Differences

Sometimes the hardest thing to see is the thing right in front of you.

The last 36 hours for me have been a bit different. I have had to travel back to England for the funeral of a cousin who died suddenly a few weeks ago. These things always present mixed emotions. Memories and consequences usually. The journey is a 270 mile challenge and to accommodate this, I rose at 3am and was travelling at 3.30am arriving there at around 8.30 so as to give myself some time before the funeral service at 12.30. The funeral was standard christian fare, with the presiding clergy a little too fond of his own voice for my liking along with the usual opportunity for a little “bible wisdom” being offered to the packed crematorium. I was a little surprised at this because my cousin never seemed to be fond of the christian religion, so I suspect this was more to do with the family’s wishes as opposed to his own, especially as he hadn’t arranged a will before his sudden demise.

After the hour service, everyone moved on to a local pub for the wake. This was the first time that I had been in the company of a number of my immediate genetic family for a while. It was, as is usual in these sort of things, interesting to see how each of us is aging, with the usual comments around how it is usually only at funerals or weddings that people get to see each other now-a-days.

Before moving to Scotland, I had only ever lived within a 5 mile radius of the place of my birth. I was rooted in the locality and the landscapes. I didn’t anticipate this to have any bearing on what I would experience. People knew I was now living in Scotland with a number of them asking if I was eligible to vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum (yes, I am) and how I saw things regarding that particular issue. I am usually more of a people watcher than an overactive participant on social events (that doesn’t mean I am withdrawn in any way) but I do like to make the effort to talk to people who I haven’t seen for a  while and this was not to be an exception.

One of the first I spoke to was my great-uncle who saw action for a number of years as a rear gunner in the Lancaster bombers in the second world war. He has written his memoirs and I have a copy of them, which I hugely enjoy reading, so to see how he was and speak to him was one of the highlights of my day. There were a couple of other family members that I was keen to speak to and took the opportunity to do so.

I hadn’t really expected of myself that living in a different locality would have any bearing on how I experienced interactions with my family. But right from the start, I seemed to be aware of a different “feeling” around them. It really became apparent whilst speaking to a cousin of mine. He is what I would term as “hugely gregarious” in so much as he knows how to have a “good time”, usually involving copious amounts of alcohol and gets progressively louder as his alcohol intakes increases accordingly. We were having a good conversation around several subjects when some other relatives then joined us. I have experienced how the “ambiance” of a situation can change with the inclusion of specific people. I have always took it for granted that, to an extent, it’s usually just a personality trait or that certain personalities when around each other can sometimes “take over” a situation, usually to the exclusion of some people there. Therefore, when this started to manifest before me, it wasn’t a great surprise.

However the re-emergence of my Druidry since living in Scotland appears to have led to connections being expressed differently from previously. My previous experiences would have led me to the conclusion that I have just described, personalities. This time I was aware of something else.

There is no logical or scientific explanation for what I am about to describe, it is entirely personal to me and I make no apology for it as I am not trying to justify or rationalise it. But as these other people collected around us, I was aware of another presence and not a human one. It came from the environment, in my mind’s eye, it sort of emerged from the ground. And it didn’t emerge until these certain personalities were all together. It seemed to strengthen its presence with the collection of these personalities. In fact, it appeared that it was, to a large extent, dependant upon them, its influence on the situation creating a more energetic environment. This energetic field resulting in the unknowing participants getting increasingly more animated.

As I eluded to earlier. previously I would have just put this down to how people “spark” with each other. A personality thing. But not this time. My initial thoughts as to how or why this should be is that the disconnection from the locality of my birth has formed new connections within me that now “enable” me to experience things differently in those localities. Whatever the reason, I experienced this for the first time. I can’t honestly say that the presence was anthropomorphic as such, not something I would have said came from an individual. I’m not even sure that beyond the circumstances of certain personality traits being together, that it probably exists in its own right. It sort of appeared as a “consequence” of the situation. An energy drawn from the Earth by the collective accumulation of certain human characters with certain character traits.

Another thing to mention here, is that I didn’t experience any sort of personal threat from this energy, I sensed that wasn’t its “purpose”. I just viewed the situation unfolding before me. And as you may guess, it is giving me some material with which to ponder over in the near future.

 

 

Druid History

If you are remotely serious about walking the path of Druidry, there inevitably comes a time when you have to confront the history of the Druids. I think it is reasonable to assume that for a lot of people drawn to the Druid path, certainly in the UK, the title and practice itself was attractive because it was placed by the early Roman texts as being a major, if not the major, religious practice in Britain. It was a native tradition.  All well and good.  But then, sometimes people will go further and attempt to find out for themselves what the actual sources did say, moving away from the generalizations used by various sources.

In recent years, scholars and historians, such as Prof Ronald Hutton, have taken it on themselves to commit to print, the specifics of what was actually written and then provide some sort of context for the actual history. This can be problematic for some because it then challenges some, if not all, of the assumptions built by the individual in regards to their own “personal” Druidry. This realization can then lead to the individual choosing to then move away from the path. After all, if the actual history is not as well-defined as is asserted by some other world religions, then the “certainty” offered by the established theologies and philosophies of the other established religions may then best represent to the individual, the “certainty” of an established framework by which to spiritually engage with.

For a number of years, the work done to establish the actual history of the Druids has resulted in an “elephant in the room” scenario within the Druid community. This is especially so when the track record of the Roman historians is revealed, leading one to the logical conclusion that by todays standards, these historical sources would be considered to be quite dubious. For example, Prof Hutton reveals in his book some examples of the other works done by the likes of Tacitus, whose writings are used extensively as one of the “authoritative” sources we have about the ancient Druids.

Tacitus’s descriptive writings in relation to other regions of the world prove to be interesting, if only for their apparent inaccuracies. For example, in one work he speaks of a tribe of people in the Indian sub-continent famed for “the large foot each one possess’, used by the individual to shade themselves from the hot sun” suggestive as the similar practice of lying beneath a modern umbrella in hot climates, shading the individual from the sun. All of a sudden, the context asserted to be an authoritative one by various sources around the subject of the ancient Druids is being shown in a somewhat different light.

Moving forward in time to the period of the “Druid revival” and the actual facts there prove also to be somewhat of a mixed bag. The early works of this period around the subject of the Druids and their consequent practices firmly place those Druids as predecessors to christianity. This can be viewed as being necessary in those times because any theological or philosophical challenge to the church’s teachings was a somewhat dangerous activity to engage in. Placing it before the establishment of the church moved it outside the immediate period of christian influence. Some went as far as to claim that Druidry set the platform for christianity with its establishment of a priestly caste in society.

As the activity between church, state and royalty became increasingly toxic, this allowed for more writings around the subject of the Druids, especially around suggestions to the connections between Druids and the megalithic structures still within Britain and Europe. As is the case today, the agenda’s of the involved individuals could be time limited as interest peaked and then waned. Throughout all of this, the title of Druid remained, its context changing with cultural changes (interestingly, the actual word Druid is disputed by some linguists who say that the actual word may actually have been Druis).

So what do these seemingly “foundations set in sand” actually represent? For some, they represent an insurmountable barrier. The lack of provable facts result in a passing interest in Druidry. The question therefore is -  What does the actual history of Druidry tell us then?

Firstly, it reveals fluidity. It is not fixed as is the central tenents of some other religions through their written contents. There is no obvious anchor with which to tie ones spirituality to. No historical validation through specific identified recorded actions of individuals or communities. It is not static and that, I would suggest, is a lesson in itself.

Life is an interactive activity and it appears to me that it is only humanity that attempts to create areas of stability from which to return to. One recognizable way of creating that sort of stability is widely practiced. That is the practice of looking back into the past to establish some sort of “golden age”, a time when people can claim some sort of sanctity from their current life. In some ways, this can be productive but then the realities of living in those times can be somewhat selective. At 51 years of age, I have lived through the 60′s, the 70′s and the 80′s, those periods now starting to be held up as some sort of “better place” than today.

This is consistent with people starting to project aspects of what they would like to see upon areas that are no longer accessible to them. Yes, I may prefer in a general sense, some of the music then to todays music and I most certainly think there was a much stronger sense of actual community around then, but I don’t miss certain other realities of living through those times. Like heavily contaminated areas of my locality through industrial activities ( in my case, it was coal mining). Like no central heating and awakening to ice on the inside of the window glass (yes, I really can remember that!).

So for me, the history of Druidry reinforces the concept that change is the natural order of things. Druidry is a religion of change. If something can demonstrate successful interactions with people through both recorded and unrecorded history, seemingly against the odds as is the case for both the name and evolving practice of Druidry, then this is something I would aspire to for myself as a personal religious model. By being positive and responsible in my interactions with the wider world through the example that modern Druidry is now walking, negates the need for the solace of an imagined past age that would be so much easier to engage with, the older that I get.

Reflections from Base Camp

Ok, now I’ve gone and done it! In the last couple of weeks I have only gone and joined a political party and accepted the nomination to become a trustee!

The political party bit came as a result of watching the second referendum debate on BBC Scotland. The Scottish Green party leader Patrick Harvie was one of the speakers and I thought he spoke that well and because my natural political inclinations are now more based through the environmental platform, I decided to join the party. This is the second time that I have joined a political party in my life, the first was for a period in the mid to late eighties when for a period of five years, I was the union convener for the construction section of a local authority. That involved attending TUC meetings and being a member of my local Labour party, back in the days when Labour members were self identifying as socialists, communists and left-wing thinkers and not the bunch of Tories in red ties as they appear to be now-a-days (does anyone else consider the idea that the “leader” of the Labour party should be a millionaire public schoolboy to be anathema?).

My green credentials were probably established when I took an interest in solar photovoltaics. I have been interested in the production of electricity from several years back when I learnt the basics of solar production. Within the last 18 months, I have gone on to self install a PV system at home, as shown here and continue to be fascinated by the various ways of energy production being developed at the minute (that’s an engineer for you!).

The road to the trustee bit is much longer. I think it started  15 to 17 years ago when I started to develop an interest into spiritual perspectives. Up to then, I hadn’t really much interest in such things, being married with two kids tended to focus my attentions away from such things. I remember going to my local library (remember the days when doing such a thing was everyday for most people?) and checking out the section on religions. Christianity didn’t interest me at all, I’d seen enough of that at close quarter to be bothered with that and Islam just seemed to be irrelevant to me. I remember taking three books on loan, one on Hinduism, one on Buddhism and one small handbook on Druids ( I think it may have been a condensed version of one of her earlier books maybe) written by a certain author whose name was Emma Restall Orr.

I found certain aspects in the first two books to be agreeable and to connect with my thinking. I was unprepared, however, for the third. Underlying internal connections from a spiritual perspective within me were now highlighted gloriously within the pages of this, all too short, book. I seriously had no idea that someone else would either have a similar outlook to me and more so, that they would be gifted enough to have committed to writing how these connections could be manifested through the practice of druidry.

The hook that was druidry was embedded within me. Around that time I had brought my first computer with dial-up internet (that’s aging me) so decided to use this “new technology” to explore further. Learning to navigate both the computer operating system and then the internet itself, took some time (as much as anything else because of demands on me by both work and family) but after what must have been around a year, I started to encounter websites concerned with druidry. I think I finally stumbled upon the Druid Network around 2003. I was happy to have found this because it seemed to be just what I was looking for and because it was, at that time, the active outlet for Emma.

I think I loitered around the site for a couple of years, as much as anything because the other external demands didn’t leave me with enough time, energy and, frankly, inclination to get further involved. Eventually though, I took the plunge and joined, I think around 2006. I enjoyed that first year and I recall my first question posted on the forum was one that expressed my surprise at the number of women who consider themselves to be Druid and asking why that should be. I remember being somewhat surprised by some of the hostility some of the people who answered appeared to direct against me for asking such a question, but as is the case with me, I clarified why I had asked the question and didn’t apologise for asking it.

I spent a couple of years on the site along with a few others concerned with more general paganism, before stumbling again (if this was real life, I would appear sometimes to be incapable of holding my alcohol) upon a website that concerned itself with a more specific aspect of ancient British religion, specifically Brythonic aspects. The approach was one that was more rigorous because it incorporated using archaeological and scientific evidence and then attempting to reconstruct (though we later realised and thought of ourselves as reconnectionists) an ancient British spirituality. There was some very good stuff there and it did tune my “bullshit-ometer” in regards as to some of the claims seen on the internet. There was also to be another reason why this particular website and community became very important to me from a very personal level, but it is not my intention to go into details about that in this post.

As is the case with these things sometimes, the group slowly disbanded (to all and intents and purposes, it is now only there as a record) and I began to move back towards Druidry. In my time with Brython I had distanced myself from druidry because the approach of Brython was one that attempted to frame themselves a spiritual construct using the “facts” that both the archaeological and scientific communities were presenting around the artifacts and theories of those specific times. Upon its slow disbanding, I came to realise that, for me, I was attempting to round off a square peg to fit a round hole. I was using the wrong framework when approaching what modern druidry represented on the most fundamental level.

I also have to admit that I also missed the aspect of community that was now not present with Brython but, fortunately for me, was still present in the Druid community. So I returned to the Druid Network (though I never let my membership lapse)  hosting both a new perspective and newly formed connections both within and without of me.

Last weekend saw the next chapter in my relationship with druidry when both myself and my partner travelled down to Birmingham to attend the Druid Networks AGM. My partner has written a very personal perspective around this, one that I will not attempt to compete against (not that I neither want or need to). We were both invited to accept the post of trustee for the Druid Network and we were both honoured to be asked and happy to accept the post.

As I look back over the years with this, somewhat self-indulgent post, I have come to realise that what I have experienced was my journey to a metaphorical base camp. There has been a lot of journeying to get here, with a myriad of connections whose odds of forming the right circumstances to form the me and the place I am at at this time, must be so fantastically long as to be described as almost statistically impossible. I give thanks for the journey and for the guides and influences upon me that have gotten me to this point. At this point in time however, I can only admire and contemplate the view before me.

Affirmation

I’m not a person prone to spending much time reflecting upon past actions (a practice summed up as navel gazing elsewhere). There are pragmatic reasons for this:

  • you cannot change what has happened and I obstinately refuse to be held hostage to the past
  • you can only change the future and not the past
  • I find that most of the time, my understanding is established fairly quickly after the event and therefore it has been my experience that I haven’t had reason to revisit the event(s) again
  • I have the habit (annoyingly I have been told before, though I don’t view it as such myself) of establishing positives from any situation (even in the most dire situations, I have found some positive) and building them into my mental processes

Therefore, self-reflection tends to be something that is an ongoing process and not something for a set aside period in any particular time of day, month or year.

It has been somewhat of a surprise to myself then that the last month has been a time of some reflection. This reflection, I have now come to understand, has been centred upon the direction(s) I will be taking regarding my ongoing re-integration into Druidry.

My journey back into Druidry is documented in this site so I won’t go over the wheres and whys of it again. Over the last week or so, however, it has become clear to me that I needed to consciously express my own conditions for any and all druidic interactions and to make a personal statement (if only for my own benefit) as to the directions these actions should take in the future.

So today, seemingly out of nowhere, I created my own six-fold Druid affirmation. I should explain that I was at work today and the job I had to attend was out in Argyll near the rest and be thankful area (this photo being from a visit of the area last year.)

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On my way back, with work being quiet and no prospect of any other job demanding my immediate attention, I stopped off in one of the many parking areas on the road. The scenery, with the mountains being snow-capped, was breath-taking and seemed to me to be an appropriate time and place to make one of my offerings to the spirit of place (a practice I do frequently all over Scotland, when travelling to various jobs in my work).

When I had made my offering, I watched as a Raven took to the skies in some pretty strong winds. My association with Ravens should be self-evident and it was immediately after this that the “urge” to commit to paper took me. So it was that at this time, my six-fold Druidic affirmation came into being, continuing my re-integration into the forest of Druidry.

I acknowledge the presence in my life of Awen

I commit to working with, through and for Awen

I acknowledge the multifaceted aspects of life with its endless cycle of creation and decay

I commit to playing my part within, through and for this process without placing myself above or outside of it

I acknowledge the right of the Earth to its own life

I commit to supporting this right

I acknowledge that within my own experiences, life is a result of communal activities and that my sense of the individual I experience is a direct result of these communal actions

I commit to recognizing and supporting these actions and activities on many levels

I acknowledge the existence of other than human intelligences

I commit to working with, for and through them in a manner suitable to both sides

I acknowledge that part of the reason for my existence is the ability to create change

I commit to my own acts of creation being subject to my six fold Druid affirmation

Upon completion of this, I spotted another bird upon the wind. This one was bigger though, an eagle, which is unusual and I took as a favourable omen consciously tying it to my act of creation in that place.

Reality Check

In the world of information that we now inhabit, sometimes that information volume can result in overload. This overload can take the form of stress, engagement or indifference in people. I would go so far as to suggest that in no time in human history has such a volume of information assaulted the senses of the everyday person (leastways here in the west).

I think that one reason for the downturn in the numbers of people associating themselves with some form of organized religion ( as demonstrated in this article for England & Wales ) is that the relevency of these religions has and is, being questioned with each and every discovery at such a pace, that the OR is not able to keep pace or relevence by providing the answers demanded of them due to the sheer scale and amounts of information available.

For every new discovery, the media go in search of “an expert” to translate for us, the inherent meaning of this new information. These mostly take the shape of media savvy scientists, which has led me to the conclusion that they are the new “priests” of the information religion. The media would have us believe that their use of these “experts” is to allow us to better “understand” the meaning and consequences of each and every new discovery.

There is a point of view, however, that would also suggest that it is more to do with getting people to use the right “mindset” when engaging with these things ( as in a corporate led mindset) and it is a mindset that keeps people “informed” without them having to do any serious thinking for themselves. Most people have neither the time, or inclination, to assess these things for themselves as the distractions of the materialistic consumer led culture we now live in has the majority of people concentrating more upon the next gadget / car / house ( or even tweet ) etc which promises to grant more life satisfaction based on the marketing ploy of perfection gained upon purchase of said item (because we are worth it, after all).

One thing I have come to really appreciate about Druidry recently is an aspect that, for many years, I considered to be one of its weakness’s. And that is the lack of prescribed frameworks. I recently described trying to define an all encompassing definition of Druidry as being akin to trying to nail a jelly to a table. I don’t think it is possible to give a specific definition that would be acceptable (certainly in its entireity) to the majority of people who profess to walk a Druid path. But there is a lesson in that in itself if we choose to look. For me, that lesson is that the notion (and therefore the practice) of Druidry is not static. Just like the understandings we arrive at through changes in information and circumstances throughout our lives, these can then force, coerce or engage with us leading to changes in our positions. We learn (if we are fortunate) to ride the wave of life. For me, interacting with and through Druidry is most definately demonstrating a form of engaging with a wave of life.

Over the last couple of years, there have been some discoveries made by science that, upon first glance, are interesting but are not immediately obvious in their subtle messages about our lives. The discovery of Dark energy is one such discovery. According to the linked article, less than 5% of the universe is made up of visible matter. That means that around 95 to 96% of the universe is made up of stuff that until a few years ago, we had no means of knowing was there.

Now, turning this around, when we consider that science maintains that there are billions of galaxies in our universe, with billions more stars and their associated planets in these galaxies and that there are more galactic bodies present in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on the earth, then our share of the visible universe must represent a figure of say (this is a figure plucked out of my head at this time though I suspect I may be underestimating it and this piece would appear to confirm that underestimation)  0.1 x -10 of the visible universe (that would be 0.0000000001%). So our planets presence in the visible universe is tantamount to a speck of dust on a desert. However, when we consider that we need to times that figure by a factor of around 19 (using the percentage of dark matter revealed in that article) to attain a true figure  of the total amount our physical presence actually represents in the universe, then that realization can have a somewhat humbling affect.

However, because we are told that dark energy permiates everything in our visible universe, this opens up a means by which seemingly isolated objects in the visible universe (people, places, planets)  connect to each other. It is the web of life spoken about by earlier generations. The difficulty we as humans face when presented with this information, can, is and always will be, incorporating it into our culturally defined lives. The revelation of new information always creates movement, both physically and mentally. To use this information to create the conditions for change in our lives is tantamount to riding a wave of life, a skill that we all, to some degree or another, must achieve if we arbour any sort of ambition to make a positive impact on the planet through our thoughts or actions.

This realization has led me to the conclusion that the example Druidry has been setting throughout history, that of being present but not static due to the lack of its historical validity, does indeed make its relevence to me, all the more stronger. And I, for one, choose to ride that wave using the power of my own reasoning, using Druidry as an example as to how I approach this wave, rather than reverting to the corporate or economic model used and promoted by the information religion as the ultimate definition of our culture at this time.

 

 

 

Self Worth

This subject matter is one that lies at the core of the vast majority of people today, their own judgement of self worth. Peoples judgement of self worth is, I would consider, the primary motivation behind behavioural patterns and actions, be them “good” or “bad”. It is so tied to experience that it is worth considering some new ideas about it.

Before the advent of epigenetics, I was one of those who believed that everyone entered this world with a clean slate. This article, however, if not wholey disproving that, does suggest it’s not that black and white. It demonstrates that we may have hardware inbuilt to us that may “guide” us when encountering certain external experiences and behaviours. If indeed experiences can be built into a physical form through synaptic connections in the brain and this form has the potential to be passed on through reproduction, then the potential to repeat the results of previous generations experiences through genetic expression in later generations, creates the potential for predispositional behavioural patterning in those same later generations.

Therefore, sometimes when a person claims “they can’t help themselves” in certain situations, there may be some basis of fact in it through genetic expression. However, potential doesn’t neccessarily have to be realised. The understanding arising as a result of that piece (albeit a very limited study) gives us some tools with which to use when we consider how our behavioural patterns are affecting our own sense of self worth.  Therefore the internal dynamic tension between learned cultural conditioning and genetically expressed predispositions, if we are lucky, can result in a win/win situation.

People who have met me in the “real” world would probably confirm I am a very positive person. Positive in outlook and behaviour (sometimes annoyingly so as I have been told previously) and I don’t dwell on mistakes. Leastways I don’t dwell on the negative sides of mistakes. For me, there is always a positive outcome to any “mistake” even if the only positive outcome is the commitment to not make that mistake again.

Now, I am not about to start espousing how to attain this positive outlook, that is not my intention. There are plenty of professionals and “self help” types of books and courses out there that would probably do a far better job than I could ever do.

Saying that, there is one thing I have found that contributes significantly to my outlook. And that is the “need” to continue learning throughout life, learning through the various mixtures of potential learning outlets, for example dealing with the general public, learning through the medium you are currently reading and learning through old fashioned books (including the electronic ones) to name but a few.

I have also learnt a lot through engaging in, with and through a positive spiritual life.  My simplistic reasoning says to me that the more I learn, the better the potential for me to make the “right” choices in my life. And making the right choices in the present, contributes significantly, in my experience, with my own sense of self worth. For me, understanding how and why I am making the right decisions in the present, form virtually all the framework for me assessing my self worth. I won’t be held hostage to the past in so much as I place greater emphasis on how the decisions I reach now inform my sense of self worth than the results of the decisions I made in earlier times. It is the result of making earlier mistakes that has placed my current state of self worth in the place it is now.

This is no simplistic outlook that says that because I have a larger database through experience, I am bound to make the right decisions all the time. The experiences guide me through the decision making process and inform how I deal with the consequences of making, what superficially may appear to be a wrong decision sometimes. And as I have said elsewhere, the “wrong” decision may actually, in the long run, have turned out to have been the “right” choice. I for one, have certainly made enough of those types of decisions over the course of my life.

So I would say that my own sense of self worth is tied to being able to use all the experiences of my life constructively to make better choices as I age. It is an ongoing thing and is not tied to any one event or period of time. And referring back to that original piece, even though my time of genetic reproduction is at an end, I am relieved that there is potential for positive predispositioning being expressed at some time through my genetic offspring as well as the children with whom I now interact with daily.

I would say that the accumilation of experiences and the ongoing joy of continuing learning has instilled in me a sense of positive self worth at this time.

Labels

If there is one subject that comes up regularly in pagan circles, it’s the issues surrounding labels, specifically whether people choose to either attach, or not, them to themselves. A current acquaintance on Face book has been experiencing issues surrounding this issue which got me thinking around the subject.

It is fascinating, and also slightly unsettling, how the attachment of labels to a person can have such a wide range of reactions. The term can have meanings that appear to represent polar opposites, enabling one person or dis-enabling another.

Enabling because it can help define a person if the label and the consequent direction taken through the understanding associated with the label, give the person involved direction and meaning that was lacking previously.

Dis-enabling if the constricts surrounding the label inhibit or restrict the person in a  way perceived as damaging.

Same term, different results.

This creates a friction within the terms meaning, with peoples conflicting experiences sometimes leading to accusations of certain people trying to impose their “view” of a label onto others. The polarization of the definitions lead people to choose closed positions and when positions are closed, there is little, if any, position to manuever. Impasse leading to strengthening polarizations.

It is curious that for a supposedly “free-thinking” society as paganism tries to promote as self-evident, the use or not of labeling can be so destructive and where most other situations dealt with tend to be subject to some sort of compromise, labeling carries an almost inbuilt polarized positioning. People who normally exhibit common sense, for want of a better phrase, become almost zealous in their position surrounding the issue and consequently the issue over labeling assimilates any further discussions with its polarized positioning.

It is the apparent duality surrounding the label that, IMO, leads to the problems regularly witnessed. And, almost in a negatively enforcing mystical appropriation, leads to the falling out sometimes between previously good friends who shared a similar commonly held perspective before the term was introduced into the discussion.

Take for example, the label of Druid. There is a multitude of definitions for the term. For some, this broad spectrum leaves them grasping for a specific definition from which to work and to all intents and purposes negates it to almost meaningless. To others, the term gives a freedom to experience a wider range of experiences than a more specific definition would offer. The experiences within the term can, therefore, often be contradictory, demonstrating the polarizing duality mentioned previously.

It therefore strikes me that there are two actions that a person could take that could reduce the destructive influence the term “label” could impose.

One would be to agree to some sort of disclosure as to how a person defines a label before any sort of rational discussion could commence. This is an unusual position to have to take, that is identifying how the participating parties identify with a specific term, but if this could be disclosed beforehand, then I would suggest that the power of the polarizing dualities associated with the term could be minimized if both parties wanted such a thing.

The other would be for the persons involved evolving their label into some sort of specific definition. I can offer an example of this with my own appropriation of the label “Druid”. For me, adding the descriptor “land” to “Druid” has given me enough with which to work with both practically and also to be able to concisely define the label in any and all discussions, thus negating the possible negative duality as discussed here.

Land Druid

I have been involved actively in paganism for just under 20 years now. My interest was piqued by a small book about Druidry written by Emma Restall Orr. As is the case throughout life, it was the right thing at the right time. My first forays into the world of the internet found me at the doorstep of The Druid Network as much as anything because, at that time, the network was being developed by Emma and others.

The world of the internet opened doors that just a few years earlier, would have been out of reach for a person such as myself living in a mining community in the East Midlands. The ambitions and understanding that seemed to be associated around Druidry at that time seemed to be exactly what my restlessness at that period of time needed. I looked further and naturally found OBOD. Unlike TDN which appeared to promote discussion around how people were perceiving Druidry along with if and how this would apply to them, OBOD’s approach used a more rigid structure. I was introduced to the three grades of Druidry.

Firstly, the Bard. For someone more used to dealing face to face with people and being able to express myself better, at that time, with those sorts of communication interactions, the role of Bard didn’t seem to fit me at all. Checking out various sites such as this one, confirmed that the role of Bard would be, to put it lightly, somewhat of a challenge. Later sites have also confirmed my initial thoughts surrounding the role.  As a Bard, with the emphasis on word expression through prose and the like, to put it bluntly, I would be about as much use as a one-legged man in an arse kicking contest!

The Ovate grade appeared to be more relevent with its emphasis on the seeing arts and healing. I have also thought of myself as a bit of a healer, but being an engineer by trade, my professional work is a healing of machines. I brought some books about spiritual healing which I found to be very good, including this one and especially this one, which the context I found very relevent along with some limited ability in using the techniques.

Lastly the grade of Druid, which, to be honest, after pretty much discarding the first grade and self-limiting the scope of the second grade, appeared to put the third grade out of reach. There was also the thorny issue of the classical writers attributing between 15 and 20 years training to achieve the third grade.

So I decided that I would continue to associate myself around these sites and others in an attempt to find more information and, hopefully, more like-minded people. TDN continued to provide information and one piece in particular from a person I still consider to be both a friend and a very wise person captured my attention. The article was about the subject of feral Druidry. This struck a chord. This was Druidry I could relate to on so many levels, it was uncanny.

The writer of the piece was, I was to find out some time later, involved with Caer Feddwyd and the result of it, Brython. This was an altogether different approach. More based around what was being produced by the scientific community in regards to the traditions around the late iron age before, up to and including the Roman occupation of Britain, the focus seemed more specific. I still look back at those times with fondness, even though we, as a group, sometimes courted controversy with both our approach and sometimes the subject matter we chose to engage with.

This time also proved to be very important in a way that I, and as it turned out she, had no inkling of at that time. I was introduced, firstly in the virtual world then later, in the physical world, to my love and my now partner. Without CF and Brython or the internet, I can say with some confidence, we would never have met as our paths before that time, could not have been more different.

As is the case throughout life, things change and CF and Brython faded. My personal life then changed, as is discussed here. I felt the call of Druidry in my bones again and my move up here to Scotland, strengthened my ties with other than human communities. I could now comfortably sit with the title of Druid, having at least served time learning about Druidry and thus, as I saw it, serving an apprenticeship. I still had problems identifying with Druidry as related to the OBOD framework (and this is in no way to be conceived as an insult to the OBOD framework, but that it justs reflects my own reasons why my engagement with them has been somewhat limited) finding the methodology and interactions through TDN to me to be more conducive.

My partner also began to question where she was, spiritually, along with others online. This is an entirely natural thing, in my opinion, as the greater number of experiences we have, the larger the knowledge bank from which we drink develops and to accommodate these experiences, we have to periodically reassess what is still relevent and what is not. Between us, we have now arrived at definitions that are to us, both relevent and specific enough to use comfortably. It’s amazing sometimes what the addition of a single word can achieve.

So, using the circumstances with which she finds herself in, my partner has now found some sort of closure with this and both a descriptor and direction that will guide her in the future. For me, the communications I have received experientially, have shown me that my role is one based around the land.  I questioned how and why I would be, for want of a better phrase, worthy of this role, as I would suggest most people would also have questioned. I knew what was required of me, that wasn’t a problem and I knew and respected that the work I would be engaged in would be for the land and not for the human communities as such. There would not be any recognition, as such, for my efforts, but that has never been a problem. I am comfortable with that thought, especially as it seems to me, the land now-a-days gets little recognition from the majority of western human society at this time as to its own needs.

The key bit of information that swung it for me in accepting this role, was when I was informed that, as humans, we are instigators of change, whether we realise it or not. It is part of our remit, as such, that we all have within us, the power to effect change. And that sometimes, this change could only be exclusively instigated by us. I could not refuse once I had thought through such an understanding.

My work is not tied specifically to any one, or group of, deities, spirits or other than human communities. My work is tied to the needs of the land and the processes needed that are communicated to me. I have the method to engage with, and for, the land and I now possess a physical link between the land and myself which constitutes the contract between us. Actually, two links.

The first is here along with the specific reasoning and the second is this..

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This is Scottish Green marble, specific to North western Scotland and the Hebrides. Both constitute specific qualities of the areas I have been fortunate to live in and provide a very physical link between myself and the land I work with and for. I am now comfortable with a title and that title is Land Druid.

Power and Perception

In the last few months, I have been involved with, and witnessed, the results of people’s doubts about their spiritual paths being aired. Indeed, my partner has also written on this subject as she has worked through similar issues. It appears to me to be an entirely logical thing to happen, as we engage with the process of change through the aging process and accumulate more experiences. Unless we lived in isolation, it could not be healthy for the individual to continue to apply guidance through concepts whose roots were set in a specific time frame. I touched on the subject in a previous post.

A lot of the problems I saw being aired were rooted in people’s self perception. Self perception surrounding the “standards” people thought, or imagined, were applicable to them. Sometimes this had been arrived at by inference from others, sometimes by a mistaken set of standards people had built through incomplete information. Sometimes also through setting what turned out to be unrealistic expectations of themselves. We are told as a society, through work practices, through the media in the form of TV programs and films, that it is right to set yourself the highest possible standards. And to a point, I would agree. But only to a point.

We see the fantasy that are films now-a-days, and the CGI neatly sidesteps some of the realities of life (like dropping 30 ft from a roof and walking away) and the subject of the film mostly achieves what they set out to do. Aspirations are good, we are told, they guide our actions and, of course, we are always right in deciding what those actions should be. Except, of course, the reality of life is that very often, we are not always in the best place all the time, to make the “right” decision.

Sometimes the right decision, is to make the wrong choice. Because the wrong choice is the course of action that teaches us the most. This isn’t to suggest that consciously taking the wrong choice is a particularly good idea. Common sense dictates that personal safety and the safety of others should trump any reckless decisions, but the “wrong” decision is merely a result of the thought processes present at that one minute in time. If the results of that wrong choice turn out to be traumatic, it can act as an anchor in the past, to which people return, consciously or otherwise and restricts their movements onwards. We tend to learn the most through the wrong choices we make. This is an almost universal truth in my experience. People learn through their mistakes.

That anchor formed through the experience of the individuals trauma can also have an insidious side effect. Because the anchor colours the individuals self perception. Their perception of self-worth gets tied to this one (or maybe several) event(s). “Oh I made a mistake therefore I am not very good anymore, why should anyone trust me to do it right when I have done so wrong before? I’ve proven that I get it wrong.”

Also, as mentioned earlier, people’s expectations can also be built through the quest to “be the best”. If they expect themselves to be the best, it very often happens that they then project this expectation on to people around them. Remember the saying ” Runner up is first loser”? This attitude can lead to a framework in which the individual perceives themselves to be under the microscope all the time.

As I said, I am not specifically against striving to achieve the best you can be, but that journey needs information to make the target achievable. And much to the discomfort of those who would have us believe that they have the answers, this information is usually best understood through direct experience. Theory is limited in its effect, I may understand the concept of pain, I may understand the processes that cause the pain receptors to fire and how my brain and nervous system process this information and how the physical effects may emerge in my body. But I can not fully understand the whole of the experience unless I experience it for myself. It is that experience that gives us the complete information. It is a fundamental truth.

In my line of work in a previous employment, I was subjected to the company’s mission statement “To strive to be the best in the World”. This was no idle ideal to them. Lifting the bar resulted in better performance (for a time) which impressed the bigwigs at head office. That was the easy bit, maintaining that level was a whole different thing. How can you improve on being the best in the world? What I witnessed was numerous breakdowns through stress, be that personal, marital and even mental and work frameworks that progressively got more complex and unworkable. It was a position that was anchored to a specific period. As time moved forward, moral sunk and people struggled to maintain the peak of performance. Maintaining the position resulted in more complex problems both personally and professionally for the employees ( I chose to leave once I had figured this out for myself).

For any experience to benefit us, especially when subject to the constraints and perceived restrictions imposed upon us at any one time, I have found it to be beneficial to temper my own expectations of myself. To a degree, we all end up doing this in various degrees through the aging process. I am now of an age where I can now mentally do a lot of the things I used to do in a much better way than previously. Physically though, I cannot. This could lead to frustration now that I understand these things much better than I did before, but because I am more restricted in actually being able to physically do them, a consequence may have been that my perception of self-worth would have changed or suffer. This is not the case however, because I have learnt to forgive myself past mistakes. This sounds very simple, but in my experience, can actually be one of the hardest things to achieve.

By forgiving ourselves, we give ourselves the ability to move on in a healthy way that acknowledges the past and allows it to influence us in a positive way. The anchor is removed and once more flows freely in the flow of life. Even if that positivity is only expressed through the resolution not to make the same mistake again. I may strive to be the best I can be, but that does not mean that I will be the best of everyone or anyone. If I choose to make positive contributions, it is enough for me that they remain positive without needlessly subjecting them to some human derived external quantitive process.

Historical Validation…

… is a subject I have been giving some thought to recently. Most of the religions of the world, especially the Abrahamic ones, are built upon this premise. Historical “facts” have been committed to writing and the interpretation of these facts has been the basis for the growth and direction of these religions. This committing to literature has also been the basis for establishing the authenticity of religions, with the various holy books used to both record history and then both suggest and confirm official interpretation of this material.

This generalised formula has also been the basis for a common definition of a religion. It has been the yardstick by which other religions have been judged. When I first started out exploring paganism in the mid 90′s, my own interpretation of what a religion should be was coloured by these common rules. I was looking for something from history which would provide me with a starting point. This historical fact would then both inform and guide me as I progressed. Or so I thought.

I was attracted to druidry quite early on. It spoke to me with its roots and history being tied to Britain and Europe. However, its interpretations have been mainly informed by the interpretation of artifacts discovered by the archaeological community, a community that works through objectivity without applying much subjectivity because of the numerous variations subjectivity presents. So the results recorded were kept to such things as the identification of the areas where the artifacts were found and a suggestive generalised context was then suggested such as ” probably an item used in rituals”.

All well and good. But bloody infuriating for someone wanting to establish some form of historical validation with which to build their fledgling spirituality. Druidry seemed to me to be the “elephant in the room”, it was there, but no-one confirmed it through the traditional religious definitions. People spoke of their definition of what or how their druidry appeared to them, but no-one could point me in a direction that could give me the material I needed to build from, no historical validity, beyond the classical Roman accounts.

I began to drift away from druidry. If there was nothing out there to present me with the validity I required, it was time to engage with others and use a more rigorous and academic approach. I would look for what was out there with a different community and be guided by current thinking. I would attempt, along with others of a similar mindset, to try to use a more scientific approach to interpretation of pagan material. I would ground myself in the facts and then build from there.

This proved to be a very fruitful time though this work ultimately had some consequences I could not have imagined. I still value a similar approach today. Unfortunately, the dynamics of any group are open to change and people’s enthusiasm, aspirations and directions are not exempt from change. Having established a base line, people drifted away. And this may be the nature of change.

I was prepared to work from this baseline and still do. The subjectivity of this baseline though, lacked the type of historical validation used by the other major religions because its interpretations were and are directed by a community who value objectivity above subjective speculation. Subjective speculation was largely left to the individual or noted individuals. Hardly a large and established body of work with which to press for a pagan religion to be recognized using the accepted definition of a religion.

Yet this baseline was delivering results for me. Connection with the land continued apace. The connections continued to strengthen, almost daily.

Then I experienced a “little death”.

My marriage failed after 25 years (something now looking back is clear to spot, but like many others in a similar situation, was not at the time), I was dissatisfied with the job I had held for 14 years and my kids had grown and flown the nest. I moved out of the family home and proceeded to live in my touring caravan. I changed jobs and started with a company who had no track record in the line of work I have been employed in since leaving school. The foundations of my life up to then had disintegrated. The historical validation experienced by me that I used to guide the direction and purpose of my life up to then did not apply any more.

Therein lies the lesson for me. Historical validation when viewed in my lifetime is period specific. It is relevant at the time of its creation, but as we move through time, it’s relevance changes, just as everything changes. It cannot, for me, be a constant unchanging anchor by which to guide me throughout my life. A lesson which recently emerged in my thoughts as I considered the “rules” by which any religion is judged by.

Druidry, with its lack of historical validation, far from being hampered in meeting with the rules set by most of the other religions, is actually more relevant to me now because it lacks this credible historical validation (though I would not dismiss any significant findings in the future). To me, it demonstrates fluidity and dynamism that create relevance through interactions experienced in the “now” without anchoring the individual to a fixed point in history, as is the case in the majority of the other religions.

What some on the outside may consider as an inherent weakness, a point that I may have in some part agreed with in earlier times, Druidry to me is now far more relevent because it demonstrates that historically identified validation can actually create quite restrictive consequences. Its permanence is illusionary and can sometimes be responsible for restricting our own growth as it guides us back to an earlier time. And wherein I can appreciate that this time may hold valuable lessons, I now do not wish to be held hostage to it.

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