This weekend (24/05/14) saw my partner deliver a talk to the Scottish Pagan Federation’s conference in Edinburgh, some of which disclosed and discussed the actual history of Druids. The actual history, as revealed by the likes of Prof Ron Hutton, is, at best sparse and at worst, almost non-existent.
This has led to some further discussions between us about that thorny topic of defining Druids and Druidry. And we think we have come up with an important definition that we can work within and hopefully, will make sense to other Druids and other people. I think that any clearly defined statement about Druids and Druidry has the potential to be an extremely helpful thing, especially if it is relevent (which hopefully this is!).
So with this in mind, I am going to disclose our thinking and our conclusions. The only actual material written by a person who may actually have physically met a Druid was Julius Caesar. All the other material cited as references to the Druids were written by people either well after the events they disclose or were repeating information, at best, second-hand but more likely further down the line than that. Caesar as we know, was a good politician in so much as he knew how to paint personally favourable pictures for the people back in Rome reading about his exploits. It’s always good to paint a picture of an impressive foe who falls to the might of Rome so most of us bear this in mind when reading the material.
About the only thing that is consistent in all the accounts is the title of Druid. It appears to be geographically a West European occupation. So the only thing we can state in relation to the Druids is that there was a section of West European cultures that held the title of Druid. If the information is to be believed, their occupations were multifaceted, but part of those duties appeared to involve religious duties. Now, we know the title of Druid was applicable but the mistake a lot of us make, is assuming that they thus practised Druidry. And that is somewhat illogical.
The reality is that they practiced an indigenous form of religion but we do not and cannot know that they themselves referred to that religious practice as Druidry. It is an assumption that Druids therefore, practiced Druidry. This is a somewhat understandable assumption because it has been known as Druidry in our culture, but the reality is that the actual practice itself has not been specifically identified as Druidry anywhere in the classical writings. The Druids practiced an indigenous religion but it has not (at this time) been positively identified as Druidry.
The practice of Druidry as we know it today originated with the Druid revival. Druidry is the practice that was initially a result of the revival that informed later Druid frameworks. Druidry is based on later cultures and is actually removed from the earlier Druids because of the lack of specific information around the naming of their actual practices.
It is my opinion that we have been mistaken in our own assumptions that the classical Druids practiced Druidry (I am certainly guilty as such). And the realization of this is somewhat enlightening! It is also our opinion that this disconnect actually frees us to a degree, from the accusations frequently aimed at the Druid community about what the classical Druids actually did and did not do. If we practice Druidry, that Druidry has to be in a modern context. It cannot be the same as the practices the classical Druids engaged in because we have no information to confirm their practices were referred to as Druidry, much as many of us would hope and wish that our actions would be in keeping with the ethics of our indigenous and ancestral Druids.
To some people, this probably won’t matter. Some other people may find this disconnection uncomfortable or even untenable. As I mentioned in the beginning, this is a definition borne of our own discussions, reasoning and agreements between the two of us and is offered as food for thought to the larger Druid community without wanting to impose itself on others.
After some discussions over on The Druid Network’s member site, I just want to clarify that the purpose of this piece was to highlight how the practice of Druids (Druidry) today is taken from their title in contrast to any other religion. For example, to apply the same framework would result in Christianity being known as Priestianity or Islam as Immanity. I am happy to use the descriptor of Druidry in relation to my own religious practices in accordance with the foreword with TDN’s constitution, it was just that this aspect wasn’t one that I had fully considered until recently.