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.