yep, Nazi Christian Druids are apparently a thing now. Welcome to 2017 folks), the question itself is worth considering.

On the one hand, the fact that there are good, intelligent, wise people who identify as Christian Druids means that, at least for them, the two are compatible. OBOD is explicitly open to people of all faiths and none, and has a whole section on its site about Christianity and Druidry. And of course the founding figures of the 18th-19th century Druid Revival period, such as Iolo Morganwg and William Stukely, were themselves Christians, as was Ross Nichols who founded OBOD.

And there’s some beautiful Christian writings that seem to echo Druidic ideals. Christian scribes preserved much of Pagan myth and poetry, and Celtic Christians often wrote of the Divine within nature. St Francis, too, seems almost Druidic at times. The image above this post is of St Finbarr’s chapel at Gougane Barra, also the site of an ancient healing well and sacred lake.

There’s already a great deal of Christian influence in at least some strands of modern Druidry. And you could argue that since western society has been Christian for nigh-on a thousand years, and Christianity is built into our laws, our calendar year and our social rituals (especially in Britain where we have a state church), we all swim around in a Christian milleu which we can’t avoid.

Other Druids take a different approach, such as ADF, who are explicitly Pagan and practice Druidry as a polytheistic religion, and deliberately depart from the Christian influences of the Druid Revival.

The Druid Network takes a nuanced view, and states:

Holding a pluralistic perspective, it is possible that a Druid might find value in and respect the teachings of the Christian religion and its heritage within Britain, including that of the Culdee or Celtic Christian Church. However, the Druid does not acknowledge deity to be existent outside of Nature, for nothing is beyond Nature: the Druidic understanding is of Nature as All, in a process of perpetual self-creating. This is not Christianity.

At the same time, it is possible for a Christian to respect the teachings of Druidry and to perceive the whole of Nature as created by his one god, and thus profoundly sacred. However, the Christian god is supernatural, ie. transcendant of Nature. This is not Druidry.

FWIW, this definition matches my viewpoint pretty closely.

In the end, as Druidry has no dogma, this question is one every Druid, or Druidically-inclined person, has to answer for themselves. So, are Christianity and Druidry compatible for me?

Well, no. I was raised in a pretty strict Catholic household, and there’s no doubt that the church I knew would not see any room for compatibility with Pagan “devil worship”. On the face of it, I see too much difference between Christianity and Druidry to ever see a way of reconciling the two without losing the essential core of one or the other.

I do not believe in a creator God. I see the universe as nature’s unfolding, its self-revelation to itself. There is no room in my understanding for  supernatural deity sitting apart from the cosmos.

I do not believe in original sin, or hell, or the need for a torturous blood sacrifice to redeem us from our deserved punishment. In fact, I reject those doctrines as morally repugnant.

I believe Jesus (if he existed) was an inspired teacher and philosopher, but not that he was the son of a god.

I can’t see how you could reconcile Druidry’s plurality with the command to “have no other gods before me”.

And I am wary, perhaps suspicious even, of any attempts to bring Christian moral constructs (especially with regard to LGBT rights etc) into Druidry.

So, speaking just for me, I don’t see my Druidry as compatible with the Christianity I know from experience. My Druidry is a deliberate turning away from a religion of churches, books, priests, popes and laws, to the wild wisdom of trees and rivers, stars and stones, fur and feather.

That others have a different view is up to them, and I have no issue with people believing in God and Jesus if it helps them live well. I’m far more interested in whether your belief inspires your life than whether it is the same as mine. And Druidry is big enough for all sorts of beliefs and interpretations, from atheist Druids to Buddhist Druids to Christian Druids to polytheistic and Pagan Druids.

This isn’t to erase our differences, though. As Druid writer John Beckett points out,  those differences are important. The God of Christianity is not the Goddess of modern Paganism, is not the many gods of polytheism, is not the Great Mystery that I seek to approach.

But we can all be Druids, as long as we acknowledge that within those differences is the simple fact that we are all human, all on this earth for a brief time.

But not the Nazi Druids. They can fuck off.

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Pagan enough

DSCN0990So there’s been yet another internet dust-up between non-theist and polytheist pagans over who is and is not a “real” pagan. And while in the past I may have engaged to defend my own non-theist position, this time around I find myself not caring.

If you’re interested, I point you to this rather brilliant post by John Halstead at Humanistic Paganism (or really all the posts at that blog):

Literal gods are for the literal-minded: re-enchanting polytheism

As for me, I don’t care if Mr. Random Internet Pagan number 4537 thinks that my paganism isn’t real, or that I am a vile blasphemer for not believing in gods. There will always be someone who disagrees with you, and, in matters of religion, this disagreement can easily turn hateful, and I want no part of that.

I don’t find my paganism on the pages of Facebook. I find it in the land beneath me. On my lunch break yesterday, I sat under a willow tree by the riverbank. Sunbeams filtered through the leaves, casting interplays of light and dappled shade onto the grass. A light breeze moved the branches, making them sigh and whisper, the sound mingling with the tinkling flow of the river washing over the stones on its banks, and the choir of birds, each singing their own song, calling for mates or territory. Because the riverbank area is common land, there were cows grazing, occasionally lowing softly to each other. Being in the centre of town as well, there was the sound of traffic buzzing past, and people talking, out enjoying the sunshine.

All these sounds combining to produce the song of the land, the Oran Mor.

And I sat, feeling the warmth of the sun above me and the softness of the earth beneath me. Everything, from the grass to the rocks to the clouds overhead seemed to tingle with life and vitality. The edges of “me” blurred until all there was was this moment, this connection, one life in many forms.

This is how I perceive the sacred. No gods required, just this.

To me, “pagan” means “of the land”, as its Latin derivation suggests. To be truly of the land, to know it and love it and connect with it, is to be pagan. If that means reifying bits of it as gods and doing elaborate rituals, that’s your prerogative. If that simply means sitting under a tree and letting the infinite now carry you beyond yourself, then that is pagan too. And nobody can take that from me.

Truthfully, since coming back from Ireland, I have removed all trace of gods, even as archetypes or personifications of natural forces, from my practice. Not consciously, but they have just fallen away, an old crutch no longer needed. I still love the old stories,  of course, and have a deep respect for the power of myth, but my daily paganism is of the sun, the land, the river, the trees, the moon, the stars and the stones.

And it feels deeper. Less structured perhaps, less formalised, less “religious”, but more real, more from the heart and blood and bone. I am here. The earth is here. That is pagan enough for me.

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Spiral

maze-56060_960_720The journey, we are told, is linear. The hero leaves “here” and goes “there”. Mountains are climbed, distances are crossed. Time itself we perceive to be linear. Past-Present-Future. One arrow, pointing one way.

This is not how it works. Modern physics suggests that time is not a straight line, but something much more complicated.

And journeys, too, are more complicated. Is a journey even a good metaphor for a life? Where is the “there”, the destination? Surely not death, although of course that is the ultimate destination for all travellers. But that is rarely what is meant by the journey metaphor. People generally use it to mean some state of achievement, success, self-actualisation, enlightenment, whatever.

I prefer the image of a labyrinth. Not a maze, in which you might get lost, but a traditional labyrinth of the kind you might walk as a meditative practice. There is one path, but the path weaves in and out, doubling back and over on itself, sometimes coming tantalisingly close to the centre, and then looping back out again.

And note here the destination is the centre. Not an external point of reference, but something integral to, and inseparable from, the labyrinth itself. The centre that is nowhere, but is now here.

In nature, we see how life moves through spirals of great activity and then stillness, the hibernation of the hedgehog, the dormancy of the tree, the new life in spring, the punctuated equilibrium of evolution.

And so, too, in any spiritual practice.

Since coming back from Ireland, a trip whose subtle effects I am still working through, I have been busy. I’ve started a new job, one which finally brings me back to the work I want to do as a librarian, the work I trained for and studied for.

This busy-ness and new wave of information, expectation and responsibility, has left me with little time for Druidry. So my practice spiralled into dormancy. And that’s OK. I think I always feel a sense of guilt in these times, like I’m not doing enough, I’m not “Druid” enough unless I do all the things. But that’s not true. I simply had to shift my priorities around to accommodate this new Big Thing in my life.

But it’s been three weeks, a good Druidic triad of time, and things are starting to level off. So my Druidry is emerging again, like a small shoot on a branch, fragile and delicate, but filled with the hope of new life.

The sun still rises. The earth still turns. The birds still sing. The wind in the trees still whispers “all will be well”.

All of which is a long and flowery way of explaining why I haven’t been blogging of late, but there you go!

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