Upon the path of Druidry, one could say I am fairly young. Although I have been practicing Druidry for a long time, I did not know that is what I was doing and therefore could not call myself a “Druid”. With the first year of Druid College behind me and years Two and Three waiting in the wings, I realize now that what I really lacked were two things: The self confidence to believe in what I was doing and the vocabulary to clarify it. Both of these things are more clear to me now and my self confidence, while it will likely always be the voice in the back of my mind trying to undermine me a bit, has grown out of the shadows. In fact, I appreciate my self doubt now more than ever because when I sit down and talk to that shadow self, the conversation is often very revealing to me.
When I first started tossing the idea of a an Order of Druidry around in my head, the self doubt I experienced was palpable. I spent a lot of time trying to explore why I wanted to do this and began discussing the idea with Magnus (a fellow classmate at the Druid College) and then later with Kevin Emmons (founder of the Druid College). We all agreed that we needed to do a few things in order to make this work. We had to set a purpose, we had to have a general standard for who would be welcome to join and we had to ensure that the Order was egalitarian rather than structured around a leadership. This seemed pretty straightforward at first, after all, it would simply mean that we seek membership from people who are already leaders and make this a council of leaders rather than a council based upon hierarchy. My only regret is that I should have set out what this was originally, letting people see the structure of it before inviting them to join. Instead, I said “here are the pieces, let’s put this swing set together”. There are no instructions for this kind of thing and so divisions began to form on how it should be put together. Essentially, the horse is out of the gate now and we are peddling hard to keep up. In this process, there are those who feel they cannot commit themselves to the Order because definitions on who should be a member and who shouldn’t seems too limiting. Others don’t know whether they can truly define themselves as a practitioner of Druidry and don’t have the time to dedicate. That was hard because ultimately, all of those people are people who I personally invited into the Order. In essence, three of our members have resigned, not in frustration or anger, but because they don’t define themselves in a manner that is consistent with how the remainder of the Order does. These are growing pains and all three of them are people who still fully support what we are doing. It is also important to note that one of them is my wife, another is someone who warned me in the first place that Druidry is something they have explored but does not make up the bulk of their spiritual practice and the last dances beyond the lines of definition anyway.
When we think about defining something, we need to understand how and why we want to do so. The English language is severely limited in scope, it is far too literal. There were Native cultures in this land that had one word describing several things at once whereas English uses 8 words to describe the same thing. This effects our thinking in how we perceive things. It is limiting to say the least but it also means that understanding that limitation, understanding the need to define something allows us to establish something we can then fill and expand beyond. In doing so, we reach for an understanding of these definitions. Establishing what the language means allows us to establish a framework we can climb to reach greater understanding. It is important that an Order of Maine Druidry be reserved for those who actively practice Druidry otherwise we are simply another Pagan organization, not an Order of Druidry.
It is just this type of reaching for understanding that bolsters my self-confidence and accept that I am a Druid. To be upon the path of Druidry is to be a Druid. While there are a good number of people out there that would suggest some level of formal education is necessary to accept that title, I would disagree from this point of view: When one begins to travel, they are a traveler. Each step along that path is a step away from where they once were. Even when that person steps on a conveyance of some type, it is a new experience. It may get them to their destination more quickly, but even that experience has its value to them. There are some who will walk, others may ride but in the end, it is about opening oneself to the experience of traveling and not simply reaching their destination. If one focuses solely upon the context of reaching the destination, then the experiences of the journey there are lost upon them. Those experiences are guides along the way, enriching the experience.
The same holds true of those beginning the practice of Druidry and those who have practiced for 20 or more years. The idea that this title, this term, may only be granted by those with authority, to me, is far from egalitarian. My mentors, both of whom who have been practicing Druidry for far longer than I have even known the term outside an adolescent dabbling in fantasy games, have never come to me and said “You can’t call yourself a Druid, you haven’t been practicing long enough!”. Ultimately, the practice of Druidry for me is about the intent. I have struggled at times to define Druidry in a way that didn’t seem superfluous. There is the dedication to the land, the animistic quality of egalitarianism of all beings, the practice of acknowledging the Earth as a sacred being itself and the dedication to service and community. These are all functions of Druidry and yet, these functions do not serve to define it. Defining Druidry means going deeper into an understanding of how Druids perform this service.
I’ve mentioned before that Druidry for me begins with relationship. How do we, as Druids, establish and maintain that relationship? What do we do when have done so?
A recent discussion with one of my mentors allowed me to more fully understand, again, because the vocabulary was made clear. We put a lot of faith in words as a species. It makes me consider the value of language in reference to almost anything. When I stop to ponder it, language itself is really a method of defining things. We call something like a sunset “pretty” and this remains a definition, albeit a subjective one. Our language, no matter how deep or shallow the meaning of the words, is a manner of describing and defining the world around us. The problem with definitions is often a problem of communication, again, because the value of definitions may vary by person, community and culture. Any person may look at the sunset as a pretty view, but somewhere there may be someone who would view that sunset as an evil portent or even ugly, simply because their culture has taught them to do so.
Defining Druidry then, is something that is both simple and complicated depending upon your point of view. There are untold numbers of Druids in the world and boiling down the disparate and fundamental practices of all of them may seem difficult. On the contrary though, I tend to find that it comes down to this: The quest for Awen. Awen could be defined simply as “Divine inspiration” but it is much more than that. The word “Awen” comes from an Indo-European root word meaning “to blow” or “Breeze”. Emma Restall Orr, defines it as “Flowing spirit”. John Michael Greer, the Grand Arch-Druid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, discusses Awen and it’s symbol /|\ as being the three rays that represent spirit, inspiration and illumination. In fact, one could write an entire book about Awen itself and all of the concepts and contexts under which it is applied which could quickly become a volume.
In the manner by which I choose to perceive things, there are three levels to reality: The Spiritual, the mental and the physical (this is borrowed heavily from and glossed over just as heavily from author Steve Blamires). Any magical working begins on the spiritual level where it is perceived on the mental level. In this context, imagine that moment that a great idea pops into your head, something nebulous that inspires you and then you mull that idea over as you think about how you will apply it. This is the transition of inspiration from the spiritual to the mental level. Taking one’s idea and putting it into practice would be the transition of something from the mental to the physical level. I have come to think of Awen as the sound and vibration of this movement. Druidry, as a tradition, is a commonality of language…it is a method of speaking to the land where our feet touch the Earth.
Ultimately, what differentiates Druidry from other spiritual paths is the dedication to Awen as the source/sound of inspiration that helps and allows us to establish sacred relationship. Not only is the practice of Druidry about channeling Awen, it is equally as much about questing Awen…seeking it out.
There are a great many people out there who follow Earth based spiritual paths but the questing of Awen is what makes Druidry a distinct spiritual practice. We now have nearly 250 years of Druid tradition since the revival movement beginning in the late 1700’s and what has kept it alive is the questing of Awen. This is the concept around which Druidry gathers and around which the Order gathers as well.
Before I joined the Druid College, I didn’t really quest Awen so much as I was fed by Awen. Now, I quest Awen every day. I listen for that sound as it blows like a spirit wind through me and into the physical world. I am a Druid.